Monday, September 29, 2003

No shame
The flacks over at the National Review Online are already leaping to the administration's defense in what is shaping up to be a major scandal. For a brief summary see my earlier post. The gist of Mark R. Levin's article today (read it here) is that Wilson himself bears responsibility for his wife's outing as a deep-cover CIA agent because of the attention he drew to himself after the war in Iraq. This is truly an astounding argument.

Let me see if I understand it -- a respected former diplomat who served both Bush I and Clinton is sent on a perfectly legitimate mission to Central Africa to investigate claims of Saddam Hussein trying to buy Uranium from Niger. He subsequently discredits the charge (although anyone with two feet of foreign policy knowledge would have marked the documents as forgeries), and then watches in horror as the the President uses it in his State of the Union speech. He goes public with his findings, and then "senior administration officials" punitively expose his wife's identity. And somehow this is his fault? Look, if Wilson's wife truly was a deep-cover CIA agent, then clearly no one in Niger or anywhere else where she did her work was even remotely aware of her real identity. It's not like Wilson got to Niger and was greeted with, "Welcome to Niger Mr. Wilson, is your wife the double agent coming with you this time?" The only thing Wilson had to worry about was the viciousness of Bush's inner circle. And since outing a CIA agent can carry a penalty of ten years in prison, you can hardly the blame the guy for giving the people with knowledge of his wife's real identity the benefit of the doubt.

In another post for NRO, Cliff May argues that he knew Wilson's wife was with the CIA. Oh, well, I guess that makes it all okay, right? If everyone knew who Valeria Plame really was, then why has Tenet asked the Justice Department to investigate? Stumped? Me too.

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Sunday, September 28, 2003

Seems official to me
After getting knocked around by the Braves in the season finale at the Vet today, Kevin Millwood tossed his glove and hat to the crowd, and writers couldn't figure out if he was angry at the booing or sending the fans a souvenier. Here's my interpretation -- he gave away his Phillies cap because he no longer needs it. Millwood is gone, and he'll be lucky if he gets Randy Wolf money ($7 m) after his performance down the stretch. After starting out 7-1, Millwood went 7-13. The scuttlebutt has him back with the Braves, but Atlanta must cut its budget again this winter, so its ability to sign Millwood is questionable.

Speaking of pitchers, if I were a baseball writer, my vote for NL Cy Young would without a doubt go for Chicago's Mark Prior, who struck out 245 in 211 innings, won 18 games, and dominated during Chicago's crucial stretch run. Eric Gagne had a nice season for the Dodgers -- maybe the best ever by a closer -- but his team choked when it mattered most, and Gagne couldn't do anything about it. As for the NL Rookie of the Year award, in a just universe it would belong to Scott Podsednik of the lowly Brewers. Podsednik was the best leadoff hitter in either league, getting on base more often than Ichiro, Soriano, and Florida's Juan Pierre.

I hesitate to offer playoff predictions, because I'm almost always wrong, but my heart is hoping for Boston over Atlanta in 7.

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Superior translation
I can't recommend highly enough Sofia Coppola's new film Lost in Translation, a bittersweet, touching, and hilarious romance starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson (who you may recognize from another superior independent film called Ghost World). Murray plays Bob Harris, a bored middle-aged movie star ensconsed in a fancy Tokyo hotel while he shoots a commercial for a whiskey company. He crosses paths with Charlotte (Johansson), a woman half his age, staying in the same hotel with her celebrity-photographer husband, who seems more interested in sucking down drinks and flirting with brain-dead starlets than paying attention to his wife. When Charlotte's husband disappears for the weekend on a trip, she pals around with Murray, zooming from drug bars to karaoke joints to the hotel lounge. Neither can sleep, and both crisis-ridden souls are at once fascinated and overwhelmed by the bizarre and sublime nightlife in the Japanese capital, rendered stunningly by Coppola's firm direction.

But unlike most Hollywood cheapies, where the liver-spotted old man gets the ravishing young woman, the film refuses to give in to the easy plot twist. Watching Murray, in the performance of his life, and Johansson, who should be a star after this one, negotiate their sexual tension while trying to remain true to their spouses, is the most enjoyable experience I've had at a film since You Can Count On Me. Don't miss it.

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Saturday, September 27, 2003

Heads are going to roll
If you blinked you might have missed the under-the-radar story a few months ago about senior White House officials maliciously blowing the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plume. Plume is the wife of former ambassador to Niger Joseph Wilson, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate the claim that Iraq had sought Uranium from the African nation. Wilson found no evidence at all, and figured out that the documents allegedly supporting such a claim were obviously false. Well, you won't be missing this story any more. Word on the street is that the whistle-blower was none other than Karl Rove, and that he may be headed for prison. Read about it here.

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Friday, September 26, 2003

Judis on Iraq
Don't miss this terrific piece by the level-headed John B. Judis in the American Prospect, about the failure of Bush's Iraq policy. He claims that on every significant point about this adventure, the war skeptics were right and the optimists were wrong. I would qualify that slightly by pointing out that most skeptics, at least in the mainstream media, thought the street fighting for Baghdad would be a bloodbath, which it wasn't initially.

Judis also maintains that Syria has caved in to U.S. pressure a bit, and has cut, or at least minimized its ties to certain terrorist groups, as well as modified its stance on Lebanon. True enough, while I was in Lebanon this summer, Syrian forces pulled out of a number of Lebanese areas and cities, perhaps a response to the pending Syria Accountability Act in Congress. In an uncharacteristic display of good sense, the Bush administration has refused to endorse the act, which would force an end to certain exports to Syria and even hamper the movement of Syrian diplomats in the U.S. The act, beloved by the fanatics over at the Committee For a Free Lebanon, points to the continued Syrian occupation of Lebanon as one of the primary reasons that Syria should be singled out for condemnation.

This, I'm afraid, will not play well in the Arab world. First, characterizing the Syrian presence in Lebanon as an "occupation" is a serious distortion of a complex situation. More importantly, the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian land (remember the Golan Heights?) would make the U.S. concern for Lebanese sovereignty a bit comical. Besides, it was a U.S. president, George H.W. Bush, who gave the Syrians the green light to consolidate their de facto control over Lebanon in 1991, after Hafez al-Asad contributed to Operation Desert Storm.

In any case, it is becoming increasingly clear that the neocon project to remake the geostrategic map of the Middle East with this invasion has failed miserably. Syria, despite some cosmetic moves against terror, remains fundamentally undemocratic and hostile. Iran, and possibly Saudi Arabia, are going nuclear. None of the other autocrats in the region appear ready or willing to yield power in a democratic revolution. And Iraq...well, just go read Juan Cole's blog every day for the dismaying scoop.

Not surprisingly, Bush's foreign policy numbers have plummeted. He has no remaining strengths as a president. Will the Democrats capitalize?

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Thursday, September 25, 2003

Triumphant Marlins
Florida dusted off the Phillies last night, ending any realistic hopes of the Phillies heading to the playoffs. And aside from my hometown feelings, you have to admit that the Marlins are a pretty nice story. Almost contracted, they lose their ace (AJ Burnett), and pay Mike Hampton $10 million to pitch for someone else, trade a legit 5-tooler (Preston Wilson) for a singles hitter with speed (Juan Pierre) and spend another $10 million on Pudge Rodriguez, who couldn't find a job to save his life. And they're headed to 90 wins and a playoff berth.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the sharks should start circling around Larry Bowa soon. He should be fired within days of the end of the season, unless Ed Wade wants stability heading into the new ballpark. The initial news reports after the devastating Marlins series suggest that Bowa will live to fight another day. Kevin Millwood will walk, and I suspect the Phils won't try to keep him. He's nobody's ace -- how many times has he taken the mound in crucial games and lost? The Phils will close the Vet not in style but in meaningless games against an Atlanta Braves team that has owned them now for 10 years. Phil Sheridan has a great send-off to the maddening 2003 Phillies and their final, pointless series at the Vet. He writes:

And isn't that fitting? Thanks to the Phillies, Veterans Stadium has hosted much more than its share of meaningless baseball games. There's something to be said for dying as you lived.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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Monday, September 22, 2003

Does Victor Davis Hanson read newspapers?

That's the only question I can think of after reading his latest piece of chauvinist bluster in the National Review Online. Here's the key passage:

"Few Americans ask why and how Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran are suddenly whining privately rather than shouting defiance. "

Umm...right. Doesn't this count as shouting defiance? What about this? Iran is going nuclear sooner rather than later, and now Saudi Arabia is making noises about a similar course of action. VDH also thinks that Germany and France could never help us "in any material way" in Iraq.

Where do they find these guys?

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003

On Deterrence
Adam Wolfson of the National Review Online raises the sensible question of whether suicide terrorism can be deterred. Unfortunately, he does so in a thoroughly confused manner, in which the obvious answer is yes, but only if you deny them their political objectives. Wolfson, who cites a political science study which purports to examine every suicide bombing from 1980 to 2001, writes:

Pape [the political scientist ] uncovers another startling and vitally important pattern: Every suicide attack in the period under study was launched against a democracy. Hezbollah used this weapon to force the United States and France from Lebanon in 1983; Hezbollah and Hamas have used it repeatedly to force concessions from Israel; Tamil terrorists have used it against the Sri Lankan government; the Kurds against Turkey; the Chechen rebels against Russia; the Kashmir rebels against India; and perhaps most infamously, on September 11, al Qaeda launched its suicide -terrorist attacks against America.

This is an extraordinarily important finding. Clearly, the terrorists have reached certain conclusions about our own "regime." They think we are "soft," and they surmise that democracies in particular are vulnerable to nihilistic coercion.

Where to begin with this? First of all, Pape neglects the most fundamental aspect of terrorism, and the best explanation for its utility, which is assymetries of power. Israel, the U.S., France, Russia, and India all have one thing in common vis-a-vis their antagonists -- they wield incomparably more military power than the terrorists. Suicide bombing is chosen precisely because other methods of reaching political goals are unavailable. He also refuses to acknowledge that the Chechens, Lebanese, Palestinians, Kurds, and Tamils all had legitimate political grievances against their respective governing authorities. Democracy has something to do with it, but certainly not as the primary explanatory variable. This is not to condone terrorism, but rather to understand the context. Anyone familiar with the history of Turkey knows how brazenly the Kurds have been mistreated, and how their basic political and cultural rights have been denied.

But more to the point, compromising on politics often ends terrorism, while obstinance (Wolfon's idea of deterrence) often exacerbates it. Cases in point -- Turkey's Kurdish problem "went away" only when the Turks finally began to open some political and cultural space for the Kurds in the late 1990s, rather than referring to them as "mountain Turks." Israel's problem with Hezbollah all but disappeared after the Israeli army withdrew from Southern Lebanon in May 2000. The only continuing dispute between Hezbollah and Israel is a small patch of Syrian territory (claimed by Lebanon) which was occupied by Israel in 1967, known as Shebaa Farms. One also suspects that if the Chechens were granted cultural and political autonomy rather than systematically and indiscriminately obliterated by the Red Army, young men and women might be more reluctant to blow themselves up. Remove the cause, and most of the time, you remove or significantly curtail the terror.

Of course, some causes are not so legitimate, and not so amenable to political compromise; they pose special dilemmas. Hamas is committed to the liberation of "Palestine" and the obliteration of Israel. Al-Qaeda's political goals, if you can call them that, are just as dangerous, and have the further distinction of being global. But even in those cases, support for the terrorists could be significantly curtailed if certain conditions were met -- a Palestinian state and an end to the Israeli occupation, for example. Hamas would still exist -- and might even intensify its efforts for a while -- but absent the structural conditions that lead to widespread support for such tactics, they would soon find themselves marginalized.

But for Wolfson, the solution is to pretend that all terrorists are alike and that their goals are uniformly "nihilist." Maybe he should ask the French what counter-terrorism looks like when you battle effect to the total exclusion of cause. Better yet, he can watch the Battle of Algiers with the idealogues at the Pentagon!

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Clark is in
Sources have confirmed that Wesley Clark will join the Democratic race for the presidential nomination. His press conference is tomorrow. Personally, I think this is nothing but good for the Democrats, in spite of the questions I raised earlier about his conduct in Kosovo.

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Monday, September 15, 2003

Affirmative action for conservatives
It's funny how the right gets incensed about ethnic bean-counting but seems positively giddy about ideological bean-counting at universities. It seems like every year someone makes a splash with the big news that most university faculty lean left. While it's certainly true that some ideological "blackballing" goes on in departments across the country, the bigger problem is that conservatives by-and-large self-select out of academia. Can't wait to see the boys at the National Review release that survey about the ideological preferences of corporate executives. Lots of Democrats there, right?

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Friday, September 12, 2003

Clark v. Russia
Remember the Wesley Clark confronting the Russians bit I mentioned a few posts ago? In what might be the only worthwhile thing Katrina vanden Heuvel has ever written for the Nation, she has a concise post on the incident and what it might mean for his candidacy. Read it here.

Alas, as DSL is still a distant dream, this is all for now.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2003

From the Pentagon
I recently made the acquaintance of a longtime government employee who is now enrolled in a graduate program for Political Science. She worked for the Pentagon through the change of administrations, but resigned during the lead-up to war, when, as she says, her job changed from helping to reform the government to providing rationales for war. I hope to post more from her soon, but it certainly seems to support what Josh Marshall has been saying on Talking Points for some time.

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Abu this, Abu that
Israeli Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon responded to the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas (commonly known as Abu Mazen) as Palestinian Prime Minister by stating:

At this rate, instead of Abu Mazen, we'll have Abu Ala, and he'll be replaced by Abu Ali, and then Abu Jilda or whoever — there are a lot of Abu's in the world — but what we need is something to replace this failed Oslo program. The entire leadership must be expelled, including Abu Ala and including Arafat, or even killed, if that's what the security organs decide.

Aside from smacking of anti-Arab racism, Elon's idea is quite dangerous. As much as the current leadership of the U.S. and Israel might like to make a habit of killing the leaders of governments that we don't get along with, this does not strike me as a terribly wise strategic decision. Expelling Arafat would instantly make him even more of a hero than he already is to the Palestinian people, and his replacement would not enjoy even the minimal legitimacy that Abu Mazen had. At last it seems to be dawning on everyone that, as this Danny Rubinstein article in Haaretz argues, the policy of pretending that Arafat does not exist has proven to be a miserable failure. And the latest Road Map travails have made clear that, contrary to popular neocon hopes, the Iraq war has not lead to a breakthrough in the peace process, nor has it done much to jar the larger regional strategic picture.

But still the administration's apologists keep at it, as in this breathtakingly bad editorial from Charles Krauthammer, where he argues that "Everywhere you look, the forces of moderation have been strengthened" and that the U.S. has managed to install a "decent" government in Afghanistan.

Hey Chuck, have you looked at Iran or North Korea lately? Doesn't "functioning" need to be included in any definition of "decent"?

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Monday, September 08, 2003

Katz gains momentum
RINO Republican mayoral candidate Sam Katz has earned the endorsement of a 60,000-strong Teamsters union in his fight to unseat Democratic incumbent John Street this fall in Philadelphia. With two major unions now backing him, the possibility of a Katz upset can't be ignored. While his social positions are generally quite liberal (they have to be to in Philly), Democrats should not shrug off Katz's election as an aberration. While Street may be a flawed mayor, the city hasn't exactly collapsed under his stewardship. In fact, considering the shape the economy is in, things in Philadelphia look positively rosy. The bigger trouble with Katz is the effect his election might have on the 2004 presidential race.

To win Pennsylvania, the Democrats have to get out the vote in Philadelphia, as Dick Cheney might say, big-time. There is no substitute for a Democratic mayor spending election week drumming up the vote. And in a city with a huge African-American vote, having a Democratic, African-American mayor is infinitely preferable to a white Republican when it comes time to go door-to-door. Because while Katz may not close abortion clinics, you can bet Bill Bennett's blackjack earnings that he won't be campaigning for Howard Dean or Wesley Clark. He'll be stumping for Bush. There is no scenario that I can think of where the Democrats win the presidency without Pennsylvania. Not a single one.

So come election day, despite my reservations, I'll be pulling the lever for Street.

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Slow posting pace explained
For all 18 readers out there wondering why I haven't updated the site much lately, I've moved and lost DSL access for another week. So until then, posting may be scattered, and probably not all that good. But keep recommending me to friends! I can't wait to cross the 25-reader mark!

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Saturday, September 06, 2003

Top five fun things about your car getting broken into, your rear window broken, and your stereo ripped off:

1. You can hear cars coming from behind.
2. Nice breeze.
3. You can take nice, clear, moving pictures without rolling down the window.
4. Get into your car without keys!
5. Get your thinking done without the distraction of music and news.

Word to the wise: Car stereos in West Philadelphia are a bad, bad idea.

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Monday, September 01, 2003

Neocons are people too!
I saw William Kristol at the American Political Science Association's annual conference. He's very short, but he seems jolly. I would be too if the administration was in my pocket. More soon...

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