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second life?

Few scenes better sum up the wondrous complexity of the evolving online world that the following paragraph from a Globe and Mail article on legality and justice in virtual online worlds:

Last year, Second Life claimed its first living, breathing millionaire, Ansche Chung, who had made $1 million US entirely by developing virtual real-estate and other investments, over the course of two years, from an initial investment of $10.  Her in-game press conference was interrupted by a swarm of flying penises.

This is the new reality, and Second Life, Warcraft, etc, are just the tip of the iceberg. 

One thing is becoming increasingly clear though, “second life” is a misnomer.  The internet is not an alternative to life, it is life.  It is us, in all our complexity, madness and brilliance, out in the open for all to see, critique and engage.  No doubt that we are going to have to adapt, in some cases dramatically, our social and legal norms, built to moderate relatively innocuous forms interpersonal interaction.

But hey, I’m not sure the Craig press conference would have been that much more bizarre had it too, been interrupted by swarms of flying penises…

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Defending Ignatieff’s ‘mea culpa’

Whatever else we can say about Michael Ignatieff, he piques emotions, spurs debates and creates headlines with a fervor that is unrivaled in Canada.

True to form, his essay in last week’s NYT magazine has received the column inches usually reserved for the Health Act and the Stanley Cup. So just what did he say that caused such a stir?

I will get to what I think about his essay in a moment, but first, what of the commentary? Having gone through the two dozen or so pieces on his essay, I must say, there actually aren’t that many serious criticisms. Most fall into the category of hit job critiques. People who have never, and likely will never think very highly of the man. These should not discount what are some real concerns though.  There are two in particular.

The first is a line of critique that has been around for a while, and has been best outlined by Potter, Wells, and Ygelsias:

First, Andrew Potter:

Now he is claiming that, had he been a politician at the time, his decision might have been different. Why? Because as an intellectual, you are accountable only to yourself, while a politician is accountable to citizens, soldiers, allies, international institutions, and so on. So, the decision would have been different, because his constituency would have been different.I am not buying this.

To begin with, it is dangerous for an academic to claim that he is accountable only to himself. Given the subject matter, if he is right, this would be a good argument for shutting the universities down. Does anyone imagine that an engineer is accountable only to himself, a surgeon only to herself? The entire rationale for professional self-regulation (and its academic equivalent, the peer-review process) is precisely to ensure that standards are maintained and the public good is served.

Paul Wells continues, with a little more vigor:

It’s nutty-nutbar to perceive some culture of practical politics whose dictates would have led a Minister Ignatieff to conclude something different in 2003 from what Professor Ignatieff decided. In 2003, most practical politicians also thought the war was swell. It’s hard to know where to stop counting them: Bill Clinton for sure, Hillary Clinton probably, Brian Mulroney, and never even mind Stephen Harper — the pro-war camp also included rank-and-file Liberal MPs like Albina Guarnieri and David Pratt, Harperphobic Tories like Joe Clark, and those advisers around Paul Martin who voiced an opinion at the time. Along with quite literally every prominent English-language newspaper editorial board in Canada except the Toronto Star’s.

And Ygelsias brings it home:

But then someone pointed out to me that the whole thing is founded on the absurd premise that his errors in judgment have something to do with the mindset of academia versus the mindset of practical politics.

This is, when you think about it, totally wrong. Academics in the field of Middle East studies were overwhelmingly opposed to the war. Similarly, international relations scholars opposed the war by a very large margin. The war’s foci of intellectual support were in the institutions of the conservative movement, and in the DC think tanks and the punditocracy where the war had a lot of non-conservative support. People with relevant academic expertise — notably people who weren’t really on the left politically — were massively opposed to the war. To imply the reverse is to substantially obscure one of the main lessons of the war, namely that we should pay more attention to what regional experts think and give substantially less credence to the idea that think tankers are really “independent” of political machinations.

So what of this critique? A couple of comments.

First, let’s be clear about what Ignatieff has said about this. During the election campaign he said that had he been a Canadian politician at the time, the views of the Canadian electorate would have influenced his decision of whether to send Canadian troops into Iraq. This seems correct to me, and is something quite different to the argument that he would not have advocated US invasion, being in the US, and participating in the US policy debate.

In the latest piece, he does go a step further, and perhaps gets in some trouble, but this is not necessarily in relation to the specific Canadian position. Here he is more concerned with pointing out that there is a lot of academic and journalistic nonsense to which no accountability is held. Academics say a whole lot of stupid things that they are rarely held accountable for. He recognizes this, and is pointing it out. Academics can deal in the theoretical and play with ideas in a way that politicians simply can’t. Because they are held accountable to everything they say and do. This, at least in some fashion, changes the calculus of decision making.

Here though, he seems to underplay the extent to which certain academics, and they are admittedly rare, do influence policy. More importantly, in the case of the US position on Iraq, he was one of them. Therefore, I would say his position is correct with respect to the Canadian politics example, but does not hold in the American case.

In the end I think it is fair to say that his position as to whether to send Canadian troops into Iraq would have been based on a slightly different set of variables than his decision to advocate for US intervention. But, as Wells points out, let’s not pretend that Chrétien’s position was either obvious, or without risk. There was a lot of debate in this country, as in others, about if, and how Iraq should be dealt with. Had there been a UN Security Council resolution, for example, then Chrétien would almost certainly have supported it. The debate was and remains nuanced, as I think Ignatieff struggles with in his public pronouncements. People want red meat, and he wants to remain introspective.

The second line of critique is summed up by Siddiqui:

Ignatieff invokes Bismarck’s observation that political judgment is “the ability to hear, before anyone else, the distant hoofbeats of the horse of history,” and adds: “Few of us hear the horses coming.”

But millions around the world, including Canadians, did on Iraq. Jean Chrétien did. Stephen Harper and Ignatieff didn’t.

Yes, but this retrospectively makes the debate seem black and white when it simply wasn’t. People opposed and supported the war for a wide range of reasons. Siddiqui would not have supported it, for example, even had the Security Council been on board. All sides have to be honest about their positions in the lead-up. As Well’s has noted, pretty much everyone thought Chretien would support it. He wisely decided not to, but this was neither overwhelmingly obvious, nor without risks.

What’s more, not everyone who was against it was so for the same reasons. The French had been doing wide business with Saddam and had a serious grudge to pick with Bush. Much of the left is against the principle of humanitarian interventions writ large. Many American conservatives want an isolationist and protectionist US foreign policy. These varied positions are often in conflict with one another, and the attribution of virtue, particularly, humanitarianism, to all who opposed the war, misses much of the context of the debate, and blurs the policy challenges that are sure to arise a futur
e interventions are considered.

As Potter says: “There were plenty of good arguments, both morally and under international law, for the invasion. There were good arguments against it as well, but reasonable people could and did disagree.”

So what to make of the article? For what it’s worth, a few comments:

1. While saying that the Iraq war has condemned his judgment is certainly a mea culpa of sorts, this article is not really a reneging of his past positions, or how he came to them. Rather, it is more of a stream of consciousness accounting of his evolution from US public intellectual to Canadian politician. While I am not as pessimistic as Potter as to feasibility of this transition, there is no doubt that the two are very different.

2. I generally agree with his distinctions between academic and political judgment. Again though, he gets into the problem of being not just a typical academic during the Iraq lead-up. He aspired to, and attained, policy impact.

3. “I’ve learned that acquiring good judgment in politics starts with knowing when to admit your mistakes.” Refreshing. Wish more politicians would say this while wrestling publicly with their mistakes.

4. Way too many historical references. While I like to think that our leaders are well read, citing a dozen ‘great men’ in a 2500 word essay is a bit much. And there is no way to make the words “former denizen of Harvard” unpretentious.

5. “Having taught political science myself, I have to say the discipline promises more than it can deliver” = understatement of the year.

6. I don’t agree with this para:

The decision facing the United States over Iraq is paradigmatic of political judgment at its most difficult. Staying and leaving each have huge costs. One thing is clear: The costs of staying will be borne by Americans, while the cost of leaving will be mostly borne by Iraqis. That in itself suggests how American leaders are likely to decide the question.

A few problems here. First, it doesn’t account for the fact that US presence is the catalyst for a good percentage of the violence. Second, at present, more Iraqi’s are being killed than Americans. Third, the humanitarian costs of leaving versus staying, depending on how both are done, are a matter of serious debate.

7. I really enjoyed his reflections on public life. I have witnessed these costs in a range of capacities over the past few years, and he hits the nail on the head with a few, one in particular:

In public life, language is a weapon of war and is deployed in conditions of radical distrust. All that matters is what you said, not what you meant. The political realm is a world of lunatic literalism. The slightest crack in your armor — between what you meant and what you said — can be pried open and the knife driven home.

In some ways this is obvious, and Ignatieff got himself in some real political trouble during the leadership race for thinking out loud a bit more than he probably should have, but it’s certainly true that in an area where what people mean should be what we care most about, as these people will be running the country, we insist on hyper-critiques of every word uttered. “Lunatic Literalism,” great line.

8. I liked the idea of fixed principles versus fixed ideas in politics. The former are the values with which one governs, the latter “of a dogmatic kind are usually the enemy of good judgment.”

9. “In private life, we pay the price of our own mistakes. In public life, a politician’s mistakes are first paid by others.” Again, this is true, but he was a public figure before he entered politics.

10. I don’t fully agree with this para:

“My convictions had all the authority of personal experience, but for that very reason, I let emotion carry me past the hard questions, like: Can Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites hold together in peace what Saddam Hussein held together by terror?”

I’m not sure that this is the right question. More important was whether the mechanisms used to intervene and nation-build, (or not, as the case may be), would create a situation on which radical elements of these communities could capitalize.

On balance, this essay is an honest public accounting from a public figure working his way through the biggest policy challenge of our time. But it is also filled with interesting reflections on politics that are rare from someone still active in public life.

And in the end, I would echo the conclusion of the Montreal Gazette:

“Ignatieff’s self-criticism deserves to be remembered much longer than his volte-face on Iraq, because it is the sort of intelligent candour that is so painfully rare in public life. It’s a refreshing and thought-provoking glimpse at how an intelligent person copes with the challenges of policy decision-making.”

There are, and were before Iraq, no easy answers for what to do in the Middle East. Anyone who pretended or pretends otherwise, as many did and do on either side, are disingenuous, and frankly don’t deserve to be leading us through this challenge. We need more people who struggle with problems in public and that absolve themselves of the cocksure that has become the partisan norm. For this, Ignatieff’s honesty should be valued. Does this make him a great leader? Frankly, I don’t know yet. He is certainly daring, as he nudges us to conclude in his final paragraph. I do know that I am glad he is part of the political debate, as there is no doubt he does politics differently. Here’s hoping he keeps thinking, and struggling – in public.

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A Belated Happy Birthday Blogs

I forgot to post this here when it was published last week, but David Eaves and I had the following op-ed in the Toronto Star:

Blogosphere at age 10 is improving journalism

Although hard to believe, this month marks the 10th anniversary of blogging, a method for regularly publishing content online.

And what a milestone it is. A recent census of “the blogosphere” counted more than 70 million blogs covering an unimaginable array of topics.

Moreover, every day an astounding 120,000 new blogs are created and 1.5 million new posts are published (about 17 posts per second). Never before have so many contributed so much to our media landscape.

Despite this exponential growth, blogging continues to be misunderstood by both technophiles and technophobes. For the past decade the former have maintained that blogs will replace traditional journalism, ushering in an era of citizen-run media. Conversely, the latter have argued that a wave of amateurs threatens the quality and integrity of journalism – and possibly even democracy.

Both are wrong.

Blogging is not a substitute for journalism. If anything, this past decade shows that blogging and journalism are symbiotic – to the benefit of everyone.

To its many ardent advocates, blogging is displacing traditional journalism. But journalism – unlike blogging – is a practice with a particular set of norms and structures that guide the creation of content. Blogging, despite its unique properties (virtually anyone can reach a potentially enormous audience at little cost), has few, if any norms.

Consider another, more established medium. Books enable various practices, such as fiction, poetry, science and sometimes journalism, to be disseminated. Do books pose a threat to journalism? Of course not. They do the opposite. Journalistic books, like blogs, increase interest in the subjects they tackle and so promote further media consumption.

The same market forces that apply to books and newspapers apply to blogs.

Readers will judge and elect to read based on the same standard: Does it inform, is it well researched and does it add value?

Because blogs are cheaper to maintain they will always be numerous, but this makes them neither unique nor more likely to be read regularly.

Ultimately blogs, like books, don’t replace journalism; they simply provide another medium for its dissemination and consumption.

If technophiles mistakenly claim that blogging competes with – and will ultimately replace – traditional journalism, then technophobes’ fear of being swept away by a tsunami of irrelevant and amateurish blogs is equally misplaced.

Traditionalists’ concern with blogging is rooted in the fact that the average blog is of questionable quality. Ask anyone who has looked, and cringed, at a friend’s blog.

But this conclusion is based on a flawed understanding of how people use the Internet. The Internet’s most powerful property is its capacity to connect users quickly to exactly what they are looking for, including high-quality writing on any subject.

This accounts for the tremendous amount of traffic high-quality blogs receive and explains why these bloggers are print journalists’ true competition. As technology expert Paul Graham argues: “Those in the print media who dismiss online writing because of its low average quality miss the point. No one reads the average blog.”

Once this capability of the Internet is taken into account, the significance of blogging shifts. Imagine that only 5 per cent – or 75,000 – of daily posts are journalistic in content, and that only 1 per cent of these are of high quality. That still leaves 750 high-quality posts published every day.

Even by this conservative assessment, the blogo- sphere still yields a quantity of content that can challenge the world’s best newspapers.

In addition, as a wider range of writers and citizens try blogging, the diversity and quantity of high-quality blogs will continue to increase. Currently, the number of blogs doubles every 300 days. Consequently, the situation is going to get much worse, or depending on your perspective, much better.

As bloggers continue to gain tangible influence in public debates, our understanding of this phenomenon will mature.

And this past decade should serve as a good guide. Contrary to the predictions of both champions and skeptics, blogging has neither displaced nor debased the practice of journalism. If anything, it has made journalism more accurate, democratic and widely read.

Let’s hope blogging’s next decade will be as positive and transformative as the first.

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Samatha Powers and the WoT

On a train from Rome to Venice, I just tucked into Samantha Power’s review essay on the future of War on Terror in this Sunday’s Times.  Again, she shows why she a leading driver of an emerging liberal foreign policy position that deviates at once from the utopian militarism of neoconservationism, the isolationism of realism, and the dangerous reliance on Bush-bashing that dominates much of the left.  Dare I say, she is working and thinking towards an emerging progressive foreign policy agenda.

The piece begins with a framing that is not always recognized.  In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Bush defined the War on Terror in srikingly broad terms.  He did not confine the war to defeating Al Qaeda, but that it would begin with Al Qaeda, and “not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

The greater paradigmatic change, and the object of Power’s ire, however, was not in this definition of the enemy, but rather in a redefinition of the mechanisms that should be used to defeat it.  This redefinition, ostensibly designed to adapt to a new security environment, had four parts: the criminal justice approach to counterterrorism was being replaced by a military one; States were either with the US or against them; international institutions were seen as constraining factors that needed to be circumvented; and that the executive, in such a time of emergency, should be given the balance of power over the congressional and legislative branches of government.

So how has this worked out?  By Power’s assessment, rather poorly.  Using Rumsfeld’s metric for sucess (“Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?”), her conclusion is damning:

Leaked intelligence reports have shown that the answer is negative. The administration’s tactical and strategic blunders have crippled American military readiness; exposed vulnerabilities in training, equipment and force structure; and accelerated terrorist recruitment. In short, although the United States has not been directly hit since 9/11, we are less safe as a result of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, conduct and strategy.

But in her words, “criticizing the calamities of the last six years of American foreign policy has become all too easy. And it does not itself improve our approach to combating terrorist threats that do in fact loom large — larger, in fact, because of Bush’s mistakes.”

I couldn’t agree more, and therefore welcome what lies at the core of this piece – a broad stroke review of three texts that each in their own way help us begin to define this new toolbox:

We must urgently set about reversing the harm done to the nation’s standing and security by simultaneously reasserting the moral difference between the United States and Islamic terrorists and by developing a 21st-century toolbox to minimize actual terrorist threats. Several new books take up this
challenge, each addressing a different piece of the national security predicament. Together, they allow one to begin to define a new approach to counterterrorism.

The first book is the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, notably heavily influenced by David Patraeus.  The manual is a response to the near complete lack of counterinsurgency capability in the US military following 9/11.  What the manual suggests, is nothing short of revolutionary, and if implemented, I have no doubt would dramatically change the prospects for sucess certainly in Afghanistan, and possibly in Iraq.  Powers aptly describes just why this manual is so dramatic:

The fundamental premise of the manual is that the key to successful counterinsurgency is protecting civilians. The manual notes: “An operation that kills five insurgents is counterproductive if collateral
damage leads to the recruitment of 50 more insurgents.” It suggests that force size be calculated in relation not to the enemy, but to inhabitants (a minimum of 20 counterinsurgents per 1,000 residents). It emphasizes the necessity of coordination with beefed-up civilian agencies, which are needed to take on reconstruction and development tasks.

The most counterintuitive, as well as the most politically difficult, premise of the manual is that the American military must assume greater risk in order to gather much-needed intelligence and, in the end, achieve greater safety. The emphasis of the 1990s on force protection is overturned by the assertion of several breathtaking paradoxes: “Sometimes, the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.” “Sometimes, the more force is used, the less effective it is.” “Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction.”

Sarah Sewall, a former Pentagon official who teaches at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (and a close colleague of mine), has contributed an introduction that should be required reading for anybody who wants to understand the huge demands effective counterinsurgency will place on the military and the voting public. “Those who fail to see the manual as radical probably don’t understand it,” she writes, “or at least what it’s up against.”…

Military actions that cause civilian deaths, she argues, are not simply morally questionable; they are self-defeating.

The second book reviewed is Ian Shapiro’s ‘Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror’, which urges for for a return to legitimacy as a central tenant of US foreign policy.  Where as Patreaus sees local legitimacy as critical to mission success in counterinsurgency warfare, Shapiro sees international legitimacy as a required tool of the War on Terror.  Both argue that sucess is nearly impossible without it.

While Powers is sympathetic to his position on the diffuse, as opposed to unified nature of the threat, (which he sees as a good thing), she is quick to highlight the gulf between the ability to actualize a new containment doctrine, and the aggressive position of the Bush Administration:

For containment to work, Washington needs to be able to deliver credible threats. The irony of Bush’s flawed approach is that it has exposed the limits of American enforcement tools, stretching military and financial resources beyond recognition. This has a doubly negative effect: it emboldens those who need to be contained, and it deters those we once might have counted on for help in doing the containing.

She also seems concerned that he is far too quick to dismiss, or at least minimise the threat of nuclear proliferation: “In fact, after six years of dishonesty and alarmism, it seems especially important — if challenging — to retain a capacity for grave, calibrated concern about the proliferation of nuclear aspirant states and their proud ties to terrorist networks.”

If the new counterinsurgency doctrine strikes at the core of the identity, tactics and purpose of the US military, the third book reviewed, Talal Asad’s ‘On Suicide Bombing’ challenges the core belief that there is a difference between the ‘us’ and ‘them’ cleanly delineated in Bush’s post-9/11 world view. 

Here Powers seems sympathetic to the call for greater cultural awareness, but falls short of endorsing Asad’s moral equivalency.  While she notes that “if you continue to believe (as I do) that there is a moral difference between setting out to destroy as many civilians as possible and killing civilians unintentionally and reluctantly in pursuit of a military objective, you will indeed find “On Suicide Bombing” disturbing, if not always in the way he in
tends.”  Here, however, I don’t think that recognizing the moral distinction oneself, and seeing that others do not, are mutually exclusive.  The very fact that people who’s families are killed by cluster bombs see no difference between them and suicide attacks, is highly relevant to the discussion of our counterterrorism tactics, whether we agree with it or not.

Finally, Powers looks to the US disaster preparedness status post 9/11 through a review of Stephen Flynn’s ‘The Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation’.  Here, she has little critique and seems as horrified as Flynn that so little has been done on this front:

By defining American security objectives in military terms, the Bush administration has failed to set achievable goals that could vastly decrease the human and financial damage from a large-scale attack at
home. While the United States military has done its best to adjust to the inadequacies recent conflicts have exposed, almost no meaningful midcourse corrections have been made on the homefront…not in educating the public, training emergency responders, fortifying “soft targets,” securing hazardous materials or strengthening critical infrastructure.

In Powers’ somewhat schizophrenic assessment of these three works lies an encapsulation of the challenge facing liberals.  She endorses the radical new counterinsurgency doctrine, but worries that it is simply too difficult to implement on the fly as it requires a complete institutional overhaul (it is one thing for Patreas to tell his commanders to take far greater risks, it is quite another for them and their soldiers to do so given the decentralized command structure.)  She is sympathetic to Shapiro’s breakdown of the terrorist threat, but seems to worry that a containment strategy marks a return to an isolationism she is loath to endorse.  While she sees the relevance, and indeed necessity, of better cultural understanding, she is concerned with the end result of cultural relativism.  In short, she lies in the middle on most of these debates.  Her position is nuanced.

In these reviews, she is clearly articulating, if not explicitly, a moderate, and I would argue, progressive stance on US foreign policy.

Where she is undoubtedly correct, is that liberals and progressives cannot sit on the sidelines of these debates.  Out of the criticisms of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism record, a relatively large bulls-eye, MUST come a new strategy – both for Iraq and for the war on terror.  I for one, think she is right.

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Obama’s Iraq-Darfur Analogy

Yesterday, Obama caused bit of a blogospheric stir by drawing a link between US genocide prevention in Iraq and unilateral invasions of the DRC and Sudan. His attempt to explain this position in a 10 second sound bite, and the reaction to, and interpretation of, his statement marks a telling example of a position missing from much of the Iraq foreign policy debate – that of liberal internationalists, and supporters of international humanitarian interventions.

So here is what he said:

Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn’t a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there.

“Well, look, if that’s the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now — where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife — which we haven’t done,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven’t done. Those of us who care about Darfur don’t think it would be a good idea,” he said.

As I agree with the position he is espousing, let me try to both translate and elaborate.

First, the intro paragraph to the report is incorrect. I do not think that Obama believes that US force should never be used to stop a genocide (and since Samantha Power is one of his principle FP advisers, we can pretty much rule this position out), but rather, that it is often an ineffective tool for doing so. What’s more, using the military for humanitarian operations often does more harm than good. This is an equation, learned though decades of such operations, that has to be part of an assessment of the use of force – particularly unilateral force in a highly sensitive region.

Second, he was not arguing an amoral position on either Darfur or the DRC. Rather, he was saying that just because we want to stop a slaughter, does in mean that the only, or best, policy options available is invasion. In fact, humanitarian considerations are often a reason to look to other mechanisms. There are a wide range of considerations as to who should conduct humanitarian interventions and how. Ignoring these can OFTEN make matters worse. The most ardent advocates of strong international action on Darfur and the DRC, for example, are not pushing for a US invasion. They are, however, urging for a whole host of initiatives that are presently not being done.

Third, if we translate this line of reasoning to the situation in Iraq, just because we care about the humanitarian emergency in the country is not a de facto rationale for keeping forces in. The very real possibility that these forces are aggravating a significant percentage of the insurgency needs to be considered. As does the fact that a majority of Iraqi’s do not support the US troop presence, and that many endorse strikes against them, and are providing the insurgency with the tacit support it requires. On balance, this may still mean the draw down would have to be cautious, and probably dependant on the formation of a UN peacebuilding mission, as Obama advocates.

Indeed, with this in mind, here is his recommendation:

“Nobody is proposing we leave precipitously. There are still going to be U.S. forces in the region that could intercede, with an international force, on an emergency basis,” Obama said between stops on the first of two days scheduled on the New Hampshire campaign trail. “There’s no doubt there are risks of increased bloodshed in Iraq without a continuing U.S. presence there.

”The greater risk is staying in Iraq, Obama said.

“It is my assessment that those risks are even greater if we continue to occupy Iraq and serve as a magnet for not only terrorist activity but also irresponsible behavior by Iraqi factions,” he said.

Seen through the lens of the international experience with humanitarian interventions and peacebuilding, a tradition in which Obama’s foreign policy advisers have considerable experience, this makes sense. If we are in a peacebuilding scenario, what is going to be needed is a massive humanitarian relief operation (which has not been done), supported by a UN peacebuilding force. Of course this will not be easy, but my bet is a humble next president, after dovetailing significantly from many of the more controversial Bush administration positions, and clearly expressing a humanitarian plea to the international community, will be able to secure these forces. I believe that Obama is the best positioned candidate to advocate this position, which is why I am supporting him.

One more thing. As we move into debates about post-Bush foreign policy, there is going to, obviously, be a lot of debate about various schools of US foreign policy. One thing that I think really needs to part of this discussion is how to not throw the baby of an activists (and some would say morality-based) US foreign policy, out with the bathwater of the nonconservative experience of Iraq. There are many who believe that the US should be an active player in humanitarian crises, but have a very different view of the mechanisms that must be used to achieve these ends.

Desired humanitarian outcomes are great, but if the mechanisms used have little or no chance of achieving them, then we need to dramatically rethink the tool box of foreign policy.

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The Same but Different

The FT, on the new Harvard boss, and gender. Of course.

Ms Faust said that leadership experts contend that the female management style, thought to be more collegial and involve more consensus-building, is particularly suited to running an educational institution. Her predecessor, Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, resigned as Harvard president amid tensions with faculty over his sometimes blunt style and accusations that he had made comments questioning whether there are innate differences in intelligence between men and women.

I was directed to this wondrous quote, by the uncannily apt-at-identifying-mind-alteringly-absurd-statements, Andrew Potter. Who concludes, as only one could:

In other words: Larry Summers wasn’t particularly suited to be president because he suggested that there were innate differences between men and women; Ms Faust is more suited to be president because… there are innate differences between men and women.

Amazing.

Indeed.

I should just add that I also believed Summers’ comment was, ahem, ill advised. Not because he questioned innate differences between the sexes. I would not be tremendously surprised if science reveals that there are. Rather, it was his insinuation that this may have something to do with there being fewer tenured female scientists that was ridiculous. A position that would require completely ignoring the far greater influence, in this case, of nurture over nature.

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poseur alert…

Oh Puhleeze:

Does this set things up for a Friday verdict? Or will we go into another week?

For now we wait.

For reporters outside the courtroom sitting on the floor, it’s painful for sure.

But we have all been on far worse stakeouts in places colder and wetter, and where five-star eateries are not steps away and cellphone coverage and Internet connections are not as steady and reliable.

Like him or not, at least Conrad Black is a decent writer…

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The Summit of Discontents

Paul Well’s, on the phenomenon that is the G8:

This is progress, international summiteering subjected to the doctrines of work process design, a seamless parallel system for doing whatever it is one does at a G8: the politicians decide nothing in one town; we cover nothing in another; and aging grad students in black masks get mad at nothing in still a third.

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Wanna buy a presidency?

This is pretty incredible:

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is prepared to spend an unprecedented $1 billion of his own $5.5 billion personal fortune for a third-party presidential campaign, personal friends of the mayor tell The Washington Times.

He has set aside $1 billion to go for it,” confided a long-time business adviser to the Republican mayor. “The thinking about where it will come from and do we have it is over, and the answer is yes, we can do it.”

“Bloomberg is H. Ross Perot on steroids”

Indeed.

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Hitch on Charlie Rose

The latter was smitten and the former said a myriad of wild and wonderful things, as per usual. A couple of big quotes:

“The consequence of the Iraq war for the Middle East will be that it will be more dangerous to be a friend of the US than an enemy.”

“The Taliban is another name for the Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan.” I think I’ll just leave that one out there…

OK, one more, paraphrasing: I think, by the way, that I have figured out the difference between writers of non-fiction and fiction. Novelists and poets understand music.