Tuesday, October 25, 2005

protest babes?

Glenn Reynolds today approvingly quotes a US Soldier:

Greyhawk particularly likes this explanation given by a soldier for why he reenlisted: ..."because as I look around at the state of this nation and see all of the weak little pampered candy-asses that are whining about this or protesting that, I'd be afraid to leave the fate of this nation entirely up to them."

Back in April he was singing a different tune.
PROTESTS IN EGYPT have passed a crucial milestone: They're now producing photos of protest babes. This should have Hosni Mubarak worried.

Hmm … I guess there are candy-assed protestors in the middle east as well--the phenomenon of the protest babe is well documented. However, its broader relevance is apparently not very well understood.

Update: Another Reynolds protest babe here today, this one protesting Chirac in France. I think I'm getting the picture here. Protests are a valid form of political expression if they're directed against the governments of countries that didn't support the Iraq war or of middle eastern countries not currently occupied by the US that aren't Israel. But most anti-Chirac protestors are angry with him for supposedly trying to lead France away from a statist economy--in all likelihood, those pictured here are rabid leftists (Chirac is a conservative, after all). As are the middle eastern protest babes, by the standards of their societies. It's hard to imagine these people linking arms with US conservatives to march against abortion, gay marriage, or US liberals, which seem to be the conservative-approved forms of political protest in the US.

x,000 dead in Iraq

It's undeniably tragic that 2,000 American soldiers have now died in Iraq. But what is also tragic is that none of the accounts I've seen of this story on either the left or the right bothers to even mention the tens of thousands of Iraqis who've lost their lives since the conflict began.

The insurgency is responsible for much of the mayhem, and has committed unthinkable atrocities. But this only goes so far in explaining the horrors in Iraq. Someone has to take responsibility for the deaths caused directly by US munitions, deaths before the insurgency formed, deaths as a consequence of the failure of the occupying power to provide basic security and infrastructure.

On a side note:

US President George W. Bush stressed it was crucial "that there will be a fair trial, which is something [Saddam] didn't give many of the thousands of people he killed".

Given my post yesterday on human rights, this is a statement I support. But in the context, it is a bit much to take. What are the chances Bush will be held to account for the thousands he has killed? Was he justified simply because Saddam was bad? (Analogy: you've been robbed and terrorized repeatedly by the same person, so I--as a private citizen, mind you--in the course of apprehending the perpetrator, burn down your house. No insurance money forthcoming. Are you happier now than before? Maybe, maybe not. Do I owe you anything more than a "you're welcome, have a nice day"?) Is there a way Saddam could have been brought to justice without visiting destruction on a massive scale on the same people who suffered under his rule? I would like to think so.

A bit more attention to the welfare of Iraqis is in order in this debate, I think.

Monday, October 24, 2005

quiet for now

Looking around the blogosphere, speaking generally, the left is focusing on Fitzgerald's investigation and the right on the unfolding Miers debacle. Those on the right probably don't want to draw more attention than necessary to the impending indictments, and they've apparently got their hands full upholding the flag of conservatism after Katrina and with Iraq not going well, but mightn't this neglect to try to lay the ground of public opinion for the (potential) indictments be a misjudgment?

I watched Chris Matthews and his guests on one of the Sunday network shows for about 10 minutes, and the level of discussion on this issue that the pundits felt was appropriate for national consumption was very low. They were bringing up points that had been discussed in the blogs and op-ed pages months ago. This tells me that the American public has no idea what is about to happen. Perhaps the Bush administration feels there's not much it can do at this point, and defenders of the administration may not have much in the way of a substantive response to the findings of a prosecution led by a Bush-appointee which the president himself repeatedly endorsed. But this has the potential to eclipse everything that's gone wrong so far: Miers, Katrina, Iraq, Social Security. Where's the famous Republican attack and slime machine? (aside from this rather lame attempt from Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison) I guess it's about to be indicted.

Caveat: Looking more closely, I see that National Review Online has been making some attempts at preparing the defense/attack, but not very successfully. This article gets bogged down with comparisons to Clinton/Lewinsky, which will certainly be discussed heavily once the grand jury acts, but is not all that relevant to the matter at hand. This one goes off on the journalists involved, but as you can tell from the fact that the strongest attacks on the journalists are coming from the left, this tactic is not going to help much.

China, Saddam, and the discourse of human rights

I attended part of the American Branch of the International Law Society's annual meeting over the weekend, and learned some interesting stuff. Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China noted that China has become much more sophisticated in its approach to human rights. To deflect attention from its own atrocious record, it is now apparently using the discourse of human rights offensively, and producing detailed reports on U.S. abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

I'm not sure whether this is a positive or a negative development. On the minus side, shenanigans like this by Libya and other human rights violators stymied the UN Human Rights Commission for years. On the plus side, it means that the Chinese government is becoming better versed in the discourse of human rights, and that China is trying to appropriate the benefits of being on the right side of the human rights debates, even though it is a transparent attempt at distraction. This may have the unintended effect of helping to implant human rights norms in China. If groups like Falun Gong can point to China's denunciations of the U.S. and then show credible evidence of actions by the Chinese government that are much worse, the Chinese government will be in a more vulnerable position than if it had denied the value of human rights entirely.

This issue can be framed more generally as co-option of the discourse of human rights by governments that have previously opposed or downplayed it. In particular, the Bush administration has appropriated this discourse as no Republican administration has before. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying that U.S. conservatives have never valued human rights, only that human rights were traditionally not a top priority for the right. Neither am I saying that the Bush administration's actions are comparable in scope or severity to abuses of the Chinese government. China is much worse.)

The Saddam trial brings us to the somewhat unusual situation where the U.S. right is taking the lead in calling for tough legal prosecution of a former leader for human rights abuses. In the past, the left has been at the forefront in calling to use legal remedies against dictators like Pinochet or Milosevic.

Human rights has its roots in the Enlightenment and before, but as a modern discourse was really kick-started at Nuremberg, and was largely ignored after that by the right (except as it pertained to religious freedom), until it became instrumental as a justification for the Iraq war. Kissinger was famously dismissive of complaints of human rights violations by allies of the U.S.; for example, he supported Operation Condor in the Southern Cone and gave the green light to governments to commit massive atrocities there. Reagan turned a blind eye to heinous abuses by Central American governments because they were staunch allies in the war against communism. Reagan talked the talk of human rights, but the walk was conspicuously absent. Throughout the Cold War, the right's position on human rights violations was basically "If the communists do it, it's unconscionable. If our allies do it, it's an unfortunate but necessary effect of the greater battle to defeat evil." (Christopher Hitchens has excoriated many on the left for ignoring communist human rights abuses around the world for political reasons. There's something to that. However, Amnesty International got its start in large part by responding to Soviet abuses, and now rails against China. My premise in this post is that the human rights community has traditionally been viewed with suspicion by the U.S. right, and that the right's position on human rights has been changing since 9/11 and particularly since the invasion of Iraq.)

But now the Bush administration has jumped on the human rights train to enlist support for the Iraq war. While I regret that Saddam's record of killing and torturing his own people was used as a post hoc justification for a war that 1) should have been multilateral to be legitimate and 2) was clearly entered into for other reasons (i.e. to shake up the Middle East to be more favorably disposed to the U.S., to be seen as "doing something" about Islamist terrorism, to remove a persistent thorn in the U.S.'s side, etc.), overall, it is a good thing that the right is making arguments based on respect for human rights. We want human rights to fully enter the mainstream, as civil rights has done in the U.S. (the two are components of the same discourse, with civil rights being a specific manifestation of the more general human rights paradigm). We want both political parties in the U.S. vying to better deliver results on human rights to the American people and to people around the world.

The key for liberals is not to turn our backs on some human rights battles because they have become "tainted" by association with the Bush administration. Human rights should not be a political football. They are a fundamental component of every functioning democracy, and deserve support from both sides of the aisle. Saddam should be tried and held responsible for his crimes, as Pinochet never was. As Pol Pot never was. Ditto for Stalin, Mao, Trujillo, Somoza, Mugabe, Castro—the list goes on. We should support a full prosecution of Saddam (provided he is given a fair trial) and make sure all his dirty laundry is aired in court. This will be good for Iraq and good for the Middle East more generally, as it will show dictators there and elsewhere that there is a growing likelihood that they will be held accountable for their actions.

And we should use the rhetoric of the administration against it as it tries to cover up persistent stories of detainee abuse, as it ignores Darfur's descent into chaos, and as China trades support for the War on Terror for less noise from the U.S. on Chinese human rights abuses. Again, not for political gain, but to strengthen democracy at home and abroad. This administration has staked its reputation on being the "democracy and human rights" administration. Let's hold it to its word.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Spamalot . . .

...sucked a lot. What a waste of an evening.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

1,000 years of glory

From the Boston Globe yesterday, via Atrios:

Venturing into foreign policy, Governor Mitt Romney yesterday told a largely Republican audience that Islamic terrorists ''want to bring down our government" and ''want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''We're under attack, as you know, militarily," Romney told about 150 people gathered at an exclusive Raleigh country club. ''They're not just intent on blowing up a little bomb here and there at a shopping mall, awful as that would be. They want to bring down our government, bring down our entire economy. They want to put in place a huge theocracy."

''Thank heavens we have a president of the United States who recognizes this for what it is and has declared war on it, and thank heavens we have a military that consists of the strongest and bravest and most able men and women in the world," Romney said.

. . .

''Obviously, this is an extreme fundamentalist perspective," he responded. ''It's certainly not shared by the people of Islam generally, but is shared by some radical few."

Well, that is interesting. Some radical Islamist fundamentalists have professed a desire to restore the ancient Islamic Caliphate, as sure an example of theocracy as you're likely to find. But my impression was that many Islamist terrorists are more interested in killing unbelievers than in converting and/or enslaving them.

It is also interesting, however, and the Globe doesn't want to touch this (I will, though, with apologies in advance to my LDS friends and family), but the LDS church to which Romney belongs has the stated goal, or more precisely, the expectation, of eventually establishing a theocratic government in the United States. Such a government will naturally come into existence when Christ returns to kick off the Millennium (with a capital "M", the thousand years following the Second Coming of peace on earth under Christ's reign).
The Articles of Faith—fundamental statements of faith of members of the LDS church—help shed some light on this millenarian belief:
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

Article 11 lays out a fundamental difference between Islamist fundamentalists and faithful Mormons: the latter unwaveringly support freedom of religion. This makes sense given the early Church's history of persecution, both during Joseph Smith's life and after, when polygamy made the Church very unpopular in this country. This principle is believed to continue even in the afterlife, when people are still able to choose to follow the LDS religion, if they haven't already rejected it during their earthly lives.

Article 12 also strongly affirms submission to secular government and rule of law. Church members generally place a high value on obeying the law even when laws don't necessarily make perfect sense or have any particular moral implication. Obeying the law is considered a priori to be a moral act. Of course, Article 12 was followed a bit more loosely at the end of the 19th century, when polygamist leaders of the Church went on the lam to escape imprisonment by federal authorities.

However, Articles 11 and 12 are basically stopgaps—ways of ensuring the Church's continued survival and stability in these evil times until the need for secular government no longer exists. Such a moment has been eminently expected for the past 175 years, ever since Joseph first restored the "one true church" to the earth, as the Church teaches.

The real story lies in Article 10, which describes the earth's ultimate destiny, as taught by Joseph Smith. Israel will be gathered, Zion built in the Americas, and the earth will be transformed into a more glorified state, all under the perfectly just, perfectly compassionate rule of Jesus Christ.

This is quite possibly the only way a government could be more theocratic than the Caliphate.

I'm sure the LDS Church isn't alone in this sort of belief—many evangelical Protestant churches, to my knowledge, subscribe to similar beliefs, and the last I heard, the Catholic Church still stands behind the Book of Revelation. It is also important to note that the Mormons aren't espousing that arms be taken up to hasten along the Millennium—it will come when it comes; the timing is in God's hands.

But it is also believed by faithful LDS that, as society continues to spiral downward in modern times, world events will naturally progress toward a global conflagration centered in the Middle East. Nation will rise against nation, and there will be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, et cetera. Just as things are at their worst, Christ will return with the sword and kill off the evil-doers. This will allow the thousand years of peace to begin. Thus, growing U.S. involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts is not necessarily a bad thing to many evangelicals, including faithful Mormons.

Many LDS do not agree with Bush's foreign policy approach, and reject the current misadventure in Iraq. But many more support Bush more or less completely (Utah voted for Bush in 2004 by the largest margin of any state), and see any American military action abroad quite starkly in terms of good vs. evil. "We Americans are the good guys, they, the Terrorists, are the heartless killers. Bush may not be a member of the Church, but he's helping carry forward God's work just the same, an unwitting instrument in His hands." And the worse things get in the mid-East, the closer we are to 1,000 years of paradisiacal glory.

I don't know what Mitt Romney's personal views are on this or any other religious topic. But I'm making an educated guess, based on what I know about LDS theology, that he may not be averse to the establishment of a "huge theocracy" in America as predicted in scripture (nor, most likely, would Bush, Ashcroft, or many other evangelical political figures). It's just a matter of getting the right theocracy in place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Kashmir quake relief

According to a Pakistani official quoted in the NYTimes, an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 people have died so far in Pakistan alone.

Many bodies were still buried beneath leveled buildings, and the United Nations warned of the threat of measles, cholera and diarrhea outbreaks among the millions of survivors.

. . .

In one field clinic alone, 2,000 patients had been treated, most of them for broken arms or legs. It's too early for onset of disease, but officials are fully aware of the potential threat, he said.

The quake damaged sanitation systems, destroyed hospitals and left many victims with no access to clean drinking water, making them more vulnerable to disease.

A list of relief agencies can be found here . Please give what you can.