Wednesday, December 31, 2003


Brian is the #20 most common male name. 0.736% of men in the US are named Brian. Around 901600 US men are named Brian!

Ulrich is the #2169 most common last name. 0.006% of last names in the US are Ulrich. Around 15000 US last names are Ulrich!

Golan Settlements

I keep reading about how Israel's plans to expand settlements in the Golan Heights are expected to set back the peace process with Syria. I think, however, there's another lens through which this move could be viewed: If Sharon were serious about removing West Bank settlements, he would have to do something to keep the far right in his coalition happy. Syria's conventional military capability makes it a serious long-term threat to Israel, but Palestinian terrorism is an immediate threat and the one he seems more concerned with. Of course, I don't know what percentage of settlers and their supporters would find new settlements on the Golan an acceptable compensation for removing some in the West Bank. Still, I should probably start paying more attention to this situation.

Not for Sheep

Not for Sheep has two posts that might be of interest to prospective law students, one on networking and another on your first summer. More importantly, though, she has this exchange:

Customer: (very angry) Excuse me?!? I'm not "Mr."--you can call me "Doctor!"
My brother: (slightly sarcastic) Fine. Then you can call me "Customer Service Associate."

Russian Jews

It just occurred to me that there have historically been a huge number of Russian (and Eastern European) Jews, but after considering it, I haven't the foggiest idea where they came from. The Jewish Diaspora through the Roman and Persian worlds wouldn't have extended to lands beyond those two empires. I know there was at least one major Turkish group that converted to Judaism in medieval times (the Khazars), but I vaguely recall reading a refutation of the idea that Russian Jews were descended from these groups. So how did so many Jews wind up in the belt from Berlin to the Caspian? I know my readers include several Jewish history types. Was there some eastern migration of West European Jews at some point or something?

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve sucks. I think after the turn of the millennium, everything seems sort of dull. At some point I need to reinvent my celebrations, either when I have friends around to hang out with or an opportunity for some sort of romantic night out. Until then, I have trouble getting into things.

More Return of the King

I just saw Return of the King again. It seems obvious just how much was cut from the theatrical release. The Wytch-King's pledge to break Gandalf obviously remains unfulfilled without their confrontation, and Theoden's sudden flip-flop on riding to Gondor also probably has an intermediate step to it somewhere. My brother also thought there should have been a scene beefing up Sauron's reasons for taking the bait when the armies ride to the Black Gate, probably involving the palantir, though neither of us had read the books recently enough to see what happens there. Still, I hope I get to see it at least once more, probably when it comes to the budget theater in Madison. With most movies it doesn't matter what size screen you see it on, but with Lord of the Rings it definitely does, and once it finally leaves the theaters it's never coming back.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Saudi Arabia and Iraq

For a while now, I haven't been too happy with the conventional buzz about Saudi Arabia, which seems to make the key mistake of assuming the Saudi royal family is a monolith secretly dedicated to destroying Western civilization. So I was glad to see this Foreign Affairs article giving a more complex account of the interaction between certain groups of Saudi royals, Saudi Arabian reformists, the Wahhabi establishment, and militant groups such as al-Qaeda.

Anyone seriously interested in Saudi politics needs to read this in full. For now, though, I want to call attention to two key points. One is the fact that the conservative Prince Nayef turned on the militants after the May 2003 terrorist bombings in Riyadh. Before that, he had seen them as useful tools in countering Saudi reformists. Bear in mind that the reformists are a key constituency of Crown Prince Abdullah, who as seen by his title is one of the leading contenders to succeed King Fahd. So Prince Nayef's relationship with the militants is a two-way street - yes, they rely to an extent on his largesse, but he also relies on them as a key domestic constituency in intra-Saudi power struggles.

Now take a look at the discussion of the Shi'ites. Wahhabi ideology considers Shi'ites to be worse than Jews. They believe Shi'ism is a perversion of true Islam inspired by Judaism, and that Jews, Shi'ites, and Americans are looped together in some sort of conspiracy to destroy the Islamic world. Crown Prince Abdullah has been reaching out to Shi'ites as part of his reform efforts. Conservatives, on the other hand, are ratcheting up the anti-Shi'ite rhetoric.

In the middle of all this, the United States invaded Iraq, tossing out Saddam Hussein and placing power in the hands of secularizers and Shi'ites. These conservative Wahhabi clerics and militants have to see this as a vindication of their suspicions. However, what I want to link this to at the moment is my sense that the Bush administration is preparing to abandon Iraq. Because if people like Prince Nayef want to find a way to hurt the reformers that doesn't threaten the entire Saudi establishment, it goes something like this: Put them to work against the "Judeo-Shi'ite threat" on their northern border. Sour relations between Saudi Arabia on the one hand and the U.S. and IGC on the other. Keep the anti-Shi'ite forces in Iraq strong - I'm guessing that Sunni leaders who took money from Saddam won't object to getting it from the Saudis. And keep portraying Saudi Arabia's Shi'ites as in league with Iraq's, an integral part of the "Evil Global Conspiracy" that also oppresses the Palestinians and takes whatever measures the U.S. is taking against the guerrillas in Iraq. Crown Prince Abdullah's hand is thus badly weakened, and Prince Nayef and Co. gain greater influence and potentially the throne.

This is something we should worry about. For one thing, lots of people will die as violence in Iraq continues. You'd also probably see the creation of areas for al-Qaeda operation within the Sunni-dominated region of the country. In addition, if we want to go about breaking the Saudi-al-Qaeda connection as part of the War on Terror, it almost has to start by ensuring the success of the faction which opposes them already, rather than one partially dependent on them and their ideology. Hopefully, the Bush administration is doing something quietly here we just don't know about. But I'm not sure I have faith.

UPDATE: I should add a mention here that someone knowledgeable just mentioned to me they disagreed with several of the points in the Doran article, though they didn't mention specifics.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

War and Politics

Via Daily Kos, I found this Washington Post story which contained some surprisingly clear signals about what the administration's up to in Iraq:

"'There's no question that many of the big-picture items have been pushed down the list or erased completely,' said a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq's reconstruction, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. 'Right now, everyone's attention is focused [on] doing what we need to do to hand over sovereignty by next summer.'

"The new approach, U.S. diplomats said, calls into question the prospects for initiatives touted by conservative strategists to fashion Iraq into a secular, pluralistic, market-driven nation. While the diplomats maintain those goals are still attainable, the senior official said, 'ideology has become subordinate to the schedule.'"

This is the second time in as many days that I've seen U.S. officials declare planned schedules the key factor underlying significant foreign policy decisions. The stated goals of American foreign policy have become subservient to making President Bush look good during an election year. This is not, I think, a healthy thing given the grave threats which continue to exist in the world today, prompting orange alerts during the holiday season and the like. I do not think the U.S. would be wise to try to completely reinvent Iraqi society as the neocons hoped. However, the U.S. has both a moral obligation and a national security imperative to leave a stable Iraq, and it seems the Bush administration is intent on abandoning both.

Let's be clear about what the stakes are here. While I've generally said I don't think Iraq will break up a la Yugoslavia, I do think civil war is a possibility, and that anarchy like Somalia's or a government which doesn't control large areas of the country like Yemen's would be a worse national security threat than Saddam Hussein. There's a fair amount of evidence that al-Qaeda-esque groups are starting to play a role in Iraq. These groups thrive in poor and failed states where they can trade wealth for protection at either the local or national level, setting up shop outside the reach of responsible governments. There's also the danger that an unstable Iraq could draw in outside powers, most notably Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. My regular readers will remember from over the summer how conflict among India, Iran and Pakistan is affecting the rebuilding in Afghanistan, and how Uzbekistan appears to be keeping Dostum around in the north as their proxy much like Iran supports Ismail Khan. This in turn is hindering stabilization in that country keeping the door open for the Taliban resurgence. You could see similar conditions play out in Iraq, only in the heart of the Middle East with oil at stake instead of opium.

I will reserve a special mention for the Saudi danger, which I hope to go into in the near future.

President Bush will not be the first chief executive to make national security subservient to political interests, but it's never good when it happens, as those who remember the Vietnam War can well attest. All we can do right now is argue the case for staying the course and keep our fingers crossed.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Developments in Afghanistan

According to the RFE-RL Daily Afghan Report (link will vanish), the U.S. and UN differ about whether to hold elections this June as planned. The UN wants to delay for six to twelve months until the security situation improves. The U.S. wants to plow ahead with the existing timetable. (I'm cynical enough to believe that President Bush's re-election is a major factor in the U.S. timetable.) The next step, however, is to produce a constitution. I do see as good the fact that the U.S. plans to set up bases closer to the front in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

UPDATE: IWPR gives an account of some developments at the constitutional loya jirga. Thw three main changes to previous drafts are weakening the Presidency, removing references to the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and specifying that women are citizens. There are several more articles still under discussion, such as whether Shi'ites should be allowed to use Shi'ite Islamic law.

Iranian Earthquake

I didn't blog any about yesterday's earthquake in Iran, partly due to computer problems, and partly because I didn't have anything to say. Matthew Yglesias did, however:

"Natural catastrophes are, I think, always particularly awful because the seem so devoid of meaning. The tectonic plates don't hate freedom, they're not just after the oil, they're not neo-imperialists they're just -- plates -- shifting around. 18th century people found the Lisbon earthquake very disturbing to both theistic and naive enlightement worldviews and, I think, rightly so."

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Christians in Iraq

Juan Cole is posting about Iraqi Christians, one of my minor academic interests. The article he links to unfortunately skimps over the Middle Ages, though. Most Christians in Iraq belong to churches stemming from the Nestorian branch of the faith, which began a separate evolution due to Christological controversies in the late Roman centuries. During the Middle Ages they were perhaps the greatest missionaries in Christianity, and expanded throughout Central Asia and into India. The Nestorian Patriarchate grew close to the Muslim authorities, and at least some of the Abbasids sought to appoint the Patriarch of Baghdad over all the other Christians, though this doesn't appear to have had much impact. (This is the same period when due to Abbasid influence the Babylonian Talmud came to supercede the Palestinian within Judaism.)

The most magnificient Nestorian Patriarch was probably Timothy I, a contemporary of Charlemagne and Harun ar-Rashid. I'm working from memory here, but I have to try to tell a story about him. When his predecessor died and the bishops were selecting the new Patriarch, he had some sacks filled with rocks and promised that the bishops would receive their contents if he became Patriarch. He was then duly elected, and proceeded to reveal the contents of the sacks: rocks. He then proclaimed that the highest religious office could not be purchased. Several of the bishops were offended enough by this unholy deception that they converted to Islam and were replaced. (I think there was also an aborted attempt to replace him...sorry, but I don't have good sources around me.)

For the best book on medieval Asian Christianity in general, read this one.


Christmas stuff appears to be winding down over here. My bayberry candle is burning at a pretty good clip, thus ensuring I will have good luck in the coming year. Christmas was a bit more mobile for us than usual: Due to logistical reasons, my grandmother can no longer get into our house, so yesterday we took her out to dinner at a local restaurant and then over to see her sister-in-law (now de facto sister), my Great Aunt Mary, whom I also hadn't seen in ages. Then this afternoon we took grandma's presents to her in the retirement home, along with a cell phone so she could call out-of-town relatives. My brother and I also stopped to say "hi" to our old music teacher's widow, who didn't have anyone around for the holidays. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning stuff followed our usual patterns. I was especially happy with the cookie jar I gave my mother.

Regular news-related blogging will resume either tomorrow or Saturday, depending on life. Until then, I will either be perusing the Babylon 5 complete third season DVD or poking around with a computer game my brother gave me.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas

"Seo Feile an Ri Bhig, seo Feile 'bheidh buan
A Sheas tris na haoiseann' 's go la lom an Luain
Guim Nollaig dheas aoibhinn gach si agus suan
Ar chairde mo chroise go sroisfidh siad Cuan"

-Seamus Begley and Stephen Cooney (Coinnle an Linbh Iosa)

(This is the Festival of the Little King. a festival that will last
It will last through the ages until the Day of Judgement.
I wish a nice pleasant Christmas, peace and joy
To the friends of my heart - May they reach their Harbour.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Crossroads of Twilight

I've now finished Crossroads of Twilight, Book Ten in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It's mind-boggling how little could actually happen in an 820-page book. However, I think it went a long way toward redeeming the past few volumes of the series, and may set up a good final push to the promised Book Twelve finale.

Let me explain. Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, is supposed to fight the Dark One at the Last Battle. Most fear that he will bring a second Breaking of the World, and the prophecies certainly speak of lots of chaos and destruction. However, it seems evident that Rand himself is trying to build things, and there's some evidence he might bring back much of the Age of Legends. In Lord of the Rings, Tolkein declared the Third Age over largely by fiat: The Elves left Middle-Earth because "their day was over," the the end of the threat from Mordor removed the enemy who had previously dominated the world.

In Rand's world, however, actual changes are happening in the course of the trilogy. Take all the bondings between people who can channel that have happened in seemingly random plot threads: Alanna/Rand, Logain and those Aes Sedai, Cadsuane's Aes Sedai and certain Ash'aman. This sets a stage for certain things that happen near the end of CoT that both point to a serious social change regarding the One Power. Egwene's plans for the future of the Aes Sedai also point in this direction, and I'm starting to suspect that the whole "Bowl of the Winds" mission was as much about discovering the Kin as it was getting Mat to the Seanchan.

It'll be interesting to see how much of the seemingly random milling around ultimately points toward some key developments along these lines, which given the fact changing the world was always a key point of the Dragon's future is clearly important to Jordan's vision. I still think the last few books have been weaker than earlier installments, though, just because Jordan seems to have run out of discoveries. The series that early on hit us with the World of Dreams, those alternate realities from The Great Hunt, Rhuidean, a seemingly invincible army of the dead via the Horn of Valere, the Ways, and so on has turned pretty much everything into a plot device. An important meeting of the Hall of the Tower doesn't have nearly the same impact as Rand's decision to blow the horn at Falme or the same drama of his announcement to the Tairens in the Stone in The Shadow Rising.

At the same time, key characters, such as Loial and Thom Merrilin, seem to be in storage waiting for the plot to catch up to where they're going to do the things everyone expects them to do, emphasizing just how much the overall battle against the Shadow is spinning its wheels. I'd be surprised if Jordan's original plan called for resurrecting Forsaken, or if he just needed some significant enemies hanging around. However, certain things from the end of the book made it seem like things are finally about to start moving - at the very least, there's been a directional shift from different groups splintering to groups coming back together or uniting in new ways. And that leads to interesting possibilities that make me look forward to the next installment.

Pakistani Politics

Zack Ajmal has some informed commentary on Pakistani politics. His core point is a refutation of the common notion that Pervez Musharraf is all that stands between the country and a fundamentalist takeover. Go have a look.


My wonderful mother made lasagna, my favorite food, yesterday. This was a good thing. Except she kept apologizing because she assumed I like meaty lasagna. I admit I haven't really reflected on different lasanga varieties, except I hate it when they put cucumbers and the like in it. Given my usual tastes, however, a cheese-heavy variety is just fine.

As you can tell, I'm currently at my parents' house in Quincy. Expect some blogging, however, due to their acquisition of a new computer located in the room where I sleep, and soon a more reliable internet connection.

Return of the King

The Return of the King is a very strong conclusion to a great adaptation of a great trilogy. I think the most memorable scenes from this movie were its vistas, msot notably the lighting of the beacons adn some of the Pelennor Fields stuff. Minas Tirith somehow seemed less than I expected - the strongest scenes in that city probably remain the ones of Aragorn's funeral in the Two Towers dream sequence. The landscape of Rohan also continued to impress. I agree with Ed Cohn that the battles had less of a personal element, except for the hobbits fighting, but find that overall character development was fairly strong. Frodo and Sam's relationship was well handled, as usual, Pippin gained in maturity and experience, Aragorn took up the mantle of kingship, and Merry and Theoden each showed how far they've come.

If anything got shorted, it was the Faramir/Denethor plotline. The character of Denethor loses a lot without the palantir, and if I'm a viewer unfamiliar with the books I'm probably wondering what exactly that black globe was all about anyway. We never see the resolution of Faramir's character, despite the way in which it was here set up. We also never see Eomer become king, thiugh we're left with the impression. The absence of "The Scouring of the Shire" and "The Voice of Saruman" are less of a problem for me, though again viewers might wonder whether Saruman was just kept in his tower forever.

If you get the chance to see this movie, do, on as big a screen as possible. If you don't know the Tolkein universe that well, though, a glance through the previous movies is a must.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Winter Solstice

I've always been intrigued by the Winter Solstice, which occurs this year at 2:04 a.m. New York time on December 22. In cultures all around the world, it has been a day which marks renewal, as days start to become longer and we head along the road towards spring. Thus, even amidst the depths of winter, people have found hope for the rebirth of all life. Many customs associated with winter holidays have Winter Solstice origins, some of which you can read about here. As Christmas tends to be a time when I ground myself in the things that are most important to me in life, I find the concepts of renewal inherent in the day a good metaphor to which people of all faiths can relate. Thus, may you all find sustenance and hope on the darkest of nights and go forward into the new year filled with the wonder of life.

Here is a collection of Solstice links you might find interesting.

Arab Street Bum's Merry Christmas

This is rather funny.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Little Saddams

Salaam Jihad writing for IWPR has a brief article about the position of former Ba'athists in Iraq and the public's relationship with them. It's worth checking out. As usual, IWPR's stories delve much more into the knitty-gritty of today's Iraq than traditional media sources.


I ran out to West Town Mall earlier to pick up a last-minute Christmas gift. The place was packed beyond belief, and I assure you that despite all the usual signs and painted directions on the drives, there were no laws on that parking lot tonight.

It is a beautiful night out. There are lots of stars in the sky, and the streets are quiet. If it weren't so cold, I'd probably go for a walk. All that's missing is lots of crunchy snow.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Iranian Reformers Discuss

RFE-RL's most recent Iran Report describes the internal politics of the reform movement in the run-up to February's Parliamentary elections. Some parties within President Khatami's coalition favor more aggressive pursuit of reforms than supported by the largest party, Khatami's Militant Clerics Association. However, it looks like the reformists will hold together for election purposes.

Also in that report is a round-up of Iranian reaction to Saddam Hussein's capture. Everyone was happy.


World Press Review has a profile of Pakistani human rights campaigner Humaira Awais Shahid which also describes her main cause, ending vinni, or forced marriages in northwestern Pakistan. Women and girls are exchanged as a means of ending clan rivalries, and become little more than servants in their new environment. This practice runs contrary to Islam (obviously), but as so often happens, local custom trumps the formal teachings of religion even after a period of centuries. Fortunately legislation against the practice passed the Pakistani legislature unanimously. Since Pakistani control over the Northwest Frontier Province is notoriously weak, however, I don't know how much impact that will have on the ground.

Dean and Muslim Politics

Over at Dean Nation, I explain why I think Howard Dean and Muslim voters are a good match. Shadi Hamid also writes about this in Muslim WakeUp! And on a related note, be sure to check out Kucinich supporter al-Muhajabah on the state of Muslim political organization in the United States.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Muhammad Choukri

This obituary tells you all about how Muhammad Choukri was a great writer and intellectual, but the obituary here we read in class told you that for a period of several years he had sex with several women every day, hitting a one-day high of nine different women at age 19.

Loya Jirga Watch

So far the biggest news out of Afghanistan's constitutional assembly is the female delegate who was asked to leave after criticizing the warlords. She has been allowed back in, but is now under UN protection. The articles mentions that women tend to be more outspoken because in Afghan culture they are less likely to be killed.

Santa Claus

Some editorials never grow outdated:

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished."

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Arabic Words

"tushi'a" - (verb) to pretend to be a Shi'ite

Tuesday, December 16, 2003


Ocean Guy finds a common theme in Arab writing about the capture of Saddam: Humiliation. Tom Friedman has also talked about this frequently, though I doubt the two would agree on appropriate policies on a lot of issues.

A concern for honor and humiliation is certainly not unique to the Arab world - it frequently seems to come up in American relations with China, for example. However, the looming question with the Arab world is why this concern for humiliation seems to have destructive results, like supporting Saddam Hussein (from afar) or endorsing terrorism against Israel. Zeyad tries to explain his feelings, which you'll have to read for yourself. Most Arabs living in other countries were probably just reacting to Saddam as a symbol against the U.S., not getting just how bad conditions in Iraq truly were. This may parallel Americans who cheer on dubious regimes against our chosen enemies.

That's the Iraqi case, however, and doesn't have that much bearing on the wider sense of humiliation on the Arab world. And here, I want to posit a theory: Humiliation is merely the concept in which a set of social and political issues is cast. Let's face it: Accounts of American searches of homes in Iraq describe things that could, in fact, be described as humiliating. Occupying a country could be seen as humiliating, as well, though Americans tend to cast such things in terms of freedom and empowerment. Even when I read an interview with Sanullah Ibrahim, the Egyptian writer who recently refused an Egyptian prize, I find a list of social ills that could easily be called "humiliating," though that is again not the way we would describe them.

I don't share Ocean Guy's pessimism - it really seems that Arabs and Americans have far more concerns that unite us than divide us. The major obstacles are not cultural, but political, as certain Arab governments foster extremism while blaming others for all their problems. At the same time, these governments suppress cultural and political development as a means of staying in power, a concern which also hinders economic modernization so as not to trod on the interests of those heavily invested in the current systems. And as is all too evident, the U.S. has been more than willing to support these regimes, leading to cynicism about our adherence to our professed ideals.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts. I'd be interested in hearing what others think.

Riverbend on Post-Saddam Baghdad

Riverbend has a report on the aftermath of Saddam's being captured. It's worth glancing over in full, but here's an excerpt:

"Yesterday was almost as messy. Most parents kept their kids home. There have been pro-America demonstrations in some areas, and anti-America demonstrations in other areas. At around 6 pm yesterday evening, the chaos began in Amriyah, a residential area in Baghdad. The streets were suddenly filled with anti-American demonstrators, some holding up pictures of Saddam. It lasted until around 11 pm and then the tanks pulled up and things settled down somewhat. Similar occurrences in A'adhamiya in Baghdad, and one or two other areas."

UPDATE: I should also link to Ziyad of Healing Iraq.

Crime and Punishment

According to the Washington Post, at the time of his capture Saddam Hussein was reading Crime and Punishment. Via Angry Arab.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Dean's Foreign Policy Speech

This was a good speech. More later...

"Now, when America should be at the height of its influence, we find ourselves, too often, isolated and resented. America should never be afraid to act alone when necessary. But we must not choose unilateral action as our weapon of first resort. Leaders of the current administration seem to believe that nothing can be gained from working with nations that have stood by our side as allies for generations. They are wrong, and they are leading America in a radical and dangerous direction. We need to get back on the right path."

Rumsfeld and Saddam

Matthew Yglesias raises the issue of past American support for Saddam. Many good points are found both in his post and the comments thread.

Skepticism on Afghanistan

Via TAPPED, I find a Los Angeles Times editorial on Afghanistan's constitutional process that I think makes some key points. The Consitution under consideration would create a very strong Presidency on the theory that this is what is necessary to control the country's warlords. However, the warlords are a problem not because they have too much power under the law, but because they have loyal armies and access to local revenues. Giving the President the power to declare a state of emergency will not negate that advantage of the warlords choose to resist central control. I'm not sure a federal system is the answer as far as moving toward purer democracy is concerned, but it at least has a better chance of ensuring peace in the country.

Getting a Piece of Saddam

Everyone talks about how Saddam was a menace to his own people, but Iran is also gunning for a piece of him due to the fact he invaded their country and used WMD against them. I'd expect to hear from Kuwait, too, as well as Israel for his support of Palestinian suicide bombers.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

More Good News

This isn't a flashy as the capture of Saddam, but according to Juan Cole, the IGC and Iran have reached an agreement to allow 3000 pilgrims daily to enter Iraq from Iran. This will pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the Iraqi economy and set in motion the sort of ideological corss-fertilization that has stagnated in recent decades but historically been one of Islam's major strengths.

Saddam Captured

Today, the United States military captured one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. He was dug out of a pit on a farm near Tikrit. So much for the man who killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to stay in power, not to mention starting wars of aggression that killed hundreds of thousands more. Say what you will about President Bush's ultimate intentions in Iraq, but no regime we install will be as bad as Saddam Hussein, and if we play our cards right, when future generations look back they will see this as another example of the U.S. acting in the world as a force for good.

Regarding the immediate future, however, I am unclear. I am unconvinced that Saddam Hussein's capture will significantly disrupt the resistance. Even if he is playing some coordinating role, people who would fight for him would fight for any number of Sunni nationalist groups which have sprung up throughout the country to oppose the U.S. I certainly don't get assertions that this news will help with the capture of Bin Laden and the stabilization of Afghanistan. Still, I'm pumped by this. Whatever happens next, this is a great day for Iraq, and a great day for the United States under President Bush's leadership.

For further reading, check out Angry Arab's rant. (Archives are weird...look for the top three entries on December 14.)

UPDATE: Juan Cole has his reflections, including a laundry list of some of Saddam's atrocities and what will happen next. Also check out Theoria's Daily Kos diary entry.


Ouch! I need to stop trusting people in this game. It never actually works, even for a turn or two. (I am Russia.)

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Poinsettias, Etc.

Perhaps because I come from the midwest, I've never really gotten into poinsettias as a Christmas symbol. There is, however, an interesting story which goes with these flores de noche buena.

Winter has fully arrived in Madison, with single-digit temperatures and snow in the forecast to join that already on the ground. I freely admit I like winter, at least during the winter season. People complain about snow mainly, I think, because they have to drive in it, but it's also much more beautiful to look at than a bunch of dead grass. Besides, winter should be about kids building snowmen and having snowball fights as much as anything else. That's worth a bit of slow driving now and then, as long as you don't get into an accident.

Constitutional Loya Jirga

Today under a tent in Kabul, a loya jirga began meeting to hammer out the details of Afghanistan's constitution. There's too much to analyze, just read the article.

Friday, December 12, 2003


With all the hijab talk going on right now, I thought I'd refer people to al-Muhajabah's collection of links on the subject. It's a good place to start if you're wondering why so many women voluntarily choose to wear headscarves. On another note, Angry Arab defends the French commission, saying that secularism is worthy of preservation.

UPDATE: David Asednik's thoughts are also well worth reading. Meanwhile, Angry Arab defends the bill on the basis of provisions which would recognize Muslim and Jewish religious holidays and promote their interests in other areas of public life.

Dean and Israel

The "Howard Dean hates Israel" meme is out of control. A couple of days ago I wrote this Dean Nation post on the subject. Elisabeth Riba has a refutation of the most common e-mail here. Being "anti-Israel" is of course a matter of degree, just like accuastions of "anti-Americanism," and usually revolve around people's views of particular controversial policies. However, as with almost all American politicians, they just don't hold water.

Student Politics at Bir Zeit

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Babbling About Islam

Or at least, that's what this Tech Central Station essay amounts to. Ideofact has commented on it here and here, and I promised to refute the third-to-last paragraph. The offending text:

"One consequence of all this is that there is no mechanism in Islam, as there is in Catholicism, for an application of the principles of an ongoing Tradition to new circumstances -- be they social, political, scientific, or technological -- by drawing out heretofore implicit consequences. That is, there is no broad and complex body of teaching of which its sacred book forms but a part, and thus no resources as authoritative as the text itself to appeal to in applying it to the modern world. There is simply a dead letter, revealed once and for all centuries ago, and presupposing a historical context to which one must, in obeying the revelation, strive constantly to return. Hence if modern science and liberal democracy seem foreign to the world of the Koran, so much the worse for them."

Like so much that is written about Islam these days, there's no room for real discussion of this paragraph - it is simply wrong. Most of Islamic theology did not exist until a couple of centuries after Muhammad. Islamic law is not so much a set law code as a field of inquiry with different schools of thought, all of which most Muslims recognize as valid. True, Muslims trace much of this back to The Beginning, but as in all religions which claim to guard unchanging truths, they are, shall we say, in error.

Muslims throughout history have never had a problem adapting to modern science, and in many cases have advanced it. Because everyone acknowledges the Islamic world was a scientific leader 1000 years ago, to claim simultaneously that Islam is eternally unchanging and inherently a barrier to scientific achievement is an inconsistency which the proponents of that line never really address. Even today, when Muslim fundamentalists ban TV, they're doing it because of the programming and cultural implications, not because it's a new technology. Ayatollah Khomeini's sermons were smuggled into Iran on audio cassettes. And the final statement that Muhammad would be closer to Wahhabi than liberal Islam because he was not a multiculturalist is really odd. My Muslim readers can probably provide details, but I think he taught that the world's diversity was a sign of God's glory, and the statement "There is no compulsion in religion" is as vital a strain of Islamic tradition as anything else.

At some point I need to write a series of "About Islam" posts I can point to for these sorts of things. As a question of comparative history, looking at different periods of Islam in relatio to different periods of Christianity is fine. But you need to get a handle on your subject before you can go anywhere.

UPDATE: Anthony deJesus has more.


I've been Deaned.

UPDATE: Actually I've changed my mind. I'm going to endorse John Kerry.


Clark's Blog

I've noticed on Site Meter I'm getting some hits from the Wesley Clark Blog's comments section, and when I go there no links are evident. This causes me to suspect that people are using links to my Dean posts to troll around, and these are being removed by the blogkeepers. Come on guys, leave the poor Clarkies alone. They have an energized base we will want to absorb when the time comes. Assuming Dean doesn't watch Babylon 5, Clark may even wind up on our ticket.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Al-Qaeda Today

While glancing through Yahoo Full Coverage for a comprehensive picture of the War on Terror, I found this article in which various experts analyze the current state of al-Qaeda. It's pretty close to what I've been saying here. Some key grafts:

"Some see it as an international terror 'university' or consultancy; others liken it to a franchising operation, endorsing approved operations around the world with the cachet of its feared global 'brand.'"...

"This meant local groups could tap into Qaeda's expertise to make contacts with like-minded networks and 'order up' logistical support, financial help and advice on how to prepare and transport explosives...

"Experts and intelligence chiefs see bin Laden still playing an important background role, but mainly as a symbol and preacher, periodically reinforcing the jihadist message with messages broadcast on Arabic television stations.

"Individual militant groups have autonomous power to implement that agenda through specific attacks, with no need for specific central orders on what targets to hit."

Mujahedeen-i Khalq Expelled

The Iraqi Governing Council has voted unanimously to expel the Mujahedeen-i Khalq, a terrorist organization dedicated to attacking Iran. Juan Cole discusses the history of this organization. Bush appointee to the US Institute of Peace Daniel Pipes has advocated the U.S. work with this organization; for my part, I'm glad to see the U.S. will not in fact become a state sponsor of terrorism anytime soon.

Operation Avalanche

RFE-RL is reporting that the recently launched Operation Avalanche is primarily to protect the constitutional loya jirga scheduled to begin Saturday. This is the largest military operation the U.S. has undertaken in the country since the initial fall of the Taliban two years ago. The U.S. is also negotiating with associates of fundamentalist warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar to bring him into the political process, though that appears unlikely.

UPDATE: Hekmatyar has released a video calling for holy war against the Americans.


Arab Street Bum has a thoughtful post on communication between Arabs and Americans. I obviously disagree with him in that I hope the U.S. is not defeated in Iraq, but his larger points are spot on. After all, Americans may not like hearing Arabs who see us as occupiers hope for American losses, but the Arabs tend to look askance at casual references to blowing things up, presumably in the Arab world. It would be great if we could find a way to get past these emotional issues to the underlying root causes of fear and mistrust, but unfortunately when wars are going on, that becomes a lot more difficult.

Dean Links

Over at Dean Nation, I have a post on why accusations that Dean has flip-flopped on Iraq are silly. From this post and the ensuing comment thread, you can also start to get glimmers on why I made the "leap of faith" that I did regarding his potential to shape an intelligent foreign policy. And while you're there, check out Dana Blankenthorn's post on what groups of Republicans might cross over to Dean.

On another note, Matthew Yglesias, who remains a Dean skeptic, comments on why he doesn't think Dean will be a new McGovern: "Watch Dean give a speech and he definitely seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem blowing all kinds of shit up in response to a terrorist attack. That should serve him well in the campaign." He also links to this Instapundit post making a similar point.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Sharon Proposes Removing Settlements

I've tended to let the Middle East conflict fade into the background lately, but about 30 seconds ago it just sank in that Ariel Sharon is proposing a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, including settlement removals. That seems, well, huge, though of course it might turn out to be all talk and no action. This already has right-wing parties considering leaving the coalition. One thing I wonder about is if he will simply pull back behind the existing wall, which of course cuts through territory most consider to be part of the future Palestinian state. Such a move would enable Israel to say they are protecting their citizens while significantly easing the occupation, and leave Palestinians in a tight spot if they ever hope to regain all the Occupied Territories. I still don't have a clear read on whether Sharon would see that as an end in itself or a manuever to force negotiations from a position of strength.

Islam and Democratic Europe

Ocean Guy questions whether European democracy can survive the growth of the Muslim population. His basic argument is that they won't assimilate their Muslim population. If that's the case, I think it has more to do with issues like the French proposal to ban headscarves than anything about the Muslims themselves. Forcing people to abandon their culture if they wish to participate in society is one way to ensure they remain ghettoized and stagnant, if not reactionary. I think Israel does a better job on this, vis a vis the Israeli Arabs.

UPDATE: Jonathan Edelstein has more.

Blogging Links

For some reason, this series of Matthew Yglesias posts (here, here, and here) made me appreciate the medium of blogging as opposed to print media for insight into pundits' minds. It also makes the discovery of posts like this feel slightly ironic.

Go check out what Ocean Guy has done with his template.

Finally, I've accepted an invitation to join the Dean Nation team over at This will allow me to do as much campaign-related posting as I want without interfering with the tenor and content of this blog. I may cross-post stuff as appropriate.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Muhammad Baha' ad-Din

The Baker Mission

Long-time Bush family ally James Baker is now in charge of settling Iraq's foreign debt. The always interesting Josh Marshall thinks there's more going on here than meets the eye. So far he's discussed Baker's oil ties to U.S. ambassador in Riyadh Robert Jordan and the fact that Iraq's largest creditors are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. I'm not sure where he's going with this, since so far it just looks like a case for why Baker is especially qualified for the mission. But I've learned to pay attention.

Brian Ulrich Gets Results!!!

Clearly, Al Gore reads my blog.

If you're still sitting on the fence, worrying that Bush will paint Dean as the new McGovern, don't. I've seen enough of this guy to know he won't be easily painted. In fact, I'd say we're getting ourselves a nominee who plans on doing a little paintin' of his own. So vote for the candidate who best embodies our values, not "electable" values. After all, our values are first and foremost American values. And the American people are smart enough to realize that.

Al-Qaeda, Iraq, and the Taliban

Unconfirmed reports from Afghanistan suggest that al-Qaeda is diverting money and manpower away from the Taliban and toward Iraq. Bin Laden reportedly said through representatives that the Taliban should stop depending on al-Qaeda and instead unite with other anti-American factions in Afghanistan. I also read reports over the summer suggesting that al-Qaeda leaders were disillusioned with the Taliban's lack of aggression against the U.S. If al-Qaeda starts playing a direct role in Iraq, that would be very bad for the U.S., as it opens the possibility of a resistance with decentralized funding sources (and hence ultimate power), much like that in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the former Ba'athist leadership is running the resistance, catching them won't do much good if they are simply replaced by a network of Islamic militants from overseas.

South Koreans Leave

Kos comments on the South Korean departure from Iraq after two workers were killed by the guerrillas. Kos also asks why Iraqi companies aren't being used for this work. An Iraqi-American friend of mine was asking the same question right after the war. Given that the huge unemployment rate in the country is a factor in the current instability, you'd think pumping some money into the Iraqi economy would be a good thing. Instead we're using more expensive American companies who hire guest workers.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Kyrgyzstan's War on Terror

IWPR has an interesting article on Kyrgyzstan's war against Islamic militants. The regime there is cracking down on a number of terrorist groups, while opponents argue it is merely going after dissidents by linking it to terrorism while currying favor from foreign powers. I don't know this area enough to comment in depth, but I do knew the conventional wisdom on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is that it never really recovered from the fall of the Taliban, so I question how serious a presence they could be in Kyrgyzstan. However, there were terrorist incidents in the country last May.

Dean, Iraq and Me

Last winter I was a hawk on Iraq for both humanitarian and national security reasons. I believed that given Saddam Hussein's track record, some sort of conflict was inevitable, and if we waited until he had squirmed out from under sanctions, his ability to resist an American invasion would only be greater. I also considered the sanctions themselves a morally reprehensible diplomatic weapon. Regarding weapons of mass destruction, I believed Saddam was close to possessing chemical and biological weapons, but not nuclear.

However, I never bought the alleged Saddam-al-Qaeda connection, and because I saw al-Qaeda as a larger issue, I did not want an Iraq adventure that interfered with the war against those who attacked the U.S. Furthermore, I believed that there needed to be a sound plan for what happened after the war. I doubted you'd see some ideal representative democracy; however, I thought Iraqis would be better off under a puppet controlled by Dick Cheney than the current regime. After all, Dr. Brian Borlas, my undergraduate professor for Middle East Political Systems, put it, "If Saddam Hussein is not the living incarnation of evil on the planet, he'll do." When I went to add up the total number of Saddam's post-1991 victims using Human Rights Watch stats on individual incidents, I came to 400,000 or so, though that included the probability of double-counting between missing and unidentified bodies in mass graves.

So how did I get from here to supporting Howard Dean?

If the administration had a plan for post-war Iraq, it was merely to stick Ahmed Chalabi in charge and pull out almost all our troops. The military people, of course, argued hundreds of thousands of troops would be required, but no one listened. And the administration, for all the money they spend on defense, apparently weren't willing to do the careful planning necessary to ensure their safety after the Ba'athist regime was no more. When I endorsed Dean, I mentioned the admission that Pentagon planners hadn't considered the Shi'ite factor, which everyone who knew anything about Iraq whatsoever was taking for granted. Before the war, I remember reading on Juan Cole that either Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz said there were no Muslim holy places in Iraq, meaning he must not have heard of Najaf and Karbala. I can certainly forgive that in my students, but not people planning to take over and run those places.

Then there's the war on terror. I'm not sure how we really know whether it's going well, but I don't buy the measure of whether there has been an attack on American soil, or we would have said it was going well on September 10, 2001. We do know that North Korea and Iran are probably trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard has intimate terrorist links, and North Korea relies on weapons proliferation to keep their economy afloat. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are making a comeback, and if the political system there fails to survive next year's election and its associated transfers of power, they will once again be the most powerful faction and potentially the only one capable of uniting the country. Al-Qaeda itself has been associated with terrorist attacks throughout the Islamic world, indicating that their network is expanding and adjusting to their new conditions. And given how we keep hearing about the U.S. government's lack of Arabic speakers, I can't believe the Iraq war didn't cause intelligence resources to be diverted from issues of terrorism.

In my Dean endorsement, I said, "I supported the war in Iraq, because I said I had faith that it would not hurt the war on terror and that the administration had adequately planned its aftermath. This faith was betrayed, the misjudgement terrible, the consequences horrendous." I've explained my betrayed faith, and the administration's misjudgement. In terms of foreign policy, the Bush administration has a history of egregious misjudgement - remember his first few months all his attention was on mindless sabre-rattling with China, while the Middle East was ignored? I still don't see Iraq as a lost cause, but even if the Bush administration somehow gets its act together and muddles through, it won't in my mind justify giving this crew another four years of responding to the inevitable foreign policy crises that arise.

When I originally ruled Dean out, it had a lot to do with his lack of experience. But he's actually impressed me with his learning curve, and he has top people available to deploy using the leadership skills he so clearly possesses. In the context of all the other facets that go into my decisions on who to vote for, his judgement and leadership at the helm of the experienced Democratic foreign policy establishment will be more than adequate to meet the challenges before us. It would be hard for him to do any worse.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

UW-Madison Fall High School Quiz Bowl Tournament

Congratulations to Rufus King High School from Milwaukee, who won the Third Annual event named above, fending off an inspiring comeback attempt by second place Detroit Country Day School on the last question in the championship match. Oshkosh West High School took third over Wayland Academy - I didn't see that match. Thanks also to everyone who helped - there were a couple of confusing organizational issues, but they were partly my fault. At least one veteran attendee said this event had the best moderating he had ever seen, so congratulations on a job well done to the moderating crew of Mark Zimmer, Joel Velasco, Adam Bissen, Cathe Smith, Martin Bykowsky, Ben Auer, and Jeff Hegedus.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Education for Iraqi Women

IWPR has two articles up relating to the education of women in post-Saddam Iraq. This one tells how the destruction of women's dorms is forcing Iraqi women out of their colleges. When I was at Yarmouk University in Jordan, they told us that dorms were important for women so that parents would know their daughters' virtue was being protected while they studied. This article talks about the role of women in the revival of Shi'ite learning in the south. When you speak of learning and scholarship in Islam, you're talking about something that is at the very core of Islamic culture, and the people the American media refer to as "clerics" are more properly referred to as "Islamic scholars." The Shi'ite south is getting a lot of bad press on the women's right issue; it's good to see women playing a positive role in their cultural revival.

My Presidential Endorsement

One day a couple of summers ago, I was wandering with some friends through the streets of Madaba, Jordan, looking for a hotel. We met a man who told us we were on the wrong side of town, but who insisted on closing his shop to give us a ride, saying that he was planning to go to New York in November and hoped people there would do the same for him. On that same trip, I had a taxi driver from Irbid, who asked if it was true than in the United States Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived together peacefully. A friend said it was, and he replied that he wished he could live in a place like that. Later, I went into Syria where I met a politically minded man who had many quarrels with American policy toward Iraq, Israel and the world at large, but who also spoke about American freedom and democracy as among the highest ideals toward which the peoples of the world aspired.

I've always been a bit skeptical of whether that man in Madaba would have gotten rides from random New Yorkers, but he and the others I have just mentioned were onto something about America, something highlighted even more a few weeks later on September 11, 2001. That day, 19 members of a terrorist organization whom many would see as the face of Islam killed 3000 Americans at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

One of my professors was at a conference in Istanbul that day. When he returned, he told us that one thing he had noticed there was that people who had always seen the U.S. through a lens of flashy Hollywood movies and newscasts saw this country in a way they never had before, as for the first time the politicians and action heroes were displaced by police and firemen and medical workers. And even a cursory glance through the media shows that on that day, the world mourned as flowers were left at embassies, moments of silence were observed, and Arab students sitting in a Gulf classroom angrily denounced the attacks as haram, a word the use of which would normally be punished but on this day was not as people who knew very well that al-Qaeda's threats extended to more than just the U.S. wondered who might be next, and as all could see that the victims of these attacks were of a multitude of creeds and nationalities, drawn to these shores by a dream and an idea with which this nation is forever associated.

That idea, the idea touched upon by the Irbid taxi driver, the Madaba shopkeeper, the Syrian idealist and many others I have met over the years is community. All democracy is based on community. At the core of our being, Americans are builders of communities, and all our many debates revolve around one single question: How do we make our communities better. Oh, we have not always succeeded in our quest, and to this day our past mistakes reach ugly fingers into the present as we strive to overcome the legacy of slavery and racism, to aid our Native American communities and to ensure that women have equal oppotunity in all areas of our society. Yet this idea of building communities lies at the core of our national traditions, embedded in such stories as the Pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving, the coming together of the 13 colonies, and nostalgic films like It's a Wonderful Life. It is what Americans celebrate when we take pride in our role as a force for peace in the community of nations or our heritage as a "melting pot."

Today, one candidate has this clear vision of America, a vision which lies at the core of his ideology and agenda and which has survived all the alterations one undergoes in the course of a political career. Indeed without him, I likely would not have articulated it in the same way. It is a vision which will serve as the basis of a far-sighted and responsive government a this key hour in our nation's history, and one that allows us to look beyond the sundry programs and small promises of the present to chart a bold future for the next generation. And for that reason, I have decided to support Howard Brush Dean for the office of President of the United States.

Up until now, I've talked mostly about the outside world, and to that I shall return. But the problems which worry most Americans are closer to home. I just said this was a key moment in our history. Howard Dean said in a recent pamphlet, "Our history has been the story of change. The struggle to live up to our founding ideals—justice and equality—has been an ongoing one. When we have seen injustice and inequality in our institutions and our laws, the American people have risen time and again to challenge them."

Today, change is afoot everywhere we look. The economy is changing. Our manufacturing sector is being crushed between the twin walls of globalization and mechanization, leaving many Americans adrift and out of work. President Bush's policies in these areas have failed. One hundred years after Henry Ford proved that the way you grow the American economy is to lift up the American worker so they can buy the products that make the rich rich, George Bush is waging a war on labor, ensuring that when people finally do find jobs they are low-paid workers with no benefits who spend all their time just trying to put food on the table. And while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, Bush gives a tax cut to the rich to go with the corporate welfare that only increases the tuition and property taxes for the rest of us while CEO's send jobs overseas and take the huge profits to line their own pockets. Howard Dean understands the need for a strong labor movement that will fight for worker's rights, and that the ongoing process of globalization needs to be managed in a way that leaves Americans with opportunities while the system is still adjusting.

Closely linked to the economic issue is one of health care. The richest nation in the world insures a smaller percentage of its citizens than Costa Rica. Howard Dean, once a physician by trade, understands that serious health problems for the uninsured can ruin lives and families. As President, he will extend health care coverage to every American below the age of 25 using two existing federal programs. He will offer use a combination of tax credits and aid to small businesses to move the adult population closer to universal coverage and at long last fulfill the promise of Harry Truman, ending this as a national issue once and for all. He will also address the needs of seniors with a real prescription drug benefit, as well as implement long-needed malpractice reform so that claims are vetted by a panel of experts before trial, ending the burden of frivolous lawsuits while preserving people's rights to a day in court.

At the same time, under Howard Dean, the United States will invest in the American infrastructure. On energy, George Bush believes that we need to drill for oil in Alaska to end dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Perhaps he hasn't heard, but the U.S. isn't dependent on Middle Eastern oil, a region which supplies only about 10% of our needs. And if it's oil itself he's worried about, then he should know that the oil in Alaska is merely a drop in the bucket of the world's supply, and will have no effect on prices whatsoever. We need to stop handing over our environment to the people responsible for our high gas prices and instead invest in truly independent sources of energy - solar power, wind power, ethanol, and biomass - leading to an American energy sector that will create good blue-collar jobs for American workers.

Getting a high-paying job today means forking over thousands of dollars in tuition, an amount increasing faster than ever thanks to George Bush's failed budget policies. We need to make it possible for every qualified American to get a college degree, which Howard Dean will do by guaranteeing access to $10,000 a year in financial aid and placing limits on how much income can be taken up with student loan repayments. This way, poor and lower middle class parents will understand that college is a realistic option and encourage their kids on the path to success, rather than being intimidated by the "sticker price" of high tuition rates like too many I knew in high school. He will also endorse a voluntary early childhood intervention program so that young parents will understand their child's needs and the available resources, sharply limiting those problems which have their roots in early childhood experiences.

These are just some of the issues which we can address under a Dean administration. But the most important duties of any President lie in the realm of foreign policy. The next President of the United States will take the helm of a nation at war. This war did not begin on September 11, but years earlier when terrorists first targeted this nation and its people. It is not George Bush's fault that they broke through during his watch, but that breakthrough brought the war home to the American people. George Bush did the right thing by choosing to pursue it vigorously in Afghanistan, but too quickly became side-tracked by think-tank advisors into pursuing long-held foreign policy goals under its guise.

I supported the war in Iraq, because I said I had faith that it would not hurt the war on terror and that the administration had adequately planned its aftermath. This faith was betrayed, the misjudgement terrible, the consequences horrendous. As the most powerful military nation the world has ever seen, we could not help but win our way easily to Baghdad, but since then out policy has lurched around blindly while Pentagon planners admit things like they didn't realize the Shi'ites would become a factor after the war. The administration's failure to understand and maintain our international alliances forced us to go it alone, and now our soldiers are performing nation-building duties for which conservatives long insisted we not train them.

As a result of this short-sightedness, patriotic American soldiers are dying on an almost daily basis while Iraq hovers on the tip of a rifle between a responsive government and total chaos. Meanwhile, the Taliban are growing stronger, threatening to emerge again if corruption, warlordism, and outside meddling again tear the nation apart. Al-Qaeda has not struck again on American soil, but it has been linked to an unending series of attacks from Morocco to Kenya, Indonesia to Turkey, attacks which threaten our allies and point to an increasingly dangerous cooperation among formerly disparate militant groups. And among our putative allies from Egypt to Uzbekistan, dictatorial governments step up their oppression under the guise of the American war on terror just like in the 1970's the last Shah of Iran stepped up his under the guise of our war on communism.

This is not a recipe for making Americans safer. George Bush began the war on terror, but he does not know how to fight it, and he has largely abandoned his duty to do so, hiding behind pretty speeches and photo ops and relying on Americans not to notice his real policies. He did not have the patience or the skill to bring to our side those angry students in that Gulf classroom I talked about earlier. He has damaged our relationships with many of our oldest allies. Even those first responders whose fame reached Istanbul on September 11 still lack much of what they need to prepare for terrorist attacks of the future. This President has got to go. Howard Dean does not have personal foreign policy experience, a reason I initially ruled him out of serious consideration. However, Dean does have a quality Bush sorely lacks: judgement. Dean has shown judgement in his choice of advisors, such as Danny Sebright, who reported directly to Donald Rumsfeld as a coordinator of the war in Afghanistan, and more recently Bill Richardson, one of the most experienced foreign policy hands in the Democratic party. As President, Howard Dean will pursue a course of wisdom rather than brashness, working to repair our tattered network of alliances while providing the leadership skills necessary to rally us again to the virtues which have made this country great.

I began this post by talking about community, a vision of America which Dean has made the moral centerpiece of his campaign. As he once wrote, "The American people have a capacity for great things. We must once again set ourselves on a course to achieve them—based on those values that have sustained America throughout the centuries." Over twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan called upon Republicans to remember the values for which their party stood, and force the American people to choose in a contest of ideas. Today, Howard Dean challenges Democrats to do the same thing, to remember who we are, why we believe the things we do, and go confidently before the American people and ask them to choose.

Many insist he cannot win. Over 200 years ago, Thomas Paine wrote, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom." Howard Dean is tough, articulate, and politically skilled enough to win this election. He won my vote despite my emphasis on foreign policy experience and my frequent, too often ill-fated run-ins with his supporters. It is time we tried standing on our principles with a strong candidate at a moment in history when the choices have never been clearer. Arrayed on one side will be fear and anger toward the outside world and the core elements of a social darwinism which consigns too many Americans to a reject pile if they can't get in on Bush's corporate game. Arrayed on the other will be hope and friendship as we strive to promote our values of community at home and abroad. This is the way America has always succeeded.

My favorite Thomas Paine quote has always been, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again." My friends, there are no more worthy values than those we stand for. In the political history of the earth, there has never been a cause greater than this American experiment, which has shone like a beacon of hope and possibility for over 200 years. During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation." I believe this generation of Americans can acquit ourselves with honor, bearing our message of hope to the world and inspiring those people I mentioned in the first paragraph by living out our ideals while rising to the challenges of the present age and opening the gates to our exciting future. And Howard Dean is just the leader we need to take us there.

Dean-Blogging will henceforth become a regular feature of this site.

UPDATE: Matt Bruce has the stats on this post.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

More on Afghan Warlords

Al-Jazeera has an article up on the economic power of Afghanistan's warlords which you must read. Ismail Khan is collecting more in taxes in Herat than the Karzai government which ostensibly rules the entire country. Another interesting note was that putative American ally Uzbekistan is supporting Abd ar-Rashid Dostum, who has been only questionably supportive of Karzai. One thing I definitely fear is that neighboring powers will keep the rival warlords around so they can avoid having to negotiate with a central government in Kabul. This can only be bad for future stability.

Islamic Republic of Iraq

Tom Friedman has this exactly right.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003


Opponents of a multilateral foreign policy often make the case that international organizations constrain the U.S., and that those who insist on trying to work with allies are just touchy-feely types who always worry about offending people. However, as Wesley Clark explains in this book excerpt, there's much more to it than that. A sample:

"The United States exercised leverage through international institutions and arrangements, initially through a frame of security treaties: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for European allies, bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea. Acting with allies, the United States was able to redistribute the financial, military, and political burdens of its global security interests. In Europe, NATO member states provided most of the ground manpower in the event of war. Independent French nuclear programs provided a backstop for Cold War NATO nuclear decision-making. Britain assisted in the Persian Gulf until the late 1960s. France and Belgium were active in Africa. And Japan not only came to develop surprisingly modern and effective self-defense capabilities; it paid a significant portion of the operating expenses of U.S. forces stationed there."

Kramer vs. Yale

Martin Kramer attacked this Yale Daily News editorial opposing the creation of the Title VI advisory board. He does this mainly by linking it to this other opinion piece (which I admit seems rather attackable) and going on to say:

"So the newspaper is dutifully following the lead of the administration and faculty. It reminds me of how Pravda picked up signals from the Politburo and amplified them—including the crude falsehoods...So Yale is running a deliberately misleading campaign, relying on distortions, incitement, and the pliant editors of the campus newspaper, in order to leverage Sen. Dodd into opposing the bill."

Kramer must not be a Yale Daily News regular, however, or he would have seen this and maybe this, which do not exactly cater to the hard left of campus. In fact, the first article could merit the charge of distortion as easily as Benita Singh's as it keeps pushing Stanley Kurtz's mischaracterization of Edward Said's influence on the field. (See here for my Said post.)

True, the advisory board as written into the bill does not have the power to make regulations or hand down sanctions of some kind. However, there is a larger context to this: The advisory board is being pushed for by a specific group as a tool to advance a specific agenda. As quoted by, well, Yale Daily News, Kurtz said in his testimony: "If you read something that is more mainstream -- [it would represent] the role of the United States as a builder of democracy, and that's what [Congress] wants to see at colleges." If the people pushing for this committee are later appointed to it, it will simply become a platform for pushing their agenda in the same way Campus Watch is, only this time on the taxpayers' dollar as part of the United States government. And given what these groups have sometimes called for, that really might put us on the road to government supervision of curriculum as the government effectively gains a right to have support for whatever policies it wants taught in universities lest the "advisory board" deem the funding programs which sustain international studies useless.

Here is a list of Senators in a position to affect this bill. If none of them are your state, I suggest to e-mail Presidenial candidate John Edwards and let him know how you feel.

UPDATE: I just have to add something. Does anyone else find it hard to picture a student newspaper taking marching orders from its school's administration?

Warlords and Presidential Politics

According to Ahmed Zia Masood, Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia, prominent Afghan warlords have decided to support Burhanuddin Rabbani against Hamid Karzai in the 2004 Presidential elections. Rabbani was a top anti-communist leader and the last President before the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. Perhaps ominously, during the 1980's Rabbani scuttled a temporary accord among mujahadeen factions by refusing to leave office as part of a power-sharing agreement. Maybe I'm being paranoid here, but I think actually holding elections in Afghanistan will only be half the battle...the key test will be what happens afterward.

South Iraq Army

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Palestinian Identity

Imshin claims no one ever questions whether the Palestinians exist as a people. Well, actually, they do that all the time, as a common right-wing argument is that the Jews have been a people for millennia and deserve everything from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, while the Palestinians are just like all the other Arabs and should melt into the great undifferentiated Arab mass. To be honest, however, I totally agree with the key point of Imshin's post, if from a slightly different perspective - the situation today is what it is, and trying to argue about what should have been isn't really that productive.

Did the Palestinians have a national identity before Israel? I'm not normally an intellectual snob, but with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict I stay glued to the mainstream scholarship as much as possible just because there's so much polemic out there representing the deeply held convictions of one side or another about their own past, often carefully cited with their selected evidence so that to a non-specialist it all looks perfectly irrefutable, until you look at the opposing viewpoint. Anyway, according to page 123 of Malcolm Yapp's The Near East Since the First World War:

"Before 1918 there was very little idea of Palestine among them although they were conscious of a certain common interest in opposing Zionist settlement. Nor was Arabism so prominent in Palestine as it was in Syria. In 1918, Palestinian Arabs faced the same dilemma as other Ottoman Arabs: what political identity and goals should replace their lost Ottoman personality. Those in Nablus looked to Faysal in Damascus and accepted the view of Palestine as southern Syria; those in Jerusalem were less anxious to acknowledge Faysal's rule. Most Palestinians organized themselves as local communities through the Muslim-Christian associations. In July 1920 the southern Syrian option was excluded by the fall of Faysal and Palestinians were obliged to choose again. Under the leadership of the Husaynis they emphasized a Palestinian identity which permitted Muslim-Christian cooperation, was acceptable to Britain and fitted the political arena in which they operated. The Palestinian Arab identity was very much an elite choice, however, and it had little appeal to the masses. When peasants and the lower classes in towns became drawn into the political struggle during the 1930's the most powerful bond proved to be Islam. Also during the 1930's, with the rise of other Arab states, the appeal of pan-Arabism strengthened again. Even in 1948, Palestinian Arabs still thought of themselves primarily as members of families or of local, religious or ethnic communities rather than as Palestinians. Nevertheless, during the mandate Palestinians had acquired Palestinian institutions and the habit of working in and with these institutions had promoted in some measure the growth of a Palestinian identity. For, during the mandate government institutions were Palestinian Arab institutions, the Yishuv having opted out."

This doesn't sound like something that fits neat ideological agendas, which is unsurprising considering that the concept of national identity arose in Europe under specific historical circumstances that were not present in the Arab world, which was following its own path. Even if for many there was not an "imagined community" of Palestinians, there was either one of Arabs that included the spot where they were living, or perhaps just of Jerusalemites, made up of those who were proud to live in the holy city and its hinterland where the Prophets walked and Muhammad went on his Night Journey. Today, none of that matters...just as Israeli Arabs now count themselves members of a Jewish state, so Palestinians too developed a concept of themselves as a people and are now seen by others as one. Everything else is just water under the bridge.

The world of the British mandate is no more, and the actions taken by people 50 years ago - short in the longer scheme of history but an eternity here - cannot be held against those now cast as their heirs in cultural forms of which the leaders of yesteryear might not have conceptualized. Argue the conflict all you want, but to base all your arguments on the past and what might have been is to pay homage to ideologies that don't lead to anything constructive.

Professional Standards

On Oxblog, I found a poll showing that 59% of Americans believe college professors have high or very high ethical standards, ranking them behind only a bunch of medical fields. I guess the Campus Watch crowd hasn't had as much of an impact as I thought. Actually, though, I'd have trouble with this poll because I'm not sure some professions are really more ethical than others. Auto mechanics, for example, take a bad rap, yet I've had only a couple of bad experiences with them and several very good ones. And I know motivation is not necessarily a good indicator of ethics, but I've known just as many med students who seemed to be doing it for money/status as I have lawyers, and just as many who are trying to find a comfortable career in their natural area of interest. Still, perceptions are interesting.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has more.

Disarmament Near Mazar-e Sharif

Afghan warlords Atta Muhammad and Abd ar-Rashid Dostum are handing their heavy weapons over to the Afghan National Army, a sign of concrete disarmament that shows there may be hope after all that stability can return to the region around Mazar-e Sharif. The whole article is rather interesting, as it gives insight into the complexities of current Afghan politics. It may be that the creation of a central government, even Karzai's weak one, is creating a domain where conflict can spread but through which it can be contained as rivals gain access to non-military tools of competition which make politics possible.

Rabi'a of Basra

Maryam has posted a new Scholar of the Month: Rabi'a of Basra (not yet archived). Be sure to check it out at the bottom of the sidebar.

Monday, December 01, 2003


So in about an hour this evening I went from being convinced I was watching the last days of Wisconsin quiz bowl to having hope that we might be on the edge of a new Golden Age. I wonder if the brief rant I snapped out helped or hurt. All well...hopefully things will once again come together for us.

Geneva Accords

I feel like I should blog about the Geneva Accords, but to be honest I can't see why they matter. So they've established that a peace between Israelis and Palestinians is plausible. Except we already knew that already, and those who disagreed won't be swayed by negotiations for a plan that everyone knew would never actually be implemented. According to Imshin, the reaction in Israel is rather muted, and I can't imagine Palestinians are taking them that seriously either, despite Arafat's efforts to use them as a propaganda tool. Pieces of paper are nice, but I'm more interested in actions which change the ground situation, and these remain elusive.

Doings in Bahrain

King Hamad of Bahrain has been flexing his reformist credentials lately. Here he ordered his government to drop a legal case against a play criticizing the royal family, while here it says you can now hold on-line debates with members of the Shura, the appointed upper house of Bahrain's Parliament. Unfortunately, I'm not really convinced this amounts to anything. The first part merely serves as a safety valve to contain Shi'ite dissent, while the second seems to me an attempt to co-opt democratic reforms rather than implement them. The King is giving the people a direct line to his appointees, whom he can then claim are responsive to their interests. Meanwhile, he gets to keep all the power because these consultations will eliminate some of the pressure for greater democracy. It's basically a computerized version of the traditional Arab audience state as described here with reference to Saudi Arabia.

Israeli Politics

Israel's Meretz party has joined with Yossi Beilin's Shahar movement to form a new political party called Ya'ad. The new party seems largely dedicated to supporting the Geneva accords, and from here looks like it could in time challenge Labor as the main opposition party or play the same role as the Liberal Democrats in the UK and make Labor into the centrist option. The effects of all this on the peace process are difficult to predict.