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Your humble narrator is...
...a research analyst at a think tank in the Washington DC area. Born in Israel, raised in Kentucky, movie fanatic and sports nut.
My first-hand account of the Palestinian divestment conference at the U. of Michigan

:: Friday, April 18, 2003 ::

Any adults in the house?
What a surprise, it's stupidity all around so far in some of the important post-war issues. From a Washington Post story:
The Pentagon has dismissed demands that U.N. inspectors be sent back to Iraq to verify any discovery of banned weapons by coalition forces. Instead, U.S. weapons experts have sought to persuade U.N. inspectors to resign and enlist in the American hunt for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
What's the point of going around the UN on this issue? True, France and Russia are being just about as shameless now as they were before the war, by insisting that the sanctions on Iraq remain in place until some of their own conditions are verified, as detailed in the Post story and elsewhere. But why not have the Security Council authorize weapons inspections again? I fail to see how France and Russia are going to screw things up on this particular issue, or how Hans Blix is going to be a problem now that a rogue regime isn't around to fool him anymore. Does the administration really think that the best way to convince international skeptics about Iraqi WMD is to cannibalize the UN inspections teams in favor of a US-only search? Why the fear of UN involvement on this?

There's a column up on post-war issues by Kenneth Pollack, the so-called "acceptable face of hawkery" for wussy liberals like me. He doesn't talk about how to handle the WMD search, so I'm not going to presume that he agrees or disagrees with the administration's approach on that. But it's clear that he's not thrilled with how things have gone so far:
The looting and lawlessness that continue to prevail in large parts of Iraq were entirely predictable, and almost certainly preventable by the presence of coalition troops charged with keeping the peace. While this may seem like a minor problem, it is one that could have very severe consequences if not quickly resolved. As we have seen in places like Yugoslavia, a power vacuum can quickly tear apart the internal fissures in a country that might otherwise have remained whole.

What's more, the coalition's failure to quickly restore order and security in Baghdad and other major cities could affect the critical issue of the legitimacy of the reconstruction effort. This is where the looting of antiquities from the Iraq Museum could an immediate impact. Many Iraqis worry that Washington intends to colonize their country and steal their oil, and they point out that the United States deployed enough troops to ensure the safety of the Iraqi oil ministry in Baghdad. The priority shown to the oil ministry over the Iraq Museum strikes exactly the wrong chord with many Iraqis.

So too does American action on behalf of the Iraqi National Congress and other exile groups. Few Iraqis are familiar with these exiles. Airlifting INC members into Iraq and allowing them to claim that one of their own has been "elected" the new senior official in Baghdad simply reinforces the fears of many Iraqis that Washington intends to install a puppet government beholden to U.S. oil companies. There was never any question that the political reconstruction of Iraq was going to be a difficult and painful process but, as with the inadequate initial security presence, the United States's inability to immediately articulate its plans for a transitional political authority created an opening that is allowing Chalabi and others to assert themselves in a way that diminishes the legitimacy of the U.S. effort.

This legitimacy is critical to the success of the reconstruction effort. If reconstruction is going to succeed at all, it is going to take a long time—five, 10, 15 years or more. What's more, international assistance will be required for most or all of that time. However, American and other international personnel will be welcome in Iraq only as long as the Iraqis see the endeavor as legitimate. Thus Washington's miscues could have serious consequences if they prompt Iraqis to turn against the international presence altogether.

Which is also why bringing the reconstruction under the rubric of the United Nations remains the best course of action available to the United States. Unfortunately, the choice is often presented as binary: either the United States handles the reconstruction or the UN does. This is nonsense. There is no reason on earth that the United States and the UN cannot handle the operation jointly. In Kosovo, Bosnia, East Timor, Haiti and elsewhere, the UN has developed hybrid systems for handling specific problems. In the case of Iraq, successful reconstruction will require a very strong U.S. component—to provide key resources and direction—but it will also require a UN umbrella to provide the legitimacy that is necessary to allow a long-term international presence.

The Bush Administration has smartly recognized the need for the United States to commit itself to a full-scale rebuilding effort. Now it has to be smart enough to ask for the help needed to make it a success.

4:25 PM
:: Thursday, April 17, 2003 ::
All shook up
According to this story in Ha'aretz, David Ben-Gurion's recently unearthed birth certificate from Plonsk indicates that he had a twin brother who died shortly after their birth. Another potentially history-changing twin brother relationship was lost when Elvis' twin brother Jesse was stillborn.
10:44 PM
:: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 ::
Passover humor
The host of the seder I went to tonight told a good joke that he credited to George Burns. Two Jewish guys in England are talking, and one of them says, "I've been awarded knighthood, but at the ceremony, they make you say some stuff in Latin while the Queen does the thing with the sword. I don't think I'm ever going to remember the words that I'm supposed to say. It's going to be really embarassing." The other guy says, "Why don't you just say something you can remember from another language? The Queen won't know the difference. How about the seder question--ma nishtana, halila ha zeh, mikol haleilot?"

So the would-be-knight goes to the ceremony, and after the other knights say their Latin phrases, he kneels before the Queen and says "ma nishtana, halila ha zeh, mikol haleilot." The Queen turns to her husband and says, "I have a question. Why is this knight different from all the others?"

P.S. Goyim are invited to check the comments for an explanation of the punch line.
11:46 PM
:: Tuesday, April 15, 2003 ::
We didn't think they'd take the valuable stuff
US military officials are surprised by the looting of museums in Iraq:
Senior U.S. military officials have admitted Iraqi museums were plundered during a "void in security" and that they failed to anticipate Iraq's cultural riches would be looted by its own people.

Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks said Tuesday that forces entering Baghdad were involved in "very intense combat," and in removing the regime and conducting military operations, a "vacuum" was created.

"I don't think anyone anticipated that the riches of Iraq would be looted by the Iraqi people. And indeed it happened in some places" including the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, he told reporters at U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar.
I wonder if Brooks specified the things that they did expect to be looted. I fail to see the logic that anticipates the looting of, say, TVs worth no more than a couple of hundred dollars but not museum artifacts that are potentially worth tens of thousands of dollars.
8:43 PM
:: Monday, April 14, 2003 ::
More on what Israel can do
Apropos the comments from two posts down, I’ll address the issues here. This is what I have in mind, as I mentioned in those comments: Israel needs to declare what the final deal will be--not an offer, not an opening bid, but a declaration. Something along the lines of the Barak/Clinton proposals, as it's clear that global politics are not going to re-align around any solution much different from that. Then evacuate the settlements that will have to be evacuated in that final deal anyway. But no military withdrawal or let-up in the fight against terror (i.e., no "end to the occupation") until the Palestinians produce a reliable peace partner, not just empty words. No "roadmaps," no timetables, no further movement towards a Palestinian state until there's a partner.

Dan Simon has some questions and disagreements, such as:
I notice that you didn't define the term, "reliable peace partner"--might that be because any meaningful notion of "reliable" would have to encompass the kind of deep transformation of the Palestinian polity that we both consider highly unlikely in the foreseeable future?
Not much disagreement here. Certainly the Palestinians will have to undergo a major transformation to become reliable peace partners. At minimum, they’ll have to stop all the anti-Semitic/pro-jihad incitement in the schools, media, and mosques, and they’ll have to dismantle all the terrorist groups in order to meet one of the basic definitions of a “state”--one central authority that controls all military capabilities. Arafat, having long since forfeited any right to be trusted, clearly cannot be a part of any of this. So yes, it’ll take a long time, even if they start tomorrow, which they won’t. That’s largely the reason for my opposition to having any timetable.

But it just isn’t true that the approach I’m suggesting has been tried before, and Barak definitely did not carry out this proposal “to the letter.” There are some big differences between Oslo and what I’m suggesting:

(1) Settlements: Barak offered to dismantle a lot of settlements in the event of a final agreement. But, like every other prime minister before him since 1967, he allowed the expansion of settlements in the absence of an agreement. I’m talking about unilaterally rolling back the ones that will have to go anyway in the endgame, regardless of whether there’s an agreement or even whether there’s anyone to talk to among the Palestinians.

(2) Reverse the order of things: Oslo began when the Israeli government and the PLO recognized each other as the legitimate representative of the other side in the conflict. The final status of the toughest issues—settlements, Jerusalem, refugees—was left vague until the last stage of the process. I’m talking about doing the opposite. First, lay out the terms for the endgame. Not everything can be declared unilaterally (like the precise status of the holy sites in Jerusalem, although the “red-line” minimum demand for Arab and Muslim recognition of the Jewish holy sites can certainly be declared), but the broad outlines—“the offer”—can be made clear, and even implemented in the case of the settlements. But no dealing with any Palestinian leadership, no pull-back of forces or let-up in fighting terror, until a partner emerges who delivers 100% on security and recognition of Israel. Also, no third party or collection of parties gets to decide when the Palestinians have met those requirements.

So what if it doesn’t work, and the international community (particularly Europe) doesn’t step up and demand that the Palestinians clean up their act? In that case, I don’t think there would be anything more that Israel could do, and the fight would just have to continue. But there are some signs of progress. Why has Abu Mazen been able to challenge Arafat’s power base? I definitely don’t think Abu Mazen becoming “prime minister” is much of a breakthrough, and it doesn’t mean anything as long as Arafat still wields a lot of influence, which he clearly still does. But the only reason it’s happened—and few would have imagined it happening at this stage just one year ago—is that the whole international community (at least those who matter, in this case the “quartet” of the US, EU, UN, and Russia) collectively demanded it. Yes, Sharon’s determination to fight terror during and since Defensive Shield, plus Bush’s demand for a new Palestinian leadership, were what started things in the first place. As I’ve said, I think Israel needs to continue with both of those things. But I don’t see how it’s going to be enough, and I don’t see what Israel has to lose by trying this different approach.
4:23 PM
Back from Beantown
I was in Boston over the weekend for a quiz bowl competition, which is basically competitive trivia, in this case all about pop culture--sports, music, movies, TV, etc. My team won the tournament, and there was one team that called themselves "Slap Her, She's Freedom," a clever reference to the title of this movie combined with the US House of Representatives' childish switch in their cafeteria of the name "freedom fries" for "French fries." There was, surprisingly, part of a question about blogging, where I was the only one on my team (each team has four people) who knew the term "Fisking."

I also got to meet the Grasshoppa, plus his better half, for a very enjoyable dinner the evening before the tournament. I found out that she was the inspiration for the blog title, as he sometimes encourages her with "patience, grasshoppa" a la various badly dubbed martial arts movies. I'm glad we were able to meet up, as I always enjoy matching voices and faces to the people behind the websites.
12:32 PM

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