Saturday, December 09, 2006

The real international criminal trafficking conspiracy

From Naylor, The Wages of Crime, p.10:
The great majority of what is conventionally described as [transnational organized] crime is the province of small-time losers; if they really possessed the kind of initiative routinely inputed to them, they would long ago have realized that the serious money lies not in dealing dime bags of dope but in rigging defense contracts. That view further suggests that the real threat to economic morality comes from seemingly legitimate business types intent on seeing how far they can bend the rules before they have to pay politicians to change them.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Los Angeles

Amy Wilentz, on loving to hate L.A.:
L.A. has long been viewed as an embarrassment by America. Because it is the city at the end of the continent, it is commonly regarded as the newest, freshest, best thing the country has to offer, so its every flaw is interpreted as a sign of our collective national failure. As McWilliams writes, "What America is, California is, with accents, in italics." Europeans — among them De Tocqueville, Trollope and, more recently, Bernard Henri-Levi — look to the West and see Americans as uncultured, loutish, self-indulgent materialists. And Americans do the same: In Los Angeles, they see what they take to be a more babyish, dumber version of themselves and they shudder.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Where I've been, as of 2006

I'm hoping soon to add some countries in Africa. You can create your own map here.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Playboy townhouse

The Playboy ideal of urban living, c. 1962. Actually, it still looks pretty sweet.

The worst ever?

Eminent historian Eric Foner suggests that Bush is the worst President in the history of the country:
Historians are loath to predict the future. It is impossible to say with certainty how Bush will be ranked in, say, 2050. But somehow, in his first six years in office he has managed to combine the lapses of leadership, misguided policies and abuse of power of his failed predecessors. I think there is no alternative but to rank him as the worst president in U.S. history.
I don't know if I'd go so far as to rank Bush below Andrew Johnson, but that certainly does seems to be the league he's playing in.

Thursday, November 30, 2006


Kevin Drum, on the right's forthcoming effort to airbrush history:
The whole wingnut universe is preparing for another decades-long rerun of Vietnam, in which they pretend that we could have won in Iraq if only liberals and Democrats hadn't poisoned the American will to win.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Richard Haass

Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations talks about whether it matters whether or not Iraq is in a "civil war":

It's not simply a semantic issue. If Iraq is seen as in a civil war by the administration, it has all sorts of policy consequences, and it will more than anything accelerate tremendously the drive or the push to get U.S. forces largely out of Iraq. It's not clear U.S. forces have any useful role if, in fact, you think there's a civil war. This is actually a distinction with a difference.

It may not be an all-out civil war, but it sure looks like one. And I would say that Iraq right now is something of a cross or a blend between a civil war and a failed state. What you do not have is effective central authority. You have the growing war between and among militias.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Naomi Klein, on the postwar plan for Iraq

2+ years later, this is still the best insight on why things went so wrong in Iraq:

The honey theory of Iraqi reconstruction stems from the most cherished belief of the war's ideological architects: that greed is good. Not good just for them and their friends but good for humanity, and certainly good for Iraqis. Greed creates profit, which creates growth, which creates jobs and products and services and everything else anyone could possibly need or want. The role of good government, then, is to create the optimal conditions for corporations to pursue their bottomless greed, so that they in turn can meet the needs of the society. The problem is that governments, even neoconservative governments, rarely get the chance to prove their sacred theory right: despite their enormous ideological advances, even George Bush's Republicans are, in their own minds, perennially sabotaged by meddling Democrats, intractable unions, and alarmist environmentalists.

Iraq was going to change all that. In one place on Earth, the theory would finally be put into practice in its most perfect and uncompromised form. A country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions. The people of Iraq would, of course, have to endure some short-term pain: assets, previously owned by the state, would have to be given up to create new opportunities for growth and investment. Jobs would have to be lost and, as foreign products flooded across the border, local businesses and family farms would, unfortunately, be unable to compete. But to the authors of this plan, these would be small prices to pay for the economic boom that would surely explode once the proper conditions were in place, a boom so powerful the country would practically rebuild itself.

The fact that the boom never came and Iraq continues to tremble under explosions of a very different sort should never be blamed on the absence of a plan. Rather, the blame rests with the plan itself, and the extraordinarily violent ideology upon which it is based.

To see the pervasiveness of this laissez-faire thinking, check out this article on gasoline smuggling in Iraq.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kissinger on Iraq

Henry Kissinger, on the prospects for military victory in Iraq:
If you mean by "military victory" an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible.
Kissinger always was a charter member of the real[politik]ity-based community, after all.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Welfare "reform" results, ten years on: more hungry Americans

With the usual GOP-administrator's Orwellian touch:

The number of hungriest Americans has risen over the past five years. Last year, the total share of food-insecure households stood at 11 percent.... The USDA said that 12 percent of Americans -- 35 million people -- could not put food on the table at least part of last year. Eleven million of them reported going hungry at times.

Beginning this year, the USDA has determined "very low food security" to be a more scientifically palatable description for that group.... Three years ago, the USDA asked the Committee on National Statistics of the National Academies "to ensure that the measurement methods USDA uses to assess households' access -- or lack of access -- to adequate food and the language used to describe those conditions are conceptually and operationally sound." Among several recommendations, the panel suggested that the USDA scrap the word hunger, which "should refer to a potential consequence of food insecurity that, because of prolonged, involuntary lack of food, results in discomfort, illness, weakness, or pain that goes beyond the usual uneasy sensation."

Emphasis added.

Optimistically, maybe the fact that the Republicans have decided to redefine hunger as a "security issue" means that they actually intend to do something about it, rather than merely regarding hunger as a bracing incentive for the morally feckless to pull themselves together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Baby Chalabis

From Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman's wonderful Ethical Realism:

Among the enormous numbers of analysts in Washington still employed in the study of Russia, the number who are actually capable of placing themselves in the skins of most Russians can be counted on the fingers of one hand. They themselves, of course, sincerely believe otherwise. But that is because the Russians whom they know well, and feel they understand, have been selected and self-selected to confirm American attitudes and prejudices. Those Russians who disagree just do not get Western grants and jobs, and are not interviewed as "serious" and "objective" sources of analysis by Western journalists.

Mostly, the copulation of illusions is just designed to secure financial and career benefits for the West's local informants. But it also continually lays the U.S. establishment open to manipulation by the likes of Iraqi opportunist and neoconservative darling Ahmed Chalabi for their own political ends. Indeed, several leading Washington think tanks are virtual nurseries for flocks of Baby Chalabis, all mewling into the doting ears of their foster parents about how the freedom-loving people of Ubangi-Gangi or Khakistan love America, support American policies, want America to intervene in their countries to "restore democracy"--and above all, want their beloved Ahmed Junior to get back his old job as minister for corruption. You think we exaggerate? Look at Benazir Bhutto's record in office, and then ask how large parts of the U.S. establishment can possibly believe that her return to power would be good for Pakistan.

From p. 76-77. Read the whole thing.


Redmond, making all the right moves with Zune:
"I've never seen a business so blatantly screw its business partners," says Peter Sealey, a professor at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Friday, November 10, 2006

To Wilfred Owen

Tomorrow it will be 88 years since the end of World War One. Wilfred Owen died in combat one week before the end of the war, just eight months after completing the greatest poetic ode to twentieth century warfare:
Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime ...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"A little list"

From the Daily Telegraph, good news:

"As the Lord High Executioner said in The Mikado, 'I have a little list'," John Dingell, the veteran Michigan Democrat, said recently.

Mr Dingell, who was first elected to Congress in 1955, earned a reputation as an aggressive chairman of the Commerce Committee during Ronald Reagans's administration. It is a role he intends to play again. Mr Dingell has announced that he plans investigations into everything from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina to energy policy by way of environmental policy, the Food and Drug Administration, port security, nuclear waste management and trade policy.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"Choice": not the same thing as "opportunity"

Tony Woodiwiss:
"Choice" has today replaced "opportunity" at the core of official discourse: "choice," however, merely simulates "opportunity." Although it is spoken of as if it means the same thing, it does not; "choice" is socially safer than "opportunity" in that it carries no implication that anything needs to be equalized and therefore nothing need change as regards the disposition of power or resources; and "choice" is better than "opportunity" in that it is impossible to improve on freedom.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Quote of the day: Reagan

Ronald Reagan, acceptance speech, RNC, 1980:
Can anyone look at the record of this administration and say, "Well done"? Can anyone compare the state of our economy when the Administration took office with where we are today and say, "Keep up the good work"? Can anyone look at our reduced standing in the world today and say, "Let's have four more years of this"?

Friday, November 03, 2006


The Economist, on Pelosi: "It's like listening to a cross between a Stepford wife and Jesse Jackson." The article blithely assumes the Dems are taking control. I'm not counting my chicken yet.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Huntington on Vietnam

Samuel Huntington, in a memo to Lyndon Johnson in December 1967:
History shows that American instincts are usually revolutionary but that our talents are most accommodative.
Available in Box 59, NSF Country File, Vietnam, Johnson Library, Austin, Texas

Thursday, October 19, 2006


In a brief but judicious piece on the history of the idea of totalitarianism, Anson Rabinbach explains (as gently as possible) the two key dangers that liberals face by embracing the notion that the current struggle with Islamic extremism can be usefully analyzed via the word "totalitarianism":
[First,] antitotalitarianism, as I have argued, can both illuminate and obscure. By asserting that totalitarianism encompasses Baathist dictatorship, the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda, crucial distinctions are lost. At the same time we are led to believe that, as in the Second World War and the cold war, resolution and military power alone can bring about a democratic outcome. False analogies carry serious consequences.... [Second,] antitotalitarianism, for all its highmindedness, almost always means making a compact with unwelcome allies. Just as the antifascists had to embrace communists during the 1920s and 1930s, just as anticommunist liberals found themselves helpless in drawing boundaries against McCarthyism or against Vietnam hawks, today’s antitotalitarians face a similar dilemma: how to stand their ground against those on the left who wantonly minimize or deny the danger of terrorism and Islamist fundamentalism without at the same time falling into line with the failed neoconservatives whose vision of pax Americana has come to a very bad end.
In other words, there are two basic problems with trying to use the concept of totalitarianism to analyze our current global strategic challenges. First, from a policy perspective, the idea of totalitarianism tends to pave over crucial distinctions which ought to be retained if we are to adopt a properly nuanced strategy in the global struggle against Islamic extremism, on the one hand, and anti-Americanism, on the other. Second, from a political perspective, the antitotalitarian impulse almost always ends up forcing liberals into uncomfortable political coalitions with people they really ought to keep their distance from, be they (neo)McCarthyites or neoconservatives.

To really drive home his point, Rabinbach might have made one additional point, which is that this latter political point is exactly why the Right embraces the concept of totalitarianism: because it undercuts liberals' ability to effectively criticize the Right. So what if the "totalitarian" concept has the collateral effect of screwing up American strategic thinking about our global challenges -- the important thing is that it screws liberals!

Now, I guess I can understand how, if I were a neocon or neoMcCarthyite, I might embrace a concept that while analytically misleading is at least useful for skewering my domestic political enemies. (It's disgusting, but understandable. Then again, one suspects that the reasoning in these circles is actually the reverse: e.g., if it screws my domestic political enemies, then it must be a globally useful theory.) What's completely incomprehensible, however, is why liberals like Paul Berman, George Packer, Ken Pollack or any of the other liberal hawks would themselves embrace a term which is not only analytically pernicious from a policy perspective, but also politically suicidal. The neocons may be knaves, but the liberal hawks are fools.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Glamour cities

In an article on San Francisco's architectural deficit, Slate elaborates on the concept of "glamour cities":
Glamour cities are centers of international business (New York), political power (Washington, D.C.), and the New Economy (Boston). They usually have a 19th-century infrastructure of museums, concert halls, and well-preserved residential architecture, and they are where the wealthy, the well-educated, and the ambitious want to live. High-end demand, in turn, produces real estate values that—even in the current slump—are an order of magnitude greater than elsewhere. These cities are vibrant, livable, prosperous, and well-managed.
Washington DC... "well-managed"?! Somewhere, Marion Barry is smiling....

Monday, October 16, 2006

Communities of Practice

Francis Fukuyama:
"Communities of practice..." involve informal sharing of intellectual property based on reciprocity.... In such communities, a great deal of knowledge cannot be formalized (i.e. written down) because it is not possessed by any one individual and only emerges as a consequence of their interaction.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The bottom

Frank Stella: "You start at the bottom in New York, and the bottom is pretty bottom-like in New York."

Monday, October 09, 2006

Most surreal moment in Iraq

Peter Devlin, the Marine Colonel who recently filed a secret report claiming that "there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation" in Western Iraq, describes his "most surreal moment" in Iraq:
Watching Marines arrive at my detention facility and unload a truck load of flex-cuffed midgets. 26 to be exact. We had put the word out earlier in the day to the Marines in Fallujah that we were looking for Bad Guy X, who was described as a midget. Little did I know that Fallujah was home to a small community of midgets, who banded together for support since they were considered as social outcasts. The Marines were anxious to get back to the midget colony to bring in the rest of the midget suspects, but I called off the search, figuring Bad Guy X was long gone on his short legs after seeing his companions rounded up by the giant infidels.

Mission Accopmplished: North Korea Edition

It's not an insight, but nevertheless worth repeating, that every single foreign policy action of the Bush regime has blown up in their (and our) faces.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In honor of Foleygate, tonight we'll be eating...

... Fagioli al Fiasco.

The Proper Objectives and Methods of Social Science

Francis Fukuyama:
It is certainly desirable for a social science to be rigorous, empirical and seek general rules of human behavior. But as Aristotle explained, it should not try to achieve a rigor that goes beyond what is possible given the limitations inherent in the subject matter. In fact, most of what is truly useful for policy is context-specific, culture-bound and non-generalizable. The typical article appearing today in a leading journal like the American Political Science Review contains a lot of complex-looking math, whose sole function is often to formalize a behavioral rule that everyone with common sense understands must be true. What is missing is any deep knowledge about the subtleties and nuances of how foreign societies work, knowledge that would help us better predict the behavior of political actors, friendly and hostile, in the broader world.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"Like a gracile wine glass being sung to by a heavy soprano"

Alaskan storm cracks giant iceberg in Antarctica.

4 weeks to go

The NIE saying that Iraq was making the terrorism threat worse didn't outweigh the massive Republican media blitz of the Dems being soft on terror. But apparently the Foley scandal may really cost them: the punters in Iowa just doubled the odds that the Dems will retake at least one chamber.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Hearts and Minds Edition


The US Department of Defense has now provided another measure of the problem it faces. Its latest opinion poll carried out in Iraq indicates that, among the five million Sunni Muslims there, about 75% now support the armed insurgency against the coalition.

This compares with 14% in the first opinion poll the Defense Department carried out back in 2003. It is a catastrophic loss of support, and there is no sign whatever that it can be effectively reversed.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

LBJ, pt. 2

Marilyn Young, in her amazing synthesis The Vietnam Wars, describes how Lyndon Johnson explained his strategy of gradually ramping up the bombing against North Vietnam in early 1965:
To the popular syndicated columnists Evans and Novack [sic], for example, he "pointed out the targets he had approved for attack and the many more targets he had disapproved." And anybody worried about Chinese intervention, Johnson told the reports, should just relax:
the slow escalation of the air war in the North and the increasing pressure on Ho Chi Minh was seduction, not rape. If China should suddenly react to slow escalation, as a woman might to attempted seduction, by threatening to retaliate (a slap in the face, to continue the metaphor), the United States would have plenty of time to ease off the bombing. On the other hand, if the United States were to unleash an all-out, total assault on the North--rape rather than seduction--there could be no turning back, and Chinese reaction might be instant and total.
Senator George McGovern met with Johnson that same spring to protest the bombing on the grounds that it might lead to Chinese intervention and was almost certain to increase the number of soldiers North Vietnam sent south. Johnson reassured him: "I'm watching that very closely. I'm going up her leg an inch at a time... I'll get to the snatch before they know what's happening, you see."
In case you're wondering: yes, the Novak in question is in fact that same Plamegate Bob Novak.

Who's to Blame for not Getting Osama?

From Gallup.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

LBJ, pt 1

Kevin Drum, in rare form:
Legend has it that during one of Lyndon Johnson's congressional campaigns he decided to spread a rumor that his opponent was a pig-fucker. LBJ's campaign manager said, "Lyndon, you know he doesn't do that!" Johnson replied, "I know. I just want to make him deny it."

A bit of good news

A cheap and readily available drug could reverse severe liver disease, even in patients who find it impossible to give up booze, research suggests.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Torture Edition

UN's chief anti-torture expert says torture in Iraq may be worse now than under Saddam:

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The wounds confirmed reports given by refugees from Iraq, Mr Nowak said.

He told journalists at a briefing in Geneva that he had yet to visit Iraq, but he was able to base his information on autopsies and interviews with Iraqis in neighbouring Jordan.

"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.

The UN report says detainees' bodies often show signs of beating using electrical cables, wounds in heads and genitals, broken legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns.

Bodies found at the Baghdad mortuary "often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances".

Many bodies have missing skin, broken bones, back, hands and legs, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails, the UN report says.

Victims come from prisons run by US-led multinational forces as well as by the ministries of interior and defence and private militias, the report said.

The most brutal torture methods were employed by private militias, Mr Nowak told journalists.

The report also says the frequency of sectarian bloodletting means bodies are often found which "bear signs indicating that the victims have been brutally tortured before their extra-judicial execution".

It concludes that torture threatens "the very fabric of the country" as victims exact their own revenge and fuel further violence.

Mr Nowak said he would like to visit Iraq in person, but the current situation would not allow him to prepare an accurate report, because it would not be safe to leave Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone where the Iraqi government and US leadership are situated.

The "failure of execution" myth exposed

Anatol Lieven, on how liberal hawks are just more confused versions of the neocons:

Michael Signer's essay is yet another in an all-too-numerous list of recent works by center-left intellectuals arguing that America can recover from its present international difficulties by changing the style of its approach to the world without significantly changing its policies. He denounces the "vulgar exceptionalism" of the neoconservatives and the Bush Administration but does not realize that we are well past the days when a tonier, more agreeably phrased American exceptionalism could command real support from most of the rest of the world. Signer's argument reflects the fact that, in the end, by far the greater part of the Republican and Democratic establishments share the same basic myths of American nationalism concerning the righteousness of American power, the same commitment to U.S. supremacy in the world, and a common adherence to the same set of basic imperial strategies. And until progressive foreign policy thinkers confront these myths, they only will offer up alternative slogans or tactics but nothing resembling a foreign policy vision.

Take Signer's supposed alternative to the failed policies of the Bush Administration, "exemplarism." He writes, "[In today's globalized environment], it is simply impossible for any country, even one as powerful as the United States, to ignore or neglect its interconnections with other nations." At the same time, Signer is a strong believer both in America’s superpower status and in innate American virtue: What he calls "the ineluctable attractions of [America's] own unique capabilities and goodwill–by the charisma of its own great character...."

Signer does not seem to appreciate that, like any other country... America is judged by others not just on its present actions and declarations, but on its past record. If, as he himself says, the recent record of the United States has been so awful, why should other countries automatically trust America in the future? Like so much of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Signer fails in what Hans Morgenthau laid down as one of the most fundamental virtues of true statesmen: The ability to put themselves in the shoes of other countries.

Signer declares that "exemplarism would value both strength and international prestige equally, seeing them not as mutually exclusive but rather as mutually reinforcing" and that "America's economic, political, and military strength, when deployed wisely, enhances our prestige around the world." Who could possibly disagree? But, once again, what does "deploying American strength wisely" actually mean in practice? And who gets to decide what is "wise"? Is it America alone, or do American allies get a real say when it comes to designing and changing American policies? Without a real willingness to change American policies, it may be possible to bring about the kind of sullen acquiescence to the United States that one sees at present in Western Europe, for example, but it will be quite impossible to get nations outside that sphere to make real sacrifices for the sake of those policies and thereby lighten the present unsustainable burden on American resources. It is easy to talk of a need for more diplomatic approaches by the United States, and it is true that leading members of the Bush Administration have been notoriously and dangerously contemptuous of the very idea of diplomacy. But the liberal hawks who praise diplomacy in principle also appear to misunderstand its true nature. When they speak of engaging other countries diplomatically, what they usually mean is talking at them more loudly and sweetly, but with the same ends in mind. True, this has always been a key feature of diplomacy. But real diplomacy also means a recognition of other states' vital interests and a willingness to reach compromises accordingly. This, by contrast, is too often called–by Democrats as well as Republicans–"accommodation" or even "appeasement."

The weakness of Signer's approach is exemplified by his treatment of the Iraq war. As with so many of his Democratic colleagues, he wriggles out of saying whether the war itself was a good or bad thing. Instead, he suggests that if only the Bush Administration had diplomatically enlisted European help, what happened in Iraq would have been very different. This is arrant nonsense. The Europeans were never going to be able to give serious help to the United States in Iraq. They have no effective military help to give, and their readiness to make financial sacrifices was always going to be severely limited by the–entirely correct–opinion of European policymakers and electorates that the whole U.S. strategy was fundamentally misguided.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cracking the code

Turns out Hezbollah just flat beat the Israelis, militarily:

Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into Israeli radio communications during last month's battles in south Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli tank assaults, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.

Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements, casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to the officials.

"We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official refused to detail how Hezbollah was able to intercept and decipher Israeli transmissions. He acknowledged that guerrillas were not able to hack into Israeli communications around the clock.

The Israeli military refused to comment on whether its radio communications were compromised, citing security concerns. But a former Israeli general, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah's ability to secretly hack into military transmissions had "disastrous" consequences for the Israeli offensive.

"Israel's military leaders clearly underestimated the enemy and this is just one example," he said.

The Great Lie

Joan Didion on Dick Cheney:

If the case for war lacked a link between September 11 and Iraq, the Vice President would repeatedly cite the meeting that neither American nor Czech intelligence believed had taken place between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence in Prague: "It's been pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attacks," he would say on NBC in December 2001. "We discovered...the allegation that one of the lead hijackers, Mohamed Atta, had, in fact, met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague," he would say on NBC in March 2002. "We have reporting that places [Atta] in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer a few months before the attacks on the World Trade Center," he would say on NBC in September 2002. "The senator has got his facts wrong," he would then say while debating Senator John Edwards during the 2004 campaign. "I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."

This was not a slip of memory in the heat of debate. This was dishonest, a repeated misrepresentation, in the interests of claiming power, so bald and so systematic that the only instinctive response (Did too!) was that of the schoolyard. By June 2004, before the debate with Edwards, Cheney had in fact begun edging away from the Prague story, not exactly disclaiming it but characterizing it as still unproven, as in, on a Cincinnati TV station, "That's true. We do not have proof that there was such a connection." It would be two years later, March 2006, before he found it prudent to issue a less equivocal, although still shifty, version. "We had one report early on from another intelligence service that suggested that the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, Czechoslovakia," he told Tony Snow on Fox News. "And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down at this stage, that that meeting ever took place. So we've never made the case, or argued the case, that somehow [Saddam Hussein] was directly involved in 9/11. That evidence has never been forthcoming."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Mark Lilla, in TNR Online, on the domestic political scene since 9-11:

I do not recognize my country today. It walks, it talks, but its eyes are glassy and vacant. I am not one of those who blames the Bush administration for this; our government is a symptom of our condition, not its cause. Several thousand people died in the attacks of September 11, but the changes in our political atmosphere that followed bear little understandable relation to the emotions of mourning, rage, revenge, or even fear. Objectively seen, those attacks did nothing to change the balance of power in the world, as an invasion or assassination might have. The bastards got lucky; that is all. But, like a trauma victim who suddenly sees his surrounding environment as alien and hostile, the United States reacted to those events by disengaging itself from reality, internationally and domestically. Mental disengagement combined with military engagement--a recipe for disaster....

[After] the planes struck, what happened next on the international scene is a matter of public record. What happened within the United States is less well understood abroad. To hostile foreign observers, the United States has simply reverted to type, revealing its true face as a brutal imperialist monster. From the outside, it looks like we are being driven by greed for oil, or hatred of Muslims, or blind loyalty to Israel, or contempt for the international community---we know the litany. From the inside, the last five years of U.S. history look very different. We are still a nation in shock--hardly capable of conceiving an imperial strategy, let alone pursuing it. That is why we still have no real strategy for dealing with the genuine threat of radical Islam, or for securing our cities and ports. When the decision to invade Iraq was being made, there were long, serious debates in the British House of Commons, which anyone with a satellite dish could watch on BBC. No such display could be found on U.S. television because no such debate took place in the U.S. Congress. The president was given carte blanche. And American reporters, like adolescents at play, donned military uniforms and joined the troops as "embedded" observers, gushing over the display of firepower. The nation slept.

While it slept, the clock of U.S. politics turned in reverse, back to the mindset of the cold war and the culture wars of the '60s and '70s. All sorts of strange types emerged from under their rocks to exploit September 11--neoconservatives longing for a war that would restore "American greatness" through militarism, legal anarchists who started rewriting the constitution, evangelicals who sensed the opportunity to launch a counter-revolution against all the cultural changes of the last four decades. None of these groups represented more than a fraction of Americans, but, together, they found the ear of a transformed president and of his political advisers, who knew how to exploit them in return. The level of American political debate sank to a new low and is now fixed on symbols--"values," "strength," "family," "security," "life," "freedom"--that bear little relation to contemporary American reality or the world situation. The '90s were a period of political maturation in United States, but, in the face of trauma, the nation has regressed to an infantile state. That includes Bush's many critics, who peddle Vietnam-tinged fantasies of a new antiwar movement and hope to revive adversarial press of the Watergate era. A reader of U.S. newspapers can be forgiven for thinking he is living in 1973.

This week will be taken up with commemorations of those who lost their lives on September 11, as it should be. But, when those ceremonies are over, we should also observe a moment of silence for the America that existed just before that September morning, and which now lies in a coma. We are destined to see that America again, if only because reality has a way of intruding into even the deepest sleep. But the wake-up will be hard. An entire nation will find itself on the floor, its knees bruised, its nose bloodied, the furniture in disarray, wondering just what the hell happened.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Liberal lies

The worst lie that liberals tell about Bush's Middle East policy is that everything in Iraq might have turned out great if only we'd appointed "competent" people. This is a cornerstone of the "incompetence" meme regarding the Bush administration, one rooted in a (quite justified) outrage at the cronyism and stupidity of the current regime.

In the case of Iraq, however, this meme supports the dangeous illusion that the problem with the war was one of execution, rather than ideology and aim. Alas, not even the most competent administrators in the world could have made the postwar in Iraq succeed. This is why the invasion was, to paraphrase Talleyrand, "worse than a crime; it was a blunder." While the White House may be filled with knaves, in the case of Iraq, the knaves were also fools.

The Scientific Method, Government Edition

Friday, September 15, 2006

Peanut butter

Kids these days:
As Flavorpill’s film editor, Rosman contributes to all the city publications, and she has developed a feel for the subtle regional differences. "Chicago has its own kind of hard-core R.&B.-inspired scene and an art scene inspired by both the Art Institute of Chicago and cheaper rents. L.A. has a refracted neon palm tree glam, which is a reaction to all that Hollywood veneer that wends its way into visual art especially, but also into music and all the retro-movie houses. London, well those kids have a jaunty charm I've yet to pin down."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

How to rank Presidents

We've reached the point in George W. Bush's presidency where one can begin to think about where he will rank in the historical annals. The question of ranking Presidents is of course a vexed one, and an inherently political one -- how you weight his political versus his personal characters, his foreign versus his domestic policy, and so on, is by its nature subjective. My own effort to plot Presidential success is above, and I think the axes speak for themselves. The question is, how successful was the President on his own terms, versus the (alas, totally separate) issue of how much good or bad he did for the country.

The Washington Post today, has a slightly different take.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Iowa Futures Market on Midterms

The Iowa Futures Market as of yesterday was reading the midterms about like this:
  • GOP retains control of both chambers: 44% chance
  • GOP keeps Senate, Dems win House: 39% chance
  • Dems win Senate, GOP keeps House: 5% chance
  • Dems win both chambers: 12% chance

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Squandering bipartisanship

Keith Olberman:

Terrorists did not come and steal our newly-regained sense of being American first, and political, fiftieth. Nor did the Democrats. Nor did the media. Nor did the people.

The President -- and those around him -- did that.

They promised bi-partisanship, and then showed that to them, "bi-partisanship" meant that their party would rule and the rest would have to follow, or be branded, with ever-escalating hysteria, as morally or intellectually confused, as appeasers, as those who, in the Vice President's words yesterday, "validate the strategy of the terrorists."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Islamism in Sudan

From George Packer, "Moderate Martyr: Interpreting Islam for the modern world," New Yorker, September 11, 2006:
The Sudanese version [of Islamism] was not a genuine revolution like the Iranian one; it was more of an elite project that never gained legitimacy outside of student, intellectual, and military circles. Still, Sudan's hard-line party, the National Islamic Front, marched the country through familiar paces. Suliman Baldo, the director of the Africa program at the International Crisis Group, who lived through the years of Islamization in Khartoum and published a report documenting the return of slavery in Sudan, said of the government, "They came with a social-engineering project--they were very open about this." Education became a form of indoctrination: small children learned jihadist chants; school uniforms were replaced with combat fatigues; students engaged in paramilitary drills and memorized the Koran; teachers overhauled the curriculum to focus on the glory of Arab and Islamic culture. Khartoum had been a socially relaxed city that celebrated Christmas, but now the morals police insured that women were veiled, especially in government offices and universities. The security agencies were taken over by Islamists, and torture chambers known as "ghost houses" proliferated in what had been a tolerant political culture.... And so an ethnically and religiously mixed African country, with an egalitarian form of Sufism as its dominant form of Islam, was mobilized by intellectuals and soldiers to create a militaristic, ideologically extreme state whose main achievements were civil war, slavery, famine, and mass death.
Authoritarian High Modernism: Islamist Edition.

What's more, just substitute "Christian" for "Muslim" and "American" for "Arab" and you pretty much have the scenario the Christian Right dreams of for our own country.

Friday, September 08, 2006

"Mission Accomplished" Dept.: Talibanistan Edition

Christian Science Monitor, rounding up the news on the "peace deal" in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan:
In a move that some say appears 'a total capitulation' to pro-Taliban forces, Pakistan signed a peace deal with tribal leaders in the North Waziristan region of Pakistan Tuesday, and is withdrawing military forces in exchange for promises that militant tribal groups there will not engage in terrorist activities.
Read the whole thing. Lots of amazing links.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


From Ulrich Beck, Cosmopolitan Vision:

The thesis of this book may be summarized as follows: cosmopolitanization means the disappearance of the closed society for good. But this is not felt by liberation by most people, who instead see their world in decline. People who have succeeded with great difficulty in orienting themselves in the labyrinths of a closed society based on sharp oppositions between us and them, inside and outside, national and international, are now suddenly faced with the contradictions of a tolerant form of society and a liberty they can neither comprehend nor live wit, which reduces them to strangers in their own land....

Anti-cosmopolitanism, whether understated or vociferous, right- or left-wing, union- or church-driven, strictly speaking acts in an anti-national fashion because it is tantamount to a clinical loss of reality and hence betrays the interests of the nation in a global age. The economic, cultural and political challenges and contradictions of globalization cannot be conjured out of existence because we do not like reality and refuse to accept it -- on the motto 'Globalization? I'm against it!' The falling of leaves in autumn can't be prevented by looking the other way, and certainly not by insisting that you hate winter.

P. 108-9, 117; italics in the original; boldface mine.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Progress in the Arts

From Geekzine:

One of the first pornographic images I ever saw was a spread of Dorothy getting gang-banged by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. It was crude smut, nothing more than titillation created for its shock value. And when my mother discovered it hidden under my bed, it was deposited in the trash. It wasn't a new idea. The Tijuana Bibles of the '30s and '40s were full of similar images: Betty Boop giving head; Lil' Abner sporting a healthy hard-on; Popeye impaling Olive Oyl on his spinach-strengthened member. In one of my favorites Donald Duck buggers Mickey as the Disney mouse squeals, "Tee-hee, Donald, that tickles so good." These eight-pagers were the lowest form of comics, anonymously created and distributed. The sub-genre continues to this day. Do an image search of Marge Simpson for examples. It's pornography at its most common: unoriginal and mindless.

The writer's Lost Girls (which will be published tomorrow) is a beautifully perverse graphic novel that elevates the pornographic tale; it is a bold, and rare, story of uninhibited sexual fantasy that succeeds at titillating as well as enlightening. It is sensually drawn by Melinda Gebbie, Moore’s wife.

As in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore combines characters of the late 19th century and early 20th century for an epic adventure, except this time the adventures are sexual. The heroines from The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan meet as adults in an Austrian hotel in 1913, shortly before World War I. Dorothy, fresh off her Kansas farm, is a nympho in silver shoes; Alice is a world-weary lesbian; Wendy is a housewife trapped in a boring marriage. They romp with one another and tell their tales, sexually charged versions of the stories we associate with each character. In Wendy's case, Peter Pan is a male prostitute who seduces her and her brothers. Alice submits herself to the sexual dominance of the "Red Queen." Dorothy’s sexual awakening begins when she masturbates while caught up in a twister.

Moore explores a wide range of sexual fantasies. There are tales of pedophilia, bestiality, incest, rape, homosexuality, orgies, sadomasochism. In one of the many stories within the story, a Victorian family shares more than tea and crumpets, and the man of the house punishes his wife and two children by administering a rousing dose of anal sex. In defense of his lurid tale about the family (and of Lost Girls itself, one imagines), the hotel manager, declares, "They are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence." It's a dirty book, no doubt; yet it still manages to paint an enchanting, fascinating world where the mind is free to roam.

The hotel manager later declares, "Pornographies are the enchanted parklands where the most secret and vulnerable of all our many selves can safely play." It’s a fitting description for Lost Girls, and only someone of Alan Moore's wild genius can pull it off. He wonderfully balances both ends of the smut/erotica spectrum, at times tipping toward the merely titillating, and then leaning toward that delightful world of exploration and discovery. Lost Girls is one of the most important works of pornography of our time and another example of the graphic novel as a powerful literary medium.

Here's what this lovely couple looks like.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Post-Bushist foreign policy

Anatol Lieven, in the latest issue of Prospect:

If therefore both party establishments are wedded to the basic lines of the present US course, what are the chances of successful domestic revolt against this course? Since the present line is adhered to be the bipartisan establishment, it follows that any revolt against it would have to enjoy massive support from ordinary Americans, and in particular from the most important political constituency and political bellwether, the white middle classes of the "heartland." It would therefore have to appeal to the core traditions of this constituency. In this context, that means a mixture of intense nationalism with deep distrust of foreign entanglements – a mixture dubbed "isolationism" by the imperial elites, though by no means fairly.

The Left faces immense obstacles in appealing to the heartland. Its cosmopolitan traditions and above all its hostility to religion make it culturally very alien to the world of the suburbs and small towns of middle America. It is also wedded to its own version of liberal interventionism. If I have to listen to another American anti-Bush liberal damn the war in Iraq and then advocate US military intervention in Darfur I may eat my beard. This is both intellectual and electoral folly: intellectual, because there are no rational grounds for believing that a US military which has failed so badly in policing one bitterly-divided Muslim society would play a successful role in another. Electoral, because you cannot successfully appeal to ordinary Americans to reject a war for which at least some justification could be manufactured in terms of defending America, and then ask them to support another war for which there is no argument from national interest at all.

A much more hopeful prospect in the long run lies in a combination between the moderate realists and a populist revolt in the heartland against the costs of empire. Indeed, this would seem to me virtually inevitable sooner or later. As soon as it becomes clearly apparent to the White middle classes that a continuation of present levels of military spending and foreign policy activism requires the abolition of key middle class entitlements – social security, Medicare, mortgage relief and so on – mass pressure for a withdrawal from present levels of engagement will become overwhelming. This will happen all the sooner in the context of an economic recession, or if another war makes the reintroduction of conscription a real possibility.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Neocons then and now

I am just finishing up Westad's magisterial The Global Cold War. Here is his summary account of the results of Reagan's neocon-inspired interventions in Central America:
The effects of the Central American war for the region were dreadful. In Nicaragua it left 30,000 dead (as historian William LeoGrande points out, relative to the population this was more than the United States lost in the Civil War, the two world wars, and the Korea and Vietnam wars combined). The country had over 100,000 refugees and an economy with inflation out of control and massive unemployment. In tiny El Salvador the effects were even worse; 70,000 dead, death squads roaming the countryside, villages destroyed, lives shattered. While the brutality of the El Salvadoran civil war surpassed anything seen in the recent history of Latin America, US efforts at imposing change -- with assistance costing around 1 billion dollars in military aifd and three times as much in economic aid -- had little effect: in 1990 more than 90 percent of El Salvadorans still lived in poverty.
Funny how the neocons seem to get the same results wherever their policies get imposed. What's that old saw about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Westad continues with how this all went down at home:
Within the United States the wars also had serious effects, although not in terms of human lives. The Reagan administration's attempts at defying Congress in supplying funding to the Contras led to the Iran-Contra Affair, which hurt the neoconservative agenda with the public and inside the White House. The fact that Reagan's people had sold weapons to the Iranian Islamist regime and used the proceeds of that transaction to fund the counterrevolutionary forces in Nicaragua was a bit too much even for Reagan's supporters to swallow. Together with the antiwar movement and Congressional resistance against the war, the Iran-Contra Affair contributed to a distinct reduction in the administration's appetite for foreign internvetions toward the end of its final term in office. Its worldview, though, stayed intact: the Cold War was a conflict between good and evil, in which the United States was on the side of the angels.
Pulverizing the countries they believe their are liberating, contempt for Congress and other quaint domestic political niceties, an unshakable faith in their own moral righteousness... eerie, isn't it?

Monday, August 21, 2006

"With Friends Like These" Dept.

Joe Scarborough, Fox News broadcaster and former GOP Congressmen, noting that the preppies are headed for the exits:
These days, the mere opening of Mr. Bush's mouth makes many GOP loyalists shake in their tasseled loafers.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Though I might encode the "empowered self-photographing naked woman" ideology into my images, other people might not decode it as such....

Michael O'Leary on current British airport security

Michael O'Leary, CEO of Europe's biggest budget airline, Ryanair:

If we're under attack from bottles of water and luggage and ladies cosmetics, why are you allowing them down the [London] Underground. Why are you allowing them on Eurotunnel?

We are not in danger of dying at the hands of toiletries... these measures are giving the terrorists and extremists an unbelievable public relations success [by imposing such massive disruption to UK air travel]. They must be rolling around the caves of Pakistan laughing.

A new phase for Small Precautions

Small Precautions is getting a renewed lease, but this time under different management terms. Instead of disquisitions on topics of the day, I'm going to limit myself to simply quoting, with no comment, interesting quotes from my readings -- and usually not on the Web.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Successful first-strike wars?

I was casting over in my mind this morning as to when was the last time one country initiated a war with another and had things turn out remotely like what they expected. In other words, when the Bush regime was considering invading Iraq, how much were they relying on a totally exceptional outcome?

Let's go backward in time:

  • Eritrea attacks Ethiopia, 1998. In May 1998 a few Eritrean soldiers entered the Badme region along the border with Ethiopia, resulting in a fire fight between the Eritrean soldiers and the militia and security police they encountered. Eritrea, claiming that several Eritrean officials had been murdered, invaded Ethiopia with a large, mechanized force. The results? Ethiopia declared "total war," and proceeded to conquer a sizable chunk of Eritrea (though this result was eventually overturned under the terms of a 2004 U.N. Settlement). In the meanwhile, several hundred thousand soldiers were killed and over a million refugees were created. No doubt the response throughout Eritrea today is, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Iraq invades Kuwait, 1990. We all know how this one worked out for Saddam, not to mention the 200,000 dead Iraqis and Kuwaitis. As Tony the Tiger says, Grrrrrreat!
  • Israel invades Lebanon, 1982. In June 1982, responding to Abu Nidal's assassination attempts against Israeli diplomats and continued PLO artillery fire from Southern Lebanon, Israel invaded Lebanon. The result? To be fair, this invasion was probably considered a limited success from a strictly military point of view, since it weakened the Syrian armed forces and destroyed the PLO's military and political infrastructure in Southern Lebanon. One must weight this against the 17,000 dead Arabs the war also created, most notably including a massacre of several thousand civilians (at Ariel Sharon's behest) at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, which no one would dispute was disastrous for Israel's public and diplomatic standing. The war is also considered the major catalyst for the creation of the Iranian and Syrian supported Hizbullah organization, which replaced the vanquished PLO in Southern Lebanon. The occupation would continue for 18 years, resulting in a steady drip of Israeli casualties, before ending in 2000 with Barak's unilateral withdrawal, itself widely considered a humiliation for Israel.
  • Argentina invades the "Malvinas," 1982. In April 1982, possibly to unify a domestic polity on the verge of civil war, Argentine military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri ordered the invasion of the Malvinas, also known as Falklands, an island chain off the coast of Argentina that had long been sovereign British territory, though claimed by Argentina. Results? Initially, the occupation was a success. However, after a month of preparation, the British mounted a fierce amphibious assault which eventually repulsed the Argentinians from the islands. The Argentines sustained over 1750 casualties, and over 11,000 prisoners. What's more, the humiliation resulted in a wave of protests by human rights and war veterans groups, culminating in the resignation of Galtieri, paving the way for the establishment of Argentina's current quasi-democracy. For the Argentine military junta, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Iraq invades Iran, 1980. The war began when Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, following a long history of border disputes, hoping to seize control over the resource-rich province of Khuzestan (or Arabistan, as the Iraqis called it). Results? The conflict saw early successes by the Iraqis, but before long they were repulsed and the conflict stabilized into a war of attrition that would last eight years, cause a million casualties, cost a trillion dollars, and result in not one inch of territory trading hands. Mission Accomplished!
  • The U.S.S.R. invades Afghanistan, 1979. After a Marxist coup in 1973, Afghanistan quickly began to fall to pieces, as Kabul attempted to impose a cultural revolution and lost control of the countryside. Amid a confusing set of events that (including the covert Soviet assassination of their own corrupt and illegitimate client, Hafizullah Shah), the Soviet Army decided to seize direct control over Afghanistan. Results? The Soviets were no more able to control the countryside than Shah and his cronies had been, and became involved in a long war of attrition that over the next decade would result in 14,000 Soviet troop deaths, and perhaps a million dead Afghans. The Red Army's combination of brutality and ineffectiveness delegitimated the last remaining functional institution of the Soviet state, contributing to the eventual collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. For the Russians, Mission Accomplished!
  • Egypt and Syria invade Israel, 1973. The so-called Yom Kippur War began when Egypt and Syria launched a surprise joint attack in the Sinai and Golan Heights in October 1973. The Egyptians and Syrians advanced during the first 24–48 hours, after which momentum began to swing in Israel's favor. By the second week of the war, the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights. In the Sinai to the south, the Israelis managed to isolate, and probably could have captured or destroyed, an entire Egyptian army. Results? By the time the armistice was declared on October 26, the Arab armies had sustained 50,000 casualties, and lost more than 2000 tanks and 400 airplanes. Moreover, the attack galvanized the Israelis into redoubling their military investment (including into nuclear weaponry) and increased the rate at which Israelis committed to settling Jews in the West Bank. For the Arabs, Mission Accomplished!
  • U.S. invades Cuba, 1961. Bay of Pigs. The facts of the disastrous invasion are well known. But on the results side, it's worth noting that the Cuban Missile Crisis was also a direct downstream result of the botched invasion. And fourty-five years later, Castro is still in power. Mission Accomplished!
  • North Korea invades South Korea, 1950. Determined to reunify the Korean peninsula by force, and confident of their tactical and strategic superiority, North Korea under homocidal moonbat Kim Il Sung invaded South Korea in June 1950. Initially the fighting went North Korea's way, but when a U.S.-led United Nations coalition intervened in September, the tide turned, with the U.N. troops driving the North Koreans back past the 38th parallel, and then continuing northward. Only surprise intervention on the North Korean side by Mao's China saved Kim's bacon. The results? Here's how wikipedia sums it up:
600,000 Korean soldiers died in the conflict according to US estimates. The total, including all civilians and military soldiers from UN Nations and China, was over 2 million deaths. More than a million South Koreans were killed, 85% of them civilians. According to figures published in the Soviet Union, 11.1% of the total population of North Korea perished, which indicates that 1,130,000 people were killed. In sum, about 2,500,000 people were killed, including north and south together. More than 80% of the industrial and public facilities and transportation works, three-quarters of the government offices, and one-half of the houses were destroyed. The war left the peninsula permanently divided with a garrisoned pro-Soviet, totalitarian led state in North Korea and a pro-American semi-free (though not always democratic until the late 1980s) republic in the South. American troops remain in Korea as part of the still-functioning United Nations Command, which commands all allied military forces in the ROK - American Air Forces, Korea, the Eighth U.S. Army, and the entire ROK military. The DMZ remains the most heavily-defended border in the world.
  • Germany invades Poland (and others), 1939-41. This one too need not be elaborated, since it's the archetype of evil. Results? Here, here, and here. For Aryans everywhere, Mission Accomplished!
  • Bolivia invades Paraguay, 1932. Border skirmishes had been ongoing since the late 1920s in the sparsely populated Chaco border region, which was thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) to be rich in oil. This culminated in an all-out war in when the Bolivian army attacked a Paraguayan border garrison in 1932. The result? A disaster for both sides. Bolivia's European elite force-drafted the large Indian population into the army, and Paraguay responded by fomenting nationalist fervor the region's Indians and mixed population, and resorting to guerrilla tactics. Over 100,000 people died over the next two years. A ceasefire was negotiated in 1935, and eventually Paraguay was awarded three-quarters of the region. For Bolivia, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Japan attcks Manchuria, 1931; China, 1937; United States, 1941. Again, I'll spare you the details, but the result for the Japanese? Five million dead Japanese, the nuking of two of their cities, and an occupation by a foreign power that is now in its seventh decade. For Japan, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Germany invades Belgium/France, 1914. Clearly the worst military miscalculation in history, a result of a fatal mix of secret alliances, militarism, imperial ambition, jingoistic stupidity, and inbred decision-making elites. But the results are worth repeating: Tens of millions dead, the dismemberment of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, and the Leninist seizure of power in Russia. For all the Central Powers, and indeed for European civilization itself, "Mission Accomplished!"
  • Germany invades France, 1870. Ah... we finally got one! Bismarck initiated the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, proceeding to humiliate the French army and nation by conquering Paris in a matter of weeks. The result? The consolidation of the German empire, including the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine from France.

Some people may note that I've cheated a bit with this list, excluding certain events like colonial occupations (e.g. the German occupation of Nambia in 1904; Japan in Korea in 1905; Italy in Ethiopia in 1935) as well as various interventions into civil wars (which occurred variously, esp. in the 1990s: NATO in the Balkans, U.S. in Haiti, Uganda in Rwanda; see also Vietnam in Cambodia in 1978, though this example is complex and problematic). But these seem to me to be exceptions that prove the rule. Let me concede, therefore, that it is perhaps possible to achieve success if you invade a country that doesn't have any form of modern social or military organization, under conditions where any form of brutality is permissible (e.g. the colonial examples); and perhaps one can succeed in invading a country if the goal is to stop an ongoing full-scale slaughter, since stopping the slaughter can provide immediate legitimacy for the invader.

But it's something totally different when you decide to wage a war of choice against a more-or-less modern enemy in which there is no obvious pressing demand for an invasion: that just simply hasn't worked our well for over a century.

In other words, when George Bush decide in mid-September 2001, at the behest of his neocon advisors, that the time had come for the United States to initiate a war with Iraq, the Bush administration was basically under the impression that it could overturn about 130+ years of recent history. Hm, cue: "reality-based community" mockery.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Dialecticalizing the proverb about the the first casualty of war

Describing the mentality of a leader who declares his society to be in a state of permanent war, Michel Foucault thirty years ago made the following pungent observation about such a person’s sense of truth:
In this general struggle of which [the leader] is speaking, he is inevitably on one side or the other. He is caught up in the battle, has adversaries, and is fighting to win. No doubt he is trying to assert a right; but it is his right that is at issue—and it is a singular right that is marked by a relationship of conquest, domination, or seniority: the rights of a race, the rights of triumphant invasions or millennial occupations. And while he also speaks about the truth, he is speaking of a perspectival and strategic truth that will allow him to be victorious.
This view of truth is not the sort, Foucault goes on to say, that legislators or philosophers
have dreamed of: standing between the adversaries, at the center of and above the fray, imposing an armistice, establishing an order that brings reconciliation. [Rather] it is a matter of establishing a right that is stamped with dissymmetry and that functions as a privilege that has to be either maintained or reestablished; it is a matter of establishing a truth that functions as a weapon. [Emphasis mine]

I think that this quote is worth pondering as one considers not only the Bush regime's relationship to the truth, but also its attitude toward the role of legislation and reconciliation in the process of waging war.

This perspective on the Bush regime’s relationship to the truth, I believe, is the only way to make sense of statements like, "We don't torture." These guys regard the idea of universal objectivity as an illusion or a trap; for them, rather "truth" is simply a weapon in war in which they seek unconditional victory.

(Note that Foucault is not saying, simply, that war destroys truth, but rather that war, especially when warfare is perceived as constitutive of society, creates a condition in which truth becomes defined as that which is necessary to win the war. It's also worth noting that Foucault doesn't have a particular problem with this perspective on truth, which he regards as less insidious than the scientific pretentions to universal and unimpeachable authority. Science claims that the truth is what it is; the warrior-leader subject can recognize that losing a war can potentially disinstantiate his understanding of the truth.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Niall Ferguson's apologist history of the future

You may have noticed Niall Ferguson's dark "'What if?' History of the Future of Iran-U.S. Relations." Fergsuon's essay is, in essence, an answer to the imaginary history essay question of the future: "In 2007, Iran-U.S. relations deteriorated to the point where these is a nuclear exchange. How did this happen?"

What's most striking about Ferguson's scenario is how many right-wing cliches he manages to embed in his narrative: a stalwart, misunderstood American Republican leadership; a Chamberlinite domestic opposition in Britain and the U.S.; a heroic Ariel Sharon, laid tragically low at the moment he was most needed; a pusillanimous Continental leadership; an opportunistic Russian and Chinese leadership; and of course (always!) those fanatically malevolent "Middle Easterners." Indeed, one is tempted to say that the main purpose of the essay is less to guide any kind of critical thinking about current foreign policy than it is to promote the continued operational usefulness of these cliches.

Had I the time, I'd be tempted to write the progressive counterpoint to the same scenario. Imagine how someone informed by a different politics than Ferguson might come up with a totally different narrative: one in which the Bushist declaration of Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil" in 2001, coupled with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, was perceived in Iran as a de facto declaration of war. (Michael Ledeen would be quoted as idiotic-instigator-in-chief in this scenario.) The historian might then show how this de facto declaration spurred in the Iranian leadership a desperate search for a defensive posture capable of warding off the U.S. military threat, inevitably leading to the reactivation of a previously dormant drive to build a nuclear device. The historian might also note that the U.S. occupation of Iraq by (inadvertently) empowering of the fundamentalist Shiite majority in Iraq, also precipitated a radicalization of Shiite religious energies in Iran, eventuating in the election of a militant and aggressive millenarian to the Iranian Presidency.

This same historian might also note that the fact that the U.S. policy in the Middle East was driven by a the most secrecy-obsessed Presidency in the history of the country had led to a globally widespread suspicion of the American's regime's motives, magnifying the difficulty of presenting a globally united front against Iranian proliferation. The fact that terrible domestic policies were finally being perceived by the American public had resulted in a wounded and ineffective leadership by America in 2005-2007, causing that leadership to respond to its weak negotiating position by ratcheting up its rhetoric of war, further exacerbating the negative dynamic in Iran, and further isolating it from what might otherwise have been sympathetic Western opinion.

Yes, one can certainly imagine such a scenario. And a good deal more plausible as a history it would be, too. But of course, that's not Ferguson's project; rather, his project is to provide advance neocon spin for the oncoming world-historical catastrophe that the neocon ideological project may be bringing down on all our heads. What Ferguson's article is really represents, in short, is an attempt to deal with the neocons' calamitous PR problem: whatever happens in the Middle East over the next couple of years, it's going to be exceedingly difficult to try to pin the blame for the catastrophe on anyone else. But Ferguson's trying, good man.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A modest voting proposal on Alito

Since it appears that the Dems are not going to do the right thing and stand up for the principle that SCOTUS nominees must specifically answer questions about precedent -- in other words, that they are going to allow the "Ginsburg principle" to continue -- they can at least do the smart political thing: to vote against Alito as a block. Let him become the first SCOTUS nominee ever to win a seat without a single vote from the opposition -- and then relentlessly run against Republican judicial extremism when the inevitably atrocious decisions begin to come down from the Court....

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Improving the SCOTUS nomination process

I can't understand why the Democrats aren't standing up for the principle that a nominee should not under any circumstance be allowed to duck questions. This is a simple principle that every American regardless of ideological stripe ought to be able to respect. The message ought to be something like this:
A SCOTUS nominees get a lifetime appointment to determine the meaning of the laws of this country, a position of enormous privilege and responsibility. The American people deserve a nominee whose beliefs and values are both well-known and aligned with theirs. If a nominee refuses to say exactly -- EXACTLY -- what he makes of current legal interpretations, then he or she shouldn't sit on the Court.
The Democrats should seize the moment to stand for the principle that a nominee's refusal to answer questions about whether particular past decisions were rightly or wrongly decided automatically earns a "No" vote.

In short, every nominee should have to answer straight-forwardly whether they think (to take a random sampling) Griswold, Roe, Bush v Gore, Kelo, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Nebbia, Wickard, Lawrence, or Grutter were rightly decided. If not, why not?

Here's a suggestion: what if the Judiciary Committee were to make it a tradition that each Senator on the committee is allowed to name a single case from the past that SCOTUS nominees would be expected to comment on -- essentially, to write an opinion on the case. This would be part of the preparation work that a potential nominee would be expected to do -- a basic test of whether they are competent to do the job.

Withough question, such an assignment would provide the truest window into the actual legal thinking of any particular nominee. It's hard for me to imagine how anyone could make a principled objection to this proposal.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

I'm back...

I'll be posting occasional comments, and more links, not so much on top headlines, as on things that are being left at a rolling boil on the back burner. For example, here's a little piece of news that ought to strike terror into anyone holding a lot of dollar-denominated assets: Chinese central bankers are apparently planning to trim exposure to the dollar.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

My first writely doc

Taking time off from blogging has been a relief, as I've disappeared into the world of a new job. I've also been playing a lot more with Web 2.0 applications, and noticing how many of these technologies are converging. For example, this entry is being typed on Writely, which is designed to post automatically to blogger (and a number of other blog engines). The on demand revolution is also spurring a convergence -- perhaps blurring would be a more accurate word for it -- happening between consumer and corporate applications, which I would never have anticipated even a couple years ago.