Saturday, June 28, 2003
WELL, JUST ONE POST: I was going to write a quick post to say that Budapest is awesome, but then I read a Washington Post story stating that U.S. forces have put a stop to all local elections in Iraq, and that set me off.

The key grafs:

U.S. military commanders have ordered a halt to local elections and self-rule in provincial cities and towns across Iraq, choosing instead to install their own handpicked mayors and administrators, many of whom are former Iraqi military leaders.

The decision to deny Iraqis a direct role in selecting municipal governments is creating anger and resentment among aspiring leaders and ordinary citizens, who say the U.S.-led occupation forces are not making good on their promise to bring greater freedom and democracy to a country dominated for three decades by Saddam Hussein.

The go-slow approach to representative government in at least a dozen provincial cities is especially frustrating to younger, middle-class professionals who say they want to help their communities emerge from postwar chaos and to let, as one put it, "Iraqis make decisions for Iraq."

"They give us a general," said Bahith Sattar, a biology teacher and tribal leader in Samarra who was a candidate for mayor until that election was canceled last week. "What does that tell you, eh? First of all, an Iraqi general? They lost the last three wars! They're not even good generals. And they know nothing about running a city."

The most recent order to stop planning for elections was made by Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which controls the northern half of Iraq. It follows similar decisions by the 3rd Infantry Division in central Iraq and those of British commanders in the south.

In the capital, Baghdad, U.S. officials never scheduled elections for a city government, but have said they are forming neighborhood councils that at some point will play a role in the selection of a municipal government.

L. Paul Bremer, the civil administrator of Iraq, said in an interview that there is "no blanket prohibition" against self-rule. "I'm not opposed to it, but I want to do it a way that takes care of our concerns. . . . Elections that are held too early can be destructive. It's got to be done very carefully."

If you read further, it's clear that what scares Bremer and others is the prospect of radical parties -- which are now better organized -- taking power.

I can see this, except it's also true that radical parties tend to act more like moderates once they face the prospect of governing rather than campaigning. By halting the electoral process -- and rewarding ex-generals -- the current policy seems to do little more than successfully alienating the people you most want to motivate in Iraq.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
THE HALF-LIFE OF THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT: George Packer has an excellent piece in today's New York Times Magazine on the network of antiwar movements. Eli Pariser, a staffer at one of the larger antiwar groups, is the likeable protagonist of the piece. Read it to get Packer's main thesis, but here are three vignettes to chew on:

1) The origins of the antiwar movement: According to Packer, "On the day after Sept. 11, Pariser, who was living outside Boston at the time, sent an e-mail message to a group of friends that urged them to contact elected officials and to advocate a restrained response to the terror attacks -- a police action in the framework of international law. War, Pariser believed, was the wrong answer; it would only slaughter more innocents and create more terrorists."

I wonder three things -- a) Does Pariser now acknowledge that Operation Enduring Freedom was "a police action in the framework of international law"? Or was that action just too violent for his tastes? b) Given the success of Enduring Freedom, and the more fragmented nature of post-9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, does Pariser still think military action was the wrong answer? c) Would the people that form the backbone of the antiwar movement ever justify the use of force to advance the cause of freedom?

2) The prejudices of the antiwar movement: I love the condescension that drips from this quotation: "he [Pariser] found that opinion polls and political rhetoric didn't come close to doing justice to Americans' beliefs. 'There's all this gloss and spin and whatever, and then there's actually what people think,' he told me. 'Even when we talked to people who are racists, pro-gun folks, I couldn't make myself dislike them just because of their political views.'" (my italics)

Maybe I'm misreading an admittedly vague phrasing, but it sounds to me like Pariser thinks that racists are either identical to or just as bad as pro-gun folks. I can't believe Glenn Reynolds hasn't commented on this yet. [Well, now he has--ed.]

3) The shallowness of the antiwar movement: One of Packer's closing grafs:

"A young woman from Def Poetry Jam shouted: 'We send our love to poets in Iraq and Palestine. Stay safe!' The notion that there is little safety in Iraq and, strictly speaking, there are no poets -- that the Iraqi people, while not welcoming the threat of bombs, might be realistic enough to accept a war as their only hope of liberation from tyranny -- was unthinkable. The protesters saw themselves as defending Iraqis from the terrible fate that the U.S. was preparing to inflict on them. This assumption is based on moral innocence -- on an inability to imagine the horror in which Iraqis live, and a desire for all good things to go together. War is evil, therefore prevention of war must be good. The wars fought for human rights in our own time -- in Bosnia and Kosovo -- have not registered with Pariser's generation. When I asked Pariser whether the views of Iraqis themselves should be taken into account, he said, 'I don't think that first and foremost this is about them as much as it's about us and how we act in the world.'" (My italics)


Despite my extracts, Pariser seems like a genuinely nice guy. The thing is, genuinely nice guys with such an inward and uninformed view of world politics scare the crap out of me.
EMPTY AND STUPID THREAT OF THE YEAR: Here's more evidence that the Iraq debate is driving people batty -- A Financial Times article on Congressional reaction to European opposition on Iraq. Most of it falls into the garden-variety blowing-off-steam category. Then there's this idiocy:

"His [House Speaker Dennis Hastert's] comments reflect a growing resentment in Congress that may yet result in punitive legislation, directed mainly at France but also extending to other European countries, including Germany....

Reflecting the toughening attitude, Bill Thomas, the powerful Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has already suggested that if the EU does not substantially reform its agricultural policy the Congress may vote to leave the World Trade Organisation. Congress is due to vote on renewing the US's WTO membership in 2005." (my bold italics)

Look, I could yammer on endlessly about all the reasons why this move is idiotic, but it boils down to this: pulling out would be stupid for selfish reasons. At this moment, the U.S. receives more benefits from the WTO than any other international organization -- why destroy it? Furthermore, such a move would succeed in causing a collapse of the global trade regime, a triumph for EU protectionism, and perhaps a global depression. That's a recipe for instability and violence -- not in our interests either.

I must congratulate Thomas for coming up with the single dumbest foreign policy proposal of 2003. I seriously doubt anyone else will be able to top it in the next nine months.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus has more on another Thomas policy initiative.
A WORKING VACATION: Blogging will range from intermittent to nonexistent for the next week. I'm off with the blogwife to Budapest for a conference. [Sure, it's all work to you--ed. No, really, check the program -- I'm working for a few days.] A few days of vacation after that.

Seems like the time for bloggers to go on vacation -- Virginia Postrel and Matthew Yglesias are also on hiatus.

What to do while I'm away? A few suggestions:

1) Check some new blogs out. If you are interested in global political economy, go check out this blog. Robert Tagorda at Boomshock is also generating some high-quality output.

2) Turn off the computer and read a book. My spouse once told me that the only difference between me working and me on vacation is that there's a different book in my hands. So, in quasi-homage to Brink Lindsey's retirement from blogging right after he published his critical review of books read during the past year, here's what I'm bringing with me to Budapest to read:

The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria [Didn't you already bash this book here, here, and here?--ed. No, I critiqued the core ideas that Zakaria presented when he was in town before the book had come out. In response to a personal request by the author, however, I want to read it in print.

Prague, by Arthur Phillips. It's novel that actually takes place in Budapest.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon.

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling. [Yeah, this book really needs your plug--ed.]

The Paradox of American Power, by Joseph Nye.


Tuesday, June 24, 2003
MICHAEL KINSLEY FLUNKS LOGIC CLASS: Here's how Kinsley's latest Slate essay starts:

Admission to a prestige institution like the University of Michigan or its law school is what computer types call a "binary" decision. It's yes or no. You're in, or you're out. There is no partial or halfway admission. The effect of any factor in that decision is also binary. It either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all. Those are the only possibilities.

For any individual, the process of turning factors into that yes-or-no decision doesn't matter. Any factor that changes the result has the same impact as if it were an absolute quota of one. It gets you in, or it keeps you out. And this is either right or it is wrong. The process of turning factors into a result doesn't matter here, either. In this sense, the moral question is binary, too.

Now, while I actually agree with Kinsley that "O'Connor's opinion... sinks back into a vat of fudge," the logic he uses above is incorrect.

Let's ignore the concept of the wait-list and grant Kinsley's point that admission is a binary decision. His next logical leap to assert that each factor has a binary quality because, "it either changes the result or it doesn't. It makes all the difference, or it makes none at all."

What Kinsley is describing is a necessary and sufficient condition: if X, then Y, if not X, then not Y. However, many admissions criteria are necessary but not sufficient. For example, it's safe to say that you cannot get into a good law school with a felony record. Not having a felony record is a necessary condition, but it does not make "all the difference"; it's not sufficient.

Other admissions criteria are sufficient but not necessary. For example, if an applicant had a letter of recommendation from William Rehnquist saying "this is the brightest undergraduate I've met," that person will be accepted. However, it's not necessary to have such a letter to be accepted.

One can parse conditions further. There are SUNI conditions -- sufficient but unnecessary parts of a necessary but insufficient condition. There are also INUS conditions -- insufficient but necessary parts of an unnecessary but sufficient condition.

Race, in the Michigan admissions criteria, is a INUS condition. To be let in for reasons of diversity, it's necessary for the person to be a minority. There are other criteria that must be satisfied -- no felonies, remember. Race, in and of itself, is not a necessary and sufficient condition.

[Er, does this actually matter?--ed. Let me ruminate on that. I'll update this post if it does. The abuse of logic bugged me, however.]

UPDATE: The abuse of logic bugged Kieran Healy in exactly the same way.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION LINKS FOR THE DAY: Robert Tagorda has a first-person account of the myriad absurdities of the diversity rationale for affirmative action.

I disagree with some of what Orlando Patterson wrote in his Sunday New York Times essay, but he does an excellent job of spelling out the problems with the emphasis on diversity:

while diversity is a goal that deserves to be pursued in its own right, it was a major strategic error for African-American leaders to have advocated it as the main justification for affirmative action. In doing so, they greatly expanded the number of groups entitled to preferences — including millions of immigrants whose claims on the nation pale in comparison to those who have been historically discriminated against. Such a development understandably alarmed many whites who were otherwise prepared to turn a pragmatic blind eye to their principled concerns about affirmative action.

Using diversity as a rationale for affirmative action also distorts the aims of affirmative action. The original, morally incontestable goal of the policy was the integration of African-Americans in all important areas of the public and private sectors from which they had been historically excluded. But if diversity is the goal, the purpose of affirmative action shifts from improving the condition of blacks to transforming America into a multicultural society. Thus the pursuit of inclusion is replaced by the celebration of separate identities....

The gravest danger, however, and what perhaps alarms the majority most, is the tendency to view affirmative action as a permanent program for preferred minorities and, simultaneously, the refusal even to consider it a topic for public discourse. Indeed, among the black middle class, especially on the nation's campuses, blind support for affirmative action has become an essential signal of ethnic solidarity and commitment.

Then there's Dahlia Lithwick's logical demolition of O'Connor's majority opinion. It's no use excerpting it -- just read the whole thing.

HUMOROUS LINKS FOR THE DAY: The Boondocks confirms what I've long suspected.

This site had me giggling for a good long while (link via Time).

Finally, Gawker posts about Tucker Carlson admitting he put his foot in his mouth and now he's going to have to do the same thing with his shoe. Points to Carlson for being a good sport about it.
BLIX'S REVENGE: Hans Blix is currently on a gloating tour before he retires as head of UNMOVIC -- and he's certainly got a right to, at this point. His latest stop was the Council on Foreign Relations:

Blix, whose deliberate investigation of Iraq's suspected cache of unconventional weapons frustrated some U.S. officials, threw a jab at the Bush administration, which before the war issued several statements asserting that Iraq possessed such weapons.

"It is somewhat puzzling that you could have 100 percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction's existence and zero certainty about where they are," Blix said. "We felt that the intelligence did not turn out to be very impressive," he said. "Shaky was the word I used."

At another point, Blix, referring to the U.N. inspections that started in November and ended in March, said that "three-and-a-half months for new inspections was a rather short time before calling it a day."

"And especially when we now see that the United States government is saying that you have to have a bit of patience" as American forces search for Iraqi weapons, he added. "These things take time."

Before the critics start whopping it up too much, however, consider this:

Blix added that not only the United States and Britain believed before the war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but so did many other countries, including Sweden and Germany.

As to why Saddam failed to prove he had destroyed all such weapons--if in fact that was the case--and thereby perhaps avoid an invasion, Blix said that was really "a big question."

DUTY, JOY, AND BLOGGING: Eugene Volokh on bloggers and biases:

It's certainly good when people are fair-minded and clear-headed enough to criticize people on their side, and we do especially respect people who act this way. I certainly try to criticize conservatives and libertarians when I think such criticism is warranted.

But I think it's a mistake to demand that bloggers be evenhanded in their criticism. Blogging is something that people do for fun. It has to compete with other things -- family, work, reading, sleep.

And usually it's more fun to criticize your adversaries than to criticize your friends. I wish this weren't so, but I think that (at least for most people) it is. Sometimes one might do it out of a sense of duty, a feeling that people in each movement should police their own: That was one reason I complained (fruitlessly) about the Cynthia McKinney misquotes coming from conservative commentators. But the more one blogs out of duty, the more likely it is that one will just lose the desire to blog.

So, yes, people's own political bias is one of the things determining whom they choose to spend their scarce time criticizing.

Eugene is factually correct about the inclination of bloggers -- hence my general silence about the Bush tax cut. However, for scholar-bloggers, I don't think it's that easy to dismiss the notion of obligation altogether.

In my day job as one who publishes and teaches international relations, I feel a duty to acknowledge opposing arguments or contradictory facts. If I don't, then my papers won't get published in good journals and my teaching approaches hackery.

This doesn't affect the choice of what scholar-bloggers write about (Eugene's point), but it should affect the content of their posts. No one can rebut every opposing argument, but the good ones demand acknowledgment and a good intellectual wrestle.

Does this make blogging less fun? Not for me. I like an old-fashioned rant as much as the next blogger, but I like it even better when I acknowledge the points made on the other side of the debate but still win the larger argument.

Finally, there's something of an obligation here. For all of the talk about the Blogosphere as an egalitarian community, hierarchies still exist. It's easier to attract readers when your day job carries some signal of expertise, and being a professor at the University of Chicago is that kind of day job (Many academics forget this, because they tend to socialize only with other academics. When everyone you know has a Ph.D. or is working towards one, it tends to lose its luster. Outside such social clusters, it's a different story altogether). People can point to graduate students or recent undergraduates as exceptions, but their educational affiliations pack a powerful credential.

Because I know that part of what attracts my readers is my profession -- not to mention my acute awareness that several members of that profession will be reading these words -- does create a sense of obligation.

In choosing my topics, I'm never going to be an equal-opportunity blogger. Once I've chosen the topic, however, duty calls [Even on posts like this one?--ed. Well, most topics.]

AAARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!: Permalinks not working. New Blogger interface disappointing.

Rage at Blogger.... growing.

Desire to discard possessive pronouns and good grammar increasing.
"FIBBER, DUMB-ASS, OR PANDERER?": That's Andrew Sullivan's question about Richard Gephardt. According to multiple news sources -- all courtesy of Eugene Volokh -- Gephardt said the following at a candidate forum sponsored by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition in Michigan yesterday:

When I'm president, we'll do executive orders to overcome any wrong thing the Supreme Court does tomorrow or any other day.

Dennis Kucinich made a similar statement.

Here's Volokh's assessment

Do we really want a President who thinks that the President has the power to overcome "any wrong thing the Supreme Court does" using an Executive order? I know lots of people think various actions of the Bush Administration are unconstitutional; I too disagree with some of the Administration's positions, for instance on the alleged power to detain all unlawful combatants (including U.S. citizens captured on U.S. soil) with no judicial review. I hope the Supreme Court agrees, and decides against the Administration. But I'm pretty confident that if the Supreme Court does so decide, this Administration will comply with the Supreme Court's order.

Gephardt and Kucinich are promising that they'll flout those orders. Seems to me that they should be taken to task for this, and severely.

Indeed. However, I'm even more alarmed by Gephardt's casual assumption that he knows more about constitutional law than the Supreme Court. Shudder.

By the way, I'd have to go with"panderer."

Monday, June 23, 2003
HOW FRANCE HELPS THE WORLD'S POOR: I blogged earlier this month about French efforts to derail the "development round" of WTO talks. The Economist has the latest on this story:

Unfortunately, it is not just European consumers whose pockets are hit by the EU's spending of over euro40 billion a year to subsidise agriculture. Farmers in the poor world are doubly hurt. They must compete against subsidised European stuff. And even then their access to European markets is severely impeded. Tackling the western world's farm protectionism (meaning, above all, the EU's) has become a critical issue for the World Trade Organisation's latest attempt to foster liberalisation, known as the Doha round. A top American says bluntly that if the EU cannot agree to a package of agricultural reforms before a crucial WTO meeting in September, Doha will be “in deep, deep trouble”....

This week the EU's farm ministers were locked in traditional all-night negotiations, picking apart the proposals of Franz Fischler, the Union's commissioner for agriculture. France, whose receipts of some euro9 billion a year in farm subsidies make it the largest single recipient of CAP funds, has once again been leading the opposition....

The beauty of France and the glories of its food and wine are indeed splendid, and help make the country the world's most popular tourist destination. But the idea that the CAP is all about helping rustic smallholders to keep making rare cheeses has very little to do with reality. In fact, 80% of the EU's farm subsidies go to the 20% of the Union's farmers with the biggest farms. Because EU subsidies are linked to production, they encourage ugly, intensive, industrial farming. The people the CAP helps most are big businessmen with vast fields of sugar beet in northern France or miles of bright-yellow oil-seed rape in southern England....

The fact that France opposes these reforms gives the lie to its government's argument that its support for the CAP is all about a principled desire to defend the unique lifestyle of la France profonde. The fact is that France is extremely proficient at intensive farming and it is intensive farmers who stand to lose most from Mr Fischler's reforms. This concern, added to the French government's fear of enraging its notoriously irascible farmers, is the real motivation behind France's refusal to contemplate real reform of the CAP.

[Isn't it hypocritical to blast France when the U.S. has its agricultural subsidies?--ed. Look at this chart and you'll see that U.S. subsidies are considerably smaller than the those in the EU, Japan, South Korea, or Scandanavia]

More on this from the Financial Times and the EU Observer -- which observes that The French stance "is isolated among European partners."

DEAN'S DEBUT: Howard Dean officially announced his candidacy for President today. Here's a link to his announcement speech.

We'll see if Dean can recover from his Meet the Press fiasco yesterday. Here's The Note's assessment:

Yesterday, Howard Dean failed miserably in the eyes of all but 10 members of the Gang of 500 by performing - by Gang standards - absolutely unfabulous in a key Beltway ritual....

To say Tim Russert was significantly more prepared for the interview than Howard Dean would be to insult Tim....

Besides being evasive, Dean left himself vulnerable from the left, right, or both on the military, gay marriage, Social Security, and more.

He looked thin-skinned, unprepared, stuttering. His odd position on whether he had apologized to Bob Graham defied understanding.

If you think either ABC or myself is exaggerating, read the transcript. My favorite part:

Russert: Well, you apologized to Bob Graham.
Dean: No, I didn’t.
Russert: You called the AP and recanted the statement.
Dean: I called the AP and said, “I’m sorry I said that.”
Russert: Well, that’s an apology.
Dean: No, it’s not.
Russert: “I’m sorry I said it” is not an apology?
Dean: I didn’t actually say I’m sorry. I said, “I shouldn’t have said it because it’s not my business to handicap the races.”

To be fair, I think the press is exaggerating Dean's inability to recall the exact number of U.S. troops in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Still, not an auspicious debut.

UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh highlights another recent Dean gaffe.

MORE ON IRANIAN BLOGGERS: This San Francisco Chronicle story (link via Sullivan) discusses how new media are bolstering Iranian protestors.

This Christian Science Monitor story (link via Tom looks at Iranian bloggers, including Lady Sun, described by the Monitor as the "emotional voice of Iran's Generation X." She's not very happy with CNN's headline editors.
IRAN AND WMD: Elaine Sciolino makes a provocative point in yesterday's New York Times -- that regime change in Iran would not necessarily spell the end of its nuclear ambitions:

Before he was overthrown by an Islamic revolution in 1979, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran said that his country would have nuclear weapons "without a doubt and sooner than one would think."

In the late 1970's, in fact, Iran and Israel discussed a plan to adapt for Iranian use surface-to-surface missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, according to documents discovered in Tehran after the revolution. The documents described conversations between Israeli and Iranian officials about the plan, which was kept secret from the United States.

So if the monarchy had lasted longer, Iran might have become a nuclear power years ago. As George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, testified to Congress early this year, "No Iranian government, regardless of its ideological leanings, is likely to abandon" programs to develop weapons of mass destruction "that are seen as guaranteeing Iran's security."....

Iran has been blessed and cursed with a strong national identity, bountiful natural resources, an ancient intellectual and cultural tradition, and a strategic location. It shares borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, and has a 1,570-mile coastline on the Persian Gulf. It has long seen itself as a regional superpower. So an American campaign to persuade or coerce Iran to abandon nuclear weapons that does not consider its security concerns risks appearing unrealistic and futile.

Is Sciolino correct?

On the one hand, number of democratic governments that overthrew unrepresentative regimes -- South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, even Ukraine and Belarus in the early 1990s -- did voluntarily abandon their nuclear weapons programs.

However, none of those countries were in the Middle East.

THE WMD QUESTION: Greg Whyte and David Adesnik have some thoughts on the state of the debate. Worth a read.

I've stayed silent on this issue, because my support for going to war was not related to the immediacy of the WMD problem. Even if Iraq was WMD-free by 2003, no sane person engaged in the debate on Iraq doubted that Saddam Hussein was going to make every effort to acquire such weapons if and when he could. Just because a house is cleaned once doesn't mean that dust will never reappear.

I supported the war for other reasons:

1) What we did in 1991 needed to be fixed. President Bush urged Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam. 17 of 18 provinces in Iraq did so. We did nothing -- actually, worse than nothing, since we tolerated infractions of the no-fly zones -- while Saddam viciously put down those uprisings among the Kurds, Shi'a, and Marsh Arabs.

Chomsky types tend to blame the U.S. for every wrong committed everywhere. This, however, was a case of the U.S. government encouraging people to risk their lives and then sitting on its hands because the uprising was perceived to be messier than an anticipated military coup. The cause-and-effect link here was pretty tight, and the effect was devastating to the Iraqi people. This was a debt that needed to be repaid.

2) All of the other policy options stunk. It's important to remember that the containment option was deteriorating day by day even before 9/11. France, Russia, and China were openly agitating for an end to the sanctions regime. The U.S. was deemed responsible for the mass immiseration of the Iraqi people. The presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were leading to discomfiting policy externalities.

War was not a great option. But it was better than the other alternatives.
Sunday, June 22, 2003
WHILE I WAS AWAY....: Not blogging for a couple of days generated two wildly contradictory impulses. The first was the rather pleasant sense of leisure. Not having to have an opinion on anything or everything was a nice respite. As Michael Kinsley recently observed, competition in the the opinion industry has accelerated its pace:

There may be a few ancient pundits such as George Will who still follow the traditional guild practices: days in the library making notes on 3-by-5 cards, half a dozen lunches at the club with key sources, an hour spent alone in silence with a martini and one's thoughtsĂą€”and only then does a perfectly modulated opinion take its lovely shape. Most of us have no time for that anymore. It's a quick surf around the Net, a flip of the coin, and out pops an opinion, ready-to-go except perhaps for a bit of extra last-minute coarsening.

Mark Jordan, in a lovely piece of writing, conveys the problem an academic sometimes faces in trying to join the opinion mafia:

There is a choice to be made between scholarship and media success. Scratch the overtaxed word "scholarship." The choice is between the kinds of thinking or writing possible in a university and the kinds permitted by the media. My ways are still not their ways. I have -- or am supposed to have -- that rarest privilege, leisure. Leisure lets me construct meanings in time, over time. What I think I know... takes time to lay out -- not because it is a long series of facts, but because it can only be seen after a long series of missteps and reversals, through grudging discoveries and skeptical assents. My conclusions can't have their meaning without the "hard," the frustrating approach to them. That approach can't be fit into news. No leisure is permitted in our news -- precisely because they are "leisure" media.

At the same time, I missed blogging -- it's just so much fun. Worse, I felt a pang of responsibility from not blogging. I got a fair amount of e-mail asking for posts, and as a good Jew I respond to guilt exceptionally well.

I'm optimistic enough to think that it is possible to engage in both quality scholarship and pithy opinion-making. So the blogging will continue, regardless of how much Blogger tries to thwart me.

UPDATE: Alas, Brink Lindsey appears close to blogging retirement for a reason I didn't mention above but certainly empathize with:

Let me make this clear: blogging has been a real kick. Writing about whatever I want, whenever I want, at whatever length I want, sending it out into the world immediately, and getting great feedback almost immediately after that. What's not to like?

The problem is that I don't have the time to do the blog as I'd like to do it -- while doing everything else I need and want to do with my time. I have all these ideas for things to post about, but I only get around to a tiny fraction of them. Which I find frustrating. Consequently, I've gone cold on the whole enterprise.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003
I GUESS THIS EXPLAINS BLOGGER, TOO: Google explains their phenomenal success.

Heh. (link via Josh Chafetz)
THE BLOGOSPHERE TAKES ON THE MULLAHS: Here is Andrew Sullivan's suggestion from earlier this week:

Here's my proposal. On July 9, as many blogs as possible focus on the struggle for freedom in Iran. It's the anniversary of the pro-democracy protests that have been going on for years. I'll devote the week after July 4 to this issue, culminating in July 9.... Many people have theorized about the power of the web to bring about change and the young generation in Iran must know this as well as any group of people. So let's try and use it - if only to send a symbol of solidarity with those resisting the theo-fascists who have wrecked Iran for three generations.

Glenn Reynolds thinks this is "a great idea" and provides lots of relevant links.

I plan to be on board as well. [Why don't you launch a campaign to mock Bill O'Reilly's half-assed comments about the Internet instead?--ed. Too late. Besides, I'm sure O'Reilly was using his whole ass when he penned that prose. Nice reference to The Simpsons!--ed.] However, I have a few conditions:

1) Everyone recognize the limitations of this enterprise: A great deal has been written and posted about how Iranians hunger for a more liberal democracy, and how the blogosphere is playing a vital role in communicating that hunger.

However, this conveniently ignores the fact that the Iranian government is an altogether different beast than either Trent Lott or the New York Times. They play for keeps, and have been unafraid in the past to use paramilitary violence to put down student dissent. Here are the latest reports on Iran from Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. They don't make for pleasant reading. A lot of web postings will be unlikely to diminish the mullahs' ardor for repression.

I've argued that the blogosphere's power has been inflated as of late, and I fear this will prove my point. I really hope I'm wrong, though.

2) Don't lobby for Western governments to take direct action against Iran. Official action by western governments could backfire, as Robert Lane Greene observes:

Iranians don't want... heavy-handed meddling by a foreign power. More than even most other countries in the Middle East, Iranians are intensely nationalistic; they have a distinct political identity dating back thousands of years, and a keen sense of having been manipulated by outside powers in recent centuries....

It's clear that Iranians do yearn for an accountable government and real democracy. But America has to be subtle and sensible about how it goes about helping them achieve that. It is, for example, useful for President Bush to speak up for the Iranian protesters, and it would be far better still if other foreign leaders joined him. But funneling American money into the country could backfire; it would allow the regime to say, with some legitimacy, that the protesters were American agents.

Obviously, the nuclear question is a matter for official action, and rhetorical support for the protestors is appropriate. Further sanctions, however, are unlikely to accomplish anything.

[Why, then, did you agitate for economic pressure on Burma? Isn't this the same thing?--ed. No, it's not. In the case of Burma, the demand is extremely specific -- a release of one activist and a return to the status quo of a few months ago. In Iran, the demand is simultaneously more amorphous and more ambiguous.]

3) Remember that the goal is to act as a megaphone for the Iranians themselves. While official action might be counterproductive, direct pressure from global civil society -- which is what Sullivan wants the blogosphere to be on July 9th -- can, at the very least, offer a show of support to Iranians that their voice is being heard. To that end, please click over to Jeff Jarvis' wonderful collection of Iranian bloggers.

4) Quincy Jones is not the producer. For those of you too young to understand that reference, click here.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003
SORRY FOR THE LACK OF POSTS: Trust me, it's not due to a lack of trying. Blogger has upgraded their software, but the upgrade seems to like eating my posts. I'll be back tomorrow to comment on Andrew Sullivan's call to action.
Monday, June 16, 2003
SAME STORY, DIFFERENT WORLDS: As worldwide pressure grows on the Burmese junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, media reaction has differed on Colin Powell's rhetorically tough approach. Here's the International Herald-Tribune:

The Southeast Asian neighbors of Burma broke with precedent Monday to chastise it publicly for its crackdown on dissent and detention of the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Their criticism, at a regional forum in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, significantly increased pressure on the ruling generals, adding to growing condemnation around the world....

The association has in the past held back from criticizing Burma, because of a long-standing policy of what they call interference in each other's affairs. But analysts said their continuing silence now as the world rallies against Burma had become embarrassing and risked making them appear ineffectual. "We in ASEAN are now sharing in accountability to the world about the slow progress of the transition to democracy in Myanmar," said the Philippine foreign secretary, Blas Ople.

In this version of events, the West has shamed the East into action.

Now, consider this Bangkok Post version of events:

Burma has long been a major cause of tension between the United States and Asia. Now US Secretary of State Colin Powell has virtually declared war on Asia, with his statement published in the Asian Wall Street Journal last week demanding that the countries of Asia join the US in putting pressure on Burma's junta to free Suu Kyi and introduce democratic reform.

"The thugs who now rule Burma must understand that their failure to restore democracy will only bring more and more pressure against them and their supporters,'' Mr Powell concluded in his statement.

But this hard-line message is unlikely to have much impact -- either on Rangoon or on the generals who head the regime. In fact, it is almost certain to be counter-productive. ``The US secretary of state's blast to Asia has clearly upset many of the leaders in the region, who already had misgivings about Washington's bullying approach to the region in the past,'' said a senior western diplomat in Southeast Asia who did not wish to be identified....

Southeast Asian leaders have discussed Burma in the past. A couple of years ago, Goh Chok Tong, the Singaporean prime minister, while hosting the annual Asean summit, initiated a private huddle of leaders which is believed to have been instrumental in convincing Burma's top general, Than Shwe, to start a dialogue with Suu Kyi and accept the UN envoy Razali Ismail as the facilitator....

There have been growing signs from many Asean governments over the past two weeks that the policy of non-interference would not prevent Burma from being discussed. Both Cambodia and Thailand's foreign ministers have alluded to the fact that the situation in Burma is an international issue and that the non-intervention policy was evolving and some internal issues needed to be addressed even in the face of strong objections from some member countries.

"The result of these discussions will not be made public,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Phnom Penh for the meetings said. "There is no way Asean can publicly criticise one of its members, but that doesn't mean there would not be substantial pressure brought to bear on Rangoon privately.''

The United States, largely supported by Europe, has been continually at odds with Asia, particularly the countries of Southeast Asia, over how best to encourage Burma's ruling generals to introduce economic and political change.

"The Asean and Asian approach to Burma emphasises constructive engagement -- not destructive isolation,'' a senior Asian diplomat in Bangkok said.

A Rangoon-based Asian diplomat added: "There is no way that Asia, including Japan and China, could support an international economic boycott of Burma. And no amount of US pressure will change that.''

Who's right? One is tempted to dismiss the Post version of events, since it includes a passsage in which Mahathir Mohammed, Malaysia's president, is chagrined at the thought of the Burmese junta taking over the ASEAN presidency in 2006. Mahathir's own actions suggest he is hardly the most democratic of leaders. Furthermore, the "quiet diplomacy" argument has the advantage of nonfalsifiability.

And yet, there is a difference between someone like Mahathir, who has some respect for the rule of law, and the thugs of Burma. And the Post is correct in observing that rhetorical pressure is unlikely to have any effect, and that economic sanctions will not work unless China actively participates, which is highly unlikely.

In the end, however, the most significant fact in this story is not the immediate effect on Burma, but the effect on ASEAN. The organization recognizes that its non-intervention policy needs to evolve, in part due to Western pressure. Its members are either actual democracies -- Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines -- or are rhetorically committed to democracy -- Signapore, Malaysia, Cambodia. Furthermore, local crises, such as the 1997-98 financial panic or the SARS outbreak, generally force greater regional openness.

I don't hold out much hope for a democratic Burma anytime soon. An ASEAN that recognizes the value of democracy, however, is an intriguing possibility.


WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENING IN POLITICAL SCIENCE?: I pretty much abhor popular writing about political science. It's usually off the mark, and some of it (Emily Eakin, I'm looking in your direction) is responsible for popularizing what I can only describe as complete mush.

So I write with pleasant surprise that Sharla Stewart has written a pretty accurate piece on the current state of the political science discipline for the University of Chicago alumni magazine. Go take a look if you're so inclined.

[And where do you stand on these various fault lines?--ed. I straddle a fair number of them. My research involves all of the methodologies discussed in the article. I am by no means an area studies type, however.]
Friday, June 13, 2003
ACADEMIC MASOCHISM: Eric Muller (link via Orin Kerr) posts his worst student evaluation ever, as well as his retort.

Warning to academic bloggers: although I have no problem with Muller's post, my spider sense tells me that this is crossing a veeerrrryyyy dangerous line. I'm actually surprised more students haven't created blogs to rate their teachers. That's not a phenomenon I anticipate with glee.

[Is this because you fear being exposed as a bad teacher?--ed. No -- an alert reader pointed me to one online ranking of my teaching -- tough but clear -- which I'd describe as reasonably fair. The source of this unease is probably the same thing that causes me never to blog about my students, no matter how brilliant or inane they turn out to be. The student-teacher relationship is not like a doctor-patient one, but there are aspects that I would prefer not to see publicized. I may just be priggish on this point, however.]
IT'S A STRANGE DAY IN THE BLOGOSPHERE: On the one hand, we have conservative free market advocate Andrew Sullivan acting like a PBS affiliate during the middle of pledge drive week (suggested sociology thesis topic -- are NPR pledge drives strongly correlated with increased incidents of road rage?).

On the other hand, we have liberal interventionist Josh Marshall making "arrangements to start accepting advertisements on a limited basis." The paragraph that follows that quote is Marshall describing his desirable market demographic.

Actually, I wouldn't read too much into this -- Sullivan already has ads, and Marshall has collected contributions from readers. It's still pretty funny.

[Jealous that you can't attract either pledges or ad space?--ed. Again with the jealousy meme! No, I have no beef with either pledge drives or advertisements. In fact, I'm still weighing whether it would be appropriate to launch a fundraising drive to move off Blogspot and onto an independent web site. Feedback appreciated on this point. As for advertising, to quote Spinal Tap, my audience might not be larger than Marshall, but it is more... selective].
INTENTIONS AND OUTCOMES IN IRAQ: Matthew Yglesias and David Adesnik have a good debate on the role that good intentions played and is playing in U.S. foreign policy. Yglesias first:

There are some genuine neoconservative idealists in the administration — Wolfowitz, most famously — but I think the main purpose they serve in the administration is to rhetorically co-opt hawkish wilsonian liberals (TNR, Nick Cohen, Tom Friedman, etc. you know the type) into supporting Bush's half-assed warmaking against their better judgment. The administration's actions in postwar Afghanistan and Iraq have, however, made it clear that humanitarianism — like everything else — is a banner to be picked up and then discarded according to the immediate needs of political opportunism.

Adesnik responds with New York Times and Washington Post stories demonstrating that things are improving in Iraq. For an even better example, click on this Chicago Tribune story on the U.S. position on the Marsh Arabs, a group that was the target of what can only be described as a Baathist effort at genocide.

Adesnik concludes:

While Matt is right that no one -- especially not liberal hawks -- can afford to be complacent about the Administration's foreign policy, it is no less imperative for doves to overcome their their resentment of the President and recognize that, for all his flaws, he has done certain things very right.

Mediator that I am, I think both Yglesias and Adesnik are correct. I agree with Matt that Bush principals control the neocons and not vice versa. This was why I thought all the conspiracy theory hysteria of the past few months was so absurd.

However, just because the key Bushies are not closet Wilsonians does not mean they do not recognize that frequently countries do well by doing good. Everyone acknowledges that the Iraqis are better off now than they were under Saddam, but that is but one example of this. The administration decision to increase foreign aid by 50% and create a new AIDS initiative fall under this category as well.

I suspect there is a deeper debate underlying this question -- should individuals be rewarded for good intentions or good outcomes? If a leader acts in an altruistic fashion for self-interested reasons, how does one evaluate such behavior? I strongly suspect that one's answer to this question depends on one's political affiliation.

PENTAGON UPDATE: Phil Carter provides a "not entirely responsive" response to my query on what's going on at the Pentagon. Go check it out.
Thursday, June 12, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN AFRICA?: Sudhir Muralidhar has a link-filled post updating the various areas of instability in Africa.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003
WHAT'S GOING ON IN ALL OF IRAQ?: OxBlog's David Adesnik links to a Washington Post story demonstrating the relatively high degree of cooperation between the U.S. military, Shiite clerics, and a reconstituted civilian authority in Karbala. Adesnik's conclusions:

The first is that American soldiers are more dependable than American diplomats when its comes to putting American values into practice. The second is that we should expect far more violent resistance to the occupation from Sunni Ba'athists than from Shi'ite opponents of Saddam....

This story belongs to a genre that is becoming increasingly familar: pragmatic US officer wins over suspicious locals. It's already happened in Mosul and Kirkuk.

These reports, combined with Mark Steyn's lovely travelogue, leads one to wonder if the coverage of Iraq now suffers from capital captivity. Coverage of Baghdad -- where things are clearly problematic -- is generalized to the rest of the country. Such a generalization may apply to Sunni strongholds like Fallujah and Tikrit, but not the vast majority of the country.

WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE PENTAGON?: One of the hallmarks (or frustrations, depending on your ideology) of the Bush team has been their message discipline, no matter what the clamor from the outside world. Weakness was never to be admitted or demonstrated.

It's something of a surprise, then, to see the recent torrent of statements coming from high-ranking civilians in Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department. First, Paul Wolowitz gets into trouble in a Vanity Fair interview [Are you talking about the bogus claim in the piece that had Wolfowitz asserting that the Bush administration didn't really believe its own WMD story?--ed. No, I'm talking about something else in the interview. According to Josh Marshall,

[F]or all the buzz surrounding the WMD quotes, the real stunner comes in the very next paragraph. It's there where Tanenhaus says Wolfowitz is "confident" that Saddam was "connected" to the original World Trade Center attack in 1993 and that he has "entertained the theory" that Saddam was involved in the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995

There's some dispute over whether Wolfowitz intended this part to be on the record. However, Brad DeLong is correct in pointing out that for us non-journalists, the important part of this is the substance of Wolfowitz's comments.]

Then there is Douglas Feith's attempt to refute allegations that the DoD tried to spin the WMD story. The New Republic's &c points out that Feith's attempt backfired, leading to accusations of "doublespeak" and labeling Feith and others "browbeaters."

Today, it's a Deputy Assistant Secretary, according to USA Today:

A Pentagon official conceded Tuesday that planners failed to foresee the chaos in postwar Iraq, as another U.S. soldier was killed and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signaled that guerrilla-type attacks could continue there for months.

Joseph Collins, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for stability operations, said that despite careful planning, the Pentagon was surprised by the extent of looting and lawlessness. Postwar conditions have ''been tougher and more complex'' than planners predicted, he said.

Assignment to Phil Carter: is this just a series of unanticipated screw-ups, or is this an example of Rumsfeld losing the ability to rein in his subordinates?


"YOU CANNOT SAY ANYTHING TOO BAD ABOUT THE YANKS AND NOT BE BELIEVED.": That's the depressing assessment of this Guardian (yes, the Guardian!) essay on the hoax that was the Baghdad Museum looting story (link via Virginia Postrel).
LET ME PREEMPT YOUR QUERIES WITH SOME USEFUL LINKS: The key government documents cited in my TNR Online essay are the September 2002 National Security Strategy and the December 2002 National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction.

[UPDATE: While I was technically correct in the TNR piece when I said that the word "pre-emption" never appeared in the National Strategy to Combat WMD, I was wrong in substance. On p. 3, the document states:

Because deterrence may not succeed, and because of the potentially devastating consequences of WMD use against our forces and civilian population, U.S. military forces and appropriate civilian agencies must have the capability to defend against WMD-armed adversaries, including in appropriate cases through preemptive measures. This requires capabilities to detect and destroy an adversary's WMD assets before these weapons are used.

Apologies for the error, and thanks to reader M.R. for e-mailing me the correction.]

Some newspapers and columnists have gotten into trouble by misquoting Bush officials, so let’s get those links out of the way. Go to this post from last week on Wolfowitz to get the gist of his comments comparing North Korea and Iraq. As for Rumsfeld, here's a link to his quote from November 2001, and here's a post of mine from late April that provides the second quote in the article. That post also discusses the Army's decision to shut down the Peacekeeping Institute.

The Pew Research Center's "Views of a Changing World 2003" is available here. The quote in the article is from page 3 of the overview.

The Niall Ferguson quote comes from his Wall Street Journal op-ed from last week. Dr. Shireen M. Mazari is the Director General of Pakistan's Institute of Strategic Studies ; her comments came from this essay.

Click here for a March 2003 Washington Monthly essay by Nicholas Confessore that discusses how U.S. military personnel are being stretched to their limit. Ironically, Confessore lowballs his estimate of how many U.S. tropps would be needed in Iraq. And, to be fair, Rumsfeld seems to be following some of Confessore's recommendations. Phillip Carter points out that even now, there are too few troops on the ground in Iraq.

For those of you curious to know what was in NSC-68, click here. For the import of this document for U.S. Grand Strategy, go read chapter four of Strategies of Containment by John Lewis Gaddis.

THE LIMITS OF PREEMPTION: My new TNR Online piece is now up. It's a discussion of why the doctrine of preemption is not going to be exercised again. Go check it out.
END OF AN ERA: George Soros is a third-rate philosopher but a first-rate philanthropist [How does he rate as an international financier?--ed Well, he used to be first-rate, but Daniel Gross now believes his influence is on the wane]. Soros has been a fixture on the Slate 60 ranking of philanthropy.David Plotz notes, "George Soros has poured much of his fortune into civil-society projects. His Open Society Institute is a Bell Labs of civil innovation, seeding schools, NGOs, and organs of a free press all over the world." He correctly identifies Soros' philanthropy as a guide for building civil society in Iraq.

So it's somewhat sad to link to this Washington Post story :

Now more than 15 years and $1 billion later, George Soros has concluded that his mission is over. With the government in Moscow stabilized and a new generation of homegrown philanthropists emerging, the international financier has decided to leave Russia to the Russians and effectively withdraw from a country that has absorbed much of his time and energy.

"I'm basically closing it down in its present form," Soros said of his foundation in an interview this weekend. "I've spent a very large amount of money here and a lot of it was really money where I was substituting for the state. I don't think that's appropriate anymore. Russia as a state is reestablished and doesn't need my subsidy."

He will remain involved in small projects. But Soros's exit as a major benefactor is a milestone in Russia's development since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991. No other private initiative from the West has had such influence in shaping the new Russia as his Open Society Institute. "The Soros foundation was instrumental in the development of nonprofit organizations in Russia," said Olga Alexeeva, director of the Moscow office of the Charities Aid Foundation, a British organization. "I can't compare anyone else with Soros and that will leave a significant gap."....

The Open Society Institute in Russia will become 15 organizations that will continue their work but will have to find other funding. After spending $1 billion in Russia over the last 15 years, Soros said he will scale back to just $10 million a year.

As someone who used to work for an organization that Soros helped midwife, it's worth noting that the genius of Soros' civil society work was his firm message to the organizations he funded that his largesse would be temporary. This knowledge provided the necessary incentives for these groups to keep their bureaucracy to a minimum and actually dispatch people beyond national capitals into areas that needed civil society the most. His decision to largely pull out of Russia is fully consistent with that philosophy.

To reiterate -- I think Soros' philosophy is hackwork and his politics border on the histrionic. In his philanthropy, however, Soros epitomizes the rare combination of geneosity and hard-headedness that is needed to build civil societies from the ground up.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
A GENERATIONAL BREAK?: This Josh Chafetz post suggests that by 2008, there will be a clear dividing line among conservatives between those who still care about the Clinton Wars and those who have moved past it:

Conservatives are at their absolute worst when the name "Clinton" comes up. There's a visceral hatred there, every bit as deep as the far left's hatred for President Bush, but the conservative hatred for the Clintons seems broader....

But the thing is, who cares? Maybe she [Hillary] lied; maybe she didn't. Honestly, I don't think most of us will ever know. But why are conservatives so obsessed with speculating about it? Sure, if she knew about President Clinton's infidelities earlier than she claims, then she lied in some public interviews. But lots of politicians have lied in lots of interviews about lots of things much, much worse than whether or not their spouse was sleeping around. Conservatives really, really should move on. Because right now, it just looks like a lot of them are pursuing a vendetta -- they have the tone of the outraged self-righteous moralist who can't believe that the public still hasn't figured out how superior they are to the scum which, inexplicably, keeps rising to the top. Get over it. Bill Clinton was a popular president, and, by most accounts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a popular senator. If the GOP really feels the need to attack Senator Clinton, it should spend less time drawing horns on pictures of her and more time arguing against her policy proposals (which, as far as I can tell, have generally been moderate since she took office). Enough is enough: personal animosity is not a political platform. At least not one that I am willing to support.

I'm with Josh on this... and I've never even met Chelsea (go read Josh's post to understand that line).

Monday, June 09, 2003
WHAT'S WRONG WITH HILLARY CLINTON AND THE PRESS: Brad Delong has yet to recover from his policy run-in with Hillary Clinton in the early 1990's:

My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.

Keep reading his post for precise details of Clinton acting like a martinet.

Now, upon first reading this, I strangely found myself to the left of DeLong. The health care debacle happened a decade ago, when Clinton was new to the ways of Washington. A lot has happened since then. I don't have any great love for Hillary Clinton, but I do believe that people can learn from their mistakes.

Then we go to Andrew Sullivan's reaction to Clinton's interview with Barbara Walters:

What struck me most was her absolute belief the she and her husband did nothing - nothing - of any substance to deserve the kind of scrutiny they got in eight years in office. Their only fault was naivete. I guess I'm not surprised by therigidity of her denial and composure. But something in me hoped for a little more - maybe a real reflection on her choices, her decisions, her unelected power, her stonewalling of the press, her enabling of her husband's adulterous relationship with the truth, and so on. But nope.

So I wind up agreeing with DeLong (and Sullivan) after all.

What got DeLong exercised in the first place was this week's Economist "Lexington" essay on Hillary's prospects for the presidency in 2008. The essay really sets DeLong off:

[T]here is nothing in the column to give the reader any information about whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president, or about whether "Lexington" thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president. Is there anything else that readers--most of whom are Americans, most of whom vote--more need to learn than whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a good president? No, there isn't. So why does "Lexington" spend so much time on insider political baseball and trying to settel (sic) scores? Why doesn't he do something useful with his space--like tell us whether he thinks Hillary Rodham Clinton would make a better president than George W. Bush (almost surely) or would make a good president (almost surely not)?

We really do need a better press corps. We need one very badly. (emphasis in original).

What's interesting about this rant is DeLong's implicit belief that good opinion writing should care only about normative outcomes and not tactical political analysis. This is utter nonsense -- the best opinion writing contains elements of both.

Which leads me to the smartest thing I've read on this point in a good long while -- from Virginia Postrel on what ails the New York Times:

[T]here is a huge, gaping hole in the Times opinion lineup--and, for that matter, on the news pages. The Times lacks a genuinely sophisticated, Washington-based political writer, someone who understands both the mechanics of practical politics and the nuances of the many components of both the liberal/Democratic and conservative/Republican coalitions. The Times alternates between casting politics as an utterly cynical contest between phony image consultants and as a battle between the monolithic Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness. Neither view is accurate, and both portraits make the nation's leading newspaper look like its political reporters just rolled off the cabbage truck. The Washington Post is, not surprisingly, far more sophisticated. But so, though not at the Post's level, are the WSJ, the LAT, and the politics-loving Boston Globe. So is USA Today.


Saturday, June 07, 2003
WHY HUGH HEWITT IS WRONG: Hewitt's Weekly Standard piece on the Blogosphere begins as follows:

Joshua Micah Marshall is frustrated. He's the young-Blumenthal-in-training of partisan punditry, but in recent days his favorite story line can't get any traction. "It's amazing what it takes to start a feeding frenzy these days," he lamented at TalkingPointsMemo, his web log, last week.

Marshall has been flogging his Tom Delay-is-Magneto story for what seems to be a year, and it has been largely ignored not just by elite newspapers, but also by the blogosphere. An opinion storm requires certain ingredients to conjure it, and in the world of the blogosphere in 2003, you need one of the Big Four to buy in.

The Big Four are Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, and The Volokh Conspiracy. These four sites are usually visited by news junkies many times a day because they are staffed by bright people and continually updated, and thus they can guide the chattering class to a breaking story or even a hitherto ignored story. Trent Lott is no longer majority leader in part because these superpowers of the blog filed and fueled the story of his remarks at Strom's birthday bash.

There are a few problems with this story.

First, it conveniently overlooks the fact that Josh Marshall was the first blogger to jump on the Trent Lott story. He also was instrumental in generating the drip, drip, drip of small stories that fueled the media and online frenzy. I agree with Hewitt that had the Big Four not gotten involved, the story may have died. To deny Marshall his due on Lott distorts the facts, however.

Second, it overlooks the fact that at times the Big Four have raised a stink about an issue, but the earth did not move. Sullivan, for example, took up Rick Santorum's problems with homosexuality (but not homosexuals!!) story, as did Volokh and InstaPundit. Bush issued a statement and that was that.

Third, to claim -- as Hewitt does later on in his essay -- that the Big Four will affect the Democratic primary is absurd. Democrats are not going to follow the lead of conservatives, neoconservatives, or libertarian hawks when they consider their candidate. Marshall will have a much greater influence -- if he wants to exercise it -- on the Dems. [What about the general election, or future Republican primaries?--ed. That's another story.]

I'm not saying that blogs -- particularly the ones Hewitt mentions -- don't matter. I'm saying that the Hewitt essay contains as much wish fulfillment as it does prognostication. Even Sullivan sounds more hopeful than assertive in evaluating Hewitt's claim.

[You're just upset you're not one of the Big Four, aren't you?--ed. Only if they have cool warm-up jackets.]

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel adds further thoughts about how the Blogosphere operates. And Glenn Reynolds e-mails that this is the closest he gets to a warm-up jacket.

Friday, June 06, 2003
THE "INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY" AND THE AXIS OF AUTOCRATS: Hobnobbing with Council on Foreign Relations heavyweights all day, there was much rending of hair and gnashing of teeth about how the "international community" -- code for Europe, Japan, and the United Nations bureaucracy -- feels about the United States. Can the rifts created by Iraq be healed?

Let me propose a step in the right direction -- focusing on countries hell-bent on extinguishing freedom. For example, today the European Union announced economic sanctions against Cuba in response to the Castro regime's recent crackdown.

That's a good start, but it's not enough.

What I'd really like to see is concerted action against any authoritarian government that thinks it can exploit divisions within the West to crack down on their own populations.

For example, Western governments must demand and/or coerce Robert Mugabe's government in Zimbabwe to release opposition leader Morgan Tsvangerai, who has been arrested on treason charges following five days of demonstrations against the government. Thabo Mbeki, I'm looking in your direction.

Even more pressing is the case of Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who -- along with 17 other opposition leaders -- has been held incommunicado since late May. To date, the Burmese military junta has ignored calls for her release. ASEAN leaders, quit making excuses for the regime. [UPDATE: for more on the ASEAN problem, go to this Boomshock post.]

The developed world needs to remember that when it comes to advancing the cause of democracy, they share a common purpose.
Thursday, June 05, 2003
I'M OFF TO RUN THE WORLD AGAIN: In the realm of conspiracy theories about who runs the world, the Council on Foreign Relations is more recent than the Trilateral Commission but older than the Straussians (for an example of the CFR conspiracy meme, click here).

Anyway, I'm a CFR term member, so I'm off for the next few days to their two-day National Conference, to be held in NYC. Chatham House rules apply, so don't expect any posts about it.

UPDATE: I take one plane trip and by the time I touch down, Howell Raines has resigned and The Guardian has posted a full retraction. Moral of the story: don't mess with either the Blogosphere ... or the Council on Foreign Relations.
THE BLOGOSPHERE GETS RESULTS FROM THE GUARDIAN: The good news: The Guardian story that caused such a ruckus yesterday has been taken down from their web site [UPDATE: Here's the Guardian's full, contrite explanation. Good on them]. As a side note, this isn't the only story they've had to retract this week.

The bad news: the Guardian's blatant distortion of events has already been picked up by hostile media outlets in South Africa, the Middle East, and the United States.
Wednesday, June 04, 2003
THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE WORLD: In the wake of the myriad difficulties and perceived roadblocks to the democratization process in Iraq, it is easy for one's inner Burke to emerge and assume that there are limits to the transplanting of liberal democracy outside of the West. I won't deny having had these occasional qualms recently, even though I argued two months ago that the chances for democratizing Iraq were better than skeptics believed.

As a balm for these occasional worries, go read Larry Diamond's June 2003 article "Universal Democracy?" in Policy Review. For the academics in the crowd, here's a link to the version with the statistical tables. Diamond's punchline:

The current moment is in many respects without historical precedent. Much is made of the unparalleled gap between the military and economic power of the United States and that of any conceivable combination of competitors or adversaries. But no less unique are these additional facts:

• This breathtaking preponderance of power is held by a liberal democracy.

• The next most powerful global actor is a loose union of countries that are also all liberal democracies.

• The majority of states in the world are already democracies of one sort or another.

• There is no model of governance with any broad normative appeal or legitimacy in the world other than democracy.

• There is growing international legal and moral momentum toward the recognition of democracy as a basic human right of all peoples.

• States and international organizations are intruding on sovereignty in ever more numerous and audacious ways in order to promote democracy and freedom.

In short, the international context has never mattered more to the future of democracy or been more favorable. We are on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point, when a visionary and resourceful strategy could — if it garnered the necessary cooperation and effort among the powerful democracies — essentially eliminate authoritarian rule over the next generation or two.

The entire first half of the paper is a refutation of the argument that democracy can't thrive in non-rich, non-Western countries. One key passage:

Moreover, the overwhelming bulk of the states that have become democratic during the third wave [of democratization, from 1974-1991] have remained so, even in countries lacking virtually all of the supposed “conditions” for democracy. Pre-1990 Africa aside, only four democracies have been overthrown by the military in a conventional coup. Two of those (Turkey and Thailand) returned fairly quickly to democracy, and the other two (Pakistan and the Gambia) have felt compelled at least to institute civilian multiparty elections. Several democracies have been suspended in “self-coups” by elected civilian leaders, while other elected rulers have more subtly strangled democracy. Overall, however, only 14 of the 125 democracies that have existed during the third wave have become authoritarian, and in nine of these, democracy has since been restored.

If democracy can emerge and persist (now so far for a decade) in an extremely poor, landlocked, overwhelmingly Muslim country like Mali — in which the majority of adults are illiterate and live in absolute poverty and the life expectancy is 44 years — then there is no reason in principle why democracy cannot develop in most other very poor countries.

Give it a close read.

GALACTICALLY STUPID DISTORTION AT THE GUARDIAN: The headline to this Guardian story blares "Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil". Here are the lead grafs:

Oil was the main reason for military action against Iraq, a leading White House hawk has claimed, confirming the worst fears of those opposed to the US-led war.

The US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz - who has already undermined Tony Blair's position over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by describing them as a "bureaucratic" excuse for war - has now gone further by claiming the real motive was that Iraq is "swimming" in oil.

The latest comments were made by Mr Wolfowitz in an address to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore at the weekend, and reported today by German newspapers Der Tagesspiegel and Die Welt.

Asked why a nuclear power such as North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, where hardly any weapons of mass destruction had been found, the deputy defence minister said: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Mr Wolfowitz went on to tell journalists at the conference that the US was set on a path of negotiation to help defuse tensions between North Korea and its neighbours - in contrast to the more belligerent attitude the Bush administration displayed in its dealings with Iraq.

Sounds pretty devastating, right? The quote makes it seem like Wolfowitz is arguing that Iraq was such a lucrative prize that it would have been stupid not to invade and grab the oil.

Now let's go to the actual transcript and see what Wolfowitz said in context:

Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.

Clearly, what Wolfowitz meant was that Iraq's oil made it easy for Saddam Hussein's regime to survive economic sanctions, while North Korea might be more vulnerable to economic pressure.

This is how every other news outlet -- UPI, AP, Fox News, The Australian -- covered the story. UPDATE: alert reader D.B. points

The Guardian's version of events in such a ludicrous distortion of Wolfowitz's words that it falls into the "useful idiots" category. By apparently relying on a German translation/distortion of Wolfowitz's words -- when multiple English-language sources of the actual comments were available -- I have to wonder if the Guardian is guilty of libel in this case. [UPDATE: The Guardian is even more incompetent than I thought -- on Saturday, they ran the AP story I linked to above with the correct version of the quote!!! Thanks to alert reader D.B. and CalPundit's comments page for the link.]

By the way, almost all of the above information comes from The Belgravia Dispatch -- unfortunately his permalinks aren't working, which is why I've blogged about it here. He also has a link to Wolfowitz's actual response to a direct question about whether the war is about oil.

UPDATE: More on this from Tacitus, InstaPundit, CalPundit, and Bill Hobbs, Doc Searls , and South Knox Bubba.

HOWELL RAINES, OP-ED COLUMNIST?: In his latest Slate essay, Jack Shafer strongly suggests that Howell Raines is toast as New York Times executive editor (link via Sullivan):

Having surrendered his "fear and favor" management tools, how long can Raines lead the newspaper effectively? Imagine the empty joy of running the newspaper holed up like Richard Nixon during the impeachment summer of 1974. Raines might quit next week—like a Roman—to stave off a crisis. Or he might even quit so somebody else can lead the paper back to normalcy where people can do their work instead of attend committee meetings.

But at some point, his boss, who dreams of projecting the Times "brand" around the world, will recognize the injury done to the brand. Arthur Jr. will do as Arthur Sr. did when he maneuvered a similarly head-strong tyrant, A.M. Rosenthal, out the door in 1986. He'll get rid of the old editor and ask the new editor to make the paper even greater, and he'll ask him to make the newsroom a happy place again.

Times-bashers may be cackling with glee at this prospect. I, on the other hand, am quite anxious about this prospect.

Why? Because, if memory serves, when A.M. Rosenthal got the boot, his golden parachute was a Times op-ed column entitled "On My Mind." Rosenthal's mind turned out to be a vacuous, barren, desolate wasteland. His column -- a hackneyed collection of incoherent and infantile ramblings -- made me wince every second I read it until I went cold turkey in the mid-1990s. I might think Paul Krugman has become too shrill, but Krugman's column is an oasis of rigorous thinking and precise prose compared to Rosenthal's mindless blather.

Op-ed space in the New York Times is a scarce commodity. Even if it has a liberal bias, I want to read smart liberals -- Josh Marshall, Kevin Drum, Kieran Healy, Brad DeLong, Henry Farrell -- not pompous windbags like Rosenthal. My fear is that if Raines is given an op-ed slot, he will crowd out higher-quality contributors.

Maybe Raines would be a better columnist than an executive editor, but my suspicion is that he'll wind up being a carbon copy of Rosenthal.

UPDATE: Sridhar Pappu also thinks Raines won't be able to hold on (link via Kaus)

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
DOHA ROUND UPDATE: I'm frequently asked by students about when a theory of international relations should be discarded due to a lack of explanatory power. In response, I will occasionally launch into a disquisition about Kuhn and Lakatos, but more often I give the following answer:

Any theory must do a better job of explaining variation than a simple rule of thumb, such as, "Every major disruption of the global political economy is the fault of the French."

Laugh if you want, but that rule of thumb actually jettisons a lot of bad theory. Which leads me to the current state of the Doha round of world trade talks. From today's Financial Times:

Franz Fischler, the European Union's farm commissioner, on Monday vowed to stand firm over his proposals for a sweeping overhaul of EU farm subsidies, amid growing signs that member states will agree to at least substantial parts of his reform package at a meeting next week.

The US and many other WTO members view next week's talks as vital to the fate of the Doha round, in which agriculture is the biggest stumbling block. They say the success of the CancĂșn meeting hinges on the EU agreeing reform of its farm subsidies. A successful outcome would inject some much-needed momentum into the stalled talks on liberalising farm trade....

At the heart of Mr Fischler's package lies a plan to sever the link between subsidies and agricultural production, leaving farmers free to tailor output to demand. In theory, this should reduce overproduction and put an end to the dumping of farming oversupply on to world markets - a practice widely criticised for hurting farmers in developing countries and distorting trade....

However, he is facing strong pressure to scale back his plans - especially from France, which receives the largest share of EU farm subsidies and has long been the most ardent defender of the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy].

Officially, France remains strictly opposed to cutting production-linked subsidies ("decoupling"), but Mr Fischler insisted on Monday he was not prepared to sacrifice the central plank of his plans.

"To be absolutely clear: a reform without decoupling is no reform," he said

The U.S. is far from pure on the question of agricultural subsidies. However, the success of the Doha round of world trade talks now hinges on whether the French are willing to walk away from the Common Agricultural Policy.


UPDATE: Kevin Drum has additional thoughts on the matter -- and there's an interesting debate among his commenters.

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