Friday, March 31, 2006

A blue country after all?

Workers and citizens - Some dilemmas of immigration (Paul Krugman)

We live in a world whose dynamics are shaped in large part by the complex interplay between states, political communities, and the capitalist world economy. The three co-exist, of course, often in mutually beneficial ways, but their inner logics are distinct and never without some tensions. In this op-ed piece, the indispensable Paul Krugman puts his finger on some genuine dilemmas that these tensions pose for democracy in the US (and elsewhere). It's not immediately obvious what practical conclusions we ought to draw, but the questions he raises here are ones about which we ought to be thinking very carefully and seriously.

(Some follow-ups come after Krugman's column, below.)

Yours for citizenship,
Jeff Weintraub
New York Times
Friday, March 31, 2006

The Road to Dubai
By Paul Krugman

For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.

But immigration remains a difficult issue for liberals. Let me say a bit more about the subject of my last column, the uncomfortable economics of immigration, then turn to what really worries me: the political implications of a large nonvoting work force.

About the economics: the crucial divide isn't between legal and illegal immigration; it's between high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants. High-skilled immigrants — say, software engineers from South Asia — are, by any criterion I can think of, good for America. But the effects of low-skilled immigration are mixed at best.

True, there are large benefits for the low-skilled migrants, who may find even a minimum-wage U.S. job a big step up. Immigration also raises the total income of native-born Americans, although reasonable estimates suggest that these gains amount to no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

But low-skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans. And immigrants increase the demand for public services, including health care and education. Estimates indicate that low-skilled immigrants don't pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of providing these services.

All of these effects, except for the gains for the immigrants themselves, are fairly small. Some of my friends say that's the point I should stress: immigration is a wonderful thing for the immigrants, and claims that immigrants are undermining American workers and taxpayers are hugely overblown — end of story.

But it's important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts. Moreover, what really worries me isn't the narrow economics — it's the political economy, the effects of having a disenfranchised labor force.

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas — and neither group has the right to vote. [Regarding Dubai, see here. --JW] Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don't count is likely to ignore workers' interests: it's likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

This isn't idle speculation. Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations — often the result of immigration — tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.

Of course, America isn't Dubai. But we're moving in that direction. As of 2002, according to the Urban Institute, 14 percent of U.S. workers, and 20 percent of low-wage workers, were immigrants. Only a third of these immigrant workers were naturalized citizens. So we already have a large disenfranchised work force, and it's growing rapidly. The goal of immigration reform should be to reverse that trend.

So what do I think of the Senate Judiciary Committee's proposal, which is derived from a plan sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy? I'm all in favor of one provision: offering those already here a possible route to permanent residency and citizenship. Since we aren't going to deport more than 10 million people, we need to integrate those people into our society.

But I'm puzzled by the plan to create a permanent guest-worker program, one that would admit 400,000 more workers a year (and you know that business interests would immediately start lobbying for an increase in that number). Isn't institutionalizing a disenfranchised work force a big step away from democracy?

For a hard-line economic conservative like Mr. McCain, the advantages to employers of a cheap work force may be more important than the violation of democratic principles. But why would someone like Mr. Kennedy go along? Is the point to help potential immigrants, or is it to buy support from business interests?

Either way, it's a dangerous route to go down. America's political system is already a lot less democratic in practice than it is on paper, and creating a permanent nonvoting working class would make things worse. The road to Dubai may be paved with good intentions.

[P.S. My good friend (and former student) Mark Gerson, who happens to be a Republican, objects to Paul Krugman's remarks in the first paragraph of this piece:
For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.
This is a fair complaint, up to a point. I know very well that Mark supports open immigration on generous and principled grounds (with which I happen to sympathize myself). He believes that potential immigrants deserve the kinds of opportunities that America offered our grandparents, and he also believes immigrants have always contributed in valuable ways to the vitality and diversity of American society. I also know quite well that a lot of other Republicans are pro-immigration and pro-immigrant for similar reasons; their perspectives on immigration may or may not be open to argument, but they are not mean-spirited.

It would be wrong to suggest that the desire of employers for cheap and easily exploitable labor is the only force within the Republican coalition pushing in favor of looser immigration. And it would certainly be silly to pretend that Democrats have a monopoly of virtue on these issues, or that Republicans have a monopoly of mean-spiritedness. It should be noted that Krugman doesn't actually make either of these claims, but it also seems fair and appropriate for me to emphasize that I wouldn't endorse them.

On the other hand, when it comes to identifying key forces within the Republican political coalition who are pushing for a guest-worker program, and who have tended to favor lax enforcement of existing controls on illegal immigration, then I think honesty compels us to recognize that big-business interests who are interested primarily in cheap, non-unionized labor with little political leverage do play a major role, as Krugman correctly points out. In fact, as a matter of hard political realities, it seems clear that their influence is critical in counteracting anti-immigration tendencies within the Republican coalition (which helps explain why some of the sharpest political disagreements on immigration policy are played out within the Republican Party). I must confess that, rightly or wrongly, I don't believe that people like my friend Mark control the current political agenda of the Republican Party.

But at all events, none of this really affects the key substantive issues raised by Krugman's argument, particularly: (1) that the needs of the economy are not always identical with the concerns and requirements of a democratic political community; and (2) that an expanded guest-worker program might address the needs of employers and the purely economic interests of some immigrant workers, but potentially at the cost of weakening the link between access to the American labor market and access to full citizenship in American society. I know Mark and I agree that, everything else being equal, the link between immigration and citizenship should be strengthened, not weakened.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub]

[P.P.S. I also want to add that, whatever we might all conclude about the practical details of immigration policies, I fully endorse the sentiments expressed in these remarks by another friend, Brad DeLong:
I think that we should focus on [Krugman's remark that]: "the net benefits... from immigration, aside from the large gains to the immigrants themselves, are small." Particularly, we should focus on [Krugman's passing reference to] the "large gains to the immigrants themselves." The net benefits from immigration including the large gains to the immigrants themselves are enormous. We shouldn't forget that.
We should be taking steps to equalize America's income distribution: more progressive tax brackets, more public provision of services, a more generous Earned Income Tax Credit, a higher minimum wage, a greater focus on education [and I could add some others, including an attempt to resuscitate the labor movement]. But tight restrictions on immigration are a really lousy anti-poverty policy: one with enormous excess burdens measured in money, and truly mammoth excess burdens measured in utility.
It is worth emphasizing that overall impact of low-wage immigration will depend in large part on the whole range of other legal, political, institutional, and socio-economic policies and conditions in place ... which means that it's not useful to consider immigration issues in isolation.

Yours for the American dream,
Jeff Weintraub]

[And a further P.S. Mark Kleiman, who recently posted a usefully thought-provoking discussion of immigration issues on his blog ("Six theses on immigration policy"), sends me the following response:
I think everyone is missing the main point here. Whatever level of immigration occurs, we should work as hard as possible to make sure that as much of it as possible is legal, because illegal immigration is a crime problem, a terrorism problem, and mostly a disaster for illegal immigrants and their children. So we should expand both legal immigration and enforcement against illegal immigration to squeeze down on the size of the illegal underclass.
I agree completely that this is a crucial point. Not the only crucial point ... but very, very crucial. --Jeff Weintraub.]

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chomsky and Massad on Mearsheimer & Walt

Interestingly enough, Noam Chomsky (see also here) also finds M&W's argument about "The Israel Lobby" pretty weak. Like Joseph Massad, another hostile critic of Israel, Chomsky thinks their analysis is insufficiently anti-American.
Chomsky begins with some agit-prop build-up about the "courageous stand" of Mearsheimer & Walt, the "hysterical reaction" against them, the repressive power of the Israel Lobby, his own courageous stands in favor of mass murder in the former Yugoslavia, und so weiter. Then, when he gets around to M&W's actual argument, he concludes that it doesn't hold water.
But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion. I've reviewed elsewhere what the record (historical and documentary) seems to me to show about the main sources of US ME policy, in books and articles for the past 40 years, and can't try to repeat here. M-W make as good a case as one can, I suppose, for the power of the Lobby, but I don't think it provides any reason to modify what has always seemed to me a more plausible interpretation. Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.
The M-W thesis is that (B) overwhelmingly predominates. To evaluate the thesis, we have to distinguish between two quite different matters, which they tend to conflate: (1) the alleged failures of US ME policy; (2) the role of The Lobby in bringing about these consequences. Insofar as the stands of the Lobby conform to (A), the two factors are very difficult to disentagle. And there is plenty of conformity.
Let's look at (1), and ask the obvious question: for whom has policy been a failure for the past 60 years? The energy corporations? Hardly. They have made "profits beyond the dreams of avarice" (quoting John Blair, who directed the most important government inquiries into the industry, in the '70s), and still do, and the ME is their leading cash cow. Has it been a failure for US grand strategy based on control of what the State Department described 60 years ago as the "stupendous source of strategic power" of ME oil and the immense wealth from this unparalleled "material prize"? Hardly. The US has substantially maintained control -- and the significant reverses, such as the overthrow of the Shah, were not the result of the initiatives of the Lobby. And as noted, the energy corporations prospered. [....]
Another problem that M-W do not address is the role of the energy corporations. They are hardly marginal in US political life -- transparently in the Bush administration, but in fact always. How can they be so impotent in the face of the Lobby? As ME scholar Stephen Zunes has rightly pointed out, "there are far more powerful interests that have a stake in what happens in the Persian Gulf region than does AIPAC [or the Lobby generally], such as the oil companies, the arms industry and other special interests whose lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races."
Do the energy corporations fail to understand their interests, or are they part of the Lobby too? By now, what's the distinction between (1) and (2), apart from the margins?
Also to be explained, again, is why US ME policy is so similar to its policies elsewhere -- to which, incidentally, Israel has made important contributions, e.g., in helping the executive branch to evade congressional barriers to carrying out massive terror in Central America, to evade embargoes against South Africa and Rhodesia, and much else. All of which again makes it even more difficult to separate (2) from (1) -- the latter, pretty much uniform, in essentials, throughout the world.
I won't run through the other arguments, but I don't feel that they have much force, on examination.
The thesis M-W propose does however have plenty of appeal. The reason, I think, is that it leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility, "Wilsonian idealism," etc., merely in the grip of an all-powerful force that it canot escape. It's rather like attributing the crimes of the past 60 years to "exaggerated Cold War illusions," etc. Convenient, but not too convincing. In either case.
Jeff Weintraub

P.S. A friend offered a comment on Massad's piece that can also apply to Chomsky's...
This is truly interesting: another branch of the debate whether one is to fight the "near enemy" (in this case the US) or the "far enemy" (Israel). Massad has such low opinion of the US that he is willing to let Israel off the hook in this case. Fanaticism makes for strange bedfellows indeed.
P.P.S. [Update April 10, 2006] See also Anti-Zionists versus Chomsky (Harry's Place).

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why Mearsheimer & Walt are wrong (continued)

Two responses to Mearsheimer & Walt's manifesto on "The Israel Lobby" (longer version here) appear below. The editorial from the Forward offers a brief but cogent demolition of their position (despite a few flaws & errors of its own). And the piece by Lee Smith, "A Place Called Saudi Arabia", makes it clear why one of their central claims is not just wrong but silly.
Some other responses worth reading are collected in two posts by Daniel Drezner, here and here, and this post on Normblog. David Hirsh is right on target in "A Crude Conspiracy Theory," correctly insisting that "We must discredit the claim that the 'Israel Lobby' controls US foreign policy. But defend the right to publish it."
Inside Higher Ed has a useful piece on this affair, "War of Words Over Paper on Israel" (3/27/2006).

--Jeff Weintraub

March 24, 2006

In Dark Times, Blame the Jews

On the face of it, there's little that's new in the provocative research paper "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," published online last week by two leading political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Their underlying thesis, that Israel's advocates have pressured America into an unjustified and damaging alliance with Israel, has been around for decades, flogged with little success by generations of Israel's detractors. Their more immediate argument, that Israel and its allies manipulated America into war with Iraq, has been simmering at the edges of the debate since before the invasion. By now it's part of our national background noise.
What is new and startling is the document's provenance. Its authors are not fringe gadflies but two of America's most respected foreign-affairs theorists. One, Mearsheimer, is a distinguished professor at the University of Chicago. The other, Walt, is academic dean of the nation's most prestigious center of political studies, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Though it's tempting, they can't be dismissed as cranks outside the mainstream. They are the mainstream.
Even more startling, given who they are, is the flimsiness of their work. Countless facts are simply wrong. Long stretches of argument are implausible, at times almost comically so. Much of their research is oddly amateurish, drawn not from credible documents or primary source interviews but from newspaper clippings, including dozens from this newspaper, seemingly dug up in quick Internet word searches aimed at proving a point, not exploring the truth. Some are wildly misquoted. An undergraduate submitting work like this would be laughed out of class. A dean apparently gets to see it posted on Harvard's Web site.
Considering the authors' credentials, the paper calls for substantive rebuttal by those who disagree. But that, as we'll see, is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. The larger, more urgent question is how things came to this pass. What could possibly have led two of the best and brightest foreign policy mandarins to compose and publish such an embarrassment?
Some of Israel's more overheated defenders were trying this week to diagnose the problem as a character flaw in the authors. Their solution is to counterattack. That's a mistake. Leaving aside the folly of trying to answer a claim that Israel is a bully by bullying the messenger, the response misses the point. Mearsheimer and Walt are products of their time.
These are dark, poisonous days we live in, and the poison is spreading. In Iraq, America has stumbled into a quagmire of historic proportions, with global consequences that are proving nothing short of catastrophic. If that weren't enough, our nation is nearly bankrupt, with a national debt nearly equal to our Gross Domestic Product. And the Arctic is melting. The miscalculations seem inexplicable. There must be someone to blame.
We shouldn't be surprised, then, at the sight of respected professors, and not only professors, coming unhinged.
The Mearsheimer-Walt paper shows how far the notion that Israel is to blame for the Iraq War has moved from the crackpot fringe to the center. Three years ago it was heard mainly from campus radicals. Two years ago it started getting picked up by a handful of Washington insiders, memorably including Senator Ernest Hollings and General Anthony Zinni. Now it's reached the heart of the academic establishment.
And the notion has grown with the telling. Compared with the professors, Hollings and Zinni now seem modest in their claims. They argued merely that the Iraq War had been fought for Israel's benefit. In this they were echoing the widespread theory that the war was foisted on the Bush administration by a cabal of mostly Jewish neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith. That was a shaky enough argument back in 2004. It was already clear by then, from the disclosures of former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and others, that President Bush had Saddam Hussein in his sights from the moment he entered office. It was also clear, or should have been, that Bush and Cheney had assembled an administration of known quantities, including Wolfowitz and Feith, who served their purposes. The notion that a group of Pentagon underlings could bamboozle the White House into an unintended war was ludicrous on its face. Whatever else might be said of George Bush, he knows his mind and is not easily manipulated.
Mearsheimer and Walt, however, have constructed a far more ambitious theory. They mean to indict the entire U.S.-Israel relationship, going back to the point in 1973 when American aid rose into the billions and America became the essential broker in Middle East diplomacy. Since then, they write, "the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering U.S. support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized U.S. security." Indeed, "the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel."
But if America's ties to Israel were the main cause of America's current troubles in the Muslim world, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, then Muslim hostility would have been rising steadily since 1973. It has not. [JW: Well, this doesn't necessarily follow. Mearsheimer & Walt are too mono-causal, but we shouldn't imitate them. This factor has interacted with others in complex ways, so there's no reason to expect a linear pattern of results.] There have been periods of conflict and periods of good will. Things were bad during the early 1980s, around the time of the Lebanon War. They picked up in the late 1980s, when America was working actively to broker Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, and improved even more in the 1990s, when Israel was working toward reconciliation with the Palestinians.
Throughout, groups of terrorists sought to attack American targets, including Hezbollah in the 1980s, Al Qaeda beginning in the 1990s. But they did not represent a groundswell of mass rage. No, the groundswell began in 2000 with the outbreak of the televised intifada. It became a firestorm after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
If America's support for Israel has been steady since 1973, as the authors say, then it cannot explain a crisis that erupted in 2000 or 2003.
What's different, of course, is the "effort to spread democracy throughout the region." Mearsheimer and Walt present it as a natural corollary of American support for Israel, but it's nothing of the sort. Support for Israel is a broadly popular aspect of American policy that goes back decades. Spreading democracy in the Middle East — or, more precisely, imposing it — is an eccentric doctrine taken up, amid intense controversy, by the current administration. Some of its key advocates see democratization as a way of protecting Israel; others, conversely, support Israel as an outgrowth of their vision of democracy. Some elements of the pro-Israel advocacy community back this crusade enthusiastically; most do not.
Mearsheimer and Walt have no time for such subtleties. For them, the cause of Israel is inseparable from the ideological crusade of the past three years. The Israel they depict, in a relentless, selective marshaling of facts, half-truths and occasional untruths, is a moral burden and a strategic liability. It was conceived in racism and founded in "explicit acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews." It has been bent since 1948 on expansionism and ethnic purification, and since 1967 on tightening its brutal grip on the West Bank and Gaza. The authors claim repeatedly that they do not question Israel's right to exist, but they spend page after page doing just that, with barely a hint of a counter-argument.
Then, having dismissed the case for Israel, they ask: "[I]f neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel, how are we to explain it?" Their answer is "the Israel Lobby."
Their lobby is a sprawling alliance of Jewish organizations, major newspapers, Democratic and Republican politicians, liberal and conservative think tanks and more Jewish organizations, all single-mindedly determined to help Israel achieve its goals at the expense of American interests. "The core of the Lobby," they write, "is comprised of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel's interests." To be sure, they hasten to add, "not all Jewish-Americans are part of the Lobby." One 2004 survey found that "roughly 36 percent of Jewish-Americans said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel." Good news: No more than 64% of American Jews are out to undermine America.
Here, again, they protest: They do not mean to impugn. There is, they say, "nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway U.S. policy towards Israel." They don't mean to suggest "the sort of conspiracy depicted in anti-Semitic tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion."
It's just that the Lobby has, well, "a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress," controls key access to the executive branch and suppresses dissent throughout society. Its "not surprising" goal, they write, is to weaken Israel's enemies to the point that "Israel gets a free hand with the Palestinians, and the United States does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding, and paying." Nothing "improper" there.
At times their narrative is surprisingly ill-informed. [JW: Correct. However, the first example is odd.] They state, incorrectly, that Israel did not allow Palestinian refugees to return after 1948.[JW: Huh? Doesn't sound incorrect to me.] They claim, incorrectly, that Israel's citizenship laws are based on something they call "blood kinship."
They state, incredibly and without substantiation, that Israel's counter-terrorism raids in the 1950s were aimed at territorial expansion. They claim that Yitzhak Rabin, who first endorsed Palestinian statehood in a Yediot Aharonot interview in 1974, was opposed to Palestinian statehood.
At a more basic level, they ignore or gloss over critical distinctions in their effort to portray "the Lobby" as a monolith. Supporters of Israel's cause are depicted as unanimous in backing territorial expansion and opposing concessions to the Palestinians; when the authors happen to notice advocates of compromise, such as Edgar Bronfman and Seymour Reich, they are presented as lonely voices of dissent rather than as leaders of major factions within the organized Jewish community.
The very term "pro-Israel" becomes, in their hands, elastic to the point of deceptiveness. One minute it describes those who are sympathetic to Israel; the next minute it denotes those whose main motivation is loyalty to Israel. By switching back and forth, they manage to make the casual sympathizers melt in among the diehards to create the appearance of a vast, terrifying octopus.
The deception is helped along by the cherry-picking of quotes. In one egregious case, they attempt to prove how deeply Paul Wolfowitz is "committed to Israel" by quoting the Forward, which "once described him as 'the most hawkishly pro-Israel voice in the Administration.'" A check of the endnotes shows that the words did appear in the Forward, but they were describing the conventional wisdom, not the Forward's view. The article was about a pro-Israel rally where Wolfowitz was booed for defending Palestinian rights. The point was that the conventional wisdom was wrong.
Some facts need repeating, though they shouldn't. Israel was founded by majority vote of the United Nations General Assembly. It has faced and continues to face powerful enemies intent on its destruction. Its citizenship is open to all races and creeds, from European Jews to South American Indians and Vietnamese boat people. Tens of thousands of Israelis are West Bank and Gaza Palestinians who gained their citizenship by marrying Israelis.
Most important, Israel has had the support of successive American administrations in large part because it enjoys the sympathy of much of the American people. In part this flows from Christian religious convictions. In part it reflects admiration for Israeli spunk. In part it stems from a perception of shared values. Israel has not always lived up to its own best ideals. But, unlike much of the world, it tries.
Mearsheimer and Walt join a long line of critics who dislike Israel so deeply that they cannot fathom the support it enjoys in America, and so they search for some malign power capable of perverting America's good sense. They find it, as others have before, in the Jews.

Lee Smith, "A Place Called Saudi Arabia"
(Guest-posted on Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal)

March 20, 2006
A Place Called Saudi Arabia

(Double) Guest Entry by Lee Smith

I find it a little hard to believe Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's "The Israel Lobby" was written while sober. In their first sentence, the authors assert that, "For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel."

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

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

So, how much credit should these guys get for staking out a "realist" position on US Middle Eastern policy that does not account for the existence of cars, or something even bigger than a Hummer – the Arabian Peninsula? Unless they were drunk, they shouldn't get any at all. If they were drunk, kudos to them for no spelling mistakes! – none that I could find anyway. Maybe they were smoking some ace reef because Walt and Mearsheimer see spectacular forces at work everywhere in US regional policy – and a hangover would surely explain why they totally forgot about Saudi Arabia. Ouch! But that still doesn't make them realists, just big partiers who can type well when they're bombed.
If you're one of Walt or Mearsheimer's drinking buddies, or a bartender serving them, here's a quick quiz, with questions drawn from their article, so you know when to cut them off and send them home – but definitely not to write another article about Middle East affairs.

Discuss: "The first Gulf War revealed the extent to which Israel was becoming a strategic burden."

The first Gulf War, wherein roughly 500,000 US troops were committed to the Gulf to protect our friends in Kuwait and a country called Saudi Arabia, revealed that no matter how many arms we sold to our Gulf allies finally only real live US soldiers could protect them from predators. And yet in due course we also learned that while the Saudis could not protect their own oil, our protecting that oil further weakened the royal family and compromised their legitimacy, making them vulnerable to dangerous domestic forces – like Osama Bin Laden, for instance. Ruling over a country that cannot protect itself, or safely be protected, from foreign threats or its own citizens, a country whose wellbeing is a vital national interest makes the Saudi royal family the Liza Minnelli of "strategic burdens."

True or False. "As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital US interests, except inasmuch as they are a threat to Israel."

False. Israel has a strong military and a nuclear arsenal. Remember guys, the rationale of Zionism is not to control the media and send Christian boys to die in Jewish wars, but that the Jews would not ever again have to depend on the kindness of strangers to defend them, since they did not do so very adequately in the past – hence a powerful Jewish army is trained and equipped to defend Jews. Of course Israel is concerned about the prospects of an Iranian nuclear program, but not as much as our allies in the Gulf, who have neither strong militaries nor nuclear arsenals. A nuclear Iran is a threat to that big country in the desert named Saudi Arabia and other tiny sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, and getting Gulf oil to market is a vital US interest.
Gut-check follow-up: Discuss: "Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons – which is obviously undesirable – neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation."

Well, but what if an Iranian nuclear weapon emboldened the IRI to close the Straits of Hormuz? (That's a narrow body of water between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is located.) Could the US and its Gulf allies be blackmailed? Or do realists like you two believe that there is political will in Washington and other Western capitals to "retaliate overwhelmingly" against Tehran for closing shipping lanes?

True or False. "…Unwavering support for Israel … has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world."

True. Nice work, boys – this Goldschlager's on me. But just remember, guys, that those flames of anti-Americanism do not always issue from organic sources; often indeed they are fed by Arab regimes, including many of our allies in a place called Saudi Arabia. (What? Yes, Saudi Arabia is a dry country.) US taxpayers have spent a lot of money to protect the flow of oil over the last seven decades and ensure that the Saudi ruling family keeps collecting receipts. (Yes, just one family, Al Saud, with about 5000 princes on the pad. Yes, some of them drink when they're not in Saudi Arabia.) Sometimes that money is used to incite anti-American sentiment and fund terror operations against Americans and US interests abroad. Think this one over in the morning: Should we stop supporting Israel because that makes us hated by Arabs, or should we put more pressure on Arab allies like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who have institutionalized anti-US incitement at home in their press, schools and mosques, while also funding it lavishly abroad? OK, OK, think about it like this: Would you bag friend A if friend B was paying everyone he knew to spit in your face and kick your ass just because you were friends with friend A? Wrong answer and you can take my number out of your Palm Pilot.

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

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

Sunday, March 26, 2006

End the Silence Over Chechnya (Democratiya)

The latest issue of Democratiya carries this important appeal signed by Andre Glucksmann, Vaclav Havel, Prince Hassan bin Talal, Frederik Willem de Klerk, Mary Robinson, Yohei Sasakawa, Karel Schwarzenberg, George Soros, and Desmond Tutu. (This rather cosmopolitan group includes several Nobel Peace Prize winners, former UN Human Rights Commissioner & Irish President Mary Robinson, former democratic activist and then Czech President Vaclav Havel, democracy-promoting philanthropist George Soros, and Prince Hassan of Jordan, the politically influential brother of the former King Hussein.) As they correctly argue, the "dreadful and endless war" in Chechnya, marked by enormous suffering and by horrifying brutality on all sides, has been all but ignored by the alleged international community. It deserves some serious attention. --Jeff Weintraub

End the Silence Over Chechnya

It is extremely difficult for an honest observer to break through the closed doors that separate Chechnya from the rest of the world. Indeed, no one even knows how many civilian casualties there have been in ten years of war.

According to estimates by non-governmental organizations, the figure is between 100,000 (that is, one civilian out of ten) and 300,000 (one out of four). How many voters participated in the November 2005 elections? Between 60 and 80%, according to Russian authorities; around 20%, reckon independent observers. The blackout imposed on Chechnya prevents any precise assessment of the devastating effects of a ruthless conflict.
But censorship cannot completely hide the horror. Under the world’s very eyes, a capital – Grozny, with 400,000 inhabitants – has been razed for the first time since Hitler’s 1944 punishment of Warsaw. Such inhumanity cannot plausibly be described as “anti-terrorism,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin insists. The Russian military leadership claims to be fighting against a party of 700 to 2,000 combatants. What would be said if the British government had bombed Belfast, or if the Spanish government bombed Bilbao, on the pretext of quelling the IRA or the ETA?
And yet the world remains silent in the face of the looting of Grozny and other Chechen towns and villages. Are Chechen women, children and all Chechen civilians less entitled to respect than the rest of mankind? Are they still considered human? Nothing can excuse the seeming indifference displayed by our worldwide silence.
In Chechnya, our basic morality is at stake. Must the world accept the rape of girls who were kidnapped by the occupying forces or their militias? Should we tolerate the murder of children and the abduction of boys to be tortured, broken, and sold back to their families, alive or dead? What about “filtration” camps, or “human firewood”? What about the villages exterminated to set an example? A few NGO’s and some brave Russian and Western reporters have witnessed countless crimes. So we cannot say “we did not know.”
Indeed, the fundamental principle of democracies and civilized states is at issue in Chechnya: civilians’ right to life, including the protection of innocents, widows, and orphans. International agreements and the United Nations Charter are as binding in Chechnya as anywhere else. The right of nations to self-determination does not imply the right of rulers to dispose of their people.
The fight against terrorism is also at stake. Who has not yet realized that the Russian army is actually behaving like a group of pyromaniac firefighters, fanning the fires of terrorism through its behavior? After ten years of a large-scale repression, the fire, far from going out, is spreading, crossing borders, setting Northern Caucasus ablaze and making combatants even more fierce.
How much longer can we ignore the fact that, in raising the bogeyman of “Chechen terrorism,” the Russian government is suppressing the liberties gained when the Soviet empire collapsed? The Chechen war both masks and motivates the reestablishment of a central power in Russia – bringing the media back under state control, passing laws against NGO’s, and reinforcing the “vertical line of power” – leaving no institutions and authorities able to challenge or limit the Kremlin. War, it seems, is hiding a return to autocracy.
Sadly, wars in Chechnya have been going on for 300 years. They were savage colonial conflicts under the Czar and almost genocidal under Stalin, who deported the whole Chechen population, a third of which perished during their transfer to the Gulag.
Because we reject colonial and exterminating ventures, because we love Russian culture and believe that Russia can bloom in a democratic future, and because we believe that terrorism – whether by stateless groups or state armies – should be condemned, we demand that the world’s blackout on the Chechen issue must end. We must help Russia’s authorities escape from the trap they set for themselves and into which they fell, putting not only Chechens and Russians, but the world at risk.
It would be tragic if, during the G8 summit scheduled for St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2006, the Chechen issue were pushed to the side. This dreadful and endless war needs to be discussed openly if it is to end peacefully.


[P.S. It would be quite wrong to suggest that Russian troops are the only ones who have been committing atrocities in Chechnya, and I would be unhappy if anyone thought I was implying that. Let me repeat some comments I made at the time of the Beslan massacre in September 2004, when over 300 civilian hostages, including 186 children, were murdered by Chechen terrorists:
To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I want to emphasize some further points as clearly and forcefully as I can. None of this criticism of the Beslan atrocity, and of the kind of terrorism it exemplifies, in any way justifies or excuses the fact that Russia has been fighting an incredibly brutal, destructive, and often appalling war in Chechnya, marked by extensive atrocities (on both sides!), massive civilian deaths, and pervasive violations of the laws of war, including murder, rape and kidnapping of civilians by Russian troops and security services. However, the opposite is also true. Nothing about the Russian war in Chechnya in any way justifies or excuses this kind of terrorist massacre, which ought to be unreservedly condemned whatever one thinks about the Chechen war.
--Jeff Weintraub]

Mearsheimer & Walt on the Zionist Conspiracy ...

... with a response by Herf & Markovits.

In the ultra-right white-supremacist circles that helped shape the ideology of people like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, in which neo-Nazi books like The Turner Diaries are influential best-sellers, it is widely accepted that the US is under the control of a Zionist Occupation Government (or ZOG). Of course, in the US--unlike some other parts of the world--these beliefs are lunatic-fringe stuff. But when it comes to arguments about US foreign policy, more toned-down versions of such claims are not that uncommon in some circles of the more respectable right and the not-so-loony left.

In western Europe, they have long been fairly standard in "mainstream" political discussions. Back in the early 1980s, for example, I recall reading a piece by Ian Gilmour, a prominent and respected figure in the British Conservative Party who has always been strongly pro-Arab and hostile to Israel, in which he described the US Senate as a "Zionist rotten borough." The terminology varies, but the general notion that Israel and its supporters (you know who they are) have a pervasive, harmful, and illegitimate influence over US foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is close to conventional wisdom in serious publications like The Guardian or Le Monde and tends to pop up in conspiracy theories about everything from globalization to the Iraq War--which is often seen, even by some otherwise intelligent people, as a Zionist plot hatched primarily by Israel and its supporters (or agents) in the US political system.

Even in their mainstream versions, these perspectives are not always free of anti-semitic overtones, but it would be oversimplified and misleading to assume that they are necessarily anti-semitic in inspiration. Indeed, they are not always inspired by hostility to Israel per se. In some cases, the primary sentiment seems to be a sense that Israel and its concerns are just massively inconvenient--though the failure of Israel and its supporters to avoid complicating matters for bigger and more significant countries often does lead to a sense of exasperated irritation with "that shitty little country," as the French ambassador to Britain put it in 2001. ("Why should we be in danger of world war three because of these people?")

In American politics and intellectual life, for example, there have long been a range of tendencies that opposed US support for Israel on so-called "realist" grounds--that is, they have argued that US alignment with Israel, and perhaps even Israel's creation in the first place, have been harmful to what they consider hard-headed US national interests. (It is well known that many so-called foreign-policy "realists"--not all, I should add--often have an excessively narrow, superficial, and unrealistic conception of "national interests" and of the factors shaping international politics, but that is another matter.) Unsurprisingly, this camp has always included major elements of big business, especially those with oil connections, as well as Arabists in the foreign-policy establishment and journalists like Robert Novak. As Jimmy Carter's brother Billy used to point out with undiplomatic bluntness, there are a lot more Arabs (not to mention other Muslims) than Jews, and they have a lot more oil. These sentiments have also been strong in remnants of the old isolationist right, epitomized nowadays by Pat Buchanan, who can sometimes find patterns of Israeli influence that the rest of us miss. Buchanan was convinced that even the first Gulf War in 2001 was a Zionist plot. The only Americans who favored going to war, he argued at the time, were the Israelis and their "amen corner" in Washington--which somehow included the first President Bush, James Baker, and Dick Cheney. In case the "amen corner" charge was too subtle, Buchanan spelled it out more explicitly: "Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory."

Self-styled "realists" have always been upset by the distorting impact of domestic politics on the conduct of foreign policy--particularly by the political influence of ethnic minorities like Irish-Americans or Jewish-Americans. These minorities used to be accused explicitly of "dual loyalty," though in recent years more euphemistic formulations have been used. Of course, it is not always easy for "realists" to stay exclusively at the level of cool, hard-headed, national-interest analysis, especially when they get irritated and dismayed by the pernicious influence of Israel and its supporters. Both the dynamics of ideology and the needs of propaganda often push them toward demonizing Israel. (To avoid the usual distractions and red herrings, let me make it clear that demonizing Israel means something more than just the criticism of specific Israeli policies and actions, which people sympathetic to Israel, like myself, often make, too.) For example, someone like Pat Buchanan, who has complete contempt for the idea that US foreign policy should be at all influenced by considerations of "human rights" or "democracy," expresses great indignation about Israel's unjust, inhumane, and undemocratic treatment of the Palestinians, sympathizes with Arab resentment about these injustices, and so on.

=> All of which serves as background to a recent publication by two prominent "realist" academics, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The full 83-page version (with footnotes) was printed as a Working Paper at Harvard entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," and a condensed version (without footnotes) appeared in the London Review of Books (vol. 28, #6 - 23 March 2006) as "The Israel Lobby."

This piece is quite appalling, but it seems to me that it is also significant and deserves careful attention. That is not because it introduces any new or especially convincing arguments--quite the contrary. As Shalom Lappin and others pointed out, one of the striking things about it is that it really offers no new information or analysis. Instead, it simply recycles a whole set of standard propaganda lines that have been around for decades and adds some that have appeared more recently. What it amounts to is an attempt to present a more academically credible and respectable restatement of an essentially Buchananite perspective. So it may turn out to be a dangerous straw in the wind

It has to be said that Mearsheimer and Walt don't pussyfoot around. The LRB version of their manifesto begins as follows:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel.  [As Lee Smith sarcastically observed, this analysis by these two alleged "realists" somehow manages to leave out the US relationship with "A Place Called Saudi Arabia". --JW]  The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?  [Note the language here. The charge is not simply that the U.S. has compromised its security by supporting Israel, but that it has "set aside its own security."]  One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’.
Believe it or not, the rest of their piece makes it clear that the last assertion is meant seriously. That is, the "Israel Lobby" not only controls the US position in the Arab/Israeli conflict, but "almost entirely" shapes "the thrust of US policy" in the Middle East as a whole. This claim pushes their argument beyond the bounds of plausibility, or even of normal polemical overstatement, into the borderlands of paranoid political propaganda.

=> To avoid, once again, the usual distractions and red herrings, I want to emphasize quite seriously that there is absolutely no reason to believe that either Mearsheimer or Walt is personally an anti-semite. Nor is the argument of this piece anti-semitic in any crude or direct sense. It is clear that if American Jews who support Israel's survival and security would just shut up and stop trying to influence US foreign policy, they would have no problems with us. (It should be noted that Mearsheimer and Walt make little effort to distinguish between people who blindly support everything Israel does and other people who are sympathetic to Israel but strongly criticize particular Israeli actions or policies.)

Also, to be fair, Mearsheimer and Walt never quite say explicitly that Jewish-American voters constitute a fifth column who place their loyalties to Israel above their loyalties to the US. Nor do they precisely recommend that Jewish government officials should be kept away from involvement with Middle East diplomacy and policy-making unless they are certifiably unsympathetic to Israel. Mearsheimer and Walt are more circumspect than that--though the basic message comes through clearly enough. As Robert Fine noted perceptively:
Beware of denials, is a lesson Freud and most of us learn at an early age. When your mother says ‘I am not angry’ and her face is turning incandescent red, it usually means that her fury had passed all illocutionary bounds. [....] In this piece there are classic examples of denial. ‘There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy’ means that there is everything improper. ‘The Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ means they are a conspiracy of this type. ‘This is not meant to suggest that “the Lobby” is a unified movement with a central leadership’ means that the Lobby is a wilful, undifferentiated, conspiratorial subject.
But leaving all that aside....

=> In terms of its explicit argument, this piece is bad enough. It is not just appalling but also a bit peculiar. Given the fact that the authors are academic heavyweights, the analysis is surprisingly crude, superficial, and unconvincing, and the discussion is full of assertions that are tendentious, misleading, or simply incorrect. Furthermore, at times the authors go beyond questionable or one-sided analyses to dangerous absurdities. In particular, they claim that the Israel Lobby played the "critical" role in pushing the US into the 2003 Iraq war. (Again, one has to wonder--how do people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and so on fit into this picture?) Mearsheimer and Walt believe that the Iraq war was a bad idea, and they are certainly entitled to feel this way. But blaming the Iraq war on the Jews--which, quite frankly, is what they do--is absurd and outrageous.

=> Sorting out all the errors, fallacies, and misrepresentations in this piece would require a long discussion. So far, one of the most effective and penetrating brief critiques of this bizarre pseudo-scholarly manifesto is the following letter sent to the LRB by two scholars who happen to be friends of mine, Jeffrey Herf and Andy Markovits.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

[UPDATE:  For a larger compendium of critiques, see Some Rebuttals to Mearsheimer & Walt's "Israel Lobby"]

[This letter by Profs. Jeffrey Herf and Andrei Markovits is reprinted with their permission. It was published by the LRB, along with other responses, in the issue dated April 6, 2006--JW] [See also HERE]

Accusations of powerful Jews behind the scenes are part of the most dangerous traditions of modern anti-Semitism. So it is with dismay that we read John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt's "The Israel Lobby."

We have known and respected John Mearsheimer for over twenty years which makes the essay all the more unsettling. A long reply to the erroneous history of recent events they present would exceed the length of a letter to the editor. The following must suffice.

First, it is not true that the American relationship with Israel has been "the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy." That centrepiece has been and remains access to oil for the United States and for the global economy. As it became apparent during the 1960s that Israel was not merely the only democracy in the region but also a supporter of the West in the Cold War, the American relationship intensified. At that point, support for Israel, which had been strongest among liberals who supported a Jewish state in the wake of the Holocaust, expanded to include the previously less than enthusiastic traditional military and diplomatic foreign policy establishment, some of which was deeply hostile to Israel and suspicious of Jews, to put it mildly. This was not due to the efforts of the Jewish lobby or the power of the five million Jews (in a country of almost 300 million). It was due to an assessment of American national interest made by an overwhelmingly non-Jewish political and military establishment long before Christian fundamentalism became a factor in the Republican Party. It coincided with increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime.

Second, it is not true that the United States went to war in Iraq due to the pressure of a Jewish lobby. Even if the key decision makers were Jews, this would not prove the point about the Jewish lobby. As it happens, primary advisers and war planners for Bush were Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice and the entirely non-Jewish military leadership, not the usual suspects now trotted out by those peddling stories about Jewish power behind the scenes. Whatever Israel or its supporters in the United States may or may not have wanted, American and British leaders decided to go to war for their reasons grounded in their interpretation of the respective national interest. Saddam Hussein stunned and surprised his military leaders three months before the United States and Britain invaded by revealing to them that indeed, Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. There were many officials in London and Washington - or Berlin and Paris, for that matter - who would have been just as surprised.

One need not think the decision to go to war was the correct one to remember that it was not motivated by concerns about Israel's national security. One need not agree that oil below the ground and dictatorship above it posed an immediate threat to recall that British and American (as well as other Western) leaders believed that Saddam with weapons of mass destruction in years to come would have posed a threat to the other Arab oil producing states as much as Israel. Mearsheimer and Walt's realism ignores this conventional threat on the minds of American and British policy makers.

Third, while much opinion in the Arab and Islamic world has rejected the presence of a Jewish state in its midst, anti-Americanism, hatred of Europe (including Britain) and of liberal modernity in general would exist if Israel was not there. Mearsheimer and Walt stand in a long tradition of "realist" political scientists known for naivete regarding the power and import of ideological fanaticism in international affairs. This naivete is the reason that radical Islam and the enduring crises of modernization in the region that produced it receive hardly a word in their long attack.

Fourth, American Jewish citizens have a right to express their views without being charged with placing the interests of Israel ahead of those of the United States. Mearsheimer and Walt's attack appears eight years after the terrorist war against the West declared by Osama Bin Laden; six years after Ehud Barak offered a compromise plan to end the conflict and occupation of the West Bank and Yassir Arafat responded with a terrorist campaign of his own; after countless terrorist attacks all over the world by Al Qaeda and its sympathizers, including the London underground bombings; after repeated acts of terrorist barbarism in Iraq by radical Islamists; the declaration by the Iranian President that Israel should be wiped out and that the Holocaust was a myth; and most recently after the world's first electoral victory with a solid majority won by an openly anti-Semitic terrorist organization, Hamas. Mearsheimer and Walt further ignore that all of this happened also after Israel withdrew from Lebanon; offered the Barak plan; retaliated to the terrorist campaign as any state - including Britain or the United States - would; accepted the principle of a Palestinian state and thus agreed to withdraw from over 90% of the West Bank; and then withdrew completely from Gaza. If the Palestinians had responded to these offers of a compromise peace, they would now have a functioning state perhaps before radical Islam came to dominate their politics. It was radical Islamist and secular Palestinian militants as well, not the Jewish lobby, that destroyed prospects for a compromise settlement.

Were Mearsheimer and Walt's views to win the day in Washington - and we are confident that they won't - terrorists inspired by Islamic fundamentalism would conclude that the terror campaign of recent years has paid handsome dividends among some Western academics, perhaps among some Western politicians. If the United States concluded that it no longer had a vital interest in the continued survival of the only democracy in the Middle East, those now attacking Western modernity might conclude that the Americans could be convinced that defence of Europe - and Britain as well - was also not in the American interest. Turning one's back on one's good friends when times are tough has never been, is not now and will never be a realistic, decent or wise foreign policy.

Jeffrey Herf, Professor, Department of History, University of Maryland
Andrei S. Markovits, Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies, Department of Political Science and Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, The University of Michigan

Thursday, March 23, 2006


(Via Normblog)
Norouz is the new year holiday, a festival of Spring, celebrated around March 21 in Iran, amongst other countries. There are pictures here of Iranian Jews celebrating it in Israel. (Thanks: M.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

New frontiers in chutzpah (Gokey vs. Lodi)

From the weblog of Norman Geras (Normblog)

Gokey vs Lodi
You want an example of chutzpah. Here:
When a dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey's car, he decided to sue the city for damages.
Only thing is, he was the one driving the dump truck.
But that minor detail didn't stop Gokey, a Lodi city employee, from filing a $3,600 claim for the December accident, even after admitting the crash was his fault.
But what's the legal principle invalidating Gokey's claim?
Posted by Norm at 11:41 AM

[P.S. After Gokey's claim was denied, his wife Rhonda Gokey filed a claim for a larger amount, $4800. "I'm not as nice as my husband is," she said. --JW]

[P.P.S. My friend Robert Fishman points out that when it comes to chutzpah, Curtis & Rhonda Gokey are barely in the minor leagues. For one thing, filing a claim that covered only damage to the car was pathetic. Did Curtis Gokey get fired? If so, then the claim should at least include lost income, and probably funding for driver's education in addition. If not, then the Lodi city government is really guilty of culpable negligence, "letting a known car-crasher drive around in a city-owned dump truck." The Gokeys clearly lack imagination ... and a good lawyer. --JW]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The meaning of Milosevic (David Aaronovitch)

David Aaronovitch is insightful and illuminating, as always. One aspect of this discussion is of special interest.
"What I want to do, however, is to chronicle how the Serbian leader was responsible for the invasion of Iraq. Along a line of logic that runs, crudely, no Slobbo, no Bosnia, no Kosovo, no fashion for intervention, no Iraq.
This is also a personal journey, because, back in 1993 I was as ardent a peacenik as you could find. Or, rather, I was irritated by all these reporters filing their stuff from Balkan towns with z’s in them, emoting about villagers and implying that there was a crime of omission going on, and the international community should do something to sort it out. From the safety of London I preferred the writings of those who, like the author Misha Glenny, suggested that it was all incredibly complex over there, and that getting stuck in on one side or the other would be a terrible mistake. Diplomacy, that was the thing. Humanitarian convoys. Aid. That way no British soldiers would be killed, and truly dreadful conflict might be avoided. I distrusted those who, like Martin Bell, seemed to advocate a campaigning, tendentious journalism.
[....] As the former Yugoslavia fell apart I felt some residual sympathy for the view that, after all, things had been better before under Tito, and that all this was about the resurgence of a petty nationalism that it would have been better to discourage.[....]
Then came Srebrenica. Of course there was plenty of reason, even before July 1995, to doubt that diplomacy could save hundreds of thousands from ethnic cleansing and murder. But Srebrenica was the moment when our responsibility for all this simply could not be denied. The UN was there, in the form of Dutch soldiers supposedly protecting an enclave. Our cameras were there as Ratko Mladic swanned into the invaded town and smilingly reassured Bosnian women that everything would be dealt with. In front of our eyes, just about, with our full knowledge, thousands were taken to European fields — just as they had been 50 years earlier — and murdered en masse. It was the most shaming moment of my life. We had let it happen again.[....]
It was our Munich. When Slobbo turned his attention to Kosovo, it was Poland. Working backwards I could see that Bell and others had been right. We had betrayed the Bosnian Muslims, and we couldn’t do it again. [....]
Slobodan Milosevic, more than anyone else, caused a division within the Left and Centre Left, dividing the pacifists, anti-imperialists and anti-Americans from the anti-fascists and the internationalists. He reminded too many of us that inaction can be as toxic and murderous as action. He prepared us — for weal or woe — for the new world. RIP Slobbo."
There is much here (and in the rest of the piece) that is true and important. Retrospective history is always uncertain, and it's possible that even without Milosevic and Bosnia (combined with Rwanda) the 2003 Iraq war might have happened anyway. But for what it's worth, it's also possible that without them that war might not have been supported by people like Aaronovitch and me ... or, for that matter, Tony Blair.
But read the whole thing.
--Jeff Weintraub

Monday, March 13, 2006

Black Sunday in Iraq (Juan Cole)

For several years now, the Sunni Arab "insurgents" in Iraq have pursued a systematic terrorist strategy of murdering Shiite civilians in order to provoke the Shiite majority into an all-out civil war that would render the country ungovernable and force the withdrawal of US troops. (I discussed this a year ago here.) At fist sight, this strategy may seem odd, since their base of support comes to less than 20% of the Iraqi population, while the other 80-85% of Iraqis mostly hate and fear them. But they clearly believe, rightly or wrongly, that if they can panic the US into withdrawing, then they have the military and organizational resources to win a civil war and take over the country--especially since they expect the rest of the Arab world, which is unhappy about the idea of an Iraq dominated by a bunch of Shiites and Kurds, to support them.
So far, the "insurgents" have not succeeded in detonating a full-scale civil war--primarily because the mainstream Shiite religious and political leadership have made frantic efforts to prevent it. However, since their attack on a major Shiite shrine in Samarra several weeks ago, which provoked a big upsurge in sectarian violence, it is beginning to look more likely that they may push Iraq over the brink. Meanwhile, they have continued bombing people as well as shrines.
--Jeff Weintraub
Juan Cole - Informed Comment
Monday, March 13, 2006

80 Killed, over 200 Wounded in Black Sunday

Dawn estimates that mortar attacks and bombings in Iraq killed 80 persons on Sunday. Other sources suggest the number of wounded may exceed 200. Some 52 of the dead were killed by carbombings at markets in Shiite Sadr City, east Baghdad. The violence is aimed at provoking sectarian warfare, in hopes it would force the US out and pave the way for a coup by the guerrillas.Courtesy

Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Iraq war from Saddam's perspective (NYTimes)

This New York Times story summarizes a classified US military report that tries to reconstruct the conduct of the 2003 Iraq war, and of the crisis leading up to it, from the perspective of Saddam Hussein and his regime. What did Saddam think he was up to, and what did Ba'athist officials and Iraqi military officers think he was up to?
Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed.

Overseen by the Joint Forces Command, an unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon.
The analysis has several interesting highlights--which may or may not prove to be fully accurate, but which certainly accord with information we have from other sources. They bring out some of the military and strategic limitations of this quintessential police-state regime.

First, this analysis once again confirms that Saddam Hussein's long-term strategy of maintaining "ambiguity" about whether he had "weapons of mass destruction" was a brilliantly successful political bluff--which in the end, of course, turned out to be another one of his catastrophic miscalculations.
¶The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense. [....]

In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq's weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out.

The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. [Tariq] Aziz said, sent morale plummeting. [....]

Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview "deterrence by doubt."
And it appears that, right up to the end, Saddam Hussein was more frightened by the prospect of internal revolt, or of a military coup, than by the threat of a US invasion.
Ever vigilant about coups and fearful of revolt, Mr. Hussein was deeply distrustful of his own commanders and soldiers, the documents show. [....]
"A few weeks before the attacks Saddam still thought the U.S. would not use ground forces," Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told American interrogators. "He thought they would not fight a ground war because it would be too costly to the Americans."

Despite the lopsided defeat his forces suffered during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Hussein did not see the United States as his primary adversary. His greater fear was a Shiite uprising, like the one that shook his government after the 1991 war. [....]

Mr. Hussein was also worried about his neighbor to the east. Like the Bush administration, Mr. Hussein suspected Iran of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. [....]

The United States was seen as a lesser threat, mostly because Mr. Hussein believed that Washington could not accept significant casualties. In the 1991 war, the United States had no intention of taking Baghdad. President George H. W. Bush justified the restraint as prudent to avoid the pitfalls of occupying Iraq, but Mr. Hussein concluded that the United States was fearful of the military cost.

Mr. Hussein's main concern about a possible American military strike was that it might prompt the Shiites to take up arms against the government. [....]

"We didn't believe it would go all the way to Baghdad," a senior Republican Guard staff officer later told his interrogators. "We thought the coalition would go to Basra, maybe to Amara, and then the war would end."
Well, we all make mistakes sometimes.
--Jeff Weintraub
New York Times
Sunday, March 12, 2006

Even as US Invaded, Hussein Saw Iraqi Unrest as Top Threat
By Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.
But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq's bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line.
General Hamdani got little in the way of additional soldiers, and the grudging permission to blow up the bridge came too late. The Iraqis damaged only one of the two spans, and American soldiers soon began to stream across.
The episode was just one of many incidents, described in a classified United States military report, other documents and in interviews, that demonstrate how Mr. Hussein was so preoccupied about the threat from within his country that he crippled his military in fighting the threat from without.
Only one of his defenses — the Saddam Fedayeen — proved potent against the invaders. They later joined the insurgency still roiling Iraq, but that was largely by default, not design.
Ever vigilant about coups and fearful of revolt, Mr. Hussein was deeply distrustful of his own commanders and soldiers, the documents show.
He made crucial decisions himself, relied on his sons for military counsel and imposed security measures that had the effect of hobbling his forces. He did that in several ways:

¶The Iraqi dictator was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons for the nation's defense.
¶He put a general widely viewed as an incompetent drunkard in charge of the Special Republican Guard, entrusted to protect the capital, primarily because he was considered loyal.
¶Mr. Hussein micromanaged the war, not allowing commanders to move troops without permission from Baghdad and blocking communications among military leaders.

The Fedayeen's operations were not shared with leaders of conventional forces. Republican Guard divisions were not allowed to communicate with sister units. Commanders could not even get precise maps of terrain near the Baghdad airport because that would identify locations of the Iraqi leader's palaces.
Much of this material is included in a secret history prepared by the American military of how Mr. Hussein and his commanders fought their war. Posing as military historians, American analysts interrogated more than 110 Iraqi officials and military officers, treating some to lavish dinners to pry loose their secrets and questioning others in a detention center at the Baghdad airport or the Abu Ghraib prison. United States military officials view the accounts as credible because many were similar. In addition, more than 600 captured Iraqi documents were reviewed.
Overseen by the Joint Forces Command, an unclassified version of the study is to be made public soon. A classified version was prepared in April 2005. Titled "Iraqi Perspectives on Operation Iraqi Freedom, Major Combat Operations," the study shows that Mr. Hussein discounted the possibility of a full-scale American invasion.
"A few weeks before the attacks Saddam still thought the U.S. would not use ground forces," Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told American interrogators. "He thought they would not fight a ground war because it would be too costly to the Americans."
Despite the lopsided defeat his forces suffered during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, Mr. Hussein did not see the United States as his primary adversary. His greater fear was a Shiite uprising, like the one that shook his government after the 1991 war.
His concern for the threats from within interfered with efforts to defend against an external enemy, as was evident during a previously unknown review of military planning in 1995. Taking a page out of the Russian playbook, Iraqi officers suggested a new strategy to defend the homeland. Just as Russia yielded territory to defeat Napoleon and later Hitler's invading army, Iraq would resist an invading army by conducting a fighting retreat. Well-armed Iraqi tribes would be like the Russian partisans. Armored formations, including the Republican Guard, would assume a more modest role.
Mr. Hussein rejected the recommendation. Arming local tribes was too risky for a government that lived in fear of a popular uprising.
While conventional military planning languished, Mr. Hussein's focus on internal threats led to an important innovation: creation of the Fedayeen paramilitary forces. Equipped with AK-47's, rocket propelled grenades and small-caliber weapons, one of their primary roles was to protect Baath Party headquarters and keep the Shiites at bay in the event of a rebellion until more heavily equipped Iraqi troops could crush them.
Controlled by Uday Hussein, a son of the Iraqi leader, the Fedayeen and other paramilitary forces were so vital to the survival of the government that they "drained manpower" that would otherwise have been used by Iraq's army, the classified report says.
Mr. Hussein was also worried about his neighbor to the east. Like the Bush administration, Mr. Hussein suspected Iran of developing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Each year the Iraqi military conducted an exercise code-named Golden Falcon that focused on defense of the Iraq-Iran border.
The United States was seen as a lesser threat, mostly because Mr. Hussein believed that Washington could not accept significant casualties. In the 1991 war, the United States had no intention of taking Baghdad. President George H. W. Bush justified the restraint as prudent to avoid the pitfalls of occupying Iraq, but Mr. Hussein concluded that the United States was fearful of the military cost.
Mr. Hussein's main concern about a possible American military strike was that it might prompt the Shiites to take up arms against the government. "Saddam was concerned about internal unrest amongst the tribes before, during or after an attack by the U.S. on Baghdad," Mr. Aziz told his interrogators. Other members of Mr. Hussein's inner circle thought that if the Americans attacked, they would do no more than conduct an intense bombing campaign and seize the southern oil fields.
Steps to Avoid War
Mr. Hussein did take some steps to avoid provoking war, though. While diplomatic efforts by France, Germany and Russia were under way to avert war, he rejected proposals to mine the Persian Gulf, fearing that the Bush administration would use such an action as an excuse to strike, the Joint Forces Command study noted.
In December 2002, he told his top commanders that Iraq did not possess unconventional arms, like nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, according to the Iraq Survey Group, a task force established by the C.I.A. to investigate what happened to Iraq's weapons programs. Mr. Hussein wanted his officers to know they could not rely on poison gas or germ weapons if war broke out. The disclosure that the cupboard was bare, Mr. Aziz said, sent morale plummeting.
To ensure that Iraq would pass scrutiny by United Nations arms inspectors, Mr. Hussein ordered that they be given the access that they wanted. And he ordered a crash effort to scrub the country so the inspectors would not discover any vestiges of old unconventional weapons, no small concern in a nation that had once amassed an arsenal of chemical weapons, biological agents and Scud missiles, the Iraq survey group report said.
Mr. Hussein's compliance was not complete, though. Iraq's declarations to the United Nations covering what stocks of illicit weapons it had possessed and how it had disposed of them were old and had gaps. And Mr. Hussein would not allow his weapons scientists to leave the country, where United Nations officials could interview them outside the government's control.
Seeking to deter Iran and even enemies at home, the Iraqi dictator's goal was to cooperate with the inspectors while preserving some ambiguity about its unconventional weapons — a strategy General Hamdani, the Republican Guard commander, later dubbed in a television interview "deterrence by doubt."
That strategy led to mutual misperception. When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell addressed the Security Council in February 2003, he offered evidence from photographs and intercepted communications that the Iraqis were rushing to sanitize suspected weapons sites. Mr. Hussein's efforts to remove any residue from old unconventional weapons programs were viewed by the Americans as efforts to hide the weapons. The very steps the Iraqi government was taking to reduce the prospect of war were used against it, increasing the odds of a military confrontation.
Even some Iraqi officials were impressed by Mr. Powell's presentation. Abd al-Tawab Mullah Huwaish, who oversaw Iraq's military industry, thought he knew all the government's secrets. But Bush administration officials were so insistent that he began to question whether Iraq might have prohibited weapons after all. "I knew a lot, but wondered why Bush believed we had these weapons," he told interrogators after the war, according to the Iraq Survey Group report.
Guarding Against Revolt
As the war approached, Mr. Hussein took steps to suppress an uprising. Fedayeen paramilitary units were dispersed throughout the south, as were huge stashes of small-caliber weapons. Mr. Hussein divided Iraq into four sectors, each led by a member of his inner circle. The move was intended to help the government fend off challenges to its rule, including an uprising or rioting.
Reflecting Mr. Hussein's distrust of his own military, regular army troops were deployed near Kurdistan or close to the Iranian border, far from the capital. Of the Iraqi Army, only the Special Republican Guard was permitted inside Baghdad. And an array of restraints were imposed that made it hard for Iraq's military to exercise command.
Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai, Mr. Hussein's defense minister who had distinguished himself during the Iran-Iraq war, held an important title, for example. But he had little influence. "I effectively became an assistant to Qusay, only collecting and passing information," he told interrogators, referring to a son of Mr. Hussein.
To protect Baghdad, Mr. Hussein selected Brig. Gen. Barzan abd al-Ghafur Solaiman Majid al-Tikriti, a close cousin, to head the Special Republican Guard even though he had no field experience, had failed military staff college and was a known drunkard. Asked about his military skills, General Tai laughed out loud. Even so, the Special Republican Guard commander was closely monitored by Mr. Hussein's agents and later told American interrogators that he had held the most dangerous job in Iraq. "They watched you go to the bathroom," he said. "They listened to everything you said and bugged everything."
Once the war began, field commanders faced numerous restrictions, including bans on communications, to minimize chances of a coup.
"We had to use our own reconnaissance elements to know where the other Iraqi units were located on our flanks," the commander of the First Republican Guard Corps told interrogators. "We were not allowed to communicate with our sister units."
Even as the Americans were rapidly moving north, Mr. Hussein did not appreciate the seriousness of the threat. While the Fedayeen had surprised the allied forces with their fierce resistance and sneak attacks, Iraqi conventional forces were overpowered.
At an April 2 meeting, General Hamdani, the commander of the Second Republic Guard Corps, correctly predicted that the American Army planned to drive through the Karbala Gap on the way to Baghdad. General Tai, the Iraqi defense minister, was not persuaded. He argued that the attack in the south was a trick and that the main American offensive would come from the west, perhaps abetted by the Israelis. That day, Mr. Hussein ordered the military to prepare for an American attack from Jordan.
As a sop, General Hamdani received a company of Special Operations forces as reinforcements and was finally granted permission to destroy the Euphrates River bridge southwest of Baghdad. But it was too little, too late.
By April 6, the day after the first United States Army attack on Baghdad, the so-called thunder run, Mr. Hussein's desperate predicament began to sink in. At a safe house in the Mansour district of Baghdad, he met with his inner circle and asked Mr. Aziz to read an eight-page letter.
Mr. Hussein showed no emotion as the letter was read. But Mr. Aziz later told interrogators that the Iraqi leader seemed to be a defeated man, and the letter appeared to be his farewell. His rule was coming to an end.
"We didn't believe it would go all the way to Baghdad," a senior Republican Guard staff officer later told his interrogators. "We thought the coalition would go to Basra, maybe to Amara, and then the war would end."