Friday, May 09, 2003

Does anybody remember the online debate between Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan during the first weeks of the war? If not, here’s a recap.

The last weekend in March was an ugly war weekend: Invading troops received an unexpectedly hostile reception from the Iraqis in the south, the 3rd Mechanized Infantry got stuck somewhere near Nasiriya, and supply lines were being stretched dangerously thin. Few doubted what the final outcome of the war would be, but many (including some retired generals) were openly saying that more troops should have been sent it. To top it off, on Monday, March 31, The New Yorker published a damning article about Donald Rumsfeld’s war plan, essentially saying that the Defense Secretary, believing his own and Richard Perle’s propaganda that the Saddam regime was a house of cards that would collapse “at the first whiff of gunpowder,” ignored the advice of his generals to send in a larger force.

When it began to look as though somebody up top had grossly miscalculated, skeptics like Josh Marshall went on the offensive, citing articles with “senior administration sources” trying to cover the president’s ass, arguing he’d been given bum advice by the Pentagon. Marshall wrote:

The White House is in such a state of pandemonium and implosion that they are discarding the policy -- indeed, they are positively undermining it -- in the hopes of insulating the president from the immense fall-out that they can see barreling down the track.
Sullivan, a conservative hawk, took Marshall to task, arguing that he was getting a bit hysterical in the heat of the moment, and pointing out that the war had just begun, things could still go well, and it was too early to say whether there was any screw-up to speak of.

Marshall countered: "The problem is that our political situation is not nearly as good as our military one. And our ultimate goals are political, not military."

Sullivan: "What if we'd done what Josh seems now to support: a massive 1991-style 500,000 troop, lumbering onslaught through the deserts? Wouldn't that have looked much more like an invasion than the current action?"

I remember reading that and thinking: Please! There's a pretty good reason you didn’t see any Arab opinion makers saying at the start of the war: "Hey, what they're doing isn't so bad; they could have send twice as many troops!" An invasion is an invasion; if you’re going to do it, do it right. End of story.

This is a narrow sampling of a debate that's worth reading in its entirety. But after reading Salam Pax’s war blog, I think it’s safe to say you’d be hard pressed to find an ordinary, sensible Iraqi who didn’t wish there had been more U.S. troops from the get-go.

Now Sullivan looks like he's reversed himself:

Iraq needs order. We'll get criticized for being too heavy-handed whatever we do. So why aren't American troops in large numbers being deployed to keep the peace, restore order and exercise credible authority?
It's a very good question, and that’s precisely why Marshall won the earlier debate by a country mile.

Sullivan’s turnaround was pointed out by Slate’s Mickey Kaus on Wednesday. Sullivan tries to claim that his position hasn't changed -- only circumstances have.

The Mickster claims I have reversed myself on the are-there-enough-troops question. Nuh-huh. It seems clear to me that Mickey lost Round One of this debate. There clearly were enough troops to win the war. It's a separate question whether we now have sufficient troops to keep the peace. Two different issues. Two different views. Are they related? Somewhat. But we've had almost a month to get more troops in place - plenty of time. My criticism is directed at the post-war order, not the war-plan.
Either that, or everybody else was thinking ahead and you weren’t. No sensible person doubted we'd win the war. Plenty of people questioned what would happen after we won the war – everybody, it seems, except Bush and his supporters.

Again: "That distant, lonesome wail you hear, Andy?…”
A Post From Baghdad Station
If you are reading this it means that things have gone as I hope and either Diana or my cousin has posted to the blog....

Thus begins the long awaited return of Salam Pax. It's the moment we all (or at least I) have been waiting for. I stayed up until 3am reading his wartime blog last night; and he's posted again since then.

On life today in Baghdad:
The streets markets look like something out of a William Gibson novel. Heaps of cheap RAM (stolen of course) is being sold beside broken monitors beside falafel stands and weapons are all available. Fights break out justlikethat and knives come out from nowhere, knives just bought 5 minutes ago.
On the new American "administration":
American civil administration in Iraq is having a shortage of Bright ideas. I keep wondering what happened to the months of “preparation” for a “post-saddam” Iraq. What happened to all these 100-page reports, where is that Dick Cheney report? Why is every single issue treated like they have never thought it would come up?
On the Iraqi Communist Party and the Communist Workers Party:
I am still offering to volunteer if they do some cosmetic changes to their name. They have their hearts in the right place, unlike most other parties who have their hearts near their wallets. But “Communist”? I will look like a “Communards” fan if I start wearing red stars and buttons with the sickle-and-hammer thing.
On the looting:
So how clean are the hands of the US forces? Can they say “well we couldn’t do anything” and be let off the hook? Hell no. If I open the doors for you and watch you steel am I not an accomplice? They did open doors. Not to freedom but to chaos while they kept what they wanted closed. They decided to turn and look at the other side. And systematically did don’t show up with their tanks until all was gone and there was nothing left.

On Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke's memorably hideous fashion sense:
The news programs drive me crazy but they are all we are watching. I specially like the Pentagon Show, him with the distracting facial expressions and her with her loud costumes.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Buy, buy, buy! NYTimes picks up the Iraqi debt story. The traded debt originally lent by banks, that is, not the what they're negotiating about in Paris right now, which was money lent by other countries. That is, the London Club versus the Paris Club. Slate has a nice little explainer if you're confused.

In the Times article, this sentence jumped out:
A widely held view in Washington is that loans made to the Hussein government amount to "odious debt" that the lenders should forgive.
You've got to admit, it's nice terminology. I also notice this Richard Segal character at London's Exotix is really the man to talk to about exotic debt. Maybe they should change their name to Odi-ux?

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

If you're reading this and feel like doing me a favor, please call the number (420) 608 122 620 and try to find out what you can about the person who picks up the phone. I just got a text message from that number that says, "How big is your dick?" Either it's a friend of mine with a new number, or some rube got my number from an ad for a new chef that ran in the Prague Pill and Prague TV. I'd bet the latter.
A few years ago I came up with an idea for a web site called "DeathIsNotAnOption.com." It was based on an old game we used to play in college. The idea is, you take turns asking, "Would you rather.... or..... ?" where the options are two almost equally horrific things -- death, of couse, not being an option. The best question I ever came up with is so obscene that I can't write it here, lest my parents be reading.

The web site would have been a simple database-generated game which spits the questions out at you. It would solicit new "would-you-rather" options from viewers, and then rank the relative attractiveness of each option based on people's answers. When the site generates the questions, options of equal or near-equal attractiveness would compete against one another. Ideally, there would be enough options that each question would be a genuine stumper.

Unfortunately, someone else seemed to have come up with this idea at the same time, because shortly after I starting mulling it over, the domain was registered. They still haven't done anything with it, though.

Anyway, I thought of this because Aaron "I'd-rather-cut-my-arm-off-with-a-pocket-knife" Ralston gives new meaning to the idea that death is not truly not an option.

Ralston told his parents he knew he had four choices: Someone could find him, he could move the boulder with his climbing gear, he could chip away at the rock, or he could cut off his right forearm with a pocketknife. Dying wasn't an alternative, his father said.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Hee, hee, hee, hee! More lefty goodness on This Modern World as Tom Tomorrow notes Andrew Sullivan's creeping realization that Republicans are intolerant bastards.

I recently had an email exchange with a (gay) friend who complained that Sullivan is seen as some sort of spokesman for the gay community. Indeed, this view has given rise to a number of hatchet jobs (such as this one) from the gay left. (Read this Salon article -- harsh, and deservedly so -- for a take-down of Sullivan's absurd comments about AIDS.)

But what bothers me the most has nothing to do with the fact that Sullivan's gay. Rather, it's that he clearly sees himself as a sensitive, thinking man's conservative. He's not. He's nothing more than an urban, pseudo-sophisticated Rush Limbaugh, with the same cocksuredness and the same truncated worldview. Which is precisely why Sullivan's blog is only amusing (and then, unintentionally) when he get itchy and almost, for a moment, looks like he might actually be questioning his own assumptions. Very rare, but you sort of saw it happen with the Rick Santorum flap:

And I've learned a lot this past week - especially about elite conservative indifference to limited government, if it means offending the religious right. One factual note: I don't consider myself a Republican. Never have. Given what some of the party base represent, I'm relieved not to carry that burden. It may be necessary to support Republicans at times -- in the war on terror, for example, we have precious little choice right now. But no-one should ignore the dark thread of big-government intolerance that exists in the G.O.P. It's still there; and it threatens you and me.
"I've learned a lot"? What, that the American right is intolerant? Woah, stop the presses.

More recently, Sullivan received a bunch of hate mail when he dared criticize Bush's ridiculous aircraft carrier campaign speech. Tom Tomorrow's comeback:

The irony, of course, is that Sullivan has been doing his damndest for the past several years to polarize politics, to blot out all grey tones until nothing is left but nice, clear black and white divisions....

And now he's shocked that the audience he has attracted with such rhetoric has little use for nuance. That distant, lonesome wail you hear, Andy? It's the Clue Train, and it pulled out of the station long before you ever got through the turnstile.
I laughed uproariously.
Some interesting thoughts from Tom Tomorrow on the Republican's crass decision to hold their convention in New York City on or near Sept. 11.

In short, Karl Rove's brilliant convention-in-New-York strategy could backfire, especially if enough people focus on the heart of the matter: the Republicans are coming here to dance on the graves of three thousand New Yorkers.
Not to mention that in terms of national politics, New York City is pretty solidly Democratic -- even their Republican mayors would qualify on Dems on the national stage.

A lot of people (like The New Republic, says Slate's In Other Magazines) are raining on the "SARS = Chernobyl" parade. (That is, the idea that the SARS outbreak will generate reform in China.) "Writing from Beijing, Jasper Becker argues that the epidemic hasn't prompted openness—instead, it's given the Chinese Communist Party a chance to shore up its power. Officials have used the outbreak to further restrict civil liberties and the press..."

Indeed, I noticed this creepy comment buried at the bottom of a NYTimes article one week ago:

''Once China's leaders focus on problems and are determined to take action, they usually manage to resolve them -- sometimes with brutal efficiency,'' a Goldman Sachs report concluded. ''You may call that a virtue of authoritarian government.''
No, actually, I'd call that a virtue of a government that's focused on problems and determined to take action. I'm not sure that describes the Chinese Communist Party.
Sometimes you just gotta ask yourself: Did the Syrian government, bowing to U.S. pressure, really close the Damascus office of Hamas, or didn't they? Apparently a naive reporter for The New York Times thought he could just called up the Damascus office of Hamas to find out. The rube!

As for Hamas, the office in Syria is on the outskirts of Damascus and consists of a modest apartment in a residential building. An iron gate protects the door, and visitors must remove their shoes. A representative, speaking by phone, said he was not sure what was happening, and suggested that he was under some restraint. "I don't know if it is closed or not," he said. "If I am here, it doesn't mean it's open."
Via Today's Papers.
Here's a new Prague-based blog called The Daily Czech written by none other than -- a native Czech person!
Once upon a time, Prague Castle (the seat of the mostly powerless Czech presidency) was a fun-loving place. According to a friend who worked there as a proofreader, even some of Havel's top advisers joked that they were living in "Kafka's Castle." Yet somehow they managed to facilitate great cultural events like the Respect World Music Festival, which saw Manu Chao playing on the Castle grounds last year.

Now, read this Prague Pill article about the mood of the Castle under Vaclav Klaus (via PragueBlog):

Unsurprisingly, Richard Vidlièka, the new director of programs at the Castle, was unable to comment on anything more substantive than the beautiful weather when contacted by the Pill. “The press department is quite new and they like to check all the comments before they are released,” says the new director, whose timidity Holeèek ascribes to typical Czech lack of courage. “I have the feeling that if you were in his office and you asked, ‘Can I move this chair two meters to the right?’ he would answer that he doesn’t know, that he has to check.” Despite Vidlièka’s assurance that our questions would be addressed, no response was received by press time. “Everyone there is afraid of making a decision,” says Holeèek. “They send everything up to the president’s office for approval.”
The Lakeland, Fla., Ledger gushes over a recent Dixie Chicks concert.

Before the concert, a single, lone protester stood outside with a sign that said, "I'm ashamed the Chicks are from Texas."
But then what do you expect from a state where the majority of people tried to vote for Al Gore?