Friday, August 25, 2006

a new incompetence dodge?

There was wide support among Israelis for the recent war against Lebanon when it first began. Michael Totten interviews two Israeli peace activists who both supported the war early on. Left-leaning Israeli author David Grossman supported it (his son was killed in the fighting). (Totten, on the other hand, “thought it was a mistake right away.”)

Now the consensus in Israel seems to be that the war was necessary, but turned into a disaster because it was prosecuted badly.

The first activist:

“Here was a golden opportunity,” Yehuda said, “that the whole world and half the Arab world gave us on a silver plate. And we blew it. It had to happen quick."

. . .

"But there is also the realization that the whole ethos of the IDF was the lighting quick strike, boom, and finished. As soon as people saw that it wasn’t getting finished, everyone knew what the consequences were. This is also a major intelligence failure as well.”

The second activist continued:
"I think it had to be done differently and cleverly without causing masses of civilian casualties and civilian destruction.”

“How do you do that with a guerilla army, though?” [Totten] said. “There’s no bad guy bullet that just hits Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah.”

“It’s very very hard to destroy Hezbollah,” Amichai said. “I don’t think you can destroy it without sending in tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and suffering hundreds and hundreds of casualties. That’s one possibility. And it would last a very very long time. That’s what many people said should have been done from the very beginning. Other people said – and this was a debate in the cabinet – that after one week when you’ve tried all the things that you’ve tried with the bombing in first week and you didn’t succeed you try to achieve a cease-fire that will force the international community to disarm Hezbollah.”

All of this, except the part about a cease-fire enforced by the international community, sounds very familiar. Let's see, blame mishaps on intelligence failure. Check. Assert that the number of forces used were inadequate to the task. Check. Promote the belief that if there'd been more competent leadership in place, things would have worked out better. Check. Fail to examine original rationale for starting the war. Check.

I don't follow the Israeli media closely enough to know whether any commentator there has retooled the "incompetence dodge" put forward by Rosenfeld and Yglesias last year in a different context. But it would seem to apply as well to Israel's war as it does to ours.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

shakeup in November?

Josh Marshall at today on what Lieberman's loss in the Connecticut Democratic primary might mean:

If this were just a matter of Joe Lieberman's hubris and obliviousness, the story of his demise might have a human significance but not a larger political one. But the Lieberman train wreck is also part of the unfolding story of the 2006 election cycle and the dangerous gulf widening between Washington and the country at large.

. . .

The polls tell us the President's approval rating seldom gets out of the 30s. Congress is unpopular. Incumbents are unpopular. Voters prefer Democrats over Republicans by a margin of about 15%. When a once-popular three-term Senator gets bounced in a primary battle with a political unknown, it's a very big deal. Those numbers all add up to a political upheaval this November. The folks in D.C. see the numbers. But they haven't gotten their heads around what they mean. Joe was out of touch. And Washington, D.C., is too.

They didn't see the Joe train wreck coming and they're not ready for what's coming next either.

Well, after November 2004, the fizzling of Fitzmas, and a whole string of demoralizing setbacks for the left since Bush took office, I have learned not to underestimate the power of the Republican political machine. But I sure hope Josh is right …

U.S. TV invading China

An article in the NYTimes today tracks widespread translation and illegal distribution of U.S. TV shows in China.

What is most remarkable about the effort, which involves dozens of people working in teams all over China, is that it is entirely voluntary. Mr. Ding’s group, which goes by the name Fengruan, is locked in fierce competition with a handful of similar outfits that share the same ambition: making American popular culture available in near-real time free to Chinese audiences, dodging Chinese censors and American copyright lawyers.

“We’ve set a goal of producing 40 TV shows a week, which basically means all of the shows produced by Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC,” Mr. Ding said, fairly bubbling about the project.

“What this means,” he said, “is that when the Americans broadcast shows, we will translate them. Our speed surpasses all the other groups in China, and our goal is to be the best American transcription service in the world.”

To a person, the adapters say they are willing to devote long hours to this effort out of a love for American popular culture. Many, including Mr. Ding, say they learned English by obsessively watching American movies and television programs.
Others say they pick up useful knowledge about everything from changing fashion and mores to medical science.

“It provides cultural background relating to every aspect of our lives: politics, history and human culture,” Mr. Ding said. “These are the things that make American TV special. When I first started watching ‘Friends,’ I found the show was full of information about American history and showed how America had rapidly developed. It’s more interesting than textbooks or other ways of learning.”

On an Internet forum about the downloaded television shows, a poster who used the name Plum Blossom put it another way.

“After watching these shows for some time, I felt the attitudes of some of the characters were beginning to influence me,” the poster wrote. “It’s hard to describe, but I think I learned a way of life from some of them. They are good at simplifying complex problems, which I think has something to do with American culture.”

Rendering American slang into Chinese is a special challenge. In an episode of “Sex and the City,” the line “I thought you two would hit it off” became “I thought you two would generate electricity together.”

Well, some of the quotes sound a bit robotic, and I doubt that people are watching TV solely to increase personal knowledge, but in general this seems like a promising development for the U.S. American TV networks are unhappy that people are watching their shows for free. Clearly, in this case, what is bad for the networks is good for the U.S. If young Chinese are enthralled by U.S. culture, they are likely to be more sympathetic to Americans and to U.S. policies in general. Global stability in the coming decades will depend on good relations between the U.S. and China as China's wealth and influence continue to grow.

This is one of the best public diplomacy initiatives the State Department has never promoted. Given Karen Hughes' track record of late, it is probably best that the government take a hands off approach to this. Letting this practice proceed and develop relatively unhindered would be the best thing the U.S. could do to promote U.S. culture and values in China and around the world.

Fortunately, it doesn't look at this point as though there's much the government or the networks can do to stop this. Also, this is a two-way street, since there are programs Americans can download to watch Chinese TV. This came in handy recently when I wanted to watch the World Cup but found that no non-cable networks carried it. Thank you CCTV5!