Tuesday, January 08, 2008


The speeches after the Iowa caucus result: Obama and Clinton... Hillary was surrounded by her supporters - Madeleine Albright and of course Bill (though the picture cut off the top of his face). Barack Obama appeared on his own, reinforcing the image of a potential president, who, we are told, has to take the crucial decisions on his own (via C-span, 6 Jan).

The British media have, of course, reported on several occasions that John McCain's campaign has "come back from the dead" in the last few months. The reasons for this, though, might remain a mystery. Only one correspondent, Claire Bolderson, reported that, since McCain strongly supported the 'surge' in Iraq, indeed advocated a similar policy long before it happened (see here and here), and now things are going somewhat better in Iraq, people are saying, "McCain was right..." (BBC WS, Newshour, 7 Jan.).

A useful summary of the Democrat candidates' latest positions was provided by The New York Times:
Advisers to Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama say that the candidates have watched security conditions improve after the troop escalation in Iraq and concluded that it would be folly not to acknowledge those gains. At the same time, they are arguing that American casualties are still too high, that a quick withdrawal is the only way to end the war and that the so-called surge in additional troops has not paid off in political progress in Iraq.
Neither Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama nor the other Democratic candidates have backed away from their original opposition to the troop escalation, and they all still favor a quick withdrawal from Iraq. But Mrs. Clinton, for one, has not said how quickly she would remove most combat forces from Iraq or how many she would leave there as president. Former Senator John Edwards, by contrast, has emphasized that he would remove all combat troops from the country, while Mr. Obama favors withdrawal at a rate of one to two brigades a month. Those plans stand in contrast to the latest American strategy of keeping most American combat brigades in Iraq but giving them an expanded role in training and supporting Iraqi forces.
“The best leverage we have to get Iraq’s political leaders to do their job is to immediately begin to withdraw our troops,” [Obama’s spokesman, Bill Burton] said. ('As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts', 25 Nov 2007)
Jeff Weintraub had a long and interesting post on Ron Paul. Paul may only have got less than 10% support, just behind Rudy Giuliani, in New Hampshire, but as Jeff says
the real significance of Ron Paul's appeal, and the deeper problem of which it is only one symptom, is that a world-view of simplistic free-market fundamentalism and wishful isolationism has a lot of seductive resonance for many Americans
Bernard Guetta, on France Inter, pays grudging respect to John McCain:
en donnant, hier, cinq points d’avance à John McCain, les Républicains pourraient bien avoir mis en selle un candidat de poids. A 71 ans, sans grands moyens financiers et sans aucun charisme, le sénateur de l’Arizona, n’a rien, a priori, d’un futur Président. Défenseur de la guerre d’Irak et vieux routier de la politique, il a même tout contre lui mais ce militaire, fils et petit-fils de militaire, épouvantablement torturé par les Vietnamiens après qu’ils eurent abattu son avion, se trouve être la plus noble figure du camp conservateur.

Homme de principe, très conséquent dans ses prises de position, il avait vainement mis en garde, comme toute l’armée, contre l’insuffisance des effectifs engagés en Irak. Il dit, aujourd’hui, que l’Amérique ne doit pas s’y permettre une défaite mais c’est le même homme qui a mené bataille, et marqué des points, contre le développement de la torture, encouragé par Georges Bush.

Hostile à l’avortement et au mariage homosexuel, très rigide sur les questions de mœurs, il fait pourtant entendre une voix dissonante dans son camp en critiquant les baisses d’impôt, réclamant une moralisation du financement des campagnes électorales et prônant une régularisation des immigrés clandestins. Il incarne, lui aussi, une forme de rupture.
('Les leçons du New Hampshire', 9 Jan 2008)
Update 2:
A caller raises Ron Paul's views on slavery and the Civil War and the Civil Rights Act (C-span, 6 Jan, phone-in with John "Chip" Saltsman, Huckabee's campaign manager).

Channel 4 News (9 Jan) says that McCain is doing better now that Iraq is no longer so much of an issue... Jon Snow, in his report, says that McCain's campaign has come back since the surge has brought reduced levels of violence in Iraq and his fortunes rise and fall with those of the war (see).

Shi'a, Shi'a

(13 Nov) - Radio France Inter reported that Fatah supporters in Gaza insulted Hamas by calling them Shi'a. This was confirmed by a report in The New York Times.
The Hamas police confiscated Fatah flags and posters of Mr. Arafat from the cars of Fatah supporters, and rally participants shouted provocative slogans against the Islamist group, including “Shia, Shia,” in reference to support Hamas gets from mostly Shiite Iran. A vast majority of Palestinians are Sunni Muslims. ('6 Palestinians Killed in Gaza at Fatah Rally', 13 Nov 2007)
Update: the “Shi'a, Shi'a” cry was shown in the documentary 'Inside Hamas', shown on Channel 4, 10 Feb 2008, without any comment apart from the translation in the caption, “Shiite, Shiite”.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Dissidents and Scholars

A couple of months ago, Jeff Weintraub had a post on the Mearsheimer and Walt affair,  in the light of Walter Russell Mead's critique of them in Foreign Affairs.  This is a belated response, but I suppose it is never too late to repeat that it is necessary to be absolutely clear and unequivocal in support of open debate.  Most people support the idea of freedom of expression in principle,  but the hard part is to apply it in a consistent manner.  Back in January last year Amnesty's (UK) magazine and website were full of the abuses at that part of the island of Cuba, Guantanamo,  which the US has rented since 1934,  but did not find space to mention the other Cuba,  which is the state of Cuba:  in March 2003,  when most of the world's attention was focused on you-know-what,  77 political dissidents were arrested (*).  I thought of writing to Amnesty,  drawing on an essay of Orwell's from 1945,  but,  for one thing, I didn't have the time,  for another,  I couldn't quite find the killer quote.  Orwell's essay (a newspaper column, really) is worth reading nonetheless and here I have space to quote it at length (**). 
THE OTHER night I attended a mass meeting of an organization called the League for European Freedom [..] an organization [..] dominated by the anti-Russian wing of the Tory Party. [..]  More than half of what they said was justified, but curiously enough they were almost as anxious to defend our own coercion of Greece as to condemn the Russian coercion of Poland. [..S]uddenly black became white, and white black.  There was [..] none there,  apparently,  who could see that the forcing of quisling governments upon unwilling peoples is equally undesirable whoever does it.  It is very hard to believe that people like this are really interested in political liberty as such.
The trouble is that for years past it has been just as impossible to extract a grown-up picture of foreign politics from the left-wing press either.  [..W]hat difference is there between the russophile press and the extreme Tory press?  The one is simply the other standing on its head.  The News Chronicle gives the big headlines to the fighting in Greece but tucks away the news that ‘force has had to be used’ against the Polish Home Army in small print at the bottom of a column.  The Daily Worker disapproves of dictatorship in Athens,  the Catholic Herald disapproves of dictatorship in Belgrade.
To return to Mearsheimer and Walt, I blogged about this back in August.  As I made clear,  I did not find their arguments convincing.  That is not the point.  My views were based on the NYT's report on their upcoming book,  so I may have missed some subsequent developments,  but it was reported at that time that some pressure-groups had managed to bring about the cancellation of an event at the Chicago Global Affairs Council where Mearsheimer and Walt were to have discussed their views.

I had somehow or another got on the mailing list of an organisation called Scholars For Peace in the Middle East,  which featured heavily calls to oppose the British campaign to boycott Israeli academics.  I contacted them to ask them to distance themselves from efforts to deny Mearsheimer and Walt a platform. They declined to do so.

* Amnesty reported in AMR 25/001/2006 that 60 of the dissidents remained in prison.  They did subsequently focus on human rights in Cuba.

**  'As I Please', 26 January 1945