Shouting 'Cross the Potomac

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Saturday, April 20, 2002

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
Hearty Quasipundit congratulations to C. Dodd Harris IV, blogger, humorist, and now, member of the Kentucky State Bar. Dodd shared the travails of his Bar Exam study sessions with us and we're really happy they paid off, not that we had any doubt.

The only downside of Dodd's success appears to be a bit of irrational exuberance in the judging of this week's Caption Contest. Undoubtably dancing with glee over passing the exam, he chose a pair of "dancing" theme entries as co-winners, bypassing much more creative offerings from "Rags," JulieC, and Dan Dickinson, the Comedy Corps from The Refuge. That's okay, Dodd--this time.

Friday, April 19, 2002

What "Moral Clarity"? vol. 2

Tony Adragna
Last week Brooks said, "[...]he's hurt our moral clarity", and this week he said that "moral clarity" has returned. I say that there never was "moral clarity", except in the rhetoric. We've been engaged in the negotiation & quid pro quo of realpolitik with thugs all along.

Nobody in the administration has suggested action against the thugs we know as our "Arab friends" -- the Saudis and Egyptians.

We negotiated with, and offered incentives to, the Paki generals -- who also support thuggery -- in order to use their bases to go after the Taliban and al Qaeda.(btw, we reneged on that deal)

We even offered the Taliban a pass if they handed over bin Laden.(yes, there were other demands, but if the Taliban had met those demands, would they still be in power?)

In a beautiful irony, Gigot said on tonight's (Friday April 19, 2002) WSJ Editorial Board that we shouldn't support the recent coup against a thug in Venezuela - he was a democratically elected thug! (and the administration doesn't really know how it feels about the coup)

"Moral clarity"? -- I think not!

Barak Says: I Didn't Do That!

Tony Adragna
So, Mr. Barak really didn't offer Arafat anything in [2000]. It was Mr. Clinton's offer, and Mr. Barak only admits to backing the proposal as a "basis for negotiation." (April 19, 2002 Hannity & Colmes)

Arafat did walk away, and opted for more terrorism instead. But, Mr. Barak's statement still makes necessary a restatement of much argument...

Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Does International Law Matter?

Tony Adragna
I'll stipulate that in the realm of morality International Law is neuter: what we know as law neither proposes nor opposes morality. Rather, law is an instrument used in imposing standards of conduct derived from moral principles. In theocracies law is in fact undistinguished from moral code. But, in pluralistic Western democracies the imposition of morality is minimal, seeking to set standards founded on basic principles.

While we can easily intuit right and wrong, those intuitions often don't make good law. I think that most good law is consistent with intuition (there are exceptions), but not all intuition makes good law. This puts the West in a difficult position, because when we face an inconsistency between moral principle and law we must reconcile the two -- sometimes the law needs change, but it's also true that sometimes the principle needs restatement.

In any event, being a nation that acts according to law, instead of one that flaunts law, we find ourselves in the position of needing not simply moral clarity, but also legal justification for any acts we may be pondering in furtherance of our objectives. This isn't merely my own opinion -- it's an opinion explicitly accepted by the current U.S. administration. I refer again to our legal arguments prior to action in Afghanistan.

Would we have taken action in Afghanistan sans acceptance of our legal arguiments? There's a good case to be made that we should have, and rhetoric suggests that we would have, and in either case we definitely had legal justification irrespective of the reception given our arguments. But, the fact is that we did rely on legal arguments, and not simply on clearly stated arguments from moral intuition.

What relevance does the above have to our objective of bringing down the Iraqi thugocracy? The answer depends on whether our action is predicated on the legal arguments being accepted, or on the more basic point of simply having legal justification at international law. Anthony Clark Arend offers three good legal arguments, asks why the U.S. administration isn't "[making] the case", and concludes that until we do we won't "be able to build the type of coalition necessary to succeed against Iraq."

I don't agree that we need the "type of coalition" that Anthony Clark Arend refers to when citing Bush pere's "preparation for the Gulf War." I think we can succeed with minimal cooperation, or alone if that's where we're left.

But, I do agree that "Law matters."

Addendum: I meant to note that the need for legal justification is not a limitation imposed by Eurocrats, nor by the United Nations. This limitation is self-imposed, and is embedded in our democratic traditions. To argue that "the Law" -- even though we're talking here about "International Law" -- doesn't matter, seems to me to be counter to a principle that we hold close. Arguments against Law are contrary to arguments for Democracy.

That doesn't mean that we need accept legal arguments in opposition to our own legal arguments...

Tuesday, April 16, 2002

What "Moral Clarity"?

Tony Adragna
Mr. Bush has taken much heat recently over his supposed loss of the moral clarity that had punctuated the U.S. response to September 11. I don't dispute that there had been much moral clarity. The question that I present is: What form did that moral clarity take, and how relevant was it to the actions we have taken to date (and will take in the future)?

Whenever pondering the disconnect between rhetoric and action (a recurring theme here at QP), I'm always reminded of the old Christian debate on Faith v. Good Works. Properly argued, the debate isn't a choice between faith statements alone and good works absent faith. Rather, both sides of the argument can be reduced to: If your faith is true, then it will be evident in the way that you live.

In other words, what is said is irrelevant.

I think that the above has application to Mr. Bush's moral clarity. The fact that the form of the statements of moral clarity that we've heard since September 11 are properly catalogued political and diplomatic rhetoric seems to be lost on most Americans.

I'm not arguing that the statements have been wholly irrelevant: clear and heartfelt rhetoric has its place in rational debate. But, I assert that our actions have relied more on conventional justifications than on any arguments from moral clarity. On what do I base the assertion? I base it on our actions and arguments:
Afghanistan: Our arguments in the international community relied on the United Nations Charter and the NATO Treaty.

The Philippines: We advanced no argument to the international community. Our activity in the PI relies on a strategic relationship.

Iraq: Arguments for action in Iraq are based on Hussein's failure to comply with obligations at international law, and terms accepted at the end of the opening campaign of the Gulf War (n.b.: there is no Gulf War I & II - it's the same conflict that was never fully concluded).
In fact, the morally clear rhetoric has been meant as: (a) punctuation on the legal arguments made to those who already agree, but merely needed help overcoming political hurdles, and (b) a diversion of the domestic audience's attention away from the diplomacy and nuanced arguments in the international arena.

There is an inconsistency between the morally clear rhetoric and the conduct of policy. The inconsistency didn't begin at Mr. Bush's recent ME demarche -- it existed as soon as Mr. Bush uttered the for us or against us verbiage (bloggers have been pointing to problems with "our Arab friends" since long before this past Passover), and has only been underlined by current U.S. efforts in the ME. That the rhetorical train ride is heading for a crash is due to the reality that you can't nuance moral clarity in the ME - you must either take a side, or engage in realpolitik.

I prefer realpolitik, but I draw the line at talking to Arafat (though, I recognize the utility of giving him the rope to hang himself). What I don't accept is our prior choice of non-involvement -- that choice wasn't some kind of elegant passive statement of moral clarity, but merely a refusal to act out of moral clarity at the expense of our apparently inconsistent diplomacy vis a vis our "Arab allies".

Has the rhetoric lost its moral clarity? Yes! Does this loss have some significant impact on our ability to take some future action? No! What matters is what we do, and as long as we still have conventional justifications the loss of moral clarity in our rhetoric is irrelevant.

You want a lesson on the disconnect between rhetoric and action, just look at Israel's experience with Arafat -- the Israelis don't pay any atention to what's being said, and we ought do the same.

Two Minute Drill

Will Vehrs
This feature hasn't been forgotten, but, mercifully, it's become infrequent.

Justice Byron White With the death of Justice Byron White, there are now no living ex-Supreme Court Justices. I suppose that really doesn't matter, but just as having living ex-Presidents is powerful resource to tap, so, too, could ex-Justices perform valuable services for this country. Indeed, White continued to hear cases on the Appeals Court after he retired. It's a shame that various circumstances join to keep most Justices on the bench until their health fails.

I would also observe that White is not being lionized as Justices Marshall and Brennan were upon their deaths. I suspect that's largely because White was on the "wrong" side of Roe v. Wade.

A Fence, A Conference Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen is the latest to join The Weekly Standard's David Brooks, among others, in proposing a "fence" to separate the Palestinians and Israelis.

Senator Joseph Biden, in today's New York Times, proposes a peace conference led by the United States and offers this analysis:

The time has passed for simply insisting on the cease-fire plan submitted by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and the "confidence-building" measures outlined by a commission led by former Senator George Mitchell. Valuable political capital and American prestige can no longer be expended on tactical moves. As the only power with influence among all parties, we should work toward larger, strategic goals.

It seems to me that the idea of a "fence" and a region-wide peace conference, despite their limitations, are reasonable and attainable goals that might bring some stability to the Middle East. Biden's new high profile is smart politics so far, potentially leading to Democrats being more involved in a bi-partisan foreign policy. Such involvement would remove a weakness that the Republicans have been exploiting with their "Commander-in-Chief" strategy.

My Favorite Liberal Columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. shows why in his death penalty piece in today's Washington Post. He comments on the recommendations of Illinois Governor George Ryan's Commission. While Dionne opposes the death penalty across the board, he recognizes and respects the reality:

But we live in a democracy, and while public support for the death penalty has weakened over the past decade, substantial majorities still support it. Under these circumstances, it makes sense as an interim step for both supporters and opponents to agree that as long as the death penalty is on the books, it ought to be administered as fairly as possible.

It would be nice to have this kind of "meeting half-way" on other divisive issues.

Boston Marathon Report Once again, the sad state of American marathon running was revealed at the 106th Boston Marathon. The top US-born finisher, Keith Dowling, was 15th in 2:13 and change. Only Dowling and three other Americans finished under 2:20.

I am at a loss to understand how American runners of the late 60's and 70's, unsponsored, training around full-time jobs, and lacking the advances of sports medicine and improved equipment, ran times that are faster and more consistent than the pampered professionals of today. Lou Castagnola, working full-time at a demanding job and training in the darkness on a cinder high school track, placed fourth in the 1968 Boston Marathon with a 2:17. That time would have placed him third among Americans yesterday.

Monday, April 15, 2002

Mideast Musings

Tony Adragna
My recent break from posting was for the ostensible purpose of looking for permanent employment, but I also wanted some time to put more thought into the Mideast situation and the War on Terror in general. At this instant I'm wanting to underline some general disagreements with other writiers that underlie my writings on this subject, and to answer some specific valid questions/criticisms posed by readers.

On "Moral Equivalence"

One of the recurring themes in responses to critics of Israeli policy is the charge of "moral equivalence". I understand the rationale adopted by those not wanting to hear any criticism of Israel -- "She's fighting for her very existence, and she's the only democracy in the region" (a bit of hyperbole, I think) -- and I think that in most cases (i.e. Prince Bandar's insulting apologia of terrorism, or William Raspberry's questionable formulation of a question) the rebuke is deserved, but I'm disturbed by the knee-jerk reaction to any criticism of Israel.

That the acts of terrorists intentionally targeting civilians are morally equivalent to the conduct of Israeli policy executed by the IDF, as argued by Arab governments and radicals in the West, is an assertion in general that ought correctly be rejected at face value. Those acts -- properly labeled homicide, mass murder, and even genocide -- are immoral regardless of the cause or circumstance. Despite disagreement over the definition of "terrorism" at international law, what divides guerrillas from terrorists is a bright line: murder.

But, if we want "moral clarity", then we need to turn toward some absolutes. It's not enough to say that there's no moral equivalence -- you need examine both sets of actions to see whether they conform to ethical standards. Unless you're a "moral relativist", which most of the knee-jerk "Israel at all costs" folks claim they aren't, then you must admit that A being worse than B doesn't give B an automatic pass.

Many will say, "Now isn't the time to ask these questions" with regard to Israel's conduct past or present. I respond: You're too correct, now is long past time to ask these questions. I've always harbored reservations about some Israeli methods of responding to terrorism. For example, the prior tactic of evicting the families of terrorists from their homes, then razing the structures, could never be morally justified under either [moral] absolute or utilitarian analysis.

More importantly, since we're talking about military authority being exercised over hostile territory, Article 46 of the Laws and Customs of War on Land (Hague IV, 1907) commands respect for private property, and Article 50 forbids holding an entire population resposible for the actions of individauls unless there is shared responsibility.

Don't even get me started on the obligations of military commanders vis a vis the sick and wounded.

Now that the situation has progressed from simple administration of hostile territories. to open warfare between the two parties, these questions of conduct are even more relavent.

Am I accussing Israel of any specific misconduct during the current offensive? Certainly not - I don't know of any specific acts or generally observable trends that point to Israeli misconduct of the current campaing. In fact, Israel has shown incredible self-restraint under the circumstances.

Is Israel justified in conducting a war against Palestinian terrorists? Yes! Is the conduct of the parties above equivalent? No! [However], equity -- fairness -- demands not only an outright rebuke of Palestinian thuggery, but also an admonition to our ally: Don't fall into the trap of justifying ethically questionable behaviour by lumping it into the War on Terror pile -- that's what the enemy is doing

"She's fighting for her very existence..."

I asked myself: What rationale lies behind this assertion? Two perspectives on this assertion come immediately to mind: (a) a defense of the State of Israel, and (b) the defense of a Jewish homeland. I won't try to delink the two -- that they are inextricable is key to understanding a part of what the conflict is about.

There really is no danger that Israel will disappear from the map, despite the desires of militant Islam. Arab nations have tried, jointly and by proxy, to achieve that aim on several occasions, and have been defeated at every instance. Two of Israel's Arab neighbors -- Jordan and Egypt -- gave up on that fight so long ago that their rapprochement was already in history textbooks by the time I graduated highschool in 1983 (even though The Washington Declaration wasn't signed til '94, the Jordanians and Israels had been cooperating since '67).

Add to Israel's own very capable IDF the U.S. committment to Israel's defense.

Israel as a nation is not going to be done in by brute force.

What really concerns Israelis today is this question of "demographics". That's why Israel's refusal on the "right of return" -- Arab Israelis already make up about 20% of Israel's population, and it's a subset of the population that's growing faster than the Jewish majority. There's a very real fear that an Israel which is majority Arab, especially if that majority is made up Arabs recently hostile to Israel, might get a Pan-Arab undivided "Palestine" by simply letting nature take it's course.

And it's not an irrational fear -- there are Arabs who have actually proposed this course.

I don't think this will happen, and for two reasons: (a) Israel will not concede the "right of return", and (b) Arab Israelis are very aware that conditions would be worse for them in a Pan-Arab undivided "Palestine" than they ever could be in a majority Jewish Israel.

But, Israel is still going to be a different place -- demographics are eventually going to produce an Israel where being Jewish is no longer the predominant unifying indentity. How Israel will face this identity crisis I have no idea, but fighting against the inevitable will just cause more pain.

The current Israeli offensive: is it succeeding? More precisely, in what is it succeeding?

Joseph Britt provided his thoughts on the question that he asked. I agree with Joe!

I think the Israeli offensive is succeeding, and I'm very happy that it is. What the offensive is succeeding at is exactly what the Israelis stated as their objectives: destroy Arafat's police state/terrorist (another inextricable linkage) infrastructure; break up the terrorist cells; capture as many terrorists and their caches of supplies as can be found.

It's the global War on Terrorism in microcosm -- realizing that the campaign won't totally vanquish terrorism immediately, the hope is to reduce the threat to a level that can be dealt with. Eventually there will be total victory, but I think the Israelis would be happy just to get back to conditions inside Israel as existed before the intifada was reprised.

Hurdles on Road to Iraq: Political or Military

In arguing against Barbara Lerner I may have given the impression that I was saying "we can't do it without the Arabs." I never said that, and never meant to imply it. I merely observed that there were some problems with Lerner's reasoning, and I stand by my criticism.

My comments prompted a debate over whether the hurdles are political or military. I think that in the case of the two options offered by Lerner -- launching from either Turkey or Israel -- the hurdles are both.

Take the Turkish option. On last addressing the issue I wrote more about the politcal/diplomatic hurdles, and only alluded to the concerns of military planners. I'll stipulate that the politcal/diplomatic hurdles to launchng from Turkey are easily overcome, so let's discuss what the military planners need contend with in this scenario.

Of course, we have to start by looking at a map of Turkey.

Lerner says that we can launch an invasion into Iraq from Incirlik AFB. I wonder if Lerner knows where Incirlik is located? The map doesn't pinpoint the location, but Incirlik is outside Adana, near the Gulf of Iskenderun, about 350 miles from the closes[t] point at which Turkey borders Iraq. That's no problem for flight ops, but those people who think that going after Iraq is going to get done the same way we went after the Taliban are fooling themselves. We're going to need ground troops, along with their combat vehicles, and we'll need [to] move them through Turkey to the Iraqi border.

Of course, we have air superiority over Northern Iraq, so we don't need to worry about moving into Iraq under any real threat. But, take a look at the terrain -- see those mountains?

Insurmountable hurdles? No! But, does this plan get us something sufficient to our needs? Maybe it does, but Lerner doesn't even want to consider the possibility that it doesn't - she's already decided that Incirlik is enough.

The political/diplomatic and military problems with launching from Israel are inextricable: to launch from Israel without permission (even in secret) from Jordan -- an Arab ally -- would be an act of war.

The option that Lerner didn't even address, which is the best option not involving the support of Arab allies, would be to lau[n]ch the invasion entirely from the Persian Gulf. The only hurdles in this plan are items totally within our own control.

But, the "we don't need that Arabs" folks have thrown a new twist into their rhetoric, and it's got me slightly confused about what exactly it is that they really believe: they really don't want anything to do with all of those corrupt Arabs, but they're happy to deal with Kuwait and other gulf states that might be cooperative. So, which is it, do we want to fight the Arabs, or de we want Arab friends?

All the while that the debate over "can we" goes on, everybody missed the debate over "should we". My most pointed criticism of Lerner was a response to her statement, "Far better, for us, to see the Arab world destabilized than to stand helplessly by and watch Arabs destabilize the rest of the world, as they do today." I repeat my reply:
But the Arab world is already unstable -- that's the source of the threat -- and increased instability there is likely to leave "the rest of the world" facing a much larger problem, especially if we lose the only two Westward looking governemtns in the Arab world - Egypt and Jordan.(Imagine what that does to Israel's position)

Sunday, April 14, 2002

Punditwatch Fenced In

Will Vehrs
There will be no TV Punditwatch today because of a pressing fence project that I couldn't complete yesterday.

Punditwatch will appear on Fox's website tomorrow in Views. Sorry, I hate it when real life intrudes on blogging ....