Friday, March 08, 2002

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Jonathan Rauch is one of the few journalists who can be counted on to consistently come up with original thoughts, and today's column, where he proposes having Israel re-occupy the West Bank as an overt gesture towards peace negotiations (counterintuitive as that may seem) possibly coupled with the simultaneous evacuation of certain settlements, definitely qualifies.
Rauch's analysis of the situation is generally excellent. But it's his introduction which should be posted on the chairs of every editorialist and op-ed writer who thinks sending Anthony Zinni back to the region is part of a solution:
Amazingly, the newspapers are still full of diplomats, politicians, and editorialists insisting that the answer must be for the Bush Administration to roll up its sleeves, fully engage the Middle East crisis, and get the peace process back on track. Good idea! How about an intense, personal, eight-year effort by an American President to forge a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? How about frequent White House meetings with the principals, tireless hands-on diplomacy, and every imaginable kind of stroking, arm-twisting, map-drawing, cajoling, and pleading?
Oops. Already tried that. Never mind.
Here is one Middle East initiative that would really help: The next diplomat, politician, or editorial writer who declares that the Bush Administration must "fully engage to restart the peace process" should be drawn and quartered. Especially if the offender is a European who risked not one nickel of political capital in the Middle East during the 1990s. And doubly especially if the offender is an Arab who spent the 1990s ducking American pleas to push the Palestinians to make a deal, and who now blames America (America!) for the failure of Middle East peace.

Will the idea work? Probably not. Will it fail more bloodily than what has been tried up to this point? Probably not.
HOW FRIEDMAN GOT HIS GROOVE BACK: An excellent assessment of Thomas Friedman by David Plotz. It provides a good explanation as to why, when Friedman is right - as he has been about most things since September 11 - he can be the most influential columnist in the country.
THE PROBLEM OF QUALITY CONTROL: In The American Prospect, Natasha Berger mounts an unconvincing defense of the recently revealed plagiarism of Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Samples include:
Goodwin, for her part, has apologized repeatedly and profusely, maintaining the theft was unintentional, a result of carelessness and poor organization of source materials.
Well, apologizing is nice, but it doesn't mean the deed was not committed. No one can know what her intent was, but there are certain facts militating against Goodwin's version; she paid a substantial settlement to the author from whom she plagiarized and the plagiarism was apparently quite substantial.
Timothy Noah cites a handbook on plagiarism from Harvard, where Goodwin is on the Board of Overseers, which shows that under Harvard policy, Goodwin would be guilty of plagiarism even if the theft was unintentional. In response, Berger writes:
Nor is it exactly fair to argue, as Noah does, that Goodwin is getting her just desserts because a "Harvard undergraduate" caught doing the same thing would be punished with suspension. Goodwin's position in no way corresponds to that of a student. Her years of valuable -- and blameless -- scholarly work merit the benefit of the doubt.
Let's rewrite that sentence a little bit:
Nor is it exactly fair to argue, as Noah does, that Ken Lay is getting his just desserts because a "middle manager" caught doing the same thing would be punished with jail. Lay's position in no way corresponds to that of a middle manager. His years of valuable -- and blameless -- business experience merit the benefit of the doubt.
Can you see The American Prospect printing that sentence? I didn't think so. Should they print that sentence? Absolutely not.
But we haven't even gotten to the best part...
Berger's real criticism is that the criticism of Goodwin are invalid because of their source:
...that editor-free child of Web media, the blog (the common name for Web logs). However inadvertently, blogs -- with their sound-bite commentary, round-the-clock updates, and open-door policy to posters -- make an ideal breeding ground for character assassins.
..few media critics have gotten around to dealing with the serious problem of quality control in the increasingly powerful blogging world. The irony, of course, is that in many cases, Goodwin is being hounded by people who are just as shifty with their sources as she was with hers -- probably much more so.

Where was the editor on this piece? Leaving aside the whole ridiculous notion that blogs are some kind of drag on journalistic quality and accuracy (see this Andrew Sullivan piece for a good rejoinder), think it through: Several respectable entities have disassociated themselves from Goodwin or considered doing so, like the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" and the board which awards the Pulitzer Prizes. Why would they do so unless the allegations had at least a subtantial likelihood of being true? (After all, as Berger points out, Goodwin's reputation far outweighs that of her accusers.) And if the allegations are true, then how can you criticize the "blogs" for raising them? Other than the aesthetic revulsion and ad hominem attacks which characterize so much of what passes for reasoning at The American Propsect, you can't.

Thursday, March 07, 2002

THE VOICE OF THE PAST: Another excellent historical perspective from Victor Davis Hanson.
BLEATING AGAINST SHEEP: James Lileks takes on sanctimonious Europeans at the end of today's entry. A must-read.
THE WORST THING BUSH HAS DONE: The tariff placed on steel by the Bush administration is both an economic and political disaster. Much as it pains me to admit it, Paul Krugman's criticisms are on the mark this time.
MORE ON THE CHIMERA: In today's "Breakfast Table" in Slate, Anne Applebaum dismisses the Saudi plan:
As for the Saudi proposal—I find it ludicrous. There is no evidence that the Arab world is ready to recognize the Israeli right to exist, and certainly no evidence that the Arab world is ready to give up the Palestinian refugees' "right of return" to Israel. Since the Israelis will never accept the refugees—and their many millions of descendants—it is hard to imagine how we get around this one.
Applebaum has been a long-time skeptic of the efficacy of "peace processes," which she repeats here:
In these circumstances, the outside intervention—from President Clinton—was an utter disaster. He forced everyone to play their cards too soon, before either the Israeli or the Palestinian general public were ready to give up on violence. I can't see how Colin Powell or Javier Solana could, at the moment, do much better: Negotiations could perhaps calm the situation, but until one or both sides has come to the conclusion that talking will produce a better deal than fighting, negotiations have little chance of long-term success.
This critique is identical to the one Ari Fleischer cited, to much criticism. They're both wrong, though.
I have been as critical of Clinton as anyone, but the main problem wasn't that he forced the issue, for two reasons. First, the idea to convene Camp David with such an ambitious agenda was as much as I have previously argued at unconscionable length, the problem had more to do with the one-sided giving structure of the "peace process." With that pattern, the breakdown at Camp David over final-status issues would have occurred whether the discussions had taken place in 2000 or 2025. If anything, it was beneficial to force the issue, to see if the Palestinians would be ready to make compromises of their own before Israel had already given up all their chips. A better-designed peace process would have forced the Palestinians to make painful concessions as the Israelis did (indeed, that would have been the "even-handed" approach). Barak's forcing the issue at Camp David was as much an attempt to break out of the prior pattern which governed the peace process as it was an attempt to reach a final settlement. The problem wasn't as much that an outsider had tried to force peace before the parties were ready for it. The problem was that the pattern of dealings between the parties, encouraged by the outside mediators, had led one side to believe that it could have peace without giving up anything, as it was the other who bore all responsibility for making peace.
In fact, I think (as Barak did) that once that pattern had been established, it was necessary to force the issue so as to break out of it, even at the risk of causing conflict such as exists now.

Wednesday, March 06, 2002

ARE YOU SURE HE WASN'T A SURGEON? Charles Krauthammer carves up the Saudi "peace plan."
ROLE MODELS: Another star-struck portrayal of Palestinian terrorists in the Washington Post.
Profiles such as this one usually gloss over certain inconvenient facts, and this article is no exception. Here's an example:

...Abu Wadya eventually became disillusioned. The breaking point was when the government of the previous prime minister, Ehud Barak, declined to implement withdrawal agreements signed by previous governments.
"I had a glimpse of hope, like everybody else, but lost it," Abu Wadya said.

One might consider it appropriate to note that instead of implementing limited withdrawals, Barak offered the Palestinains virtually all of what they supposedly wanted at Camp David - something that should have offered a "glimmer of hope," which was only lost when the Palestinians started a war as a counteroffer. But that context would be inconvenient, wouldn't it?
AGAIN: Another week, another outstanding Michael Kelly column.
COSMO'S OWNER STRIKES AGAIN: Jonah Goldberg's latest G-File has the appropriate reaction to the recent news that Arab countries and the U.S. do not have high opinions of each other.
WHY ONE SHOULD NEVER TAKE THE GUARDIAN SERIOUSLY: A targeted strike by Gary Farber on the clear thinking of one columnist for the British left-wing publication.
MOSTLY GETTING IT: A good column by Thomas Friedman about the roots of Muslim rage at Israel and the U.S., helping to explain why - if poverty is supposedly the root cause of terrorism - the perpetrators of the worst Muslim terrorism have been educated and from the middle-class. My only criticism is that, as he often does, Friedman overstates the impact of the West Bank & Gaza settlements on the conflict and the positive impact that would result from a settlement regarding them. But it's still a useful read.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

TERRORISM, BRITISH STYLE: From Andrew Sullivan, an article from the Telegraph describing how left-wing publications in Britian ruthlessly stifle dissent from their anti-American views. Some views, you see, are too dangerous to publish.
Among th views deemed fit to print is a column from the New Statesman in which the columnist offers his earnings from the magazine to anyone who will kill President Bush. The Telegaph cites this column and has a devastating, only-in-England response to it:
[G]iven the notorious stinginess of the magazine's payments, that is unlikely to prove a tempting offer.
THE COMING WHIRLWIND: Unless a drastic improvement in the situation occurs, Ze'ev Schiff warns that Israel may have to move against the families of suicide bombers. Under the current situation, those who blow themselves up are taking out a grisly life insurance policies for their families, who receive payments from sources such as Saddam Hussein for the services of their murderous relative. While I can't imagine Israel ever physically harming the families of suicide bombers, I could easily see a policy of putting them in detention so as to prevent monies from reaching them and generally make the point that the families will not be taken care of. Schiff notes that:
it is already clear that damaging property is not enough, because those who would not build one house for their refugee brothers are willing to build a new house for the martyr's family after he kills Israelis.
Such a tactic would be reminiscent of those used by Jordan to destroy the Abu Nidal organization over a decade ago. As Seymour Hersch describes:
In an interview, two former operations officers cited the tactics used in the late nineteen-eighties by the Jordanian security service, in its successful effort to bring down Abu Nidal, the Palestinian who led what was at the time "the most dangerous terrorist organization in existence," according to the State Department. Abu Nidal's group was best known for its role in two bloody gun and grenade attacks on check-in desks for El Al, the Israeli airline, at the Rome and Vienna airports in December, 1985. At his peak, Abu Nidal threatened the life of King Hussein of Jordan—whom he called "the pygmy king"—and the King responded, according to the former intelligence officers, by telling his state security service, "Go get them."
The Jordanians did not move directly against suspected Abu Nidal followers but seized close family members instead—mothers and brothers. The Abu Nidal suspect would be approached, given a telephone, and told to call his mother, who would say, according to one C.I.A. man, "Son, they'll take care of me if you don't do what they ask." (To his knowledge, the official carefully added, all the suspects agreed to talk before any family members were actually harmed.) By the early nineteen-nineties, the group was crippled by internal dissent and was no longer a significant terrorist organization. (Abu Nidal, now in his sixties and in poor health, is believed to be living quietly in Egypt.) "Jordan is the one nation that totally succeeded in penetrating a group," the official added. "You have to get their families under control."
This would be a horrific development, but Israel may be forced in that direction if the current conflict continues.
A WORLDVIEW EXPLAINED: This good article by James Poniewozik has the following nugget that can be extended to other contexts. The controversy over the proposed cancellation of "Nightline:"
is less about that one show than about journalists' eternal belief that the golden age of their profession is always twenty years before whatever the present time happens to be.
Substitute "baseball" for "their profession," and you have a perfect expression of the worldview of most sportswriters. In both editions of his Historical Baseball Abstract and in his other writings, Bill James had a funny feature called "Old Ballplayers Never Die," which would cite quotes from old baseball figures regarding the no-good players of the day, the decline of the game and of competitive balance, etc. Most of those quotes could pass for ones uttered today, and were as foolish then as their successors are now.
THE ALOMAR TRADE JUST GOT BETTER: Fragile prospect Alex Escobar, the key player given up by the Mets to acquire Roberto Alomar from the Indians, is out for the season with a knee injury. Sometimes subsequent events make you look smart. (Considering Escobar's injury history, this development is much less surprising than it'd be for another player, so some of it was real smarts on the Mets' part.)
NOSTALGIA AWARD: In honor of today's screed, look to this 1998 Slate piece regarding arguments for and against the government's anti-Microsoft case. I chose the later piece because it contains a reminder of when Krugman criticized Democrats for sloppy economic thinking as well as Republicans.
Krugman is absolutely right about the transition costs involved with transitioning to a system of partially-privatized Social Security system. But why is a Presidential speech regarding a long-collapsed proposal worthy of vicious criticism (for the umpteenth time), while a viable Democratic proposal that could destroy the 401(k) system in order to "save" it unworthy of comment?

WHY A NAZARETH ZONING CONTROVERSY IS A GOOD MODEL FOR THE PEACE PROCESS: Today's editorial in the Jerusalem Post explains why.
This is a persistent problem in negotiations: you have to sometimes be willing to have the deal fall apart over a ssemingly minor point in order to make clear that flouting the agreement at one side's convenience will not be tolerated. Because the Israelis and the U.S. were never willing to run that risk, and the Palestinaians knew it, a culture took hold where the Palestinains were never expected to abide by any of the agreements they signed. When you're looking for reasons why the Palestinains might have thought they could start the second intifada after Camp David, that's one place to look.
LESSON FROM THE PROFESSOR: InstaPundit has the following observation:
The big danger in the next few months isn't being too violent, and inflaming the "Arab street" with a desire for revenge. It's not being violent enough, and inflaming the "Arab street" with the belief that victory is possible.
I think one measure of success on the war on terrorism will be if, by the next State of the Union address, there are new, pro-Western governments in both Iran and Iraq. I think it's entirely possible (one by internal revolution, which we should be encouraging, and one by invasion). Those who protest that those two countries have not been definitively linked to 9/11 are usually the same ones who say, in their next breath, that only attacking the "conditions which lead" to terrorism(usually meaning Israel) will succeed. They have it wrong, as usual: The disappearance of the undisputed leader of Islamic fundamentalism (Shi'ite division) and the regime which has defied the U.S. most conspicuously for the longest, and the rise of pro-Western governments in their stead, will do more to show the bankruptcy of the Islamo-facist approach than any measure of diplomatic niceties.
Thomas Friedman has often written about the need for Arab societies to open up and reconstitute themselves. The external shock to the region from regime changes in Iran and Iraq should help matters.
TOXIC OIL DUMP: More great stuff from Mark Steyn. Samples include:

There are only two convincing positions on the House of Saud and 9/11: a) They're indirectly responsible for it; b) They're directly responsible for it. There's a lot of evidence for the former -- the Saudi funding of extreme Islamist madrassahs, etc. -- and a certain amount of not yet totally compelling evidence for the latter -- a Saudi "humanitarian aid" office in the Balkans set up by a member of the Royal Family which appears to be a front for terrorism. Reasonable people can disagree whether it's (a) or (b) but for Americans to argue that the Saudis are our allies in the war on terrorism is like Ron Goldman joining O.J. in his search for the real killers.
Borders are not sacrosanct. The House of Saud is not Royal, merely nomads who found a sugar daddy. There's no good reason why every time you fill your SUV you should be helping fund some toxic madrassah. In this instance, destabilization is our friend.

NOW THAT THE GENTLEMAN HAS ASKED: Rob Neyer takes up the issue of whether the long-standing practice of baseball players' editing their birthdays would have a major impact on our view of players' value patterns. Here's what he has to say:

As a postscript, I'd like to address an issue raised by a number of readers, who wondered if all of these bonkers birthdays might have a significant effect on the aging patterns that have been previously discovered by sabermetricians. As you know, it's now generally held that players tend to enjoy their best seasons between the ages of 26 and 28, and that baseball players, as a group, decline after they turn 30. So what does all the new math mean?

Not much. I asked Bill James -- who originated most of this (now) Common Wisdom about ages -- and he replied, "It seems immensely unlikely that this 'deception practice' is going to change anything very much. Even assuming that 20 percent of the players are lying about their age and that the average discrepancy is two years, that only moves the players' primes by .40 seasons, which one would think would have hardly any effect on things like the degree to which a player having his best season at age 37 is surprising. But it's likely that the 20 percent figure is almost totally irrelevant, since the majority of those discrepancies were probably caught and fixed before they were entered into encyclopedias. I doubt that this is much of a factor."

Which is what I figured. When we conduct studies of aging patterns, we're generally dealing with retired players, and the correct birthdays for the great majority of those players are now known.

Monday, March 04, 2002

THEOLOGY 101: The Muslim Pundit strikes again, with an extended discussion of the illogic of Islamist anti-democracy polemics.
MAN BITES DOG: In Salon, Anthony York rips the Democrats' proposed caps on the amount of company stock an employee may hold in a 401(k) plan, saying:
The proposed Boxer-Corzine reforms represent the worst part of left-wing political orthodoxy -- that individuals aren't smart enough to live their own lives. Keep in mind, we are not talking about Social Security, the safety net for American retirement. Boxer and Corzine are essentially trying to place limits on the gifts and incentives a company can offer its employees.
As York points out, the stock that Enron employees were prevented from selling for a few weeks in the fall was stock that Enron had given them as matching contributions in the first place.

THE SOFT BIGOTRY OF LOW EXPECTATIONS: Saul Singer makes a few good points in his latest column regarding the different standards that Middle East dictators are held to.
As an aside, he also tosses off the following observation:
For their whole lives, Israelis have dreamed of being in a simple, solvable border conflict. The entire peace process - from Resolution 242, to Camp David I, to Oslo and back to Camp David - has been built on the assumption that the conflict is over borders, because if it is not, there is no basis for negotiating peace.
This is the type of blinding-flash-of-the-obvious observation that so much of the coverage of the current conflict is predicated on ignoring. What ability would a Taba accord have had to transform an existential rejection?
UPDATE: Instead of my harping on the differences between a "peace process" and actual piece, see this Anne Applebaum piece instead. She describes a consistent temptation among diplomats to fall victim to "peace process syndrome:"
This is what happens when politicians on one side or another of a sectarian conflict start to confuse the "process" with "peace," and think that because they are engaged in the former, they have achieved the latter. In fact, in a war or a long-running feud like the one in Northern Ireland, peace—real peace, which doesn't contain the seeds of a new war—comes about only when one side or the other has effectively agreed to give up.
It appears that the Palestinians may have believed that the Israelis had given up, a delusion fostered by the pattern of the "peace process" (as described at unconscionable length in last night's post), and the contrary recognition helped bring on the current fighting.

I'M NOT SURE IF THIS IS A JOKE: A major controversy has broken out regarding the Yankees.
CLIFF NOTES FOR EUROTRASHING: Charles Krauthammer elegantly dissects the Eurocrats' objections to the U.S.' recent actions.
FOR THE SPORTS FANS AND LIBERTARIANS AMONG US: A front-page story in the NY Daily News regarding the number of professional athletes who own guns. I don't think the article is that horribly biased (it does acknowledge that athletes could use the protection, though perhaps it only seems objective in relation to other NY-based press coverage of gun-related issues), but you can tell that it's a NY-based story from the assumption of surprise at the proportion and specific athletes cited (I know I was surprised).
REASSURANCE 101: In this frightening article about the lieklihood of a future terrorist attack, TIME has the following quote: "It's going to be worse, and a lot of people are going to die," warns a U.S. counterterrorism official. "I don't think there's a damn thing we're going to be able to do about it."

Sunday, March 03, 2002

ARI FLEISCHER WAS RIGHT: In a way, his quickly-retracted blaming of Bill Clinton for the present violence in Israel deserved more credit than it received. Not for the reasons he cited ("as a result of an attempt to push the parties beyond where they were willing to go, that it led to expectations that were raised to such a high level that it turned into violence."); Clinton did not push further than Barak was willing to go at Camp David and Taba. Rather, the conduct of the peace process through 2000 was, in retrospect, perfectly designed to encourage Palestinian maximalism, and Clinton deserves some of the blame for it.
After Arafat signed the Oslo accords, all of the giving was on the Israeli side; at no time before Camp David in 2000 were the Palestinians called upon to give anything other than promises of non-violence (which were duly broken when convenient). For those who argue that the recognition of Israel's right to exist was an appropriate compromise, I would refer to P.J. O'Rourke's line from Parliament of Whores about how being bitten in half by a shark is a compromise with being swallowed whole.
At every interim juncture, whenever the Palestinians raised a violent stink, Israel was pressured to keep the peace process moving along by making compromises. Binaymin Netanyahu attempted to change the paradigm, and was treated as a virtual pariah by the U.S. and the rest of the world for doing so. (Incidentally, those who point to U.S. support for Israel as being the key factor as to why the Arab world hates us skip over the fact that in 1998, when the U.S. forced Netanyahu into the Wye accords at diplomatic gunpoint, the U.S.' standing in the Arab world did not dramatically increase, and the attack on our embassies in Africa took place around that time.)
The result was, as Michael Kelly put it, that a "particularly dangerous delusion [was] held by a surprising number of people in the Middle East... that Israel will one day be forced to its knees -- and that America will let that happen."
When the Camp David proposals came in under the maximum Palestinian demands, it was in keeping with the history of the "peace process" that the Palestinians would start violence in an attempt to force the Israelis to sweeten the pot or surrender. Even The Economist, for whom Israel is always wrong as a matter of first principles, recognized that "the violence is not one-sided. It has, in point of fact, been initiated by the Palestinians ... to drive Israel from the territories by force."
The pattern of the peace process set the stage for the violence that began in October 2000, and Bill Clinton bears some responsibility for it.
P.S. The question that provoked Fleicher's response, as described in the NY Times, was even more inaccurate than his response. The questioner supposedly asked "Mr. Fleischer if he agreed that Middle East violence in the last months of the Clinton administration had been quelled when both Israelis and Palestinians were at the negotiating table, and if it had not increased during the Bush administration, when the United States has not been deeply involved in peace talks."
The violence may be worse now, but any suggestion that "Middle East violence in the last months of the Clinton administration had been quelled when both Israelis and Palestinians were at the negotiating table" is an ambitious piece of revisionist history. The Taba talks - the closest the two sides have come to a final agreement - was among the most surreal events in diplomatic history, as attacks on Israelis were continuing apace and Barak was negotiating knowing he had no chance of being returned to office in the next month's elections. And the questioner's assumption that the increase in violence is due to a lack of American involvement is equally fallacious, but this post is already too long.
AND HOW WAS YOUR DAY? (THE TRUE HORROR): Here is a description of the latest 24-hour stretch in Israel. Among the dead in the Jerusalem bombing were seven members of one family. And this outstanding achievement was described as, according to the Jerusalem Post, "an operation of heroic martyrdom." That statement is even more indicative of the likelihood of peace than the actions which it describes. For further proof, see the picture accompanying this article.