The Dartmouth Observer
Monday, July 31, 2006
Saving Lebanon and Israel
In regards to the current Israeli situation, I think that it is important that "we"--the American government and people interested in (international) politics-- give Israel a free hand for the rest of August to prosecute their military goals as they see fit.
First, the caveats and then the reasons. Three caveats, which are to be treated as 'if and only if' propositions attached to my strong statement of support for current Israeli military policy. One, Israel should be clear that a free hand means that we still fashion an agreement that takes into account the justice of the war's prosecution. The less casualties and the more careful Israel is the more favorable negotiations will be for them from our point of view. If the government of Israel is indiscriminate, then we will appropriately condemn them (after the military campaign). Two, the Secretary of State and the President should just petition Congress for a nice chunk of change, $100 billion+ or so, for stability operations in Lebanon: rebuilding infrastructure, arming the Lebanese army, and placing the government of Lebanon in sure control of its southern border. Three, Israel should be asked to transfer at least $10 billion in reparations payments to Lebanon for all the mess its interventions (notice the plural) have caused as well official recognition of the sovereignty and independence of Lebanon.
Five reasons. *One*, Hezbollah must be dismantled and be replaced by government-based social services administered through government elites. Patronage, typically, is a crappy basis for state support, leading to the famously weak 'neopatrimonial regimes' in comparative politics parlance, but patronage patrimonial regimes are better than competing power centers within one state's territory.
*Two*, the government of Lebanon must be strengthened to prevent the suspected growing influence of Iran and Syria. I think we should ignore the growing support for bombing Iran and playing 'tough' with Syria. I have not yet seen a convincing argument (though I have heard many an impassioned and uninformed diatribes) addressing why it's dangerous for American interests if Iran has nuclear weapons (which I doubt it's building anyway). Playing nice on Syria and Iran, however, doesn't sit with the public mood, and buttressing the domestic institutions of Lebanon against further Iranian and Syrian encroachment is a stability-oriented way to reduce their growing power.
More about military options and Iran here from my point of view here.
*Three*, we mustn't rush Israel because that causes the military planners to value speed and thoroughness over concerns of justice and the reverberation for Lebanese society. While there are appropriate times to corner and to criticize states, this, I believe, is not one of them.
*Four*, the criticisms of Israel in Lebanon and Israel in Palestine do not reflect each other. It wold be odd to demand a ceasefire on the Lebanese front--from arguably the greater threat--while turning a blind eye to the Palestinian predicament.
*Five*, the goal of foreign policy is the region is transformation and stability. Too oft, over the last five years, American policy has promote either separately at the expense of the other. Transformation without stability is chaos, a revolution whose ill-gotten gains will be fleeting and bitterly remembered. Stability without transformation is to support the calcified remains of one vibrant regimes that are content to sit atop their people with little eye for change as they are guaranteed by American and other imperial power(s). Lebanon has been a country that has seen a lot of transformation since the French arrived, backed by the full force of Sykes-Picot and the LON mandates, with little stability. In a devils bargain, the Ta'if accord gave Lebanon Syria and stability without any hope from transformation. A new widow of opportunity has opened allowing for further transformation and the consolidation of stability in Lebanon.
It would be ironic if the present administration, committed to democratic transformation of the Middle East, would succumb the pressure of the international community and the affiliated cognoscenti, who by brandishing pictures and statistics of dead children and bombed out buildings, would arrest the present and future possibility of a strong democratic state in Lebanon. We should support Israel and its fight to remove Hezbollah from the political equation in Lebanon even if it takes all summer. If Israel, by pressing the thing, might make it possible for democratic stability in Lebanon, I say: "Let the thing be pressed."
Friday, July 28, 2006
War Time Dispatches: Keeping America's Priorities Straight
And now a brief moment for some overdue patriotism.
Army dismisses gay Arabic linguist
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- A decorated sergeant and Arabic language specialist was dismissed from the U.S. Army under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, though he says he never told his superiors he was gay and his accuser was never identified.
I believe the immortal and legendary words of Representative Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA):
In my youth, in my manhood, in my old age, I had fondly dreamed that when any fortunate chance should have broken up for awhile the foundations of our institutions, and released us from obligations the most tyrannical that ever man imposed in the name of freedom, that the intelligent, pure and just [citizens] of this Republic...would have so remodelled all our institutions as to have freed them from every vestige of human oppression, of inequality of rights, of the recognized degradation of the poor, and the superior caste of the rich...This bright dream has vanished 'like the baseless fabric of a dream.' I find that we shall be obliged to be content with patching up the worst portions of the ancient edifice, and leaving it, in many of its parts, to be swept through by the storms of despotism.
We had an opportunity, after September 11th and the invasion of Iraq, to quietly sweep under the rug the particularistic exclusions within the general call to (military and national) service. The country's feeling of being at war and under siege had invested the President with the power to begin to refashion away some of the old prejudices in favor of the new births of freedom. It, sadly, was not to be the case. Like Stevens, I must also look forward to a future that will be free of discrimination and sensitive (and bigoted) individuals enforcing their individual sensitivities (and bigotries) through institutions of power.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Abandoned and Bamboozled: New Ideas in the Republican Party
The left has often complained that the Republican party is not a party of ideas, just anti-intellectual hacks. Newt Gingrich, as the lead article of the The New Republic indicates, is selling himself as an ideas man. I'm not so sure anyone has an interest in new ideas on the right if their pre-midterm election soul-searching is any indicator of why the Republican party should soon lie in ruins (to be reforged into a new party).
From Newt himself:
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader..."I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.Thanks, Newt, our North Korean relations are clearly suffering from too little bellicosity over the past five years. Leave foreign policy alone, Newt, it's a big-kid toy.
Newt is not alone in arguing that the administration has been insufficiently bellicose. The Weekly Standard, the repository of all ideas unsound and mediocre, wrote concerning Iran and Syria:
The right response [to the current situation in the Middle East] is renewed strength--in supporting the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, in standing with Israel, and in pursuing regime change in Syria and Iran. For that matter, we might consider countering this act of Iranian aggression with a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. Why wait? Does anyone think a nuclear Iran can be contained? That the current regime will negotiate in good faith? It would be easier to act sooner rather than later. Yes, there would be repercussions--and they would be healthy ones, showing a strong America that has rejected further appeasement.
Lest their point be misunderstood, the article continues at length:
No Islamic Republic of Iran, no Hezbollah. No Islamic Republic of Iran, no one to prop up the Assad regime in Syria. No Iranian support for Syria (a secular government that has its own reasons for needing Iranian help and for supporting Hezbollah and Hamas), little state sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah. And no Shiite Iranian revolution, far less of an impetus for the Saudis to finance the export of the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam as a competitor to Khomeini's claim for leadership of militant Islam--and thus no Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and perhaps no Hamas either.
The Washington Post observes, however, that GOP lawmakers are shying away from the President and the imperialist foreign policy, though not for principled reasons, for political ones. "It has not helped the neoconservative case, perhaps, that the occupation of Iraq has not gone as smoothly as some had predicted." The paper continues at length:
Faced with almost daily reports of sectarian carnage in Iraq, congressional Republicans are shifting their message on the war from speaking optimistically of progress to acknowledging the difficulty of the mission and pointing up mistakes in planning and execution.
Being in power for all this time (in Congress more or less since 1994) is finally starting to clear the heads of the GOP. As Lord Acton famously observed, power purifies, right? That discovery-- that the GOP's enthusiasm for democratic imperialism has received a major setback in the muck of civil war and the mire of occupation--is really more than anyone should have to bear. "To pretend the war is resolving itself nicely is no longer an option, [Rep. Charles W. Dent (R-PA)] said."
And let's not forget the neocons, the veritable brain trusts of the American right who, in the mid-90s, penned the foundational texts for American empire: "the main threat the United States faces now and in the future is its own weakness." CATO at Liberty gets it right that neocons spend most of their time in an Orwellian political arm twisting to get the United States engaged in fights.
Prominent Iraq hawks like Max Boot and Cakewalk Ken Adelman are upset that their favored tactic, “bomb today for a brighter tomorrow,” no longer commands the respect it once did in Washington.Without the imperial misadventures and empire enthusiasm of the neocons, we would have lost the substance of Bush II domestic policy: "Shut up and salute the flag, you liberal thinkers!" George Will perhaps offers the best lament for the GOP foreign policy: "Still, it is not perverse to wonder whether the spectacle of America, currently learning a lesson -- one that conservatives should not have to learn on the job -- about the limits of power to subdue an unruly world, has emboldened many enemies."
After Derbyshire's, Gingrich's, and the GOP's untimely meditations, I think its best that we leave the thinking to the liberals for a while.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
In defense of the Administration's policies in Iraq, supporters may be tempted to say "It could always be worse." Indeed, it can be.
Turkish officials signaled Tuesday they are prepared to send the army into northern Iraq if U.S. and Iraqi forces do not take steps to combat Turkish Kurdish guerrillas there - a move that could put Turkey on a collision course with the United States.
The dream for an indepedent Kurdistan rears its ugly head. Turkey believes that its struggle is a part of the war on terror.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan rapped the United States on Tuesday for tolerating Israel's attacks on its enemies in Lebanon while refusing to allow Ankara to crush Kurdish rebels hiding in northern Iraq.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Touch of Diplomacy
At the end of what surely has been a dreadful G8 summit, President Bush surprise massages German Chancellor Merkel from behind. Internet commenters are torn on whether this was an innocent display of affection, or, an act of sexual harassment. Bloggers seem to come down in favor of the latter.
Taylor Marsh: "This is why Iraq and the Middle East are in flames, and we have no credibility around the world. We have a prepubescent president in charge. It is an outrage."
The Idealistic Pragmatist says that it was a cultural faux pas:
Far from showing his great "love" for the chancellor, what this event really illustrates is Bush's appalling insensitivity to the fact that not everybody else's culture is just like his own. In Germany, this will be perceived not as a joke, but as a man showing a woman her place. Don't look so shocked, Mr. President--there are actually places in the world where you don't get to massage the shoulders of a woman (and a fellow world leader) whom you barely know. After six long years of hobnobbing with the international elite, I'd think you might have figured that out.The Pragmatist also provides translations of how the German newspapers reported on the incident.
Majikthise sums it up this way:
Every woman will recognize the guy who sidles up and starts "casually" giving you a backrub without even looking at you, because he wants to preserve deniability in case you freak out. Like any practiced groper, Bush stares right past Merkel as she recoils from his touch. The play fails, but he just moves on, eyes averted, like it's her problem. ("Oh my God, there's a hysterical woman displaying inappropriate behavior! I'll just pretend I don't notice her egregious gaffe.")
Was it sexual harassment, or, an innocent touch? Ballon Juice and Hot Air, left and rightist commetary respectively, draw remarkably differing conclusion. (Both are very amusing to read.)
The Weekly Standard listed Angela Merkel as one of Bush's "Fab Five Foreign Leaders." Current Argus notes last Wednesday's German daily's headline: "What Does Bush Find So Fascinating About His Girlfriend Angela?" The Argus speculated: ""There's a personal chemistry that works for them," said Helga Welsh, an associate political science professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in U.S.-Europe relations." and that Merkel is the new Blair. The Guardian cartoonist seems to agree with that.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Wars and Rumors of War: Israel's Two Front War
Before the Olmert government through pressure against Gaza and diplomacy with Egypt could reverse the diplomatic impasse and military action caused by a Hamas-kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, the Lebanese based Hezbollah captured two additional Israeli soldiers. Both groups have said that a release of prisoners and an immediate end to military action would ease tensions and the conclude the impasse. Israel, proving that it would not bend in the face of terrorist alliance, responded with military strikes against Lebanon.
The New York Times described the situation in Lebanon, with military action occurring at the height of tourist season, as desperate.
The lines at gas stations stretched for blocks today and supermarkets and bakeries were packed as this nation prepared for a potentially long and difficult siege. With Israeli warships visible off the coast and the occasional roar of planes rattling nerves, Lebanese re-enacted some of the same ritual preparations they had abandoned 15 years ago when the country’s bloody civil war ended.
The New Republic's Yossi Klein Halevi, hawkish as always, characterizes the situation in nearly exaggerated terms. "The next Middle East war--Israel against genocidal Islamism--has begun." Halevi advocates a broad military policy for Israel. He believes that the first move should include removing the Hamas regime and then Hezbollah. Fervently against limited the war to Gaza, Halevi writes:
Driving on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, I saw this graffiti: "Olmert, gadol alecha"--which roughly translates as, "Olmert, the job is bigger than you are." For Olmert to disprove that growing suspicion among Israelis, he must commit himself to the destruction of the Hamas regime. Sooner or later, Israel will have no choice but to adopt that policy. The only question is whether Olmert will still be prime minister when that happens.
In another article, Halvei spells out the same goal for Israeli grand strategy suggesting that unilateral disengagement is premised upon a tough-lined foreign policy.
The goals of the war should be the destruction of the Hamas regime and the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Israel cannot coexist with Iranian proxies pressing in on its borders. In particular, allowing Hamas to remain in power--and to run the Palestinian educational system--will mean the end of hopes for Arab-Israeli reconciliation not only in this generation but in the next one too.
The Editors at the New Republic agree with Halevi that a firm line is necessary:
It is also worth noting that the Hamas-Hezbollah aggression is aimed at damaging precisely those political forces in Israel--now represented by Ehud Olmert's government--that withdrew Israeli settlers from Gaza and is committed to withdrawing Israeli settlers (70,000 of them) from the West Bank. It was one of the great ironies of recent times that Olmert's party rose in Israel at the exact moment that Hamas rose in Palestine; but the irony has turned deadly. They, the Palestinians, really do want everything. And so they are about to learn, yet again, that, as long as they want everything, they will get nothing. This may satisfy the nihilists in charge, since nihilists live for nothing.
The opinions of the international are divided on the matter. The EU and Canada has come out against the "disproportionate" Israeli response. CTA reports:
"The European Union is greatly concerned about the disproportionate use of force by Israel in Lebanon in response to attacks by Hezbollah on Israel,'' according to a statement issued by Finland, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. "The presidency deplores the loss of civilian lives and the destruction of civilian infrastructure. The imposition of an air and sea blockade on Lebanon cannot be justified.''
President Bush, alternatively, supported Israeli actions and cautioned Olmert to protect the fledgling democracy within Lebanon.
In Germany en route to the G-8 summit in Russia, President Bush said Israel has the right to defend itself.
Chancellor Angela Merkelof Germany took a moderate position between that of the EU and President Bush.
[Merkel] said, in remarks rendered by an interpreter, that it was important to remember “how this escalation started, through the kidnapping of the soldiers, through rockets - from the firing of missiles against Israeli territory.”
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
The War in Iraq: The Imperialism of Fools
Karl Marx, I think, once retorted that anti-semitism was the socialism of fools. Anti-semitism, within the specific political and cultural landscape in Europe, provided an easy outlet and scapegoat to the working classes attempting to cope with their desperate existence. The working classes, however, were not alone in their falling for the malaise of anti-semitism; the political elites also found it increasingly difficult to weather the storms of nationalist consolidations and the perils of predatory international capitalism. Anti-semitism provided a convenient, low-threatening entity around which political discourse and activity coalesce, ultimately obscuring the real dynamics of oppression and distracting movements for much-needed social change and reform.
After September 11 and the overthrow of the Taliban, the debate on the war in Iraq demonstrated that imperialism is the new socialism of fools. Issues of wealth redistribution, a ballooning national deficit, and the increasing absence of a presidential domestic policy (due to the narrow Democrat take-over of the United States Senate after Jim Jeffords (Vt) became an independent) all began became obscured once the war drums for the opening of a second war front began to sound. I opposed this second call for war (having only tepidly supported a war in Afghanistan) and began to break ranks with the conservative movement as a result. Unfortunately, due to the ineptitude of the Bush Administration, I find myself in the thankless position of now supporting a war I argue against earlier.
I. That the Iraq War Was A Bad Idea
Due to an extended blogging holiday, I was not able to comment on John Derbyshire's (much needed) soul searching concerning the war in Iraq. In his introductory comments, the standard-bearer of conservative moral 'clarity', having continually argued straight-facedly against the dignity of gays and lesbians and their claims to equality under the law, retreats into the shadowy postmodern defense of linguistic 'ambiguity':
[My] friends ask me, as they do on average about once a week, whether I feel embarrassed at having supported the Iraq war. “Define ‘war,’” is the thing I want to say. I don’t say it, of course, exactly because it sounds like an irritating 11-year-old, but it’s really the essence of the matter. Did I support the 2003 invasion of Iraq? Yes I did. Do I support the continuing effort to get civil society going in Iraq? No I don’t, and haven’t for over two years. So do I support the war? Well... define “war.”
Derbyshire, for all his hedging, however, asks the one question which everyone is thinking but the administration (while Bush remains in office) and the Democrat party (for fear of looking 'soft' on defense) can never afford to say:
[The United States is] stuck there in that wretched place with no way out that would not involve massive loss of geostrategic face. Getting on for 3,000 of our troops have been killed, and close to 20,000 maimed. We’ve spent untold billions of dollars. For what?
Though soul-searching at the National Review is an uncommon rarity, I am loathe to indulge in their (quiet) admission of defeat. However, any drop of wisdom and perspective Derbyshire might have had in being force to admit error, quickly evaporates in the face of his enduring commitment to imperialism without consequences.
I don’t, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity... I worry a lot that the civilized world, of which this nation is faute de mieux the leader, has sunk into an enervated lassitude, a condition in which it is unwilling to act against threatening, or just annoying, barbarians... Back in mid-2002 I feared that we had no will to attack Iraq, though I said I wanted us to. I really feared that we had no will, no guts, to chastise our enemies the way I wanted them chastised—not with U.N. resolutions, but with bombs, tanks, and artillery shells. When events proved me wrong, I was delighted. (I felt the same delight when Margaret Thatcher, Whom God Preserve, went to war over the Falkland Islands in 1982.) Now we must act, we really must act, against Iran; but we can’t, because of Iraq...The rubble-and-out approach was not one that this administration, or perhaps any administration in the present state of our culture, would be willing to pursue. The universalist dogmas that rule unchallenged in our media and educational institutions have fixed their grip on our foreign policy, too. When the Founders of our nation said “all men” they had in mind Christian Anglo-Saxon men. Our leaders, though, want to bring the whole world under the scope of those grand Lockeian principles.Derbyshire's honesty is exceeded only by his brash, relentless, and inexplicable stupidity. The Iraqis, barbarians in his language, are to be punished because Saddam Hussein (whose government, I might add, was installed by the CIA in the 1950s) was either "threatening, or just annoying"? What kind of justification for war is that? Regardless of whether one gives a "fig leaf" for the Iraqi people and their "mysterious barbaric ways", at what point did "bombs, tanks, and artillery shells" become the tools of statecraft? Problem: Lesser nations run by "thugs" rejecting our 'free trade agreements'; less consider that category 'annoying' and just order an assassination. Saudi prince pointing out Western hypocrisy? Tanks and bombs. Venezuela concerned about protections for American farm subsidies? That's a threat: NUKE! I can't even begin to formulate a coherent response to Derbyshire's endorsement of genocide as statecraft, it's so unfathomably evil. With no overtly racist redistributive, religiously exclusive, or homophobic legislation to support, Derbyshire evinces his aggression against and contempt for cosmopolitan claims of justice in his no-holds barred militaristic foreign policy prescriptions.
The problem, from his point of view, seems that the Administration actually believes that it can spread democracy to a bunch of non-white (Muslim: gasp!) heathens by releasing them into their freedom (in the Rousseauan sense). The problem actually is, in fact, that the Administration believes that political institutions and discourses can be spread by force and in conditions of war. I, however, would be either a fool or a liar to expect that much wisdom and engagement with reality from Derbyshire, who, after all, has his reputation to protect. (Let's put aside the open call to bigotry in his historically accurate, but damnable reading of 'Lockean' principles.) Imperialism is the new socialism of fools, a playground for the pundits of diminished intellect and for scions of lesser houses.
II. Why Opposing the War (in 2002/3) Was the Right Course of Action
Crooked Timber's situating of the pro-war and anti-war arguments in light of present conditions hits the nail on the head. (I do not agree with the last setence of the entry so I have not quoted it.)
In the leadup to the Iraq war, many different arguments were presented for and against going to war, and many different predictions were made about the likely consequences of war. People supported war for a range of reasons, some of which were logically inconsistent, and the same was true of people who opposed war. Many people made many predictions, many of which turned out to be wrong. However, there is a fundamental asymmetry here.
Demosthenes provides the take-home point.
[W]hereas opponents merely needed to show that the war was a bad idea, supporters needed to show not only that the war was a good idea, but that it would be fought in the way--and for the reasons--that they advocated. Of course, they didn't do anything of the sort- they just projected onto Bush and Rumsfeld's little adventure everything they wanted their fantasy war to be.
If you supported the decision to go to war, now is the time to start apologizing. And if you are feeling particularly magnanimous, you could also admit that I was correct all along.
That Strange Place Called America
Garrison Keillor wonderfully reviews a book by the French author Bernard-Henri Lévy entitled, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. I haven't read the book, but Keillor's opening remarks seem apt:
[This book] is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years, with stops at Las Vegas to visit a lap-dancing club and a brothel; Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a "partner-swapping club" in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ("a festival of American kitsch"); Sun City ("gilded apartheid for the old");a stock car race; the Mall of America; Mount Rushmore; a couple of evangelical megachurches; the Mormons of Salt Lake; some Amish; the 2004 national political conventions; Alcatraz - you get the idea. (For some reason he missed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the adult video awards, the grave site of Warren G. Harding and the World's Largest Ball of Twine.) You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
If Lévy's lamenting of America, its invocation the de Toquevillian tradition of showcasing a peripheral society to the imperial/colonial center, and the depiction of a society ripe with contradictions seems excessive, that's because it probably is. In fact, this narrative of America will more likely tell you more about French philosophes and intellectuals than it will about America. French society, as far as I can tell, currently wrestles with the need to understand the land of George W. Bush, as well as a country in which Muslims and immigrants leave peaceful and do not threaten to rebel. The resulting story, it seems, is about a patchwork society consisting of collected oddities and freaks, and, the discontented elites (Kerry and Stone). The brusque rebuttal and mockery of Lévy's moralizing that Keillor dishes up seems restrained in the face of such excess. Before we get to carried away by this Frenchman, now enters Christopher Hitchens, my favorite contrarian besides Justice Scalia.
Hitchens believes Keillor's invective to be representative of simple-minded American nativism. For instance, consider Lévy's paean to the Space Needle, which is: "everything that America has always made me dream of: poetry and modernity, precariousness and technical challenge, lightness of form meshed with a Babel syndrome, city lights, the haunting quality of darkness, tall trees of steel." Garrison Keillor, Hitchens complains, pithily dismisses it with "nine words and two letters": "OK, fine. The Eiffel Tower is quite the deal, too." Not content to belittle Keillor, Hitchens sums up his position on Keillor's missive:
Well, take that, you baguette-brandishing poseur! You and your high-falutin' ways ain't wanted here, see, and some of us fellas figger we know how to deal with outsiders. If we want someone praising Seattle, we got plenty of fine locals to do it for us, you hear? How astonishing to see such humorless philistinism served up in a serious supplement devoted to books.Such strong words might seem excessively harsh until Hitchens reveals Keillor's glaring sin of omission: obscuring the purpose of the book itself.
Like his model Alexis de Tocqueville, whose original project—which also fascinated Dickens—was the state of American prisons, he spends some time in our vast network of incarceration. I find his depictions and accounts highly compelling and very disturbing, too. Keillor, who was awarded a good deal of space as well as prominence for his blunt hatchet job, chooses not to make even a single mention of this element in the book. Perhaps he thinks the American prison system is the envy of the world? Or perhaps he just couldn't trust himself to say what he thought about some snooty Parisian poking his big nose in where it wasn't wanted and running down those good folks who look after law and order 'round here.
While I think Keillor's omission is noteworthy, perhaps even damning, I agree with the general thrust of Keillor's review that a strange fascination with America produced this lopsided picture. (The idea that author's systematically fetishize and misrepresent their objects of inquiry, particularly in travelougues, is one of the late Edward Said's central points in that wonderful book Orientalism.)
Lévy is quite comfortable with phrases like "as always in America." Bombast comes naturally to him. Rain falls on the crowd gathered for the dedication of the Clinton library in Little Rock, and to Lévy, it signifies the demise of the Democratic Party. As always with French writers, Lévy is short on the facts, long on conclusions. He has a brief encounter with a young man outside of Montgomery, Ala. ("I listen to him tell me, as if he were justifying himself, about his attachment to this region"), and suddenly sees that the young man has "all the reflexes of Southern culture" and the "studied nonchalance . . . so characteristic of the region." With his X-ray vision, Lévy is able to reach tall conclusions with a single bound.Lévy's endless moralizing and strange portrait combine into a modern day morality tale, one that, strangely enough, might comfort and fuel the anti-Americanism Lévy admirably fights back home.
In the end, I am forced to agree with Keillor's closing lines: "Thanks for coming. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. For your next book, tell us about those riots in France, the cars burning in the suburbs of Paris. What was that all about? Were fat people involved?"
Monday, July 10, 2006
Japan May Expand Notion of Self-Defense
Sometimes I read things that startle me. This is one of them.
Japanese officials seemed to be in no mood for appeasement. "We do not have an option of doing nothing until we suffer damage," the foreign minister, Taro Aso, was quoted as saying in Tokyo. A government official, Shinzo Abe, indicated that Japan might reverse its self-imposed non-military stance, launching a pre-emptive strike against Pyongyang. "There is the view that attacking the launch base of the guided missiles is within the constitutional right of self-defense," he said.
If Japan is serious and launches this strike, this could provoke retaliation from North Korea against Seoul and the American troops, provoking an American-Japanese militaristic war against N. Korea (and China?). That would be bad for world security.