Sunday, June 3, 2007

Matthew Yglesias: Busying Giddy Minds with Foreign Quarrels

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Matthew Yglesias: Via Scott Horton, Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein notes that the geniuses in the Defense Department seem to have been deliberately courting US-China conflict:

While Bush publicly continued the one-China policy of his five White House predecessors, Wilkerson said, the Pentagon “neocons” took a different tack, quietly encouraging Taiwan’s pro-independence president, Chen Shui-bian. “The Defense Department, with Feith, Cambone, Wolfowitz [and] Rumsfeld, was dispatching a person to Taiwan every week, essentially to tell the Taiwanese that the alliance was back on,” Wilkerson said, referring to pre-1970s military and diplomatic relations, “essentially to tell Chen Shui-bian, whose entire power in Taiwan rested on the independence movement, that independence was a good thing.”

This is, of course, no surprise. Francis Fukuyama has recounted that during the 1990s doldrums Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan discussed the fact that their "Neo-Reaganite" foreign policy required a new enemy, and that people in their circle debated whether to make the enemy China or Islamism. They reached the conclusion that China was the best option, only to reverse course after 9/11 and put the emphasis on Islamism. In either case, they regard US-China conflict -- and, indeed, conflict between the United States and other countries generally -- as something to be encouraged.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Matthew Yglesias on the Madness of Paul Berman

Paul Berman is the best of the best of the best of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders:

Matthew Yglesias: I have no real intention of reading a 28,000 word Paul Berman essay on why Tariq Ramadan is bad in The New Republic, so I'll refrain from commenting on the substance of things. I will note that Ian Buruma's Iong New York Times Magazine article on Ramadan reached very different conclusions and I'm more likely to take Buruma's word for it than Berman's.

That said, the very fact that Berman wrote such a thing reminded me of Josh Marshall's years-old essay on Berman and "the Orwell Temptation". Josh described the temptation primarily in terms of a tendency to overblow the world-historical significance of Islamist terrorism in order to make intellectuals feel more important, like they're living at really important times. In Berman's case, though, this impulse also exhibits itself in a pretty weird conception of the role of the intellectual in world-historical times. Way back in his March 2003 essay on Sayyid Qutb Berman was saying things like this:

It would be nice to think that, in the war against terror, our side, too, speaks of deep philosophical ideas -- it would be nice to think that someone is arguing with the terrorists and with the readers of Sayyid Qutb. But here I have my worries. The followers of Qutb speak, in their wild fashion, of enormous human problems, and they urge one another to death and to murder. But the enemies of these people speak of what? The political leaders speak of United Nations resolutions, of unilateralism, of multilateralism, of weapons inspectors, of coercion and noncoercion. This is no answer to the terrorists. The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things. Presidents will not do this. Presidents will dispatch armies, or decline to dispatch armies, for better and for worse.

As Brian Weatherson argued at the time there was something very strange about this. 9/11 certainly made the philosophy of Sayyid Qutb a more interesting topic for the intellectually inclined, a more valid subject for New York Times Magazine articles. Nevertheless, it takes a curious frame of mind to believe -- as Berman appears to believe in complete earnestness -- that defeating al-Qaeda requires us to first engage in close reading of the works of a man who died forty years ago, and then for us to muster an army of intellectuals to refute his philosophy.

Here, again, implicit in the essay on Ramadan is the notion that, on some level, for al-Qaeda to be defeated it's necessary for hawkish western left-wing intellectuals to win an internecine argument with other western left-wing intellectuals about the merits of Tariq Ramadan's work. It's just a bizarre idea, a weird picture of how the world works; as if Soviet Communism collapsed because books about the superiority of free markets were really convincing rather than because books about the superiority of free markets were true and therefore societies featuring free markets outperformed the Soviet bloc.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Talking Points Memo: One Must Never Fear to Negotiate

Josh Micah Marshall writes:

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: May 27, 2007 - June 02, 2007 Archives: Rice sat at the witness table in Hearing Room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building explaining why "those who talk about engagement with Syria and Iran" are all wet. "That's not diplomacy -- that's extortion," she said. The administration has already reversed course on its policy towards Syria, with Rice having engaged in direct, bilateral talks with Syria' foreign minister a few weeks ago. But direct discussions with Iran were always considered far more controversial. As far as the Bush gang is concerned, Iran needs to be isolated, not engaged. To talk to Iran is to "reward bad behavior." We've gone a quarter-century without talking to Iran, and Bush wasn't about to strike up a conversation, especially given the Ahmadinejad regime.

At least, that was the policy. "U.S. diplomats said Monday's scheduled talks with Iran will be limited to discussions about Iraq's security, and not about the unresolved issues of detained Americans in Iran or the country's nuclear program. The meeting in Baghdad will be the first public and formal meeting between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago. 'The issue at hand in the meeting between [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Ryan Crocker and the Iranian representative ... is going to be focused on Iraq and stabilizing Iraq,' U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week."

I don't disagree with the diplomatic decision, but it's worth noting that after years of saying talks with Iran would be reckless and irresponsible, the Bush gang is grudgingly accepting the reality that Dems have been pushing for quite a while. Would it be rude to point out how often this has happened of late? Dems said Bush should talk directly to Syria; Bush said Dems were weak to even suggest it; and Bush eventually came around. Dems said Bush should talk to North Korea and use Clinton's Agreed Framework as a model for negotiations; Bush said this was out of the question; and Bush eventually came around. Dems said Bush should increase the size of the U.S. military; Bush said this was unnecessary; and Bush eventually came around. And Dems said Bush should engage Iran in direct talks, particularly on Iraq. It took a while, but the president came around on this, too.

For years, all we've heard from the right is that Bush is a bold visionary when it comes to foreign policy, and Dems are weak and clueless. And yet, here we are, watching the White House embrace the Dems' approach on most of the nation's major foreign policy challenges. Now, if Bush could just bring himself to accept the Democratic line on Iraq, too, we'd really see some progress.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unqualified Offerings on Glenn Greenwald

Suicide Bombings vs. Air Raids:

Yes and No § Unqualified Offerings: Glenn Greenwald (note: now I’m doing it!) has what is generally an excellent item about the real enthusiasm for attacks on civilians, and the transformation of the Republican Party into “from Falwell/Robertson social conservativsm obsessed with abortion and gay rights into a macro version of the Little Green Footballs comment section, obsessed instead with, literally excited by, detaining and torturing people, maximizing government domestic surveillance, starting still new wars in the Middle East and being far more brutal with the current ones.” There’s one thing he doesn’t quite get around to saying and one thing where he misses the point.

First, he’s right to leave aside the specific tactic of “suicide bombing” to focus on the question of attacks against civilians. Suicide bombing is simply a way to kill people that guarantees the perpetrator himself won’t survive. The suicide bomber can target military personnel, government officials, supply convoys or just plain folks. So can any other combatant, legal or illegal, uniformed or not. Suicide attacks give us the heebie-jeebies for reasons separate from the morality of the target: suicide attacks freak us out because they’re very hard to defend against, they are sneaky by design, and they betoken a level of commitment on the part of the attacker that unsettles us back in the hindbrain. Since it scares us, we prefer to pretend that one person killing himself to blow up a pizza place is somehow more abominable than a thousand people safely firebombing every pizza place in a city from the air, as well as every house and garage and grocery store and restaurant and factory.

9% of Muslims refused to answer the “Are suicide attacks against civilians ever justified to defend Islam.” If I were a Muslim, I might join the 9% on the “Wow, you’ve really constructed that question to carefully apply to what a few people who look like me do, haven’t you?” grounds. The real ethical question is, “Are deliberate attacks against civilians ever acceptable?” Greenwald has the data on just where you can find enthusiasm for the idea that they are.

Gideon Rachman: Still Heading for the Exit in Iraq

Gideon Rachman writes, in the FT:

Gideon Rachman's Blog: Still heading for the exit in Iraq:

The decision by Congress to authorise extra funding for the Iraq war - without setting a deadline for withdrawal - is being portrayed in some places as a capitulation by the anti-war crowd. Not at all. It simply means that the crucial political struggle over withdrawal from Iraq has been delayed a few months. The real battle is going to take place in September. At that point, all of the American troops set aside for "the surge" will have been in Iraq for several months. In September General David Petraeus, on whom so many American hopes are hanging, is also due to give a crucial "status report" to Congress. If the news looks bad, then Congressional moves to get the troops out will begin in earnest. The Iraqi insurgents will doubtless factor this into their calculations. President Bush is already predicting a bloody August.

Earlier this week I met a couple of senior Republican politicians. One of them was still strongly pro-war and convinced that progress is being made; the other was wavering. But both were worried that Congress is still liable to pull the plug on the war effort prematurely. And both see September as the crunch month. By then, the presidential election campaign will also be in full swing. With the Iraq war more unpopular than ever, the campaign is only likely to increase the pressure to get out of Iraq. It was notable that in yesterday's vote, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted against authorising new spending for the war. They know which way the wind is blowing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Soda Can Is Filled with Soda. An MOI Is Filled with Shiite Militiamen

I thought this quote from Spencer Ackerman's Nation article was clear. Kevin Drum apparently didn't:

Spencer Ackerman: Let me take you on a journey into the beating heart of war journalism. What happens when you've got a quote that seems vivid and redolent, rich in texture, emitting a bouquet of meaning and insight, but... may in fact be a word salad? The answer: print that sucker. Indulge me here.

Kevin reads my Nation piece, pulls out this passage:

The MOI is the Ministry of Interior, arguably the most powerful department in the Iraqi bureaucracy. It has control of the police, and since 2005 it has been an instrument of Shiite political power.... Haider gets nervous when I press him about MOI complicity with the militias. He picks up a can of Pepsi from his desk. "I can't say anything about the MOI, but here's an example. This is a soda. You know what it is, and what it consists of."

and remarks, "Say what?" Rightly so. Let me explain....

Colonel Haider was pretty open to talking to me after Lt. Sherrill indicated that it was OK with him. I immediately started asking him about militia infiltration.... He pointed to the Ministry of Interior as the source of the problem. I continued to ask him about this. All of a sudden, a routine U.S. checkup on his operations became a case of an American reporter, escorted by the very U.S. soldiers checking up on the station, pressing him about the perfidies of his superiors. He grabbed a soda can on his desk, gave me that quote, and evaded further questions.

Now, as I wrote down Haider's words, I thought to myself: "Yeah, that's right... a soda. I know exactly what it is, and what it consists of. Much like I know what the MOI consists of. A soda can consists of soda! The MOI consists of Shiite militiamen!"...

I must have gone back and forth with taking that quote out of the piece a million times. If I took it out, I would have a situation where I took the reader right up to the edge of raising the MOI trouble but not crossing the threshold.... [W]hile nearly every police commander blamed the MOI at least partially for infiltration, it would have been awkward to suddenly switch characters, especially because I wanted to ground the piece in a specific police station. So, finally, I opted for the Pepsi quote, and figured that it would make sense in context.

Tell me, faithful commenters: was this a mistake? Be my ex-post-facto editor. Citizen journalism advances another step!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Spencer Ackerman: Training Iraq's Death Squads

Spencer Ackerman writes:

Training Iraq's Death Squads: One of the reminders of Ali's sacrifice is a framed photograph on his cluttered desk. In it, his young son wears the oversized camouflage helmet of Lieut. Jonathan Sherrill, a 24-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, who leads a platoon of the 57th Military Police Company, which oversees fifteen police stations like Khadimiya here in western Baghdad. Sherrill doesn't smile much out on patrol, but in the photograph the diminutive lieutenant wears a grin almost as large as the one plastered on Ali's overjoyed son. When Sherrill walks into Ali's office on a March afternoon, the besieged major's chubby, mustachioed face lights up. An aide rushes to bring sodas for Ali's friend.

"He's one of the hardest-working IPs I've ever met," Sherrill tells me, using the ubiquitous military acronym for Iraqi Police. "He's doing good, and making sure the station gets what it needs." But what the station--and Iraq--needs is not solely measured in items on an acquisition order. Roving the hallways are men only nominally controlled by the police chain of command. "I'm happy with the loyalty of many of the men," Ali tells me after he finishes briefing Sherrill on the day's progress. "But we're suffering with the newer IPs, because I don't know exactly if they come from a militia or some political party." It's a fear echoed by practically every IP commander the 57th becomes partners with. Several told me that many of their police are little more than militiamen in uniform.

"If they belong to the religious guys, it poisons their mind," Ali continues. "Now, in the station, the guys who join can collect information on the other sects. When they get into civilian clothes, they go out and kill the other sect." Ali shrugs. "I have no control over that." The bed in his office underscores both his hard work and the fact that many of his own officers, like the insurgents they are supposed to fight, have placed Ali under siege. Some are suspicious of his closeness with the US military. Some will kill him as part of inter-Shiite factional strife. Others will simply target him for money.

Out of this material comes the long-term US strategy in Iraq. This year's troop surge--an infusion of five combat brigades to Baghdad, along with an additional 2,200 military police and thousands more support forces--brought a return to greater American combat operations, but commanders emphasize that the ultimate goal remains preparing Iraqis to secure their country. Since June 2006, this task has fallen, in part, to the 57th. The company doesn't provide direct training to the IPs; but it advises them on a relentless routine of manning checkpoints, neighborhood patrols, logistics maintenance, payroll and strengthening the chain of command.

"We make them operate their system for when we're not here anymore," explains Capt. Rob McNellis, the 57th's 30-year-old company commander. "If we can help, then absolutely, we'll give them everything we've got, but the focus has shifted." That focus has, by all accounts, yielded improvements in Iraqi police competence. The days when policemen ran from the insurgency are mostly over.

These days the danger is the opposite: that militia-loyal policemen, mostly Shiite here in Baghdad, will use their increased US-gained skills to scourge their Sunni enemies. McNellis and his superiors contend that while they cannot end infiltration, they can curb militia abuses. They hope that the mentorship they provide will force the police to rise above its maculate origins. "There is militia infiltration to varying degrees at the stations," says McNellis, "but nothing succeeds like success."...

The broader problem is that sectarianism remains deeply entrenched. Gen. David Petraeus, the highly regarded commanding general in Iraq, has stated that success can only come through a political settlement. Yet practically every significant reconciliation effort pushed by the United States--a relaxation of the de-Baathification law, a more equitable distribution of the nation's oil wealth, a new round of provincial elections--has bogged down in Parliament. Popular sentiment is no less divided. According to a March poll by ABC News, more than 95 percent of Sunnis believe Baathists should be allowed back into government positions, while two-thirds of Shiites and Kurds reject the idea. Only 4 percent of Sunnis believe their lives will improve over the next year, though 51 percent of Shiites remain optimistic....

The problem runs deeper than the Interior Ministry. Every significant political organization in Iraq fields its own militia as an insurance policy against losing power. For the United States to insist on total militia demobilization would require a massive expansion of the war and cost it whatever Iraqi allies it still has--with no certainty of success. "My own personal view is that it's not realistic to expect in this country for militia groups to be eliminated altogether," says Col. Mike Galloucis, commander of the 89th Military Police Brigade, the parent unit of the 57th. "Militia groups are interwoven throughout the fabric of the country, including the government. But you can always go after bad behavior. You can establish the basic principle of what's acceptable and unacceptable: the notion that everyone accepts the law, no one is above the law, and if you violate it--and I don't care what your sect or your name is--you will be punished." Galloucis's approach led to the firing of several top police generals last fall after the colonel presented Bolani with "a thick packet" of information detailing their corruption.

The result is a trade-off. Police stations do not face US-pushed mass purges of corrupt officers, which would risk further destabilizing a maturing force. But as long as militiamen remain in the police, official cover will exist for kidnappings, murders and other human rights abuses, undermining the rule of law that Galloucis seeks to promote. Proof of specific police complicity in sectarian attacks can be hard to acquire, limiting US ability to get Iraqi commanders to take action. "You can buy a police uniform downtown," McNellis points out....

More than four years into the war, the discrepancy between the scope of Iraq's challenges and the ability of the United States to alleviate them is greater than ever. The commander of Iraqi police in western Baghdad, Gen. Saleh Alany, insists that the United States can't leave--"the terrorists would win"--but says the real problem in Iraq is the entire "generation that was born in the 1980s, during the war with Iran," whose minds have been corrupted by violence. He includes his own men in his assessment: "Loyalty is the biggest problem. The security forces don't have loyalty to the country. They're loyal to the different parties, or other forces." Alany's dim view of the new Iraq is surely colored by his status as a veteran of Saddam's Republican Guard. But if he's right, then to improve the quality of the police force entails increasing the lethality of the militias.

Major Ali in Khadimiya needs no reminder. He picks his security detail personally--he must be wary of those assigned to guard him because of whom they might actually work for. He fears being transferred to the MOI, and vows to take his men to the ministry with him if he is. "I need to know who they are," he says. "Otherwise, they'd kill me." Sherrill sees help on the way. "It's all about weeding out the bad apples," he says, "and for the most part, we've been doing that." After Sherrill leaves, there will be another lieutenant to lend his helmet to Ali's son, and more US troops to mentor Ali's progress. But even with them there, Ali must still fear the uncertain loyalties of his own men, and what they will do with their newfound skills.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Spencer Ackerman on the Legacy of Tony Blair

Playing "Greeks to American Romans," as Harold MacMillan put it, was a winning strategy for British politicians for a long time. Not for Tony Blair. Spencer Ackerman sums it up:

toohotfortnr: it's a crying shame, you left a trail of destruction: Michael Gerson and Tony Blair, Gladstonians against the Horde:

In our conversation, Blair would not be drawn into second-guessing on failures in early stages of the Iraq war -- troop levels, de-Baathification and the like. Those debates, while "perfectly legitimate," do not account for decisive factors beyond the control of the coalition, particularly the bombing campaign of al-Qaeda and Iran's strategy of "containing America" by seeking to "bog them down in Iraq."

"If those two external elements were not there, this thing would be very nearly manageable," Blair told me. "Sometimes you have to come to a very simple conclusion, which is that your enemies decided to fight you."

This is an exculpation? That al-Qaeda would make use of the U.S.'s position of occupying an Arab (mostly) country? Or that Iran would seek to turn its encirclement by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to its advantage? And that the U.S. would find those two developments to be nearly insurmountable amid the other rigors of occupying Iraq? Even if Gerson's infatuation with a morality of intentions can't penetrate the veneer of what's happened in Iraq, Blair should know that a foreign policy that invites a "decisive" response from its adversaries can't possibly survive. And if the point of it all is to nurture human rights while protecting one's interests, then neither objective is served by its collapse.

Ezra Klein on Immigration

Ezra Klein writes:

TAPPED Archive | The American Prospect: THE STATE OF PLAY ON IMMIGRATION. Spent some time Picking Up The Damn Phone this afternoon, and got a much better sense of the political path the immigration bill still has to traverse. First, expect the temporary guest worker program to tumble from 400,000 to 200,000 workers, as Jeff Bingaman and Dianne Feinstein's amendment passes yet again. But this is a more complicated win than it appears at first glance: There's concern among certain liberal groups that if you drop the guest worker program too low, you simply amp up illegal immigration, which is actually worse.

Enter H.R 1645, the STRIVE Act. The House will spend June creating their own version of the immigration bill under the leadership of Zoe Lofgren, a Silicon Valley Democrat (so expect a much greater number of visas for high-skill workers in the final bill) and former immigration lawyer. She'll be under heavy pressure from unions and left-leaning groups to use Luis Guttierrez's STRIVE Act as the basis for her bill. STRIVE, which has a long list of cosponsors ranging from Rahm Emmanuel to Dennis Kuncinich to Silvestre Reyes to Jeff Flake, has a few advantages over the Senate bill, the most notable being its treatment of guest workers, who, after 5 years, $500, and evidence of English and US history classes, can apply for citizenship.

If such a bill is adopted in the House, the legislation will move to Conference with the Senate, which the Democrats control (liberals will remember the many times that Republicans used Conference in recent years to make compromise bills into conservative wish lists). Current thinking is that Bush will sign just about anything that emerges from the process, be it far to the left, or, as with the Sensenbrenner bill he approved last year, far to the right. He needs the accomplishment.

One last thing: The folks I talked to believe this is the year. Two years from now isn't an option. The particular political circumstances we're in are nearly unique: Bush has nothing left to lose but his involvement still provides cover for Republicans, Democrats can get an immigration bill without full ownership over it, the space is open for the subject because the President won't allow action on other liberal priorities and the Congress won't countenance any conservative agenda items, and so on. You have the RNC defending a bill that, were it offered under a Democratic president, they'd be tearing apart. Meanwhile, this just won't be a priority for the next president: President Democrat will want to do health care, not amnesty, and President Republican will want to get reelected someday. So this is the shot. --Ezra Klein

Ross Douthat Has a Modest Proposal (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)

Ross Douthat proposes that people write about stuff they know something about, and not write about stuff they don't know anything about:

Ross Douthat: Kinsley on Hitchens: Matt's right that Michael Kinsley's review of God Is Not Great offers some profound insights into how the the media-public intellectual complex works. It's also a textbook example of how that complex works. First, Christopher Hitchens writes a polemic that ranges across religion, religious history, philosophy and science. Then, the editors of the New York Times Book Review decide to commission a review from Michael Kinsley, presumably because both Hitchens and Kinsley are well-known figures in the media-public intellectual world and "Kinsley on Hitchens" has a nice ring to it. Never mind that Kinsley has never evinced any expertise or even any particular interest in the topics and arguments that Hitchens is covering - it's Kinsley on Hitchens! How can they go wrong?

And sure enough, Kinsley has produced a review that, because he's a smart guy and a good writer, has some interesting things to say about Hitchens' career, but has absolutely nothing of interest to say about the book itself. Indeed, the review is essentially a felicitously-written plot summary, which lists some of Hitchens' arguments and deliberately shrugs off analysis. For instance:

The book is full of logical flourishes and conundrums, many of them entertaining to the nonbeliever. How could Christ have died for our sins, when supposedly he also did not die at all? Did the Jews not know that murder and adultery were wrong before they received the Ten Commandments, and if they did know, why was this such a wonderful gift? On a more somber note, how can the “argument from design” (that only some kind of “intelligence” could have designed anything as perfect as a human being) be reconciled with the religious practice of female genital mutilation, which posits that women, at least, as nature creates them, are not so perfect after all? Whether sallies like these give pause to the believer is a question I can’t answer.

But you're reviewing the bloody book! Should they give the believer pause? Has Hitchens devastated religious faith, as he plainly thinks he has? I'm glad he's entertaining - but is he persuasive? Does his book confirm you in your nonbelief, or leave questions unaddressed? Hitchens takes these questions seriously - shouldn't the reviewer, whether an atheist, a believer, or somewhere in between, have the decency to do the same?

Ah, but it's Kinsley on Hitchens. Brilliant!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Matthew Yglesias On the Labor Movement and Hillary Clinton

Matthew writes:

Matthew Yglesias: Here's the full-length version of Ari Berman's "Hillary, Inc." taking a good hard look at Senator Clinton's team of business-oriented advisors. Matt Stoller piles on further and adds "I hope that someone organizes a PAC or 527 against her brand of centrism, and points out the wild inconsistencies from the left." But now here's the rub. It's hard to make hay about, say, the Clinton campaign's ties to union-busting when large labor unions won't do it.

As best I can tell, most labor people would prefer that she not be the nominee, but they're not going to do much of anything about it. They think, after all, that if she wins she'll need to be at least somewhat attentive to their concerns, but that if they tilt against her and she wins anyway, then they'll really be fucked. All of which is probably true, but of course also makes it much more likely that she'll win. Nation writers and progressive bloggers, sad to say, can't communicate this kind of thing to working-class voters in a particularly effective manner.

Bernard Chazelle on Nicolas Sarkozy and France

Over at the Rootless Cosmopolitan weblog, Bernard Chazelle writes:

Rootless Cosmopolitan » Blog Archive » Getting Sarkozy - and France - Wrong: The story has been all over the media: Nicolas Sarkozy might not be an easy man to like but France is the “sick man of Europe” and tough love is what it needs. If its new president’s odes to the liberating power of work and paeons to “the France that gets up early” grate on the ears of his 35-hour-work-week nation, so be it....

Nice story. Too bad it bears so little connection to reality... to get [France] all wrong seems a bit of an art form in the U.S. media. On any given day, Tom Friedman can be found berating the French for “trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day.” Friedman’s genius is to suppress in the reader the commonsense reaction—Indian engineers have no life—and improbably redirect the pity toward the French. That takes some skill....

Productivity is higher in France than in [Britain and the U.S.] (and 50% more so than in Japan). But pity the French: with their 35-hour work week, 5-week paid vacations, and 16-week paid maternity leaves, they work 30% fewer hours than Americans. Maybe that’s why they live longer (81 years vs 78) and infant mortality is lower (4.3 vs 7 per 1000). Unless the reason is France’s health care system: the best in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Or perhaps it’s the narrower inequality gap: child poverty in France is half the British rate and one third the American....

José Bové, the Astérix of French politics, has burnished France’s antiglobalisation image by ransacking McDonald’s outlets wherever he can find enough TV cameras to capture his exploits. But while France has been noisily scoffing at globalization for decades, it has quietly become one of the most globalized nations on earth.... for the last 10 years, France’s net foreign investments (FDI) have ranked in the top 5, and its net FDI outflows have been the world’s largest; foreign investors own 45% of all French stocks....

What, then, is wrong with France? Simply put, the French system serves the interests of two-thirds of the population (the insiders). The outsiders (the young and the old) have been knocking at the door for 40 years. The sons and daughters of North-African immigrants have paid the highest price. While a few might be seeking a new Muslim identity, which their parents shunned, the overwhelming majority of them have no greater desire than to integrate into secular French society.... The crisis of the projects is France’s biggest challenge in the years ahead. The problem is rooted in the twin evil of racism and the insiders’ fierce defense of the status quo. Sarkozy’s presidency will succeed or fail on his ability to break the door open to let the outsiders in, and create jobs for the unemployed youths.

Sarkozy is blessed with all the attributes of a successful politician, including a unique gift for being a jerk. In the back alleys of the banlieues, France’s former top cop comes off as just another white racist thug.... Sarko’s open admiration for the rancid views of my former Ecole Polytechnique colleague, Alain Finkielkraut, makes one wonder....

I... note that while other politicians regurgitate the same tired “solutions” to the crisis of the banlieues—namely, building more community centers named after great poets—Sarko has suggested somewhat more adventurous ideas, such as a restructuring of labor relations, a more flexible labor market, hiring incentives, and even that big French bugaboo, affirmative action, all the while reaffirming France’s traditional rejection of communautarisme. But he is a figure of hate among minorities and, unless he can repair his image and build bridges, he will not accomplish much. The issue of ethnic integration towers above all others. The future of France hangs in the balance. Jacques Chirac, the friendliest and most ineffective French president in memory, spoke endlessly about solidarity but never did a thing about it....   

Unlike Chirac, Sarko is a true man of the right. Being France, of course, that still puts his agenda, though not necessarily his character, to the left of Kucinich. But he faces a French left that, unlike its American version, lost the battles but won the war. France typically elects rightwing presidents to implement leftwing policies. The consummate pragmatist, Sarko will not fight his battles on ideological grounds.... [H]e intends to use his (likely) new majority in parliament to pass a minimum service public transportation law to dull the effect of transit strikes.... His likely selection of Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister is a master stroke. The highly popular founder of the Nobel-prize winning Doctors Without Borders is a former Communist who worked for Mitterrand, campaigned for Ségolène Royal, and, as the chief advocate of the wooly concept of “droit d’ingérence” (right of humanitarian intervention), played Bush’s useful idiot in the run-up to the Iraq war. His selection is a canny way to please, annoy, and confuse everyone all at once.

French foreign policy is framed within a “Gaullist consensus” that has been remarkably consistent over the years. On the European front, Germany will remain France’s only indispensable partner.... The axis will put the final nail in the coffin of Turkey’s EU admissio.... True to his faith in industrial policy (which seems to have escaped the eagle eyes of his neoliberal admirers stateside), Sarko will strong-arm the European Central Bank into putting downward pressure on the Euro. He will fail.

Sarkozy’s pious words about changing France’s (shameful) neocolonial position in sub-Saharan Africa will come to naught.... Regarding Russia, Sarko will follow Merkel’s lead in being firm with Moscow but opposed to an aggressive stand by the U.S. The neocons’ push for a new cold war meant to reverse America’s declining superpower status, which is what the missile shields in Central Europe are all about, will be strongly resisted....

His strong support among Sephardic Jews reflect his tough stance against the antisemitic violence that flared up during the second Intifada. Many Sephardim live near or in the “hottest” banlieues and suffered the brunt of Muslim anti-Jewish hostility. Although this new form of European antisemitism has since declined, it would be tragic to dismiss it. To his credit, Sarkozy did not....

Washington will have a hard time getting its head around it, but trans-Atlantic relations have ceased to be Europe’s main focus (except in Britain). U.S.-EU relations will improve but the era of a grand common planned destiny is over.... France’s priorities outside the EU will be on the global South, while it channels its Asian policy through the EU...

Kevin Drum on Ashcroft and the Justice Department

Kevin writes:

The Washington Monthly: THE NATIONAL SECURITY CURTAIN....The legal justification for the NSA's domestic spying program, originally written by the infamously hackish John Yoo, was repudiated in March 2004 by the Department of Justice after Yoo left and a new team insisted on taking a serious look at both the program and Yoo's legal arguments for it. Marty Lederman points out today that this team — John Ashcroft, Jack Goldsmith, and James Comey — was no bunch of weak-kneed liberals. They were, under every other circumstance, hardnosed conservatives dedicated to an expansive view of executive power in wartime. What's more, the NSA program was one the administration considered critical to the war on terror; repudiating a previous finding is highly unusual; their actions undermined a key legal tenet of the president's wartime powers; and they knew that both the president and vice president would be furious at what they had done.And yet not only would Ashcroft, et al., not budge — they were prepared to resign their offices if the President allowed this program of vital importance to go forward in the teeth of their legal objections.

In light of all these considerations, just try to imagine how legally dubious the Yoo justification must have been that John Ashcroft was so profoundly committed to its repudiation. It's staggering, really — almost unimaginable that anything such as this could have happened, especially where the stakes were so high.

....Moreover, the "revised" NSA program that OLC and DOJ approved some weeks after the March incident...still allowed electronic surveillance of communications as long as the NSA had a "reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al Qaeda, affiliated with al Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al Qaeda, or working in support of al Qaeda." Presumably this extremely generous guideline was required by the need to bring the program under the aegis of the AUMF....If that's the narrow version of the NSA program, just how broad and indiscriminate was the surveillance under the program that Ashcroft, et al. would not approve?

Even the Washington Post, not exactly a keen critic of President Bush's executive excesses, has had enough: "The president would like to make this unpleasant controversy disappear behind the national security curtain. That cannot be allowed to happen."

That's a start. A little late, but a start.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Nobody Has Any Business Supporting Mitt Romney

Nobody has any business supporting Mitt Romney. Nobody:

Matthew Yglesias: What was up with Mitt Romney promising to "double" Gitmo -- I mean, what does that even mean? I think it's weird that this kind of moment where a candidate for the presidency reveals that he has no clue as to what he's talking about with regard to a high-profile, controversial national security issue doesn't count as a "gaffe." Maybe if he'd sighed too much or something....

Bloix: I thought he was clear. He does not believe in trial by jury, or the presumption of innocence, or the right to counsel, or an independent judiciary, or the right to liberty. He believes that the government should be disappear people from their homes and send them to prison camps where brutal guards will beat them up at their leisure. He thinks we need more Gitmos and bigger Gitmos. He wants to recreate the gulag. You saw how excited the audience was. They understood it. Why don't you?...