A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Saturday, March 29, 2003
HEARD (PARAPHRASED): Appoximation of some casual dinner comments of a very eminent Yale political theory professor last week:
I saw Tony Blair speaking in Parliament last week [before the war began] and I was almost weeping when I compare it with what's going on here. There he was, actually having to defend himself from an opposition engaging in actual debate and asking real questions.

I thought to myself: what was the point of America fighting a revolution for democracy and independence from Britain? It's Britain that can teach us lessons about democracy now. How on Earth did this happen?

Also, I saw and met Stockwell Day (sarcastic Yay!). He was entertaining and had a friendly kind of ease to him in a medium-sized group (very Dubya-esque), but was completely full of BS, to an even greater degree than your average right-wing politician. I really hope that everyone in that room knew enough about Canada and The National Post (a.k.a. the National Newspaper Created to Promote the Canadian Alliance's Agenda) to have a good laugh afterwards about his claim that "the biased media" destroyed his run for PM. Because clearly his own incompetence and his party's lame and uninspiring (at least to anyone who doesn't think Canada should basically become Just Like the U.S., because lower taxes are so so so much better no matter what) platform had nothing to do with it. He was a bit brighter than I expected, though.

I'm also a bit bitter, because I waited too long to join the queue and so I didn't get to pose the scathing but polite question I had prepared. Feh.
Friday, March 28, 2003
RICHELIEU WOULD BE PROUD: And so would Cesare Borgia and Tony Soprano of the locution of U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci's hints at retribution from the Bush Admin for Canada's disagreement over the war at a speech he gave in Toronto Tuesday:
Ambassador Paul Cellucci said "there is a lot of disappointment in Washington and a lot of people are upset" about Canada's refusal to join the United States in its efforts to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein....

Mr. Cellucci said the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but "there may be short-term strains here."

Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, "You'll have to wait and see." But he cryptically added it is his government's position that "security will trump trade," implying possible implications for cross-border traffic.
Then again, maybe those guys I mentioned above may have been a touch smoother about this--sometimes the "actions have consequences" line isn't such a smart idea.

In case of Canada, it just isn't. Ever, really. There's no better way to get most Canadians riled up and irritated at the U.S. and in the mood to do exactly what the American government doesn't want. We really do want to be friends with the U.S., but we won't do so without maintaining a basic amount of national dignity and sovereignty in the process.

Stupid, bullying threats like these just antagonize us unproductively (the same goes, I suspect, with Mexico and a whole bunch of other allies). A lighter touch would work far better, but I no longer expect this administration to understand this, considering its record.

For some other views, start with Dan Drezner, who gets everything right in his critical comments on Cellucci's remarks. You should also go see Henry Farrell's summary of blogtopia sites that have covered the issue--it warms my heart to see all y'all 'Mericans taking notice of my country...

All that's left to add is that the U.S. State Department and White House have confirmed that they His Excellency Cellucci's comments reflect their position.

ADDENDUM: Oh, and please do grow some moral fibre and a self-respecting sense of national character to go with your indignation, Ms. Wente. Wente is representative of those Canadian conservatives I noted earlier who will have no chance of succeeding at federal electoral politics until they develop an ideology that embraces Canada's sense of identity rather than denigrates it. On a related note, I'm planning to query erstwhile laughing Stock Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day on this point when he delivers his Master's Tea on campus today.
Thursday, March 27, 2003
DEMOCRATIC WARFARE, DEMOCRATIC LIES: The following Steven Den Beste post (which I found via a semi-snarky recommendation link at CalPundit) has some very good advice about "taking a deep breath" when gathering war-related information, but provides some very questionable justification for doing so:
There's a division of labor in war. The body politic has to make a decision as to whether to fight. ...But now this nation has made that decision. It wasn't unanimous (we're never unanimous about anything) but the decision has been made and now we citizens are out of it. We care what's happening, but it isn't important that we know until it's all over. Once the war ends, it will again be a political issue and it will be important for us to learn what happened and to participate in the next decision. But now that we've decided to fight, we must trust our leaders and our soldiers to do that part for us. And for them to reveal too much to us while it's going on could endanger the lives of our soldiers and even imperil the success of the mission. So they're going to conceal information. They're going to lie to us. And they should do these things, if by so doing they can make the war end sooner with lower loss of life. Many great victories have been won with lies.
I want to tackle Steven's argument in two parts. (Full disclosure: I just submitted a prospectus to devote the next couple of years of my life to pretty much this topic.)

Where (and When) Do Democratic Politics End?

Steven argues that because we have democratically made a decision to fight, we no longer have input into its execution. But things aren't nearly that simple in a well-ordered liberal democracy.

One of the more difficult tensions that characterizes democracy is that legitimate decisions must be both collectively binding on whole and subject to future revision. Because of the lack of unanimity that characterizes any democratic decision and our awareness of human fallibility, the polity must be able to revisit its decisions.

So the first key question is when can a decision be legitimately be revisited? Steven's answer of "it isn't important that we know until it's all over" is unsatisfactory because wars can conceivably drag on for a long time—following this logic, we might still be in Vietnam. To rephrase (and slightly abuse) Justice Jackson, democratic decisions aren’t suicide pacts.

A better answer is that citizens can reconsider the decisions whenever procedural rules and good judgment allow them to do so. Some decisions, such as the election of representatives or the setting of budgets, take place on a set a schedule. But war is a fluid thing; the constitutionality of the extent of the President's ability to act unimpeded as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces, for example, is heavily contested. There are no hard and fast rules for when the Congress or the public should begin attempting to translate its powers of oversight into action.

But we can confidently say that in a democracy, the public must generally have fairly continuous access to information about what the executive branch is doing in order to make the decision of whether it is the right time to begin reconsidering a decision. Another reason for openness is that democratic action works on multiple levels: democracy doesn't just involve formal institutions and elections; it also involves the informal discussion, public mobilization, and the formation of public opinions that help our representatives make their decisions.

All of these considerations tilt things heavily toward a high degree of openness in a democracy. It requires a very strong countervailing interest to justify denying the public access to information about the executive's activities, and this interest must get stronger the longer the public is denied this access.

Democratic Warfare and the Limits of Deceit

Steven might plausibly argue that the dangers of war and the lives of our soldiers supply such an imperative. But such imperatives must have their limits--the innovation of liberal democracy is nothing if not a set of procedural constraints on the state's use of executive power. Over the course of history, the imperative of "security" has been employed by the state to justify extensive and invasive intrusions against the life and liberty of its populace. Unsurprisingly, such intrusions have tended to be much worse in non-liberal democracies.

So the second key question is: to what degree are leaders and armed forces in liberal democracies justified in keeping information from the public or even lying to us during wartime?

I would argue that the foundational importance of democratic oversight heavily limits the justifiable use of secrecy and renders active attempts to deceive the public completely impermissible even during wartime.

Maintain a certain level of secrecy is clearly important for the functioning of many basic and crucial military tasks. As such, the military and the government are justified in imposing certain limits on the information the public is allowed to access regarding operational details during wartime. But I want to argue that a democratic military must try to minimize its secrets to operational details and information absolutely necessary for maintaining basic security (e.g. technical information about weapons systems), for secrecy is a tool that is extraordinarily dangerous to democracy.

As the honourable and dearly departed Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed in his account of the American experience with secrecy, secrets are dangerous to democracy because they intrinsically elude public oversight, impair decision-making in general, and lead to the generation of more secrets. Active deception on the part of our political leaders is even more corrosive as it destroys the trustworthiness of government and the democratic process and so must be completely forbidden.

Generals and politicians may feel that they can only minimize the casualties by resorting extensively to secrets and lies. But they can never know with any certainty whether the tradeoffs they are imposing on democracy are worth it or whether they end up costing more lives than they save. The example of Vietnam markedly belies this: all available evidence suggests open democratic oversight at any stage of the war would likely have prevented further escalation and have saved thousands of American lives.

In any case, no one has ever claimed that constitutional democracy is without risk. There are certain actions which I think are simply impermissible--secret detentions, for example--because they undermine the very foundations of the liberal democratic ideal. Although eschewing such actions may result in a greater degree of risk for both the public and its soldiers, we have to accept that this an extra degree of risk that we've all signed up for as participants and defenders of liberal democracy.
WHY THEY DON'T APPOINT PEOPLE AS SUPREME COURT JUSTICES UNTIL THEY'RE OLD: Ever wonder if guys like Scalia and Rehnquist will live long enough to be embarrassed of putting on record stuff that is almost certain to sound barbaric in 20 years? For example, the irrepressible Dahlia Lithwick reports the following exchange between Scalia and the lawyer (Smith) for two poor guys arguing that Texas' law against consensual sodomy is unconstitutional:
"It's conceded by the state of Texas that married couples can't be regulated in their private sexual decisions," says Smith. To which Scalia rejoins, "They may have conceded it, but I haven't."

Scalia insists that a liberty interest (under the fundamental-rights theory) needs to be "deeply rooted in tradition," and the mere fact that some of those state anti-gay laws have since been repealed doesn't guarantee a fundamental right. He suggests that even if all states had "repealed their laws against flagpole-sitting," there would not necessarily be a fundamental right to flagpole-sit.

(Flagpole-sitting is not a crime in Texas, by the way, unless said pole has been very strategically placed on your partner's anatomy.)
Oh, Dahlia! If history had sense of justice, you'd be guaranteed immortality instead of Scalia...

(via Eschaton)
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
SOURCES: If you're not a regular inhabitant of Blogtopia (thanks, Skippy!), I thought you might appreciate some link suggestions to a some useful blog-type links for getting information about the war, since I'm sure not planning to regularly provide this stuff.

-Everyone is deservedly heaping praise on Sean-Paul Kelley for his fairly objective and sweeping synthesis of reports, complete with a situation map, at The Agonist.

-And along with everyone else in the blog world, I recently discovered Where is Raed? which is the work of the (we hope still) anonymous Salam Pax, Baghdad's only blogger. Besides his unique situation, I also found his personal position of "yeah, I hate Saddam and his damn Baath punks and I'd much rather live in a country with freedom and democracy but I don't see why getting to that has to involve bombing the crap out of me and my city" is quite compelling. OK, that's a paraphrase. Here's what he actually says:
Do support democracy in Iraq. But don’t equate it with war. What will happen is something that could/should have been avoided. Don’t expect me to wear a [I heart bush] t-shirt. Support democracy in Iraq not by bombing us to hell and then trying to build it up again (well that is going to happen any way) not by sending human shields (let’s be real the war is going to happen and Saddam will use you as hostages), but by keeping an eye on what will happen after the war.
(thanks to Junius, where I first saw it)

-I think the aspect of the war that everyone should really be watching, because it is the most volatile and wide-reaching, is the Turkey-Iraqi Kurdistan situation. There is potential for an unbelievably messy four-way (Kurds, Turks, Coalition, Iran) confrontation to erupt there. Of course, the major U.S. news networks are doing a terrible job of covering this, so a good place to start is Slate's Tim Noah, who is using his Chatterbox column to maintain a grimly titled Kurd Sellout Watch compendium.

-Bruce Rolston, a Canadian military man, Flit provides well-informed analysis, ocassionally sprinkled with some snark, some of which I like and some of which I don't. But, hey, he (also) has a situation map, complete with standard NATO notation, and that's a ton better than I can do.

-Finally, if you can read French or have a decent translation program, Le Monde's constantly updated "Iraq Crisis" page is very good.
THEY DON'T TEACH YOU THIS IN 1L: I think it should be OK to casually note this as no one seems to have died--The Washington Post reported that Iraqi guerilla tactics resulted in a combat involving some rather unusual troops yesterday:
Even a team of six Marine public affairs officers and lawyers sent to investigate Saturday's disappearance of three British journalists near Basra were ambushed today and two were injured. While normally not combatants, the Marines grabbed their weapons and returned fire.
Clearly, those Iraqis aren't familiar with how nasty American civil litigation can get.

(via Flit)
Monday, March 24, 2003
EMPIRE, YAY! I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, exactly, at this Boston Globe article, which reviews some of the more explicit proponents of American imperialism (a.k.a. neocons). First, it looks like they've developed the cojones to just come out and say "empire, yay!"

It's hard to express how happy I am to hear this. Because what the world really needs now is for all 6 billion of us to believe that a culture that thinks that Joe Millionaire is the best thing since Hamlet is the bus we should be riding to The End of History.

Second, the author notes that a lot of the most strident American empire boosters, such as Brit Andrew Sullivan and lovely Canucks Mark Steyn and David Frum, aren't even American.

He conjectures that one reason for this interesting trend may be imperialism's centripetal force:
Often, the dream of empire is nursed by those born on the periphery of power, precisely because empire would give them a place in a larger framework. Alexander the Great, for example, was born in Macedonia and went on to create an Hellenic empire. And France's greatest empire-builder was the Corsican Napoleon.
Yeah, there's that (c.f. His Lordship Conrad), but all of those terrifically funded right wing think tanks and opinion mills in the U.S. that serve as neocon agar might have something to do with it too.

By the way, you can keep Frum and Steyn when you're done with 'em. Please.

(via MaxSpeak)
HAVE YOU NOTICED exactly how irritated India is at the U.S.' invasion of Iraq? The media actually had to ask the Indian defense minister to rule out boycotting the purchase of military equipment from the U.S. A few other quotes that the article attributes to Defense Minister George Fernandes were also quite telling:
[Fernandes] said the whole world had accepted that the war against Iraq was a unilateral action by the US which in a way rendered the United Nations meaningless and there was pain in everyone's heart with regard to the future of the UN.

Asked about the role of the NDA Government, the Defence Minister said India was prepared to extend cooperation to Iraq in providing relief to the war hit people, especially children. "The Government is prepared to offer its assistance the moment such a request is received," he added.
Considering the degree to which the U.S. has been friendly with Pakistan over the last couple of years in its terrorism front, I can see how India, a stable democracy and traditional ally, would be a bit annoyed, but this seems to be an extraordinarily frosty stance. This constitutes yet more diplomatic wreckage that the Bush Admin has to deal with in the wake of its rash moves on the world stage.
WHEN IT COMES TO ONLINE JOURNALISM, there's dumb articles, there's really dumb articles, and there's articles that are so dumb that you wonder if they caused tearing on their way out.

And then there's articles like this one.

This is dumb. I mean, like Orca dumb. No strike that, Orca can do tricks and stuff. More like FOX reality show dumb.

Here's a sample:
Whether Canadians want to believe it or not, but if not for the United States, Bangladesh would be giving Canada a run for their money.

Not to mention the fact that it will be costing American taxpayers a whole lot more in years to come because Canada has no immigration policy. Canada allows anyone into their country; America needs to protect our northern border more than our southern.
Actually, I think we can reasonably conjecture that if not for the United States, Canada would be bigger than Russia and the Second World War would have been a couple years shorter.

As for his description of Canada's immigration policy--it's true! We just let anyone in. That's why we've got such a ridiculously high population density. So all you Americans who are sick of Bush should just move to Toronto. We'd love you. You can stay at my parents' place if you need somewhere to crash...

(via Steven Wong)
NEWSFLASH--IRAQ VIOLATES RULES OF WAR! According to Article 13 of the Geneva Convention, broadcasting (or allowing the broadcast of) images of POWs on your state-owned television stations for propaganda purposes is indeed a breech of the rules of war:
...prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.
Why the BBC had to go find a representative from the International Red Cross to read the Geneva Convention to it when it could have found the thing using Google is beyond me.

Anyway, Saddam's display and humiliation of these soldiers on television is ugly and wrong, but hardly surprising.

On the other hand, Bush's call for Iraq to respect the Geneva Convention is a touch rich, given that he declined to apply the Convention to captured prisoners in Afghanistan, despite the urging of reputable human rights groups.

Moral equivalence? No--I have no doubt that I'd much rather be a (low- or middle-ranking) Iraqi prisoner in U.S. hands than vice versa. However, leading by example and avoiding hypocrisy are always good things.
COMPLICATIONS: Just noticed on Le Monde's extremely useful hour-by-hour "Iraqi crisis" update page two back-to-back entries that are worrying reminders of why fighting a war in the Middle East is very tricky.

First, a bus carrying 37 Syrians trying to escape the war in Western Iraq was caught in the blast of a coalition missile yesterday, resulting in 5 deaths. The Syrian government is not pleased.

Second, the Iranian government is "firmly denying" claims made by British commandoes that Iranian units in near the Iran-Iraq border had fired on British marines and low-flying American aircraft yesterday.
UPDATE: Iranian radio has warned that the government would "react" to any violations of its airspace by coalition forces, presumably by firing on them, which is just tickly. On the other hand, the Iranian government also seems pretty annoyed that at least one stray Iraqi missile landed in its territory.

This is the kind of messiness involving adjacent Muslim countries that (among other considerations) made thinking people wary of armed intervention. Of course, while it would take an incredible screw up to draw any neighbouring country into the conflict, at least at this stage (except, ironically, Turkey--this is perhaps the country to really watch right now), such incidents can only be very troublesome for the West when broadcast for public consumption among the Arab and Persian publics.

ALSO: I'm putting this up because it hasn't seemed to hit the radar of all the big U.S. media sources yet: the Iraqi government has claimed that peasants south of Baghdad have shot down two Apache helicopters. Centcom has confirmed losing one Apache. The Iraqi government says that it will be displaying images of one of the helicopters shortly, as well as possibly some of their crewmembers.
ARF! The Talking Dog has categorized us as an Anatolian Shepard Dog. He calls us "friendly, liberal, progressive."

According to the American Kennel Club's description (linked to above), that makes us "Large, rugged, powerful and impressive, possessing great endurance and agility" and "[d]eveloped through a set of very demanding circumstances for a purely utilitarian purpose."

Not bad, not bad at all...
Sunday, March 23, 2003
MEN AND WOMEN OF LA MANCHA: I went to New York City yesterday, partially to attend--sort of to observe, sort of to participate in--the anti-war protest with a friend, and partially to do other New York City things, like spontaneously catching Rent.

It was big and loud and, yes, very Bush-oriented. I would guess that the estimates that put the protest numbers well over 100,000 are far more accurate than the NYT's estimates of around 10,000; I heard that we had filled up the entire 50-block protest route and I when I dispersed, as ordered, at the end of the march, my friend and I walked back 10 blocks and saw the march still choked the street behind us. The vibe was much more upbeat than I thought it would be, with people chanting and singing and banging on pots and colourful signs and costumes of all sorts. I was especially impressed with one robust fellow with seemingly inexhaustable vocal chords who was able to singlehandledly shout at the top of his longs so as to continuously lead a call-and-response with the several hundred people around him (Call: "Money for [some good X--e.g. Peace; Health Care; Schools; etc.]!"; Response: "Not for War!"). There were some clever slogans (favourite: "Drunken Frat-Boy Drives America Into a Ditch") and some less than clever slogans, mostly written by people who clearly aren't very respectful of Godwin's Law. Also memorable were the very large contingent marching under the banner of "Kurds and Turks United for Peace," the placards with the pictures of Rachel Corrie, as well as the signs with a Star of David and a dove reading "Another Jew for Peace and Justice." Less impressive were the "No War on Pot" people--dudes, I agree with you, but time and place, OK? Certainly, it wasn't anywhere as depressed or angry as the protest Jim C. described. I think the glorious weather helped.

I'm pretty sure that I sympathized with the political orientations of most people there, but I doubt many of them shared my specific political views (which currently could be described as something like "liberal internationalist"). So why did I go, considering I'm probably not much more "anti-war" than your average peace-loving Western citizen, even on the issue of Iraq? Besides wanting to keep my friend company, let me try to answer this by giving you a rough account of a conversation I had with a counterprotester (I counted less than a dozen over the entire route, if you're wondering) holding a "Free Iraq" sign, with whom I decided to speak to across a barricade:
Me: Do you mind if I ask you something?
Him: Sure, what?
Me: I just wanted to ask you if you would be out here demonstrating to make sure that America actually rebuilds Iraq after they win the war.
Him: Sure. But we have to get rid of Saddam first. Do you believe we have to get rid of Saddam to free the Iraqi people?
Me: Yeah, I do. I didn't support the way this happened, but now that we're there, I think they might as well keep going and get rid of Saddam.
[Angry Older Woman Counterprotestor with a "Support ALL of Our Troops" sign pauses from her haranguing of other protestors to interject by yelling at me something to the effect of "If ya want freedom, ya gotta use force and support ALL of our troops." Both I and the "Free Iraq" guy roll our eyes at her and he continues.]
Him: So why are you here walking with these people?
Me: Well, I think it's a complex situation, but what I think wouldn't fit on a sign. But I think it's important that the different voices on this are heard and that everyone knows that they're there.
Him: We should talk about some more if you want. [points toward the end of barricade]
Me: I don't think I can today, since I'm here with a friend, but I just wanted to say that respect what you're doing here, but I just hope that you do remember to come back when this thing is over to make sure that there really is democracy in Iraq.
Him: Yeah, I will.
It was probably a little more awkward than that, but that's basically it in a nutshell.

Even though I mostly agree with this American Prospect article that argues that progressives should accept the reality that the war debate is over, and start trying to push to make sure that the future works out as well as possible, I don't think that this protest was entirely pointless. I probably wouldn't go to another protest whose specific message was "anti-war" and I do hope that all of the people who are putting energy into organizing these things start turning their message in a constructive future-oriented direction, but until they do, I think it's important that someone strongly indicate to the powers-that-be that there is a significant number of people who are deeply skeptical about what they are doing.

I would, of course, have been far more enthusiastic about attending a protest march that said something like "Guarantee adequate funds and political energy for building a functioning democracy and economy in Iraq (and Afghanistan too, remember it?)"; "Bring international institutions back in"; or "Internationalism, not Imperialism." But it's probably may be asking too much that a mass movement look at the world in entirely the same way that I do, especially considering my idiosyncratic and fairly nuanced (many would say "wishy washy") perspective.

The reality is that it's very difficult to kickstart movements with mass appeal using moderate or nuanced messages. The nature of mass populist change means that you have to have a message that caters to some sort of extremely widespread common denominator, which usually restricts you to a very simple or purely negative message. This is the same sort of difficult that confronts those of us who are concerned about globalization. We can all agree on what we don't like, but we all have different ideas about the best way to solve it, so the message that ends up getting out is the "anti-" message, which isn't at all an accurate description of what many of us think. At some point, you unfortunately just have to choose the message roughly fits you best, trying to push it toward your own position as you go and reserving the right to opt out if the dissonance ever becomes too much. As Kevin Drum has previously noted, moderates in the end are likely to only be spear-carriers for the more strident or radical among us who are responsible for real change.

I'm not even sure what the rallying cry for us moderate humanitarian internationalist liberals would be, anyway. Kevin Drum for President, maybe?

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to make mass movements smarter for the future, just that we (always) may have to make realistic choices when confronted with trying to accomplish things in the present.

Oh, and Rent was fairly fun but a bit overrated.