Don’t build a dam on a gypsum foundation. Gypsum dissolves when it comes into contact with water. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what the all-wise, all-powerful Saddam Hussein did in the early 1980′s. The WaPo reports that “the largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water.” The lives of 500,000 people down-river in Mosul and parts of Baghdad are now at risk. The cost of repairs: between $1 billion and $10 billion.
Posts For: October 2007
Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post has an interesting and instructive article on the U.S. failure to do something meaningful about the genocide in Darfur. The gist of the piece is that, while President Bush personally is committed to action, he has not been able or willing to mobilize the government to get tough with the murderous Janjaweed militia and their sponsors in Khartoum who have been responsible for an estimated 200,000 deaths since 2003.
The article is full of damning quotes such as this one:
“Bush probably does want something done, but the lack of hands-on follow-up from this White House allowed this to drift,” said one former State Department official involved in Darfur who did not want to be quoted by name criticizing the president. “If he says, ‘There is not going to be genocide on my watch,’ and then two and a half years later we are just getting tough action, what gives? He has made statements, but his administration has not given meaning to those statements.”
This is symptomatic of a larger problem with this administration, which too often has coupled stirring rhetoric about defeating terrorists, promoting democracy, and curbing human rights abuses with sadly inadequate or incoherent action. In the case of Darfur, Abramowitz aptly sums up the failure:
While almost everyone involved in Darfur policy agrees that an African Union peacekeeping force of just 7,000 troops is not up to the task, the United States has refused to send troops and, despite promises of reinforcements, has yet to secure many additional troops from other countries. At the same time, it has been unable to broker a diplomatic resolution that might ease the violence.
As I’ve been arguing for some time, there is a simple solution that is hiding in plain sight: send in the mercenaries. If we’re not willing to put our own troops into Darfur—and there are good reasons why we’re not—why not hire private security companies like Blackwater to aid the African Union peacekeepers in their assigned mission? Executive Outcomes, a now-defunct South African firm, worked wonders in stopping a civil war in Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. Similar firms could be equally effective in Darfur today.
But this solution is too politically incorrect to contemplate. Much better, it seems, simply to let the killing continue unabated.
With a sense of urgency inversely proportional to his usual concern for Iran’s nuclear program, IAEA chief Mohammad ElBaradei used strong language to criticize Israel’s airstrike on a Syrian facility early in September.
ElBaradei called the raid “very distressful.” It is not clear whether his distress stems from the raid’s success or from the complete lack of IAEA knowledge about the site prior to Israel’s attack. Officially, what bothers ElBaradei is the fact that Israel bombed the site rather than reporting it’s existence to ElBaradei himself: “To bomb first and then ask questions later, I think it undermines the system and it doesn’t lead to any solution.” Given his track record on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and repeated violations of UN resolutions on the subject, one is hard-pressed to understand why reporting it is better than destroying it. Perhaps so that ElBaradei can engage in years of meaningless negotiations while the Syrians advance their program?
No doubt, diplomacy has its merits. But if the IAEA actually is interested in countering proliferation, ElBaradei should be applauding Israel’s action—at least quietly.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s silver-tongued performance at the October 18 Values Voters forum in Washington, DC, together with his rising poll numbers in Iowa where he is in second place, has shaken up the GOP. Huckabee, a Baptist preacher who’s never needed to employ a speechwriter, was greeted with a standing ovation. In what has to be the first ever presidential candidate shout-out to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Huckabee made his case for the little guy. “It’s a lot better to be with David than Goliath,” he declared. “Or with Elijah than 850 prophets of Baal. Or with Daniel and the lions than the Babylonians.”
Huckabee drew sustained applause when he told the crowd that “We do not have the right to move God’s standard to meet the cultural norm but we need to move the cultural norm to meet God’s standards.” But he struck a note with broader appeal when he drew laughter and applause by telling the crowd, “It is high time for us to tell Saudi Arabia that in ten years we will have as much interest in their oil as their sand; they can keep both of them.” “For too long,” he continued, “we have financed both sides of the war on terrorism; our tax dollars pay for our military to fight it and our oil dollars—every time you fill the tank—is turned into the madrasahs that teach terrorists and the money that funds them.”
Taking a shot at Mitt Romney, he drew cheers when, speaking in the cadences of a man at the pulpit, he insisted “it’s important that the language of Zion is a mother tongue and not a recently acquired second language.” The argument took. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council concluded that Huckabee “comes out of here clearly as a favorite.” The rank and file attendees concurred. In an event where all the major candidates spoke, Huckabee was the runaway winner with 50 percent support (with Romney a distant second at 10 percent).
Huckabee’s rise has brought a sharp response from some (like conservative doyenne Phyllis Schlafly) who consider him too soft on illegal immigration. But the big guns have been fired by low-tax, free-trade, business Republicans (such as John Fund of the Wall Street Journal and Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth) who are mindful of Huckabee’s verbal volleys aimed at the financial sector’s sizable profits. These Republicans don’t see how Huckabee, who has expressed some doubts about free trade, can win the top spot. Still, they fear that he has established himself as a strong candidate for the vice-presidential slot on the Republican ticket, where he could alienate the fiscally conservative swing voters who deserted the GOP in 2006.
Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)
But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.
Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?
So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.
Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”
We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.
The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.
The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.
In his foreword to a lavishly illustrated new book from Little, Brown, Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture by Peter Kobel, director Martin Scorsese points out that viewers of silent films today are like “time travelers.” Precious cultural evidence from before 1900 until the end of the 1930’s, Scorsese observes, was lost when 90 percent of silent films were destroyed or allowed to disintegrate. Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture reproduces posters and other items from the Library of Congress (LOC) film archive, which is energetically engaged in preserving what is left of this legacy.
The LOC’s website offers fascinating short Edison films that document urban overcrowding, whether on New York’s Lower East Side in 1903 or on Paris’s Esplanade des Invalides and Champs Elysées, both from 1900. Perhaps most fascinating of all is a 1903 San Francisco demonstration for Chinese-American rights, on the occasion of an eerily majestic funeral procession. Tom Kim Yung (1858–1903), a Chinese military Attaché, committed suicide in San Francisco after being a victim of police abuse. The procession, as captured by Edison’s cameras, shows hundreds of solemn marchers, while gawkers look on. Later artful documentaries offer fascinating details for history buffs, whether about 1929 Russia in Dziga Vertov’s Man With A Movie Camera or 1928 Germany in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City.
In an article I wrote for today’s Daily Standard, I took note of the problem posed by so called “ticking time bombs” for absolutist critics of the use of torture in the war against terrorism.
It seems that even those most vociferously opposed to the use of torture seem to permit an exception in cases in which a terrorist incident might be imminent, for example, if the authorities know that a terrorist hid a nuclear weapon somewhere in New York City and they had 24 hours to beat it out of him.
Andrew Sullivan, one of the shrillest critics of harsh methods of interrogation in the war on terrorism, has a solution to the ethical quandary here. As I wrote in the Standard, he would permit torture in such a case, but only if we “know–not just suspect–but know that a detainee knows where [the nuclear device] is” (Sullivan’s emphasis). But Sullivan calls this a “one in ten million, never-happened-in-human-history, infinitesimal chance” scenario. What is more, he still believes that the officials who engage in and/or authorize torture in such an incident should be convicted of war crimes (although he allows that if their decision “were retroactively seen as the correct judgment, their sentence might be commuted”). In other words, if he is making an exception, it is narrow to the vanishing point.
A reader by the name of SDB has written me with a brilliant dissection of Sullivan’s position and the moral cowardice entailed in it:
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, and India met in Harbin, where they pledged “to strengthen trilateral pragmatic cooperation.” According to People’s Daily, the self-described mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, it was the seventh such meeting of the foreign ministers of the three countries, and the first to be held in China. Will these three giants of Eurasia now finally form “the Primakov Triangle” to counter the United States?
In 1998, Yevgeny Primakov, then Russian prime minister, proposed that the trio form a “strategic triangle” to balance against Washington. At the time, the idea had great appeal in Moscow but little in Beijing. New Delhi was, not surprisingly, lukewarm. Today, the Russians remain enthusiastic and the Chinese are mostly supportive of the triangle. The Russian Federation and the People’s Republic are drawing closer to each other on a range of issues as they find common ground. In recent years, these two overly large autocracies have signaled the end of the Sino-Soviet split by inking a strategic partnership arrangement and, more substantively, a comprehensive treaty, signed in 2001. The State Department at the time dismissed the pact as a mere expression of friendship—what else could American diplomats say in the circumstances?—but it has all the markings of the beginning of a long-term alliance. In any event, the world’s two largest authoritarian states have been busy in recent years establishing military ties, reinvigorating trade, and settling border disputes.
But what about the third side of the triangle? Despite happy talk in Beijing and New Delhi and growing trade ties, there seems to be no substantial progress toward reconciliation. There are still-unsettled border disputes—talks are now in their third decade—and a host of strategic issues continue to separate the two. China is still not in favor of awarding to India a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. And even though the proposed nuclear deal between India and the United States appears to be falling apart, New Delhi and Washington quietly are strengthening cooperation across the board.
India undoubtedly will remain nonaligned, which means that it will always talk to the bad boys residing on the Asian landmass. Just because China is adept at turning out press releases, however, does not mean that New Delhi will agree to become part of any alliance, axis, or triangle. America shares ideals with India—and there are fewer issues today to divide them. That gives Washington an advantage in one of the most crucial strategic contests of this decade.
Charles Kesler is editor of one of the most intellectually impressive publications in America, the Claremont Review of Books, and he is also among the most intelligent skeptics of the Iraq war and our effort to bring democracy to that traumatized land. In his “From the Editor’s Desk” essay in the current issue of his review (Fall 2007), Kesler writes mostly about liberalism. But he also writes this:
[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.
Let me address these points in order.
Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know? One thing we can say, to the point that it is now beyond dispute even by Democrats, is that the surge bought us much more than time. It has made Iraq a far calmer and safer nation.
We learned from Lt. General Ray Odierno’s press briefing earlier this week that attack levels have been on a downward trend since June and are at their lowest levels since January; that IED attacks have been reduced by 60 percent in the last four months, with a notable decrease in lethality; and that in a change from the past, this year Iraqis celebrated Eid al-Fitr (the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan) in parks, restaurants, and streets due to decreased violence.
Col. Michael Garrett, also earlier this week, reported “measurable progress” in the Kalsu region southwest of Baghdad. Attacks have declined since March and are now at the lowest levels since the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division’s deployment thirteen months ago. And for good measure, on October 17, Sunni and Shiite leaders from the southwestern Baghdad neighborhoods of al-Jihad and al-Furat signed an important reconciliation agreement.
Earlier in the week, I expressed some reservations about David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey’s piece in the Wall Street Journal in defense of the harsh techniques employed by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda terrorists. Although I am in sympathy with Rivkin and Casey’s purpose, which is to defend methods now being employed to protect us from a second and more terrible September 11, I don’t think the case they made for such methods was particularly convincing.
But are there some instances in which almost everyone would agree that torture is an imperative? That’s a question I explore in today’s Daily Standard, the webzine of the Weekly Standard.
After expressionism comes minimalism. Whether or not this is always the case, it is so in museum design, where flamboyant gesture is now out and modesty and circumspection in. New York’s forthcoming New Museum of Contemporary Art, set to open on December 1 at 235 Bowery, confirms the trend with a remarkable essay in neo-minimalism.
A decade ago, the fashionable museum was a strutting and swaggering thing, a jagged scribble in titanium (Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) or a St. Vitus’s dance of geometry (Richard Meier’s Getty Museum in Los Angeles), or a jaunty hybrid of a racing yacht and space shuttle (Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum). But at a time when all are shouting, one must whisper to get attention.
The trend toward reticence began in 2004 with the remodeling of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by Yoshio Taniguchi. The museum was massively enlarged but without any assertive monumental impression whatsoever; it offers virtually no arresting architectural forms or shapes, no structural acrobatics, and in fact no visual architecture at all other than the wall planes that define its spaces. Much the same approach characterizes the new New Museum of Contemporary Art, now nearly finished. It is the first major work here by the Japanese firm SANAA (the name under which Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa practice).
The building, which is now nearly complete, looks like a stack of seven white boxes, piled loosely atop one another to break up what would otherwise be a monolithic tower. Its walls are sheathed in galvanized zinc-plated steel and are windowless (light filters in from above where the stories do not precisely align). In an interview several years ago, SANAA stressed what they called the “reticent” nature of their building: “the galleries will be neutral in character, with white walls, exposed ceilings, and concrete floors.” Buildings, they insisted, should be “open and communicative, not bastions.”
It is remarkable that American museums, aspiring to ego-free buildings, have had to turn to Japan to find their architects, not only Taniguchi and SANAA but also Tadao Ando, designer of the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth. But then again, when has self-effacement ever been a strong suit in American architecture?
I was skeptical, at first, on the question of whether the Sarkozy administration would end up doing much to change the nearly 200-year French ambition of being Europe’s staunchest advocate for Muslim interests in the Middle East (a self-styled puissance musulmane, or Muslim power). Except for the fortuitous few years of Pierre Etienne-Gilbert’s ambassadorship to Israel (1953-1959), France has always hewed to a policy of conspicuous favoritism toward the Arab world at the expense of Jewish interests and Israel (see National Review senior editor David Pryce-Jones’s terrific book Betrayal: France, the Arabs, and the Jews).
Amidst France’s embargo of arms shipments to Israel in the run-up to the Six Day War, Charles De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments.” Everyone knows about Jacques Chirac’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, but fewer know that when Hussein expelled Ayatollah Khomeini from Najaf in 1977, France set up Khomeini in a swank Paris compound, complete with international communications equipment that he used to foment the Iranian Revolution. When the Shah fled in 1979, Khomeini arrived in Tehran via a chartered Air France jet.
So it is deeply satisfying to see Sarkozy today taking such a strong public stance against the nuclear ambitions of an Iranian regime that his own country had an important hand in bringing to power. The Jerusalem Post has this report on Ehud Olmert’s visit to Paris this week:
Olmert reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s position regarding Iran’s nuclear program was “identical” to his own. Sarkozy reportedly also told Olmert, regarding the Palestinian demand of a “right of return,” that they cannot demand a state of their own and “part of your country too.” Finally, Sarkozy said that “Israel’s establishment is a miracle and may have been the central event of the 20th century.”
These are really quite astonishing quotes, when you consider that Francois Mitterand’s foreign minister said not very long ago that “my condemnation of Zionism is absolute.” If Sarkozy keeps this up, he’ll find that, after centuries of trying, France will finally have some genuine influence in the Middle East.
The Washington Post has a small but important story on American military advisers. The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has just visited Fort Riley, Kansas, where advisers for Afghanistan and Iraq are trained. He stressed how important these advisory teams are. Ultimately they are our only responsible “exit strategy,” because they can help turn the Afghan and Iraqi armies into forces capable of keeping order largely on their own.
The problem is that the army doesn’t traditionally reward advisory work. It tends to promote officers who lead American troops, not those who advise foreign troops—even if the latter mission is, in the grand scheme of things, more important.
The Post account has some telling quotes from mid-level officers:
“It’s not a dead end, but it slows down your career,” said Capt. Richard Turvey, 35, of Muncie, Ind.
“I became an officer to be a commander; now I’m going to have to wait longer,” agreed Capt. Mark Johnstone, 33, of Denver. “The teams are taking us from our traditional roles as artillerymen.”
“We have to have certain jobs to be competitive.” said Maj. Jason Jones, one of a group of army majors attending school at Fort Leavenworth who voiced reluctance to join the training teams. “That takes me out of the cycle. In essence, it sort of hurts you,” Jones said.
Promotion prospects for those who serve on the teams remain uncertain, said Maj. Kealii T. Morris. “The jury is still out” on how promotion boards will treat officers who serve on the teams, he said.
The army needs to make clear to its promotion boards that this type of service will be valued as highly as more traditional combat duty. One positive step in this direction would be to implement Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s idea for an Advisory Corps within the army—something I’ve previously advocated on contentions. Unfortunately, the army so far has resisted this innovation. It will take concerted pressure from the outside—especially from the Secretary of Defense, but also from lawmakers on Capitol Hill—to reform an out-of-touch personnel system that isn’t providing the skill sets we need to win the war on Islamofascism.
Legendary investor (and co-founder, with George Soros, of the Quantum Fund) Jim Rogers, speaking at an ABN Amro conference in Amsterdam on Tuesday, said that he hopes to sell all his assets denominated in U.S. dollars. What’s the investment legend buying? “I don’t see how one can really lose on the renminbi in the next decade or so,” he said, referring to China’s currency. “It’s gotta go. It’s gotta triple. It’s gotta quadruple.”
If it’s gotta do anything, Jim, it’s gotta collapse. Although it’s hard to argue with the guru who in 1999 correctly predicted the bull run in commodities, Rogers absolutely has to learn more about China.
It is true, as Rogers says, that the Bush administration has been trying to devalue the American currency. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson may talk about his strong-dollar policy, but he is not doing much to maintain the value of the greenback. On the contrary, he is trying to weaken it. And he is succeeding. The dollar is trading at historic lows against the euro and other currencies, including the Chinese one. Yesterday, for instance, the yuan, as the Chinese currency is informally known, broke the CNY7.5=US$1 mark—after blasting through 7.6 on July 3. The renminbi has appreciated about 8 percent against the dollar since July 21, 2005, when China unpegged its currency from America’s.
The yuan would go up about 35 percent—give or take twenty percentage points—if Beijing allowed its currency to trade freely. But these predictions of appreciation all assume that China will be able to maintain its elaborate capital controls. If they come down, so will the renminbi. Chinese businesses and citizens, if given the chance, will put some of their money abroad. When they do so, demand for the renminbi will shrink as they exchange local currency for foreign ones. China’s economy certainly looks strong with its 11.5 percent GDP growth, but its apparent success is built on government-created distortions that cannot be maintained for long. The Chinese know this.
All developing economies endure crisis at one time or another. Argentina’s, which started in the beginning of this decade, might be the template for China’s. When Beijing faces market turbulence of its own, all that Jim Rogers knows will become obsolete within minutes. If we have learned one thing from panics in the last hundred years, it’s that they follow the rapid creation of wealth. Chinese leaders have created a massive bubble in their country, and, despite repeated advice from others, have not really tried to stop the boom. China does not have a market economy; therefore, few mechanisms are in place to make necessary adjustments that minimize imbalances as they arise. When crisis comes, it will come big.
Crisis in China? It’s gotta happen, Jim, and when it does, you’re gonna lose a lot of money.
Three weeks ago, Congressional Democrats passed a reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which they knew the President would veto. It would have increased the program’s budget by $35 billion, eliminated a requirement that states cover the neediest eligible children before covering middle-class ones, and increased the tax on tobacco—which amounts to a tax on the poorest Americans—to give slightly more affluent Americans health care.
President Bush had proposed a more modest reauthorization that would still increase the program by about 20 percent (or $5 billion, rather than $35 billion), and would insist the funds first went to the poorest of those eligible, to keep the program from becoming a tool to prod families off of private insurance and onto government-funded health care.
Sure enough, Bush vetoed the Democratic proposal, and his veto was sustained in the House. Now, “sensing a political advantage” (as the New York Times puts it), the Democrats are rushing through another version of the bill, which they hope will peel off enough Republicans to pass. This version still suffers from basically all of the flaws that made it unacceptable to Bush last time, though some are hidden behind flimsy gimmicks.