Saturday, May 03, 2003

In this week's NY Times Book Review, Ethan Bronner reviews what sounds like a fascinating new book o the breakdown of the Oslo accords by Charles Enderlin, a French journalist who was able to gain remarkable access to key players in a process that first seemed a breakthrough, but ended in a debacle. As Enderlin's narrative reveals, and Bonner reports, the breakdown of the peace process was not the fault of one or the other side alone; and those narratives which depict it as being so are misleading. Whether these accounts are offered by the opposing sides in good faith or not is another question.
One thing that strikes me is that, while both sides contributed to the failure of the peace process, they seem to have done so in different ways. The Israeli Right -- well, they simply didn't, and don't, seem to want peace at all. But even the Labour governments that seemed to genuinely desire peace oversaw the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- an unjust, dishonest, and suicidal policy.
But the inconsistency and incompetence of the relatively dovish Israeli governments strike me less -- perhaps because I am a Zionist, albeit a left-wing one who believes in the justice and necessity of a Palestinian state -- than the intransigence of the Palestinians. What are we to make of this?
"At one point in December 2000, an Israeli negotiator actually offered, without Barak's permission, Palestinian sovereignty over the plaza as long as the agreement contained the words ''We know that the Jews maintain they have a religious connection to what they regard as the Temple Mount.'' Incredibly, the Palestinians refused."
Bronner explains that the Palestinian leadership -- and, so far as one can tell, their followers (although he doesn't make this clear) have always denied that the Jews have any claim to Jerusalem as having once been home of the ancient Temples -- even though this is a fact generally agreed on by archeologists (possibly one of the few details from the Bible that actually IS substantiated by archeologists, but nevermind).
Now, this is I think a less serious failure of understanding or flexibility than the refusal, illustrated by Bronner at the beginning of his article, to acknowledge that Israel has a right to exist. Indeed, it seems to me that the key to peace is both sides accepting that the other side has a right to its own state, its own secure place in the sun; and ceasing to care so bloody much about what happened on the soil they currently occupy a couple of millenia ago. What matters more: whether or not there was a temple on the 'Temple Mount' some two thousand plus years ago, or the fact that there has been blood on that ground within the last two (or so) years? Until both sides agree that the answer to that question is the latter, that such bloodshed is an evil and a horror, and that the only way to begin ending it is accept one another's existence, war will go on.

Slow day here at Sitting on a Fence. Normal service to resume (hopefully at decreased levels -- I do apparently need to work on grad student stuff at some point) at some later date, when the forces of sleep deprivation and incipient alcoholism are less overwhelming to all reason.
In the meantime, dawn is on its way here in Oxford. The birds have awoken from their 2-hour sleep, and are chirping outside my open window, through which the cool, damp breeze is filtering in. The sky is lightening, to an almost indigo shade; the tree outside my window is a black outline against it. The fume of cigarette smoke clings to my clothing, and mingles with the sweetness of the near-morning air, the faint scent of chamomile, traces of curry long ago consumed nearby and of petrol-fumes from a car driving past, slowly. In the distance, against the horizon, the sky is growing lighter, and the clouds look dusty, light gray with a slight purple or pink tint against what will soon be yellowish light. Below my window a girl with black hair and a black backpack walks down St Cross Road, past the law school, awake and alone at a quarter to five on a Saturday morning, like me; I wonder what path has brought her to this spot at this time, why she, too, has not found sleep, and where she is going.
But I don't think too much more of it when she disappears from view. And the sky continues to lighten, and the birds continue to chirp. All is very still. But not my mind.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I have to argee with Josh, I'm a little disappointed with the Democrats. I don't know why you have such anti-Gephardt feelings (I don't love the guy, but he seems better than the others you lump him with). Where are our ringers? Now, in all honesty, it's not like Bush is anything good. He appeared in public an average of 15 minutes/day during his campaign. He's not smart or eloquent. I don't think he's likeable. Indeed the only two pros to him about his name and his inability to speak, which is somewhat endearing. It is very telling that the Republican party was willing to elect someone so lacking in talent, accomplishment, and vision.
Still, why are the Democrats so incapable of finding a good candidate? I actually think Harkin from Iowa should run. The man is a great speaker, and he seems in touch with the core values of the Democrats. Presently, I like Dean the most. I agree that his statements about Iraq were bad - particularly the "I suppose" (I agree with the one about how we don't know yet whether the Iraqis are better off, we won't really know for sure for 50 years). However, both would get him crushed in a general election. He is just too ready to speak his mind, and modern politics is not about that. So, I don't support him as an actualy nominee, but I like him the best.
Given the state of the American Polity, I wonder if it even matters. The media gives only the most cursory coverage and no necessary background information. They also treat every announcement as a public relations act "with this statement, _____ hopes to reach women." which is a useful thing to remind people but it also suggests that politicians are just pandering and that their stances on issues have no substance or real difference.
Not to blame it all on the media. Each generation votes less (I think) than the previous since the Depression, and our re-elect numbers for incumbents are in the stratosphere. This isn't just institutional weakness, it seems like a shift of the American polity's interest from politics completely. Spinning and media control are increasing, and i wonder if there is any action we can take. It seems like our entire nation is just shifting into an autopilot mode.

On the Issue of Iraq, 2 short points:
1) I am willing to work with Neo-Cons for Democracy. Given Afghanistan I'm skeptical, but we'll see.
2) I wonder if this precedent, particularly as our justification shifts to humanitarian & Democratization arguments, in anyway will encourage bad behavior from other nations? Will we see China invading neighbors to stop persecution of minorities? It really depends on the fruits of our actions, but if Democracy does not result we won't really have any ground to criticize from (does that even matter?)

An Off-Topic Little blurb about marriage:

Stanley Kurtz at the National Review talks about the importance of taboos to discourage bad behavior. He starts with the incest taboo, arguing that if we allow consensual adult incest this will encourage adult-child incest. One wonders: If we stop all adult sex, will we discourage child molestation? Now this counter-argument might suggest that adult consensual incest should be allowed. I would argue that it shouldn’t be legal because, for many people, one is ALWAYS a child to an older relative. You are always a niece to an uncle or a daughter to a father. Even if a woman has reached the age of 22 or 33, she’s still in a very real sense daddy’s little girl, and the innate authority position that her father holds will make it hard for her to refuse him.
Stanley then expands this argument to address homosexuality. While he thinks homosexuals deserve the increased freedom they enjoy, he argues that this freedom has led to far more adultery and divorce in the world. Homosexual marriage would destroy the very basis of marriage as monogamous, according to Mr. Kurtz.
I think the Marriage debate is interesting on a variety of levels, but I want to address one specific way it bothers me. I’m going to be a bit of an iconoclast (both figuratively and literally). It makes marriage and families too Godlike. The way Republicans talk about families and marriage, you would think they were perfect, completely sacred. If Republicans acknowledge there are flaws with families and marriage, these flaws are always attributed to recent “Liberal” social changes. The truth is, families and marriages are made up of human beings. Human beings are flawed, and the unions we create are going to contain flaws. The Old Testament is a litany of Incest, Adultery, Jealousy, and Cruelty. Aside from their annoying tendency to pin these ancient problems on Modern Liberalism, Republicans make bad social policy under these delusions about perfect families. I think too many divorces occur in this country, but I think many of them can be blamed on bad MARRIAGES rather than bad divorces.*
For the secular, the danger and delusion of attributing perfection to human institutions is all too clear. For many religious Christians (I won’t try to speak for other religions), it is a kind of heresy. I actually believe the institution of marriage is sacred. However, I think actual marriages and families are always a product of human limitation. To elevate them to the level that Republicans do is in a way to deify them. Some have argued that a fundamental notion of Protestantism is to protest the worship of anything other than God. God is the Only God, and every physical manifestation, every manmade approximation, of God will fall short. This includes sacred institutions, which are forever limited in their human realization.

*Now, I’m not saying that I that people should get divorced for frivolous reasons, but I have seen many children actually do better longterm when their parents get divorced. If one parent is physically or mentally abusive (all too common), divorce can be crucial. It also is important when there is a complete alienation of affection. Children sense these things, and if two people have reached the point of despising each other for years, the environment begins to weigh on the child.

Now that I've offered a criticism (albeit a more measured one than Rob's) of the Bush administration, I don't feel so disloyal for engaging in a bit of hand-wringing/lamenting/accusation over the current state of the Democratic party. What the hell is up with the Democratic nomination race? Why, at a time when a sterling Democratic nominee is so vitally important, to save America from the blight of Bush, are the offerings so poor? Lieberman would be somewhat better than Bush, but not much; I can almost bring myself to support some of his foreign policy ideas (though I think he'd have a hell of a time handling the Israel question -- not because I think he'd be incapable of being critical of, or pressuring, Israel -- or, at least no more so than any other US pres. had been -- but because no-one in Europe or the Middle East would believe that he would ever be fair-minded or genuinely committed to peace, or anything other than a backer of Likud. Yes, it'd be a belief fueled by vile anti-Semitism; but it'd also be an international reality we'd have to deal with, and which would hamper our ability to promote any progress in the Middle East); I suspect I wouldn't like his domestic policy very much, though come to think of it, I don't know much about it. Edwards I don't think would be a very good president, period; Gephardt or Kucinich or Graham or Mosely Braun I think would be disastrous (mind you, I'd probably vote for any one of them against our current Chief Executive; but unhappily. And, in the case of Gephardt, Kucinich, Graham or Mosely Braun getting the nomination, might just not vote. Or vote for the Socialist party's candidate). Even if Gary Hart weren't sort of scarily ardent about the Republican tradition, I think his career in elective politics is over. My natural inclination would be to go for either Dean or Kerry. But both of them have not been handling things well lately. Dean's comments about America not always having the strongest military, and Kerry's response, have received a lot of attention (Dan Drezner has a good selection of links) Now, I agree with David that Kerry's jumping on Dean for his comments is nakedly hypocritical, which I think is bad for both moral and practical reasons. Unlike David, I suspect, I also think that what Dean said is right, and don't like the fact that Kerry is deserting his own earlier, sensible cautions to jump on the bandwagon of patriotic blah. So, I'd be tempted to desert Kerry (my early favorite) for Dean.
But, while I happen to agree with that one comment of Dean's, I disagree with a lot of his other comments on the war. As the Time story that started this flap said,
""We've gotten rid of him," Dean said of Saddam Hussein's ouster. "I suppose that's a good thing." Pressed again last week on CNN, Dean refused to concede that Iraq is better off without Saddam."
I'[m sorry; this is just playing to the Democratic base -- which is, indeed, going to come back to haunt Dean in the general election if he gets the nomination. It's also, I think, just morally idiotic. Perhaps the war was, indeed, a great big mistake; Dean's criticisms of Bush's policy may be sound. But to say that Iraq isn't better off without Saddam, to say that one 'supposes' it's a good thing while Iraqis are toppling statues of the tyrannt -- well, I'm speechless. It's that sort of pettily partisan view that has gotten the Dems into a lot of trouble in the past; and its sentiments like that, rather than Dean's warnings that America won't always be top dog and should prepare for that time (sound advice, I'd say), that would make him a poor Commander-in-Chief (though, again, since I think his domestic policies would be much, much better than Bush's, and am not so sure that his foreign policy would be worse -- just bad in the opposite direction -- I'd vote for Dean against Bush)
So now, I don't know what to do. I want Bush to lose, and I'll vote against him so long as the Dems don't nominate Sharpton or McKinney. But I'm already utterly turned off by all the Democratic nominees -- and it's only April '03. This is bad.
(I haven't said anything about Wesley Clark, since I don't think he's likely to run, and don't know enough about him.)

While I share Rob's scepticism about the Bush administration's commitment or competence in building democracy in Iraq, I think that, at the moment, I'm not quite as despairing as he is.
I'll come back to the reconstruction/democratization issue shortly. In quick response to Rob's other points: I wouldn't be so quick to dimiss the terrorist connections or WMD arguments. Evidence has emerged, from Iraqi officials and documents, that suggest that Saddam was in fact pursuing both WMD and connections with al Quaeda. I don't entirely trust this evidence, at least to the extent of thinking that we can conclusively state that this was the case; we simply don't know, and probably won't for a while -- indeed, we won't know anything for a while. It's been less than a month since the main fighting stopped; the dust won't settle, things won't become decided or clear, for a while. And remember all the hand-wringing about how bad the war was going -- after a few days of fighting. Things can change quite quickly; a certain suspension of judgment -- of suspicion and pessimism as well as of optimism and triumphalism and confidence -- is important. Which is certainly not to say that we should exempt the US government from criticism when it seems, as it does now, to be acting badly.
To take up the point about WMD more specifically: it doesn't surprise me that we haven't found anything, though I do think it's really, really bad for us (and far worse for poor Tony Blair). Saddam and co. had plenty of time to destroy any WMDs they may've had before we invaded -- or to hide them in Syria. If the former happened, the war may be accounted a success, though we may never know it; if the latter, the war could've made things worse -- by encouraging a transfer of WMD from a country with tenuous ties to terrorist organizations, to one with close ties to them. That'd be just great. Of course, it could also be that we were wrong, and Saddam really didn't have WMD, and was just obstructing the UN out of cussedness (something which you'd expect the Republican Party, of all people, to understand)
As for the preemption argument, in most cases it's impossible to know whether a pre-emptive strike was justified -- if the pre-emption was succesful. This is, incidentally, one reason why I oppose the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive wars -- it seems to offer a sort of carte blanche, a justification for war which can never be falsified, and thus can also never really be defended. But that doesn't mean that pre-emptive wars, even if a bad idea in principle, aren't sometimes the best thing to do, even if we never realize it. If, for example, Britain and France had gone to war with Germany in 1938, I'm sure many, if not most, historians, would now regard that action in a very critical light; and we certainly would not be able to begin to imagine just how much good that pre-emptive war would have done, if it had actually been undertaken and succeeded. Again, this isn't a defense of pre-emptive war; merely a counsel of caution in leaping to judgment. )
Now, the main point I want to make about democratization in Iraq. I think this is going to be incredibly difficult, and I think that the administration and its champions haven't recognized or reckoned with just how difficult it will be. I think that the best we'll be able to do is to try to keep things stable while those within Iraq who are aiming for democracy rebuild the administrative structure of Iraq, and adopt democratic political institutions. Once this has been achieved -- once an Iraqi interim government has been established and overseen democratic elections and the adoption of a constitution, and has then ceded power to a democratically elected government -- the US should withdraw, completely, from Iraq. Until then, it should concentrate on bringing humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people -- both by providing aid directly, and providing security for NGOs to provide aid -- aid with rebuilding, provide oversight and security measures at elections, etc. After the US withdraws from Iraq, we should continue to provide Iraq with financial support (as we do Israel). And, if the Iraqi people elect an anti-American government -- we should accept that, and try to woo that government with offers of economic aid. And if that doesn't win them over, we should accept that, too.
Will the Bush administration behave this way? Probably not. I don't know which way they'll err -- either by trying to exert too much control over Iraq, making it into an American puppet-state; or pulling out too quickly and not doing enough to promote democracy (as in the case of Afghanistan. Let's talk about Afghanistan for a moment. Many have claimed that Bush has become a convert to nation-building. But in Afghanistan, Bush merely undertook a campaign of regime-toppling -- which I think was a good thing in itself -- without really trying to rebuild afterwards. Things have not been going well, and there's no sign the US is going to return its attention to Afghanistan any time soon, so things probably won't get better. In fact, it looks like things are going to go really, really badly. Which, first, doesn't bode well for efforts in post-war Iraq; second, is shameful; and third, is going to come back and haunt us, I think. And if it does, and the results are bloody -- and I think there's a chance they will be -- the blood will be partly on the hands of Bush and his minions.)
So, I'm not optimistic. But, I do think we CAN help to build a better Iraq, however imperfect; and I do think there are people within the administration who, even if I don't think they have the right ideas about how to do so, are committed to doing so; and I hope that they, and those who are committed to supporting them and applying pressure to the administration (like, oh, say -- OxDem!), will work hard to get those in the administration who don't know or care enough to take rebuilding seriously to, well, wake up, open their eyes, and see how much damage they're about to do.
Which may mean, like it or not, liberals (such as Rob and me), and even some Leftists, making common cause with neo-cons, at least on this one point. Weird and uncomfortable; but there it is.

Where we are now:
1) We haven’t found WMD. I find this shocking. While I did not think we would find anything significant, I believed that we would find some chemical weapons that posed no actual threat BUT that would provide us with International cover. The failure to find WMD weakens our credibility internationally. While this would be mitigated should we find them in the future, our failure to find them after a month in country suggests that we really didn’t have the information we claimed to have. This is bad. It also means that we can’t justify the war in terms of security, as Iraq posed no real security threat to the US.
2) While I hope we will develop Democracy in Iraq, things are going very strangely. Most importantly, it is completely unclear how long we intend to stay there. Look at the Washington Post on the 20th of April for: US Officials Argue for Fast US Exit from Iraq. Then look at the New York Times on the 18th of April for: Pentagon Expect Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq. Rumsfeld claims this isn’t the case, but the leaks thought it was, so it really depends on trust. Either way, a bunch of higher ups in the Pentagon seem to have had different impressions within 3 days.
Why is there so much confusion within the Administration? Why is it so unclear whether we want to plan to stay in Iraq for 90 days or 5 years? What’s the actual plan for Democratization? Well, they are either insanely incompetent (I pray not) OR they are hiding something. It’s hard to determine which thing they are hiding. Maybe they fear it will take a long occupation to democratize, and they know the American People aren’t prepared for that. Maybe they want to pull out soon, and they know they’ll face criticism of doing the job wrong. The simplest answer is: They aren’t interested in Democracy so much as a Pro-American regime. They have to convince people they are doing the one while doing the other. Therefore, they can’t publish a process of Democratization. They have to keep doing things that LOOK like Democratization. Then, as soon as one of these approaches yields a pro-American regime, they claim success and the process ends.
In the end, do you think that the administration runs for the Cheney’s or the Wolfowitz’s? Cheney would have happily embraced a Baath Party with new leadership, and I’m unconvinced that he has changed. Will the Neo-Con dream be just icing on a Dictator cake?
Now, this isn’t all bad. We might end up with a Democracy or semi-Democracy out of it. BUT it could go horribly. We clearly haven’t got a real plan for dealing with the Clerics popularity or the Anti-American sentiment of the people. Iraq could still degenerate easily into civil war. AND the other question we need to pose is: Does generating Democracy in Iraq justify this war? As all the other justifications: WMD, terrorist connections, preemptions, etc have proven to be empty, can we justify the war with Humanitarian Democracy? As a Liberal, I want to say yes, but I can see a reason why it might not be so.

OK, I’m going to try to tackle Iraq here.
For the record, I was against the war:
1) I believed that Iraq had WMD, but I also believed (after reading the testimony of the inspectors and Powell) that the only WMD Iraq could possibly have would be the type that could easily be produced or acquired elsewhere. As a result, I thought that eliminating this source of WMD would not be a worthwhile goal in ending weapons proliferation. I am particularly concerned about Nuclear Weapons, and I was convinced that Iraq was not even close to developing them.
2) As a good Liberal, I support the dream of spreading Democracy and Freedom throughout the world, and I particularly long to eliminate truly repressive regimes. While I was personally repulsed to see these high-minded goals applauded by an administration that seems to have little respect for them at home, my concerns went far beyond that. I was not convinced, and remain unconvinced, that the Bush Administration would be willing to dedicate the long-term military, political, and economic resources to the development of Democracy in Iraq. While I have many concerns about staying in the country too long, I am even more concerned about leaving before a stable Iraqi government is in place.
3) My greatest concern was that our invasion would result in a conflict between the Turks and Kurds, the repression of the Kurds, or a civil war in Iraq. These very real possibilities seemed like the greatest risk in the project. I thought we would be able to defeat Iraq’s army relatively easily, though I feared that it might go worse than expected.
So, has a quick victory rendered this all meaningless? Were these concerns foolish? More importantly, where has this victory left us overall? More on this later.

No, Rob, you shouldn't be sorry: after all, what better way to subvert the Right, than getting conservative lobbying firms to pay you while you articulate progressive rage? (Sorta like what Michael Moore was able to do at Fox for a brief, glorious season -- or was it half season?)
Strangely enough, there's nothing that I want to blog about at present. This may have something to do with the level of alcohol circulating around in my blood (ah, England! Ah, May day!), or how close I am to being done with the draft of my masters thesis I've been working on, or the fact that said thesis was due 3 days ago. Hopefully my blogging muse will return soon -- and hopefully I'll have that thesis done first.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

About my last post:
It is evidence of why I need to stop trying to blog from work. I posted it accidentally, the grammer is a living nightmare. Still, the impotent rage voiced is quite appropriate for a receptionist at a conservative lobbying firm. Jeez, how do I end up places like this? Anyway, I apologize for wasting my readers time, if not for billing the people I work here for hours 1/3 of which I spend on the web.

Ok, this is REALLY bad. I think we may be outwearing our welcome in Iraq (it'll be interesting to see how the neo-con optimists respond to this; I can guess what the anti-war pessimists will say ...)
So is this.
Those who want to see stable democracy in the Middle East -- and I take that to mean all of us -- have a long, hard, frequetly agonizing road ahead; I hope we'll be up to the challenge of traveling it.
And on that cheery note -- to bed.

Thanks for jumping in, Rob! I think that Rob's right that the terms of political debate in the US are deeply un-equal, with the left-of-center getting bashed a lot unfairly, and the right-of-center getting away with quite a lot. Much of this stems, I think, from the tendency -- very succesfully encouraged by conservative diehards -- to associate all liberals and progressives with the far Left; while discounting the far Right, which actually does have a lot of influence in the Republican party, as Rob notes, as marginal and not worth bothering about.
One thing that this makes me think of -- pardon the tangent -- is the way in which the political spectrum looks very different depending on what point you're standing on. I've read or spoken with Right-leaning folk who don't really see much of a difference between Marxism, and Rawls or Dworkin's liberalism, or between a group like ANSWER and a more moderate, sceptical critic of the recent war; and also Left-leaning folk who claim that there's no difference between, say, Fukuyama and Huntington, or between a neo-conservative believer in democracy promotion (such as Wolfowitz, or my pals over at OxBlog), and the American-supremecists with whom they've been allied of late (for example, for all their neo-con-ish rhetoric, Rumsfeld and Cheney in my estimation). This difference of perspective also comes out when one isn't pushing people with whom one disagrees to the extreme, but when one's trying to lay a claim to those one partly agrees with: for instance, earlier this evening I had an undeveloped disagreement with a certain neo-con friend of mine about the relationship of 1970s neo-conservatism to contemporary neo-conservatism (he pointed out that Irving Kristol is characteristic of both; I wanted to point out, but failed to effectively do so, that figures who were considered neo-cons in the '70s -- Dan Bell, the recently departed Sen. Moynihan -- moved away from the movement during the Reagan ascendancy, and in the '90s looked an awful lot like liberals -- witness Moynihan's opposition to welfare reform and aggressive US unilateralism and Bell's involvement in launching the American Prospect, and his insistence on continuing to critique capitalism rather than joining in the complacent celebration of it. Not to editorialize or anything.)
Anyway, back to Rob's post. I think it's precisely because of the attacks they invite from the Right -- the opportunity with which they furnish the Right to score easy points -- that I have a tendency to jump on people on the Left whom I regard as misguided, simplistic, shrill, intellectually banrupt, etc. As a result, I do sometimes find myself joining in with the Right's braying assaults on the braying Left. And, given the unbalance of power that Rob notes, maybe that's a bad thing to do (on the other hand, I have more experience than Rob does, I think, of living abroad, where the consensus is much further to the Left, and the exaggerations of people like Michael Moore often tend to be accepted, not as pointed satire, but as the whole truth about America; and also of academia, which, while not as far to the Left as many Right-wing pundits like to claim, still does tend towards a liberal consensus -- and in which people who are fairly moderate, and just slightly conservative on some issues, often feel themselves under attack, and so move to the Right, where they are more welcome (again, personal experience: I've drifted a little rightwards since going to college just because I wound up hanging out with a lot of Right-leaning people, because they were the people who were interested in discussing Plato and Tocqueville and Montaigne with me. And being interested in those sort of folks -- and being interested in them in a particular way -- does tend to get one marginalized in many corners of academe.) This tendency to join in with conservative critics of the Left does bother me a bit; but, then, since I have no influence whatsoever, I don't feel too badly about it.)
So, yes: with George Bush, John Ashcroft, and Dick Cheyney in power, jumping on gadflies like Moore may be unfair, and trivial, and counter-productive for centre-left liberals such as myself. At the same time, I think that one of the reasons why the left-of-center forces are in such disrepair intellectually (and, admittedly, I'm probably far too focussed on the intellectual aspects of all this, and thus too far removed from the political and social realities experienced by most Americans) at present is that for far too long there's been a 'no enemies on the Left' view among many -- though not among everyone; the Left in fact has a proud history of internal argument, exemplified by publications such as Dissent (which is the best political-cultural journal in America, and probably the world, today, by the way). Actually, this tendency towards internal critique on the Left has often contributed to its weakness, come to think of it; but I (of course) tend to blame that on the far-Left. And, indeed, Moore is an example of this. Rob makes the argument that the Democratic Party isn't so far to the Left, and that Republicans are dishonest and unfair when they depict it as being so. Ok, fair enough; I wholly agree. But Moore isn't a champion of the Democratic Party; one of the big points that Mattson makes is that Moore exemplifies, and in fact through his writings did not a little to foster, the Naderite view that the Democrats are really no different from the Republicans -- the 'Republicrat' allegation. And, maybe the Dems have become too centrist and wishy-washy, so that they're no longer able to put up any fight, and no longer have any coherent position of their own (sorta seems like it sometimes). But as America groans under the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-Rumsfeld administration, it seems to me that the Naderites, who claimed that it wouldn't be so much worse than a Clinton/Gore-ite administration -- and who by their campaigning in 2000 contributed to Bush's taking the White House -- have been shown to be, not only wrong, but, like so many Left-wing fundamentalists before them, a threat to the very political goals they claim to so nobly and unswervingly serve (and I don't care that Gore as an 'incumbent' in a time of economic prosperity should've won easily, or that the Supreme Court contradicted the democratic will of the people: if Gore hadn't had to worry about states that he should've had easily, but which Nader caused him trouble in -- including Florida, where if Gore had gotten the percentage of the vote that Nader got he would've clearly won -- Bush would not be President today. So, thanks a lot, Michael Moore and friends. Way to strike a blow for progressive politics!)
Ok. Sorry. I'm still bitter.
Yes, Moore is a good critic; as I noted, he has a genius for exposing the Right at its most unfeeling and unthinking. As such, I applaud his work. I still think that Roger and Me is a great film, and that TV Nation had moments of genius. But, Moore has over time become, in my opinon, increasingly arrogant, self-centered, self-righteous, and shrill. He may convince some people that Republicans are evil, and conservatism is a bankrupt and blind ideology; but he'll also turn off a lot of idealistic, politically engaged people who -- rightly -- can't help but feel that there must be something more to politics than the picture Moore presents. He may be able to win some people to the progressive cause -- or cheer and hearten those who already believe in it; but, if Mattson is right -- and I'm not entirely sure that he is -- Moore also, in doing so, breeds the cynical contempt for real politics, and for real political debate, that afflicts, and hobbles, the Left.
So, yes, the Left needs good critics, as Rob says. But I think they need better critics than Michael Moore.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Thanks Josh! You gave me a subject to post about! Incidentally, I do not support complete gun control, just for the record (does this mean I'm "Moderate"? how exciting).
Now, Michael Moore will probably never provide us with the kind of coherent and even handed political theory we need to direct the Left. However, he's a great critic. The Left needs good critics. We also need to stop giving our opponents the benefit of the doubt. We need to stop addressing their reasonable arguments most of the time. IT doesn't lend itself to the sensationalism necessary for headlines. Our debates with the Right can continue online and in academia, but they won't have any impact on public opinion unless they make the news.

I've been pondering a larger phenomenon for a while now, and I'm going to start exploring it here. The Rightwing pundits and Intellectuals seem to be incapable of using an argument technique beyond the straw man. Almost every argument or criticism I see is criticizing a left that doesn't exist or holds no power. When they do address real powerful leftists, they warp their statements beyond recognition. Meanwhile, the Left is chastised for pointing out the ridiculous statements made by their leading people:
For Example, a lot was made of the 1000 Mogadishu comment by De Genova, the Columbia professor. All sorts of Conservatives suggested that this statement reflected the real inner working of the American Left's heart. Now, in my mind, the guy sounds like a total @$$ho!e. There was NO ACCEPTABLE reason to hope for American troops to die in the Iraq war. Now, the funny thing about this guy, is that I had never heard of him before this ruckus. Just like the professor who argued that we got what we deserved on 9/11. These people have no national prestige until they say some truly horrific thing. Then the Right happily pins them on the Left.
This strategy is completely unfair, because there is no way the Left or Liberals or Democrats can avoid this. Some person is going to make some fool statement all the time. It is notable that the Democrats DIDN'T elect people like this. The Democrats (who are the official Left in this country) didn't have anyone who said this stuff, the Right would have dug it up. Our elected officials who do race bait or go too far are usually voted out (Cynthia McKinney jumps to mind).
Now, to present these people as indicative of the American Left is horribly unfair. They aren't elected, and they don't even have real followings. Indeed, to present them as typical of Academia is a big stretch, given the huge number of professors around the country. A few extremes hardly can be taken as indicative. So, the smearing of the left with these people would be similar to smearing the Republican Party with your local Neo-Nazi.
Meanwhile, the Republican Majority Leader expresses Nostalgia for White Supremacy, the Third highest ranking republican states that a priest screwing a 16 year old is a typical homosexual relationship, and a Republican Representative (through stupidity or racism) suggests that ALL black people are drug users. Notice a difference between these groups? They are elected, they are in positions of power. They can be considered indicative of the American Right. These are the people that the American Right sends to Washington.
I'm sure I have lots of Typos, and I haven't finished thinking this out yet. BUT I will come back to it. Still, Josh, I think we need more Michael Moores. He may fight dirty like the Republicans , but at least he uses real people (like Heston) and powers (Lockheed Martin). At least his Strawmen have real influence.

SPAMS AND SCAMS. Earlier today I received an e-mail purporting to be from one Dr. Amobi Ken, of Nigeria, offering me free money to help in regaining money lost by the Nigerian government by engaging in a bit of harmless money-laundering. Fishy stuff.
Dr. Ken -- who managed to mispell the name of his country's new President, and also the name of the Italian company involved -- cannot be found in a google search. But a remarkably similar -- by which I mean identical -- e-mail, from one Timothy Adereti Williams, is floating around online. As is the identical e-mail from Rotimi David Jnr.
Another blogger received the same message, from one Dr. Williams Ossai, and tried to contact him in response; part of the story is here, more of it here (and keep scrolling down). There's a web-page devoted to the 'Nigerian Scam'; and there is even an organization that's been set up to combat it, the 419 Coalition.
So, now, if you get any business propositions from what alledge to be colourfully-named Nigerians, you know what to do: send it along (if an e-mail) to 419.fcd@usss.treas.gov If you receive a hard-copy, fax it (after having written 'No Loss' on it -- assuming you haven't lost any money) to 202-406-6930 or 202-406-5031.
If you also want to mess around with the scumbag who sent you the e-mail by replying and leading him on, you are of course wellcome to do that too. If you want to mess with one of these scammers, but haven't actually RECEIVED anything from any of them, but have enough free-floating aggression and free time to seek them out -- get help. Or, just e-mail them at one of the e-mails below.

Not that I'm recommending such an immature course of action, of course ...

Daniel Pipes, Richard Pipes -- eh, whatever. What difference does it make? They're all the same. One right-leaning Jewish academic is much the same as any other, right? RIGHT, GUYS?
God. Sometimes the Bush Whitehouse does things that are so dumb, I realize, with shock, that I, after all my efforts to expect as little from them as possible, I've still 'misunderestimated' their capacity for idiocy. Sheesh.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Ok, it's sort of breaking my Santorum moratorium, but I can't resist linking to this excellent post by Jacob Levy. (The 'Update' part of the post is especially interesting to those of us interested in the relatioship between religion and politics, and how liberalism ought to respond to the problems posed by that relationship).

I'm currently listening to Brahms' First Piano Concerto (performed by Clifford Curzon, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Szell; wow!). Good stuff. What an amazingly beautiful piece it is -- and how remarkable to think that it was written by such a troubled and, in some ways, unappealing man, and came out of a condition of such acute personal torment. A wondrous thing; and a reassurance, and perhaps inspiration, to those of us who similarly find ourselves faced with our private woes, and find it hard to similarly rise above them. (Ah well; I guess that's genius for you).

Are you a left-leaning liberal who, despite agreeing with him on certain things, finds Michael Moore extremely irritating and worrisome? Well, then, Dissent (which continues to make things difficult to link to; one needs to go to the main site, and then click on the article -- 'The Perils of Michael Moore') has the article for you! It's by Kevin Mattson, a young-ish leftish historian, who's written what sounds like an excellent book on the intellectual origins of the New Left (which, among other valuabel things, resurrects the thought of Arnold Kaufman, a fascinating but unjustly largely forgotten political theorist who's position of 'Radical Liberalism' was an inspiration for SDS -- but was also far, far wiser than his disciples at the time were capable of being), which I've meant to read, but haven't yet.
Anyway. Mattson criticizes Moore’s ‘politics of confrontation,’ which replaces serious and effective political action or debate with self-dramatizing, and satirical, gestures; and his ‘misreading [of] cynicism about politics as thoughtful critique.’ Mattson is ultimately less concerned, though, with Moore’s failings, than with the dilemma Moore – a high-profile progressive gadfly in a time when progressive mass-movements are few, often small, and often moribund – exemplifies: “do leftists stay on the margins or do we bust through and play by the rules of the entertainment industry?” Mattson is worried about eh Left’s compromising –and defeating – itself by buying playing to the sensibilities of a ‘sound-bite society.’ Mattson also notes the serious, Moore-ish weaknesses to which the contemporary Left is prone: marginalization, a tendency to seek the purity of confrontation rather than to work for long-term political solutions, a cynicism about the possibilities of politics today, and questionable political judgments.”
Now, I’m probably less attached to the Left than Mattson is – in fact, I certainly am – so my problems with Moore, though related, are slightly different in their focus. I think Moore has a genius – and a very useful one it is, too – for exposing callousness, complacency, hypocrisy, double-talk, evasion. At the same time, this very genius is closely connected to what bothers me about him: he seems to pick useful, human targets in order to make his highly partisan points. I know some fairly intelligent, thoughtful, well-informed, honest people who oppose gun control (to some extent, at least) and are very much in favour of unregulated free-trade, and who can make challenging arguments on behalf of these positions. I disagree with them; but I recognize that they are neither fools nor knaves, and respect the fact that, even on issues where I feel strongly that they’re in the wrong (as on gun control), their positions do represent a sincere commitment to genuine values. From watching or reading Moore, though, you’d never know such people existed, or that much of politics involves shades, not of black and white, but of myriad muddy grays. (On the other hand, there ARE quite a few genuine fools and knaves on the Right, and it's good that there are people like Moore to expose them. But Ieave pressing that point, as far as this blog goes, to Rob) This inability to confront the ideas of the other side, as opposed to its most venal or fatuous failings, is what makes all too much of Moore’s work off-putting and, ultimately, unconvincing. (Moore’s often obnoxiously and snidely holier-than-thou attitude and growing tendency towards ego-tripping – the latter indirectly indicated by Mattson’s observation that Moore himself is usually the center of his films, rather than the movements that are actually protesting the evils he is mocking – don’t help much, either).
And, of course, when I DON’T more or less agree with what Moore is advocating – whew boy.

BRAVO, BELTONS! My fellow members of the Oxford-Yale axis of democracy promotion, Patrick and Rachel Belton, have both produced terrific thoughts on the US's relations with its 'allies' in the wake of the second Gulf War. On Oxblog, Patrick addresses the question of how we should deal with Russia and France's cooperation with Saddam; what he says seems entirely sensible to me. (Confession: Admittedly, I'm inclined to say nice things about whatever Patrick writes, since, on the one occasion I met and talked with him, I decided within minutes that he was one of the most delightful people I knew. Happily, this comes out in his blogposts, so saying nice things isn't difficult.)
Of even greater interest is Rachel Belton's op-ed in today's Washingto Post on why putting an international coalition in charge of reconstruction in Iraq is a bad, bad idea. So well-supported and well-argued is Rachel's argument, so plausible are her suggestions as to what an international effort at reconstruction and democratization in Iraq will wind up looking like, that I was largely convinced by her article to reverse my own position. I still think that, if we can find reliable and genuinely cooperative allies to help us (and, given the Bush administration's record in Afghanistan, make sure that we remain committed to seeing the job through), we should bring them into the reconstruction process as partners (so, basically, the UK; I can't think of anyone else). Think of it as a coalition of the efficacious. And, as Rachel stresses, the UN and other international organizations should play a valuable and vital role in providing humanitarian relief. But I think that Rachel makes a case, that 'too many chefs would spoil the dish' (my words, not, to her credit, hers), which will be pretty hard to refute.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

A Sitting-on-a-fence hero: In the NY Times Book Review, Paul Berman weighs up books about the ethics and legality of America's response to terrorism by Jean Bethke Elstain and Richard Falk, finds (to me, convincingly) both wanting in some respects -- and in good center-leftist intellectual fashion, proposes a sort of synthesis of the two. A nice (and, again, to me highly convincing and appealing) performance. [Note: I've been meaning to write something in response to Josh Marshall's critique of Berman's new book, but haven't gotten round to it yet; but, one of these days ...]

More on totalitarianism and art: a review of a new book on Nazi aesthetics (I've read several review of Spotts' book, and looked at it briefly in that holy of holies, Blackwell's, but haven't read it; it looks and sounds, though, like a first-class, and very intriguing, piece of work).
The reviewer, James Young, nicely describes the views of a number of distinguished scholars, who have concluded that:
"the Nazis not only possessed a highly refined aesthetic sensibility, but unlike most, enacted their aesthetic at every level of politics and policy. Moreover, they not only believed themselves to be artists but were regarded by others at the time as artists whose very ideology was founded in an essentially aesthetic logic."
Young also helpfully invokes Peter Viereck's Metapolitics (1941), a classic, insightful work which I'd forgotten about in my earlier postings, but which is relevant, and remains an important resource for thinking about these issues. (Viereck is a fascinating, original thinker, unjustly neglected, who is past due for re-examination). The rest of the review is a good summary of a fascinating book -- see, for instance, this description of the centrality to Hitler's vision, and thus to Nazism, of de-individualisation:
"Hitler's own indifference to individual human lives, especially as they paled in comparison to the larger cause and idealizations of race and nation, and the way this diminution of the individual underpinned his aesthetic embrace of the monumental. Spotts suggests that Hitler's "lack of feeling for humans, even for fanatical party members, was already evident at the Nuremberg rallies and other spectacles when his 'architecturalizing' of the participants and his deployment of them in geometrical patterns reduced them to noctambulent creatures ... the private or individual consciousness must always be made subservient to larger idealized aims of the nation-state. For Hitler, individuals come and go, as well as their humanly scaled dwelling places, their sites of life. What his monumental aesthetic would leave behind, therefore, was not the uniqueness of individual human experience or its messy heterogeneity, but monolithic forms that imposed singular meaning on disparate deeds, experiences and lives."

Found while clearing out my inbox:
A bit dated, perhaps, but still funny. If the link seems not to work, read more closely.
By way of Henry Hardy

Just a bit of fun: this quiz on lit-pop (i.e. pop music with literary pretensions -- I mean, inspirations).
I got an 8 out of 10; well, at least I can now say I haven't been wasting the last few years of my life. Thought, actually, I think I should've gotten a 9 out of 10 -- I maintain that The Cure's 'Killing an Arab' (said to be Ariel Sharon's favourite song -- sorry, couldn't resist) is based on Camus' L'Etranger, and not Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse. I don't remember there being an Arab, or a beach-side murder, in that one. Bloody know-nothing Guardian editors.
Oh well. I get to be associated with a photograph of Morrissey. This should make me far less pleased than it does.

NOT MORAL EQUIVALENCE, BUT ...: A random thought:
Everyone who condemns the US government's detention of hundreds of Arab-Americans without charges or trials in the wake of 9/11... should condemn Cuba's imprisonment of dissidents.
Everyone who condemns Cuba's imprisonment of dissidents ... should condemn the US's imprisonment of Arab-Americans without trial or charges.
If they don't, they should provide a reason why. And if that reason proves flimsy or specious, they're hypocrites.
(On the other hand, one should remember that the dissidents imprisoned in Cuba have been sentenced to prison terms of 15-26 years, whereas those detained in the US will, I trust, eventually be released (speaking of which, um, Mr. Ashcroft ...); and conditions in Cuban jails are a good sight -- or a really, really bad sight -- worse than those in which te Arab-American detainees are being held. I'm pretty sure.

I've written a fair amount about George Galloway. I've waded through more details of this less than pleasant man's record than I'd have liked to. I'm sorta pleased with myself for doing so, though.
But -- everything I've written about Galloway is blown out of the water by this excellent column by David Aaronivich (how many times have those last 6 words appeared on this blog?), exposing -- and flaying -- the anti-American fundamentalism, on the face of which Galloway is merely one blackhead. (There's a nice bashing of John Pilger. Of course, that doesn't require so much talent, but ...)
Read it now.
Addendum: Galloway may face charges for treachery, even if he can't be charged with treason under the Treason Act of 1351 (according to the knowledgeable Mr. Chafetz*, who also points out that 'treachery' and 'treason' are legally two very different things -- many thanks to Josh for setting me straight on this), based on some comments that were perfectly public -- and which he actually made -- and a rather later (1934) act. It just isn't George's week.

*I've just noticed that in his summary of the Profumo affair, Josh describes Christine Keeler as an 'actress.' Josh wins the act of euphemistic tact of the week award for that one.

Ok, now for one of my little lapses into sounding like a neo-con (I'm glad Rob's joined me ...)
I know, I know. Historical analogies are often dubious. Especially those based on gross simplification. But I'm going to allow myself a bit of reductio (ad absurdum, ad Hitlerum) here:
Leftists (and many others) in the Western democracies, 1938: 'Hitler is the true enemy. Stalin isn't our enemy. Hitler and Stalin hate each other, and would never cooperate.'
1939: Molotov-Ribbentrop pact

Leftists in the US, and many others in other Western democracies, early 2003: 'Al-Qaeda is the true enemy. Saddam isn't our enemy. The idea of Saddam having links to Al Qaeda is ridiculous -- Saddam is a secularist, Al Qaeda are Islamist radicals. They hate each other, and would never co-operate.'
Leftish British newspaper (The Observer!), mid 2003: "Saddam 'held talks on alliance with al-Qaeda'"
Ummm ....
[Note: this headline, it turns out, is based on another document discovered in the Mukhabarat headquarters by the Telegraph. Same source, same paper, as the documents at the heart of the Galloway scandal. Now, I wouldn't mind believing there actually was an at least potential Saddam-Al Qaeda link; and I really, really wouldn't want to believe that either US or British intelligence, or the Telegraph (which is, of course, not exactly noted for ideological neutrality -- but does have good, responsible, honourable journalists working for it, so far as I can tell) were faking this stuff. And, happily, there's no evidence to suggest that they are, so far as I know. But the sceptic in me is still a bit cadgy about all of these amazing revelations coming from, and through, the same sources. So, take the above crowing with a grain of salt -- I do.] [A number of comments all based on the play on the words 'crowing' and 'eating crow' occur to me, but I'll spare any reader who chances on this, and go no further ...]

Aww, poor Andrew Sullivan! (Note to the reader: though I'm in Britain, land of irony, that was meant sincerely, not sarcastically).
This is, ultimately, what angers me most about comments likeSantorum's -- and those who don't see what the big deal is. Condemning homosexuality in this way -- not saying that you personally are uncomfortable with it, for religious reasons or whatever other ones, but describing it as 'anti-family' and implying that it is on a par with child molestation, adultery, and bestiality -- is an attack on other people's deepest, most intimate, most sacred feelings. It demeans homosexuals; and in demeaning them, it demeans us all.
(Incidentally, when you go to the above link -- as you of course must -- scroll down; Sullivan has wall-to-wall Santorum posts, which are all excellent)
(You know what that was? That was a post devoted to making myself feel virtuous by airing my moral indignation. Do I contradict myself? You bet!)
In other responses-to-Santorum news: Bravo, Dan Savage; bravo, Josh Chafetz (now, who would've expected that tandemning of names? Well, actually, maybe it's not THAT surprising.)
Ok, my ability to hold to resolutions is not the greatest (I've been blogging under a 3-post-maximum-a-day rule for the past week -- obviously); but, I'm going to at least try to hold to a self-imposed Santorum moratorium.
Mainly just so that I can use the phrase 'Santorum moratorium.' You should too -- it's fun!

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