Back In A Bit…

Folks, apologies. TG’s mom died Friday and – of course – TG had her huge annual conference to help run over the weekend, and so she was obviously the priority for this weekend and will be for the next few days. There is a bunch of stuff I owe people comments on and things I’d like to be doing here – but it will have to wait a bit. Apologies, and think good thoughts for TG and her family.

Havel on Burma

Vaclev Havel – someone who has obviously BTDT in dealing with opening societies – has a piece up at Comment is Free on Burma.

How many times and in how many places has this now happened? Worse, however, is the number of countries that find it convenient to avert their eyes and ears from the deathly silence with which this Asian country chooses to present itself to the outside world.

In Burma, the power of educated Buddhist monks – people who are unarmed and peace loving by their very nature – has risen up against the military regime. That monks are leading the protests is no great surprise to those who have taken a long-term interest in the situation in Burma.

An overwhelming number of Burma’s Buddhist monks have found it difficult to bear the central and regional governments’ efforts to corrupt their monastic orders, and to misuse the example of the monks’ self-restraint to increase the pressure on other believers. Of course, without universal and coordinated international political, economic, and media support for these brave monks, all development in Burma may quickly be put back nearly 20 years.

He goes on to excoriate the international diplomatic regime:

On a daily basis, at a great many international and scholarly conferences all over the world, we can hear learned debates about human rights and emotional proclamations in their defense. So how is it possible that the international community remains incapable of responding effectively to dissuade Burma’s military rulers from escalating the force that they have begun to unleash in Rangoon and its Buddhist temples?

For dozens of years, the international community has been arguing over how it should reform the United Nations so that it can better secure civic and human dignity in the face of conflicts such as those now taking place in Burma or Darfur, Sudan. It is not the innocent victims of repression who are losing their dignity, but rather the international community, whose failure to act means watching helplessly as the victims are consigned to their fate.

The world’s dictators, of course, know exactly what to make of the international community’s failure of will and inability to coordinate effective measures. How else can they explain it than as a complete confirmation of the status quo and of their own ability to act with impunity?

So we will stand by while diplomats sip tea and feel very, very bad about how things are going – here’s Australia’s former ambassador in Newsweek:

In 1988, faced with similar protests, the government killed an estimated 3,000 people as it reimposed control. Nineteen years later they’re still in power. If they use force again would they likely succeed again?
It could have the same result. Mind you, it’s quite often not mentioned that in 1988 there was chaos on the streets. There were a lot of cases where people took the law into their own hands, and some of the deaths were of police and soldiers being summarily executed. The regime argues they were restoring order. That’s not to disguise the fact that the troops had orders to fire, to kill, and they did. And today the troops are already deployed and ready to move whenever the order is given. It’s quite difficult to ensure that whatever action they take is going to end without [more] people dying. And that’s why I think that, given that this is all happening in slow time, there is an opportunity…maybe…to convince the military government that they ought to allow some kind of international visit.

The international diplomatic regime is badly broken and needs to be rebuilt.

There’s No F**king Excuse For This

AP (via TPM):

Last spring, with insurgents apparently holding three American soldiers in Iraq, it took the U.S. government more than nine hours to begin emergency surveillance of some of the kidnappers’ electronic communications.

The bulk of that time was spent on internal legal deliberations by Bush administration lawyers and intelligence officials, according to a timeline from the office of the director of national intelligence. One of the soldiers was later found dead. The other two are still listed as missing.

Read the whole thing.

In talking to veterans and military folks, the image of a bureaucratic, overlawyered war keeps coming forward.

I won’t lay the blame for causing this – entirely – at the feet of the Bush Administration. But I will say that it’s up to them to fix it.

Juan Cole, Thoughtcrime, And Morality

I still read Juan Cole, although it’s hard for me to be moved to write about anything he says – I glean interesting nuggets of information for future research or thought, but it’s long been clear to me what and how he thinks – and, sadly, he’s one of those people who are busy making reality conform to their theories, rather than trying to improve their theories against reality.

But I caught this this morning – a response to Professor Cole from Yaacov Lozowick, the Director of Archives at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and it had two points – one brutally negative one about Prof. Cole and one so right on point in terms of the moral center of balance required of actors in the world that I thought I’d link and cite.First – Prof. Cole. He claimed that someone named Tzipi Livni – I’ll look her up – had no standing to denounce terrorism, because her father was an Irgun terrorist.

First of all, Livni is not responsible for her father’s crimes except if she is proud of them and declines to denounce them. If she won’t denounce them, she has no standing to argue to the UN that it should prevent holding office.

There’s something immensely creepy about ‘declining to denounce’ as a moral failing. Somehow Arthur Koestler comes to mind. Personally, I don’t care whether the Palestinians – or anyone else – denounces terrorism. I just want them to stop supporting and doing it. If Livini is proposing sensible things (and I can’t speak on whether she is or not) who cares about her views of history – and more particularly, her father?

While I believe in the shaping power of discourse, I don’t believe in thoughtcrime. I gather that professor Cole does.

Finally, here’s a comment on morality and action that is worthy of Hoderer. Lozowick:

Finally, since you keep returning to the subject, even though historians tend to stay away from it, a comment about morality. Like you, I also feel it to be so important that historians need to confront it. More important, however, my position is of a citizen, before a historian. Because you see, the decisions we make are usually morally fraught no matter what we do, because human lives are involved. When we make wrong decisions, people die. On both sides of the conflict. Believe it or not (I expect you won’t), we do not wish anyone dead, on either side – though of course, we rightfully have no compunctions about killing those of our enemies who are striving to kill us. That caveat, translated into real-life decisions, made in real-life conditions, almost always with no connections to academic constructs of the sort you seem to prefer – that caveat is what makes morality so very very complicated.

Contrary to your parting shot (The Livnis know only one way etc), Tzipi Livni clearly is far more aware of the ambivalences of reality at war than you seem to be.

I’d love to see some ambivalence like this from Professor Cole, if he were capable of it.

Ali Eteraz On The History And Future Of Islamic Reform

Ali Eteraz, with whom I’ve had a bunch of interesting and useful discussions, has a piece up at Comment is Free at the Guardian – the first in a series on ‘The roots of Islamic reform’.

Since 9/11, “Islamic reform” has become an all-purpose phrase: equally a western impulse to protect itself from Muslim violence and a humanist notion aimed at assisting voiceless Muslims. It has also been espoused by Wolfowitz and Blair in service of their neo-colonial ambitions. Yet, the politics of Islamic reform are part of a much larger debate about power: one that goes to the heart of Islam, and connects back to western foreign policy.

Now for me, this is the 100% interesting question – because there are a set of competing belief sets within Islam today – as Islam explores its reaction to modernity – and our future relations with Islam will depend largely on the which belief set winds up as dominant.

I have argued for some time that there are a range of outcomes in the collision between Islam and the West; many people (including many commenters and posters on this blog) are suggesting that we are war with Islam – I’ll suggest that there aren’t nearly enough dead people for that to be the case. If Islam as a whole was at war with the West (or vice versa), we’d see many, many more people dying in Southwest Asia, India, the Middle East,Africa, and Europe than we do. Neither do I think that inside every Muslim is a suburban Californian waiting for the right social environment to come out.

An expansionist but nonviolent Islam is something we can live with – but an expansionist and violent Islam may not be. Understanding how Islam will evolve and how we in the West can promote the former and discourage the latter is an important issue, and I’ll suggest one worth a lot of study and thought.

Because if we can’t make that happen, the only lever we will have is power.

I Love My Voters … Pull!

George Skelton and Mickey Kaus note that the Democratic legislature in California lied to us once again – and the Governator let them get away with it.

Let’s back up and recall the precise promise.

In 2005, Schwarzenegger was backing a goofy redistricting proposal on his special election ballot. It would have forced a mid-decade redistricting, rather than waiting for the customary next census. Worse, it would have required any redistricting to be approved by a statewide vote, a political consultants’ bonanza.

If voters would reject the governor’s ballot proposition, Perata told me, “Our commitment. . . is to fashion a bipartisan solution in a thoughtful way and put it on the ballot next year.” Ditto, said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez (D-Los Angeles).

The Schwarzenegger measure was soundly rejected by nearly 60% of voters.

Then the Democratic leaders didn’t deliver.

I know we should know by now that when legislators promise to stop drinking and hitting the kids, and this time, we mean it, we really mean it they are lying. Maybe they mean well, and they are lying to themselves as well, or maybe they are lying consciously to us.It doesn’t matter.

For me, I’d gladly sign on to the flawed referendum that was slammed in 2005. Anyone going to propose it?

And can someone deal with the Democratic staffers who are breathing hyperbolically about the electoral “reform” bill proposed by the Republicans, and get them to lower the level of fire-and-brimstone faux moralizing?

On Thursday, California Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres announced the launch of an exciting program called Fraud Busters to combat misinformation being spread by proponents of a misleading initiative effort (“The Presidential Election Reform Act”) which would make California the only large state in the union to award its electoral votes by Congressional District, instead of by statewide popular vote.

“We want activists around the state to help us stop the Republicans from stealing the White House and stealing California’s electoral votes,” said Torres. “We are asking our activists to be the California Democratic Party’s frontline team and help us stop the Republicans from spreading their lies around the state.”

In order to ensure that Republicans hold the White House next year, well-connected GOP operatives are attempting to put an initiative on California’s June 2008 ballot that, if passed, would all but guarantee the Republican nominee could steal 22 electoral votes from California in the November 2008 presidential election.

I’d feel soooo much better if a) the Democrats hadn’t talked about doing exactly the same thing in North Carolina (with approving noises from the MyDD folks) until pulling it at the direction of the national party, who apparently realized that the few electoral votes they’d gain in NC wouldn’t offset the ones they’d lose in California. And if one of the main reasons the democrats scuttled districting reform here wasn’t because they want to protect the gerrymandered Congressional seats that they have managed to engineer for themselves. Per Kaus:

The big hang-up was fear that Nancy Pelosi would oppose any measure that ended gerrymandering of Congressional districts as well as state legislative districts.

Like the European autocrats in the post below, our political class seems to be uncomfortable talking to us as adults.

And for me, I can’t help but wonder how a party that showed some respect for voters and their intelligence would fare.

I Love My People … Pull!

Does anyone else find it outrageous that the UK and Netherlands are planning on subordinating their national laws to the EU in the face of wide public opposition without allowing the public to vote on the matter?

David Miliband today warned against “institutional navel-gazing” in Europe as he made clear the government would refuse to bow to calls for a referendum on the EU draft treaty.

The foreign secretary used a keynote address to the Labour conference to tell delegates that Europe would not divide his party as it had divided the Tories.

Calls for a referendum have come from the trade unions, the Conservatives, the rightwing press – including a full-scale onsalught this week from the Sun – and a cross-party alliance including several Labour backbenchers.

Despite mounting pressure, Mr Miliband held the government line that the EU draft treaty would go to parliament, rather than be put to a vote of the general public.

The foreign secretary said Europe should focus its sights on the problems beyond European borders “that define insecurity within” rather than worrying about its internal workings.

He said: “It doesn’t need institutional navel-gazing, and that is why the reform treaty abandons fundamental constitutional reforms and offers clear protections for national sovereignty,” he said.

“It should be studied and passed by parliament.”

I can’t understand why the residents of the UK are tolerating this. I’d love to hear from people with more political and cultural knowledge than I have on it.

The Left Speaks Up

Check out the talk by Alan Johnson (UK Labor politician, trade union leader, and contender for the PM role w/Gordon Brown professor and editor) over at Harry’s Place.

Our children are going to need to live in a combative democracy in which the mass media and the political and intellectual class are comfortable with the proactive defence of the liberal constitutional order and the open society.

Being ‘comfortable’ for us in the UK means two things, I think.

First, having the will and the resolution to promote that order and that society as non-negotiable normative ends. So enough with the apologetics for them and the self-hatred for us.

Second, understand that when we wage the battle of ideas and defend our way of life we must live up to the highest ideals of our democratic inheritance. We must honour the memory of those who fought and died for it. And are dying for it. So enough with rendition, ghost sites and torture.

Let’s pass our democracy on to our children, but let’s make sure its one they feel such pride in that they will defend it in turn.

Interesting, good stuff, with concrete suggestions for UK policy.