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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Moving forward in reverse

Just as Pirx and I were having a little dustup about how to deal with Islamic terrorism, Andrew Sullivan was calling out liberals for not providing any rational plans for dealing with the problem:
But, for all Cheney's and Rumsfeld's flaws, they are at least proposing something serious, however ineptly carried out. I have yet to hear anti-war voices on the left propose a positive strategy for defeating Islamist terror at its roots, or call for democratization of the Arab Muslim world. Indeed, I heard little but scorn or silence when Bush announced this vision in London. Do the Democrats stand for democracy in Iraq? Or in Iran? Do they favor Beinart-style containment of Islamism? Nuclear deterrence against Tehran? Certainly, the Kossites seem utterly uninterested in any of these subjects. That's their prerogative; and it's equally my prerogative not to take them seriously until they do.

The same goes for the Dems as a whole. Until the opposition party presents a progressive, democratic agenda to reform the Middle East — as Blair has done in Britain, for example — there's no reason to take them seriously on national security. Maybe their presidential candidate will articulate such a vision. So far, however: so not so much.
I like Sullivan a lot of the time. But occasionally he goes back to being the douche who questioned the patriotism of anyone opposing the war in Iraq and the tactics of the Bush administration. I'm not exactly sure how admitting you don't know what the solution is and trying to work with other countries to come up with one is worse than Bush's "Fuck it, let's invade Iraq and see if that works! No? Crap. OK, let's try Iran!"

Anonymous Liberal says the Cold War, rather than World War II, is a much more appropriate comparison to the fight against Islamic Terrorism:
Fighting terrorism effectively will involve working closely with other countries, even the ones we don't particularly like, to identify and cripple terrorist networks. Occasionally there will be ways to effectively use military force, like in Afghanistan, but these will be the exception not the rule. The most effective way to address the root causes of terrorism is to pursue policies that will hasten the spread of modernity, not just democracy, throughout the Middle East. When people have jobs and lives and hope, the ideology of jihadism will be far less appealing. But this process will take a long time, and we can't make it happen by brute force. We must be vigilant and patient. Very patient. The Cold War wasn't won overnight. But there were many points along the way where reckless ill-considered action could have been disastrous.

Over the last four years, our leaders have engaged in a counterproductive strategy, and they show no signs of understanding that. Under those circumstances, the burden isn't on the administration's critics to present some grand alternative strategy. The only "unserious" option at the moment is allowing these clowns to continue making a mess of things.
Meanwhile, here's an abbreviated version of The Editors' genius plan:
1. First, find an empty beer bottle.

2. Next, I want all Republicans and Republican media mouthpieces like yourself, Sully, to start telling everybody that this empty beer bottle is actually full of terror!

3. Having identified where terror is, there is only one thing to do. Andrew Sullivan, I want you to eat that glass bottle.

4. Chew it up, real, real good.

5. Eventually, of course, people are going to realize that chewing on broken glass really isn't particularly effective either as an anti-terror policy, or as a way of promoting democracy abroad. Actually, you'd have to be kind of a retard to think otherwise. So maybe you should stop now. But! you can point out To stop chewing this glass bottle would show weakness to the terrorists! It would send a signal that all the terrorists would have to do is stab our mouths with glass fragments and we would give into their demands! No, regardless of whether or not there was ever any terror in that bottle — and hindsight, I feel compelled to remind you, should not be mistaken for wisdom — it is now vitally important that you keep chewing until al-Qaeda disbands and every country in the world is peaceful and free. We must stay the course.

Friday Photoshop blogging

Campaigning on the issues as always, the Republican National Committee came up with this brilliant collage the day after Ned Lamont's win.

Oh, and just to make it a little more brilliant, someone Photoshopped a little Hitler mustache onto Howard Dean. Nice.

Personally, I prefer these, from JWH and Sadly, No!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Right makes might

(updated below)

For a while now, I've been working on a long post about overall U.S. foreign policy. As you wait in breathless expectation, however, here's an exchange from the comments' to J-Flash's post that pretty well sums up my views on the use of military power in today's world.
P. Pirx: And, while while military might is not the answer to all, or even most problems, there are, again, cases where nothing but an application of force will do. The scourges of the 30s (and I say "scourges" since it was not a single entity or movement but multiple ones, united in their mindset but autonomous otherwise) were not eradicated by discussions and resolutions, prayers and candlelight vigils. No, this feat was achieved by an application of violence on a scale which said scourges could not match. This may be unpleasant to contemplate, for the post modern PC generation raised on the mantra of "violence never solves anything", but it is a historical fact, nevertheless.


We're in war, not with the whole Muslim world but but with the Islamist movement(s) and they already declared this war long time ago. Thinking that this can be nullified by simply refusing to acknowledge it is, shall we say, touching. The world ain't no sandbox and you can't say "I'm not playing this game, I'm going home".
I completely agree, we're at war with the Islamist movement. And that's why comparisons to World War II don't work. There, we had clearly defined goals and clearly defined enemies. Invade Germany, remove the Reich. Attack Japan, depose the emperor. We knew the names, address, phone numbers and favorite colors of the enemy leadership, and even their underlings conveniently wore uniforms so that we could identify them in our gun-sights.

I was totally gung-ho about Afghanistan. I'd been wanting some Taliban ass-kicking ever since they dynamited those centuries-old Buddha statues, so giving aid and comfort to the organization that attacked us on Sept. 11 was all the excuse needed to rain fire and death upon them.

But what does overwhelming military might do for you after you've taken out the only one of your enemies that sits out in the open? Declaring war on al-Queda does about as much good as me taking on Chicago's meter maids. Shit, we can't even tell Sunni from Shiite, how are we supposed to tell terrorists from Akbar the shopkeeper?

We need the help of other nations and people to first identify the bad guys so we can kill them, and then to prevent new ones than forming. Because I don't know about you, but I would like to actually get rid of these fuckers rather than than just playing terrorist whack-a-mole for the few decades, killing a bunch of guys just so their nephews and neighbors can pop up 15 years later to smuggle a bomb into Baltimore. When we kill Muslims, it only makes more terrorists. When we have other Muslims kill them for us, everyone wins.

You know what the alternative is? Screw it, kill 'em all. There's certainly a lot of people on the right who seem to be advocating that, and that's the impression I get from you, Pirx. If we aren't going to secure the help of good Muslims to defeat the bad Muslims, the only other alternative is to kill all the Muslims.

I have absolutely no problem with violence. Honestly, the fact that the United States has the most powerful and efficient military the world has ever seen gives me a hard-on. If you love America, that can't possibly be a bad thing (the military, not the hard-on).

I don't have a problem with violence, I have a problem with substituting the judicious and intelligent use of violence with pointless bombing campaigns. Bush and the neoconservatives want to apply a 1940's expression of military might to situations that call for a combination of spycraft, diplomacy, economic pressure and, yes, the occasional air-strike or commando raid.


Digby, by far my favorite blogger, responds to the same sort of "the left isn't serious about terror" crap in much the same way:
One of the hallmarks of liberalism is its belief in empiricism. When things aren't working we try to figure out why and solve the problem. Despite our unfounded reputation for starry-eyed naive belief in human perfectability, we are the practical thinkers who are looking to the future and trying to figure out a way to make things better. It is a grave misreading of the current sentiment to assume that we don't care about national security. The reason we are trying so hard to change things is because we do care about it. I don't think I'm the only who feels much less secure than I once did knowing that we have alienated half the world out of some misplaced faith in machismo as a diplomatic strategy. The world stage isn't high school and I'd like to see something a little more sophisticated than locker room psychology brought to bear to solve these problems. In case nobody's noticed, the middle east isn't looking so good right now and the Republicans are shrieking like banshees in ever more hysterical terms. Far be it for me to object, what with the need to live down the summer of love and all, but that just doesn't seem like a good situation to me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

News and notes

1.) Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at The New Republic, was on The Colbert Report last night. And at the end of his interview, he actually said that we'd be better off if we'd never invaded and Saddam was still in power.

I happen to agree with him, but that's easy for me to say. Since, you know, no one actually cares what I say. I have a lot of problems with Beinart, but it takes great big brass balls to make that statement. No one else of any prominence is.

Then again, he also said that we should stay in Iraq as long as the Iraqi government wants us there. I would submit that the Iraqi government has absolutely no idea what they want us to do.
Iraq's prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack Monday on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, breaking with his American partners on security tactics as the United States launches a major operation to secure the capital.

Tourism map2.) Billy Joe Mills over at a Urbanagora (a new blog also started by two Daily Illini columnists) has a post about an awesome new mapping application created at the University of Michigan. (As Mills points out, one of the few good things Michigan has produced.)

If you like interesting new ways of presenting complex data in easy-to-understand formats (like us former library science students), this is a can't miss. The map to the right represents tourism profit, one of the few things Europe (particularly Spain) is still doing well in. They have dozens of other maps, from toy exports to women's income to aircraft departures.

3.) Sen. Joe Lieberman might well lose the Democratic primary to challenger Ned Lamont today. Atrios, writing in the LA Times, gives the best explanation why that I've read.

4.) As predicted, Target has put all future development in Chicago on hold, including previously planned stores, as it waits to see if Mayor Daley will veto the "big-box retailer" ordinance the City Council passed last month.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart has decided to raise their wages an average of 6 percent nationwide. Which is what happens when you let the market handle this sort of thing, even if it takes some time. Of course, our friend Ald. Joe Moore disagrees.

5.) I've kind of lost my taste for the Girls Gone Wild series after reading this article about its founder, Joe Francis. Believe it or not, during the course of the story he assaults the author and rapes an 18-year-old girl. Really.

6.) Digby has some commentary on the same sort of Katrina hypocrisy that I talked about a few weeks ago.

Selling out early

Note from Buck: We will have several guest bloggers while Mero is on his honeymoon. Unlike me and Mero, Mandasaurus' observations are actually grounded in the real world and a job spent doing real things.

I teach at and help run a preschool. Last week we walked to the library. It's pretty close — zigzag up a few streets and we're smack dab at the D.C. Public Library. Spiffy. We heard a few stories, sang and danced, then we strolled back in the hot sun, taking a slightly different route.

About a block away I heard it. "Look! McDonald's!" Nearly every one of the 15 children with us cried out to the Golden Arches. "Can we go?" My response: "No way. That food isn't good for you."

We kept walking. The kids noticed construction workers, fountains, traffic signals, Metro stops and they even knew to ignore weirdoes who started talking to us. These 3- and 4-year-olds are so smart!

But it scares me that these children who are just learning to identify their own names ("That's L for Lilly!") can tell a McDonald's from a block away. Certainly kids know brand names — Power Rangers, Barney, Dora, even Jaguar cars.

The teacher side of me almost beams at how smart they are to identify a restaurant. It means the kids transfer what they saw at other McDonald's to this sight, recall what it is, identify the restaurant and its purpose, and demand what they want from it. "Let's get chicken nuggets!"

But the side of me who wants young adults to say no to bad over-processed food by making informed decisions is so mad! So mad I'm hustling a bunch of tiny kids to the sunny side of the street singing songs about bananas.

These know children so much. But do they know what counts?

Does it matter if you can identify the Red Power Ranger but you can't identify the color yellow when someone asks what color a banana is?

Does it matter if you can identify dozens of characters from TV shows but can't identify basic shapes: squares, triangles circles and hearts?

Do you get the same credit for following Dora the Explorer's instructions to count in Spanish as you do for following instructions and listening in school?

In truth, you can find brilliance in both sides of things. It takes major smarts to figure out Dora's puzzles, just as it takes mental skill to put together a complicated puzzle. But there's an added value to the school-y stuff — fair or not.

Even if it's proof of brilliance that the kids stage a coup to go to McDonald's, I still won't budge. I'm bigger than they are.

Side note: I live in Washington, D.C., so without a voting member of Congress to bug I've only got you bumblebees. Read up and call your representatives. Seriously, reps have interns who are paid to answer phones and those individuals are dying to hear from you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

While you weren't watching...

Note from Buck: We will have several guest bloggers while Mero is on his honeymoon. J-Flash, who has been providing intriguing comments as Adam since we began, brings a knowledge of world affairs that rivals Mero's.

The Middle East is understandably consuming the national and international attention. The media, diplomats, politicians and village idiots who are inclined to analyze world affairs are concerning themselves with stopping the fighting amongst Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah.

So this news note, of course, slid by most eyes.

It's not the end of the world, but it's clear that relations between India and Pakistan — once warming pleasantly — are distinctly turning more hostile.

It's still not clear who was behind the July 11 bombings in Mumbai, but the general assumption is that some Pakistan-based militants are to blame. That has always been supported by reports that the attacks were rather sophisticated.

The Washington Post carried an intriguing op-ed a day after the attacks that does a pretty good job spelling out the ramifications for the region if Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI, a corrupt, ultra-clandestine version of the CIA) ends up being behind this. And more importantly, if this is enough to derail peace talks indefinitely.

Note Xenia Dormandy's comparison to Israel vs. Hamas/Hezbollah and Japan vs. North Korea.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz did the needful and condemned the attacks quickly, but that won't cover up for the continued violence that hasn't really been quelled since Musharraf made his power grab in 1999.

Evaluation of Musharraf depends on your perspective, and perhaps how cynical you are.

You could argue that Musharraf has never really been in control, a sort of puppet dictator who tried to be benevolent. Or maybe he is losing what grip he had, as extremist factions grow stronger in light of world politics (i.e. American action).

A middle ground assertion is that he has been aiming low — just for stability — and playing a shrewd, if dangerous political game: Mildly placating democratic, liberal forces while trying not to anger the right-wing clerical establishment.

Musharraf has meanwhile rooted many fundamentalists out of top army positions, but that may only be a cover for keeping his own power intact. He hasn't exactly ushered in democratic reform, and has decimated parliament. And the supposed referendum on his presidency was staged.

Meanwhile, ISI — believed to be mostly controlled by clerics — has long ignored the extremist training camps along the Afghan border, has probably helped shelter Osama bin Laden and has waged an incessant, guerrilla war with India.

To Musharraf's credit, he turned over Abdul Khan. But only after immense pressure, and that scandal shows the sordid state of Pakistan's nuclear program.

The list of Musharraf's failings and muted successes goes on. With the former greatly outweighing the latter.

Now, Pakistan is probably the most dangerous country in the region, if not the world. It teeters on the edge, making strides diplomatically with India (and showing some economic improvement) in the last four years. But more so than other countries, it could easily fall off the deep end.

I have a hard time really believing it would ever first-launch a nuclear weapon, even if clerics take control. But in an eerie Neo-Cold-War scenario, the domino cascade could start here.

In the days after the bombings last month, I gave 50/50 odds that India would once again let this slide and continue dialogue with Pakistan. But Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has had to contend with a right-wing BJP party that clamors for nationalism and would have war.

Since the Indo-Pak dialogue scheduled late last month was shelved, and there's now tit-for-tat retribution against diplomats, it appears one of Musharraf's and Singh's real successes has disintegrated.

The situation is not beyond salvation yet, but if both sides don't make a concerted effort to return to the table soon, look for rhetoric and violence to escalate. And a return to the tensions we saw in 2001 and 2002, when India and Pakistan were on the brink of war.

And that — for those of us who were earnestly watching — was much more frightening than anything al-Qaeda could conjure.
Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.