Bridges TV

This is interesting news. A new muslim-oriented cable TV channel is being planned for launch in 2004, to be called "Bridges TV". From a press release fwded to me by a friend at CNN:

NEW YORK, NY, May 1, 2003-New York-based Bridges Network, Inc., announced today that it will launch Bridges TV, the first ever nationwide English-language Muslim television channel in North America. The expected launch date is summer 2004, depending on how quickly the network can gather the 10,000 paying members necessary to demonstrate public support. Bridges TV, which will be broadcast from Manhattan, will emphasize news stories, and talk shows, wholesome sitcoms, advice shows, children's programming and movies about Muslim life in America. Programming will mostly be created, since an English-language genre targeting American Muslims does not exist.
Bridges TV differentiates itself from such foreign language programming as Zee TV (Hindi), Prime TV (Urdu) and ART TV (Arabic), which are broadcast in foreign languages and focus on life experiences in foreign countries. These channels are popular among immigrant parents, but not with their U.S. born children. "Our channel is in English and about life in America. We want a Muslim child who grows up in America to be able to watch our channel and identify with the characters, or to be engaged by the dialogue of issues pertinent to him or her," said Amanat.

Amanat added that stories that shed light on the significant contributions of American Muslims to modern science, art and entertainment remain untold and will be a focus of Bridges TV programming. The network seeks to feature sitcoms that represent American Muslim family life. The Cosby Show, which portrayed a positive representation of African-American family life, is a model for such sitcom programming.

As the press kit from the website (DOC file) mentions, there clearly is a significant market. This is an intriguing and ambitious effort. In my silence of the media series, I made a case that Muslims should turn inwards rather than activekly try to engage the mainstream. I think that this new television channel will play a positive role in promoting Muslim-American life within muslim communities.

Of course, it's likely to be Sunni-centric - the "Mosques" link mentions that they plan to broadcast the tarawih prayer during Ramadan, and I somehow doubt that the lengthier Shi'a azaan (which explicitly reaffirms that Ali AS is the successor of Mohammed SAW) will get much airtime. Still, even if Shi'a such as myself are not really addressed, we will definitely share in the benefits of the rising tide of community awareness within and outside the muslims community in America and Canada.

Perspective on Abu Mazen

I had previously mentioned Jonathan's comprehensive summary of the Abu Mazen issue - now, in comments over at Tacitus, Votive comments:

Yesterday's statement reflects the greater disingenuousness on the part of this Israeli government which, I believe, favors the status quo and the associated gradual land grab via settlement expansion and the construction of the security wall within the green line as opposed to a genuine peace with the Palestinians. Every suicide bomb that explodes in Israel is a huge crime but these acts are not destroying the fabric of Israeli society in the way the Israeli occupation of Palestine is doing to the Palestinian society. It is important to acknowledge this fundamental asymmetry. Israel's military is pre-eminent in the Middle East and it has the near unconditional backing of the world's only superpower. However you look at it the power lies with Israel and, as many constituents within Israeli society acknowledge, this puts the onus on the "occupier" to drive the process.

As votive acknowledges, it's a simple matter of historical fact that Israel was literally fighting for its survival between 1948 and 1967. But the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and subsequent patronage (economic and military) by the US have dramatically altered the balance of power. Therefore a hard-line response to Abu Mazen is, as Tacitus also points out, counter-productive to Israeli security concerns.

Sharon has, to his great dismay, been given what he asks for. A Palestinian leader who renounces violence. But taking a hard-line is probably the only thig Sharon knows how to do. As Haggai points out, this is short-sighted in the extreme:

In 1953, when a rumor that Hitler might still be alive circulated around the world, an Arab newspaper asked some public figures what they would say to Hitler if they could contact him. As quoted in Bernard Lewis' book "Semites and Anti-Semites," this Arab officer responded: "I congratulate you with all my heart, because, though you appear to have been defeated, you were the real victor." [...] 24 years later, in 1977, the Nazi collaborator and author of that passage--Anwar Sadat--became the first Arab leader to visit Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

whether or not Abu Mazen fills the legacy of Sadat remains to be seen.



Joe at Winds of Change.NET made a follow-up post to his initial response, where he outlines his perception of my "dishonest debating tactics" :

I won't tolerate a debating style where any accusation can be made, however outrageous, with no serious evidence but with the expectation that it will be taken seriously and treated as a topic for moral debate (even condemnation, whic Aziz did ask for) as if it were true. Then the next invented charge is brought out, of course, and the pattern continues in this vein. That's the game. By accepting those terms, one makes the charges themselves seem respectable and true... and they're neither.

This is a serious charge, which has formed the bulk of Joe's accusations (and has served as secondary ammunition to fuel teh fires that started over at Winds of Change). I don't believe Joe makes this accusation out of malice, but he is indeed mistaken. He defines the tactic to which he objects as:

  1. making an obscene claim against a target

  2. expecting that the claim be treated as valid by the target

this is indeed a dishonest technique because it puts the burden of proof on the victim. Hence it fits the definition of libel (in the generic definition of the word). This is equivalent to asking "when did you stop beating your wife" - it presumes the accusation in the expectation of response. In fact, I've been subject to a variant of it myself, with the question "why haven't you condemned terrorism - your silence speaks volumes" ("you" taken to mean Muslims in general, in this context).

The difference however is a matter of intent. First of all, for Point 1, you have to agree that the claim is indeed obscene. If you look at how my has evolved over the course of the comments at Joe's site and mine, you'll see that we are taking about two different claims:

Joe sees: "The Jews are designing a WMG that kills all Arabs but spares Jews."

Aziz sees: "The state of Israel may have done research into a WMG that could target ethnic Arabs."

Joe's version of the claim is indeed obscene. It ignores the simple fact that "The Jews" are a religious community, not an ethnicity. His version also faults the Jews as a people collectively, with the motivation implied to be universal to the Jewish temperament (which is somehow adopted when you convert to the religion, apparently?). The rationales are implied to be malicious and racist.

My version is quite different. Joe's describes an existing weapons capability, whereas mine describes a line of research inquiry that *may* have happened years ago. Note that the Sunday Time article specifically focused on the work done in identifying genetic markers of Iraqi Arabs. Such a genetic program would amount to essentially a precursor of the Human Genome Project and would be (in the terminology of UNSCOM) "dual-use".

Further, the fact that Israel is NOT the same as "The Jews" is a critical distinction. The state of Israel has pursued all sorts of actions - including occupying Gaza and the West Bank, funding MR-guided ultrasound cancer therapy, playing in the World Cup - that reflect absolutely nothing about the Jewish people other than those Jews (and some non-Jews) who happen to be involved in that specific effort. The state of Israel pursues actions that are rightfully decried or justly lauded by both Jews and non-Jews, inside and outside Israel alike.

Finally, the target in my version is ethnic Arabs - which means that Arab Jews are also vulnerable. The only way to avoid affecting your own population with such a weapon is to employ geographic constraints - ie, drop the bomb over *there* rather than over *here* - and is as much a problem with Israel's existing nucxlear arsenal as it would be for any genetic weapon. 100% Arab-specifity and 100% Jew-sparing are not even suggested, let alone required.

What this boils down to is that I do believe that WMG are possible, theoretically (the question of whether Israel itself pursued that research is one I will address later). Hence, I simply don't equate my words on the topic of WMG as meeting Point 1 above[1]. I have also previously addressed Point 2 in detail.

My arguments on WMG don't meet Joe's criteria. I understand why he made the accusation, but having cleared up the differences above, I think it's reasonable to expect the claim to be withdrawn.

[1]And I think it is extremely relevant that the context was Israel's WMD arsenal - and its weapons sales to China (which was ignored by Joe in his response). More info here. It isn't just Phalcon missiles, but also radar systems, optical and telecommunications equipment, drones and flight simulators.

are WMG moral?

Albert Einstein - German-born Jew, American citizen, most famous physicist of all time, and whose belief in God led him to state that "God does not play dice with the Universe", wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, suggesting that the United States begin research into the atomic bomb (read FDR's response). Einstein was moved to write to the President, with encouragement by Leo Szilard, by news that two German chemists had split the uranium atom earlier that year. Szilard and Enrico Fermi had subsequently verified the potential of a uranium chain-reaction to release vast energies beyond the scale of any prior work of Man. It was on the strength of Einstein's reputation that FDR understood the significance of these scientific discoveries. In a sense, Einstein was responsible for setting America upon that course of history.

Looking back at the historical documents at the time of World War II, we see that the concept of the nuclear weapon was itself likened to a tool of genocide. From the Minority Report of the General Advisory Committee to the US Atomic Energy Comission, dated October 30th, 1949:

Necessarily such a weapon goes far beyond any military objective and enters the range of very great natural catastrophes. By its very nature it cannot be confined to a military objective but becomes a weapon which in practical effect is almost one of genocide...The fact that no limits exist to the destructiveness of this weapon makes its very existence and the knowledge of its construction a danger to humanity as a whole. It is necessarily an evil thing considered in any light. For these reasons we believe it important for the President of the United States to tell the American public, and the world, that we think it wrong on fundamental ethical principles to initiate a program of development of such a weapon.

The letter makes a powerful moral case for stopping development of the "Super" and was signed by Enrico Fermi and Isidor Isaac Rabi.

Israel's stuation in today's world is certainly analogous to the position America found itself during WWII. In fact I believe that the very nature of these weapons guarantees that their invention requires a kind of urgency of purpose, linked to survival itself. Germany and Russia both pursued nuclear research but could not succeed - was this failure simply providence, or was it due to the nature of their intent?

WMG are much like nuclear weapons, in that their manufacture is closely intertwined with a host of technologies that hold great promise for teh human race. The question is can the technology be tamed. Rather than applying moral technology to evil ends, our nuclear know-how today grew out of weapons research, the other way around. So the question of "should these weapons be developed" is as much a matter of politics and social engineering as it is of simple technical expertise.

For example, in the context of WMG - consider the emerging field of pharmacogenomics, the science of genetically tailoring pharamceutical drugs to an individual's DNA, to reduce harmful or even lethal adverse reactions. It's obvious even to a layman that pharmacogenomic research has "dual-use" application to weapon design, which the British Medical Association has also noted:

Research into the development of specific treatments for many medical conditions (both genetic and acquired) using genetic knowledge and genetic techniques, is currently consuming a significant proportion of the pharmacological research budget internationally. This research considers essentially the same molecular techniques as would weapons development.

That there are ethical considerations in development of a Weapon of Mass Genocide is obvious - but in researching the issue, I've realized that my earlier view of the base morality of such a research program was too binary. I disagree with Fermi and Rabi, even as I admire them for their conviction (and feel the resonance of their appeal). That Rabi and Szilard and Einstein, all Jews, could be on opposite sides of that debate 60 years ago also seems to insulate any Jew today from pressure to condemn new technologies today.


I'd like to thank Ikram, Tacitus, Jim, Thomas, Steve, Bill, and Jonathan. None of you are the type of friend who tells me what I want to hear, you always keep me honest. And you've no idea (yet) about how your comments have influenced my thinking. Stay tuned.

I'd like to apologise to all of you for any slander or personal attacks you've attracted as a result of your principled stand.

WMD and moral responsibilities

In my response post to WoC, I wrote an update which was, in retrospect, poorly woorded and ill-advised, which I intend to withdraw. It was triggered by this comment by Joe:

the concept of genetic bioweapons is morally monstrous in a way that goes beyond any other kind of weapon I can imagine. Regardless of one's history or lack thereof. Then again, a nova bomb powered by an overloaded warp-drive core and meant to wipe out the entire planet is also monstrous. Neither is a plausible research subject right now for the Israelis.

After some parsing of the argument, the meat of my response was:

Much like Muslims who just can't bring themselves to utter the words, "terrorism against Jews is immoral and wrong", the refusal to denounce the idea of a WMG without qualifying it with statements about how the bomb is impossible, or no less monstrous than a nuke, or other such soft-pedaling statements, is outrageous. If I am to be called on the carpet to recite a statement of principle, I hold others to the same responsibility. No less.

(see the original post for the full text). This triggerred a comment by Jonathan Edelstein (The Head Heeb) :

I couldn't disagree more, though, with your assertion that denying the possibility of a WMG is equivalent to denying the immorality of terrorism. One is a scientific argument, the other is a moral one. If I were to argue that, based on what we know of human genetics, it is scientifically impossible to construct a WMG that would kill Arabs but not Jews, that argument would say nothing about the morality of WMGs. It would be a purely technical argument about whether WMGs can exist in the first place. You may believe that a genetic bomb is "most assuredly" achievable, but your beliefs about genetics are not beyond question, and a _scientific_ argument to the contrary is not a moral position. Only a _moral_ argument in favor of WMGs (or a refusal to denounce them on _moral_ grounds) would be equivalent to a denial of the immorality of terrorism against Jews.

Jonathan is absolutely correct and this is why my update was ill-advised. The actual target of my call for moral condemnation without qualifier was Joe (who if I recall correctly did indeed issue such a qualifier-free condemnation subsequently, though I can't recall exactly where or on what thread. Maybe Joe can provide the link.)

I do not expect any Jew to denounce WMG any more than I expect any muslim to denounce terrorism. However, I do feel that if a condemnation is made, it needs to be unencumbered. It's conventional wisdom now that if a muslim denounces terrorism, but then goes on to say "but America needs to change it foreign policy" or "but Israel needs to end the occupation", this is generally accepted to nullify the condemnation. Better to have said nothing than to make such a condemnation, and qualify it thus. A condemnation of an immoral act needs to stand on its own merits - to suggest otherwise allows the slippery slope of moral relativism to insinuate itself. Against which wqe all must remain eternally vigilant, accepting that we will all sometimes fall short.

I firmly agree that Jews are under no obligation to denounce supposed or even theoretical WMG research programs by the state of Israel. But Joe's statement that "yes, its monstrous. But its just as monstrous as a warp-powered nova bomb" is an encumbrance. By including nova bombs in his denunciation, he's dismissing the entire concept of WMG as remotely achievable. He's entitled to his opinion but not everyone agrees with his postulatory assertion that WMG are impossible in the same way that nova bombs[1] are. Also note that I will have more to say about the general technical feasibility of a WMG later on UNMEDIA. Stay tuned.

Joe's linkage of the WMG issue to a science fiction device was an attempt to discredit the broader topic of dicussion about WMD in the Middle East (especially Israel's ownership). By discouraging debate, Israel escapes being subject to the same questions about capabilities and intent that we rightfully apply to other nations in that region. I am still developing that question in this series, and my current instinct is that Israel's WMD use is unneccessary but also not cause for alarm (though Israel's weapons sales to China are quite disturbing. Will those sales also be dismissed out of hand? Joe has struck out the text on his post where he acknowledged that Israel's WMD are a legitimate topic for disucssion. That's not a good sign.)

But my main goal in this post is to withdraw any suggestion that I hold Joe or anyone else to an expectation that they condemn Israeli WMG (or WMD, for that matter). But having done so, I do think it is reasonable that he do so directly and not skirt the issue by introducing nova bombs.

Also note that this post is not about Joe's condemnation or intended as any kind of attack/critique of Joe - it's solely about my mistake in writing what I did, an explanation of the thought behind that text, and why I have withdrawn it. Joe's motives stem solely from love of his culture and ethnic heritage, not malice, and I won't (and can't) fault him.

[1] Also note that nova bombs are just planet-busting nukes (er, a WPD?). It's just a matter of scale. Logically, would Joe find Israel's current nuclear capability monstrous? I doubt it, I know I don't.


not sufficient

Zimbabweans want us to liberate them (via Glenn). Glenn is consistent - he endorses the idea, because he has maintained that liberation was a sufficientrationale for war. I disagree, but I am curioous if others will follow his lead and embrace the logical outcome of their pro-Iraq war arguments.

Not Krazy

Can we please give nukes to Japan now?


Tacitus returns

Tacitus returns! in his honor, I will reprint his "Why Tacitus" post:

why Tacitus? Tacitus was a man of the past -- a man who yearned for a bygone Republic, and a man upon whom the Caesars imparted no awe. In an age of pandering, syncophantic rhetoric, his Annals were an unsparing look at the crimes and depravity of the imperial houses -- not to mention the degradation and loss of liberty that came with the advent of Empire. If his nostalgia for the Republic was assuredly too rosy, his eye for tyranny was nonetheless keen.

Why Tacitus? Because we too live in an era of early empire, with a simpler republic still in living memory. And because we too can do nothing more than write about it.

Tac promises to address these topics in the near future:
  • War predictions I got wrong.
  • What the "Islamic" opposition to US occupation of Iraq means.
  • Why the WMD casus belli is coming back to bite us.

Hurry up!

Movie Nite: the interface of hope and despair

coverIt's been a while since the last Movie Nite post, but given recent world events I think that this Nite's theme is especially timely. The movies are Unforgiven and The Shawshank Redemption. These two movies are the sole non-science fiction, non-humor items on my personal top 10 greatest movies of all time list, and taken together amount to 273 minutes of gripping, emotional, thought-provoking drama that delves deeply into the interface between all that is good and all that is evil in the human condition. Each movie approaches the boundary of human light and darkness from opposite directions, yet ultimately they converge. Unforgiven is about choices, and Shawshank is about strength. Together, they form a parable of how our choices determine our destiny. Philosophically, I find these movies to affirm that there is no predestination, and the answer to the despairing question of God, "why do You not intervene, if You are so powerful?" is simply, "because the choices are yours, not Mine."

coverThe supporting performances by Morgan Freeman in both movies may be coincidence, but I think I detect Providence as well. Freeman plays much the same character in both movies - he plays foil in a sense, unable to really penetrate the deeper struggle of the main character, but by the simple act of friendship forming a powerful influence on the choices each character makes - and the lessons they learn from their experiences. I saw Freeman as the personification of the boundary towards which each protagonist struggles towards at first, then turns away from. And its arguable that only Freeman's character(s) are really changed by the experiences.

This is powerful filmmaking - justifying the very existence of the genre itself.

baby steps

Head Heeb writes a magnificent summary of the power struggle between Abu Mazen and Arafat for control of the PA. Ha'aretz also has a detailed biography on Abu Mazen which is must-reading. I agree with Jonathan that only time will tell if Abu Mazen is the next Anwar Sadat - but my optimism in this regard compels me to quote his historic speech to the Knesset, on November 20, 1977:

There was a huge wall between us that you tried to build up over a quarter of a century but it was destroyed in 1973. It was the wall of an implacable and escalating psychological warfare.

It was a wall of the fear of the force that could sweep the entire Arab nation. It was a wall of propaganda that we were a nation reduced to immobility. Some of you have gone as far as to say that even for 50 years to come, the Arabs will not regain their strength. It was a wall that always threatened with a long arm that could reach and strike anywhere. It was a wall that warned us of extermination and annihilation if we tried to use our legitimate rights to liberate the occupied territories.

Together we have to admit that that wall fell and collapsed in 1973. Yet, there remains another wall. This wall constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection; a barrier of fear, or deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deed or decision.

A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement. It is this psychological barrier that I described in official statements as constituting 70 percent of the whole problem.

Today, through my visit to you, I ask why don't we stretch out our hands with faith and sincerity so that together we might destroy this barrier? Why shouldn't our and your will meet with faith and sincerity so that together we might remove all suspicion of fear, betrayal and bad intentions?

Why don't we stand together with the courage of men and the boldness of heroes who dedicate themselves to a sublime aim? Why don't we stand together with the same courage and daring to erect a huge edifice of peace?

An edifice that builds and does not destroy. An edifice that serves as a beacon for generations to come with the human message for construction, development and the dignity of man.

Winds of Change

Steven has a lengthy analysis of what we have to achieve in Iraq. For the record, I switched from against war, to pro war, and finally back to against war. I'm not even going to bother linking to my own posts that follow this train of thought, because the issue is not whether there should have been a war, it's now how do we win the peace. I plan on continuing to be critical of this Administration because unlike Steven, I disagree that Bush has the commitment to the long term to pull this off (or, to be more charitable, that there are elements within the Bush Administration that will threaten the needed commitment).

There are indeed positive winds of change. I exulted in the fall of Saddam's statue - how could I not? But achieving liberation is very different from achieving democracy. And a post on Shi'a Pundit notes that the first time "will of the people of Iraq" happens to conflict with "will of the Pentagon" , there will indeed be a litmus test. This is the essential reason why a Neo-Wilsonian like myself could disagree with a policy towards Iraq run by Neo-Conservatives - because though our end goals are similar, there is a crucial difference.

I'll continue to fault the administration where I think they fail - and there is NOT much room for error. But I will also be pleased at the positive outcomes, such as these articles in Arab News that Glenn Reynolds has been finding:

To a large extent, the Arab media was characterized by selectivity...

with the fall of a tyrant, a fresh breeze is also blowing in the Arab world...

I have often found many similarities between Marines and Arabs...

These are the desired effects that Steven writes about today. There will always be positive and negative effects of any action. Whther this Iraq war was ultimately net positive or negative will depend critically on how the Administration handles it. And I will be watching.


Winds of Change.NET comes down hard on me for briefly taking the Wired/Times of London story about Israeli WMG seriously. Here's the full text of the comment I left in response to their post.

Hi friends,

in my defense, I did not say I absolutely believed that Israel is currently manufacturing "WMG". But i do believe that it isnt entirely outside the bounds of possibility that Israel is *researching* them. They may well turn out to be impossible, but using mitochondrial DNA I could in theory design a genetic weapon that kills only my own imediate family. That's far more specific than the Jew-Arab genetic similarity. So such a weapon is indeed *possible*.

Forget if its possible. The issue I raised in my post is, why would Israel even *consider* it? Im not convinced 100% but I do think there is a high probabilty that it has been considered.

Do I fear a Israeli WMG? no. even if they had one, I doubt it woudl be much of a threat to the world (i dont lose much sleep over the US nuclear arsenal either). But given the unique history of teh Jewish people, mere consideration of the idea is monstrous and I am disappointed that amongst all the critiques I have earned for my post, a denunciation of the concept has not been consistently put forth.

I agree that WMG are very difficult. I dont agree they are impossible. Do you agree that it's monstrous? if so, then we seem to be at again a respectful detente. The implication of this WoF change post unfortunately is that I have an anti-semitic tendency which is indeed libel.

I mean no disrespect and I hold all of you in the highest regard.

WoF is an exemplar of rational debate and I don't take their critique lightly. Few other blogs could compel me to reply on my own blog in response to a public challenge (though I would have preferred some heads up, guys). It's out of my deep respect for Joe K. and the team there that I choose to reply and continue the dialouge.

But I dont plan on making a habit of responding to blog-challenges on a routine basis. I think my position about Israeli WMG is quite clear, from my original post, the comments to that post, and the comment above. At this point, I'm done thinking about Jewish Conspiracy #45,675: Scary Genetic Bomb.

Unfortunately, lost in all the accusations about WMG, are the major questions of that original post (in which the WMG issue was a mere afterthought). These are:

Isn't the idea of the Security Council Resolution outlawing all WMD in the Middle East a good idea?

Given that Israel has vastly superior conventional forces, and handily crushed the pathetic attack by Arab armies in teh Six Day War, why does Israel need nuclear deterrent? (Don't forget that with America as patron superpower, Israel effectively has nukes anyway. We based American missiles in Europe for years to counter the SOviet threat).

why does Israel need a full nuclear triad, including sub-based nuclear launch capability?

Isn't the Israeli possession of nuclear infrastructure the sole reason why a Middle East WMD ban would be vetoed by the US?

Why is Israel selling arms to China? (undermines the whole what's best for Israel is best for America argument of the neocons... this is not how I like my client states to behave.)

I have responded to WindsOfChange.NET's accusation of blood libel, in good faith, to address their concern. I hope they return the favor and address these questions as well.

Any one who says that with the means at present at our disposal and with our present knowledge we can utilize atomic energy is talking moonshine. -- Ernest Rutherford


Israeli WMD program

Continuing my series on Israel's WMD, MSNBC has a professionally-designed graphic that summarizes the state of Israel's WMD program. The link goes to an HTML wrapper for this shockwave SWF file which you can download (which I encourage, since it's very possible that MSNBC might decide to censor itself).


The War at Home

This is a critical piece in the NYT that shows just how off-base the President's policies and priorities are. Billions for Baghdad, Nothing for New York. No to theocracy in Iraq, yes to theocracy in the US. Liberty for the Shi'a, the PATRIOT act for Americans. And rewards to the rich corporations and the wealthy in both. The general election will hinge on whether the Democratic nominee can successfully argue these points.

The president makes a good political general. One of his canniest strategies has been to raise the bar so high that even the smallest of compromises seems like moderation. ANWR has become the red herring of the environmental wars; any energy bill that protects the caribou from the oil drillers will be seen as a victory even if it contains ridiculous tax breaks for the coal, oil and gas industries and does nothing to deal with the problem of gas-guzzling automobiles. Somehow, a budget with $350 billion in tax cuts � at a time of war and enormous government deficits � has come to be seen as a great victory for the president's opponents. With defeats like this, Mr. Bush never needs to win.

Mr. Bush's willingness to take big gambles, to push for what he wants no matter the consequences, are likely to leave an imprint on America far beyond his tenure in office. We hope that he's successful in the fight against terrorism, and that he brings about a more stable Mideast and a democratic Iraq. But on the domestic front, almost every success cripples the nation's ability to move toward a happy, prosperous future. This is one war we hope he loses.

This is perhaps the most comprehensive anti-Bush editorial I have seen in a while, and it comes at precisely the right time - when conventional wisdom dictates that Bush is a juggernaut. We need a political general of our own, a General Grant to Bush's General Lee. We all kow which flag our side prefers. This is war.

UPDATE: Alterman says Bush is AWOL (again). TAP calls Bush the "Most Dangerous President Ever." And The Dixie Chicks are at #1!

postwar screwup watch: a lack of commitment

An argument by pro-war liberals was that we could trust the Bush Administration to make the necessary commitments, to do the needful. I argued that given the record in Afghanistan, this was unlikely. It seems I was right. The looting was forseen by the Pentagon, but ignored by Rumsfeld:

In a memo sent two weeks before the fall of Baghdad, the Pentagon office charged with rebuilding Iraq urged top commanders of U.S. ground forces to protect the Iraqi National Museum and other cultural sites from looters.

"Coalition forces must secure these facilities in order to prevent looting and the resulting irreparable loss of cultural treasures," says the March 26 memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

The Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA), led by retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, sent the five-page memo to senior commanders at the Coalition Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC).
The museum was No. 2 on a list of 16 sites that ORHA deemed crucial to protect. Financial institutions topped the list, including the Iraqi Central Bank, which is now a burned-out shell filled with twisted metal beams from the collapse of the roof and all nine floors under it.

Slate has an overview and a slideshow of the priceless artifacts that were lost. So what were our troops doing while the museum was looted?

Gibson and other scholars are working with the State Department to send out word about what types of pieces are missing, with particular attention to screening people leaving Iraq.

Yet Gibson had spoken at length with the same officials in the months before the war started in an effort to forestall precisely the sort of cultural loss that unfolded at the museum. Gibson noted ruefully that the U.S. military assigned men to chip away the disrespectful mural of former President George Bush on the floor of the Al Rashid Hotel, yet failed to save the matchless legacy of the museum.

The NYT also reports on the al-Rashid mural. Rumsfeld should resign. This is unconscionable.

But wait, it gets worse. Via TPM, senior US Officials want us to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Forget the long commitment to nation building - look at these quotes:

Senior administration official on the post-war plan: "I don't think it has to be expensive, and I don't think it has to be lengthy. Americans do everything fairly quickly."
Senior administration official: "The president's goal is to leave Iraq on the road to prosperity and security and democracy -- or at least give them a fighting chance of it."
Former Sec Def James R. Schlesinger: "This is going to be a very tricky course that we are on. Many people who have the right vision about what should be accomplished do not, as of now, recognize how much of a commitment in time as well as money this is going to require."
Pentagon and White House officials disagree with such warnings. One senior defense official questioned whether 75,000 troops would be needed even in the near future, saying the U.S. military force that deposed Hussein's government was not much larger. Some government functions could be turned over to an interim Iraqi government in a matter of months, the official said. Even the need for a new Iraqi military force could be obviated by moving U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters south toward Baghdad, the official suggested

Marshall rightfully skewers the ludicrous suggestion that we put Kurdish peshmerga in control of civil security. He identifies the basic attitude here as "It's gonna cost a lot more than we thought, it looks really complicated, so let's just give them a good running start, send over a few water purifiers, and then get the hell out."


vive la France. La France est morte.

Here in the unfashionable end of the Leftist Blogger Galaxy, it's actually ok to admit that you not only read Glenn Reynolds and Steven den Beste, you actually enjoy doing so. Not to say I agree with what they write, in fact regular readers of UNMEDIA (all three of them) will confirm that I spend enough time writing rebuttals to SDB in particular that this blog sometimes functions as a StevenDenBesteWatch. But since my ultimate goal is increasing my understanding of the world and human society, I find their writing and linking to be enormously valuable in expanding my boundaries as well as challenging my views. This increases my rigour and makes my ideas more robust, having passed through the fire.

SDB has an extremely important post up today, about the situation facing France. It's an original analysis that builds logically from several other important reference pieces. Understand that I took 12 years of French from junior high to college, circumnavigated Paris via Metro, walked in awe through the Louvre, paid for insanely expensive coffee at La Place de la Libert�, slept in a student hostel serving only chocolat chaude for breakfast, walked the beach at Calais, and even paid my dues at EuroDisney. I'm hardly a Francophile but I do think that I have sampled the culture of "mainstream" France and experienced the depth of its heritage and history in glimpses. I lay out my affinit� solely to emphasise that I am not a reflexive French-bashing Freedom Fries l'idiot. Perhaps it is vanity, but I think I am capable of evaluating an argument that France is in decay on its merits alone.

I can't recommend Steven's essay enough, because I think it's an insight into not only France's political environment but also goes to the heart of the rationales driving the shape of the European Union. But his piece needs to be read in context of several others, so here are the links which I call the Decay of France Reading List - listed here in suggested order.

Barbarians at the gates of Paris
Farewell, France
France is almost Finished
Extreme Solutions

The picture that emerges is grim indeed - of a France, saddled with a colonial legacy and a welfare infrastructure that has at its intersection extremist Islam - partly of its own creation. Interesting paradoxes. We changed the regime in Iraq, via invasion,ostensibly to prevent the Islamic Bomb. Meanwhile France's imperialist legacy means that radical disaffected muslims in a welfare state may mean the French Bomb fulfills that role anyway. Of course, regime change in France would be via the grassroots demographic tyranny of the majority kind, whereas regime change in Iraq was the kind you get with JDAMs and GPS. The British are involved, but on the side of their former colonies (the US), reinvading the country they invaded a hundred years ago.

it's just interesting to see how history doubles back on itself, ties itself into knots :)

UPDATE: He's very convincing about N. Korea, too.

UPDATE: Layman's Logic points out that the Muslim Majority in France is hyperbole. Ubaid from the comments section also gives a supplementary link to the CIA Factbook which corroborates those numbers. I think the demographic danger is not majority, per se, but rather the societal impact. I still think that Dalyrymple's Barbarians essay is definitive on the threat (and the reason why the situation exists - which is almost entirely a function of French spociety's racism and colonial legacy).


fallen symbols

If you haven't been reading Bill Allison's Great War series, you've missed out on some of the most important posts in the blogsphere in the past few weeks. Here is a quick index: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Bill also points to a post from War Words, which I will also reproduce in full:

"In Iraq, images of Saddam Hussein are crumbling to the ground. Statues, murals and posters of the leader dominated many Iraqi towns for years. Now, coalition forces and some Iraqis are pulling down the Saddam tributes -- using tanks, hammers and even their own hands. The ripping, pummeling and shattering is taking place in coalition-controlled areas from the southern port of Umm Qasr to Kurdish territories in the north. In Baghdad itself, troops toppled another Saddam statue, leaving it face down in a gutter. Coalition officers call the images a legitimate target in psychologically liberating the Iraqi people. And it seems to be having the desired effect.One U-S commander says every time the troops take down another image of Saddam, 'the people cheer'. " AP, www.khnl.com, 04/08/03

"We have destroyed 80 percent of the statues. There is only a small amount left and we will destroy that soon." Abdul Hai Muttmain, a spokeman for the Mullah Omar, on the Buddha statues, 03/11/01

Bill asks why these quotes should be juxtaposed, wondering if Benny is trying to equate Saddam's virtue with the Buddha, or the morality of the Coalition forces with the Taliban. I think that the point is that there is a parallel, not between the virtue of Saddam and the Buddha, but rather the perceived vice, from the perspective of the US and the Taliban. This is an explicit and stated intent to erase the past by toppling its grandest symbols, systematically and permanently.

Both the Taliban and the US forces view the Bamiyan and Saddam statues repsectively as analogous to the Golden Calf (from the perspective of their self-interest and their ideology). Since I subscribe to the latter but not the former, I am biased, but I still appreciate the similarity of purpose in the physical act of destroying the statues. And i think it reveals more about the Taliban (and the rotten core of Qutb's ideas) than it does about the pros and cons of US foreign policy.

Now, consider the burning of the Museum of Baghdad in the same light.

why does Israel need WMD?

I've never underestimated Bashar Assad. Slate once praised him, now they think he's a moron. I think that's a premature judgement, given that Syria, in a brilliant diplomatic chess move yesterday, has introduced a UN Security Council resolution calling for the elimination of all WMD in the Middle East. From the BBC:

Syria's draft text seeks a central role for the Council in countering the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the region. It calls on all the countries in the Middle East to ratify a series of arms control treaties, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel has signed the convention but never ratified it, while Syria has neither signed nor ratified it. Syria's UN Ambassador, Mikhail Wehbe, said Syria would ratify it if all other governments in the region did so.

"It is in the interest of the US forces in Iraq that the Middle East be free of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons of mass destruction," Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Sharaa said. He added that this would make it difficult for terrorists to get their hands on such weapons.

(Keep your eye on al-Sharaa. He'll be in the news a lot more soon). DailyKos has the most concise capsule summary of the ramifications:

If the US is truly serious about ridding the Middle East of WMDs, it should have no problem endorsing a resolution that would compell Syria to disarm. Right?

Wrong. The resolution would have the (intentional) effect of forcing Israel to surrender its nuclear arsenal -- a course of action Israel would never accept. And the US, Israel's most loyal ally, will thus be forced to veto the resolution.

So picture this -- the US vetoing a resolution calling for the banning of all WMDs from the Middle East. In one fell swoop, Syria has negated the charges of WMDs against it, exposed the US's hypocrisy on WMDs (our allies can have them, everyone else can't), solidified its leadership of the Arab world, and forced the US to veto a seemingly common sense resolution, after blasting France and Russia for threatening vetoes on Iraq.

No one seriously expects that the US would force Israel to get rid of its WMD. So in one sense, the UNSC resolution is a red herring - I am more interested in teh basic assumption that Israel actually needs nuclear weapons. It's common knowledge that Israel's conventional military forces (including its Air Force, which ranks equal with our own in terms of skill) are more than a match for the combined militaries of the entire rest of the Arab world.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, Israel has between 75-130 nuclear weapons, based on production estimates from the secret Dimona reprocessing plant. This stockpile includes warheads for their Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 missiles, which have a range of up to 4,000 km. In addition, Israel has three nuclear-capable submarines (built by Germany). These resources allow Israel to have a full-fledged "strategic triad" of land, air, and sea nuclear weapons, allowing Israel's nuclear reach to extend across the entire globe, not just the Middle East. I blogged with some alarm about this last year.

The Washington Post story about Israel's submarine capability also has this interesting quote from a spokesman for the Israeili Embassy:

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, confirmed that his country had recently acquired three submarines from Germany but would not comment on whether they were being outfitted with nuclear weapons. "There has been no change in Israel's long-standing position not to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East," Regev said.

It will be interesting to see what Mr. Regev has to say about the new Syrian resolution in the Security Council.

Israel also has been selling arms to China:

Israel and China signed an agreement three months ago settling a dispute over the U.S.-scotched sale of a Phalcon early warning system slated for installation on a Chinese air force Ilyushin plane. The United States opposed the deal, because the system could have endangered American planes in the area by giving the Chinese advanced over-the-horizon radar-detection capabilities.

What is the larger picture emerging here? Israel has a right to acquire weapons for defense - and prior to the nuclear triad, I was unconcerned about the Israeili nuclear capability. Then factor in the weapons sales to China, and I begin to wonder if Israel is any more trustworthy than Pakistan or Syria with regards to WMD ownership.

Ultimately, it's clear that the Syrian resolution makes moral and strategic sense for all parties with interests in the Middle East. It's equally clear that it's a pipe dream. But I think it's fair to ask, why are we so intent on safeguarding Israel's WMD capabilities, even at the expense of non-proliferation of these technologies to other less-client states?

UPDATE: I have removed the reference to WMG, as it was foolish of me to take the Sunday Times story seriously. I apologize sincerely for the brief mental idiocy.


benevolent dictator

I think we should warn N. Korea - if you go nuclear, so does Japan. I favor a Trans-Pacific Economic Sphere of Hawai'i Japan Taiwan Hong Kong and Singapore, I advocate a binational state of Israel-Palestine, and I want Britain to join NAFTA. Hey, I'm an out-of-the-box take-the-long-view kind of thinker.

I still haven't been proven wrong

Note to liberals who reach across the aisle: you give an inch, they take a mile.

Most liberals I know did indeed expect an easy win against Iraq. We have the most powerful military in history (Bush's false accusations of "not ready to serve" in the 2000 campaign notwithstanding[1]) arrayed against the sanctions-decayed, conscript-fueled, politically incestous ragtag army that never really recovered from the first Gulf War, let alone the sapping 12-year war against Iran.

But as Michael Kinsley points out, the easy military victory does not justify the decision to attack[2]. That is circular logic. The rationale for war has always been the weapons of mass destruction, but there has been essentially zero evidence that Iraq posessed any capability to even threaten Israel, let alone the US. My own argument against the war pointed out that the threat from Iraq WMD (N, B and C) was essentially zero, and that posited the existence of such weapons. I was as surprised as anyone that there turned out to be none.

And what about liberation? I've been as pleased at the fall of Saddam as anyone. But while liberation was a necessary argument to justify war, liberation alone is not sufficient.

And the postwar battles have yet to be fought - the power/authority vacuum left behind by Saddam's fall has exacted a terrible cost to all of humanity, which I think was a function of this particular route to war.

Triumphalist hawks bear the moral burdens for these responsibilities, not I.

[1] Gary Hart and Lawrence Korb also debated military readiness in Slate back during the 2000 campaign, excellent reading. GOP arguments that the military was underpaid by Clinton were also false. Compare and contrast with how thinly stretched and under-funded our military is today, via Nicholas Confessore in The Washington Monthly.
[2] Excellent article, has been posted to the UNMEDIA list. The list archives are public, open to non-subscribers for browsing and searching.


the last grave

more compelling narratives from Iraq:

"I was willing to fight with a gun, but not to commit suicide," he said.

He returned to Baghdad with his group, reporting to the People's Stadium. With a guard, he was sent to fetch water for the militiamen. Outside the gate, he told the guard he was going to buy cigarettes, went around the corner and then ran, past the stadium and past the Baath Party militiamen in the streets. He changed in a house in the neighborhood of Zayuna, leaving behind his black uniform and rifle. He made a quick call to his parents, then caught a taxi. He left with nothing more than his student identification in his pocket.

Tahsin said he went as far as he could -- three hours to Mandali, a city northeast of Baghdad on the Iranian border, where his maternal aunt lived. He stayed there until the war in Baghdad ended, returning Friday when he thought it was safe.

"I heard the government fell, and I knew everything was fine," he said. "I knew I could come home."

It appears Tahsin's flight was repeated across Iraq as U.S. forces closed on the capital. His brothers, 26-year-old Salman and 23-year-old Moussa, deserted their army units defending Baghdad one week ago, the first day American troops entered the city. As Shiite Muslims, long oppressed by the Sunni Muslim-dominated Baath Party, it was not a government they wanted to defend. As fathers, they were more interested in taking their families from the front line near Abu Chir and moving them to the relative safety of Saddam City.

"They have families and they fled," Tahsin said.

Like other Iraqis, he said he was now bracing for what's next -- a moment unlike any in the past 35 years, when Iraq is without a government, without authority and with little sense of the future. For Tahsin, his priorities are simple. School is his priority and then "a good life."

"I wish for a car. When I get a car, I want an apartment. When I get an apartment, I hope I can get a wife," he said.

Nothing more? "That's it," he said.


refusal to cede the high ground

I have been lied to all along! This page on Indymedia disproves the scenes of Iraqi freedom broadcast around the world! How alarming - that there would be US tanks in a public area shortly after defeating the enemy forces of a hostile regime and taking the major city! Why, clearly the masses of people tearing down the statue were coerced in some way. Perhaps the US Secret Mind Control Laser was used to force iraqis to symbolically demonstrate their damnation against the symbol of their oppression?

sarcasm off - look I am as heavily critical of the media as anyone else. But no matter how frustrated I get with the media's refusal to tackle topics from all sides, thats a LONG way from arguing that the media is actually complicit in propaganda. The mistake that extreme anti-war protestors are making is equating A. a state-run propaganda outlet (such as Iraqi Information Minister Sahad al Sahaf) which is directly controlled by the government, and . an independent but biased media outlet.

The UK and the US have two completely independent media traditions, but with absolutely opposite biases. This is extremely useful to a media skeptic like myself because it gives me data to triangulate from. But bias is NOT lying[1]

To argue that the US media is equivalent to the Iraqi Information ministry (which is essentialy what you are arguing, if you claim that the photos on Indymedia somehow disprove the simple jubilation of Iraqis at being freed from Saddam's control) is as gross a mismatch as comparing Bush to Hitler or 9-11 to the Holocaust. To do so marginalizes the victims of the Holocaust, the evil of Hitler, and the craven propaganda of the Iraqi IM solely to score some minor political points against America's foreign policy, Republicans, or the US media respectively. This is fundamentally dishonest.

There ARE legitimate critiques of Bush, moral condemnations of America's foreign policy, and the bias of the American media to be made, mind you. But resorting to such moral equivalence tactics is tantamount to... propaganda.

UPDATE: The New York Times: biased, but independent.

[1] By the way, all you NPR haters, this point was made exactly on NPR a few days ago. If you dismiss NPR as biased then you've just rejected the most objective media of them all. Which really shows YOUR bias.


which occupier is next?

Some have speculated Syria. Others, Cuba. But perhaps there is a much more obvious target?

President George Bush was determined. "You must do something to help Abu Mazen succeed as the Palestinian prime minister," he told the Israeli foreign minister last week.

Silvan Shalom tried to explain that the appointment of Abu Mazen was a positive step but Israel would examine his moves, etc. Bush cut him off. "It is important to me that you help him so he succeeds."

At a meeting of the Middle East "managers" at the top of the U.S. administration, the president turned to William Burns, the State Department official who carries the Middle East portfolio, and said, "Bring me Abu Mazen." Burns responded that the timing was problematic. An American embrace right now could hurt the rising leader. "I want him in Washington," the president said.

Israelis home from Washington are reporting on the rumors in the city: The president wants "something big" in the Middle East after his victory in Iraq. The minute Abu Mazen sits down in the prime minister's chair, the administration will be a lot less tolerant of Israeli use of force, from the separation fence and expansion of settlements to harm done to Palestinians. The administration expects gestures like prisoner releases, evacuation of outposts and increased financial transfers from Israel to the Palestinians.

Another (somewhat older) article in Ha'aretz also warns:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's tactic is to buy time. He assumes that the road map goes into effect when terror stops, and that incitement will allow him to drag out Stages II and III indefinitely. But that's not how America sees it. Slashing aid from $4 billion (which we treated as if it were already in our pocket) to $1 billion, is the U.S. administration's way of saying "don't mess with us."

Sharon built up a relationship of personal trust with President Bush and committed himself to painful concessions. Woe to us if he is caught telling untruths about the settlements. Remember when Arafat sent a letter to Bush swearing that he had no connection to the Karine A arms ship and it turned out to be a big fat lie? That was the beginning and end of Arafat's relations with the Bush administration.

The goal of the road map is to end Israel's occupation and establish a Palestinian state in two stages by 2005. The weak spot in our relationship with Bush is the settlement issue and the danger that Sharon and his promises will be written off as unreliable.

Bush himself has hinted at a post-Iraq regional strategy that necessarily does include resolution of the IP conflict. And Ariel Sharon is fully aware of this, and has already begun jockeying. It's a curious twist indeed however that Saudi-friend Bush might indeed adopt a hard-line towards Israel... and the poor neoconservatives, who see Saudi Arabia as enemy number one and Israel's security as objective number one, may well find their own star waning. Interesting times.

Ha'aretz has been ESSENTIAL reading these past few months.

Dean on postwar: winning the peace

The images we all saw on television worldwide yesterday will be in our world history books as one of the defining moments of the 21st century. Alongside those of 9-11, yin and yang. I was and still am opposed to war on Iraq - not the idea of war per se, but like Howard Dean, by the route to which we justified and pursued war. But winning the war was never in doubt and my heart is is full of satisfaction at seeing the statues of Saddam fall at last.

I am however quite disappointed by the attitude of many who oppose the war - who seem to have a grudging attitude towards the liberation. IRAQ IS FREE. Regardless of your politics, your principles, your attitudes - this must be the shared event that we all celebrate. Even Howard Dean, when asked about his response to yesterday's historic events, could only muster this response:

�We�ve gotten rid of him [Saddam Hussein]. I suppose that�s a good thing,� said Dean. But he added the post-war occupation of Iraq is �going to cost the American taxpayers a lot of money that could be spent on schools and kids.�

This is weak - the valid point about the costs of reconstruction is stronger is you admit that a liberated Iraq is (regardless of politics) a Good Thing. Still, I do support Dean's position towards post-war Iraq - here is the full text of Howard Dean's statement on what we need to do to win the peace:

April 9, 2003 - WASHINGTON, D.C. - Governor Howard Dean, M.D. called for United Nations cooperation in helping rebuild Iraq.

"We knew from the outset we could win this war without much help from others. But we cannot win the peace by continuing to go it alone," Governor Dean said. "Our goal should be what the Administration has promised-an Iraq that is stable, self-sufficient, whole and free. Our strategy to achieve that goal should be based on a partnership with three sides-U.S., international and Iraqi-and a program that begins with seven basic points."

Those points are:

  1. A NATO-led coalition should maintain order and guarantee disarmament.

  2. Civilian authority in Iraq should be transferred to an international body approved by the U.N. Security Council.

  3. The U.N.'s Oil for Food program should be transformed into an Oil for Recovery program, to pay part of the costs of reconstruction and transition.

  4. The U.S. should convene an international donor's conference to help finance the financial burden of paying for Iraq's recovery.

  5. Women should participate in every aspect of the decision-making process.

  6. A means should be established to prosecute crimes committed against the Iraqi people by individuals associated with Saddam Hussein's regime.

  7. A democratic transition will take between 18 to 24 months, although troops should expect to be in Iraq for a longer period.

"We must hold the Administration to its promises before the war, and create a world after the war that is safer, more democratic, and more united in winning the larger struggle against terrorism and the forces that breed it," Governor Dean said.

"That is, after all, now much more than a national security objective," he added. "It is a declaration of national purpose, written in the blood of our troops, and of the innocent on all sides who have perished."

Winning the peace will be the ultimate arbiter of whether the price to our blood was worth it. I think Dean's seven points are the right start. Though I do have quibbles...

UPDATE: Glenn writes:

I want to see Iraq a peaceful, free and prosperous place. It wasn't going to be that any time soon without the war. Now it can be -- but "can" isn't the same as "will."

exactly. I wonder if Glenn would vote for Dean? He has an "A" rating from the NRA, you know :)

Waiting for G�del

Matthew has a great explanation of why G�del's theorem doesn't apply to the existence of God. But, it does apply to the NON-existence of God, because atheist arguments are always grounded in the assumption that the Universe is a formal system. For a good example of an intellectually consistent atheist argument in this vein, see Den Beste. As a result, the existence of God is an undecidable proposition, so the statement "God doesn't exist" cannot be proved (or disproved). So atheists shouldn't be so sure! Q.E.D. :)

UPDATE: Background on G�del from a layman's perspective.

UPDATE (for Joshua) : Here's teh Yglesias post.

still, I think Pascal's wager is bunk. Islamic thought places great emphasis on niyat (intention), which is clearly violated by Pascal's mercenary judgement. Faith is not a Prisoner's Dilemma.


revenge on the infants

From Ha'aretz:

Jews claim blast that hurts 15 at Palestinian high school
By Yonaton Lis, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Reuters

An extreme right-wing Jewish group called "Revenge of the Infants" claimed responsibility for a mystery blast that ripped through a Palestinian high school in the Jenin-area West Bank village of Jaba'a Wednesday, injuring at least 15 Palestinian teenagers, three of them seriously.

In a statement to reporters, the group said it had planted the bomb in revenge for the murders of Jewish children by Palestinians. In the past, the shadowy group had claimed responsibility for terror attacks in which Palestinians were killed on West Bank highways.

I don't expect any condemnation of this terrorist organization, nor do I really expect any significant resources to be spent onhuting them down (or assassinating their leaders). It's just going to be dismissed as "fringe" by the same people who invoke the actions of Palestinian terrorists to infer sweeping, societal anti-Semitic hatred of the Palestinians as a whole. Or this might be explained away using the same "radicalization" arguments that are so often heard.

I dont link to this story because I want to make a point about how justified the P terrorists are. I link to it because I share the pro-Israeili viewpoint. The diference though is that I condemn terror on moral grounds, not tribal ones. But for some, only the Other can do evil.



What is a TransNational Progressive? It's an imaginary leftist movement, taught at an imaginary law school.

John Derbyshire, btw, is an amateur mathematician (one of the reasons I call him my hero). I wonder what he has to say about all this square rooting of minus one going on.



What is a neocon? Matthew and Josh both ask. Here's my take - the basic neocon premise was that Israel, acting as a Cold-War type proxy state/client nation, is our route to regional hegemony in teh Middle East (notably the Suez Canal and the oil fields). Therefore, the neocon guiding principles are all attuned towards Israel's security. What's good for Israel is good for America, essentially.

The advantage of this definition of neocons is that it also explains the "likudnik" fracas in simple political terms without getting messy with dubious allegations of mixed national loyalties.

It also explains the neocon's total lack of interest in any country outside rthe middleeast that meets the criteria - articulated as necessary AND sufficient - for invasion/pre-emptive action/regime change.

Finally, it also explains the basic difference between neocons and neowilsonians - the latter of whom see the spreading of democracy as the highest goal of foreign policy. But eth former don't want democracy per se, but rather "cooperative" (to America's interests) democracies. Hence the depiction of Turkey as "perfidious" by many NRO commentators (including my hero, John Derbyshire).


basic needs and desires of all peoples

The two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is a catch-22. I've discussed my support for the binational state solution multiple times, and in doing so have received many critiques. I do believe that there are solid and compelling arguments in answer to those critiques, but I wouldn't have been able to clearly formulate them in my own mind without the dialouge and heavy debate (I am especially indebted to Joshua Scholar and Rabbi Michael Bernstein in this regard).

I intend to further explore these issues by focusing on one at a time. The most common argument against the bi-national state solution is that the supposed ingrained Palestinian hatred of Jews would lead them to exert "legal genocide" against them in the framework of a shared political system - ie, "vote Jews into the sea."[1] This critique argues that Palestinians and Jews can never live side by side as neighbors.

shorthand definitions: Ps = Palestinians, Js = Israeli Jews

an asymmetry

First, there is a definite asymmetry in these arguments. The Palestinian populace as a whole is assumed to be implacably anti-Semitic - but this assumption is completely disassociated from why they would be. Do Js assume that Ps hate them for hatred's sake (as did Hitler) ? Or is there tacit acknowledgement that the occupation is the reason for the Ps anger?

Likewise, is there any acknowledgement of Js anger and hatred towards Ps? After all, from the Js perspective, you have a seething mass of pure anti-Semites who are sending waves of murderers at them. Wouldn't Ps be at equal risk of being voted into the (Red) Sea by a more powerful political bloc of Js in any theoretical federal system?

The truth is that if Js and Ps entered into a common framework of government, there woudl be as much incentive for Js to commit electoral genocide upon Ps as vice versa. If the basic assumption of ingrained hatred is correct, it must cut both ways. But this hatred does not exist, not in the sense that Js fear. The hatred is only as deep as the occupation.


The next argument here is that due to their numerical advantage, Ps would have an unfair power over Js. But from what we see of the American system, electoral genocide is simply not possible. The US Constitution was designed expressly to prevent the tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the minority - to achieve balance. It survived the anger of the Loyalists, the resentment of the South, the political awakening of blacks, and a thousand other ethnic and religious challenges that strove to divide Americans from within. And it has been succcessfully applied elsewhere - notably South Africa, where the cruel legacy of apartheid has been overcome. The reason for its strength is because it amplifies the power of those who work within the system, and enables all to achieve the self-determination that is the basic human desire. As long as that desire is frustrated, there will always be strife.

Our Constitution is the embodiment of this principle: if you desire peace, work for justice.

good neighbors

Critics of the binational state invoke the image of neighboring houses, of Ps and Js, peeking out their windows in mutual distrust. However, the binational state does not advocate forced desegregation, busing, mixed neighborhoods, etc. It simply overlays a federalist govt over the existing regions of Israel-Palestine, and opens up pathways for proportional representation according to the American model. If you analyse the Proposal, you see that the states of the federal union are drawn largely upon existing demographic boundaries. Tel Aviv would not be annexed into Gaza State.

Nor would the "right of return" have any meaning in the sense it is currently viewed. This problem would be addressed by rebuilding destroyed villages in designated areas, as is outlined in this map of proposed boundaries and discussed in the section "Regional Description", especially the sub-sections Al Jalil (the Galilee) region, Bisan Plateau (Yisakhar Plateau), and Marj ibin Amer ( Izre'el Plateau).

(Please note: to have a coherent discussion on this sub-topic, reading of these sections is an absolute pre-requisite.)

the violence

There is a general expectation that for any peace to be achieved, the onus is entirely on the general palestinian society to eradicate violent terrorists 100% from their ranks. This is a simple denial of reality. The truth is that no matter WHAT solution comes about - transfer, separation, binational state, two state, or even just continuation of the present situation for infinity - terrorism will remain. The radicalization of palestinian society's extremists (while NOT representative of the mainstream) is a simple "fact on the ground" just like the settlements are.

It is necessary to address "root causes" - and by analogy, invoke the neocon model of transforming the Middle East by democracy's sword (or JDAM, if you prefer). The neocons explictly admit that there will continue to be Al-Qaeda terrorists even while we are dismantling Iraq and installing democracy. Whether or not the neocon goal of installing democracy will succeed or fail is another matter - but I do agree on the single point that the violence is a symptom of an underlying malaise. In eth case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, this malaise is the occupation.


The Palestinians share the same desires for peace and happiness as Jews do. Jonathan points to proof:

Palestinians also worked in Israel and watched Israeli television. They saw that, for its own citizens, the Israeli system had distinct virtues. This is not easy for even ardent Palestinian democrats to acknowledge.

Yet since 1996, Dr. Shikaki has been polling Palestinians about what governments they admire, and every year Israel has been the top performer, at times receiving more than 80 percent approval. The American system has been the next best, followed by the French and then, distantly trailing, the Jordanian and Egyptian.

This actually doesn't surprise me, although I've never seen it in statistical form. I've heard anecdotal versions before, in the form of intifada leaders' stories of how they learned about democracy while watching television in Israeli prisons, and the latest PCPSR poll seems to confirm that most Palestinians want what they see on television. Of the 1319 Palestinians surveyed, 65.5 percent rated Israeli democracy as "good" or "very good" - and this was in a poll taken in November 2002, after Operation Defensive Shield.

[1] Note that the issue of the Jewishness of Israel is a completely separate matter, relating to demographic identity. For more on this topic, see this earlier post and this article in Ha'aretz. I will discuss the demographic issue in a subsequent post.


velvet glove, iron fist

Though I'm American by birth, I am ethnically Indian - my parents immigrated to Chicago from Bombay/Pune during the 1970's. I have therefiore always had a window into the psyche of the generation who grew up under the rule of the British Raj (my grandparents) and those who were born around the time of independence (my parents). From their stories, the picture that emerges of British rule is that of a sometimes cruel, sometimes benevolent, always condescending hand - the stereotypical velvet glove, fist of iron. Even the most partisan defenders of India's independence will admit without hesitation that the British did connect with their subjects in a way that perhaps we Americans simply cannot fathom - and that deeper current is why lawn clubs, tea time, and a thousand other facets of English society still remain and will forever remain entrcnched in the Indian middle and upper classes. My visits to Pune (a booming city that plays Forth Worth to Mumbai's Dallas) have always been punctuated by agonizing visits to the Pune Club, where my well-meaning relatives drag us to experience the horror of rattan chairs and manicured, unused lawns and sipping tea and Gold Spots while chatting about the weather. Thank god for Channel Z.

These second-hand experiences with the legacy of British colonialism (which was far more benevolent than French colonialism in Africa, it must be admitted) shape my reaction to reports from Basra about the British troops interacting with the Iraqi populace. A few days ago, a group of Brits had their bobbies handed to them on the soccer field:

The British soldiers suffered defeat on the dusty streets of Umm Khayyal, when they took on the local football team. A thousand spectators came from all ends of the town to watch the match, with the players wearing full strip, boots and squad numbers. The home side was rallied to a 9-3 victory by throngs of screaming men and children, who marked out the boundaries of the pitch.
"We turned up to play and there was no one around, just a few kids messing about," he said. "Then suddenly, out of nowhere, came this kitted-up football team together with a referee and two linesmen. The boys thought they must be the Iraqi international side or something. In truth, they thrashed us."
Amid a dusty old market square, 11 of 42 Commando's K Company's finest struggled to gain supremacy in stiflingly hot conditions. There were no jumpers for goalposts here - even the referee had a whistle and cards in his pocket, two linesmen proudly carried flags. Hundreds of children chanted, some sporting the red shirts of Manchester United or Arsenal, carrying playing card pictures of David Beckham and David Seaman.

This is quintesential British behavior - closer to Europe in its style than to America. A Washington Post story delves into more detail, explaining how the British experience with colonialism has shaped their attitudes:

"First, we have football matches, then we have tea parties, and then somehow our soldiers go out and meet the local ladies," said Philip Wilkinson, a retired British army colonel who teaches at the Center for Defense Studies at King's College. "It's amazing how quickly they do that. You can't go into a single military base back in Britain and not meet wives who have been brought back from the countries we've served in."

From the beginning of the war, British soldiers in Iraq have appeared more willing to run risks when it comes to civilians. The first British soldier to die from enemy fire, Sgt. Steven Roberts, 33, was shot last week after he stepped down from his armored vehicle in Zubair to tend to an agitated group of civilians.

Still, last Tuesday, Lt. Col. Mike Riddell-Webster of the Black Watch regiment traded his helmet for a tam-o'-shanter, ditched his sunglasses and took his men to patrol the streets of Zubair on foot. It was, reported the Daily Telegraph, "a quintessentially British moment."

"You can't win hearts and minds from the back of an armored vehicle," Goldsworthy said. "You've got to get down, take off your helmet and deal with people on their own level."

Contrast this with the American troops - and keep in mind that the reason for the difference is because America has experience with wars of liberation and conquest, but not of imperialism and colonialism (until now) :

British analysts contend U.S. forces have much to learn. Some British officers disparagingly refer to Americans as "Ninja Turtles" because they are covered in body armor, helmets and Ray-Bans. "There's a warrior-wimp syndrome in the U.S. Army," Wilkinson said. "The Americans treat civil affairs [relations with local civilians] as a specialization, and you have specialized civil affairs battalions to do the touchy-feely stuff. Your warriors stay as warriors and perceive themselves as warriors.

"We don't have those kind of resources. Every single soldier has to become an agent of the civil affairs program. . . . We teach our young officers and soldiers all of this touchy-feely stuff right from the beginning."
U.S. officials tend to treat the British viewpoint skeptically. "They like to think of themselves as Athens to our Rome," one official said. "The idea is that they bring quality and character to a rougher-hewn America. It's not quite a myth, more like an ideal."

But some American military leaders have acknowledged that in some areas the British have an edge. Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a BBC program last Sunday that British operations around Basra were "absolutely magnificent."

"I can assure you that U.S. forces have leaned heavily on our British counterparts, who have a lot of experience in this area," he said.

Britons who have served alongside American forces say U.S. troops tend to stay in fortified bases, surrounded by high walls of barbed wire, holding local populations at bay. "With the United States, force protection is all about body armor, helmets and moving at speed in closed armored vehicles," said Garth Whitty, a retired 25-year veteran officer who also works at the services institute. "With us, it's more about engaging with the local population to get them on-side and minimize hostility and casualties."

These are actually attitudes that are well-familiar to American police forces in major cities - but from a military standpoint, there is still much to learn. Given the route by which we arrived at war, the barrier to winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi public will be much higher. The British experience will help, but it will only take a single application of the heavy hand to erase all the gains in trust that the British have painstakingly been building in Basra.

(the Washington Post article has also been posted to UNMEDIA list. The list archives are publicly available for browsing and searching)


fiscal responsibility or petulance?

It's discomforting to see rational people engage in petulant posturing about the UN's role in postwar Iraq. Grim realities suggest otherwise - oil revenues from Iraq won't even cover Iraqi debt, let alone pay for reconstruction.

Just to lay the "oil pays" meme to rest, look at the numbers. Suppose reconstruction costs $100 billion, and only takes 1 year. At $30 a barrel of oil, that amounts to 3 billion barrels (about 8 million barrels per day, or bbl/d). This is equal to Saudi Arabia's current output (and Iraq does not have anywhere near Saudi Arabia's reserves, nor the oil infrastructure to process and refine such a colossal amount of oil even if it did). In addition to the ludicrously cheap and quick estimate of the reconstruction cost and duration above, note that there is also an implicit assumption that every dollar of revenue will go to reconstruction cost, without any middlemen (which as anyone familiar with the oil industry knows, is a laughable assertion).

And of course there is a moral element - namely, forcing Iraq to pay for its own reconstruction through proceeds from sale of its own natural resources.

There's an article in the WaPo which also looks into the role of the UN and draws much the same conclusion. While it's true that the statement "the US can't administer post-war reconstruction without the UN" draws no support from the laws of physics, it certainly is strengthened by the laws of fiscal responsibility.

war stories II

here's another account from Slate of the battles against Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq. It's like a completely separate war up there - Elizabeth Rubin interviews a US Special Forces solider:

"We prepared for this mission for a year," he said, which was something of a surprising revelation. "We did a lot of training. We expected 72 hours of battle, and 12 hours later I was standing in Beyara, which shows you how brave these peshmerga were. They were warriors. Here we are, big bad American soldiers with 50 pounds of gear. The Kurds had a couple magazines and an AK." They barely kept up with the Kurds and were astonished at their courage. "When they started, it was a like a bomb took off. They just went right through. We would have stopped and put in for some CAS and done it in stages."

He was stunned when he saw one wounded soldier with a hole in his shoulder get patched up with cotton balls and Scotch tape and rush back off to the front line. "I was about to call in for a medic; the guy puts on his shirt again and takes off for the front."

I'm collecting these stories about heorism and bravery of native Iraqis and Kurds, and about the cooperation and teamwork between Coalition forces and the locals.

war stories

Historians will surely include this tale in the annals of this war.

I saw them hit the female soldier, and my heart stopped," said Mohammed, who does not want his family name disclosed for fear of retribution from the Iraqi paramilitary fighters. "I decided to go to the Americans and tell them the story."

On a battlefield where America's enemies look the same as America's friends, that was no small matter. Mohammed had to walk more than 6 miles out of Nasiriyah, along an open road in an area that Marines have nicknamed "Ambush Alley."

When he reached a checkpoint manned by Marines, with his hands raised in the air, he was greeted with a curt "What do you want?"

"Important information about woman soldier," he replied in the broken English he acquired during studies at Basra Law College.

That piqued the interest of a young Marine shouldering an M-16, who then ushered the Iraqi to see his superior officer. Thanks to his wife, Mohammed, 32, was able to give the Marines the hospital layout, including the vital fact that a helicopter could land on the roof of the six-story building.

The Americans asked Mohammed to return to the hospital and bring back additional details about its layout, security and Lynch's exact location.

Luckily, Mohammed also had a good friend who worked as a doctor at the hospital. With the doctor's help, he made two more trips to the hospital � once when U.S. bombs were raining on the area � and drew five maps for Lynch's rescuers.

On one visit, he saw the body of an American killed in battle and a U.S. military uniform. But asked whether he had seen any other Americans alive, Mohammed replied, "Just Jessica. Only Jessica."

read the rest of the story to understand what risks the Iraqi faced as retribution from fedayeen.

Baghdad International Airport

I admit it. I am pleased. US forces have captured Saddam International Airport and renamed it, Baghdad International Airport.

I never denied that there could be positive aspects - both material and symbolic (as thisnews surely is), of a successful war on Iraq. That is always true - after all, my high standard of living is the direct result of a certain pile of smallpox-infected blankets being distributed to Native American tribes a few centuries ago. Therefore I will reject attempts to portray every happy anecdote (cheering crowds in Najaf, symbolic name changes of a great airport among them) as proof that this war was justified.

I am far more pleased that we haven't seen any WMD.


if not for them, we'd all be speaking the Queen's English

French hoodlums defaced a WWII memorial to British troops, which is a disgusting act of ugly hatred. But equally ugly is the righteous anger against the French:

They bear mute testimony to the fact that the French could not defend themselves. Because of their presence and their inability to speak, they puncture French pretensions to greatness. They represent irrefutable proof that the French have had to rely, again and again, on us for salvation, but we have not had to rely on them. In the last 200 years, no English speaking nation has ever required French help to defend itself.

There can be no greater demonstration of the blackness of the French soul than this desecration. The next time France is attacked, let them defend themselves without foreign help, for they deserve none.

It is shameful that a historian of World War II such as Steven would let his anger cloud his knowledge of history. Throughout WW2, the French underground resistance was instrumental in providing intelligence and performing sabotage against the German occupiers, in coordination with the Allied forces. French resistance fighters provided the intel that drive the decision to land at Normandy. They also rescued many American and British fighters who were shot down over France. They risked their lives in the same way that Americans and British risked theirs - partly to defend their homeland, but also as part of the greater struggle against evil.

Insisting on characterizing the french underground as acting solely in self-interest is hypocritical, for after all it was also Britain and America's self-interest to drive Hitler out of France. But the truth is that our self-interests and doing what was right and just coincided - a rare moment in history of moral clarity - and that meant that every link in the chain was equally strong.

Without the actions of the brave French underground, WW2 would have gone very differently indeed. I think Steven would be the first to recognize this, if his anger cools.

UPDATE: some background reading about the history of the French Resistance.