August 31, 2004

War and Piece

Laura's spruced up her site and is running something of a Franklin-Feith-Ghorbanifar-a-Rama over at her excellent investigative blog. I'll have some thoughts on all this (including the much ballyhooed Washington Monthly piece she co-authored) in the not too distant future.

Until then, don't miss all the D.C. intrigues she's keeping close tabs on. War and Piece is the Grand Central of the blogosphere on this story...whether you agree with her analyses or not.

Posted by Gregory at 04:34 PM | Comments (1)

Day 1 of the Republican Convention

Now New York construction workers are very special people. I'm sure this is true all over but I know the ones here the best. They were real heroes along with many others that day, volunteering immediately. And they're big, real big. Their arms are bigger than my legs and their opinions are even bigger than their arms.

Now each one of them would engage the President and I imagine like his cabinet give him advice. They were advising him in their own words on exactly what he should do with the terrorists. Of course I can't repeat their exact language.

But one of them really went into great detail and upon conclusion of his remarks President Bush said in a rather loud voice, "I agree."

At this point the guy just beamed and all his buddies turned toward him in amazement.

The guy just lost it.

So he reached over, embraced the President and began hugging him enthusiastically.

Rudy Giuliani, speaking last night at the Republican convention.

"I agree."

How simple; how unpretentious, how natural.

Imagine John Kerry speaking to those construction workers ("I have been to Kabul" he might have begun...).

Good stuff this. Reminds me of something I had written a while back re: Bush's first trip to Ground Zero.

Giuliani's speech was devastatingly effective on many levels. He reminded us how reassured we all were to have a seasoned national security team at the helm on 9/11 ("Thank God George Bush is our President" he spontaneously told Bernie Kerrick that horrific day). He discussed the real perils of appeasement--describing a pervasive pattern of inaction towards terror from the 70s on through the giddy, empty '90s. And, perhaps most damning, he detailed, in pretty non-polemical fashion (ever so cooly sticking in and turning the stiletto knife), his concerns about Kerry's flip-floppy nature:

John Kerry has no such clear, precise and consistent vision. This is not a personal criticism of John Kerry. I respect him for his service to our nation. But it is important to see the contrast in approach between the two men; President Bush, a leader who is willing to stick with difficult decisions even as public opinion shifts, and John Kerry, whose record in elected office suggests a man who changes his position often even on important issues....Yes, people in public office at times do change their minds, I've done that, or they realize they are wrong or circumstances change. But John Kerry has made it the rule to change his position, rather than the exception.

Well, he has, hasn't he? Doesn't this matter? And isn't it fair to point it out and cogitate over it? No, all this doesn't settle any complex policy debates or such as Sully indicates.

But, with a Day 1 round-up of people like McCain and Giuliani (compared to a Day 1 of Carter and Gore)--I think the Republicans had a pretty good first night.

Make no mistake--it's Kerry that's in trouble more than Bush right now. He's lost ground in the polls, hasn't found an overarching message (except that he's not Bush; which isn't good enough), seems pretty lifeless on the stump. He got no big Boston bounce, didn't hit back on the Swift Boat ads (whatever you think of them--you don't just stand and take punches like that--especially when they are landing fast and furious), and has no real alternate policy prescriptions on the big foreign policy issues of the day (Iraq, Iran, NoKo, Middle East peace process).

Further, Bush is not likely to derive false comfort from any prospective lead going forward. He'll fight real hard through the eve of the election--even if he develops a 10+ point lead between now and November. He's not the type to sit back and rest on his laurels.

Advantage incumbent.

Posted by Gregory at 02:18 PM | Comments (10)

Birds of a Feather...

... Flock Together:

With this book and the Vanity Fair editorials in which he rehearsed its outraged tone, Carter joins what might be regarded as the cultural opposition to Bush, a loose alliance that numbers among its members Michael Moore, the comic Al Franken, and the shock-jock Howard Stern - and which some suggest has done more to help dislodge Bush from the White House than full- time politicians like the anaemic John Kerry. Carter downplays his own influence. "I'm sort of flattered to be included with those guys," he says. "They are more vocal than I am, but I try to stay independent. The fact is that their greatest influence is in the Democratic states; when the cultural elite endorses a candidate anywhere else, people tend to run for the hills." Is the fact that people like Moore and Carter put so much energy into trashing Bush an indication of John Kerry's failure to do so? "No. I'm not in the least disappointed with Kerry. I think he's a perfect candidate; honest, forthright and he plays fairly. He is a very brave man. The thing people forget is that the only reason Bush looks presidential, is because he is president. You could stick Michael Moore on Air Force One and he'd look presidential, too."

--Graydon Carter, spouting inanities.

Meanwhile...

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called him "a disingenuous filmmaker" during his speech, Moore said, "Thank you, John McCain."

No offense taken. Only dollar signs.

"Hey, the film's doing $120 million right now," Moore said. "When McCain mentions it, I have a chance to do $150 million. It just creates more interest, more excitement."

Another man might have defended his body of work after it was called "disingenuous" by a genuine American hero widely respected through large swaths of the American body politic for his blunt honesty. Particularly as being disingenuous is a pretty damning charge to hurl at someone who makes documentaries for a living.

But, of course, Moore doesn't have a serious record of integrity or artistic honesty to defend. He is but a corpulent, clownish public entertainer--serving as nothing more than a cash register for his (also corpulent) masters at Miramax.

So let us be sure to deny Michael Moore any pretensions of assuming the mantle of noble, truth-telling dissident. To allow anyone (even some of the more impressionable among us) to buy into such rank farce would be to bespoil the memories of giants like Andrei Sakharov, Vaclav Havel and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Or the Nelson Mandelas and Aung San Suu Kyi's of our time.

Still though, let's let Graydon Carter be "sort of flattered" to be in Michael's Moore's company.

You know, you can tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps. One thing this tells me about Carter? He appears to care little about the truth, the facts. Which makes it easier for him, doubtless, to pen piffle like this:

"The Bush White House inherited a government of model transparency and purposefully bent it to the will of the most secretive administration in recent American history."

The Clinton White House as model of transparency (quick, someone tell Ken Starr)! You can't make this stuff up.

"The Bush White House inherited a robust economy brimming with jobs and budget surpluses."

But wait, hadn't one of the greatest financial bubbles in history just burst around the time Bush assumed power? How "robust" is that?

Or this:

Making his final decision to launch an invasion of Iraq, President George W Bush did not seek the advice of his father, a veteran of the second world war and a former president who had gone to battle with the same foe a decade earlier. Nor did he seek the overall final recommendation of his secretary of defence, or of his secretary of state, the only man in his cabinet who had been decorated for military service in wartime with the medals befitting a national hero. Instead, as Bob Woodward wrote in his book, Plan of Attack, Bush consulted his God, a God who the president presumes takes sides in disputes between peoples.

How deeply disingenuous (to use that word again)! And how transparently aimed at making Bush appear every inch the theocratic fanatic that UBL is (a favorite tactic of the relativist left).

Are we really to seriously believe that Bush, after the briefest near 'final' consultations with Rummy and Powell (though not Poppy, mind you) was unsure of whether to wage war in Iraq until God Himself was consulted? That the real, final decision to go to war was only taken when God Willed Him To at the 11th hour? How patently absurd! And regardless, can not a Commander in Chief, about to assume the awesome obligations that come with sending citizens to war--can he not consult his God at such a pivotal moment for comfort and internal (as opposed to policy) guidance? I'm sure FDR did on occasion.

No, this is rubbish and claptrap shovelled up (with a gaggle of researchers rushing about hither dither) to move books off the shelf and, like Moore, play pretend dissident.

Am I being unfair? Oh, maybe a little bit. But not in the main, finally. Too little of Carter's recent articles and excerpts from his latest ouevre (if we can call it that) speaks of a real attempt to judiciously analyze how to address the existential perils that announced themselves on 9/11. Too little of it attempts to grapple with, seriously, the advantages and disadvantages of preventitive conflict in this new era (favoring instead empty castigations of the war in Iraq as merely diversionary tactic to distract from a hyper-rightist domestic policy agenda). Too little of it addresses the failures of our intelligence gathering process (easier to say instead that it was all a Big Lie and mega-hoodwink). Too little of it struggles with the challenges presented by the mammoth nation-building tasks we face (and will continue to face) in Central Asia and the Middle East (no, it's all just flat-out FUBAR).

But, by all means, let the Conde Nast, Miramax and Cannes faux-intellectuals hob-nob amongst themselves to their heart's content. Let them laugh about the cretin-like Chimp from Crawford and his boundless provincialism. Let them grossly simplify myriad issues to score easy points and facilitate the hurling of invective towards evil Georgie.

I doubt they and their ilk will have the last laugh, however. Those who risk lying to themselves through such intellectual laziness rarely do. In this, at least, their is a smidgen of solace in all of this. And, I guess, in that Graydon and Michael have found common cause. They certainly deserve each other!

Posted by Gregory at 01:04 PM | Comments (10)

Iyad Allawi to Le Monde

Some no nonsense talk to France from the Iraqi PM (translation mine).

Q: Pensez-vous que l'affaire des otages franais provoquera un changement de la politique de la France en Irak ?

Translation: Do you think that the French hostage situation will provoke a French change of policy in Iraq?

Allawi: Les Franais, ainsi que tous les pays dŽmocratiques, ne peuvent pas se contenter d'adopter une position passive. Les AmŽricains, les Britanniques et les autres nations qui se battent en Irak ne se battent pas seulement pour protŽger les Irakiens, ils se battent aussi pour protŽger leur propre pays.

Les gouvernements qui dŽcident de rester sur la dŽfensive seront les prochaines cibles des terroristes. Les attentats se produiront ˆ Paris, ˆ Nice, ˆ Cannes ou ˆ San Francisco. Le temps est venu d'agir contre le terrorisme, de la mme faon que, jadis, l'Europe a combattu Hitler. Tous les jours, des dizaines de personnes sont tuŽes en Irak. Elles ne meurent pas parce que nous traversons une crise nationale majeure, mais parce que nous avons dŽcidŽ de combattre le mal. C'est pourquoi toute la communautŽ internationale doit nous aider, au plus vite, pour amŽliorer la sŽcuritŽ de notre pays.

Un jour, les Etats-Unis ont dŽcidŽ de dŽbarquer en Normandie, pour Žliminer Hitler. Ils ont essuyŽ de lourdes pertes pour accomplir cet objectif. Il se produit la mme chose aujourd'hui. Les peuples doivent prendre leurs responsabilitŽs. La dŽcision d'aider l'Irak Žtait courageuse. Laissez-moi vous dire que les Franais, malgrŽ tout le bruit qu'ils font - "Nous ne voulons pas la guerre !" -, auront bient™t ˆ combattre les terroristes.

Translation: "The French, like all democratic countries, can't content themselves with adopting a passive position. The Americans, the British and other nations that are fighting in Iraq are not only fighting to protect Iraqis, they are fighting to protect their own countries.

The governments that decide to stay on the defensive will be the next targets of the terrorists. Terrorist attacks will occur in Paris, in Nice, in Cannes or in San Francisco. The time has come to act against terrorism, in the same fashion...that Europe fought Hitler. Every day, tens of people are killed in Iraq. They are not dying because we are going through a major national crisis, but because we have decided to combat evil. That's why the entire international community must assist us, as rapidly as possible, to improve the security of our country.

...the U.S. decided to disembark in Normandy, to eliminate Hitler. They suffered heavy losses to accomplish this objective. The same thing is happening today. People must assume their responsibilities. The decision to assist Iraq is courageous. Let me tell you that the French, despite all the noise they make--'We don't want war!'--will shortly have to fight the terrorists."

Some of this rhetoric is exagerrated, of course. Still, Allawi is right to remind France of the civilizational stakes at play. And, despite sarcastic simpletons in Le Monde's chat rooms, the latest Le Monde masthead indicates that some in France are starting to listen:

Cette guerre que mne le terrorisme se rŽclamant de l'islam concerne, nous le savons depuis le premier jour, toutes les dŽmocraties. Personne n'est ˆ l'abri, aucune diplomatie ne peut prŽtendre constituer une quelconque ligne Maginot qui nous protŽgerait mieux que nos voisins espagnols ou italiens de la volontŽ de mort qui est ˆ l'Ïuvre depuis les attaques du 11 septembre 2001. On touche lˆ aux limites de l'antiamŽricanisme qui semble trop souvent tenir lieu de politique Žtrangre franaise.

Translation: "This war of terrorism that claims Islam concerns, we knew from the first day, all of the democracies. No one is safe, no diplomacy can pretend to constitute a Maginot line that will protect us better than our Spanish or Italian neighbors from this willingness to die which is at work since 9/11. We have touched the limits of anti-Americanism that seems too often to take the place of a French foreign policy."

Not quite, "we are all Americans". But not your typical Le Monde fare either.

France is clearly in shock--partly because they are confronting the fact that non-participation in Iraq doesn't guarantee security for its citizens. Zut alors.
Also doubtless alarming, it is dawning on some in France that Chirac and de Villepin's hysterical policy of contain-America-at-all-costs looks increasingly amateurish and incompetent in the face of existential perils.

Evil still stalks the planet, Jacques. Welcome to the post 9/11 world. And 500 troops in Afghanistan is not a contribution worthy of a soi disant major power. Unless it's a power in deep decline, that is...

UPDATE: The French, it appears, weren't too happy about the Iraqi PM's comments:

Les propos de M. Allaoui "inacceptables"

Les dŽclarations du premier ministre irakien, Iyad Allaoui, qui, ˆ la suite de l'enlvement des deux journalistes franais, a critiquŽ la position de la France face au terrorisme (Le Monde du 31 aožt) "ne sont pas acceptables", a dŽclarŽ, lundi 30 aožt, la porte-parole adjointe du Quai d'Orsay, CŽcile Pozzo di Borgo. "Ces dŽclarations semblent en effet jeter un doute sur la dŽtermination de la France dans la lutte contre le terrorisme (...) La France mne sans rel‰che une action rŽsolue contre ce flŽau et elle a toujours apportŽ son soutien et sa contribution ˆ toutes les initiatives de la communautŽ internationale dans ce domaine", a-t-elle ajoutŽ. Paris rappelle que la France a "plaidŽ en permanence pour la recherche d'une solution politique" en Irak et estime que "la tenue d'Žlections libres et dŽmocratiques doit permettre de rŽunir les conditions d'une vŽritable reconstruction politique et Žconomique de l'Irak".

Translation: The declarations of...Allawi....[where he] criticized France's position on terrorism "are not acceptable," declared [a Quai D'Orsay spokeswoman]. "These declarations appear to throw in doubt France's determination in the fight against terrorism...France has been leading a resolute action against [terror] without respite and has always given its support to all initiatives of the international community in this domain," she added. Paris also recalled that France has "all along strived for a political settlement" in Iraq and believes that "holding free and democratic elections will provide the conditions for the true political and economic reconstruction of Iraq."

They still don't get it.

Posted by Gregory at 01:15 AM | Comments (32)

August 29, 2004

Vietnam and Kerry's Worldview

I did not know John Kerry in Vietnam, but I knew the area he was in, having served in the same area as a civilian. I've talked to him often about Vietnam in recent years, and there is no question in my mind that it was the defining experience of his adult years, just as it was for me and hundreds of thousands of other Americans, including those now attacking him.

His personal saga embodies the American experience in Vietnam. First he was a good hero in a bad war -- a man who volunteered for duty in the Navy and then asked for an assignment on the boats that were to ply the dangerous rivers of Vietnam -- when most of his college-educated contemporaries (including George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton) -- found easy ways to avoid Vietnam. Then, carrying shrapnel in his thigh, he became an eloquent but moderate member of the antiwar movement. John Kerry introduced his Vietnam record into his campaign because it is a central part of who he is.

-- Richard Holbrooke, writing in the WaPo yesterday.

It's interesting that Holbrooke would write (in an op-ed doubtless approved by Kerry) that Vietnam is the "defining experience" of Kerry's adult years. Given that the op-ed appeared yesterday, weeks into the Swift Boat maelstrom, it appears Kerry has decided he will not be cowed by all the Swift Boat going-ons (into soft-pedaling his Vietnam history). Indeed, Kerry instead appears to be purposefully keeping Vietnam front and center via prominent surrogates like Holbrooke.

Given this, I think it behooves us to analyze Kerry's '71 Senate testimony in more detail. To be sure, let's recall that it was a long time ago. That he was a pretty young man. And that Kerry himself has suggested some of his comments were a bit on the overzealous side.

Still, if Vietnam is Kerry's formative experience, his comments merit closer analysis than I've seen of late. So let's take a look at a few key grafs from Kerry's testimony. Here, for instance, is Kerry recommending to the Senators that the U.S. pull out of Vietnam asap:

My feeling, Senator, is undoubtedly this Congress, and I don't mean to sound pessimistic, but I do not believe that this Congress will, in fact, end the war as we would like to, which is immediately and unilaterally and, therefore, if I were to speak I would say we would set a date and the date obviously would be the earliest possible date. But I would like to say, in answering that, that I do not believe it is necessary to stall any longer. I have been to Paris. I have talked with both delegations at the peace talks, that is to say the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government and of all eight of Madam Binh's points it has been stated time and time again, and was stated by Senator Vance Hartke when he returned from Paris, and it has been stated by many other officials of this Government, if the United States were to set a date for withdrawal the prisoners of war would be returned....I would, therefore, submit that the most expedient means of getting out of South Vietnam would be for the President of the United States to declare a cease-fire, to stop this blind commitment to a dictatorial regime, the Thieu-Ky-Khiem regime, accept a coalition regime which would represent all the political forces of the country which is in fact what a representative government is supposed to do and which is in fact what this Government here in this country purports to do, and pull the troops out without losing one more American, and still further without losing the South Vietnamese.

Put aside the dreary notes of pompousness and self-importance ("I have been to Paris.") Focus instead on Kerry's likely disingenuous concern about the South Vietnamese. It's clear he's hell-bent on getting all U.S. troops out as soon as possible. But, and at the same time, Kerry claims that he's interested in not losing too many South Vietnamese lives in the midst of his recommended uber-hasty departure from Vietnam.

But how does that jibe with this part of his testimony later?

Senator Aiken: I think your 3,000 estimate might be a little low because we had to help 800,000 find sanctuary from North Vietnam after the French lost at Dienbienphu. But assuming that we resettle the members of the Saigon government, who would undoubtedly be in danger, in some other area, what do you think would be the attitude, of the large, well-armed South Vienamese army and the South Vietnamese people? Would they be happy to have us withdraw or what?

Mr. Kerry: Well, Senator, this obviously is the most difficult question of all, but I think that at this point the United States is not really in a position to consider the happiness of those people as pertains to the army in our withdrawal. We have to consider the happiness of the people as pertains to the life which they will be able to lead in the next few years.

If we don't withdraw, if we maintain a Korean-type presence in South Vietnam, say 50,000 troops or something, with strategic bombing raids from Guam and from Japan and from Thailand dropping these 15,000 pound fragmentation bombs on them, et cetera, in the next few years, then what you will have is a people who are continually oppressed, who are continually at warfare, and whose problems will not at all be solved because they will not have any kind of representation.

The war will continue. So what I am saying is that yes, there will be some recrimination but far, far less than the 200,000 a year who are murdered by the United States of America, and we can't go around- President Kennedy said this, many times. He said that the United States simply can't right every wrong, that we can't solve the problems of the other 94 percent of mankind. We didn't go into East Pakistan; we didn't go into Czechoslovakia. Why then should we feel that we now have the power to solve the internal political struggles of this country?

We have to let them solve their problems while we solve ours and help other people in an altruistic fashion commensurate with our capacity. But we have extended that capacity; we have exhausted that capacity, Senator. So I think the question is really moot.

Translation: Get our boys home soonest--whatever happens to the South Vietnamese (what would Kerry have done in Korea? What might he do in Iraq?). And, regardless, we can't go around, willy-nilly, trying to help oppressed peoples in so distant places like Prague or Saigon.

This isn't just far-away history, of course. When Bosnians were being massacred in large number--Kerry voted against lifting the arms embargo on the long suffering Bosniaks and using NATO air-power against Bosnian Serb gunners terrorizing "safe" havens like Sarajevo and, most tragically of all, Srebrenica.

Why, one wonders? Wouldn't a liberal Senator from Massachusetts want to help victims of genocidal policies? Because I think, to his core, Kerry's Vietnam experience has left him highly suspicious of the use of American power. He appears to think it an overly blunt instrument that, more often than not, causes more harm than good on the world stage. So, therefore, a policy of authorizing NATO warplanes into flight to protect civilians being shelled to death becomes cause for deep suspicion. Put differently, how could a military adventure by the Americans be for a good cause? (Note also, and perhaps this is strange for the son of a diplomat, that one espies isolationist tendencies within Kerry too).

Then there's this:

Senator, I will say this. I think that politically, historically, the one thing that people try to do, that society is structured on as a whole, is an attempt to satisfy their felt needs, and you can satisfy those needs with almost any kind of political structure, giving it one name or the other. In this name it is democratic; in other it is communism; in others it is benevolent dictatorship. As long as those needs are satisfied, that structure will exist.

But when you start to neglect those needs, people will start to demand a new structure, and that, to me, is the only threat that this country faces now, because we are not responding to the needs and we are not responding to them because we work on these old cold-war precepts and because we have not woken up to realizing what is happening in the United States of America.

Is it just me, or is it an odd concept to think of societies as simply mechanisms by which to "satisfy their felt needs"? And is there not an alarming relativism buried in this Marxist-like cogitation about "structure"? Put differently, if the "felt needs" are satisfied via communism fine. By dictatorship, fine. Democracy is just the "name" we use in these United States. We are left wondering whether it really means anything special, no?

Look, I'm not saying Kerry thinks communism and democracy are equally good or bad. What I'm saying is that I don't really know what Kerry is willing to fight for. I feel a dearth of true conviction in this man (war hero one day; dissident the next; medals good; medals, or ribbons, bad).

Containing communism in Central America or Vietnam was not worth our blood and treasure (opposing totalitarian ideologies). Preventing genocidal conduct in the heart of Europe wasn't (humanitarianism). Securing Kuwait's sovereignty and protecting Saudi Arabia's oil supplies wasn't (realist reasons). Well, it's fair to ask, what is then? (ed. note: You might quibble with me here and say it's merely the way we have tried to achieve our geopolitical objectives that bothers Kerry. But this is unpersuasive. I challenge readers, for instance, to show me what he would now do differently in Iraq than Bush is doing--a war Kerry himself provided the President the authority to wage. And, no, vague talk of being more multinational and realist ain't gonna cut it.)

To be sure, too much Manichean-style conviction can be dangerous as well (what gets Bush critics up in arms). But, in a post-9/11 world where the risk of apocalpytic terror by fanatical terror groups is very real--I want someone in power who believes societies are sometimes inherently different. That they might even share different core values, mores, and priorities (ie., not merely all going about satisfying their 'felt needs' in similar fashion in morally neutral fashion).

Someone who might even believe that our values are, on occasion, superior to those of some of our foes. Put another way, I want someone in power who believes that our values (when linked to tangible national interests of import) might be worth fighting for--even with painful expenditures in blood and treasure occasionally necessitated--in the furtherance of human advancement and liberty.

Look, Saddam was a monster--can anyone deny his passing from the scene is not a positive development? Of course, we committed many missteps during the post-major combat period--but the Iraq project could still ultimately prove a success. If it did--would we not all rejoice that an Arab democracy took root in Mesopotamia--a democracy that would replace a morally bankrupt system defined by neo-Stalinist thuggery of the most brutish stripe?

We might fail, yes, and such failure would be at great costs to the stability of the region and American credibility worldwide. But I think the risk of failure is lower with Bush in for a second term than with Kerry winning in November. For Bush, I believe, thinks there is something worth fighting for in Iraq. I'm not sure Kerry really does. So Kerry, I suspect, would have us do what he counseled re: Vietnam. Get out, and let the locals sort out their difficulties, as they will be better off without us.

He could be right, of course (that, all told, the Iraqis would be better off without us--though the specter of horrific and large-scale inter-sectarian revanchist killings makes that hard to believe). But I think (despite too few troops, Abu Ghraib, the situations in Najaf and Fallujah) that we can still turn Iraq into a success (defined as a unitary, viable democratic polity). This effort, of course, needs to unfold within the larger context of a generational committment in the Middle East on a variety of levels (forging an Arab-Israeli peace settlement; better public diplomacy, helping foster conditions of sustainable economic development).

But, arguably most of all at this juncture, it means seeing Iraq through.

Would John Kerry?

Posted by Gregory at 01:51 AM | Comments (56)

August 27, 2004

Cole's Excesses

I've gotten a good deal of E-mail of late asking me why I continue to blogroll Juan Cole given some of the Counterpunch style excesses of his animus towards George Bush (not to mention large swaths of the Bush Administration generally).

I haven't replied to those correspondents as a) I don't really buy into de-linking campaigns and b) I'm behind on E-mail generally. So let me just say here that I keep him on because I respect his regional expertise and evident passion about developments in the Middle East. This, however, I found quite beyond the pale:

The history of alcoholism and possibly other drug use is a key issue because it not only speaks to Bush's character as an addictive personality, but may tell us something about his erratic and alarming actions as president. His explosive temper probably provoked the disastrous siege of Fallujah last spring, killing 600 Iraqis, most of them women and children, in revenge for the deaths of 4 civilian mercenaries, one of them a South African. (Newsweek reported that Bush commanded his cabinet, "Let heads roll!") That temper is only one problem. Bush has a sadistic streak. He clearly enjoyed, as governor, watching executions. His delight in killing people became a campaign issue in 2000 when he seemed, in one debate, to enjoy the prospect of executing wrong-doers a little too much. He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq. Drug abuse can affect the ability of the person to feel deep emotions like empathy. Two decades of pickling his nervous system in various highly toxic substances have left Bush damaged goods. Even for those who later abstain, "visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover." That he managed to get on the wagon (though with that pretzel incident, you wonder how firmly) is laudable. But he suffers the severe effects of the aftermath, and we are all suffering along with him now, since he is the most powerful man in the world. [emphasis added]

"He has clearly gone on enjoying killing people on a large scale in Iraq"?

Think about that statement for a second or two. How offensively unmoored from any evidentiary support or rational appraisal! Cole does himself no favors engaging in such hateful screeds and rank hyperbole.

By the way, Cole's link that discusses some of the negative long-term impacts of alcohol abuse includes the below information too (which Cole doesn't mention):

Despite the grim realities described above, the situation is not hopeless: With abstinence there is functional and structural recovery...

Predictably cognitive functions and motor coordination improve, at least partially, within 3 or 4 weeks of abstinence; cerebral atrophy reverses after the first few months of sobriety.

Indications of structural pathology often disappear completely with long-term abstinence.

Hyper-excitability of the central nervous system persists during the first several months of sobriety and then normalizes.

Frontal lobe blood flow continues to increase with abstinence, returning to approximately normal levels within 4 years.

In general, skills that require novel, complex, and rapid information processing take longest to recover. New verbal learning is among the first to recover. Visual-spatial abilities, abstraction, problem solving, and short-term memory, are the slowest to recover. There may be persistent impairment in these domains, particularly among older alcoholics [over 40]. However, even this population may show considerable recovery with prolonged abstinence.

I'm not a medical professional or expert in such things (and Cole certainly isn't either). But I do have common sense and am happy to try to be judicial in considering such matters. Bush quit drinking when he was 40. He hasn't had a drink in around 15 years. Does anyone seriously think a bottle (nay, hundreds of them) of Jack Daniels imbibed circa. 1985 impacts war room cabinet decisions with regard to Fallujah a score or so years later?

Of course not.

But, more apropos, should a prominent academic be suggesting that Bush's previous history of heavy drinking is a contributing factor in Bush's alleged gleeful massacring of Iraqis on a "large scale"? Is that serious, professional discourse?

No, it's not. Not by a long shot, I fear. It will earn Cole some appreciative high-fives amidst the Ann Arbor, Berkeley and Cambridge sets--but does his reputation no favors in more sober circles.

Posted by Gregory at 01:04 PM | Comments (40)

August 26, 2004

First Takes: Abu Ghraib Reports

Birds migrate; policies don't.

I haven't read the Fay and Schlesinger reports in their entirety yet (unlike Don Rumsfeld's seeming rapid-fire skim of the Taguba report--I will read each and every page as soon as time allows). But my gut tells me, and this happens pretty rarely, that the NYT has got it pretty right on this one.

So, yeah, I'd like to see accountability above the Pappas/Karpinski level.

Might that happen? I doubt it; but who knows?

On Capitol Hill, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said the Armed Services Committee, which he chairs, will seek to review officer promotions.

"We're going to ask the Department of Defense to examine this promotion system to determine whether or not some who are unqualified for higher responsibilities are slipping through the network," he said at a news conference.

Asked whether Rumsfeld should resign, Warner said he "essentially" agreed with Schlesinger's rejection of the idea Tuesday. But Warner noted that "the commanding officer has to take responsibility for those actions of his subordinates that are proven to be unprofessional or downright wrong."

Senate hearings, pre-trial discovery, more digestion of these reports--this story will be with us through the Fall. It's far from over. Rummy won't resign, of course (though he should have many months back). As George Will had memorably put it:

This nation has always needed an ethic about the resignation of public officials. Such an ethic cannot be codified. It must grow in controlling power from precedent to precedent, as an unwritten common law, distilled from the behavior of uncommonly honorable men and women who understand the stakes. A nation, especially one doing the business of empire, needs high officials to be highly attentive to what is done in their departments -- attentive far down the chain of command, as though their very jobs depended on it."

To be sure, Rummy had a helluva lot on his plate during these years. But that doesn't excuse repeated episodes of torture occuring on his watch. And despite his arrogance and seeming insouciance about Abu Ghraib, I'd bet--in his heart of hearts--he knows he has failed the American polity badly on this score.

History will not remember him kindly for it. It is now too late for him to resign, of course. But Donald Rumsfeld, should Bush prevail in November, does not deserve a second term as Secretary of Defense--despite his often sterling service during these past three exceptionally trying years.

A better man needs to be in that job. That man, for my money, is John McCain.

NB: Some will be concerned that, like Dick Holbrooke, a McCain type might not be controllable. But both Holbrooke as a potential Kerry SecState and McCain as a potential Bush SecDef are professional enough Beltway operatives to serve within the parameters of the President's policy goals and wishes. They may be a bit on the swashbuckling side--but they are not rogues.

Further, Bush announcing (say, in October, especially if UBL wasn't delivered up by the ISI on sched) that John McCain will be his SecDef in a second term would be a masterstroke. For one, it will finally force John Kerry to quiet up about how Band-of-Brotherish he is with McCain. And, more important, such a move would get more independents on board for Bush--whilst signaling a new course at a Pentagon that, because of its 'transformationalist' experiments (too few, and too untrained, troops milling about Mesopotamia) and lack of supervisory controls--helped lead to a great moral stain on America (as avatar of human rights) with Abu Ghraib. Nor, it bears mentioning, would Bush be violating any Kennebunkport loyalty codes. Rummy would have served out his full term. No one got canned. There will doubtless be a new SecState; why not a new SecDef too?

On that score, I also think Bush should announce who his next Secretary of State (assuming Powell does indeed leave) would be at the same time. For one, it makes it look more like Bush was merely signaling who will be in any prospective new Cabinet rather than solely an out and out Rummy-banishment. Coming soon--my proposed foreign policy cabinets for both Kerry and Bush.

Posted by Gregory at 11:34 AM | Comments (41)

August 25, 2004

Rumblings of Internecine Warfare Chez the Neo-Cons

It's Fukuyama vs. Krauthammer going at it (somewhere around about the third round)! Krauthammer calls a Fukuyama National Interest piece "breathtakingly incoherent." Fukuyama, in turn, described a Krauthammer speech (presumably this one) as "strangely disconnected from reality." We will have more on the Fukuyama-Krauthammer spat once Krauthammer pens his response (forthcoming in the pages of the National Interest).

Until then, a word of praise for Jeanne Kirkpatrick who has injected a little common-sensical wisdom into all of this:

Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former United Nations ambassador and another founder of the neoconservative movement, said she, too, had doubts about the invasion. But she didn't think the debate over the Iraq war was about neoconservatism.

"I think there's almost an epidemic of the use of the term," she said.

Amen, to that!

For one, of course, what Kirkpatrick means is that we didn't go to war in Iraq simply because Perle whispered so to Wolfy who whispered so to Rummy who did to Cheney who then got the Kid on board. There was the little matter of 9/11--a changed global security environment--and many people (including the author of this blog) believed that a prudential, realist analysis of the threat posed by Iraq (assuming chemical and bio capability as so many of us did) merited action on more traditional security grounds in the face of Saddam's refusal to abide by 1441 and his past trouble-making behavior (see people like Kissinger, James Baker and, er, John Kerry too).

But, all this aside, Kirkpatrick's little quip rang true for me on another level too.
These days, it too often appears, simply if you have the misfortune of believing that the robust projection of American power overseas constitutes, in the main, a beneficial force for stability in the international system--well, you come under suspicion of being a dreaded neo-con.

You're not a paleo, Scowcroftian Bush 41'er, Kissingerian realist or Kerryesque McGovernite?

Must be a (gasp) neo-con, then.

As we are all so well aware, the neo-cons are often described as a nefarious high-preisthood of like-minded souls busily going about doing Arik Sharon's bidding on the back of cretin Georgie (and all us hapless folks imbimbing all the jingo-talk on Fox). They are often the object of humorously over-heated speculation (Wurmser, Perle etc. wanting to restore the Hashimite monarchy back to Baghdad!ed. note: Informed Comment needs to get its story straight, as before said blog was screaming it was Chalabi they wished to install...) And, of course, we are told that they control the entire Bush war cabinet save Colin Powell and Dick Armitage.

For sure, post 9/11, there was doubtless a period of hawkish ascendancy in Washington. And, to be sure, people like Wolfowitz had more of an audience with tough-minded American nationalists like Cheney and Rummy than they might have had otherwise. But other voices, throughout, remained influential. Powell won quite a few quiet victories, for instance. Has his Department not outflanked the Pentagon, all told, on both Iran and NoKo policy (the issue of policy drift without adequate brokering from the NSC aside)?

The reality, of course, is much more complex. Well before this little Fukuyama-Krauthammer discord--neo-cons have shown they are not afflicted by boorish, Pavlovian group-think. Bill Kristol was a McCain guy; Perle more of a Bushie. Michael Leeden has different views on Iran policy than Rob Kagan. And so on.

So Kirkpatrick is right...too much talk about all these neo-cons! They don't control all of Washington. They argue among themselves. They have different opinions. They don't wish to restore the Hashimites to power in Baghdad.

Yes, they tend to be quite pro-Israel. Yes, they badly botched the post-war planning on Iraq because of "cakewalk" assumptions. Yes, they were not knowledgeable enough about the region and they disdained expert input from State to all of our detriment.

So, no, I'm not a water-carrier from them. But their views are important and often compelling. They are smart and dedicated individuals. You can bitch on and on about them if you like--but neo-cons have (on, say, Bosnia policy) taken quite noble stances in the past. And they're not simply going to disappear.

But if you insist on going on about them-better to analyze them after debunking some of the myths surrounding them and generally taking the temperature down a few degrees.

Or, even better, per Jeanne Kirkpatrick, we might even start talking about them a tad less!

NB: More, from a quite old B.D. piece, here (mostly addressing some gripes against the neos emitting from the paleo-con crowd...).

OK, Fukuyama and Krauthammer to follow...

Posted by Gregory at 08:15 PM | Comments (18)

Remember That Election?

Will the impending Afghan elections (scheduled for October 9th) be imperiled by a massive terror campaign? And, if so, to what extent might one blame Pakistan (whether Musharraf, rogue ISI elements, NWFP tribal leaders, or some combination thereto) should such a scenario occur? These are some of the critical questions begged by this David Rohde piece in today's NYT.

While Mr. Musharraf, playing host to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, vowed that anyone seeking to act against Afghanistan from his soil would be stopped, the diplomats said Pakistan was turning a blind eye to just such activity.

"They are training, financing and organizing these operations on Pakistani soil," said a Western diplomat in Kabul, the Afghan capital. "There is evidence from people who have been picked up in Afghanistan that they are receiving training in Pakistan."

Three senior diplomats, who all spoke on condition of anonymity, said they were speaking now because Western intelligence agencies had concluded that the Taliban were planning major attacks to disrupt Afghanistan's first presidential election, scheduled for Oct. 9, including spectacular attacks in Kabul, the capital.

They called on Pakistani officials to rein in Taliban operations immediately.

"If these attacks do take place, the responsibility will be shared," one diplomat warned, referring to Pakistan. "Our process is being attacked from the territory of Pakistan. That is the responsibility of Pakistan."

The blunt comments about Pakistan appear to be the first public step in an effort to press Pakistan regarding the Taliban ahead of the Afghan election.

The worst problems appear to be in Baluchistan Province where the Taliban, neo-Talib, and assorted sympathizers appear to be moving into southern and easterly portions of Afghanistan with relative impunity and creating real trouble. Diplomats on the ground think the activity is so large in scale it could not occur without Islamabad turning something of a blind eye.

So, of course, the main speculation turns to Musharraf.

"Musharraf does not have complete control over everybody," a senior military officer in Washington said. "But he's trying methodically to do what he can. When he kicks over a rock and the cockroaches scurry, he tries to kill them."

Other officials argue that it is difficult for General Musharraf to control the isolated tribal areas that lie along the border because of alliances that have built up between the tribesmen there and the Taliban.

Still others argue that he is playing a double game with the United States. He hopes to keep the Taliban alive to influence events in Afghanistan, particularly if the United States should capture Mr. bin Laden and abandon the region, those analysts say.

"They think we don't have the staying power to stay here indefinitely," said one of the Western diplomats in Kabul. "There will be another play for Afghanistan, and they would like to have some horses."

Look, I can't really blame Pervez for keeping his anti-India 'strategic depth' card in play should the U.S. end up scaling back in Afghanistan post, say, a UBL apprehension (which, recall, was supposed to happen around the time John Kerry stepped up to the podium in Boston a few weeks back). After all, we didn't exhibit much, er, follow-through after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 80's and Afghanistan descended into chaos before coming under brutish Taliban rule.

Yes, 9/11 changed everything. And yes, especially as Afghanistan is where the war on terror started, I think we will be there for a very long time yet. Still, Musharraf must keep the Pakistani (not American) national interest utmost in his mind. Let's not deceive ourselves here.

So, if I had to guess, I'd bet Musharraf is letting the ISI give some pretty free rein to certain more moderate Taliban types that are deemed to be relatively innocuous pro-Pakistani influences--while striking out at al-Qaeda and harder core Talibs that are more radicalized and less willing to respect any red-lines communicated by Musharraf and/or the ISI.

The old debate about HVTs is a bit of a chimera (as employed by Spence Ackerman and such). It's not just Dubya that would love UBL turned over pre-November. Musharraf would love to get him too--before the Afghan elections. That would make the Western diplomats huff and puff less in Islamabad. And so let Musharraf tell Washington--I delivered your main nemesis--give me a little more breathing room (Translation: More Pashtun muscle-flexing through Afghanistan with major Pakistani assistance).

So, yeah, Musharraf doesn't control every inch of the tribal areas. And he doesn't even necessarily control all elements within the ISI. But, all told, the biggest reason that diplomats in Pakistan are concerned about Pakistan's role vis-a-vis the security situation for the impending Afghan elections is likely mostly a result of Musharraf wanting to ensure that Pakistan's interests in Afghanistan remain protected well into the future--a future where the U.S. (just might) be long gone.

The diplomat added that Pakistan's Embassy in Kabul was still "full of ISI." That shows, he said, that the Pakistanis still view Afghanistan "through a strategic security lens almost to the exclusion of everything else."

Heh. You think (reminds me of the quite large Iranian Embassy in Sarajevo circa. '96)?

As for those elections:

The three Western diplomats said they were particularly concerned about the election. In the last four months, 12 election workers have been killed and 33 wounded in Taliban attacks, and as the election approaches, 100,000 election workers will fan out across the country.

"The number of targets is going to be phenomenal," a diplomat said.

The number will be phenomenal in Iraq too--when those elections roll around. Sounds like it's time for another come to Jesus chat as between Colin Powell and Musharraf. Let's do everything we can to make this election as bloodless as possible. And learn from our mistakes as the inevitable attempts at carnage and scuttling the vote occur nevertheless. After all, we'll have an, all told, more difficult electoral excercise coming up pretty soon a little to the West...

Posted by Gregory at 01:17 AM | Comments (3)

August 23, 2004

The Moore Chronicles

A month or so back, I had the inglorious occasion to catch Fahrenheit 9/11 at a movie theater in the 6th arrondissement of Paris. The appreciative guffaws from the Left Bank audience added predictable insult to the injury of Moore's cheaply polemical "documentary."

I put documentary in quotes ("(p)resenting facts objectively without editorializing or inserting fictional matter...") because, truth be told, I don't think Moore's film deserves the moniker. Which brings me to this well worth reading (if overly sympathetic and long) review of Fahrenheit 9/11 in the NYRB.

I found a few parts of the review particularly interesting as they showcase some key points (numbered below) I thought of as I watched the movie.

1) Moore's film displays an astonishing degree of provincialism:

Let me explain. Recall the risibly propagandistic footage of Saddam era Iraq before the brutish American bombs began to fall. Kites flying, kids laughing, happy weddings. Life was so rosy in the neo-Stalinist paradise!

This absurd whitewash of Saddam's Iraq in part stems from Moore very likely not giving two damns about the Iraqis or their fate. Which, to a fashion, reveals the extent of Moore's myopic Flint-centric worldview. In this world, the monied and powerful (simply to put down a pipeline here, boost the bottom line of a private equity shop there) send off legions of our young underclass as cheap cannon fodder in monstrously self-interested fashion. This narrative, of course, is all happening in Moore's hyperbolically oppressive America--with little care or concern about the wider world.

As the NYRB review puts it:

Fahrenheit 9/11 is not, finally, a movie about Iraq or Afghanistan, and evidently is not intended to be: it's a movie about America and Americans. The bloody scenes of the Iraq war that follow the dubious montage mentioned above have a frightening effectiveness not because they illuminate in any way the conflicts within Iraqi society but because they demonstrate the unbridgeable gap between the American soldiers and the place where they find themselves. It's as if Moore identified so much with the bewilderment of those soldiers that he can only give us their point of view. The Iraqis themselves are an indistinguishable mass of suffering and resentment, with no distinctions made among different allegiances within the culture: the result, at worst, is another dubious moment where the soundtrack gives us party musicÑ"Come on, party people, throw your hands in the air"Ñin synch with a crowd of insurgents raising their rifles, who are thereby made to look like a parody of the Arab raiders in some desert adventure movie.

Put differently, despite (because of?) the Cannes international glitterati being all atwitter about Moore's film, it's a work that tells us little about where Iraq stands today or stood under Saddam, or how the world has changed post 9/11, or anything else really that would really earn the moniker documentary.

In this vein, recall too the repulsive scene where, in a manner reminiscent of Abu Ghraib, U.S. soldiers are mistreating an Iraqi corpse. Surely many on the left admire Moore's "courage" in airing such footage so that naive Americans sitting about in Peoria don't swallow all Murdoch's jingoistic slop on Fox about all the kindergarten-building underway in Tikrit. But what such footage instead again reinforces is Moore's deep-seated provincial worldview:

Here as elsewhere in the film Moore has a tendency to make easy caricatural use of any footage involving exotics, whether from Saudi Arabia or Costa Rica. The American soldiers on the other hand are made to seem thoroughly familiar even when they are talking about getting pumped up on a record by the Bloodhound Gang when riding into battle ("The roof is on fire... Burn, motherfucker, burn!") or abusing a bound prisoner in Abu Ghraib fashion (a voice redolent of ancient summer camp hazing rituals howls, "You touched his dick!").

These grotesqueries are not meant as an honest critique of our war effort in Iraq or our handling of Iraqi POWs or dead. They are rather a form of cheap pornography (with a touch of snuff) masquerading as courageous dissidence (Moore securing us the muckracking truth amidst the Big Lies of the Bushies, Big Business, Big Media). All this is part of why, after seeing his movie, what I really wanted to do immediately was take a long, hot shower (instead I had to opt for a bottle of Muscadet...)

2) Moore is intellectually lazy and has but one narrative that he tiresomely revisits.

Moore has merely recycled his earlier oeuvre and repackaged it to fit his hatred of the Bushies and his disdain and (mostly pretend) anger that we went to war in Iraq.

As the NYRB puts it:

Roger & Me tells the story of how General Motors cut its losses in Flint, Michigan, without any regard for the fate of the workers left behind, and turns it into a whimsical quest by Moore for an interview with GM's chairman, Roger Smith. Along the way, an assortment of found footage Ñhome movies, promotional films, TV newscasts, performance clips featuring celebrities on the order of Anita Bryant and Pat Boone, scenes from old Hollywood picturesÑare interwoven with the staged encounters that have become Moore's trademark, in which various spokespersons and security officers are enlisted as bit players in a comically timed confrontation with authority....

Substituting the administration of George W. Bush for General Motors, Moore's new film, Fahrenheit 9/11, could almost be a remake of Roger & Me. While operating on a larger scale, it draws on the same formal devices and leads to the same broad and simple conclusion, a conclusion with which Charles Dickens might well have had some empathy: that the big shots do things for their own self-serving reasons and don't give a damn about you or me or all the others who maneuver for temporary advantage in a situation not of their choosing. Indeed, in Fahrenheit, as in his previous film, Bowling for Columbine (2002), Moore eventually brings the movie back to Flint, as if to reaffirm a core of personal experience as his center even when contemplating the most far-flung events. This stubborn subjectivity, grounded in local knowledge, and reinforced by habitual gestures and comic tics, is strained in his new movie almost to the breaking point as he incorporates as much as he can of the history of the past four years, but it is something he can't afford to lose.

So this is Moore's sole world view in a nutshell. The powerful are duplicitous and evil--and always violently oppress the weak in grotesquely self-interested fashion with nary a care for the cruelly suffering masses. The oppressors might change a bit here and there (GM, gun companies, Carlyle, Bush-Saud dynasties, Halliburton) but the oppressed stay mostly the same (the struggling perma-underclasses of places like Flint).

It's a hugely simplistic take on the world--and Moore will likely sputter out of gas soon as a single story-line only takes you so far. (And, worth noting, much of the international acclaim for Moore, really, was mostly a function of the Bush hatred that infects artistic 'elites' rather than any real talent. Cannes hadn't awarded the Palme D'Or to a documentary in 48 long years. Did Moore's merit such a rare honor? Well, no, of course not...)

But surely there is something in his work that generates all this buzz. Part of his appeal, of course, is simply that he brazenly pisses on and mocks the powerful. Like a hooligan throwing a pie into Bill Gate's face--the long My Pet Goat camera sequence appeals to many who like to see the powerful humiliated. Made to appear small, dumb, moronic (by the way, what should Bush have done? Stopped the reading and told the gathered kiddies that maybe tens of thousands of officeworkers has just been de facto cremated in the Towers? C'mon!).

But there is something else that doubtless impressed the Quentin Tarantino types as the jury deliberated. And yes, it does involve a form of talent or gift. Moore is not wholly talent-less. He does ingeniously inject popular culture references (a la Tarantino) in a way that appeals to a lazily cynical, fed-on-MTV, mostly apolitical swath of the public.

3) Moore adeptly uses postmodern devices (pastiche, irony, bricolage) but, unlike much of the cynical detachment of postmodernists vis-a-vis taking political stances, employs these devices in an overtly politicized, polemical fashion.

He needs to do this partly because his theses--if they appeared purely in written form without all the interspersed parodic 'entertainment' (music soundtracks and such)--wouldn't garner much interest among the wider public.

It must be said that Moore is a good deal less persuasive when he doesn't have his audiovisual displays at his disposal. On the bare page he is the artist stripped of his tools, however strange a statement that may be to make about an author whose books sell in the millions of copies. Funny as he sometimes is in print, Moore finally cannot resist bludgeoning the reader into submission with his reductive prose:

EveryoneÑexcept those who die in itÑloves a good war, especially one you can win quickly. We, good. Them, bad. Them, dead. We win! Cue the cameras, the victorious POTUS is landing on the aircarrier.

In Fahrenheit 9/11 the gist of this passage is conveyed, to quite different effect, by a clip from the early days of the Iraq war of the TV anchorwoman Katie Couric chirping "I just want you to know I think Navy Seals rock!" and by actual footage of Bush on that aircraft carrier, beneath the now notorious MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner, the scene underscored by the maddeningly buoyant theme of the early 1980s TV show The Greatest American Hero ("Suddenly I'm up on top of the world,/Shoulda been somebody else./Believe it or not I'm walking on air,/I never thought I could feel so free"). Rather than a succession of slogans and one-liners that become tiresome even if you agree with them, the film offers signs captured from the air, little pieces of the environment we inhabit. An overt connoisseurship of sources comes into play. The fun that Moore has mixing his materialsÑincluding the fairly cheap fun of the Dragnet clips, the Bonanza bit with Bush and Company riding off to Afghanistan, the music video effect of REM's "Shiny Happy People" as backdrop to scenes of Bushes and Saudis socializing together, the World WrestlingÐstyle roll call of the Coalition of the WillingÑis meant to be shared by an audience sufficiently at home with all forms of sampling and downloading to take a virtually professional interest in the fine points of Moore's mix tape.

A written polemic about Bush pere hobnobbing with Crown Prince Abdullah to fill Carlyle's pockets (Moore hasn't a clue how the private equity business works) wouldn't get nearly as much attention. But finding footage of all the key actors appearing a bit unreal, awkward (theatrical handshakes amidst muggy Riyadh palaces with preppy George Herbert Walker surrounded by smiling, beturbaned Saudi royals)--with REM's 'Shiny Happy People' blaring--well that does have an effect on the movie-going masses. This "sampling" and "downloading" keeps the viewer involved, entertained, ready to shell out the 10 bucks to see a soi disant political documentary.

Moore is, in some ways, a caricature of an Oliver Stone (his flights of factual fancy much greater even)--but one who knows how to jazz up the set a bit more than gloomy Oliver so as to keep the crowd better entertained. His style of work (using postmodern devices to entertain so as to keep people attentive during his boorish, propagandistic and tedious quasi-documentarian excursions) might well constitute a dangerous form of propaganda were it not for the innate B.S. detectors people carry with them.

Put differently, I suspect, for those that hate Bush, they will leave the theater still hating him--but not really anymore than before. For those that like Bush, they will leave unpersuaded and further convinced that Moore is a cheap charlatan. And for any Bush undecideds, they will leave in a blur of pop culture references, a REM song here, a 'Keep on Rocking in the Free World' riff there, a Marine recruiter plying his trade in an iconic mall parking lot there.

So they will leave bemused and entertained--but not truly interested, persuaded on the merits, advanced in knowledge, fulfilled spiritually, improved in any real way (as true art is meant to do). That such efforts are even considered art and worthy of significant prizes speaks to the cultural desert we inhabit today. It's a sad state of affairs--but at least the dangers of a Leni Riefenstahl are not presented by this faux-artist who is really an imbecilic Howard Stern type shock-jock with a camera and a bone to pick from the old Flint days.

So yes, I'm clearly deeply underwhelmed, and doubtless others will increasingly be so going forward. The emperor has no clothes (much like the Cannes jury's selection process).

And yet, like it or not, Fahrehheit 9/11 passes for compelling fare among many. Surely though, better times must beckon? Or has cultural production truly become so desparately bleak? It hasn't, I know (many talents toil in near anonymity), but critics need to yell more loudly so the boorish lout that is Michael Moore is unmasked for the charlatan, publicity-hound and talent-challenged fraud that he is.

Posted by Gregory at 11:42 PM | Comments (18)

In-House News

I dislike posting in-house news too often. Even close friends have told me: "Hey, I don't care when you are travelling on business or holiday. No need to tell us about it." And likewise, it would follow, no need to post just to tell people I'm too busy to post!

Still, I do those things, I guess, because I feel guilty when a) I'm not posting or b) I'm posting more just for the sake of posting (keeping the site "fresh") without, say, that extra 30 minutes or so I could have used to add more thought, try to avoid any nefarious polemical tendencies (you know, seemingly weekly broadsides against TPM and such), phrase my argument better, delete extraneous language, or simply to employ some more rigorous grammar/spelling checks.

Why do I bring all this up now, fresh from a 2 week summer break when I should be tanned, rested, and ready to blog up a veritable storm? For one, work is pretty crazy right now (even with a Blackberry keeping me pretty on top of the deal flow whilst on the beach). And, importantly too, personal reasons are making my post-work (ie, post 8-9 PM) work schedule tighter as well. But the immediate catalyst for this little note was an email I received that was copied to a small group of bloggers:

Dear friends,

I've meant to send you a note for some time now. All of you seem on occasion recently to have suffered from e-exhaustion or e-overwork (see DD's latest post). Your commentaries are the best, and intelligent people depend on you. But there's no reason you must spend most of your waking hours blogging. You should feel free to blog when you wish and to be quiet when you must or want to. Your commentary is invaluable, and we'll find it whenever you post it, even if it is less regular or frequent than you wish.

I'm not a principled anti-collectivist, but collective blogs are much less interesting...

With all good e-wishes,

Let me first say, thanks. It's good to know at least some of my readers are OK with me posting more sporadically given very significant committments both professionally and personally. It makes me feel better knowing that.

And let me also position this discussion by injecting a caveat in all of this--simply that, all told, I'm well aware that I'm not a major blogosphere presence (certainly not "invaluable" as my too generous reader put it). Yes, I may have carved out a little niche over here (call it, perhaps, center-right foreign policy commentary with a mostly realist orientation--not to mention a dash of neo-con exuberance here and there) but it's safe to say that this blog's demise wouldn't cause much alarm or heartbreak in the blogosphere generally.

I play nowhere near the vital role that blogs like Instapundit or Sullivan do. I can never match the variety of production of group blogs like Oxblog or Volokh. Drezner does more varied topics above and beyond foreign policy (outsourcing, "very important posts", and so on).

Nor am I professional journalist (see Marshall, Laura Rozen, Sully again). I might sometimes wish I was--and that I had long, unfettered hours to do interviews, chase down leads, write long essays. But I'm GC of a financial services company--with plenty on my plate--and increasing post-work committments to boot.

Also worth noting, I don't run reader surveys, engage in blog contests, seek out blog ads, get involved in much of the (often humorous) blog gossip, and so on. Put differently, this blog is pretty barebones in the sense that I don't really get involved in all that bloggy stuff. Rather, as regular readers know, I have some key areas of interest (transatlantic relations, the Middle East, media bias, terrorism, Beltway politics etc.) and, pretty much, write about those as best I can given time constraints.

Anyway, despite all this handwringing and whining above, this blog isn't going to go anywhere. It is quite important to me. Most importantly, it allows me to scratch a foreign policy itch I've had since I grew up as the dependent of a foreign service officer and later whilst working in foreign policy jobs before going into the private sector.

And, all told, it doesn't represent too much additional labor to the extent that I read all the key periodicals (NYT, WaPo, FT, Foreign Affairs, National Interest, Foreign Policy, Le Monde, Economist, NYRB, TNR and so on) voraciously anyway. I've always been a news junkie--part of my genetic makeup involves making the time to be pretty hyper-informed about what's going on around the world. But it's that added step of analyzing/commenting/writing/dissecting the passing geopolitical show which tacks on another 60-120 minutes to this already extant routine that is really tough given other commitments.

So what's my point in all this? Well, yeah, the show will go on--but I will likely be read by fewer people who might be dissapointed when production lags. Right now I get about 1,000-1,500 readers on non-Instalanche days. It's not great--and I'd love to get up towards 5,000 or so someday. But, I fear, I simply don't think I have the time to devote to this enterprise that might allow for a wider, more sustained readership.

I'll still keep shooting for it, don't get me wrong! And I hope that a core group (like the reader who wrote in with the email above) will forgive me my lapses in production (or days where the prose seems harried) and nevertheless keep coming back.

Thoughts, support, round castigations, hearty yawns--all welcomed in comments below.

Some questions to aid any discussion: I trust most readers would prefer a couple days of blog staleness as compared to very rapid-fire posting that doesn't add that much by substance? Do I write too much about some topics? Too little about others? Lemme know...

Oh, and whilst on the topic of in-house matters a final note. Don't bother clicking through on the category archives right now. I haven't really gotten into the habit of selecting the categories before I post just yet--and haven't gone back to insert category specifications to posts that predate the move from blogspot to MT.

OK, more later....

UPDATE: My girlfriend's unimpressed reaction to my post above: "What happened? I've never seen you write anything like this. It looks like you're having a really long conversation with yourself and decided to post it."

She's gotta point....a rambling, solipsistic, indulgent post this. I promise to keep this stuff to a minimum going forward!

Posted by Gregory at 02:05 PM | Comments (26)

August 21, 2004

Troop Redeployment Watch

Mark Kleiman writes:

Does anyone have a theory about how announcing a plan to reduce troop levels in South Korea, without getting any sort of promise in return from the North Koreans, is supposed to be a good idea? I'm not asking for anything definitive, just a hint about how this could possibly come out on the plus side.

OK, here's a hint or two...

How about this (subscription required)?

For any of you who haven't paid your dues over at the Economist...here's the money graf:

Yet the bulk of the drawdown on the [Korean] peninsula will come from cutting support services that can just as easily be provided from elsewhere. The decision already taken to move American bases away from Seoul and the front line with North Korea, it is argued, will actually strengthen America's ability to help defend South Korea. So will the extra $11 billion already earmarked for military improvements there. Putting more heavy bombers on Guam, and possibly moving an aircraft-carrier battlegroup from the Atlantic to the Pacific, will enable America to respond swiftly and forcefully to any attack. All the same, the South Korean government has asked for a two-year delay in the withdrawal.

Kerry and bloggers can posture about the troop reduction in Korea to their heart's content. But Kim Jong Il well realizes that we aren't leaving with our tail between our legs so as to facilitate him rolling nukes off the assembly line.

Folks, the Cold War is over and keeping America's overseas forces clustered chiefly in Germany, Japan and South Korea is largely a legacy of the post-WWII settlement, the Cold War, and the Korean War.

History has chugged along, 9/11 happened, and having troops deployed nearer key trouble spots in places like the southeastern Balkans, Central Asia, and the Gulf are smart moves that need to be implemented.

Nor is NATO about to be torn asunder or said redeployments being undertaken solely in shortsighted vindictive fashion to punish Gerard and his ilk. The sprawling U.S. base at Ramstein isn't going anywere--there will still be tens of thousands of G.I.s milling about Germany.

But, of course, it's an election year. Hyperbole and posturing will often rule the day. How else to explain Kerry's take on the proposed troop reduction from S. Korea?

"Why are we unilaterally withdrawing 12,000 troops from the Korean Peninsula at the very time we are negotiating with North Korea Ñ a country that really has nuclear weapons? This is clearly the wrong signal to send at the wrong time," Mr. Kerry said.

Kerry seems to have concocted a new hybrid in his criticism of Bush--accusing him of being both guilty of appeasement (Kim Jong Il will be emboldened when we pull out the 12,500 odd troops) and unilateralism (no consultation with Seoul)! Not content to solely portray the cretinous Crawfordian as a unilateralist warmongerer--he's a unilateral appeaser to boot!

Except, as the Economist article quote above well explains, the restructurings of our force posture on the Korean peninsula can't be fairly construed as some form of appeasement. And except that we are coordinating the moves with the South Koreans--ie., they aren't unilateral.

So folks--keep your B.S. detector on full alert on this whole troop redeployment meme. Jim Hoagland helps on this score too:

Despite the Kerry campaign charges that the reductions will disrupt alliance management, the specific reductions come largely at the prompting of NATO members and the South Korean government, all eager to regain valuable real estate and freedom from environmentally destructive military maneuvers. The changes have been under discussion for nearly two years.

"This is one time we cannot say we have not been consulted," a German official told me last spring.

If Gerard's guys are happy--surely all is well, no?

Posted by Gregory at 11:50 PM | Comments (14)

Osirak '81; Bushehr '04?

Lots of Iran chatter these days--mostly on the nuclear angle.

For one, Iran signals that preemption talk can work both ways:

"We won't sit with our hands tied and wait until someone does something to us," Shamkhani [the Iranian Defense Minister] told Arabic channel Al Jazeera when asked what Iran would do if the United States or Israel attacked its atomic facilities.

"Some military leaders in Iran are convinced that the pre-emptive measures that America is talking about are not their right alone..."

"Any strike on our nuclear facilities will be regarded as a strike on Iran and we will respond with all our might."

That's pretty strong jingo-jawbone from Teheran. Much of it bluster, of course. But with crude prices soaring (hedge fund managers will doubtless help push it north of $50 soon), an election in the U.S. looming (ie., the view from Iran is that Bush can't start another war pre-election), the, er, sensitive Najaf going-ons and potential for a greater destabilizing Iranian role in Iraq should the U.S. pursue more punitive actions contra Iran--all are likely emboldening Teheran that it can get a bit more boisterous about both the pursuit and protection of its nuclear capacities.

Zeev Schiff has more on all this with the view from Israel.

So, with the U.S. less likely to take any preemptive action, might Israel (whom Teheran suspects has perhaps received a green light from Washington to do so--an erroneous analysis, in my view) instead?

Martin van Creveld, in the pages of the IHT, thinks it's quite possible. So, the big question--might an Osirak redux be in the works?

Numerous foreign sources have claimed that to counter the perceived threat from Iran, Israel has deployed missiles on land and at sea that are capable of inflicting awesome damage on Iran. Should Israel decide to strike at the Iranian nuclear installations, though, it is more likely to use its F-15 fighter-bombers.

The only country whose reaction to such a strike would carry great weight with Israel is the United States. Because Iran is suspected of supporting at least some of the insurgents in Iraq, many U.S officials might privately welcome an Israeli strike on Iran, just as they welcomed Israel's destruction in 1981 of the nuclear reactor that Saddam Hussein was building near Baghdad. With the United States now in the midst of a hotly disputed election campaign, if Sharon wanted to act, the time to do so would be between now and November.

And so the pieces may be falling into place, one by one. If Israel strikes, Iran may react by launching its own missiles at Israel, but this is unlikely. Tehran may ask Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Nasrallah, to open fire on Israel, in which case it is very likely that hostilities would not be limited to Lebanon but would spread to Syria as well. It remains to be seen how Egypt would react if Israel attacked Syria. In the past, President Hosni Mubarak has said Egypt would not take such an action lying down.

[emphasis added]

I have to say I strongly disagree with the portions of Creveld's analysis I bolded above. An Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, apart from increasing the prospects of a regional conflagration (including in the Levant, it should be noted), would actually serve to increase our difficulties in Iraq.

Shi'a radicalization will increase dramatically if Sharon strikes Iran and Sadr (or the memory of a martyred Sadr) will benefit with legions of new volunteers entering the fray and picking up arms against coalition forces.

Nor do I think that Bush would want Sharon to attack pre-election, as Creveld speculates. The risks of a major regional escalation (and of a more active and naked Iranian scuttling role in Iraq) would likely prove a net negative for Bush in the election. Put differently, when the cup looks to really runneth over--some fence-sitters or distraught voters will look to vote Kerry calculating he will be the guy to pull our troops out of the entire (increasingly chaotic) 'region' more expeditiously.

No, my best guess is that the U.S. is going to try to drag this entire Iran mess into the UNSC in the coming half year or so--with the Brits, French and Germans continuing to be active participants in a soi disant 'muscular' multilateral approach that aims to at least make the going somewhat tougher for Iran to go nuclear. The danger with this strategy, of course, is NoKo policy paralysis on the Iran question too.

Regardless, and ultimately, we need to signal to the Iranian people whether we are opposed to Iran ever going nuclear or merely Iran going nuclear when it is (largely) run by theocratic fanatics. I don't know where I stand on the issue (I gather Iran-watchers like Michael Leeden are O.K. with a nuclear Iran if the government were deemed Washington-friendly).

But revolutions come and go; governments come and go. No one is hyper-sanguine that Pakistan has nuclear weapons merely because cuddly Pervez is running the store in Islamabad. A 'friendly' future government in Iran could become decidely unfriendly later. And, of course, if Iran goes nuclear (whatever the government in power); Saudi Arabia will increasingly feel she needs a nuclear capacity as well....

NB: More on the whole nuclear proliferation issue here too:

Rather than renouncing their nuclear programs to avoid the fate of Saddam's Iraq, other states have chosen to develop a viable nuclear capacity as quickly as possible. With U.S. troops tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a presidential election approaching, Iran and North Korea may have calculated that now is exactly the wrong time for the U.S. to be confrontational with its antagonists and to back up its threats of war in yet another country.

The lesson that would-be rogue states have learned from the Bush administration is that it's extremely dangerous to have an ambiguous stance on proliferation. The tough choice facing such countries is not "renounce weapons of mass destruction or face America's military might." As Iran and North Korea have demonstrated, the real choice is "give up your weapons program immediately or develop it as fast as you can."

That is the logic behind Iran's increasing defiance of the United States, the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as it restarts work on its uranium-processing plants. That is also the logic behind North Korea's recent decision to reprocess its nuclear fuel rods, probably increasing its nuclear arsenal from two to eight weapons.

[emphasis added]

I've met and respect Ian Bremmer's work. But the part I bold above is a tad problematic. Iran and NoKo have been striving to go nuclear for many years now. Bremmer makes it sound like Bush's more robust counter-proliferation policies are a major reason that Iran and NoKo are hell-bent on going nuclear. In other words, the policy of preemption can cow a Libya (the good); but also have the effect of causing a NoKo to intensify her efforts to go nuclear--where she might not have done so before (the bad).

I don't really buy that line. Both Iran and NoKo have had as a strategic objective nuclear weapons capablity for many years now. To blame, in large part, their heightened nuclear appetites on Bush's policies (as Bremmer seems to) I find highly questionable.

Posted by Gregory at 06:51 PM | Comments (16)

August 19, 2004

London Calling

Back in London this coming Saturday. Najaf, Porter Goss, the impending Republican Convention...all that and more on the blog agenda in the coming days.

Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and cook up this local speciality (from parts Sicily) when time allows: ravioli filled with the freshest ricotta cheese you can get your hands on and simply topped off with a touch of olive oil and some mint leaves.

Yes, often the best things in life are indeed the most simple. That said, a spicy London curry will go down well after two weeks of non-stop Italian fare (though, trust me, I'm not complaining...)

Back soon.

Posted by Gregory at 06:47 PM

August 05, 2004

In-House News

I'm off for my major break of the year--heading to a small, remote Italian island south of Sicily. Needless to say (particularly as the island is blissfully primitive when it comes to Internet connectivity and such!), expect little to no blogging until around the 21st of August. Also, apologies if any E-mails have gone unanswered of late. I've lost a few and also just fallen behind generally. Re-send if important and I'll respond on return. In the meantime, a very happy August to all.

Posted by Gregory at 03:16 PM

A Humanitarian Indifferent to People?

For my money, the 20th Century's greatest photographer died today.

Here's an interesting snippet from the NYT obit:

Critics have sometimes complained about the intrusiveness of photojournalists like Cartier-Bresson. John Malcolm Brinnin, who traveled across the United States with him in 1946, later called him "a humanitarian indifferent to people." Cartier-Bresson heard this criticism and replied: "There is something appalling about photographing people. It is certainly some sort of violation; so if sensitivity is lacking, there can be something barbaric about it."

Cartier-Bresson was blessed--he had that sensitivity. His art rarely feels exploitative--something that can't be said for many photojournalists plying their trade today.

Cartier-Bresson also coined the phrase the "decisive moment," which he defined as: "the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression." Put differently, you either 'have it or you don't' when the shutter clicks. And, much more often than not, Cartier-Bresson definitively had it. Thus did he transcend the ranks of mere snap-shooters--often merely at the right place at the right time and blessed with a good dose of luck.

I was always partial to his amazing portraits. Who, familiar with Ezra Pound's tortuous and complex life, doesn't appreciate this amazing shot of this tired man at the end of his turbulent, controversial days?

ezra2.bmp

But some of his 'documentary' style shots--like this street scene of the Jewish quarter in Baghdad circa 1950--are hugely impressive too.

baghdad.bmp

Adieu, Henri!

Posted by Gregory at 01:06 AM

August 04, 2004

The Terror Alerts

I have to say I'm a bit baffled about the whole hullabaloo surrounding whether the latest terror threat alert is based on old information (you know, ancient Roman-era scrolls and such) or information of more recent vintage (particularly given that al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not months).

The pre-Sept. 11 computer files "are corroborated by other intelligence of strong credibility that is of a very, very current nature," one of the officials said, referring to intelligence from detainee interrogations and other documents.

One said the government has "very, very recent information showing a clear terrorist intent related to planning attacks," and said the computer files related to the casings are "part of a larger package of information we gained access to." Taken together, the information makes clear that "this is not information for information's sake," one of the officials said. "The context is attacking."

More:

Intelligence officials would later describe it as the most remarkable "treasure trove" of information about an al Qaeda plot that many of them had ever seen. Officials said the documents showed meticulous and long-running surveillance of the targets, including counts of pedestrian traffic, details about employee routines and discussion about the kinds of explosives that might work best to destroy each building.

President Bush was informed Friday morning aboard Air Force One, during his daily intelligence briefing, an aide said. The CIA, which worked around the clock for the next 72 hours translating and attempting to make sense of the material, told Bush about "emerging information that might require us to take preventive action on certain specific targets," the aide said.

Reasonable lefties are, if reluctantly, accepting that "the bulk of the evidence indicates that U.S. intelligence genuinely thinks something serious is being planned." Meanwhile, the predictable actors, of course, are in a hysterical tizzy about all the political manipulations underway (why not wait for October to pull such stunts, then? Surely no need to use this potent, diversionary Homeland Security Alert ammo to cut into Kerry's mini-bounce--keep the powder dry for when it really counts!)

The NYT complains:

That shifting tone may prove frustrating to the public, providing little guidance for assessing the gravity of threat information whose details remain shrouded in intelligence reports not available to anyone outside the highest ranks of the government.

Heh. Whose "shifting tone"?

Do they mean the Great New York Times Retrenchment on this terror alert story (not to mention the WaPo's too)? Recall, yesterday's theme was that these terror alerts were from a "long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." Today, however, both papers have been
forced to, er, 'update' their stories from yesterday.

Here's the NYT Walk-Back:

Senior government officials said Tuesday that new intelligence pointing to a current threat of a terrorist attack on financial targets in New York and possibly in Washington - not just information about surveillance on specific buildings over the years - was a major factor in the decision over the weekend to raise the terrorism alert level.

The officials said the separate stream of intelligence, which they had not previously disclosed, reached the White House only late last week and was part of a flow that the officials said had prompted them to act urgently in the last few days.

And here's a quote from the WaPo's Walk-Back:

Paul Brown, deputy commissioner for public affairs at the New York Police Department, said Commissioner Ray Kelly learned about the emerging information late Friday. Brown said the details were alarming.

"It doesn't take a genius to know that bin Laden would like to hit Wall Street," Brown said, referring to Osama bin Laden, leader of the al Qaeda network. "Now we go to last Friday. We hear very good reconnaissance, and we put it together with what we know and our past experience, and I'd say that our response was rational from our point of view."

Indeedy (often it takes one of NYC's Finest to cut through the B.S. best).

Oh, in case dim readers didn't get the neo-Rainesian theme of the day hier, loudly and clearly enough, W.43rd had also helpfully editorialized (just to hammer it all in):

But it's unfortunate that it is necessary to fight suspicions of political timing, suspicions the administration has sown by misleading the public on security. The Times reports today that much of the information that led to the heightened alert is actually three or four years old and that authorities had found no concrete evidence that a terror plot was actually under way. This news does nothing to bolster the confidence Americans need that the administration is not using intelligence for political gain.

What's really "unfortunate," alas, is that the NYT hyped a non-story yesterday (some of the intel was new, al-Q operational cycles are counted in years not weeks/months, the info unearthed constituted an unprecedented "treasure trove," of detailed information, and so on--ie. the terror alert, shall we say, was damn well warranted)

Bill Keller might prefer that, henceforth, warnings only be issued when "concrete evidence that a terror plot [is] underway..." exists. Perhaps, as a truck-bomb plunges into the Citi building, Tom Ridge will then be permitted to raise that dastardly color-code warning (that bothers Howard Dean so)--from yellow to orange, or even orange to red--without incurring the scorn of assorted skeptics yammering on about the "politics" of the terror alerts.

Me, I prefer the NYPD's "rational" approach.

Don't you?

P.S. Look, just because A) one of Bush's major campaign themes is that he will be a better steward re: the global war on terror than Kerry and B) every now and again, the legitimate need arises to issue a terror threat warning does not mean the terror alert system is merely a Roveian mechanism to be employed at key junctures (you know, to swing the masses a couple poll points towards the Fearless War Leader when the numbers are sagging a bit too much for Karl's liking).

Put differently, A + B does not = C (C being the politicization of the terror alert system). Why is that so hard to see? Don't scream to me that it's because "Bush lied!" on the WMD. His own DCI told him the WMD intel was a 'slam dunk.' Just like Ridge is telling him, of late, that a major terrorist operation might be targetting financial targets in Jersey, Manhattan, and D.C.

Again, why is Bush being assailed, almost daily, as a scurrilous purveyor of half-truths and/or Big Lies? Because that's a judicious read on the merits--or because the Democrats are now increasingly playing politics with the terror alert issue?

They should be very careful here (as Kerry, sensing this, has been of late). It's a strategy (most recently floated by Dean on Wolf's Blitzer show) that will back-fire on them in a big way. After all, it reinforces the image that the Democrats don't take national (or homeland) security seriously enough. And, believe me, that's not an image the Dems wanna stoke in this first post 9/11 election.

Posted by Gregory at 10:05 AM | Comments (54)

August 03, 2004

Kerry's Iraq Plan

Truth be told, at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal, with thoughts of Dick Holbrooke at State and a Sam Nunn type of guy at Defense, I had the occasional fleeting thought that I would pull the donkey lever come November.

Of late, however, I've disavowed myself of that fleeting fancy (ed. note: Don't worry: I won't subject you to 'who will B.D. vote' for speculations going forward. Frankly, it's really no-one's business. And it's a tad prima donnaish to go on and on about it regardless. And, I guess, it likely wouldn't be much of a surprise to regular readers of this blog anyway!).

Recently, I noted how I thought much of the foreign policy jaw jaw at the Democratic Convention had, as barely concealed subtext, talk of (too hasty) withdrawal from Iraq.

Then yesterday came such stories:

"There is a potential to be able to put a deal together over the course of time," Kerry told The Associated Press in his first interview as the Democratic nominee. "At least, that is the perception that smart people like Joe Biden and, you know, Carl Levin and other leaders who've been there for a long time."

He said his fellow Democratic senators, reporting on their foreign travels, have told him, "A change in the presidency is essential to our ability to restore our respect and relationship."

But when asked for hard evidence that his victory would produce a troops-reducing deal for America, neither Kerry nor his fellow senators cite anything other than their vague perceptions and utmost hopes.

"I can't give you the details of any deal, obviously," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday. "You don't negotiate a deal until you have a leader who is there to negotiate a deal."

[my emphasis throughout]

This hogwash reminds me of Karl Marx's aphorism that: "History always repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, and the second as farce." The tragedy was, of course, the whole (quite sad) 'peace with honor' denouement to the Vietnam war. Now cometh a farcical neo-Nixonian 'peace with honor' gambit--aka Kerry's Iraq policy.

Let's summarize 'Kerry thought' on Iraq:

1) I will be "realist" about what is achievable in Mesopotamia (insert obligatory phrase about how a flourishing Jeffersonian democracy cannot be our realistic goal in Iraq);

2) Following from #1 and contra Bush's messianic propensities I, Davos-man of the world (what with that racy dash of the French cynique), would never have buffoonishly fallen under Wolfy's Leninist utopian sway;

3) Not only will an Iraq withdrawal be facilitated because I will be more comfy installing a Shi'a strongman or such in macho-realist vein, but also because (stifle laughter here) I have a "deal" all teed up that will facilitate such a withdrawal; and

4) Therefore I will bring "significant numbers" of U.S. troops home during my first term.

As I said, first time as tragedy, second go around as farce.

Why is this a farce? Because what Kerry is basically saying is that people like Carl Levin and Joe Biden went on little senatorial boondoggles to places like Berlin and Paris. And there they found a lot of people who vented that they didn't like the cretinous Crawford cowboy. Kerry would be better, bien sur, and (wink wink) we will be more helpful in Iraq should he assume power.

I've heard this type of stuff before. A retired American diplomat who was recently at the Quai D'Orsay told me that a senior French diplomat turned to him, and in urgent, exasperated tones asked: "what are we going to do about this Bush"?, ie. how to get rid of ze bloody bastard! Then all will be well again--the intimations run...

I don't buy this line. Longtime observers of the trans-atlantic relationship well know there are much more structural and fundamental variables at play (that negatively impact Euro-American relations) than mere dislike of Simian Georgie (and/or just the Iraq war).

And regardless, the French have all of 800 troops in Afghanistan today. How many more will they move to Iraq should Kerry win? Answer: a de minimis amount, if any (and much more likely the latter, btw). Ditto the Germans. So what, pray tell, does such a secret deal consist of?

After all, Powell is already trying to cobble together a Muslim contigent. Will Kerry get a better audience in Islamabad and Algiers than Powell? Is the secret deal that Chirac will get the Algerians to send in thousand of troops? C'mon, let's be serious here!

Increasingly, I feel that Kerry's entire Iraq policy is symptomatic of and proving a foreshadowing of an abdication of an American leadership role in the Middle East. He wants us to get us out so badly that I fear he would do so under circumstances that would perhaps scuttle the Iraq project.

This isn't about sticking around ad infinitum so as to support some imagined Shi'a Thomas Jefferson busy creating an utopian oasis where the Federalist Papers are fervently read in cross-secretarian meetings halls in downtown Fallujah. But it is about preserving an unitary Iraqi state, largely democratic in orientation, that protects (critically) minority rights.

Contra this, Kerry's 'cut and run' bias would likely allow for Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to start trouble-making because of the consequent vacuum we'd leave behind. That's not only dumb policy on realist grounds; it's also pretty morally bankrupt. We can and must do better.

Posted by Gregory at 12:22 PM | Comments (85)

WaPo Roundup

A mistaken impression has developed that since Sept. 11, 2001, little has been done to improve our intelligence capabilities. This is not true. We are unquestionably a safer nation today than we were three years ago. The legislative and executive branches of government have been reviewing and adjusting our intelligence -- the gathering, processing and management of it -- since Sept. 11. We are vastly more prepared to respond to biological or chemical terrorist attacks than before Sept. 11. Our border security, documentation, information sharing and coordination among government agencies have all been improved.

--rabid Bush partisan Chuck Hagel, writing in today's WaPo.

Don't miss Fareed Zakaria either. Yes, the education of George W. Bush has occasionally been costly--but he's been making pretty good moves of late:

There are other positive trends in the country. Afghans have approached the national elections with huge enthusiasm, exceeding all predictions of voter registration. Polls show that they are highly supportive of Karzai, the United States and the international efforts at reconstruction. The problem in Afghanistan has not been with the Afghans but with the U.S. government.

U.S. policy toward Afghanistan is now on the right track. America and its allies are extending security outside Kabul, helping to build up the Afghan army and police, weakening the warlords, strengthening the central government, funding reconstruction projects, offering farmers alternatives to opium. But it may be too late. Instability is rampant, the drug trade is flourishing and the warlords are entrenched. As in Iraq, the administration seems to have learned from its mistakes, but the education of George Bush has been mighty costly.

Posted by Gregory at 10:24 AM | Comments (14)

August 02, 2004

The Democrats Take on the Latest Terror Alert

Check this NYT article out.

News of the terror threat on Sunday also stirred renewed suggestions from some Democrats that the White House was manipulating terror alerts for Mr. Bush's political gain. They said the alert had been issued just as Mr. Kerry emerged from a convention that was described by Republicans and Democrats as a success.

"I am concerned that every time something happens that's not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism," Howard Dean, a former rival of Mr. Kerry for the Democratic nomination, told Wolf Blitzer on CNN on Sunday.

"His whole campaign is based on the notion that 'I can keep you safe, therefore at times of difficulty for America stick with me,' and then out comes Tom Ridge," Mr. Dean, the former Vermont governor, added, referring to the homeland security secretary. "It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it."

White House officials denied that suggestion, and other Democrats and Mr. Kerry's advisers would not embrace it. "I certainly hope not," Steve Elmendorf, Mr. Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said. "You have to take them at their word."

Imagine, for argument's sake, that this terror alert had been made public during the convention. We'd have a replication of the whole HVT/ Pakistan capture--with the predictable actors on the left loudly crying set-up.

Now instead, of course, they are unhappy that the warning was made public after the Convention--as if Tom Ridge is purposefully crowding out all the rosy news about a Convention "described by Republicans and Democrats as a success."

That's disingenuous on a bunch of levels. For one, Kerry's 'bounce' (if there even was one) wasn't that great (his pretty underwhelming speech likely kept him from getting a healthier shot in the arm). So it's not even as if there is such great news to 'distract' the American public from.

But, much more important, what alarms me is that Howard Dean would openly suggest that the Administration, at least in part, simply is making up the terror threats. That's a damning charge to just let hang like that, isn't it?

Remember, Dean is Kerry's de facto emissary to the left-wing of the Democratic party. He's the guy tasked with reducing the Nader defections, getting the hard-anti-war-in-Iraq crowd on board, generally consolidating Kerry's left flank. So he's got a pretty key role in Kerry's campaign, I'd say. And now, he's telling the nation's most important paper, quite directly, that he believes this Administration, at least in part, is simply making up terror threats.

If (when?) a financial target in NYC gets blown up--someone should remind Howard Dean of his remarks. And also remind everyone that Dean made them on behalf of Kerry.

Note, as well, the slippery quality of Kerry's spokesman half-hearted attempt to distance himself from Dean's remarks: "I certainly hope not," Steve Elmendorf, Mr. Kerry's deputy campaign manager, said. "You have to take them at their word."

"I certainly hope not." Subtext: It's quite possible. Thus does the Democratic nominee for the Presidency of the United States allows his spokesman to insinuate that the Bush Administration would violate or otherwise muddy its most basic compact with its citizenry--protecting their personal security in their own homes and communities.

But, conscious of how incendiary such a charge is, Kerry's spokesman walks it back a bit--"(y)ou have to take them at their word." In other words, it's pretty classic Kerry. I thought the terror alert was ginned up before I thought it wasn't. Put differently, whatever works for me...

Mr. Kerry--if he thinks this latest terror alert was false--should proclaim it loudly and clearly. Conversely, if he thinks it was real--he should renounce Howard Dean's comments unequivocally (really, what he should be doing, is telling us what (if anything) he'd be doing to make the NYSE or IMF buildings safer--but maybe that's a bit too much to ask).

Otherwise, I suspect, many voters will increasingly wonder if he takes the terror threat seriously. The threat of massive casualty terrorism on the American homeland simply can't be treated like a political football. The threat is too urgent and real. To insinuate that such threats are simply made up to keep the masses cowed so as to better buckle under the fearless, Great War Leader and facilitate his re-election is a narrative to be expected from the Michael Moore's and, I guess, the Howard Dean's (lest we forget, pre-Iowa, the presumptive Democratic nominee).

But is this Kerry's view too? If so, I'd like to know. It's, er, important. Just to put things in perspective....

UPDATE: Note that much of the information that led to the issuance of this latest terror warning stems from intel unearthed as a result of the recent arrest of the Tanzanian al-Qaeda suspect arrested last week.

I've got a question for the July surprise crowd. Do they really believe--not only that the Bush Administration waited until the Democratic Convention to spring this alleged al-Q terrorist--but also that the Administration therefore withheld information about threats to the Pru, Citi and NYSE buildings until the time was ripe to crowd out the Boston going-ons?

Just how horrible are these Evil men who run the country? And wouldn't they want to protect all those rich I-bankers schlepping to work on 53rd Street?

MORE: Lest I be accused of creeping Dowdianism, check this post out too. I don't really think it materially changes my analysis above, however. But hey--I report, you decide!

STILL MORE: A blogger, unintentionally I guess, kindly helps remind me how good the Kerry team can be at at talking out of both sides of their mouth.

I should mention some people think I'm being unfair to Howard Dean.

I'd ask a reasonable person to read the entire transcript and then consider my original contention (emphasis added) that Dean: "openly suggest[ed] that the Administration, at least in part, simply is making up the terror threats."

Here's some key language:

DEAN: It's just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there's some of both in it.

BLITZER: Well, when you say that, that's a very serious allegation, that the federal government, Tom Ridge, the president of the United States, may be playing politics with the whole issue of fear and terror threat levels. And I want you to explain specifically, so there's no confusion, what you mean by that.

DEAN: What I mean by that is the president himself has played politics with it. The president is basing his political campaign for re-election on the notion that he ought to be re-elected because terrorism is a danger, and his case to the American people is, "I'm the only person who can get us through this." So of course this is politics.

The question is, do I believe this is being fabricated? No, of course I don't believe that. But I do think that there is politics in this, and the question is, how much is politics and how much is a real threat?

I have no doubt there's a real threat here, but I also -- this is a long history of orange to yellow, yellow to orange, orange to yellow without a lot of explanation.

Does Dean suggest, at least to a limited extent (per my initial commentary), that the latest threat reports are being made up (perhaps it would have been slightly better if I had used the word 'exaggerated' instead)?

Res ipsa loquitur, no?

UPDATE: Now that was an embarassing typo, no? Corrected thanks...

Posted by Gregory at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)
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