Radio Masochism

July 6, 2010

For reasons not interesting enough to explain here, I found myself stuck with a bit of Mark Levin‘s radio program earlier this evening. If you’ve never encountered Levin’s work, consider yourself lucky. A former Reagan administration lawyer and friend of Sean Hannity, Levin broadcasts from an alternate universe where using nu-metal bumper music is still socially acceptable. In his world, this quasi-gaffe by a relatively minor Obama Administration official is a sign of the apocalypse.

Which is not to downplay its gaffeyness. Bolden’s characterization of his outreach to Muslim countries is definitely one of the more uncomfortable non-Biden utterings of Obama’s term. It’s more than a little condescending to the Muslim world, and it makes the Administration look weak on an issue that most people would never pay attention to otherwise. But if we characterize the policy more charitably, akin to the clarifications issued recently by both NASA and the White House (described in the previous link), it seems fairly obvious that it’s about scientific collaboration with countries we often neglect in our scientific endeavors. Though NASA is often wasteful, this seems like a worthy endeavor.

…unless you make your living on talk radio. In that case, it’s a conspiracy designed to undermine freedom and coddle tacit sponsors of terror who are Our Enemies, by jingo! Elevating the discourse beyond ‘gotcha!’ is off the table.

(Postscript: Normally I try to avoid the Levins of the world. There are plenty of people with similar views who are more articulate and better able to keep their polemical tendencies in check. However, since I happened to catch some of his broadcast today, I felt like using his show to set up this post.)


Jordan and the Lack of an Iraq

August 16, 2007

Over at Slate, Shmuel Rosner points to one of the often-ignored side effects of the Iraq debacle: its effects on neighboring Jordan. To wit:

It was the powerful Iraq that provided the threat then [in 1991], and the weakened, chaotic Iraq that is threatening now. Jordan has a permanent “stability issue,” as one U.S. official describes it. In the past, it was intimidated by its two powerful neighbors, Israel and Iraq; now it is troubled by the weakest of the weak, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq.

It is hard to overstate the importance of this problem. Jordan, despite its ambivalent attitudes toward democracy and civil rights, remains a fairly modern, fairly stable ally in a region where they are hard to come by. Jordan already suffers from instability caused by its large, more radically Islamic Palestinian community. (A former professor of mine, an expert on Jordan, claimed to know which American political scientist the monarchy hired to gerrymander districts several years ago).

However, to date, they have managed to contain the internal dissidents, more or less, with only very occasional attacks in recent years. However, if, as the article claims, 750,000 Iraqi refugees, some doubtless radicalized, have now entered the country, it may prove more than the secular monarchy can contain. That would not be a good thing.

Michael Totten on Iraq

August 15, 2007

I found this lengthy dispatch from independent journalist Michael J Totten on RCP today. Totten’s credentials definitely lean to the right; his publications list reveals articles for Pajamas Media, Reason, and WSJ’s Opinion Journal. Nonetheless, I think his assessment is pretty level-headed overall. There’s so much interesting stuff in there I don’t really know how to quote it, I’d recommend you read it all.

The main point I think to take away from Totten is that things are both terrible and great, improving and declining, and that it’s easy to read the tea leaves however you like. He seems to think we shouldn’t change our strategy much for the time being, but I read what he’s saying and draw a different conclusion. And so it goes.

Ross Douthat’s comments today on the war are pretty good as well. He takes a Max Boot piece in Commentary to task for making the lazy argument in favor of the surge. And indeed,  such lazy arguments in favor of the surge seem to be dominating these days.

The Rundown

August 14, 2007
  • Matthew Yglesias asks an important question — Would Rudy Giuliani Bomb Iran? (I’ll give you a hint: the answer is “yes.”)
  • In other scary war news, there have been murmurs about the draft again in recent weeks. Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame makes a pretty persuasive argument against. Fortunately, the Pentagon’s official line is still that the draft is off the table.
  • Via Brad DeLong, Abu Aardvark points out that a Petraeus/Crocker report might, due to the nature of their respective positions, be somewhat schizophrenic.
  • Jesus Christ, why does Chuck Schumer want anything to do with copyrighting fashion designs?
  • The Democratic Strategist thinks election reform is a good idea. So do I. I’d like something even more radically than what the author would like, but anything is better than what we have now.

Libya and the EU

August 10, 2007

Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but where has the discussion over the rather untoward resolution of the Bulgarian nurse death sentence crisis been? For those of you who haven’t been following along, I’d recommend you read this Wikipedia article. Allow me to summarize, in brief.

HIV breaks out at a children’s hospital in Libya staffed mostly by Bulgarian doctors. The Libyan government, seeking a scapegoat to avoid the embarrassing truth that the outbreak was caused by awful hygiene protocols, chooses the foreign doctors. It trumps up highly dubious charges and sentences the medics to death. There is enough of an international outcry that eventually the sentences are commuted to life imprisonment, and then the EU secures the medics’ release to Bulgaria.

Ultimately, is it a good thing these people are alive? Absolutely. But the more details that have emerged since their release, the more unseemly the whole thing gets. First, France’s Sarkozy, shortly after his wife helped to secure the Bulgarians’ release, meets with Libya’s Ghaddafi, and announces arms and nuclear power deals. I understand that carrots are probably preferred to sticks when dealing with a nutjob like Moammar Ghaddafi, but jeez. Then it came out Thursday that Ghaddafi’s son has now admitted that the medics definitely were tortured, as they alleged. And for it, being richly rewarded. I am not sure there was any better way to handle it, but it makes me faintly ill, nonetheless.

Brookings on Iraq

July 30, 2007

Clearly, the big one today is the O’Hanlon / Pollack editorial in the New York Times. For those of you who read blogs but somehow missed this one, O’Hanlon and Pollack are scholars at the left-leaning Brookings Institute who have been critical of the war, but now believe the surge is working. The upshot is this:

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

I don’t have much new to say on the subject. A great deal has already been said, probably better than I could say it, so I will run that down instead.

RCP’s Tom Bevan buys it. His take:

If two of America’s most well respected experts who follow this stuff closer than anyone are surprised by the positive progress in Iraq, just imagine how surprised the average Joe would be.

Andrew Sullivan is less than convinced.  He points out that Pollack and O’Hanlon appear to have obtained most of their information from people who have a significant incentive to overstate progress.

Matthew Yglesias weighs in twice: In the first, he notes that O’Hanlon and Pollack, while sometimes critical of the war, are not exactly lefty peaceniks either; in the second he points to a more substantive flaw:

The critique of US occupation policy since, say, the fall of 2003 has been that US policy in Iraq has focused overwhelmingly on military goals and ignored the fact that the essential problems in Iraq are political […] according to the people [Pollack and O’Hanlon] who think the surge is working, the surge has, in fact, done nothing whatsoever to address the crucial problems in Iraq.

Brad DeLong is also unimpressed, pointing to a Joe Klein post on his Time blog to the same effect.

My own general sense is that these two have been at best misled, and at worst, outright dishonest. They do not disclose their prior cheerleading for the surge, and in fact, present themselves as war skeptics. I regard their claims warily, particularly in light of Joe Klein’s suggestion that they visited nearly exclusively Sunni parts of the country, where US forces are most concentrated and where the occupation is somewhat less unpopular.

The Hollow Horn

July 30, 2007
  • One pretty solid positive for Fred Thompson: he has spoken out against the growing federalization of criminal law.
  • Is Barack Obama, as this Slate article suggests, “all sizzle and no steak”? Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias weighs in on the Clinton-Obama foreign policy spat here, and I agree.
  • I am not the only one who thinks Edwards’ advocation of capital gains tax hikes may not be the best way to go about raising the funds our government needs to pay its debts. Tyler Cowen weighs in here.
  • Good news, travelers: David Kopel makes a fairly compelling case that sometimes flying really is better than driving.
  • Foreign Policy asks, “What’s wrong with this foreign policy?”