Monday, November 29, 2004

The Ottawa Convention Five Years Later

The Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World begins today in Kenya. The summit is the first review conference for the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on their Destruction, which was signed in Ottawa in 1997 and entered into force in 1999. Article 12 provides for a review conference to be held five years after the Convention's entry into force to assess progress toward the achievement of the Convention's objectives.

The summit will be attended by representatives of the governments that are parties to the Ottawa Convention, intergovernmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations.

The official web site for the Nairobi Summit is here.

For information on the Nairobi Summit from the perspective of NGOs involved with the issue, see the following:

The United States is not a party to the Ottawa Convention.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

The Congress vs. the ICC

On May 6, 2001, the Bush Administration took the unprecedented step of renouncing the December 31, 2000 decision of the United States Government to sign the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Administration also began a global campaign to convince states to sign bilateral "Article 98 agreements" designed to insure that no Americans would ever be handed over to the ICC for trial. (Art. 98, Sec. 2: "The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international agreements pursuant to which the consent of a sending State is required to surrender a person of that State to the Court, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of the sending State for the giving of consent for the surrender.") At the United Nations, the United States secured resolutions in the Security Council in 2002 (SC Res 1422) and 2003 (SC Res 1487) to guarantee that no member of a U.N. peacekeeping mission from a state that is not a party to the Rome Statute (in other words, no American) would be liable to prosecution in the ICC. (Resolution 1487, which was itself an extension of Resolution 1422, expired on June 30, 2004. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and widespread opposition to the idea of extending the blanket immunity for a third year, the United States withdrew its proposal for a new Security Council resolution granting Americans immunity from prosecution.)

Now the United States Congress is getting into the act. The $338 billion appropriations bill set for a vote on December 8 contains a provision that would prevent countries that fail to sign Article 98 agreements with the United States from receiving foreign aid. The passage of such a measure has the potential to cut off not only development assistance to impoverished countries but to eliminate funding designed to fight drug trafficking and promote democracy as well.

See this article in last Friday's Washington Post for details.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

AIDS: One Village in Africa

In tomorrow's New York Times there is a story that details the grim toll being taken by the HIV/AIDS pandemic in a southern African village. The figures in the story are staggering:

LAVUMISA, Swaziland - Victim by victim, AIDS is steadily boring through the heart of this small town.

It killed the mayor's daughter. It has killed a fifth of the 60 employees of the town's biggest businessman. It has claimed an estimated one in eight teachers, several health workers and 2 of 10 counselors who teach prostitutes about protected sex. One of the 13 municipal workers has died of AIDS. Another is about to. A third is H.I.V.-positive.

By one hut-to-hut survey in 2003, one in four households on the town's poorer side lost someone to AIDS in the preceding year. One in three had a visibly ill member.

That is just the dead and the dying. There is also the world they leave behind. AIDS has turned one in 10 Lavumisans into an orphan. It has spawned street children, prostitutes and dropouts. It has thrust grandparents and sisters and aunts into the unwanted roles of substitutes for dead fathers and mothers. It has bred destitution, hunger and desperation among the living.

It has the appearance of a biblical cataclysm, a thousand-year flood of misery and death. In fact, it is all too ordinary. Tiny Lavumisa, population 2,000, is the template for a demographic plunge taking place in every corner of southern Africa.

Read the entire story here.

World AIDS Day is Wednesday (December 1). Test your knowledge of AIDS with this World AIDS Day Quiz.

Friday, November 26, 2004


The day after Thanksgiving marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. Not too many years ago, some stores began opening their doors at 8:00 a.m. on the Friday after Thanksgiving. How quaint that now seems. According to ads I saw yesterday, there were some stores opening at 5:30 a.m. this morning. That's just plain wrong!

Inspired by The Motorcycle Diaries (which I finally saw on Wednesday) along with some Thanksgiving Day reflections on the extraordinary blessings that most of us in the United States experience, I've decided to make a few recommendations for this season of giving.

First, consider asking your family or friends for a goat--or a sewing machine or a mango tree. These gifts (and many others) can be given in your name to a family in the developing world through World Vision. (Click on the Gift Catalog.)

Second, consider giving (or asking for) a membership in--or simply a gift to--a non-profit organization that promotes the values you espouse--perhaps Amnesty International, International Justice Mission, Human Rights Watch, Habitat for Humanity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, or another organization that works for justice.

Third, consider giving (and asking for) fewer things. Instead, give (and receive) museum memberships or theater tickets or piano (or voice or guitar or trombone) lessons or restaurant gift certificates. What we experience is much more important than what we own.

Fourth, if you send greeting cards, consider purchasing cards from a non-profit organization so that a portion of the purchase price will help to fund the work of the organization. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) benefits from the sale of cards at Pier One Imports stores and on-line. The Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, Amnesty International, and other organizations sell holiday cards on-line.

Finally, you might be interested in "The Great Green Gift-Giving Guide" on the NRDC web site. There are a lot of ideas for gift-giving as if the Earth mattered.

Do you have other suggestions for giving--and receiving? Please leave a comment if you do.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Hors de Combat?

A critical question concerning the killing of a wounded Iraqi insurgent inside a mosque in Falluja last week is whether or not he was hors de combat. Kevin Sites' account of the killing makes it appear that he was in spite of the Marine's claim before firing a shot into his head that the Iraqi was pretending to be dead. Anthony Dworkin, in a brief essay over at the Crimes of War Project web site, does an excellent job of sorting out the issues this incident raises under the Geneva Conventions and the customary laws of armed conflict.

Monday, November 22, 2004

In Memoriam: JFK

Dallas, Nov. 22--President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today. He died of a wound in the brain caused by a rifle bullet that was fired at him as he was riding through downtown Dallas in a motorcade.

Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was riding in the third car behind Mr. Kennedy's, was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States 99 minutes after Mr. Kennedy's death.

This is how the lead story in the New York Times on November 23, 1963 began.

My earliest political memories revolve around the Kennedy assassination, an event that occurred 41 years ago today. That morning my mother went shopping in Fort Worth. She returned home (we lived at the time in Itasca, a small town about 45 miles south of Fort Worth) earlier than planned because all of the stores in Fort Worth and Dallas closed as soon as word of the shooting spread.

I can’t say that I remember much about the day of the assassination itself, nor do I remember seeing at that time the photos of the administration of the oath of office to Lyndon Baines Johnson aboard Air Force One, although I’ve seen the photos of both events often in the years since then. What I do remember is the television coverage of JFK’s funeral. If you watched the Washington, D.C. portion of President Reagan’s state funeral this past summer, you will know almost exactly what I saw on television, although back then it was in black and white.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy was, for me, a disturbing introduction to politics. For many Americans just a decade or so older than I am, it was (along with the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement) the defining political event of a generation.

On Truth in War

This, an open letter from the embedded reporter who filmed the killing of a wounded Iraqi by a U.S. Marine, is a powerful statement. (The "Devil Dogs of the 3.1" are the Third Battalion, First Marines. For some background, go here.)

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Extraterritorial Jurisdiction and Child-Sex Tourism

In a federal trial concluded Friday in Santa Ana, California, an 86-year-old man was convicted of six felonies including intent to travel abroad for the purpose of engaging in illicit sex. According to the New York Times, John W. Seljan, 86, said that he had been traveling to Southeast Asia, a region notorious as a sex tourism destination, at least three times a year for the past two decades.

Seljan was prosecuted under the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act of 2003 (Public Law 108-21). Section 105 of the statute states:

Travel With Intent To Engage in Illicit Sexual Conduct.--A person who travels in interstate commerce or travels into the United States, or a United States citizen or an alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States who travels in foreign commerce, for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct with another person shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

The italicized portion of this section of the PROTECT Act permits the extraterritorial exercise of U.S. jurisdiction under the nationality principle.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, posts a fact sheet that lists individuals arrested for child-sex tourism. Of the nine men listed, two are not U.S. citizens. Five of the nine have been charged but not yet convicted. Of the four convictions, only Seljan's case went to trial.

With sex tourism thriving in countries where the government is either unable or unwilling to address problems such as sex slavery and child prostitution, the developed countries whose citizens make such practices profitable are increasingly exercising extraterritorial jurisdiction in an effort to curtail the global sex trade. (It is estimated that a quarter of the world's child-sex tourists are Americans.) World Vision, with funding from the United States Government, has launched an ad campaign that includes billboards (in English) in countries such as Cambodia aimed at alerting sex tourists to the possibility of prosecution for crimes committed abroad. One such ad says, "Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours."

Although not limited in its scope to the child-sex trade, the dimensions of the problem can be seen in the Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Web of Influence

The November 2004 issue of Foreign Policy includes an article--"Web of Influence"--on the impact of blogs on international politics. The authors, Daniel W. Drezner, assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Henry Farrell, assistant professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, write:

Every day, millions of online diarists, or "bloggers," share their opinions with a global audience. Drawing upon the content of the international media and the World Wide Web, they weave together an elaborate network with agenda-setting power on issues ranging from human rights in China to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. What began as a hobby is evolving into a new medium that is changing the landscape for journalists and policymakers alike.

Both authors are bloggers themselves. Professor Drezner blogs solo here and Professor Farrell blogs as part of a large group of writers here.

Photos from Falluja

Kevin Sites, the freelance reporter who, while working as an embedded reporter for NBC News, filmed the execution-style killing of a wounded Iraqi, has a blog. His photos and description of a day in the battle for Falluja are worth a look.

In the wake of the killing of the wounded Iraqi, Amnesty International USA issued this statement:

The deliberate shooting of unarmed and wounded fighters who pose no immediate threat is a war crime under international law and there is therefore an obligation on the US authorities to investigate all such reports and to hold perpetrators of such crimes accountable before the law. Such investigations should be open and transparent and the findings should be made public. Any potential witnesses should be protected.

Also worth reading is Dexter Filkins' story in the New York Times about the battle for Falluja. Filkins notes that the eight days that it took to take Falluja constituted "the most sustained period of street-to-street fighting that Americans have encountered since the Vietnam War." He also states, in what is--for newspaper reporters--a rare self-referencing comment, "For a correspondent who has covered a half dozen armed conflicts, including the war in Iraq since its opening in March 2003, the fighting seen while traveling with a frontline unit in Falluja was a qualitatively different experience, a leap into a different kind of battle."

Filkins reports that, so far, 51 Americans have been killed and 425 have been wounded in the battle for Falluja. There are, of course, no reports available concerning the number of insurgents or civilians killed in Falluja.

Finally, Tom Friedman's column on Iraq offers some helpful perspective and a bit of optimism.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Big Brother with a Gun

A Texan (surprise, surprise) has introduced the concept of Internet hunting. No, really. Here's the story from Reuters.

This may give new meaning to the phrase "hunt and peck typing." Instead of "surfing the web," we may soon "safari the web." The "fatal error" message may soon mean "fatal error." Bambi's survival may depend on the speed of a hunter's Internet connection. (Okay, I'll stop.)

What does this have to do with international relations? (Occasionally I have to remind myself that this blog is supposed to focus on IR.) I have an answer for that.

Throughout history, advances in hunting--and fishing--technology have quickly found application on the battlefield, and vice versa. The bow and arrow, used first for hunting, quickly developed into an instrument of war. Dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel for use in war and industry, evolved into a favorite tool of fishermen. You see where this is going.

If Internet hunting works, the military will take note. The United States could one day police the world from a bank of computers buried deep within the Pentagon. Guns could be mounted on rooftops in the major cities of the world's most dangerous countries and aimed and fired as necessary from a computer half a world away. Eventually, the job of policing the world could be outsourced to a bunch of IT guys in Bangalore, India. The possibilities are endless.

Consider this postscript from P.J. O'Rourke, from a 1991 dispatch reprinted in his book Give War a Chance:

One more thing about this generation of soldiers--they grew up in video arcades. It's no coincidence that watching the Gulf War's high-tech weapons on our TV screens is so much like watching computer games. This war is the daddy of all Mario Brothers, the Gog and Magog of hacker networks, the devil's own personal core dump. And our soldiers have an absolutely intuitive, Donkey Kong-honed, gut-level understanding of the technology behind it. Thank God they do. It's why we're winning. So here's what you folks back home can do to help with the war effort. If you happen to have any kids and they're outdoors exercising in the healthy fresh air and sunshine, give them hell: "YOU GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW AND PLAY NINTENDO!" The future of our nation may depend on it.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Bumper Crop

The United Nations reports that opium production is booming in Afghanistan. The country accounts for 87 percent of global opium production, up from 76 percent last year. Here's a bit of what the New York Times says about the situation:

Heroin production is booming in Afghanistan, undermining democracy and putting money in the coffers of terrorists, according to a U.N. report Thursday that called on U.S. and NATO-led forces get more involved in fighting drug traffickers.

"Fighting narcotics is equivalent to fighting terrorism," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. "It would be an historical error to abandon Afghanistan to opium, right after we reclaimed it from the Taliban and al-Qaida."

The drug trade accounts for a staggering 60 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

The full report (Afghanistan Opium Survey, 2004) is available here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

MLK in Birmingham

Meagan Butler, in a comment on an earlier post, quoted this memorable line from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (April 16, 1963): "Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. . . . Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." I want to add another line from the same document: "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people."

Read King's entire letter here.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Christianity and Human Rights in Birmingham

The conference at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama this past weekend was exceptional. There are a number of themes that I hope to write about over the course of the next several days. A good starting point, however, might be yesterday's experiences, which, for me, perfectly framed the academic discussions of Christianity and human rights during the many sessions on Friday and Saturday.

On Sunday morning, I attended the services at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The city of Birmingham was founded in 1871; the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was established two years later. It is Birmingham's oldest church, but it is more famous for the role it played in the Civil Rights Movement.

During the 1950s and 1960s--and especially in 1963, the year that Martin Luther King, Jr. was jailed and Bull Connor turned firehoses on children in peaceful protest marches--Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was the focal point of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. On September 15, 1963, the church was bombed. Four young girls were killed and twenty other people were injured. (Four Ku Klux Klan members were implicated in the bombing. One was convicted and sentenced in 1977, another died, never having been tried, in 1994, and two others were convicted and sentenced in 2001 and 2002.)

It occurred to me as I sat in church that for the people in that congregation who were old enough to have lived through the events of 1963--people like Deacon Marvin Hicks, who greeted me so warmly out on the street as I arrived and then again inside after the service was over--the question of how Christianity should inform one's response to injustice and even violence was not an academic question. They didn't have the time or the money or perhaps even the desire to organize a conference on Christianity and human rights. They worked out the answers as they watched their homes and churches being bombed. And, judging from what I saw at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute across the street, they got it right. They responded to serious violations of human rights in a way that promoted both justice and reconciliation.

Most of us lack a sense of urgency about determining how our faith should affect our response to serious human rights abuses because those human rights abuses are not happening to us. That, however, is a self-interested response totally at odds with Christ's teachings about loving our neighbors with, as the story of the Good Samaritan reminds us, a broad understanding of who our neighbor is.

As Expected

Secretary of State Colin Powell has submitted his resignation. The smart money seems to be on Condoleezza Rice as Powell's successor.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Off to a Red (Crimson Tide) State

I'm off to a conference on "Christianity and Human Rights" at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. More than likely I won't be posting until my return on Sunday. Incidentally, I plan to bring back a drawl. Can I bring anyone else something? (Note to LA in London: Thanks for the e-mail about your trip. I've always wanted to see Split and Dubrovnik.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Chairman Arafat

This update comes from David Letterman: "According to Palestinian sources, Yassir Arafat is dead but improving."

Cheese Sandwich

In the course of working on a paper on dehumanization and human rights abuses, I picked up a book that I had read several years ago--We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. Although depressing (as all books on the Rwandan genocide must be), the book is well worth reading.

While skimming the book to find Gourevitch's descriptions of the dehumanizing propaganda that was employed to incite killing (the book has no index), I came across this passage (pp. 170-71):

I was reminded of a conversation I had with an American military intelligence officer who was having a supper of Jack Daniel's and Coca-Cola at a Kigali bar.

"I hear you're interested in genocide," the American said. "Do you know what genocide is?"

I asked him to tell me.

"A cheese sandwich," he said. "Write it down. Genocide is a cheese sandwich."

I asked him how he figured that.

"What does anyone care about a cheese sandwich?" he said. "Genocide, genocide, genocide. Cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich, cheese sandwich. Who gives a shit? Crimes against humanity. Where's humanity? Who's humanity? You? Me? Did you see a crime committed against you? Hey, just a million Rwandans. Did you ever hear about the Genocide Convention?"

I said I had.

"That convention," the American at the bar said, "makes a nice wrapping for a cheese sandwich."

What if the military intelligence officer was right? What if our concern about genocide, when it comes right down to it, is no greater than our concern about a cheese sandwich?

Monday, November 08, 2004


With U.S., British, and Iraqi forces now inside Falluja, it's worth considering what the U.S. Army says about military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT). This is from Army Field Manual FM 90-10, Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT):

The decision to attack or defend an urban complex can result in massive damage and destruction. Constraints on firepower to insure minimum collateral damage within its built-up areas can be expected. Combat operations may be hampered by the presence of civilians in the battle area. Concern for their safety can seriously restrict the combat options open to the commander. The necessity to provide life support and other essential services to civilians can siphon off a substantial amount of military resources and manpower. A hostile population may also impose a serious security problem. Success may well be measured by how we accomplish our mission while minimizing destruction of buildings and alienation of the population. On the urban battlefield, advantages and disadvantages in the areas of mobility, cover, and observation tend to even out for attacker and defender. Initially, however, the defender has a significant tactical advantage over the attacker because of his knowledge of the terrain.

In addition to the current battle, other urban operations of note include the Battle of Mogadishu during Operations Restore Hope in Somalia (1993) and the Battle of Hue during the Vietnam War (1968). In both instances, the United States inflicted tremendous losses on the enemy but suffered serious political setbacks.

The Battle of Hue was part of the Tet Offensive in the Vietnam War. Communist forces took the city and carried out a massacre of those they considered "cruel tyrants and reactionary elements." South Vietnamese forces and U.S. Marines counter-attacked to retake the city. In the end, 150 Marines, 400 South Vietnamese troops, and an estimated 5,000 Communists were killed. The body count and the success at securing the city suggested a victory for the United States, but television coverage of the battle was widely regarded as speeding the American public's rejection of the war.

In Mogadishu, at least 500 Somalis were killed in a fierce urban battle prompted by a mission to capture two of Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid's aides. But eighteen Americans were killed in what was supposed to be a humanitarian assistance mission and television captured the image of one of the Americans being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. In spite of the tactical success acheived by the mission and relatively small number of American casualties, most Americans--and most Somalis--regarded the battle as a defeat for the world's strongest military.

American military leaders are well aware of the history of MOUT. The heavy use of air power prior to the onset of ground operations in Falluja suggests that a decision was made to give greater weight to protecting American, British, and Iraqi forces than Iraqi civilians. Given the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqis, such a strategy is risky. Of course, the alternatives carry different risks.

We will know soon whether the Battle of Falluja was a military success. It will take longer to determine if it was a political success.

Who Won Clark County?

Remember the British newspaper project designed to put people from around the world in touch with Clark County, Ohio voters? It may well have benefited George Bush more than John Kerry.

Bush carried Clark County, 34,444 to 32,824. But, judging from these letters and e-mails printed in The Guardian, at least the cause of trans-Atlantic understanding was well served . . . if, that is, the British don't mind being called "weenie-spined limeys," "mealy-mouthed morons," "yellow-toothed pansies," and "filthy animals." (There were other epithets not fit to print in a family-friendly blog like this one.)

Apparently some of the American letter writers forgot that the British are in the "coalition of the willing."

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Ignoring Iraq

Now that the election is over, will Americans try to forget about Iraq? The assault on Falluja may make it difficult for the next few days, but it appears that we are already doing our best as a society to ignore Iraq's unpleasant realities.

Last Monday, Scott Ritter, who was a senior U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, published this essay in The Guardian in which he discussed the study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health estimating that 100,000 Iraqi civilians may have already died in the Iraq War. (The International Herald Tribune reported the story here.) Ritter concludes that "we all are moral cowards when it comes to Iraq. Our collective inability to summon the requisite shame and rage when confronted by an estimate of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians in the prosecution of an illegal and unjust war not only condemns us, but adds credibility to those who oppose us."

[Update: Here's a link to the Johns Hopkins University study mentioned above.]

Abolish the CIA?

Chalmers Johnson, the author of Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire, believes we should. Here's his argument, from a review of Steve Coll's Ghost Wars.

The Stinger Threat

Western intelligence agencies have been worried for years about the threat posed to civil aviation by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles like the Stinger missiles the United States supplied to the mujahedeen for use in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Now the New York Times reports that the threat may be significantly greater than was previously thought.

American intelligence agencies have tripled their formal estimate of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile systems believed to be at large worldwide, since determining that at least 4,000 of the weapons in Iraq's prewar arsenals cannot be accounted for, government officials said Friday.

A new government estimate says a total of 6,000 of the weapons may be outside the control of any government, up from a previous estimate of 2,000, American officials said.

It is not known how many of the missiles are in the hands of terrorist organizations. However, the price on the black market is said to be $5,000. That means (1) the black-market supply of missiles is plentiful and (2) the price is within reach of almost any organization that might be interested in purchasing them.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Enlightenment and the Election

Garry Wills had an interesting column in yesterday's New York Times that articulates a view of the partisan divide in the United States that I've been mulling over. What follows is my take on the issue. Be sure to read Wills' take on it.

In the past, liberals and conservatives have often been divided over the question of what ought to be done about domestic and foreign policy problems. We understood the problems--poverty, the spread of Communism, drug abuse, etc.--in the same way, but differed on whether tax cuts or welfare programs, containment or rollback, tougher sentencing or more treatment programs were the proper remedies. Now we seem, increasingly, to be unable even to agree on what the problems are. Facts--not interpretations of facts, not policy prescriptions--are in dispute. Did Iraq have WMD in March 2003? The Kay Report and the Duelfer Report said "no." A majority of those who voted for George W. Bush said "yes." Has the United States tortured some detainees at Guantanamo and "disappeared" others? The New York Times and Human Rights Watch, based on the testimony of witnesses, say "yes." U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Pierre Prosper says we shouldn't believe the media.

A decade or so ago, conservatives worried that postmodernism (or post-positivism, to be more specific--although few are very specific when discussing this topic) was causing us to lose our moorings as a society. It was, in other words, turning us into relativists for whom truth has no fixed meaning. Conservatives pointed the finger at liberals, particularly those in academia who dared to discuss the ideas of Jacques Derrida, Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty, or Stanley Fish. Ironically, it now appears that conservatives are the ones to whom the rejection of Enlightenment principles has proved most appealing. As a consequence, here is the conservative post-positivist's view of truth: Revealed truth (which depends on the relationship of the knower to the one--often, but not always, the One--who reveals it) is beyond question. Objective truth (which is the same for all knowers) is subject to question. It is a reversal of the Enlightenment view of truth.

To be as clear as I can be, I have no quarrel with faith (or with people of faith). I do, however, think that reason is a good thing, too. Christians, in fact, have always regarded faith and reason (or faith and learning, in the parlance preferred at Pepperdine) as perfectly compatible. It would, I think, be good to return to that understanding.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Post-Election Notes

Blue staters clearly misunderestimated George W. Bush once again. Not since George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988 has a Republican candidate for president received more votes than the Democratic candidate. Apparently GOP GOTV efforts were very successful. The conventional wisdom says high voter turnout helps the Democrats, but in this election the Bush campaign neutralized the traditional Democratic advantage from high turnout.

Meanwhile, here are a few random observations:

  • I can't take all the credit for this, but the District of Columbia (where I spent the last four days before the election) gave John Kerry 89.5 percent of the vote. One woman in D.C. who didn't vote for Kerry, 84-year-old Ida Boyd, explained her preference for George W. Bush this way: "At least with this man you know he's a nut!"
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell is still considered the Cabinet member most likely to be working outside of the federal government in January 2005. Powell was rolled by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons on the Iraq War, but he continued to be the loyal soldier. Who would replace Powell? Condi Rice could move from the White House to Foggy Bottom, but as a former university administrator, she is noticeably devoid of diplomatic skills. UN Ambassador John Danforth is being mentioned as another possibility.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair made a speech congratulating President Bush on his victory. He went on to urge Bush to become more active in promoting peace in the Middle East and an end to poverty and injustice in Africa. Blair also said, "At least with this man you know he's a nut!"
  • The predictive power of the Washington Redskins has ended. I'll have to go back to pulling against them for strictly personal reasons.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Election Eve

While I was spending the weekend at a conference in Washington, D.C., October ended without the much anticipated "October surprise." I am a bit surprised not to have been surprised.

Osama bin Laden's message does not, in my opinion, count. First, it wasn't generated by Karl Rove (as a real "October surprise" would have been). Second, it was a message that seems to have had remarkably little impact on Americans. (Even Republican commentators have expressed uncertainty about whether the message benefits Bush or Kerry.) Third, it is clear that bin Laden's target audience was the Muslim world, not Americans. Yes, he addressed himself to Americans, but the message was designed to rally Muslims to his cause.

Many aspects of the trip to Washington deserve additional comment (and will get additional comment in the days to come), but for now I have just a few quick observations.

  1. Although the Age of Empires is over, Washington has the look and the feel of an imperial capital. I suspect Londoners in 1885 felt very much like Washingtonians in 2004. What creates the impression? Embassies everywhere. The headquarters of the OAS. A population drawn from all over the world. Bright and very serious young people everywhere. Monuments--new and old--to the nation's greatness everywhere you look. (The World War II Memorial--which I found impressive, if not moving--is the latest.)
  2. The history of America's experiment with democracy is glorious; its present, however, is perilous. I spent an hour or so after midnight Saturday wandering around the Capitol in the company of a Pepperdine alumna and her husband (thank you Lynn and Dave) and two Capitol Police officers. The Trumbull paintings in the Rotunda, the statues in the Hall of Columns (and in the Rotunda), and the many portraits and epigrams that adorn the Capitol are powerful reminders that our nation has been blessed with the leadership of great men and women dedicated to the ideal of democratic government. The name "Dennis Hastert" on the door of the Speaker's office and the name "Tom DeLay" on the door of the office of the House Majority Leader are powerful reminders that narrow-minded partisans have, at times, occupied our highest offices.
  3. America remains a melting pot and a beacon of freedom. I spent Sunday afternoon in Washington's Adams-Morgan district. (Thanks, Kim.) In the space of a just few hours, I had an Ethiopian meal, met people whose ethnic heritage spans the globe, and witnessed an All Souls Day procession that must have been transplanted directly from Mexico or Guatemala or Colombia. It was as strong an affirmation of the goodness of America as the tour of the Capitol the previous evening had been.
  4. Many of America's best and brightest serve in the military. The conference I attended--a joint meeting of the International Security Studies Section of the International Studies Association and the International Security and Arms Control Section of the American Political Science Association (ISSS/ISAC hereafter)--drew a lot of representatives from the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, the National War College, and the National Defense University. Many (but not all) were officers in the military. All were conscientious, intelligent, and well aware of the proper questions to be asking. We in the United States should never let control of the military slip out of civilian hands, but we should also never lose sight of the accumulated wisdom that exists in the military.

Finally, it's worth noting that the Washington Redskins lost their home game on Sunday. That guarantees a Kerry victory tomorrow. (However, it probably doesn't guarantee that we'll know by the end of the day tomorrow that Kerry won.)