Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Kevin's new home

Ok, finally got around to changing Kevin's address. I was flabbergasted (like everybody else) to see that Kevin's blog had become the centerpiece of the new Washington Monthly site, although in retrospect it makes a lot of sense. Synergistic and whatnot.

I'll be posting more later on today. I know it's been quiet here... outside obligations have become more and more of an issue lately. That'll change.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Spainfully Obvious

(title from an old Asterix comic)

This whole controversy over Spain's election is, well, bizarre. I don't give a rat's ass about whether or not Al Qaeda managed to influence the Spanish electorate, the fact remains that significant proportions of the blogosphere are basically giving up the entire concept of democracy. That is, after all, the fundamental message behind "the Spanish should have backed their government in the face of the bombings"... that no matter how much the government has betrayed the trust of the people, those people have no right to change their choice of government, and are "cowards" for doing so. The war is more important than the democracy for which it is fought.

It's perverse. This sort of "securitizing of democracy" was about the #1 reason why the United States played merry hell with Central and South America, and a Marxist variation of this mode of thought was used to justify every Soviet intervention from Lithuania to Afghanistan. It's led to more war crimes than you can shake a bleeding severed leg at, it's about the biggest reason otherwise respectable countries end up with Presidents-for-Life, and is about the only thing that could disrupt the smooth functioning of American democracy.

This sort of behavior is absolutely reprehensible, and it provides a sobering message as to what to expect from Republicans during, and after, this election. Expect "Only Traitors Disagree With The Leader" in a thousand variations.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Good News... Very Good News

Although I'm still deeply troubled by the bombings in Madrid, I've got at least one phrase to keep my spirits up. Take it away, John:

"I have no intention whatsoever of apologizing for my remarks".


He gets it. I would have never thought this possible even a year ago, but Kerry gets it.

Screw the polling numbers, they don't mean anything. This does. Bush is in far, far more trouble than I thought.

Bush goes negative

Well, that was fast. Honestly, this is silly; there's no way the effects of March anti-Kerry ads are going to be felt by November. Bush is blowing this cash for nothing.

More importantly, though, he's sacrificed the high road. That's just dumb; the best weapon a sitting president has in an election is the aura of being "above the fray" that the role of Head of State grants him; sacrificing that may be necessary when the fall rolls around, but in March? Not only will it weaken a key electoral tool, but it screws with the effectiveness of the presidency as well, as his "bully pulpit" will be even further sullied by an image of vicious partisanship.

I'm not sure which alternative is worse

The Madrid bombing (900 injured, and at least 197 dead as of last count), to be blunt, horrified me. Now, though, the question of "who did it" looms large. Instead of these bombings being being seen as clearly the work of Basque nationalists (as people had thought on Thursday), the question is now open as to who's responsible. It may be ETA (the chemical signature of the explosives corresponds with ETA) but it may well not be (the nature of the attack doesn't fit the ETA's profile).

A group affiliated with Al Qaeda claimed responsibility, but they're not credible; they also claimed responsibility for the blackout last year.

So, there are two possibilities here. First, ETA did it, which implies that the old style of attacks is dead. This doesn't necessarily mean that ETA is affiliated with Al Qaeda, although it does imply it; it may be that ETA is consciously attempting to mimic Al Qaeda. The CNN article says that they "have different goals" because the nationalism of ETA doesn't correspond with the Islamic theocratic goals of Al Qaeda, but that is really unimportant; terrorist organizations have made these pragmatic sorts of linkages for a very long time. It may well have been a response to the American War on Terror, too; a sort of "if we don't hang together we will surely hang seperately" logic would be logical in light of the war. It may also have something to do with the Chechnya conflict, as the Chechans have fairly successfully blended together Islamic fundamentalism and nationalism in ways that have (to some extent) eluded even the Arabs.

Second, Al Qaeda did it. This doesn't mean the ETA didn't have some involvement, but that Al Qaeda was the leading party. If that's the case, then the "revenge for aiding the U.S. in Iraq" scenario seems credible. The biggest problem with that scenario is that Al Qaeda didn't really have much to do with Saddam, but that doesn't really matter here, as Al Qaeda is certainly interested in the fate of Iraq now. Besides, I doubt an Al Qaeda attack in Spain would be aimed at Spanish eyes and Spanish ears- it would be aimed at potential allies as proof of Al Qaeda's remaining strength and at potential foes as an object lesson on the price of assisting the U.S. It also will create real tension and conflict in Europe, which I'm sure Osama wants; he's after a world war that Europe (until now) seemed bound and determined not to fight. Europe's significant Muslim minorities could be a powderkeg if Europe is seen as fully signing on to the United States' so-called "crusade"; the Europeans know that, and I'm sure Osama does too.

Right now, the most important job is figuring out who is responsible, so that the Spanish (and the world) know which of these scenarios they're dealing with.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Bush Really is a Uniter

Just look at who he brought together!

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, welcomed Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who once seemed his chief political roadblock, to his headquarters here on Wednesday with an ovation by scores of staff members. The two men talked for an hour behind closed doors, guarded by a phalanx of Secret Service agents — but not before Mr. Kerry hugged Dr. Dean and shook his hand for the cameras.

Dr. Dean made no official endorsement of Mr. Kerry but Democrats close to both men said they expect it to come before the end of the month, quashing any concerns in the party that Dr. Dean would not help the ticket.

"During the campaign, we often focused on what divided us, but the truth is we have much more in common, beginning with our fervent desire to send George Bush back to Crawford, Tex., in November," Dr. Dean said in a statement after the session. "I will work closely with John Kerry to make sure we beat George Bush in November and turn our country around."
It's good to hear this... really, really good. I had been worried about Dean deciding to "take his football and go home", but in retrospect I probably shouldn't have been. Both Dean and Kerry know that the paramount concern is unseating Bush, and I think Dean can take (and undoubtedly will) take a lot of credit for energizing the party base, effectively marshalling Internet Democrats, and showing that vigorous partisanship can be both effective and financially rewarding. There's been a lot of carping about how Kerry is "sailing through" the primaries, but I think the reason he's sailing through is largely because he learned the lesson that Dean was teaching. Having learned that lesson, he's overcome the chief flaw in his old electoral strategy- his former unwillingness to take a stand against Bush.

Plus, Dean will no doubt remember that he was the candidate of choice for a lot of Democrats, and that he probably would have been the candidate had taking Bush down not been seen as so vitally important. Assuming that he'd get a plum post, as Oliver speculates, the good Doctor will have done quite nicely for himself.

It's too bad that we'll never know how he would have fared, though.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Welcome Back to the Cold War

Or, at least, the American attitudes characterized by it. It would appear, at least according to this piece in the Toronto Star, that the United States is reverting to type in the Americas.

The United States, aided and abetted by Canada, has just sponsored a coup in Haiti. That's what the supporters of ousted president Jean-Bertrand Aristide say. "Coup" is also the word that Jamaica's government uses to describe the weekend events in Port-au-Prince.

Certainly, it's hard to argue against this analysis. Aristide was a democratically elected president — one of only two in Haiti's 100-year history. According to Larry Birns of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, Aristide's Lavalas party would almost certainly have won free parliamentary elections if the opposition had allowed the elections to take place.

This, incidentally, is one of the weirder elements of the Haiti story. Aristide wanted legislative elections. It was the opposition that blocked him.
It's not weird in the slightest. Both the Soviet Union and the United States were perfectly willing to set aside elections, or support non-elected vs. elected groups, as long as the supported group was closer to their side. After the fall of the Soviet Union, of course, things were supposed to have changed: the U.S. only engaged in anti-democratic practices because of the Cold War against an implacable foe of democracy was supposed to have made it necessary, but that foe is long gone, right?

Well, maybe the "foe" isn't the same one we thought it was. Meet the face of evil:

It's also hard to understand why Washington found Aristide so loathsome. True, he spoke for, and was supported by, the poor, a characteristic that U.S. regimes always find disturbing.

Indeed, a populist leader may easily become a demagogue, particularly if the civil rights the middle classes hold so dear — the right of property, the right to criticize government — interfere with the economic rights the poor demand, such as the right to eat.
This makes sense, and seems to be the concern that is animating American opposition to Hugo Chavez, as well, as this particular charade shows that it's obviously not Chavez' contempt for democracy that is the problem. (Aristide has his problems with democracy too- witness the 2000 elections- but armed insurrection goes just a little farther than that.)

I guess the real question is, then, whether or not Guy Phillipe got a wink from a U.S. official before starting the violence.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Schroeder and Bush

Is anybody else suspicious that the weak electoral showings for the SDF in Germany will increase German/U.S. tension? After all, if American-bashing worked the first time....

U.N. Sends Peacekeepers to Haiti

According to CNN, it looks like with Aristide's departure the U.N. is going to send peacekeepers into Haiti. Fortunately, it may not be necessary; the rebel leader has said that with Aristide gone, they "don't intend to fight anymore... the only problem we had was with Aristide". I'm not going to bet money on complete stability with Aristide's ouster, especially considering that "pro-Aristide gangs" have been causing trouble in the capital, but without American support, he's ready to have that proverbial fork stuck in him.

Regardless of that, I fervently hope that Phillipe was being honest. I've been worried about Haiti for a while, and any outcome that doesn't end up with Haiti in flames is much more positive than what I've been expecting.