1 November 2006 - Wednesday

The burden of proof

Quick background: in 1793, shortly after Louis XVI was beheaded, France and Britain went to war. Many British reform advocates were sympathetic in varying degrees with the French cause. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, then a moderate liberal in his early twenties, published a lecture entitled "On the Present War." In it, he protested the war with France and the related abridgements of British liberties (including the suspension of habeas corpus).

A few lines in this lecture caught my attention when I read it earlier this week.

But its total Causelessness must be proved: -- as if the War had been just and necessary, it might be thought disputable whether any Calamities could justify our abandonment of it. On a subject so universally discussed it would be a vain endeavour to adduce any new argument. The War might probably have been prevented by Negociation: Negociation was never attempted. It cannot therefore be proved to have been a necessary war, and consequently it is not a just one.
Challenged to show that the British war with France was unjust, Coleridge simply transfers the burden of proof to his opponents. Because they failed to exhaust the alternatives before going to war, they failed to prove the war just; therefore, the war is automatically unjust.

Of course, every time a nation goes to war, somebody is prepared to claim that the war was necessary and unavoidable -- even if it was a war "at a time and place of our choosing." But what actually goes into proving that? Are not our standards of evidence and our judgments about probability a crucial part of determining whether a war is conscionable, especially in democratic societies, where the war must eventually be justified before the people?

So Coleridge's remark got me thinking that it would be interesting to reframe just war theory in terms of probability and evidence. Sure, it's wonderful to declare that a war must be necessary to be just -- but how do we actually determine necessity? And how do we -- the citizens who are ultimately responsible for the actions of our government -- determine whether the war is waged with "right intention" or "proportional means"?

I'm not sure that I am saying anything useful. It's just a hazy notion I got while rushing through a school assignment.

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18 October 2006 - Wednesday

Muslimism again rears it head

Is our leaders knowledgeable?

Take Representative Terry Everett, a seven-term Alabama Republican who is vice chairman of the House intelligence subcommittee on technical and tactical intelligence.

"Do you know the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite?" I asked him a few weeks ago.

Mr. Everett responded with a low chuckle. He thought for a moment: "One's in one location, another's in another location. No, to be honest with you, I don't know. I thought it was differences in their religion, different families or something."

To his credit, he asked me to explain the differences. I told him briefly about the schism that developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and how Iraq and Iran are majority Shiite nations while the rest of the Muslim world is mostly Sunni. "Now that you’ve explained it to me," he replied, "what occurs to me is that it makes what we’re doing over there extremely difficult, not only in Iraq but that whole area."

Via The Agitator.

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17 October 2006 - Tuesday

A state of fear

It's been a long time since I last visited the "conservative news and community" site RedState. Here is the sort of thing I've been missing:

Why hasn't American clerics enacted a Fatwa against any Muslim who commits an act of terror? Because we are not retaliating in any way against Muslims. We should threaten that if any American Muslims are caught, and they already have been caught, planning a terror attack or committing a terror attack then we are going to deport all Muslims. Yes, you heard me deport all Muslims. Then you can bet there would be fatwas against terrorist.

In WWII we rounded up Japanese, Italians and Germans in this country, so why are we allowing Muslims to run free during this war on radical Islam? Yes the Left has gotten everyone brainwashed about the internment camps during WWII. It was not all Japanese and they were places that many people didn't even want to leave when the war was over.

In this war it makes even more sense to either make American Muslims stand up against Islamic terrorists or get out.

(Via ITL)

Meanwhile, in real life:

"Muslim Americans Condemn Attack" (11 September 2001 -- statements by American Muslim Political Coordination Council, American Muslim Alliance, American Muslim Council, American Muslims for Jerusalem, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minaret of Freedom Institute, and Shari'a Scholars Association of North America, among others)

"(fill in the blanks to be used as press release)" (11 September 2001)

"Response from the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) to the tragedy of September 11th" (14 September 2001)

"Our Categorical and Unequivocal Condemnation of Crimes Against Humanity" (20 September 2001)

"American Muslim Military Participation in the War Clarified by American Muslim Scholars" (11 October 2001)

"A Muslim's Anguish in the Midst of the Attack on America" (30 November 2001)

"American Muslims and Scholars denounce Terrorism" (9 September 2002)

"Kill us, too: We are also Americans" (10 September 2006)

And just for fun:

"Muslims endorse Gov Bush" (23 October 2000. Remember this? In the 2000 presidential race, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council endorsed George W. Bush -- because of his positions on social and foreign policy, as well as because of his opposition to the use of secret evidence in deportation hearings.)

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5 October 2006 - Thursday


Listening to the radio this morning, I heard a comment that President Bush made at a fundraiser yesterday. This comment intrigued me, so I pulled up the transcript.

The speech wanders here and there, taking lots of shots at "the Democrats," particularly in their effeminate response to terrorism and their total inability to comprehend how important it is that we continue to win decisively in Iraq. I'm not going to get into that again right now.

Here's what caught my attention when I heard it:

We believe strongly that we must take action to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. They [the Democrats] view this election -- they view the threats we face like law enforcement, and that is, we respond after we're attacked. And it's a fundamental difference.
It is not entirely clear what President Bush thinks the alternative to law enforcement is. In my experience, however, when Republicans repudiate a law-enforcement approach to counterterror, they do so in favor of a specifically military approach.

Assuming that the president has this dichotomy in mind, I think he is mistaken about the methods of both law enforcement and the military.

First, the law-enforcement model for counterterrorism does not at all preclude prevention. Nothing stops a police agency from disrupting a criminal conspiracy before it carries out its plans. In fact, this happens all the time, and this is exactly what the Democrats seem to want to happen in counterterrorism operations. Planning to commit a terrorist act is a crime under American law; the police do not have to wait for an attack to occur.

Second, there is no reason to believe that a military model necessarily involves prevention; if anything, military force is less likely (in governments with any sort of scruple) to be used preventively. Traditionally, it is the police who engage problems as they develop, while the military waits for the shooting to start. The former serve as a deterrent by finding and imprisoning conspirators; the latter by standing around looking lethal. And that's precisely why I favor the law-enforcement model.

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2 October 2006 - Monday

Recent legislation

29 September 2006, at 2:47 p.m.:

Congress passed the Military Commissions Act. Among other things, this law bars foreign prisoners from our court system:

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
In other words, once a noncitizen is accused of being an enemy combatant, he or she may be imprisoned indefinitely, and no court on earth will be allowed to intervene.


6:31 p.m. that same day:

The House of Representatives passed the Private Property Rights Implementation Act. This bill, if also passed by the Senate, will

simplify and expedite access to the Federal courts for injured parties whose rights and privileges under the United States Constitution have been deprived by final actions of Federal agencies or other government officials or entities acting under color of State law, and for other purposes.
In other words, this act will make it easier for people to sue in federal court to protect their property from eminent domain.


The first bill passed the House by a vote of 250-170. The second bill passed the House by a vote of 231-181. For the most part, the representatives who voted for the first one also voted for the second.

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29 September 2006 - Friday


Photos from a museum.

In Cambodia.

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28 September 2006 - Thursday

Tony Snow, stultified

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, held a press briefing yesterday. The declassified key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate, naturally, figured prominently in the briefing. Once again, the White House badly mischaracterized the document.

Q Why does the President continue to say that we're winning the war on terror and we are more safe, when the overall picture painted by these key judgments is actually quite bleak and points to several areas where that is not a conclusion you could reach by reading it?

MR. SNOW: I'm not sure I agree. I'm not sure I agree. For instance, I know it's been characterized as being bleak. What it is, is it's a snapshot, as of February 28th, of what was going on in the region.

This is false. The NIE is not a "snapshot" showing us what was happening on a particular day. It is, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, "the most authoritative written judgment concerning a national security issue prepared by the Director of Central Intelligence. Unlike 'current intelligence' products, which describe the present, most NIEs forecast future developments and many address their implications for the United States."* This one certainly does that.

Back to Mr. Snow:

Let me explain why the President thinks we're winning the war on terror, and also give a little bit of context to some of the statements that are made -- I've got the NIE text here, because I think I know the areas that -- well, good -- and I think I know the areas that you might want some responses to.

The first thing is, let's start with the obvious. Since September 11, 2001, we have not been attacked. And, furthermore, the United States, since September 11, 2001, has taken a much more aggressive approach toward terror than it had taken previously. Before September 11, 2001, the United States -- many people in the United States did not realize the nature of the enemy we were facing. In the previous administration, we had an attack on the World Trade Center, on Khobar Towers, we had attacks on both embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and an attack on the USS Cole.

In fact, according to the US State Department, acts of international terrorism were lower under President Clinton than under President Reagan.* More US citizens were killed by international terrorism in 2000, 2002 and 2003 than in 1998 and 1999.* (Both graphs are found in this report.) And even more private US citizens were killed by terrorism in 2005.*

Meanwhile, everyone seems to agree that an even bigger attack than September 11 is possible at any time. Remember, 9/11 took about three years to plan, and the initial idea came to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as early as 1995.*

Back to Snow:

Also, Osama bin Laden, in February of 1998, made it clear that he not only intended to wage war on the United States, but he wanted to use Iraq as a central battleground. From his fatwa, on February 23, 1998, he complained that "for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam and the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples."
I can't tell for sure, but it looks as if Snow thinks that Iraq is part of the Arabian Peninsula. It is not. In any case, he has this Bin Laden quotation backwards; it shows not that Bin Laden intended to make Iraq a battleground, but that he thought we did. (Apparently he was right.)
The reason I read that is that it reflects part of the strategy of building jihadism, which is to foment hatred and to try to get people worked up in such a way that they may feel inclined to "join the jihad."
Aha. This is a very important point. I recommend rereading what Snow just said about the strategy for "building jihad," then skipping down in the briefing transcript to this exchange:
MR. SNOW: The report does not say that Iraq is -- it says that Iraq jihad is a contributing factor to trying to recruit people to jihad. It doesn't say that Iraq has made terrorism worse. And that is the shorthand that was employed in a number of cases.

Q I'm sorry -- spell out the difference for me?

MR. SNOW: Real simple, number one --

Q -- read it.

MR. SNOW: Yes, here it is. No, I'd be happy to read the sentence, I'll do it for everybody, because there are two parts to it -- and only the first half was leaked.

"The Iraq conflict has become a cause célèbre for jihadists breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement," correct? "Supporters." That's right. People say they -- this is what we're talking about, we're talking about supporters of a global jihadist movement. What it doesn't say is we now have tens of thousands more people armed and ready to hit the United States. It doesn't say that. It says that they're "creating an atmosphere where people are identifying themselves as jihadists."

Now, here's the second part: "Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves and be perceived to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight."

So in the world of Tony Snow, "part of the strategy of building jihadism" is to "foment hatred and to try to get people worked up in such a way that they may feel inclined to 'join the jihad.'" That is one of the key goals of Osama bin Laden. However, when the NIE says that the Iraq war has done precisely that, it does not mean that jihadism is actually gaining strength -- although the NIE also says that has been happening. Snow wants us to believe that jihadism is only gaining supporters, which means nothing even though it is one of Bin Laden's main goals, and that the NIE's prediction of increasing attacks is just a coincidence!

Of course, Snow is technically correct about one thing. The NIE does say that if we win in Iraq, then "fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight." However, the NIE balances this positive outcome against the negative consequences of failure: "perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere." Snow doesn't quote that part, for some reason. He also doesn't quote the part where the NIE compares such advantages and weaknesses and concludes that "the underlying factors fueling the spread of the [jihadist] movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate." But since Snow thinks the NIE was a "snapshot" taken on February 28, he obviously doesn't think this prediction exists, so he can ignore it.

Now, the intrepid reporters called Snow on some of this, so he made an effort to explain how "supporters" are not valuable at all to the terrorists:

Q So you're suggesting we've created more people who dislike us, but not more people who want to harm us.

MR. SNOW: Well, they may even want to harm us. The question is operationally, do they have the capability, and are they going to move forward to do so?

Here I can only quote yet again the words of the National Intelligence Estimate:

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.

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26 September 2006 - Tuesday

Spinning the National Intelligence Estimate

Recently, a New York Times story alleged that the current National Intelligence Estimate -- the most important document produced by the American intelligence community -- shows that the American invasion of Iraq has exacerbated the threat of terrorism worldwide.

In response, President Bush ordered the declassification of a small part of the NIE. This declassified report is called "Declassified Key Judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate." It is available from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence as a PDF download. Apparently the declassified document contains most of the NIE's section of key judgments, with "probably just a handful, maybe two or three paragraphs that have been redacted in the interest of national security," according to homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend.

The White House is characterizing the document as a confirmation, not a refutation, of the president's wisdom. "This really underscores the President's point about the importance of our winning in Iraq," Townsend told reporters.

However, the text contains several statements that Townsend failed to address well (if at all) in her press conference. And these statements entirely confirm the NYT article: they clearly state that our intelligence community believes that jihadism is growing numerically, becoming harder to fight, and growing in strength -- in significant part because of the invasion of Iraq.

Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.

If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.


The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.


We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.

The Iraq conflict has become the "cause celebre" for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.

We assess that the underlying factors fueling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this Estimate.

Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq "jihad"; (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims -- all of which jihadists exploit.

So, to recap:

* The numerical strength of jihadists is growing, and this trend is expected to lead to increased attacks on the US.

* The jihadist movement is dispersing geographically; geographic dispersion will make the movement harder to fight.

* The Iraq invasion "is breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." Such Muslim anger at the United States, especially in response to the Iraq invasion, is "fueling the spread of the jihadist movement."

* The advantages reaped from this situation by the jihadist movement "outweigh its vulnerabilities."

True, the NIE does support a couple of Bush administration positions. It does suggest that withdrawing American troops from Iraq could make the problem even worse, while political reform in the Middle East would eventually reduce the threat. On both of these positions, I have always agreed with the president in broad outline -- and even the Democrats generally agree with the president on the second point, despite disagreeing over methods.

But this does not change the fact that the National Intelligence Estimate says that the invasion of Iraq has given strength to global jihad. And it says that should our nation-building project in Iraq fail -- which almost everyone admits is a very real possibility -- we will be in an even more dangerous situation.

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23 September 2006 - Saturday

"This is the destiny of a democracy"

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Israel took up the question of counterterrorism interrogation methods. The Israeli General Security Service (GSS) had been using "moderate physical pressure" in interrogations of suspected terrorists. Several prisoners petitioned the court to declare some of these interrogation methods illegal.

The summary of the judgment is here. The court held unanimously that "to shake a suspect, to hold him in painful positions for a lengthy period, or to deprive him of sleep" was illegal in Israel. The full opinion of the court is an eloquent exposition of the limitations of humane society:

This decision opened with a description of the difficult reality in which Israel finds herself. We conclude this judgment by revisiting that harsh reality. We are aware that this decision does make it easier to deal with that reality. This is the destiny of a democracy -- it does not see all means as acceptable, and the ways of its enemies are not always open before it. A democracy must sometimes fight with one hand tied behind its back. Even so, a democracy has the upper hand. The rule of law and the liberty of an individual constitute important components in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and this strength allows it to overcome its difficulties.

This having been said, there are those who argue that Israel's security problems are too numerous, and require the authorization of physical means [of interrogation]. Whether it is appropriate for Israel, in light of its security difficulties, to sanction physical means is an issue that must be decided by the legislative branch, which represents the people. We do not take any stand on this matter at this time. It is there that various considerations must be weighed. The debate must occur there. It is there that the required legislation may be passed, provided, of course, that the law "befit(s) the values of the State of Israel, is enacted for a proper purpose, and (infringes the suspect's liberty) to an extent no greater than required." See article 8 of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.

Deciding these petitions weighed heavily on this Court. True, from the legal perspective, the road before us is smooth. We are, however, part of Israeli society. Its problems are known to us and we live its history. We are not isolated in an ivory tower. We live the life of this country. We are aware of the harsh reality of terrorism in which we are, at times, immersed. The possibility that this decision will hamper the ability to properly deal with terrorists and terrorism disturbs us. We are, however, judges. We must decide according to the law. This is the standard that we set for ourselves. When we sit to judge, we ourselves are judged. Therefore, in deciding the law, we must act according to our purest conscience. [...]

The Commission of Inquiry [Regarding the Interrogation Practices of the GSS with Respect to Hostile Terrorist Activities] pointed to the "difficult dilemma between the imperative to safeguard the very existence of the State of Israel and the lives of its citizens, and between the need to preserve its character -- a country subject to the rule of law and basic moral values." The commission rejected an approach that would consign our fight against terrorism to the twilight shadows of the law. The commission also rejected the "ways of the hypocrites, who remind us of their adherence to the rule of law, even as they remain willfully blind to reality." Instead, the Commission chose to follow "the way of truth and the rule of law." In so doing, the Commission of Inquiry outlined the dilemma faced by Israel in a manner open to examination to all of Israeli society.

Consequently, it is decided that the order nisi [prohibiting these interrogation methods] be made absolute. The GSS does not have the authority to "shake" a man, hold him in the "Shabach" position (which includes the combination of various methods, as mentioned in paragraph 30), force him into a "frog crouch" position and deprive him of sleep in a manner other than that which is inherently required by the interrogation. Likewise, we declare that the "necessity defense," found in the Penal Law, cannot serve as a basis of authority for interrogation practices, or for directives to GSS investigators, allowing them to employ interrogation practices of this kind.

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22 September 2006 - Friday

Candidate attacked for religious beliefs

Yesterday, I received the following message in an email from the Republican Party of Texas (the text is also available here):

"...So Help Me God."

Candidate for the Sixth Court of Appeals, Ben Franks, is reported to be a professed atheist and apparently believes the Bible is a "collection of myths."

During debate over a plank in the State Democrat Platform, members of the Platform Committee debated dropping "God" from a sentence on the first page of the document. The plank stated: "we want a Texas where all people can fulfill their dreams and achieve their God-given potential."

According to an article published in the El Paso Times, Ben Franks states: "I'm an atheist..."

All elected or appointed officials in Texas must take the oath prescribed by Art. XVI, Section 1(a) of the Texas Constitution:

"I, _____ , do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of _____ of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God."

Should Franks be elected in November, one would have to conclude that he will hold true to his out of touch "atheist" belief system and ignore the laws and Constitution of Texas. Mr. Franks is a personal injury trial lawyer practicing in Texarkana, Texas and is the Democrat nominee for the 6th Court of Appeals.

I'm not sure where to begin. I don't know what to say about this.

Actually ... yes, I do.

First of all, putting the word atheist in scare quotes is a particularly strange touch. Does the author doubt that atheism is real? Does the author suspect that Franks is only pretending to be an "out of touch" (sic) atheist? Maybe the author simply had never heard of atheism before; he or she was apparently shocked to discover that atheists don't believe that the Bible is God's word.

Next, the second paragraph of the article is irrelevant to the rest. Shoddy work.

Third, article 6 of the United States Constitution strongly suggests that excluding atheists from the bench is unlawful:

[...] all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Given the common conservative insistence that atheism is a religious position just as much as Christianity is, it would be difficult to avoid concluding that the Texas GOP is advocating an illegal "religious test" for office.

Obviously, this email isn't about upholding "the laws and Constitution of Texas." It is instead a display of naked prejudice. It is an attempt to turn the public against a candidate because of his religious convictions, which the Republican Party of Texas feels free to ridicule. And that displeases me.

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15 September 2006 - Friday

"The world is beginning to doubt"

Gen. Colin Powell, via the LA Times:

President Bush's response, full of his usual moral clarity:

If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic. I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.

[...]And that Common Article III says that there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It's very vague. What does that mean, "outrages upon human dignity"? That's a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I'm proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they are doing is legal.

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14 September 2006 - Thursday

Bush Doctrine Corollary #1

The best way to deal with "unlawful combatants"? Simple. Give them unlawful trials.

The logic is undeniable.

Next week: A sermon on the text "Do unto others as you suspect others have done unto you."

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22 August 2006 - Tuesday

The most dangerous subtitle in America

Apparently, David Horowitz has a weblog dedicated to his recent book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. I stumbled across it in the course of doing other Internetish things, and the latest post caught my eye.

Now, I have refused outright to read this book on the basis of its subtitle alone. I consider that subtitle inherently pejorative and defamatory; it makes civil dialogue impossible from the beginning. Interestingly, Horowitz admits that this subtitle is misleading. He claims that "Most Dangerous Academics in America" was not his idea, and that he opposed it at first.

The academics [profiled in the book] were all ideologues of the left, which meant that their growing influence in the academy would undoubtedly influence, in a negative way, America's war on terror. The claim that these professors might be the "most dangerous," on the other hand, was hard to justify. Because my intention was not necessarily to show extremes, but to reveal a pattern of professorial behavior that affected a larger group than I had included, there were obscure academics such as Marc Becker of Truman State, and moderate leftists like Michael Berube and Todd Gitlin. The inclusion of these three (and a few others) under the rubric "most dangerous" was sure to raise eyebrows, and legitimately so. This was of particular concern to me because I knew that my critics would jump on the word "dangerous" to avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book and to charge that it was a "witch-hunt."
How perceptive of him. I think he was right; to include "moderate" professors among the "most dangerous academics in America" just might lead to confusion among some readers.

But of course, Horowitz thinks this confusion lies mostly in the minds of the book's disingenuous critics, who use the discrepancy to "avoid engagement with the issues raised in the book."

I opposed the addition. "If we give it this subtitle" I told the publisher, "academics will regard it as a witch-hunt and no one in the academy will read it." My publisher's reply was this: "Who in the academy is going to read it anyway? They'll hate this book no matter what you call it and only ten of them will buy it, whatever its title. We need to market it to a large audience, and this subtitle will do the trick, and that’s what we're going to do."

Journalists don't write the headlines of their articles, and most book authors don't have authority over their book-titles. The campaign to taint me with the McCarthy brush was already extensive. If two hundred tenured radicals at Harvard could censure its liberal president and force him to resign, why would I think they could not discredit me, while discouraging academics generally from reading my book? [...]

So I went along with the marketing strategy, which seemed to work. In its first six months of publication, The Professors sold forty thousand copies and stimulated a national dialogue on the issues it was attempting to raise. But the strategy also facilitated the predictable attacks.

Something was bothering me at this point, as I read his post. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. There was something amiss ....

Oh, yeah. The weblog I was reading. Its title is Dangerous Professors. And its address is http://dangerousprofessors.net/.

So let's get real. Horowitz is no victim of unreasoning vitriol, at least in this respect. He is basking in the warmth of the fire he started with that subtitle. He is deliberately inviting his readers -- for he preaches only to the conservative choir, his claims about "national dialogue" notwithstanding -- to view even "moderate leftists" in the academy as a national security threat.

And we know what happens to national security threats, don't we?

Lest readers think the unfortunate subtitle was out of Horowitz' control:

Even though this was not a claim actually made in the text of my book, I am willing to accept responsibility for a provocation appended to the title page and cover by its publisher.
So be it.

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13 August 2006 - Sunday

Democracy as coercion

Reinhold Niebuhr:

Politics will, to the end of history, be an area where conscience and power meet, where the ethical and coercive factors of human life will interpenetrate and work out their tentative and uneasy compromises. The democratic method of resolving social conflict, which some romanticists hail as a triumph of the ethical over the coercive factor, is really much more coercive than at first seems apparent. The majority has its way, not because the minority believes that the majority is right (few minorities are willing to grant the majority the moral prestige of such a concession), but because the votes of the majority are a symbol of its social strength. Whenever a minority believes that it has some strategic advantage which outweighs the power of numbers, and whenever it is sufficiently intent upon its ends, or desperate enough about its position in society, it refuses to accept the dictates of the majority. [...]

The vision [of perpetual peace and brotherhood] can be kept alive only by permitting it to overreach itself. But meanwhile collective man, operating on the historic and mundane scene, must content himself with a more modest goal. His concern for some centuries to come is not the creation of an ideal society in which there will be uncoerced and perfect peace and justice, but a society in which there will be enough justice, and in which coercion will be sufficiently non-violent to prevent his common enterprise from issuing into complete disaster. That goal will seem too modest for the romanticists; but the romanticists have so little understanding for the perils in which modern society lives, and overestimate the moral resources at the disposal of the collective human enterprise so easily, that any goal regarded as worthy of achievement by them must necessarily be beyond attainment.

-- Moral Man and Immoral Society (Charles Scribner's Sons, 1932 and 1960), pp. 4, 22

It's such a fantastically dreary book -- made all the more so by the fact that Niebuhr still retained a lot of his Marxism when he wrote it, so its paradoxes actually seem more painful than what I recall of his later work. There must be something in this book to make everyone squirm; reading Moral Man is a lot like reading a Russian novel, but without the insouciance.

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21 July 2006 - Friday

A permanent state of mutual self-defense

"I don't approve of mixing ideologies," Ivanov continued. "There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and humane, and declares the individual to be sacrosanct, and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community -- which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb. The first conception could be called anti-vivisection morality, the second, vivisection morality.

"Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice, it is impossible. Whoever is burdened with power and responsibility finds out on the first occasion that he has to choose; and he is fatally driven to the second alternative. Do you know, since the establishment of Christianity as a state religion, a single example of a state which really followed a Christian policy? You can't point out one. In times of need -- and politics are chronically in a time of need -- the rulers were always able to evoke 'exceptional circumstances,' which demanded exceptional measures of defence. Since the existence of nations and classes, they live in a permanent state of mutual self-defence, which forces them to defer to another time the putting into practice of humanism. ..."

-- Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon (1940, trans. Daphne Hardy)

The novel is based on the Moscow Trials, in which leading original Bolsheviks were purged by Stalin's regime. In this scene, Ivanov is a cynical interrogator trying to persuade a prisoner (the "sacrificial lamb") to confess for the good of the state.

I find this scene intriguing because in the irony of Ivanov's soliloquy, the author may be trying to do one of two different things. Perhaps the author agrees with his character that a mixture is impossible, and therefore is arguing for absolutely deontological and individualistic ethics; or perhaps he agrees with his character that deontological ethics cannot be implemented consistently, and so is arguing that there must be a mixture of ethical principles in government.

In the former case, the passage would be thoroughly moralistic, libertarian, and pacifistic. In the latter case, the passage would be an argument not as much for individual rights as against inflexible ideology. (Either way, of course, the author rejects Ivanov's absolute consequentialism and statism.)

Given what I know of Koestler's life, and given the paradoxical title of the novel (it was Zero and Infinity in France), I am inclined toward the latter interpretation.

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20 July 2006 - Thursday

Dusting off the pundit hat

Are Israel's recent actions just?

I have mixed opinions. After a few days of consideration, I believe that attacking targets in Gaza and Lebanon is justifiable; that is, a case can be made that it meets the minimal requirements of just war theory. Both Hamas and Hezbollah were committing acts of war against Israel, and both represent continuing threats to Israeli citizens. The only way to accept the validity of either's struggle against Israel is to deny Israel's right to exist -- which denial would be a legal and moral as well as a factual fantasy. Therefore, Hamas and Hezbollah are waging a war for unjust ends -- and furthermore, they are using manifestly unjust means; both groups are guilty of deliberately and consistently targeting civilians for death. (I sympathize with Derek Catsam and Jason Kuznicki. It is clear which side has chosen war and theocracy over peace and liberalism.) While Israel is killing civilians as well, I have seen no evidence that it is targeting them, though Hezbollah and Hamas often blend in with the noncombatant population and use its infrastructure. And I think there is a "reasonable chance" of Israeli success, in the sense that one can imagine retaliation saving many lives that would be endangered by total Hamas and Hezbollah impunity.

But a just war is not about killing guilty people. It's about protecting innocent people. So even if going to war is otherwise justifiable, it may not be wise in the long run. That distinction is lost on our hawks and adventurists, who may appeal to just war criteria but who seem to have little respect for unintended consequences.

I am not convinced that the Israeli attacks, as they are being conducted now, are wise, especially in Gaza. Hamas was an exceptionally weak government, but now the Israeli assault seems to be increasing Hamas' popularity and strength among Palestinians. I am afraid that Israel has interrupted and discredited the efforts of non-Hamas moderates like Abbas. Furthermore, the fact that Israel has responded to the capture of its soldier by killing civilians (even if in a "collateral" way) tends to blur the distinction between legitimate military operations and the terroristic targeting of noncombatants -- a distinction that I believe must be kept as clear as possible if there is to be any hope for the region. ... I say this despite recognizing that the unintented deaths of innocents do not automatically render a war unjust. I insist, however, that the political consequences of such deaths must be weighed.

I think Israel actually has a better case in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a more distinct military threat; that is, it is possible to imagine Hezbollah fighters and weaponry being isolated and neutralized, which seems unlikely to happen to the many terror groups in Palestine. The endgame in Lebanon is easier to visualize. (I think the rescue of the captured Israeli soldiers is unlikely though not impossible in either location.) On the other hand, the campaign may be increasing Lebanese public support for Hezbollah, and it may threaten the fragile Lebanese government, both of which could actually turn southern Lebanon into a worse threat to Israel.

Many Americans believe that any failure to respond to terrorism (or perhaps even the possibility of terrorism) with force amounts to appeasement. What we tend to forget is that terrorists often seem to want their victims to respond with force. Military retaliation tends to bring more attention to the terrorists, reinforce the state of fear, and create public resentment of the stronger power in other countries. When innocent Palestinians and Lebanese die as "collateral damage," their friends and neighbors often rally against those who killed them. Nothing boosts support for Hamas more than the funeral of a child killed by an Israeli missile.

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13 July 2006 - Thursday

Communist jokes

The family dog and I are both a bit under the weather right now, but seeing this -- "Hammer & tickle" by Ben Lewis -- cheered us up. It's an article about (mostly, but not exclusively dissident) humor behind the Iron Curtain.

As the system became harsher, a distinctive communist sense of humour emerged -- pithy, dark and surreal -- but so did the legal machinery for repressing it. Historian Roy Medvedev looked through the files of Stalin's political prisoners and concluded that 200,000 people were imprisoned for telling jokes, such as this: Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there. "I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage," says the first. "I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying," says the second. "I am here because I got to work on time every day," says the third, "and they charged me with owning a western watch."
(Via MeFi)

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7 July 2006 - Friday

Martin Luther on liberty

After looking at Thomas Aquinas' reading of Romans 13:1-7 yesterday, I wanted to examine a competing interpretation today. So I picked up my copy of Martin Luther's Commentary on Romans and turned to the appropriate chapter.

(Unfortunately, my copy is not a great text. I am using a translation by J. Theodore Mueller [1959] that was prepared primarily for devotional reading. It will have to serve for now.)

Whereas Thomas, in his Commentary on the Sentences, interprets Romans 13 as requiring obedience only to the legitimate commands of legitimate authorities, Luther here allows no such room to maneuver. He dismisses the idea that the passage applies only to certain kinds of rulers, or applies only under certain conditions. Instead, he takes the opening verse as a seal of divine recognition on all earthly authorities:

The powers that be are ordained of God (13:1). [...] for there is no government that is not instituted [by God]. Governments are only usurped and managed in ways not ordained. So also other blessings are misused, and yet do not lose their value. Money, for example, does not become evil through theft. Hence we must explain the words thus: Wherever there is governmental power, there it is instituted by God. That is, wherever governments exist, they are ordained solely by God. The meaning is the same as: "There is no power, but of God." Therefore, where powers exist and flourish, they exist and flourish because God has ordained them.
I find the monetary analogy interesting because I am not sure it supports Luther's case at all. That is, we do not have to recognize a bearer's claim to stolen money; so why should we recognize a bearer's claim to usurped power? (Also, Luther's remark that money is inherently a blessing seems suspect, given such New Testament passages as Matthew 6:24 and 1 Timothy 6:10.)

Yet while Thomas, in his Commentary on the Sentences, is determined to reconcile Scripture with the community's right to earthly liberty, Luther is determined to demonstrate that Christianity provides a superior type of freedom altogether. He interprets Romans 13 according to his conviction that political liberty is not a proper concern for Christians. The faithful already have a spiritual freedom that liberates them, as it were, from the need for civil freedom. The paragraph quoted above follows this:

By faith the Christian makes all things subject to himself; for he is neither ruled by them, nor does he put his trust in them. He compels them to serve his glory and salvation. That is what it means to serve God and rule as kings. That is the spiritual rule, of which we read in Revelation 5:10: "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."

The world is conquered and subdued in no better way than by despising it. The spirit of the believer therefore is subject to no one, nor can it be subject to anyone. It is exalted with Christ, and all things lie subdued at his feet. The "soul" is the same as the "spirit" of man, but inasmuch as it lives and works, and serves the visible world and earthly things, it must be subject "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake" (1 Peter 2:13). By this subjection it obeys God and desires the same as God. By this subjection it overcomes the temporal world even now.

So the command of Romans 13 should not be feared as a potential source of slavery but instead embraced as a source of liberation from worldly concerns.

To understand why Luther defends the prerogatives of temporal government so strongly, however, I think we must move a little further on in the commentary. It appears that Luther is not concerned with the behavior of individual Christians, nor with the potential for popular rebellions, as much as with the behavior of the Catholic Church. In his discussion of 13:4, Luther begins a direct assault on worldly churchmen:

One is amazed at the impenetrable gross darkness that prevails today. There is nothing that angers the clerics, these widely opened mouths avariciously coveting temporal things, more than when the freedom of the churches, with their rights, their possessions and their powers is attacked. Against such transgressors they hurl their anathemas. They declare them to be heretics and publicly and with an alarming arrogance condemn them as enemies of God, of the Church, and of Peter and Paul. [...] One's transgressions may even cry to high heaven; nevertheless, he is a most pious Christian, as long as he protects the rights and liberties of the Church. But if anyone should ignore them, then he is no longer a faithful son and friend of the Church.

This practical application to present-day circumstances is very profitable for the understanding of the text.

Indeed. It seems that the "rights and liberties of the Church" are an important reason for Luther's insistence that Christians must submit completely to civil rulers. He is not thinking about the loss of the republics in Greece or Rome. He is thinking about the corruption of the Church, and the secular authorities' loss of sovereignty, in his own day. The result is his defense of sovereign secular power as a divinely ordained institution.

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6 July 2006 - Thursday

Thomas Aquinas on the right to resist

I think the one New Testament passage that has caused the most trouble for Christian political philosophers -- especially those who spend much time on the dangers of tyranny -- over the centuries, is Romans 13:1-7. These verses, addressed to a persecuted Christian minority in the first century, seem to command absolute submission to earthly rulers:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (ESV)
Many theologians have interpreted this as requiring Christians to submit to every governing official in every particular, refusing to obey only when commanded to commit a sin. Of course, this interpretation prohibits any form of organized resistance or revolution. This view is still influential; I have occasionally heard evangelical Christians discuss anxiously whether the American War for Independence was a violation of Romans 13. (I hasten to add that the War for Independence is nevertheless very popular among American evangelicals.)

Thomas Aquinas also addressed the questions raised by this passage. I think we can see how a medieval analysis like his, reconciling classical political theory with the New Testament, could be important to later Christian revolutionaries. In the 1500s, in fact, some of the more radical Protestants resorted to arguments the scholastics had been using for centuries, as an alternative to the original and highly inconvenient Lutheran condemnation of popular resistance. I am not even slightly qualified to analyze scholastic thought, but I'm going to try anyway.

In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (book 2, dist. 44, quest. 2, art. 2), Thomas takes due note of the command in Romans 13. But he writes that this biblical injunction applies not to just anyone with coercive power, but only to authorities that meet certain conditions and thus actually derive their power from God. (That is, he defines Paul's "authorities" so that Romans 13:2a is a tautology.) He helpfully offers an explanation of factors that may render an earthly ruler illegitimate:

But, as we have already said, authority may fail to derive from God for two reasons: either because of the way in which authority has been obtained, or in consequence of the use which is made of it.

There are two ways in which the first case may occur. Either because of a defect in the person, if he is unworthy; or because of some defect in the way itself by which power was acquired, if, for example, through violence, or simony or some other illegal method. The first defect is not such as to impede the acquisition of legitimate authority; and since authority derives always, from a formal point of view, from God (and it is this which produces the duty of obedience), their subjects are always obliged to obey such superiors, however unworthy they may be. But the second defect prevents the establishment of any just authority: for whoever possesses himself of power by violence does not truly become lord or master. Therefore it is permissible, when occasion offers, for a person to reject such authority; except in the case that it subsequently became legitimate, either through public consent or through the intervention of higher authority.

With regard to the abuse of authority, this also may come about in two ways. First, when what is ordered by an authority is opposed to the object for which that authority was constituted (if, for example, some sinful action is commanded or one which is contrary to virtue, when it is precisely for the protection and fostering of virtue that authority is instituted). In such a case, not only is there no obligation to obey the authority, but one is obliged to disobey it, as did the holy martyrs who suffered death rather than obey the impious commands of tyrants. Secondly, when those who bear such authority command things which exceed the competence of such authority; as, for example, when a master demands payment from a servant which the latter is not bound to make, and other similar cases. In this instance the subject is free to obey or disobey.

To clarify Thomas' discussion, I have prepared a simple flowchart. In my chart, the various questions and their answers lead, eventually, to a determination either that disobedience is permissible or that it is sinful. (One of the questions, the one asking whether disobedience would cause more problems than it would solve, technically comes from several other places in Thomas Aquinas' works. However, I believe the qualification is consistent with the passage quoted above.)

Anyway, I find it interesting that this passage does not make any clear distinction between the right to disobey passively and the right to resist actively. This stands out to me, of course, because that distinction has been vitally important to some other Christian theorists. On the contrary, Thomas here conflates disobedience and revolution. He asserts that rulership obtained through violence is illegitimate: "it is permissible, when occasion offers, for a person to reject such authority," and furthermore (citing the story of Julius Caesar a few sentences after the passage quoted above), "in such a case, one who liberates his country by killing a tyrant is to be praised and rewarded." Thomas certainly does not go out of his way to differentiate between tyrannicide and less drastic forms of disobedience.

This is because the key question for him is simply whether a particular ruler is legitimate -- that is, whether the ruler is actually a ruler under the meaning of Romans 13. If a ruler is legitimate, then Christians must obey (to the extent that the ruler's commands are also legitimate); if not, they may disobey without violating Scripture. Because Thomas reads classical theory into the text, furthermore, illegitimacy and tyranny are closely related ideas in his system. His central concern is not to detail exceptions to God's command, but rather to justify the belief that tyranny is not covered by Romans 13 at all. He does this in part to reconcile Romans 13 with other New Testament passages that seem to him to guarantee liberty to baptized Christians (such as Matthew 17:26).

Taken together with other writings by Thomas, this passage implies that only rulers who actually protect the good of the people are legitimate in God's eyes. Thomas later wrote elsewhere that "the welfare of the community" is the reason for a ruler's authority (Summa Theologica quest. 42, art. 2; cf. De Regimine Principum book 1, ch. 15). A reader might be forgiven for inferring, therefore, that to make commands contrary to the public welfare is to make commands contrary to "the object for which that authority was constituted" -- which, according to the text at hand, nullifies such commands' legitimacy. So rule harmful to the community is not rule at all. In such cases, disobedience may even be a moral obligation.

Also interesting is the implication that, at least in some cases, popular consent is the means by which divine authority is conferred upon a temporal ruler. In the event of usurpation, Thomas writes, the usurper need not be obeyed as God's representative -- unless a higher temporal ruler or public approval later establishes that authority as legitimate. So while the express consent of the governed may not be necessary to establish a proper (God-given) government, it is not an entirely irrelevant concept, either.

My quotations come from the translation of J.G. Dawson, in Aquinas: Selected Political Writings (edited by A.P. D'Entrèves, 1959). I have added paragraph breaks.

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26 June 2006 - Monday


Listening to the radio just now, I heard a news report begin: "A bomb has exploded" -- and my mind raced ahead of the report as I tried to guess where the bomb had exploded. "... In a crowded marketplace" -- the reference to a marketplace, of course, meant that the attack probably took place outside the West. So was it in Israel? Or Iraq? Or Afghanistan? Or Jordan or Syria, even? Maybe Somalia? Sri Lanka?

It occurred to me that a few years ago, listening to the same report, I could probably have assumed that the location would be Israel. Of course, that does not mean such attacks never happened elsewhere back then; our journalists simply didn't think we would care as much about the other places.

But a marketplace bombing would have been unlikely in Iraq or Afghanistan a few years ago. The people there had other forms of terrorism to deal with. Usually not when they went shopping.

The United States did not go to war to stop those forms of state terrorism that gripped Afghanistan and Iraq in the year 2000. We have coexisted with such terrorism, mostly out of necessity but occasionally out of convenience, for a long time, and we continue to do so. No, the U.S. went to war to stop precisely the kind of terrorism that happened today in that marketplace, because some of that sort of terrorist came after us.

The targets today were Shiites in Iraq. According to the Associated Press, at least 15 were killed and 56 wounded. Survivors began shouting, "Down with the police!"

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24 June 2006 - Saturday

Another smoking gun

Everybody is talking about Rick Santorum's big announcement: Iraq had WMD after all!

Except if you actually read his press release, it evokes my favorite argument against the invasion, the one that said that invading Iraq would put WMD in the hands of terrorists. Take a look:

* Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.

* Pre-Gulf War Iraqi chemical weapons could be sold on the black market. Use of these weapons by terrorists or insurgent groups would have implications for Coalition forces in Iraq. The possibility of use outside Iraq cannot be ruled out.

* The most likely munitions remaining are sarin and mustard-filled projectiles.

* The purity of the agent inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives, and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal.

* It has been reported in open press that insurgents and Iraqi groups desire to acquire and use chemical weapons.

Now, given the reported deteroriation, this particular kind of weapon is probably not very dangerous in the hands of most terrorists except in large quanitities. In fact, insurgents seem to have found a couple and tried to use them against coalition troops in 2004, with minimal success. A stockpile of Iraqi fertilizer would be about as exciting.

According to the Fox article linked above, furthermore, it looks like we knew about these particular weapons all along. We knew that in its report to the UN, Iraq failed to document 550 old chemical artillery shells and 450 chemical bombs. But we sent in weapons inspectors to do a little digging -- weapons inspectors who were still inside the country, and whose parent organization was asking for more time, shortly before Bush gave the order to start bombing.*

After the war, the Coalition's own Iraq Survey Group (PDF document, page 15) also knew about such weapons by 2005. This is its evaluation:

ISG assesses that Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along frequently and rapidly shifting battlefronts.

* All but two of the chemical weapons discovered since OIF were found in southern Iraq where the majority of CW munitions were used against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

* As the Coalition destroys the thousands of conventional munitions at depots around the country the possibility exists that pre-1991 vintage chemical rounds could be found mixed in with conventional munitions at these locations.

-- ISG identified 43 bunkers and depots where the Coalition is in the process of destroying conventional munitions and that were suspected of being associated with the pre-1991 WMD programs. However, ISG believes that any remaining chemical munitions in Iraq do not pose a militarily significant threat to Coalition Forces because the agent and munitions are degraded and there are not enough extant weapons to cause mass casualties.

Thus, here's what we know about the munitions described by Senator Santorum. (1) So far, the public has been shown no evidence that Saddam himself knew about these aging weapons at all, nor that they have anything to do with the massive weapons programs that the US alleged to have existed right before the invasion. (2) By the time of the invasion, according to the Coalition's experts, such weapons posed relatively little military danger to anyone. (3) As Santorum's press release might lead us to conclude, even if these weapons were relevant at all, the invasion seems to have made it more likely, not less, that such weapons will be used by our enemies in the war on terror.

How does that show that the invasion was wise?

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21 June 2006 - Wednesday

Language, empire, and hope

Interestingly enough, Augustine's City of God includes a passage (XIX.7) that begins as a reflection on the diversity of human languages, and ends as an apparent condemnation of imperialism.

The passage falls in the middle of book XIX, which discusses "the opinions of the philosophers regarding the supreme good, and their vain efforts to make for themselves a happiness in this life." According to Augustine, the world's different languages produce political divisions that frustrate any efforts to achieve universal temporal peace:

And here [in the world], in the first place, man is separated from man by the difference of languages. For if two men, each ignorant of the other's language, meet, and are not compelled to pass, but, on the contrary, to remain in company, dumb animals, though of different species, would more easily hold intercourse than they, human beings though they be. For their common nature is no help to friendliness when they are prevented by diversity of language from conveying their sentiments to one another; so that a man would more readily hold intercourse with his dog than with a foreigner. But the imperial city has endeavored to impose on subject nations not only her yoke, but her language, as a bond of peace, so that interpreters, far from being scarce, are numberless. This is true; but how many great wars, how much slaughter and bloodshed, have provided this unity!
So Augustine says that peaceful intercourse (which he takes as the goal of human government) is impossible without a common language, but the Roman empire imposes a common language by force, which itself thwarts the cause of peace in the world. He continues:
And though these [wars of conquest] are past, the end of these miseries has not yet come. For though there have never been wanting, nor are yet wanting, hostile nations beyond the empire, against whom wars have been and are waged, yet, supposing there were no such nations, the very extent of the empire itself has produced wars of a more obnoxious description -- social and civil wars -- and with these the whole race has been agitated, either by the actual conflict or the fear of a renewed outbreak. If I attempted to give an adequate description of these manifold disasters, these stern and lasting necessities, though I am quite unequal to the task, what limit could I set?
So the imperial effort to impose peaceful government outside Rome is, paradoxically, producing new wars all by itself. This, to Augustine, is clearly an evil:
But, say they, the wise man will wage just wars. As if he would not all the rather lament the necessity of just wars, if he remembers that he is a man; for if they were not just he would not wage them, and would therefore be delivered from all wars. For it is the wrongdoing of the opposing party which compels the wise man to wage just wars; and this wrong-doing, even though it gave rise to no war, would still be matter of grief to man because it is man's wrong-doing. Let every one, then, who thinks with pain on all these great evils, so horrible, so ruthless, acknowledge that this is misery. And if any one either endures or thinks of them without mental pain, this is a more miserable plight still, for he thinks himself happy because he has lost human feeling.
So even when war is just, it is never desirable; the fact that war is sometimes permissible should not make anyone feel better about it, since it is not actually a solution to human problems. Ultimately, war merely substitutes one problem for another, and the fact of just war should be a painful reminder of the world's evils.

These paradoxes, Augustine says (in XIX.1), show that it is "evident, not only from divine authority, but also from such reasons as can be adduced to unbelievers, how the empty dreams of the philosophers differ from the hope which God gives to us, and from the substantial fulfillment of it which He will give us as our blessedness."

Update: Nathanael Robinson provides a more nuanced description of the spread of Latin among subject peoples.

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16 June 2006 - Friday


So, three Guantánamo Bay prisoners recently committed suicide. Here's the official take on it, according to the AP: '"They have no regard for human life," Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris said, "neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."'

And here's the opinion of a right-wing columnist: "They gave momentum to an international campaign to shut Gitmo down which would mean the release of their comrades. To a committed jihadi, such an achievement would be preferable to spending years praying, watching television and playing volleyball."

Coordinated suicide as an act of war? Monty Python was all over this one years ago. Remember the Judean People's Front (or whichever group it was) and its suicide attack squads? A fearsome band of provincial terrorists chases off the Roman imperial garrison. Then each terrorist takes out a sword and stabs himself in the chest. Highly effective tactic -- in the world of Monty Python.

Of course, there can be little doubt that the prisoners were trying to send a message to the world. If they were terrorists, then they were presumably trying to discredit the United States. But it is also possible that they were innocent people trying to send exactly the same message. Having been held without charges (as far as I can tell) or hope of release for five years, an innocent person could be perfectly happy to embarrass his captors. He might even consider the suicide a form of legitimate "jihad," which contrary to popular myth covers many forms of activity other than terrorism. Non-terrorists have a long history of using suicide and similar tactics to highlight what they see as injustices.

The reason this possibility is significant is that we don't know whether or not these three men were guilty. Of the approximately 460 inmates at Guantánamo, as the AP article notes, only 10 have been charged with any crime. The mantra that everyone in Guantánamo is a terrorist is a totally unproven assertion, and furthermore is legally false under the laws of the United States, where individuals are innocent until proven guilty. Even if everyone in Guantánamo had been captured on a battlefield with a weapon in his hand (which is also false), then the relevant classification would be "prisoner of war," not "terrorist."

Let's illustrate the problem with the story of five innocent men who were recently released into the care of Albania:

Many of Guantánamo's prisoners proclaim they're innocent. What's different about these men, Muslims from China's Uighur minority, is that even American authorities said they were innocent, referring to them as "no longer enemy combatants" or "NLEC." Nevertheless, they remained imprisoned more than a year after their names were cleared -- after the U.S. government determined they did nothing wrong and posed no terrorist threat to America or Americans. ...

The following is a transcript of the conversation with Qassim, who spoke through a translator on behalf of the entire group.

Q: What was Guantanamo like?

A: Guantanamo is like a hell where there is no justice or respect for human dignity. Our life there was very, very miserable, especially the last one year after being told that we are innocent and still living behind wired walls. We feel confused, frustrated and tired. I would call the worst period of time of my four years incarceration in Guantanamo.

The saddest part of the whole thing is that after being cleared, no longer enemy combatants, or innocent. Being innocent people, we were told that we have no rights but shelter, food, water and a place to pray. Given that, that place is not the normal, usual prison. So I would say that it is a hell.

I recommend reading the whole thing. Remember, according to the rhetoric of the Bush supporters, everyone at Guantánamo is by definition a terrorist. Consider that as you read the words of this innocent man -- innocent of terrorism and "no longer" guilty of unlawful combat according to the United States, which imprisoned him for four and a half years.

This piece in the NYT by another former Guantánamo inmate is also interesting. It includes a direct response to Rear Admiral Harris' comment:

I am a quiet Muslim -- I've never waged war, let alone an asymmetrical one. I wasn't anti-American before and, miraculously, I haven't become anti-American since. In Guantánamo, I did see some people for whom jihad is life itself, people whose minds are distorted by extremism and whose souls are full of hatred. But the huge majority of the faces I remember -- the ones that haunt my nights -- are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.

I believe that a small number of the detainees at Guantánamo are guilty of criminal acts, but as analysis of the military's documents on the prisoners has shown, there is no evidence that most of the 465 or so men there have committed hostile acts against the United States or its allies. Even so, what I heard so many times resounding from cage to cage, what I said myself so many times in my moments of complete despondency, was not, "Free us, we are innocent!" but "Judge us for whatever we've done!" There is unlimited cruelty in a system that seems to be unable to free the innocent and unable to punish the guilty.

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7 June 2006 - Wednesday

Creative solutions

So, members of Congress are claiming immunity to the search and seizure that can be carried out on us mere mortals. My solution: the FBI should have issued a national security letter instead, and then nobody in Congress would even be allowed to talk about what happened.

I mean, if bribery of members of Congress isn't "relevant to an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities," what is? Public library records? Well, OK, so maybe that's a stretch. But the fun thing about NSLs is that you have a beast of a time proving they're illegitimate, whether they actually relate to national security or not.

(Of course, national security letters wouldn't actually authorize the FBI to seize documents from somebody's office. They're of a much more limited scope. But bear with me for the sake of the cheap political point. If you actually want a serious discussion of the merits of the seizure, I suggest David Strauss at UChicago, who recommends that congressional offices be protected.)

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5 June 2006 - Monday

No consideration

In the current national security climate, the following quotation seems to describe the opinion of some Americans -- possibly even some members of government.

So who wrote it?

... Where the ultimate decision concerning the safety of one's country is to be taken, no consideration of what is just or unjust, merciful or cruel, praiseworthy or shameful, should be permitted; on the contrary, putting aside every other reservation, one should follow in its entirety the policy that saves its life and preserves its liberty.
The answer is in the comments.

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20 May 2006 - Saturday

Mill at 200

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of the brilliant John Stuart Mill, the preeminent thinker of liberalism. Chances are, whether you think you agree with Mill or not, you have absorbed some of his political philosophy.

The object of this Essay is to assert one simple principle ... that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.
His essay On Liberty (1859), quoted above and below, is remarkable as a defense of individual liberty against even the most democratic of governments. Few thinkers, before or since, have pressed individual autonomy as far as Mill did in this essay. Yet the rule he used to define the limits of freedom is used today by people of many different political perspectives to justify some of their positions.
But there is a sphere of action in which society, as distinguished from the individual, has, if any, only an indirect interest; comprehending all that portion of a person's life and conduct which affects only himself, or if it also affects others, only with their free, voluntary, and undeceived consent and participation. When I say only himself, I mean directly, and in the first instance; for whatever affects himself, may affect others through himself. ...

This, then, is the appropriate region of human liberty. It comprises, first, the inward domain of consciousness; demanding liberty of conscience in the most comprehensive sense; liberty of thought and feeling; absolute freedom of opinion and sentiment on all subjects, practical or speculative, scientific, moral, or theological. The liberty of expressing and publishing opinions may seem to fall under a different principle, since it belongs to that part of the conduct of an individual which concerns other people; but, being almost of as much importance as the liberty of thought itself, and resting in great part on the same reasons, is practically inseparable from it.

Secondly, the principle requires liberty of tastes and pursuits; of framing the plan of our life to suit our own character; of doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow; without impediment from our fellow-creatures, so long as what we do does not harm them, even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse, or wrong.

Thirdly, from this liberty of each individual, follows the liberty, within the same limits, of combination among individuals; freedom to unite, for any purpose not involving harm to others; the persons combining being supposed to be of full age, and not forced or deceived.

No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do not exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. [Paragraph breaks added]

I have seen people of all sorts of political backgrounds use Mill's rule selectively to support their own opinions. But I have rarely seen anyone apply it consistently. (Mill himself had trouble.) There is always some point at which we find others' conduct so disgusting that we cannot bear to let the conduct continue, however little it interferes directly with our own freedom. And of course we can argue forever about indirect consequences, which are a perfectly real danger; very few individual choices are entirely without involuntary effect on other individuals. We can argue about how much harm is done by problems like inequality or broken families or secondhand smoke.

But as the basic test of a state interest, "Does that action harm other people, or just that one idiot?" is a fundamental part of the way most of us, whether we consider ourselves conservative or liberal or something else, talk about government.

This page has a long list of links to online John Stuart Mill texts, including The Subjection of Women, a plea for gender equality. Mill seems to have collaborated with his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill, on some of his writing.

By the way, last year, On Liberty nearly made Human Events' list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries." It came in at number 14.

Update: The incomparable Brandon also has a birthday post; he provides links to two newspaper articles printed for the occasion. Particularly worth noting is the OpinionJournal article, in which Roger Scruton explains why he finds Mill's work badly flawed.

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19 May 2006 - Friday

Vaguely familiar

I hesitate to believe this is true until I see somebody else report it -- the story is just that suggestive.

The law, which must still be approved by Iran's "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenehi before being put into effect, also establishes special insignia to be worn by non-Muslims.

Iran's roughly 25,000 Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, while Christians would wear red badges and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue cloth.

That's the story at Canada's National Post. (HT: Done with Mirrors)

Daniel Larison, however, says there's nothing new here, and the Third Reich is the wrong precedent to cite.

Update: Looks like my initial skepticism was justified.

"Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament," [Jewish legislator Morris] Motamed told the Associated Press.

"Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here."

Another Iranian legislator said the newspaper has distorted a bill that he presented to parliament, which calls for more conservative clothing for Muslims.

"It's a sheer lie. The rumours about this are worthless," Emad Afroogh said.

Afroogh's bill seeks to make women dress more traditionally and avoid Western fashions. Minority religious labels have nothing to do with it, he said.

"The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing," he said.

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18 May 2006 - Thursday

Marsiglio of Padua

One political theorist who has attracted my attention lately is Marsiglio (or Marsilius) of Padua, a fourteenth-century writer. For his time, Marsiglio had a remarkable understanding of human society -- a republican, or perhaps more accurately, a contractarian understanding.

In any society, Marsiglio believed, the citizens are the proper ultimate source of legislation. Civil government exists to protect the community's temporal happiness, so the communal will is a better determinant of law than a particular will is. Rulers, according to this view, derive their authority from the election of the citizens.

His 1324 work Defensor pacis (possibly co-written by John of Jandun) appeals to Aristotle for support:

We declare, according to truth and the opinion of Aristotle, the legislator, or the prime and proper effective cause of law, to be the people or the whole body of citizens or its weightier part, commanding or deciding by its own choice or will, expressed verbally in a general assemblage of the citizens, that something be done or omitted concerning the civil actions of men, under a temporal punishment or penalty. I say the weightier part, taking into consideration both the number of persons and their quality in the community for which the law is enacted.

The whole body of citizens, or its weightier part, either makes law directly or commits this duty to some one or few; the latter do not, and cannot, constitute the legislator in the strict sense of the term; they act only in such matters and for such periods as are covered by the authorization from the primary legislator. [This translated excerpt is from Francis William Coker's Readings in Political Philosophy (Macmillan, 1938); I have added paragraph breaks.]

The geopolitical context of Marsiglio's work was a dispute between Pope John XXII and Ludwig of Bavaria. Ludwig imagined himself emperor. John had other opinions, and as pope, he declared Ludwig's authority void. (This conflict, by the way, is the backdrop of Umberto Eco's novel The Name of the Rose.) Marsiglio took the side of the emperor, denying the authority of the pope to interfere in civil government.

Ludwig became Marsiglio's patron. John, on the other hand, condemned the writer as a heresiarch in 1327. It is not difficult to see why. First, Marsiglio applied his governmental model even to church governance -- replacing the authority of popes and councils with "the common consent of Christians," denying the Petrine succession of the papacy. Furthermore, he denied that the Church rightly possesses any temporal authority:

... Neither the Roman bishop, called the pope, nor any other bishop, presbyter, or deacon, ought to have the ruling or judgment or coercive jurisdiction of any priest, prince, community, society or single person of any rank whatsoever. ... Christ Himself did not come into the world to rule men, or to judge them by civil judgment, nor to govern in a temporal sense, but rather to subject Himself to the state and condition of this world; that indeed from such judgment and rule He wished to exclude and did exclude Himself and His apostles and disciples, and that He excluded their successors, the bishops and presbyters, by His example, and word and counsel and command from all governing and worldly, that is, coercive rule. [This translated excerpt is found here.]
It is not particularly easy to locate online resources on Marsiglio. Here's what I've found:

+ An excerpt from Defensor pacis
+ The conclusions of Defensor pacis
+ The condemnation by John XXII
+ An entry at Wikipedia
+ An entry in The Columbia Encyclopedia
+ An unflattering Catholic Encylopedia entry
+ Lecture notes by R. J. Kilcullen

In preparing this entry, I also referred to Coker's book (cited above) and an article by Cary J. Nederman: "Marsiglio of Padua," in David Boucher and Paul Kelly, eds., Political Thinkers (Oxford, 2003).

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15 April 2006 - Saturday

Freedom for me

David Hume, 1752:

The chief difference between the domestic œconomy of the ancients and that of the moderns consists in the practice of slavery, which prevailed among the former, and which has been abolished for some centuries throughout the greater part of Europe. Some passionate admirers of the ancients, and zealous partizans of civil liberty, (for these sentiments, as they are, both of them, in the main, extremely just, are found to be almost inseparable) cannot forbear regretting the loss of this institution; and whilst they brand all submission to the government of a single person with the harsh denomination of slavery, they would gladly reduce the greater part of mankind to real slavery and subjection. But to one who considers coolly on the subject it will appear, that human nature, in general, really enjoys more liberty at present, in the most arbitrary government of Europe, than it ever did during the most flourishing period of ancient times. As much as submission to a petty prince, whose dominions extend not beyond a single city, is more grievous than obedience to a great monarch; so much is domestic slavery more cruel and oppressive than any civil subjection whatsoever.
-- "Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations"

Hume wrote this essay to refute the idea, common at the time, that ancient civilizations had been more populous than modern ones. Some thinkers of Hume's day, working from that premise and from the idea that a larger population indicates greater aggregate happiness and virtue, concluded that ancient societies were superior to modern ones. Hume was of a different opinion.

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24 March 2006 - Friday

Liberation begins at home

So, what if jihad is democracy?

"According to Islamic law he should be sentenced to death because God has clearly stated that Christianity is forbidden in our land. ... Who is America to tell us what to do? If Karzai listens to them there will be jihad (holy war)."

Western backers of the Afghan government are pressing to create a country that is a moderate and progressive democracy, able to turn its back on its Taleban past.

But analysts say they often forget that Afghanistan is a deeply conservative country rooted in tribal traditions.

"This is a Muslim country. The state is Muslim, people are Muslim 99%," says Judge Ansarullah.

Article by Sanjoy Majumder of the BBC.

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22 March 2006 - Wednesday

What would you do without clean water?

World Water Day March 22, 2006

"The world water crisis is one of the largest public health issues of our time. Nearly 1.1 billion people (roughly 20% of the world's population) lack access to safe drinking water. The lack of clean, safe drinking water is estimated to kill almost 4,500 children per day. In fact, out of the 2.2 million unsafe drinking water deaths in 2004, 90% were children under the age of five. Water is essential to the treatment of diseases, something especially critical for children.

"This problem isn't just confined to a particular region of the planet -- its a world-wide issue. A third of the Earth's population lives in 'water stressed' countries and that number is expected to rise dramatically over the next two decades. The crisis is worst in developing nations, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia."

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18 March 2006 - Saturday

The needs of the many

More evidence for the elections-are-no-panacea file: Afghan Man Faces Execution After Converting to Christianity. (Via L&P)

Remember, this is in a "vibrant young democracy."

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20 February 2006 - Monday

Criminal opinions

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, on the imprisonment of David Irving:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center commended the Austrian government for its commitment to fighting Holocaust denial by sentencing British historian David Irving to three years in prison on charges of denying the Holocaust.
I nearly laughed aloud. Parsing the sentence, I find that the Austrian government has a commitment to sentencing David Irving to three years in prison. (Or else, I suppose, the Simon Wiesenthal Center commended the Austrian government by sentencing David Irving to three years in prison.) The wording is poor.

Either way, the Wiesenthal Center's agenda is clear: it wants this man imprisoned for his beliefs. Not because he intentionally harmed someone, but because he refused to affirm what the center wants to be compulsory to affirm.

How can a group devoted to tolerance and human dignity advocate compulsory belief or silence?

I read further and was amused even more:

"Today's sentencing confirms David Irving as a bigot and an antisemite and also serves a direct challenge to the Iranian regime's embrace of Holocaust denial," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.
I suppose he thinks Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is going to fly to Vienna to turn himself in, or something.
"While Irving's rants would not have led to legal action in the United States, it is important that we recognize and respect Austria's commitment to fighting Holocaust denial, the most odious form of hatred, as part of its historic responsibility to its Nazi past," Rabbi Cooper concluded.
Your parents did evil things. Therefore, you must punish people who disagree with us. It almost makes sense until you think about it.

Clarification: The author of this post believes David Irving is a wicked man who thinks wicked things and teaches wicked false history. But he still has a right to speak. Freedom of expression means nothing if it only applies to the innocuous.

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16 February 2006 - Thursday

UN states the obvious about Gitmo

From a report made yesterday by five investigators to the Commission on Human Rights (PDF from the BBC):

Many of the detainees held at Guantánamo Bay were captured in places where there was -- at the time of their arrest -- no armed conflict involving the United States. The case of the six men of Algerian origin detained in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2001 is a well-known and well-documented example, but also numerous other detainees have been arrested under similar circumstances where international humanitarian law did not apply. The legal provision allowing the United States to hold belligerents without charges or access to counsel for the duration of hostilities can therefore not be invoked to justify their detention.

This does not of course mean that none of the persons held at Guantánamo Bay should have been deprived of their liberty. Indeed, international obligations regarding the struggle against terrorism might make the apprehension and detention of some of these persons a duty for all States. Such deprivation of liberty is, however, governed by human rights law, and specifically articles 9 and 14 of ICCPR [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the USA is a party]. This includes the right to challenge the legality of detention before a court in proceedings affording fundamental due process rights, such as guarantees of independence and impartiality, the right to be informed of the reasons for arrest, the right to be informed about the evidence underlying these reasons, the right to assistance by counsel and the right to a trial within a reasonable time or to release. Any person deprived of his or her liberty must enjoy continued and effective access to habeas corpus proceedings, and any limitations to this right should be viewed with utmost concern.

Let me summarize:

(a) some of the people held by the US were not captured during combat at all, yet have spent years in prison because of the legal fiction that they were;

(b) captured combatants may be held for the duration of hostilities in order to keep them from fighting, but non-combatants have a right under treaty [as well as the United States Constitution] not to be imprisoned without a fair trial;

(c) therefore some of the Guantánamo Bay detentions are illegal under international law [and the Constitution]. Seems a simple enough deduction.

Please see also the report's discussion of abusive treatment, culminating in this:

The interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense, particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment in violation of article 7 of ICCPR and article 16 of the Convention against Torture. If in individual cases, which were described in interviews, the victim experienced severe pain or suffering, these acts amounted to torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention. Furthermore, the general conditions of detention, in particular the uncertainty about the length of detention and prolonged solitary confinement, amount to inhuman treatment and to a violation of the right to health as well as a violation of the right of detainees under article 10 (1) of ICCPR to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
In other words, torture has been reported by some detainees, but even if these stories are discounted, the conditions at Guantánamo Bay are illegal because they amount to "degrading punishment."

To be fair, of course, these UN investigators declined to visit the prison because the US government refused to allow them to interview prisoners in private.

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26 January 2006 - Thursday

Democracy = peace?

Don't count on it.

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10 January 2006 - Tuesday

Public defender fired for defending Maye?

According to blogger Radley Balko, Cory Maye's appeal lawyer has been fired by the aldermen of the town of Prentiss, Mississippi, where he was public defender.

In the lawyer's words:

Just found out this a.m. that the Town of Prentiss has "decided to go another route" pertaining to my position as town public defender. In other words, they have now made official what was intimated to me back in December and have fired me.

The explicit and sole reason given to me by the mayor was that my representation of Cory Maye was not to the liking of the aldermen. I guess it wasn't to the mayor's liking either since, to the best of my knowledge, he didn't veto their decision. Of course, I have no doubt that it's a politically popular decision among the Caucasians of Prentiss.

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2 January 2006 - Monday

Categorical imperative

I hesitate to post this, but I think I need to speak up.

The ticking-bomb scenario is frequently seen as a plausible justification for torture in certain circumstances. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer recently said it shows torture to be not only permissible but also sometimes "a moral duty." (You can find several Christian reactions to that article here.) The story goes like this: A terrorist act is imminent. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of innocent people will be killed. If a counterterrorist agent manages to capture one of the conspirators, would he not be justified in using torture to get information about the strike so that it can be averted?

Such a situation is rare, of course; usually, if the authorities already know that much about the strike, they have enough time to intervene with less extreme methods -- or else nothing would work anyway. But we can put that aside for the sake of the hypothesis. The point of the scenario is merely to show that torture does not have to be thought of as evil; it is theoretically possible for torture to be morally justified.

The scenario is based on the idea that one life (or one person's physical or psychological comfort) may be sacrificed to protect the lives of the many. This is a very common idea, after all; it is a key factor in most people's attitudes toward war.

I admit that this is a powerful argument. But now I would like to present my own version of the ticking-bomb scenario.

We begin, as before, with the imminent destruction of many innocent lives. Somehow our hero (let's call him Jack) knows that this destruction is about to occur, and that it is going to occur so soon that all normal methods of intervention are useless.

This time, however, none of the terrorists responsible for this upcoming carnage has been apprehended. There is no one to torture for information. There is no way for Jack to avert disaster.

But wait. Jack has been able to identify one of the conspirators. He not only knows who this terrorist (let's call him something foreign-sounding, like Nigel) is, but also where he lives -- although Nigel, unfortunately, is abroad. Furthermore, Jack has Nigel's mobile phone number, so while he cannot capture him, he can contact him.

In my version of the story, Jack still embraces the basic ideas of the normal scenario. He believes (a) that one life may be sacrificed for many; (b) that torture may be justified in a few cases.

Therefore, Jack goes to Nigel's home and takes prisoner the terrorist's family. Jack then sends Nigel a message promising that his youngest child will be killed if the terrorist act is carried out.

Nigel, unfortunately, is made of stronger stuff than that. First, he shares the belief that one life sometimes must be sacrificed for a good cause. "Collateral damage" is nothing new to him. Furthermore, he doesn't mind thinking that his child will join him as a martyr. He refuses to desist.

Jack, therefore, turns up the pressure. He tells Nigel that his child will not only die, but will die slowly and painfully. At regular intervals, Jack will send Nigel graphic evidence of his progress.

Eventually, Nigel, unable to bear the pain of his child, caves in and calls off the terrorist strike.

Which of you would condone torture this time? And if you truly believe that torture is justified in the earlier scenario, why not this one?

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26 December 2005 - Monday

Liberty and individuality

Isaiah Berlin:

In so far as I live in society, everything that I do inevitably affects, and is affected by, what others do. Even Mill's strenuous effort to mark the distinction between the spheres of private and social life breaks down under examination. Virtually all of Mill's critics have pointed out that everything that I do may have results which will harm other human beings. Moreover, I am a social being in a deeper sense than that of interaction with others. For am I not what I am, to some degree, in virtue of what others think and feel me to be? When I ask myself what I am, and answer: an Englishman, a Chinese, a merchant, a man of no importance, a millionaire, a convict -- I find upon analysis that to possess these attributes entails being recognised as belonging to a particular group or class by other persons in my society, and that this recognition is part of the meaning of most of the terms that denote some of my most personal and permanent characteristics. I am not disembodied reason. Nor am I Robinson Crusoe, alone upon his island. It is not only that my material life depends upon interaction with other men, or that I am what I am as a result of social forces, but that some, perhaps all, of my ideas about myself, in particular my sense of my own moral and social identity, are intelligible only in terms of the social network in which I am (the metaphor must not be pressed too far) an element.

The lack of freedom about which men or groups complain amounts, as often as not, to the lack of proper recognition. I may be seeking not for what Mill would wish me to seek, namely security from coercion, arbitrary arrest, tyranny, deprivation of certain opportunities of action, or for room within which I am legally accountable to no one for my movements. Equally, I may not be seeking for a rational plan of social life, or the self-perfection of a dispassionate sage. What I may seek to avoid is simply being ignored, or patronised, or despised, or being taken too much for granted -- in short, not being treated as an individual, having my uniqueness insufficiently recognised, being classed as a member of some featureless amalgam, a statistical unit without identifiable, specifically human features and purposes of my own. This is the degradation that I am fighting against -- I am not seeking equality of legal rights, nor liberty to do as I wish (although I may want these too), but a condition in which I can feel that I am, because I am taken to be, a responsible agent, whose will is taken into consideration because I am entitled to, even if I am attacked and persecuted for being what I am or choosing as I do.


And what is true of the individual is true of groups, social, political, economic, religious, that is, of men conscious of needs and purposes which they have as members of such groups.

-- "Two Concepts of Liberty" (1958). Liberty, ed. Henry Hardy. Oxford, 2002. 201-202.

This is why, as much as I loathe nationalism in most of its forms, I respect its power to inspire. It is one of the reasons I am skeptical of the current foreign policies of the American right. In my opinion, they often fail to respect the moral power held by alternative visions of human freedom. In other words, we sometimes should believe people (though not their governments) when they say that they want independence from us even at the price of less liberty at home. Slaves are perfectly capable of being nationalists.

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20 December 2005 - Tuesday

Cory Maye is innocent

At Cliopatria, Ralph Luker is presenting what I consider prima facie evidence that Cory Maye's condemnation to death is a mockery of justice:

At Maye's apartment, the police officers attempted entry at the front door, before forcing their entry at the rear. Asleep in a bedroom with an infant daughter, Maye was awakened, thought someone was breaking into the apartment, and picked up his gun. In rapid succession, he fired three times. A bullet hit and killed the first officer to enter the back door, Ronald Jones. When other officers shouted "Police," Maye ceased firing and surrendered to arrest.

There is no evidence that Officer Ronald Jones even knew the identity of the person who occupied Maye's apartment. He knew so little about the occupants of the apartment he broke into that Cory Maye's name did not even appear on the warrant for the raid. Maye is an African American; Ronald Jones was white. Not only was Jones white, but he was the son of the Prentiss Police Chief, who has subsequently retired. Ronald Jones was not a regular member of the narcotics task force at Prentiss, but a member of its K-9 squad. Nonetheless, he alone conducted the investigation leading to the raid, kept no records of his investigation, and its findings died with him. At the time of Maye's arrest for murder, the arresting officers found no drugs in his apartment and he had no police record at all. Only days later, on re-examining Maye's apartment did officers find traces of marijuana in it. But in January 2004, a local jury of 10 white and 2 black people convicted Cory Maye of capital murder and sentenced him to death by lethal injection. Today, he sits on Mississippi's death row.

That op-ed is here, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution failed to publish it; so far, only bloggers seem to be covering the story. Luker says, "If we let his story die, [Maye] will."

Comment from The Agitator:

Facts in Dispute:

# Whether or not the narcotics task force sufficiently announced themselves and gave Maye time to peacefully answer the door before forcing entry.

# Where the drugs in Maye's apartment came from.

# Why the times listed on the evidence sheets for both Maye and Smith's apartments were repeatedly scribbled out. Why Maye's sheet lists no exact time the evidence was collected. Why the evidence in Smith's apartment was collected on the 26th, immediately after the raid, while the evidence in Maye's was apparently collected at 5:20am the next day (though again, that time was the last of three times entered, the first two being scribbled out to the point of being illegible).

# The legitimacy of the warrant for Maye's residence. It appears to have been issued solely on the word of a confidential informant, who says he spotted marijuana in the apartment. If the warrant was illegitimate, police should never have broken down Maye's door. If it was legitimate, they'd still have to have clearly announced themselves, and given Maye time to answer the door, for him to be guilty of capital murder.

# According to Maye's first attorney, two jurors told her after trial that Maye was convicted because (1) jurors resented Maye's attorney for suggesting in her closing argument that God would remember whether or not they'd shown Maye mercy when it came time for their judgment day, and (2) the didn't like Maye's upbringing -- they found him to be spoiled and disrespectful.

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14 November 2005 - Monday

Show me

P. Sabin Willett, in the Washington Post:

As I listened, I wished the senators could meet my client Adel.

Adel is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken.

The military people reached this conclusion, and they wrote it down on a memo, and then they classified the memo and Adel went from the hearing room back to his prison cell. He is a prisoner today, eight months later. And these facts would still be a secret but for one thing: habeas corpus.

Only habeas corpus got Adel a chance to tell a federal judge what had happened. Only habeas corpus revealed that it wasn't just Adel who was innocent -- it was Abu Bakker and Ahmet and Ayoub and Zakerjain and Sadiq -- all Guantanamo "terrorists" whom the military has found innocent.

Habeas corpus is older than even our Constitution. It is the right to compel the executive to justify itself when it imprisons people. But the Senate voted to abolish it for Adel, in favor of the same "combatant status review tribunal" that has already exonerated him. That secret tribunal didn't have much impact on his life, but Graham says it is good enough.

Adel lives in a small fenced compound 8,000 miles from his home and family. The Defense Department says it is trying to arrange for a country to take him -- some country other than his native communist China, where Muslims like Adel are routinely tortured. It has been saying this for more than two years. But the rest of the world is not rushing to aid the Bush administration, and meanwhile Adel is about to pass his fourth anniversary in a U.S. prison.

Press release, Sen. Lindsey Graham's office:

The Need for Habeas Reform As it Concerns Enemy Combatants

* The Supreme Court's Rasul (2004) decision held that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas petitions from Guantanamo detainees.

* For the first time foreign terrorists in U.S. custody have begun claiming the rights and benefits of the U.S. Constitution, our laws, and treaties.

* Over 160 habeas petitions on behalf of approximately 300 detainees have been filed in federal court to date.

* An array of habeas challenges have been filed including those questioning the quality of their food and speed of mail delivery. Others have questioned the legality of their detention, propriety of returning a detainee to their home country, and allotment of exercise time. The Department of Justice is devoting tremendous resources to the litigation of habeas petitions filed by GTMO detainees.

* The federal suits are also slowing our intelligence gathering efforts from detainees. Michael Ratner, a lawyer who has filed lawsuits on behalf of numerous enemy combatants, boasts of this fact. He said, "The litigation is brutal for (the United States.) It's huge. We have over one hundred lawyers now from big and small firms working to represent these detainees. Every time an attorney goes down there, it makes it much harder (for the U.S. military) to do what they're doing. You can’t run an interrogation ... with attorneys. What are they going to do now that we're getting court orders to get more lawyers down there?"

* The amendment clarifies the previous understanding of the habeas statute that aliens outside the United States do not have access to our federal courts.

* The amendment only applies to NON-CITIZEN TERRORISTS.

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27 October 2005 - Thursday

Syntax as poison pill?

Texas has a constitutional amendment election on 8 November. The second proposition on the ballot is the one getting the most attention: it would amend the state constitution to prohibit not only gay marriage but anything resembling gay marriage as a legal status.

I was alarmed to discover what the proposed amendment actually says -- not because of political disagreement but because of an astounding logic problem.

Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:

Sec. 32.

(a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of
the union of one man and one woman.

(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may
not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to

"This state may not recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage"? Not for anybody?

The intended meaning of (b) is fairly clear, of course, because of (a). I suppose a particularly enterprising judge might decide to nullify all marriage in Texas on the basis of this awkward phrasing, but I find it unlikely. (In other words, I don't buy this.)

Still, how many committees and interest groups let this sentence go by without objecting to its structure?

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10 October 2005 - Monday


Google Labs has released a beta version of Google Reader for Web syndication feeds. So far, I like some aspects of the interface, but I think a lot needs to be done to make feeds easier to organize. It was a little buggy yesterday, but when it was working, it was really fast. I think I may recommend Google Reader for people who check their aggregator constantly.

You do use syndication to keep track of blogs, right?


Former Army chaplain James Yee describes his experiences as a prisoner of the United States.

National Review's David Frum explains why the Miers nomination is not a good thing for conservatives.

Ken Ristau reconstructs late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America to demonstrate that George W. Bush did not exist (via PaleoJudaica). Note: I really think this is mainly historiographic, not political, satire.

The sheer outlandishness and improbability that you would have two presidents with the same names, engage in parallel international conflicts with the same enemy (and this second one as a "preemptive" invasion), and be surrounded by many of the same characters strains credulity. It is, therefore, manifestly obvious that this second George Bush never existed. The tradition is, in fact, what we historians call a doublet.

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13 August 2005 - Saturday

And in that other reality

The newspaper Shargh (recently profiled in a story about Iranian press freedom on PBS' Wide Angle) reports that Iran Telecom has ordered that Blogrolling be blocked.

Via Stop Censoring Us.

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10 August 2005 - Wednesday

© Zeus

Ever wondered how the intellectual property rights to religious texts are determined?

An English judge later felt the same way, see Cummins v. Bond , (1927) 1 Ch. 167, in which the plaintiff medium claimed rights in "automatic writing'' from a 1900-year-old spirit. The court held that ''authorship and copyright rest with some one already domiciled on the other side of the inevitable river,'' id. at 175.
Posts by William Patry here and here. Via the Conspiracy.

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7 August 2005 - Sunday

Tocqueville on religion

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, chapter two (trans. George Lawrence):

Thus, in the moral world everything is classified, coordinated, foreseen, and decided in advance. In the world of politics everything is in turmoil, contested, and uncertain. In the one case obedience is passive, though voluntary; in the other there is independence, contempt of experience, and jealousy of all authority.

Far from harming each other, these two apparently opposed tendencies work in harmony and seem to lend mutual support.

Religion regards civil liberty as a noble exercise of men's faculties, the world of politics being a sphere intended by the Creator for the free play of intelligence. Religion, being free and powerful within its own sphere and content with the position reserved for it, realizes that its sway is all the better established because it relies only on its own powers and rules men's hearts without external support.

Freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights. Religion is considered as the guardian of mores, and mores are regarded as the guarantee of the laws and pledge for the maintenance of freedom itself.

It must be noted that Tocqueville, despite the universal language, is specifically describing American political development, contrasting it with the European experiences. The two elements described here, "the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom," represent "two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one other but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvelous combination," as an earlier paragraph explains. This is consistent with Tocqueville's moderate position in post-revolutionary France; he is affirming the compatibility of liberal ideals and traditional faith.

In an earlier paragraph still, Tocqueville tries to explain how religion was able to play a different role in America from Europe. How is it that the Puritans of New England, while promulgating draconian religious legislation, also gave root to modern constitutionalism and self-government?

If one turns from this rapid survey of the America of 1650 and considers European, especially Continental European, society at that same time, one finds the contrast profoundly astonishing. Everywhere on the Continent at the beginning of the seventeenth century absolute monarchies stood triumphantly on the ruins of the feudal or oligarchic freedom of the Middle Ages. Amid the brilliance and the literary achievements of Europe, then, the conception of rights was perhaps more completely misunderstood than at any other time; the peoples had never taken less part in political life; notions of true liberty had never been less in men's minds. And just at that time these very principles, unknown to or scorned by the nations of Europe, were proclaimed in the wilderness of the New World, where they were soon to become the watchwords of a great people. In this apparently lowly society the boldest speculations of humanity were put into practice, while no statesman, we may be sure, deigned to take notice of them. With free reign given to its natural originality, human imagination there improvised unprecedented legislation.
In other words, it was the frontier what done it. The American colonies, Puritans and all, were able to make a fresh start. They shared material circumstances, including the bourgeois background of the early settlements as well as the meritocratic influence of the American soil, that were unfavorable to the aristocratic institutions of the Old World. Thus, cleared of many non-spiritual impediments, even the established churches of America nurtured the growth of democratic society.

What this meant to a mid-nineteenth-century Frenchman was probably much different from what it means to a twenty-first-century American; the United States' experience with institutional religion and secularization movements has been much different from France's. I suspect that it would be very interesting to see Tocqueville's comparison of French religious history with Britain's, since he tended to favor both Britain and America as stable models for emerging democracies to follow; his material model would not explain British church history well at all.

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6 August 2005 - Saturday

Means to an end

Siris has an intriguing entry on Elizabeth Anscombe, who protested Oxford's decision to award an honorary degree to Harry Truman in 1956. She regarded the use of the atomic bomb on Japan as unconscionable because it was a targeted attack on innocents:

When I say that to choose to kill the innocent as a means to one's ends is murder, I am saying what would generally be accepted as correct. But I shall be asked for my definition of "the innocent". I will give it, but later. Here, it is not necessary; for with Hiroshima and Nagasaki we are not confronted with a borderline case. In the bombing of these cities it was certainly decided to kill the innocent as a means to an end.
Interestingly, however, she strongly rejected pacifism:
The correct answer to the statement that "war is evil" is that it is bad -- for example a misfortunte -- to be at war. And no doubt if two nations are at war at least one is unjust. But that does not show that it is wrong to fight or that if one does fight one can also commit murder.
I cannot say that I have come to a satisfying conclusion on the matter. It is entirely likely that -- on balance -- the bombing of Hiroshima (and maybe Nagasaki) saved lives, even the lives of innocent Japanese. On the other hand, the bombing was a terroristic tactic -- both in its intended psychological effects and in its targeting of civilians. In the early years of the twenty-first century, are we not claiming that no end ever justifies such means?

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60 years on

Most of the ruins have now burned down.
The darkness kindly hides the many forms that lie on the ground.
Only occasionally in our quick progress do we hear calls for help.
One of us remarks that the remarkable burned smell
reminds him of incinerated corpses.

The atomic bomb was used against Hiroshima at 0815 local time, 6 August 1945.

Three days later, Nagasaki was destroyed the same way.

Roman Catholic cathedral, Nagasaki. Courtesy NARA.

We have discussed among ourselves
the ethics of the use of the bomb.
Some consider it in the same category as poison gas
and were against its use on a civil population.
Others were of the view that
in total war, as carried on in Japan,
there was no difference between civilians and soldiers,
and that the bomb itself was an effective force
tending to end the bloodshed, warning Japan
to surrender and thus to avoid total destruction.
It seems logical to me
that he who supports total war in principle
cannot complain of war against civilians.

Father John A. Siemes, eyewitness at Hiroshima

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4 August 2005 - Thursday

Estranged bedfellows

In 1862, the government and public of Great Britain were sympathetic with the Confederate States of America. Despite opposing the institution of slavery, the British were not convinced that the Union's cause was just.

Twenty-four-year-old Henry Adams was then in London, serving as private secretary to his father, who was the Lincoln administration's envoy. The American delegation had been given a chilly reception.

Adams describes the situation (paragraph breaks added for ease of reading):

... Young Adams neither hated nor wanted to kill his friends the rebels, while he wanted nothing so much as to wipe England off the earth. Never could any good come from that besotted race! ...

London was altogether beside itself on one point, in especial; it created a nightmare of its own, and gave it the shape of Abraham Lincoln. Behind this is placed another demon, if possible more devilish, and called it Mr. Seward [the American secretary of state].

In regard to these two men, English society seemed demented. Defence was useless; explanation was vain; one could only let the passion exhaust itself. One's best friends were as unreasonable as enemies, for the belief in poor Mr. Lincoln's brutality and Seward's ferocity became a dogma of popular faith.

The last time Henry Adams saw Thackeray, before his sudden death at Christmas in 1863, was in entering the house of Sir Henry Holland for an evening reception. Thackeray was pulling on his coat downstairs, laughing because, in his usual blind way, he had stumbled into the wrong house and not found it out till he shook hands with old Sir Henry, whom he knew very well, but who was not the host he expected.

Then his tone changed as he spoke of his -- and Adams's -- friend, Mrs. Frank Hampton, of South Carolina, whom he had loved as Sally Baxter and painted as Ethel Newcome. Though he had never quite forgiven her marriage, his warmth of feeling revived when he heard that she had died of consumption at Columbia while her parents and sister were refused permission to pass through the lines to see her.

In speaking of it, Thackeray's voice trembled and his eyes filled with tears. The coarse cruelty of Lincoln and his hirelings was notorious. He never doubted that the Federals made a business of harrowing the tenderest feelings of women -- particularly of women -- in order to punish their opponents. On quite insufficient evidence he burst into violent reproach.

Had Adams carried in his pocket the proofs that the reproach was unjust, he would have gained nothing by showing them. At that moment Thackeray, and all London society with him, needed the nervous relief of expressing emotion; for if Mr. Lincoln was not what they said he was -- what were they?

The Education of Henry Adams, chapter nine

Does that sound familiar?

The violent rhetoric, the conspiracy theories, the prejudice, the reckless accusations amounting even to calumny -- they are nothing new within or between free societies. We ascribe the worst motivations to those who, like us, are merely misguided and resolute. We forget who our friends are; we forget who our enemies are; we forget what our business is.

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1 August 2005 - Monday

Total war

This week, the History News Network is covering the sixtieth anniversary of the use of atomic weapons at Hiroshima.

Hiroshima: What People Think Now (a wide assortment of articles)

Hiroshima: Harry Truman on Trial (mock war crimes trial from 2001)

Why It's Time for Us to Confront Hiroshima (on reactions from conservatives at the time of the attack)

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31 July 2005 - Sunday

Notes on CfD: Chapter 3

In the third chapter of The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky attempts to demonstrate that open societies are inherently better for security than despotisms are. Despite the appearance of stability provided by the dictator's iron fist, the author argues, tyrannies actually encourage belligerence because when governments lack the support of their own people, they need external enemies to divert attention away from their own problems.

The chapter is entitled "Dognat Y Peregnat" after Stalin's contest with the West -- "catch and overcome" -- in which the Soviet people were mobilized to fight the economic power of the capitalist nations. This campaign exploited patriotism and fear, blaming collectivist economic failures on outside sabotage. This program of deliberately manufacturing hostility carried over into military invasions of neighboring countries, which of course were necessary for national security. Thus, Stalin's dictatorship, perhaps the most effective in history, was not an aid but rather a grave threat to international stability. His was not the only despotism to follow such a strategy:

Because external enemies are an effective means of maintaining internal stability, governments in countries as diverse as Cuba, North Korea, and Iran all regard inculcating hatred towards outsiders as critical to their rule. By carefully indoctrinating their subjects, fear societies can keep them mobilized against an enemy and transform potential adversaries within their societies into supporters. (84)
In comparison, Sharansky says, democracies are quite peaceful -- possibly too peaceful:
In response to their voters, most democratic leaders will be inhibited by a pacific reflex, be slow to act, and be overly cautious. This propensity for appeasement can be extremely dangerous if potential threats that could have been nipped in the bud are instead allowed to grow more dangerous. (80)
So far, so good. Democracy often provides a check on militarism. However, this last observation about hesitation could also be applied internally. And this is the kind of insecurity I am really worried about.

Right now, countries like Afghanistan and Iraq are struggling with powerful -- and in some cases, popular -- domestic elements that threaten their freedom. Old wounds have been ripped open, and the fragile new elected governments are struggling to act decisively. Some Americans working as advisors in the transition to democracy have expressed grave concern about the lack of security, which they believe threatens the future of the country. Without security, democracy cannot survive, and the resulting chaos might be even worse than the brutal rule of Saddam was.

Oddly enough, Sharansky seems to agree:

Only when the basic institutions that protect a free society are firmly in place -- such as a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties -- can free elections be held. ... Until the overwhelming majority of Iraqis and Afghans live without fear of speaking their minds, elections are just as likely to weaken efforts to build democracy as they are to strengthen them. (74)
Sharansky notes that national elections were not called for four years in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich.* He argues that Afghanistan and Iraq present a similar situation; until the people are safe to express their opinions freely, elections could be counterproductive.

So Sharansky believes that internal security (protection for those who wish to speak their minds) is a prerequisite for democracy. This seems to invert the relationship between democracy and security he has described elsewhere. Actually, I think he is including security in the definition of democracy, which probably makes his assertion that "all free societies will guarantee security and peace" into a tautology. Perhaps he makes a distinction between internal (domestic) and external (international) security in these discussions. My view, however, is that the line between internal and external security is getting very hard to draw.

Sharansky confirms that he is including security in the idea of freedom. "The dangers that the skeptics have in mind," he writes, "have nothing to do with democracy per se. At most, they deal with the dangers involved in the transition to democracy" (75). So if a nation (revolutionary France, for example) establishes a constitution and elections, then quickly reverts to a form of tyranny (the Terror and Napoleon), it was never a democracy at all under Sharansky's definition. He is defining away the problem by refusing to recognize as democratic any but fully stable states.

I'm not sure such a definition is usable in foreign policy. Why? Because it is precisely the transitions and failures that some of us fear the most. Allow me to indulge in analogy. Suppose I said, "I need to drive to the store," and someone else said, "It's too dangerous; the roads are iced over." Could I argue that the store was perfectly warm, so it would be silly to worry about ice?

So, in the end, when Sharansky frames the democratic question this way, I believe he is arguing straight past many of his opponents. After all, nobody in the American foreign service would support Iran over the United Kingdom. But that's rarely the sort of alternative we face in our foreign relations. We don't have to pick between full-fledged tyranny and stable democracy. Instead, we face dillemmas like Afghanistan in the 1980s, where many of the people fighting Soviet dictatorship were Islamic extremists. Considering how much more success we had negotiating with Gorbachev than with Bin Laden, one wonders whether Sharansky's prescription for the success of democracy would have required the United States to give active support to the Soviets.


* Although it does not compromise Sharansky's argument, this is an oversimplication. Federal elections were delayed in postwar Germany partly because federal unity was impossible for some time (and was never fully achieved until 1990); the joint Western/Soviet occupation posed obvious difficulties. There were widespread misgivings, but the first local elections in the US zone took place just eight months after the surrender. I do not believe this threatens Sharansky's argument, however; the US military occupation of Germany lasted until 1955. Likewise, it is worth noting that in postwar Japan, national elections were held just seven months after the surrender -- but also that General MacArthur imposed a US-drafted constitution on the government and that the American occupation lasted another six years.

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30 July 2005 - Saturday

Representing war

In the 30 July issue of the evangelical publication World, Gene Edward Veith sharply criticizes the new FX series Over There. Unfortunately, his analysis of the rhetoric of the show, which includes some good points, is marred by a faulty perspective on history and storytelling.

The series follows the lives of fictional soldiers in Iraq, with the goal, it seems, of avoiding larger political questions. The conflict is used merely as the setting for grim drama, following the lead of some contemporary law enforcement shows (co-creator Steven Bochco is known for his work on Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and L.A. Law).

However, Veith rejects the view that the show is apolitical:

But to portray a war without any of its ideals is to portray that war as meaningless. If the reasons for the war are just "politics," if war is nothing more than a struggle for survival, who could support it?

Michael Medved has pointed out the change in war movies. The movies about World War II made five decades ago did not necessarily glamorize war or shrink from how terrible it is. But they presented the GIs as fighting for a cause that gave meaning and value to their sacrifices. The old war movies -- think The Longest Day -- were on the side of the Americans and of America. The soldiers were heroes because the war was worth fighting.

But with the Vietnam War, Mr. Medved observes, that all changed. With the anti-war sentiments of the cultural elite, Hollywood began portraying war -- even "good wars" such as World War II -- as meaningless and absurd. The soldier was portrayed as an existential hero, struggling -- and often failing -- to keep his humanity in a world of senseless violence. (Think Catch-22 for World War II; M*A*S*H for the Korean War; Apocalypse Now for Vietnam.) In the more recent war movies, patriotism is a joke, leaders are corrupt, and idealism is a foolish illusion.

In the new mindset, even pacifism changes. The old pacifism was based precisely on moral ideals. The new pacifism is grounded in cynicism. Ideals and moral values do not exist, so there is nothing worth fighting and dying for.

I have not seen any of Over There, and probably never will. The graphic violence aside, most reviewers seem to agree that the series is not very realistic. The few snatches of dialogue I have heard or read suggest that the script is very weak and that the soliders are caricatures. And I have a sneaky feeling that the show will be pure soap opera before long.

Furthermore, I sympathize with some of Veith's analysis. It is entirely likely that the weakness of the show results largely from the political perspective of the show's creators.

However, I do not like Veith's analysis either of politico-cinematic history or of the motivation for contemporary anti-war activism.

It is an oversimplification to ascribe the evolution in war films solely to political beliefs. The change is part of a larger shift in audience expectations. For example, Americans watching police shows today would object to the idealized portrayals of law enforcement agents in J. Edgar Hoover's America (remember, kids, crime and communism don't pay ... which reminds me to mention that the genres' target demographics have also changed). That does not mean the makers of today's shows dislike the police. Likewise, viewers today, no matter how proud they are of the American role in the Second World War, would find some of the films produced during that era ridiculous. The threshold for the suspension of disbelief has shifted a bit.

Well before Vietnam became a cultural crisis, audiences wanted more subtle treatments. The Longest Day (1962), which Veith lauds for its patriotism, actually presents a fairly sympathetic picture of individuals within the German military. The film does presuppose a noble purpose in the Allied invasion, yet Richard Burton's most memorable line is, "He [a German]'s dead. I'm crippled. You're lost. Do you suppose it's always like that?" Even right after the war ended, some films were patriotically ambiguous. Films like Twelve O'Clock High (1949) and The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), both starring Gregory Peck, depict the recent conflict as bewildering and dehumanizing. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) won seven Oscars for showing the tragic aftermath of the war in everyday America. And the magnificently absurdist Bridge on the River Kwai was released in 1957. These darker postwar movies came well before the breakdown in national consensus that developed during Vietnam. None gives much indication of the wider purposes of World War II. True, it is unlikely that any of them would have been made during the war itself, but they are all compatible with the belief that the war was just.

In a few cases, cynicism made it into circulation even during World War II. For a good example of this, we can look to the print media. During the Second World War, the brilliant cartoons of Bill Mauldin were full of gallows humor -- and were adored by soldiers and civilians alike. These cartoons mock the cheerful face put on the war by American propaganda, from the perspective of someone who saw the war up close. They show little awareness of any larger meaning. Mauldin himself wrote, "I haven't tried to picture this war in a big, broad-minded way. I'm not old enough to understand what it's all about. My reactions are those of a young guy who has been exposed to some of it, and I try to put those reactions in my drawings." Veith's commentary on Over There suggests that this attitude is mischievous: "In the more recent war movies, patriotism is a joke, leaders are corrupt, and idealism is a foolish illusion." That could almost describe Mauldin's take on World War II at the time. Were his cartoons improper?

What I find especially interesting is that part of Veith's complaint is similar to the opinion of a reviewer for The New Yorker. Nancy Franklin writes: "To judge by the first three episodes, 'Over There' seems to be saying only, or mainly, that war is hell. There's an overall pointlessness to the show that’s rather shocking, ..." That sounds very much like Veith's pro-war take. But the review continues: "... considering the outrageous lies and arrogance that got us into the war. But pointlessness may be inevitable in a country where, at the moment, to risk telling the truth -- beyond the truth that soldiers die in war and things are tough on the home front, too -- is to be condemned as unpatriotic."

Such an analysis shows how clueless Veith is to assert that current anti-war opinion is grounded in the belief that "ideals and moral values do not exist, so there is nothing worth fighting and dying for." That is nonsense, and insulting nonsense too. One need only note the moral-absolutist complaints made by the Left about torture or the legal basis for invasion (and the moral-relativist defenses made by a few on the Right) to recognize this as cultivated blindness.

Franklin's column also illustrates my objection to the "support the troops" rhetoric of the Right. Because we are at war and the troops face such horrible circumstances, the logic goes, we should not engage in debate over the larger political wisdom of going to war in the first place. Yet it seems many on the Right believe that to portray those horrible circumstances without putting the war in its political context is also a disservice to the troops. (Besides Veith's commentary here, witness what happened when Nightline broadcast the names of all of the troops killed in Iraq.) So there are only two permissible ways to talk about the war at all: either to show the hellishness and praise the policy, or not to show the hellishness and still to praise the policy. Either way, there is to be no challenge to the view that the war is wise policy.

Veith is correct, of course, to note that this show has biases. Every narrative has biases. But sometimes a narrative has conflicting biases. Veith notes that "even anti-war war stories exploit the action and excitement of war." I think this thrill makes many war movies pro-war by default. If the only policy we see is that of the battlefield, where American soldiers are getting shot, we obviously want the Americans to shoot back until they win. In the absence of any other information about the policy context of the conflict, a war movie makes most of us want the Americans to fight, period. I do not know whether this is true of Over There, but it is true far too often even in the real-life media. Remember the excitement of seeing B-52s batter Baghdad a couple of years ago? It was very hard to see those fireworks on TV and not be happy about the bloodshed.

[This post has been edited slightly for clarity and precision since I posted it this afternoon.]

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26 July 2005 - Tuesday

Politicization and scholarship

I have suspected for some time now that no opponent can harm a cause as much as an advocate can. When either side of an argument makes an exaggerated or especially a defamatory claim (e.g., Bush is in league with the Bin Laden family, or nobody ever shot at John Kerry), he invites all people of good will to denounce him. It doesn't mean they will, but it is an open invitation.

In his column at Inside Higher Ed today, Scott McLemee explains why the politicization of academic life can hurt the politicizers. McLemee compares the intellectual legacy of his late conservative friend and colleague, David W. Miller, with that of David Horowitz.

Now, David Horowitz is the conservative activist who groups Saddam Hussein, Pol Pot, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Barack Obama on the same list of "individuals who seek to promote leftwing agendas through the political process." Horowitz also considers the late Ayatollah Khomeini a member of the "religious left" along with William Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International. This is all supposed to be very useful; as "a guide to the political left," Horowitz' site DiscoverTheNetwork "defines the left's (often hidden) programmatic agendas and it provides an understanding of its history and ideas."* The site also includes a section on academia.

A few days ago, Timothy Burke, whom I have always found very reasonable, wrote a response to Horowitz' book Unholy Alliance, which elaborates on the charges made on the Web site. Here's what Burke concluded:

I’m very prepared to hear that there is such a sentiment or spirit that romanticizes anti-Western beliefs and politics and produces a kind of anti-American self-loathing among some American intellectuals, which in turn has produced a blindness to the reality of the contemporary world and the challenges to human liberty. Indeed, in some much more precise and focused contexts, I’m not only prepared to believe this, but will and have argued it myself. But only with historical and substantive precision, only with intellectual care, only with curiosity, only with sensitivity, only with a sense of proportion, is such an argument worth making and worth hearing.

In the same publication, Horowitz responded by claiming not to have been writing rigorous intellectual history of the Left at all. His book was instead a description of "the religious character of the left -- its utopian hope and its nihilistic rage -- that determines the political choices it makes." Actual thought apparently plays a minimal part in the Left's ideas. So subtlety was unnecessary:

The left is an Anti-American cult. The same is true of its nihilism, which is universal in the left. I picked Chomsky as an exemplar of the nihilist strain in the left because for him it is obsessive. Todd Gitlin would not describe the United States as worse than Nazi Germany, the way Chomsky does. But I demonstrate from his own words (a privilege Professor Burke does not offer me) that he comes close enough. In particular, his view of America is so negative as to justify his opposition to a war for the freedom of 25 million Muslims and the future of democracy in the Middle East.
Close enough? Let's hope Horowitz doesn't write a book about any other religion. "Some Baptists may not say that Rome is the Antichrist, exactly, but they come close enough to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation."

So, back to Scott McLemee, who read both of these articles and drew some conclusions. He viewed Horowitz' rebuttal as "petulant, abusive, and interminable" -- and self-absorbed. Horowitz had responded to a call for serious analysis with an emotional outburst.

Whether you agree with this assessment of Horowitz' work or not, note well how McLemee says it has affected him, in contrast to the careful scholarship of his conservative friend:

Now, over the past couple of years, I’ve tried hard to honor the memory of David Miller, who, in the year before his death at the ridiculously young age of 35, taught me so much by his example — by his decency, his modesty, and his wry indulgence of what he must have seen as muddled leftist attitudes. For one thing, it’s meant striving to understand things, from time to time, as he might; to consider the strongest, most coherent forms of conservative argument.

To that end, my reading diet now includes a certain amount of right-wing intellectual output — journals like The Modern Age and The Claremont Review of Books, for example, and books by Russell Kirk, Michael Oakeshott, and Willmoore Kendall. It’s not necessary to enjoy this stuff, or to agree with it. But it does seem important as part of the process of thinking outside one’s familiar ruts.

But now it’s time to go another step. There is only one way to keep from reinforcing the worst impressions of the conservative movement. Henceforth, I will never read another word by David Horowitz.

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24 July 2005 - Sunday

A good topic for a paper

After 1797, the American republic found itself embroiled in a "quasi-war" with France, which briefly caused an interesting realignment in regional politics. With war fever at its height in 1798, voters in the [Democratic Republican] coastal south and the backcountry suddenly rallied to the [Federalist] government. In the Congressional elections of 1798, Federalists carried 68 out of 106 seats, including 20 seats below the Potomac and in the back settlements. Even counties that gave rise to the Whisky Rebellion now voted Federalist.

The war fever of '98 marked the beginning of a consistent pattern in American military history. From the quasi-war with France to the Vietnam War, the two southern cultures strongly supported every American war no matter what it was about or who it was against. Southern ideas of honor and the warrior ethic combined to create regional war fevers of great intensity in 1798, 1812, 1846, 1861, 1898, 1917, 1941, 1950 and 1965. Here is another subject that remains to be studied in detail.

David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford UP, 1989), 843.

The pattern seems to be holding up. (The biggest objection I can think of is that Fischer's inclusion of 1861 might be difficult to justify, considering the unusual circumstances of that particular war.) In the case of the Iraq invasion, I was struck by the enthusiasm of conservative Texans, who generally hate the UN in all of its forms, for a war carried out exclusively for the purpose of enforcing UN Security Council resolutions. War against enemyish people, qua war against enemyish people, got this region's support.

Of course, the fact that the war was ordered by a conservative president surely makes a difference. President Clinton's military actions were not as enthusiastically embraced. But as I recall, right-wing opposition to Clinton's military expeditions was weaker in this region than in some other areas. For Kosovo, which came closer to a traditional war than the other examples, I remember quite a bit of implicit support. Granted, I was young at the time, so my memory may be faulty.

In any case, I like this cultural-history explanation of the warlike tendencies of certain areas of the United States. Fischer traces the development of the areas settled by British borderers (immigrants who arrived in the American backcountry from northern England, southern Scotland, and northern Ireland in the eighteenth century). He rejects the idea that the material conditions of the frontier were the main reason for the belligerence of these settlements. Instead, he points out that the British borderlands were very violent long before the American frontier was -- and violent in the same ways, with blood feuds and frequent territorial wars.

The backcountry concept of liberty, in which individual independence was asserted with deadly force, has evolved and remains strong in the libertarian ideals of the southern and western United States. I think this element is often overlooked as a factor in the persistence of Confederate apologists; I know a lot of people without any detectable racist feelings who yet think the South had a legal right to secede from the Union.

I'm chasing rabbit trails now. This book has gotten me started on several lines of thought. I highly recommend it.

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21 July 2005 - Thursday

Notes on CfD: Chapter 2

There is a great deal to like in the second chapter of The Case for Democracy. Sharansky's main point is self-evident: the nature of "public opinion" in societies that repress dissent is fundamentally different from the nature of public opinion in open societies.

His argument centers on doublethink in closed societies. Interestingly, he uses the term to refer to conscious self-censorship of expression. This is different from Orwell's usage, which emphasized the effectiveness of state propaganda in forcing mental submission. Orwell called doublethink a way "to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them." Sharansky, however, uses it to refer to a clear division between real belief and public pretense:

Doublethinkers, who must play a role their entire lives in order to survive, will have little problem hiding their true beliefs and still convincing an outsider of their sincerity. Their role playing is made easier by the fact that many outside observers have an idealogical bias that allows them to willingly suspend their disbelief and not see the effects of tyranny. (54)
In a sense, I suppose, Orwell's original usage of doublethink characterizes the latter group more than the former. I do not mean to criticize Sharansky on this ground. He was a dissenting member of Soviet society; I think he can be trusted as an observer of the psychology of repression. I merely mean to clarify the usage a little.

Arguing that a state of doublethink dominates individual and collective expression within "fear societies," Sharansky takes Western observers to task for embracing propaganda that many of the oppressed themselves only pretend to believe. Brainwashing always happens and always finds some success in fear societies, but "eventually, bitter experience belies the propaganda so that not even some of the people can be fooled all of the time" (59). Outsiders, therefore, are foolish to believe what they hear from oppressive regimes, even when the party line comes from ordinary people. As the author points out, the results of such credulity can be pathetic, as when a parade of Western intellectuals hailed the government of the USSR as a paragon of enlightenment during the 1930s.

Applying this principle to present conflicts, Sharansky argues that the expressed opinions of some Arab publics should be viewed with suspicion. Among the Palestinians, for example, political expression should be evaluated carefully. Although the Palestinian Authority has been highly successful in molding the actual beliefs of its people, even in a "much more open societ[y]" than some (58), still Arafat's apparatus intimidated many Palestinians into doublethink:

After all, Arafat and the PA controlled the distribution system of food aid, a monopoly over many basic goods, the hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid that were supposed to go to improving conditions for Palestinians, tens of thousands of permits that allowed Palestinians to work in Israel, and much more. Many Palestinians had to express loyalty to Arafat and the PA if they hoped to feed their families. (59)
I am not sure, of course, whether or not this should be taken as a hopeful sign for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence. On the one hand, the author tells us that Palestinian hatred of Israel is widespread and real; on the other hand, he tells us that it was reinforced by propaganda from a regime that kept power through fear. The author has hope. He suggests that the role of coercion in current Palestinian opinion actually indicates that independent thought is possible in Palestine; pointing to the situation in Iran, he notes that the Iranians are growing very restless under their repressive leaders even though they were the ones who originally put that government into place.

There may be a problem with this line of reasoning, however -- at least, a problem from the perspective of the West. Unless one accepts Sharansky's view that "all free societies will guarantee security and peace" (xxv), which I do not, one must remember that the Palestinian people could be free of coercion at home and still engage in rampant terrorism against Israel. Indeed, at this time, the most viable political opposition to the current PA leadership seems to be the terrorist group Hamas, which has already won some municipal elections.*

I return, however, to Sharansky's reference to Iran. Here again, he makes an interesting point:

The attitude of those living in fear societies toward of America is a reflection of their attitudes toward their own regime. If America is seen as supporting that regime, as in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the people hate America. If America is seen as opposing the regime, as in Iran, the people admire it. A few months ago, a leader of a former Soviet Republic told me about his recent visit to Iran: "It reminded me of the Soviet Union. All the officials criticize and condemn America and all the people love America."

Even those who genuinely hate America do not necessarily hate free societies. Rather, part of their hatred is due to the perception that by supporting the nondemocratic regimes that are oppressing them, America is betraying the democratic values it claims to uphold. (60)

In this, the author is undermining some of the concepts espoused by America's leadership. Since 11 September, it has been commonplace in some circles to say that "terrorists hate freedom." Sharansky's analysis, however, suggests that our (largely Saudi and Egyptian) assailants in al Qaeda are attacking the US for precisely the reasons they say* they are attacking the US: because they identify the United States with oppressive government at home. Terrorism is a threat to freedom, of course, but that is not necessarily the terrorists' war aim. Furthermore, this suggests that if the War on Terror strengthens American ties to certain nondemocratic allies, as it has been doing, it may actually reinforce anti-Americanism.

This is an intriguing chapter. For me, it is interesting especially because it updates old lines of thought; in much of our discourse, the connections between the struggles of the Cold War and the struggles of the present day are crudely and erroneously drawn if they are drawn at all. Sharansky does not deal much with strategy in this chapter, but his social observations have some strategic implications. In any case, I enjoy the application of his experience to more recent global conflict.

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19 July 2005 - Tuesday

Judge Roberts

There is evidence that Roberts is not happy with Roe v. Wade, although it should probably be remembered that most of his record on that subject comes from his years as a functionary in Republican administrations. He may have been just doing his job. (Juan Non-Volokh commented on that here.) So far, everybody seems to agree that he is very, very good at doing his job.

I don't have anything insightful to say. I just wanted to get a post up today. I'm optimistic, if anybody would like to know.

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11 July 2005 - Monday

Dude, where's my passport?

"U.S. officials told him his passport was destroyed in the course of testing its authenticity."

Quite a feat.

Anyway, this is yet another contradiction of the myth that the liberty only of non-citizens is in jeopardy. (His extremely fragile US passport aside, this man served three years in the US Navy.) According to the lawsuit filed by the ACLU (PDF), he was held for nearly a month after the FBI cleared him. I wonder what would have happened if we didn't have all these pinkos running around, whining about due process.

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Pacifism has slain its thousands, retaliation its tens of thousands

Caleb McDaniel and Timothy Burke continue their fascinating conversation on war, peace, human agency, and the nature of modern civilization.


But I worry that any argument in favor of violence--however limited--ultimately reduces to the argument that the end justifies the means. Moreover (and this is why it's dangerous to say that the end justifies the means) we don't even know that the means of violence will secure the end of a world without violence. A utilitarian rationale for war requires making a bet that war will produce peace, but thus far in the world's history, the house has won that bet every single time.
... I think I'd be entitled to claim World War II as a case in which the bet against the house was won, where aggression was met with aggression and that counterfactually, had it not been met with aggression, the "peace" which would have resulted would have not been worthy of the name. This goes back to my unease about whether peace per se is a goal: peace under Nazi or Stalinist hegemony is not peace worth having, even if it were the absence of conflict.

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9 July 2005 - Saturday

Notes on CfD: Chapter 1

The first chapter of The Case for Democracy, entitled "Is Freedom for Everyone?," presents Sharansky's belief that all societies desire and are capable of liberty. The author holds that freedom is not only "a universal desire" (18) but also a universal possibility.

The author does some good work in this chapter. He attacks ethnocentrism; to refute claims that some peoples are inherently unsuited to self-rule, he brings up a list of now-democratic societies that were once described that way.

Italy, Germany, Russia, Japan -- these nations once had many people convinced that democracy was alien to their national characters. Sharansky admits that the countries of the Middle East have been more stubborn, but points out, quoting Freedom House, that "'the majority of the world's Muslims live under democratically constituted governments'" (35), suggesting that Islam is not inherently incompatible with democracy. He admits that the absence of democracy in the Middle East itself is troubling. Even so, the histories of other cultures give him hope.

This universalism is a credit to Sharansky. So far, it has been the most enjoyable aspect of CfD. The author has done nothing to suggest a fear of The Other; if he is unlikely to ask "why do they hate us?" it is because he is unlikely to talk about "them" in the first place. I find this refreshing. Sharansky's universalist rhetoric of liberation is a lot more convincing than the mélange of liberation, threat eradication, and revenge I find in the work of many war advocates. (Then again, the neoconservative elite generally seems to be better about this than the GOP rank and file.)

Continue reading "Notes on CfD: Chapter 1" below the fold . . .

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8 July 2005 - Friday

"No right of secession from modernity"

Tim Burke responds to Caleb McDaniel's plea:

The defense of freedom and the aspiration for justice requires the possibility of violence, at least as long as you understand both freedom and justice to be things which are only meaningful on this earth, in this life, to us as living human beings. Putting peace in the same exalted place requires giving up much of what we now understand as a necessity for justice in the here and now.
An interesting observation. It suggests a paradox. Is not securing peace a fundamental aspect of justice? But can justice be guaranteed without the possibility of violence in its defense?

On the other hand, can peace be guaranteed without mercy? I as a Christian cannot easily distinguish guilt and innocence except in particular contexts; in general terms, "all have sinned" and "there is none righteous." Do any of us really want a just society, or are we really referring to different forms of mercy and grace, extended one to another and enforced by the state?

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7 July 2005 - Thursday

"Doubt war"

Caleb McDaniel has posted an appeal:

Let us resolve to make peace, even though that resolution will be mistaken by many as passivity. If the alternative is the activity of killing, of bombing a house for a bus, then let us be prepared to be called passive. But let us also be prepared to point out, as McGowan does, that peace can make claims on pragmatists at least as compelling as war. Have three years of war solved the difficulties of our time? Manifestly, no. Have three millennia of war brought us closer to peace?
I'm not going to comment at this time on the rightness or wrongness of this position. I will only say that I have not heard anything braver.

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Mind the gap

If New York is the city you don't want to mess with, London is the city you cannot ruffle. It is also well prepared for this sort of thing.

The AP, citing an unnamed American law enforcement source in contact with British officials, has now reported at least 40 deaths.

I enjoyed part of President Bush's remarks from the G8 summit:

On the one hand, we got people here who are working to alleviate poverty and to help rid the world of the pandemic of AIDS and that are working on ways to have a clean environment. And on the other hand, you've got people killing innocent people. And the contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those of us who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill, those who've got such evil in their heart that they will take the lives of innocent folks.
Let's try to keep up that distinction.

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5 July 2005 - Tuesday

Notes on CfD: Introduction

Having been urged by not only the president of the United States but also my mother to read The Case for Democracy (Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer), and even having been given a copy of the book by the mother of a friend, I have decided to inaugurate a series of blogposts about it. I will try to cover at least a chapter each week.

I hesitate to ignore the preface and introduction to the book; they set the tone for the rest and provide an abstract of Sharansky's ideas:

I believe that all people are capable of creating a free society. I believe that all free societies will guarantee security and peace. And I believe that by linking international policy to building free socities, the free world can once again secure a better future for hundreds of millions of people around the world. (xxv)

However, it would be difficult to appraise these ideas without being able to examine specific examples. I think most modern people, from communists to Islamists, would agree that it is good to be "free" and that governments should try to advance the cause of freedom. If you don't believe me, find the writings of any anti-American; you won't have to look far to find terms like like "liberation" and "oppression." Therefore, I will critique only two aspects of the introduction before moving on to the first chapter.

Continue reading "Notes on CfD: Introduction" below the fold . . .

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2 July 2005 - Saturday

Identifying the enemy

Chris Bray is a history grad student who was recently called to active duty. He has posted some initial observations on attitudes seen so far among fellow soldiers at Fort Benning:

I hesitate to begin drawing Big Conclusions based on two weeks of barracks chatter and PowerPoint presentations, but it does seem to me that there's a problem with the idea that American military power is the right tool for a pedagogy of liberation. We are partners in freedom with the fucking ragheads, teaching those sneaky little fuckers about the values of a constitutional republic. Something seems a little off, there.

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28 June 2005 - Tuesday

A press release

Justice Souter's vote in the "Kelo vs. City of New London" decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.

On Monday June 27, Logan Darrow Clements, faxed a request to Chip Meany the code enforcement officer of the Towne of Weare, New Hampshire seeking to start the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road. This is the present location of Mr. Souter's home.

Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, points out that the City of Weare will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.

Supposedly, the proposal only needs the support of three selectmen to pass.

Via Liberty & Power.

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26 June 2005 - Sunday

Godwinzilla wreaks havoc

For some reason, I just can't post enough political links this weekend. So why stop now?

Here's a post by Derek Catsam on double standards in conservative outrage over Sen. Durbin's "Nazi" comments:

There is also more than a hint of opportunism by the right on this matter. For most of the Clinton Presidency and beyond (more on this momentarily), Rush Limbaugh referred to feminists as “feminazis.” Consider this in all of its audacity: women who supported legislation providing for pregnancy leave, or who wanted a form of universal health care, or who simply sat on the Democratic side of the aisle were being compared to Nazi killers. This clever usage of the pun was part of the name Limbaugh had given them! Where were the critics on the right?
And here's something I should have noticed a few days ago: If it is libelous to liken American actions to those of murderous foreign regimes, Caleb McDaniel wonders, can we at least compare American actions with American actions?
I wonder if Durbin's critics would have been nearly as vociferous if he had said, "Reading this FBI report, you might be excused for thinking you had stepped back onto a plantation in the antebellum South, or into a sweatshop in late-nineteenth-century New York, rather than into a twenty-first century military jail."

Perhaps some would have called for Durbin's apology for that too, on the grounds that Americans have moved beyond those sins of our past. But the fact that Americans have been capable of horrors in the past robs Durbin's critics of the right to say that the very word "American" does not belong in a sentence with the names of other countries with records of human rights abuses. We have a record of human rights abuses; we are not an unblemished exception to history.

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Neither Jew nor Greek

At Cliopatria, Ralph Luker has posted an open letter to Billy Graham:

You didn't join those [civil rights] marches either. I wish you had. But what you did do was to insist that you would not preach to a segregated audience. I like to remember that you opened your crusade in Louisville in September 1956, when our public school systems opened for the first time on a desegregated basis. I can't prove a cause and effect relationship between these two things, but there was no rioting in the streets. There was, instead, the marching to your crusade.
Update: The comment section on this post now has a fun little debate over anti-Semitic comments Graham made (in private, sort of) during the Nixon administration.

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25 June 2005 - Saturday

When governments attack

At Easily Distracted, Tim Burke has been writing about Zimbabwe's tribulations and the African Union's refusal to condemn Mugabe's actions. According to his analysis, the AU is more concerned with symbolic assertions of independence from the West than with humanitarian principle. More specifically, the AU's refusal to condemn Mugabe involves nationalism, complicity in human-rights violations, fear of popular uprisings, and the suspicion that the West's interest in Zimbabwe is racially motivated. Burke also notes that Mugabe's policies are systematically ruining the economy of the nation as a whole, not just hurting particular classes.

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Rendition gets interesting

For some reason, the Italians don't like kidnapping.

Judge Chiara Nobili of Milan signed the arrest warrants Thursday for 13 CIA agents suspected of capturing a radical imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, as he walked to his mosque for noon prayers on Feb. 17, 2003. His family claims that he has been tortured by his Egyptian captors.
(That's sort of the idea, isn't it? Over here, our constitution makes us so delicate; it's a wonder the US has survived so long.)

If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Egypt -- as it very well might if truly free elections were held -- the US is going to have a problem on its hands comparable to the problems caused by the Iranian revolution. Our policies are neither pro-democracy nor pro-law; they are pro-West, and that's one of the things that started our problems in the first place.

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24 June 2005 - Friday

Kelo v. New London

A lot of people I know are unhappy with the Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. New London. That is what interests me; my conservative friends wanted judicial intervention, which is fairly uncommon for them. Of course, they also tend to be very fond of private property.

At issue is the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment: "... Nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

In ruling that "public use" is up to the legislative authorities to define, the court does not seem to have been doing anything new. Since the end of the nineteenth century, the Supreme Court has defined "public use" as "public purpose" rather than strict use by the public. That leaves a lot to the discretion of the legislatures. "Subject to specific constitutional limitations," the court held in Berman v. Parker (1954),

when the legislature has spoken, the public interest has been declared in terms well-nigh conclusive. ... This principle admits of no exception merely because the power of eminent domain is involved. The role of the judiciary in determining whether that power is being exercised for a public purpose is an extremely narrow one.
On the other hand, that does leave open the possibility of some judicial involvement, doesn't it?

Continue reading "Kelo v. New London" below the fold . . .

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23 June 2005 - Thursday

Randy sees the president

Randy, our very own DC intern, got to attend a Social-Security-reform rally today. "Strangely, I was a bit more excited to see Ben Stein than I was Bush," he told me. His reaction to the staginess of the event is here.

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22 June 2005 - Wednesday

So ... flag-burning

Yeah, I oppose the proposed amendment. If flag-burning is not political speech, then what's the problem with it? -- and if it is political speech, what right do we have to outlaw it?

Of course, if burning a US flag were incitement to some violent act, it could be a different story. But I don't think it is; even pacifists can get their point across by burning flags.

Prof. Volokh, however, has a more interesting way of putting it:

"Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States, and the flying of the Confederate flag."

OK, so that's not exactly how the proposed flag protection amendment reads — I've added the Confederate flag phrase. But this little thought experiment helps show that the flag protection amendment is a bad idea.

After all, burning the U.S. flag and flying the Confederate flag are similar in many ways. Some people argue that flagburning shouldn't be protected by the First Amendment because it isn't "speech." Well, burning one flag and waving another are pretty similar on that score. I think both are traditional terms in our political language, and should be constitutionally protected; but if I'm wrong, then both should be unprotected.

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19 June 2005 - Sunday

Enlightenment and civilization

Spotted at RushLimbaugh.com:

NEW! NEW! The Club G'itmo T-Shirt - What Happens in G'itmo Stays in G'itmo
A MUST Have. Club G'itmo logo on front. "What Happens in G'itmo stays in G'itmo emblazoned on back." Available in Institutional Orange only in sizes: S, M, L, XL, XXL, and now in XXXL & XXXXL!

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The considerate judgment of mankind

Today is Juneteenth. 140 years ago, Union forces finally read the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston, freeing the first of Texas' 250,000 slaves. The proclamation had been issued two and a half years earlier.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the name of "military necessity" under Lincoln's authority as commander-in-chief of the military. As such, it applied only to confederate territory occupied by federal troops. It remained for the Thirteenth Amendment, which would be ratified six months after news of emancipation reached Texas, to abolish slavery throughout the United States.

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18 June 2005 - Saturday

Paint them a picture

It occurs to me that I have not responded to Amnesty's "gulag of our time" comments (and similar remarks made recently by other Bush critics). My slowness results from an inability to communicate just how ludicrous the simile is; I wasn't sure what I could say to make the problem more obvious than it already would be to any informed observer.

At Obsidian Wings, however, Charles Bird found a way.

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17 June 2005 - Friday

Two things I read earlier today

Here's one of them:

But here again we confront the very uncomfortable, very unwelcome, but very real dilemma that Islam presents to a Christian country that has always cherished religious pluralism. My own view is that even absent the irritant of Islam, religious pluralism would be a problem; indeed, it is one of the great problems of human politics, and anyone who says otherwise is a dangerous fool. But Islam exaggerates it. Whether we like it or not (and most of us do not), its emergence in America will cast us inevitably back into a quarrel between civilizations that is older than virtually anything else on earth. That our lovable secularists will never comprehend it makes it no less real; that our hidebound multiculturalists detest it makes it no less valid; that our ahistorical Christians have forgotten it makes it no less urgent; that our Liberals (including many who fancy themselves Conservatives) think it quite unreal makes it no less vexatious. A freshman at the school exhibits more wisdom than most Western commentators: “Muslims try to be American, but we don't know how. The cultures are so different."

The question we must face is whether we want to let this quarrel become an ever-larger part of our own character and destiny as a nation. If we continue to insouciantly let the world come to America, America will soon become the world; and for 1,400 years a conspicuous feature of the world has been the confrontation between Islam and Christendom.

And here's the other:
Indeed, if we consider his origins and his type, he has been simply tactless; he did in the Army what he would have done in a bank or at a racetrack: he sold information to the competition. He has abused the confidence placed in him, but he has not committed any crime against the country. In order to betray his country, he had to have one, and a country is not acquired by means of an act of naturalization. One's country is the land of one's forefathers, the land of one's ancestors: Dreyfus's ancestors were not of our land; they were everywhere wanderers and nomads, and their sons had no notion of what a fatherland meant.

Barrès put it beautifully:

One understands by nation a group of men united by common legends, a tradition, customs formed in a common milieu during a more or less long series of ancestors. Naturalization is a legal fiction which allows for sharing in the advantage of a nation but which cannot give it character.

You have been criminal in relying on these strangers. To these itinerants, to those who in Rome are called peregrini, you divulge your most sacred secrets. You are ridiculous in judging those who have abused your idiotic lack of foresight in the name of an ideal, traditions, conceptions, which are not theirs.

The first quotation comes from Paul J. Cella at RedState.org, a Republican community blog. The entry refers to a Time photo-essay on an Islamic school in Illinois.

The second quotation comes from Édouard Drumont, founder of the Anti-Semitic League in nineteenth-century France. It comes from a newspaper article, "The Soul of Dreyfus" (1894), in which Drumont explained his anti-Semitism. [Trans. by Leslie Derfler in The Dreyfus Affair (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002) 121-123.]

I just happened to read both articles today, that's all.

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9 June 2005 - Thursday

The right to speak

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

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31 May 2005 - Tuesday

WaPo confirms it

"The Washington Post today confirmed

that W. Mark Felt, a former number-two official at the FBI, was "Deep Throat," the secretive source who provided information that helped unravel the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and contributed to the resignation of president Richard M. Nixon.

The confirmation came from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, and their former top editor, Benjamin C. Bradlee. The three spoke after Felt's family and Vanity Fair magazine identified the 91-year-old Felt, now a retiree in California, as the long-anonymous source who provided crucial guidance for some of the newspaper's groundbreaking Watergate stories.

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Generally accepted techniques

This is a few days old, but I just saw it for the first time: "In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates' Deaths," by Tim Golden.

The New York Times describes a recent army investigation into two deaths of persons not protected by the Geneva Conventions:

Last October, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command concluded that there was probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses in the Dilawar case ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter. Fifteen of the same soldiers were also cited for probable criminal responsibility in the Habibullah case.

So far, only the seven soldiers have been charged, including four last week.


Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were "in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques."


"I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus," [said] Lt. Col. Elizabeth Rouse, the coroner, and a major at that time.


Sergeant Yonushonis described what he had witnessed of the detainee's last interrogation. "I remember being so mad that I had trouble speaking," he said.

He also added a detail that had been overlooked in the investigative file. By the time Mr. Dilawar was taken into his final interrogations, he said, "most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent."

Via The Scope.

Now, for entertaining commentary on a slightly different topic, here's Rush Limbaugh (27 May 2005):

I'll tell you what, folks. one of the things that gets really frustrating is when I hear anybody -- I don't care what party they're from or ideology they're from -- say, "I am concerned about America's image in the world." Well, can I tell you something? I'm not concerned about our image in the world. I'm going to raise my hand. "I am not concerned about our image in the world, because right now, we got priorities that supersede our image and one of them is national security and the protection of the future of the country." That doesn't mean I'm not interested in our image around the world, but I think I know what it already is. Our image around the world is pretty damned good. Our image around the world is one that's great; you're just listening to the wrong people.

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21 April 2005 - Thursday

Papal e-mail

I don't really have anything to say to him, but somebody else might, so I thought I'd mention it. Benedict XVI has been given an e-mail address: benedictxvi@vatican.va. I'm sure that answering millions of electronic messages is pretty high on his priority list . . . .

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19 April 2005 - Tuesday


I'll be a monkey's uncle. Ratzinger is now Pope Benedict XVI.

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3 April 2005 - Sunday


Reuters has brief sketches of some of the apparent contenders for the papacy ("papabili").

To me, for some reason, one of the most interesting is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a relatively obscure Jesuit from Argentina. Among his qualifications: Latin American origins (yet an Italian family), an apparently militant lack of ambition, the fact that no Jesuit has ever been pope before, and the fact that I haven't seen his name on many other lists. ("He who enters the conclave as pope leaves it as a cardinal.")

Catholic-Pages.com has a fun description of the election process.

For those with a taste for the tasteless, the Dennis for Pope campaign has a helpful list of current contenders.

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2 April 2005 - Saturday

Hazlitt online

Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson is now available online. I wish the PDF were not just a photocopy of the book, though; the file is a bit too large to be practical -- unlike the text itself, which is splendid for readers with limited experience in political economy.

Noticed at Liberty and Power.

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Twenty-six years ago

AP correspondent Robert H. Reid was in Warsaw:

On an icy October night a quarter-century ago, a nervous-looking anchorman on Polish television stared at his notes as he blurted out the news: "A new pope has been elected." Pausing, he added: "It's Wojtyla," and then went on to report the rest of the day's news.

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1 March 2005 - Tuesday

This is your credibility. This is your credibility on WMD.

If genocide happens, and the only powerful people to notice it are the same people who invaded Iraq to secure WMD that cannot be proved to have existed in several years, is it genocide?

Salih Booker, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Africa Action, attributed the inaction to Security Council members' own interests and to a loss of U.S. moral authority in the world body in the wake of now discredited claims about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

''China is the single largest investor in Sudan's oil industry; Russia has significant arms deals with Khartoum, and both countries want to avoid scrutiny of their own internal wars against various ethnic communities,'' Booker said in a Foreign Policy in Focus commentary. ''Pakistan and Algeria have either ideological or political interests in helping the government in Sudan. All four abstained.''

Added Booker, ''Once upon a time, Washington could have exercised its clout as the most powerful nation in the world and handily won over the support of these recalcitrant members. But now, the country that cried wolf (over Iraq) has lost the moral authority it needs to rally its global neighbors.''

Sudanese officials have countered U.S. claims of genocide by saying that Washington presented a false dossier on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and now is presenting a dossier against Sudan, another Arab state with oil, he said.

''Sadly, such cynical skepticism resonates in large parts of the world,'' said Booker.

Abid Islam, writing for OneWorld.

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20 February 2005 - Sunday

Bringing an end to history

The fact that European nations, more accustomed to the tragic vicissitudes of history, still have a measure of misgiving about our leadership in the world community is due to their fear that our "technocratic" tendency to equate the mastery of nature with the mastery of history could tempt us to lose patience with the tortuous course of history. We might be driven to hysteria by its inevitable frustrations. We might be tempted to bring the whole of modern history to a tragic conclusion by one final and mighty effort to overcome its frustrations. The political term for such an effort is "preventive war." It is not an immediate temptation; but it could become so in the next decade or two.

A democracy can not of course, engage in an explicit preventive war. But military leadership can heighten crises to the point where war becomes unavoidable.

The power of such a temptation to a nation, long accustomed to expanding possibilities and only recently subjected to frustration, is enhanced by the spiritual aberrations which arise in a situation of intense enmity. The certainty of the foe's continued intrasigence seems to be the only fixed fact in an uncertain future. Nations find it even more difficult than individuals to preserve sanity when confronted with a resolute and unscrupulous foe. Hatred disturbs all residual serenity of spirit and vindictiveness muddies every pool of sanity. In the present situation even the sanest of our statesmen have found it convenient to conform their policies to the public temper of fear and hatred which the most vulgar of our politicians have generated or exploited. Our foreign policy is thus threatened with a kind of apoplectic rigidity and inflexibility. Constant proof is required that the foe is hated with sufficient vigor. Unfortunately the only persuasive proof seems to be the disavowal of precisely those discriminate judgments which are so necessary for an effective conflict with the evil, which we are supposed to abhor.

The above is from The Irony of American History (1952: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 145-146), by "Christian realist" Reinhold Niebuhr. The "preventive war" feared was a nuclear first strike.

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Librarians of Europe, unite!

Jean-Noël Jeanneney, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, is raising a hue and cry about the new American hegemon, Google Print. This Internet behemoth, by providing information freely across the globe, poses an epistemological threat to the Continent:

Here we have the risk of a crushing domination by America in defining the idea that later generations will have of the world [...] the criteria of choice will be powerfully marked (even if we contribute ourselves, naturally without sulking, to these riches) by the perspective which is that of the Anglo-Saxons, with its specific coloration with respect to the diversity of civilizations.
Writing this in Le Monde, Jeanneney urges Brussels to mobilize to counter this threat with (surprise!) a bureaucratic solution:
It's by going forward with public funds that we will guarantee to citizens and to researchers -- providing needed expenses as taxpayers and not as consumers -- protection against the perverse effects of profit-seeking hidden behind the appearance of disinterested service.
Observing all of this at Language Log (which is the source of the preceding translations), Mark Liberman is amused:
As someone with a couple of decades of experience in negotiating information-sharing arrangements with European agencies in general, and French ones in particular, I'm enjoying a quiet chuckle at the thought of the "protection against perverse effects" that the people serving in such entities can be trusted to provide.

I think that I wish M. Jeanneney well in his campaign. An intercontinental competition to see whose library resources can be more interesting, attractive and open -- how could that be bad? (Well, since I asked: if all European digital library funding, along with various special IPR privileges, were to become the exclusive territory of an agency that is skilled in protecting its mandate, but sclerotic or incompetent in carrying it out. Could this happen? Let's say that there are precedents... It's not only in the private sector that more selfish motives can hide behind the appearance of disinterested service.)

I would add that it might be worth M. Jeanneney's time to consider the possibility that American cultural power is so great precisely because the USA generally avoids bureaucratic solutions; American organizations have to build market share in order to survive. American cultural production is of questionable quality but undeniable reach as a result.

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16 February 2005 - Wednesday

Just because . . .

. . . I haven't said anything about Iraq in awhile:

Unrest in Iraq is providing Islamist militants with training and contacts which could be used in new attacks abroad, the head of the CIA has warned. . . .

In Iraq, [DCI Porter Goss] said, the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was seeking to exploit the conflict to recruit for broader operations.

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism," he said.

"They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks." [emphasis mine]

I sympathize with the vision of Iraqi democracy as much as anyone. I would love to believe that democratization can be the top priority for American foreign policy. I will be as happy as anyone if this invasion ultimately succeeds in creating a stable and benign Iraqi government (I have doubts, but we won't have the whole story for a few more years).

But whatever its humanitarian merits, this invasion was not a legitimate part of a war on international terrorism. It destroyed a government that was, at worst, a second-order and relatively deterrable threat to our interests. There was no confirmed terrorist threat from Iraq for years before the invasion. Now the country hosts multiple organized and uncontrolled groups of anti-American militants.

You may defend the invasion on humanitarian grounds if you like, but please don't call it part of the "war on terror."

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27 January 2005 - Thursday

What rough beast

When I walk the ground of the concentration camps, I fear that I am walking on the ashes of the victims.

--Moshe Katsav, president of Israel.

Auschwitz was liberated 60 years ago.

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10 January 2005 - Monday


I should not be awake this early on the day before classes begin. As much as I like walking through morning fog, I'm not sure man was ever really meant to be conscious before 9 a.m.

I am about to spend the morning and afternoon in a highly inefficient manner: sitting at a table in the course registration line, enabling students to register to vote. Experience says that only a handful of students will be interested; most register long before they get here. This semester should be even less exciting than usual, since everybody interested in voting should have registered for the last presidential election. The exceptions will be those students just turning 18, just arriving at LeTourneau for the first time this semester, or needing to change their voter registration from one location to another. For the most part, my job today will be simply to answer questions and help direct people through the course registration lines.

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30 December 2004 - Thursday

Building a brand

Michael Beschloss just caught my attention on television. He suggested that the US government tends to respond best in foreign emergencies when American interests are at stake. The Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe, for example, was developed to counter Soviet influence on the continent. If America is going to respond decisively to the crisis in the Indian Ocean, we need a "foreign policy imperative."

I'll give you a foreign policy imperative. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, and is actively engaged in a civil war against extreme religious elements. Meanwhile, American public diplomacy, particularly where Muslim nations are concerned, is not in very good shape.

Unfortunately, it looks as if the biggest problems in Indonesia and elsewhere are not related to parsimonious allocations of aid on the part of outsiders, but local logistic chaos and mismanagement. It would be nice if the transportation power of Western militaries could be allowed into the disaster areas to help with that.

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23 July 2004 - Friday

Iraq: Hindsight is my major

Two days ago, after several weeks of docility, I suddenly felt the urge to comment on the Iraq war again. After scribbling down a few thoughts before class Tuesday morning, I decided that I had achieved a state of intellectual nirvana sufficient to risk a reexamination of the rationale for war.

For those who do not know, I opposed the American-led invasion of Iraq. I did so in full certainty that Saddam was brutalizing his own people and possessed weapons of mass destruction. I did so for reasons that seemed to me as entirely consistent with conservative ideology.

Now that sovereignty has been delivered to representatives of the Iraqi people, perhaps I can comment on the war without being accused of jeopardizing the American mission in Iraq. In any case, I realize that I write in hindsight; that is my intention. I would like to bring together what I said before the invasion and what I have seen since. Most (although not all) of the arguments I am about to make were made by me before the war began. I want to demonstrate that they still apply. I will attempt to address (not exhaustively, but persuasively) arguments based on the existence of WMD, the reactions of other hostile regimes, the danger from stateless terrorists, and the defense of human rights. I will try to base my case on premises that most conservatives already accept or can accept easily.

My argument begins by making a distinction between the goals, methods, and vulnerabilities of Saddam and Usama bin Laden. The "war on terror," after all, is based on a recognition that international terrorism is now mostly stateless. We generally did not speak of being at war with Afghanistan, because Afghanistan was more of a battleground or stronghold in a larger conflict than it was an active adversary. Nation-states, unlike Al Qaeda, are stationary; their governments, unlike Bin Laden, have a lot to lose. Ironically, the more corrupt and selfish a dictator is, the easier he may be to deter. Saddam was not in much danger from internal forces, but he was extremely vulnerable to retaliation for any external aggression he could have attempted. For this reason, although Saddam sponsored terrorism, after 1993 he sponsored mostly regional terrorism (including terrorism against one of our enemies) and did so to a lesser extent than Iran and Syria. Iran, by the way, is alleged by Washington to be closer to having nuclear arms than Iraq was when we attacked. I think therefore that the offensive against Saddam, although not entirely groundless, was given improperly high priority. Furthermore, I think that a policy of continued deterrence would have been a much wiser choice in the long run.

If Saddam had suddenly gone suicidal and decided to attack the United States, he would probably have considered 900 American dead, 6,000 wounded, and $120 billion in damage a significant yield. Certainly the USA would have. Yet Saddam did not attack us, for obvious reasons (13 carrier battle groups' worth). The United States initiated a war nonetheless, and has sustained roughly that level of casualty and economic cost so far. And while conservatives are correct to say that American losses have been slight by the standards of the twentieth century, they are perhaps forgetting that Saddam was not in a good position to wage twentieth-century warfare. Whatever Saddam's WMD capabilities were, the American deterrent was literally a thousand times more powerful.

Speaking of WMD, of course, it might be wise for conservatives to stop insisting that weapons stockpiles ever existed inside of Iraq. If these nasty things existed and still exist, then somebody knows where they are. Possibly they are no longer inside of Iraq, since insurgents (with one pathetic exception) have not attempted to use them against the Coalition. Whether these agents are now under the control of other governments or are on the black market or worse, the American invasion has utterly failed in its mission to prevent proliferation. Before, these weapons were allegedly under the control of a man who could easily be held responsible for their use; now the demons play hide-the-thimble with them. (Note that UNMOVIC has reported the discovery of Iraqi materiel, although not WMD, in Jordan and the Netherlands.)

Despite this, conservatives point to some positive developments in other Muslim nations. Libya, in particular, seems very eager to cooperate with America now. The United States has demonstrated who is boss, it seems. There are three flaws in this assessment, however. First, Libya was cooperating with the West even before 11 September 2001. An initial outlay of violence by the Reagan administration was followed by years of international sanctions; as early as 1999, Qadhafi was turning over some of his citizens for trial on terrorism charges and severing ties with Abu Nidal and more radical Palestinian groups. Qadhafi had nothing to gain by attacking the West again, but he had quite a lot to gain through cooperation — and cooperate he has, one step at a time. Second, such states and their authoritarian regimes are largely the threat of 15 years ago, not of today. Most of them stand to lose if radicals have their way. They are no longer agents operating under the protection of Cold War bipolarity, or jockeying for spoils in the aftermath of the USSR's collapse. Since the world combined against Saddam's aggression in 1991, America has had far more to fear from chaos (Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan) than from dictatorship. This leads to the third problem. American policy is not very consistent. From the perspective of a "war on terror," it seems obvious that several other nations are greater threats. Iran and Sudan are particularly troublesome (both, by the way, are ruled by radical religious councils, unlike Iraq). Among our allies, Pakistan (a nuclear power) has failed to root out support for Al Qaeda even in its own government. Saudi Arabia, although conservative and friendly to the USA, is a repressive autocracy with interesting ties to the Wahhabi movement; American support for the Saudi government and similar regimes is apparently one of the greatest factors polarizing resentment against the United States, even as the Saudis entertain ideas repugnant to the democratic world.

Consistency is also lacking in the humanitarian case for war. Certainly Saddam was a threat to his own people. But mass graves are hardly more common in Iraq than in North Korea or Sudan. In fact, the plight of the Iraqis barely figured at all into the legal case for invasion, with good reason. No one whines about international encroachments upon national sovereignty more than do American conservatives. (For that matter, it always seemed odd that those who so vehemently approve of the use of hard measures by the state of Israel, would so readily subordinate national military capabilities to UNSC resolutions. But wait, you say — Iraq was only subject to UN oversight because it had invaded another nation. Of course, say I — and Israel is only in trouble because it has occupied the land of its neighbors.) In any case, because no international legal framework exists for humanitarian regime change, the presence of human rights abuses does not amount to a legal case for war.

Here is another problem with a conservative appeal to human rights as a justification of invasion. Most conservatives believe not only that abortion is morally wrong, but also that it is wrong because it is a form of murder. If this is so, then the US Supreme Court is responsible for about 40 million murders over a span of 31 years. This is a far greater number than Saddam ever dreamed of killing. Suppose that a democratic but predominately Muslim regime, one that opposed abortion, were to invade the United States in order to end this slaughter. Would American conservatives fight on the side of our government? Of course they would! Virtually all opponents of abortion firmly condemn any use of violence to end it. Why? Because law and civilization must be preserved. Due process matters. (In addition, it is correctly argued that violent measures would be counterproductive.) The mere fact that evil is being committed does not necessarily validate any given measure for its suppression. One need not deny the reality that Saddam committed numerous atrocities (nor even deny that he possessed WMD, as I pointed out three paragraphs ago) in order to question the methodology employed against him by the Bush administration.

All of these flaws in the case for invasion come together to scuttle the Bush administration's policy of preventive warfare. The effectiveness of deterrence is well established; on that basis, the US survived 45 years of cold war with a much more powerful (and WMD-capable) enemy than Saddam. Our failure to secure Saddam's weapons even with Iraq under occupation exposes another problem with the logic of invasion; as long as we knew who had the weapons, we knew whom to hold responsible if they were used. People with something to lose can be persuaded not to use weapons, but pity he who must try to track down every last weapon in order to prevent an anonymous individual from using it. The resulting need for stability, this requirement that we strengthen the authority of states and preserve the regularity of their relations with each other, makes the subsequent chaos in Iraq an acute danger to our interests. This need also means that it is unwise to have nations invading each other for humanitarian reasons; unless a very firm legal framework can be developed, such intrusions are based solely on the sensibilities of the most powerful (tempered by their own national interests, which may not be amenable to the rights of others) and thus undermine the rule of law.

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