The Dartmouth Observer

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by Listed on BlogShares

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Dear Old Dartmouth

In an attempt to arrest the progress of the College, the forces for and against the Constitution are planning to do battle in Hanover come fall.

Recent alumni and rising seniors at and The Little Green Blog (to say nothing of Malchow) pit the insurgents who have recently won trustee elections against the institutionalists-- those whose political and social views largely lean left with the rest of the Dartmouth's administration.

Vox's views, and its opposition to the constitution, are generally unsurprising. It announces its purpose as "website [serving as] a means of communication and information for those alumni of Dartmouth College unwilling to accept the often misleading public relations material issued by the College. This site contains articles by, and authentic accounts of, students currently enrolled in the College." As a part of its "authentic accounts" it contains a weepy missive from Nick Stork '06 claiming that David Spaulding, the Vice President of Alumni Affairs, attempted to intimidate him after Stork mass blitzed a group of his fraternity brothers and associates to vote against the upcoming alumni constitution. Moreover, the group therapy offered by the website and its cantankerous, reactionary readership have transformed an embellished account of Stork's meeting with Spaulding into a claim that this is more proof that Dartmouth's administration is against freedom of speech, conscience, and hates non-leftists.

The Vox are not without their collaborators.

Andrew Seal '07, who alternates between claiming ideological independence and sheer lunacy as often as twice a sentence, atypically offers a shrewd analysis of the situation.
I think both sides come at the constitution from the same assumption: that they are fighting to give alumni what they really want, which is, of course, coterminous with what their “side” wants. The pro-constitution side, I think, really believes that the past two trustee elections have not been reflective of genuine alumni will, but have been the result of problems in the system that allowed Rogers, Zywicki, and Robinson to ride in on a small wave of discontent and confusion. I think they sincerely believe that the majority of alumni do not prefer candidates who bank on being “outsiders” for their electability. The anti-constitution side seriously believes that they are at the head of a growing movement deeply dissatisfied with the current trajectory of the College.
The debate is about controlling the future of the college, with both sides entrenched and yelling.

Joe Malchow, never more than a moment's notice from right-wing rectitude (or hysteria), fired off this response:
Forget the constitution. Forget it. By lengths, the graver news is that this incident, coupled with that of the other student who has come forward, Andrew Eastman ‘07, constitutes a crackdown on freedom of political expression at my school. On principle, and as the author of a blog, I cannot stay quiet about grounded allegations of censorship and intimidation. And not just allegations—these things have occured. How do we know? The chilling effect.

Slowy shifting the debate about the constitution to innuendos about rights violations helps capture the disaffected alumni and galvanize them into a movement. It is one of the best parlor tricks I've seen in a while. Eugene Volokh explodes the hysteria with this analysis (with my emphasis added):
I take it that the student might have been somewhat worried that the administrator would somehow affect the closing days of his school career (the student was about to graduate), but it would take someone with a pretty poor view of Dartmouth to think that there's that much of a chance that the administrator would, say, urge professors to unfairly lower the student's grades or some such. (Top universities, to my knowledge, are known for leaving the individual grading decisions to the professors, except to the extent that they leave them to TAs.) And if this was the student's view of Dartmouth, then I'm surprised he had spoken out in the first instance, since the administration could (if it's willing to break all the rules) retaliate against a student whether or not an administrator decides to personally argue with the student. All the evidence suggests is that the administration is willing to talk back to students who they think express unsound views. Not a lot to build a case of intimidation and censorship (much less, as the blogger later says, "indecent tactics"), it seems to me.
The key move is that the constitution is not the true target, the administration is. Once you realize that many view the upcoming vote on the constitution as a referendum, this whole constitution hullaboo begins to make sense. The constitution is just a red herring meant to attract those who already have a poor opinion of the College.

Part of the problem with this whole episode and the ripple of events surrounding this infernal constitution is that the students involved don't really understand what free speech means. If a student forwards a proposition, particularly if it is publicly announced in a student group or as public statements, it may well be that the other members campus, students and administrators alike, will learn of the propositon and its contents. Public speakers and group leaders should be prepared for that. In fact if, as a result of the proposition going forward to the public, an administrator "criticizes [the speaker's] views" and says "your political views are wrong, here are the right ones," this is also free speech, an entitlement possessed by administrators as well.

Free speech isn't just that you get to criticize the administration and not be expelled; it also means that you agree to participate in a public discussion in which your ideas are criticized and defended. Any sophmore knows that criticizing and negative aspect of free speech. Moving beyond sophmorism, however, entails learning about reciprocity and dialouge.

These John-the-Baptist wannabe's (Malchow and that infernal racket in the wilderness) transform a healthy debate about the role of the alumni in the governance of Dartmouth into a mudslinging contest comprising of innuendo about and a referendum on the Wright administration. Many of this ilk "suffered" the implementation of the SLI, the near dissolution of the swimming team, the further regulation of single-sex Greek life, the ousting of Gazzaniga, and the closure of the speech department. Bitter that the administration ignored them, and that Review's sophomoric opinions about Dartmouth life remained on the margins, they view the struggle over the constitution and the future trustees of the college as payback and necessary against the perceived maleovent tyranny of the College's administration.

Seal's problem with it is that it shows that Dartmouth doesn't trust alums.
What the constitution gives is a static, idle democracy that seems focused entirely on collecting inputs, without much thought given to how some outputs might be gotten out, or even what those outputs might be. Sure, the Constitution would likely introduce a broader level of participation in alumni governance, but I cannot help but think that breadth in this case precludes the addition of depth as well. I mean, I'd like to think that the new structure(s) introduced in the Constitution will allow a significantly larger number of people the chance to be creative agents in the process of alumni governance, but I'm not entirely convinced that will happen, and I'm not sure it's even intended to do so.

The presidential power arc (going from vice president to president-elect to president to past president) really bothers me because it is, quite simply, the most blatant sign that there is a massive distrust among the drafters of this constitution of the dynamics of personal choice. This complete lack of faith in the alumni body of Dartmouth College is what this structure, or any structure so ordered, reveals. The presidential power arc takes the elected candidate and just, well, sort of holds him/her for consideration for awhile, until s/he is either changed or at least influenced by those further up on the presidential ladder, or until his/her campaign platform has become less relevant or less important. It's a cooling method, and while insulation from the passions of an inflamed public can be a great thing in government, the iciness of this particular measure is, I think, a little out of proportion to the danger of the situation.... To put it bluntly, this is democracy with a fudge factor.
Andrew's main claim is that the democracy of the college will lessen with the adoption of the constitution. Seal assumes that a strong alumni voice will make for better goveranance and more democracy. But why should the College care what alumni have to say, especially when a significant subsection of the alumni are still fighting old battles? Our job as alumni is to donate early and often, not to ask questions. Does this seem callous or glib? Let me state is more formally: alumni governance is neither good governance nor very democratic. Mark Graber expertly summarizes my views on this issue:
Alumni democracy is highly likely to be bad democracy. Alumni have almost every characteristic that bodes ill for democratic governance. Most of us are poorly informed about the issues facing our alma mater, get what information we have from very biased sources, do not spend a much time becoming informed about the issues, and have little material incentive in the outcome of university controversies. In short, it is hard to think of an association more ripe for takeover by groups with unrepresentative agendas than an alumni democracy. Maybe I should form an association of Dartmouth alums in the teaching business that, in the guise of complaining about educational standards, would force Dartmouth professors to assign more of our writings. Would not be all that hard to do, which is one thing wrong with alumni democracy.

More significantly, alumni democracy is not democracy. A central feature of democracy is that the people whose lives are affected by the policy get to vote for the people who make the policy. Democracies are hardly perfect in this sense. Consider how many Iraqis got to vote in the 2004 election, even though the results may have been more important for their lives than most Americans. Still, the notion of alumni democracy seems akin to granting all Americans who served at least a year in Iraq a permanent vote in Iraqi elections. My life is insufficiently affected by what goes on at Dartmouth to justify my having an effective voice in college policy. As alumni, we ought to be more concerned about having an effective voice where we are, not where we were...

NONE OF OUR BUSINESS: LET STUDENTS, FACULTY, ADMINISTRATIVE, AND STAFF DECIDE WHAT DARTMOUTH WILL BE TODAY. The Dartmouth I went to had much good and some bad. Nothing I can do will change that past. But outside of giving advice, I think the present of Dartmouth and other universities should be decided by those who are there, not by those of us who want to impose unrepresentative agendas on young men and women.
And that's exactly right.

Monday, August 28, 2006
The Edge of Knife

The situation in Israel is still tenuous.

First, the good news. "Had Hezbollah known how Israel was going to respond, the group would not have captured two Israeli soldiers last month in northern Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday." That's right Hassan, southern Lebanon is not looking very nice right now is it? In fact, Iran is probably wondering how you managed to force it to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to your (now) emasculated terror organization, isn't it? Truth is: you can't fire rockets at Israel with the UN force there. If you do something stupid, someone is going to blow you up. Sure, you are still a functioning organization, but it's so much more risky now to terrorize Israelis, isn't it. Oh, and by the way, you have to shelter about a million displaced persons. Good luck with that.

Second, the not so good news. For once, Ha'aretz is not trying to bury yet another government. Let's look at this piece by piece and see what the problem is though.
The reserve soldiers who were sent deep into Hezbollah territory without being properly equipped have not concealed their anger. Protest movements have sprung up overnight demanding a national commission of inquiry and the dismissal of Ehud Olmert, Dan Halutz and Amir Peretz.

But the public outcry has done a certain injustice to the parties in question. Halutz is a great military brain and an exceptionally accomplished soldier. Peretz is not a military expert, but he has leadership skills and experience. Olmert is a savvy politician, smart, clever and cool as a cucumber, who did well in America.

What happened is that our best and brightest suddenly lost it. They had an attack of reckless, sloppy, half-baked thinking.

This is fine. This blog has criticized this Olmert government for not having a plan for victory. (It was too much like the Bush failure in Iraq, or, the impending war against Iran for me not to complain. I couldn't count myself a friend of Israel if I didn't complain when it was justified to do so.)

The author, however, goes a bit too far after that writing, "It would never have happened to some of the people who held their jobs before them." Alright, let's get ready for the bad history lesson.
Yitzhak Rabin, for example, was the anxious type. At the very suggestion of some military operation, his face would turn grim and you could guess right away what he was going through his head his breakdown on the eve of the Six Day War, his defeat at the polls in 1977, the experience of the first intifada. Yitzhak Shamir could not be dragged into any kind of military escapade. He would not let his defense minister, Moshe Arens, or his chief of staff, Ehud Barak, bomb Iraq when the Scuds were falling here during the Gulf War.

Ah, it's the old compare the average of today to the best of yesterday strategy. It always leads to disappointment. People criticized Shamir and Barak plenty enough when things were going on. (Rabin was lucky enough to die on the job (like Socrates) and leave it to Peres to screw things up.) Shamir, I think, got bullied into a regional summit, didn't he? Luckily the article ends on the right note:
On second thought, despite all the public fury and the clamor to kick out the "Big Three," ousting the government and appointing a commission of inquiry could turn out to be a serious mistake. We have no better players sitting on the bench today. We have no time for a commission that will start investigating everything that has happened since May 2000 and reach its conclusions in another year from now, when there are so many challenges staring us in the face.

Better to let the current administration, which is barely four months old, learn from its mistakes and make some quick all-around improvements. By chopping off heads, we will not rebuild ourselves.

Olmert deserves another chance. Labor may or may not need to be in the government, but this is no time to let Bibi and his minions back into power. There is a reason Sharon left that party.

Kadima must survive the present government or Israel is doomed. Building its wall of apartheid, Israel must a find a way forward from its current demographic mess a democratic country for Jews, or else it risks its own annihilation by provoking a mass uprising of the Palestinians whose political, economic, and cultural infrastructure the Israeli state has destroyed, leaving a vacuum filled with longing, nostalgia, rage, and a sense of injustice. Let us pray that is does not come to that. Kadima is our last hope.

What's the Deal with Tony Blair Anyway?

Somehow Tony Blair has managed to survive Iraq, Abu Ghraib, a disastrous term as EU president, a poor election showing, and a few terror incidents. How has his government not fallen by vote of no confidence?

Tony Blair returns to a country and a party which is interested in only one question: when is he going?... Blair's crisis is the more acute: The Prime Minister faces a mutinous Parliamentary Party (the latest opinion polls show that the prospect of a Conservative government after the next General Election has moved from fantasy to feasibility); an unsettled Cabinet; and a disaffected country. The public service reforms at home, and the indelible identification with Bush's policies abroad, have widened the gap between No 10 and the party's MPs and activists and with much middle-of-the-road public opinion.

Increasingly, Blair seems to move in a parallel universe to the rest of the political planet. The party does not want to hear about the challenges of globalisation: it wants a timetable for his departure. It wants to know where it stands. It wants to get on with the Brown transition (forget John Reid – he may have experienced a Churchillian summer of response to the terrorist threat, but he has no followers).

I like Prime Minister Blair, don't get me wrong. Largely, I think that if a government is going to fight a war against "terrorism", Blair's arc of extremism is precisely the right conception of the threat. (Now you all know that I don't think that terrorism is a real threat, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.)

Perhaps Blair will share with Olmert some secrets for surviving in a parliamentary democracy during a badly executed war? If Israel is to survive as a state, neither Bibi nor Peretz can become Prime Minister anytime in the near future.

The larger question is whether the Democrats can take Congress. Can this country handle another 2 years of united Republican government? More importantly, since there is no heir apparent for the presidency, without control of Congress, we won't know anything about the Dems.

Sunday, August 27, 2006
Blogging the New Testament

Well, fall, and all its worries, are coming. I don't know how much policy-oriented stuff I'll be able to generate in that time, but I'll try to do it as I am moved. Meanwhile, to supplement the output of this blog, what I am thinking of doing is the New Testament version of what Slate has going on with its blogging the Bible project. The idea is a lay reader like myself goes through the New Testament chapter by chapter and blogs my reactions and thoughts on what is going on in the text. It's a bit of an irreverent gesture as things that seem unreasonable or weird I will have to comment on as such.

From Matthew to Revelation, as long as it's takes, for at least once a week is what I plan on doing. I'll be using my Bible that I received as a high school graduation achievement, along with my diploma, which also has my notes in it. At some point I may by the MacArthur Study bible for his commentary to comment on that as well. The point is, however, for this lay person to really get to the text and read it as itself. Religious theorizing may occur, but it will primarily be about the actions and activities of the persons as they are depicted in the text and received by me.

Moreover, since, starting in September, I am commuting 4 to 5 days a week to campus, I'll have plenty of time to read the Bible.

EDIT: I'll start in Genesis and Matthew, working forward in both traditions, due to popular request.

Thursday, August 24, 2006
The Plan for Victory in Iraq

I wrote this originally as an email in respone to Sen. Joe Biden's plan for victory in Iraq. I have adopted it to reflect the style of the website, and, including additonal information that those who did not read the preceding would not have had. How has the Department of Defense managed without me for all these years?

A summary of Joe's plan:
First, the plan calls for maintaining a unified Iraq by decentralizing
it and giving Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis their own regions. The central government would be left in charge of common interests, such as border security and the distribution of oil revenue.

Second, it would bind the Sunnis to the deal by guaranteeing them a proportionate share of oil revenue. Each group would have an incentive to maximize oil production, making oil the glue that binds the country together.

Third, the plan would create a massive jobs program while increasing reconstruction aid -- especially from the oil-rich Gulf states -- but tying it to the protection of minority rights.

Fourth, it would convene an international conference that would produce a regional nonaggression pact and create a Contact Group to enforce regional commitments.

Fifth, it would begin the phased redeployment of U.S. forces this year and withdraw most of them by the end of 2007, while maintaining a small follow-on force to keep the neighbors honest and to strike any concentration of terrorists.

This plan is consistent with Iraq's constitution, which already provides for the country's 18 provinces to join together in regions, with their own security forces and control over most day-to-day issues. This plan is the only idea on the table for dealing with the militias, which are likely to retreat to their respective regions instead of engaging in acts of violence. This plan is consistent with a strong central government that has clearly defined responsibilities. Indeed, it provides an agenda for that government, whose mere existence will not end sectarian violence. This plan is not partition -- in fact, it may be the only way to prevent violent partition and preserve a unified Iraq.

To be sure, this plan presents real challenges, especially with regard to large cities with mixed populations. We would maintain Baghdad as a federal city, belonging to no one region. And we would requireinternational peacekeepers for other mixed cities to support local security forces and further protect minorities. The example of Bosnia is illustrative, if not totally analogous. Ten years ago, Bosnia was being torn apart by ethnic cleansing. The United States stepped in decisively with the Dayton Accords to keep the country whole by, paradoxically, dividing it into ethnic federations. We even allowed Muslims, Croats and Serbs to retain separate armies. With the help of U.S. troops and others, Bosnians have lived a decade in peace. Now they are strengthening their central government and disbanding their separate armies.

I was against the war before I was for it. A while back I wrote about why every responsible American should now support the war in Iraq: lower domestic political support means that the Bush Administration would need to draw down the military and rely more on the air campaign. Air bombing, while leading to fewer American casualties, would result in more Iraqi civilian casualties and increase Iraqi political factionalization. What I argued in another post is that it not only mattered that we didn't reduce the current amount of American troops in Iraq, it also mattered that we vastly increase the amount of our armed forces stationed and patrolling in Iraq.

I think I'm right because of this:
Encouraging news from Baghdad: The decision was made to redeploy thousands of US troops from Baghdad area from other areas of Iraq to secure the city and reduce a number of daily attacks. Well, the numbers are preliminary, but it seems to be working. After two weeks, Iraqi authorities say the number of violent attacks has gone down by 30%." Just more insane Bush propaganda, right? Um, no. It's Charlie Gibson on "World News Tonight" last night. That's from ABC, the network that just named Mario Cuomo's son Chris as one of its lead anchors. On the report, correspondent Terry McCarthy said, "By saturating some of the most dangerous neighborhoods, [Iraqi officials claim] they have reduced violence across Baghdad by almost a third. US figures, calculated differently, show a 22% drop. Either way, the Americans are fired up.

And, as you know, we are vastly increasing the number of troops in the country by involutarily activating some Marines.

On Biden's specific proposal. I think that most conflicts are started by two factors (1) disagreements about the division of resources, and, (2) populations who imagine and express themselves collectively, but lack the ability to make collective claims reliably against the political institutions of the countries in which they reside. (Quick case in point: Europe has not fought a major war since 1945. I believe that is because of (1) the predecessor to the EU like the coal and steel community, and, the Warsaw Pact were arrangements about the division of common economic-natural resources like coal, steel, and foreign direct investment; and (2) most states ethnically cleansed their populations of potential irredentists (like the Germans, Greeks, Armenians, etc) and the refugee populations, (like the Jews )had been largely finished off during the Holocaust.)

Federal, consocial, and power-sharing arrangements means that the political institutions of the country are not defined in such a way that only Kurdish, Shiia or Sunni can expect aid and succor from the government, or, that their grievances, wishes, and desires will not be honored by the central institutions.* While I am specifically against giving the Kurds too much autonomy until the PKK and Turkish refugees end their insurgency war in Turkey, the Iraqi government needs an inclusive, and, for now, decentralized, mode of governance to bring the peace. (As the government gets stronger it probably want to displace local and non-national elites, but that's a preference I have and not a requirement.)

Power-sharing would mean little in practice if one portion of the country was locked out of the oil resource market. Biden is on to something that access to the oil revenue is critical. I don't think it should necessarily be proportionate, but each group should have the ability to monitor what the other groups are doing with the resources, and, every group should have joint-coordinating agreements and institutions to direct the oil resources to projects that benefit a cosmopolitan coalition of actors rather than just a narrow group of co-ethnics.

The United States should not phase out its troops until every group is assured that the security situation within and outside the country will not shorten the promises of the post-Saddam era. Until common security institutions, watchdog agreements, and an integrated military force with no other/rival paramilitary groups is created and empowered, all the economic development in the world will not make Iraq a viable state. Having access to a job means little when your local leaders are attempting to appropriate your labor, resources, and capital for a war effort.

What Iraqi consocialism must do is provide a framework for and institutional basis of cooperation. What it must not do is ethnically segregate, partition, or divide the country. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Ambassador Khalilzad argues:
In July, a poll by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to democracy promotion, found that 94% of Iraqis said they support a "unity" government representing all sects and ethnic communities, with only 2% opposed. Some 78% of Iraqis opposed Iraq being segregated by religion or ethnicity, with only 13% in favor. Even in Baghdad, where the worst of Iraq's sectarian violence has occurred, 76% of those surveyed opposed ethnic separation, with only 10% favoring it. The challenge of the Baghdad Security Plan and its accompanying effort at national reconciliation is to realize the overwhelming majority of Iraqis desire to live in peace with one another against the violent minority who seek to impose their vision of hatred and oppression.

Read the whole article, it's good.

While I don't know much about labor economics, unemployment and development within the country should not be perceived to occur in such a way that only a narrow group of people are benefiting while others are not. The central government must provide the necessary aid, infrastructure, and social security net so that all can participate in market relations with dignity and hope, and without bitterness.

*I lean away from consocialist structures toward intergrationist cosmopolitan ones. Consocialism makes identity groups the basis for representation in government. Cosmopolitanism treats the whole population equally. In order to ensure that minorities are not disadvantaged, however, measures may be necessary to allow them to compete with the rest of the community on equal terms. While my principle intuitions push me away from creating institutionalized (ethnic) identities, a too fervent cosmopolitan approach may destroy cultural institution and be disrespectful of traditions. The goal for the law of Iraq is ethnic neutrality, not ethnic indifference. (Holland has a consocialist system, and they turned out fine, but many others have not.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Is it Really Sharon's Fault?

How should democracies hold their leaders accountable for mistakes in wartime? Though I personally believe the current Administration is beyond redemption, and, that all Americans should vote strait-ticket nationally Democrat to prevent the government from doing anything until the 2008 elections, more generally, what responsbilities do citizens have?

I came across this interesting blog entry on the subject the other day. Since polls in Israeli immediately after the war demonstrated how much Israelis wanted Olmert et al. to go (even though I really like Olmert), Rosenberg responds:
"It all seems a little unfair. The Olmert government has only been in office for a few months. He only assumed the Acting Prime Minister's job in January." He then muses: "Perhaps Israelis are so quick to cast blame on Olmert because it feels unseemly to blame his predecessor, Ariel Sharon."

Now that's juicy. He continues:
today's terrible situation began some 24 years ago when Sharon, as Minister of Defense, cajoled Prime Minister Menachem Begin into invading Lebanon – not just south Lebanon but Beirut. That ultimately led to over a thousand dead Israeli soldiers, the Sabra and Shatila massacres, the creation of Hezbollah and this summer’s war.

By the time Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally pulled out 18 years later (an act that seems less than strategically wise in retrospect), he had little choice. Israeli parents demanded that their sons be moved out of there. Barak responded by pulling out without achieving an agreement with the Syrians or any of the Lebanese parties.

But Lebanon was always Sharon's battle and his Achilles heel. In fact, an Israeli Commission of Inquiry to concluded in 1983 that he could never again serve as Minister of Defense, a determination that wounded him politically and personally. (Oddly, the ban on Sharon serving as Defense Minister did not prevent him becoming Prime Minister).

And it led Sharon, according to an unnamed close friend quoted in the New York Times, to avoid Lebanon like the plague. Accordingly, he ignored the Hezbollah build up on the border over the past six years, focusing not on the terrorists with katyushas who could devastate northern Israel (as they ultimately did) but on the hapless Palestinians with their Kassams which, fired thousands of times, caused only a fraction of the damage inflicted by Hezbollah’s rockets.

After the 1982 catastrophe, Sharon's white whale became the Palestinians and Yasir Arafat in particular. Remember when the walls of Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters were blown out, his phones disconnected, his water cut off. What was that about? Meanwhile, Nasrallah was sitting fat and sassy in Lebanon, building up the arsenal that would inflict upon Israel one of the two worst disasters in its history (the worst was the Yom Kippur War).

So maybe it is all Sharon's fault. What really struck me though was his discussion of American politics.
After the Lebanon debacle of 1982, Menachem Begin felt he had no choice but to resign. He felt that Sharon had led him into into Lebanon by promising a short attack that would stop far short of Beirut. But Sharon kept going and disaster ensued.

Once grieving parents appeared under Begin's window, denouncing him for the deaths of their sons, Begin collapsed. "I can't go on," he told his cabinet and, for the last decade of his life, never made another public appearance. The deaths of so many soldiers -- and the Sabra/Shatila massacre -- under his watch, haunted and then destroyed him. He could have blamed Sharon for misleading him, but he was Prime Minister and, by his standards, he was accountable.

Being an American statesman or politician means never having to say you are sorry (or, more to the point, that you were wrong).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt succeeded because, the ultimate pragmatist, he would change direction when his current course failed. He put it like this: “Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it, and try another. But by all means, try something.”

That is what Israel’s friends in this country need to be telling Israel. And we need to be telling it to the Bush administration as well. America's benign neglect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is having some very malignant consequences.

Lebanon the Morning After

Everyone who's somebody, and a lot of people in the peanut gallery, has a theory about why Israel underperformed in the war against Hezbollah. Partisan activist will blame the world for it's double standards, the Europeans for their anti-semitism, and anyone, and everything except where the blame belongs: Israeli leadership and the Bush administration 'plan' for the Middle East.

New evidence has come to light from Sy Hersh that the conduct of the war from the Israeli side was a test-run for the Administration's ill-conceived war plans for Iraqn.
In the days after Hezbollah crossed from Lebanon into Israel, on July 12th, to kidnap two soldiers, triggering an Israeli air attack on Lebanon and a full-scale war, the Bush Administration seemed strangely passive....

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preemptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah—and shared it with Bush Administration officials—well before the July 12th kidnappings. "It's not that the Israelis had a trap that Hezbollah walked into," he said, "but there was a strong feeling in the White House that sooner or later the Israelis were going to do it."

The Middle East expert said that the Administration had several reasons for supporting the Israeli bombing campaign. Within the State Department, it was seen as a way to strengthen the Lebanese government so that it could assert its authority over the south of the country, much of which is controlled by Hezbollah. He went on, "The White House was more focused on stripping Hezbollah of its missiles, because, if there was to be a military option against Iran's nuclear facilities, it had to get rid of the weapons that Hezbollah could use in a potential retaliation at Israel. Bush wanted both. Bush was going after Iran, as part of the Axis of Evil, and its nuclear sites, and he was interested in going after Hezbollah as part of his interest in democratization, with Lebanon as one of the crown jewels of Middle East democracy."


The United States and Israel have shared intelligence and enjoyed close military cooperation for decades, but early this spring, according to a former senior intelligence official, high-level planners from the U.S. Air Force—under pressure from the White House to develop a war plan for a decisive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities—began consulting with their counterparts in the Israeli Air Force.

"The big question for our Air Force was how to hit a series of hard targets in Iran successfully," the former senior intelligence official said. "Who is the closest ally of the U.S. Air Force in its planning? It's not Congo—it's Israel. Everybody knows that Iranian engineers have been advising Hezbollah on tunnels and underground gun emplacements. And so the Air Force went to the Israelis with some new tactics and said to them, 'Let's concentrate on the bombing and share what we have on Iran and what you have on Lebanon.' " The discussions reached the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he said.

"The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits," a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel said. "Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran."


Even those who continue to support Israel's war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals—to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. "Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it," John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. "The warfare of today is not mass on mass," he said. "You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result."

Read the whole thing, it's very thought provoking.

Though the Bush Administration's reliance and deification of air power, and the subsequent Israeli adoption of that plan, conspired to rob Israel of its victory, some Israeli troops are placing the blame squarely on Olmert government. According to the Telegraph, many soldiers believe that the government went to war with no clear plan--and a failure to plan is a plan for failure.
Israeli reservists demanded a formal inquiry yesterday into the Lebanon war as returning combatants re-counted stories of shocking military incompetence.

One group spoke of how they were sent to war in the choking summer heat without water. They had to grab canteens from the bodies of Hizbollah fighters. They staged protests in several ways. Some signed a petition; others pitched tents outside government buildings in Jerusalem. But their message was clear.

They charged that Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, and his security advisers provided dithering and incoherent leadership and must be held to account. Many of the protesters simply called for the security elite to resign.

Hundreds of members of the Spearhead Brigade, a reserve unit that fought in south Lebanon during the month-long conflict, signed a petition published in a newspaper that attacked the "cold feet" of their commanders.

"There was one thing we were not and would not be willing to accept," the petition said. "We were unwilling to accept indecisiveness.

"The war's aim, which was not defined clearly, was even changed in the course of the fighting. The indecisiveness manifested itself in inaction, in not carrying out operational plans, and in cancelling all the missions we were given during the fighting.

The prime minister defended himself by blaming earlier governments. "We knew for years that there was a great danger, but for some reason we didn't translate that understanding into action, like we just did," he said. "We knew what Iran was doing, what Syria was doing, in arming Hizbollah. We acted as if we didn't know."

Mr Olmert denounced those demanding a full inquiry into Israel's conduct of the war. "I won't be part of this game of self-flagellation," he said.

Sunday, August 20, 2006
Abandon your Posts, All Hope Is Lost

The good, if sometimes misguided, folks over at the National Review Online's Corner have appropiately captured Andrew Sullivan's latest excesses.

This from Jonah Goldberg is good...:

A Jonah fan writes: Jonah,

Please, I'd love to hear your take on "Conspiracy Week" over at Andrew Sullivan's site. Heck, even the good professor gave it a shout-out yesterday, and with your vacation reducing your blog output and generally bringing down the entertainment factor of the Corner, I think it would be a great Friday present if you would do so.

I know, I know—easy target and all. And I'm guessing you're probably tired of being called "Christianist theocratic Bush-Cheney dupe", but how can you pass up Andrew's insane conspiracy mongering? His whole "not my opinion, I'm just throwing it out there, expanding upon it, and not offering countering opinions—but its not my opinion" routine, followed by the classic "sycophantic e-mail of the day" that lauds Mr. Sulivan for his intelligence, independence, or principles—and sometimes all three at the same time. It has truly been a tour de force this week, and with you gone I feel like I have missed something.

[Jonah]: I don't know what this guy is talking about. I have a moratorium going on. But I'm just throwing the above out there.

... but is not as good as John Podhertz's:
Who Will Speak Truth to Power now that Andrew Sullivan has gone on vacation? Who will uncover the amazing plot that Cheney and Rumsfeld actually consciously planned a failure in Iraq? Who will argue that there was no British terror plot? Who will use the word "waterboarding" in place of the word "the"? Who will publish long e-mails of tribute to Andrew Sullivan for his bravery and courage? Who?


My sentiments exactly.

Saturday, August 19, 2006
By George, It's a Disaster

George Will has another great and hard-hitting op.ed, entitled "The Triumph of Unrealism" on the Bush Administration's foreign policy in the WaPo last week.

These are its closing lines:
Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, August 17, 2006
Who Won in Lebanon?

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow might have accused Iran and Syria of playing a "war of words" over who won and lost in Israel, but tell me, does a national leader's poll numbers drop in the wake of victory?

Update: It looks like the Israeli army chief of staff is going to be the first head to roll.

Update 2: When in doubt, form a committee.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006
The Architecture of Peace

Here is what the Israeli-American-Lebanese peace should have looked like.

1. Israeli reparations to Lebanon: $10bn a year for a decade

2. American aid to Lebanon: $100bn to re-equip the military and infrastructure

3. Lebanon: disarm Hezbollah, replace social services with governmental services, hold elections in November 2008, recognize Israeli-Lebanese border, drop the Golan heights issue, and normalize relations with Israel

All figures are in US dollars. Some reasoning to back it up.

Lebanon needs money to rebuild, and, the Israeli-Lebanon wars have taken their toil on the infrastructure. (Hezbollah has started reconstructing Southern Lebanon.) If Israel parts with money, it's a good way to accept responsibility and undercut some of the criticisms of the state. Olmert could credibly say: "We only intervene until such a time that terror organizations no longer threaten Israel and their own citizens. Once that has been accomplished, we want to work toward peace and prosperity for all our neighbors." Bush and Rice could credibly claim to be interested in democratic stability. Squeezing money out of Israel makes it look like a concession (rather than just good policy), shores up Olmert's support among the left-wing opposition (Labor, nominally inside the coalition, Meretz, Shas, and the Arab parties), and gives American the image that it is capable of being an honest broker.

Hezbollah's influence has to go to prevent the creation of a new weapon against Israel: the international jihad (as opposed to struggles of national liberation). Hezbollah, a non-state actor, has not been obliterated by Israeli military power. Their lack of defeat means that non-state, non-conventional asymmetric warfare represents the new phase of the struggle against Israel.

The results of a non-Israeli victory (as opposed to a defeat) will be that regional frustrations with Israel now get channeled through transnational and non-state actors. Currently, in theory, political frustrations are directed toward state institutions, who, through diplomacy and force push Israel into acceptable deals. As it stands, no states in the region, except perhaps Iran, have the military might to coerce Israel so they generally withhold international recognition to prevent a normalization of affairs. (Except for Jordan and Egypt.) Since the states are clearly impotent, why not turn to the Viagra of the transnational struggle in Hamas and Hezbollah. They are getting things done, or, at least, are not completely screwing it up. Since Israel was built to deter armies and states, why not attack them with a weapon that states have a weakness towards?

This isn't really about whether Lebanon occupies southern Lebanon or not for those are not interested in Lebanese domestic stability. This is not about how much money Iran and Syria send or whether the Syrian regime is facing Islamist insurgents. This is not about the Middle Eastern states at all. Precisely because this is not about states, Israel should be afraid. With is why my solution/ peace plan makes it precisely about states. Lebanon is manipulable; Hezbollah can only be marginalized and dismantled. It is in the United States national security interest to keep the region's problems contained inside states.

This new non-state warfare is still the politics of struggle, but, since the states are unable to continue that struggle, it moves into the domain on non-state actors. I offered that the Bush and Olmert administration, as well as Middle Eastern leaders, want to prevent non-state actors from becoming the repositories of hope for the liberation of Palestine. The should do this by re-centering the focus on an Arab state, Lebanon, and dismantling the bold Hezbollah.

Monday, August 14, 2006
Property and the Rule of Law

NOTE: I am not sure when this post will appear due to publishing issues at Blogger.

There is on-going tussle--the world battle might be too strong of an image--between those who believe that the institution and idea of the 'rule of law' makes democracies more resilient, and those who believe that economic success, premised upon a strong conception of property rights, are the source of democratic strength. It is probably a combination of both--that property rights are protected within a framework of the rule of law--but let us assume that the logic of law and the logics of property are in tension and explore where that gets us.

Justice Anthony Kennedy sides, recently, with the rule of law crowd. Dahlia Lithwick, covering Kennedy's recent speech, wrote:
Kennedy—for all [he] cannot seem to stop being Kennedy, even in Honolulu—arrives with a serious project. He is charging the assembled attorneys to do the job of selling to a doubting world "the essentiality of the rule of law." "Make no mistake," he warns, "there's a jury that's out. In half the world, the verdict is not yet in. The commitment to accept the Western idea of democracy has not yet been made, and they are waiting for you to make the case." Referring to terrorism and violence and totalitarianism, he says, "The tide has gone out, and we are on the beach."

It's a tall order to swallow with your aquamarine bikini-tini. But it's a quintessentially Kennedy point: "Our best security, our only security, is in the world of ideas, and I sense a slight foreboding." The world of ideas may be far from Honolulu. But the world of ideas is the only place Kennedy calls home. To that end, he assigns himself a seemingly impossible task: He wants to define "rule of law" so we can start to peddle the concept worldwide. It is not enough to sell the world on the U.S. Constitution, he says. That is merely a set of "negative commands." He is looking for a positive formulation for the rule of law...

Kennedy believes that justice has a purpose. It is not a neutral set of ideals. It is a promise that humans "can dare, can plan, can have joy in their existence." It's premised on the view that poverty and hopelessness and alienation should cause us worry. Maybe that premise is too ambitious. Maybe it is truly not the province of the law to pave over the differences between those who are suffering and those who are not. But Kennedy at least recognizes that all this suffering and alienation is the handmaiden of lawlessness; and that it is as much the task of lawyers to fight lawlessness as it is to serve some dispassionate, neutral machine called the law.

We cannot sell this cold, rational notion of justice and democracy and—as he warns these lawyers—"You can make this case. You must make this case."

Kennedy's inability to find certain, easy answers and his tendency to hold grandiose hopes for the law are fodder for his detractors. This is the Kennedy of Casey, and Lawrence, and Rapanos, and it's the Kennedy that plows up fields of constitutional law and sows seeds of confusion and inscrutable grandeur in their place. This is the Kennedy who drives conservatives nuts with his notion that the courts must fight injustice, regardless of the messiness that ensues. But as he concludes with the charge that our freedom rests on our ability to sell the world on democracy, the crowd is on its feet.

Maybe the fact that Kennedy is suddenly experiencing his moment in the sun isn't just a historical accident of a four-four court with a guy in the middle who can't seem to make up his mind. Perhaps this country is actually ready for what he's selling: the twin notions that the world is an enormous, embattled, struggling place and that the law has a responsibility to try to fix it. Not just in service of the Constitution, but in the service of freedom.

Is Kennedy correct? Is the rule of law the greatest weapon in the arsenal of democracy? Or, is private property and economic development the key? (To be fair, Kennedy questions whether the rule of law can occur within the context of mass deprivation. I am going to briefly gesture at the interrelationship between law, property, and development.)

. You could have a private property regime without the rule of law. Private property, without the rule of law, breeds conflict and does not protect individuals. 2. The rule of law, most liberal or democratic philosophers believe, must contain protections for private property. 3. Thus, the rule of law is the most effective ideational weapon in the arsenal of democracy.

1. The classic case of the right of property without the rule of law is aristocratic privilege. The aristocrats themselves were only bound by the rules that the central aristocrat--often known as the monarch--could enforce. The monarchy itself was bound by no rules it did not recognize. Though there was no true sense of the equal rule of law, the idea of property and property relations within this context were quite embedded within the social framework. Nobles derived their claims from ownership of land, title, and monies associated with both of the former.

Let us consider the colonial context where law and property come into an even stranger relation. Classic Lockean principles, which allow for the appropriation of land that is not being used at its maximum efficiency (by European standards), posited that private property was a sacrosanct contract that transcended governmental boundaries. Locke argued, quite controversially, that America was in a model state of nature. In this state of nature, all land was available for appropriation by private citizens because the land, not being put to productive and profitable use, was not property. Once an individual mixed his labor with the land, and thereby made it (his) property, natural law itself was sufficient to justify that individual continuing his claim to that property and to participate in property relations without any reference to a civil authority. This logic justified the settler acquisition of land and the colonial imposition of new property and social relations, a process began by England in Ireland and perfected in the Americas.

The relationship between the settler and the native was a relationship of war and blood unfettered by the rule of law. What that means in practice is that the land acquired by the settlers immediately became a part of their polities and governed by their laws whereas the land yet to be acquired by settlers was seen as a justifiable object of conquest. No authority, natural law, or civilizational imperative tempered settler appetites for more land; in fact, as soon as the military balance of power favored the settler governments, they unleashed terror, military force, concocted extemporaneous treaties, and implemented policed repression--Michael Mann describes as the ethnic cleansing of settler democracies--to bring more land into the settler polity and under settler control and cultivation. Once the settlers owned the land, the land itself became the subject of juridical property relations; that is, the land was either privatized or demarcated for government use and was unavailable for extra-legal transmissions of ownership. This privatization and demarcation of space was a precondition for the emerging capitalistic imperatives that would spring from England and its imperial international economy and allowed for capitalist development.

Once under the dominion of the law, the land and its inhabitants were ruled by law. However, the law was suspiciously silent, as it usually is, on the modes of acquisition which preceded its power. In the colonial context, we observe most clearly what property rights without the rule of law--settlers taking lands from the natives prior to that land being incorporated into the settler polity--looks like in contrast to property rights within the rule of law--the land after it becomes a party of the polity and earmarked, legally, for public and private ownership and use. Once the land entered the settler polity it was safe from the state of war and, ostensibly protected individual rights and access to their land; before the land was incorporated, however, the gun often determined who owned what.

2. Most liberal philosophers believe that the rule of law first begins with the protection of private property. The rule of law, in the liberal case, being the idea that ever person stands equally before the law to be judged in accordance with its rules. I find the Kantian defense to be the most straightforward and intuitive.

Kant argued that once the liberal juridical and legal structure guaranteed the right of property the necessary preconditions were in place to create a contract into which all could (and should) enter. Before liberal legal relations, henceforth called the rule of law, Kant describes social relations as being under private law. Private law was something he called 'provisional' (and the state of nature) because the only guarantees a person had that a contract would be enforced was the amount of force that that the individual could muster to protect that contract. Protecting private property ending the provisional nature of private law by guaranteeing all individual contracts, even when or after the individuals themselves could not guarantee those contracts. In international relations jargon, the rule of law solves the credibility of commitment problem.

Once the rule of law commenced with the protection of property, the guarantee of contracts, and the basic protection of individuals from wanton violence, social relations are characterized as being under "public law" by Kant. Under public law, the individuals (in the state of nature) become citizens (in the state of civil society). The rule of law grans citizens three characteristics that individuals lack. First, a citizen gains 'lawful freedom' to obey no law to which she has not given consent. Second, a citizen possesses 'civil equality' which both recognizes no one as superior to any other person under the civic constitution and allows every citizen the 'moral' right to bind any other citizen by the civic laws. Third, citizens gain 'civil independence' from owing their existence and sustenance to the arbitrary will of any other in the civil republic. This means that the civic constitution grants each citizen the necessary 'rights and powers' to secure their own existence and precludes every citizen's representation 'in matters of right' by anyone else.

The rule of law allows for the creation of citizens, who, in their equality and independence, gain the ability to direct the affairs of state in accordance with their values and social position. The rule of law is a type of social relation designed to allow for the contestation of many ideas of the good, and, for governance of diverse people under a civic constitution. The benefit of the rule of law is that with the fundamental characteristics of citizens--freedom, equality, and independence--any people can fashion a set of legal relations that they choose for themselves in respect of their own observances, cultural forms, and ethical discourses. (This formulation would expressly allow for Islamic democracy.)

A people choosing for themselves the laws that they will live under, if you believe the neo-Kantians like Habermas and Rawls, pacifies the polity by creating non-violent domestic institutional outlets for public grievances (grievances which now manifest of international terrorism). This is the promise of democratic governance that Kennedy was defending.

Friday, August 11, 2006
The Architecture of Atrocity: What The Legacy of Communism Tells Us About Life and Liberty

Though the 19th and 20th century will be remembered for many things, the most important normative development of those two centuries was the development of sophisticated thoughts about authoritarianism and mass atrocities. At the center of that development lies the Cold War struggle between communist and democratic politics. As Rudolf Rummel has argued, in 'Death by Government", non-democratic countries, in their tyranny, have overseen some of the most atrocious excesses of barbarism and most callous disregard for human life. The hands of Communist governments, in particular, have a fair share of blood on them; in the mass famines, the political purges, the war crimes, the endless revolutions, and the systematic liquidation of human and dignity, the litany of communist crimes continued, from its bloody inception to its quiescent and reluctant collapse.

Many of the worst famines in the 20th century were the results of Communist activity. We have systematic evidence that Stalin and Mao used the weapon of food and collectivization to target and suppress those segments of the population who resisted their rule. Indeed, dispossessing millions of people of their property (to say nothing of their liberty) leads most often to their deaths. (The Amerindians, Armenians, and Jews all discovered the mystic connections between liberty, property, and their lives.) And let's not forget the purges: the attempts by many communist bosses to maintain control of the party's members and functionaries through state-sponsored terror.

Communist crimes, while numerous, do not, of course, make either the ideology or the regimes inherently, or even particularly, murderous. In fact, communism is only truly murderous under specific conditions which are the same conditions that lead any regime to commit mass atrocities. Though the ideology itself was not responsible for all the excess, but it helped. The ambitious scope and callous certitude of Communism certainly created conditions in which despotic leaders felt justified in "breaking a few eggs to make an omelet." Isaiah Berlin one remarked that if a solution to all the world's problems were possible, "surely no cost would be too high to obtain it: to make mankind just and happy and creative and harmonious forever-- what could be too high a price to pay for that? To make such an omelet, there is surely no limit to the number of eggs that should be broken-- that was the faith of Lenin, of Trotsky, of Mao...of Pol Pot." Rather than ideology, communist murderousness stemmed from the attempt to exercise control over a territory with sharply limited resources available over a reluctant, or even resistant, people. (The same story explains United State's atrocities in Vietnam and the Philippines, and, Nazi Germany's atrocities in France, Poland, and Italy, for instance.)

For all the excesses of Communism's humanitarian record, for which their is neither justification nor excuse, we should remember that there were less violent communist governments as well. In brief: Czechoslovakia, Cuba, Laos, Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent North Vietnam to name a few. This suggests that the ideology of Communism alone can not explain the massive violence. To explain the violence requires the presence of the other factors I mentioned; specifically, a situation of limited resources against a perceived strong threat. This situation, I believe, is the root behind a whole host of other atrocities as well from counterinsurgencies to war-time state-sponsored terrorism and is not unique, or, even peculiar to, communist regimes.

Communism's record on political liberty is worse than its human rights record. This is because one of the key features of communist governance is single-party rule. Singly party states, whether communist or not, is a a formula for authoritarian government. (Indeed, party states are more stable as authoritarian regimes than military-based dictatorships (Chile. Pakistan, Fascist Spain, Turkey at times) (and, even perhaps, dynastic (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco) dictatorships,) but that's another talking point.) Let's briefly consider some of the non-communist data: Algeria, Egypt, Tanzania, the Second Republic of Rwanda, Iraq, Syria, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan (before the democratic transition), and Mexico. Party-states do not tend toward democracy. After all, Lord Acton didn't observe that power tends toward moderation and sharing, did he?

The idea of the central, governing revolutionary party is a central tenant of Leninism, and, the idea of the party-state was formulated by Trotsky. (Some would say that Ataturk invented both, but I believe that more radicals copied Lenin than they patterned themselves after Ataturk. I could be wrong.) Stalin perfected the method of a centralized party boss within a governing structure. Mao and Ho Chi Minh added the nationalist dimension to Communist parties (but did not go the route of national socialism.) Since those innovations in what parties and organized revolutions can do for you, many Communists and non-Communists have opted for the single party model when they could consolidate control of the regime under their party. Communist parties more committed to stability, or, who did not face the threat of liquidation-- many early communist parties turned to violence because they believed that they either had to seize power or die--often governed through leftist parliamentary coalitions with labor, socialists, and in the latter part of the 20th century, environmental parties.

The take-away message: Communism as ideology might have authoritarian "tendencies." That is a political theoretic argument with good arguments both in favor and against that proposition. Communism, as an institutional reality and regime type, is authoritarian because of the nature of single-party governance. This statement is as true as any statement about institutional forms can be because the historical evidence from both Communist and non-Communist party states in various regions of the world and in various stages of development. This evidence rules out governing ideology ( i.e Communism), region of the world, "culture", and levels of economic development as an explanatory factor for why Communist policies were murderous and why their regimes were despotic.

There is nothing at the theoretical level in Communism which necessitates single party rule. In fact, a communist governing party, or a communist-led coalition, is entirely compatible with parliamentary democracy. (I don't think Communist political organization is suited for presidential democracy.)

Confronting the political and ethical legacies of Communism exposes the power, promises, and, sadly, limitations on revolutions, states, and ideologies to promote change at the expense of discretion. Having won the Cold War, and having become distant from the immediately euphoria, scholars in the non-Communist nations should use the historical record as opportunity to make the 21st century more humane than the 19th and 20th. Disaggregating the reasons for Communist failures and excesses gestures, indictingly, toward single-party rule and low-resource ambitious foreign and domestic policies as the source of terror, deprivation, and, concern.

Friday, August 04, 2006
State of the Union's Foreign Policy

To close the week on a light note, I wanted to state the big picture view of foreign affairs. Condi only has about two years left to find herself a legacy.

1. North Korea testing of missiles has threatened Japan's leadership. This leadership now seems determined to use it to substantively re-written and re-interpret Japan's pacific constitution.

2. Israel and Lebanon are at war. Lebanon is the tinder box that could drag the entire region into a situation where international armies sit on Israeli borders and greatly circumscribe its national freedom to act. That same Lebanese tinderbox could set off conflicts between Syria, Iran, the United States, and Israel-- conflicts that will be costly to at least two of the parties involved (Syria and Israel).

3. Turkey is heavily considering armed intervention into Iraq to end a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders. Armed intervention into the Kurdish area of Iraq would propel Iraq into a further state of disunion by incentivizing militaristic nationalism among the Kurds, and, demonstrating to them whether their Shiia allies would divert state resources to protect them. Conflict in Northern Turkey would also limited the small opportunity that Turkey has to enter the European Union.

4. Vice President Cheney, President Bush, and President Putin exchanged harsh words about democracy in the lead up to and during the G-8 summit. While I concur with Putin that Russia does not need 'democracy like Iraq', one can only marvel at the limited nature of democratic life in his Russia. Nevertheless, my concern for Russia does not translate in Dick Cheney's fighting words of last spring's tour through Europe.

5. The Doha rounds of the WTO negotiations have stalled again while Chavez is situating himself to be the new Castro of the world, getting chummy with all the United States' rejects.

6. Iraq. Enough said.

7. On a good note, the United States has pledged unconditional support for a Cuban democratic transition, and, has put its money where its mouth is.
The United States is actively monitoring the situation in Cuba following the announcement of a transfer of power. At this time of uncertainty in Cuba, one thing is clear: The United States is absolutely committed to supporting the Cuban people's aspirations for democracy and freedom. We have repeatedly said that the Cuban people deserve to live in freedom. I encourage all democratic nations to unite in support of the right of the Cuban people to define a democratic future for their country. I urge the Cuban people to work for democratic change on the island. We will support you in your effort to build a transitional government in Cuba committed to democracy, and we will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba. In the event of a transition in the Cuban government, we stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance as needed to help the Cuban people. It has long been the hope of the United States to have a free, independent, and democratic Cuba as a close friend and neighbor. In achieving this, the Cuban people can count on the full and unconditional support of the United States.

Thursday, August 03, 2006
Mel, Your Foot is In Your Mouth

We have to face the music: conservative culture hero Mel Gibson is an anti-semite. Thankfully, anti-Semites are becoming few and far in between (and not running governments as they were prone to do in Europe).

Here's what happened:
Gibson became agitated after he was stopped on Pacific Coast Highway and told he was to be detained for drunk driving Friday morning in Malibu. The actor began swearing uncontrollably. Gibson repeatedly said, "My life is f****d."

Once inside the car, a source directly connected with the case says Gibson began banging himself against the seat. The report says Gibson told the deputy, "You mother f****r. I'm going to f*** you." The report also says "Gibson almost continually [sic] threatened me saying he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all of his money to 'get even' with me."

The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: "F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

Christopher Hitchens, font of wisdom on most topics except for religious belief, had this to say:
I think that the difference between the blood-alcohol levels—and indeed the speed limits—that occasioned the booking are insufficient to explain the expletives (as Gibson has since claimed in a typically self-pitying and verbose statement put out by his publicist). One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all...

[I]t has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred. This is not just proved by his twistedly homoerotic spank-movie The Passion of the Christ, even though that ghastly production did focus obsessively on the one passage in the one of the four Gospels that tries to convict the Jewish people en masse of the hysterical charge of Christ-killing or "deicide." It is [also] validated by his fealty to his earthly father, a crackpot who belongs to a Catholic splinter group of which our Mel is a member. This group more or less lives off the stench of medieval anti-Semitism.

Hitchens, more or less, has it exactly right. A person never says, or really does, anything drunk that they would not have done while sober. The famous two-beer queers, or the intoxicated anti-semites, were always already that way in the first place with the alcohol being a lubricant to help work it out.

Hitchens, however, gets it wrong when he suggests that the problem is the religious belief and not the sick twisted mind of Gibson. Repudiating the (apparently misinformed) doctrine bequeathed to Moses that "sins of the fathers should descend to later generations", Hitchens neither wants to hold Gibson accountable for the beliefs of his father nor wishes Gibson to hold Jews responsible for deicide. The doctrine of generational transmissive guilt, while given to Moses, was revoked, by God, to either Jeremiah or Ezekiel making God a lot more progressive than Hitchens by at least a few thousand years. More importantly, though, Hitchens needs to make this about Gibson's religious beliefs, as opposed to his individual bigotries, to paint the crime in an overly large brush and thereby tar all of his enemies. (It comes with being a contrarian.) Given that most Christians have renounced anti-semitism as an organizing principle, particularly in America, Hitchens' philippic teeters uncomfortably into the illogic of the intoxicated, whether by extreme prejudice, madness, or alcohol.

Mel Gibson released the following statement in response:
There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.

I am a public person, and when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. As a result, I must assume personal responsibility for my words and apologize directly to those who have been hurt and offended by those words.

The tenets of what I profess to believe necessitate that I exercise charity and tolerance as a way of life. Every human being is God's child, and if I wish to honor my God I have to honor his children. But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.

I'm not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one on one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.

I have begun an ongoing program of recovery and what I am now realizing is that I cannot do it alone. I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display, and I am asking the Jewish community, whom I have personally offended, to help me on my journey through recovery. Again, I am reaching out to the Jewish community for its help. I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable. But I pray that that door is not forever closed.

This is not about a film. Nor is it about artistic license. This is about real life and recognizing the consequences hurtful words can have. Its about existing in harmony in a world that seems to have gone mad.

This apology is notable in several respects. First, Gibson acknowledges that words are more than just sound and emphasizes his commitments as a democratic citizen to increase 'harmony' in a discordant multicultural society. Second, Mel, rightfully, testifies that bigotry and hatred of all kinds find neither refugee nor origin within the gospel of Jesus Christ. While he has not yet recognized that 'all of God's creatures' includes also homosexuals, this public admission is a strong step forward in defending the cosmopolitan and universal appeal of the gospel. As Paul wrote: "the gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe." Third, Gibson pledges to offer us more than an apology, more than a song of convenient contrition, and requests forgiveness as well as partners on a journey of healing. If he is sincere, then this is the true Christian way.

Hitchens, however, is not willing to extend this grace:
Those who endorsed his previous obscene blockbuster are obliged to say something now or be ignored ever after. But this should not be yet another spectacle of the "offensive" and the "inappropriate," swiftly succeeded by rehab and repentance and perhaps—who knows?—a joint press conference with Elie Wiesel. Gibson did not "misspeak"; indeed according to many trustworthy reports, he nearly copped the customary celebrity "get out of jail free" card and had his remarks stricken from the record. (When will the sheriffs decide to release the evidence?) No, he spoke his "mind," and in case anyone wants to burble about political correctness, it should be added that he spoke this way because of his religion, not just his warped personality. Let him keep the fortune he made from a pogrom movie, and let him by all means continue to sponsor his Latin Mass sectarian church in Malibu, where sinners are thick on the ground. But there was another touch of in vino veritas when he tearfully told the cops that "my life is f---ed," and this inadvertent truth ought to be remembered in all charity as the last words we ever want to hear from him.

The recognition of a life being "f---ed" is the first step toward repentance and salvation in my tradition. If Mel is sincere, then we should let him demonstrate him working out his own salvation with fear and trembling.

One last detail, he is working on a movie about the Holocaust. Unless his repentance is sincere and he is cured of Jew-hatred, this movie will be a disaster. Some have expressed uncomfortability with a (known) anti-Semite making a movie about something so central to modern Jewish identity.

Let Mel Gibson make his movie. At the worst, it will be a denial of the Holocaust. A film denying the Holocaust will be quickly condemned by every reasonable person so it will do no harm. Moreover, it would be odd, ironic, and hypocritical for Americans to prevent/ outlaw Holocaust-denial while simultaneously affirming the right of Europe newspapers to offend Muslims with cartoons about the Prophet. Having castigated Muslims for their response, we too should allow the same freedom concerning matters of sensitive importance to us on pain of consistency.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006
Is Work Worth It Anymore?

Fascinating New York Times article about "men in their prime" who chose to remain unemployed. And we complain about the American underclass being 'lazy.' "Most of these missing men are, like Mr. Beggerow, former blue-collar workers with no more than a high school education. But their ranks are growing at all education and income levels. Refugees of failed Internet businesses have spent years out of work during their 30's, while former managers in their late 40's are trying to stretch severance packages and savings all the way to retirement."

But what's most fascinating about this article is that these men draw upon the welfare state to ensure their continued existence. However, unlike the politics associated with the welfare of poor minority women, these men draw from Medicare and Social Security, rather than food stamps and welfare. What I can guarantee you that won't happen is a bunch of Southern Republicans talking about getting people off welfare and back into the workplace in the "Send Men Back to the Workplace" Act of 2006. Three cheers for double standards. "We have a de facto welfare system as Europe does," said Teresa Ghilarducci, a labor economist at the University of Notre Dame. "But we are not proud of it, as they are."

Some might argue that the reason students go to college is to positively correlate work and 'fulfilment.' (These guys lack fulfilment in their alternative occupations.) Others would respond that you trade your time for money (for whatever one uses money for), and, that you necessarily would rather be doing something else. If a person can't deal with this basic feature of working, then they should not be looking for a job in the first place. It's the classic debate between "I want to get to paid to do what I love" and "I [just] want to get paid." Most of these contentions hinge upon the idea that college should change everything and create options where they do not current exist. According to the New York Times, "Most of these [profiled] men are, like Mr. Beggerow, former blue-collar workers with no more than a high school education." High school may be limiting their options, except for the fact that they have work experience. The debate that presupposes a college education about whether you 'should' enjoy work or not does not challenge the basic premises of the current logic of market society in the post union era.* The men of the New York Times, on the other hand, because of their blue-collar work, argue that the dignity that comes from being active is more important than the paycheck of the wage-labor system. For them, if dignity leads to money, that's preferable, but enjoyment and fulfillment are top priorities over the paycheck itself.+

This contention, by the blue collar workers, goes against heart of our market society which argues (for those of middle class persuasions) that one works to earn the ability to pursuit hobbies. (Other classes, particular the working class, work because the alternative is death and starvation. The middle class can, at least, tell itself a story in which entering the market is a "voluntary" choice, even though the voluntarism of the imperative "Work or Starve" is a false one.) The cynic in me wants to say: "it's nice to get paid to do what you like, but it's better to get paid." This cynical view, unnecessarily callous it seems, is tragic, but, market society is a devil's bargain; it always has been and always will be. Anything premised upon the idea of 'work or die' probably does not have liberty at the root of its considerations.

*I am not attempting to romanticize unions here. The history of unions is the history of codified race and gender privilege. In the same way the "country club" social networks effectively undermine the meritocracy (making who you know the conditioning factor on what you know), labor unions created networks of laborers who used their political and economic clout to actively screw over others in the working class. Breaking the unions broke that political voice on the center left allowing other factions--particularly ones based on racial and gender inclusiveness-- to organize and channel that political power.

+This is singularly interesting because, as we all know, Karl Marx famously argued that after the demise of the market society, in which property relations determine the status, access, and worth of humans and human labor power, the post-market society, also known as communism, would be radically different. The 'dictatorship of the proletariat' would be a society in which supply and demand were based on a humanistic (as opposed to capitalistic) conception of need-- "from each according to his ability to each according to his need"--and characterized by the pursuit of hobbies rather than wage-labor. Without getting into arguments about the normative value of communistic versus capitalistic ideas, it is intriguing that in the blue-collars workers' rejection of a market society without dignity leads them into a life described by Marx as the communist utopia for the working class.