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Archive for October, 2004

Saturday, October 30th, 2004


Much of the contest between Kerry and Bush has boiled down to how Kerry would be different on the War on Terror from Bush. Liberals like Kevin Drum claiming he’d be far more competent and effective, hawks like myself thinking Kerry is likely to be clueless and viscerally inhibited from taking action. Then there are people who are disgusted with Bush over Iraq and are trying to rationalize voting for Kerry in hoping that he won’t sink to our worst expectations.

There’s some truth to that because much of the DC bureaucracy serves presidents of either party, remaining there from administration to administration. This bureaucratic stasis tends to provide about 80 % continuity in American foreign policy as they drag presidents through passive resistance to line up behind the status quo.

Overall, this is a good thing because the world would dislike erratic zig-zagging by the United States even more than they dislike hard-line Neocon policy. As amazing as it may sound today, the Kremlin welcomed the election of Ronald Reagan because after four years of Jimmy Carter’ incomprehensible ( to Soviet eyes) naivete, steady opposition they were familiar with and thought they understood beat a situation where the Politburo knew a miscalculation could easily occur.

In general however, only an exceptionally vigorous chief executive or one blessed with an earth-shattering circumstances – can do more than simply tinker at the policy margins and this on only one or two issues during their time in office. So, everything’s fine right ?

Well, Jeff at Caerdroia is saying ” Think again “:

“I’m hearing a lot of people lately “reasoning” that Kerry will be just fine, because he “can’t afford” to pull out of Iraq, “knows better” than to do so, or some other claptrap. I just have this to say: if John Kerry is elected president, it will be my fondest hope that he has noble goals for America and succeeds – particularly that he succeeds in defeating terrorism and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to terror-supporting states.

But, and this is a rather large “but”, I don’t expect it. When Bill Clinton was running for President in 1992, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that he was a relentlessly self-obsessed womanizer and a compulsive liar. Whether or not you think he was a useful or effective president, it’s pretty hard to deny he’s exactly what he seemed like during the campaign.

Similarly, Kerry has been quite consistent on a few points of both policy and character. A Kerry administration would shrink from conflict where America’s interests were at stake, would abandon our coalition partners and suck up to the French and Germans instead, and would give the UN an effective veto over US foreign policy. Kerry would shrink the military, stop or dramatically slow procurement of new weapons and equipment, hobble our intelligence services, allow Iran to get nuclear weapons and quite probably withdraw from Iraq before actually securing a victory there. Kerry would always choose bigger government and higher taxes over all other considerations, and would do his best to enact the most Leftist agenda ever attempted by a president. All the while, he would smugly enthuse about how all of us proles just don’t understand his intelligence and nuance. Kerry will claim that everything good is his doing, personally, and everything bad is the failure of some underling or political opponent.

Go ahead and vote for him if you think that’s best, but don’t go acting all surprised later”

Friday, October 29th, 2004


I was musing the other day about Diplomad’s post regarding life in what PNM advocates call the Gap – too often that life being one that is nasty, brutish and short. Terrible conditions that often through famine, civil war, ethnic cleansing and genocide – at least those that catch the eye of the Western media- provoke an outcry for ” humanitarian intervention”. Intervention that through a Leviathan invasion that suppresses ” bad guys ” followed by a System Administration force that can focus on the physical, social, economic and legal infrastructure that will permit connection to the Core. It seems not only morally right but a coherent strategy of tackling the worst cases or most ominous rogue state offenders first, providing an example or model. A ” big bang ” intervention in Tom Barnett’s phraseology.

The problem with this approach is that the models for success are few. Haiti, Somalia and Bosnia proved to be ill-conceived or badly bungled operations. Iraq teeters on the edge of ruin and only East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan qualify as a success. Of those three East Timor is the single example of this ” connectivity” process being predominantly a non-American show- a combination of effort by another Core state with hard power – Australia – and the UN.

However there’s another way. A strategy of ” Creeping Connectivity” where we expand the Core outward by picking ” the winners ” who are likely to be success stories first, gradually decreasing the size of the Gap, leaving the hardest cases for last. Collounsbury suggested as much in my comments section ( for those who aren’t familiar Col is a MENA specialist and an expert in investmen)t:

“The only way one wins the game is (i) marginalizing over the medium term the oil producers, (ii) supporting growth oriented regimes in the region (read up on Tunisia: you want a model for the region, it’s Tunisia. Not perfect, but sustained *real* growth of 5 percent year on year for 10 years is not something to shrug off. They could do better too. Forget pouring money into the corrupt Egyptian kleptocracy, focus on the guys who are really changing. Set up private equity like investment funds to invest in them, rather than bullshit aid programs)”

The virtue of the second approach is that it is reality-based – it fits the truth of the market that capital investment only flows to places where a reasonable return compared with risk exists along with adequate physical security. It would seem very likely based upon the example of nations like South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia that such an approach will succeed – sort of Connectivity through market liberalization. The downside is, that to pursue such a strategy with the seriousness and consistency to ensure progressive global improvement requires that the United States abandon the people in the darkest regions of the Gap to their local version of Hell. Except of course, when there are also overriding security interests at stake. Not a very morally uplifting or inspiring vision nor one that I think the American people could stick to anyway, to their credit.

America can do both – in fact we are doing so but not in any kind of coherent fashion. We need a yardstick of prioritization for the Gap that will indicate which route to go and when.

UPDATE LINK: Thanks to Cardozo in the comments – an example of the Bush administration taking an innovative Creepimg Connectivity approach.

Friday, October 29th, 2004


It’s irritating but understandable that CNN has not yet produced a transltion to English of the bin Laden videotape released today but al Jazeera ?? Don’t they all know Arabic ? Why do they have as little up on their site from bin Laden’s message as CNN ? How about a transcript ? ( Apparently these news organizations are adding paragraphs of reportage minute by minute so the links are evolving)

My understanding of initial reports is that this address was aimed primarily at an American audience due to the changes in bin Laden’s rhetorical style. This squares with the analysis of ” Anonymous” in Imperial Hubris regarding bin Laden’s desire to justify al Qaida’s actions with the jurisprudential context of his zany version of salafist extemism with a last and final warning before unleashing whatever he conceives to be al Qaida’s ” big one”. On the other hand, coming so speedily on the heels of the ” Assam the American ” tape, bin Laden may also be clearly spelling out ” the party line ” to his decentralized folowers. The messages are similar but not quite the same and disavows a particular interest in tilting the election toward Kerry ( or Bush).

Not being an Arabist I’m really curious on how Juan Cole, who has translated an analyzed several al Qaida and Zarqawri documents and Collounsbury who may possibly have heard the broadcast in the original Arabic, are going to weigh in on this tape. I may change my mind as more information becomes available.

Meanwhile the DEBKA File reports that Abu Musab al-Zaqawri has penned an entire ” encyclopedia of terrorism”. Assuming this is true – a large assumption -then either Zaqawri has a really secure base of operations or he’s possibly manic in the sense of psychological distrurbance; one would have his hands full enough running a terror insurgency against the U.S. military without becoming the Diderot of mass murder.

UPDATE: Juan Cole on bin Laden. Cole also notes the change in bin Laden’s rhetoric.

Now that I’ve read the transcript it seems to me that al Qaida’s leaders are deeply plugged in to the western media and bin Laden was, in part, reflecting back some of the more recent critiques by Leftist critics of the Bush administration. Sort of a Leftist-Islamist political feedback loop with the psychological need for validation that serial killers often exhibit during intense media scrutiny of their crimes thrown in for good measure.

UPDATE II. The Belmont Club sees the tape as Osama’s parley.

Friday, October 29th, 2004


A superb post by Diplomad.

A tragic historical reality is that for some regions of the Gap the era of European Colonialism – and let’s not kid ourselves regarding the brutality involved in maintaining European control over African and Asian populations– represent the high water mark for governance. Not just in terms of efficiency and material progress but as a moral pinnacle in terms of reduced levels and kinds of violence by ruling elites. This not a comparison to contend that colonialism was a positive good so much as a statement that the alternatives have proven to be that much greater of a primeval horror show.

It takes the cannibal regions of the 19th century Congo basin and the genocidal Hutu militias of the 20th to make the lavish cruelty of Belgian rule that came in between look moderate in comparison .

This is not a call for colonialism but a reality check regarding the nature of the problem in some parts of the Gap where anarchic violence runs riot and always has. Fostering connectivity in these regions will be among the most dangerous and difficult tasks but the moral claim of nightmarish scenarios in places like Dar Fur will urge us there first.

Thursday, October 28th, 2004


I just wanted to say thank you to the historians at HNN’s group blog Cliopatria for adding Zenpundit to their history-oriented blogroll. Much appreciated guys ! For those of you who are not familiar with Cliopatria, it’s a blog composed of professional academics who comment on politics, historiography and controversies germane to academia and the discipline of history. They are a large and diverse group but they add a great deal to the intellectual atmosphere at HNN. In addition to penning articles and posting on their blog the Cliopatriarchs are active and incisive commenters – especially Ralph, Oscar, KC, Hugo and Jonathan who help keep the the discussion on a more civil, thoughtful, plane and prevent the threads from a descent into partisan flame wars ( well…they try hard anyway. Some of HNN’s other commenters are as tireless as they are zealous)

Thanks again !

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