Beauty of Gray

Tuesday, February 18, 2003


What is unquestionably the best writing on a potential war with Iraq that I've seen can be found over at Thomas Nephew's Newsrack blog, which I will be adding to the bloglist at right post-haste. He's a reluctant hawk, having been swayed by many lines of evidence to favor an invasion or Iraq. But go and read it for yourself.

As a kicker, if you don't trust the US, he also provides links to stories in which the German Intelligence agency confirms the exitence of mobile bioweapons labs. If that makes you uncomfortable, they also estimate that Saddam is only a couple of years away from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:37 PM

Coalitions and alliances

One argument I’ve seen criticizing US diplomatic efforts is that, if NATO breaks up now and we alienate France and Germany (and maybe England, too according to the linked piece on Through the Looking Glass), then even if it doesn’t affect the war on Iraq, there will be times down the line when we’ll want their support and it won’t be there.

But it seems to me that this argument doesn’t hold up. What it's saying is that if we had an alliance, then NATO would support us when we want them too, even if it wasn’t in their direct self-interest. But the very crisis in NATO right now proves that this underlying assumption is false. The fact is, the existence of NATO is not enough to influence France and Germany to support us, or even to remain neutral on Iraq. They see an invasion as working against their self interest, and so are actively opposing it in any and every way they can.

So why would this be any different in the future? The fact of the matter is, in the future, just as in the present, nations will act in their self interest and any coalition the US is a part of to, say, oppose China, will be dictated by where countries feel their self interest lies. The presence of NATO will not incline them to help where they otherwise wouldn’t, and the absence of NATO will not discourage them from helping if they wish to do so.

I think the static nature of the Cold War and the long life of NATO has confused some people about the nature of coalitions and alliances and diplomacy. Countries always have, and always will, act in their perceived self-interest. The Cold War was an unusual interlude in that the overwhelming threat of the Soviet Union brought the interests of the US and all of Western Europe into line. And, as countries have always done in such instances, they formed an alliance to face this threat. And NATO was born and lasted for 50 years, while the threat did. But that was a function of the outside circumstances remaining the same, not any inherent stability and commonality of interest and action brought about by the existence of NATO itself.

So rather than looking back at the cold war and it’s simple international blocs, I think a better comparison for the future would be the great game played by nations during the 19th century. If you’re interested, AJP Taylor wrote a wonderful history of the era from 1848-1918. And even a cursory examination of the period shows that treaties and alliances were ephemeral things. One decade, France and England would align themselves against Russia in the Crimea. Later France and England were adversaries in Egypt, while France allied herself to Russia to oppose Germany. The examples of such reversals are numerous.

All of these diplomatic attachments came and went depending on the specific circumstances of the crisis of the day. The past alignments were no predictor of future ones, except insofar as permanent geographic interests (like the Straits of Constantinople) brought states into continuing harmony or discord. Each issue was decided on its own merits in each capitol, and the maneuvering followed these calculations. That was true then and will be true in the future. NATO has a military use in that it provides a framework for coalition command and control. But diplomatically, I think its effect is minimal at best, as the current crisis over Iraq has revealed.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:16 PM

Immoral and Stupid

Talking Points Memo reports on a quote from German sources indicating that they covered up evidence of Iraqi smallpox reserves to maintain the strength of their own anti-war line during the past election cycle. Their justification? Apparently, it's because they didn't think the threat against Germany was that high, since the terrorists really hate America.

Now, leaving aside for a moment the morality of this position, putting their own short term electoral interests ahead of the lives of thousands or millions of Americans. But can they really have been that stupid? The whole reason that smallpox is considered such a dangerous threat is that it's highly contagious. And there are lots and lots of people flying back and forth between Europe and America every day. If smallpox breaks out here, unless the government does an incredible job in their response and quarantine, it's likely to spread acorss the entire world. Which would include Germany.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 1:10 PM

Looking at both sides of the situation

A common mistake in many contests is to focus too much on your own situation and not enough on your opponent’s. I’m seeing some of this in comments about the current diplomatic wrangling the US is engaged in over Iraq and North Korea. The anti-Bush line (ably espoused by Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo) looks and sees that the US has gotten bogged down in inspections, has failed to convince France of our position and so is paralyzed in the UN, is having trouble with Turkey, facing mounting peace movements all across the US and Europe, and just generally has made a mess of things. They’re in danger of breaking up NATO, our old and dependable military alliance on the continent, and have pushed France and Germany, the heart of the EU, into open opposition to us.

And that’s the good news. The bad news is that they’ve taken a wary but stable situation on the Korean Penninsula and turned it into a powder keg, goading North Korea into re-starting their reactors and ratcheting up their hostile rhetoric. Their empty sword rattling has worsened the situation immeasurably, and they are now forced to crawl back to the negotiating table, having lost face and essentially allowed the North to develop nukes quickly and in the open.

So far, so bad. But before you completely buy into this line, it’s worth looking at things from the other side of the board for a minute. Sure, it’s easy to see all the areas where things have fallen short the ideal for the US, but just because we’re not winning smashing victories, it doesn’t mean the other side is doing any better.

A year ago, France and Germany were the heart of the EU, controlling it and getting ready to try and push through proposals which would give them even more power over it. They envisioned the EU as forming a unified front to counter-balance US hegemony, and they were at the head of that counterbalance. Not only was the EU coming together, it was preparing to expand and draw the new democracies of Eastern Europe into the fold, doubling it’s area and further increasing it’s economic and political clout.

Now, a short time later, Chirac and Schroeder have managed to turn the most powerful nation in the world from an ally into a sullen and semi-hostile state which is looking for ways (like pulling the military out of Germany) to stick it to them as much as possible. They’ve driven Britain, already skeptical about the EU and wavering between it and the US, fully into the US’s arms. And they’ve alienated most of Eastern Europe with their pressure and Chirac’s scolding condescension. At the least, this is likely to make them more hostile to Franco-German domination of the EU. Further, their foot dragging has made the US, the primary military force in NATO, skeptical of the entire endeavor, largely eliminating NATO’s ability to intervene anywhere outside of Western Europe, where no intervention is needed.

Over in Asia, the North Koreans, already suffering from a terrible and long lasting famine, and the most desperately poor country in the entire world, has cut off a massive pipeline of food, oil, and other aid from the US, with no prospects of restoring it. They’ve ratcheted up tensions on the peninsula with talk of war, interfering with their second lifeline—financial aid from the South. And their aggressive nuclear and missile development programs are frightening Japan, a third source (through payments from expatriates) of economic aid. They are saber-rattling, but just as the US knows any war would have terrible consequences for the south, both sides equally know that any war would just as surely completely destroy the north and topple its government. So their military option is even less credible than that of the US. At the beginning of the process, nobody liked them but they were being bought off. Now, nobody likes them and they’re not being bought off.

Now, at this point, I don’t know who is going to come out looking better in these two crises, real and diplomatic. But it’s far too simplistic to simply look at the US side and say everything’s a disaster, when the other side has made at least as many costly mistakes. And you also always have to keep in mind that the situations have arisen by an interaction of US and foreign actions. The US is not the only actor in the world, with everything good or bad a direct result of US behavior. The rift between the US and France/Germany, for example, is two way; the French and Germans did as much to cause it as the US.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 7:24 AM

A quick note about the Palestinian peace process

It’s been off the front pages for a while, at least here in the US, but I wanted to reiterate a point I made a while ago. A common argument against any peace process is that the Palestinians were offered almost everything they wanted—98% of their land, for goodness sakes!—and refused it. Ergo, no peace proposal short of the extinction of Israel would satisfy them.

But I wish everyone that uses the 98% figure would take the time to go and actually look at what that 98% entailed. Although it might not be a lie, the contextless quoting of that figure is certainly using statistics to mislead. When you see it, the natural assumption is that the Palestinians were offered essentially the entire West Bank, with a few chunks taken out along the border to cover areas with large numbers of settlements, and maybe some adjustments around Jerusalem as well. Maybe not everything they wanted, but so close as to be all they could reasonably hope for, right?

Wrong. Go ahead and look at what was actually proposed. (Look here for a non-pdf form of a similar map.) The Israeli proposal was to chop up the land offered into three largely unconnected chunks, separated by strips of land to remain permanently under Israeli control. These Palestinian controlled areas were to be further subdivided by an extensive network of Israeli military roads and highways, remaining open to Israeli traffic. And finally, Israel was to retain control temporarily (10+ years) over a large swatch of territory on the eastern edge of the West Bank, rending it completely non-contiguous in the short to medium term. So the Palestinian state was actually to be an archipelago in an Israeli sea.

Looking at the map, the Palestinian refusal suddenly become a lot more explicable. Now, Arafat is a murderous thug, but Gandhi would have laughed in the face of the Israeli negotiators proposing this as a permanent solution. It’s simply not a credible end state for the Palestinians. It would permanently fix Israeli military control over the west bank, eliminating Palestinian ability to travel freely, and would allow Israel to project force anywhere in the Palestinian territory with impunity. Oh, and Israel also retained rights over water sources in the West Bank, not a trivial matter in the region. Forget the right of return, how about actually offering territorial integrity?

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 6:56 AM

Monday, February 17, 2003
Who are your representatives listening to?

I was somewhat disturbed to read this recent post from Jane Galt, in which she decried the flood of angry and abusive hatemail she’s been getting regarding her posts on the anti-war rallies in NYC. For one thing, I’m amazed that people cared enough to generate vitriol over the entire protest march/rally permit micro-outrage, something which struck me as a prime example of a non-issue that the over-abundance of political commentators seized on and blew up to mountainous proportions. Even if there’s no news, the commentariat must still produce, so whatever story comes to hand become the crisis of the hour. And the media is what it is. There is no volume control on coverage, so in the lack of something major, small issues get big issue coverage levels.

But I was also struck by the way in which those who were angry enough to actually write a response to Jane were also some of the least rational and least worth hearing. But this is exactly the sub-group of the electorate that Congressmen are hearing from, and using to form ideas about what the voters think. One of the factors (of many, to be sure) that they use to determine the public mood is the letters they receive on an issue. While the internet brings out the worst in people (I doubt there are many profanity laced tirades addresses to Senators), nonetheless the same principle probably applies, and it’s this angry fringe that is influencing our representatives in Congress.

Link posted by Doug Turnbull at 9:23 AM

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