April 29, 2005

A Snapshot of the Insurgents in Iraq

Here's a useful summary of opinion about shifting tactics by the insurgency in Iraq, from the Council on Foreign Relations. It provides ammunition both for those who claim progress is being made and those who insist it isn't. Read the whole thing, as the saying goes.

Two questions: first -- and I apologize for inviting historical analogies, an overused tool in discussions about Iraq -- but what is the likely impact of (apparently) widely divergent objectives on the part of different groups of insurgents on the future of the insurgency? Second, at what point does the enthusiasm of some Sunnis for massacring Shiites become a factor in our relations with Iran?

Posted by at 06:12 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

George Bush: Champion of Energy Conservation?

Well, yes, in a way. I mentioned last night that it didn't seem as if the White House press corps was all that interested in the energy section of President Bush's remarks, but one of the items he touched on could actually be pretty important.

Energy is a commodity sold in a global market; rapid increases in energy use by growing economies like China's and India's will make environmental problems worse and tend to drive up energy prices for everyone, other things being equal. Limiting the extent to which this happens is about making the other things unequal.

China and India are large and growing purchasers of oil and natural gas, but both countries get most of their electricity from coal -- according to one source, 80% for China and 65% for India. Each country is expected to add hundreds of coal-fired power plants in the next eight years. So much for Kyoto and curbing greenhouse gas emissions if they add more plants like the ones they have now; beyond that, obviously, the more efficient their coal-fired plants the less coal will be needed to run them, and the less risk that they will seek to use petroleum-based fuels for power generation.

The Department of Energy's Clean Coal program, which has been running for almost 15 years and has funded dozens of projects aimed at reducing increasing efficiency and reducing emissions of various kinds, has surely produced some technologies that can be adapted to foreign conditions. A longer shot might be technology developed for DOE's FutureGen project, which seeks to build an emission-free coal-fired power plant.

Other countries, including Germany, Great Britain and Australia, are also potential sources of advanced coal technologies, summaries of which can be found here and here. But the San Francisco Chronicle notes that

"If China, India and other nations start snapping up this new technology, a big winner could be San Francisco's Bechtel Corp., which has already built two coal-fired power plants and two nuclear plants in China, with several more under construction or projected. Bechtel recently formed an alliance with General Electric Co. to develop IGCC power plants...

"...The IGCC [for Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, a promising clean coal technology] technology "hasn't yet taken off," [Bechtel Vice President Amos] Avidan said, "but we believe it can become a mainstream technology in a couple of years or so and eliminate the cost gap. We think it has great potential..."

Not everyone agrees with this. Says a former energy consultant to the World Bank

"The problem with these leapfrog technologies is they have a well-proven track record of mostly failing," said Dale Simbeck, vice president of technology for SFA Pacific Inc., a Mountain View energy industry consulting firm.

He noted that there are only two IGCC power plants operating in the United States, despite two decades of federal subsidies...[China's] main barrier, he said, is rigid government policies that shield state-owned power companies from competition."

Countries struggling to add generating capacity in the shortest possible time are less likely to worry about efficiency and especially emissions without easy access to technologies already in use in the United States and other developed countries. If the Bush administration follows up the President's admittedly cryptic remarks on this subject last night the contribution made toward reducing upward pressure on energy prices and environmental damage could be very useful.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 28, 2005

If You Are Reading This, and You're Over 65...

...you need to know you are still going to get your check. And that people who don't want to set up private accounts don't have to. And that those high gas prices are really hard to live with.

That was a public service announcement for those Americans who did not see tonight's Presidential news conference. Those who did see the news conference are invited to share their thoughts below. That's in the comments section, where readers can share their thoughts. About North Korea, and judges, and asbestos lawsuits and the other important issues facing our nation.

Quick impressions: when you don't do something like this often, it shows. That goes for the press as well as the President. When the first question was about Bush's feelings about poll numbers I prepared myself for a long evening. Also, it didn't sound to me as if the reporters there were all that interested in energy. Finally, are we all supposed to refer to the President of Russia as Vladimir, or is that just a President to President thing?

Posted by at 11:12 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Practical Conservatism

Dan Drezner had a post yesterday on "Rethinking Conservatism" that I feel obligated to link to, only because I was responsible for putting the Eggs Benedict joke on his discussion thread about the new Pope the other day.

Dan and Andrew Sullivan have been having a discussion on American conservatism that reminds me of why "academic" is one of my least favorite words. It's not so much that their respective arguments are wrong, but rather that they are prone to regard the real as an annoying distraction from the philosophical.

Let's talk about real conservatism in American history for a moment. The first thing to observe is that it is a tremendously flexible concept. The Revolution was fought to preserve traditional liberties against usurpation by the British Crown; Abraham Lincoln accepted the most devastating war in our history and ultimately the abolition of slavery to preserve the Union. Theodore Roosevelt worked to defend the Republic against the dangers of concentrations of private power. Republicans of the interwar period campaigned against binding foreign entanglements, while the Nixon administration worked to preserve and expand them. Republicans in the 1980s championed radical tax reform as a way to defend the tax code from being overwhelmed by the claims of special interests, and from the mid-1990s onward have repeatedly championed measures to defend special interests from being burdened by the tax code. And of course modern Republicans have both campaigned against large federal deficits and insisted on them.

At each point arguments could have been (and usually were) made that the course being followed was not truly conservative. Moreover, anyone familiar with the Democratic Party's long history of dependence on slaveholders and segregationists or its slide from Achesonian internationalism to woolly McGovernism will recognize that such arguments are not unique to the Republican Party or uniquely about the meaning of "conservative." Ideological confusion in America is nothing new, and is one reason this country has been spared most of the horrors that ideological clarity and coherence have inflicted on Europe, Asia, and Africa over the years.

The second thing to consider is the idea that we can separate how we think of what being conservative means from public personalities. In the real world, we can't do this because most people don't do this. Republican Party politics in particular have two imperatives for men aspiring to be President: they must appear as strong leaders, and they must stand up to the Democrats and the liberal media. ("Stand up," by the way, is one of those flexible political terms. "Fight" is another one. Standing up to a party or interest can mean anything from entering a staff-written statement into the Congressional Record to denouncing one's adversary before one's own supporters to getting legislation enacted. Usually it is used in a way consistent with "Madonna politics," where the important thing is to strike a pose).

The most successful Republican politicians act on these imperatives without qualm or hesitation. Once they are accepted by Republican voters they have considerable flexibility to define what "conservative" means for Republicans -- and therefore for the rest of the country, since non-Republicans and especially the media think of Republicans as the conservative party. Polls of Republicans at the height of the Nixon, Reagan, and younger Bush Presidencies would have showed overwhelming faith that each of these men were conservatives despite their many differences; conversely GOP leaders seen as less than strong (Ford, the elder Bush) or too ready to cooperate with Democrats (Dole) are invariably seen by many within the party as insufficiently conservative and have attracted challengers for that reason.

But if "conservative" is a flexible term to begin with, and if some of that flexibility has to do with the ability of conservative leaders to drive its definition in the direction they want it to go, what happens when you have a leader of conservatives who either has no strong view of what conservatism ought to mean or for whatever reason takes it down a dead end?

This is a timely question. President Bush may often use language with an identifiable ideological provenance, but he is no ideologue. He is instead a product of modern campaign politics, acutely attuned to the mechanics of the permanent campaign and (as we discussed yesterday) so enthusiastic about campaigning itself that he continues to do it even when it appears not to be accomplishing anything. He is not alone; prominent Republican politicians from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on down are much more tightly focused on the requirements of fundraising, organization and stoking the enthusiasm of their most fervent supporters than they are on any policy initiative or direction.

This orientation can lead to a vacuum, and filling vacuums has been one of the leitmotifs of Bush's Presidency. After the fall of the Taliban next steps against terrorism were either unclear or prosaic; the Iraq invasion was something dramatic to fill the vacuum. Without plans of his own for organizing homeland security after 9/11 or much interest in investigating what went wrong, Bush filled the vacuum by adopting Congressional ideas for a Homeland Security Department and a 9/11 Commission. We saw yesterday how much his campaign for changes in Social Security is influenced by the lack of other potentially popular domestic policy ideas. Like the interminable list of micro-initiatives that came out of the Clinton White House beginning in 1997, this kind of improvisation leaves no clear trail for partisans to follow. Democrats today never talk about emulating their erstwhile leader's courage on the school uniform issue; Bush's seat-of-the-pants improvisations are unlikely to leave much more of a legacy for Republicans.

Then there is the dead end problem. I don't mean to suggest in any way that Bush was not intent from the beginning on cutting taxes. He is rich, most of his family and friends are rich, his most important political supporters are rich. I have every reason to believe that support for cutting the taxes of people in the higher income groups is for Bush a matter of deep conviction. With massive deficits projected far into the future, the costs of the baby boomers' retirement not yet fully accounted for and the alternative minimum tax problem still not dealt with, however, the tax cut highway has just about run out of pavement. Similarly, democratizing the Arab world however noble a cause is a cause being paid for -- every cent of it -- with borrowed money. That can't continue indefinitely either.

I said before that Republican voters demand of their leaders that they appear as strong leaders and stand up to Democrats and the media. To leave a lasting imprint on the definition of conservatism, though, they need to actually be strong leaders, not just appear that way. Goldwater, through his clarity of expression, was; Nixon certainly was before he destroyed himself in the Watergate affair; Reagan was.

George Bush is not. Republican politicians mimic his campaign tactics and methods (it is, incidentally, a mistake to assign credit for these entirely to Karl Rove. Had Bush been foreign born or otherwise ineligible to run for the Presidency himself he could have made a good living as a campaign consultant), but as President his policies don't leave them much to excite activists in their future campaigns.

In an irony, this vacuum is being filled by organized interest groups, moving the Republican Party in a direction Democrats will find familiar from their own party's history. This is the significance of what for some Republicans was the humiliating Schiavo stampede, in which the leaders of some evangelical organizations demanded federal action to overturn repeated rulings of Florida state judges in a matter that had been adjudicated for years in Florida courts. Republican politicians led by Frist leaped to obey, and were genuinely nonplussed to find that most of the public thought their reaction inappropriate.

This kind of thing has been happening to Democrats for many years, especially in Presidential campaigns. Democratic candidates campaign for months to assure specific interest groups of their enthusiastic loyalty; the candidate who best succeeds at this gets nominated and proceeds to lose in November, baffled at having failed to persuade voters that he is after all a strong leader. Of course a strong leader, one who might slight their concerns or even ignore them once elected, is the last thing "the groups" (as Zell Miller calls them) want. Republicans are heading down that same road now.

Now, there are some people -- organized interest groups on the Democratic side, people like Andrew Sullivan focused on just one issue, and a number of commentators who are easily frightened -- who see in evangelicals' political activity an attempt to assert the dominance of a "conservatism of faith." The word theocracy has even been mentioned, along with lurid and unflattering comparisons of American evangelicals to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

This is all nonsense. What evangelicals are evolving into is another organized interest group. Like other groups they have their priorities and agenda, and like other interest groups they -- or more accurately their leaders -- will dictate to politicians and demand 100% loyalty if they are allowed to get away with it. Politicians who deal primarily with group leaders, seeking their support in low-turnout elections that can easily turn on the votes of a relatively small number of activists, will be inclined to let them get away with it, and indeed may see no alternative.

But on the national level Republican candidates have always had their greatest success when they have appealed to national values, and spoken to the members of interest groups over the heads of the groups' leaders. It is no accident that the most politically successful Republican Presidents of the last century included two war heroes and a celebrity from the entertainment industry: people who could speak not as representatives of conservatism in any of its forms but as Americans who chose conservatism because they thought it right.

Dan Drezner may be able to explain what this has to do with Thomas Hobbes. I confess to his having lost me on that connection the first time around. Obviously I am less interested in philosophical foundations than in finding a path for practical conservatism in a political environment dominated by the permanent campaign, in which over time organized interests will come to represent the same dominant influence within the Republican Party that they long have in the Democratic.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

April 27, 2005

Of Road Shows and the Boom's Echo

It's hard not to notice that after campaigning for well over a year, President Bush almost immediately started campaigning again. Last year at this time he was campaigning for reelection; now he's campaigning for changes in Social Security.

There's an explanation for this, hidden in such plain sight that it's a wonder so few people have commented on it. We'll come to that in a moment. A few points first:

I come to this subject with a bias in favor of private investment accounts, the President's signature cause, in principle. I don't see ownership of such accounts as in any way transformative of society -- as a conservative transforming society really isn't my thing anyway -- but private accounts could be one way to increase saving, and based on the American economy's performance over a long period of time the promised higher rates of return (relative to what Social Security offers now) private accounts would offer seem like a pretty good bet.

But they are still a bet, and the rule for betting is not to stake any money you can't afford to lose. So for me the critical question is how transition costs -- the expense of setting up private accounts so that benefits to current retirees can still be paid -- are handled. During the late 1990s' boom and, critically, during the 2000 campaign season it briefly looked as if transition costs could be paid for out of projected federal budget surpluses. This was certainly what then-Governor Bush had in mind during the 2000 campaign. A recession, major tax cuts and two wars having intervened, those projected surpluses are now very large deficits. And that, as far as I'm concerned, is that. Don't fight the problem, as General Marshall liked to say; if you can't afford something, don't buy it.

President Bush, obviously, takes a different view. Hence this spring's Social Security campaign. Just from the standpoint of tradecraft, it is very impressive. Bush's speeches share a lot of common material, but all have abundant adaptations for individual local audiences; when he speaks to his main points he uses some of the same phrases, but rarely lapses into repeating long stretches of the same language (for examples , see the transcripts of this appearance last week in Ohio, this speech in South Carolina three days later, and this appearance in Texas yesterday). He is rigorously on-message (so are other administration officials when they make speeches on Social Security), and the White House's determination to schedule him to speak only before friendly audiences ensures that the visuals available to the media are all positive and the audience quotes as supportive as possible.

It takes no small amount of skill on Bush's part and advance work on the part of White House staff to pull this off with so few hitches. So if Bush is losing ground on the Social Security issue it isn't because his campaign isn't working. The campaign is functioning exactly as intended. It's just missing a key element, because of the nature of the issue and the way Bush has chosen to approach it.

The missing element is what in sales is called a call to action. Sales talks that never ask the audience to do anything are in the end just conversation, and this is the one big difference between Bush's campaign for reelection last year and his campaign for Social Security reform this year. You can't miss the call to action in a normal political campaign, and especially not in the ones Bush has run -- it's "vote for me." Sometimes audiences are asked to volunteer or contribute as well -- in speeches to party activists the call to action can be pretty detailed -- but no one leaves a campaign speech with any doubt as to what the speaker wants him or her to do.

This campaign is different. Bush is not asking his audiences to do anything: not to vote for candidates who support him (they won't be able to for another eighteen months), not to call Congress to support his bill (he hasn't presented one), not to do anything. His campaign to build support for private accounts in Social Security is like a car without the ignition circuits. It took a lot of skill and effort to build, but it isn't going anywhere.

So what's the point? And why is he still hammering away at the private accounts idea when the surpluses that could have funded transition costs disappeared years ago? To answer the second question first, though the boom may be over its echo has taken time to fade. Americans, and American politicians have only very gradually absorbed the idea that the last five years of the last century were the aberration, not the years before and since. The attraction of being able to just throw money at worthy ideas like prescription drugs for seniors, thousands of local projects, and the ownership society is powerful. No one wants to admit that the time for this kind of thing has come and gone.

Also, Social Security reform was part of Bush's campaign agenda back in 1999, and the items above it -- tax cuts, primary school education reform, and more tax cuts -- have pretty much all been done. Within the Republican Party, or at least that part of it represented in the administration there isn't that much left in the cupboard as far as a potentially popular domestic agenda is concerned. There are, to be sure, a number of people in the administration who favor private accounts because they really think the New Deal's time is past. These are the people who have been giving folks like Paul Krugman and Josh Marshall the vapors for the last few months. But the prominence of Social Security for Bush now likely owes more to inertia than to ideology.

What is it that the White House is really after; what is it that is hidden in plain sight? It's that President Bush really loves campaigning. He revels in the applause, delights in the banter, can't get enough of taking easy questions from adoring audience members. By contrast -- and I'm just going on appearances here -- the routine of the Oval Office bores him. Bush doesn't care much for lobbying Congress, is plainly terrified of reporters, and prefers to delegate even major policy decisions unless this absolutely cannot be avoided.

And that, I think, is the point of the Social Security campaign. It isn't Social Security. It's to get the President back on the campaign trail, doing what he likes to do.

In the interest of fairness, though, let me sound a dissonant note as well. Recent Bush speeches continue to advocate the private accounts concept, usually toward the end. Nowadays, however, he precedes this advocacy by discussing Social Security in terms at least somewhat compatible with those in which some conservatives see the program. You can argue that there is no Social Security crisis now, but there is a Social Security problem. The ratio of retirees to wage earners is increasing rapidly, and reforming the system to ensure that the future retirees who will most need Social Security benefits get them will be easier to do sooner than later.

Bush also, in the "all options are on the table" section of his speeches, list options reducing the rate of growth in benefits for future retirees. He rules out payroll tax increases -- perhaps for the wrong reasons (the consistency on taxes required in campaign politics), but in any event his position is consistent with the reality that the federal budget exclusive of Social Security is massively in deficit. Tax increases will be needed to rectify this. The Democrats will promote tax increases as the sole way to reduce the budget deficit, and fix Social Security, and pay for Medicare, and offset the revenue losses from the inevitable changes in the Alternative Minimum Tax, and if allowed to have their way will leave us with tax rates as high as some European countries.

Frankly, since the "options on the table" are none of them vote-winners I expect both Congress and the President to back away from them in the end. What is most likely to be done on Social Security this year is: nothing. But I'd be glad if this pessimistic prediction turned out to be mistaken.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

April 26, 2005

A Reluctant Addendum

I had not wanted to say anything further about John Bolton, but did have a question to throw out into the ether. Critics of Bolton have many objections to him, but the first item on their list is usually, as Kevin Drum says today, that Bolton "...fundamentally doesn't believe in the UN's mission."

What do these folks think the UN's mission is?

I see the UN primarily as an aid to diplomacy and as a convenient means for nations to address uncontroversial issues and those of a technical nature. I take for granted that the American UN delegation like that of every other country will use the organization to pursue its country's national interest. I do not see the UN as a world government in embryo, nor do I think its bureaucracy entitled to any special reverence.

Now, a strong defense of some of John Bolton's public statements about the UN will have to come from someone else. We have enough politicians able to pepper their speeches with imprecision and cheer lines without our diplomats doing it. But at some point it would be nice if critics of his nomination, including those who think they hear "...a public outcry supporting a stronger, better United Nations", explained exactly why they think the UN needs to be stronger, and what they think a "better UN" means.

I should add one more thing -- entertaining as the controversy over Bolton has been, the critical unfilled ambassadorship right now isn't the one in New York. It's the one in Baghdad. Zalmay Khalilzad's nomination was announced three weeks ago, but his confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have apparently not even been scheduled yet.

I'm not pointing fingers or accusing anyone of anything, but this is really something that needs to get done. The considerable momentum generated by the successful Iraqi elections last January is dissipating as aspiring Iraqi politicians squabble and plot, and it's not very likely that occasional phone calls from senior officials in Washington can do as much to speed up the process of getting a government formed as an experienced, full time ambassador could. Khalilzad has been confirmed by the Senate before, most recently as ambassador in Kabul, and while I have nothing against another review of his record there is some time pressure here that I hope the administration and the Committee appreciate.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 25, 2005

Mendicant Diplomacy

Just in case this hasn't occurred to anyone else I thought I'd point out that the idea of a President of the United States having to approach foreign governments hat in hand asking for favors is thoroughly offensive, barring some grave emergency. First it was the Chinese two weeks ago over their weak-yuan policy, and today it is the Saudis over oil production levels and the idea that they might invest in refineries here in the United States.

Counting on other governments to bail ours out of problems it is unwilling to address seriously itself is an abdication, not a policy. As the poet might have said if he'd been even a tad bit wonkish, "oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to never propose anything that might be seriously unpopular and damage our approval ratings." All right, so I wasn't an English major, but you get the idea.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Prisoner Abuse: The Army Flinches

Lest we forget, Phil Carter reminds us that as of now, the Army has found one general officer worthy of an administrative reprimand for dereliction of duty in the prisoner abuse scandal. Other senior officers have been cleared of all responsibility for this affair, which centered on but was not limited to abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib facility in Iraq in the fall of 2003. Enlisted personnel and junior officers only have faced courts-martial or administrative punishments, with the one exception noted above.

Phil discusses the consistency of the latest Army Inspector General's report with traditional Army ideas of command responsibility and earlier investigations' findings better than I could, so readers are referred to his post (I don't really hold with all he says on Yamashita, but that isn't his main point, and his main point seems inarguable). It should be noted that this report is an internal Army production; it does not appear to reflect any input from other parts of the Bush administration.

This is a tricky area. The prisoner abuse scandal did incalculable harm to the American cause in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim world; at a bare minimum it probably produced a fair number of the insurgents who are trying to kill our guys in Iraq today. Repeated, protracted investigations (there have been 11 of them so far) and prosecutions thus far limited to the most junior personnel have certainly suggested that the American government does not regard abuse of prisoners as particularly serious, and in addition have sent a message to junior officers and enlisted personnel that when things go wrong they will be the only ones blamed. To what extent should these considerations influence the military's assignment of responsibility for a scandal like this to individual officers?

In the civilian justice system the matter is straightforward: it shouldn't. If a man is guilty he should be convicted; if not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt he should have his name cleared. Since even administrative reprimands can reflect on the whole of an officer's career as well as ending it, strict application of the principles of civilian justice would strongly discourage infliction of that punishment absent direct and overwhelming evidence. The more senior the officer -- that is, the more time he has invested in his military career -- the stronger inhibitions against darkening his name are likely to be.

But as noted above individual justice is not the sole consideration in connection with the prisoner abuse scandal, as it would be in a civilian criminal case. It might seem unfair to ruin the career of a senior officer over abuse he did not commit or witness but did allow to take place in his command; it's a lot more unfair to combat soldiers if the appearance of official indifference to abuse inspires more Iraqis to try to kill them. And damage to the good name of the United States is not an inconsequential thing.

To be fair, it would take considerable institutional courage for the Army to view the matter in a way that the rest of American society clearly has not. President Bush has taken no action in response to the prisoner abuse scandal except to issue a few boilerplate statements deploring abuse; Senators Kerry and Edwards spent six full hours on national television last fall debating Bush and Vice President Cheney and never mentioned Abu Ghraib even once. Media representatives at the debates never raised the subject either. The contribution that increasing tolerance of moral degeneracy with respect to sex might have had on the specific abuses at Abu Ghraib -- a fairly obvious point -- has for the most part gone unremarked upon.

Nevertheless, the way the Army and more broadly the military's leadership has handled the assignment of responsibility for the prisoner abuse scandal has pretty clearly not served the interests of the United States. There is a price to be paid for serving national interests, and who has to pay that price is not a matter of scrupulous fairness to individuals. The Army's leadership knows this, knows the damage this scandal did and is still doing to the country and to the Army, and still chose to protect its own.

Posted by at 07:12 AM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

April 24, 2005

B.D's Voinovich Moment

"I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton...Maybe it would be in the best interest of this committee to take a little time". -- Senator George Voinovich, R-OH, last week.

Regular readers know that, perhaps not with the greatest enthusiasm, I have counted myself a Bolton supporter. The reasons were rather simple:

1) A President should be afforded a good deal of deference in the selection of his nominees--particularly his foreign policy ones.

2) Bolton wanted Deputy Secretary of State, which instead went to Robert Zoellick, and so it is fair to say that USUN was a consolation prize for him. One, it bears noting again, removed from the real epicenter of policy-making power.

3) Related to two above, and as Dan Drezner points out, it may be in the long term interests of more moderate Republicans to let Cheney and Co. have their guy get USUN so as to facilitate Condi continuing to amass centrist actors at Foggy Bottom. After all, a high profile Borking of Bolton will have Cheney looking pretty dissed. The Jacksonian-nationalist actors, and some neo-cons, might lash back and make the going rougher for Condi (they are already feeling quite threatened with Feith and Wolfowitz out (the neo-con faction) and Rumsfeld and Bolton feeling much heat (let's call them the Jacksonians).

4) The U.N. itself, something too many Bolton critics are losing sight of amidst all the hearings hullabaloo, is in dire need of a reality check and a no B.S. approach. It's all fine and dandy that we've reached agreements on U.N. dues and so forth--but the Volker report, shall we say, hasn't exactly seen the U.N. covered with glory (and some members of the commission, as B.D. buddy Des Butler reported for the A.P., are concerned the quite unflattering report may still have been overly white-washy). The morally bankrupt and so sad oil-for-food machinations aside, however, there is much more besides re: the U.N. shortcomings. Not least the repeated failure of the U.N. to effectively or even honestly grapple with crises like Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo and so on that makes much of Bolton's poo-pooing of said body spot on. Perhaps it behooves us to have a feisty actor pointedly declare that the Emperor has no (or at least few) clothes now and again.

During the Cold War, of course, the U.N. was chronically stalemated by the Soviets and Americans alternately banging shoes on pulpits and pulling out satellite imagery of missiles in Cuba. There was hope, with the end of the Cold War, that the U.N. would no longer be hobbled by the bipolar division of power and could become a more effective force for peace and prosperity. Well, the hapless impotence of the Boutrous-Boutrous' and Yasushi Akashi's of the U.N. too often put the lie to that, alas. And like Andrew Sullivan, say, I think that Bolton did have some of the trappings of a Moynihan or Kirkpatrick type that could bang the world body into better shape. And I still do.

5) Finally, on the pro side of the ledger, the so-called "Nixon goes to China" angle. I do think Bolton is a grown-up and not a fanatical primitive like the Sid Blumenthal's try to spin to so willing audiences over at the Guardian. Indeed, there is already some grumbling from the right by some of our most arriviste apparatchiks ( Yoo, for instance, of defining-torture-down fame!) that a "kindler, gentler" Bolton is emerging. Look, Bolton has been around long enough to realize that he's going to have to show some multilateralist colors up at Turtle Bay. I mean, how can you be Ambassador to the U.N. without engaging in multilateralism? Well you can't--and you don't need to have gone to Yale Law to understand that. The difference is that Bolton will likely push said body to pursue more effective multilateralism rather than a lot of empty talk and wasted meetings. After all, some of the most successful multilateral initiatives, over the years, have taken place outside the ambit of the U.N. as with the Proliferation Security Initiative, NATO, the World Bank and so on. Why not let Bolton try to bring such greater efficiency into an oft-dysfunctional U.N. system that is manifestly in need of urgent repair? Why not let Nixon go to China, in other words?

Well, this is all the good stuff. And I did begin this post suggesting that B.D. had reached a Voinovich moment. To put it plainly, events of the last couple of weeks have forced me to reconsider my support for Bolton. A couple caveats before I dig into the nitty-gritty, however. One of the reasons that people like me are often so turned off by Washington is exactly the cheap spectacles that nominees like Bolton are subjected to. Yes, I take the Senate's advise and consent role damn seriously. Indeed, I am proud that there are still senators like Voinovich who don't march in lock-step with the Party a la primitives like a De Lay who we'd be better off sending back to the hinterlands of TX to revivify his career exterminating pests and other assorted vermin. But there is starting to be too much by way of personal attacks coming out that will doubtless pick up pace. Bolton is now clearly vulnerable and so people are going to do their utmost to move in for the kill in advance of the May 12th committee vote. After all, is it really Steve Clemon's business whether and why and how and for what reason John Bolton didn't get elected to partnership at Covington? And if it was because he hurled a phone around once in a while (which would probably have helped him get partnership at places like this or this--but not at genteel Covington); why, Matt Drudge style, should Steve feel he can post this information from an uncorroborated, anonymous source on his website? It's a tad sleazy, in my view, as we all doubtless have dirty laundry or inglorious professional chapters we'd prefer not to have aired if and when we went before the Senate for confirmation. (This said, I respect Steve's obvious sincerety--he clearly honestly believes that Bolton is a hugely poor pick. But will the Republic itself be imperiled should he be confirmed? It sometimes feels that way reading TWN...).

All this said, however, here's why I've gotten increasingly concerned about Bolton.

1) Like Suzanne Nossel, I don't like Category Four abusers. As Suzanne puts it: "(t)hose who abuse for an invalid justification--for example race, gender, sexual orientation, disability OR for whistle-blowing to uncover fraud OR retaliation for putting forward valid intelligence information."

Now, nothing I've seen yet indicates to me that Bolton has been abusive of anyone for reasons of gender or sexual orientation. Yes, there is a tale about a woman being chased around a Moscow hotel with crude epithets being hurled at her. If true, and she is reportedly not an unbiased source (she has been involved with the Dallas chapter of Mothers Against Bush), the story is worrying indeed. But we don't even have a "he said, she said" at this point. More of just a "she said", really, as I haven't seen any reaction from Bolton yet.

What worries me more is the last prong of Suzanne's Category 4 abuser definition. An Undersecretary of State, or a UN Ambassador for that matter, should not be threatening career professionals as retaliation for putting forward alternate views on intelligence--especially when said views are valid.

For an example of this related to Cuba do see this David Ignatius column. Some money grafs:

Westermann sent Bolton's proposed testimony, in full, to the intelligence community for clearance Feb. 12, 2002. With it, he attached alternative language that in his view accorded better with the NIE. Westermann had frequently suggested similar changes for other colleagues and saw it as part of his job. But Bolton seemed convinced that it was a stab in the back. His chief of staff fired off an e-mail complaining about the alternate language and summoning the analyst to Bolton's office immediately. Westermann e-mailed back that he had provided the same language a few months before for Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Bolton was enraged when Westermann arrived: "He wanted to know what right I had trying to change an undersecretary's language. ... And he got very red in the face and shaking his finger at me and explained that I was acting way beyond my position. ... And so, he basically threw me out of his office and told me to get Tom Fingar up there," Westermann testified.

Fingar at the time was acting head of INR and now has the job full-time. He testified that when he arrived, Bolton was still furious, saying that "he wasn't going to be told what he could say by a midlevel INR munchkin analyst," and "that he wanted Westermann taken off his accounts." To their immense credit, Fingar and his boss, INR chief Carl Ford, refused.

And the Cuban biological weapons program that had Bolton so exercised? In 2004, the intelligence community revised its 1999 estimate because it was even less sure Cuba had any such offensive WMD effort. In other words, the mercurial finger-wagging policy-maker appears to have had it wrong, and the cautious analyst who refused to be intimidated had it right. [emphasis added]

Is there a consistent pattern of Bolton bullying analysts that were right (or at least acting with professional judiciousness)? We don't really know yet, though there are certainly indications that a more pervasive pattern may exist. So here's one reason, like Voinovich, that I think we do need to wade through the record more in the coming days.

2) The so-called insubordination angle. Did Bolton purposefully withold information from Colin Powell and Dick Armitage? Looks like yes. Has he perhaps even done this with Condi? Well, again, it looks like he may have:

Bolton's time at the State Department under Rice has been brief. But authoritative officials said Bolton let her go on her first European trip without knowing about the growing opposition there to Bolton's campaign to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear agency. "She went off without knowing the details of what everybody else was saying about how they were not going to join the campaign," according to a senior official. Bolton has been trying to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is perceived by some within the Bush administration as too soft on Iran.

Publicly, Rice has staunchly defended Bolton's credentials and urged the Senate to quickly confirm him. But privately, officials said, she has kept him out of key discussions on Iran since taking over in January.

Speaking of keeping Bolton out of key discussions, and as Laura Rozen points out, others have wanted to keep Bolton out of the loop at times too. And no, not the French--but very good friends of ours indeed.

What else gives me concern, aside from the potential insubordination (so much for the kiss-up; kick down meme, eh?) and the Category Four abuse of those who apparently think of Cuba as more about mojitos than botulinum toxin?

3) Another issue that has given B.D. real concern comes to us from former Ambassador to South Korea Thomas Hubbard (as reported by Mike Isikoff and Mark Hosenball in Newsweek):

In the first instance raised by Hubbard, Bolton erupted in anger and slammed down the phone when he learned that the ambassador hadn’t arranged a meeting for him with the president-elect of South Korea during a trip to Seoul in early 2003, according to an account Hubbard says he provided in recent days to staffers on the foreign relations panel.

“He was very angry,” Hubbard told NEWSWEEK today in an interview. “He berated me for failing to get him the meeting.” Hubbard said setting up a meeting for Bolton with Roh Moo-Hyun of South Korea, was impractical because James Kelly, who was then assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, had just been to Seoul the week before and had had his own meeting with Roh, carrying a personal message from President Bush. Hubbard added that in addition to hanging up on him when he learned that he wouldn’t get in to see Roh, Bolton also refused to attend a dinner Hubbard had set up for him with other prominent South Korean dignitaries. “It was undiplomatic behavior,” Hubbard said. Bolton declined to comment on the incident.

Look, I can understand an Under Secretary being pissed off he isn't getting face time with a host country President where a lower-ranking Assistant Secretary had just gotten same a week before. I can even get the slamming down the phone part, though it's a bit intemperate (we all have our moments though!). What got me about this anecdote was that Bolton didn't deign to go to the dinner Hubbard had organized with other South Korean dignitaries. Maybe he was sick or jet-lagged or wanted to chill out and watch pay for view for all I know. You know, it happens. But, flippant speculations aside, it's a tad folie de grandeur like to get all sulky and boycott dinners just because the Ambassador didn't get you your little audience with host Prez, no?

On the Hubbard issue, don't miss this either:

Hubbard, now retired, said he has also challenged Bolton’s account of their dealings over a provocative speech Bolton gave about North Korea on July 31, 2003. In the speech, Bolton described life in North Korea as a “hellish nightmare” and described “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator,” comments that prompted the North Korean government to denounce Bolton as a “bloodsucker” and “human scum.” In his recent testimony before the Senate committee, Bolton said he had “fully cleared” the speech “within the appropriate bureaucracy” and that after he gave it, Hubbard had told him: "Thanks a lot for that speech, John. It'll help us a lot out here."

Hubbard said that, while reviewing a draft of Bolton’s speech beforehand, he had asked the undersecretary to tone down his comments about Kim Jong Il—changes that Bolton refused to make. Hubbard said that Bolton did make other alterations to the speech as requested, primarily to correct factual points, prompting him to later say to Bolton: “Thanks for making those changes. That will help us with the South Koreans.”

But the former ambassador said he was in no way thanking Bolton for the entire speech or expressing approval of it. “He misunderstood what I said or misinterpreted my comments or mischaracterized them,” Hubbard said. When he heard Bolton’s testimony before the Senate panel on April 11, Hubbard said, “I was not pleased” and he then decided to contact the panel on his own to correct the record. Bolton declined to comment on Hubbard’s remarks about the speech.

One of the reasons B.D. supported Bolton was precisely this plain-spoken, no B.S. language. After all, if life in North Korea isn't a "hellish nightmare" than, what is friends? Really, what? So bully for Bolton for calling a spade a spade. Still, however, I am concerned that Hubbard, a respected player and no showboat, felt compelled to come out and clarify his take on Bolton's speech. It sounds, to me, that he had to lobby long and hard to get Bolton to correct factual errors in the text of his initially proposed remarks. That shouldn't be so hard a task.

So let's review the bidding. There is a lot to commend Bolton as I enumerated at the beginning of this post. But what concerns me is 1) the Category 4 abuse (especially where he is proven wrong); 2) the alleged insubordination, and 3) a potential pattern of undiplomatic behaviour and perhaps overly aggressive analysis of empirical data as made pretty clear by our former Ambassador to South Korea. Add it all up, and it equals a Voinovich moment. It says to me--let's give this a couple more weeks and get more data points assembled. Let's make a more informed call on this one. The problem with this, of course, is that the predictable Washington actors are going to do their damnedest to dig up personal dirt and the spectacle is likely going to become moronic and cheap at times. But, alas, the issues that have been raised are too serious and need to be judiciously examined. After all, the next Ambassador to the U.N. may well face crises with regard to both Iran and North Korea. Needless to say, each of these crises will play out in large part on intelligence related lines. We need someone who will have credibility on intelligence issues. Bolton might, ulimately. But better understanding his reaction to intelligence reports and analysts that don't mesh with his seemingly foreordained or overly-aggressive theses does merit more attention. On the insubordination front, frankly, I'm less concerned about that happening at the U.N. than, say, if he was Deputy Secretary of State. He will be somewhat isolated in New York and, given Condi's relationship with POTUS, must realize it would be foolhardy to try to end run around her.

Bottom line: At this stage, weighing all the considerations as judiciously as I can, I'd probably still lean supportive of Bolton all things considered. But if a more pervasive pattern emerges in the next couple of weeks of more Category 4 abuse of sober, justifiable dissent on intelligence related matters (especially where the analysts, and not Bolton, were ultimately right)--I might start leaning in the "no" direction. Why am I still leaning Bolton? I do think a President should get much deference on picking his national security team. I think tactically it might be good for moderate Republicans to let him get the job. I think he's smart and could be a helpful voice in term of U.N. reform and assorted reality checks the world body needs. And I think he will be relatively contained within the confines of Turtle Bay.

Let's not, in all of this either, lose site of the big picture. The U.N. is going through something of a time of troubles--and frank talk and action is required, big time. Still, like Chafee, Voinovich, Murkowski, Hagel (and non-committee Republicans like Specter) I am, shall we say, concerned. I want to know more. The challenge will be to be fair to Bolton and wade through the information over the coming weeks with sobriety and judiciousness. I'm not sure that will be possible, but I hope the Senate can rise to the occasion. The Joe Bidens of the world, however, give me little faith that will be the case.

Last, can I just say that I disagree with my estimable guest blogger Joseph Britt on his slam of Powell. Powell faced a feisty bulldog in Bolton who, reportedly, tried to end run him quite often. If Senators want to get Powell's take it is well within his rights to give them his view. And in whatever manner, including off the public record, he wishes. Is this Powell's stiletto? Yeah, to a fashion. But you reap what you sow. And Washington is a pretty tough town. Wanna friend there? Get that dog!

Back to the blog hiatus--though I'll doubtless pop out of it again on Bolton as we get closer to the vote. By the by, I don't think we can wholly discount him withdrawing his name late this week or next. I think that is a low-probablity event, to be sure, and we are far from l'affaire Kerik here, but Bolton could just conclude he doesn't really want the job that badly after all. It's not DepSec, as we are all aware, and these Senate hearings must be worse than protracted root canals without the benefit of anesthesia. Still, Bolton is a fighter, and I suspect he will stick this one out.

P.S. And, yes, we'll be keeping an eye on the "intercepts" story too...

P.P.S. Eagleburger weighs in. Pro-Bolton, whom he calls "blunt but effective."

Posted by Gregory at 08:03 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Take That, Bob Zoellick!

How important is it if Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick gave a low figure for the number of people murdered in the Darfur genocide? The Washington Post thinks it's vitally important; if people believe only 160,000 people have died through violence, disease or malnutrition (as Zoellick is reported to have said in Sudan) instead of more widely accepted figures approaching 400,000, why, then

"...the Russians and Chinese will pursue their commercial interests in arming Sudan's government and extracting its oil; Europe will make inadequate humanitarian gestures; [and} the Arab world will ignore the murderous policy of a fellow Muslim government"

Is there a Pulitzer Prize for Naivete' I haven't been told about? Maybe -- maybe -- some European governments might base what the Post aptly calls their humanitarian gestures on a mistaken statement about how big the Darfur disaster is. If there is even the slightest evidence that this sort of consideration moves the Russians or, especially, the Chinese it is a well-kept secret. And as for the Arab world...

Look, I know I have written about this before. I'm sure I will again. But it can't be pointed out too often that the genocide in Darfur is genocide being committed by Arabs, fully consistent with past actions of an Arab government stretching back a generation or more, throughout the whole of which time said government has not only been tolerated but warmly accepted in the family of Arab nations. No Arab government, least of all the one in Cairo, is lifting a finger to stop it; Arab media is silent about it, and about that silence Western media is itself silent.

The odds that genocide in Darfur will continue unless this changes appear excellent. If Zoellick should be faulted for anything it isn't this nitpicking business about numbers, but for addressing Darfur solely as an internal Sudanese matter for which other Arab states bear no responsibility at all.

For the life of me I don't understand the pussyfooting around about this. What possible difference can it make if Arab governments supporting an Arab government engaged in genocide have a few quasi-free elections? Even the much-derided "clash of civilizations" theory assumes that use of the plural is appropriate. Yet how different, really, are the things about Arab culture that produce the terrorism we all object to and those that produce the barbarism in Darfur and its acceptance by the Arab world? If democratization and the transformation of the Arab Middle East are to have any meaning, stopping outrages like this one has to be accepted as a regional responsibility. You can call it an Islamic responsibility if you like, since most of Darfur's victims are Muslims. In any event, the least we can do is end this decorous silence from the administration and the Western media -- which has no color of an excuse for ignoring this aspect of the problem -- about calling this an Arab genocide and demanding that Arabs do something about it. We might be disappointed; for all I know there are Saudi clerics who think mass murder in all its forms is a dandy idea. We won't know if we never say anything.

Posted by at 06:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

A Coin With One Side?

It didn't take Glenn Reynolds long to pick up on a New York Times article reporting that the repeal of the assault weapons ban hasn't led to a surge in gun-related crimes.

"The ban was symbolic legislation, designed to bolster the media profiles and direct-mail efforts of gun control lobby groups, while building momentum for eventual complete gun confiscation (something that some gun-control enthusiasts admitted, and others unconvincingly denied)."

A sinister conspiracy against gun rights or or a nefarious effort to boost gun control groups' fundraising? Why, both, obviously. What about the campaign to repeal a ban that everyone who understood the issue recognized was largely symbolic -- was it a sinister conspiracy to ensure that no teenager wanting to shoot up a school would lack the means to do it or a nefarious effort to boost the NRA's fundraising?

Glenn doesn't say. This may be because he believes whatever the NRA says about this subject. Or, it may be because he understands that for a membership-based organization involved with public policy the first priority is always -- always -- to convince its membership that it is threatened in some way, needs the organization's advocacy, and is morally obligated to send the organization money. The organization may indeed have objectives additional to this, but not always. The assault weapons ban may have been symbolic and no threat to gun rights at all, but the effort to repeal it did allow NRA leaders and staff to show the membership that they were busy. If the ban had never passed, the NRA would have just come up with some other reason to get its members to send money. One might say the same of gun control groups, I suppose, but the NRA seems to have had more success recently.

I don't want to say that the way to approach the advocacy of membership-based organizations is to start by assuming that they are not on the level. I don't want to say it because this assumption requires a lot more work, to separate the causes that have legitimate merit from those being promoted to show that the organizations doing something. But I'll say it anyway, because it's true.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 22, 2005

War Stories

Some items from and about the fighting in Iraq:

First, an update on Wednesday's post about the alleged mass kidnapping in Madain. This BBC report suggests that in fact insurgents may have operated from that town but the kidnapping never took place. That's the good news; the bad news is that a large number of individual kidnappings, assassinations and various other bad things have been going on in that area for at least the last two months, the fruits of which were what President Talabani announced Tuesday had been fished out of the Tigris River. Were the victims all Shiites targeted by the insurgency? A mix of Shiites, and Sunnis killed in retaliation? Victims of criminal activity? According to the BBC it may be some time before the bodies can even be identified.

Second, the Canadian military blogger Bruce Rolston posts some informed speculation about the circumstances of the Mi-8 helicopter downing yesterday. An RPG hit rather than a SAM is most probable, according to Rolston, based on how quickly insurgents arrived at the crash site, and the Bulgarian-piloted helicopter may have been flying a route familiar to insurgents in the area.

Third, it is possible to find descriptive and even graphic accounts of fighting in Iraq in American media. It isn't even particularly difficult as long as you don't rely solely on television. The Washington Post's Steve Fainaru and Ann Scott Tyson had two such accounts earlier this last week. Tyson's piece suggests what a military presence stretched thin feels like to the Army soldiers on the ground south of Baghdad.

Fainaru describes a coordinated insurgent attack on a Marine unit near the Syrian border, featuring large suicide bombs supported by mortars and RPG fire. On the one hand the insurgency's ability to put together an attack so sophisticated does not suggest it is ready to fade away, but instead is trying, as one Marine captain says, for a "big score." This would be a fairly significant change of tactics on the insurgency's part. On the other hand, going for a big score can carry a big price; this Marine unit counted three of its own lightly wounded, with 19 insurgents killed. Both Post articles should be read all the way through.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Diagnoses Without Prescriptions

First Paul Volcker, now the Brookings Institution. You have to wonder where political life is in this country when people who do not have to face the voters can get credit for bold thinking by describing obvious problems without offering any solutions.

Posted by at 10:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 21, 2005

The Penny Drops

I had wondered when we would hear something about John Bolton from Colin Powell, his former boss.

How typical of the way Powell is apt to handle a difficult situation and end up helping no one: not Bolton, whose nomination he may have scuttled; not Bush, who has some cause to feel blind-sided; not Lugar and other Foreign Relations Committee Republicans who may have just gone through a week-long controversy for nothing; and finally not himself. Powell plays the good soldier by saying nothing publicly, and can't torpedo Bolton without being immediately fingered for it in the Post. He gets no credit either for public forthrightness about his doubts concerning Bolton or for swallowing those doubts out of loyalty to the administration he just left.

If I find this conduct exasperating I can imagine how people who actually like John Bolton feel.

UPDATE: If you are coming from Howie Kurtz, please note the regular author of Belgravia Dispatch, Greg Djerejian (Joseph Britt is currently guest-blogging), has a different take on Powell's role in l'affaire Bolton. It's towards the end of this rather long post. B.D., at least before Joseph showed up, has usually been pretty pro-Colin! Just for the record...

Posted by at 11:12 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Yuan Point of View, Part 2

If the Bush administration is "flailing ineffectually" over the issue of relative currency values, and China in particular holds to its weak yuan policy, what happens next?

What could happen is what often happens in countries confronted by major trade imbalances: a surge of protectionism. Tariffs slapped on Chinese imports? Ratification of the new trade treaty with the Central American countries (CAFTA)? The Economist points out in detail that Congress will favor the first and not the second the longer the current situation continues. For free traders, this is exactly backward.

Protectionist measures, like those being promoted by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), could put the United States in flagrant violation of its World Trade Organization obligations and undermine the effort to conclude a new worldwide agreement on further trade liberalization. Rejection of CAFTA -- as trade agreements go, fairly small potatoes --would signal the administration's inability to get Congressional approval for any deal it did negotiate. A slide away from rather than toward freer world trade could accelerate rapidly.

Former USTR Robert Zoellick made sure his agency was prepared to lobby for CAFTA ratification before he left to become Deputy Secretary of State, and his nominated replacement, Rob Portman, is a capable guy who should be able to lead a ratification fight effectively. But administration action to head off protectionist measures aimed at China would likely have to be led by Treasury Secretary John Snow. I don't want to be unfair to Snow -- Secretary of the Treasury was a prestige post in the Reagan and Clinton administrations, but ranks somewhere just above the Special Assistant to the President for Correspondence in this one -- but his performance to date in discussing economic issues publicly does not inspire much confidence.

President Bush's inspires even less. While he has been traveling around the country soaking up applause on his Social Security tour and encouraging a train wreck in the Senate over a few appeals court nominees, he hasn't said much about trade. Perhaps he's waiting for a crisis, like a major fight in Congress to stave off protectionist legislation or keep CAFTA from being rejected outright. It doesn't look as if he will have to wait long, and his administration isn't ready.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 20, 2005

Madain Mystery

Now from the Department of Islam is Peace comes another charming massacre story from Iraq.

A couple of days ago news items started showing up about a large hostage-taking, supposedly of Shiites from the town of Madain, south of Baghdad. As many as 100 people were said to be involved, but details were very sketchy. Juan Cole went so far as to say on April 18 that the whole story probably had nothing to it. Today, according to Iraqi President Talabani, about 50 bodies were pulled out of the Tigris.

Did Cole blow it? That's not actually the question I had when reading what Talabani said today -- that question was more along the lines of "what is going on here?" -- but I imagine that in certain sections of the blogosphere whether Cole got it wrong will be a topic of discussion. Personally this kind of thing is not that big a deal for me. First of all, as I just said we really don't know what is going on here; second, I expect Cole or anyone else trying to track events in Iraq from thousands of miles away to get lots of things wrong. It just goes with the territory.

Bloggers, like mainstream media outlets, are sources of information and commentary, both of which can sometimes be useful or illuminating. We tend I think to exaggerate the impact of the commentary, though. I know Cole's writing well enough to understand he has a tendency to "go native" in his commentary about Iraqis, especially Iraqis hostile to the American presence in that country, and as an academic he puts enough boilerplate rhetoric about Western imperialism and so forth on his site to keep his key to the faculty washroom. Do I agree with his views on Iraq? No, not most of the time anyway. Do I think he's an impediment to the war effort or a menace in some other way? Be serious. No blogger's commentary -- even if he gets on television -- could have that kind of impact.

Maybe my capacity for taking offense is just abnormally low. I just have the impression, reading some of the exchanges in the blogosphere (this one, for example), that a few people have forgotten that they are only observers of great events, and having forgotten that take disagreement way too personally.

Posted by at 11:12 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

In Southern Africa, A Long Way From The End of History

Reuters, along with other news agencies, is reporting that Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that country's main opposition party has cut its ties with the South African government. An MDC spokesman said there was "...no purpose whatsoever in participating in a charade," meaning South Africa's ostensible efforts to mediate between contending factions in Zimbabwe.

"As far we are concerned the South African government will have to prove to the people of Zimbabwe that it is an honest broker ... and that their solidarity is to the people of Zimbabwe and not to ZANU-PF as a political party."

The problem, it seems, is that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his government's "solidarity" is to ZANU-PF, the political party of Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe. There are several explanations for this. A pessimistic view is offered by Richard Tren, the head of a public health organization in South Africa, who worries that Mbeki's embrace of Mugabe could signal a future for South Africa much like Zimbabwe's present.

"One could argue that the ANC's support for Zimbabwe demonstrates that, just like the Nationalist Party that created Apartheid, the ANC does not really respect, nor believe in the institutions of a free society."

Tren's evidence is suggestive of this, but not conclusive. Another view was offered last month by Joseph Winter on the BBC's site. Winter relies heavily on a South African political analyst named Chris Maroleng, whose view is that South Africa's backing of Mugabe is based on its own notions of realpolitik -- ZANU-PF would not accept an opposition victory in elections, which would therefore lead to civil war and increase the flow of refugees from Zimbabwe to South Africa to a flood. Other countries in the region share this concern. The hope is that negotiations with moderate factions within Mugabe's party can lead to an easing of tensions and perhaps at some point to Mugabe's own retirement (he is 81). Writes Winter:

"Similar scenarios, relying on a moderate Zanu-PF faction, have been painted in the past and have not come to pass on the ground...

But if Mr Maroleng's predictions do come true, South Africa will be able to feel that its policy of "quiet diplomacy" has been vindicated, whatever the feelings of Zimbabwe's hard-pressed opposition activists.

If not, Zimbabweans will probably have to get used to the idea that their current hardships are likely to last until 2008, when presidential elections are due."

Lastly there is the Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby, formerly a Southern Africa correspondent for the Economist. Mallaby puts most of the blame for Zimbabwe's decline on Thabo Mbeki personally. He writes of the parlimentary elections:

"If South Africa, which could strangle its smaller neighbor's economy by switching off its electricity, had been tougher beforehand, this fraud might have been forestalled. If Mbeki had protested after the election, events also might have been different. Some brave Zimbabweans called for an African version of Ukraine's Orange Revolution. But as one opposition politician said wistfully, regional conditions provided no encouragement. Ukraine benefited from proxi- mity to pro-democratic Europe. But Zimbabwe's democratic neighbor sent the opposite signal. After the election was stolen, the head of the South African observer mission heaped praise on the process, declaring that the outcome reflected "the free will of the people of Zimbabwe" and that "the political climate was conducive for elections to take place."

Cumulatively, Zimbabwe's story is sobering. Democratization, after a promising start in a country with many advantages, is going backward. It may also be going backward in the much more important country of South Africa -- but whether that is true or not South Africa's idea of realpolitik looks very much like following the path of least resistance, asserting no authority beyond its borders and allowing Mugabe and his gang to dictate its own policy. It is a policy of weakness by the only country in the region that has any real strength.

What we call "democratization" encompasses some worthy aims: things without which we would not recognize our own society. Zimbabwe provides a cautionary tale, not just about how formidable are the obstacles to democratization in many countries but about how power is required to sustain it against its enemies. In Zimbabwe that power is lacking, and it is far from the only country of which this is true.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack


Just checking in to say a quick hello from the bowels of deal-land. First, I want to take this opportunity to thank Joseph Britt for the excellent job he's doing over here as a guest blogger. It's very much appreciated.(ed. note: Oh, and Joe, I can't seem to E-mail you at your comcast account--E-mail always bounces back. Do you have an alternate address where I can reach you?) Anyway, if JEB is up for it, I hope he'll be happy to keep on guest-blogging for another week or two into early May. Thereafter, I look to be lining up another guest-blogger (though this isn't yet confirmed). He's a Paris-based corporate attorney for a UK "magic circle" firm. He's American, voted Kerry, and is well to the left of me, but he's a fine writer and may have an interesting perspective to share with us over here at B.D. So we'll see...

And me? I'm still consumed by the day job and have greatly enjoyed not having to face the added self-inflicted pressure of blogging into the wee hours. After the deal I'm on closes--I will have a lot of overseas travel and a move to New York to grapple with (just closing on an apartment in lower Manhattan is already proving quite challenging!). So it will be very busy still. But I do anticipate posting here and there mid-Mayish. Until then, please keep enjoying Joseph Britt and, perhaps, an anonymous (necessarily, as the Firm might freak!) Paris-based American lawyer in the not too distant future.

A bientot,

Greg D.

Posted by Gregory at 04:20 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 19, 2005

It's Ratzinger

I have to admit to being a little surprised at the choice of Germany's Cardinal Ratzinger to be the next Pope, called Benedict XVI.

I am not a Catholic and don't track Church politics closely. It had just seemed to me that with almost half of the world's Catholics living in Latin America a prelate from that region was the most likely choice. That a Latin American pope was not chosen, though, does not surprise me as much as the conclave's election of a man 78 years old.

John Paul II was a marvel in many ways, but his age and infirmities had a major negative impact on the last years of his papacy. It is hard for me to imagine, for example, that his weak and ineffectual response to the appalling sexual abuse scandal in the American church was not at least in part a product of his declining energy and powers of concentration (more dedicated observers of the Church may wish to argue with me on this point). The conclave's choice of Ratzinger risks reliving this problem within only a few years.

He may be worth the risk. A European Pope who was close to the revered John Paul II may be better able to relate to Catholics in Africa and South America than a Pope from one of those regions could relate to Catholics in the other. Also, a disproportionate number of cardinals are still from Europe, and may have felt that attempting to revive the church in Europe is a high priority only a European Pope could attempt. Finally Ratzinger's intellect and personality are by all accounts formidable; for a while at least he won't be pushed around, and cardinals may well have found this thought a comfort.

Great figures in any public office are rarely succeeded by people of close to equal stature. Perhaps the conclave recognized that any new Pope would suffer from comparison with the last one, and decided to choose a man who would not mind and could hold things together until the Church had a better idea of how it wanted to be led in the new century.

But that's enough uninformed speculation from me. Further speculation informed and otherwise is invited in Comments

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

April 18, 2005

The Darfur Puzzle's Missing Piece

How much do Arabs know about the Arab genocide in Darfur?

After I posted a few days ago on Egypt's role -- or more accurately its failure to play a role -- in bringing the mass homicide in western Sudan to an end, Les Brunswick posted a comment asking how Darfur was being covered in the Arab media. It was a good question, one a non-Arab speaker like myself is poorly equipped to answer. It is possible that the English-language Arab press is an inadequate guide to the news most Arabs get about this subject. It is, unhappily, also possible that it is only in the English language Arab press that Darfur is covered at all. Perhaps one of the Arab speakers lurking out there in cyberspace can provide some insight on what is being written and broadcast on Darfur in Arabic.

For what it is worth, I did some searches for stories about Darfur in the online Khaleej Times (Dubai), Lebanon's Daily Star, and al Jazeera. If there is not quite silence about Darfur, there is no more than a very soft whisper on any of these sites. There is no reporting from the scene that I could find, only reports on official government statements, usually reprints from Reuters, Agence France Presse and other wire services (including -- and I don't really know what to make of this -- Xinhua). There is a collection of international media stories about Darfur on the site of the Sudan Tribune, but on closer inspection this turns out to be a production of a non-profit organization based in France.

If there is near-silence about Darfur in Arab media, there is also silence about that near-silence in Western media. I don't mean to pick on the NYT's Nicholas Kristof, who has done some of the best reporting on Darfur, but I far as I can tell his last column, which included American consultation with Egypt as one of a somewhat lengthy list of things the Bush administration ought to be doing about this, was the first time he has mentioned Egypt at all in connection with Darfur. An editorialist for another large American paper that has spoken out about Darfur, when I asked why a long editorial on that subject had included no reference to Egypt or the other Arab countries, suggested that the idea just hadn't come up. I'd hate to think that the only commentary in cyberspace about the Arab media's coverage of genocide being committed by Arabs is the one you are reading now -- God knows I'd be happy to defer to someone who knows more about this than I do -- but that may in fact be the case.

This entire situation is nuts. It is nuts on multiple levels: on the logistical level, from the standpoint of sanctions enforcement, with respect to the greater moral influence Arab, Muslim voices might have in Arab, Muslim Khartoum, and in connection with humanitarian aid for Darfur -- which has to be paid for somehow, and which oil-rich Arab states could finance out of petty cash. It is even nuts in the context of the Bush administration's efforts to transform the Arab Mideast politically.

Now, I'll admit to being skeptical about these efforts: skeptical about their chances for success and skeptical about their place in our list of priorities. I'd be glad if my skepticism proves unjustified. Really, though, how far toward any conception of a civilized society have people come who will not only do nothing about genocide happening right next door, by and against people of their own religion, but will not even talk about it? Those are the Arabs today, especially in Egypt.

Henry Stimson used to say that the only way to find out whether a man is trustworthy is to trust him. In the same way we will only find out whether Egypt and the other Arab countries can grow into partners able to share the responsibilities of human civilization instead of remaining a problem for human civilization if we place those responsibilities squarely before them, to take up or to shun. If we don't -- if we continue to try to stop the genocide in Darfur with no help from Egypt or the other Arab countries -- thousands and perhaps tens of thousands more people will die in Darfur this year, even in the best case of cooperation from Western and West African governments.

I see no way to complete the puzzle of stopping genocide in Darfur without the Arab piece. It is a wonder that no one seems able even to acknowledge that this piece is missing.

Posted by at 11:12 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Yuan Point of View

I may have this all wrong. However, "getting serious" is not normally so easy to confuse with "flailing ineffectually." And might not Japan's reluctance to agree to a formal declaration that China should revalue the yuan have something to do with the implications of a Chinese currency float for Japan's own currency?

Posted by at 05:12 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

One House Is Enough

You know, Ronald Reagan was able to effect great changes in the makeup and direction of the federal judiciary without demanding that the Senate change its procedures to help him do it.

Clearly, George W. Bush is no Ronald Reagan.

The controversy over how to limit Senate debate over judicial nominations shows off some of its protagonists' least attractive characteristics. The nominations being blocked by Senate Democrats are a small minority of those Bush has submitted since becoming President, and none of the nominees are exactly titans of the American bar. The likelihood that the future course of our history will depend on whether Priscilla Owen goes on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is pretty small.

But Bush wants what he wants, and what he wants is vital because he wants it. He doesn't want to have to argue about it, and he doesn't care what else has to change for him to get his way. A privileged upbringing and a devoted entourage can do this to one's outlook on life. Deep into the era of the Me Generation Presidency, lots of Americans have come to accept this kind of spoiled-child behavior as normal. Many of them even identify it with strong leadership.

Most Republican Senators certainly do. Two groups of GOP Senators are worthy of comment in this regard. Twelve Republican Senators are over the age of 70, and four more are within a couple of years of that age. Even subtracting a few men unusually vigorous for their age and who take being a Senator seriously (e.g. McCain, Lugar, Warner) this leaves quite a few elderly Senators who might be glad for anything that could reduce the time and effort they have to put into their job.

Many Republican Senators are also former Congressmen who long for the dull-witted, bovine majoritarianism of the House of Representatives. They enjoy the larger offices and longer terms that come with the Senate; they find not having to work so hard for campaign funds and media exposure gratifying. But the Burrs, Vitters and Thunes recently arrived on the north side of the Capitol are not so interested in actually being Senators. They were happy as Congressmen, content to be consulted occasionally on issues they happened to know something about but otherwise herded passively by their leadership and the White House.

They do not want independence; they are not ambitious to ever be powers on the Hill in their own right. Most of them have no detailed views about the federal judiciary, or indeed about many other important issues. They want only to do whatever their President wants, provided what he wants is also supported by a suitable mix of interest groups. We haven't seen a group of grown men so eager to be ordered about since the Democratic caucuses in Iowa last year.

You can see how the concept of unlimited debate would lack appeal for people dependent on staff and lobbyists to write their statements for them. Inconveniently, though, unlimited debate is central to the Senate's role in our government. We need a House of Representatives, I guess (I concede this point with some reluctance), but there's no point in having two of them. There are ways of bringing debate in the Senate to a halt, by the approval of supermajorities for cloture motions of course but also by not insisting on nominations and legislation violently obnoxious to a large minority of the Senate.

That means that the President doesn't always get everything he asks for, something Presidents in this country have been living with for a very long time. This particular President would have been better off by far not picking fights over lower court nominations and demanding that generations of Senate practice be changed just to accommodate him. The next Supreme Court nomination was always going to be controversial, but it could have presented the country with the prospect of a principled conservative jurist opposed by entrenched liberal interest groups and their kept Democratic Senators. No one Bush nominates for the Court now is likely to occupy such high ground; he (or she) will appear merely as the instrument of Bush's zeal to use the courts to impose his will.

As for the Senate, there are still a number of Republican Senators with connections to an earlier era when Republicans interested in reshaping the judiciary knew how to do it without manufacturing a crisis. Some of them have not declared themselves on whether or not they will reject the so-called "nuclear option" Sen. Frist has been bullied into considering; they include Senators Cochran, Domenici, and Dole. Frist may only be using the Senate as a stepping stone to higher office, but they have more invested in the institution than he does. If he is so unwise as to force a vote on making Senate procedures more like those of the House they ought to shoot him down.

Posted by at 04:12 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

April 16, 2005

The Specter of Communism

Ian Hamet, a blogger living in Shanghai, reports on anti-Japanese demonstrations there earlier this week. Demonstrations, evidently encouraged by the government, also took place in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Hamet includes a rough translation of an e-mail encouraging people to march on the Japanese consulate. Sample tips for demonstrators:

When through the shops and companies Japanese invested, don’t give them too much destruction. Because Japanese will ask for the pay to the government later, so everyone at that time should be rational....When burning the Japanese flags and pictures of Koizumi, please be safe, don’t burn your own clothes by mistake.

There is a humorous aspect to this. Obviously television coverage of the peaceful demonstrations in Ukraine and Lebanon made an impression in China, and someone is clearly anxious lest the attempt to use the same means to a different end lead to embarrassing pictures. More seriously, there is a hint in this development that China is after all bumping up against the problem faced by the Soviet Union in its final years.

The problem is the past. Chinese schoolchildren are taught from an early age about the horrors and humiliations of the Japanese presence in China that ended almost 60 years ago, much as Soviet students were well schooled about Nazi outrages during what is still known as the Great Patriotic War. They know much less about the history of the ruling party in their own country -- a history that features a really astonishing amount of bloodshed and the sacrifice of millions of ordinary Chinese to the whims of the Party.

Hamet is convinced that Chinese leaders are playing a deep, brilliant game by attempting to fan and harness popular passions and resentments at the same time. I'm not sure I agree. It wasn't just the failure of central planning or the bloody stalemate in Afghanistan that undermined the legitimacy of Soviet Communism, but the slowly spreading knowledge among educated Russians of what had been done in the Party's name. Horror can be a corrosive force. Knowledge of the past can be limited, and controlled, but not forever. What will happen when the Chinese now being urged to demonstrate against part of the past start asking about the part the Party has striven to hide from them all these years?

Of course, China is not Russia. The Soviet Union in Gorbachev's time was exhausted, falling further behind the West every year; China today is vibrant, dynamic, and full of possibilities. And it may be true after all that death and oppression on a gigantic scale make less of an impression on the Chinese mind than on the Western one, as long as it is inflicted by a legitimate -- that is, by a Chinese -- authority and not by a foreign power.

Yet something so potent, and potentially unsettling as the past would seem to require handling with great care, not clever manipulation in the service of short-term objectives like keeping Japan off the UN Security Council. A time of prosperity might be the time to start dealing more honestly with what Communism did in China, in the same way one is better off trying to defuse a time bomb well before the time is up. We ought to worry about whether popular resentment against foreigners could get out of control, but perhaps the Chinese Communist Party leadership ought to worry that trying to stir people up about the past now could be dangerous to itself later.

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the Hamet link. Once again, despite the, ahem, technical difficulties that have prevented him from updating his blogroll, Instapundit manages to cast into the blogosphere and pull up something interesting.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

April 15, 2005

(New) Party Time!

This is not another "whither Europe?" post. I'm just thinking out loud here.

Suppose French voters really do reject the new European constitution in the referendum scheduled for May 29. Dan Drezner outlines some of the difficulties Jacques Chirac and the rest of the French political elite are having in persuading voters that the greater glory of Jacques Chirac and the rest of the French political elite requires them to vote for this gigantic monstrosity. If it's rejected it could be resubmitted to the voters later, but would more likely have to be renegotiated.

Obviously this would have implications for the other European countries. A European political identity defined as much as anything by not being American would suffer a heavy blow indeed if French voters of all people decided that they do not really want what their president is commanding them to vote for. What could replace it?

Like I said, this is not a "whither Europe?" post. There are many possibilities that Europeans will want to consider themselves. I'd just like to suggest one, as humbly as I can: surrender.

OK, so humble is not something I do well. But I'm not talking about unconditional surrender here -- I don't expect Europeans, for example, start clamoring for the American health care system, pledge week on NPR, white Zinfandel or NASCAR. Europe already has soccer, which is enough boredom for anyone. And Europe has plenty of government spokespeople who can obfuscate quite as well as Scott McClellan, in multiple languages yet, so no change would be required there either.

All I'm suggesting is a new political party with a platform for making Europe more like the United States. It could campaign, for example, to change business regulations like these in Germany. It could urge a program to facilitate immigration from mostly Catholic Latin America, to ease concerns over a flood of immigrants from the mostly Muslim Middle East. This new party could even put forth candidates committed to cutting spending on dopey government programs aimed at fighting the spread of English, subsidizing boring movies and giving handouts to idle farmers. We could use some candidates interested in cutting government spending in this country, too, but let's not get off the subject.

A Europe defined as "the place that is not America" is defined in a fairly negative way; no wonder it doesn't arouse much enthusiasm among people who do not see it as a trough at which to feed. Why not a new political party that instead of struggling to multiply differences with America seeks to reduce them, that instead of mucking around with a constitution longer than some dictionaries promotes a shorter, less detailed constitution modeled on one that has actually worked before?

It could be called the Yankee Party, or the Lincolnists (I suspect that one probably sounds better in languages other than English). Or the Really, No Kidding Christian Democrats. No one is using the name Federalist Party that I know of; we were for a while, but that was a long time ago. As I said, it's just a suggestion. Let's have a dialogue!

Posted by at 06:12 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

April 14, 2005

A Message From Ungar

Former Voice of America director Sanford Ungar goes to bat for his old agency in the forthcoming issue of Foreign Affairs, providing one side of a doubtless many-sided argument about the future of American public diplomacy.

This is a subject that gets media attention from time to time, but because by definition public diplomacy is supposed to generate press only outside the United States it gets little sustained attention from Congress (or in the blogosphere, including from bloggers with much better sources than mine). A case like the one Ungar makes, for more funding and a focus on rebuilding the VOA, is likely to be waved off by about 533 of the 535 members of Congress unless it is embraced by the Bush administration. This might happen, or it might not.

The administration has attempted twice to give new leadership to public diplomacy at the State Department, first by appointing as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy an advertising executive named Charlotte Beers, and later by giving the post to State Department veteran Margaret Tutwiler. Neither seems to have made much of an impact (Tutwiler bailed out after only a few months), and the administration turned last month to Karen Hughes, a Bush intimate from his campaigns.

I've regarded the Hughes appointment as among the weakest of the second term. The West Wing notwithstanding, electioneering hands rarely make a smooth transition to policy work; they are too apt to think what works on the campaign trail will work just as well in government, and in the Bush administration this is probably a greater temptation than in most others. The State Department has put only one item about the Hughes appointment on the Under Secretary's section of its web site -- the statements of Secretary Rice and Karen Hughes on the day she was nominated a month ago -- and it is not encouraging:

"I cannot imagine anything more exciting than the opportunity to share the America I know with the people of the world, a country whose strength is our goodhearted people, a country where children, including my granddaughter, went door to door to collect money to help victims of the tsunami half a world away, where volunteers deliver meals to shut-ins and offer food to the homeless and visit prisoners, and where our government contributes billions to fight AIDS and improve basic services like water, electricity and health care that touch people's lives throughout the world."

This is the kind of self-congratulatory thing campaigning politicians say to American voters and very like the message Ms. Hughes in particular was accustomed to repeating, over and over for months at a time, about Mr. Bush during his campaigns for governor and President. Outside the borders of the United States it won't get us anywhere.

Ungar has a point to make about public diplomacy, beyond his complaints about cuts in the VOA budget, interference from the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and diversion of resources to doubtful ventures like the al Hurra television channel in Iraq. I would summarize his point in this way: don't be too damn clever. Don't think that fiddling with how the American government presents itself when it speaks to foreign audiences is going to bring about revolutions or make people love us. Don't think that bright ideas from emigre' groups or aspiring ambassadors on the BBG can be indulged without risk to the reputation for reliability that American public diplomacy should always aspire to. Don't identify the head of any one administration with the United States.

Do act on the knowledge that many of the things that made American public diplomacy successful in the past will work just as well now. Do recognize that one of America's greatest advantages is the English language. Do understand above all that public diplomacy is for the long haul.

I rather doubt that Karen Hughes will see acting on this message as the way to make her mark at the State Department and would be unsurprised if a year and change from now she were back in Texas, having left American public diplomacy in about the same condition it is now. I would of course be delighted to be proven wrong.

Posted by at 11:12 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 13, 2005

A Small Corner of the War Effort

From the Dynamist site comes a request for DVDs and CDs from one of our Marine units in Iraq. If you have some you are not using (and let's face it, who doesn't?), you can get the APO to ship them to by e-mailing Virginia Postrel.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Pet Peeve; Or, At Least It Won't Be Called USS Barney

The Navy is having an aircraft carrier built in Virginia (designated CVN-77) that is scheduled to enter service in 2009, replacing the retiring U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The ship will be named U.S.S. George H. W. Bush.

This isn't the first time the Navy has chosen to honor retired politicians by naming capital ships after them. The lead ship in the Nimitz class bears the name of an actual admiral, but two of the remaining eight (Vinson and Stennis) are named after former chairmen of Congressional Armed Services Committees. The other six are named after Presidents whose relationship with the Navy ranged from profound (Theodore Roosevelt) to pro forma (Eisenhower).

I always admired the earlier Navy traditions of naming carriers after ships that had distinguished themselves in naval history (Enterprise, Ranger) or after important battles (e.g. Lexington and Midway. During World War II, when dozens of carriers were built, nearly all of them were named after battles). But I can't object to naming anything after George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, and nothing would have delighted Theodore Roosevelt more than "his" ship.

Surely, though, naming a $4.5 billion ship after the living father of the sitting President takes institutional sucking-up to an undesirable level, even by the standards of the Navy brass. I have nothing against the elder Bush personally. He served creditably in the Navy during World War II, as did thousands of other Americans; he was always well-mannered, considerate of his staff, and had a sense for the power of personal networking that I greatly admire. It is true that I never thought Bush a particularly good President, and that before Ronald Reagan handed him the Vice Presidential nomination in 1980 he had occupied a number of high-profile Washington posts just long enough to say he was there without ever accomplishing very much. So it's fair to say my high regard for Bush is not unqualified.

The Navy belongs to the whole country, not just to the people running it now. Its traditions are our traditions, and there is something unseemly and vaguely corrupt about so transparent an effort to curry favor with the politician who happens to occupy the White House. CVN-77 could have been well named according to earlier tradition, after one of the carriers that left glorious legacies in American naval history: Saratoga, Yorktown, Ranger. It could also have been named after one of the leaders who loom rather larger in our history than George H. W. Bush is likely to: Woodrow Wilson, for example, or my personal favorite George C. Marshall. Or after John Adams, to whom the Navy owes its very existence and who gave his name to a famous fighting warship of an earlier day.

The Navy, with things other than tradition to consider, chose a different course with CVN-77. This ship, as they say, has sailed. I just hope it isn't the lead ship in a convoy. All Presidents have relatives, you know; if there is a CVN-78 some years hence and its christening features a certain former governor of Arkansas, the Navy will have only itself to blame.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

April 12, 2005

Some Context on Bolton

Read the opening statement on John Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador from the guy who should be Secretary of State, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar. It goes into depth on the one subject the next UN Ambassador will have to be our point man on, reform of the UN itself. It says little about Bolton himself and nothing at all of Lugar's opinion of Bolton.

You don't need an advanced degree in Lugarology to figure out that Bolton is not one of the chairman's favorite people (compare the tone of his statement yesterday to that of his statement opening the confirmation hearing of the last UN Ambassador, John Danforth). He'll back Bolton because he believes the President ought to have the executive branch appointees he wants, but if enough stuff about loose-cannon behavior at the State Department comes out, and is believed, to get Bolton in trouble Lugar won't exert himself to save this nomination.

I can't be the first person to notice, by the way, that Bolton's former boss Colin Powell is conspicuous by his silence on this nomination. Some of the things reported about Bolton's conduct with respect to, say, the North Korea negotiations reflect rather badly on Powell. They suggest a Secretary not fully in control of his own department -- not the first suggestion we had along those lines, of course, but still.

What do I think about Bolton? Well, like Greg, I tend to think of his being sent off to New York as a demotion for him. I also think it reflects Bush's preference for recycling familiar faces into prominent jobs, and the influence of the Vice President. Like Lugar I think a UN Ambassador should work on UN reform and otherwise do and say only what the Secretary of State tells him to, and if Bolton sticks to that he'll be fine. If he doesn't, and especially if he veers away from administration policy in public, he'll get fired.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 11, 2005

A Little Energy

First, a fun link, to Gas Buddy. All the local gas prices fit to post (yes, the Canadian prices are per liter, not per gallon)!

Calculated Risk has a helpful summary of the Department of Energy's Short-Term Energy Outlook . Noteworthy points include:

* For not quite a year, oil prices have exceeded DOE base case estimates. DOE has been predicting prices to flatten or go down, and it isn't doing that anymore. The low end of the range for 2005 and 2006 is $45/barrel, just a little below where oil is now; the high end is $65.

* Prices could more easily spike up than down. There just isn't that much slack in the system -- not from OPEC, and not from American refineries operating at close to peak capacity. Relatively small increases in demand, or cuts in supply from weather or other causes could cause prices to jump significantly.

* The IMF's chief economist is talking about a "permanent oil shock." While this is a problem for the United States, it is a much bigger problem for smaller developing countries.

It's not as if we didn't know this was coming. In part, high energy prices are the result of economic growth, something we rightly encourage in America and overseas. They also -- as we saw in the 1970s -- can inhibit future economic growth. Personally I would have preferred we anticipate that problem by taxing energy use, starting several years ago and beginning with gasoline. But with gas prices where they are now, that ship may have sailed.

Thanks to Lynne Kiesling for the CR link.

Posted by at 05:12 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

April 08, 2005

Darfur: Where is Egypt?

Immediately to the north of Sudan, as I read the map. But we'll come to that in a minute.

At the risk of starting off a couple of days behind the news cycle, I found nothing much to disagree with in Nicholas Kristof's latest column about the ongoing atrocities in Darfur (registration required). Kristof and others have been saying for a while now that the United States and Europe ought to be doing more to halt the carnage there, and they're right.

In fairness to the Western powers, though, the tools available to them are limited. Applying military pressure against Sudan, in particular, is difficult with the American military so heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. For French and other European air forces, even enforcing a no-fly zone over far western Sudan would be like holding a heavy dumbbell at arm's length. It could be done, but it wouldn't be easy.

Well, then, what about Egypt? Sudan's government is mostly Arab; the people committing genocide are almost entirely Arab. Egyptian officials like to talk about not wanting to "internationalize" the Darfur situation, code for not wanting an Arab government to appear to submit to Western dictation. So, what leadership is Egypt actually exercising itself to bring the crimes in Darfur to a halt?

The short answer is, none. Egypt is prepared to talk, at some as-of-now unspecified future date, with Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Chad about "containing" the crisis, an approach likely to yield no more result than a previous talkfest held in October of last year. That's it. No sanctions, no deadlines, absolutely no military pressure of any kind. Faced with the mass slaughter of Muslims by other Muslims right on its doorstep, Egypt is content to do nothing.

Now, it may be that expecting an Arab country to lead the enforcement of something resembling civilized norms just over its borders is expecting too much. It may be also that the government in Khartoum and perhaps its patron in Beijing has more influence in Cairo than the other way around. And, to be perfectly fair, even from Egypt the logistics of mounting something like a no-fly zone over all of Darfur are not simple.

But is Egypt part of the civilized world or not? Criticize Paris, Washington and other governments all you want -- and I agree with much of that criticism -- but Egypt is by far the country best positioned to lead the forceful international effort necessary to stop the appalling mass atrocity now being perpetrated by the Sudanese government. No one would stand in Mubarak's way if this is what he decided he wanted to do. He could probably get enough aid from Western governments to pay for the cost of bringing Sudan to heel and then some. Who knows, even some of the Arab oil states might find a verse in the Koran somewhere that justified contributing money to stop a mass murder.

As far as I know no government and certainly not the United Nations has yet been so impolite as to suggest to the Egyptian government that it has regional responsibilities that can't be met by talk alone. Perhaps it is time for that to change.

Posted by at 04:57 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Belgravia's Guest

Thanks to Greg for that introduction. I hope I can live up to his very generous description of me, and also not crash this site. Though no technophobe, I do have in the back of my mind the Python sketch that begins with a visitor accidentally breaking a teacup and ends with him fleeing the house as it collapses around him.

I am better known by most people as Joseph Britt than as Zathras. "Zathras" was the product of whim, a cybernym adopted mostly because I was pretty sure no one else would use it -- and, secondarily, because making oneself understood is sometimes a problem in cyberspace. The original Zathras was a minor character in the old Babylon 5 science fiction television series, who doubled as comic relief and expositor of all the major points in a key storyline. His tag line, "no one listen to poor Zathras," can be heard as the plaint of a frustrated prophet, a wry comment on the obtuseness of his audience, or a self-conscious acknowledgement that the storyline he is trying to explain (on Babylon 5 this involved time travel and some quasi-millenial stuff too complicated to go into here) is a little outside conventional frames of reference.

But so much for that. In the real cyberworld (and there's an interesting concept), the chronically misunderstood writer has only himself to blame. So Joseph Britt it will be here. I'll write mostly about the same kinds of topics Greg has: current affairs with a heavy emphasis on foreign policy. There may be more frequent posts having to do with Congress, my place of employment in a former life, and topics that I will never, ever write about include the Michael Jackson trial, Jane Fonda and the British royal family. Life is just too short.

Posted by at 03:57 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Guest Blogger

As mentioned, we are going to hand over the keys to B.D. to a guest-blogger. And, in what may be a blogospheric first (who knows?), it's to a regular commenter on this very site. Zathras, aka Joseph Britt, will be taking up the reins at B.D. for a week or two. He'll start up tomorrow, so be sure to check in. I first noticed Joe's comments over at Dan Drezner's place--and they always struck me as well written, intellectually honest, and highly intelligent. At some point, Joe started commenting over here at B.D.--and so I got to read his comments more routinely. Now, I guess, I'll get to read his posts over in this space for a spell. Best of luck Zathras! Enjoy...and thanks for helping me feel less guilty about the blog burn-out by keeping this site 'fresh' over the next weeks. Bye for now.

Posted by Gregory at 02:58 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

April 07, 2005

Reader Mail and Related Ruminations

Which part of Hitchens article in Slate was hackneyed and cheap exactly? Is it that you object that Hitchens focused solely on the Cardinal Law abomination, to the exclusion of all of the other positive things John Paul had done? Or do you feel that he has made some errors of fact, that it is not at all uncontroversial to assert that John Paul had a direct hand in covering up pedophilia in the Church?

Just curious. I've been a reader for oh maybe six months now. I
liked your strong independent voice on Abu Ghraib. I disagree with
your pro-Iraq War stance but I recognize the force of your arguments.
Lately, I have to say that you are writing more and more like the
Michele Malkin's of the blogosphere, insofar as you simply assert that
which you know most of your audience will agree with. Perhaps that's
unclear. But this post on Hitchens and your post on Yglesias from a
few days ago aren't arguments; they're like the applause lines
speechwriters use because they know exactly how the audience will
cheer when they hear them. I'm perfectly prepared to argue whether JP
led the Church well in dealing with the pedophilia problem. Hitchens
at least gives me something to chew on. You have the right not to
participate, but if you do, you should do so fully and not simply by
pointing out that, lo, Hitchens is often good but here, not so much.
The kind of glibness you exhibited with respect to Yglesias ("that's
just not how things work, bro" was, I think, how you put it) was just

Maybe your readership as a whole hasn't noticed or cared. I've
noticed that I get back to your feed less and less often. I hope this
email was useful and helpful. I certainly mean it to be


Glenn Olsen
Bethesda, MD

I'm sorry to say, but that's probably about right. I fear that my blogging has become a bit too rushed of late. This can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Overt polemicism. Bolton good! Kyrgystan's revolution (ed. note: or was it a coup?) borne of Bushian machinations! Hitch sucks! Or, of course, sloppy verbiage, misspellings, etc. And, yes, I was too snarky with Matt. Why not just rebut his arguments factually without recourse to sarcastic jabs and such? Yes, the blogosphere is given to rant-like discourse often. It's probably par with the course and even part of the charm. But still...

So here's the deal folks. The simple reality is that I'm burned out. I've tried to hold down what's become an 8 AM to 9:30-10 PM day job (a fascinating and challenging one, I should add) with churning out a quasi-substantive blog from 10:30ish on. And I fear I'm just too tired to produce quality material as often as I'd like. If I myself feel that some of what I write merits the criticism of my correspondent quoted above--well, why subject others to it? So here's the deal. I'm going to take a break. I'm going to hand the wheels over to an estimable guest blogger shortly for a week or two (pending said invididual's ability). Then, a couple weeks or so out, we'll re-appraise where we are at over at B.D. Maybe this space will turn into more op-ed like writings once or twice a week. Maybe we'll revert to normal production but try to change the style a little bit. Maybe we'll just have to hang up our spurs for a while. I just don't know. But I do know that I shouldn't be posting material that I'm not convinced is worthy of your attention. And, exhausted night after night at 11 PM, it's hard to pull off producing material I am happy with sadly. This isn't a good-bye. It's a hitting of the pause button for a bit as I re-appraise where to go with this website. Meantime, as I said, I'll be announcing a quality guest blogger soon. And, again, a sincere thanks for all of you loyal readers who have stuck with me over the past couple of years. It's often been fun, despite this somewhat depressing post, and I'm pretty sure there will be more good times ahead. Dare I say, as I often do, "back soon"?

Posted by Gregory at 04:36 AM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

April 05, 2005

The Thermidor Has Arrived

You won't read this in the serried ranks of much of the left blogosphere--but some judicious lefty observers are pointing out the obvious. And, again folks, Bolton at USUN is not Bolton as Deputy Secretary. It's not the job he wanted, it's not the job Cheney wanted for him, it's less powerful than Zoellick's gig by far, and it won't imperil the prospects of a sane American foreign policy going forward (even within the limited precincts of Turtle Bay where, with all due respect to the hyper-ventilations of people like Steve Clemons who seem to care so passionately about the U.N., there are, you know, bigger fish to fry of late if you care about said institution's future...).

P.S. For my (relatively lukewarm) take on Bolton just put his name in the search engine to the right.

Posted by Gregory at 05:19 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Hackneyed Hitchens

How astoundingly cheap. Hitchens, of course, has made something of a cottage industry of playing enfant terrible and clueing us boorish masses in to how silly it is to hold affection for a Mother Theresa or Pope John Paul. But, alas, Hitchens can never quite land convincing enough blows when he aims for a giant. He could handle Michael Moore, which is relatively easy, but flounders with a Henry Kissinger or John Paul. After all, it's silly to pretend that the late Pope's legacy revolves mostly around a child abuse scandal in the Boston area, isn't it? Moronic, even. Still, it's hard not to remain at least an occasional fan--his expert skewering of Moore, while an easy target, remains a keeper. And much else in his oeuvre besides. But this little Slate offering was weak fare indeed.

April 03, 2005

Server Space

We unexpectedly ran out of server space and had to go to Hosting Matters for more over the weekend. Sorry about the site crash. Back tonight or tomorrow night.

UPDATE: The day job is really crazed right now. Back when able.

Posted by Gregory at 04:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 01, 2005

L'Affaire Berger

Er, can someone let me know too? I'm as curious as Hindrocket. (Hat Tip: Glenn)

Posted by Gregory at 05:23 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Headline-Grabbing Unemployment Rates

German unemployment at 12%--a post WWII high (with France clocking in at 10.1%). The German number, in particular, is getting quite worrisome (but see the linked article for some analysis/factors arguing that the German employment numbers may have peaked, though I'm far from certain that's the case). I've always felt that--should a major economic shock impact Europe, with unemployment in key states like Germany hitting 15%--all bets could be off on forward movement towards EU unification. People (and politicians) will start looking for scapegoats--and the EU sure will present an easy, tempting target. But even in the 10-12% range; people are going to start to ask: what has the EU done for me lately? What has this top-down project of (mostly) elites, hoisting a centralized Brussels-based government on individual peoples, what has it accomplished for me the guy on the street? And, of course, it's not just economic factors that have many more nostalgic, nationalist Europeans not overly keen to bow to the Brussels court. Indeed, I'm starting to get worried that France's May 29th referendum on an EU constitution might not squeak by (I still think, all told, it will--but it's gonna be real close). Finally, note a supranational Central Bank is a novel experiment. Like all experiments, it may fail. There's never been one before--and there is nothing necessarily permanent about it. Indeed, given the complexities of setting monetary policy for a large number of nations, many grappling with very different kinds of economic challenges, we cannot yet be confident that the Euro and/or the European Central Bank will still be with us in a decade or two hence. I think Europe will likely get through these choppy waters; but a few major external shocks, bad policy decisions, continued strength of the Euro--all will present many challenges indeed to monetary policymakers on the Continent. All this is not to score cheap points about the mighty USA and lame Old Europe. Not at all. After all, I don't think it is in any of our interests to see unemployment in Germany, say, hit 15%. God forbid, really.

Posted by Gregory at 04:36 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Wolfowitz In

Wolfowitz voted in for World Bank job unanimously. Good.

Posted by Gregory at 04:31 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

New Democrat National Security Blog

What is this world coming too? Suzanne Nossel has started a blog?!? I know Suzanne from the Council, in particular from a roundtable we worked on together a few years back (not suprisingly, we sparred a tad over language while cobbling together the final draft--now we can do it in cyberspace!). Anyway, she's smart as a whip and one of the most promising up and coming Democrats I've met on foreign policy issues. Look for particularly helpful insights from her on the U.N. (Suzanne worked for Holbrooke while he was U.S. Ambassador there). For instance, don't miss her take on Kofi and oil for food. Her co-bloggers look similarly on-the-ball; so look for a new quality addition to the blogospheric national security discourse. Go check Democracy Arsenal without delay!

UPDATE: It's new blog time! Here's one dedicated to deconstructing the public statements of academics. And, why not start with Brian Leiter's hyper-ventilations...?

STILL MORE: "If you were about to jump from the 95th floor of the World Trade Center on 9/11, what would your last thought be? Next to my family, I'll tell you what mine would be: Get the bastards who did this. How are we doing?".

New blogger (another!) The Cunning Realist gives you his take. He underestimates or ignores many of the major in-roads we've made against al-Qaeda since 9/11, and is rather hyperbolic in his descriptions of Pakistan, but he's still got a point when he writes:

Bush's record of public comments on this is shameful. At a White House press conference in March 2002 he said, "He's [UBL] just--he's a person who's now been marginalized. I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't spend that much time on him to be honest with you. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Can you imagine if---just a few months after 9/11---a President Gore said breezily that he "truly was not that concerned" about the person who had organized and financed the murder of thousands of American civilians? How would Conservatives have reacted?

Well, yeah, B.D. would have given Al Gore a hard time I'd think.

P.S. Yes, I'm catching up on blog E-mail tonight...

Posted by Gregory at 02:15 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by