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January 31, 2007


RIP, Molly Ivins and Bob Drinan
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Two people I knew and admired died this week: Father Bob Drinan, the first Roman Catholic priest to be elected to Congress and a dedicated human rights activist, and Molly Ivins, syndicated columnist and dedicated Texan progressive. Both were outspoken, brave, and funny, their toughness exceeded only by their kindness and their deep commitment to justice. We need more people like them.

Failed States, or the State as Failure?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

Oy. Even my husband assures me that absolutely everything I just wrote is going to be misunderstood, and it will serve me right for sticking my nose into a hornet's nest. But as long as I'm courting controversy, let me expand on something else I said in my previous post: "Principles of democratic self-determination notwithstanding, there is no human right to statehood. The nation-state is a rather recent human invention, and not a particularly happy one. Questioning the value of a particular social-political unit-- which is all the state is-- should not be equated with questioning the right to exist of a particular group of people."

Let me draw out, here, a critique of the idea of the state as the fundamental building block of international society.

Strictly speaking, legal recognition of statehood is a matter for the international community to determine. The standard international law definition of a state is drawn from Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States: "The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population (b) a defined territory ; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states."

But of course, there are entities that satisfy this definition that are not recognized as independent states, and other entities that only tenuously satisfy this definition that are nonetheless recognized as independent states. What makes the difference is fundamentally political, rather than legal: when most other existing states choose to recognize a given socio-political unit as a state, it's a state (and-- mostly-- that is formalized through UN membership). But when most other states do not choose to recognize a candidate for statehood, then, legally speaking, it's not probably not a state.


Continue reading "Failed States, or the State as Failure?" »

Middle East, Progressive Strategy

Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

The American Jewish Committee is showcasing a new report called "'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism." The report, by Alvin Rosenfeld, rightly draws attention to the dismaying resurgence of anti-Semitism in many parts of the world (including increasing media stereotypes-- especially in the Islamic world-- of Jews as "a treacherous, conniving, untrustworthy, sinister, all-powerful, and inplacably hostile people," and an upsurge in assualts and vandalism against Jews in Europe and elsewhere).  But then it goes a step further, claiming that "one of the most distressing features of the new anti-Semitism [is] the participation of Jews alongside it, especially in its anti-Zionist expression."  Singled out for criticism are a wide range of Jewish scholars, writers, and activists, from Adrienne Rich and Tony Judt to Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen.

The report stops short of calling Jews critical of Zionism anti-Semites, but only barely; in an interview with the New York Times, Rosenfeld, the author, was coy: "Jews thinking the way they’re thinking is feeding into a very nasty cause.” 

On some level, this is the Mearsheimer-Walt debate redux; we've also seen this played out to some extent in the very public attacks on Human Rights Watch and Tony Judt. But with this new report, the American Jewish Congress is upping the ante still more.  I have written elsewhere about baseless claims that Human Rights Watch's coverage of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict was "anti-semitic," but this latest controversy threatens to send my blood pressure through the roof. Here's what I think:

1) "Anti-Semitism" is dislike of, or prejudice against, Jewish people because of their supposed "essence." It's hatred of human beings for no reason except that they are, or appear to be, "Jewish," leaving aside for now the complex question of what it means to be "Jewish."

2) There is plenty of real anti-Semitism in the world. It's nasty, scary stuff, and it needs to be condemned, promptly and vociferously, by people of all faiths and traditions. 

3) Being critical of Israeli policies is not the same as being "anti-Semitic," any more than criticism of US policy should be construed as "anti-American."

Continue reading "Is Criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic"?" »

Is Obama the Messiah?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Friend 1: Obama's the great black hope
Me: He's the great white hope
Friend 2: Well, I think he's the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Friends and I ponder the possiblity.

Friend 1: Well (pause), if Jesus ever did come back, I don't think it would be far off to think that he'd be sort of like Barack Obama...

We probably weren't the first ones to wonder and, now, there's reason to think we won't be the last...there's a new Slate feature called "the Obama Messiah Watch" - introducing a periodic feature considering evidence that Obama is the son of God. You gotta love their first entry from the LA Times:

Continue reading "Is Obama the Messiah?" »

Peres: Israel has no Intention of Attacking Iran
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Just found this press release from the Doha Debates in my inbox. According to Israeli Deputy PM Simon Peres, "Israel does not intend to use military action" against Iran. Is Peres saying that he personally doesn't think Israel will use military action, or his statement reflective of government policy? I'm not sure. But I suspect there will be a clarification of some sort soon. He also said, “we don’t have any problems with Iran. The problem is Ahmadinejad." Is this really the case? If the problem is Iran's nuclear capability, then that's supported not only by Ahmadinejad, but by most of Iran's ruling elite.

Dispelling the Myth of "Martyrdom"
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Sometimes you finish reading an article and despite the gravity of the topic in question, you can’t help but smile, because you’ve read lucid, courageous prose. This must be said about G. Willow Wilson’s excellent post up at dispelling the myth of "martyrdom." Read the whole thing. This is the kind of message that moderate Muslims need to amplify. Too often, Muslims – reduced by humiliation and frustration – descend into an unfortunate moral relativism, where something as basic as killing innocent civilians is not condemned or, if it is, only with a whole host of qualifications and caveats. We’ve lost our tradition of unwavering moral clarity. It’s time to get it back. And that’s what many of us are trying to do. Wilson, here, approaches the topic from a different angle, focusing on the act of suicide itself:

Take, on the other hand, your average suicide bomber, who causes the events that lead to his death. He does not act defensively, but aggressively, not only against others but against himself. He proclaims nothing and protects no one. He chooses to die in every sense of the phrase. He does not place himself in the way of unavoidable harm, as does a soldier or a political dissenter. He produces the very danger in which he places himself. The only difference between this and a traditional suicide is the destructive power of the weapon involved; if he were to turn a gun on himself, killing only himself, no one would call him a 'martyr'.

Logically, then, one cannot choose to be a martyr. For a suicide bomber to compare himself to a soldier or a Socrates is a laughable insult to the memory of those who have died so that others could live; those who have died so that others would have the freedom to speak and to worship as they chose. A suicide bomber who kills 100 people is guilty of 101 murders; he must number himself among his own victims. Martyrdom could not be further from such a crime.

January 30, 2007


Global to Local: "It Ain't You, Babe"
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Sometimes my progressive intellectual friends wonder why "the heartland" doesn't get it about the wonders of globalization.  Sometimes you even hear them doubt the intellects of folks who live out here, or down there, or wherever it is. 

Well, this January has been one hell of a month for globalization here in linked-in, tuned-in, high-tech and higher-ed Southeastern Michigan.  My neighbors, the ones without college degrees and the ones with PhDs, understand perfectly well that events far away have direct and unpredictable impact on our quiet lives here.  And aside from some of the great immigrants now playing baseball in Detroit, it's not really doing much for us.  Globalization giveth, and this month it's been taking away with a vengeance.

The quick summary:  "globalization" has pushed the ill-managed Big Three to the wall, along with many smaller firms that supply them with parts and services.  Now it's taking PhD. research and white-collar banking jobs, too.  And somehow, the remedies from Washington involve taxing our health insurance.

Jamal Simmons of DC and Detroit calls Michigan a "canary in the coalmine" for the country, and I think he is right.  It's no good being complacent about how all Michigan's woes were brought on by SUVs and auto company mismanagement, etc.  If we can't figure out how to even out some of globalization's ups and downs, and offer citizens a hopeful outlook on the job market here, where Henry Ford's assembly line practically invented the industrial middle class, we may need to kiss the post-industrial middle class good-bye.  And that means a lot more trouble for folks who want to see the US engaged in trade and economic openness, whether for profit motives or to help open our markets to countries and producers who are much worse off, I know well, than what we face here in the land of the wolverine.

Gory details below. 

Continue reading "Global to Local: "It Ain't You, Babe"" »


EU Gives the Run Around on Iran
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

The NYT reports today that the Bush Administration is having a tough time winning European cooperation on tough economic sanctions for Iran.  The continent's excuses are two-fold: 1) they have vast commercial interests tied up with Tehran and 2) they lack the legal regimes and infrastructure necessary to implement the sorts of controls that the US Treasury Department is seeking.

Let's assume, as we are forced to in relation to all of the many foreign policy developments that do not break Washington's way of late, that part of their reluctance to cooperate is rooted in frustration and disgust with the Administration.  Let's venture that they don't trust the intelligence on the precise state of the Iranian nuclear program, that they fear that the US will make critical policy decisions without consulting them, and that they worry we will play into the hands of Ahmadinejad through ham-handed moves that make him look like a besieged innocent. 

Even given all that, they ought to promptly and fully cooperate with an effort to beef up sanctions.  Why?

- First off, nothing will embolden the Tehran regime more than a rift between the US and EU over how to react to its nuclear program.  With both Russia and China reluctant to clamp down on Iran, and the US bogged down in Iraq, transatlantic resolve is the only foundation for an international response.  If it fragments, Iran will think it has little to fear, and Israel may see no alternative but to act alone.

- There are initial signs that the tepid UN sanctions enacted on Iran thus far are having some effects - harming the country's economy and, more importantly, stimulating political dissent

- The logistical hurdles the Europeans cite seem surmountable - EU governments provided $18B in loan guarantees for transactions with Iran in 2005 even though many of the companies dealt with are known terrorist fronts.  Since the governments control these funds and guarantees, how hard can it be to cut them off?

- The commercial interests involved are another matter, but not an insurmountable hurdle.  If there's a war over Iran or Israel launches a preemptive attack, those interests will be jeopardized anyway.  Also, starting a program of distentangling those interests now will be less commercially disruptive than shutting them off suddenly and completely after, for example, an Iranian nuclear test.

- But the most important reason for the Europeans to get serious about sanctions is that they represent one among a precious handful of options for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions without military force.  Asset freezes and tightened export controls may well not accomplish much, but if they did tip Iran's precarious balance of power it could avert a frightening global crisis now in the works.

Continue reading "EU Gives the Run Around on Iran" »

January 29, 2007

Middle East

Social Network Analysis and War with Iran?
Posted by Rosa Brooks

John Robb of Global Guerillas links to an interactive map designed by social networking expert Valdis Krebs. The map gives a visual display of the links and disconnections between the various states and non-state actors acive in the region (extremely useful for those of us who have trouble understanding things we can't picture!). As Robb notes, the social networking map "provides a visual representation of the open loop system" that may be "leading us to war" with Iran:

Here's a systems view of the escalating tensions between the US and Iran and why it will likely result in war. The current situation is open loop -- an open loop system is one where all participants are regularly adding inputs without any consideration of the output/outcome. Feedback loops, like direct diplomatic contact or the use of international bodies/mediators to adjudicate disputes, that could typically serve to mitigate further deterioration have been intentionally turned off by those that want this conflict to occur. As are result, inputs from allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia (both fearful of growing Iranian power), impetus from guerrillas/militias forcing sectarian conflict, fears over ongoing nuclear development, mutual military preparation for conflict, and a need to assign blame for escalating counter-insurgency failures continue to drive it forward. At some point in the not too distant future, unless the feedback loops are reinstated, the system will inevitably produce an outcome that will force a war.

Robb notes that some analysts believe the Karbala incident (in which gunmen posing as US troops captured and then executed several real US troops) bears the hallmark of Iran's al Qods force, and worries that if this turns out to be the case, such incidents will set of the kind of "escalating tit for tat" that triggered Israel's war with Lebanon.

I have previously predicted that Israel and/or the US will end up taking military action against Iran (in fact, I predicted that it would happen by last September! I'm delighted to have been wrong about that, at least, and hope I'm wrong about all of this).  I continue to fear that we are heading into a military confrontation. The Administration's anti-Iran rhetoric has only escalated, despite increasing calls-- from within as well as without the Republican party-- for direct negotiations on both nuclear development and Iraq. We recently sent a second carrier group to the Persian Gulf, jut to remind Iran "that we haven't taken any options off the table," as Cheney put it.

Meanwhile, the Iranians are doing their bit to escalate as well: however intended, yesterday's statements by Iran's ambassador to Iraq seem certain to cause alarm both in Washington and in other parts of the Middle East.

It's beginning to feel a lot like early 2003, in the build up to the Iraq War.

January 26, 2007


One Speechwriter's Point of View
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

My friend and fellow ex-White House speechwriter Vinca LaFleur has written a thoughtful and elegant piece about the damp squib that was this year's State of the Union:

As someone who has labored to meet tough deadlines and satisfy tough audiences myself, I sympathize with the task the White House speechwriters faced with this year's State of the Union.  Drafting this annual address to Congress is rarely an enjoyable exercise; my former Clinton administration colleague Michael Waldman once described it as boiling down gallons of advice into a few tablespoons of intense sauce, while former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson reportedly dubbed the process the seven-day death march.

Continue reading "One Speechwriter's Point of View" »

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