Fat, Drunk, And Stupid Is No Way To Run The Kennedy School

Over at Michael Totten’s joint, Lee Smith Tony Badran writes the post I’ve been meaning to about the hysterical (as in ha-ha hysterical) Harvard study on the pernicious power of the “Israel Lobby” in defining US foreign policy.

A few great grafs:

Pretty much any American who has ever been in a motorized vehicle knows that the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy is Washington’s relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and has been so since the mid-30s. It is a vital national interest – not just because cheap fuel permits Americans to drive SUVs, but because protecting the largest known oil-reserves in the world ensures a stable world economy. Moreover, the US military counts on access to that oil in the event it has to wage war – an activity that demands a lot of oil.

Walt and Mearsheimer’s article explains how “the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics,” which I agree with, because like many Americans I’ve ridden in a car before and I believe that the ability to get people and things from one place to another is a big part of successful domestic politics. It’s not entirely clear that the authors of this really long article have ever been in a car before, because when they’re talking about domestic politics, they’re not talking about cars, or the economy or even our military, but “the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.'”

True or False: “By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby’s task even easier.”

True – not. Psyche. Yeah, true if you exclude the obviously limited influence that oil companies have exercised in US policymaking over the last seventy years. And it’s not just the oil companies doing Gulf bidding; virtually every American ambassador who’s served in Riyadh winds up with a nice package to keep selling the Saudi line back in Washington. Yes, you’re right, AIPAC’s annual budget is a whopping $40 million dollars – or precisely equivalent to the private donation Saudi prince Walid Bin Talal recently gave to two US universities to start up Islamic centers. What? Come on Steve, he gave half of it to Harvard! OK, give me the car keys. The keys to the car, it’s how you got here. In a car. It has four wheels and a motor. It runs on gas. Gas comes from a place called Saudi Arabia….

Go read the whole thing. Biggest Guy spent a few days hanging out at Harvard when we were doing the college-tour thing and he wrote the school off as “lame”.

Hmmm. If this is what Cambridge’s best and the brightest have to offer, he’s even smarter than I thought he was…

Intellectuals Repent, Iraqis Disagree

Chris Bertram crows over Johann Hari’s repentant (and statistics-challenged) column in which he sorrowfully apologizes for having supported the war.

I’ll update my criticism of Hari’s facts when I get a chance to later today or tonight, but Chris somehow forgot to highlight this part of Hari’s column:

POSTSCRIPT: There’s been a collosal response to this article and I’m still picking through the e-mails. Over fifty from Iraqis, of which some mournfully agree, although this e-mail was more typical:
“Your article in the Independent today, 20/3/2006, was really disappointing to all of your admirers. You let them down. You changed your mind and switched from pro-war to join the anti-war campaigners, means that you gave in bowed to the aggressors. So instead of blaming the terrorists for this mass killing in Iraq at the hand of the terrorists, you put the blame on Bush and Blair for liberating Iraqi people from the worst dictator in history. If your new stance is right, then it was wrong to stand up against Hitler in the WW II, because that war caused humanity 55 million casualties. So it was better not oppose the Axis sates. Is that fair? Is this is the justice that we are looking for? If the tyrants were left to do as they like because of the possible revenge from their followers, then our glob will be place for the tyrants only and the whole planet population will be living like sheep.

Abdulkhaliq Hussein”

I certainly can’t add anything to that. And Hari has no answer to it.

An Anniversary

I can’t let the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war go unremarked.

My thoughts are with everyone over there – our troops, our allies, and most of all the Iraqis.

Knowing everything I know today, I would have made the same decision three years ago – to support the invasion.

Knowing everything I know today, I still don’t know how it will come out. And neither does anyone else; so when you read proclamations of victory or defeat, I’d take a moment and reflect first on the messiness of history.

We are in an arduous struggle against a strong and evil enemy. We hope to win without becoming evil ourselves, and while that makes the struggle far harder, it is the only thing that makes it worthwhile.

[edited amazingly clunky grammar]

Motes And Beams

Lots of real-life stuff this weekend, and today I need to go fix TG’s motorcycle and one of my own.

But I scanned my Bloglines feeds this morning, and came across one thing you folks probably haven’t read and should.

It’s by Marc Cooper, a man who brutally kills defenseless fishes for fun and between times writes hella smart commentary at the L.A. Weekly and his own blog.

Pajamas Media also has a round-up of blog postings on the Cuban anniversary. All of the links are to conservative or right-wing blogs.
The reason is unfortunate. There are no liberal blogs marking this anniversay today. At least none that can be easily found.

I don’t believe for one moment that this owes to some sort of liberal “softeness” on Castro (though there’s certainly a sweet spot for him among the more stridently leftist folks). No, the silence on Cuba owes to something else: a smothering parochialism that has set down upon much of the liberal left and extinguished much more honorable traditions of internationalism. Liberals and progressives nowadays are defined more than anything by their sheer opposition to George Bush and no longer feel themselves part of a bigger cause – like, say, freedom.

For too many of them it’s a simple formula: Whatever Bush is for, I’m against. Period. Next question?
The result is a strange liberalish mirror-image of Buchananist isolationism: “I can’t be criticizing some foreign government I have no control over when I have to spend all my energy fighting the ills of my own government,” as some have crudely and previously put it on this blog. Or, worse, “I’m not going to gang up on Fidel when we Americans have created such a horror in [fill in the blank] Iraq or Haiti or Afghanistan”.

I see. Well, at least during the lulls in your ongoing heroic struggle against rampant Republicanism, take a moment out to quietly remember those prisoners of conscience who languish in Cuban prisons. They deserve your support and solidarity, even if it isn’t George Bush who put them there.

It become – sadly – very rare to read commentators on either side who won’t do or say anything to score points on “the opposition”. I’m slowly losing interest in them; it’s the iconoclasts – who I believe might actually let a fact stand in the way of a good opinion – who are the folks I’m most interested in listening to.

V For Vendetta

Just saw it (blogging from my Treo in the theater lobby). Go see it.

It’s not a great film – but it’s a powerful one.

Note: I’m going to close comments off – in a week or so when more people have actually seen it, I’ll toss a post and we can debate it.

Port Security – Too Important For Posturing

Kevin Drum is all upset that a safe ports bill – HR4899 – was just put down by the GOP.

I’m huge on port security, and have been for years:

The power goes out, the telephones, cell phones, and computers don’t work. My backup AM/SW/SSB radio in the garage doesn’t work, and I step onto my driveway and look toward San Pedro and see a dark mushroom cloud.

We’ll skip over the fact that all the electronics in the area are kaput because of EMP, and hypothesize a working TV or radio, which informs me that it appears that a small…5KT…nuke has just exploded on a container ship in San Pedro harbor, along with another one in Red Hook, just across from Manhattan, and another one at the container yard in Seattle.

So I was kinda concerned when I read it as well.Then I looked at the bill itself.

Congressmen Jerry Nadler and Jim Oberstar have introduced the S.O.S. Act which would require 100 percent of the containers entering our ports, instead of the current 6 percent, to be screened long before they reach our shores. The bill mandates that:

* All containers be scanned using the best-available technology, including scanning for radiation and density, before they are loaded onto a ship destined for the United States;

* Scans be reviewed by American security personnel before the container is loaded; and

* Containers be sealed with a device that indicates tampering, and would notify U.S. officials of a breach before the container enters the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States.

Come on Kevin – you know that’s not a serious security proposal, it’s a trial balloon. You can’t implement this proposal without shutting down global trade.

I’ll suggest some reading from the Georgia Tech Transportation and Logistics Security Group as a way of getting your feet wet in this issue.

Meanwhile, My Congresswoman, Jane Harman (who I like better every week) is working on a competing measure – the SAFE Port Act (pdf).

Dig in a bit and see what you think.

Call Me Nostradamus

..or not.

Power Line is all over the Haaretz story about Saddam bluffing on WMD.

One quote caught my eye, however:

Senior Iraqi officials told their interrogators that Hussein had no idea what the true state of the country’s weapons was, because everyone lied to him and refrained from giving him bad news for fear of being executed.

Hmmm.

So you get ‘Potemkin weapons'; reports, promises, trailers filled with impressive-looking technical equipment, UAV’s that are really just oversized model airplanes. Occasionally, some competent or especially frightened technician might actually produce something – but almost certainly not on the scale that the dictator believes.

So Saddam believes he has them, and from that, we infer that he does, and what is really going on is a bunch of nervous paper-shuffling.

Alternate Histories

There’s a genre of fiction based on the premise that certain events in history happened differently; the Germans won the Second World War (Man In A High Castle), or the South won the Civil War (How Few Remain), or Czarist Russia settles North America (Ada:or Ardor).

It’s fun for people of all literary abilities.

It’s interesting to look at the chain of small events – nail:horseshoe:battle:kingdom – and have some sense that our history is made up of the accretion of countless small events which only assume their real import in hindsight. Usually it’s hard, even as a historian, to reach back and pick out the ‘turning point’ and try and understand what led up to it and then what flowed from it.

Every so often we get one, and it seems to me that the 2002 decision not to invade/bomb the Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq was just such a point. I’ve assembled the links people were kind enough to contribute below the fold.

So now I’m playing with the idea of what the world would have been like if we had invaded/bombed the camp (two separate choices themselves), and I’ll work on a post outlining that as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, feel free to speculate yourselves. (A cheap way we bloggers have of getting their readers to do the work for them)
* the Wikipedia article on Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh “al-Zarqawi”
* the Wikipedia article on Ansar al-Islam
* the March 2004 MSNBC article on the aborted US attacks
* Dan Darling’s The Rise of Ansar al-Islam: Inside the birth of the Kurdish terrorist organization
* the CSM supporting Ansar al-Islam as linked to Saddam
* the BBC denying it was linked to Saddam

Faithful Democrats

In my post on sticky vs. non-sticky communities – talking about LGF and Political Animal – one point that I thought hard about was this: the ‘sticky’ community of LGF is relatively marginal today, while the Political Animal community has expressed intentions of actually leading a political movement.

Yesterday, Chris Bowers, at MyDD – a site that’s clearly framed around electoral power, rather than commentary or random musings (like some blogs I write for hang around at, stepped up and drank the Kool-Aid.

In partial response to the post on religion at Political Animal, Chris Bowers writes:

Democrats Should Target the Limbaugh Vote, and Other Brilliant Ideas

Internalizing and following the obviously poor election strategy offered up for Democrats by pundits within the established news media is one of the greatest problems we face when trying to win elections. The basic problem is that we are repeatedly told, and repeatedly believe, that in order to win, we must not go after either swing votes or rev up our own base, but instead focus our main strategy on actually trying to win over the Republican base itself. I call this the “Democrats Must Court The Limbaugh Vote” strategy syndrome, both because we tend to follow the election advice given to us by Rush Limbaugh types, and because that advice invariably means that we must target the hard-core Rush Limbaugh audience.

You know for a smart guy, Bowers really doesn’t act like one.

Here’s what he’s reacting to from Political Animal; Steve Waldman cited Michael Lerner:

“Overwhelmingly, the white activists who shaped the Left of the 1960s have remained mired in a culture of hostility toward religion and spirituality. If this were merely a historical curiosity, I’d leave this issue to the cultural historians. But since the Left’s hostility to religion and spirituality has become such a major stumbling block to the chances that progressive forces will ever win enough power to actually change the socially and environmentally destructive policies of the West, it becomes important to explore the roots of this hostility.”

The issue is twofold; first that there is nothing inherent in the fast-growing evangelical movement that locks them to the Republican Party – why aren’t the Democrats proselytizing in these “churches of service”?

I’m guessing it’s abortion, in some cases it doubtless is a significant wall between the churched and the Democrats – and I’ll bet that from the Democrat’s point of view, they tar the entire churchgoing public with Randall Terry.

As far as I know – and I know a fair number of evangelicals – there are some who will never be Democrats because of abortion. There are some who will never be Democrats because of education. But there are lots and lots of them who are looking for a mission to help others, and who would stand with progressive Democrats as they try to do so. They are one of the fastest growing groups in America, and tipping them into the Democratic camp would radically change the balance of political power in this country.

What would it cost the Democrats to do so?

Bowers suggests it would cost them their soul.

I think it would cost them one simple thing; a willingness to approach other people with a measure of respect, rather than the kind of contempt shown in the Political Animal thread, and in a related thread over at a site called ‘Faithful Progressive’ (I like that name – it’s almost as jarring as ‘Armed Liberal’), who’s blog I’ll be paying a lot more attention to.

That respect doesn’t presume that you encompass the notion that gays are evil, or that Bible Study should be a part of the grade-school curriculum in public schools.

It does presume that Democrats will offer similar respect to those whose lifestyle involves going to church on Sunday that they offer to those whose lifestyle involves going to the bathhouse on Saturday night.

It presumes that – and I keep dragging this quote out, because it is just so absolutely correct –

“Finally, if political education is to be effective it must grow from a spirit of humility on the part of the teachers, and they must overcome the tendencies toward self-righteousness and self-pity which set the tone of youth and student politics in the 1960’s. The teachers must acknowledge common origins and common burdens with the taught, stressing connection and membership, rather than distance and superiority. Only from these roots can trust and hopeful common action grow.”
– John Schaar, ‘The Case for Patriotism

I keep coming back to this because I keep it close to my own heart as I try and figure out how to make my politics matter. I’m no better than those who go to church, or those who disagree with me; we’re all members of a polity together and my job, as a participant in that polity, is to try and convince others – through my words and actions – that my path is one worth taking.

Ask yourself when you read Kos, or Bowers, or any of the legions of the proud cosmopolitan netroots why someone who is a mainstream American voter should follow them, given the level of contempt and bile they dish out to everyone who isn’t part of their ideological clique.

Howard Dean said something a long time ago that hit me hard –

“I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” the former Vermont governor said in an interview published Saturday in the Des Moines Register. “We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.”

Of course, the Chris Bowers’ of the party slapped him senseless for it, but he was rightm, and when we get Democrats fearless enough to accept that challenge, we’ll beging to have a Democratic Party that can win.

Jerry-Jeff Wasn’t Doing No Research Project…

In the comments to my post below, commenter Davebo raised the issue of the conscious decision by the Administration not to bomb a terrorist camp strongly believed to house al-Zarqawi.

The camp was in the North of Iraq – in the area under the no-fly zone, and only loosely under Saddam’s control.

Davebo characterized the decision as an effort to use al-Zarqawi’s presence as a rationale for the war. Administration figures characterized it differently:

Another factor, though, was fear that a strike on the camp could stir up opposition while the administration was trying to build an international coalition to launch an invasion of Iraq. Lawrence Di Rita, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said in an interview that the reasons for not striking included “the president’s decision to engage the international community on Iraq.” Mr. Di Rita said the camp was of interest only because it was believed to be producing chemical weapons. He also cited several potential logistical problems in planning a strike, such as getting enough ground troops into the area, and the camp’s large size.

It sounds like they were talking a ground assault, which would have been a meaningful escalation from the air strikes and cruise missile attacks we’d employed in Iraq up until then.

But let’s do something interesting here. Let me put out a call to everyone to pull together links to the best available information about this decision, and the background to it.Before we debate policy, let’s make a good-faith effort to assemble what facts we can. I’m particularly interested in two things – the nature of the proposed assault and reason it wasn’t approved; and why Zarqawi felt it was a good idea to be in Kurdistan in 2002.

I’m going to impose a rule for the next day or so; don’t post a comment here without a link to an outside source on these issues. Once we’ve got a body of links, I’ll put them up in one post, and we’ll discuss the issue in our freewheeling style there. Again, don’t comment unless you’ve got a link to an outside source with information on this. I’ll delete all other comments for now.

*Post title is from a version of Mr. Bojangles – I forget the artist