Friday, November 07, 2003

This published recently in National Review:

The Czech Republic stands by its claim that 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta met in Prague in April 2001 with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim an-Ani, an Iraqi diplomat/intelligence agent. He was expelled two weeks after the suspected meeting with Atta for apparently hostile surveillance of Radio Free Europe's Prague headquarters, from which American broadcasts to Iraq emanate.
First of all, the broadcasts to Iraq emanate from another location outside of the center, as I understand it. Second of all, I'd like to know from a source considerably less partisan than National Review whether the Czechs really stand by that story. This is how I understand it, briefly: The Czechs reported the Atta meeting. Then the New York Times's James Risen reported that a) the Czechs realized the report was almost certainly false and b) Havel "quietly" called the White House and told them this. Then Havel's spokesman released a story saying the Times story was wrong and that Havel never made such a phone call.

So.... Was the Times story wrong in that no such phone call (officially) took place? Or was the entire premise of the Times story wrong -- that the Czechs determined that the meeting never happened? I wish somebody would get to the bottom of this. In fact, I think I'll write to Havel's former spokesperson, Jakub Hladik, and ask him.
Graffiti seen in Zizkov, near the Palac Flora shopping mall: "Fuck Switzerland."

The assumption that events will conform to a preconceived model is a failing to which neoconservatives are notably vulnerable. Part of this may be Marxist residue that never quite washed off. The intellectual descendants of Trotskyists, the neocons find the idea of revolution from above, in which intellectuals and ideas play the crucial role, instinctively appealing.
That's gotta sting.

Over at Slate, it seems the big names are doing the rhetorical back-to-basics routine: restating the arguments for going into Iraq, along with the old concerns about what happens if something goes wrong. At least now we're actually grounded in reality, rather than somebody's wishful thinking version of it. (Most of are, in any case.)

I was actually glad to see Matt Welch take a shot at (!!) Christopher Hitchens on Reason's Hit & Run blog. Hitchens is great and all, but he seems to say nothing new in his piece justifying the war. (It seems a prerequisite for smart Hitchens critiques to start, "Hitchens is great and all but...," so there you go.) Not saying anything new isn't bad, but worse is the implicit defence of government deception, not to mention a few straw man arguments like this: "Before the war, it was a staple of anti-interventionist argument that Saddam was too well-armed to be attacked...." Um, I don't remember anybody saying that.

Meanwhile Slate editor Jake Weisberg can get away with big-picture arguments like the article quoted at the top of this post, even though we've heard it a hundred times before, because a) he's the editor and he can write what he wants, b) he's right c) experience has sort of proved him right.

I haven't read Bush's recent speech, but from what I read, it's one of the good ones. He talked about the ways in which -- if our side wins this war -- the lives of millions of people, not just in Iraq, will improve. He called for a transformation of political systems across the Middle East, including in Egypt (although Saudi Arabia got some mysterious props for changes already, supposedly, under way). Horray for that in any case.

Argument like this are the reason I almost thought the war was a good idea. But today, I have to wonder. Even if you buy this rationale wholesale, hasn't too much already gone wrong? Haven't we made too many enemies? Seems to me you'd want to try spreading democracy by making friends, not by alienating huge segments of the various populations. Isn't there any point at which the costs (having the entire world see the U.S. as an imperialist bogeyman paying the price for its own hubris) don't simply outweight the gains (democracy in the Middle East) but make those gains well-nigh impossible?

We shouldn't be thinking that way because we want it to be true. We don't. At least I don't. But we should be thinking that way to ensure things don't go horribly wrong. Again.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Zbigniew Brzezinski on Bush's foreign policy: "We cannot have that relationship if we only dictate or threaten and condemn those who disagree. … We should seek to cooperate with Europe, not to divide Europe into a fictitious 'new' and a fictitious 'old.'… While America is paramount, it isn't omnipotent. We need the Europeans. We need the European Union."

It's true. If you think for a second this "new" and "old" Europe thing isn't a lot of horseshit, I submit you're just plain clueless. (I wrote about this -- somewhat confusingly, as usual -- for Slate way back in the heady days of February. I just re-read that piece. I think I know what I'm trying to say, even if I don't say it very well.)

I also dig it when writers like Fred Kaplan use the word "Thucydides." Try saying it out loud. See? That so cool.
This is a placeholder post. Please disregard. Click here to read my friend's comic book.
Deported Terror Suspect Details Torture in Syria: "A Canadian citizen who was detained last year at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a suspected terrorist said Tuesday he was secretly deported to Syria and endured 10 months of torture in a Syrian prison. "

Avert your gaze quickly, because this is actually happening. And Slate's Today's Papers says the Washington Post is the only (major American) paper to give it any significant coverage.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I said there was nothing interesting being written on the blogosphere anymore and that the passion was gone. (That's the post where Bloopy commented 15 times about flip-flops.) Boy was I wrong.

Seems the hot political topic du jour is the potential defection of liberal hawks. The old free-living lefty writer Roger Simon probably started it when he said he was voting for Bush because of what he sees as the leading Dems' weak position on national security. (Actually, that's not exactly what he said, but it went in that direction.) Sullivan throws fuel on the fire by posting a few emails from liberal readers who said they turned pro-Bush after 9/11.

Michael Totten, one of the smartest liberal hawk bloggers, has become one of the go-to points for this, all of which has mysteriously roared to the forefront in the past few days.

Today Totten dropped a bit of a bombshell. He says might actually vote for Howard Dean, the go-to point for everybody who opposed the war from the beginning.

Howard Dean is not a left-wing extremist. He's a centrist who opposed regime-change in Iraq. As wrongheaded as I think that stance was, it's in the past. As for the present and the future, he's a staunch supporter of nation-building and Iraqi reconstruction.
Well then.

It's Agony of the Liberals, Part II. Why now? I guess because things are going worse than expected in Iraq, ergo the Democrat candidates feel, correctly, they should make some noise about it; said noise puts the hackles of the liberal hawks up, because of the unstated implication that the war was a bad idea to begin with. So the liberal hawks are starting to bite back.

Now if you've come here for my opinion, that's pretty easy: I was conflicted about the war from the beginning, so I'm not against a candidate who hasn't taken a hard line. (In the end, I think leaving the inspectors in on a semi-permanent basis -- yes, that means leaving Saddam Hussein in power -- was probably the least bad of numerous bad options.) And on that note, I'd like to speak up for the silent, conflicted majority: Those who saw both sides to the should-we or shouldn't-we debate and got more than a little annoyed with the shrill noises being made by the two camps of conviction.

At the end of the day, Bush can only run on his record, and there's very little he's done right that a more liberal president wouldn't have done equally as well. Afghanistan was a no-brainer. Iraq was and is a major brainer, and Bush has little to show for it. He could theoretically brag that where Clinton let Saddam stare him down, he forced Iraq to accept tough inspections again. But to what end?

And here's where I shoehorn in my prediction of the Great Bush Crack. This is the point in the campaign where his wilier opponent needles him with barbs and wisecracks to the point where he unleashes something so stupid, preposterous and transparently wrong-headed that you'll hear the thud in Australia -- of the nation's collective jaw hitting the floor. I haven't watched a presidential debate since 1992, but you'd better believe I'll be staying up for these ones.

I would love to have the ear of Howard Dean's campaign advisor for the next 12 months, because I honestly believe he could be the next president if he plays his cards right. Totten's right. Don't count him out just because he opposed the war. But it'll take a major mood swing on his part.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Apparently Izzy has leukemia and whereever he is, he's too sick to be coordinating the attacks in Iraq. (So says The Washington Times, citing vaguer than vague "sources familiar with the old regime's functioning.")
An email from a friend in America falls into the laugh-out-loud category. He's describing the wedding of a mutual college chum, Roger, to one Mildred (not their real names) :
Also at one point the DJ said, when we were looking at his lists of songs, "lemme save you the effort and tell you that the wedding party requested that I don't play hip hop or hard rock." What a bummer, but I guess it makes sense because we were going to request "Back that Ass Up" and well, it's not a universal crowd pleaser. But I complained about the hip hop ban to Roger and Mildred and Roger had it changed while Mildred said "Oh Hip Hop is okay, we just don't want any Rap." That handcuffed me.
The wedding sounded like it as a blast, in any case, and I'm sorry I missed it.
Why hasn't this received more attention?

Creation of Terrorists Must Be Stopped, Rumsfeld Says

Holy moly. Please please please, I'm waiting for some Democrat candidate with a noggin to stand up and ask, loud as hell: "What planet has this guy been living on the last two years?"

Seriously, am I missing something? Because Rumsfeld's recent riffing about madrassas is, like, so 2001. That doesn't mean the general sentiment isn't still correct -- but really, isn't he a bit late to this conversation? I mean, considering he's the Defense Secretary and all?

Moreover, stop for a sec and imagine a prominent lefty making similar remarks. With fairly good reason, The New Republic, Roger L. Simon and everybody to the right of Matt Groening would start jumping up and down about it. "Oh wait. Let guess... Give 'em a pat on the back to let them know we love 'em! Snicker snicker snorfle snorkfe huff huff hardy har har you spineless doofus this is WAR."

Now I want you to stay after class and write on the blackboard thirty times:
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
We must tackle the root causes of terrorism
Juicy stuff on Izzy: He was negotiating his surrender. Check this out.

DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources reveal that, during the week between the initial rocket attack on Baghdad's al Rashid Hotel on October 26 where US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying, and the shooting down of the Chinook helicopter, American authorities in Iraq were in secret negotiation with Saddam's number two, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, on terms for his surrender. The talks were brokered by the Kurdish PDK commander Jalal Talabani, who is a member of the interim Governing Council and reputed to be well connected with the Americans and members of Saddam Hussein's circle alike.

Al-Douri's key demand was for an American guarantee not to hand him over to Kuwait, where he is under death sentence [empahsis added] for atrocities committed during the Iraqi invasion of August 1990. This condition was rejected. Al-Douri remained at large in the battle arena. He is believed to be close to one of the most dangerous units of the pro-Saddam guerrilla force, which is known as Muhammad's Army.

... This group of Iraqi Baathists operates in the guise of Muslim fundamentalists. ...

.... Of late, its ranks have been swelled by Chechen and al Qaeda terrorists infiltrating Iraq to fight the Americans – usually, as Bremer noted, through Syria.
I've snipped a bit, so go and read the whole thing if you're interested.

I'll add some more to this topic and fix those funny characters when I have some time. In the meantime, blame Blogger. You get what you pay for.

OK, here's what I want to add: I'm not sure how accurate this report is, but if it's true, somebody on our side isn't playing with a full deck of cards (Get it, get it? He's the King of Clubs). If you were negotiating somebody's surrender, and they said, "OK, but you have to agree not to kill me" ... and you're like, "Umm..... No, sorry, can't do that." How the hell do you think they're going to respond?
Story: "Rapper Slick Rick is expected to be released from Immigration and Naturalization Service detention following a federal judge's ruling. Judge Kimba Wood on Friday reversed ..."

Dude. Stop right there. I know that woman. The judge, I mean. First of all she was Clinton's second choice for attorney general (the third was Janet Reno). But I mean I know her, as in I met her and had lunch with her. And unlike my dinner with Noam Chomsky, we were, in fact, the only two people at the table. I interviewed her for my college newspaper in New York City in 1995.

So there I am walking down the street with Judge Kimba Wood in Manhattan, close to mid-town. We came to a cross street and the light was red, but of course everybody was crossing anyway, because that's what you do in Manhattan when there are no cars coming. It was a really awkward moment. Does one jaywalk in front of a federal judge just because everybody else is doing it?
Here's something from an editorial in Russian's Vremya novosteyi. It's about Czech president Vaclav Klaus's visit to Russia, something his predecessor Havel never did:

Now, Klaus is reviving Russian-Czech relations which stagnated under Havel and is proving that NATO, which freed the east European countries of their paranoid fear of their former patron, can strengthen relations with Russia.
That sounds like a strange, roundabout way of saying maybe NATO expansion wasn't such an awful idea after all.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Off to see DougieGyro play at Akropolis.
"Iraq's not Vietnam, It's Afghanistan." The American version of the Soviets' Afghanistan, that is. It's not my argument, but that of an Italian newspaper. (It's not not my argument either.) It's one of many possible titles for this International Papers press review I wrote for Slate on Monday. Ramblings on the new British Conservative leader, Michael Howard, included free of charge.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Dude! I got a new computer. You can see inside and it lights up and stuff! I'm pleased so far.

There I was thinking I had found a way to reveal anonymous Prague blogger Nic Moc's gender, if not his/her identity. Alas, the much-heralded Gender Genie (where you supposedly can run somebody's prose through an online computer and determine their gender) isn't very accurate, based on about five blogs I tested it on. Has anybody found a writer that it actually IDs as "female"? Even Gnome Girl and Iranian Girl write like men, sayeth the machine.