Archives for January, 2005

Iraqi Elections

So, even though this has long stopped being a blog where you can check in for regular comments on the events of the day, I feel some obligation to say something about the elections in Iraq. I think what happened Sunday was, given the constraints, the best possible outcome in terms of setting the stage for a U.S. withdrawal and an Iraqi state that’s less oppressive than what came before. At the least, it portends a Shia-led state with the legitimacy to reach out to the Sunnis and/or finish the civil war (with what army, you ask. I know…). I still think that it will be a long, long time before anything resembling liberal democracy will take root in Iraq, which has a number of severe handicaps on the transition: lack of ethnic and religious unity, the resource curse, no independent middle class to speak of, etc., etc. But anything’s possible, I guess. I never would have predicted that things in South Africa would have worked out as they did. I’d say more, but I’m a little leery of making bold pronouncements about societies I’m unfamiliar with, and historical processes I understand only imperfectly. That timidity is a hell of a handicap in the public policy business, let me tell you.

Posted on Jan 31, 2005 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Surprisingly Decent

Two recent items that pleasantly surprised me with their all-around okayness: Why Americans Hate Politics, the 1991 book by WaPo columnist E.J. Dionne. You wouldn’t expect much from a book with that sort of title, nor would you expect much from a model of goo-goo earnestness like Dionne is in his Post column. But I’ve been paging through it recently (reading up on “fusionism” for an upcoming AFF debate) and it’s a neat intellectual history of conservatism, libertarianism, and liberalism in post WWII America–well-researched and abundantly fair to viewpoints Dionne obviously disagrees with.

Also, Out of Time, starring the newly fat Denzel Washington, is a terrifically adequate thriller in the “Double Indemnity” mode. Nothing fancy, just a typical dame-frames-guy-for-murder piece, diverting as a paperback novel.

Posted on Jan 25, 2005 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Interesting Poll Results

According to today’s Washington Post, the Pew Research Center recently found that “66 percent of Republicans agreed that ‘We should all be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong.'” (Only 33 percent of Democrats agreed with that statement.) In a related poll, 98 percent of neoconservatives emphatically agreed that all those other guys should be willing to fight for our country.

Posted on Jan 25, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Don’t Know Thy Enemy

This New York Post piece may be the stupidest editorial since the New York Sun suggested that protestors against the Iraq War should be charged with treason.

Talk about adding insult to injury: Doubleday Broadway Ã?Â??Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?Â?Ã?¢Ã?¢??Ã?Â?Ã?¬” a New York–based imprint in Bertelsmann’s Random House domain–plans to promote the works of the world’s most evil twosome: Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden.

No kidding: As soon as perhaps next year, a collection of the deadly duo’s hate-filled writings, translated into English, will be turned into a book, tentatively called “Al Qaeda Reader,” and bound for a bookstore near you.

The Post editorialist wants Elliot Spitzer to come to the rescue:

Bertelsmann clearly means to promote al Qaeda’s evil–and then profit from it.

And that’s reprehensible.

So, here’s an idea.

New York’s Son of Sam law was intended to keep villains from profiting from their evil by publishing books.

And Doubleday is headquartered in New York.

Why doesn’t Attorney General Eliot Spitzer–who’s never been bashful about advancing novel legal strategies–see if that law has any relevance to this case? If nothing else, the effort would concentrate Bertelsmann’s attention on the morality of what it intends to do.

You know, if you actually read what Al Qaeda operatives have written, it becomes harder and harder to cling to the comforting notion that “they hate us because we’re free.” Which may be why the Post editorialist is so pissed. Though if they do hate us because we’re free, and the editorialist gets his way, they’ll have one less reason to hate us, I guess.

Posted on Jan 24, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Bad News Hughes Family Chrismas

The next day Craig, Dad and I ate some melted cheese and ground beef and watched two hours of Mexican wrestling. We got to see a guy with a mohawk piledriver a midget who was wearing overalls and a monkey mask. Everyone agreed Christmas was a success.

These picture-filled posts filled me with belated holiday cheer. Here and here.

Posted on Jan 23, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Quote of the Day

The inconstancy of American foreign policy is not an accident, but an expression of distinct sides of the American character. Both are characterized by a kind of moralism, but one is the morality of decent instincts tempered by the knowledge of human imperfection and the other is the morality of absolute self-assurance fired by the crusading spirit.

–J. William Fulbright, The Arrogance of Power

Posted on Jan 23, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A George W. I Could Vote For

Here, in its entirety, is George Washington’s second inaugural address:

Fellow Citizens:

I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.

Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.

How far we’ve fallen.

Posted on Jan 20, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Humanitarian Intervention

Interesting article in the Harvard International Review on the difficulties of humanitarian intervention. The author’s first point: “Killers Are Quicker Than Intervenors”:

In the high-profile conflicts of the 1990s, most violence was perpetrated far more quickly than commonly realized. In Bosnia, although the conflict dragged on for more than three years, the majority of ethnic cleansing was perpetrated in the spring of 1992. By the time Western media arrived on the scene later that summer, Serb forces already occupied two-thirds of the republic and had displaced more than one million residents. In Rwanda, at least half of the eventual half-million Tutsi victims were killed in the first three weeks of genocide. When Croatia’s army broke a three-year cease-fire in August 1995, it ethnically cleansed virtually all of the more than 100,000 Serbs from the Krajina region in less than a week. In Kosovo, when Serbian forces switched from a policy of counter-insurgency to ethnic cleansing in March 1999, in response to NATO’s decision to bomb, most of their cleansing occurred in the first two weeks, and they managed to cleanse 850,000 Albanians, half the province’s total. In East Timor, following a 1999 vote for independence, Indonesian-backed militias damaged the majority of the province’s infrastructure and displaced most of the population in little more than a week.

Even less well recognized is the fact that logistical obstacles impose significant delays on military intervention, humanitarian or otherwise, even where a strong political will exists. For example, after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and US President George Bush ordered an immediate deployment to defend Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield), it took nine days for the first unit of 2,300 US troops to reach the area of conflict. Another week was required before the unit was sufficiently prepared to venture beyond its makeshift base. Thus, even with the vital national security interest of oil at stake, it took the United States more than two weeks to deploy and begin operations of a relatively tiny force. The reasons are numerous, but stem mainly from three factors: modern militaries cannot operate without their equipment, their equipment is extremely heavy, and there are limits to the rate at which such equipment can be airlifted to remote countries.

in Africa, where most of today’s violent conflicts take place, is even harder due to bad airfields and the farther distance from western military bases. Had the United States tried to stop the Rwandan genocide, it would have required about six weeks to deploy a task force of 15,000 personnel and their equipment. This time estimate is conservative, because analogous past interventions to Haiti, Panama, and the Dominican Republic actually required somewhat larger forces. Unfortunately, this means that by the time Western governments learned of the Rwandan genocide and deployed an intervention force, the vast majority of the ultimate Tutsi victims would already have been killed.

His second point: the possibility of intervention, and the moral hazard attendant to it, can increase the risk of genocide and ethnic cleansing:

The most counterintuitive aspect of humanitarian military intervention is that it sometimes may cause the very tragedies it is intended to prevent. The explanation for this starts from the little known but empirically robust fact that genocidal violence is usually a state retaliation against substate groups for launching armed secession or revolution. Most groups are deterred from such armed challenges by the fear of state retaliation. In the 1990s, however, the regime of humanitarian military intervention changed this calculus, convincing some groups that the international community would intervene to protect them from retaliation, thereby encouraging armed rebellions. As events played out, these armed challenges did provoke genocidal retaliation, but intervention arrived too late to save many of the targets of retaliation. Thus, the intervention regime–intended to insure against risks of genocide and ethnic cleansin–inadvertently encouraged risk-taking behavior that exacerbated these atrocities. This is the classic dynamic of moral hazard, which is an inherent drawback of insurance systems.

This dynamic was in play with President Clinton’s cluster-bomb humanitarianism over Kosovo in 1999:

Most of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, including the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, believed they were no match by themselves for heavily armored Serb forces. However, the rebels expected that if they could provoke the Serbs into retaliating against Albanian civilians, the international community would intervene on their behalf, thereby facilitating independence. The plan played out almost perfectly. The rebels began shooting large numbers of Serb police and civilians in 1997, the Serbs retaliated with a brutal counter- insurgency in 1998, and NATO bombed the Serbs and occupied the province in 1999, establishing Kosovo’s de facto independence. As noted above, however, the intervention also compelled the Serbs to initiate last-ditch ethnic cleansing–displacing about half the province’s Albanians and killing more than 5,000. After Serbia’s defeat, the Albanians took revenge by ethnically cleansing 100,000 Serbs, about half those in the province, while killing hundreds more.

All of this death and displacement on both sides was a direct consequence of the promise of humanitarian intervention. Research in both Bosnia and Kosovo, based on interviews with senior Muslim and Albanian officials who launched the suicidal armed challenges, indicates they would not have done so except for the prospect of such foreign aid.

I don’t agree with all of the author’s suggestions, but it’s a well-argued piece. Arguments for humanitarian intervention, like arguments for intervention in general, usually start by assuming a competent state that can reliably and predictably carry out its ends. And thus, they generally go wrong.

Posted on Jan 20, 2005 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Four More Years

Did President Bush change the national anthem by executive order? To something from the Lion King? Regardless, the gal who sang it was purty.

But the speech gave me the chills, and not the good kind. This might be the time for humility about our ability to work our will on the world, not 100 proof messianic Wilsonian zeal. I hope Sy Hersh is wrong. But the speech didn’t encourage me on that front.

Posted on Jan 20, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Vietnam Syndrome

It’s pretty interesting that Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the guy who’s taking over next month as ground commander in Iraq, has on his “required reading” list (click the “multimedia” icon to the right) for his subordinates, H.R. McMasters’ Dereliction of Duty : Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam. Of that book, the New Yorker reports:

The talk of the [Association of the U.S. Army] convention was a book published in 1997 that the officer corps has recently rediscovered. Many carried the volume under their arms, and no fewer than six urged me to read it: ��?���¢���¢�¢??���¬��?�¢??Dereliction of Duty,��?���¢���¢�¢??���¬��?��� written by an Army major named H. R. McMaster. Using once classified Vietnam-era documents, McMaster finds fault not just with Robert McNamara, then the Secretary of Defense, who dismissed warnings from the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the Vietnam War would be hard to win, but with the four Chiefs themselves, who were complicit, because they failed to publicly voice their misgivings.

Gen. Thomas White, fired as Secretary of the Army in 2003 for clashing with Rumsfeld about necessary troop strength in Iraq and other issues, now says, “If I had it to do again, what Shinseki and I should have done is quit, and done so publicly,” he said.

Nothing’s more important than civilian control of the military. And I don’t want Generals getting involved in politics, MacArthur-style. But partially because of the lessons of Vietnam, the officer corps seems to be a lot more sane than the civilians at the Pentagon.

Posted on Jan 17, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

Movies

Stay away from “Troy”. Especially if you detest Brad Pitt as much as I do. Every movie he makes is a paean to his outsized ego. He’s always a poor-man’s James Dean with muscles–angst-ridden and tortured despite his ability kick the ass of every guy and bed every chick he meets. I would, however, pay to see a real fight between him and the 7-foot-tall wall of muscle he dispatches in the first five minutes of the movie.

Why are big-budget movies increasingly stupid? There’s no good reason they should be. Just because a lot of stuff blows up and cars crash doesn’t mean you can’t have witty dialogue and half-interesting plots. Hollywood has shown great success in recent years making kids movies that adults find interesting: “Shrek”, “The Incredibles,” etc. Why can’t they do it with action pictures?

“Sideways” is good, but not nearly as good as the hype. Paul Giamatti is too rat-like and unpleasant to carry the role he plays, and it’s impossible to believe a woman of even moderate attractiveness would have any interest in him. Thomas Hayden Church carries the movie and ought to be a star. But perhaps I have inordinate fondness for him because I spent a large period of my life dressing like “Lowell”–in a sort of mentally challenged approximation of grunge fashion.

“Maria Full of Grace” is a terrific movie. I’d sworn off movies with subtitles since I got wireless web–it’s too hard to surf the web while reading dialogue. But MFOG was worth making an exception. The lead actress is mesmerizing and the movie shows a side of life few of us get to see.

“Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle” is by far the best of the “wandering stoner” flicks, and worth the price of DVD rental simply for the scene where they sing Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On.” It does “Bohemian Rhapsody” one better. It’s upsetting that there isn’t a White Castle within two states of where I live.

Posted on Jan 16, 2005 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

AFF Roundtable Tonight

If you’re in the DC area tonight, come out for the AFF roundtable on Iraq:

Iraq elections roundtable Tonight…
AFF will host its first roundtable of 2005 tonight, Wednesday, January 12. It will be entitled “The Iraqi Elections: Mission Accomplished?” On January 30, the Iraqi people will face their first test of independence. Can Coalition forces overcome the insurgency and safeguard a legitimate election? What will the election mean for the future involvement of the U.S. in Iraq?

Speakers will include Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation, Vance Serchuk of the American Enterprise Institute, Justin Logan, foreign policy research assistant at the Cato Institute, and Christian Whiton, of the Global Affairs section of the State Department. Katherine Mangu Ward, of the Weekly Standard will moderate the panel.

The event will take place at the Fund for American Studies (1706 New Hampshire Ave. NW). Drinks will begin at 7:00 p.m., with dinner and discussion following at 7:30.

Posted on Jan 12, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

“Don’t Help a Good Boy Go Bad”

Courtland Milloy’s column today is about a number of recent muggings in D.C. where the perps wanted North Face jackets. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I don’t like hearing talk like this from police officials:

“My own teenage son wanted a North Face, and he got one,” Polly Hanson, chief of the Metro Transit Police, told me, sounding somewhat exasperated. “Ideally, the best way to prevent these jackets from being stolen is not to have one. Otherwise, just keep in mind that you are, in fact, out advertising that you have something that others want, real bad.”

Especially officials for a department that defends activities like this and this.

Posted on Jan 9, 2005 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

UCW began from a dream I had on my 27th Birthday (June 3, 2003). I had a vision that I could combine two of my passions, Professional Wrestling and Evangelism.

That’s from the “History” page of Ultimate Christian Wrestling, no doubt the greatest thing since Stryper.

Posted on Jan 6, 2005 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

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