Friday, April 26, 2002

In the National Review, Martin Sieff observes:

President Bush's now famous - and notorious - inclusion of Iran in an international "axis of evil" in his State of the Union speech this year is widely regarded in Tehran and, indeed, throughout the region, as a crucial turning point. Since then, pro-American sentiments in Tehran have been less enthusiastically expressed and popular feeling has coalesced anew behind a government that, for all its faults, is seen as a representative of the national interest against a potential direct threat from the dominant superpower.


The Bush administration has shown itself repeatedly willfully blind to the radical changes taking place in Saudi policy under Crown Prince Abdullah's direction and they have also shown themselves deaf and blind to the prospects of improving relations with Iran offered by President Mohamed Khatami in Tehran. As a result Saudi policies are changing in ways inimical to U.S. interests while Iranian polices are not changing at all.

The sentiment is not just held on the right wing; at his book reading at Wordsworth the other day, Tariq Ali made the same point rather forcefully.

Meanwhile, following his meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah, Bush issued a statement praising his "personal bond" with the despot, and demanding that Israel "finish its withdrawal, including resolution of standoffs in Ramallah and Bethelem, in a non-violent way" --- which he has just reiterated again, telling them "it is now time to quit it altogether". This comes a week after he infuriated the Saudis by calling Sharon a "man of peace".

It would be easy to lampoon this as the Rodney King school of foreign policy --- "We're all men of peace here. We're all good folks. Can't we all just get along?"

But Bush's defenders on the net say this would be misleading. The true Bush diplomatic strategy, they claim, is deep and complex, and cannot be understood by simply taking the administration's public positions at face value. It is an elaborate series of bluffs, feints, and jabs, a kind of diplomatic blindfold chess, at once treacherous and Machiavellian in its methods, and nobly Jeffersonian in its outlook and aspirations --- which just happens to require, at this point in time, in service of its recondite tactics, that the President appear to be a dim-witted rube who agrees with whatever he most recently heard from anyone with a manly voice and a firm handshake.

(More: The WaPo sees "The signs of growing disorder and lawlessness in Afghanistan are abundant", and that the United States seems to be walking away from the problems created by its operation there. But if the administration did that, then they'd once again be creating a dangerous anarchy in which the forces of evil could take root. Surely, there is a deeper plan...).

(Update: Attributions corrected; I'll be trusting one source a bit less in the future. Don't blog on the job).

Thursday, April 25, 2002

I can understand Israeli reservations about the UN fact-finding mission concerning Jenin. What I can't understand is their strategy for dealing with it.

A week ago, they would welcome any inquiry, so long as it was impartial. Then they asked for a few named individuals to not be involved --- people who were on record as having prejudged the situation. Fair enough. Then they insisted on having someone with military experience. In urban situations. Then, when a retired American general with that experience was mooted as a member, one wasn't enough.

And time goes on, and the evidence of whatever happened goes cold, and the unreliable witnesses get time to get their bogus stories straight...

As I said, all the Israeli conditions are defensible, but the timing seems almost designed to fuel suspicions of anyone, even in the West, inclined to be suspicious of the Israeli account --- precisely the fence-sitters that Israel needs the mission to convince.

I don't smell a coverup here, myself, but they're being awfully dumb...

More news from Boston:

The radical liberals in Massachusetts continue to clamp down on legitimate uses of firearms, even in defense of peoples' civil rights.

The latest shocking infringement on the peoples' rights: the sad, sad case of Michael McDermott. About a year ago, by happenstance, he happened to bring an AK-47 and a shotgun to the office. Suddenly, he claims, the archangel Michael directed him through a glowing oval time portal, where he found Adolf Hitler and six Nazis. Naturally, like any red-blooded American, he defended his country by shooting them all, only to find, some minutes later, that by some cosmic shipping error, the bullets had actually found their way into the dead bodies of the office accounting department who were about to start garnishing his wages for back taxes.

And now, he has been convicted of murder.

If you can't use your guns to legally defend yourself against Hitler, why that's, that's, that's... a prelude to confiscation, that's what it is.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Saudi-American relations are confused. Confused, in particular, about which partner in the relationship is the superpower. A few weeks ago, Cheney was touring the Middle East, trying to line up Arab support for the Americans' suddenly essential war in Iraq. According to this Times article, Crown Prince Abdullah is coming to Washington to return the favor, attempting to dictate foreign policy to the Bush administration.

According to "a person familiar with the Saudi's thinking" (gee, I wonder who that is), Bush has "lost credibility" with his unqualified support for Sharon (gee, so much for the "diplomatic cover" of Powell's mission), and must take specific measures to get it back:

Abdullah believes Mr. Bush has lost credibility by failing to follow through on his demand two weeks ago that Mr. Sharon withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank and end the sieges of Yasir Arafat's compound in Ramallah and of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

If those events occur and Mr. Bush makes a commitment "to go for peace" by convening an international conference, as his father did after the Persian Gulf war, to press for a final settlement and a Palestinian state, the Saudi view would change dramatically.

If not:

"It is a mistake to think that our people will not do what is necessary to survive," the person close to the crown prince said, "and if that means we move to the right of bin Laden, so be it; to the left of Qaddafi, so be it; or fly to Baghdad and embrace Saddam like a brother, so be it. It's damned lonely in our part of the world, and we can no longer defend our relationship to our people."

And if that doesn't sound like a threat, they're happy to get explicit:

In a bleak assessment, he said there was talk within the Saudi royal family and in Arab capitals of using the "oil weapon" against the United States, and demanding that the United States leave strategic military bases in the region.

Such measures, he said, would be a "strategic debacle for the United States."

Actually, the strategic debacle for the United States would be if we kept on trying to defend a regime which had moved to the right of bin Laden, or to the left of Qadaffi. The reason we have those bases is to defend the Saudis, so long as they defend our interests, specifically in a steady supply of relatively cheap oil.

If the oil wells instead are going to be in the hands of people who are going to try to jerk us around, well, there's no point in spending United States taxpayer money preserving their privilege...

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

You should never quite believe what you read in the papers. Argentina's president had an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post about his country's economic problems:

... Argentina's future can be as bright as its past, but only if Argentines recognize two facts. First, our crisis is home-grown -- made in Argentina, by Argentines. Second, our solutions will also be home-grown -- made in Argentina, by Argentines.

But an odd thing about this is that at least one of the policies that made the crisis was not home-grown. As Duhalde says,

... the fixed exchange rate we had for 10 years had become an economic straitjacket that meant Argentina would never again grow. We were not competitive enough to be pegged to the most productive economy in the world. At the end of the day, we had no choice but to free the peso and begin the process of restructuring our entire economy.

But that currency peg was at least as much a product of Washington as Buenos Aires; in particular, it was part of a massive economic restructuring package urged on Argentina by the IMF.

It's fairly easy to see why Duhalde might soft-pedal the point; in an article that is largely an appeal for

...the support of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank

it would be indelicate to point out their goofs...

Well, Krugman's finally written a column that pisses even me off. While there's a great deal to dislike about Tom "delay, delay" DeLay and John Ashcroft, there's a difference between those two, and, say, David Duke --- or Jean-Marie Le Pen. For Krugman to fudge that difference is an insult to the intelligence of his readers.

As long as I'm talking about the French election, here's a quick razz to the comment in the blogsphere and elsewhere that this election signals a massive French cultural shift towards the right. Jospin didn't make the runoff election because he couldn't convince his own Socialist base not to vote for the Trotskyists, who got eleven percent of the vote between them, well more than enough to make up the roughly one percent gap between Jospin and Le Pen. Tending rightwards, towards "law-and-order" type issues in particular, actually was Jospin's political strategy, and it was a dismal failure, driving his base toward the Greens and Trotskyists. It's true that Le Pen polled better than he had in the past, but only by a few percentage points. The real story here is not a shift to the right, but fragmentation on the French left.

(Well, that and karmic retribution for all those snide remarks about our screwed-up American presidential election...).

More news from Boston: Major league baseball here is on hiatus.

The Red Sox spent the weekend sweeping a three-game series in Kansas City, by a combined score in the three games of 24-9. People who don't follow the game may not have some idea how impressive this is. Here's a clue: for two years, Royals fans Rob Neyer and Rany Jazayerli made a pretty popular web feature out of their continual bitching about the mental prowess of the Royals' brain rust. Since Neyer is a full-time writer for ESPN, you'd think their lawyers would object to this kind of side project, but in fact, they were just as happy to get the miasma of gloom off their web site. The series ended not when the Royals improved, but when first Rob and then Rany simply ran out of different ways to say "they're blowing out the pitchers' arms" and "that trade sucks."

Next up for the Red Sox: thirteen straight games against the wreck of the Baltimore Orioles and the American League's answer to the Washington Generals, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. They will resume major league play with a three-game series against Oakland beginning May 7.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

I've been pretty skeptical of the "rope-a-dope" account of Colin Powell's mideast shuttle trip, in which the trip was never meant to succeed in its announced goal of getting a cease-fire, but rather set up to fail, in order to serve U.S. interests in some deeper way. Not least because Powell himself, most recently this morning on Meet the Press, seems to be treating the trip as having setting up more of the same.

But today, in the middle of what, I'm afraid, is a mostly uninteresting "reading Bush's mind" column, Maureen Dowd at last presents a version of this theory which makes a little sense:

...there are those rumors all over Georgetown that Cheney and Rummy had set up Colin to fail because they think he's a squishy internationalist hippie-child who might slow down the mow-down of Saddam. (Of course, [says her faux Bush] the rumors are true, but did they have to get out?)

If that seems a little Byzantine, remember that Rumsfeld and Cheney are both veterans of the Nixon administration...

I've wondered for a while what it would be like if the left had its own Rush Limbaugh. It hit me the other day that we now have him --- his name is Michael Moore. Think about it: they're both big fat idiots who've gotten rich peddling simplistic, doctrinaire political propaganda, and aren't much noted for letting the facts get in the way of a good story...