March 31, 2006

Not a compliment

John Mearsheimer, of "Smearsheimer and Wilt" fame, quotes Hitchens' article in Slate in his defence. It would appear, however, that Smearesheimer has not read Hitchens. The greatest Old Leysian ended his piece, as Tony Bardan pointed out, with this magnificent last paragraph:

Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly.

Somebody should inform Smearsheimer that Hitchens is not complimenting him on his choice of aftershave.

Andrew Apostolou (unsmeared pyjamas).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 9:48 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 28, 2006

London policing 2

Reza Mortadi, a 29 year old Iranian, has been summonsed by the Police and charged following complaints made at the "March for Free Expression." Mr Mortadi had displayed some of the Danish cartoons. Here is Reza at the rally. Here is Maryam Namazie's speech.

Update: here is a picture of the Police speaking to Mr Moradi (from Yahoo! News).


Andrew Apostolou (indignant pyjamas).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 5:15 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 27, 2006

Not so independent journalism

The New York Times had the usual, and now standard, credulous article about al-Jazeera, with a focus on its new attempt to enter the English-language market. We are significantly informed that on al-Jazeera:

Guests have questioned the right of the Saud family to rule Saudi Arabia.

No surprise there given that the channel is controlled by Qatar which does not have close relations with the next door Gulf kleptocracy. Such questions do not elevate al-Jazeera to the level of true journalism.

As for the notion that al-Jazeera is about debate, the questions that The New York Times did not ask were: how much debate has their been on al-Jazeera about the right of the al Thani clan to rule? Has al-Jazeera given extensive coverage to one of the al Thani prince's criminal behaviour and his subsequent outrageous release? What debate has there been of Qatar's role in sheltering Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? What debate has there been of the issues of class and race, covered in this article about Dubai?

Update 1: They sell Carlsberg in Qatar, by the way.

Andrew Apostolou (yes, we have no pyjamas).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:58 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Hitch on Walt and Mearsheimer

Christopher Hitchens offers his two cents on "The Lobby."

Rather than focus on Saudi Arabia, as Lee Smith has done, he instead chooses Pakistan and Turkey:

For purposes of contrast, let us look at two other regional allies of the United States. Both Turkey and Pakistan have been joined to the Pentagon hip since approximately the time of the emergence of the state of Israel, which coincided with the Truman Doctrine. Pakistan was, like Israel, cleaved from a former British territory. Since that time, both states have carried out appalling internal repression and even more appalling external aggression. Pakistan attempted a genocide in Bangladesh, with the support of Nixon and Kissinger, in 1971. It imposed the Taliban as its client in a quasi-occupation of Afghanistan. It continues to arm and train Bin Ladenists to infiltrate Indian-held Kashmir, and its promiscuity with nuclear materials exceeds anything Israel has tried with its stockpile at Dimona. Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and continues in illegal occupation of the northern third of the island, which has been forcibly cleansed of its Greek inhabitants. It continues to lie about its massacre of the Armenians. U.N. resolutions have had no impact on these instances of state terror and illegality in which the United States is also partially implicated.

But here's the thing: There is no Turkish or Pakistani ethnic "lobby" in America. And here's the other thing: There is no call for "disinvestment" in Turkey or Pakistan. We are not incessantly told that with these two friends we are partners in crime. Perhaps the Greek Cypriots and Indians are in error in refusing to fly civilian aircraft into skyscrapers. That might get the attention of the "realists." Or perhaps the affairs of two states, one secular Muslim and one created specifically in the name of Islam, do not possess the eternal fascination that attaches to the Jewish question.

Then there's this:

There has been some disquiet expressed about Mearsheimer and Walt's over-fondness for Jewish name-dropping: their reiteration of the names Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, etc., as the neocon inner circle. Well, it would be stupid not to notice that a group of high-energy Jews has been playing a role in our foreign-policy debate for some time. The first occasion on which it had any significant influence (because, despite its tentacular influence, it lost the argument over removing Saddam Hussein in 1991) was in pressing the Clinton administration to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo. These are the territories of Europe's oldest and largest Muslim minorities; they are oil-free and they do not in the least involve the state interest of Israel. Indeed, Sharon publicly opposed the intervention. One could not explain any of this from Mearsheimer and Walt's rhetoric about "the lobby."

But it's the concluding paragraph that's classic Hitch:

Mearsheimer and Walt belong to that vapid school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started. Their wish is father to the thought that there must be some way, short of a fight, to get around this confrontation. Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly.

Unmistakably smelly?! Top that, Lee!

Tony Badran

Posted by at 10:05 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Bawer bites back

Bruce Bawer has a great, amusing response to a very silly review of his book in The Washington Post. Norwegians may find his comments about their country lacking sophistication "offensive."

Andrew Apostolou (yes, we have no pyjamas).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:03 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

More Hollywood silliness

The popinjays, your after hours resource, have a prime example of Hollywood moonbattery. This goes beyond the combined silliness of Sean Penn, George Clooney et al.

Andrew Apostolou (pyjamas in the drier).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:00 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Three Reviews of Fukuyama

Here are three very interesting reviews of Francis Fukuyama's latest book that are worth a click. Unfortunately, I don't have the time now to comment on them at more length, but would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

First, Paul Berman's in the NYT. A few quotes:

Now, I notice that in stressing this strategic argument, together with the humanitarian and human rights issue, and in pointing out lessons from the Balkans, Fukuyama has willy-nilly outlined some main elements of the liberal interventionist position of three years ago, at least in one of its versions. In the Iraq war, liberal interventionism was the road not taken, to be sure. Nor was liberal interventionism his own position. However, I have to say that, having read his book, I'm not entirely sure what position he did adopt, apart from wisely admonishing everyone to tread carefully. He does make plain that, having launched wars hither and yon, the United States had better ensure that, in Afghanistan and Iraq alike, stable antiterrorist governments finally emerge.

He proposes a post-Bush foreign policy, which he styles "realistic Wilsonianism" — his new motto in place of neoconservatism. He worries that because of Bush's blunders, Americans on the right and the left are going to retreat into a Kissinger-style reluctance to promote democratic values in other parts of the world. Fukuyama does want to promote democratic values — "what is in the end a revolutionary American foreign policy agenda" — though he would like to be cautious about it, and even multilateral about it. The United Nations seems to him largely unsalvageable, given the role of nondemocratic countries there. But he thinks that a variety of other institutions, consisting strictly of democracies, might be able to establish and sometimes even enforce a new and superior version of international legitimacy. He wants to encourage economic development in poor countries, too — if only a method can be found that avoids the dreadful phrase "social engineering."

The bit about strictly democratic multilateral institutions (outside the UN) is intriguing. I'll have to read what he has to say about it in depth (I have yet to read Fukuyama's book which is another reason why I'm reserving comment for now). We've seen the potential benefits with the American-French-British cooperation over Lebanon (while Russia continues to hint at a spoiler role). But then again, it's not without problems. It would be interesting to see what Fukuyama has in mind.

As anyone who has read Terror and Liberalism knows, Berman is interested in the ideological component of the war on radical Islamism, and finds that lacking in Fukuyama's book:

In "America at the Crossroads," Fukuyama describes the Hegelianism of "The End of History" as a version of "modernization" theory, bringing his optimistic vision of progress into the world of modern social science. But the problem with modernization theory was always a tendency to concentrate most of its attention on the steadily progressing phases of history, as determined by the predictable workings of sociology or economics or psychology — and to relegate the free play of unpredictable ideas and ideologies to the margins of world events.

And yet, what dominated the 20th century, what drowned the century in oceans of blood, was precisely the free play of ideas and ideologies, which could never be relegated entirely to the workings of sociology, economics, psychology or any of the other categories of social science. In my view, we are seeing the continuing strength of 20th-century-style ideologies right now — the ideologies that have motivated Baathists and the more radical Islamists to slaughter millions of their fellow Muslims in the last 25 years, together with a few thousand people who were not Muslims. Fukuyama is always worth reading, and his new book contains ideas that I hope the non-neoconservatives of America will adopt. But neither his old arguments nor his new ones offer much insight into this, the most important problem of all — the problem of murderous ideologies and how to combat them.

The second review is by Niall Ferguson in the Telegraph. Ferguson comments on Fukuyama's U-turn and its possible significance:

It coincides with a sea-change in the public mood. Disillusionment with Iraq has even begun to penetrate Bush's once-loyal base in the American heartland.

The worst of all this is that all those who from the outset opposed the war in Iraq now appear vindicated, no matter how dubious their arguments. We are rapidly reverting to the default setting of the Democratic Left, that it is preferable to leave tyrants in power than to sully the republic with the taint of imperialism. Better a multitude of Attilas abroad than Rome at home.

I agree that the neocons got it wrong, but my reasons are different from Fukuyama's, and they do not lead me to conclude that the Left was correct all along.

Ferguson goes on to outline his reasons, and ends up reaffirming his own thesis (from his book, Colossus):

And yet the logical conclusion from all this is not that the United States should pack up and march off home. For what precisely is the alternative to American hegemony, benign or blundering? Fukuyama pins his hopes on a new multilateralism, trying to breathe life into the corpse of the United Nations and other kindred institutions. The French fantasise that the European Union should somehow act as a counterweight to American power.

Yet when people in other countries are asked: "Would the world be safer if another country were as powerful as the United States?", they generally say "No". We and the Turks are evenly split, but a majority of Russians, Germans and even Jordanians, Moroccans and Pakistanis think the world would be less safe with a second superpower.

What all this tells us is not that American hegemony is finished and should be wound up. It tells us that there is no better alternative available. Pace Fukuyama, the United States does not need to say "sorry" for getting rid of Saddam. What it needs to do is to be more realistic, better informed historically and less fiscally profligate; and to get more boots on the ground.

I'm all for admitting to error. But let's get it right about what has gone wrong.

As I mentioned above, I'll need to read exactly what Fukuyama wrote, but one gets conflicting remarks from Berman and Ferguson about his attitude towards the UN. It seems that Fukuyama is trying to find a way to have both legitimacy and efficiency (esp. when, as Berman points out, UN action is often crippled by authoritarian states).

These issues are touched on in the third review by Gary Rosen in the WaPo:

His [Fukuyama] own tool of choice is what foreign policy types call "soft power" -- the less coercive means at America's disposal, from foreign aid and election monitoring to the sort of civil affairs know-how that was so conspicuously lacking when U.S. forces arrived in Baghdad. Indeed, so important is this aspect of Fukuyama's newfound "realistic Wilsonianism" that he devotes a third of his slender book to it. We learn about the "huge" body of technical literature on democratic transitions, state-building and economic development. And we receive a long tutorial on how the United States might better use "overlapping and sometimes competitive international institutions," practicing what Fukuyama calls "multi-multilateralism." It's all very instructive in its scholarly, wonkish way -- a kind of primer for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

This summary, if accurate, begs a series of question which Rosen goes on to ask:

But can such "soft power" succeed without sterner stuff behind it? Is it an answer to the multiple pathologies of the modern Middle East? Short of military intervention, it is difficult to see how any sort of democratic spark could have penetrated Iraq's police state. For that matter, in a region flush with petrodollars, dominated by strongmen and sheikhs, and threatened by Islamist insurgency, reform-minded leaders are unlikely to emerge anywhere without considerable pressure from the outside -- at the very least, of the economic and diplomatic variety. Fukuyama prefers carrots -- "our ability to set an example, to train and educate, to support with advice and often money" -- but the job plainly demands sticks as well if we hope to see results in our own lifetime.

Of course, anyone familiar with the track record of such an approach in the ME may snicker bitterly upon reading that last quote from Fukuyama. A cynic might add a clause in there: "we train and educate, they jail and crack down!"

Again, I don't have time right now to go into this, and furthermore, I'll hold back till I've read the book.

But Rosen explains further:

And that may be the point. Fukuyama is in no hurry to confront the chronic problems of the Middle East. It isn't just that he doubts the feasibility of the neocons' nation-building schemes or their claims that democracy is the best antidote to Islamism. For Fukuyama, the challenge posed by Osama bin Laden's brand of radicalism is simply not that serious -- not, in his carefully chosen word, the sort of "existential" threat that should trouble our sleep. There's something to this view, of course, after more than four years of peace on the home front. But it depends too much on the good fortune we've enjoyed -- and underestimates an enemy whom we've underestimated before. A spectacular American encore by al-Qaeda would not literally destroy the country, but it could well cripple it for a time, with far-reaching effects on our way of life. Neocons have refused to discount such dire prospects.

According to Rosen, it seems that this position emanates to a certain degree from an assumption -- or a theory -- on Fukuyama's part about Islamism:

More surprising is Fukuyama's rejection of the very idea that liberalization in the Middle East would make us safer. His point is not merely the obvious one that the short-term beneficiaries of any political opening are likely to be extremists like Hamas. Rather, as he sees it, jihadism itself is "a by-product of modernization and globalization," not a return to tradition but a thoroughly 21st-century balm for alienated young people whose communal identities have been shattered by the West's aggressive, often vulgar materialism. The Islamist wave is emphatically not, in his view, the result of any lack of freedom or democracy in the countries across which it has swept in recent decades.

Here Fukuyama commits apostasy of a different kind: against the thesis that made him famous. His new rendering of "the end of history" -- of liberal democracy as the culmination of humankind's ideological development -- verges on economic determinism; it is, as he recently put it, "a kind of Marxist argument." Just as he finds the roots of jihadism in the confounding material bounty of the West, so too does he define modernization itself as little more than the longing for "technology, high standards of living, health standards, and access to the wider world." Politics is an afterthought, the icing on the economic cake.

Again, I'll have to read Fukuyama first, but prima facie, this strikes me as quite the problematic assumption.

Fukuyama elaborated a bit on this theory in an essay co-written with Adam Garfinkkle and featured in the Opinion Journal.

There are so many problematic statements and assumptions in this piece, it would take me a while to give them their due (and this is not to say that the authors don't make good points). But a lot of the statements are perplexing to me, and seem to give legitimacy to certain cretinous theses about the ruling regimes in the region (e.g., that they are "secular Arab nationalists"). For instance, the notion that free elections would bring "the mosque into the public square" simply does not take into account that in Egypt, e.g., the regime has long ceded the public sphere to the clerical institution.

In other words, what some of us have been saying for a while is that the regimes and the Islamists are in many ways two sides of the same coin. That includes violence, illiberalism, the strangling of free and liberal voices, etc., resulting in a battered socio-political culture. It's a game that the regimes have perfected. So, for example, while the only serious challenger to Mubarak's regime is the Muslim Brotherhood, his crackdowns are against liberals!

I will stop here, but when you keep such matters in mind, parts of the essay will simply make your jaw drop. The implications they might have on policy, of course, are deeply worrying (esp. when we keep in mind the remark by Ferguson about "the default setting of the Democratic Left" or Berman's "Kissinger-style reluctance to promote democratic values"). Other parts are simply wrong. It wasn't "extremist Islamists" who rioted against the Danish cartoons. It was very much "traditional pious Muslims." And by the way, these "secular" regimes were deeply implicated in fanning the flames, as happened in "secular" Baathist Syria for instance.

In the end, I find Fukuyama's assumptions on Islamism (and "traditional Islam" -- ed.'s note: the dominance of traditional Islam is already asserted in the region!), modernization, the ME and its discourses and socio-political culture, and the role of liberalism, to be highly problematic (and that might explain Berman's dissatisfaction with the lack of a proper discussion of ideology). We can't make this only about "us" (e.g., "Islamism is a by-product of modernization" and that somehow it should be seen as separate from the socio-political culture of the ME).

There are lots of questions that need to be asked, and critical points to be made, but again, I'll reserve further comment till I've read the book.

Tony Badran

Posted by at 6:39 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 26, 2006

London policing

One of the ways in which the police in repressive societies intimidate people is by turning up at protest meetings and taking pictures of them. What, then, are we supposed to make of this behaviour in London yesterday? Note that this is the same Metropolitan Police that did nothing about demonstrators who incited to violence in May 2005 and then only responded in February 2006 after a public outcry. Many thanks to Nordishblog.

As Tatchell speaks, note the policeman with the peaked hat tell the policeman with the baseball hat which citizen to photograph. Is this how we do policing in Britain?

Update 1: click on this link to see the pic, it is the 53rd picture down.

Update 2: A correspondent who must remain anonymous writes that "I also include photos of the cops who maintained a very intimidating presence, photographing everyone, including tourists and little old ladies. They were far more aggressive than at Islamist demos apparently."

The caption with this pic is "snapping a curious canadian tourist, female, around 70."


Here are the boys in blue again.


The correspondent writes: "an Iraqi named Ali who made a powerful brief speech in which he referred to the severe restrictions on freedom of speech under Saddam and the Taliban"


Our correspondent writes that: "The people wearing danish flags were doing so because they were forbidden to wave them. I persuaded one of them... to wave it despite the ban -- the police moved in behind us so we eventually stopped."


The police intervened at one point. More details on my site and here, note the gentleman that they spoke to was Iranian.

Andrew Apostolou (pyjamas in the wash, finally).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 5:55 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 25, 2006

What free expression?

London’s “March For Free Expression” encountered the absurdity of British law today:

The stewards were advised that a bylaw prohibits the display in Trafalgar Square of any foreign flags, so they had to cooperate with the wardens and the police in asking people to lower Danish and American flags. That's a shame, but thank you to the people concerned for complying with good grace (and sometimes managing to "wear" the flags in a way that was allowed to pass).

No foreign flags? Odd how the Metropolitan Police and wardens were so good at enforcing the law today. Here are pictures of Trafalgar Square demonstrations involving foreign flags (bonus, Gorgeous one in the foreground), and here, here, here, here and here (amazing!).

If you live in the UK, you'd do better to put this in your lapel than waste your time with these so-called pro-free expression demos.


Andrew Apostolou (dress down saturday blogger).

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:49 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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