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Weekend Journal: January 26-28, 2007

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Never-Risen Star
The Multinational Failures of Condoleezza Rice

The title of the piece is “Condoleezza Rice is not the woman she once was.” But when was she the woman the writer supposes she’d been? The title is above the latest Lexington column in the current Economist, written by Adrian Wooldridge, who’s no slouch when it comes to detecting fops and faux leaders. But so it’s been with so much of the press regarding members of the Bush junta. There’s a French proverb: “Au royaume des aveugles, les borgnes sont rois”: In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed are kings (forgive the clunky translation). Rice is that one-eyed wonder, although she seems to me as blind as the rest of them if not blinder, and coarser than the press makes her out to be. We don’t want to think that the White House is entirely bereft of those who could make the right call in the direst circumstances, so we invent marginal saviors. In the first Bush term it was, pathetically, Colin Powell. In the second Bush term it’s been his replacement—the very woman who, as Wooldridge writes, had her fingerprints “on some of the worst mistakes of the first Bush term. She claimed the White House was unaware of the CIA's doubts about whether Saddam Hussein had tried to buy yellowcake uranium in Niger, for example, despite the fact that her office had received two memos on the subject and a call from the CIA director. But her culpability is deeper than that. When Ms Rice ran the National Security Council (NSC), it was hopelessly dysfunctional—torn asunder by disputes between the hawks (Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld) and the doves (then secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage).” How could she possibly do better as a manager at the State Department? She hasn’t:

Mr Bush signalled that he wanted a different foreign-policy approach from his first, which Mr Armitage once characterised as “Look, fucker, you do what we want.” She dreamed of reinforcing the expansion of America's hard power with an expansion of its soft power. And she brought valuable resources to her mission: a close relationship with the president, a penchant for multilateralism, a collection of deputies who wanted to reach out to the UN, and, for a while, an adoring press. But her bubble was burst by Israel's invasion of Lebanon. The administration started by trying to give Israel the time it needed to destroy Hizbullah. Ms Rice declared that the world was witnessing “the birth pangs of a new Middle East”. The policy was a disaster: America eventually had to broker a deal that left Hizbullah triumphantly in place. Ms Rice's words continue to haunt her on her current tour of the Middle East. If she is so keen on democracy, why is she cosying up to dictators in Egypt and Saudi Arabia? […] [T]he traits that made Ms Rice such a perfect protégée may be working against her now she is at the top of the tree. Ms Rice made her career by impressing powerful establishment figures—from Brent Scowcroft (who brought her into the NSC when she was 34) to Messrs Bush senior and junior. But what happens when your patrons disagree about fundamentals? Ms Rice tried a dose of fudge during the first Bush administration (you can find people on both sides of the diplomatic wars of the first term who believed that she was on their side). But mostly she chose to flatter her current patron. […] Being a perfect protégée can get one a long way up the greasy pole. But it is not the best qualification for being a successful secretary of state—let alone a candidate for president. The full column...

In other words, she sucked up her way to the top at the expense of national security and, now, the nation’s foreign policy. But the responsibility, again, lies with Bush. And the consequence? See below.

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From Bad To Worse
America's Image In the Eyes of the World

Not something much reported in the mainstream press this week. From World Public Opinion: "The global view of the United States’ role in world affairs has significantly deteriorated over the last year according to a BBC World Service poll of more than 26,000 people across 25 different countries. As the United States government prepares to send a further 21,500 troops to Iraq, the survey reveals that three in four (73%) disapprove of how the US government has dealt with Iraq. The poll shows that in the 18 countries that were previously polled, the average percentage saying that the United States is having a mainly positive influence in the world has dropped seven points from a year ago--from 36 percent to 29 percent—after having already dropped four points the year before. Across all 25 countries polled, one citizen in two (49%) now says the US is playing a mainly negative role in the world. Over two-thirds (68%) believe the US military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents and only 17 percent believes US troops there are a stabilizing force. The poll shows that world citizens disapprove of the way the US government has handled all six of the foreign policy areas explored. After the Iraq war (73% disapproval), majorities across the 25 countries also disapprove of US handling of Guantanamo detainees (67%), the Israeli-Hezbollah war (65%), Iran’s nuclear program (60%), global warming (56%), and North Korea’s nuclear program (54%). Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes comments, “According to world public opinion, these days the US government hardly seems to be able to do anything right.” The survey of 26,381 respondents across 25 countries was conducted for the BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan together with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork during November 2006 to January 2007 (mainly following the US mid-term elections)." See the full report...

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Venezuelan Smudge
Hugo Chavez, Press Thug

The sulfur this time

There’s a tendency among skeptics and opponents of American hegemony à-la-Bush to give presumptive credit to any foreign leader who stands up to the United States, or who gains popularity from doing so, regardless of that leader’s inherent qualities or failings—and as long as that leader is safely western: Many an Arab and Persian leader, not least among them Osama bin Forgotten, cut his popularity’s teeth on spewing anti-Americanism. Or in Osama’s case, spewing terror on American cities. That brand of anti-Americanism doesn’t cut it among the anti-hegemonists. They see it for what it is: a way to distract the locals from paying attention to the autocracy they must endure by shifting their resentments against the Big Bad Western Wolf. The autocrats’ strategy usually works, too, although Iran’s Ahmadinejad is discovering what George W. Bush has had to: You can’t govern by belligerence alone. Osama is lucky in that regard. He has nothing to govern, and if he did he’d make a mess of it in less time than it takes the average NASCAR vehicle to make it once around the Daytona International Speedway. So: why aren’t more western anti-American leaders treated with the same skepticism? The favored autocrat of the moment is Hugo Chavez, who should be favored a little less every day for his gradual transformation of a previously, if mildly, democratic country into a fief of his own. The latest worry is detailed by Reporters Without Borders in an appeal directed straight at Chavez, by Robert Ménard, the secretary general of the organization:

Dear Mr. President,

Reporters Without Borders is concerned about recent governmental and judicial measures aimed at a number of privately-owned news media. Our organisation fears that these measures will set precedents that will be prejudicial to free expression and press freedom in your country. The most emblematic case in this new wave of tension between your government and the privately-owned press is obviously that of Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV). You yourself announced on 28 December that the concession that had been granted to Venezuela’s oldest privately-owned broadcast media would not be renewed on 27 May. […] We are not unaware of the position taken by RCTV and other privately-owned news media during the April 2002 coup attempt. But the decision to withdraw its licence comes nearly five years after these events. Moreover, you yourself suggested, during the recent election campaign that led to your reelection, that the renewal of the concessions of certain privately-owned media, including RCTV, would be put to a referendum. Why then have you unilaterally decided to rescind the licence of Venezuela’s most popular broadcast media? Would its editorial line, one of open opposition to the government, bother you so much if it had fewer viewers? Rather than just a legal problem or a dispute about the date on which licences expire, this particular case raises the issue of media pluralism and the need for an independent press in a democracy. The full letter…

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Eurabian Brawl
Islam's Prickly Enlightenment

Bellwether of controversies

Back in October Timothy Garton Ash wrote an essay in the New York Review disputing various conventions and conceptions about “Eurabia,” Islam in Europe and Islamophobia. He was not entirely kind to Ayan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch politician of Somali origin who admitted to lying about various aspects of her origins when she sought asylum in Holland. Last year she moved to the United States. “I regard it as a profound shame for Holland and Europe that we Europeans could not keep among us someone like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose intention was to fight for a better Holland and a better Europe,” Ash wrote. “But I do not believe that she is showing the way forward for most Muslims in Europe, at least not for many years to come. A policy based on the expectation that millions of Muslims will so suddenly abandon the faith of their fathers and mothers is simply not realistic. If the message they hear from us is that the necessary condition for being European is to abandon their religion, then they will choose not to be European. For secular Europeans to demand that Muslims adopt their faith—secular humanism—would be almost as intolerant as the Islamist jihadist demand that we should adopt theirs. But, the Enlightenment fundamentalist will protest, our faith is based on reason! Well, they reply, ours is based on truth!” Writing in german in the online magazine Perlentaucher, Pascal Bruckner , a French “nouveaux philosophe,” defends Ali against Ash:

For him, the apostle of multiculturalism, Hirsi Ali's attitude is both irresponsible and counter-productive. His verdict is implacable: "Ayaan Hirsi Ali is now a brave, outspoken, slightly simplistic Enlightenment fundamentalist." He backs up his argument with the fact that this outspoken young woman belonged in her youth to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. For Garton Ash, she has merely exchanged one credo for another, fanaticism for the prophet for that of reason. This argument of equivalence is not new. It was used throughout the 19th century by the Catholic Church to block reforms, and more recently in France at the time of the "Islamic Headscarf Affair" by those opposed to the law. In the case of Hirsi Ali, herself subject to female circumcision and forced marriage, who escaped Africa to the Netherlands, the accusation is simply false. The difference between her and Muhammad Bouyeri, the killer of Theo Van Gogh, is that she never advocated murder to further her ideas. […] This vicious mechanism is well known. Those who revolt against barbarism are themselves accused of being barbarians. In politics as in philosophy, the equals sign is always an abdication. If thinking involves weighing one's words to name the world well, drawing comparisons in other words, then levelling distinctions testifies to intellectual bankruptcy. Shouting CRS = SS as in May '68, making Bush = Bin Laden or equating Voltaire to Savonarola is giving cheap satisfaction to questionable approximations. Similarly, the Enlightenment is often depicted as nothing but another religion, as mad and intransigent as the Catholicism of the Inquisition or radical Islam. See the full essay…

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Graphic Inequality
The Folly of Executive Pay
From The Economist Survey on Executive Pay, Jan. 18, 2007
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The Banality of Weevils
Russian Talk Radio

Not quite

From the Moscow Times: "Despite the impression given by some taxi drivers, Russian radio stations offer far more than best-forgotten hits of the 1980s. Talk shows allow listeners to consult lawyers, send messages to prisoners, ask questions about sex and even arrange dates with fellow radio fans. [...] Breadth of coverage is where radio beats mainstream television, and a search through the schedules turns up some strange but inspired shows. [...] Every Saturday and Sunday evening on Govorit Moskva, sexologist Alexander Poleyev answers listeners' letters and takes their calls about problems in their sex lives. On a recent show, Natalya, 22, asked why her only relationships were short flings with married men. [...] Every Saturday, the host of "Kalina Krasnaya" (Red Snowball Tree) reads letters to prisoners from their family members, and some from the prisoners themselves. "After the death of my father, I started drinking," one man wrote from a pre-trial detention center. He went on to say that he deserved punishment for stabbing someone to death. [...] Not surprisingly, given Russia's baffling legislation, radio shows offering legal advice are popular. [...] A recent show looked at medical malpractice. One woman, Lena, called in to complain that a private dental clinic had treated two of her teeth, but both had fallen out soon afterward. [...] On most weeknights, listeners of Govorit Moskva can get in touch with other lonely hearts, although this show -- optimistically called "A Song of Happiness" -- seems less popular than the sexologist's slot. On a recent show, only two people called in. One, a woman, complained that she had spent New Year's Eve alone with her cat. She didn't like the men who called into the show, however, describing them as "not normal." The other caller, a man named Nikolai, said he wanted to set up a museum of Soviet radios and wanted to meet a "little person" who wasn't just interested in homemaking. Neither was interested in the other." The full story...

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Photo of the Day
Attention, Lunatic Atheists
From my old and, for five years anyway, homestate of West Virginia. By dust... at Flickr via majikthise

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Crumbs & Quickies

In the Blogosphere

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