Monday, May 12, 2003
SOUTH ASIAN TERRORIST WEB SITES: While the media is focused on the Mideast road map for peace -- not that there's anything wrong with that!! -- attention has drifted from other flash points -- like South Asia. Alyssa Ayres writes in the Wall Street Journal that although recent trends are positive, Pakistani support for -- or benign neglect of -- terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba will remain a sticking point:

Theoretically, the Lashkar does not exist: Pakistan's President Musharraf banned it in January last year and jailed its founder for six months. It enjoys the distinction of a place on the U.S. State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations roster, which puts it in the company of al Qaeda, the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas. But for a banned militia, one whose assets should have been frozen 16 months ago, their media production continues apace. Two weeks ago they gave their family of Web sites a muscular relaunch, suggesting a new infusion of cash or smarts.....

For a banned militia to be printing up magazines in hard copy and virtual form, material obviously designed to recruit militants for a "final journey" into Kashmir, right under the nose of the Pakistani authorities, can only mean one of two things. Someone either can't, or won't, connect the dots.....

[P]eace will remain a fantasy as long as spoilers like the Lashkar-e-Taiba receive free rein to propagate their vision and recruit new soldiers to the task.

Read the whole thing.

MORE WHEELS TURNING IN THE MIDDLE EAST: The Washington Post suggests that Syria is now discussing serious domestic and foreign policy reforms in the wake of U.S. successes in Iraq:

With tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned just to the east and U.S. officials warning Syria it could be the next object of American ire, Syrians acknowledge they are feeling vulnerable. These regional developments -- nothing less than an "earthquake," according to Khalaf M. Jarad, editor of the state-run Tishrin newspaper -- have prompted Syria to alter its foreign policy to accommodate U.S. demands, while rethinking its domestic affairs.

"When your neighbor shaves, you start to wet your cheeks," said Nabil Jabi, a political strategist in Damascus, citing an Arabic proverb. "It means you must study the new situation in your neighborhood."....

But the changes in domestic policy may ultimately prove to be of even greater consequence.

During the past two weeks, the Syrian government has licensed its first three private banks, considered an essential step in modernizing the state-dominated economy, while approving two new private universities and four private radio stations. Officials are now reviewing the possibility of removing military training from the curriculum of schools and universities and eliminating a requirement that all students join youth groups affiliated with Syria's ruling Baath Party, according to sources close to the leadership.

While discussions about reforming the Baath Party have been underway for at least three years, they have taken on a much greater urgency since the collapse of Iraq's Baath Party government, said Syrians close to the leadership.

"If now people feel a more pressing need to do that, so much the better," said Buthaina Shaaban, spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry. "I think it's normal to be affected by external events and to use it for your own benefit, to reform your reality."

Meanwhile, Juan Cole reports that Egyptian opposition parties are also seizing the moment to push for greater democratic reforms in their country.

Developing....

Sunday, May 11, 2003
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S DREAM SUNDAY: The Bushies' two most tenacious foils over the past two years -- France and the New York Times -- are facing a world of hurt this week.

In France, the Elf Aquitaine scandal has metastasizedto the point where it has managed to include Iraqi billionaires and the Irish financial sector (link via InstaPundit).

Meanwhile the New York Times' credibility is hemorrhaging badly, as Jayson Blair's web of deceit is put on full display [Doesn't the Times deserve credit for putting the results of its investigation so prominently on Page 1?--ed. Yes, absolutely -- although one could argue that this was merely a pre-emptive strike that prevented other news outlets from breaking the magnitude of the story behind Blair's dismissal.]

Andrew Sullivan and Mickey Kaus are -- naturally -- all over this story. However, I believe Glenn Reynolds's response is probably the most devastating.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias takes this post a bit too seriously:

[Drezner's post] sums up everything that's bad about the Bush administration. A "dream Sunday" consists not in making substantive progress on issues that would improve the lives of Americans -- employment, homeland security, nation-building in Iraq, North Korea, health care, etc. -- rather it consists in the revelation of embarrassing information about its enemies.

Friday, May 09, 2003
MORE ON BUSH'S MIDDLE EAST INITIATIVE: Following up on my previous post on this, here's a link to Bush's speech on the Middle East today -- and here's a link to the concrete policy proposals. Some highlights from the speech:

A time of historic opportunity has arrived. A dictator in Iraq has been removed from power. The terrorists of that region are now seeing their fate, the short, unhappy life of the fugitive. Reformers in the Middle East are gaining influence, and the momentum of freedom is growing. We have reached a moment of tremendous promise, and the United States will seize this moment for the sake of peace.

Hey, that's my line!!

The combined GDP of all Arab countries is smaller than that of Spain. Their peoples have less access to the Internet than the people of Sub-Sahara Africa. Across the globe, free markets and trade have helped defeat poverty, and taught men and women the habits of liberty. So I propose the establishment of a U.S. -Middle East free trade area within a decade, to bring the Middle East into an expanding circle of opportunity, to provide hope for the people who live in that region.

These are truly depressing statistics.

And, ultimately, both economic success and human dignity depend on the rule of law and honest administration of justice. So America will sponsor, with the government of Bahrain, a regional forum to discuss judicial reforms. And I'm pleased that Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has agreed to lead this effort.

That should make these folks very happy.

If the Palestinian people take concrete steps to crack down on terror, continue on a path of peace, reform and democracy, they and all the world will see the flag of Palestine raised over a free and independent nation.

All sides of this conflict have duties. Israel must take tangible steps now to ease the suffering of Palestinians and to show respect for their dignity. And as progress is made toward peace, Israel must stop settlement activity in the occupied territories. Arab nations must fight terror in all forms, and recognize and state the obvious once and for all: Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors.

These statements strike me as intuitively obvious. I therefore predict European criticism that Bush was being too lenient on the Israelis.

Again, my only criticism was the failure to mention Turkey at all in the speech. Part of promoting freedom means accepting the inconveniences that come with it, and Turkey's behavior in March falls under that category. Pretending like they have no constructive role to play in this initiative is foolhardy.

NATIONALISM AND FINANCE: In light of the Euro hitting a four-year high against the dollar today, this CNN story should provide a cautionary warning for those who believe that nationalism plays no role in global financial markets: The key grafs:

Interestingly, while this view [that the dollar needs to fall further] is more or less seen as gospel in the rest of the world, it's not the majority view in the States, according to Merrill Lynch's April survey of 314 fund managers, both foreign and domestic.

In that survey, when asked to pick their "favorite currency," 65 percent of global respondents picked the euro. Their least favorite? For 57 percent of the world, it was the greenback.

And a whopping 66 percent of overseas fund managers thought the greenback was still too dear, despite its recent decline. In comparison, only 34 percent of U.S. respondents thought the dollar was overvalued....

The Merrill Lynch survey showed 56 percent of overseas fund managers thought U.S. equity markets still the most overvalued in the world -- compared with just 24 percent of U.S. managers....

In the Merrill Lynch survey, 42 percent of foreign fund managers said the swollen U.S. current account deficit worried them enough to make them hedge some or all of their exposure to a possible dollar decline. Just 21 percent of U.S. respondents had done the same.






DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON FREE TRADE IN THE MIDDLE EAST!!: Two months ago, as an addendum my TNR Online essay on democratization in Iraq, I recommended the creation of a regional club of emerging and established Middle Eastern democracies. To quote myself:

If President Bush means what he says about a democratic Iraq, there is one other policy initiative worth considering – the creation/promotion of a regional club of emerging Middle Eastern democracies....

Of course, the rewards of membership would have to be significant. A preferential trade agreement with the United States might be an option, especially since the U.S. already has such deals with Israel and Jordan.

Currently, a club for Middle Eastern democracies would have a small list of invitees. Within the next year, that may change for the better.

From today's New York Times:

Administration officials said Mr. Bush would also offer rewards to the Arab world on Friday, when he is to propose a United States-Middle East free trade area during a commencement speech at the University of South Carolina. The White House would not say tonight what countries were to be eligible for inclusion in the trade deal, but a senior official said Iraq would be among them.

"We fully expect Iraq to be able to compete and to have free trade agreements with the U.S. and others," the official said. The United States already has free trade agreements with Israel and Jordan. A senior official said the president would set a goal of 2013 to create the free trade area.

The only thing that worries me about this is the suggestion in the article that Turkey be excluded from such a free trade area. I'm going to assume that the administration appreciates the fact that excluding the one stable, pro-Western, established Muslim democracy from any proposed agreement would be counterproductive in the long term.

UPDATE: The Associated Press and Reuters also have the free-trade area story. This Washington Times piece suggests that Egypt and Bahrain are also on the list.

Thursday, May 08, 2003
TRAGEDY IN CHICAGO: The Onion has the scoop.
MORE ON DISCIPLINARY BOUNDARIES: Last week I took Megan McArdle to task for asserting that the economic mode of analysis was superior to theories and methodologies that emerged from other social science and the humanities.

Now, just because I thought Megan was exaggerating things doesn't mean I think economists should stick to their disciplinary knitting and never attempt to explain other phenomenon. For example, consider this Chicago Tribune story about a University of Chicago economist venturing into the humanities:

David Galenson, an economic historian who teaches at the University of Chicago, took on the art history establishment two years ago with his book "Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art" (Harvard University Press), in which he claimed statistical methods could be used to rank artistic achievements.

That idea was anathema to many art historians, who believe that creativity is fragile and unquantifiable, that using the marketplace to evaluate art would sully the field....

Robert Storr, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is on record as declaring art is essentially "unquantifiable." Michael Rooks, an assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, said upon the release of Galenson's book, "There's a real sense that when you start quantifying artistic output in dollars and cents, those things are tangents to what we really should be talking about."

Galenson, who publishes frequently in the leading journals in his field such as The Journal of Political Economy and The American Economic Review, found it impossible even to get his book reviewed by art historians. "To them," he said, "I'm just a nerd with a computer."

The problem, of course, is specialization. Economists are supposed to study economics, leaving the art history to the art historians, and vice versa.

Read the whole piece. Galenson's typology of artists -- "conceptual" and "experimental" -- and his method for appraising their artistic value -- how their work is valued in auctions -- are hardly slam-dunk assertions. But they are pretty interesting, and art historians do a disservice to themselves by pretending they don't exist or are beyond the pale.


Wednesday, May 07, 2003
THE STRAUSSIAN CONSPIRACY, CONT'D: Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker essay goes even further than the New York Times in arguing that there's Straussian conspiracy that's captured American foreign policy. [Wait, wasn't this published the day after the New York Times published their Strauss story? And wasn't Hersh formerly a New York Times reporter? Surely this isn't a coincidence?--ed. Maybe conspiracies beget conspiracies. Or maybe you need a vacation]

The essay focuses on the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which functioned as a "Team B" of intelligence ferreting out links between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Some highlights:

The director of the Special Plans operation is Abram Shulsky, a scholarly expert in the works of the political philosopher Leo Strauss....

Shulsky’s work has deep theoretical underpinnings. In his academic and think-tank writings, Shulsky, the son of a newspaperman—his father, Sam, wrote a nationally syndicated business column—has long been a critic of the American intelligence community. During the Cold War, his area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. Like Wolfowitz, he was a student of Leo Strauss’s, at the University of Chicago. Both men received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the United States in 1937, was trained in the history of political philosophy, and became one of the foremost conservative émigré scholars. He was widely known for his argument that the works of ancient philosophers contain deliberately concealed esoteric meanings whose truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses. The Straussian movement has many adherents in and around the Bush Administration. In addition to Wolfowitz, they include William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, and Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who is particularly close to Rumsfeld. Strauss’s influence on foreign-policy decision-making (he never wrote explicitly about the subject himself) is usually discussed in terms of his tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership.

I'll give Hersh some credit -- unlike the Times piece, he makes an effort to actually link Strauss' ideas to current trends in foreign policy. In the end, however, this piece has the same problem as all conspiracy theories -- a lot more is implied than actually proven.

Then there's Hersh's track record over the past two years. Jack Shafer neatly eviscerates Hersh in this Slate piece:

At almost every critical turn since the events of 9/11, Hersh has leapt to the front of the editorial pack with a bracing, well-researched, and controversial explication of the war on terror. And almost every time, Hersh's predictive take on the course of events has been wrong. Boneheaded-dumb wrong....

Why are Sy Hersh's recent New Yorker defense pieces so consistently off the mark? Perhaps Hersh, who made his name tilting against the establishment, has become too willing to channel establishment sources' complaints. Indeed, most of his unnamed sources hail from the defense/intelligence establishment, which feels encroached upon by Rumsfeld and the rest of the new guard. If the question is, What's wrong with today's CIA?, Hersh reports back, it isn't enough like the old CIA. If the question is, What's wrong with today's Pentagon?, Hersh answers at the behest of his Army sources, Rumsfeld is mucking with tip-fiddle! If the Delta commandos and the Army generals talking to Hersh don't like Rumsfeld's policies—or the CIA, the DIA, and others resent similar turf encroachment by Wolfowitz's "cabal"—they know there is a place where their gripes can get a complete airing: A Hersh piece in The New Yorker. (emphasis in original)

Every bureaucratic struggle has at least two sides, and a reporter who recklessly throws in with one side against the other may publish blockbusters. But of what use are blockbusters that are consistently wrong?

I'll keep updating the Straussian meme's half-life as it develops.

(Full disclosure: During my brief stint at RAND in the mid-90's, I worked with and for Shulsky.)

DECOMPRESSION IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Last week, I blogged about the small but promising steps being taken by various Arab states to reject terrorism and acknowledge the importance of democratic accountability. The countries discussed included Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority.

One country I missed was Jordan. But David Adesnik (scroll down) has a lot of links and analysis indicating that King Abdullah is now prepared to restart democratic reforms that were frozen in the 9/11 aftermath. Go check it out.
Tuesday, May 06, 2003
ARE LIBERALS LESS COSMOPOLITAN THAN CONSERVATIVES?: This is the question Michael Totten, a good liberal, asks. His answer is yes:

Liberals think of themselves as more worldly than conservatives. This is true in some ways, but not so in others. It seems (to me) that liberals are more likely to travel, and are more likely to visit Third World countries in particular. (If you meet an American traveler in, say, Guatemala, odds are strongly against that person being a Republican.) Liberals are more likely to listen to “world music,” and are more likely to watch foreign films. Liberals are more likely than conservatives to study the negative consequences of American foreign policy. But that’s about it. If you want to find a person who knows the history of pre-war Nazi Germany, the Middle East during the Cold War, or the partition of India and Pakistan, you’re better off looking to the right than to the left.

Read the whole piece for his explanation as to why this is the case. Roger L. Simon has more on this as well.

UPDATE: Kieran Healy posts a response. Be sure to read the comments, which includes a response from Michael Totten.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias weighs in, defending Totten's thesis.

MORE ON AFGHANISTAN: When we last left off, Donald Rumsfeld has declared the war in Afganistan to be essentially over.

Today's news from Afghanistan:

1) U.S. special forces were fired upon by rockets in Eastern Afghanistan

2) The New York Times reports that Taliban loyalists in Quetta Pakistan are increasingly active: "The Taliban presence is so strong that even many of those who have been refugees here for 20 years seem to believe that the Taliban will return to power in Afghanistan."

3) The chief UN envoy says the deteriorating security situation is affecting statebuiolding in Afghanistan:

The top United Nations official in Afghanistan today told the Security Council that deteriorating security conditions continue to cast a long shadow over the peace process and future of the country, and called for the creation of Afghan security forces capable of ensuring lasting tranquillity.

In an open briefing to the Council, Lakhdar Brahimi, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said although specific aspects of the Bonn Peace Agreement are proceeding, "the process as a whole is challenged by deterioration in the security environment, which stems from daily harassment and intimidation, inter-ethnic and inter-factional strife, increases in the activity of elements linked to the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and the drugs economy."

4) The first anti-American protest was held in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban . It only attracted 300 people, so take the news for what it's worth.

5) A prominent Afghan academic says that cronyism and nepotism are plaguing the Karzai government.

MORE ON NORTH KOREA: As I said over at the Volokh Conspiracy, I'm worried about North Korea. For more on the situation on the ground, Joe Katzman at Winds of Change has a nice round-up, and points out -- again -- that South Korea's reluctance to confront North Korea makes the situation an extremely dicey one.

For other interpretations, see Bob McGrew and Fred Kaplan.
HELLO, TECH CENTRAL STATION READERS!!: My first Tech Central Station essay is up -- it's a critique of the joint Foreign Policy/Center for Global Development effort to rate how much the U.S. and other developed countries' policies help or hurt poor countries. Go check it out.

For those interested TCS readers, this blog post has some additional information on the subject.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds managed to post a link to my TCS essay before I did.
Monday, May 05, 2003
BACK ON TUESDAY: Still guest-blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. I'll be back here tomorrow.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
THE CONSPIRACY NARROWS: The search for a secret cabal running the government continues. First it was the neoconservatives. Then it was, more specifically, Jewish neoconservatives. Now, according to the New York Times, it's Straussian neoconservatives:

To intellectual-conspiracy theorists, the Bush administration's foreign policy is entirely a Straussian creation. Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, has been identified as a disciple of Strauss; William Kristol, founding editor of The Weekly Standard, a must-read in the White House, considers himself a Straussian; Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century, an influential foreign policy group started by Mr. Kristol, is firming in the Strauss camp.

The Bush administration is rife with Straussians. In addition to Mr. Wolfowitz, there is his associate Richard N. Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board and the managing partner in Trireme Partners, a venture-capital company heavily invested in manufacturers of technology for homeland security and defense. Mr. Perle and Mr. Wolfowitz are both disciples of the late Albert Wohlstetter, a Straussian professor of mathematics and military strategist who put forward the idea of "graduated deterrence" — limited, small-scale wars fought with "smart" precision-guided bombs.

This is pretty weak stuff. In the end, you have one genuine Straussian devotee -- Wolfowitz -- in the government. The rest -- Perle, Kristol, Schmitt -- may be intellectual forces to be reckoned with, but none of them hold a position in the Bush administration (Perle resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board last month).

These myriad variations of the same conspiracy story are growing tedious. Bob Lieber does a nice job of demolishing them in a Chronicle of Higher Education essay. The key grafs:

More to the point, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice are among the most experienced, tough-minded, and strong-willed foreign-policy makers in at least a generation, and the conspiracy theory fails utterly to take into account their own assessments of American grand strategy in the aftermath of 9/11.

The theory also wrongly presumes that Bush himself is an empty vessel, a latter-day equivalent of Czarina Alexandra, somehow fallen under the influence of Wolfowitz/Rasputin. Condescension toward Bush has been a hallmark of liberal and leftist discourse ever since the disputed 2000 presidential election, and there can be few readers of this publication who have not heard conversations about the president that did not begin with offhand dismissals of him as "stupid," a "cowboy," or worse.

Partisanship aside, the president has shown himself to be independent and decisive, able to weigh competing advice from his top officials before deciding how to act. In August of last year, for example, he sided with Secretary of State Powell over the initial advice of Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney in opting to seek a U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq. Powell's own February 5 speech to the Security Council was a compelling presentation of the administration's case against Iraq, and well before the outbreak of the war, Powell made clear his view that the use of force had become unavoidable.

Sigh. What Lieber says is pretty damn obvious, but it's depressing that it needs to be constantly repeated.

I miss the good old days of conspiracy-mongering, when the Trilateral Commission was supposed to be running things.

Those readers expecting me -- as a member of the very same political science department as Strauss -- to comment further on the Straussian angle will be disappointed. No, it's not because someone got to me. It's because this is all ancient history to me, and since I'm not a political theorist, I have little incentive to keep up on Strauss' legacy. Hopefully, Jacob Levy will be able to post a comment or two.

I'm sure Andrew Sullivan, a Straussian-once-removed (read the Times piece for an explanation) will post something on this in the near future. (UPDATE: He has -- you need to scroll down a little)

Thursday, May 01, 2003
A WORD FROM THE EDITOR: Drezner, since you started the blog nine months ago, you've passed 200,000 unique visits. You've been mentioned by such Blogosphere luminaries as Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Joshua Micah Marshall, Virginia Postrel, and Glenn Reynolds. The blog has been quoted/mentioned in the Washington Post and MSNBC. You now write a monthly column for The New Republic Online. What are you going to do now?--ed.

I'm joining the Volokh Conspiracy!!

Temporarily, that is. I'll be guest-blogging there Friday and Monday. Go check it out.

UPDATING THE WAR ON TERROR: Civilization is starting to run up the score, according to the Chicago Tribune:

International terrorist attacks dropped significantly in 2002, and Bush administration officials are increasingly confident that the deadliest Al Qaeda plotters are now on the defensive, a top U.S. counterterrorism expert said Wednesday....

The State Department report, issued on the same day that Pakistani officials said they had arrested six major Al Qaeda operatives, said there were 199 terrorist attacks worldwide last year, a decline of 44 percent from the 355 attacks recorded in 2001. Attacks directed at the United States or U.S. targets dropped to 77 from 219.

Measured in terms of loss of life, 725 people were killed by terrorists around the world in 2002, a significant decline from the 3,295 who perished in 2001--a figure swelled by the nearly 3,000 deaths in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

There was additional good news -- the planner of the USS Cole bombing was captured in Pakistan.

Here's the introduction to the State Department report. It turns out that multilateral diplomacy is useful for something (I'm not being sarcastic):

The progress that has been achieved in the global war on terrorism would not have been possible without intense diplomatic engagement throughout the world. Diplomacy is the backbone of the campaign, building the political will, support, and mechanisms that enable our law-enforcement, intelligence, and military communities to act effectively.

The web of relationships we have cultivated has borne fruit in countless ways, from increasing security at home and abroad to bringing wanted terrorists to justice in the United States and elsewhere.

All our friends have stood with us multilaterally—at the United Nations, in NATO, ANZUS, EU, G-7, G-8, OAS, ASEAN, APEC, OIC, OECD, OSCE—and bilaterally in virtually every corner of the world.

New counterterrorism relationships with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Central Asian republics, and others have shown results and hold promise for continued engagement in the future. Collaboration in combating terrorism has deepened with partners such as Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates.



The report also provides an interesting graph demonstrating that, beginning in the late eighties, there has been a secular decrease in the number of terrorist attacks. In fact, the number of attacks has fallen by more than two-thirds from 1987.

So is the Bush administration just riding the wave? No. If you look at the graph closely, there was an unambiguous spike in attacks at the end of the 1990's. The Bush administration can and should take credit for arresting that worrisome increase.

THE RUMSFELD SEAL OF APPROVAL: Donald Rumsfeld has declared that the war in Afghanistan is over:

Defense Secretary H. Rumsfeld, seeking to reassure allies jittery about reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, said Thursday "major combat activity" there has come to an end....

"We're at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities," Rumsfeld said at a joint news conference with Karzai.

The Secretary of Defense definitely gets chutzpah points for the declaration (though, to be fair, the Reuters version of the story includes some caveats). I blogged last week about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. If you don't believe me, consider the words of Ahmed Wali Karzai -- the President's brother and respresentative in southern Kandahar -- in this CBS report from early April:

At a time when the United States is promising a reconstructed democratic postwar Iraq, many Afghans are remembering hearing similar promises not long ago.

Instead, what they see is thieving warlords, murder on the roads, and a resurgence of Taliban vigilantism.

"It's like I am seeing the same movie twice and no one is trying to fix the problem," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of Afghanistan's president and his representative in southern Kandahar. "What was promised to Afghans with the collapse of the Taliban was a new life of hope and change. But what was delivered? Nothing. Everyone is back in business."

Karzai said reconstruction has been painfully slow — a canal repaired, a piece of city road paved, a small school rebuilt.

"There have been no significant changes for people," he said. "People are tired of seeing small, small projects. I don't know what to say to people anymore."

When the Taliban ruled they forcibly conscripted young men. "Today I can say 'we don't take your sons away by force to fight at the front line,'" Karzai remarked. "But that's about all I can say."

If the end of major combat operations means that the U.S. is about to make a major push towards building some semblance of an infrastructure for Afghanistan, that's great. If it's a signal that America's work is done in that part of the world, that's disastrous.


Wednesday, April 30, 2003
THE KERRY-DEAN FLAP: Will Saletan, Mickey Kaus, Howard Kurtz, Matt Yglesias, David Adesnik, Kevin Drum , ByWord, Daily Kos, and the entire left half of the Blogosphere are all in a tizzy over John Kerry's shot across Howard Dean's bow.

Dean was quoted in a Time magazine article saying,

"We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military."

Kerry's spokesman Chris "I used to shill for Gore" Lehane, in a press release, responded with:

"Howard Dean's stated belief that the United States 'won't always have the strongest military,' raises serious questions about his capacity to serve as Commander-in-Chief."

The debate seems to revolve around whether Kerry was being fiendishly clever in a good way or in a hypocritical way. What strikes me, however, is that Kerry wasn't being fiendishly clever at all -- he was following the precise instructions laid out by the Time reporter, Karen Tumulty. Let's look at the Dean quote again in context of the Time story:

Dean has continued to beat the anti-war drums. "We've gotten rid of him," Dean said of Saddam Hussein's ouster. "I suppose that's a good thing." Pressed again last week on CNN, Dean refused to concede that Iraq is better off without Saddam. And two weeks ago, while campaigning at a Stonyfield yogurt factory in New Hampshire, the would-be Commander-in-Chief suggested that America should be planning for a time when it is not the world's greatest superpower : "We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military."

Such comments could come back to haunt Dean. If there is a central political reality in post-9/11 America, it is this: Voters won't be willing to listen to a candidate's ideas on the economy or any other domestic issue unless they are first convinced that he or she is a credible, competent guardian of national security. (emphasis added)

Kerry's staff does earn points for being the first one to read/exploit the Tumulty suggestion.

But clever? I think not.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus provides a link to Howard Dean's weblog. Meanwhile Gary Hart wins second prize among the Dems for following Tumulty's instructions in this blog post:

Democrats will only win the White House when we convince a majority of voters--including Independents and moderate Republicans--that we have sufficient depth of understanding and experience in world affairs and increasingly complex security issues to promote legitimate American interests as well as to create economic growth and justice.

ON ACADEMIC SPECIALIZATION: Boy, is that an eye-catching headline.

For those of you still reading, Kieran Healy critically reviews the myriad complaints across the Scholar-Blogosphere that academic specialization has stunted conversations within and across disciplines about Really Important Questions (NOTE TO GRADUATE STUDENTS: replace "conversations" with "discourse" and you'll understand what I'm saying). Kieran unearths a great Max Weber quote from "Science as a Vocation" that anyone contemplating writing a dissertation needs to remember:

And whoever lacks the capacity to put on blinders, so to speak, and to come up to the idea that the fate of his soul depends upon whether or not he makes the correct conjecture at this passage of this manuscript may as well stay away from science. He will never have what one may call the ‘personal experience’ of science. Without this strange intoxication, ridiculed by every outsider; without this passion … you have no calling for science and you should do something else. For nothing is worthy of man as man unless he can pursue it with passionate devotion.

I would add only one point here. It also helps tremendously if you can explain to yourself -- and hopefully others -- why others should care about what you care about so deeply.

Chris Bertram posts a modest rejoinder to Healy that's worth checking out as well.

P.S. Click here for those who are interested in the feudal structures of my own discipline of international relations.

SCORE ONE FOR THE TRIBE!: Click on this Eugene Volokh post and you'll see that I'm guilty of a really bad pun.
A FRENCH FAUX PAS: Jacob Levy's latest TNR Online essay is up, paired with Reihan Salam.

The topic is recent French attempts to integrate Muslims into the secular state. Apparently, it's not working out as planned.
A RESPONSIBLE MIDDLE EAST?: Let me preface this post by saying that I'm going to be wildly optimistic. I recognize that terrorism, potential terrorism and general disorder continue to haunt this region.

However, one gets the definite impression that governments in the regime are beginning to comprehend that they need to change their ways.

Consider the new Palestinian prime minister. I don't know how long he will last, but his first speech sent a powerful signal, according to the Washington Post:

Mahmoud Abbas was approved Tuesday as the Palestinians' first prime minister and in a speech to parliament forcefully denounced terrorism and declared that peace was the "strategic, irrevocable choice" of the Palestinian people. But he warned Israel that it must abandon Jewish settlements and end its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to achieve a lasting peace....

"The path of negotiations is our choice," Abbas said. "We denounce terrorism by any party and in all its shapes and forms, both because of our religious and moral traditions and because we are convinced that such methods do not lend support to a just cause like ours, but rather destroy it. There is no military solution to our conflict."

Then there is Libya, which today owned up to some previous nastiness:

The Libyan government has accepted responsibility for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing and set up a fund to compensate victims' families, Foreign Minister Mohammed Abderrahmane Chalgam said on Wednesday.

Finally, there's this enigmatic part of the Times story from my previous post:

Earlier this year, Saudi officials told The New York Times that the departure of American soldiers would set the stage for a series of democratic reforms, including an announcement that Saudi men — but not women, at least initially — would begin electing representatives to provincial assemblies and then to a national assembly. The ruling royal family, these officials suggested, could more easily sell potentially unsettling reform if it appears to be less dependent on the Americans.

Acknowledging that democratic representation is important and that terrorism is bad are baby steps for most of the world. In the Middle East, however, their significance should not be understated.

As I said, I'm being wildly optimistic (for example, click here for my last post about the new Palestinian PM, and here for the NYT's skepticism about Saudi Arabia's future). It's possible that terrorism and extremism on both sides will torpedo any chance at an Israeli-Palestinian peace, or that Saudi reforms will go nowhere. But maybe the elimination of the Iraqi problem will cause a genuine move toward more responsible governance.

Developing... in a good way, I hope.

UPDATE: Brian Ulrich e-mails that I missed another promising development -- in a popular referendum, Qatar just approved their first constitution. It's not perfectly democratic, but it does allow for a partially elected legislature, and more importantly, has provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom from torture.

The Washington Times story on the Qatari referendum also contains some intriguing news about Syria:

The winds of change also appear to be reaching Syria, which this week was reported to have sent a proposal of peace talks to Israel through U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat.

Previous peace talks over the status of the Golan Heights broke down over Israel's insistence on retaining a narrow strip of land along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

While the United States has recently accused Syria of harboring members of Saddam's ousted Iraqi regime and possessing weapons of mass destruction, there are signs that it has begun to tolerate demands for greater freedom.

About 140 politically active Syrians declared in an unprecedented manifesto that a strong internal front based on freedom for all was the only effective defense against what it called American and Israeli aggression.

The manifesto was published in Damascus by the Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, according to a report appearing in the Lebanese Daily Star.

The war against Iraq had proved, said the signatories, that one-party rule and repressive security services cannot protect a country's independence and dignity. The group called for the cancellation of emergency laws, the release of political prisoners and the establishment of a national unity government based on reconciliation.

"Pressures for change are starting in Syria via civil society," said Haytham Manna, a Syrian exile attending yesterday's referendum in Qatar as an observer from the Arab Commission for Human Rights.

Definitely developing....

DREZNER GETS RESULTS ON SAUDI ARABIA, PART 2: Turns out Monday's announcement was a harbinger of things to come, as the New York Times reports:

The United States said today that it would withdraw all combat forces in Saudi Arabia by this summer, ending more than a decade of military operations in this strategic Middle East nation that is America's largest oil supplier.

The only troops that will remain in Saudi Arabia will be a small training mission that has been deployed in the country since the Truman administration.

The Washington Post version of the story ties in this decision to a larger rearrangement of U.S. forces abroad:

Having removed the government of Saddam Hussein from Iraq, the U.S. military will end operations in Saudi Arabia later this year, freeing the kingdom of a major political problem caused by the visible presence of U.S. forces in the land of Islam's two holiest shrines, defense officials announced today.

Shutting down U.S. flights from Prince Sultan air base and moving the U.S. Combined Air Operations Center from here to nearby Qatar mark the beginning of what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has described as a major realignment of U.S. military forces, not only in the Persian Gulf, but also in Europe and the Far East. Meeting this morning with service members here inside a giant aircraft hangar, Rumsfeld said he is attempting "to refashion and rebalance those arrangements so that we're organized for the future."

Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO's top commander, is reviewing U.S. military installations in Germany with an eye toward moving at least some of them to new NATO members in Eastern Europe. "NATO is a different place now, and the center of gravity has in fact shifted from where it was when it was a relatively small organization of 15 countries to a much larger organization of some 26 countries," Rumsfeld told the troops here. NATO has 19 members and seven more countries have been invited to join.

The Pentagon is also considering reductions in the 38,000 military personnel stationed in South Korea and moving those that remain away from the Demilitarized Zone with North Korea. And in Central Asia, Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, must decide what to do with bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan that were opened in 2001 and 2002 to support the war in Afghanistan.

So much for the American Empire. This is a signal difference between the U.S. and other hegemons of the past -- when countries don't want U.S. bases, the military packs up and leaves.

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.

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