Monday, 30 June 2003
Paging Adlai Stevenson:
This started as a post in the Cold Fury blog's comments section, but I wanted to expand on it (read: "blow my stack") without abusing the privilege at Cold Fury. Over there, "Mike" was ranting about this Fox News report that the United Nations is seeking an interest-free loan from the United States, for repairs to the U.N. headquarters building in Manhattan. In the article, a U.N. official said, "It is an established norm set by the host countries following the example set by the U.S. government after World War II to provide an interest-free loan."
With a nod to Steven Den Beste, Mike exploded: "As SDB has already said: established norm? WTF?!? 'Host countries?' Ain't but one, boyo, and it's us." Steven, for his part, seized on the same quote and tartly asked: "Oh? Established norm? Is Belgium giving NATO a loan to rebuild NATO HQ in Brussels?"
So, then: From the reports of Fox News and these gentlemen, we gather that America is the only nation on earth which hosts a United Nations building, we're the only country the U.N. has ever approached for an interest-free loan, the only "precedent" for such a loan was American generosity in 1947, and the U.N. official claiming an "established norm" was either stretching the truth or lying. I mean, you don't see France handing out money to renovate UNESCO's Paris HQ, do you? You don't see Switzerland giving away interest-free loans for U.N. buildings in Geneva these days? You don't see the U.N.'s building maintenance in Rome done entirely at Italy's expense, right?
And, of course, if those things I just mentioned were true, our esteemed colleagues would be good enough to mention them, right? These sources are honest enough to give us all the facts, aren't they? Sure, they're not obliged to give "equal time" to both sides of an argument, or anything like that—but they do have some basic sense of integrity, yes? They wouldn't just omit the information that undercuts their position, or hypocritically demonize the U.N. just like they accuse their opponents of demonizing America, correct? We can trust Steven and Mike and Fox News, right?
Update: Mike responds with a correction of sorts; roughly paraphrased, he claims his blind assumption that the UN spokesman was a lying weasel was an honest, innocent mistake that could have been made by anyone.
I still think the articles were blatantly misleading, from the Fox News report that slimed the UN to Mike's "simple mistake" of eagerly taking SDB's insinuations as fact. I'd say Mike is right to suspect he's been trolled; the question is whether he'll ever realize where the hook in his mouth really came from.
Or maybe I'm just cranky.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 12:04 pm. comments.
Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Born on the Ninth of July.
Two weeks from today in the Islamic Republic of Iran, there's going to be a revolution. It's the anniversary of an uprising against the clerics, a 1999 student protest that was Iran's version of Tiananmen Square—and since that year the people of Iran have marked every July 9 ("18 Tir," by the Muslim calendar) with rallies and protests. This year the protesters are signaling that July 9, 2003 will be more than just a call for reform: It will be an all-out push to remove from power the conservative clerics who dominate Iran's government.
Jeff Jarvis has been the English-speaking blogosphere's point man on Iran (and is doing an outstanding job), so I'll refer you to him for more information—suffice to say that recent events to Iran's west and east, in Iraq and Afghanistan, have made conditions ripe for democracy. (In fact, Iran's government already has free elections and a representative parliament; the obstacle is an unelected council of clerics with absolute veto power, who are vetoing all attempts to reduce their authority.)
In 1775 Pierre de Beaumarchais, a French spy in London, was asked to report whether the British would suffer a colonial revolt in America, and if so how that could be turned to France's advantage in the Great Game. He wrote to his superiors: "The Americans will triumph, but they must be assisted in their struggle; for if they succumb, they would join the English, turn round against us, and put our colonies in jeopardy. We are not yet in a fit state to make war. We must prepare ourselves, keep up the struggle, and with that view send secret assistance in a prudent manner to the Americans." The advice eventually proved fatal for King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, but nonetheless France entered the Revolutionary War on the American side, and the French provided arms, training and support to George Washington's troops.
Today our role in Iran's struggle for freedom must be similar to France's role in our own fight for independence: We must support the Iranian people, and in the worst case provide them with arms and training—but the triumph and victory must be theirs. If French troops had fought in our place at Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill, the American Revolution would have accomplished far less; our history books would record 1776 as the start of the Second French and Indian War, not of an American Revolution that we proudly fought ourselves.
By America's founding principles, the Iranian people have the right and the duty to change their form of government. We can't assume that duty on their behalf, as we did in Iraq: There the government's grip on power was so choking and complete that the people couldn't throw it off, no matter how badly they wanted to. (And, rightly or wrongly, in Iraq we perceived that the danger to ourselves was too great—and too imminent—to allow Saddam to continue.) What we can do for the Iranian people is to lend them our support: Not to fight on their behalf, but to stand by their side. To cheer their struggle and clearly signal that we have no intention of propping up the clerics—no matter what, in their growing desperation, they may offer us in exchange. To voice our hope that Iran will soon enjoy the freedoms and liberties that Americans take for granted, the rights that we believe are granted as a birthright to us all.
America once cherished her reputation abroad as a defender of freedom, as a beacon of hope and liberty to the poor and downtrodden and oppressed; lately, sometimes, it seems we don't value that reputation as much as we once did, and that now we'd rather just be feared, thank you very much, if that's what keeps the terrorists at bay. But fear isn't what America is about. Fear isn't what drove us to declare the pursuit of happiness as an unalienable human right. Fear wasn't what led America to greatness, isn't what moves friends and allies to support us, and is not what we need to play our part in the struggle for democratic change in Iran. We need to revive the image of America as the "shining city on a hill," the image that Ronald Reagan borrowed from a 1630 Pilgrim's sermon; we need to inspire the Iranian people, not terrify or frustrate them. It's an hour for hope, and a time for all those who care about liberty and freedom to lend their voices in support: We hope the Iranians succeed, and that July 9th will someday mean to them what July 4th means to us.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:11 am. comments.
Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Lying to ourselves.
L.T. Smash (via Instapundit) says "it's not over yet" in the War on Terror:
After the September 2001 terror attacks, we were faced with two options.
The first option was to look within ourselves, to attempt to understand what had happened and how it had occurred. We would examine not just the intelligence and security failures, but how our foreign and defense policies had provoked such rage against us. We would then invest heavily in intelligence and homeland defense, to make sure it would Never Happen AgainTM. We might launch surgical strikes against those who attacked us, but only when we had sufficient evidence of guilt or complicity and could be certain that collateral damage would be minimal or non-existent. Finally, we would re-tool our foreign policy to be less offensive to the Islamic world, encourage Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians, and pull back our military from the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf. Hopefully, this would remove any incentive for terrorism against the United States, and we could go on with our happy and peaceful lives.
I call this option "withdrawal." It is exactly what our enemies hoped that we would do.
I've asked this before, but: What is it with warbloggers and this pathological fear of introspection? Reviewing our intelligence lapses is not "withdrawal." Improving our homeland defense is not navel-gazing. Engaging in diplomacy is not a sign of weakness. We are not so resource-limited that we must give up these pithy luxuries in order to gird our loins and take the battle to the enemy. We can agree that America's best approach to preventing future September 11ths is not to withdraw into our shell and be less offensive in the future—and we can agree this without automatically ruling out public accountability for elected officials, effective and credible homeland security, and reform of our turf-war-happy intelligence community. These goals are not mutually exclusive.
L.T. Smash continues:
The second option was to carry the fight to the enemy. We would take away their sanctuaries, force them to go deep underground, and hunt them to the ends of the Earth. We would undermine or overthrow governments that supported them. We would sever them from their networks of financial support, disrupt their planning, and arrest their leaders in the dark of night. We would humiliate and discredit them. Rather than wait for them to strike at our weak points, we would force them to confront our strength. We would draw them into battle, and slaughter them. We would sow discord and division amongst their ranks. Finally, we would bring the war to their homes, and kill them where they live.
I call this strategy "engagement." This is how we win wars.
You might as well say "I call these strategies Democratic and Republican" and be done with it: There's no other reason to group our "options" into these two artificial categories. There's no categorical limit on our ability to take the fight to the enemy—none that would explain why we've failed to conduct public hearings into 9/11 intelligence lapses, why our states and cities face unfunded mandates to meet new homeland security obligations, or why we had to burn our diplomatic bridges to fight a war in Iraq. We fought a war in Europe four years ago and handled the diplomacy with far more aplomb; simply declaring "Iraq was an either-or between diplomacy or force; we chose force, it was the right choice, let's move on" is hardly a complete account of the last six months, and lets a lot of people off the hook who should be held accountable.
If FDR could appoint a bipartisan commission to investigate Pearl Harbor, then there's no reason why GWB couldn't appoint one for September 11th: It would not have impeded the march to Afghanistan and Iraq. There's no reason why "Homeland Security" has to be a color-coded joke: We could have had (and still could have) a serious look at securing our infrastructure without impacting the war effort. There's nothing that says we could have won Canada or Turkey or Germany's support for the Iraq war, but Dubya's attempts suffered a lack of sincerity: France may have been wrong to oppose us, but we were wrong to deceive them. A bold leader would have declared that Saddam must go whether he has WMDs or not, instead of trying to manufacture the proof we didn't have and strong-arm other nations into accepting it. Saddam had plenty of sins that justified armed intervention to remove him, and opening up a real live debate on how well the Peace of Westphalia is holding up after 400 years just might do wonders for America's reputation and security and silence the critics who fear a world where America alone determines the limits of national sovereignty.
I don't know who that bold leader is, much to my dismay; Dubya passed up the opportunity, I don't think Gore would have invaded Iraq (I do think he'd have taken the war to Afghanistan, though), and so far the 2004 candidates haven't wowed me with boldness yet. But I refuse to accept that I have to choose either an effective military strategy or a persuasive diplomatic strategy, either an offense or a defense, with no possibility of having both. I think we can do better.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 5:10 am. comments.
Saturday, 14 June 2003
Party of one.
I finally realized what's been bothering me lately about the far right wing of American politics: They don't care what I think anymore. The Republicans have somehow taken a 51% majority in the Senate, a 52% majority in the House, and a 48% majority in the Oval Office, and used those slender margins to shut out the Democrats from any decision-making power. They don't care what anyone else thinks about judicial nominees, and scream bloody murder when the Democrats dare to make their presence known; they don't care what any other nations think about Iraq or the ICC, and treat dissent as betrayal; they don't care what I think about anything, period. Their party discipline is impressive, but their indifference to democratic principles (small "d") is deeply disturbing.
Democracy is all about coalition-building, and that magic formula of "50% plus one more:" That number is as good as 100% for most votes, and in principle once you have 51 Senators in your corner, you don't have to keep working to convince a 52nd or 53rd. But when 51 Senators vote the party line every single time, and the other 49 must resort to parliamentary tricks to gain any influence at all over, say, judicial nominations, then I don't think we're achieving the purpose of the exercise. "Representative democracy" is supposed to be exactly that: Any given vote may disappoint 49% of the people, but if the exact same 49% are ignored each time, then the majority might as well deny them any right to be heard at all. Why not just expel them from the Senate, and skip the charade?
At one time the common-sense answer would have been "because someday our party might be in the minority"—a party might expect their days in power to end someday, and they might preserve their ability to influence decisions even when another party holds 51% of the seats. But the right isn't doing that now. Instead they're employing scorched-earth tactics: Packing the courts with hard-right ideologues, shredding treaties and foreign relations, bankrupting the government and looting the treasury… they look forward only to a time when the other party faces a nightmare clean-up job. That's not a recipe for responsible government, and it's certainly not representing me.
So I'm not impressed with the politics of the far right. I'm not blindly opposed to Bush, and I like certain elements of his foreign policy (I supported the war in Iraq, for one)… but his campaign promises about being "a uniter and not a divider," and about bringing a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation to Washington? I could dry them out and fertilize my garden.
Update: Adam comments.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 6:38 am. comments.
Tuesday, 10 June 2003
I keep hearing rumors
there are Democrats campaigning for President right now, over in the States… but since we're a bit off the beaten track Down Under, they're not getting much in the way of local media coverage. (Hillary's new book was a topic of discussion on Good Morning Australia—the local Katie and Matt commented that Sharon Stone may play Hillary in a made-for-TV film, with the obligatory make-up-your-own Basic Instinct joke, but Gephardt and Dean and the other five dwarfs got no mention.) Instead we're being treated to the sordid details of a personality clash within the Australian Labour Party, which is sort of like America's Democrats, only they came out strongly against the Iraq war and are now squabbling over the, what, 30% of the electorate that still believes in them. Pundits are describing it as a contest to see who can lose to John Howard by the narrower margin.
When I first arrived in Australia back in March of 2000, the airport cab driver struck up a conversation about Sen. John McCain's chances in the South Carolina primary (!); considering that I couldn't have named an Australian politician if my life depended on it at the time, I was duly impressed. I suspect local coverage will pick up once the actual primaries begin, and that Australia's coverage of American elections will be much more thorough and complete than, say, America's coverage of Australian elections.
"Good Morning Australia" is not the real name of the program; it's really called "Sunrise," but I call it GMA so that American readers will immediately know the type of program I'm talking about. Australia's other morning-TV choices are "Today," which feels more like the CBS Morning News, and the third network shows Pokemon in the mornings.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 11:31 am. comments.
Wednesday, 04 June 2003
Hide and seek.
Let's say that, somewhere in a parallel universe, I became the Evil Overlord of Iraq about thirty years ago. With the entire resources of the state at my disposal, I directed my underlings to produce weapons of mass destruction—spores, nerve gas, nukes, the whole works. After a decade or so my henchmen made good progress, and delivered a supply of nerve gas to my rubbed-together hands.
For a while I was able to use my shiny new weapons (they worked nicely against Iran and those pesky Kurds), but eventually I was forced to conceal them from a team of nosy U.N. inspectors. To hide the weapons, I put them all in a railroad boxcar and sent my trusted minions to bury the boxcar in the most remote and unlikely corner of Iraq I could think of. I then executed my trustworthy-but-expendable minions from the boxcar detail, and for good measure arranged unfortunate accidents for all but a few top scientists in my weapons program.
After another decade or so of playing cat and mouse with the inspectors, the Americans finally got fed up and invaded—and they moved so rapidly and unexpectedly that I didn't have time to dig up the boxcar, which remains hidden in a place that only I know. I didn't even trust my sons with the secret of the boxcar's location, though I told them both of the boxcar's existence: What better way to ensure that they both worked to preserve my life?
All of which brings us to the question of the hour: How long should it take for the invaders to find the boxcar?
There's an ongoing debate about whether Team Dubya misled the public about Saddam's ability to produce and deploy weapons of mass destruction. The first, obvious answer is: Of course they did. This is the same team that lied on 9/12 about Al Qaeda targeting Air Force One, lied about the administration's motives for tax cuts, lied about Bush and Cheney's ties to Enron, lied about Bush's history of alcohol abuse and his reasons for concealing it—in short, this is a team that plays fast and loose with the truth, especially when talking to members of its Enemies List like France or the Democrats. There's no question that this administration would twist the facts on Iraq to fit the story they wanted to tell: They've done it on all the other issues, and there's no reason to suspect Iraq is the lone exception.
Setting Dubya's penchant for fibbing aside, though, the case that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction is nearly indisputable: He used them against the Kurds. There is independently verified physical evidence that Saddam's forces dropped nerve agents on the Kurdish village of Birjinni in 1988. He used them against Iran as early as 1980, according to reports from Tehran, with confirmation from United Nations inspectors. These are not the reports of western intelligence agencies or aggrieved parties with axes to grind, but the findings of left-leaning peace organizations with no reason to dissemble.
The question, then, is not whether Saddam had nerve gas, but whether he stopped having it—and to believe that Saddam lacked in 2002 what he clearly possessed in 1988 is to believe that he destroyed his arsenal in the least effective way possible: In secret, out of sight, and away from the U.N. inspectors. All he had to do was reveal a supply of nerve gas, allow the inspectors to examine it thoroughly, and then let them verify its destruction. That's it. End of inspections. If you were in charge of Iraq for a day any time between 1991 and 2003, you could have done it in a heartbeat. Heck, I'd have brewed up a special batch of sarin just to put on a public show of destroying it—all the while keeping my private stash buried in that boxcar near Outer Tikrit.
The belief that Saddam had no chemical weapons is also troubled by the fact that his troops in the field carried gas masks and chemical protection suits, which was widely reported by several sources. The most plausible theory that fits the facts is that Saddam did have chemical weapons, had every intention of using them against the advancing coalition troops, and failed to do so only because the coalition troops advanced much faster than he expected. Saddam couldn't retreive his weapons from their hiding places and get them into theater quickly enough; in fact, if we assume that giving out the secret location would have put Saddam in immediate danger of regicide, it raises the question of whether he could give the necessary orders at all. The location of the WMDs would have been the most valuable secret in the whole regime; anyone possessing that knowledge would have had a golden opportunity to defect and become a prominent post-war figure.
So, then: Did Dubya and his team distort the facts, stretch the truth, lie about their motives, and broadly mislead the public to gain the maximum support for their Iraq invasion plans? Of course they did; that's been their modus operandi since before Bush's first day in office. Did they lie about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction? In the sense that they claimed proof where they had only informed speculation, yes… but a review of the evidence can only conclude that Saddam had, and intended to use, chemical weapons—and that his supply of nerve gas remains undiscovered, in some remote corner of Iraq.
- Posted by Scott Forbes at 7:11 am. comments.