Search This Blog

Friday, June 30, 2006

Japan: unwilling; US next?

Japan has announced that its troops are leaving Iraq. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi announced this decision just days before he visited President Bush -- and Graceland.

Japan has thus joined a long list of countries no longer willing to participate in the coalition of the willing. Italy announced something similar in May. Just follow my old links and you can find posts about Spain, the Ukraine, Honduras, the Philippines, etc.

According to news reports that have been much-discussed in the past week or so, the US may be in the "cut and run" crowd by the fall elections.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Reuven Kaminer on Israeli & Palestinian States

Avery guest-blogging for Rodger

Last week I went to hear a talk by Reuven Kaminer, one of the deans of the Israeli left. He comes from an amazing family; his wife, Dafna, is a founder of Women in Black, who hold vigils every week against the Occupation and settlements. His grandson just finished serving a two-year sentence for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. And Reuven is no slouch himself; he is a founder of the New Israeli Left, a member of the Democratic Front for Peace & Equality (one of the “Arab Parties” seated in the Knesset), a prolific author and activist.

This genealogy might lead one to think that Kaminer would be some leftist firebrand. Other people whose intellectual and political orientation is no farther left, such as Michel Warschawsky, scorn the pro-Zionist leftist movements such as Peace Now for being “Left Colonizers”; others, like the Haifa University professor Ilan Pappe, supports a 100% right of return for all Palestinian refugees to their homes in what is now Israel, and the abolition of ethnically identified states. Kaminer is a member of Peace Now recently had an important critique (scroll down 2/3) of Pappe published in the London Review of Books.

Despite having myself recently given up on my lifelong commitment to two states and come to the conclusion that a viable and just two-state solution is impossible, I came away thinking that Kaminer’s two-statism is the better position.

Kaminer argued that the Occupation—now in its 39th year—is destroying Israel and, if it continues, will eventually destroy the Jewish people. To get a sense of the Occupation’s fundamental impact on the state of Israel, it is well to remember that Israel was founded in 1948; it has been an occupying power for 2/3 of its existence. Nearly every Jewish Israeli male has served in the occupation, if not during his 3-year term of conscription, then while doing reserve duty. Obviously, it’s hard to say exactly what would be different if the Occupation had never happened. I don’t want to sound like a romantic, but when Israel was founded it aspired to be an egalitarian socialist society (albeit in denial about the displacement of Palestinians) with strong kibbutz and labor movements and relatively little emphasis on religion. It is now the most economically stratified country in the industrialized world, the kibbutz movement has been eviscerated, and, thanks in part to the settler movement, religion is one of the most important and divisive elements in Israeli politics. Arguably, the Occupation has become the central organizing feature of Israeli life.

According to Kaminer, every single viable solution to the conflict, no matter who proposes it, shares three pillars: 1. A Palestinian state on all the land captured from Jordan and Egypt in 1967 (or with alterations only if based on a swap); 2. Jerusalem as the capital of both states; and 3. Some improvement in the condition of the refugees.

I think 2 and 3 are obvious to most people who are thinking about “final status” issues, and 3 even seems understated, but it’s important to see that it doesn’t require the demographic change—the return—that seems implicit in recognizing a Palestinian “right of return” to their pre-1948 homes. As Yasser Arafat insisted, such a right can be acknowledged and symbolically recognized, for instance, by paying people reparations and giving them full political rights in a state of their own. Just as Jews have a right of return not to anywhere in the world that they have been driven from, nor even to the so-called “Land of Israel” (aka “Greater Israel”), but rather, to the territory of the State of Israel, so Palestinians may have a right of return to the territory of a State of Palestine. The mistake is to understand "return" as literal, rather than in the sense of "an ingathering of the exiles."

The key issue is #1—a separate Palestinian state. Kaminer’s argument was political rather than moral (but see below on this “rather than”). He insisted that opposition to the two-state solution is a dead letter, and we’d be best off recognizing this. Opposition to two states comes from two directions. Right-wing opposition comes from religious groups: Jews who want exclusive Jewish control of the whole territory west of the Jordan river; Islamists who want exclusive Muslim control. Kaminer pointed out that secular Palestinians in the Territories are overwhelmingly two-staters. In the current flare-up between Fatah (Mahmoud Abbas) and Hamas, Kaminer noted that Abbas has a trump card: he can call a referendum on whether there should be a two-state solution. Hamas knows that such a referendum would pass overwhelmingly, and Hamas’s position would be democratically rejected by the Palestinian people. On the Israeli side, Kaminer argued that former PM Ariel Sharon’s forcible expulsion of the settlers from Gaza was a political earthquake, because previously Israelis had thought the settlers had a veto on any policy. What Sharon achieved was to marginalize the settlers and make their eventual eviction from at least much of the West Bank seem inevitable. So the future on both sides looks dim for the forces of right-wing rejection.

But what about left-wing one-statism? Kaminer first pointed out that this is a 5% solution, and that, as noted a moment ago, the Palestinians aren’t willing to put their national aspirations on hold until this can be achieved. This was something of an ad hominem challenge to the left: you say you support Palestinians, but they don’t share your view. So what sort of support is that? I found this hard to argue with, I must admit. But that wasn’t all. Kaminer discerned and rejected two “utopias”. The first is “the socialist utopia”: the workers of both nations will rise up and create a socialist society that does not recognize national differences. Both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism would dissolve. (Back when I was in college, the ISO used to argue for this, except they revealed their true colors by calling for a “pan-Arab working class uprising.” Sorry, kids, if you reject nationalism you actually have to reject nationalism. Well, that’s the ISO for you. I would say “they meant well,” but I don’t know if that’s true.)

The second utopia, current on the left, is “the liberal utopia”: just wait for the inevitable demographic shift due to birth rates, and eventually 51% of the population of the region will be Palestinian, and Zionism will be eliminated at the ballot box in one fell swoop. Apart from the fact that this “strategy” requires Palestinians to wait another generation for a significant improvement in their political lives, it also ignores that, as Kaminer puts it, democracy isn’t sufficient to put power in the hands of the people at large. Jewish Israelis will presumably continue to dominate major institutions and corporations; the liberal utopia promises only a magnified version of the stratification familiar from so many elite democracies around the world.

The two utopias must, Kaminer argued, be rejected. I found this pretty convincing. But I asked him (mine wasn’t the only or the best question, but it interests me, so I’m going to mention it here) whether there wasn’t going to be a third, “neo-liberal utopia”—the sort of thing imagined by Israeli so-called doves like Shimon Peres, who imagine a Middle East modeled on the European Union, with superhighways and water pipelines and a regional labor market serving global capital. Isn’t the two-state solution essential to this vision, since it makes the welfare of the Palestinians someone else’s problem, while global capital gets on with its business? Relatedly, won’t the two-state solution increase the likelihood of a major international struggle over water?

Kaminer didn’t say much about the neo-liberal utopia, but he suggested that the regional water problem could be resolved easily if even a small percentage of the money spent on arms and security could be diverted to solving it. (I imagine he has in mind large-scale desalination.) Is he just waving his hands? Perhaps. But we in water-rich North America could start the ball rolling by recognizing water as a human right.

I thought Kaminer’s most striking achievement was to use political solutions as a way to rise above moral solutions. That sounds like a paradox. But by now, “moral” solutions (like the various utopias) not only insist on significant alterations of the map and of people’s mindsets on both sides, but also contain serious risks that even if they are achieved, they’ll be at best only marginally better than the political solution, which is less risky and can be achieved sooner. Fortunately, a negotiated two-state solution has majority support on each side, and one-staters on the left can recognize this as, at worst, a reasonable second-best. And maybe they’ll even overcome their utopianism and see it as a first-best, in light of the central fact that that’s what is desired by the majority of the people who are under occupation.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A progressive decision procedure to determine whom to root for in the World Cup

Avery guest-blogging for Rodger

The following criteria are arranged in lexical order; progress to the next criterion only if the previous one is not decisive.
Support team A over team B if:
1. B = Germany
2. A represents a country that gained independence from B’s country any time after 1917.
3. A, but not B, represents a country that shook off foreign rule in the past 75 years.
4. A is from a country whose one main language is a Romance language, whereas B is from a country whose one main language is a Germanic language.
5. A represents a country that is more than 10 degrees south of B’s country.
6. B, but not A, waged a war of aggression at any point in the past 75 years.
This formula allowed me to decide whom to support in every game of the Round of 16, with a winning percentage of 50% (Argentina, Italy, Ukraine, Portugal). It chooses sides in the Round of 8 as follows:
a. Argentina v. Germany: Argentina (by rule 1)
b. Italy v. Ukraine: Ukraine* (by rule 3)
c. England v. Portugal: Portugal (by rule 4)
d. Brazil v. France: Brazil (by rule 5)

The decision procedure is complete relative to every possible arrangement from here on out.** I haven’t checked how it would have done in group play. I bet with a little massaging it could outperform the Democratic Peace Hypothesis.
I submit that progressives ought to endorse this decision procedure. It eschews patriotism and other criteria for identification with nation-states, but supports national self-determination. It supports, on balance, the global south over the global north. I welcome feedback and am happy to revise it if someone can show me that it has right-leaning results in some cases. Otherwise, go Argentina, Ukraine, Portugal, and Brazil!!

* Assuming that neither Hitler’s invasion, nor the Allied powers’ postwar occupation, of Italy constituted foreign rule in the full sense.
** France tops out above the 50th parallel; Lisbon is below the 40th parallel. So if France meets Portugal, my procedure picks Portugal.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Monday, June 26, 2006

The believers

Scott Shane had an interesting story in The New York Times dated June 23 that discussed the various people who still think Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

In addition to a couple of members of Congress, the story mentions a name my readers might have recognized -- Duane Clarridge. Dax, as he's known, thinks the WMD went to the Sudan on a ship.

The article includes a couple of new quotes from Charles Duelfer, who wrote the official US government report concluding the WMD programs ended more than a decade ago:
"I've seen lots of good-hearted people who thought they saw something," he said. "But none of the reports have panned out."
The article gives a lot of space to a researcher who appears to be the source for one of Representative Curt Weldon's claims.

Dave Gaubatz, described as "an Arabic-speaking investigator who spent the first months of the war as an Air Force civilian in southern Iraq" says that he knows of four critical sites in Iraq that have never been inspected. Iraqis living near those spots told him there were underground WMD bunkers.

As I've said before, even if these believers are right, it means the Bush war has been a security disaster. These are still uninspected and unsecured sites nearly twelve hundred days into the war!

Gaubatz told the NYT he does not "want the weapons to fall into the wrong hands." Is it too late? Does anyone know with certainty?

Maybe someone should have thought of these risks three years ago. We already know that the US failed to secure known ammo dumps that had powerful "conventional" explosives.

It is clear why no one in the administration seems eager to pursue this lead as it is now a lose-lose situation. If they look at those sites and there are weapons, they will look like fools for failing to look before. And people might wonder why these places weren't secured.

If they look and there are no signs of any weapons ever being in the identified spots, the hunt would just remind everyone of a sore point. There were no wmd.

If they look and the weapons are gone, with evidence that they were once there, then it suggests a security disaster: missing wmd.

This last result would make this the Tora Bora story of wmd.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Thursday, June 22, 2006

North Korean missile test

Much of the world assumes that North Korea is preparing to test a relatively long-range ballistic missile.

Former Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry and Harvard's Ash Carter think that the US should announce its intent to "preempt" the test via a cruise missile strike. Their op-ed ran in today's Washington Post:
if North Korea persists in its launch preparations, the United States should immediately make clear its intention to strike and destroy the North Korean Taepodong missile before it can be launched. This could be accomplished, for example, by a cruise missile launched from a submarine carrying a high-explosive warhead. The blast would be similar to the one that killed terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. But the effect on the Taepodong would be devastating. The multi-story, thin-skinned missile filled with high-energy fuel is itself explosive -- the U.S. airstrike would puncture the missile and probably cause it to explode. The carefully engineered test bed for North Korea's nascent nuclear missile force would be destroyed, and its attempt to retrogress to Cold War threats thwarted. There would be no damage to North Korea outside the immediate vicinity of the missile gantry.
The authors make clear in the article that they believe the US should follow through on this warning, which would simply provide notice to North Korea to evacuate its personnel from the facility.

What Perry and Carter do not discuss is coercive diplomacy. Could the US get the North Koreans to cancel a missile test via such a threat? Would the warning itself be a good policy?

Has this op-ed, written by a former Secretary of Defense, already served as a subtle form of coercive diplomacy?

Maybe. A more overt official US threat would be a huge roll of the dice, requiring a careful balancing of risks versus benefits. The truth is that North Korea is a really weak state that may be nuclear-armed. What are its options should the US attack? North Korea might be able to pursue some policies that make the US feel less secure about the relationship than it does now...but not too many short of launching actual attacks.

Frankly, I think the US could only make this warning with a pathway for last-minute diplomacy as well. Could the US offer a "Cuba option" security guarantee in exchange for North Korean non-proliferation?

Again, maybe. I doubt the Bush administration is very interested in this.

What would be the worst policy? Some would say the US must not warn of a threat and then fail to follow through. If the US warns North Korea of an impending attack and North Korea ignores it, then the US would arguably need to attack to preserve its credibility for future crises. I would note that some recent scholarship disputes this assessment.

Unfortunately, as Perry and Carter point out, the 6 nation talks have virtually collapsed though diplomacy might have averted the current "crisis." The defensive missile system the US just activated is not a great bet to work against missile threats. The test results have not been all that promising.

An announced impeding strike would be a bold and somewhat risky policy decision, but the provocative op-ed is definitely worth a read.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Iraq WMD update

It has been a busy 24-hour period for news concerning weapons of mass destruction. Here's the latest about Iraq, not to be confused with the "wmd to Syria" claim from a couple of weeks ago:

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has boldly declared:
"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons."
He bases this on several hundred old chemical warheads found scattered throughout the country. Referencing declassified portions of a National Ground Intelligence Center report, Santorum said:
"Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."
Note that wmd skeptics presumed Iraq had these old munitions in 2002. They still opposed the war.

The Department of Defense is a little more measured in its assessment:
Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

"This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991," the official said, adding the munitions "are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war."
Santorum has his own electoral reasons for pushing this story.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Avert your eyes

Apparently, the new KC Royals GM Dayton Moore, fresh off his many year's service in the Braves organization, thinks his old team's long-term success was built around...Otis Nixon.


Moore just traded pitching prospect J.P. Howell for Tampa Bay outfielder Joey Gathright, who is fast. The Royals also received light-hitting potential utility infielder Fernando Cortez.

Granted, there is a good chance that Howell will not amount to much as a major league pitcher. But since he's a 23-year old left-handed former #1 draft pick (2004) out of the University of Texas, there's also at least some chance he could be valuable.

Gathright, a 32nd round draft pick in 2001, is unlikely ever to amount to much as a major league hitter. He has one career homer through over 1700 professional plate appearances. One.

His lone reliable asset is speed, though he did get on base at an impressive clip throughout his minor league time because of high batting averages and OK walk rates. However, in the majors, pitchers will definitely NOT need to "work around" a guy with ZERO power. They won't have to nibble for strikes because he's unlikely to cause that much damage.

His major league on-base average is an uninspiring .316 in about 275 plate appearances (nearly half a full season). He's also age 25, so WYSIWYG.

To a Royals fan like me, Gathright is all too reminiscent of the "Tom Goodwin era" -- and we do not look fondly at those years. Goodwin stole 150 bases in his nearly three seasons as a Royal, but the team was sub-.500 each year.

This is not a promising beginning for Moore.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Monday, June 19, 2006

(Pop) culture update

I went to a club the other night to see Philly's Marah, but by 11:40 the band still wasn't on stage and we had a babysitter deadline pending. Meanwhile, "warmup" act Jackie Greene was terrific -- kind of a cross between Delbert McClinton and Bob Dylan. He's a versatile multi-instrumentalist in a porkpie hat, singing blues, rootsy folk, etc.

Saturday, I ordered Greene's latest CD, which was produced by Steve Berlin. In the '80s, many of my favorite albums either featured, or were produced by, Berlin, a veteran of Los Lobos and the Blasters. Greene's act and the entire "Americana" genre owe a lot to "American Music."

Greene will be back in Louisville Wednesday June 28, performing a FREE live show as the headliner down on the Waterfront.

I did finally catch about half an hour of Marah. They were OK...but too loud.

If you don't have a chance to see Jackie Greene, find out if "Inside Man" is still playing at a (likely second run) theater near you. It's a Spike Lee heist film starring Denzel Washington, Jody Foster and Clive Owen. Good stuff.

"A Prairie Home Companion" was much better than I expected. I have not read Garrison Keillor or listened to his radio program, but went to see it because I'm a big fan of other Robert Altman films. The film was quite entertaining: thumbs up!

Update: This entry has been expanded a bit since it was originally posted.

In comments, Ryan Clark Holiday points listeners to You can select the songs you want to hear in any order.

Dylan skeptics: give "Talkin' Midtown Woman" a listen.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Electoral College reform

Can the Electoral College be changed without a constitutional amendment?

Obviously, the winner-take-all scheme currently in use in 48 states and the District of Columbia can be altered as Maine (since 1972) and Nebraska (since 1996) allocate electoral votes by congressional district. If a presidential candidate wins a district in those two states, he or she receives the EV from that area. Neither state, in practice, has ever split its votes.

So far as I know, not a lot of states are thinking about joining Maine and Nebraska. Given that congressional districts have been heavily gerrymandered, leading to few competitive districts, this "reform" would probably be a very bad idea for those who want to see a truly national presidential election rather than one focused on key swing areas. According to this AP story, in 2004, 52% of all campaign ads nationwide were concentrated in merely 3 states!

Some analysts note studies finding that the congressional district method, as well as state-by-state proportional voting, would actually increase the chance that the popular vote winner of an election would lose in the Electoral College. Avoiding that outcome is the primary motive for most people thinking about EC reform.

The June 16 Christian Science Monitor had an interesting story about a potentially better proposal gaining some political traction. First, however, correspondent Randy Dotinga documented the apparent need for change. In addition to the 2000 election, the popular vote winner failed to win the presidency in 1824, 1876 and 1888. Flip a relatively small portion of the national electorate -- or merely the Ohio electorate -- and the same would have happened in 2004:
"It's safe to say that there has been no aspect of what the founders worked up in Philadelphia that has received more criticism than the electoral college," says historian Rick Shenkman of George Mason University.
Congress has taken up numerous measures -- the Office of the Federal Register says about 700 proposals have failed in Congress.

The latest proposal, however, is not a constitutional amendment, which would be very difficult to achieve. Small states and swing states have much vested in the status quo and are unlikely to favor change. Note that these small states might not have as much invested in the current system as they think. The FairVote study cited by AP found that 11 of the 18 smallest states received no campaign attention during the peak of the 2004 election season.

In any event, the latest "state compact" measure is on the agenda in various state legislatures. Colorado's senate and California's Assembly passed a plan that would work this way:
"You give all your electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, and you do it collectively," [Rob] Richie [director of FairVote, a national, non-partisan electoral-reform organization] said last week. The U.S. Constitution leaves it up to the states to choose the mechanism for allocating their electoral votes.
Legislators in New York, Missouri, Louisiana and Illinois have introduced bills and supporters hope to have the measure on every states' legislative docket by 2007. Various "good government" groups support the measure, as does The New York Times. Former independent candidate John Anderson (yes, I voted for him in 1980 as he was arguably the politician that some people want John McCain to be) worked on a bipartisan advisory group that also approved the plan.

More technically, the measure amounts to a state compact that would only take effect if states holding 270 EVs approve a compact to achieve majority control of the Electoral College. Undoubtedly, the move would be tested in court if it ever came to be.

To reverse the 2000 outcome, of course, it would have taken only one state won by George W. Bush, such as Colorado, Louisiana or Missouri, to participate in such a compact. In 2004, had Kerry won Ohio, the result could have been reversed by a compact including California, New York, or Illinois.

As I've written before, I'm in favor of presidential campaigns that are truly nationwide, rather than centered upon a few swing areas. Why should a voter in New Hampshire or New Mexico have a vote worth many times the value of my vote? The state compact proposal would likely lead to candidates trying to attract as many voters nationwide as possible. Doesn't that seem like a good idea -- and a way to help overcome voter apathy as well?

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Rocket's glare

"I'm not the man they think I am at home"

From "Rocket Man." Lyrics by Bernie Taupin, Music by Elton John
Did Roger Clemens secretly receive a 50 game suspension for violating major league baseball's steroid policy? Various rumors linking Clemens to steroids have been circulating on the internet for at least a month -- though sports writers have talked about the steroids rumors for much longer.

To those who are conspiracy-minded, a 50-game suspension (that's the new penalty for a first offense) would explain why Clemens didn't sign a contract with any team until about one-third of the season had been played. Granted, it's not the only explanation. After all, Clemens first retired from the Yankees several seasons ago and every comeback year is touted as his last.

But Clemens was eligible to sign with 29 major league teams at the beginning of the year and could have played for the Houston Astros beginning May 1 (due to a technical aspect of baseball's labor rules concerning arbitration and free agency). Did he wait until mid-June because baseball insisted?

According to the 2005 policy, which would arguably have been controlling on Clemens had he tested positive near the end of the 2005 season, players who are in the "clinical track" of the abuse policy cannot be identified.
A Club whose Player is on the Clinical Track is prohibited from disclosing any information regarding a Player’s participation in the Program to either the public, the media or other Clubs.
Who is on the "clinical track," as opposed to the "administrative track"?

That was up to the discretion of the Health Policy Advisory Committee. HPAC didn't discipline players, but by moving the player to the administrative task, they could make the player eligible for punishment by the baseball commissioner. The "clinical track" seemed to be reserved for confessed users who sought medical care for their drug use.

That discretion would seem to have given the HPAC some leverage over relations with players. Likewise, a popular but unsigned player like Clemens would have some leverage over baseball. If he decided never to return to the game, everyone presumably loses. He's an inner circle Hall of Fame player who ordinarily attracts fans. When people think steroids, they think Barry Bonds, not Roger Clemens.

The HPAC is now gone, by the way, as the November 2005 revised drug policy created a new Independent Program Administrator who reports positive test results to the various parties. However, so far as I can tell, the new policy doesn't say anything about disclosure of test results or penalties -- though baseball has obviously been announcing some positive tests and suspensions.

The Major League Player's association doesn't seem to have a copy of the revised agreement on their webpage, only the summary I linked above.

I previously blogged about the importance of transparency to the success of the anti-steroid policy. Public disclosure of steroid users (and their penalties) helps deter steroids use. Think about what the test disclosure last summer did to Rafael Palmeiro's career. He was essentially finished after that. Surely other players noticed.

I have no idea whether the rumor is true about Clemens, but if it is...then a star player managed to avoid the limelight and perhaps preserved his HOF sheen. And just maybe he paved a route for stars to avoid negative publicity that taints their legacy -- and the game. That cannot be good news for those wanting to see steroids removed from professional baseball.

If the Clemens rumor is false, well, this post is just wild speculation. But the logic will remain valid. Baseball needs a transparent anti-steroids policy. Cynical fans might make the same sorts of inferences about stars whenever there is a prolonged absence.

Think about other players linked to steroids in the press: In 2005, Barry Bonds somewhat mysteriously missed most of the season due to multiple surgeries. Gary Sheffield reportedly just had surgery and is set to miss the next three months of the season.

I'm not trying to fan wild rumors -- just advocating for more openness in the policy.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as: and

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Holy cow!

Not satisfied with controlling the government, the Christian right apparently wants to take over baseball.

Dave Zirin authored "The Rockies Pitch Religion" in the web-only edition of The Nation, June 2:
In a remarkable article from Wednesday's USA Today, the Colorado Rockies went public with the news that the organization has been explicitly looking for players with "character." And according to the Tribe of Coors, "character" means accepting Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior. "We're nervous, to be honest with you," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "It's the first time we ever talked about these issues publicly. The last thing we want to do is offend anyone because of our beliefs."
This is what Bob Nightengale wrote in USA Today, June 1:
Behind the scenes, they quietly have become an organization guided by Christianity — open to other religious beliefs but embracing a Christian-based code of conduct they believe will bring them focus and success.
While the Rockies may be having their best season in a decade, they are also losing half their games and are currently tied for last place.

When Harry Caray and Phil Rizzuto said "Holy cow!" I don't think this is what they had in mind.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as: and

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

World far

It was apparently painful watching the US versus the Czech Republic. The US lost 3-0 against the #2 ranked team. The game was over long before time elapsed.

I'm not the greatest soccer fan even in my house, but I like the sport enough to follow the tournament and watch some matches -- and was surprised to learn that the US was ranked #5 going into the match Monday. Italy, another member of the US group, is ranked #13. However, teams 11-12 (Nigeria and Denmark) didn't qualify, so Italy is effectively the #11 seed in the tournament.

In other words, the US group of 4 teams (E) includes 3 of the top 11 teams in the tournament! Yet, only 2 teams will advance to the next "knockout" round, which includes 16 teams. By design, a lower ranked team placed in some other group is assured entry into that stage.

The fourth member of group E, Ghana, is 48th in the world -- and the 30th seed in this year's tournament according to FIFA rankings. Fair enough.

When the US is trying to beat Italy, think about how a more fairly designed tournament would have had the team already (potentially) winning a match against a much lower rated team, such as Saudi Arabia or Costa Rica, instead of losing decisively to the Czechs.

This is not just an American quibble. The Czechs and Italians were screwed too.

Here's an interesting IR-related coincidence: all 3 were also members of the "coalition of the willing" in 2003.

OK, enough whining about the luck of the draw...and the unlikelihood of a US advance.

Did you catch this AP story about coverage of the Cup in Somalia?

Recently, an Islamic militia took over the provision of security in Mogadishu. Here's what happened next:
Two people were wounded Saturday as the militia, which is controlled by a group of religious court leaders, broke up World Cup viewing parties by firing in the air and cutting electricity to theaters. The vice chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, Sheikh Abdukadir Ali Omar, said that was a way to prevent "corrupting the children in this Muslim community."

"As soon as the Islamists took over the security of our city, we thought we would get freedom," said Adam Hashi-Ali, a teenager in Mogadishu. "But now they have been preventing us from watching the World Cup."
The AP writer interpreted this as a sign that the fundamentalists in charge "could install strict Islamic rule."

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Monday, June 12, 2006

Iraq WMD to Syria?

Both Atrios and Josh Marshall have linked to this June 8 news story about Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania:
Weldon said he knows of four sites in Basra and Nasiriyah that have yet to be searched for biological or chemical weapons.

"I think the jury is still out on WMD," said Weldon, who also believes Saddam Hussein may have smuggled the weapons to Syria with Russian assistance prior to the March 2003 invasion.
So far as I know, no one has pointed out that if Weldon is correct, then the Iraq "preemptive" war was an even bigger foreign policy disaster than anyone currently contends. It means that the chief reason for the attack -- disarmament -- was foiled by a covert weapons transfer that the US did not stop.

Here's how President Bush handled a question about Syrian WMD on April 13, 2003, less than a month after launching the war:
Q Do you think there are weapons of mass destruction in Syria?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria, for example. And we will -- each situation will require a different response and, of course, we're -- first things first. We're here in Iraq now; and the second thing about Syria is that we expect cooperation. And I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation.
That's it. When then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was pushed on this issue the very next day, he basically refused to answer any questions about whether this meant "on to Syria."

Obviously, it didn't.

In any event, my critique seems moot, since nobody believes Weldon, right? Atrios calls him "Crazy Curt" and Marshall headlines his item, "True Whackjob."

You know why.

How can anyone, let alone a member of Congress, cite the "WMD to Syria" rumor long after the October 2004 final report of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) , which concluded that Iraq ended its various WMD programs in 1991 (nuclear and chemical) -- or perhaps as late as 1996 in the case of biological weapons?

How can anyone make this claim long after even the Bush administration gave up on the idea that Iraq had WMD -- or that they might have transferred them to Syria?

However, Weldon and other hardened "dead-enders" loyal to the regime were offered hope by the March 2005 Addenda filed by Charles Duelfer, the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. This is from the Note for the Comprehensive Report With Addendums:
Some uncertainties remain and some information will continue to emerge about the WMD programs or the former Regime. Reports cited in the Comprehensive Report concerning the possible movement of WMD or WMD materials from Iraq prior to the war remain unresolved. With the recent increase in security, planned efforts to investigate this issue were suspended. ISG developed an investigation plan that may be pursued when the security situation improves.
In other words, Duelfer concludes that he cannot rule out with absolute certainty that WMD may have been moved to someplace like Syria before the March 2003 war began.

But the "threat" seems mighty low:
it is not likely that significant surprises remain with respect to the Regime's WMD efforts...

There continue to be reports of WMD in Iraq. ISG has found that such reports are usually scams or misidentification of materials or activities. A very limited number of cases involved the discovery of old chemical munitions produced before 1990. These types of reports (particularly scams) will likely continue for some time and local authorities will have to judge which merit further investigation.

Overall, I have confidence in the picture of events and programs covered by this report.
In the longer report, Duelfer concludes that he was "unable to rule out" the possibility that WMD were sent unofficially to Syria before the war. But he wasn't finding ANY evidence to support the claim:
It should be noted that no information from debriefing of Iraqis in custody supports this possibility. ISG found no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD. Indeed, they uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria....

Based on the evidence available at present, ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place.
There's only one page devoted to this "threat" in the Addendum from March 2005.

Weldon might also have in mind Iraqi General Georges Sada, a former military official in Iraq with a book for sale in the west who is making the rounds claiming -- even on "The Daily Show" -- that Iraq shipped WMD to Syria. Fox News is trying to make a mountain out of this molehill.

Phillip Holmes debunks Sada here: Sada originally left the Iraqi military in 1986 (at age 47), though he was recalled briefly for the first Persian Gulf War. He is a Christian and later became a spokesman for the post-war Allawi government in Iraq, so he clearly wasn't a trusted Saddam advisor. The Wikipedia article about him says that he had not served in any capacity in Hussein's government since 1991.

Does that sound like an insider's account of missing WMD?

I suspect Sada is one of the scam artists Duelfer has in mind -- even if all his book proceeds go to charity.

Note: Minor edits on 6/13/06.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as: , , and

Friday, June 09, 2006

The free lunch

Wednesday, I attended a luncheon for Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal at the Muhammad Ali Center. Prince Turki is the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the US and this was very much a diplomatic visit. Hostess Lonnie Ali pointed out that she invited Prince Turki to drop by when the two met earlier this year in Davos.

Essentially, the luncheon, which featured brief remarks by Prince Turki followed by a Q&A session, was an overt effort at Saudi public diplomacy. After 9/11, over half of Americans had a negative view of the kingdom. Osama bin Laden is from a very wealthy and well-connected Saudi family, most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, the Wahhabite sect of Islam arguably foments terror, and the country's human rights record is horrific.

In the past few months, Prince Turki has visited 18 US cities in 10 or 12 states, he claimed. Most recently, he gave a speech in Nashville to the Chamber of Congress. Earlier, he was in New York City -- and Manhattan, Kansas. Obviously, Prince Turki is trying to correct whatever his government finds the matter with Kansas.

During the Q&A session, Prince Turki answered 8 handwritten questions from the 200 member-audience. Since he answered mine, I know that these were genuine, even though there were a couple of easy ones tossed his way. Mine concerned Iran: Did he think the ongoing dispute could be resolved diplomatically and did he think Iran would build the bomb? The ambassador basically ducked the latter question and was hopeful about the former.

The world, he said, certainly wants to exhaust all alternatives to war. Saudi Arabia, he claimed, has for 20 years supported a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction. He ticked off a list of states that should not have such programs and this list included Israel. The Bush administration, in its counterproliferation moments, virtually never talks about Israel's programs. I'm not sure if the audience noticed this subtle point.

Some other member of the audience (no question authors were identified) asked about the status of women in Saudia Arabia. Could an American woman visit? His reply said more than he intended about the role of women in the kingdom, I'm sure, as he said that an American woman could most certainly come to Saudi Arabia. In fact, the embassy would be happy to help arrange the trip -- and a possible marriage partner! The audience laughed, but human trafficking to Saudi Arabia is a serious problem according to the Bush administration.

The visit had a secondary purpose as well. Saudi Arabia needs more US cash to pump more oil for the US:
We have over $650 billion worth of investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia over the next 15 years, and American business should take advantage of that. In December we officially joined the World Trade Organization. This is providing us with great opportunities to increase foreign investment...
Michael Klare pointed out in Blood and Oil that the Bush energy strategy for the future not only hinges on significant production increases from oil-rich states, but also depends upon billions and billions of dollars worth of foreign investments in these states to improve technology.

The Prince claimed that US-Saudi relations are not just about "oil for security," but that most certainly is a very large part of the relationship.

I cannot recount all the hypocrisy and irony in the session, but let me note a couple of instances. Not long after explaining that diplomats have to speak carefully, avoiding both "yes" and "no" responses to simple questions, Prince Turki told us that King Abdullah had offered this advise concerning how he should "deal with President Bush and the American people? He turned to me without batting an eye, and he said: 'Just be frank with them.'"


The Ambassador also emphasized elected municipal councils -- in the KINGDOM -- and said that the embassy had invited representatives from Freedom House to have a discussion about the group's finding that Saudi textbooks continue to "promote an ideology of hatred toward people, including Muslims, who do not subscribe to the Wahhabi sect of Islam." The Prince acknowledged that Saudi texts had previously promoted bigotry against non-Muslims, but said that the state had been working on that problem since 2001.

The most humorous line of the entire event came early on in the Prince's introductory remarks. Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who offered some brief remarks at the event, was a Georgetown Law Center student in 1968 when Prince Turki was also a student there. Neither, however, was the most famous alum. As Prince Turki reminded the audience, the class of 1968 was the one that "didn't inhale."

While many members of the Louisville audience enjoyed the free lunch and seemed to find Prince Turki's apparently open and genial manner intoxicating, I tried to keep my wits.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Emerging Consensus for Preventive War

Yesterday, I returned to the office for the first time since May and found the latest copy of Survival, which is published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The Summer 2006 edition includes my latest coauthored piece with Peter Dombrowski, "The Emerging Consensus for Preventive War." Here's the abstract:
After 11 September 2001, the George W. Bush administration declared that the United States had adopted a ‘pre-emptive’ military doctrine to address new threats posed by terrorists and ‘rogue states’ armed with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. However, the so-called ‘Bush Doctrine’ met substantial international opposition when it was proposed – and even more resistance when it was applied to the case of Iraq. Subsequent events in Iraq have not made the idea any more popular. It is somewhat startling, then, that numerous states and international organisations seem now to support the call to revise long-held international understandings about when force might be used. A sizable number agree that the risk of calamitous surprise attacks, especially with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, might justify preventive strikes or wars against terrorists or their state sponsors. A new international norm may thus be under construction, though states continue to disagree about the agents of decision and action.
I've blogged frequently about this topic, so some of the piece will be familiar to long-time readers of this website.

I don't yet have a pdf, but I'm sure I can send reprints soon, if anyone is interested. Just email me at my university address.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


My friend Gordon Mitchell of the University of Pittsburgh has coauthored an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wednesday June 7, noting the 25th anniversary of the Osiraq bombing raid.
On this day 25 years ago, eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets took off from a runway in the Sinai Desert. Their mission: Fly some 600 miles over hostile territory and drop 16 bombs on the Osiraq nuclear reactor in Iraq.
In the piece, Mitchell and coauthor William Keller review Dan Reiter's empirically-based conclusions about Osiraq. The raid was an operational success, but ultimately failed to stop Saddam Hussein's nuclear program -- and likely accelerated it.

The op-ed concludes with the obvious contemporary policy implications: strategic targeting of Iran is a bad idea.
The 25th anniversary of the Osiraq attack offers an opportunity to reflect on preventive military force's track record in countering unconventional weapons programs. Before uncritically lining up behind the slogan "all options are on the table" perhaps we should be more selective in choosing the Iran policy instruments to lay out in the first place. History suggests that as a tool for neutralizing suspected nuclear weapons facilities, the preventive war option is a non-starter.

Until hard-line politicians and pundits prove otherwise, oblique threats of preventive attack on Iran have no place in public deliberation.

Finally, Mitchell and Keller provide a tease about their forthcoming edited volume on preventive war: Hitting First: Preventive Force in U.S. Security Strategy (University of Pittsburgh Press, September 2006).

Note: I have a chapter in this collection based on an earlier working paper for Pittsburgh's Ridgway Center for International Security Studies.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup 2006

The World Cup begins this Friday in Germany and I'm looking forward to watching some matches. The first US match is the 12th, but the Czech team they are playing is ranked #2 in the world behind Brazil.

In preparation for the event, German police and other officials are somewhat worried about security. For international sport, 9/11 didn't change everything -- Munich 1972 did.

Nonetheless, the Germans recognize that the world has changed in important ways since 1972 and are trying to prepare for the worst. A Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation apparently classified 21 different matches as potential high risk events.

However, the risk comes from globalization, not Islamic terror. No specific threats of terrorism have been identified. The New York Times had an interesting piece on World Cup security on May 26. Here's the money quote:
When pressed, German authorities admit they are more worried about soccer hooligans than Al Qaeda.
This is an enduring problem in Europe. About 20 years ago, Margaret Thatcher proposed a UK identity card scheme in response to foreign travel by British football hooligans.

According to the Times story, however, the Germans are much more concerned about the Polish hooligans this time -- partly because the police don't have good identity records. Meanwhile, the Germans are tightening their borders and the UK has revoked 3,500 passports from known offenders.

While 30,000 British fans are expected in Germany, fully one-third of those won't have tickets to particular matches. On the streets, that could be a source of friction during the coming weeks.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Stolen election?

Have you missed me? I'm not quite ready yet, but I should be blogging more regularly soon.

Meanwhile, to tide you over, read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" Even if you read the magazine (Rolling Stone), you might want to check out the 74 footnotes in the on-line version.

The blogosphere has been buzzing about this article and The Left Coaster has a link-heavy piece here if you want the run-down.

My long-time readers may recall several pertinent posts I wrote after the 2004 election:

"Election recap" November 3, 2004

"Something rotten?" November 13, 2004

"2004 Election: Behind the Numbers" November 16, 2004

"Exit pollster paranoia?" November 22, 2004

"Ohio oddity," November 30, 2004

"Did the wrong guy win?" October 23, 2005

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as:

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Fixing the Royals

I grew up a baseball fan in Kansas, which means that I followed the Kansas City Royals through their years of glory.

You don't remember those years?

Though the Royals have had only one winning season in the last decade, from 1971 (their third year in existence), through 1989, KC was virtually a model franchise. Their average record through the period was 84.8 - 73.5. That doesn't add up to a full 162 game season because this was a period of labor unrest and lost games. Prorate the 0.536 winning rate over 162 games and their average record was 86.8 - 75.2, for 19 years.

87-75 for 19 years! Those were true glory days.

The Royals won the 1985 World Series and their typical attendance for this 19 year period was 1.8 million per year. Though they attracted 2.25 million fans as early as 1978 (!), they haven't reached even 1.8 million since 1993. They came close in 2003, their only winning season in the past decade.

The last two seasons, KC has lost 104 and 106 games. This year, they are the worst team in baseball, again on pace to lose more than 100 games. Before Saturday's game (losing 11-1 in the 7th), the team was winning 25% of its games. That's a pace for 120 losses, near the all-time worst in modern baseball history.

Why were the early Royals so good for so long, and the post-1989 Royals so bad?

One simple answer is a man named John Schuerholz.

Though the team did not play its first games until the 1969 season, Royals hired Schuerholz in 1968 "where he evolved from assistant farm director to farm director to director of player personnel." Schuerholz became the General Manager of the Royals in 1981 and remained in that position until 1990, when he took over as GM of the Atlanta Braves. Since arriving in Atlanta, Schuerholz's Braves have won 14 division titles and a World Series (1995). Note, throughout that time, the Braves have had one field manager, Bobby Cox.

This past Wednesday, KC hired a 39 year-old native Kansan to serve as General Manager, Dayton Moore, who is leaving his position as Schuerholz's Assistant GM.

Can a widely sought executive like Moore save KC baseball?

Obviously, as a fan, I hope he can...but it won't be easy.

Here's what I'd do by the end of next season. By the way, I'm not going to say that KC should fire manager Buddy Bell...though they probably should. Even a bad manager can win a lot of games with great talent. KC needs to secure some talent...on the cheap since they don't have a big media market (for broadcasting rights) and don't have huge attendance.

1. Clear out the roster. Trade as many of the aging mediocre veterans as possible for young talent. This means OF Reggie Sanders, DH Matt Stairs, 2B Mark Grudzielanek, 1B Doug Mientkiewicz and much of the rest of the team.

Hopefully, Mike Sweeney will return to health, hit as he can, and then serve as a valuable bargaining chip in a deal.

When the smoke clears, KC should still have C John Buck, CF David DeJesus, and pitchers Ambiorix Burgos and Denny Bautista. A few others may be helpful, but these are the only guys likely to be part of the next good KC team...and Buck is iffy given his performance on the field these past two years.

The trades should bring some B-level prospects, perhaps an outfielder/DH with offensive upside (though likely aging quickly), some live arms, and maybe a middle infielder with a good glove and good on-base skills. These would be useful parts of a winning team.

2. Focus development efforts on the best prospects: 3B Alex Gordon, 1B Justin Huber, hitter Billy Butler (nominally an OFer, but potentially a DH) and starting pitcher Zack Greinke.

DeJesus-Gordon-Huber and Butler could provide 4 legit bats on a contending team. They'll still need a corner OFer or two, a couple of middle infielders, and more pitching...but it's a good start.

Gordon is KC's answer to David Wright, Butler is potentially Travis Hafner, Huber could become Jack Clark and DeJesus is KC's Grady Sizemore (hopefully). That would be a good core, right?

3. Pick the top college starting pitcher available in the upcoming draft. KC has the #1 overall pick and the consensus top player available is University of North Carolina lefty Andrew Miller.

KC should take him. With Greinke, it is at least conceivable that he could form a viable one, two punch in the pitching rotation.

It will take a series of good moves to make KC at least a .500 team by 2008, and fans really want to see a competitor.

If you think I'm dreaming, do a little digging to discover how Cleveland acquired Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Andy Marte, and Jeremy Sowers.

If you haven't heard of those last two guys, just be patient.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Bloggers against torture

Amnesty International and other organizations have declared June Torture Awareness month.

The Bloggers against torture website is here.

I've joined their blogroll -- for a number of very good reasons.

Visit this blog's homepage.

Filed as: