A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, August 31, 2002
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES? In how many other developed liberal-democratic countries would this quasi-medieval South Korean product be a marketable item?
WHETHER YOU'RE GREEN OR GREY, you should consider this Economist article for a balanced and substantive analysis of the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development. It's a rare breed in the media that has somewhat nice things to say about both the summit and the U.S. delegation that's present.
WHATEVER YOU MIGHT THINK about the recent spate of talkative retired U.S. generals--the list includes Brent Scowcroft, Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, Norman Schwarzkopf, and Alexander Haig--commenting on What We Should Do to Iraq, you may want to consider the situation in Israel, where some active military leaders seem to have no problem voicing their political views in public, as the IDF's Chief of Staff did in a controversial speech last week. Check out a pointed column and an even more acerbic editorial on the chatty Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon, both published in Ha'aretz.
QUOTE OF THE MOMENT: From a Globe and Mail opinion article on New Yorkers' collective exhaustion with the attention being paid to their city due to Sept. 11 and their lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming anniversary:

"New York is a city of immigrant strivers, people drawn here because they want to test themselves against what they perceive to be the best in the world--in finance, media, the arts, fashion, real estate. They're used to being hated by the rest of the country. If they wanted people to feel sorry for them, they'd live in Buffalo."

Ouch. New York State's northern outpost hasn't been stung this badly since the Sabres were forced to trade away Dominik Hasek.
DADDY! Now is as good a time as ever to acknowledge this blog's paternity. The motivation, if not inspiration, for starting Antidotal, came as a result of my stumbling upon Josh Chafetz' Oxblog. Josh is studying political theory at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and is (disappointingly, for those of us burdened with Rhodes envy) a genuinely bright person with lots of creative ideas. We met when we took a seminar together during my first year and his last year at Yale. Anyway, I decided to start Antidotal when Oxblog demonstrated to me that there were highly intelligent people whom I knew who did this blogging thing. Oxblog is, of course, highly recommended reading.

Although we disagree on a number of issues, I'm happy to report that we seem to agree the importance of nation-building, at least in those places in which the West militarily intercedes, which is a pretty big thing. If you're going to be a hawk, you should at least be a resposible hawk who believes that we have an obligation to help pick up the pieces after the intervention, whether it's by sticking around and providing peacekeepers or by transfering significant resources to the new regime. That's almost certainly a minimum requirement for morally validating intervention.
Friday, August 30, 2002
A GOOD SIGN: This NYT report provides some hope that both the U.S. and Bush administration are capable of learning from past foreign policy mistakes, as senior government officials asserted that the U.S. would substantively support boosting the peacekeeping force in Afghanistan (ISAF) and expanding it outside of Kabul.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn't issue an irony/hypocrisy alert concerning the article's last paragraph:

"The U.S is the champion and the predominate financial supporter of the multilateral relief and recovery program in Afghanistan," said Gene Dewey, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. "We desperately need our flagging, all too unilateralist allies, especially from Europe, to join the multilateral bandwagon and come up to their fair share."

Well. If there ever was a clearer case of the unilateralist pot calling the kettle black. Or was I just completely distracted when the Bush administration built its "multilateralist bandwagon" sometime between Kyoto and the ICC?

If there was one group of people that should know the difference between unilateralism and multilateralism, you would think that it would be Colin Powell's State Department...
MAIL, GLORIOUS MAIL: I've had a very thoughtful exchange with Tom Roberts of Albuquerque, NM about several of my recent posts, some of which I've decided to share:

On my criticism of Mark Steyn's article on the undesirability of stability in the Middle East:

Mark Steyn might be rather hyperbolic in order to sell the NatPost (I can think of some TorStar and G&M peers such as Salutin who do the same on the left), but if you wish to really argue about what he is trying to say you might take on a more substantive writer on the subject, Ralph Peters.

Peters apparently works for the real generals who don't play computer wargames, and he considers several of the points you alluded to in your post.

My response:

Thanks very much for the link to Peters' piece; it's an interesting article that I would highly recommend. While I think that he might oversimplify his history and sociology in a number of places (for example, his analysis of fundamentalist Islam leaves a good deal to be desired, and I'm not entirely convinced about his claim that the Spanish-American war has the immense degree of historical importance that he gives to it--there seem to be a whole host of other factors that contributed to America's turn toward imperialism), Peters writes with a great deal of thoughtfulness and I agree with much of what he says. So I don't have a burning desire to "take him on" at the moment.

I've never been a "realist" with regard to international relations and I've never worshipped at the altar of stability--I supported the American-led interventions into Kosovo and more recently, into Afghanistan (although my reasons were very different than most people's reasons) and I was upset that the U.S. did not do much more to stir the pot in Rwanda, Somalia, and Sierra Leone. Yet, while stability is "merely" an instrumental virtue, it is also a foundational one for the realization of human freedom and self-determination. As such, when one claims to provoke conflict for the sake of moral or historical progress, it's terribly irresponsible to do so without taking into account the full extent of the human cost involved. This is the main claim of Steyn's that I wanted to take on; I very much doubt that he has considered the issues to anything close to the extent that Peters has and I think you give Steyn far too much credit (or Peters not enough) by suggesting that they occupy comparable positions.

Steyn is a violent cultural imperialist who believes that America would be right to recklessly deploy force in order to reshape parts of the world that offend his sensibilities in his image. Peters shows that he has little relation to Steyn when he writes:

"Certainly we should not replace stability operations with 'instability operations' to provoke or accelerate change beyond its local, organic pace."

The distance between this statement and Steyn's assertion that we can just go ahead and invade Iraq without worrying about the consequences because the Middle East would be better off if the whole place turned into a cauldron anyway can be measured in light years.

On the dissolution of Murdochville, QU:

After selling agricultural supplies in Quebec in the past and having several relatives who live in Ontario, I suspect the last paragraph of the article:

"Murdochville residents leaving town and abandoning their homes want to be compensated the sum it would cost to build a comparable structure elsewhere, Minville added."

is code speak for:

'if we vote the town out of existence then the province will have to pay us if they don't keep the smelter (or anything else commercial) in operation'

One can only wonder where the province will relocate these people with the Quebec unemployment rate at 8.7% in June.

The town is essentially a company town as their tourism site implies, and I suspect that this type of extractive industry always had the obvious endgame that mine exhaustion or falling productivity implies. This however was not a "crashing peaks and waves of its fortunes" but rather a logical issue of what happens throughout history and around the world and is played out in the mining industry over a period of decades. The workers and owners need to be aware of this even before they sink the first hole at any site. There are significant environmental issues in any mine which the province should be concerned with upon closure, but insuring private real estate investments isn't one of these.

My response:

You make an excellent point when you write that "this type of extractive industry always had the obvious endgame that mine exhaustion or falling productivity implies."

But given that the town was founded in 1953, one can assume that most of the town's working residents are among its second and third generations. It therefore seems far too harsh to say to the workers that their parents and grandparents should been "aware of this even before they [sank] the first hole." To regard the townspeople as merely individual investors of private real estate does not take seriously the integral social and familial bonds that make up the town as a community (all of the above, of course, entirely to sets to one side the question as to how "obvious" the extraction endgame was to either Noranda or its workers at any given time in the town's history; it's difficult to believe that the availability of information on the timeline of the mine's sustainability was ever symmetric).

Governments that allow companies to encourage the founding of communities on public land bear a great deal of the responsibility if and when those communities fall apart. In Murdochville, I firmly believe that the very least the province could do is to assist those families that lost their communities form a new ones.
Thursday, August 29, 2002
SEEING AS Mark Steyn can't really write, I guess it shouldn't surprise me that he can't read either. He makes this hindrance evident in yet another overheated article attacking multiculturalism (this time in The Spectator) when he attempts to criticize statements made by U.K. Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws:

‘What I think happens very readily,’ she said, ‘is that we as Western liberals too often are fundamentalist ourselves. We don’t look at our own fundamentalisms.’ And what exactly does Lady Kennedy mean by Western liberal fundamentalism? ‘One of the things that we are too ready to insist upon is that we are the tolerant people and that the intolerance is something that belongs to other countries like Islam. And I’m not sure that’s true.’

If I follow correctly, Lady Kennedy is suggesting that our tolerance of our own tolerance is making us intolerant of other people’s intolerance.

Unfortunately, Mark, you are clearly unable to follow correctly. What Baronness Kennedy is trying to suggest in the statement Steyn quotes should be obvious to anyone with a basic degree of English literacy: she is arguing that Western liberals have the fixed idea that they are generally never intolerant and that it is only other people who are intolerant. Whether or not you disagree with Baroness Kennedy, it's should be clear that the meaning that is "suggested" by her statement is not what Steyn says it is.
Wednesday, August 28, 2002
PUCK-KAWK! I have to admit that while I was at first amused by the whole chickenhawk thing--pundits poking fun at the paucity of military experience in many prominent U.S. warmongerers' resumes--I was starting to share some of the hawks' skepticism that it's overgeneralized name-calling without much substance behind it. Surely, the administration can find a decent number of bona fide military guys who share its views on invading Iraq?

This morning, though, I picked up a striking quote that suggests that many of the generals themselves buy the chickenhawk argument. As reported by The Tampa Tribune, Marine Gen. (ret.) Anthony Zinni made some strong remarks in a speech he gave in Florida last week:

Zinni took a shot at the hawks, noting their lack of military experience. He ticked off several prominent military men who have expressed reservations about the war: Secretary of State Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser under former President Bush; and Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of operations in the Persian Gulf War.

"It's pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way,'' he said, "and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way.''

Now that's a money quote. Even if you think that liberal journalists are exaggerating the chickenhawk phenomenon, it's hard to deny that the theory has some very well-placed supporters.

UPDATE: No, I don't mean to imply that people with military experience have the final say over military policy. I think that Jeff Cooper gets it dead-on in his excellent post about how we should consider the relevance of military service in discussing war.
TOWN COMMITS SEPPUKU: An astonishing story from Quebec: after the mine and foundry that provided the main employment for the residents of Murdochville, QU closed down, the town's residents decided to vote itself out of existence last Sunday. Of the town's 1,000 residents, 85% participated in the referrendum in which 65% of voters chose to support the town's dissolution. Quebec Premier Bernard Landry says that his PQ government hears clearly the message expressed in the vote: that the residents of Murdochville feel that they "have no hope."

Wow. It's tough to get a clearer picture of why market forces need to be carefully tamed by society and government: the crashing peaks and waves of its fortunes can sometimes be just too much for some communities to bear.
Tuesday, August 27, 2002
THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WISDOM: It's almost impossible to get through a Mark Steyn column without finding something absolutely ludicrous. Completely recommended for any blog in need of material, as long as you can restrain the body's natural urge to smack its own head into a wall when confronted with mindnumbing idiocy.

So here we go. In a column criticizing the cautious realist attitude of elder Republicans cautious about invading Iraq, Steyn displays his characteristic thoughtfulness and wisdom:

Inevitably [Brent] Scowcroft now supports letting Saddam be because, if we start a war, "we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron."

I agree. The only difference is that I think an explosion is long overdue and turning the whole region into a cauldron is a necessary step toward taming and then reforming it. It's the non-explosive non-cauldron Middle East that's caused so many of our present woes.

Yeah, so even if we decide that we don't care about the civilians living in all of the Middle Eastern countries that we don't like, I'm sure that 6 million Israelis, 5 million Jordanians, and 67 million Turks would be thrilled about Mark's plan to turn the region into a big flaming World War III-type stew so that a small clique of North American armchair SimEarth players can "tame" and "reform" it according to their half-baked vision of the ideal geopolitical order.
WHY I CAN SUPPORT AMERICA: Because it's built on a Constitution whose principles are mostly worthy of admiration and certainly, as Michael Oakeshott might say, are not to be despised. And because even in an environment as laden with suspicion and defensiveness as the current one, there remains numerous Americans willing to make statements that matter, like the one the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit made yesterday when it ruled that the executive branch cannot conduct deportation hearings in secret (as reported in the NYT):

"Democracies die behind closed doors," wrote Judge Damon J. Keith for the unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The Bush administration has sought, the panel said, to place its actions "beyond public scrutiny."

"When the government begins closing doors," the panel continued, "it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation."

"A government operating in the shadow of secrecy stands in complete opposition to the society envisioned by the framers of our Constitution."

You go, U.S. judiciary. If America really is going to be an example to the world, then this is the part that I want on the front of the brochure.
Sunday, August 25, 2002
SECRET WARS? Check out Middle East intelligence/gossip sheet DEBKAfile's take on the tortuous and complex life of the late master terrorist Abu Nidal. Some of it is the sort of stuff that sounds so very cloak-and-dagger precisely because we haven't heard a whiff about it in the Western media: the claim that Nidal's group wasn't as reponsible for as many terrorist attacks as is commonly believed because the group took money to claim reponsibility for attacks to provide cover for the real perpetrators (including Iraqi agents); and that Nidal was hired by Egyptian and, indirectly, American officials in 1999 to infiltrate al Queda before later double crossing them.

I'm not sure what to make of DEBKAfile. It looks a little like a Jerusalem-based conspiracy theory page--almost everything on it comes by way of unnamed "sources," but it's also getting some strong recommendations from more conventional media organizations...
BLIND SPOTS OF BLISS: Found a very neat article in The New York Observer that compiles the reponses of public figures, performers, and intellectuals to the question "What don't you know?" Respondants, who demonstrate various levels of candor, include Bill Clinton, Salmon Rushdie, Susan Sontag, Lewis Lapham, and Mike Bloomberg. It's from March, but The Guardian just reprinted parts of it, and it was too good to pass up. I don't know if I should be surprised that Clinton seems like he's spinning and that Andrew Sullivan doesn't know how to drive a car.
LOOK--A SMOKING GUN! The Daily Telegraph and La Presse (through AFP) report that the U.S. believes Saddam Hussein ordered the assassination of terror mastermind Abu Nidal for his refusal to restart his worldwide terror network. Nidal was found dead as a result of a gunshot wound in Baghdad last week. The reports are based on the claims of an anonymous U.S. official who says that he has viewed the U.S. intelligence reports on the matter.

Is this the clear link between Saddam Hussein and a plausible current terrorist threat that U.S. hawks need to cement public support of an invasion of Iraq?

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that this story is on the AFP newswire (based in Paris) and both the Telegraph (based in London) and La Presse (based in Montreal) have splashed it across their front pages, but it has yet to appear in any major North American English-language media source. The question begs to be asked: how likely is it that the press on the other side of the Atlantic would get ahold of this leak before anyone in the U.S.?

While Saddam ordering Nidal's death (for whatever reason) clearly rates very high on the plausibility meter, the peculiar nature of this leak makes me wonder if the White House's brand new Office of Global Communications (a.k.a. "Strategic Information") is already running in high gear.

The most annoying thing about government secrecy might be its contribution to turning relatively normal people into conspiracy nuts.
HEAVEN KNOWS how The National Post's editors can print articles like these in its News section and maintain a sense of dignity--or a separate section called "Commentary." Don't the people who have to route the interdepartmental mail ever get confused? You don't have to read much more than the headline:

PM's ambitious agenda, leadership race could put pressure on shrinking surplus

But, if you did have the stomach to get further, you would be pleased to discover that the only non-economists quoted in the article are Canadian Alliance MP Charlie Penson, Michael Walker of the "fiscally conservative" Fraser Institute, and Walter Robinson of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation (which, as we all know, is informed by a centrist and non-ideological fiscal viewpoint that obviates any suspicion of ideological bias).

Traditionally, newspapers that have had the nerve to print this kind of stuff and then call it "news" have at least had the decency not to use broadsheet (see example).
LATE ADDITION: Tom Friedman's Wednesday NYT column on the problem with America's duplicitous Middle East policy is not only accessible, as expected, it's also remarkably wise and evenhanded.