June 2004

2004 06 22
Al-Ahram on Sudan

Posted by in: Media criticism, Sudan

Is it me, or is this almost surreal?

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2004 06 22
Secrecy News

Posted by in: Political issues

Hot damn! The invaluable Secrecy News has finally got themselves an RSS feed.

(Click here if you don’t know what an RSS feed is.)

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2004 06 22
Multiple pot/kettle issues alert

Oy vey:

US-led authorities in Baghdad are to be sharply criticised in an upcoming UN audit over their use of Iraqi oil revenues, it was reported today.

A leaked copy of an interim report by financial advisers KPMG into the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), which collects and spends oil money, has revealed loose book-keeping and “resistance” to scrutiny among Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) staff.

The Financial Times, which obtained a copy of the report, said the auditors judged the fund to be “open to fraudulent acts”.

“The CPA does not have effective controls over the ministries’ spending of their individually allocated budgets, whether the funds are direct from the CPA or via the ministry of finance,” it quoted the report as saying.

Of course the UN has its own transparency issues as well – at the very least.

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2004 06 21
Responses to Darfur

Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

Ted, at Diachronic Agency, has been silent on Darfur. Here he explains why. He’s wrong, I think, but wrong in a way worth dwelling on a bit:

Why have I been silent on Darfur?

Simple: the US, under its current leadership, cannot be trusted to undertake humanitarian interventions. I look at what the US has done in Iraq. Then I look at what’s going on in Dafur. And I’m not at all confident that the US wouldn’t make everything a lot worse.

There are two dimension to my unconfidence. The US military, under its current leadership, has proven itself both incompetent in managing complex conflictual situations abroad and malevolent in its treatment of those caught in the crossfire. In light of recent news from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, I have a new horizon of expectations, and those expectations are incompatible with humanitarian intervention.

So I guess I’m no longer an interventionist liberal. To be an interventionist liberal, you have to regard your government as in the business of promoting liberal values.

Given a choice between Sudanese Arab rape camps and rape camps sponsored by the US government, all I know is that I don’t prefer the latter.

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Howls of outrage (3)

2004 06 21

I have two points to make about “Anonymous”. No, not the anonymous Joe Klein, or the Anonymous who writes naughty books – I mean Anonymous, the intelligence professional who has just written a book called Imperial Hubris.

1. Is it really necessary that he – I think it’s a he – be anonymous? Why not resign and write the book? I’m guessing there’s a good answer to this question, but I don’t know it. Perhaps if he published the book in his own name he would have to vet it through the CIA or whatever intelligence agency he works for? Even so, if he’s high-ranking enough, I can’t imagine he could hide it. Even allowing for the fact that this is the whoops-did-I-say-that-CIA we’re talking about, how hard could it be to match him to the book? Why, I bet you could build a slam dunk case with a little bit of linguistic analysis and a little bit of gossip!

2. The anti-war left has had a tendency over the last year and a half to uncritically embrace anyone who says anything bad about the Bush administration. Now, as it happens, usually when people speak ill of the Bush administration they’re right. But that doesn’t mean that actors, especially in the CIA, are playing their own game of spinning and ass-covering. At times, it has been almost surreal to watch lefties approvingly quoting the CIA or praising its judgement.1 Folks, this is the CIA! Remember the Church Commission, for crying out loud. Remember William Casey! It’s not all sweetness and light over there, eh?

It’s pretty clear that Anonymous presents the same temptations to people howling for more blood from the Bush administration (like, for example, me). But if this interview with Anonymous at TPM is any indication of the man’s views, that temptation ought to be firmly resisted. This guy sounds like a sick fuck, frankly: histrionic, unbalanced, militaristic, uninformed. In fact, I would honestly rather have George Bush in power than this guy. And in case it isn’t clear, I really don’t like George Bush.

So, I do hope that people think twice before embracing Anonymous. His views are not anything I would put my own name to.

Update: Kudos to Laura Rozen, who has similar thoughts:

But I have to say, Anonymous’ scorched earth, nihilist “final solution” to the crisis posed to western civilization by al Qaeda considerably weakens his other arguments in my eyes. That kind of uber-realism seems as morally bankrupt and of a type that generated some of the very Cold War policies that led to al Qaeda’s emergence in the first place. I don’t think this spook has the answers.

Second Update: And Matthew Yglesias agrees. I hope I was mistaken about the probable reaction to Anonymous. Of course, Yglesias and Rozen aren’t your typical Bush-bashers.

1. Two examples: The Truth Uncovered, not a bad documentary about the war, is marred by this tendency. So is Seymour Hersh’s reporting. Hersh has done magnificent reporting – on the administration. I don’t trust anything he says about the CIA, and neither should you.)

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2004 06 20
Iraq: Two Views

Ginmar, a soldier in Iraq, is reading intelligence reports:

Bit by bit, though, what seeps to the surface of these reports, are the Iraqi people affected by them. My brother was captured by Sadr. CAn you help me find him? A grand ayatollah takes his life in his hands to set someone straight. You should have put the people of Iraq first! Not yourself!Common people, one after the other, clinging to decency, no matter what. A crusading police chief leads a special team from city to city, building up his troops against the insurgents, reminding that soon they will be independant again. An American translator is re-united with the son he hasn’t seen since the first Gulf War, when he had to flee the country. Once persecuted by Saddam, he now has to visit the graves of two brothers who didn’t escape—and the palace of a brother who did, and will soon be a governor.

Simple people, decent all of them, but their words could come from any country. Americans and the Iraqis—they are the same people to me. I can go to the marketplace and say anything I want. It is against the Koran to take a life! I saw these men and they had weapons. They might hurt us—or you. He is not a good Muslim. Ordinary people, unarmed, even, taking on armed men. It goes on and on, the voices that rise out of these reports, bit by bit, and sometimes the bordom gets relieved because I have to sniff just a bit.

Meanwhile, Bill O’Reilly is philosophizing about Iraqis:

O’REILLY: Because look … when 2 percent of the population feels that you’re doing them a favor, just forget it, you’re not going to win. You’re not going to win. And I don’t have any respect by and large for the Iraqi people at all. I have no respect for them. I think that they’re a prehistoric group that is — yeah, there’s excuses.

Sure, they’re terrorized, they’ve never known freedom, all of that. There’s excuses. I understand. But I don’t have to respect them because you know when you have Americans dying trying to you know institute some kind of democracy there, and 2 percent of the people appreciate it, you know, it’s time to — time to wise up.

And this teaches us a big lesson, that we cannot intervene in the Muslim world ever again. What we can do is bomb the living daylights out of them, just like we did in the Balkans. Just as we did in the Balkans. Bomb the living daylights out of them. But no more ground troops, no more hearts and minds, ain’t going to work.


They’re just people who are primitive.

Howls of outrage (2)

2004 06 20
Two examples of lousy journalism

The first is this piece in today’s New York Times, which I quote in full:

KHARTOUM, Sudan, June 19 (Reuters) – President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir of Sudan on Saturday ordered “complete mobilization” to disarm all illegal armed groups, including the Arab militiamen who have been harassing African villagers in Darfur, in the west.

The order was made a day after the United States threatened to impose sanctions on Sudan to intensify pressure to help ease a crisis for civilians in Darfur that the United Nations says is the worst in the world.

The president said government agencies should mobilize “to control and pursue all outlaw groups, including rebels and Janjaweed,” and “disarm the outlaws and present them to justice and prevent any groups from crossing into neighboring Chad.” The Janjaweed is the local name for the Arab militias whom the Darfur rebels blame for much of the conflict in the region. The rebels say the government has backed the Janjaweed, but the government has denied that.

Mustafa Osman Ismail, the foreign minister of Sudan, told reporters that the decision meant the government would deploy additional police officers and troops to maintain order in Darfur. Asked how the decree squared with the cease-fire between the government and the rebels, he said the truce required the rebels to maintain current positions.

“Any group out of the demarcated territories , it is the responsibility of the government to deal with them,” he said. International organizations have criticized the Sudanese government for not controlling the militias, who have driven hundreds of thousands of Africans into camps for the displaced or into exile in Chad.

As far as I can tell, it’s not even controversial that the Sudanese regime is lying, and that it is deeply implicated in the attacks. Denials of this fact are a farce, and should be reported as such. This piece is almost a reductio ad absurdum of the “he said/he said” style of reporting. Yes, the reporter takes care to balance out the quotes from each side, but he or she refuses to note that one side is plainly lying, and has been lying for quite some time, while the other tells the truth.

The second example of lousy reporting is this piece in yesterday’s New York Times about the rebuilding of Iraq’s water purification system. Since the first Gulf War, raw sewage from Baghdad has poured into the Tigris. The U.S. government and Bechtel contractors have been working against extraordinary odds to get the water system working again. It’s an interesting story, and it helps to give a sense of the kinds of difficulties faced by the U.S. in rebuilding Iraq. What is also notable about the piece is that it says literally nothing about how the water purification system was destroyed in the first place. A piece on the current reconstruction of the water system in Iraq needn’t dwell on history or past wrong. But there must be room, in a piece lauding the current reconstruction of a water system, for a sentence or two noting that the system was originally deliberately destroyed by the people now rebuilding it. There is also probably room to note that it was destroyed as part of a campaign to knock out Iraq’s civilian infrastructure because it was calculated – falsely – that the resulting widespread suffering among civilians would destabilize the Ba’ath regime.

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2004 06 20
Juan Cole comments on bombing Fallujah

Says Cole:

The US dropped two bombs on a poor residential district of Fallujah on Saturday, killing at least 22 and wounding 9. The F-16 destroyed two houses and damaged 6 others. Most of those dead, including 3 women and 5 children, belonged to the extended family of a local farmer, Muhammad Hamadi. The US maintained that the building hit was a safe house for the al-Tawhid terrorist group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Local Iraqis in Fallujah maintained that most of those killed were innocent civilians.

I don’t mean to be a killjoy, but for an Occupying Power to drop bombs on residential neighborhoods is a war crime. The three women and five children killed are not “collateral damage.” They are human beings. They were killed by the United States. There are no such things as “precision strikes” in residential neighborhoods. Bombs not only throw off shrapnel themselves, they create lots of deadly flying debris, including flying glass from broken windows, that can kill and maim. Dropping bombs on an tank corps assembled in the desert and intending to do harm is one thing. Dropping bombs on a residential district is another.

We on the outside have no way of judging the various claims made in these sorts of situations. For all I know the Hamadi clan has a lot of blood on its hands and has been blowing up people. But if so, they should have been arrested by a special ops team cooperating with the Fallujah Brigade. You can’t go around bombing residential buildings and killing women and children if you are to retain any respect whatsoever from the local population or, indeed, the world community. Remember that when Bush puts pressure on India or Pakistan to send troops to help in Iraq, one of the implications is that he is asking their military officers to be an active party to things like bombing residential complexes. They have publics that are already angry about the US occupation of Iraq and how it has been (mis)managed. They need to be associated with this kind of action like they need a hole in the head. That’s the pragmatic argument. The legal argument against carrying out this kind of strike is that the pilots who conceivably be charged in some tribunal somewhere in the world, as, indeed, could everyone above them who approved the order to strike.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 06 19
Two Reminders

Posted by in: Music

First, it’s not too late to send me comments on my essay about teaching applied ethics.

Second, if you live in New York City, you’d be crazy – crazy, I tell you! – to miss this wonderful show tonight:

Saturday June 19, 2004

Yoon Sun Choi and Jacob Sacks
with special guests: Mat Maneri and Judith Berkson
5C Cafe
68 Avenue C (New York City)
(212) 477-5993
Cover $10.00

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2004 06 19
Berman, again

Two quick points about Berman’s latest:

1. Berman still seems to divide the left into the small band of wonderful, brave, caring people like himself who supported the war and the heartless people who opposed the war because they couldn’t care less about Iraqis. Would it kill him to concede that not only were there decent reasons to oppose the war, but also that there were decent people who actually did so? This is distinct from the question of who was right about the war. Of course.

As I’ve argued before, objecting to the Iraq War doesn’t imply a lack of concern for Iraqis anymore than objecting to a war against North Korea implies a lack of concern for starving North Koreans. It means that, on balance, you opposed the war – not that their suffering was never weighed in the balance in the first place.

2. Berman recognizes, and at the same time fails to sufficiently appreciate, that the debate over the Iraq War was tangled up with other issues. And so it became a sort of global referendum on the limits of American power; on the limits international law; and so on. It was never sufficiently acknowledged on either side that in many ways the debate over Iraq was, simultaneously, a debate over the war after that one. My guess: More thinking on point #2 would relax Berman on point #1.

If you forget point #2, you’re more liable to regard the anti-war camp as especially shrill. Well, I won’t deny a certain shrillness here and there. OK, here and here and there and there. But we were always arguing about more than the Iraq War, just as many war supporters were. So if you criticize us, please do not argue as if our position was motivated entirely by the situation in Iraq. There were larger concerns in the background which, if taken into consideration, help to make the position on Iraq (even!) more coherent and persuasive.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2004 06 18

Posted by in: Political issues, Sudan

The Head Heeb has the latest. It doesn’t look very good.

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2004 06 18

Now you see, I told you (1, 2) McCain was a nutter.

These days, I confess, you’d have better luck finding a Republican in Washington with a third nipple than one with integrity. But just because McCain is a decent chap, and served his country, and has (what I’m willing to assume is actual) integrity – well, that doesn’t tell you squat about whether he’d make a decent Veep for Kerry.

He wouldn’t. Get over it.

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2004 06 18
Last thoughts on Keegan

I’ve been mulling over my temper-tantrums about John Keegan ever since I had them (1, 2). Here are a few random thoughts and reconsiderations, quite possibly of no interest to anyone but me.
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2004 06 18
Human Rights Watch on Venezuela

Recently, I complained about an editorial in the WaPo about Venezuela. The editorial seemed to me to embody the sort of bias that afflicts so much reporting on the region, and makes it difficult to get a fair sense of what is actually going on there. Human Rights Watch, on the other hand, has quite a bit more credibility with me. And what they have to report about Venezuela, and Chavez, is not encouraging:
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2004 06 18
Vaclav Havel on North Korea

Via Normblog, I see that Vaclav Havel has some firm views on North Korea:

Kim Jong-il wants to be respected and feared abroad, and he wants to be recognised as one of the most powerful leaders in today’s world. He is willing to let his people die of hunger, and uses famine to liquidate any sign of wavering loyalty to his rule.

Through blackmail Kim receives food and oil, which he distributes among those loyal to him (first in line being the army), while the international community has no way to ascertain who is receiving aid inside North Korea.

Now is the time for the democratic countries of the world – the European Union, the United States, Japan and last but not least South Korea – to unify under a common position.

These countries must make it clear that they will not make concessions to a totalitarian dictator. They must state that respect for basic human rights is an integral part of any future discussions with Pyongyang. Decisiveness, perseverance and negotiations from a position of strength are the only things that Kim Jong-il and those similar to him understand.

It is hoped this is something that the world does not need any more horrifying testimony to realise.

Havel is absolutely right about the moral depravity of the North Korean regime. But I can’t help noticing that Havel’s advice is a bit thin on specifics. Negotiate? With what leverage? Yes, the North Korean regime gets aid, and that aid can be cut off. Indeed, I think if it were up to me I would cut aid, since as far as I can tell it goes mainly to propping up the regime. But the North Korean regime also has tricks up its sleeve which ought to make anyone nervous. It might increase even more its trafficking in arms, drugs and counterfeit money. Well, crack down on that too, you say? Steady there, my friend. If you increase pressure too much you significantly raise the likelyhood of a catastrophic exchange across the DMZ which would kill hundreds of thousands. The Bush administration has struggled with precisely this problem for a while, first indulging in quite a bit of Churchillian swagger (as Josh Marshall called it at the time), and then retreating into sullen confusion after it had taken the trouble to size up North Korea’s actual strategic situation. The status quo now actually reflects the balance of power (in the sense that both can produce catastrophic damage on the other) between the parties fairly well, even if the North Korean regime is, at the same time, in fairly desperate straits.

I am, for the same reason, a bit tired of hearing the South Koreans constantly described as nervous nellies for their “sunshine policy” to North Korea. It’s not a policy I’m terribly impressed with, but then again neither I, nor the many people who are more critical of the policy, are forced to live under the kind of threat the South Koreans face. I notice that that Churchillian swagger comes most naturally to those us out of the range of the artillery shells.

What should we do? I have been very tempted to advocate cutting off North Korean aid, on the grounds that that alone is not likely to precipitate a military conflict, and that it doesn’t do much good anyway. I would at the same time temper the rhetoric a bit. Just because the North Korean regime is crazy, doesn’t mean that acting provocatively won’t make it crazier. Putting North Korea into some axis of evil and then attacking one of the members of the axis isn’t the sole cause of what may be an arms race on the peninsula – but it sure as hell didn’t help. It may be that the best hope for the international community now is to apply pressure to . . . China. As Havel notes, China has dealt with the North Korean refuge problem in a consistently brutish manner. And it is far more open to pressure than North Korea.

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