Showing posts from August, 2006

democracy and the ummah

American foreign policy in the Middle East claims to seek the spread of democracy among the Arab and/or Islamic nations found there. They are currently ruled by autocratic, unresponsive governments, who restrict the freedom of the citizens, giving rise to resentment, frustration, and eventually political violence and intolerant "Islamo-fascism". I think we all agree that many of the governments in question are autocratic, unaccountable and unresponsive, and that this creates enormous problems for the people they govern. Is Western democracy the solution? What do the people of the region actually want, and do they get a voice in choosing?   What we in the West call "democracy" is the product of almost 1,000 years of effort to make the state accountable to the people governed. That history has gone hand in hand with other political, social, and economic changes. Our understanding of what "the state" itself is has changed from a more or less tribally base

the cold war on muslim democrats and liberal Islamists

Essential op-ed in the Washington Post by Egyptian democray activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Absolutely essential. teaser: The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively. Don't miss this related story in NPR: Israel Seizes Hamas Ministers and Lawmakers (June 29th) Also, Abu Aardvark has been blogging for years about "liberal" Islamists . The key here is that not all islamists are our enemy. The best case of this is Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.  

democracy: our only hope

Charles Bird posts a litany of demands of the Administration, naming himself a mamber of the "Dissatisfieds", conservatives who supported George Bush but feel that the war is on track to failure rather than victory if there is not change. I feel his pain here, because though he and I disagreed on which candidate in 2004 was going to get the Job Done, we did agree on what a Done Job should look like. That said, I doubt his critique is going to gain much traction. Here's why: Donald Rumsfeld fired, to be replaced with someone who can put together a workable and executable plan for helping deliver a free, peaceful, democratic non-theocracy in Iraq. Who? Names, please. The only person I can think of is John Abizaid, but is that even remotely going to happen? Morelikely is a cosmetic change of leadership at Dod if anything, which will simply reinformce existing policy. The thing to change is not Rumsfeld, but the President and Vice President's attitude towards the threat.

the case for Edwards

Chuck Todd at the National Journal talks about Edwards 2008. He points out that the new primary schedule actually favors Edwards over Clinton: In many ways, this Democratic calendar reminds me of the NCAA basketball tournament which, while exciting, rarely crowns the country's best team as its champ, just the hottest. Think of this primary calendar schedule as a "draw" and then match up the candidates best positioned to run the table in those states. Suddenly, you come up with another front-runner with Clinton: and his name isn't Mark Warner or Evan Bayh or John Kerry. It's John Edwards. Organizationally, Edwards is in the best shape of anyone in Iowa. His close ties to the hotel labor workers give him an interesting leg up in Nevada. South Carolina is a primary he's already won once. About the only state where Edwards is weak is New Hampshire. And, frankly, if he wins Iowa and Nevada, New Hampshire support will gravitate to him. He's planted plenty of sup

Hizbollah won, but Israel didn't lose

The concensus is that the Lebanon-Israeli conflict was a complete debacle. At the outset of the conflict, I mourned that Hizbollah was winning, again. It's worth reading Greg Djerjian for the definitive post-"cease fire" analysis in terms of what strategic advantage Israel has lost. Abu Aardvark has some observations about what the Arab press is saying . And Charles Malik has a morose look at the political scene in Lebanon. Still, despite all the ways in which Israel came out the worse for its efforts, I can point to a few positives. 1. Some argue that the "myth of Israeli invincibility" with respect to conventional arms is now shaken. I argue otherwise: Israel showed that it could destroy Lebanon. Don't imagine for a moment that the message was not received in Damascus. As Razib pointed out, political rulers in Arab countries are not bred for suicidal impulses . And of course the elephant in the room is Israel's nuclear weapons, which everyone knows

The Politics of Poverty

A friend of mine from church recently sent me an article by Bill McKibben entitled "The Christian Paradox" that was published in Harpers last summer. After reading the article, I realized that I have read many similar articles over the past couple of years. The gist of the article is that while most Americans claim to be Christians, they don't appear to be following Christ's commands, particularly as it relates to caring for the poor. This premise is central to the Religious Left's critique of our culture, as often expressed by people such as Jim Wallis or Ron Sider. Of course many on the Religious Right counter that laissez-faire capitalism is the only way to provide for the poor. Both groups are wrong and I am going to take this opportunity to show why. The Religious Left's Case on Poverty Bill McKibben gets to the heart of the issue by asking this question: "What if we chose some simple criterion—say, giving aid to the poorest people—as a reasonable doing better than expected

The Houston Chron has a short piece about Gore's Current.TV project, noting that it is making a profit, and more importantly: But the media landscape has shifted in the past year as video-sharing sites like revealed an audience for viewer-created entertainment. Current has since led the industry in the commercialization of that concept, with its viewers creating ads for its leading advertisers. Half of Toyota and Sony's commercials on Current are made by the people watching them, giving advertisers a window into the mind-set of the coveted younger demographic. Why is this newsworthy, you ask?   Remember that Current.TV initially only went to 17 million homes; It's now in 30 million homes. Further growth is inevitable, and significant considering that YouTube's entire registered user base is only 6 million. And all the hype about the media center aside, people still watch more TV than they do videos on the internet. The article addresses this point directly,

Gay Saudi Arabia

I found this very interesting new item about a suspected gay wedding in Saudi Arabia. While there are some who think that the United States is obsessed with sex and is stridently homophobic, nothing can compare with Muslim attitudes towards homosexuals. Publicly claiming to be homosexual in a Muslim country usually equals death. So why is it that rarely does one hear the homosexual community here in America speaking out against Muslim countries? Am I missing something here?


Kevin Drum and his readers at The Washington Monthly have added a new term to the blogger lexicon: " nutpicking " Last night I held a contest to create a name for the moronic practice of trawling through open comment threads in order to find a few wackjobs who can be held up as evidence that liberals are nuts. It's both lazy and self-refuting, since if the best evidence of wackjobism you can find is a few anonymous nutballs commenting on a blog, then the particular brand of wackjobism you're complaining about must not be very widespread after all. I find this actually to be a fairly cogent observation on human behavior. I am often on the defensive against nutpickers who for example interpret Islam through the narrow lens of the violent fringe, and Jews, Catholics, Italians, and pretty every other identity group has had to deal with much the same phenomenon. Drum's Law as stated above is focused more on politics becuse it's a naturally binarized arena in whic

talking WWII

This is an expansion of my comments under Razib's "wrong reason" thread. Nothing I will say here is particularly new or original. It's all been noted by others, here and elsewhere. I'm happy to repeat these simple points, once again, because they are true, and because by repeating them enough it might be, perhaps, possible to counter the flood of inflammatory rhetoric that we hear, day after day, from folks who are in whole-hearted agreement with the current direction of US policy. Lots of folks like to compare our present situation with WWII. They like the feeling of moral purpose associated with WWII. They like the clear and unambiguous distinction between good guys and bad guys. They like the memory of the US as a the champion of liberty and the savior of the free world. Let's compare what we, as a nation, faced at the outset of WWII, and what we face now. More below... Our enemy in WWII were the major fascist states: Japan, Germany, and Italy. Japan

civil war in Iraq

This is becoming so routine, that barely anyone even thinks it's news anymore. 35 dead in Najaf : A suicide bomb attack at a market in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf has killed at least 35 people and injured more than 90 others. Reports say the bomber detonated a belt of explosives at a police checkpoint. The attack occurred near the Imam Ali shrine, one of the most sacred Shia Muslim sites. A Sunni insurgent group claimed it had carried out the bombing. Michael Yon - who is one of the few voices, another being Michael Totten , who can say that things aren't just peachy-keen in Iraq and not be immeddiately castigated as a dhimmicrat-appeaser by the conservative pro-war blogsphere, has been sounding this alarm for a year. And he sounds it again : For the past year I have steadily been warning that if we do not act now Iraq’s smoldering civil war could burn out of control. Recently, even the Army Public Affairs Office seems to recognize this. Although many commanders have asked

a big tent needs strong poles

A friend with whom I discuss politics from time to time on email asked me yesterday: instead of standing with the president on some issues (i think you said "uncritically"), you feel that joe should have "uncritically" followed every single aspect of the democratic "team" platform? no, not at all - and in fact there are plenty of Dem politicos who take stands opposite to the mainstream and who are in fact celebrated for it. Harry Reid is pro-life, and he is Minority leader. Governor Brian Schweitzer is pro-gun. Tim Roemer (who recently lost his congressional seat to a GOP candidate) is really, really strong on defense. Many other Dem politicos voted just like Lieberman - including Clinton and Kerry! but also many many others too, all of whom never came under fire the way Joe did. And here's the single reason why. When any of the rank and file Dems disagree with the party on an issue, they say, "I believe in XYZ. I know that there is debate on XYZ

The "Nation Building" angle

Most you know about the plot that was caught in time. The suspects are brown British born Muslims. This is speaks to my general concerns that the "War on Terror" looks abroad when I suspect that the real monster is lurking within the beast. Before we transform foreign cultures we need to absorb some of our own subcultures.

Joe blow... *shrug*

Below Aziz exhorts Joe Lieberman not to run as an independent. Why? There seem to be two general points. First, Lieberman is clearly out to "get his." This isn't a man of pragmatic principle, as his refusal to stop running for the Senate in 2000 when he was on the ticket as VP with Al Gore showed. But there is a stronger point, so I'll quote Aziz: There is no dishonor in submission to the will of the people . That is the essence of democracy. I hope that Joe realizes that public service is about the public , not the servant. I hope that he realizes that he should follow the example of Al Gore. Democrats have reason to be angry with Joe, but "the people"? I'm not a Democrat, so I look at this with relative disinterest. The key, for me, is that political parties do not have automatic legitimacy, what I render to the republic I will never render to a party . In fact, this republic was not founded with political parties in mind, the rise of the Fede

concede, Joe

On the anniversary of 9-11 , I wrote of the 2000 election that in the end, Bush was uniquely positioned to win, and Gore uniquely positioned to concede (in possibility the greatest concession speech in history). I remember thinking in 2000 that while Gore was out there, trying to win, that Joe was nowhere to be seen - especially in the critical post-election Florida limbo. Joe wasn't invested in winnning, just being the winner, and so he left Al to do the dirty work. Many on the right castigated Gore for endorsing Dean over Joe in 2004 and now refusing to support Joe against Lamont, but the simple truth is that Joe abandoned Al, not the other way around. Now, the Democratic party voters of Connecticut have spoken; they want Lamont, not Joe, to represent them. And Joe will run as an independent. I can't help but make the connection between the lack of commitment to his Party today and the lack of commitment in 2000. Lieberman lost this race by less than 5 points. The sole reaso

Where I stand

Just to clear up confusions.... 1) Lebanon - don't really care too much. Israel probably overreacted, but so what? Thousands die in an African country in a week and there is a back page story, while if you are a Jew or killed by a Jew it has far greater significance? Well, of course it does matter more, but not that much more (at least to me). Lebanese Christians are economically productive, they'd be a good refugee group for most countries to absorb. 2) Iran - Don't take the rants literally. No need to invade right now, but keep all options open. Rattle enough to make the bluff seem quasi-credible. 3) Syria - Try and keep the Alawites in power. We've got a sectarian melee in Iraq, no need for one in Syria. 4) Iraq - Work behind the scenes toward partition and withdrawl within the next 5 years. 5) Afghanistan - ratchet up the hunt. Substantively it might not matter if Osama and Ayman are killed, but style is substance in terms of symbolism. The next stage

Fire from the center

Over the past few days I've really lashed into what I perceive to be the un-reality-based foreign policy espoused by the Right in these United States. But, I do want to give notice: the tyranny of the heart is not absent on the Left either! But while the Right dreams fantasies abroad the Left believes in a domestic policy blinkered by eternal optimism about human nature and cultural robusticity. I am not going to hit this hard, but I point you to Nick Thompson's senior thesis at Stanford, Tension Over Immigration and the Future of the Environmental Movement . I felt Nick pussy-footed around the genuine conflict and pretended at the end as if no hard choices were going to have to be made, so I emailed him back in the late 1990s about this conflict, and he plainly dodged. Well, I won't try to dodge in the future.

Technical note

This blog can now be accessed at the mirror: .

Leashing and unleashing

Over the past few weeks I have been expressing what I believe is the irrational and emotive discourse which seems to pervade the political blogosphere. From this you might conclude that I believe one should guide one's life by the light of reason, and that a cold-blooded calculus must be our ground of being. Well, of course I don't believe this, rather, I hold that reason and emotion complement each othr, have different roles to play in the way we make decisions . In evolutionary biology there is often a distinction between between the ultimate and the proximate . The former is the tendency for fitness to increase within a population by the tautological nature of natural selection, that which begets in this generation perpetuates the generations to come. The latter is the means, the mechanism, the shorter term strategies through which one attains ultimate aims. I believe that in our personal political and moral landscape emotion should be skewed toward the ultimate, and r

essential reading

The Jerusalem Post looks at the war by the numbers , which paint an asymmetric picture indeed. Using their data, we see that it takes 10 sorties by the IAF to kill one Lebanese, and 24 rockets to kill one Israeli. Despite the vast disparity of tecchnologic force and weapon precision, the collateral damage/military kill ratio on both sides is 1:1 - the disparity only affects the magnitude of the kill rate (a factor of 10), not the accuracy. The IAF chiefs admit openly that air power alone won't suppress rocket fire, which is quite a rhetorical about-face from when the war began. Hezbollah's roots in Lebanon run deep, as this fascinating article on its social service network demonstrates. Meanwhile, Syria's ambassador to the US argues in a lonely op-ed that in refusing to engage in any diplomacy with Syria, the US "continues to lose ability to influence a major player in the Middle East". His question - does isolating Syria really advance our stategic interests?

Wow, I'm a political blogger!

I'm feeling kind of strange, blogging about political and foreign policy issues. I'll be honest, I don't follow this stuff anymore, I have a hard time getting my head wrapped around a lot of topics and I don't expend much CPU cycles to the bread & butter of the political blogosphere. But a few points: 1) I've been motivated to make some negative comments about what I perceive to be unhinged fantasists because even if I don't focus on this area much I can spot incorrect assumptions since those assumptions are derived broadly from other disciplines. 2) Several individuals in a thread below referred to the potentiality of Islamists. As I said to Dean , England made its craven peace with Germany 1 year before war. Fascist brownshirts had been terrorizing Jews, Austria had been annexed and the Rhine remilitarized. Germany had already been involved in a World War. The comparison of the potentiality of threat seems a very stretched analogy to what had been

Wrong reason

No matter the reality that reason is imperfect because our own reasoning process is fraught with "noise" introduced by our biases in the form of slanted premises and unexposed assumptions I believe it is a good place to start, sometimes. John Emerson in the comments says this: The idea that militant Islam is a threat equal to Nazi Germany or the USSR, or might become that big a threat, is assumed by many and perhaps most hawks, and it really underlies the whole Iraq War. That idea is almost impossible to argue in detail and I've seldom or never seen it argued. It's just pure fantasy . I don't know if it is pure fantasy, but yes, I do think that to a great extent it is fantasy. I've believed this from the fall of 2004 when I extended my reading to non-science blogs. Many of the individuals expressing a hawkish perspective claim a historical perspective, but as someone who loves history for its own sake I tend to find their analyses grounded in biased and m

peace in the middle east

Below, the outlines of a workable plan for peace in the middle east: A Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with minor rectifications agreed upon between Palestine and Israel. · Palestinians giving up the right of return and Israel reciprocating by removing its settlements in the West Bank, again with rectifications as mutually agreed. Those displaced on both sides would receive compensation from the international community. · King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia unambiguously reconfirming his 2002 pledge that the Arab world is prepared to enter into full normal relations with Israel upon its withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967. · Egypt and Saudi Arabia working with the Palestinian Authority to put together a government along the lines of the 18-point agreement reached between Hamas and Fatah prisoners in Israeli jails in June. This government would negotiate for the Authority. · Deployment, as part of a cease-fire, of a robust international force in southern Lebanon. · Deploy

Astrology & astronomy

One of the reasons that I don't blog about politics is that it seems that the discourse seems to be out of this world, literally . Consider this from Roger L. Simon : If that's what you're looking for, play chess. In order to win WWII, we ended up destroying Tokyo and Dresden. What is going on in Lebanon is nothing at all by comparison, yet the enemy, Hezbollah-Iran, etc., is equally dangerous, perhaps more so . Meanwhile, you have have Michael Totten , who though his heart is in the right place, seems to be rather obsessed with Israel trading in a local conflagoration for a regional war against both Syria and Iran. Over at The American Scence , one commenter who finds Michael Ledeen "reasonable" and "prudent" asks why we've let the Alawite dominated Assad dictatorship last so long? Noah Millman has the answers to this, and much more. Noah manages to present the situation in an analytic fashion peppered with copious data points and make clear his

Israel will win

It depends on how you define "win". And all my recent pessimism on the short-term events aside, I do believe that in the long term, Israel will not only survive but even prosper. The simple reason is that Israel is free. And, there has been an inexorable trend towards increased freedom in the middle east - facilitated in no small part by Al Jazeera, possibly the single media forum most dedicated to genuine "air all views and let the audience decide" journalism in the world. Israel will pay a price for its short-sightedness in this campaign. That price will likely be in needless deaths of innocents due to ongoing violence - a price that every nation must pay, it seems, in the simultaneously sacred and cursed center of the world. But is Israel under an existential threat?   Hizbollah poses zero threat to Israel's existence. It is a militia, tied to geography and to demography. A sophisticated one, to be sure, and one that can inflict terror upon Israeli civilians

game over

What is clear is that Hizbollah is not going to be defeated by airpower alone. Barring the political will in Israel to mount a full-scale invasion of Lebanon up to the Litani river, the presence of Hizbollah in southern Lebanon is unlikely to be dislodged; continued air campaign by Israel will only serve to strengthen Hizbollah's appeal to the ordinary citizens of Lebanon caught in the middle and who are in no position to understand the subtleties of the situation aside from their immediate perceptions: that their homes, their children, their propserity, so fragile and hard-won after long years of civil war and Syrian occupation, are being systematically destroyed. What is also clear is that any suggestion that an international peacekeeping force go into southern Lebanon, without at least a week of cease-fire in advance, is a non-starter. If Israel is desirous of the Blue Helmet excuse to save face for its failure to dislodge Hizbollah, they will have to take the first step. With

hearts and minds

hala_s writes: I hate peace and I don’t believe in it anymore, it is so clear now that the more we bow and compromise the more we got stepped at and smashed. If there would be peace one day it has to be on our own terms. Israel is talking about changing the culture of hate; what a joke, those cowards have the cheek to speak about hate. Israel has the right to defend itself; and talking about us trying to throw them in the sea, so meanwhile they are throwing us in hell. The US has only one goal, that is to turn the area to a desert and drain it freely; armless, helpless, pacified and who dares to say a word. It is very hard for me to say that our only salvation is to ally with Iran, the only strong country left, enough is enough we are living in an era where you have to be feared not respected. And a small message to all the hypocrates; you may kill and slaughter trying to establish a so called "The New Middle East"; rememmber you are fighting an ideology not a group of people