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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, August 02, 2003 ::

Max Boot, a pretty staunch conservative voice on foreign policy issues (as far as I've been able to tell from his stuff that I've read), has a nice NY Times op-ed laying out a simple utilitarian argument for why the US should seek more UN involvement in re-constructing Iraq. I hope that seeing the argument laid out this way from someone with "street cred," to use a not terribly well-chosen phrase, can help build momentum on the political right for this critical step. Slide on over to the left, Max, we won't bite you!
10:27 PM
Meet the new commenting system, same as the old commenting system...
I didn't really just paraphrase The Who like that, did I? Anyway, SquawkBox has mistakenly assumed that I would actually pay them if they forced me to do that to keep using their commenting system. Back to HaloScan instead. It seems to work OK on other blogs now, as opposed to the frequent crashing some months ago that led me to switch in the first place. Of course, now that I'm using it again, the weekly crashes will probably recommence shortly.
12:49 PM
:: Friday, August 01, 2003 ::
Fun with movie reviews
The new Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck starring vehicle, Gigli, appears to be the most excoriated movie in a long time. From the previews that I saw, I assumed that it would be somewhere between lousy and mediocre, but apparently it's much, much worse than that. The excerpts from the reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes website, which gathers links to reviews for all major new movies, are pretty hilarious. I didn't know that the movie's title refers to his character, not hers--I had assumed the opposite, since who the hell would want to see any movie with her in it because of him? Anyway, on to some hilarious quotes from the scathingly angry reviewers:

"It's the sort of bizarre, ill-conceived picture you can't believe exists, but are secretly glad it does."

"A recent episode of South Park suggested that a fourth-grader's hand puppet could turn in a better performance than Ms. Lopez, and in the case of Gigli, it's hard to argue." (Kudos from me for the reference to the most surreal South Park episode I've ever seen, which was also one of the funniest).

"Every generation gets the celebrities they deserve, but what have we done to deserve Gigli?"

"Gigli is so horrible I had to go cleanse my palate afterward by watching Glitter."

"Rarely has a movie that doesn't star Madonna achieved such a skin-crawling mixture of deluded preening and bungled humour."
11:36 PM
The wrong question
Something just occured to me as I left a comment about Israel and the Palestinians on another blog. On the question of whether Arafat ever did want to make peace with Israel, and whether the whole Oslo process was just a huge smokescreen on his part from the beginning, the burden of proof is usually put on those (like me) who think it was a smokescreen. But given the events of the past three years, the more appropriate question seems to be, what evidence remains to make anyone think that Arafat DID want to make peace at any point? The burden of proof should be on them, especially given what most people think about Sharon. I don't think he's going to be willing to make a final peace deal if the time comes to do that, because of the settlements, but some of his actions of the past 6 months to a year--recognizing the eventual need for a Palestinian state, meeting with Abu Mazen and negotiating with him--are no less of a radical turnaround from his previous hard-line positions than signing the Oslo accords and negotiating with Israel were for Arafat. Yet none of the people who still think that Arafat might have made peace under the right circumstances will come to the same conclusion about Sharon.
1:36 AM
:: Wednesday, July 30, 2003 ::
Talk about revisionist history
In the run-up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration claimed that it had to communicate its clear commitment to topple Saddam, even without UN approval, if there was to be any hope of getting the UN to do anything about the issue in the first place. Events of the previous decade, in addition to last fall, clearly validated that theory.

But now there's a different story coming out in various places--the administration wanted people to think that we weren't necessarily committed to war! First off, there's that epic-length LA Times story that I linked to recently, with this excuse from Pentagon official Douglas Feith for why the administration couldn't be more open about its plans for the post-war:
In October [2002], while... the administration pushed its diplomatic efforts at the United Nations, a new Pentagon office headed by Feith was created partly to oversee postwar planning. It operated in secret — even its name, the Special Plans Office, was intended to obscure its purpose, officials said.

"The Special Plans Office was called Special Plans because, at the time, calling it Iraqi Planning Office might have undercut our diplomatic efforts," Feith told reporters last month.
So, you see, we had to get everyone thinking that we were going to war anyway in order to get the diplomacy started--but then we had to keep our post-war plans secret, because they might have gotten everyone thinking that we were going to war anyway, and that would have undercut our diplomacy.

Bush himself weighed in today, and as TNR points out, he's essentially saying that the economy would be doing better if the media hadn't been constantly banging "the drum beat to war." Right, Mr. President, the media should be more responsible than to concoct such things out of thin air.

Oh, and wasn't the media supposed to be against the war? Or were they whipping up war hysteria while simultaneously trying to undermine its success? I'm getting my Republican talking points mixed up here.
4:33 PM
:: Tuesday, July 29, 2003 ::
Europe and the right of return
Amnon Rubinstein in Ha'aretz on recent events:
The Council of Europe, representing 45 countries joined together to protect the values of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, on June 25 delivered the first surprise with a resolution it passed on the issue of Palestinian refugees.

An initiative by Arab states seeking support for the Palestinian right of return was rejected and instead a resolution was passed calling for refugees to be settled in the countries where they live, or in other countries, and to grant full compensation and rights to those who remain in Arab countries.

The council did not mention any UN resolutions regarding the right of return, nor any Israeli duty to accept some of the refugees, but there was a demand for European countries to accept some of the refugees.

The council's decision was scarcely reported, but it was a European recognition that what was done in wars 50 years ago cannot be undone. Except for extremist right-wing groups, nobody wants to return Germans who lived for centuries in Poland and Czechoslovakia and were ruthlessly and brutally expelled. Likewise, it seems, there is no room for the Arab demand.
This appears to be the resolution in question. So while European countries continue to insist on lousy policies that eliminate their chances of influencing Israel--continuing to deal with Arafat, claiming that some parts of Hamas aren't tied to terrorism--they don't appear to have any illusions about the inadmissibility of a comprehensive right of return, an issue they're sometimes accused of being soft on. One can have an ill-advised, counterproductive Middle East policy without being anti-Semitic or wishing for Israel's destruction. That goes both ways--Israel supporters shouldn't assume that European policy opposes Israel's existence, and Europeans, in spite of their support for Israel's existence and a just solution to the conflict, shouldn't assume that their Middle East policies don't still suck.
1:07 PM
:: Sunday, July 27, 2003 ::
Enough with the V word
What's up with the Vietnam comparisons to Iraq? Christopher Dickey of Newsweek goes for the parallel:
As the death toll for Americans goes up day by day and folks back home are having to think about what it means to fight what’s now acknowledged to be a guerrilla war, you’re starting to hear comparisons with the long, soul-destroying counterinsurgency in Vietnam. Well, Iraq could be even worse.
This is not a comparison to be made lightly. Remarkably, Dickey's article is entitled "Body Counts," and yet he makes no mention at all of the most important statistical difference between the two conflicts, the body count. There were over 58,000 American troops killed in Vietnam, as opposed to about 250 so far in Iraq, with 100 or so coming since Bush's "mission accomplished" declaration on May 1. If US casualties stay at that post-regime-change rate, which comes out to roughly 400 per year (the Iraqi guerrillas don't have hundreds of thousands of forces and a superpower patron, so it's not like there's going to be a Tet-like offensive in the future there), it would take 145 years to equal the total in Vietnam. If you're not willing to face up to the reality of those numbers, don't bring up the V word in the first place. Every casualty is a tragedy, as everyone recognizes, but a sense of perspective is still necessary.

I also think Dickey is on very shaky ground with his next point:
In Nam, there was a government, however feeble and corrupt, to invite us in. There were structures, including a bureaucracy and an army, that could be improved, advised, derided or deplored—but which at least existed. In Iraq, thanks to the American blunders and indecisiveness of the last three months, there is no army. There are precious few police. And there’s barely a bureaucracy to speak of. The United States has to do just about everything, but it looks as if it didn’t prepare for anything.
Yes, the US could be doing better in Iraq, but this is a different conflict. Unlike in Vietnam, the Iraqi fighters don't have (a) hundreds of thousands of troops (b) a centralized leadership with a decade's worth of successful experience fighting a guerrilla/anti-colonial war and (c) a nuclear-armed superpower patron. Doesn't one arguing the possibility of Iraq being worse than Vietnam have to at least consider whether the US could have succeeded in Vietnam if those major factors hadn't been in place?
11:24 PM

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