Monday, January 31, 2005

Unhealthy Fixation on Israel

From WaPo (via OxBlog):
A poll of 3,000 people published last month by Germany's University of Bielefeld showed more than 50 percent of respondents equating Israel's policies toward the Palestinians with Nazi treatment of the Jews.
I will have more on this when time allows. Meanwhile, read the whole thing.

Friday, January 28, 2005


From Wonkette:

And of course you've probably seen this one by now. Cracked me up!

On Feith's Departure

Juan Cole:
Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon. In the build-up to the Iraq War, Feith had a phalanx of Israeli generals visiting him in the Pentagon and ignored post-9/11 requirements that they sign in.
Juan also highlights an important point:
It is also important to underline that only a small minority of American Jews support the Likud Party or its policies, and that a majority of Jewish Americans opposed the Iraq war. In short, the problematic nature of Feith's tenure at the Department of Defense must not be made an excuse for any kind of bigotry.

Were 9/11 Victims Guilty?

No, of course not. But this post by Greg Djerejian talks about all those people who think they were. I suspect this quote from a woman in Dubai sums up a fairly mainstream Arab (though probably not European) view:
The wife of a locally prominent lawyer, of Pakistani extraction, told me that the attack on the Pentagon was legitimate. Oh, hell, I thought--let her call it legit as an attack on a military target. But, I asked, what of the massive slaughter of innocents at the World Trade Center? She paused, mulled that over a bit, and, incredibly, in near perfect English, said: "maybe they should have attacked [the Towers] on a weekend when there would have been less people there."
Then towards the end Greg says "Bush speaks of the United States' mission as ending tyranny on the planet (and he really means it!)." As a result, he implies, many people around the world think Bush and Osama are religious fanatics and moral absolutists cut from the same cloth. Greg doesn't say whether he thinks there's a grain of truth to this or not, but given his hawkish pro-war stance I think it is fair to assume he doesn't. Well, I do.

Increasingly, I think the problem with Bush is he doesn't really understand what the word "freedom" really means. He thinks it means cutting taxes and eliminating welfare. Sometimes that might be true, but there are a lot of other things that must come first -- notably all that liberalism (in the Enlightenment tradition, not the "socialist" tradition) represents.

UPDATE: The jump to that last paragraph may be a bit difficult to follow. So I'll try to summarize the logic:
  1. Osama and other terrorists are (or at least play to) religious Muslim fanatics
  2. Many foreigners think Bush is (or plays to) religious Christian fanatics
  3. Greg Djerejian disagrees with those foreigners because Bush advocates "freedom" and "democracy"
  4. I think Bush and Osama are very different in magnitude but similar in essence. To me, freedom and democracy must rest on secular liberalism. By liberalism I mean the enlightenment kind: "In contrast to systems of thought where the sacred had dominated and where questioning was discouraged, Enlightenment thinkers viewed human reason as dominant." Note I do not mean "socialist" (this piece explains the difference).
  5. I don't think Bush understands the enlightenment notion of liberalism, and in his belief system I don't think "human reason" is "dominant". His value system is based on "faith" which is essentially an indirect way of saying that it is not based on "human reason". And as such, even though Bush is no terrorist or murderer, the essence of his approach to foreign policy is irrational and thus not as dissimilar to Osama & Co.'s approach as Greg would like to believe

Seymour Hersh: We've Been Taken Over By a Cult

Via Andrew Sullivan, a depressing take on Iraq.

Sullivan also links to a rebuttal by Max Boot that is filled with fact-checks like this:
In November 2001, he [Seymour Hersh] claimed that 16 AC-130 gunships participated in a raid (a "near disaster") on Mullah Mohammed Omar's compound in Afghanistan. There were only nine AC-130s in the entire region, and they are never used more than one or two at a time.
This proves nothing, but it's a very common style of argument among conservatives. It's like saying the revelation that documents published by Dan Rather were forged proves Bush didn't do anything wrong in the Air Reserves.

Abu Aardvark: Bush punts on freedom in Jordan

As this report shows, Bush still fails to connect the dots between his lofty pro-freedom rhetoric and reality.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Gates, Norway Team for Global Vaccine Donations

From NPR (and many other sources). Apparently Bill and Melinda Gates will supply $750 million, the Kingdom of Norway will supply $250 million. I'd say that's an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of the two parties.

Granted, the Norwegian Government Petroleum Fund is worth $158 billion whereas Bill and Melinda are only worth $29.5 billion, but if you consider future liabilities (4 million Norwegians vs. one family) the Gates's are clearly the stronger party.

pike speak: You "Republican" Bloggers Are Pissing Me Off

This guy is pretty funny:
We (Conservatives) are supposed to be the ones with principles. We are the ones that are supposed to encourage open and honest debate. We are the ones that are all about debating with ethics and morality as the lynch-pin of our arguments.
Since when did conservatives "encourage open and honest debate"? Which conservatives is he talking about? The only conservative I've read in recent years who has shown any interest in "honest debate" at all is Andrew Sullivan.

And he is now being ostracized by the other conservative writers.

Matthew Yglesias: Ticking Bombs Once Again

Man, this guy can write!
As we've being seeing, there's inevitable "slippage" when you start loosening the rules. So don't loosen them. Terrorism is bad. It's a serious threat. It deserves to be taken seriously.
This is a bit cheesy but the fact that writers like Matt can exist and thrive in America gives me great hope for the future of this country (and the world). It is nice to be inspired sometimes...

Monday, January 24, 2005

Darwin in America

From a Post editorial:
..a startling 55 percent of Americans -- and 67 percent of those who voted for President Bush -- do not, according to a recent CBS poll, believe in evolution at all.
This brings a bit of perspective, doesn't it? Perhaps we should be glad America hasn't invaded more countries on religious grounds.

I'm no fan of Bush but I agree with what seems to be the general consensus among liberals (such as Kevin Drum) that he is no bigot at heart. But how do we know this will be true for the next Republican president?

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"We told you so."

Friedman notes:
What's sad is that right when we have reached crunch time in Iraq, the West is totally divided. All that the Europeans care about is being able to say to George Bush, 'We told you so.' What happens the morning after 'We told you so' ? Well, the Europeans don't have a Plan B either.
I must confess: There are times when I feel like the Europeans. (That I am European is besides the point.)

So I take pride in my liberal and humanitarian world view, yet when it comes to Iraq I am reduced to wishing (by implication) for Iraqis to die in civil warfare just because I strongly dislike George W. Bush and what he represents. That's why divisive policies are so bad. Rational, moderate and (mostly) well-meaning people like me become irrational.

Because of people like me it may be difficult for Bush & Co. to win "hearts and minds" in his second term. As Friedman points out:
Condi Rice told the Senate that the "time for diplomacy is now." Give me a break. The time for diplomacy was two years ago.
Back in 2002/2003 I didn't even oppose the war in Iraq. I figured Bush probably had some good reasons along with the not-so-good ones. Now look at me.

Bush's Speech

Kenya's Nation:
It is possible to have the freer world that Bush speaks of, but the idea that those who are strong and have a larger arsenal have an unchallenged right to impose their will on the weak, undermines democracy.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Norway overtakes USA in GDP per person

2002 figures from OECD via

After the recent dollar decline (2005) many other countries should be ahead of the US as well. (Hat tip: Bjarte).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

THE BELGRAVIA DISPATCH: Notes From The Condi Hearings

A must read about the hearings. Note the Obama's pointed critisism of US Public Diplomacy (don't miss Matt's either).

Friday, January 14, 2005

Link: Reflections By An Arab Jew

Via Juan Cole, an incredibly interesting comment on the dilemmas faced by an Arab Jew:
To be a European or American Jew has hardly been perceived as a contradiction, but to be an Arab Jew has been seen as a kind of logical paradox, even an ontological subversion. This binarism has led many Oriental Jews (our name in Israel referring to our common Asian and African countries of origin is Mizrahi or Mizrachi) to a profound and visceral schizophrenia, since for the first time in our history Arabness and Jewishness have been imposed as antonyms.

Intellectual discourse in the West highlights a Judeo-Christian tradition, yet rarely acknowledges the Judeo-Muslim culture of the Middle East, of North Africa, or of pre-Expulsion Spain (1492) and of the European parts of the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish experience in the Muslim world has often been portrayed as an unending nightmare of oppression and humiliation.
I remember getting a sense of the complex identities involved in the region through a close Palestinian Christian friend in college, but this was still surprising. It seems that "Arab" is more of a geographical/cultural term like "European" or "American", thus it's perfectly normal to have "Arab Jews", "Arab Christians" and "Arab Muslims". The fact that the words "Arab" and "Muslim" are practically interchangeable in Anglo-America only shows how poorly the region is understood by most people.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Review: A World Without Israel

Via Gregory Djerejian, Josef Joffe imagines a world without Israel.

Joffe thinks a world without Israel would not be much different. I think he misses the point of the critics he is trying to defend against. Serious critics of Israel and America are not against the Israeli state per se. Nor do they "absolve the Arabs of culpability". They just don't think America is an honest and impartial broker in the region, which causes a whole slew of problems.

Imagine for a moment that Sweden and Norway are mortal enemies at war. Then ask yourself this question: Would it be in America's best interest to have me and my fellow Norwegian-Americans direct US policies in Scandinavia?

Consider these facts:
  • The American Ambassador to Israel is Jewish

  • The American neoconservative movement inspired Bush's recent foreign policy initiatives
  • Of the 11 prominent neoconservatives listed on wikipedia, 8 are Jewish (Feith, Frum, Horowitz, Kristol, Kristol, Perle, Strauss and Wolfowitz). At least 4 of them hold (Feith, Wolfowitz) or held (Frum, Perle) prominent positions in the Bush administration

  • Jews in America are financially strong. According to Jewish intellectual Benjamin Ginsberg (1993):
    Today, though barely 2% of the nation's population is Jewish, close to half its billionaires are Jews. The chief executive officers of the three major television networks, and the four largest film studios are Jews, as are the owners of the nation's largest newspaper chain and most influential single newspaper, the New York Times. In the late 1960s, Jews already constituted 20% of the faculty of elite universities and 40% of the professors of elite law schools; today, these percentages doubtless are higher.
Clearly Jews have influence in America. And on the domestic front I have no problems with it; I consider it a tribute to both American meritocracy and the hard work and ingenuity of Jewish-Americans.

But like many critics I find the strong Jewish influence of US policy in the Middle East unfortunate. This influence is clearly seen in UN Security Council and General Assembly votes. Basically; the world wants Israel to withdraw and stop building settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, but the United States always intervenes on Israel's behalf.

So, just like you wouldn't want a me to decide what America should do about the Swedes, I don't want Jews to run American Middle East policy. That is the essence of the world's critisism. Josef Joffe and most American writers just don't get it. And that is very unfortunate because Israel and Palestine need them to help Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon/Peres make the most of the rare opportunity for peace presented by Yasser Arafat's death.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

WMD Hunt Is Over

Via Kevin Drum: Search for Banned Arms In Iraq Ended Last Month. Worth noting next time your favorite Bush-supporting friend repeats the "we still don't know if there were WMD's" argument.

Fineman: MSM is Dead

Via Sullivan: The 'Media Party' is over
A political party is dying before our eyes — and I don't mean the Democrats. I'm talking about the "mainstream media," which is being destroyed by the opposition (or worse, the casual disdain) of George Bush's Republican Party; by competition from other news outlets (led by the internet and Fox's canny Roger Ailes); and by its own fraying journalistic standards. At the height of its power, the AMMP (the American Mainstream Media Party) helped validate the civil rights movement, end a war and oust a power-mad president. But all that is ancient history.

Now the AMMP is reeling, and not just from the humiliation of CBS News. We have a president who feels it's almost a point of honor not to hold more press conferences — he's held far fewer than any modern predecessor — and doesn't seem to agree that the media has any "right" to know what's really going in inside his administration.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Torture Day

So I was reading about torture day at the Corner (link via Atrios) and I started thinking about how conservatives view the world.

On a human level a lot of what they're saying makes sense. We're under attack. The people who attack are mean and uncivilized, in that they're not bound by any constraints of decency. Then we capture people who we suspect are linked to our attackers. In order to extract as much information from them as possible we rough them up a little, expose them to "stress-situations". Fair enough. They're most likely bad people anyway, and besides it's all for a good cause: Leading us to our attackers so we can punish them, and preventing future attacks.

So far so good. Although it is not clear to me why we would stop at stressful situations, these are "bad" people so why not torture them a little to protect American lives. Also, there is the issue of innocent victims who have been wrongly captured (90% of the Iraqi victims of US torture by some estimates) but we'll leave that be as well. A conservative would probably argue you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. These are both reasonable (if not very "nice") arguments.

However, on two fundamental issues I really don't understand the conservatives at all. The first is purely practical, the second has to do with what (little) I know about human history.

First off, why do we never hear conservatives question the value of information extracted under torture? Many pundits on the left are now saying that any information extracted through torture or duress is worthless. I don't buy that, but clearly some of it will be completely false. In most cases it will probably be a mixture of the two (as seems to have been the case with Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who first gave up some co-activists but then led the Bush administration to believe there were tight links between Saddam and al Qaeda). Bottom line: If you're a conservative hell-bent on saving American lives it seems you would care about this critical factor of the quality of our intelligence enough to debate it every once in a while. The bad intelligence leading to the invasion of Iraq is a giant case in point.

Second, why don't conservatives ever stop to ponder why the Geneva Conventions exist in the first place? Per my understanding, they came into existence mostly because civilized nations wanted to protect their own soldiers when they were captured. Not being "mean" to other people was a secondary concern. I think Senator Joe Biden put it this way: "The Conventions exist so that my son who is in the military won't be tortured!"

Again, there is some room for argument here. Terror organizations differ from foreign armies. Perhaps terrorists are essentially amoral and thus would treat their prisoners the same regardless of how America treated their bretheren. But the civillian populations from which they draw sympathy and support probably would care. At best, this is a highly debatable argument yet the conservative articles I've read recently don't even acknowledge it.

What is clear is that conservatives don't share my core belief that when you start disrespecting other people and treating them badly it will come back to haunt you one way or another. And this really puzzles me. It goes against everything I know about what makes us who we are and how I see the world. When I hear about somebody committing an act of "evil", my first impulse is to try to find out what caused this person to sink so low. To a conservative, in America, Iran or any other country, I guess the first impulse is "how can I kick his ass".

I recognize I am having trouble articulating how I feel about this. That may be why I've been feeling really fed up with politics in general and Bush and his supporters in particular lately. Matt Yglesias put it far better than I ever could:
Like many liberal writers, I've devoted a non-trivial quantity of time to documenting the various ways in which the Bush administration has sought to mislead the American people about a variety of manners pertaining to national security over the past few years. I must admit, however, that I've suffered from a limited ability to articulate exactly what the problem is here. You've got the kindergarten-level morality point that lying is a bad thing, of course, but that only gets you so far.
Lying is bad, as is torture, disrespect, ignorance, and abuse of power. I don't know how else to put it. Perhaps I am naive. But that's how I see it.


It seems the good folks at MEMRI are at it again. Abu Aardvark:
Meanwhile...when it looks at Arab media responses to the tsunami, MEMRI finds only conspiracy theories and anti-Americanism. You find what you look for, I suppose. I look at the two most widely viewed television stations and two of the most widely read daily newspapers, and tell you what I find - including two arguably "anti-American" pieces, along with a surprising trend of self-criticism of the official Arab response. MEMRI digs up a relatively obscure Saudi television station and an Egyptian tabloid saying what they want to hear, and then passes it off as representative of the Arab media as a whole. Vintage.
Some of you may remember the dispute between Juan Cole and MEMRI a while back.


The nomination of Robert Zoellick as deputy Secretary of State suggests Bush and Rice view America's increasing unpopularity as a bad thing. Changing future behavior based on an assessment of the past clearly demonstrates some capacity for learning. Not bad.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Yglesias on Bush's Credibility

Matt makes an excellent point which he neatly sums up thus:
It's the administration that cried wolf, and it's a dangerous situation.

Arab Media on Tsunami

An interesting post from Abu Aardvark, who is puzzled by the lack of critisism of the US tsunami response and amazed that they're critical of Arab governments. Of course I had to include this quote from the editor in chief of al Quds al Arabi:
Does it make sense that a country like Norway, with only 5 million people and no connection to the third world, offered $181 million, more than all the Arab states put together?'
This ain't about Norway though. Read the whole thing.

Jews and the Christian Right

Why are they allies? (Via Andrew Sullivan).

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Economist: Meritocracy in America

Meritocracy in America is not as prevalent as you think. Via Andrew Sullivan (my own issue hasn't arrived yet).
There is also growing evidence that America is less socially mobile than many other rich countries. Mr Solon finds that the correlation between the incomes of fathers and sons is higher in the United States than in Germany, Sweden, Finland or Canada. Such cross-national comparisons are rife with problems: different studies use different methods and different definitions of social status. But Americans are clearly mistaken if they believe they live in the world's most mobile society.

UPDATE: Turns out David Brooks read it too.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Iraq Update

Greg Djerejian has a summary of an update from The Economist. Well worth a read (if you don't subscribe to The Economist already). I feel bad but I must admit I almost burst out laughing when I read this paragraph:
There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hand, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sergeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: “Back this bitch up, motherfucker!”

On "Red State Fascism"

Via Yglesias, MaxSpeak quotes libertarian Lew Rockwell who is a bit over-the-top at times, but his main argument is reasonable:
The American right today has managed to be solidly anti-leftist while adopting an ideology – even without knowing it or being entirely conscious of the change – that is also frighteningly anti-liberty. This reality turns out to be very difficult for libertarians to understand or accept. For a long time, we've tended to see the primary threat to liberty as coming from the left, from the socialists who sought to control the economy from the center. But we must also remember that the sweep of history shows that there are two main dangers to liberty, one that comes from the left and the other that comes from the right. Europe and Latin America have long faced the latter threat, but its reality is only now hitting us fully.
MaxSpeak commenter "moni" provides this useful "working definition" of Fascism:
It is the ideological call to arms to support the government unconditionally against enemy x. Militarism coupled with demand for acritical approval and denigration of opponents as traitors. Of course it's a stretch to say America is fascist in a literal sense, but metaphorically, that element is there, more in the 'idolatry', indeed, of those worshipping the government than in the actions of the government itself.
I hope people keep pushing this line of argument. Yes, it's extreme and premature. America is not a fascist state, for one thing it still holds reasonably free elections and Bush was in real danger of losing in 2004. But some of the leading voices on the right -- Bush's key supporters who clearly has his blessings -- are making their arguments with a militancy and intolerance of dissenting views that is scarily reminiscent of early-stage fascist states.