Tuesday, April 29, 2003
IS THE U.S. HELPING POOR NATIONS?: The Center for Global Development (which is an offshoot of the Institute for International Economics, one of Washington's best think tanks) has just released a report that, "grades 21 rich nations on whether their aid, trade, migration, investment, peacekeeping, and environmental policies help or hurt poor nations." Here's the technical version of the report. Foreign Policy is publishing an summary version of it -- and the Financial Times has a quick run-down of the findings:

Japan and the US are the least helpful of the rich countries towards the developing world, according to a new measure from a leading think tank....

The best performers tended to be smaller countries, with the Netherlands and Denmark at the top of the list. Germany was the only one of the Group of Seven rich countries in the top half, with the UK at 11th.

The index measures each country's generosity and usefulness of overseas aid, openness to exports from developing countries, role in global peacekeeping and policies on migration and the environment.

Is this a damning indictment of U.S. foreign policy? Yes and no.

The report deservedly takes the U.S. to task for being foreign aid misers and for tying American aid to U.S. purchases. The report also slams the U.S. for its poor record on legal migration.

However, on some of the other policy dimension, the report is stacked against the U.S. On the security dimension, for example, the measure is: “Countries' contributions to the U.N. peacekeeping budget (which funds operations in dozens of countries) and personnel contributions to international peacekeeping efforts.” This conveniently overlooks the role the U.S. military plays in preserving global security [C’mon, how significant is that?—ed. Let's go to Gregg Easterbrook's essay on U.S. military superiority from the Sunday New York Times]:

Last year American military spending exceeded that of all other NATO states, Russia, China, Japan, Iraq and North Korea combined, according to the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan research group that studies global security. This is another area where all other nations must concede to the United States, for no other government can afford to try to catch up.

The runaway advantage has been called by some excessive, yet it yields a positive benefit. Annual global military spending, stated in current dollars, peaked in 1985, at $1.3 trillion, and has been declining since, to $840 billion in 2002. That's a drop of almost half a trillion dollars in the amount the world spent each year on arms. Other nations accept that the arms race is over. (emphasis added)

There are other flaws in the study that I'll be discussing in the near future.

That said, I'd still recommend taking a look at it.


TIPS FOR NEW BLOGGERS: Starting a blog? Want to get noticed?

For the big fish perspective, here's Eugene Volokh's perspective. The part of the post I agree with the most:

No-one is looking for a new blog to read. They may, however, be interested in a specific new story you've found, or a new idea you have. Therefore, pitch the blog post ("Here's a post I just posted:") not the blog ("Come and read my blog"). If people really like your posts, then they'll start to regularly read your blog....

Don't bug the recipient too often. Pitch him only your very best posts....

Of course, all this assumes that your posts are worth reading -- that they're generally interesting, novel, and readable, and entice people to return once they've visited.

The part of Eugene's post that I sort of disagree with is his claim that

"Here's why I disagree with your post on . . ." messages aren't likely to catch the recipient's attention, if the recipient runs a popular blog

Maybe it's the contrarian in me, but I like posts that disagree with my argument -- if they rest on a compelling conceptual or empirical basis.

An additional note for those using Blogger -- make sure your f#@&ing permalinks are working.

From the smaller fish's perspective, here's Will Baude's perspective. The part I agree with the most:

Find blogs with more traffice (sic) than yours, but not overwhelming amounts, the sorts that can still check their referral logs regularly. Then your links to their posts are more likely to inspire a response.

Indeed.


Monday, April 28, 2003
THE IRAQ-AL QAEDA LINK: Andrew Sullivan and Michael Totten both link to the Daily Telegraph story discovering a document linking Hussein's regime to Al Qaeda. The Toronto Star co-broke the story -- here's their version of it. The Star also reprints the key section of the three-page document. Here it is, annotated:

"The envoy [an Al Qaeda representative sent by bin Laden to Iraq in March 1998] is a trusted confidant [of bin Laden] and known by them. According to the above mediation we request official permission to call Khartoum station to facilitate the travel arranegments for the above-mentioned person to Iraq [According to the Star, the document "confirm(s) bin Laden's agent arrived in Baghdad on March 5 and stayed a full 16 days as a guest of the Iraqi government at the Mansur Melia Hotel, one of the capital's premier accommodations."]

"And that our body [The Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service] carry all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his enovy an oral mesage from us to bin Laden, the Saudi oppoistion leader about the future of our relationship with him and to achieve a direct meeting with him."

Maybe the meeting went nowhere, maybe it didn't. What's clear is that in 1998, both Al Qaeda and Iraq's government were interested in cooperating.

I had thought the Al Qaeda link was the weakest part of the justification for going to war with Iraq. It will be interesting to see if more documents emerge.

Developing...

IS THE WHEEL TURNING IN BERKELEY?: I have done some scary things in my life. I have sky-dived. I have bungee jumped. I drank water straight from the tap in Moscow. I've flown Uzbekistan Airways, for God's sake. However, when anyone has asked me what's the scariest thing I've ever done, I tell them unequivocally that it was when I walked up Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley wearing a business suit (I was en route to a job interview).

So I could not help but bust a gut when I read this Los Angeles Timesstory (link via InstaPundit) about a Republican protest on Telegraph Avenue:

Borrowing a page from this city's radical traditions, a boisterous band of 200 college Republicans demonstrated Saturday in the bastion of American liberalism, staging a pro-Bush administration rally on the UC Berkeley campus and leading a flag-waving procession down Telegraph Avenue.

As street vendors and merchants looked on in disbelief, delegates attending a state college Republican convention here marched two blocks to People's Park, site of a widely publicized protest incident in 1969, where they chanted "Bush! Bush! Bush!" and sang "America the Beautiful."

The article makes an excellent point, however -- that Berkeley is no longer the liberal stereotype of yore, in part because of the increasing diversity of students on campus:

In recent years, the Berkeley college Republican chapter has thrived on this image of an embattled minority bravely battling against the liberal establishment. Once only a few dozen in number, the chapter now boasts more than 500 members and is one of the biggest student organizations on campus....

One of the main reasons for the changing political climate at Berkeley, said University Librarian Thomas Leonard , who has been on campus since 1967, is the changing profile of the Berkeley student.

The difference is clear at the Free Speech Movement Café, an elegant coffee shop funded by a wealthy 1964 graduate at the base of the new Moffitt Undergraduate Library. One of the walls of the cafe is covered with an enlarged photograph of a Free Speech era sit-in. Almost all of the faces in the photo are white. Recent classes entering Berkeley, however, have been largely Asian, accounting for more than 40% of the entering freshman class.

"As a general rule," said Leonard, "the increase in Asian Americans has pushed the student body more toward the center politically."

In fact, Leonard said, opposition to the campus conservatives is more likely to come from the faculty or aging leftists in the surrounding community. "I get the sense the community is much more into protest than the campus," Leonard said. "There is a culture of protest in the Bay Area that is steadily getting grayer and older."

Here's a link to the California Patriot description of events -- they have pictures.

SHIITE MEME OF THE WEEK: Last week's meme was all about how the United States had underestimated the power of Shiite clerics in Iraq, and how the most influential Shiite mullahs in Iraq are clearly linked to Iran.

My prediction is that the meme that will emerge this week is the potentially growing rift between Iran's government and Iraqi Shiite leaders.

My evidence? Two bits of data -- which is all that's needed for a media meme to develop. First, members of the largest Shia group - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) -- attended Monday's United States-sponsored meeting of Iraqi groups with Jay Garner "to discuss the formation of a transitional administration for Iraq." SCIRI had boycotted a similar meeting held in Nasiriyah two weeks ago. At a minimum, this means that SCIRI recognizes it will need to deal with the United States if it wants to play a future role in governing Iraq.

Even the BBC acknowledges the diversity of Shia opinion:

Delegates raised concerns about the lack of security, electricity and water.

But our correspondent says one influential Shia leader sounded an optimistic note.

"The Iraqi people owe a lot to the United States and the United Kingdom... for deposing the dictator," said Sheikh Hussein Sadr, dean of the Islamic Council in London.

Second, there's this New York Times piece:

Many people who follow the course of religious affairs here believe that the return of Shiite clerics to Iraq, and the revival of Iraq's historically holy city of Najaf, may pose a serious threat to the rule of the hard-line ayatollahs in Iran.

Najaf is expected to become the center of Shiite faith once again when influential clerics return and begin teaching at its seminaries. Some high-ranking Iranian clerics who believe in freer religious studies, such as Ayatollah Javad Tabrizi, have also said that they would go to Najaf when stability returns.

Since the Islamic revolution here in 1979, Iran's hard-line religious leadership has defined Shiite Islam for its 120 million followers around the world. But analysts say that Iran's status as the leader of Shiism will be undermined once Najaf develops its own brand of the faith, which is expected to be more moderate than the one Iran favors....

Iraqi clerics who are returning to Iraq say they are tired of seeing their faith dominated by Iran.

"Iraq is a holy country and we do not need Iran," Mr. [Muhammad] Hassani [a "mid-ranking cleric"] said. "It is independent and has its own differences with Iran. We do not need to look at Iran as our model."

For two weeks, the Supreme Council has been helping volunteer clerics return to Iraq. Darol-hakameh Institute in Qum, which belongs to the council, has provided the clerics with train tickets and documents to cross the border.

"They are returning to preach the faith and help bring order. We do not ask them what kind of political affiliation they have," said Mohsen Hakim, a staff member at the institute who said he too would go to Baghdad to help organize clerics.

Some Iraqis say that living in Iran and witnessing the kind of challenges facing this theocracy has convinced them that the interference by religion into affairs of state should be limited.

"The responsibility of political Islam to solve political and economic problems that the state is faced with has put enormous pressure on the seminaries in Qum," said Hamam Hamoudi, a mid-ranking Iraqi cleric who said he would also leave for Baghdad this week.

Still, Mr. Hamoudi added that the Iraqi clerics were eager to return and have a share in the future government. "We do not want an Islamic state like Iran, but the Shiites are 60 percent of the population and want to be part of the government after years of suppression."

Ayatollah Ali Muhammad Sistani, Iraq's most prominent Shiite leader in Najaf, has also objected to the interference of clerics in politics.

I'm not even close to being an expert on intra-Shiite relations, so I'm not saying that Iran will have no influence in postwar Iraq. However, these stories certainly muddy up the claim that Iraq is on course to becoming a Shiite theocracy under the thumb of Iran's mullahs.

Developing....

WELL, THIS IS A SURPRISE: This Financial Times discovery speaks for itself:

a new MORI poll for the FT reveals that 55 per cent of Britons regard France as the UK's least reliable ally, while 73 per cent view the US as the country's most reliable.

Indeed.

DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON SAUDI ARABIA!: One of the reasons I gave back in the fall for supporting the use of force in Iraq was that removing Saddam Hussein would also remove the need for large-scale U.S. forces to be in Saudi Arabia. That troop presence has been a major irritant in the region. It was also destabilizing the Saudi regime -- and not in the good way that neocons dream about.

From today's New York Times:

The United States is shifting its major air operations center for the Middle East from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, the first step in what is likely to be a significant reduction of American forces in Saudi Arabia and a realignment of American military presence in the region, senior military officials said today....

Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart, the Central Command's director of operations, said in an interview that having the command center in Al Udeid may be a good long-term strategic fit for the United States.

"Moving to Al Udeid is a sort of a natural progression for us as we look for a footprint that will be maintainable in the future," said General Renuart, who was also in Abu Dhabi. "It's just starting the process. There's a convenience in the fact we're adjusting the size. You don't need a CAOC designed to fly 3,000 missions if you're only flying a few hundred." CAOC is the acronym for the Combat Air Operations Center the military uses to command its air operations.

Getting U.S. forces out of the same country where the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina is an unambiguously good thing.

Reading the Times piece, what struck me was not just that this was smart foreign policy, but the wildly divergent attitudes of the Saudis and Qataris on hosting the U.S. military:

American military commanders, especially Air Force officials, have long favored moving the air command post to Al Udeid from Saudi Arabia. United States commanders have chafed at restrictions the Saudis have placed on the American-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq....

For the military, however, Qatar is a more congenial location. A tiny nation of 750,000 people, Qatar has come to view the United States as its main protector in the region.

Qatar built Al Udeid Air Base in 1996 at the cost of more than $1 billion. The nation did not have an air force at the time, but it wanted to encourage the United States military to base its aircraft there.

This is a win-win-win situation. Qatar gets the U.S. military presence it wants. Saudi Arabia gets to reduce the U.S. military presence it loathes. The United States gets to improve relations with two countries in the region simultaneously.

Sunday, April 27, 2003
REGARDING THAT FRIENDS POST: You complain about academic stereotypes in popular culture, and the blogs beat a path to your door. Posts from Amanda Butler, Stephen Karlson, Andrew Cory, and The Crooked Heart on the topic.
Friday, April 25, 2003
SHOULD THIS TREND BE ENCOURAGED?: Interesting news item:

The Dixie Chicks have posed nude for the cover of a weekly showbiz magazine, Entertainment Weekly, in the United States.

The band members, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison and Natalie Maines, said they posed nude in response to the controversy created when they publicly stated that they were "ashamed" President George W Bush was from their home state of Texas.

This story provides more explanation:

Fiddler Martie Maguire explains, "We wanted to show the absurdity of the extreme names people have been calling us. How do you look at the three of us and think, those are (ousted Iraqi leader) Saddam (Hussein)'s angels?"

Hmmm... you know, come to think of it, Salma Hayek also opposed the war with Iraq. Why, that makes her... positively un-American!! [That may be because she's a Mexican citizen.--ed. It's the weekend. Shut up and let me have my fun.]

Gillian Anderson and Tea Leoni are also members of Artists United to Win Without War. I'm sure I could think of some epithets for them in the near-future.

Just thinking out loud....

UPDATE: Patrick Belton has some less puerile thoughts on the topic.

NORTH KOREA UPDATE: First, exactly what did North Korea say in their negotiations with the U.S. and China? From today's Washington Post:

North Korean negotiators have told U.S. officials in Beijing that the communist nation possesses nuclear weapons and threatened to export them or conduct a "physical demonstration," U.S. officials said yesterday....

U.S. officials said North Korea declared it had nuclear weapons as officials were milling about in corridors on Wednesday, the first day of the talks among the United States, North Korea and China. The top North Korean official at the talks, Li Gun, pulled aside the highest-ranking American present, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly, and told him that North Korea has nuclear weapons. "We can't dismantle them," Li told Kelly. "It's up to you whether we do a physical demonstration or transfer them."

U.S. officials are still puzzling over the statement and its exact meaning, including whether North Korea was threatening to test a nuclear weapon. But, a senior official said, "it was very fast, very categorical and obviously very scripted."

OK, it's safe to say this is not good news. However, the really weird aspect of this has been that, in the wake of North Korea's admission, China is more upset than South Korea. From the Financial Times: China is supposed to be North Korea's closest ally. But the failure of US-North Korean talks brokered by Beijing this week has severely tried the patience of the Chinese government, diplomats and people close to the talks said on Friday.....

"The talks failed to achieve the results that China wanted. After putting so much effort into this the Chinese are pretty frustrated with the Koreans," said one foreign diplomat. Another person close to the talks said that, behind a smiling public façade, Chinese diplomats were seething at North Korea's behaviour.....

[W]hat is becoming increasingly clear is that, behind the rhetoric, Beijing's regard for the regime of Kim Jong-il (pictured), the North Korean dictator, has virtually evaporated. Any residual affinity from the days of socialist brotherhood more than a decade ago has gone.

"Korea is a huge problem," said one government official.

On the other hand, there's South Korea's reaction:

Government officials and experts in Seoul yesterday responded cautiously to some media reports on North Korea's admission of possessing nuclear weapons, saying they need more time to clarify the situation.

Developing....

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has more on the disturbing South Korean reaction.

A MINOR COMPLAINT: Jacob Levy complains about the verisimilitude of Ross' academic career on Friends. To which I say, "Amen."

However, the story line that really frosted me was from a few years ago, when Ross was sleeping with an undergraduate. If the caricature of academia in the Blogosphere is a collection of tenured radicals, the caricature of academia in popular culture is a collection of lecherous white male who inevitably bed one or more of their students.

This is true across mediums. Of the top of my head:

Movies: What Lies Beneath, Loser, Terms of Endearment, Moonstruck.
Television: Friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (remember, Riley was Buffy's TA), Mad About You, and every other movie on the Lifetime channel
Books: Jane Smiley’s Moo, Tim O’Brien’s Tomcat in Love, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Richard Russo's Straight Man.

There is no fighting it; if a fictional character is a white male professor, nine times out of ten he’s sleeping with the co-ed.

Why is this? Probably because, in the absence of illicit sex, our jobs appear to be intensely boring to the outside world.

UPDATE: Josh Cherniss thinks this pehenomenon is simply an extension of the fact that sex sells in fiction. Maybe he's right -- however, what upsets me is affair-with-coed is the only persistent trope in the fictional depiction of academics.
MORE ON SANTORUM: Give the progressives their due -- like a stopped clock, they are right every once in a while.

Example? The left anticipated Santorum would put his foot in his mouth five years ago.

In March 1998, Progressive magazine selected Santorum as the dumbest member of Congress. Yes, it's a biased list, but the entry on Santorum is still pretty funny. The key grafs:

Due to his frequent gaffes, Santorum's handlers carefully stage-manage his actions and rarely allow him to be interviewed without his press secretary, who helps the boss field any tough questions. In a 1995 profile, Philadelphia magazine said that "much of Santorum's record has been a series of tantrums," and quoted a former Republican Congressional staffer as saying, "If you took the key out of his back, I'm not sure his lips would keep moving."

One example: In speaking about the country's long-term prospects, Santorum remarked, "Nowhere in the Bible does it say that America will be here 100 years from now."

Go read the whole entry on Santorum -- the Bob Kerrey quote is pretty funny.

Thanks to alert reader J.B. for the link.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports on the first White House comment on Santorum:

"The president has confidence in the senator and believes he's doing a good job as senator" and in his No. 3 Senate GOP leadership post, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday....

"The president believes the senator is an inclusive man. And that's what he believes," Fleischer said.

The White House expressed confidence in the leadership of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., in the immediate aftermath of his defense of a 1948 pro-segregation presidential ticket. As the remarks drew backlash, President Bush admonished Lott for them and said it was up to the Senate to decide whether he should remain as majority leader.

Developing...

ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a more pessimistic interpretation of Bush's statement -- and he could be right. He's certainly on the money when he says this:

The simple truth is that I and many others feel immensely wounded not so much by some clumsy, ugly remarks by someone who might even in some way mean well; but by the indifference toward them by so many you thought might at least have empathized for a second.

Josh Marshall also weighs in on Santorum for the first time, and comes to the same conclusion I did:

When I first read about Santorum's remarks I found them objectionable. But I assumed that they were some form of a 'slippery slope' or reductio ad absurdum kind of argument, such as the ones above. But they weren't. In fact, the point he goes to great lengths to make doesn't even have anything to do with a constitutional argument. He's not saying, how can you make value-neutral distinctions between homosexuality and bigamy or incest. He is, as nearly as I can tell, making the positive assertion there are no distinctions. They are each "antithetical to strong, healthy families."


THE PARALLELS CONTINUE: In the run-up to Gulf War II, I'd commented and linked to comments on the historical parallels between the anti-war movement and the nuclear freeze protests of the early eighties.

Well, another one is emerging -- the financial link between these protest movements and totalitarian dictatorships. There's evidence that the nuclear freeze movement received some funding from the Soviet government (click here and here).

Now it turns out that The Mariam Appeal -- a prominent British anti-war group that opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom and is headed by Labor MP George Galloway -- received funds from Saddam Hussein. Andrew Sullivan has been all over this. The Daily Telegraph broke the story a few days ago. The Guardian provides some supporting analysis. Galloway has denied receiving funds but admits that intermediaries who worked for him may have done so. The Christian Science Monitor now buttresses the original story with additional evidence:

A fresh set of documents uncovered in a Baghdad house used by Saddam Hussein's son Qusay to hide top-secret files detail multimillion dollar payments to an outspoken British member of parliament, George Galloway.

Evidence of Mr. Galloway's dealings with the regime were first revealed earlier this week by David Blair, a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in London, who discovered documents in Iraq's Foreign Ministry.

The Labour Party MP, who lambasted his party's prime minister, Tony Blair, in parliamentary debates on the war earlier this year, has denied the allegations. He is now the focus of a preliminary investigation by British law-enforcement officials and is under intense scrutiny in the British press, where the story has been splashed across the front pages.

The most recent - and possibly most revealing - documents were obtained earlier this week by the Monitor. The papers include direct orders from the Hussein regime to issue Mr. Galloway six individual payments, starting in July 1992 and ending in January 2003....

The three most recent payment authorizations, beginning on April 4, 2000, and ending on January 14, 2003 are for $3 million each. All three authorizations include statements that show the Iraqi leadership's strong political motivation in paying Galloway for his vociferous opposition to US and British plans to invade Iraq.

The Jan. 14, 2003, document, written on Republican Guard stationary with its Iraqi eagle and "Trust in Allah," calls for the "Manager of the security department, in the name of President Saddam Hussein, to order a gratuity to be issued to Mr. George Galloway of British nationality in the amount of three million dollars only."

The document states that the money is in return for "his courageous and daring stands against the enemies of Iraq, like Blair, the British Prime Minister, and for his opposition in the House of Commons and Lords against all outrageous lies against our patient people...."

[Are you saying this taints the entire anti-war movement?--ed. No, absolutely not. It is, however, yet another stain on the "leadership" of such social movements -- click here and here for more blemishes]

In the interest of fairness, here's Galloway's response to the initial Daily Telegraph story, and his response to the Christian Science Monitor story.

THE GREAT BLOG DEBATE: Over the past few months, bloggers with higher hit counts than I have strongly encouraged me to switch from Blogger to Movable Type. In the past month, Virginia Postrel and Kevin Drum have made the leap. So why don't I?

To tell the truth, I'm sorely tempted -- Blogger has been quite aggravating as of late. I may be switching in the next few months. However, one thing that holds me back is this Virginia Postrel observation:

Now that I've been using Movable Type's permalinks for a few weeks, I realize what's wrong with them. Instead of driving traffic to the full blog, a link from, say, InstaPundit, sends people only to a single item (not that I'm not appreciative, Glenn). That means fewer readers for everything else.

For those 1-2% of you out there who actually care about this question, let me know what you think about this.

Thursday, April 24, 2003
IF ONLY CELINE DION HAD BEEN IN STEERAGE: Mark Kleiman thinks shipping regulations are too stringent nowadays.

Oh, that's not really true. Go check out his interesting debate with Tom Schelling about the ethics of cost/benefit analysis.
CATCHING UP ON RICK SANTORUM: I'm late to the party on Rick Santorum's comments on the right to privacy and homosexuality. There's good commentary from Glenn Reynolds, Eugene Volokh, Virginia Postrel, Chris Lawrence, Kevin Drum, John Scalzi, Jonah Goldberg, and Andrew Sullivan. Jacob Levy has posted an awesome collection of links as well.

Having read the entire interview -- you should too -- I do tend to agree with Eugene Volokh that Santorum has a leg to stand on in regard to his legal arguments. Nevertheless, the following seems clear to me:

1) Santorum thinks that the public acceptance of homosexuality is destroying our country's moral fiber
2) Santorum equates homosexuality with other activities -- polygamy, adultery, sodomy, or "man on dog" -- that he believes is destroying our country's moral fiber.
3) Santorum's lack of faith in Americans' ability to stick to their respective faiths is pretty appalling -- although, as Virginia Postrel points out, perfectly consistent with certain strands of conservative thought.
4) Santorum was not duped into this conversation -- he knew what he was saying.
5) That's one freaked-out AP reporter

UPDATE: Via Sullivan, I found this CNN transcript. Tony Blankley's comments on this are worth repeating:

I disagree with almost everything he [Santorum] said, both his legal analysis, which is -- I don't think it's sustainable. I'm confident the Supreme Court can distinguish between consensual conduct by gays and lesbians in private and incest, which is not consensual, by definition of the relationship.

So I don't buy his argument. I don't buy his argument that American families are in danger from the 1 percent to 2 percent of homosexuals in the country. We've had that population since the beginning of time, and American families are fine.

However, I'm in the minority, not just in the Republican party, in the Democrat party, amongst independents, in the country, in the world, that he sits and heard him say that the standard Catholic position. I disagree with it. I'm not a Catholic, but that is the received position of the vast majority of mankind. I wish it weren't, but that's the position.

That's a pretty good summary of what Alan Wolfe's research says on the topic as well.

AH, MY FAVORITE AXIS: Via Tapped, I found this New York Observer report on the neoconservative ecosystem. The article occasionally veers off into the paranoid style that it explicitly warns against. Mostly, though, I found it pretty funny. My favorite part:

It’s easy to overgeneralize and get the idea that a small group of neoconservatives have worked some voodoo on a sitting President—you may remember Hillary Rodham Clinton’s initial reaction to Monicagate on NBC’s Today Show, that it represented "a vast right-wing conspiracy." It may be easy to insist that this small, concerted group of men and women have propelled an entire nation’s foreign policy toward the radical concept of "benevolent hegemony," wonk-speak for an American Empire that brings democratic ideals to dictatorships around the globe. But that, as the neoconservatives say themselves, would be simplistic.

"I have been amazed by the level of conspiracy-mongering around neocons," said David Brooks, an editor at Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Kristol’s Weekly Standard, and author of Bobos in Paradise. "I get it every day—the ‘evil Jewish conspiracy.’ The only distinction between ‘neoconservative’ and ‘conservative’ this way is circumcision. We actually started calling it the Axis of Circumcision."



A MORE OPTIMISTIC POST: OK, my last two posts have been pretty downbeat. Some good news -- the weakening of Al Qaeda. Glenn Reynolds links to this ABC news report. The key grafs:

Intelligence sources told ABCNEWS that a recent communication from Osama bin Laden has indicated his displeasure that al Qaeda has failed to exploit the American military campaign in Iraq with terrorist operations against U.S. interests.

U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials believe that bin Laden's displeasure may reflect al Qaeda's crippled operational capability.

There is little question that the network has the capacity to conduct low-level operations involving one, or possibly two suicide bombers, but analysts are increasingly dubious that it can commit large scale, coordinated, high-impact attacks that would cause mass casualties such as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

There's also this report from the Washington Times:

Al Qaeda and its terrorist allies remain a potent threat, but their failure to carry out a successful strike during the U.S.-led military campaign to topple Saddam Hussein has raised questions about their ability to carry out major new attacks....

"I think their credibility is increasingly on the line the longer we go without a successful terrorist strike," said Mark Burgess, director of the Terrorism Project at the Center for Defense Information.

"We know al Qaeda is a patient lot, but I don't know if they can afford to be too patient," he said. "Bin Laden made a lot of noise before the war about defending the Iraqi people, and so far there's nothing to show for it."

Certainly, the destruction of their cell in northern Iraq -- with Iran's cooperation -- must have stung.

UPDATE: Global Witness has a report out on Al Qaeda's connections with the diamond trade. Here's the press release -- and here's the page to download the report. The BBC provides a summary as well.

WORRYING ABOUT AFGHANISTAN: It's possible to point to press stories indicating that things are getting better in Afghanistan. The number of returning Afghan expatriates is increasing, which is one sign of stability. Kandahar now has an Internet cafe. Polio vaccinations have drastically reduced the rate of infection in the country.

So, does that mean things are -- on the whole -- improving in the country? No, I'm afraid the security situation is getting worse.

Much, much worse.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to chat with a high-ranking member of our armed forces. This is the kind of guy who presents a generally unflappable demeanor. It was an off-the-record conversation, so I can't say what he told me exactly. It was clear, however, that the situation in southern Afghanistan was starting to alarm him.

Further evidence comes from Jane's Intelligence Review's latest update on the Afghan situation:

Politically, the opposition ["An ad hoc alliance comprising Taliban remnants, the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) faction of former mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and groups of Al-Qaeda stragglers"] has displayed a new confidence and political assertiveness in recent months with various leaders publicly enunciating their goal of expelling western forces. In January, Hekmatyar vowed Afghan "mujahideen" would "force America out of their country like the Soviet Union" while in February, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar used the Pakistani press to renew his call for anti-Western jihad. Then in late March in an interview with BBC radio, the day after the murder of a foreign aid worker, senior Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah promised to step up the fight against "Jews, Christians, [and] all foreign crusaders", warning Afghan government officials at all levels "not to stand behind the puppet and slave regime."

Rocket attacks have gained both in frequency and intensity. Whereas last year one or two missiles was the norm, salvos are now being fired. There have also been barrages of mortar fire.

At the same time, the opposition has displayed greater aggressiveness both in attacking US Special Forces beyond their bases, and in concentrating larger numbers of fighters. The planting of mines on roads used by US patrols, which was begun last year, continues; but is now being reinforced with close-in ambushes. The Girishk ambush has been the only one to result in Coalition fatalities this year, but on 10 February a US patrol was attacked in the Baghran valley of upper Helmand province, by assailants using rocket propelled grenades and machine guns. Other ambushes have occurred near Asadabad in eastern Kunar and near Shkin, a well-known blackspot on the border of Paktika province with Pakistan.

Attacks on the Coalition's Afghan allies - which Taliban remnants had earlier specifically refrained from - have also gathered pace this year....

[International Committee of the Red Cross engineer Ricardo] Munguia's murder has badly shaken the confidence of the international aid community. The weeks following his death saw a sharp reduction or halting of field operations in the south by the UN, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations. Many staff have been withdrawn to Kabul. But as all sides are well aware, any significant reduction of aid and development programmes in a chronically poor part of the country threatens to trigger a vicious downward spiral of growing Pashtun disaffection from Kabul, accelerated opposition recruitment, and a further deterioration of security.

Click here for today's example of the increased coordination of the anti-Karzai forces.

Part of the problem with the increased strength of the oppoosition forces is that it forces the Karzai government to rely even more on tribal militias, contradicting efforts to create a truly national military. The Christian Science Monitor explains:

The growing assertiveness of tribes like the Mangals could have dramatic repercussions for an Afghan government that has had difficulty extending its authority beyond the capital, Kabul. Not only might these tribes bring back an ancient vigilante style of justice - burning the homes of accused criminals, for instance - but tribal militias could become an obstacle for US forces as they search the countryside for Al Qaeda.

Rival tribes warn that the Mangals could easily switch sides and give their armed support to Al Qaeda if they felt that Kabul was not sufficiently representing Mangal interests. This is not an idle concern. Mangal tribesmen were among the Taliban's most enthusiastic supporters in southeastern Afghanistan....

"The US forces have modern weapons, modern forces, but there are some things you can't do in a fast, modern way, and choosing your friends is one of them," says Wakil Sherkhan, an elder in the Tanai tribe, which resides in both Paktia and Khost provinces.

"One hears rumors all the time, but I think it is possible for these arbakis [Pashto for "militia"] to take action against the central government, and even against US forces," Mr. Sherkhan adds, "because money makes everything possible. If someone gives you 100 Afghanis [Afghan currency] and I gave you 2,000, who are you going to favor?"

The U.S. response and the Afghan government's response to this has been to step up security patrols in the affected areas, and to apply pressure on Pakistan to cut off any covert support for Taliban remnants.

That will help, but only some. Of course, the deteriorating security situation further impairs all levels of humanitarian efforts -- click here, here, and here for examples.

The final source of my pessimism comes from someone who knows Afghanistan well, Barnett Rubin. Read this VOA report and it's clear his outlook has become more pessimistic since I heard him in January.

Clearly, more effort needs to be devoted to the country. Given all the focus that will be on Iraq, my concern is that this situation will be permitted to deteriorate even further, because Afghanistan is off the front pages and because many of the same government officials responsible for Afghanistan are dealing with Iraq as well.

Developing... and for the moment, not in a good way.

UPDATE: CNN reports on another firefight along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

ATTENTION, KAUSFILES READERS: If you're still interested about the situation in Afghanistan, check out this more recent post.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
A STEP FORWARD FOR THE PALESTINIANS?: It appears that in response to overwhelming and persistent international pressure, Yassir Arafat has backed down and accepted Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas' proposed cabinet. Here's the AP story, and here's CNN's take.

Much of the press has played this up as a contest between Arafat trying to place his cronies and Abbas wanting to reform the Palestinian administration. That's true but incomplete in the sense that Abbas might not be that much of an improvement. Consider this extract from a New York Times story from yesterday:

from the fraying neighborhoods of Gaza City and its refugee camps, the battle seemed more trifling.

A woman who gave her name as Khitam, 30, a mother of five, feigned surprise when asked about the new government as she picked through clothes at a vendor's stall here.

"Was there a government?" she asked. "Where's the old government to talk about appointing a new one?"

Disappointment is the wrong word for people's reactions; it implies they have hope. An opinion poll released a week ago by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that only 43 percent thought that Mr. Abbas would assemble a government that would win the public's confidence.

It is not that people do not want change. They say they long for it, but they do not expect it. Anger at the Israeli occupation blunts but does not neutralize Palestinians' frustration with their own leadership....

Palestinians look at the heavily guarded mansions here of men like Mr. Abbas and Mr. Dahlan, and they wonder whose interests they have at heart.

Mr. Abdel Shafi met with Mr. Abbas as he assembled his government, and he said he was impressed with his approach and his proposed cabinet. But he said many Palestinians saw Mr. Abbas as "part of the Palestinian leadership responsible for this misery," and he wondered, "If you were so unhappy with Yasir Arafat, why didn't you say something?"

Mr. Abbas, who is known as Abu Mazen, put forward at least five men regarded as reformers. But that was from a list of at least 19 that included several of Mr. Arafat's old guard and others widely viewed as corrupt. One associate of Mr. Abbas said today that he had erred in trying to compromise, to satisfy both Fatah's senior members and upstart legislators in the Palestinian Legislative Council."

Then there's this take in the Chicago Tribune:

Hanan Ashrawi, a Ramallah lawmaker and an outspoken advocate of government reforms, said Arafat was having difficulty giving up powers, while Abbas had made Cabinet appointments based on personal loyalty and sought to retain some ministers tainted by corruption.

"There has to be recognition that this is a new phase, but they are still playing by the old rules," Ashrawi said. "Arafat has to realize that he is no longer president with total powers, and Abu Mazen has to appoint a credible and effective Cabinet. Instead it has become a matter of personalities, settling scores and payback time."

These stories suggest two things. First, Palestinians would be willing to go along with a two-state solution provided there was evidence that their own state was managed somewhat efficiently. In other words, a leader commited to peace could get it by tying progress on that front with an anti-corruption campaign at home. Second, I'm far from convinced that Abbas will be able to pull this off.

This is definitely one post where I hope I'm eventually proven wrong.

UPDATE: Tom Maguire has more reasons to be pessimistic.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!: OxBlog is one year old today -- so go check out their sight.

I, for one, find them invaluable as a labor-saving device. For example, I was going to write up a long post about why Newt Gingrich's shot across Colin Powell's bow disturbed me so much -- because it presumed that the flaws in U.S. foreign policy lay in Powell's management of the State Department and not Bush's management of his cabinet. To highlight Powell's failure at diplomacy without any mention of Donald Rumsfeld's verbal gaffes in this area strikes me as fatuous. [So you're letting Powell off the hook?--ed. Go back and read this post; I'm an equal-opportunity critic]

Fortunately, I don't have to discuss this any further. Go read David Adesnik's thorough post on the subject. It also mentions beaches in Thailand.

UPDATE: According to the New York Times, the White House is having the same reaction I did:

A senior White House official, asserted today that Mr. Gingrich's criticism "was seen at the White House as an attack on the president, not an attack on Powell." There was widespread anger at the White House, the official said, but he declined to characterize the reaction of Mr. Bush himself.

I'M NOT A LAWYER, BUT I DO GET CITED IN COURT DECISIONS: Loyal readers of this blog know that I occasionally have strong opinions regarding some attempts at international law creation these days. A sharp observer might ask, "Hey, Drezner, you study international relations. What do you know about internationational law?"

My instinctive response is, "not a lot." However, a friend just informed me that the only article I have ever published in a law journal was cited by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in their decision on the Ramzi Yousef appeal (2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 6437 for those law geeks out there). Mr. Yousef was the gentleman who helped organize the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and conspired to bomb twelve United States commercial airliners in Southeast Asia. The reference was to an obscure question regarding whether scholars of international law were -- through their writings -- the primary creators of customary international law. I was cited in part because I said the obvious -- that this was a silly contention. The observation that my article "cit[ed] extensively to relevant examples" counts as high praise -- in legalese. So I know something.

Nevertheless, I still can't claim expertise. If you want some real experts regarding international law, go read what the following people write:

Curtis Bradley
Anne-Marie Slaughter
Ruth Wedgwood
Tuesday, April 22, 2003
GIVE NICHOLAS KRISTOFF HIS DUE: I like it when public commentators admit it when they were wrong (and Lord knows, I have to do it all too frequently). Not because it humbles them, but because it sends an important signal of credibility. It tells me that their theoretical take on the world is not rigid to the point where it distorts their empirical assessment of the world.

Which brings me to Kristoff's column today. Here's his opening:

Last September, a gloom-and-doom columnist warned about Iraq: "If we're going to invade, we need to prepare for a worst-case scenario involving street-to-street fighting."

Ahem. Yes, well, that was my body double while I was on vacation.

Since I complained vigorously about this war before it started, it's only fair for me to look back and acknowledge that many of the things that I — along with other doves — worried about didn't happen.

He covers a lot of the same ground that I posted about two weeks ago. However, it carries more weight when a dove admits it.

Of course, that doesn't I think Kristoff is right in this conclusion:

The hawks also look increasingly naïve in their expectations that Iraq will soon blossom into a pro-American democracy. For now, the figures who inspire mass support in postwar Iraq are Shiite clerics like Ali al-Sistani (moderate, but tainted by being soft on Saddam), Moqtadah al-Sadr (radical son of a martyr) and Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim (Iran's candidate), all of whom criticize the United States.

As in revolutionary Iran, the Shiite network is the major network left in Iraq, and it will help determine the narrative of the war: infidel invasion or friendly liberation. I'm afraid we infidels had better look out.

We'll see whether Kristoff is correct. However, approximately 40% of Iraq are not Shi'Ite, and I'm betting that a healthy fraction of the Shi'ites don't want to see an Islamic Republic.

The key will be to see the proliferation of Iraqi media. The more people that see moderately large Shi'ite demonstrations for an Islamic republic, the more it will mobilize alternative social movements who will oppose such actions. The fundamental question is, at this point, whether hard-line Shi'ites will then choose to moderate their tone to stay in the political game a la Tajikistan, or choose secessionist or rejectionist strategies.

Developing...

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has more on Kristoff and the future for democracy in Iraq.

DON'T TREAD ON ME: So I'm scrolling down InstaPundit when I come to his Monty Python Test. So I take it. The result?

rabbit
Mean lil fellow, arn't you?


What Monty Python Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

See, this is why I don't have a comments section. I'd just go medieval on everyone.

I hope this doesn't imply that I'm just a dumb bunny.

UPDATE: Alan K. Henderson has a good roundup on the rest of the Blogosphere's Monty Python doppelgangers.
Monday, April 21, 2003
MUST-READ FOR THE DAY: It's actually from last month -- a New York Times translation of a Der Spiegel interview with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. It's extraordinary for several reasons. The first is Fischer's claim about the neocon vision of a post-9/11 world:

FISCHER: Ever since September 18th or 19th, 2001, when Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in Washington roughly outlined for me what he thought the answer to international terrorism had to be.

SPIEGEL: And?

FISCHER: His view was that the US had to liberate a whole string of countries from their terrorist rulers, if necessary by force. Ultimately a new world order would come out of this - more democracy, peace, stability, and security for people.

For the record, Wolfowitz vehemently denies he said this to Fischer. He wrote a letter to the editor in which he states, "I have never held the view the Foreign Minister attributes to me and did not express such a view in our meeting of Sept. 19, 2001, as the official notes of that meeting make clear." Given Fischer's apparent preference for public dissembling and private truth-telling, I tend to believe Wolfowitz on this one.

Then there's this exchange:

SPIEGEL: The neo-conservatives who are in charge in Washington will probably write off your constant insistence on international regulations and institutions as Old European thinking.

FISCHER: The American political scientist Robert Kagan has developed a bizarre image: Europeans come from Venus and indulge in the dream of perpetual peace, while Americans are from Mars, and faced with the hard realities of the wolf's den of international politics, they stand and fight, all against all. Anyone who knows European history knows about the many wars we've had here. The Americans had no Verdun on their continent. In the US there is nothing comparable to Auschwitz or Stalingrad or any of the other terrible symbolic places in our history.

SPIEGEL: All of them were catastrophes in which the Americans were on the right side.

Really, I recommend reading the entire article -- the Der Spiegel interviewer gives Fisher a pretty good grilling.

I came away from the read depressed about Europe's map of the future. Fischer admits that "Europeans at their end started to hold strategic discussions too late. We have to catch up now." However, I can't divine any underlying social purpose behind Fisher's call for a strategic vision beyond constraining American power.

IRAQI WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND A CAUTIONARY NOTE: Josh Chafetz links to this New York Times report explaining the dearth of WMD caches in Iraq:

A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.

They said the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.

The scientist also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990's, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda, the military officials said.

The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein's government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990's, transferred others to Syria, and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq's giant weapons plants.

I can't count the number of times someone in the Blogosphere (myself included) has posted initial reports of this variety and have them turn out to be either overblown or just plain wrong. There's an additional strike against this story -- the conditions under which it was reported:

Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.

So why am I posting it?

Because the Times reporter is Judith Miller. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and has authored/co-authored books on biological warfare and Middle East extremism. So I'm thinking the probability of her jumping the gun on a story that turns out to be a bust is unlikely.

That said, take this information with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus offers additional reasons for why we should keep our skepticism in check regarding this story. Of course, he also offers a link to a Los Angeles Times story that would confirm Miller's version of events.

Saturday, April 19, 2003
RUMSFELD'S DILEMMA: Gideon Rose's latest essay in Slate discusses the Defense Department's current challenge for post-conflict situations. A key graf (you should really read the whole thing):

Much has been made of the Rumsfeld Pentagon's determined and well-considered efforts to "transform" the war-fighting abilities of the U.S. armed forces, making them smarter, quicker, lighter, and more nimble. What has not been generally appreciated yet, however, is that it is now just as important to bulk up their other abilities as well—whether or not this fits the military's view of its appropriate duties. As Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote last fall, Washington needs to develop "a greater appreciation for the fact that intervention entails not simply war-fighting, but a continuum of force ranging from conventional warfare to local law enforcement." That means creating plenty of units in unsexy job categories such as civil affairs and military police—the sort of folk we could use to run Baghdad today.

This challenge is particularly acute if the administration wants to minimize the UN's role in postwar Iraq.

Will the DOD rise to the challenge? Signals are very mixed. On the one hand, there's this Chicago Tribune report from today:

The United States military can expect to face more Iraqi-style reconstruction projects in the future and should adjust to better prepare for that role, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday.

While denying that the U.S. is involved in "nation-building" in Afghanistan or Iraq, Rumsfeld said the military can provide crucial order in the vacuum-of-power period after a regime falls and before a new government forms.

"Somebody has to try to create an environment that's sufficiently secure and hospitable to that kind of a change, but . . . without doing it in a manner that creates a dependency. Is that likely to be a role that the United States will play from time to time? I think yes," Rumsfeld said, speaking at a question-and-answer session with Pentagon employees.

"I don't think of it as a nation-building role, because I don't think anyone can build a nation but the people of that nation," he said.

On the other hand, there's this Chicago Tribune report from four days ago:

Even as the U.S. military grapples with the largest peacekeeping effort in a generation, the Army is shutting down its only institute devoted to such operations, prompting protests from inside and outside the Pentagon.

Since its creation in 1993 at the Army War College, the Peacekeeping Institute has struggled against a military culture that sees itself as a war-fighting machine that should leave peacekeeping to others....

The Peacekeeping Institute, in Carlisle Barracks, Pa., will close Oct. 1. A Jan. 30 Army news release said its functions and mission will be absorbed at the Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Ft. Monroe, Va.

A spokesman for the training command, however, said Monday that it has no plans to accept the institute's charge.

"I can tell you that no functions from the Peacekeeping Institute are being transferred to the Center for Army Lessons Learned, nor are they being transferred to TRADOC," said spokesman Harvey Perritt.

Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld supports closing the institute. He added, however, that the decision to close the institute was the Army's.....

An Army spokesman denied that the shutdown signals any reduction in the importance placed on peacekeeping but said it is emblematic of the "hard choices we have to make" in operating in as efficient a manner as possible.

Out of a $81 billion annual Army budget, the Peacekeeping Institute ran on $200,000 a year. (emphasis added)

To be fair to Rumsfeld, he's fighting a deep antipathy among the service branches to functions other than warfighting (click here for more background).

Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

Developing....

THE SYSTEM WORKS: Last week, Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey banned Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon from appearing at a 15th anniversary celebration of the greatest baseball movie ever made, Bull Durham. Petroskey Fedexed the pair a letter arguing that comments made by the actors "ultimately could put our troops in even more danger." He went on to note: "Mr. Robbins and Ms. Sarandon have every right to express their opinions. But The Baseball Hall of Fame is not the proper venue for highly charged political expressions, whatever they may be." For more backstory, click here.

Needless to say, this was an asinine decision for three reasons. First, neither Sarandon nor Robbins said anything that put troops in danger. Yes, they opposed the war, but last I checked they weren't transmitting information to Baghdad or anything of that sort.

Second, if their behavior at the Oscars was indicative of anything, it was that neither of them had planned pull a Michael Moore or anything at the Hall of Fame Ceremony. Sarandon was quoted as saying:

This was just a celebration, a chance to see some friends from the movie and make what's become almost an annual trip with our boys... As far as I knew, we weren't speaking. I wasn't even planning to wear makeup. And to politicize baseball is to violate the spirit of what it's all about.

Third, never, under any circumstances, do anything that permits Sarandon or Robbins to feel righteously indignant. It's just grating. Petroskey's move validated the claim by a lot of Hollywood types that their public opposition to the war was somehow being censored.

Fortunately, Petroskey's decision resulted in a deluge of letters and editorials (click here and here too) denouncing the decision. A lot of the Blogosphere was pissed too -- click here, here, and here. And this week, Petroskey did something very rare -- he issued a genuine apology. Here are the key grafs:

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a very special place - a national treasure - and my responsibility is to protect it. Politics has no place in The Hall of Fame. There was a chance of politics being injected into The Hall during these sensitive times, and I made a decision to not take that chance. But I inadvertently did exactly what I was trying to avoid. With the advantage of hindsight, it is clear I should have handled the matter differently.

I am sorry I didn't pick up the phone to have a discussion with Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon rather than sending them a letter.

According to the AP, Robbins responded with a statement observing, "Because Petroskey's actions resulted in a bipartisan, nationwide affirmation of free speech and the First Amendment, he has inadvertently done us all a favor."

This may be that once-in-a-decade moment where I am in agreement with Robbins on a matter of politics.

Friday, April 18, 2003
WHY I LOVE DENMARK: There are two reasons. First, there's their commitment to open government, which is about to embarrass the European Union, according to this FT story:

What does Germany really think about Turkish membership of the EU? How did Gerhard Schröder nearly wreck the EU enlargement deal? And what does Vladimir Putin privately think about Russian journalists?

The answers are in a "warts and all" television documentary telling the inside story of the Danish EU presidency, which culminated in the Copenhagen enlargement summit last December. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister, honoured his commitment to open government by giving rare access to a camera team during the tense talks leading to the deal allowing 10 new members to join the EU.

Not everyone is as happy as Mr Fogh Rasmussen to feature in the film, to be broadcast in Denmark on Thursday. It has caused fury across Europe, and even some Danes think his candour has gone too far. The biggest controversy surrounds claims that Joschka Fischer, German foreign minister, privately tried to find ways to stop Turkey joining the EU, while publicly supporting Ankara's application....

But it is not clear whether the EU's often secretive culture is ready for a painful dose of openness. Some Danes agree with that view. Niels Helveg Petersen, a former foreign minister, said: "This is a break with proper behaviour, a diplomatic blunder of the highest order."

Read the whole story -- as well as these takes by the BBC and the EU Observer. The latter provides the details of the most damaging part of the documentary:

a sequence displaying a politically charged statement by German foreign minister Joschka Fischer where he revealed his personal views to Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller, on Turkish membership of the European Union.

"I am a good friend of Joschka, and he tells me, that Turkey will never join", says the Danish foreign minister Per Stig Møller in a corridor passage which was taped and used in the film.

Needless to say, this is causing a three-way diplomatic row between Denmark, Turkey, and Germany. I actually have some sympathy for Fischer, since he's being damned by hearsay. If it's true, however, then shame on Germany for trying to screw the Turks over, and good for the Danes' commitment to open government.

Essay question to the Eurocrats:

"An American-led invasion of Iraq that removes a totalitarian dictatorship will increase hatred of the West among Muslims. EU discrimination against Turkey will decrease Muslim hatred of the West."

Can those two statements be logically reconciled? Discuss.

[What's the second reason you love Denmark?--ed. Last month the Danish weekly Weekendavisen translated and published one of my New Republic essays. I may not speak a word of Danish, but it looks pretty damn cool.]

HE'S RIGHT -- PROBABLY: Josh Marshall has a level-headed post today in response to today's Baghdad demonstration demanding an Islamic state in Iraq. It closes this way:

none of this is going to be settled by one day of good or bad photo-ops. The die is cast. Like it or not, the fate of America and Iraq are now fastened together for at least several years. I don't pretend to know how it's going to turn out. But the one thing I think we can be confident of is that none of us are going to emerge from this with our hubris intact.

As someone who occasionally pretends to know how things will turn out, I think Marshall is right.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum has more to say on this:

This is a very long term project we're involved in, and the ups and downs of daily events really don't mean much. It will be months, maybe years, before we know what the real reaction of ordinary Iraqis is to our invasion. I suspect that in the long run it's going to be more negative than positive, but at any rate — and to coin a phrase — it's sure not going to be a cakewalk.

Thursday, April 17, 2003
IN MY NAME: What Josh Chafetz said here, I wholeheartedly endorse.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: Blogging is light today because I'm continuing my tour of Midwestern colleges with a talk on globalization at Beloit College.

True story -- after I'd attended a senior seminar, my host explained to one of his colleagues that I needed to get to an Internet station -- because it had been some time since I'd updated the blog.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
SYRIA AND AL-QAEDA: Via Glenn Reynolds, I read Justin Weitz's discussion of sanctioning Syria (you'll have to scroll down). In the post, Wietz mentions, "Syria's close relationship with terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Hezbollah."

Now, this was the first time I had heard about any connection between Al-Qaeda and Syria, and I didn't like the assertion without any backup. Weitz, however, could point to this September 2002 post which linked to this Ha'aretz article chronicling the relationship between Syria and Al Qaeda. The article is sourced to various intelligence agencies as opposed to specific individuals, which makes me antsy for some reason. That said, here are the key grafs:

Much evidence now shows that before 9-11, Syria was a stomping ground for Qaida operatives, considered a place where they could move around in relative freedom. The country served as transit point for them and Qaida had an infrastructure there. They were able to operate with relatively few of the restrictions that other Arab countries, like Egypt, put on them.

After 9-11.... as American rage grew and the attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan began, the Syrians changed position, and said they were ready for intelligence cooperation with the U.S. on the Qaida issue. But there are now clear indications that it was tactical and only partial cooperation.

Readiness for cooperation mostly came via information about Qaida cells in other countries and not what Qaida representatives were doing in Syria. Important information came from Syria, for example, on Qaida cells in Germany. That apparently is what kept Syria off President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" list.

Now there's this Los Angeles Times story:

Syria has functioned as a hub for an Al Qaeda network that moved Islamic extremists and funds from Italy to northeastern Iraq, where the recruits fought alongside the recently defeated Ansar al Islam terrorist group, according to an Italian investigation....

Two weeks ago, Italian police arrested seven alleged Al Qaeda operatives. They were charged with sending about 40 extremists through Syria to terrorist bases operated jointly by Al Qaeda and Ansar al Islam, whose stronghold in northeast Iraq was recently overrun by Kurdish and U.S. troops.

Transcripts of wiretapped conversations among the suspected operatives and others paint a detailed picture of overseers in Syria coordinating the movement of recruits and money between Europe and Iraq, according to court documents obtained by The Times....

Italian investigators say that they have no evidence that the Syrian government was aware of the network or protected it, and that they hope to get help with the case from Syrian authorities. Still, the activity of the alleged terror network raises questions because the Syrian government has aggressive security services that would likely be aware of extremists operating in their territory.

And finally, this Straits Times lead:

The United States tightened the screws on Syria yesterday, claiming that it was harbouring a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence official with Al-Qaeda links.

A US official alleged that Faruq Hijazi, ranked third in Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's intelligence service, flew into Damascus aboard a commercial jet on Tuesday, seeking refuge after the fall of the Baghdad regime....

According to media reports, Saddam also sent Hijazi to Afghanistan in 1998 to establish contacts with Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al-Qaeda terror network.

Some European newspapers even insisted that Hijazi met the alleged ringleader of the Sept 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, before the terror attacks on the US.

But Washington has not confirmed that the meeting took place, and Hijazi is not included in the Pentagon's 'deck of death' cards which feature the 55 most-wanted Iraqi officials.

If you read everything, I'm still not sure it adds up to a conscious effort by the Syrian government to assist Al Qaeda. I see a lot of suppositions and fewer facts.

However, this post was originally going to blast Weitz for making the link between Syria and Al Qaeda without any basis in fact. Obviously, it didn't turn out that way.

What do you think? Let me know.

UPDATE: Todd Mormon posts some new information suggesting that the Syrian government has been eager to cooperate with the U.S. on Al Qaeda. And it's worth quoting at length from Lawrence Kaplan's TNR article on Syria:

In the immediate aftermath of September 11, Assad provided the United States with what one administration official describes as a "treasure trove" of intelligence on Al Qaeda activities among Syrian nationals—principal among these Mohammed Haydar Zammar, an Al Qaeda commander living in Germany, and Mamoun Darkazanli, one of the organization's alleged financiers. Assad even sent President Bush a letter proposing that the two countries "establish sound bases of worldwide cooperation ... to uproot terrorism in all its forms." Before long, Syrian intelligence operatives were meeting with the CIA and passing along warnings replete with details about likely terrorist targets. Even the administration's Syria hawks concede that one such warning, which alerted American policymakers to a plot against American forces in the Gulf, "saved American lives."

Food for thought.

WHAT ARE MY COLLEAGUES WORKING ON?: The University of Chicago has acquired a long-standing reputation for being concerned primarily with abstract ideas. With the possible exception of our political philosophers, this is largely a canard -- what my colleagues excel at is marrying larger theoretical concerns to practical, real-world questions.

Which brings me to this University of Chicago Magazine cover story on our faculty's "unexpected areas of expertise." Law professor Mary Anne Case is investigating a subject near and dear to women's hearts across this land -- the inequities of public toilets:

Lines for public bathrooms, one of the last supposed vestiges of “separate but equal,” regularly show the facilities are anything but. “What’s most often equalized is square footage,” Case says. But because urinals are smaller than stalls, “men are almost always offered more excreting opportunities than women,” which likely accounts for longer women’s lines—not women simply taking longer. And more of the space in women’s bathrooms, she notes, is filled with vanity tables, fainting couches, and baby stations.

The project—after several years she’s collected hundreds of surveys for a planned law-review article—was spurred by Case’s research into the history of constitutional arguments for equal protection of the sexes. Believing the law rarely should distinguish between males and females, she advocates “a model akin to the typical airline toilet,” providing ultimate privacy without segregation (though she’s learned that many women prefer a same-sex environment).

The survey also gives men and women “a sense for how the other half lives,” Case says. For instance, when she visited a New York children’s museum, a male companion saw a poster in the boys’ room asking, “Who can ‘go’ faster? It takes men about 45 seconds to urinate (pee). It takes women about 79 seconds to urinate. How do you compare to the average? Ready, Get Set, GO!” No such poster, Case confirmed, was in the girls’ room.

Click here if you'd like to contribute to Case's database by filling out a copy of the aforementioned toilet survey.

I suspect some may find this kind of research trivial -- and I would vehemently disagree. This is an eminently practical question, and I suspect there is a dearth of literature on the topic. Good for Case.

P.S. The story links to other interesting avenues of research -- Roman Weil's analysis of the ever-increasing quality of wine, or Richard Epstein's research into parking and squatter's rights.

WHEN DRUDGE HYPERVENTILATES: Matt Drudge's latest "flash" story is about how Sharon Bush -- Neil Bush's ex-wife -- plans to write "a tell all [book] on the Bush family". What are the juicy details? Here are some snippets:

"She believes, and is prepared to reveal in her book, that the Bushes are far more pragmatic and calculating than has ever been seen before. She will show that the family orchestrates its public image from top to bottom. She will reveal that the family is in essence a political operation."

Oh, dear God, no!! Not "pragmatic and calculating"!! And the family cares about its public image? Wow, this is going to be pathbreaking stuff. Wait, there's more:

"In the book, she hopes to show that Barabara Bush has exercised a good deal more control over the family than previously revealed. She also wants to show that the relationship between the Bush brothers, as well as relations between the President and former President, have been more fraught and complex than previously known, her associates say."

Well, there will certainly be an uproar when the American people find out that the matriarch of the Bush clan has influence over her family members. And "fraught and complex" relationships between family members will certainly be a novel theme in American politics. You'd never see that kind of behavior among the Kennedys, Gores, Doles, Rockefellers, Clintons, or Daleys.

I understand why Sharon Bush's lawyer wants to attract publicity. I can't understand why Drudge would think that a book that spills Neil Bush's dirty laundry and implies that the other Bushes have political sides to their personalities is particularly salacious.

Not developing....

SO WHAT DO THE NEOCONS WANT?: In the past month I've received a lot of e-mail flak for one of two posts -- either this one touting Josh Marshall's Washington Monthly essay as a "must-read", or this one pooh-poohing the notion that Jim Woolsey speaks for the Bush administration when he says we're starting World War IV. Critics of the first post say I'm buying into wild conspiracy theories; critics of the second post think I'm naive and uninformed about the way Washington really works.

Here's my answer to both sets of critics.

Part of the problem is that the neocons have hardly made up their minds on this question. There's this Washington Post story suggesting Syria's next on the list -- at the same time, Lawrence Kaplan writes in The New Republic that Syria isn't even on the radar screen (subscription required).

This Reuters report suggests that all of the neocons are ready to march throughout the Middle East. But chief neocon theoretician Robert Kagan opines that some humility is in order right now, and it’s going to be tough to proffer an olive branch to Europe while coercing Syria with military force. Even Josh Marshall is skeptical that military action is imminent – his description of what’s going on right now is note-perfect:

“I doubt very much that we're about to move militarily against Syria. This strikes me as a brush-back pitch. It is critical to our efforts in Iraq that Syria not try to Lebanize Iraq. Those are the minimum ground rules. And we need to make that crystal clear to them right now.”

So, why did I think Marshall’s article was worth reading? Because I agree with him that a few neocons are willing to deceive in order to achieve their desired – and arguably desirable – ends. I've spoken with or listened to a fair number of the chief neocons. Most of them are intellectually rigorous and smart as hell. But some of them – who until recently held positions of influence in the Bush administration – will change their arguments on a whim, or make wildly erroneous assertions, or ignore contradictory evidence, to get what they want. And I care enough about how the process of U.S. foreign policy decision-making to oppose those tactics, no matter how desirable the perceived ends.

What could be interesting in the next few weeks/months is whether the neoconservative movement splits – between “pragmatic” neocons (Kagan, Wolfowitz) that recognize the limits of what can be done right now, and “movement” neoconservatives (Woolsey, Perle) that want to start World War IV.

Developing….

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