"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen


"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister


"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont


"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister


"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Fourth Wave

I was hoping to get to my thoughts on the Left within the context the end of the Cold War, the Vietnam War, "globalization," and domestic American politics but events in Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain, and Belarus have precluded this. Thursday, March 24th Dan Drezner suggested that maybe we're seeing the beginning of another wave of democratization hit the planet.

The good news is that democratic uprisings are hitting autocratic American allies, i.e. countries containing U.S. bases, and not just pariah states. (Proponents of regime change like Hitchens have noted this possibility in the past.) With the Cold War long gone, the U.S. has less incentive to back friendly dictators and oppose nationalist anti-colonial movements like the one in Vietnam back in the 1960s. Kyrgyzstan has an American base and it just overthrew its autocrat. In a new development which must horrify dictators everywhere, looting was directed at the businesses of the ruler's family. (On Central Asia, Ahmed Rashid's Jihad is a must read.) Belarus, Europe's last dictatorship, saw protests from its brave, but outgunned, opposition. The Associate Press writes "The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning that its action could destabilize the entire region. 'The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole,' it said."

Juan Cole comments on the significance of massive peaceful protests in Bahrain. "The US has a naval base in Bahrain and its king has been a helpful ally. Will George W. Bush support Shaikh Salman or King Hamad?" Would it be petty to note that had Americans chosen to follow the left's advice and Cole's, rather than Bush's, democratic opposition leader - and Shia - Shaikh Salam would have been in a much weaker position to lead his campaign against King Hamdad?

Cole has nothing to say about Kyrgyzstan. Nor does much of the anti-war left. Matthew Yglesias seems to be alone in discussing it.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

leftwing first principles and goals

BORING, right? Not when the Left has taken a wrong turn at the crossroads. (Don't they have access to MapQuest, or do they solely rely on leftist magazines and blogs for directions?) Obviously, the left has to respect the truth, especially during these highly-spun, Internet-dominated days. Even if the truth helps the "other side," it can not and should not be denied. For example, in a March 18th editorial reflecting on the second anniversary of the war on/liberation of Iraq, the New York Times wrote:
There were no weapons of mass destruction to destroy. Worse, the specialized machinery and highly lethal conventional weaponry that Saddam Hussein did control was looted during the invasion and is now very likely in the hands of terrorists. As James Glanz and William Broad reported in The Times, among the things missing is high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms. The WMD argument was not only wrong, but the invasion might have also created a new threat.
I'm curious as to what Clinton's director of central intelligence George "Slam Dunk" Tenet would make of this paragrah. Did he know about the "high-precision equipment capable of making parts for nuclear arms"? Does the NYTimes's point seem slightly contradictory? The problem is that much of the left believed Saddam Hussein to be "contained" and underestimate how dangerous he was. They can't be proven wrong on this point since now we'll never know what Saddam Hussein would have done had he remained in power. We do know for a fact that after his years of exhorbitant behavior, including the genocide of the Kurds; the annexation of Kuwait; the slaughter of the Shia in the south; the ecological destruction of the Kuwaiti oil-fields and Marsh Arab ecosystem, he was surrounded by no-fly zones in the North and South of Iraq, US army bases to the West in Saudia Arabia and a hostile Iran to the East. With all of this, he still wouldn't come clean about his pursuit and/or possession of WMDs. This is all well-established fact.

Maybe he was encouraged not to come clean because containment was breaking down. The high-cost sanctions weren't effective. Osama bin Laden, we learned, was unhappy about the infidel bases in Saudi Arabia. Bush removed the US bases in Saudi Arabia after the Baathist regime was toppled iin 2003. Was this in acquiescence to bin Laden's 9.11 statement? We'll never know, but for Bush to have withdrawn troops from Saudi Arabia while containment and sanctions were becoming increasingly ineffective would have been the height of irresponsibility. America gave diplomacy and sanctions a try with Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War up until early 2003.

Nor can the idea that the Middle East would have improved anyway with Saddam Hussein left in power be proven wrong. We'll never know. However, we can see that the Middle East is improving and for the left to fail to give the Iraq intervention some credit for this is uncomprehensible.

Antiwar activists are constantly imploring hawks to have empathy for the American and Iraqi dead and their grieving families. War should not be taken lightly. However, when confronted these same activists know little about the history of Iraq, nor how terrible a regime Iraqis were forced to live under. Their lack of knowledge only bolsters my conviction that the hawks are right about removing Saddam Hussein. On this point, this bit from Zoe Heller's NYTimes review of Ian McEwan's new novel Saturday, sums up my thoughts nicely:
Even without such literal intrusions on his privacy, Perowne's right to forget is constantly being assailed by the promptings of his own ethical imagination. His son, Theo, protected by the self-absorption of youth, manages to shut out the large, grim stuff of world affairs through his ability to ''think small'' -- concentrating on the short-range pleasures offered by an upcoming snowboarding trip or a new girlfriend. Perowne's mother, too, is afforded a kind of serenity by old age and senility. But for an able, sentient adult like Perowne, empathetic engagement with the world -- and all the moral confusion that such engagement entails -- is not really a choice. He cannot help seeing things from the viewpoints of others: his children, his mother and his Iraqi patient, whose stories of torture in one of Saddam's prisons have persuaded him that the invasion of Iraq is probably a good idea. Empathy, once granted admission, has a way of multiplying its demands. While buying the ingredients for a fish stew he plans to make for supper, Perowne ponders the latest scientific research indicating that fish have a higher degree of capacity for pain than has previously been assumed. ''This,'' he thinks, ''is the growing complication of the modern condition, the expanding circle of moral sympathy. Not only distant peoples are our brothers and sisters, but foxes too, and laboratory mice, and now the fish.'' If empathy is the antidote to cruelty, the essence of what it is to be human, how far to extend it? To fish? To foxes? To jihadists who wish you dead?


More on the Cold War, Vietnam, and American domestic politics in a bit.

The United Nations is going through them changes

WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) - Secretary General Kofi Annan's expected proposals for sweeping changes to the United Nations will be presented Monday, The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday. The plan will include the expansion of the Security Council and changes to a human rights panel, The paper reported.

Samantha Power writes about Josh Bolton's nomination to be Ambassador to the U.N.
At the State Department, Bolton, a protégé of Vice- President Dick Cheney, has behaved more like a grandstander at a conservative think tank than like a diplomat. Colin Powell endured the collateral damage caused by his outbursts, but Rice made it plain that she would have none of it, and passed over Bolton for Deputy Secretary of State. Cheney reportedly then insisted that Bolton get the U.N. When Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke were appointed U.N. Ambassadors, President Clinton announced the nominations. Bush did the same for his first-term nominees, John Negroponte and John Danforth. Rice, in naming Bolton herself, sent a not so subtle signal that she expects to remain boss.
If it looks like an assassination and smells like an assassination, it probably is one
(or It's the Occam's Razor, Stupid!)


If you are interested in the current events in Lebanon, the NYTimes lengthy, above-the-fold story today on the deteriorating relationship between Bashar al-Assad and Rafiq Hariri before Hariri's assassination is a must-read.
On an unseasonably mild day last August, a small group of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's closest political allies could tell from his flushed face and subdued manner that something awful had happened in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he had been summoned to a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.
...
After a few moments, he leaned forward and described how the Syrian leader had threatened him, curtly ordering him to amend Lebanon's Constitution to give President Émile Lahoud, the man Syria used to block Mr. Hariri's every move, another three years in office.

"Bashar told him, 'Lahoud is me,'" Mr. Jumblatt recalled in an interview. "Bashar told Hariri: 'If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon.'" He was referring to the French president, Jacques Chirac.

In the month since Mr. Hariri was assassinated, members of Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition have pointed to that Aug. 26 encounter in Damascus as fateful. Although opposition leaders acknowledge that they lack firm evidence tying Syria or its Lebanese agents directly to Mr. Hariri's assassination, they link that day to his slaying on Feb. 14.
...
Syria is used to acting with impunity in Lebanon.

But by 2004, the Lebanese were expecting something different from Mr. Assad, not least because the United States had signaled by invading Iraq that business as usual was unacceptable.
...
The end for Mr. Hariri as prime minister came in October after the Syrians sent him a message to step aside. He resigned on Oct. 20, somewhat relieved, his aides said.

The next months were consumed mostly with planning for parliamentary elections due in the spring and wrangling over the election law. The Syrians were trying to gerrymander districts around Beirut and the rest of the country to weaken the opposition. But the Christian-Sunni Muslim-Druse coalition appeared to grow ever more formidable.

During this period, while he was planning his comeback, Mr. Hariri seemed to become his old self again, friends and allies said. Mr. Renaud, the European Union ambassador, recalls visiting him at his combined office and mansion right after Christmas and seeing him emerge from behind his desk waving a sheaf of papers and grinning, saying, "We are going to win the elections!"
...
By late January, Mr. Hariri was feeling confident enough that he decided he would not accept any Syrian-nominated members on his election list, his advisers say. His 19-member bloc in Parliament included three men chosen by Rustom Ghazale, the head of Syrian intelligence based in Anjar in the Bekaa region, and the man Lebanese believe really ran their country, his aides said.

Mr. Hariri invited Mr. Ghazale to lunch in late January and told him about the decision.

"They were not happy," said Ghazi Aridi, a former minister of information who resigned in September over the Lahoud extension. He recalls Mr. Ghazale telling Mr. Hariri, "You have to think about it and we have to think about it."

It was beginning to look like the opposition could capture about 60 seats in the 128-seat Parliament, enough to elect a president other than Mr. Lahoud. Around this time, Mr. Hariri and Mr. Jumblatt, the Druse leader, had a meeting. Mr. Hariri's earlier confidence that he would not be assassinated had slipped; the two men figured one or the other would be killed soon.

"Any field where you challenge them, they get mad," Mr. Jumblatt said. "Such totalitarian regimes cannot understand that you can have the freedom to chose your own M.P.'s, or you choose your own local administrators or I don't know what."

Two weeks after that conversation, the huge bomb that rocked all of Beirut struck Mr. Hariri's motorcade. He, along with 18 other people, died.
(emphasis mine)
Assassinations are not unheard of in the Middle East. Israel assassinated leaders of Hamas recently, as well as other members of the resistance. The difference one could argue, is that Hariri was resisting by peaceful means.
Iraq and Religious Law

Leading Left intellectual Juan Cole reports:
Jaafari: Iraq headed toward Religious Law

...Prospective Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari has given an interview to Der Spiegel, to appear Tuesday, in which he says his government will press for the implementation of religious law in personal status matters:

'"It's understandable in a country where the majority of people are Muslim . . . Iraq should become a Muslim country but without falling under the influence of Iran or Saudi Arabia . . . Everyone will have the same rights, even members of the many minor religious communities," he said, explaining there would be multiple forms of jurisprudence.'
However the NYTimes reports:
American and Iraqi officials say that in a gesture to the Kurds, leaders of the Shiite alliance, which has 140 seats in the assembly, have signaled that they will not press for Islam to be the central source of power in a new government, but the Kurds are holding out for an independent Kurdish militia and effective control of Kirkuk.
"Jaafari: Iraq headed toward Religious Law in Personal Status Matters" just doesn't have the same ring to it. Are "Personal Status Matters" a central source of power for a government? I'd agree with the pro-choice movement that they are.