A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Friday, January 31, 2003
SLIGHTLY MORE INFORMED ARGUMENT regarding a certain Middle Eastern country. As you might have noticed, I've decided to get my pontificating on Iraq out of my system.

I think I've written something like this before, but recently I've gotten into a number of exchanges of varying levels of fruitfulness with hawkish bloggers who have asked: "are there any conditions under which you would support attacking Iraq?" Too frequently, this question is posed sarcastically, which is sad, because it suggests the degree to which this dialogue has become rigid and tiresome.

Although, blame for this can be laid on both sides, I would (unsurprisingly) assign more of it to the partisans of the right, since they have to a much greater extent bought into the extraordinarily stupid "you're either with us or against us" rhetoric which is guaranteed to kill any possibility of rational argument. In contrast, the majority of people who are skeptical about Bush's desire to attack Iraq aren't absolute pacifists. To demonstrate this point (at least in my case), here are a number of sufficient conditions for going to war with Iraq from a lefty:

1) Evidence of currently ongoing and widespread human rights violations that are grievous enough so that we can be confident that the human cost suffered by the Iraqi civilian population (as well as the poor bastards involuntarily conscripted into Saddam's army) as a result of a war would be less than the human rights violations that we would be stopping. This is the main reason that arguments about invading for humanitarian reasons fail right now. Saddam may be an evil bastard that inflicts much pain and suffering on his people, but he's not massacring significant numbers of people, whereas a war has a very good chance of doing exactly that. Even the argument that "Iraqis will eventually be better off in the long term if were free" doesn't hold really carry water if a war will involve killing many Iraqis immediately, since the long term won't matter to the Iraqi civilians who die when we bomb Baghdad.

2) A discovery of a significant strategic WMD program (a bit of a tautology, since WMD by definition have a strategic component--tactical chemical weapons aren't really WMD, because their effect isn't really anymore "massive" than, say, a daisy cutter or cluster bomb--we just find death by mustard gas ickier than death by shrapnel; those warheads were, strictly speaking, not WMD delivery devices as they're tactical weapons) and an unwillingness to immediately disarm. Our patience should rightfully get thinner as this game gets repeated. For me, they get two chances--this round of inspections, and then one more; if they aren't giving close to 100% cooperation during the next round of inspections, then I think the Security Council will have to authorize force or else be rendered quite meaningless. And I agree that they're burning through their first chance right now by not admitting that they've developed WMD since we last withdrew our inspectors. you may be puzzled why I'd give the two chances instead of just one?

Two reasons: first, on every round of negotiating, one has to provide a warning shot. Second, and more importantly from a moral point of view, the CIA did actually plant agents among the inspectors during the last round (hey, I'll admit, I would have been tempted to do so as well if I were the CIA), which gave Iraq an excuse to stop cooperating, and led UNSCOM to withdraw its inspectors. So the deal is, all sides get a second chance here. Another reason that I think that the inspections regime will work is because it kept Saddam from developing a nuke when it was up and running under Clinton. There's no reason to think that more forcefully supported inspections won't work as least as well.

3) A multilateral decision that Iraq's violation of UN Resolutions or the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War can only be effectively stopped through war. Some people have argued that because Iraq has been in breech of the ceasefire conditions that ended the Gulf War at various points over the past 12 years, these infractions constitute adequate causus by themselves. But it should be noted that it was the UN that brokered this ceasefire that the Gulf War was not between Iraq and the United States, but rather between Iraq and a coalition of nations under the sanction of a UN resolution. So the United States certainly would be out of line in deciding on its own, or even with only a minority of coalition partners, that Iraq's breech of the ceasefire conditions have been so serious that they require invading the country. It seems to me that the use of this justification invites some sort of multilateral agreement--most plausibly, but not necessarily, attained through the United Nations--for recommencing hostilities. It also seems to me that a full-scale war is not the only way to respond to such violations--censure, embargoes, sanctions, and airstrikes are all means to obtain compliance that have worked to varying degrees of success.

4) Evidence that Iraq is willfully supporting people who are actively and currently plotting actions that can be uncontroversially called terrorist attacks (e.g.: guerilla attacks on Israeli troops in the territories don't count).

5) A substantively aggressive move toward another country in the region. But at this point, that seems quite unrealistic.

This was originally written as an email in response to a sincere challenge by Court Schuett, who is one of those rare people who is both passionate about his views and honestly open-minded (and a bit of a righty too--see, I can be evenhanded...sometimes...).

UPDATE: Court responds with characteristic interest and sincerity.
Thursday, January 30, 2003
SEMI-EDUCATED SPECULATION TIME on everyone's favourite country whose name begins with "Ir-". No, I'm not talking about Ireland, silly.

Anyway, after requests for more elaboration--OK, after one request, but it was flattering enough that I considered changing my middle name to "Micah"--here's my quasi-informed reasons behind my contrarian opinion about the unlikelihood of war with Iraq within the next 6 months. This, by the way, represents Eric thinking like as much of a realist as he can be (hey, stop laughing!) and not as a lefty:

1) Lots of people, both within and without the Administration really do want broad support multilateral support for this--Colin Powell and the State Department, a majority of the American people, Tony Blair, the rest of the world. Bush has backpeddled and is less willing to spout off about unilaterally going in, although he still wants to talk tough and show that he's the one wearing the pants. And as long as a viable and credible possibility of a workable inspections regime exists and progress toward disarmament is being made, Bush is unlikely to get UN approval.

2) Did I mention Tony Blair? He doesn't want anyone to go in without broad support, either, and he wants to demonstrate to his very uneasy left flank in Labor that he respects the UN and will at least give weapons inspection a serious go. Bush doesn't dare ditch his one really loyal (and far more articulate) buddy in all of this. Putting on that lefty hat again momentarily, I should say that I'm probably one of the few war-skeptical people around who is actually glad that Tony Blair lines up with Bush on this, because I think Blair really helps to moderate the White House.

3) Duh, Saddam. Has anyone considered that Saddam might actually begin giving up his WMD? I say begin, because I think for the sake of his domestic credibility as an honest-to-goodness brutal bastard, he has to try to play this game as close to the edge as he can and initial moves toward disarmament would be taken with as much irritating reticence and aggravation as he thinks he can afford without providing the U.S. with a credible reason to get the rest of the world to pull the plug. But given that Saddam now knows about the kind of butt-kicking that the U.S. is guaranteed to deliver, he certainly wants to avoid an invasion and there's little reason to think that he's crazy or dumb enough to risk getting his country invaded again.

4a) Karl Rove may have good reasons to want to delay the war until next fall so that we'll be in the thick of things during the elections or so that we'll have just conquered Baghdad in November '04. From the "Mayberry Machiavelli" perspective, one of the worst things that could happen is that the U.S. beats up Saddam too easily, but then the post-regime change situation with the Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds and lions, tigers, bears, etc. explodes, it's a nasty clean-up, and things still look icky and unresolved by the time elections roll around. Given that the nation-building part of the plan seems to be the least-developed part, it's certainly not what Bush wants people to be thinking about when they go to the polls. After all, the Bush Admin will have a much harder time getting the military to pull its punches and slow down the invasion for electoral reasons once it has started attacking; whereas it can control the timeline to some degree as long as the politicians still call all of the shots.

4b) No one has considered that Bush can also win big electorally by not ever attacking. If Bush sits out the inspections regime while continuing to make threatening noises about material breach and as a result Saddam eventually gets scared and disarms, Bush can go to the electorate in '04 and say with some justificatioon: "See, it was all a big bluff! Look how much smarter I am than pansy Clinton and his Dems were since, unlike him, I got Saddam to disarm. I didn't even have to go to war; I just had to talk tough!" When combined with the messiness of nation-building, etc. above, Karl might like this plan a lot. This might be giving everyone in the White House a bit too much credit, though, since if they actually planned things this way, it would be a magnificent bluff--so magnificent, that all of those conservative blood-'n-gore warhawks might not get it and never vote Republican again.

5) North Korea, North Korea! Plus, Israeli elections, Israeli elections! Oh wait, in anticipation of the ones that are also gonna happen in a few months when Sharon's chock full o' nuts right-wing coalition government collapses: Israeli elections, Israeli elections, Israeli elections! These are two major outside factors--the first with very bad possibilities and the second with good ones--that I think make the Bush Admin want to wait on Iraq. North Korea seems to be really good at causing trouble when Bush be distracted, and right now it's causing plenty. Israel, on the other hand, may be in the middle of going through major re-alignments that may involve steps toward peace. Who wouldn't want to wait on that to generate some goodwill among Arab countries and the rest of the world before the invasion?
Wednesday, January 29, 2003
WHAT I WAS THINKING: Kim probably didn't need a crystal ball to make this Monday evening prediction:
Tomorrow is a big day. The Israeli elections and the President's state of the union speech. I am preparing myself to be completely disgusted by both.
Come to think of it, I didn't need a crystal ball either.

Here's the SOTU speech. My take: I will grudgingly admit that he did an OK job with the foreign part (although the insinuated link between Al-Quaeda and Iraq is a bloody joke) and even managed to sound competent on the North Korea question, especially impressive since his policy on NK has so far read like an Adam Sandler script. And anti-AIDS money for Africa can only be a very good thing. But although I was impressed and surprised about his commitment to hydrogen cars, the rest of the domestic policy portion was pretty damned weak. As Will Saletan points out, Bush was supposed to give the State of the Union address, not the "I've-Messed-Up-This-Economy-Thing- Pretty-Badly-So-I-Ain't-Gonna-Talk-About-It-But-Gosh-Darn-It-These-Tax-Cuts-Are- Gonna-Stimulate (I Hope)" address.

That, and: he really does say "nuculer"! Sweet Jeebus.

As for the Israeli elections, little needs to be said beyond the observation that Sharon did what he does best: he beat down. Labor and Meretz got pummelled. But it so far looks like both Labor and Shinui will indeed standing fast and that Sharon will have to decide between forming a coalition that's chock full of hardcore religious and ethnic cleans--um, I meant, transfer--parties, or calling another round of elections.

Note to other pivotal countries in highly volatile regions: as fun as infinite recursion is, for the sake of the rest of the world, you may want to consider creating an electoral system that's fairly likely to produce determinate results on the first try, 'K?

Something else that this election highlights: as scary as a guy like Sharon may look like to us folks with a dovish state of mind, these results remind us that 25%-35% (depending on how you split up Likud) of the Israeli population is even more hardcore than Sharon. Bah.

Which then makes me wonder: how is it that Israel doesn't just implode if some 30% of the population believes that the 30% of its compatriots inhabiting the other end of the political spectrum (and vice versa) advocates policies amounting to genocide?
EYES ON THE PRIZE: I'll reward the first person who can find me a link to a warblogger with enough gall to call this group of peaceniks "idiotarians."

SPOILER: Part of your prize will involve a list of blogs you should be reading instead.
Tuesday, January 28, 2003
LIBERAL ELITISM: This Hannah Kim article critiquing Labor's inability to understand why it can't win the lower class vote has a priceless headline:
Are the people stupid?
No comment. [Trying desperately to hang on to the "democrat" part of my liberal-democrat membership card.]
Monday, January 27, 2003
IDIOTARIAN HYPERBOLE ALERT: I generally hate the word "idiotarian," but when confronted with extreme pacifists like the schlub featured in this Globe and Mail report, I find it hard to maintain restraint in the face of such naively idiotic anti-war blather:
While the [UN weapons inspectors'] report is disturbing in its findings, Mr. Fleishcher said, the United States still sees military action in Iraq as a last resort.

"Nobody is more reluctant to go to war than President Bush," the spokesman said. "He doesn't want to lead the nation to war."
I take back everything I've said about Marxism no longer being a likely source of present day evil. Anyone who is more reluctant to go to war than these people is obviously a blazing commie.
KOFI SPRINGS ETERNAL: For what it's worth, this AFP article reports that Kofi Annan thinks that the Security Council will give the UN weapons inspectors an extension to do more work.

[Apologies I couldn't find an English report; it seems that only AFP is reporting this.]
ISRAELI ELECTION UPDATE: It's a day-and-a-half until the Israeli elections and things have changed quite a bit since I last posted on this. It looks like Sharon has weathered his scandal, as the public seemed to sympathize with him when the Central Elections Committee censored his press conference on the scandal allegations because he was using it propagandize. The latest Ha'aretz poll has Sharon's Likud at a projected 30-31 seats and the "Right" parties at a projected 67 seats (out of 120). Labor is down to a really ugly projected 18-19 seats, Shinui (the center-right, hardline secularists) is back to 15, and Shas up to 13. There's lots of possible reasons why Labor has failed to capitalize on the scandals, but two of them lead right to the top: Mitzna's campaigning hasn't seemed to have generated much spark and his dovish pledge not to join in a unity government with Sharon may have backfired badly, at least in the short term.

But the real fun will begin after the election. Assuming the above results do occur, Likud will win the election with only a plurality of seats, as usual, so it will need coalition partners. Unfortunately for Sharon, Mitzna's pledge means that the only possible government Likud could form would have to include all of the far-right/religious parties, whose demands have in the past been too extreme for Likud to accept for very long. Likud and Shinui, who have similar views on security, are too small to form a majority coalition without any of the religious parties that the latter would presumably reject.

A lot turns may turn on internal Labor politics. There's a strand within Labor (especially those devoted to former defense minister Ben-Eliezer, the runner-up in the leadership primaries to Mitzna) who would join a unity government, just as Labor did when Sharon was first elected, so there is the potential for an internal revolt to replace Mitzna.

If Labor holds together and Shinui adheres to its strong secular plank, and both refuse to form a coalition with Likud, then Sharon may be forced to call another election within months (or sooner, if the government never gets off the ground at all), and they'll have to go around and around again. Ah, the joys of low-entry proportional representation! Anyway, pay attention to this stuff, because in combination with Dr. Blix's report on Iraq's WMD, this will be quite a week for Middle Eastern politics...

Just saw the latest Alias. Oh my. Talk about heading in a new direction. Loved it, but I wonder if where they're going to go with it now will still be as compelling as what they did before. OK, time to go and try to breathe again...

P.S.: Congrats Tampa fans. What a beating.

UPDATE: Kitchen Cabinet Kate has some more in-depth analysis/worrying. See--this show is so good that it obsesses smart and soon-to-be-successful people too! (And not just us lonesome grad students)
Sunday, January 26, 2003
HEAVY HITTER: Jurgen Habermas, in my opinion the 20th Century's most important political and social theorist, talks U.S. foreign policy with The Nation.

He's not impressed with the Bush Admin's national security doctrine:
What disturbed me most was the Administration's new National Security Strategy of the United States. With this provocative document, a superpower assumes the privilege of launching pre-emptive strikes against anyone who appears to be sufficiently suspicious; it declares, moreover, its determination to prevent any competitor from even approaching a status of equal power. Not long ago, a generation of young Germans who were liberated from the Nazi regime by American soldiers developed admiration for the political ideals of a nation that soon became the driving force in founding the United Nations and in carrying out the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. As a consequence, classical international law was revolutionized by limiting the sovereignty of nation-states, by abolishing the immunity of state authorities from supranational prosecution and by incorporating unprecedented crimes into the penal code of international jurisdiction. Should this same nation now brush aside the civilizing achievement of legally domesticating the state of nature among belligerent nations?...

Many Americans do not yet realize the extent and the character of the growing rejection of, if not resentment against, the policy of the present American Administration throughout Europe, including in Great Britain. The emotional gap may well become deeper than it has ever been since the end of World War II.
Hey, another dream debate match-up--Habermas vs. W., unsurpassed in its one-sidedness since we hypothesized on the kind of beating that might occur if we put W. up against Mandela.