Friday, August 11, 2006

Juan Cole, on the "liquid bombing" arrests:

British authorities say that they have been investigating the group behind the airplane bombing plot for "about a year." The Scotsman says that the investigation began in 2005.

US authorities were only told about some details two weeks ago, apparently. It may be that the British counter-terrorism community learned its lesson from the loose lips of the Bushies in summer of 2004. I argued then that from what we could tell from open sources, it seemed likely that the Bush administration played politics with information about a double agent in Pakistan who was helping monitor a London al-Qaeda cell. It seems likely that the election-year leak allowed budding terrorists like Mohammad Sadique Khan to escape closer scrutiny, and so permitted the 7/7/05 London subway bombings to go forward.

This time, the MI5 and MI6 and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) may not have told Washington everything.

So, right-wing bloggers are correct to claim that these arrests show that Dubya's security policies are keeping us safer. What we don't know can't hurt us. Right?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The New York Times today has an interesting article on Condi Rice's interactions with the various groups she has to deal with as Secretary of State, such as the professional diplomatic career staff, and the shambling, brain-eating neoconservative zombies. The article praises Rice for achieving a deft compromise arrangement in which the zombies only get to eat half her brains. Much like the careful balancing acts routinely performed by journalists themselves in writing fair and balanced news articles such as this.

The article also discusses her diplomatic dealings with other parties, like the government of Israel:

Ms. Rice, Mr. Abrams, Mr. Welch and Richard Jones, the United States ambassador to Israel, had dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There, Ms. Rice showed a rare flash of impatience with him. When Mr. Olmert responded to her request to suspend airstrikes for 48 hours by saying that Israel had warned residents to evacuate, Ms. Rice shook her head, according to two American officials.

“Look, we’ve had this experience, with [hurricane] Katrina, and we thought we were doing it right,” she reportedly said. “But we learned that many people who want to leave can’t leave.”

An apt simile, conveying not only the flaws of the strategy, but also its benefits. The tardy evacuation order to the car-less poor of New Orleans, delivered after the bus and train lines to the city had already shut down, may have done nothing to spare their lives and ease their suffering. But it did a great deal to help the Republican administration, and its allies and supporters, to blame the victims, as they did for months afterwards.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tom Friedman today, behind the Times's paywall:

What is doubly sad is that Lebanon was getting its act together. Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, represented a whole new type of Arab leader — one who rose to power by being a builder and an entrepreneur. He understood that Lebanon, freed of Syria, was a country whose youth had the energy and skill to compete anywhere. He thought Lebanon could again be a model of how Arabs can embrace modernity. But Mr. Hariri was murdered, allegedly by Syria, and now Lebanon’s democracy is being murdered by Hezbollah.

So, what's Israel doing? CPR?

Tom Ricks of the Washington Post has written a book, Fiasco, on the missteps that the United States committed in Iraq. Or at least, those he finds to be significant. But even so, the contrast between what's in the book, including things that Ricks must have known at the time, vs. what he was actually writing at the time for the Post, has come in for repeated criticism. So, I'm intrigued to see, via Brad DeLong, that he now has a response:

KURTZ: Including the media. In fact, you write, quote, in the run-up to the war, quote, "The media didn't delve deeply enough into the issues surrounding war, especially the threat of Iraq and the cost of occupying and remaking the country. We're seeing those costs right now." Why didn't the media delve more deeply? Was there a certain level of intimidation?

RICKS: I don't think it was so much as intimidation as partly a lack of information, credible information. Congress didn't hold hearings in which credible information was presented that said, no, the administration's case is wrong.

So apparently, credible information from other parties, such as Hans Blix, head of the UN Inspectors mission (who immediately followed up Colin Powell's much-touted address to the Security Council, and shredded it) or Mohammed el-Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (which repeatedly debunked ludicrous claims from Dubya's crew about active nuclear weapons programs), is still not worthy of much attention from Ricks or the rest of the legitimate press. El-Baradei is mentioned in Fiasco twice in passing, once to acknowledge his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize; so far as I can tell, Blix's name does not appear once in the book.

Good to know.

And anyway, Ricks can now say that there were no WMDs. There have been U.S. government reports saying so since.

Monday, August 07, 2006

As you know, our Leader, Dubya, is very proud of the sort of democracy that we have achieved in Iraq. Indeed, when Russian President Putin commented that "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy they have in Iraq", Dubya immediately riposted, "Just wait".

So, it is worth knowing what one of the architects of this grand success, such as it is, thinks of problems of democratization elsewhere in the Arab world. Here's an NPR interview with Noah Feldman, who is, among other things, a former advisor to the Iraqis on constitutional law, commenting on problems posed by the participation of Hezbollah as a minority party in the democratically elected Lebanese government. I can't find a full transcript, just audio, but Feldman's own summation will serve as a reasonable precis of the whole:

Interviewer: But what happens when those [armed] groups are the ones with the political power in a country?

Feldman: Then I think the answer for us as outsiders to say is, "Look, we can't tell you who to vote for, but we can tell you how we're going to treat your nation from a perspective of policy, and if you elect a government that's hostile to us or our allies, we're just not going to deal with that government. We're going to treat you as a hostile state."

Because, of course, we've matured past the naive stage where we attempted to deal diplomatically with hostile states. Look at what we got out of the Cuban Missile crisis, to take only one example of that failed strategy --- decades of further uncertain nuclear standoff. Now, one might say that this was a better outcome than the full-scale nuclear exchange that we nearly got instead, but that is a weak perspective, showing a lack of will. That the nuclear exchange would have killed hundreds of millions of people is, in fact, an expression of the chief virtue of the manly approach which does not shrink from conflict --- it leads to outcomes with finality.

So, we no longer "deal with" states with hostile governments. Better by far to invade them, or just bomb the crap out of them. In this instance, for example, that will give the vast majority of Lebanese, who didn't vote for Hezbollah, and who are getting the crap bombed out of them anyway, an incentive to not vote for them again --- the hope that maybe, someday, if they thank our allies enough for bombing them, and us for supplying the bombs, and they keep on pulling levers, then maybe someday we'll stop. Even in a culture dominated by notions of honor that lead to vicious blood feuds, that will surely prove more appealing than, say, picking up a gun and shooting back.

So, there's a clear, simple message here, as Feldman explains:

The message there is that democracy is just fine, but there's no excuse making for the public when they've elected, democratically, a government that goes out and breaks international law, or that violates the borders of its neighbors, or that acts against American interests.

So, no matter how the civilians of Beirut actually voted, the bombs are their fault. Besides which, why would a legitimately elected government ever act against American interests anyway?

So, this is the kind of clear-eyed thinking that has brought us our success in Iraq, which will soon be spreading throughout the Middle East. And this was on liberal NPR, so you know this isn't just some right-wing nut.

More wisdom from the same source perhaps this time next year, or whenever it is that I next have the stomach for commentary from "liberal" NPR.