Saturday, September 02, 2006

Anti-Semitic Uptick in Britain

The UK is reporting a significant rise in anti-Semitic activity since the start of the Lebanon war, much of which is connected to general anti-Israel sentiment. A parliamentary inquiry will report that "anti-Semitic violence has become endemic in Britain, both on the streets and university campuses."
The attackers, when visible, are from across society, [Mark Gardner] said. "When it's verbal abuse, it's just ordinary people in the street, from middle-class women to working-class men. All colours and backgrounds. We hardly ever see incidents involving the classic neo-Nazi skinhead. Muslims are over-represented."

In hate-mail to senior Jewish figures, ordinary Jewish people were being blamed for the deaths of Lebanese civilians. "There are also references to the Holocaust, saying that Hitler should have wiped out the Jews."

Mr Gardner said that the rise in attacks reflected increased hostility to Israel and Jews in the media and across society: "The number of anti-Semitic attacks reflects the mood music around Jews and Israel."

There have been several attacks in Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb in North London, where there is a large Jewish population. La Maison du Cafe in Golders Green Road was targeted two weeks ago by two young men who threw chairs at the restaurant, punched workers and threatened to kill the owner, Ruth Cohen, with a knife.

Ms Cohen, 34, said: "They asked if it was a Jewish restaurant. They said they were going to kill me and called me a 'dirty Jew', a 'stinking Jew'. One of them had a knife. A colleague came out. They started punching him and throwing chairs."

In Hampstead Garden Suburb, swastikas and the words "Kill all Jews" and "Allah" were daubed on the house and car of Justin Stebbing. Dr Stebbing, who works at a hospital, said: "I felt violated. It's horrible."

Jon Benjamin, of the Board of Deputies, said: "The problem is the spin that Israel is an irredeemably evil regime, and we are concerned that it may become common currency to connect British Jews with this."

"We are all Hezbollah now" indeed.

I will say that, contrary to some, I think the focus on the link between anti-Semitic violence and anti-Israel sentiment is not meant to serve as a justification, but rather is an important notification of how intertwined the anti-Israel movement is with classic anti-Semitic bigotry. I don't think one can analyze the anti-Israel forces without undertaking an analysis of anti-Semitism (not that anti-Israel has to equal anti-Semitism, only that one has to keep a watchful eye for it), and vice versa: I don't think one can really analyze anti-Semitism without seeing how anti-Israel sentiment acts to nourish and sustain it. Similarly, I'm not sure why Muslim leaders casting themselves as victims of anti-Islamic backlashes in the West "makes it more likely that these kinds of attacks will occur against Jews." I think anti-Semitic violence is underreported, but I don't think that the cause of it is that the Western community is too vigilant against anti-Islamic sentiments. That's a bit of a leap.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I Would Have Died!

Both Lindsay Beyerstein and Jon Swift have great responses to the furious response coming out of some quarters of the right that kidnapped Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig did not choose death instead of their televised gunpoint conversion to Islam.

Beyerstein asks why, since David Warren (one of the primary critics) "assume[s] they are not Christians" (since such "few journalists are"), he expects them to martyr themselves for a faith they don't believe in.

But it is Swift who has (true to his name) the truly breath-taking parody. A taste:
But conservatives were most troubled by a video that was released showing the men converting to Islam at gunpoint. David Warren, who writes for the Ottawa Citizen and Real Clear Politics, deplored their "cowardice" for converting with guns to their heads instead of dying as martyrs. "The two Fox journalists, whom I will not stoop to name, begged for their lives even though, in retrospect, their lives probably weren't in danger," wrote Warren, who risks his life everyday living in Canada, a place I must confess I am afraid even to visit. "They could see nothing wrong in serving the enemy, so long as it meant they'd be safe."

Hasn't anybody ever heard of a Marrano?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

He Started It!

It's a juvenile taunt, but it's apt here. Responding to statements by Tom Friedman in my interview of him, Paul Mirengoff thinks that any Bush partisanship is justified because Democrats have criticized his wartime conduct:
For example, Friedman accuses the administration of "fraud" in conducting the war in Iraq because it didn't send enough troops. He also attacks the administration for using the war on terrorism as a wedge issue, asking "would Roosevelt have done that?" The answer to that question I'm pretty sure is yes -- if the Republicans had advocated pulling our troops out of Europe or the Pacific before they had defeated the enemy I'm confident that Roosevelt would have made that an issue. So too if the Republicans had attacked Roosevelt's effort to promote safety on the home front, including surveillance of Nazis and, for that matter, internment of Japanese-Americans.

Before I go any further, I have no idea how FDR would have reacted had someone (of any party) challenged him on Japanese internment, but I damn well wish they would have. Such naked human rights violations are never tolerable, and they should have never been even considered in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That we have patriots willing to criticize analogous contemporary human rights violations (torture, "black sites", etc) shows that we've grown as a society, and that is something to be proud of (although the fact that we are still committing these wrongs is a black mark that will haunt us for generations). Nothing animates me more--as someone who believes in the importance of this struggle--than insuring that we fight it in a manner consonent with our basic moral values as human beings.
Back to the main. The key question is: Who acted first? That is, we all agree that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Democrats and Republicans united and put partisan divides behind them for the good of the country. What cracked that divide?

There are a couple candidates for the dishonor, but the one that did it for me at least was the fiasco surrounding the Department of Homeland Security. Remember, that was a Democratic proposal that Bush opposed, until he realized it polled well. Then he flipped, created an out-of-the-blue technical reason for opposing the plan that he knew would be a Democratic poison pill, and then used their "opposition" as a cudgel in the 2002 elections. This was after Bush had threatened to veto nearly every proposed increase in Homeland Security spending--including ones with bipartisan support. I've told more than one person that this event was what changed my perspective of Bush from a likeable bumbler who I disagreed with, to a loathsome and detestable public figure who viewed even America's security as nothing but a political opportunity. That action was a totally unprovoked stab in the back of Democrats who thought American security was something that transcended partisan politics. And it occurred months before the events regarding the Iraq war that Paul alludes to.

The other major problem is that Bush has not just blurred, but utterly erased the line between those who oppose his foreign policy and those who oppose his domestic policy. From tax cuts for the wealthy to drilling in ANWR, everything on the Bush agenda became tied to the war on terror. It didn't matter if you supported every move Bush made in the foreign sphere (the wiretapping scandal didn't even hit until after the 2004 elections). The primary victims of Bush's post 9/11 purge were moderate, hawkish Democrats. The type of Democrat who was voting against the war in Iraq was never seriously at risk, because they were all in safe Democratic seats. Bush deliberately set out to target Democrats who were politically vulnerable, not politically disagreeable. And he targeted them in the worst ways possible--such as the appalling "Osama Bin Laden" ad that went against Georgia Senator Max Cleland. Indeed, any objective look at how President Bush behaved from 2002 to 2004 betrays a fundamental lack of seriousness in prosecuting this war on terror, and taking positions that would actually keep America safe, rather than keep his congressional flunkies safe.

What Paul and his Powerline cobloggers refuse to grapple with is why folks like Friedman (and myself, for that matter) who supported and still support the Iraq war are so furious at Bush now. They want to just tag us as crazy partisan liberals. But that doesn't fly. It doesn't explain why we supported the war in 2002, and it doesn't explain why we still support it now. Nor does it explain the growing numbers of ertswhile loyal Republicans (e.g., John Cole, Daniel Drezner) and conservatives (Andrew Sullivan) who feel the same way. Something happened to make the center, center-left, and large parts of the center-right apoplectic with Bush.

I'm not mad at Bush because I've suddenly become a hyper-leftist. I'm not angry in spite of my centrism, but because of it. The isn't left-wing anger, it's centrist anger, and that's what the Bush partisans can't fathom about us. Tom Friedman took a lot of flack for his stance in 2002, and for holding true to it up until today. He did ignore partisan lines when he made his decision, only to find that for this administration, the only thing that mattered was the partisan line. That's why we're angry. That's why we're furious. We took this war seriously, only to find that President Bush didn't. It's a basic lack of respect, not just for us, but for every American in the armed service who deserves to more than just a pawn in the GOP's political game. And while Democrats have done their fair share of sniping--sometimes justifiably, sometimes not--it was Bush and his administration that started the trend of viewing the GWOT as an electoral war game. And that's unforgivable.

History will, indeed, be very unkind to these people.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Doing Justice Right

Earlier, I welcomed Security Dilemmas to the exclusive club that is The Debate Link blogroll. Now, I'd like to introduce Doing Justice, blog of Southwestern University Law Professor K.C. Sheehan. I found Professor Sheehan's blog through a plug at Feminist Law Profs, which linked to her article Caring for Deconstruction, a version of which was printed in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism. The article looks fantastic, and as someone who has interest in both feminism and post-modernism, I'm very much looking forward to tackling it.

Professor Sheehan has a post up defending Judith Butler from the famous article/takedown Martha Nussbaum wrote about her in The New Republic. I've read that article, and I've read some Butler, but I'm not qualified enough on the technical aspects of either to comment on whether Nussbaum's critique was fair (I will admit that I found it very, very funny).

Professor Sheehan takes particular umbrage at "The Joke That Would Not Die", that is, Professor Butler's "victory" in a bad writing contest that has made her the poster-professor of obtuse, unnecessarily difficult academic writing. I have a confession to make here: for my Sophomore writing portfolio, I titled my "personal reflection" essay "In The Shadow of Judith Butler." The paper was about how my writing sought to maintain a relaxed, casual, readable demeanor while still maintaining the level of respect I'd need to be taken seriously as an academic (a quest made more difficult by the fact that I like to delve into post-modern ideas and concepts in my pieces--a field not known for inspiring clear, lucid, writing). Basically, I want to teach and write (in a post-modern field, no less), but I don't want to become a jargon-spewing zombie. Can I do it? Can I avoid "the shadow of Butler"?

As I said, I've read Butler, and while I found her to be somewhat obtuse I don't think she was outrageously beyond any other scholar writing like pieces. Still, as Butler would be the first to tell you, meaning is not a stable subject and is not necessarily tied to the original intent or context of the author. In the context I was writing, "Judith Butler" has meaning associated with it that transcends what she's actually written--she is a representation of a specific typology that I felt my readers would recognize even if they could not pin down its boundaries or definitions. Ironic, no?

But back to Sheehan. She notes that the topics Butler writes on are difficult ones, so it shouldn't surprise us if the language surrounding them is denser than "mainstream" philosophical writings. Moreover, Sheehan argues that
efforts to make feminism seem reasonable in established academic or "common sense" terms are doomed ultimately to failure because feminism does not "make sense" in the patriarchal tradition dominating our language and thought.

The former I feel has some truth to it, the latter, less so. The reason I'm somewhat dismissive of the latter claim is that I've read works stemming from outsider, decidedly marginalized traditions (I'm thinking the CRT stuff I've read) that manage to be quite lucid and engaging. Admittedly, most of the articles I can think of are in the field of race, not sex, but that's more of a function of my area of focus rather than any difference I've noticed innate to feminist thought. Some might argue that race isn't analogous to sex here because there is no racial analogue to "the patriarchal tradition dominating our language and thought." Personally, I've never been much persuaded by the argument that "this oppression precedes that oppression", and don't see any truly compelling argument for why sex-based oppression is more pernicious or more ingrained than race-based or other longstanding structures of domination. So I see no reason why, if I can read radical race critiques that make intuitive sense to me, I can't read radical feminist critiques that make intuitive sense to me.

The former argument, that complex topics are going to be written in a complex manner, carries more weight. I've noted (by which I mean ranted) my anger at evaluations which privilege stylistic concerns over substantive ones, and that point still holds up (no matter how much we might mock how Butler writes, it is still an entirely severable question from whether her points are accurate). As a debater, I am acutely aware of the difficulty of explaining complex precepts to uninformed lay judges in the space of a few minutes. And it is singularly obnoxious when said judges translate their inability to understand as proof of the inadequacy of your argument.

However, we have to be careful not to let this argument carry too much. Complexity might justify less-than-crystal-clear rhetoric in cases where there is a severe time-crunch--a debate round or a lecture, say. But when one is writing a book, and has pages upon pages to distill and refine a point, I don't feel guilty about asking an author to sacrifice a few to make sure everybody is on the same page as her. Especially when one is breaking new ground, as Butler is doing (and thus is not in a case where simplified or narrative explanations would be cases of reinventing the wheel all over again), I think this is a reasonable expectation of readers on the part of authors. This isn't to say philosophy will ever reach the simplicity of Dr. Seuss--that isn't reasonable. But there is no reason why we shouldn't try to break things down a bit--make an effort in the direction of clarity.

I think it's rather fatalistic to think otherwise. I can vouch from personal experience: Clear and engaging writing can convert someone who has no pre-existing reason to be sympathetic to outsider narratives. I went in the space of a year from being a quasi-libertarian who thought post-modernism was a ridiculous academic caricature ("Heehee, post-modernists. They don't think that my chair exists!") to a firm devotee of Critical Race Theory, because I read a great book that explained the arguments in a manner that didn't require four advanced degrees to understand. If it worked for me, it can work for others.

In any event, Professor Sheehan writes interesting and intellectual posts on topics I find fascinating. So to the blogroll she goes.

Gay Marriage: Worse Than Child Rape

The unhinged Family Research Council takes a step further down the road to darkness. Today, they argue that "rogue judges" who might legalize gay marriage between consenting adults are more a threat to marriage than people who forcibly conscript ten year old girls into arranged marriages. Think I'm kidding? Here's the quote:
Young girls in such arranged unions are victims. I am grateful to the Department of Justice for making this a priority by putting [Warren] Jeffs on the FBI's top ten. However, the Bush Administration needs to understand the threat to marriage is even greater from a rogue judge than it is from a fugitive pervert. The attempt by judicial activists to destroy marriage by defining it out of existence is more devastating than the plots of these polygamists.

Jeffs, for the record, is wanted for accessory to rape, sexual conduct with a minor, and conspiracy to commit sexual conduct with a minor. But them's small fries compared to the chaos if the gays are allowed to marry!


The Security Dilemma of the Human Rights Group

Two new faces enter The Debate Link blogroll today. Each will get their own introductory post.

The first is Security Dilemmas, a international law/relations blog written by University of Puget Sound International Relations & Political Philosophy professor Seth Weinberger. I don't know much about UPS (although when Professor Weinberger emailed me, I did wonder briefly as to why a delivery company was inquiring about my blog), but for some reason (possibly totally random) I have an image of the school as a hotbed of radical leftism. I actually don't have a problem with radical leftism generally, but my tolerance for it generally decreases in the IR sphere compared to domestic politics.

However, regardless of whether my general stereotype is right or wrong, Professor Weinberger himself is quite lucid and engaging. Of particular interest to me was this post on the metrics and methodologies used by groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to accuse nations of "war crimes." Weinberger notes that "Amnesty's report is basically a long list chronicling the damage Israel did to Lebanon, but provides no guide for how to judge or assess that damage." It doesn't, for example, sufficiently examine the potential military usefulness of particular mixed-used targets (airports or bridges), does little in the way of grappling with the use of "human shields" as a mitigating factor (they do sometimes note their use, but don't seem to take that into account when compiling the damage to overall infrastructure), and, perhaps most importantly, doesn't analyze precedents of what they would consider just wars conducted under analogous circumstances. All this leads Weinberger to conclude that "Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are really pacifists trying to disguise their true motives by cloaking them in moral arguments."

Weinberger expanded on this point in a previous post, and I find that it rings true. I have very close friends who are affiliated with groups like Amnesty, and I feel quite confident in saying that they have reservations regarding the use of military force in nearly any situation--including a defensive war such as the one Israel launched. This isn't to say they are blanket pacifists--I've noted with favor HRW's stance supporting military intervention in the case of genocide, and this stance is consonant with that of my friends in groups like Amnesty (who also tend to support military intervention in Darfur). Nor am I saying that their concern for human rights is not genuine--it is. However, I do think that they use their status as a human rights watchdog as a cover to "smuggle" in hostility toward the use of armed force in general. There might be good reasons to oppose the latter more than we do, but honesty demands a separation between assessing issues of jus ad bellum and jus in bellum.

Put another way, you are never going to find a war fought within the confines advocated by HRW and Amnesty. There are several reasons why this is true: lingering mistrust of the powerful (the winners will always seem to have inflicted more damage than necessary to win), institutional incentives (human rights groups need to be constantly finding and condemning newsworthy human rights violations to stay in the public eye, so they have an incentive to define violations as broadly as possibly), and ideological (groups that believe war is intrinsically immoral will be more likely to find that a particular war is procedurally immoral as well). All these considerations have the effect of making human rights groups virtually unable (and at some level, unwilling) to find a just war, so they shift the goalposts out so far so that there is no risk of anyone ever meeting the artificially high standards they propagate as the baseline requirements.

Targeted Killing

Via David Bernstein, a spectacular article in the Washington Post on Israel's policy of "targeted assassination" of known terrorists. It goes into detail both the human side of the story (how the Israeli military leadership agonizes over each and every strike) as well as the technical aspects of it (what standards the Israeli army uses in order to determine whether or not a given strike is legitimate). Indeed, let's look at the standards Israel has established for these strikes:
[An assassination can only when the following conditions are met:] that arrest is impossible; that targets are combatants; that senior cabinet members approve each attack; that civilian casualties are minimized; that operations are limited to areas not under Israeli control; and that targets are identified as a future threat. Unlike prison sentences, targeted killing cannot be meted out as punishment for past behavior, [legal advisor Daniel] Reisner said. In 2002, a military panel established that targeting cannot be for revenge, but only for deterrence.

Seems solid to me. Thoughts?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Exclusive Interview With Tom Friedman (Part II)

This is the second and final segment of my exclusive interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. You can access the first part (focusing on the recent Israel/Lebanon conflict) online here. Without further delay....

DS: Now, you're a leading member of the so-called "liberal hawk" wing of the Democratic punditry. That wing has been severely damaged--I consider myself a part of it too--severely damaged by the Iraq war. First, can they regain their credibility, or should they? Should they say "we made a mistake, and we need to look to a new direction?"

TF: This is a really complicated issue. You certainly rightly identified me where I would see myself and where I would see my colleagues. And I supported the Iraq war--it was always a struggle for me, and it was not an easy call. But for me, the issue was not about WMD. It was about what I call PMD--people of mass destruction. And the fact that, to me, the biggest issue that open societies face today, or the biggest threat that open societies face today, is this kind of nihilistic, violent, Islamic radicalism, that has been attacking open societies in any number of ways.


For so many people, the Iraq war is just about loving Bush or hating Bush. There were people not really thinking about the war in and of itself at all--some people were, definitely--but for many people it was just "I'm for the war because Bush is for the war, and I'm a Republican," or "I'm against the war because I hate Bush." And what I tried to do in approaching the war, is take my own personal politics and put it on the shelf. And try to think of this whole issue of terrorism on a blank piece of paper. So from that perspective, then, how did I get from there to the Iraq war?

Two things really shaped my thinking. The first is that I believe that we are now facing the third great totalitarian challenge to open societies. The first great totalitarian challenge to open societies was from Soviet communism, which attempted to use the engine of the Soviet Union to impose the reign of the perfect class--the working class (as Marxist/Leninist's saw it). The second great challenge to open societies was from Nazi fascism, which attempted to use the engine of the Third Reich to impose the reign of the perfect race--the Aryan race. What I believe we're seeing with Bin Laden, al-Qaeda, all these movements--some are connected, some disconnected, some spontaneous, some state-encouraged--is the third great totalitarian challenge to open societies. And these people are attempting to use the engine of globalization (in many ways) to impose the reign of what they see as the perfect faith--we'll call it political Islam.


In the Islamofascist--Islamo-totalitarians, call them what you will--the Bin Ladenites, we're facing people who hate us more than they love life. They hate us more than they love their own kids. They are ready to blow themselves up before we can ever deter them. That's bad enough. But what makes it an even more dangerous phenomenon is that these are people who are using instruments from our daily life: the tennis shoe, the shampoo bottle, the backpack, the automobile, the cell phone, the airplane. They are using instruments from our daily life to attack the very essential thing that keeps an open society open. And what is that? That's trust. I trusted that when you came over to my house, you weren't wearing bomb-laden tennis shoes--I don't have a metal detector at my door. At Carleton, the faculty trusts that when you walk into a class with a backpack it isn't carrying dynamite. When you fly on Northwest Airlines to Carleton--before these past couple of weeks--they trusted that if you had shampoo in your backpack, it wasn't actually disguised nitroglycerin. Trust, trust is the essential feature that keeps an open society open.... Because there aren't enough police to police every opening in an open society. So we have to build it on trust....

One more 9/11, David, and that's the end of the open society as we know it. Because if you think we have lack of trust now in a few public buildings and an airport, imagine if there is another 9/11 or something like it. So that's why I take this threat that these violent Islamic radicals pose as an enormous danger to open society. So that's one side of this argument.

The second side of my argument about Iraq is that we treated the Arab world for the last 50 years as a collection of big gas stations. That's really how we Americans viewed the Arab world. And we basically said the following to them: "You know what guys? You can do whatever you want out back. Just keep the pump open, the price low, and be nice to the Jews. Don't hassle Israel too much. Just keep the pump open, the price low, and be nice to Israel, and you can do whatever you want out back. You can treat your women, however you want. You can repress your citizens, deprive them of basic civil rights, freedom of speech, whatever you want. You print whatever lies you want, about us, or infidels, in your newspapers, no problem. And you can preach whatever intolerance you like from Mosques and textbooks; you can do whatever you want, out back. Just keep the price low, the pump open, and be nice to the Israelis."

Well it's my view, David, that on 9/11 we got hit with the distilled essence of everything going on out back. So to me, that's a progressive problem. That's not just a Bush problem, not just a conservative problem, that's something liberals needed to be thinking about, which is how do we change the context of what's going on out back. And how to we do it in a collaborative way?

Now if you know anything about my writing you know I was never part of the "let's invade Iraq group." I didn't start thinking about--I'm saying before the issue came up. You know there's a whole group of Republicans who have been pressing this for years, basically. I only came to this issue when the President put it on the table. If you actually did a LexusNexus of my column you'd discover I don't think--I may have written about Iraq twice in all the years before this came up. So it's not an issue that animated me. But after 9/11, and when this issue came up, my view was very simple: Bush was going to launch this war, whether I was for it or against it. But my view was, if done right, this could be the right war if done the right way.... To try and change the context of what was going on out back. Why did I think that's important; and why do I still think that's important? I have many regrets about how the war was executed, but I know why I supported this, and those reasons haven't gone away.

....If you look at the Arab world today, there isn't a single, really positive example--save for Dubai now, which has really emerged and has had a huge impact--of a modern, decent, liberalizing, progressive Arab state. And my argument was that if we could collaborate and cooperate and partner with Iraqis, to build that model, in the heart of the Arab Muslim world, that that could be a huge radiating force, that creates the space to get us back, to--that creates the context not only to change what's going on out back, but also a space where the good guys can argue against the bad guys.... We can put up fences, we can have good intelligence, but ultimately, the only ones who can defeat that are Arabs and Muslims themselves....

I still feel that today. People come up to me now, because I've written an article basically saying Iraq's not working, and they say "Oh, thank you. Thank you for finally seeing the light." And my attitude is rather hostile to those people. Because I don’t think these people understood the problem from the beginning, and I don't want their thank you now. I feel terrible about Iraq. But I don't feel terrible because I'm going to be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of the war. I feel terrible first of all for all the casualties, and the incredible human devastation--American and Iraqi. But what I really feel terrible about, David, is this project. I thought it was really important. I still think it's important. And I have no apologies to make about thinking it's important. It's still important. I still hope we can salvage something. And so, I don't want anyone to say "Thank you for seeing the light." I haven't seen any light at all. All I've seen is darkness. Because if this project fails, only bad things will come of it for the world that my girls are going to grow up in. And that's for me what this was all about....

DS: So how can this wing restore its credibility? How can we bring this vision back to the mainstream when it seems very much on the defensive in the Democratic Party at the moment.

TF: Well it's a very good question. One is not to be on the defensive. And I'm not. I know what I believed, I know why I believed it. I'm terribly disappointed [but]....

....The purposes were right and noble, in my view. The performance was abysmal. One has to distinguish those two things, number one. Number two, don't drop out of the debate. We're not out of Iraq. We're still in the middle, now, of a terrible mess. We can't abdicate the argument now, either to Republicans, or to liberals who just want to wash their hands of it and walk away. Now we have to think through how we minimize the damage and see what we can salvage, what I call Plan B. And I don't know what Plan B is yet. I'm spending a lot of time trying to think that through. But the most important that liberal hawks have to do is stay engaged in the debate. And keep pitching ideas, and stay true to the argument that ultimately our best defense in the war on terrorism is not a wall, it's not more airport guards, it's not building a moat around America, it's trying to partner with progressives in other parts of the world to build the kind of societies will be able to constrain and take on these forces. You can say that's so quixotic, but I don't see any other option.

DS: In a recent column a lot of people were interpreting what you said as that it's time to start withdrawing [from Iraq]. Is that true, that now is the time to start withdrawing?

TF: No. I was quite clear, I thought, with what I said. One of the things, when you're a columnist for the New York Times, everyone wants to own you. And if they can't own you, they want to destroy you. That is, they want to use your argument for one thing or the other. And what I was basically saying in that piece was: I've been really focused on Plan A, trying to make Plan A work up until now. Plan A is not working. We have to start thinking about Plan B. What I said was: here [are] some first, tentative thoughts, on what are some of the elements of Plan B. And one element, it seems to me, is first of all, one last push, as I've said for a Bosnia-like peace conference, to still see if we can salvage this....

....This isn't about training the army, that's non-sense. Who's training the insurgents? Obviously nobody. They seem to be doing just fine without any training. This isn't about the way, it's about the will. And so you're not going to have an effective army in Iraq unless you have an underlying political consensus. It may be that that's impossible now; it's too late. But the first thing I was saying in that column is that we have to make one last push to try.

Now the other point I was making, and this is where it gets complicated, is that in order to get the parties to take seriously that effort, you probably have to set a date to withdraw. Because one of the problems is that they are ready to let us hold the dike forever. We're there kind of holding the dike.... So the reason I introduced the withdrawal point was to say: if you want to have a serious peace conference there, where really all the parties have a really honest dialogue, it may be that we have to set a date to withdraw. And that's as far as I've gone yet. I may go farther, next week, David, but that was only my preliminary thinking right now. I think this is such a serious issue that one of the things I'm trying to avoid as a columnist is to be for this plan, and then that plan, and then that plan, and then that plan, and then that plan....

DS: I think that clarifies things a lot, actually. Now, we can talk about how liberal hawks made lots of mistakes and made miscalculations and whatnot, but I think we can agree that ultimately it's on Bush's head. Now, he couldn't think of a single mistake he made when he was asked in the debates; I think you can think of a few. So what are the big mistakes the Bush administration [has made here]?

TF: Well what I find so breathtakingly dishonest about Bush and Cheney--and I wrote a column about this after the whole Ned Lamont victory over Lieberman, because as you recall Lamont defeated Lieberman in the primary then Cheney came out and said, "Well, this shows that the Democrats don't really understand the war on terrorism, the titanic struggle we're in." He used it as a way to hit on the Democrats. And my response to that was: "Oh really? Oh really? Democrats don't understand what a titanic struggle we're in with these forces of violent radical Islam?" Well if that's so, Mr. Cheney, then tell me something: If we're in such a titanic struggle with violent political Islam, why is it that you fought the war in Iraq with the Rumsfeld doctrine of just enough troops to lose, and not the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force? .... And by the way, if we're in such a titanic struggle, the struggle of our lives, with violent political Islam, why do you keep using it as a wedge issue in domestic politics? Would Roosevelt have done that? How do you think we're going to win this titanic struggle with a divided country? You think you're going to win with 50.1% of America? So please. Give me a break. You are just a fraud. This is just a fraud. You keep telling me we're in a titanic struggle. Yet Ned Lamont doesn’t command our troops. Even Joe Lieberman doesn't control our energy policy. You guys are the ones with all the levers of power. You have the House, the Senate, the White House, and the Supreme Court. You could have fought this war either seriously or unseriously. And you have chosen to fight it unseriously.... That's completely fraudulent. And history, ultimately, will be very unkind to these people. It will catch that fraud.

DS: Final thing since we're almost out of time. If you have one piece of advice toward how the US can restore its position in the world, gain back the trust that we've lost and the goodwill that we've sacrificed, what can we do to make up for the egregious mistakes of the past six years?

TF: Well, it's going to take a new administration. Things are broken between this administration and the world. George Bush is the most hated President in my lifetime and Dick Cheney is the most hated Vice President. More than Richard Nixon. And it is broken between them and the world. But how do you salvage it? Well, first of all we've got to find a way to salvage something out of Iraq. I don't know what it is, but...., and to reduce our presence there as best we can.

Secondly, you can't come to the world and say there's a war on terrorism, and you're either with us or against us, but on the issue of global warming, climate change, environment, "oh sorry, we're driving our SUVs. Forget about Kyoto." I think nothing would begin to restore some of our credibility with a big part of the world--particularly the European world--than having a different energy policy at home. And taking seriously an issue that animates many, many people around the world. I think having a different approach to the WTO and that issue of trade would be a hugely important thing. I think that having a much more forward-leaning approach to solving the Arab/Israeli conflict would go a long way to doing that.

And lastly, one thing I learned as a journalist is that--you know, I'm a little Jewish guy from Minneapolis, but I've operated in the Arab world for 30 years. And as you know, I do it by getting in people's face. I don't write some nice-y nice column that is never critical of people. But one thing I've always prided myself on, to me it's the most important survival mechanism for any journalist, is that you have to be a good listener. Being a good listener is really important. And we've gotten away from being good listeners in this administration in particular. Listening is a sign of respect. It's amazing what happens when you just listen to people. What they'll allow you to say to them....

We've also really, in this war on terrorism...gone from a country that exported hope, that was seen as the country most important to the world in exporting hope, in the feeling that tomorrow can be better than yesterday and that the future can bury the past, to a country that exports fear. When you export fear, you import everyone else's fears. And we need to get back to being the America that exports hope, not fear.


Just a notice:

Sometime on Tuesday, I surpassed the one hundred thousand mark for readers (since I started tracking, which was several months after the blog began).

God bless them--each and every one.

This Would Be Priceless

Tim F. of Balloon Juice remarks on a hoax perpetuated by a man who posed as a HUD official and gave a plan for rebuilding New Orleans (which, as far as Bush is concerned, apparently is a foreign country somewhere on the Gulf of Mexico) that sounds better than the actual HUD plan. Of course, this means the HUD now has to deny that it has reversed course in its proposal to demolish 5,000 units of public housing.

But the real fun is when Tim says it reminds him of a scheme some of his "friends" cooked up in college:
This reminds me of a hare-brained plot some, uh, friends of mine hatched in college to sneak onto the main campus of Focus on the Family and mark the main building facing the highway with a giant pink triangle and the words "This is a Hate-Free Zone," which was a popular dorm poster at the time. Of course the amusement would come when they angrily denied it.

That would be beautiful to behold.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Today In Judeo-Christian Values

Katherine Harris claims that if you don't elect Christian legislators, you are going "to legislate sin." She then "clarified" the remarks to say that they reflect "her deep grounding in Judeo-Christian values." So, if I'm to understand her right, it is a Jewish(/Christian) value that electing Jewish legislators will cause sin. Yes, I do seem to recall that Mishnah. It's right after the how-to guide for extracting the blood from dead Christian children.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen reports that The War on Christmas has begun again. Even though it's August. Apparently Sam's Club released a Christmas advertisement that didn't call it Christmas, but just used the generic term "holiday." As Benen puts it:
The horror. At this rate, people may not remember what Christmas even is.

I remember what Christmas is. It's when I can get nearly empty slopes at Aspen mountain for a whole morning while my Christian friends are doing whatever it is they do. How's that for some Judeo-Christian expression?

For those of you who are wondering, I plan on posting Part II of the interview Tuesday evening (or more likely, very early Wednesday morning).

Exclusive Interview with Tom Friedman (Part I)

This past Friday evening, I was given the opportunity to sit down with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman at his house in Bethesda (fortuitously located directly across the street from my own house. Every blogger should be so lucky!). The interview, which was conducted over the course of an hour, will be posted exclusively at The Debate Link for several weeks, before being printed in The Carleton Progressive. This the first part, covering the Israel/Lebanon conflict and its fall-out.

David Schraub: You've been covering the Middle East conflict for three decades now. How does the recent Lebanon conflict fit in with the overall narrative you've been observing?

Tom Friedman: It's rather depressing, because it's all back to the beginning. You know, I basically came into the Middle East story in High School, after the '67 war, and we were dealing with the "three no's" of the Khartoum Arab summit: No recognition, no peace--I forget what the third no was. Basically, it was still in the era of total Arab rejection of Israel. And that's where I came into the story as a high school student in 1967. And then when I was at Oxford in graduate school, Sadat visited Jerusalem and created this huge psychological breakthrough, and it was really the beginning of the peace process as we know it.... So, you could sort of say there was--a kind of up and down--but it had a positive slope to it, a trend line toward Arab/Israeli reconciliation...and the ring of hostility, of the no's, after 1967 around Israel seemed to be coming down.

Then beginning with the second Intifada, the collapse of the second Camp David peace process under President Clinton, everything began to slide backwards.... And the wider Arab/Israeli peace process seems pretty frozen.

So this is the context, then, that the Lebanon war of the summer of 2006 really took place in. And what is so disturbing about this war is that it was about everything and about nothing. It was about nothing in the sense that it was completely unprovoked. Israel was completely out of Lebanon. The UN had sanctified the Israeli/Lebanon border; said this is the official legal border stamped by the UN. So at one level, it was about nothing; there was no reason for this war (this whole bit about Shebaa Farms is non-sense), and if Hezbollah wanted to get back prisoners there were other ways to do it. But precisely because it was about nothing, it was about everything, in the sense that if the border didn't matter, it was about everything. It was about the whole idea of the Jewish state and after all, Nasrallah (the head of Hezbollah) literally said "we see ourselves and our objective as liberating Palestine--liberating Jerusalem."

So as I watched all this, my basic reaction was, "Wasn't this where I came in?" We're back to the "three no's." And so that's really what I felt about it.

DS: There’s been talk actually, coming out of the Lebanese Prime Minister's office, that they might be willing to sign a Peace Treaty with Israel. Do you think that might go anywhere?

TF: Hard to know. You know, we've seen breakthroughs come from the depths of depression. After all, the 1973 war, which ended in an Israeli military victory but an emotional stalemate--much like this war, you could say--opened the way for the disengagement agreements, and ultimately the Anwar Sadat visit to Jerusalem. Do I think that will happen in the case of Lebanon? Doubtful, because Lebanon is too fragmented inside.... So I'm dubious.

DS: Okay, so let's look at it from the Israeli side. There are a lot of people who said that Israel just snapped, that they just lost their temper and they over-reacted. Is that a fair assessment?

TF: No, no, I think it was a very hard call from Israel's side. You had a new Prime Minister and a new Defense Minister who clearly thought they were being tested--there was that dimension.... And when you're faced, first of all, with a war you're totally unprepared for--nobody saw this coming the day before, nobody had thought about it really--and suddenly you're in a war that seems to be about everything and nothing, I think it was very hard for Israel to get its bearings on how to proceed. At the same time, you're dealing with an enemy that has embedded itself in the civilian population (on the Lebanese side). Hezbollah has no bases to retaliate against--in the conventional military sense--and so Israel almost by definition couldn't retaliate against Hezbollah without hitting civilian targets. And that's tragic. It's tragic for me--I hate to see Lebanon be destroyed--but at the same time, it was the only way from the Israeli point of view to exact a price on Hezbollah's constituency that ultimately Israeli hoped--and I don't think this was a crazy thing--would deter Hezbollah the next time, with people saying "wait a minute, I don't want to go through this again."

So, I don't think Israel "snapped," I don't think it behaved in a particularly irrational manner. It was brutal, but it was an ugly war, and one that Israel didn't invite.

DS: So how does Hezbollah come out of this? Do they come out stronger?

TF: Well as we sit here today--and I'm glad I'm vacation right now so I don't have to write a column this week--I think this was a devastating defeat for Hezbollah. Wars are fought for political ends. They aren't fought for pride; they aren't fought for how many people will put your poster up or how many times your face will appear on al-Jazeera. Wars are fought for political ends. Well let's look at the two political ends of this war. It appears as we sit here today, that we're going to get a French-led, European peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, that will escort the Lebanese army down to the border and will serve there as a permanent peacekeeping force. That's a huge achievement for Israel... This is a huge strategic loss for Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah. Being able to touch Israel, and provoke a war like this, was a real strategic advantage for them. They could turn it on and off anytime they wanted. They can't do that anymore....

That's number one. Number two, Hezbollah was given these rockets by Iran, one assumes, as a deterrent, so if anyone--if Israel--ever struck Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran could hit back through south Lebanon. First of all, now it's fired off a lot of these rockets, got a lot of them destroyed, and while they of course they can be resupplied.... Israel will study this whole war, and learn the lessons of it. So, militarily Hezbollah is weaker. And politically speaking, inside Lebanon, many Lebanese are very angry about this war. They're sitting back and saying, especially in their own community--and you may not hear that in the press here, but believe it's going on--"What is this war about? What did this war achieve? Pride? But I lost my house. My factory. The bridge that got me to work. What was this all about? Who did we do this for? A third country?"

Now just those questions alone make it much harder for Nasrallah to act in the future. So, I would say on every count this was a huge strategic defeat for Hezbollah.

DS: So you think that the Lebanese people are apportioning a significant amount of the blame for the destruction to Hezbollah?

TF: Yes. You always have to look, David, not at the morning after, but the morning after the morning after. Oh, the morning after, Nasrallah is a hero, everyone applauds, you know. The morning after the morning after, when people come home and survey the damage, that's a whole 'nother question. And we're now in the morning after the morning after. And that goes on for a long time.


DS: I want to talk a little bit about anti-Semitism stemming out of this conflict. Hugo Chavez just today said that he thought what Israel was doing "the same as" or "perhaps worse" than Hitler--that's a direct quote. What do you think the link between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric is--especially coming from the left? People are talking about how that's rising—do you think that's scare-mongering, do you think it's a real phenomena, and how does one talk against Israel without being anti-Semitic?

TF: I think that's an important question. I haven't studied everything that's been said or everything people are saying--I'm just so used to it. I might be too blase about it, because when you have your own column, that you can say whatever you want, you tend not be quite as focused on what other people are saying....

Hugo Chavez is a blithering idiot who--if the price of oil wasn't $70 as it is today--no one would be listening to him. He'd be just another tin pot dictator, albeit an elected one, but none the less. But idiots, what they say in a flat world where it gets around and gets repeated matters, so I guess we have to listen to them. Yeah, I think there is a certain degree of anti-Semitism on the left, always was, always will be. You could see it in the reaction to this war--Israel and Hezbollah were kind of put on the same plane, even though Hezbollah started the war, even though Hezbollah has been complicit in the suicide bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, of the Marine Barracks in Beirut, of the US embassy annex is Beirut. We're not talking about the poor and crippled newsboys here. And I think that very often that gets lost in all of this.


DS: And so how should liberals, say, on college campuses--because I think that's a place where I think a lot people say there is a hotbed of leftwing anti-Semitism--how does the liberal on a college campus respond to this?

TF: Well, I think...[y]ou have to marshal the facts. You have to debate. And you have to engage people. And you have to get in their face. And you have to challenge people. When you see British Universities discussing a boycott of Israeli universities, because of the occupation, you say, "Wait a minute." Are they boycotting Syrian universities? I mean Syria stands accused--by the United Nations--of complicity in the murdering of the President next door: Rafik Hariri. And certainly pro-Syria forces stand accused in Lebanon of murdering the two most liberal Arab journalists and progressive Arab journalists in the world today Gibran Tueni, and Samir Kassir, who led the democracy movement in Lebanon....

And so the point is, you can't argue from emotion. You have to argue from facts. And one can simply point out those kind of contradictions. Because there is only one way to explain those contradictions, sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes, and that’s anti-Semitism....

DS: Jews are one of the most loyal Democratic bases. Do you think there is any threat to that? A lot of conservative columnists have been trying to pitch Joe Lieberman's loss in the Democratic primary as a repudiation of the Jewish base--I don't think that's the case--but do you see any risk of Jews breaking some of that Democratic loyalty?

TF: Well I think that Jews have been moving from left of center to right of center--there is an element that has been moving for the last twenty years--surely since Ronald Reagan. So there has always been that element. And George Bush has been a very--ostensibly--pro-Israel President. I suppose there is an element that definitely responds to that. But I don't know, when I look at the Democratic candidates out there right now, whether it is Kerry, or Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden, I don't see anyone hostile to Israel at all. And I don't just mean in a cliched sense.

Talking about the Democratic Party and talking about "the left" are two different things, as you know. In terms of the Democratic Party, I still think it's a very hospitable place for Jews.

Tom Friedman is the foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. He is the author of several prominent books, including From Beirut to Jerusalem, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, and The World is Flat.

Continued in Part II....

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Nasrallah's Mistake

Via Michael Totten, it appears that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has admitted that his hostage-taking operation was a mistake and that, had he known the outcome of Israel's retailiation, he would not have launched the attack.

On Friday evening, I conducted an interview with New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. When asked how Hezbollah came out of the recent battle, Mr. Friedman echoed this assessment, calling the outcome of the conflict a "devastating defeat for Hezbollah."

I'll be posting the first segment of that interview on Monday. But it seems that the conventional wisdom as to the upshot of Israel's retailiation is shifting.