Thursday, June 29, 2006

Number 192

The Republic of Montenegro, which until recently was part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, yesterday became the 192nd member of the United Nations. Those wishing to update their U.N. General Assembly scorecards should note that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is now Serbia.

SCOTUS Weighs In

From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions violate U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of war prisoners.

In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized by any act of Congress and that their structure and procedures violate the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.

The folks at Opinio Juris and Balkinization have some useful commentary. The text of the Court's opinion is available here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Death and Cynicism

This is, admittedly, dredging up old news, but as I was discussing with a colleague Colleen Graffy's undiplomatic response to the Guantanamo suicides--she called the suicides "a good PR move to draw attention"--I thought of Talleyrand's famous reply on hearing of the death of the Turkish ambassador: "I wonder what he meant by that."

Power and Self-Restraint

In Taming American Power, which I first mentioned here, Stephen M. Walt treats American primacy as a national asset to be guarded so that it can be used judiciously to promote order in the international system. Self-restraint is one of the virtues that Walt promotes as a means of preserving the United States' influence in the world. This passage (from page 227) describes what might have been the fruits of a more restrained policy with respect to Iraq:

The benefits of self-restraint can be demonstrated by considering how much the United States would have gained had it followed this approach toward Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Had the Bush administration rejected preventive war in Iraq in March 2003, and chosen instead to continue the UN-mandated inspections process that was then underway, it would have scored a resounding diplomatic victory. The Bush team could have claimed--correctly--that the threat of U.S. military action had forced Saddam Hussein to resume inspections under new and more intrusive procedures. The UN inspectors would have determined that Iraq didn’t have any WMD after all. There was no reason for Bush and Company to rush to war, because Iraq’s decaying military capabilities were already contained and Saddam was incapable of aggressive action as long as the inspectors were on Iraqi soil. If Saddam had balked after a few months, then international support for his ouster would have been much easier to obtain, and in the meantime, the United States would have shown the world that it preferred to use force only as a last resort. This course would have kept Iraq isolated, kept the rest of the world on America’s side, undermined Osama bin Laden’s claim that the United States sought to dominate the Islamic world–and, incidentally, allowed the United States to focus its energies and attention on defeating al Qaeda. Even more important, this policy of “self-restraint” would have avoided war, thereby saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and keeping the United States out of the quagmire in which it became engulfed. The Bush team had all these benefits in its hands and squandered them by rushing headlong into war. Instead of demonstrating that U.S. primacy would be used with wisdom and restraint, they gave the rest of the world ample reason to worry about the asymmetry of power in Washington’s hands. Repairing the damage could take decades.

Walt, remember, is a realist and realists have a healthy respect for the role of power in international politics. It is, however, a very different understanding of power and its misuses from the one held by neoconservatives.

Incidentally, having recently finished Taming American Power, I recommend it unequivocally.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Iraq's Death Toll

According to research conducted by the Los Angeles Times and published on the front page of yesterday's paper, over 50,000 Iraqi deaths, mostly civilians, have been documented since the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Times examined records from Iraq's Health Ministry, which has collected information on war-related deaths from the nation's hospitals; from the Baghdad morgue; and from various other government agencies around the country. The documented total, although much higher than President Bush suggested last year, is still significantly lower than the actual number of war-related deaths due to the absence of statistics from Kurdish-controlled regions and obviously understated figures from some of Iraq's most violent provinces.

The Times article states:

The Baghdad morgue received 30,204 bodies from 2003 through mid-2006, while the Health Ministry said it had documented 18,933 deaths from "military clashes" and "terrorist attacks" from April 5, 2004, to June 1, 2006. Together, the toll reaches 49,137.

However, samples obtained from local health departments in other provinces show an undercount that brings the total well beyond 50,000. The figure also does not include deaths outside Baghdad in the first year of the invasion.

The documented cases show a country descending further into violence.

At the Baghdad morgue, the vast majority of bodies processed had been shot execution-style. Many showed signs of torture--drill holes, burns, missing eyes and limbs, officials said. Others had been strangled, beheaded, stabbed or beaten to death.

The morgue records show a predominantly civilian toll; the hospital records gathered by the Health Ministry do not distinguish between civilians, combatants and security forces.

In Just and Unjust Wars (p. 30), Michael Walzer writes,

When we say, war is hell, it is the victims of the fighting that we have in mind. In fact, then, war is the very opposite of hell in the theological sense, and is hellish only when the opposition is strict. For in hell, presumably, only those people suffer who deserve to suffer, who have chosen activities for which punishment is the appropriate divine response, knowing that this is so. But the greater number by far of those who suffer in war have made no comparable choice.

The chapter in which this passage appears is titled "The Crime of War." As Walzer makes clear, it is a serious matter to begin a war because, once it is begun, all manner of evil--much of it unpredictable and uncontrollable--is let loose. In Act IV, Scene 1 of Henry V, Williams puts it this way:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of

Of course, Williams speaks only of combatant casualties. How much more severe must the reckoning be with respect to innocents who die in war "if the cause be not good"?

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Here's a video that ought to bring a smile to your face. (It might also make you envious.)

[Via Matthew Gross.]

Sunday in LA

Tomorrow--Sunday, June 25--the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles is sponsoring an event in connection with the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

The principal speakers will be Dr. Steven Miles, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis and author of the forthcoming Oath Betrayed: Military Medicine and the War on Terror and James Yee, former Muslim chaplain for the U.S. Army at Guantanamo and author of For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire.

The event runs from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. and will be held at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater, 4800 Hollywood Boulevard. Admission and parking are free.

For more information, go here.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Christian Right and Torture

The current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education includes an excerpt from a soon to be published book entitled Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament by Randall Balmer. This passage from the published excerpt provides anecdotal evidence for the proposition that the "Christian Right" is--sometimes, at least--neither:

The torture of human beings, God's creatures--some guilty of crimes, others not--has been justified by the Bush administration, which also believes that it is perfectly acceptable to conduct surveillance on American citizens without putting itself to the trouble of obtaining a court order. Indeed, the chicanery, the bullying, and the flouting of the rule of law that emanates from the nation's capital these days make Richard Nixon look like a fraternity prankster.

Where does the religious right stand in all this? Following the revelations that the U.S. government exported prisoners to nations that have no scruples about the use of torture, I wrote to several prominent religious-right organizations. Please send me, I asked, a copy of your organization's position on the administration's use of torture. Surely, I thought, this is one issue that would allow the religious right to demonstrate its independence from the administration, for surely no one who calls himself a child of God or who professes to hear "fetal screams" could possibly countenance the use of torture.

Although I didn't really expect that the religious right would climb out of the Republican Party's cozy bed over the torture of human beings, I thought perhaps they might poke out a foot and maybe wiggle a toe or two.

I was wrong. Of the eight religious-right organizations I contacted, only two, the Family Research Council and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, answered my query. Both were eager to defend administration policies. "It is our understanding, from statements released by the Bush administration," the reply from the Family Research Council read, "that torture is already prohibited as a means of collecting intelligence data." The Institute on Religion and Democracy stated that "torture is a violation of human dignity, contrary to biblical teachings," but conceded that it had "not yet produced a more comprehensive statement on the subject," even months after the revelations. Its president worried that the "anti-torture campaign seems to be aimed exclusively at the Bush administration," thereby creating a public-relations challenge.

I'm sorry, but the use of torture under any circumstances is a moral issue, not a public-relations dilemma.

Balmer is right, although those who can't grasp the moral issue should understand that torture is also a public-relations nightmare for the United States.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

WaPo on Guantanamo

The Washington Post points out some of the complexities involved in closing Guantanamo in this editorial published today. (I'd comment, but I'm off to Dodger Stadium.)

[Via Marty Lederman at Balkinization.]

USA Is Not Ghana Advance

Ghana 2, U S A 1

We now return you to your baseball season, already in progress.

[UPDATE: Apparently Ghana wanted it more than we did. You didn't see our government declare a national holiday so we could watch the match. Maybe I should have said, "We now return you to your work day, already in progress."]

That's Hot!

David Letterman, last night, with a bipartisan weather report:
  • It was so hot today that President Bush met with European leaders just for the chilly reception.
  • It was so hot today that Al Gore has a new movie out: An Inconvenient Rash.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Do These Methods Really Work?

Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman's review of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine is all over the blogosphere thanks to the fact that Gellman tells what has to be one of the book's most shocking tales. It's the story of the capture, rendition, and torture of Abu Zubaydah. Gellman writes:

Described as al-Qaeda's chief of operations even after U.S. and Pakistani forces kicked down his door in Faisalabad, the Saudi-born jihadist was the first al-Qaeda detainee to be shipped to a secret prison abroad. Suskind shatters the official story line here.

Abu Zubaydah, his captors discovered, turned out to be mentally ill and nothing like the pivotal figure they supposed him to be. CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3"--a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Abu Zubaydah also appeared to know nothing about terrorist operations; rather, he was al-Qaeda's go-to guy for minor logistics--travel for wives and children and the like. That judgment was "echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President," Suskind writes. And yet somehow, in a speech delivered two weeks later, President Bush portrayed Abu Zubaydah as "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And over the months to come, under White House and Justice Department direction, the CIA would make him its first test subject for harsh interrogation techniques.

. . .

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety--against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

Cesare Beccaria, the eighteenth-century legal reformer, argued that a "sensitive but guiltless man will tend to admit guilt if he believes that, in that way, he can make the pain stop." Voltaire made a similar point: "It is as absurd to inflict torture to seek out truth as it is to order a duel to assess who is the culprit."

Apparently we need to relearn some of the lessons taught by Enlightenment philosophers.

Charles Taylor Update

Yesterday Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was flown to The Hague where he will be tried before the Special Court for Sierra Leone in the facilities of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Taylor's trial on war crimes charges was moved to the Netherlands amid concerns about its potential impact on Sierra Leone and neighboring states.

The Special Court for Sierra Leone is not a part of the ICC. The temporary use of an ICC courtroom and holding cell is occurring under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding negotiated by representatives of the two bodies in April. The agreement specifies, among other things, that the Special Court will pay the ICC for the use of its facilities.

Your America

This essay by Andrew Sullivan, which appeared in The Times of London back on June 4, is a powerful call to accountability for torture. It's also a useful corrective to claims of American exceptionalism. The only thing I would add to what Sullivan has to say is that in some measure all Americans bear responsibility for what has happened--and is still happening--because we have not insisted that our nation live up to its principles.

The Dark Side

Frontline aired a program last night on the origins and development of the "war on terrorism" entitled "The Dark Side." Although no new revelations are presented, the 90-minute documentary does an excellent job of putting into context information that has gradually been made public in recent years. In addition, eight former CIA employees are interviewed on camera. (Transcripts of all interviews conducted by the producers are available here.)

"The Dark Side" will be available for viewing on-line beginning tomorrow at the web site associated with the program.


Via The Borowitz Report:

Elsewhere, scientists said that what was originally thought to be a volcanic eruption in the Philippines was actually Ann Coulter on vacation.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Meaning of Ice

A comment left here suggests that An Inconvenient Truth "conveniently ignore[s] important data that don't fit with their desired conclusions." In support of this point, the commenter cites a study by Curt Davis, published in the journal Science, that indicates that the East Antarctic ice sheet increased in size from 1992 to 2003. This press release from the University of Missouri suggests that the commenter, like an oil-industry try-not-to-think tank that has recently aired misleading television ads, misrepresented Davis's research. (I include the press release in its entirety.)

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Recently, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. and partially funded by large oil companies, announced a national television campaign claiming that global warming is not causing ice sheets to shrink. Curt Davis, director of the Center for Geospatial Intelligence at the University of Missouri-Columbia, says CEI is misrepresenting his previous research to back their claims.

"These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate," Davis said. "They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public."

"The text of the CEI ad misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers and our current state of knowledge by selective referencing,"said Dr. Brooks Hanson, deputy editor, physical sciences, Science.

Prior to Davis' 2005 Science study, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that if global warming were occurring, increased recipitation in Antarctica's interior would likely result. In his study, Davis reported growth in interior East Antarctica. He said this growth was probably caused by an increase in precipitation.

Davis said that three points in his study unequivocally demonstrate the misleading aspect of the CEI ads.

- His study only reported growth for the East Antarctic ice sheet, not the entire Antarctic ice sheet.

- Growth of the ice sheet was only noted on the interior of the ice sheet and did not include coastal areas. Coastal areas are known to be losing mass, and these losses could offset or even outweigh the gains in the interior areas.

- The fact that the interior ice sheet is growing is a predicted consequence of global climate warming.

"It has been predicted that global warming might increase the growth of the interior ice sheet due to increased precipitation," Davis said. "All three of these points were noted in our study and ignored by CEI in a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public."

It is worth noting (and I'll gladly take the opportunity to do so) that I should have avoided the term "global warming" in this post. The better term--because anthropogenic effects on climate are expected to produce some areas of local cooling within an overall environment of warming--is "climate change." For example, a collapse of the thermohaline conveyor--a possibility examined in a 2003 Department of Defense (Office of Net Assessment) study entitled An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security (available all over the Internet), would turn London into a decidedly frigid destination, not the tropical vacation spot envisioned in the USA Today series I mentioned yesterday.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Global Warming and Your Next Vacation

I saw An Inconvenient Truth about a week ago in a theater just half a block from the NRDC's energy-efficient office in Santa Monica. It's well worth seeing. Think Al Gore with passion . . . and a PowerPoint presentation worthy of Robert Langdon.

I was reminded of a series in USA Today during the week of May 28 entitled "Making Sense of Global Warming." Here's the summary of the series (as published in USA Today on Tuesday, May 30):

What will the future hold for the USA if warming continues?
Experts examine how changes in the climate are affecting outdoor sports such as surfing, skiing and fishing.
Animals, birds and fish are falling victim.

Corporate America is embracing the anti-warming cause. A look at the evolution in corporate thinking, motivated by economic effects of climate change and new markets for "green" products.
How one Boulder, Colo. family changed its home and lifestyle to make a difference

Across the planet, global warming could change life as we know it. In less than 100 years, Venice and Amsterdam could be under water. London could be a tropical paradise.
Celebrities join the crusade on TV and at the movies.
Worried ski resports are cutting emissions.
Warming could redraw wine country's boundaries.

Let's see if I've got this straight: The primary problem global warming presents, according to USA Today, is that it will change a lot of people's vacation plans.

I suspect the members of AOSIS don't see the issue in quite the same way.

Obligatory World Cup Post

Before I head down to Pacific Palisades for the big Malibu-Pali baseball game--Coach Dave Buss and his Malibu team are undefeated through four games in the American Legion season, but Pali is a tough opponent--I thought I'd post my obligatory observations about the World Cup. Apparently, all bloggers are required to comment on the World Cup regardless of whether or not they know anything about soccer. Believing that baseball is life (and life is baseball), all I can do is offer are a few random comments about the World Cup:
  • Switzerland defeated Togo, 2-0, today. Togo is now 0-2, which is too bad because some of us were hoping the 2006 World Cup would include at least one Togo Party.
  • Ejections in soccer, as anyone who watched the U.S.-Italy match on Saturday knows, are much less interesting than ejections in baseball. In the former, a guy wearing shorts with black socks blows a whistle and pulls a red card out of his shirt pocket to eject the offending player. In the latter, the ejection occurs when a guy who looks like a Marine Corps drill instructor yells "Yer outta here!" while throwing his fist in the general direction of the stands. And in soccer, the ejected player must confine his emotional display to a sad look combining understated hand gestures and facial contortions. Baseball ejections tend to be more verbal.
  • The absence of a clock (witness the Cal-State Fullerton comeback against Georgia Tech on Saturday in the College World Series and, on the same day, Oakland's 17-inning win over the Dodgers) makes baseball superior to soccer--or basketball or hockey for that matter. [UPDATE: The Cal State-Fullerton-Georgia Tech game was yesterday (Sunday), not Saturday. The baseball, soccer, and basketball--I didn't watch any hockey--all started running together on me.]
  • It's worth noting that 20,000 fans, almost all of them Korean-Americans, watched Saturday's match between South Korea and France at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Globalization, no? (France and South Korea tied, 1-1.)
  • Have I mentioned that there are no ties in baseball?
  • Soccer fans sing better than baseball fans. I've got to concede that point.

Anyway, I hope those of you who care about such things are enjoying the World Cup. Forza Azzurri!

[ANOTHER UPDATE: Malibu defeated Pacific Palisades, 12-1.]

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Leaving Guantanamo

What is it like for reporters trying to get information about what is happening in Guantanamo? Carol J. Williams of the Los Angeles Times writes,

In the best of times, covering Guantanamo means wrangling with a Kafkaesque
bureaucracy, with logistics so nonsensical that they turn two hours of reporting into an 18-hour day, with hostile escorts who seem to think you're in league with Al Qaeda, and with the dispiriting reality that you're sure to encounter more iguanas than war-on-terror suspects.

In the worst of times--this past week, for example--those quotidian discomforts can be compounded by an invasion of mating crabs skittering into your dormitory, a Pentagon power play that muzzles already reluctant sources and an unceremonious expulsion to Miami on a military plane, safety-belted onto whatever seat is available. In this case, that seat was the toilet.

Democracies are not supposed to treat reporters like adversaries. Doing so when the subject of their reporting is Guantanamo is guaranteed to raise even more suspicions about U.S. policies in the so-called "War on Terror." Again, it is time to close Guantanamo.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Outsourcing Plagiarism?

Daniel Nexon, over at Duck of Minerva, has a great post about a good, old-fashioned American company trying to protect American students from offshore paper mills.

Vital Interests

"What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war. Gasoline is much more likely than wheat to be a cause of international conflict."

--Simone Weil, The Need for Roots (1949)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Close Guantanamo

It's time. Long past time, in fact. And not because of last week's suicides, but because the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo is both immoral and impolitic.

UK Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman told the BBC on Sunday the camp should be moved to the US or shut down: "If it's perfectly legal and there's nothing going wrong there--well, why don't they have it in America and then the American court system can supervise it?"

Good question.

The use of Guantanamo as a sort of legal black hole has done enough to tarnish the United States' reputation, but statements by U.S. government officials all too often make matters worse. As an Australian news program reported, the response to the suicides at Guantanamo from former Pepperdine School of Law professor and current Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy was quite impolitic:

COLLEEN GRAFFY: They don't value their own life, and they certainly don't value ours, and they use suicide bombings as a tactic to further their jihadi cause. There were means and methods for protestation, and certainly taking their own lives was not necessary. But it certainly is a good PR move to draw attention.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: What makes the remarks even more glaring is that Colleen Graffy's job at the State Department is formulating strategies to improve America's image overseas, especially in Islamic countries.

In Taming American Power, Stephen Walt notes that the deligitimization of American policies can pose problems for the United States' efforts to act in the world. But surely perceptions of legitimacy can't really matter when the United States is powerful enough to impose its will on other states, can they? Walt states (p. 176):

This view is an article of faith among advocates of a muscular U.S. foreign policy that pays scant heed to the opinions of others. It is also dangerously shortsighted. As many commentators have noted, even the world's strongest superpower cannot go it alone in every arena. In virtually every important policy realm, in fact--international trade, counterterrorism, human rights, nonproliferation, dealing with failed states or global environmental problems, and so on--effective solutions will require global cooperation.

The world pays attention when American officials speak, but it also watches carefully what the United States does. It's time to close Guantanamo.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Fighting Evil

"As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."
--Christopher Dawson, The Judgment of the Nations (1942)

Monday, June 12, 2006

Taming American Power

Along with Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God and Jonathan D. Spence's Mao Zedong (a brief Penguin Lives biography), I'm currently reading Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy by Stephen M. Walt. It is a very good analysis of the problems posed by the United States' post-Cold War position in the world. It reminds me that, for all of its limitations, realism has much to recommend it as a framework for the analysis of foreign policy. Walt's book is also a reminder, however, that modern realism involves much more than power politics. It borrows a good deal, in fact, from the post-World War II liberal internationalism with which it was engaged in the "Great Debate" of the 1950s and 1960s. Power politics may be central to Walt's analysis, but questions about American values appear over and over again in the book.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

More Questions about Zarqawi

In a comment here, there are several questions about Zarqawi's death and the reaction it provoked (or, perhaps, failed to provoke). The first question is, what difference does it make whether Zarqawi was al-Qaeda or not?

Here's what difference it makes: The United States entered the war in Iraq under false pretenses. (To call it an "intelligence failure"--as some persist in doing--is to ignore inconvenient facts just as the Bush administration did when the choice for war was made.) One of the falsehoods was that the U.S. would be fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq. In fact, soon after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan (and in large measure as a result of operations there), al-Qaeda became something quite different than it had been prior to 9/11. Most experts believe that al-Qaeda became more significant as an idea--an inspiration of sorts for jihadists--than as an organization. (See this September 2004 post.) It spawned imitators and, under the pressure of American military operations against it, it metastasized. It would have been more honest of the Bush administration in 2002 and 2003 to have said that, thanks to American successes in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda no longer exists as the kind of threat it once was. To have said that, however, would have been to abandon one of the secondary rationales for the war in Iraq. (The WMD threat was always primary.) It also would have necessitated more candor about the real nature of global terrorism in the post-9/11 world. It is not, after all, very comforting to think that our successes against al-Qaeda may have made the threat of global terrorism more amorphous and, consequently, more difficult to address.

So what difference does it make? Quite a lot if the truth matters where the war in Iraq is concerned. Supporters of the Bush administration (and the administration itself, of course) needed to call Zarqawi a high-level al-Qaeda operative in order to promote the fiction that the United States went into Iraq to fight al-Qaeda. Supporters of Zarqawi (and Zarqawi himself) needed to adopt the al-Qaeda brand in order to inflate their own importance. The evidence we have available indicates that Zarqawi called his organization "Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" because he was inspired by bin Laden's organization, not because he was part of it. Zarqawi was a knockoff, like a "Rolex" watch manufactured in China.

The second and third questions are these: "Why is it that those who oppose the war reflexively downplay any news of progress? Can't you oppose the war and also admit when there is progress and be glad for it?"

Just as bad things can happen in a just war, good things can happen in an unjust war. It is a good thing that Zarqawi is gone, just as it is a good thing that Saddam Hussein sits in prison. It is a good thing that the U.S. transferred sovereignty to the Iraqis, that the Iraqis have had elections with widespread participation, and that a government has been installed. (This is not presented as an exhaustive list of good things that have happened in Iraq, of course.) Those of us who oppose the war are very much aware of the successes that have occurred along the way. Every opponent of the war whom I have talked to or whose views I have read hopes that, in spite of the problems with the war, Iraq will become peaceful and democratic, that is, that this enterprise, however misbegotten, will succeed. Having said that, there are a wide variety of views (even among those who initially supported the war) regarding what the United States should do now. Those who support an immediate withdrawal have concluded that withdrawal is simply the lesser evil. One can certainly disagree with this prescription, but one cannot honestly conclude that those who support withdrawal are hoping for failure.

It is a good thing that Zarqawi will never again plot, propagandize, or kill. But does his death represent a turning point in the war? Not even the Bush administration is making that claim this time around.

If I, like many other opponents of this war, fail to express much gladness over Zarqawi's death, it may be due to a certain skepticism regarding the ultimate significance of the event. That skepticism, sadly, is a consequence of paying attention to what the Bush administration has said all along about Iraq. (Remember "Mission Accomplished"?)

In The City of God, Augustine argued that peace "is the purpose of waging war. . . . What, then, men want in war is that it should end in peace." Killing a terrorist such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a war may be a necessary evil, but it is an evil nonetheless. (See On Killing by Dave Grossman for some understanding of what killing does to the one who kills.) The only thing any of us should be glad about in war is the peace that ends it.

Questions about Zarqawi

New York Times reporters Dexter Filkins and John Burns seem to have some of the same questions I had after seeing the photograph of Zarqawi and hearing that the house where he had died was hit by two 500-pound bombs:

On Saturday morning, the bodies were gone, including the body of a girl. The rubble had been picked over for the most useful bits of intelligence. Even the crater [originally 40 feet wide and deep] had been mostly bulldozed and filled in.

Along with the scraps, it was mostly questions that remained.

Chief among them was how Mr. Zarqawi, the terrorist leader killed Wednesday in the airstrike, could have survived for even a few minutes after the attack, as American officers say he did, when everything else around him was obliterated. Concrete blocks, walls, a fence, tin cans, palm trees, a washing machine: everything at the Hibhib scene was shredded or blown to pieces.

It seemed puzzling, too, given the destruction and the condition of the other bodies, how Mr. Zarqawi's head and upper body--shown on televisions across the world--could have remained largely intact.

This, it seems to me, is more a matter of curiosity than something that possesses great significance, but it will be interesting to see what additional information is forthcoming, particularly after the autopsy has been completed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Jay Leno on the GOP Agenda

"Republican leaders say that after illegal immigration and gay marriage, the next issue President Bush will tackle: flag burning. . . . So if you're an illegal immigrant who's crossing our border to burn the flag at your gay wedding, we got your number."

"Do we need a constitutional amendment? Is that the most important issue facing the country today--gay marriage? We were off last week, so apparently we must have caught bin Laden."

Zarqawi's Death

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the U.S. Government claimed was al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq, has been killed by American forces near Baquba. According to the military briefing, Zarqawi was killed by bombs dropped by American F-16s. An eyewitness, however, maintained that a firefight occurred in or around Zarqawi's safe house before the bombs were dropped. Furthermore, a photo of Zarqawi's face showed remarkably little trauma for someone whose house had been targeted by two 500-pound bombs.

More important than how Zarqawi died is what difference his death will make. Here's Juan Cole's assessment:

There is no evidence of operational links between [Zarqawi's] Salafi Jihadis in Iraq and the real al-Qaeda; it was just a sort of branding that suited everyone, including the US. Official US spokesmen have all along over-estimated his importance. Leaders are significant and not always easily replaced. But Zarqawi has in my view has been less important than local Iraqi leaders and groups. I don't expect the guerrilla war to subside any time soon.

Even Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged that Zarqawi's death would not end the insurgency: "Given the nature of the terrorist networks, really a network of networks, the death of Zarqawi, while enormously important, will not mean the end of all violence in that country."

Meanwhile, in a poll conducted immediately before the announcement of Zarqawi's death, President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq was given its lowest approval rating yet.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bolton vs. Brown

UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown has drawn the ire of John Bolton over a speech delivered to the Century Foundation and Center for American Progress Security and Peace Initiative yesterday in New York City.

Brown's speech was presented " as a sincere and constructive critique of US policy towards the UN by a friend and admirer." The central point of the critique was that "the prevailing practice of seeking to use the UN almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics is simply not sustainable." After noting Government Accountability Office and Rand Corporation studies that have found UN peacekeeping to be a cost-effective means of promoting international stability, Brown stated, "Yet for many policymakers and opinion leaders in Washington, let alone the general public, the roles I have described are hardly believed or, where they are, remain discreetly underplayed. To acknowledge an America reliant on international institutions is not perceived to be good politics at home." That, of course, is exactly right.

Does the UN matter? Brown argues that it does:

The US--like every nation, strong and weak alike--is today beset by problems that defy national, inside-the-border solutions: climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, migration, the management of the global economy, the internationalization of drugs and crime, the spread of diseases such as HIV and avian flu. Today’s new national security challenges basically thumb their noses at old notions of national sovereignty. Security has gone global, and no country can afford to neglect the global institutions needed to manage it.

Kofi Annan has proposed a restructuring of the UN to respond to these new challenges with three legs: development, security and human rights supported, like any good chair, by a fourth leg, reformed management. That is the UN we want to place our bet on. But for it to work, we need the US to support this agenda--and support it not just in a whisper but in a coast to coast shout that pushes back the critics domestically and wins over the sceptics internationally. America’s leaders must again say the UN matters.

On the whole, Brown's analysis is on target, which is probably why Secretary-General Kofi Annan declined to distance himself from the speech as Ambassador Bolton demanded. Not surprisingly, Bolton ("Ann Coulter with a moustache," according to a comment here) was left fulminating in a way that very precisely demonstrated Brown's main points.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Haditha, Briefly

I've had little opportunity to post lately, but the matter of possible war crimes committed by Americans in Iraq deserves some attention. For now, this brief editorial from The Nation is a good place to start regarding Haditha. I hope to have a chance to say more on this subject soon.