Wednesday, June 30, 2004


Bizarre as this multiparty/pan-ideological quilt that Nader seems to be trying to create is, it's worth pointing out that the coverage of his campaign is, once again, almost entirely focused on the uncertainty factor he represents, rather than any of his policy ideas.

Monday, June 28, 2004


Amir Taheri writes in the New York Post:

The problem is that those who conduct acts of terror today refuse to be described as terrorists — because terrorism has not only lost its revolutionary luster but has been universally recognized as a barbarous form of political violence.

There is, of course, no chance that terrorism will ever regain the romantic aura that it once enjoyed. Thus, there is little possibility that those who use terrorism will ever acknowledge their deeds in such terms.

As long as no one is ready to admit that he is a terrorist, no one will be able to impose a universal definition of terrorism.

So what is the way out?

We could, of course, shrug our shoulders and admit that in a world that asks "what is the definition of a definition?" there is little chance of defining terrorism in universally acceptable terms. After all, there are many facts of life that we cannot define in such terms,

Or we could approach terrorism as a method, a form of action, and refrain from even the slightest hint of ethical judgment when proposing a definition.

Such an approach could provide us with a possible definition: Terrorism is any act or series of violent acts against civilians designed to persuade a part or the whole of a community or a group of communities to do something that the terrorists like, or to stop doing something that the terrorists do not like. (emphasis added)

On the basis of such a definition, what the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks did in the United States and what the so-called al Qaeda is now doing in Iraq and Saudi Arabia is terrorism.

That sounds like a fine definition to me. Of course, under this definition the United States government has committed numerous acts of terrorism, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki being two of the most obvious examples. The military value of those targets was nil, but the terror value was high. And the result was that the war with Japan was ended sooner and with much less loss of American life than an invasion of Japan would have required. So were the bombings wrong? They did what they were supposed to do, which was end the war quickly. They were effective.

The point of war is simple: minimize your own casualties while maximizing those of your opponent. Eventually he will get upset and quit. Throughout history, new and devastating forms of weaponry and warfare have been condemned as unfair or immoral, the most famous being the crossbow (the "dastard's weapon"), the use of which was condemned by Pope Urban II in 1097. With a crossbow you could stand a ways off, hide behind a tree or battlement or some such, and just pick your enemies off their horses, while they on the other hand had gone to all the trouble of dressing up in shiny armor and marching in nice, neat battle lines. It was just rude. So they tried to pass laws against it.

There were similar arguments made against dropping bombs from airplanes, and I'm sure someone said something similar way, way back when, the first time someone brought a rock to to battle:

UG: Grok, that no fair. You have big rock, we have only teeth and fingernails.

GROK: Screw you, Ug. You shouldn't have kick me in testicles last time. Now your water and women are mine, or face the wrath of my rock.

UG: Okay, but we'll be back with a stick, or better yet, with paper to cover your rock. Then you be sorry.


Maybe it was unfair for Grok to bring that rock to battle, but it was effective. And that's a key point about terrorism: it works, unfortunately. It worked at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It worked for the IRA. It worked for the Algerians. It worked for Israel's founding fathers. It's worked for the Palestinians (were it not for Palestinian terrorism we wouldn't even be discussing a Palestinian State). Time will tell if it works for the anti-democratic Iraqi insurgency. To be clear, I'm not defending the use of terrorism, I think the targeting of non-combatants is despicable, only pointing out that terrorism been used by a lot of organizations, some governmental, some not, to further a variety of political goals. Like the crossbow, it's a field-levelling weapon used by the weak against a more powerful foe. It's a tool, and as such it's somewhat ridiculous to declare war against it.

Quickly, I have to disagree with Taheri's assertion that terror "has been universally recognized as a barbarous form of political violence." First, are there non-barbarous forms of political violence? Second, the claim of universality is weak. We in the West may have recognized that terrorism is barbaric, though, as I pointed out above, this hasn't stopped Western governments from employing it. There is much less recognition of this in other parts of the world, and in these places terrorism certainly does retain its romantic aura. Whether or not militant jihadists refer to themselves specifically as "terrorists" seems to me entirely beside the point.


Read this:

In fact — hold on a minute — he doesn't make arguments. Arguments require the marshalling of facts under the yoke of reason. [He] makes claims and assertions. He offers...innuendo. He raises your passions about X so that you will believe Y must be true. He is a whispering Loki who values passion over persuasion, which is one reason he's changed his claims against [the President] so many times.

Who do you think the above quote refers to? You'll probably be able to guess when I tell you that it's taken from a column by Jonah "Cabana Boy for the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" Goldberg over at NRO. Since this criticism is coming from the right, there's really only one person who could be the subject: Michael Moore. Of course, were this criticism coming from the left, it could be referring to any number of conservative bloviators. Goldberg seems to recognize this, but apparently it doesn't bother him:

Now, I have no doubt that I will be getting some e-mail from someone or other shouting "What about Limbaugh!?" — or Robertson, or Coulter, or Michael Savage. These are different people each deserving different defenses (and different criticisms). But whatever these guys may or may not be guilty of is beside the point. The point is that the Moore-lovers themselves think there are absolutely no redeeming qualities to the alleged monsters in the right-wing parade of horribles, and yet they hypocritically create their own Frankenstein just so they can have a brazen liar of their own. In other words, if you think Rush Limbaugh is a hateful liar who is destroying America, you do not defend Michael Moore or yourself by saying "Moore is our Limbaugh!" Fighting fire with fire is fine in war, but in debates fighting perceived lies with willful ones wins you few points.

I'd be interested in hearing Goldberg's defense of Michael Savage, but at the least it's revealing that Goldberg feels such a person is worthy of defending. I don't know where Goldberg's charge of liberals "hypocritically" creating "their own Frankenstein" in the form of Moore comes from. That's just bizarre. But of course, from his past work we know that Goldberg actually has no problem with hypocrisy.

What's worse is that most conservatives, including myself, do not think Limbaugh is a brazen liar. Most of the Washington liberals celebrating Moore — outside the DNC where he is simply a hero — concede that Moore is a liar, a propagandist, a crafty fool. Moreover, Limbaugh can answer a question about what he believes without changing the subject or reaching down his pants for a fistful of red-herrings. Moore cannot.

If, as Goldberg claims, most conservatives don't consider Limbaugh a brazen liar, that doesn't exactly speak well of the intelligence of conservatives. Maybe they should check out this revolutionary new device called Google. Goldberg's parsing of "perceived" versus "willful" lies is positively, hilariously Clintonian, and his comment about Limbaugh "answering a question about what he believes" is ironic, given that Limbaugh famously avoids any format where his claims might be challenged, where he'd actually have to defend his "ideas."

The thrust of Goldberg's column is that it is, yes, hypocritical for liberals to condemn Limbaugh and embrace Moore (as if it were any less hypocritical for conservatives to do the opposite). Nonsense. What's going on here is that, for decades, conservatives have been bringing guns to knife fights, and after decades of complaining about it, liberals are starting to wise up and do the same. Deal with it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004


It's the new thing, haven't you heard? This article by Gal Luft analyzes some of the problems faced by the U.S. as it has tried to bring Iraq's oil production back online, one of the most significant problems being potential attacks on the pipelines.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of oil terrorism in Iraq is that it may become a new model for Islamist terrorists who seek to destabilize the region. Moving 40 percent of the world's oil across some of the world's most volatile regions, pipelines are attractive terrorist targets. A simple explosive device can put a critical section of pipeline out of operation for weeks. By going after energy infrastructure, terrorists can weaken regimes that depend on oil revenues for their survival and at the same time deliver blows to the global economy. Hence, success in keeping Iraq's oil off-line might encourage other groups operating in the region to do the same.

Most disturbing of all is the possibility that the strategy of pipeline sabotage will migrate across the border from Iraq to neighboring Saudi Arabia, home to one-fourth of the world's oil reserves and 80 percent of the world's spare production capacity. Over 10,000 miles of pipelines crisscross Saudi Arabia, mostly above ground. Disruption of Saudi production in an effort both to weaken the House of Saud and to deny oil to the West would surely send tremors in global energy markets and, under some scenarios, could cause catastrophic environmental damage.

Back in heady days of the early 1970s, in that strange window after the Beatles broke up but before punk really hit, there was a movement among Arab states to "use the oil weapon," to take control of the production of Middle East oil as a means of taking the initiative against the Western powers and getting some of their own back. Scared the crap out of everybody, for a minute. This solidarity among Arab oil-producing states only lasted for a couple of years before historical rivalries reasserted themselves and the united front broke down, eventually resulting in the "separate peace" between Egypt and Israel brokered by President Carter at Camp David.

Now non-governmental organizations, in the form of terrorist groups, are, in a different way, again attempting to using the oil weapon. They know that the West is addicted to the stuff, and that the best way to get a junkie's attention is to cut off his supply of junk. Seems like a good strategy on their part.

Which brings us to what I think is a central question in this war:


If one wants to overly reductionist about it, yes, it is, but not in the way that a lot of conspiratorial types seem to think it is. The caricature of Bush and his oil buddies hunched over a map of the Middle East slicing it up like a cake is just that, a silly caricature. At the same time, it's pretty clear that the U.S. wouldn't really care that much about the Middle East if it weren't floating on a sea of oil. To state the extremely obvious, oil is a vital resource, used to make all kinds of items which we enjoy, so we have a definite national interest in making sure that our access to it is secure. The problem, as I see it, is that our need for "stability" in the region over the short term has blinded us to the negative long term effects of maintaining the status quo. This is pretty much the story of U.S. policy in the region in the 20th Century: we supported despotic regimes as long as they were friendly to us and kept to crude coming.

There was also the Middle East chess game which the U.S. played with the USSR, with alliances constantly shifting according to the needs and realities of the moment, the most obvious example being when the U.S. supported the formerly Soviet-backed Saddam Hussein, fighting with Soviet-made weapons, in his war against the formerly U.S.-backed Iran, fighting with U.S.-made weapons. Even neoconservative shaman Richard Perle, about as far from a "blame America" type as you could find, has recognized that "we are, in a sense, paying a price" for our support of anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East during the Cold War.

So, back to oil: yes, we NEED oil. It's yummy and it tastes great on grilled sea bass (err, wait, that's mango salsa. Sorry.) We just don't need to consume it at the rate that we have been, roughly the rate at which a sailor consumes beer during two days of shore leave. Except that, instead of two days, it's been a hundred years. And, instead of beer, it's oil. It's a metaphor, you see. Anyway, there's no avoiding the fact that the U.S. consumes oil at a much higher rate than any other country in the world, and that this overconsumption and overdependance has adverse effects on our national security by seriously limiting our foreign policy options.

Here's a White House press briefing from May 7, 2001, given by Ari Fleischer, which I think perfectly illustrates the willful blindness which characterizes U.S. energy policy, particularly the policy of this administration. (I really miss Ari. The guy proved that, if done boldy enough, outright, bald-faced lying can almost seem admirable. Spanky McClellan can't hold a candle to him.)

Q: Is one of the problems with this, and the entire energy field, American lifestyles? Does the President believe that, given the amount of energy Americans consume per capita, how much it exceeds any other citizen in any other country in the world, does the President believe we need to correct our lifestyles to address the energy problem?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a big no. The President believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policy makers to protect the American way of life. The American way of life is a blessed one. And we have a bounty of resources in this country. What we need to do is make certain that we're able to get those resources in an efficient way, in a way that also emphasizes protecting the environment and conservation, into the hands of consumers so they can make the choices that they want to make as they live their lives day to day.

Q: So Americans should go on consuming as much more energy than any other citizens in any other countries of the world, as long as they want?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President believes that the American people are very wise and that, given the right incentives, they will know how and they will make their own right determinations about how much they can conserve, just as the President announced last week that the federal government, as part of its consumership in California will reduce energy needs -- for example, the Department of Defense facilities in California, by 10 percent. He believes the American people, too, will make the right decisions about conservation and the program he will announce shortly will also include a series of conservation items.

But the President also believes that the American people's use of energy is a reflection of the strength of our economy, of the way of life that the American people have come to enjoy. And he wants to make certain that a national energy policy is comprehensive, that includes conservation, includes a way of allowing the American people to continue to enjoy the way of life that has made the United States such a leading nation in the world.

I highlighted that bit about the American way of life being a "blessed one" because it's always reminded me of a line in the Truman Show, during an interview with Truman's wife Meryl where she refers to life inside Truman's false world as "a truly blessed life." I doubt that Fleischer's allusion to the film was intentional, but it is very illuminating. Without overstating this, I think Americans, to a certain extent, do live within our own Truman-like bubble. We can and do live much of the time as if the rest of the world did not exist.

The 9/11 attacks momentarily shook us from this delusion, but Bush and his crew have been trying to sing us back to sleep ever since. Obviously I don't mean that they've been pretending that the threat doesn't exist, they've been very willing to talk about the terrorism to the extent that they can use the threat to arrogate more power to the executive branch, but they seem unwilling to confront the true dimensions of modern jihadism, and how U.S. policy in the Middle East and our dependance on oil may have contributed to it.

Sooner or later Americans are going to have to come to terms with the global consequences of the American lifestyle. I hope it's sooner, while we can make meaningful policy corrections, rather than later, when we may be looking back bitterly from an America that we no longer recognize.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004


Michael Moore has been all over the place lately promoting his new film, Fahrenheit 9/11. Atrios has posted this partial transcript of Moore's interview with Katie Couric. Here's Christopher Hitchens beating Moore with a stick (while keeping hold of his martini and lit cigarette, of course).

I have mixed feelings about Michael Moore. On the one hand, I probably agree with many of his general political principles, he seems a solid liberal armed with healthy skepticism, and he knows how to talk trash. On the other hand, I disapprove of a lot the methods he uses to advocate those principles. For example, I agree with the general thesis of Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, that America has a serious gun problem, but I think Moore seriously undercuts his own credibility with some of the rhetorical flim-flam and editing tricks used in the film to create false impressions.

From Moore's statements about the war on terror, it seems obvious to me that he simply doesn't comprehend the nature of this conflict. To put it charitably, Moore's view of the world is cartoonish. In his view, Bush and Ashcroft are the real enemy, multinational corporations, with the aid of the Republican Party and weak, traitor Democrats, are engaged in a SPECTRE-like plan to rule the world and make everybody wear Gap clothes and eat at McDonald's, and Osama bin Laden and the jihadists are the anti-colonial resistance (Moore once compared the Iraqi insurgents to the American Minutemen, this several days after the insurgents had blown up a van full of children.)

That said, there are far too few like Moore on the left (by that I mean loudmouthed bomb-throwers) whereas the right churns them out as if they were being grown in a lab (in the 7th level sub-basement of AEI, no doubt). As bad as is some of the stuff Michael Moore has said, on his worst days he doesn't come close to the hateful, divisive, bigoted, factless effluvia that regularly spews from the cake-holes of Limbaugh, Hannity, O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter and the rest.

I think it's instructive to note how the right treats its firebreathers and how the left treats its own. No matter how foul the conservative bloviaters get, the worst they can expect from their right-wing brethren is a Christopher Robin-esque "tut-tut," whereas Michael Moore is regularly criticized by the mainstream left for his excesses. Rush Limbaugh can refer to the Abu Ghraib torture as a "frat prank," and still be hailed as a GOP hero. Ann Coulter can refer to Katie Couric as "Eva Braun" and still be welcomed at the buffets and bars of various right-wing think tanks. The mainstream right embraces their extremists in a way that the mainstream left just doesn't, because the right seems to understand, as the left has forgotten, the usefulness of political radicals.

The function of political radicals is to broaden the parameters of debate, to create space for new thinking which might formerly have been considered "off limits," so that moderates can then move into that space and create policy based upon that new thinking. Rush Limbaugh is a perfect example. He's made "stark-raving asshole" an acceptable political position. Hence, Tom DeLay. You've got Limbaugh and his clones constantly pushing the envelope of acceptable rhetoric and policy, and then you have various politicians filling in the space which Limbaugh has created.

The left could do this a little better with Michael Moore. We don't have to embrace his positions, but we can occupy some of the space which his radicalism has opened up, pushing to political center back towards the left. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like we're afraid of being impolite. Some say that liberals are better than that, and we shouldn't sink to that level. In response I say: A) Yes, we are better than that, and B) fuck that shit. What does it matter what your level if your methods are simply ineffective? You have to fight the fight that's being brung. And this is the fight the right is bringing.

So, I still disapprove of many of Moore's methods and much of his hyperbole, and I think he could ideally be a much better and more responsible voice for the left, but the bottom line is that the left needs to learn to use him more effectively as he is, to fold him into a broader, cohesive strategy as the right seems to have done so well with their blowhards.


Spencer Ackerman at Iraq'd provides a rundown of the Bush Administration's claims about the Saddam-al Qaeda "relationship."

I think John Stewart put it most succinctly:
"Mr. Vice-President, your pants are on fire."

Monday, June 21, 2004


Some thoughts on Iraq from Fareed Zakaria, which closely echo my own.

I did not believe Saddam had a lethal arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and I wrote as much in the months before the war (though, like everyone who is being honest, I am utterly astonished by what appears to be the lack of any weapons). But Saddam was an erratic, unpredictable leader who had been actively working against the United States and its interests--and peace in the region--for two decades. That meant he was a looming threat. Given the collapsing sanctions regime, at some point the United States would have to decide to move in one direction or the other. It could either welcome Saddam back into the community of nations and let him do what he would as a free agent. Or it could gather an international coalition to replace him. I wish that this latter policy had been pursued slowly and deliberately, with a genuine effort to forge a broad coalition and get the United Nations behind it. But, in the end, you have to decide whether to support the policy the president is pursuing--not the variation of it you wish he were pursuing. And I decided that, while timing and circumstances were not perfect, getting rid of one of the most ghastly regimes in the world, one that was a continued threat to U.S. interests, was worth supporting. Morality and realpolitik came together in the case against Saddam.

The biggest mistake I made on Iraq was to believe that the Bush administration would want to get Iraq right more than it wanted to prove its own prejudices right. I knew the administration went into Iraq with some crackpot ideas, but I also believed that, above all else, it would want success on the ground. I reasoned that it would drop its pet theories once it was clear they were not working. I still don't understand why the Bush team proved so self-defeatingly stubborn. Perhaps its initial success in Afghanistan emboldened it to move forward unconstrained. Perhaps its prejudices about Iraq had developed over decades and were deeply held. Perhaps the administration was far more divided and dysfunctional than I had recognized, making rational policy impossible.

Following on Zakaria's comments about the roots of Muslim feeling toward the U.S., here's an interesting piece by Larry Johnson from Sunday's Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

My impression is that people in the Arab and Islamic world still have considerable admiration, at least for our ideals, and for what they see as our life of individual and economic freedom -- and that the minority that really hate us, enough to do us in at any given opportunity, are a very small minority.

It seems that the democracy and freedom we enjoy in the United States are the main reasons that people still love us. Love us, not our government. Over and over we were told that the foreign policy of our government (and the Bush administration was singled out repeatedly) has made it the most hated in the world.

Of course, Johnson's attempt to understand the nature of Muslim antipathy toward the United States is being condemned as "appeasement" by the usual suspects.


This column by Charles Krauthammer is so rife with historical mumbo-pocus, it's hard to even know where to begin. How about here:

Yasser Arafat started the intifada in September 2000, just weeks after he had rejected, at Camp David, Israel's offer of withdrawal, settlement evacuation, sharing of Jerusalem and establishment of a Palestinian state. Arafat wanted all that, of course, but without having to make peace and recognize a Jewish state. Hence the terror campaign -- to force Israel to give it all up unilaterally.

Israel's "generous offer" at Camp David is one of the more persistent myths in the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. First, the idea that Israel would offer "withdrawal [from the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip], settlement evacuation, sharing of Jerusalem and establishment of a Palestinian state," after having spent the previous thirty years trying to make those exact things impossible, is obviously ridiculous on its face. Second, accounts from people who were actually there at the Camp David negotiations reveal Krauthammer's version of events to be false.

Even more important, [the Palestinians] have lost their place at the table. Israel is now defining a new equilibrium that will reign for years to come -- the separation fence is unilaterally drawing the line that separates Israelis and Palestinians. The Palestinians were offered the chance to negotiate that frontier at Camp David and chose war instead. Now they are paying the price.

Who does Krauthammer think he's kidding here? It has always been the intention of Israel to use the settlements as a means of expropriating Palestinian land. This is not something they just cooked up. Admittedly, Palestinian terrorism has given Israel a perfect pretext for this land grab, but it's very clear that this has been in the works for along time. If security, and not expansion, were the true goal of the "fence," Israel would be building it on the Green Line.

It stands to reason. It is the height of absurdity to launch a terrorist war against Israel, then demand the right to determine the nature and route of the barrier built to prevent that very terrorism.

Actually, the height of absurdity is demanding, as Israel has, that an occupied people must police terrorism in their midst while being subjected to the same daily brutalities and humiliations which incited that terrorism in the first place. But, you know, angels, heads of pins...

These new strategic realities are not just creating a new equilibrium, they are creating the first hope for peace since Arafat officially tore up the Oslo accords four years ago.

This is probably the most egregious falsehood in a column full of of egregious falsehoods. Arafat tore up the Oslo accords? The Israeli government was violating the Oslo accords literally before the ink was even dry. Settlement building went into overdrive at the very moment the papers were being signed. The number of settlers in Palestinian territories doubled from the beginning of the Oslo period to the end, in complete contravention to the spirit and letter of the accords. Benjamin Netanyahu became Israeli Prime Minister in the mid-nineties with the stated goal of frustrating implementation of Oslo, and in this he was very successful. Blaming Arafat for the breakdown of the accords indicates a total detachment from reality.

Now, for fun, compare Krauthammer's view of the Israel-Palestine conflict with that of al Jazeera. It is a mirror image. Just as al Jazeera refuses to locate any blame in the Palestinian leadership or Arab governments, in Krauthammer's imagination Israel is a peaceful democracy that only wants to live in harmony with its neighbors, only ever reacting to violence from Palestinians, never acting first. Nowhere in Charles' little victory dance does he mention the 36 years of Israeli occupation of Palestine, or that that occupation now exists primarily, if not solely, to maintain and protect Jewish settlements, which in turn exist to solidify Israel's hold on some of the most arable land in Palestine, to create "facts on the ground" which will strengthen Israel's bargaining position in final status talks.

Obviously Israel has the right and duty to protect its citizens from terrorism, but any honest analysis of the situation must recognize that, through the occupation, Israel has essentially been making daily war on the Palestinian people, and Israel will never know peace or security until the Palestinian people know justice. There are many Israelis who understand this. There are too few Americans who do.

Saturday, June 19, 2004


From the fellas at Lawyers, Guns, and Money, a good critique of the "ticking bomb" scenario we hear used so much by torture apologists.

To state the obvious, 1)of course torture is morally justified even if illegal under a "ticking time bomb" scenario, and 2)it's a bullshit argument. The problem is, the scenario requires an omniscience that renders it meaningless in any applied case. Under the ttb hypothetical, we 1)know that the bomb is about to destroy Manhattan (or LA or Des Moines or whatever), 2)know that the terrorist knows where it is and how to disarm it, 3)know that there's enough time that the terrorist will plausibly give up the goods but not so much time that we could extract the information by other means, and 4)that the information we get by torture is reliable. Since many (and, in most cases, all 4) of these variables will have unknown answers in the real world, the hypothetical is useless, and can be easily used in order to justify torture that reaches far beyond the narrow stipulations. In other words, the ticking time bomb scenario is nothing but a parlor game. As part an argument about whether torture is justified, it's a useless argument that does nothing but stack the deck against legal prohibitions against torture.

Friday, June 18, 2004


It seems like the President and his critics are speaking past each other on the issue of the nature of Saddam-al Qaeda relationship. The president maintains that there was, in fact, a relationship between the two, and, as I wrote below, this is technically correct while being intentionally deceptive. Was it a collaborative relationship? No, not according to the report of the 9/11 Commission. Saddam and al Qaeda were not allies in any real sense, nor were al Qaeda in any sense the "forward army" of Saddam Hussein, as Bush alleged in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion.

Many of the president's critics, though, are over-reaching, going after Bush for statements he never really made, accusing him of saying that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Bush was careful never to claim outright that Saddam was involved in 9/11, though it's pretty obvious that Bush wanted to create that impression, mentioning "9/11" and "Saddam" together as much as possible to link the two in the public's mind.

Since the invasion and the apparent lack of WMD in Iraq, Bush has been madly re-adjusting his justifications for war. The non-existence of WMD hasn't stopped Bush and his water-carriers from triumphantly pointing to evidence of Saddam's "intent" to attain such weapons, as if the two were anything near the same. No longer claiming that al Qaeda and Saddam were allies, or that al Qaeda was Saddam's "forward army," Bush has fallen back on claiming that Saddam "sheltered terrorist groups" and "hated America." These brazen redefinitions of his justifications for war provide more than enough reason to condemn Bush, and one shouldn't have to accuse him of making claims he never made.

Thursday, June 17, 2004


Here's a piece that was published in al Ahram last month, discussing the significance of the nakba in Arab reality. Nakba (Arabic for 'cataclysm' or 'catastrophe') is the term used in the Arab world to refer to the events surrounding the creation of the state of Israel, and the destruction of Palestinian society which occurred at the time.

I was impressed at the searching quality of the piece, and of the author's willingness to confront the culpability of Arab governments in the current crisis. Many of these regimes have for decades skillfully and cynically used the Palestinian situation to draw attention away from their own incompetence and corruption.

The Arabs should contemplate the relationship between the absence of Arab nationalism, democracy and the sovereignty of law and human dignity and the rights of citizenship. We should contemplate the meaning of rampant bribery and corruption and how they fly in the face of concepts of modernism and modernisation, the principle of the right type of human being for a society at a particular time, and the notion of a decision-making process based on criteria that are not extraneous to the subject at hand. The questions we ask ourselves on this set of issues should not be posed as derivatives from the Arab-Israeli conflict or the nakba, but as questions that need to be asked in their own right if we are to help ourselves. Even if there exists a historic relationship between this set of issues and the Arab-Israeli conflict, we must make the effort to separate the two structurally and functionally. Only then will our answer to the meaning of the nakba derive from the circumstances, needs and capacities of contemporary Arab society.

In this sense, Arab solidarity with Palestinian liberation, if structured upon a solid strategy, should not only lead to the "liberation of Jerusalem" and the liberation of the Palestinians, but also contribute to the liberation of the Arab human being. Marx wrote that the Jews of Europe would be liberated when Europe freed itself of its Jewish complex. In like vein, the Palestinians will be liberated when the Arab world rids itself of its Palestinian complex, ie when it frees its will from the chains that bind it, from colonialist dependency on ignorance, myth and superstition.

Somewhat long, but worth the read.

I think it's true that there won't be much progress among Arab societies unless and until there is a realization that all misfortune does not follow from the creation of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Conversely, the U.S. won't be able to effectively cultivate and support democratic change until we recognize just how significant a part al Nakba plays in the Arab consciousness, and how handicapped we are in that we are rightly perceived as abetting the oppression of the Palestinians, both by the Israelis and by the corrupt Palestinian Authority.


Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change.

The undersigned have held positions of responsibility for the planning and execution of American foreign and defense policy. Collectively, we have served every president since Harry S. Truman. Some of us are Democrats, some are Republicans or Independents, many voted for George W. Bush. But we all believe that current Administration policies have failed in the primary responsibilities of preserving national security and providing world leadership. Serious issues are at stake. We need a change.

Read the whole statement here.


I would hope that the 9/11 Commission's conclusion that there was no significant connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda would finally put a stop to Bush and Cheney's constant innuendos, but I suspect that it won't.

Kevin Drum puts it very well:

So did Iraq have zero contact with al-Qaeda? No. But that's not the point. What's telling — and never acknowledged by war supporters — is how little contact Iraq had with them despite enormous opportunity.

For entertainment, take a quick spin around the conservative blogosphere, where you will find sputtering charges of bias and/or partisanship, desperate grasping of straws, or the dulcet chirping of crickets.

Good lord, they're sticking with their story.

President Bush insisted today that "numerous contacts" between the ousted government of Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda terrorist network showed that the former Iraqi leader was a threat to the United States, despite a report by the Sept. 11 commission that found no "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and al Qaeda.

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda [is] because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," Bush told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

How I love these word games. Yes, there was indeed a "relationship" between Saddam and al Qaeda. Was it collaborative to any significant extent? No.

Using Bush's apparent standard for "relationship," one would be correct in saying that the U.S. has a "relationship" with militant Islam because of our support of the Saudis, and the Saudis' support of Wahabbist madrassas which continue to turn out extremists.

Come to think of it, using this standard I also have a "relationship" with Bush because I used to play guitar in a band with the son of one of Bush's main financiers. Given this relationship, where, I ask you, is my cushy government job? I'm not asking for anything fancy, just an ambassadorship to a small country where they serve umbrella drinks and have lawns fit for croquet.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Christopher Hitchens on Abu Ghraib:

But get ready. It is going to get much worse. The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe ("I'm outraged more by the outrage") have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see. And one linguistic reform is in any case already much overdue. The silly word "abuse" will have to be dropped. No law or treaty forbids "abuse," but many conventions and statutes, including our own and the ones we have urged other nations to sign, do punish torture—which is what we are talking about here at a bare minimum.

Add this to the list of things the Bush Administration just doesn't get.


Ian Buruma on Bernard Lewis's claim that "muslim rage" is powering the jihadists:

Lewis identifies two mainstays of Muslim rage. One is the spectacle of infidels ruling over true believers. This, in the eyes of the believers, “is blasphemous and unnatural, since it leads to the corruption of religion and morality in society, and to the flouting or even the abrogation of God’s law.” This account may help explain the revolutionary aspirations of Al Qaeda, but it is not persuasive when Lewis applies it to Uighurs in China or to Kosovars. They rebel in response to social and political oppression, not to blasphemy.

The second mainstay identified by Lewis is a more general one: secular modernity. The war on modernity “is directed against the whole process of change that has taken place in the Islamic world in the past century or more and has transformed the political, economic, social, and even cultural structures of Muslim countries. Islamic fundamentalism has given an aim and a form to the otherwise aimless and formless resentment and anger of the Muslim masses at the forces that have devalued their traditional values and loyalties and, in the final analysis, robbed them of their beliefs, their aspirations, their dignity, and to an increasing extent even their livelihood.”

This certainly makes Muslim rage seem understandable, even justified. But Lewis’s analysis is marred by an odd paradox. For those same angry and humiliated masses are, in Lewis’s view, also deeply attracted to the temptations of the modern world: they all want sex, Nikes, and rock and roll. “Fundamentalist leaders are not mistaken in seeing in Western civilization the greatest challenge to the way of life that they wish to retain or restore for their people,” Lewis writes.

Buruma is obviously skeptical of Lewis's work, but in trying to refute Lewis's theories, I think Buruma somewhat misrepresents Lewis's ideas. Lewis would be one of the first to recognize the very paradox that Buruma brings up here as a "gotcha!" and to agree that there is no monolithic "Muslim mind." Many, many people in the Muslim world are attracted to the benefits and comforts which they see enjoyed in Western societies. Many, many people in the Muslim world also perceive Westernization as a very serious threat to their cultural heritage, and some react more violently to this threat than others.


Here's what the White House says.

Ours will be a broad campaign, fought on many fronts. It's a campaign that will be waged by day and by night, in the light and in the shadow, in battles you will see and battles you won't see. It's a campaign waged by soldiers and sailors, Marines and airmen; and also by FBI agents and law enforcement officials and diplomats and intelligence officers. It's a campaign that is being waged in distant lands, and a campaign being waged by our new Office of Homeland Security.

I enjoyed this, at the very end:
We are not at war with Muslims. We don't have a beef with Muslims. We want to be friends with Muslims and Muslim children.

Maybe this phrase comes across better in Arabic. In English it sounds a little creepy.