Haggai's Place

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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

:: Saturday, July 12, 2003 ::

You say Nigerian, I say Nigerien...
Aside from the issues of the administration's politicized intelligence and dishonestly alarmist pre-war rhetoric, a key facet of the Africa uranium story was just cleared up for me at Talking Points Memo: are there different words for someone/something from Nigeria and from Niger? If you're a person from Nigeria, you're "Nigerian," but if you're a person (or, say, a forged document) from Niger, you're "Nigerien." Now, how to pronounce them differently, that's another issue--I guess the more Francified "nee-zher-ian" is the best way to pronounce "Nigerien." Hey, this is critical stuff, someone's got to keep track of it.
3:17 PM
:: Friday, July 11, 2003 ::
Another dip into my DVD collection
A brilliant WWII action movie that not many people today have seen, or even heard of, is The Train from 1964. It was directed by John Frankenheimer, more famous for The Manchurian Candidate, which is well deserving of its status as a classic, although I think The Train is just as good despite being far less well known. It stars Burt Lancaster as the head of a railway crew in France that has to stop a German army plot to smuggle a huge cargo of artistic masterpieces from Paris aboard a train, just ahead of the Allied liberation of the city. Paul Scofield, most famous for his Oscar-winning lead role as Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (which I should have seen by now, but haven't), plays a Nazi colonel whose obsession for getting the artwork back into Germany drives him to greater and greater extremes as the plot unfolds. At the same time, Lancaster and his colleagues in the Resistance keep struggling with the conflict between the relative worth of their own lives (plus those of all the other railway workers in on the plot) and their duty to finish the job they've been pressed into doing, which after all is centered around a bunch of paintings, not other living people.

Just about everything in this movie is great. The action sequences are excellent, and the supporting roles are very strong. One minor character whom I didn't fully appreciate until I'd seen the movie a couple of times is Major Herren (played by the German actor Wolfgang Preiss), the chief officer in charge of engineering under Scofield's Colonel von Waldheim. Herren has to figure out how to avert Labiche (Lancaster's character) and company's attempts to sabotage the train. His cool-headed professionalism contrasts perfectly with von Waldheim's smoldering intensity, although they share the same ruthless dedication to their duties. The movie's score is also teriffic, written by Maurice Jarre, most famous for his Lawrence of Arabia score. It always keeps pace with the characters and the story, plus the progress of the train, which is basically a character itself. But the best thing about the movie, as Frankenheimer (who died about a year ago) emphasizes on the DVD commentary track, is Lancaster's physical presence. Despite being 50 years old when it was filmed, Lancaster did all of his own stunts, and he even took the fall for another character on one occasion! In addition to some very demanding stunts, Lancaster also learned how to do all the grimy tasks that end up on screen, like the steelwork for repairing some basic train components. He certainly wasn't French (thankfully, he didn't even attempt to do the accent), but nobody could have been more believable as a combination train engineer/railway worker/resistance fighter.
3:58 PM
:: Thursday, July 10, 2003 ::
Credibility issues
This Talking Points Memo post points out the lack of credibility of Rumsfeld's claim before the Senate yesterday that he only found out in "recent days" that the administration's claims about Saddam's attempts to purchase uranium from Africa were based on forged documents. TPM also links to a Slate "Whopper of the Week" from April 2002 where Rumsfeld claimed that he didn't know of any evidence that bin Laden had been spotted in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, in spite of previous remarks made by other American officials saying that they believed precisely that, on the basis of the evidence they had seen.

Another subject that provided a completely blatant Rumsfeld lie, as opposed to the claims mentioned above that could (generously) be characterized as extremely dubious but not knowingly false, was the size of the coalition for the Iraq war. As the war started, Rumsfeld said that "This is not a unilateral action, as is being characterized in the media. Indeed, the coalition in this activity is larger than the coalition that existed during the Gulf War in 1991." He might as well have said that the Earth was flat, as Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution explained:
Twelve years ago, 32 countries joined the United States in combat, providing 160,000 troops, more than 500 combat aircraft, and more than 60 naval vessels. NATO countries contributed 70,000 troops (including 18,000 from France); much of the remainder came from Arab countries. And even those who did not participate on the ground (like Germany and Japan) helped by defraying the cost to the United States of ousting Iraq from Kuwait. (Foreign contributions to the U.S. war effort amounted to $54 billion, covering all but $7 billion of the U.S. costs.)

In 1991, only Cuba, Yemen, Jordan, and the Palestinians openly condemned a war that the UN Security Council voted to authorize (China abstained in the vote). Even Libya was then on our side. Today, Washington suffered a stunning defeat at the United Nations, finds itself opposed by major allies like Canada, France, Germany, and Mexico, and can count on only four other countries actually to participate in combat operations. There is no comparison between the two.
But hey, those Pentagon press briefings are awfully witty, aren't they?
4:29 PM
:: Tuesday, July 08, 2003 ::
How exactly does one bring the ball up court against the combined defense of Kobe Bryant and Gary Payton? Not very easily. So the Lakers might go from being a team with no point guard and no power forward to one with Payton and Karl Malone. My Laker-hating days certainly look like they're going to be extended now. Kobe does have other problems these days, but who knows how that confusing situation will turn out.
6:22 PM
:: Monday, July 07, 2003 ::
I don't buy any of this
A rather elaborate explanation for the thinking behind Bush's "bring 'em on" comment about Iraqi attacks on US forces is detailed in this David Warren article, linked to at Occam's Toothbrush as well as Instapundit and others. Apparently it's all a clever plot to distract terrorists from America:
[T]he soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians, both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation -- and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response -- is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.
When it comes to any remaining Baathist forces, this flypaper theory about how the US forces are distracting them from other nefarious deeds is beside the point. They got their power through Saddam's regime, and lost it when the government fell. There's no Baathist terror internationale that's diverting resources to Iraq just because US troops are there. As for Islamic terrorists swarming into Iraq instead of attacking Americans elsewhere, who exactly are we talking about? Al-Qaeda? Warren names a different group:
At the moment it appears that most of the infiltration of Iraq is coming from the west, through Syria, and consists of Lebanese-based Hizbullah elbowing their way into Saddam's old territory. Their intention is to do to the U.S. Army in Iraq what they did to the Marines in Beirut in 1983. The chief source of both men and materiel is what Gal Luft has called "Hizbullahland" -- the 1,000 square kilometre patch, that Hizbullah now rules under Syrian protection, which was formerly Israel's security enclave in southern Lebanon (until they withdrew in a peace initiative in the year 2000).

Hizbullah itself (the "Army of Allah" -- Shia, and ultimately financed and armed by Iran's ayatollahs) are directing their attention less and less towards the "Little Satan" of Israel, and more and more towards the "Great Satan" of the U.S., as events unfold.

This is exactly what President Bush wants. To engage them, away from Israel, in mortal combat. To have an excuse for wiping them out -- a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted. The good news is, Hizbullah's taking the bait.
OK, this is just nuts. Yes, Hizbullah is a ruthless terrorist network with some history of attacks all around the world, not just in the Middle East. But what the hell can we do to "wipe them out," as Warren giddily assumes to be the operative goal behind everything? As long as they operate in Lebanon with the backing of Syria and Iran, we can't wipe them out, not any more than Israel could when it tried (and failed) several times during the past 20 years. That is, we can't wipe them out unless we successfully invade Lebanon and pacify the country, a stupid adventure that would almost certainly fail, and wouldn't be worth the high cost that it would require even if it could be done. Surely Warren isn't predicting that Hizbullah is going to transfer their base of operations from Lebanon to Iraq! His assumptions about how all these Middle Eastern terrorists are going to make specfic responses to US military power, and how this is going to help us fight terror, are vague and decidedly unconvincing.
11:41 PM
:: Sunday, July 06, 2003 ::
Help wanted
Fareed Zakaria makes a point in his column this week that I saw him mention on TV during the Iraq war. Namely, that UN involvement in the reconstruction should be in more areas than just humanitarian aid, to relieve the US of some of the tasks that are bound to irritate a lot of Iraqis:
Today the United States gets to decide which Shiite leader will be mayor of Najaf—thereby annoying 100 other contenders. Meanwhile the United Nations distributes food, water and medicine. Why is this such a great deal for America? Why not mix it up so that the political decisions are made by an international group? And why not have the United States more involved in relief work?

From the start, internationalizing the Iraq operation has seemed such an obvious solution. But the Bush administration has not adopted it because it holds a whole series of prejudices about the United Nations, nation-building, the French, the Germans and multilateral organizations. In clinging on to ideological fixations, the administration is risking its most important foreign-policy project.

1:01 PM

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