Friday, February 25, 2005


Redefining Sov*er*eign*ty (N)

This recent speech by Douglas Feith, outgoing US Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, is an attempt by the "intellectual" wing of the neocon establishment to outline the Bush administration's view of sovereignty, i.e., the version that allows them to invade whomever they want. The basic thesis is that failed states, genocidal states, terror-sponsoring states, WMD-acquiring autocratic states, and the like, have no right to have their sovereignty respected. The critical part, which of course Feith fails to address, is what gives the US the right to decide how these criteria are applied, and to whom. Pakistan and Uzbekistan are okay, but Iran and Syria aren't? What's their rubric?

These gems from the speech deserve extensive comment (and more supporting links), but since I don't have time right now, I'll just post them here for your (in)digestion, with a few of my own snide remarks in bold:
Should governments with troubling records of aggression (US in Vietnam), support for terrorism (US support for Contras), human rights abuses (Gitmo and Abu Ghraib) and the like be allowed to invoke sovereign rights to protect their development of catastrophic weapons (US massive arsenals of WMD) that threaten the sovereign rights of others in the world (Irag/Afghanistan invasions)? This is a question for which there is no simple, objective answer. (You're damn right - when do Canada and Mexico invade the US to bring it into the family of nations?)


We don’t have the luxury of restricting our cooperation in national security affairs exclusively to states with political arrangements of which we approve, any more than Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill could afford to be overly delicate about the nature of Stalin’s regime. Indeed, as Churchill remarked, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.” But the United States can boast that our influence on our non-democratic partners has tended over time to broaden the domain of human freedom. (Get ready for the evidence - here it comes)

Consider the historical record. The governments of South Korea and Taiwan, for example, were non-democratic, even at times repressive, yet the U.S., for practical reasons, maintained close ties with them during the Cold War. Both were cited as instances of American inconsistency – and both are now vigorous democracies. A similar point could be made about the Philippines, Indonesia, El Salvador and others. (Yes, it could be made, but it would be wrong. This is really a disgrace. These places became democracies despite, not because of the best efforts of numerous US adminstrations from both parties)


As we see it, this effort, a long-term undertaking, has two components. First, we have to de-legitimate terrorism (Especially if we define terrorism as what they do to us, not what we do to them). As the President has said, we intend to make terrorism like the slave trade, piracy, or genocide – activities that nobody who aspires to respectability can condone, much less support. It will take a lot of work to change the way millions of people think, and to undo the effects of decades in which terrorism was tolerated and even, on occasion, rewarded. (He's right - it will probably take a long time for the victims of US-sponsored terrorism to forget.)


We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support terrorists (Contras) or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder (Hiroshima).

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Blame Canada

After Canada decided not to participate in the US ballistic missile defense system, the US ambassador to Canada had this to say:
We simply cannot understand why Canada would, in effect, give up its sovereignty, its seat at the table, to decide what to do about a missile that might be heading toward Canada. It's very perplexing to us ... we really don't get it," U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci told reporters.
Where does Bush find these guys? A democratic government deciding not to participate in the US missile shield is "giving up sovereignty"? Weird.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


A Long Road Ahead for Afghanistan

Although the most important findings of the UNDP Report on Afghanistan have been widely reported, a look at the first three chapters of the full report (available in pdf form here) reveals the following devastating assessments, more than three years after the fall of the Taliban:
In Kabul, 50,000 Afghan women are widows and heads of households. Sixty-five per cent surveyed by the organization Physicians for Human Rights were found to have suicidal tendencies and 16 per cent have actually attempted suicide.

A relatively new but rapidly growing threat to the well-being of Afghan children is abduction and trafficking.

Since the fall of the Taliban, over 2.5 million Afghans have returned from Pakistan (1.8 million) and Iran (600,000), yet an estimated 3.4 million Afghans remain outside their country.

Today, whereas education indicators have improved and are expected to continue to do so, the health situation has not changed much. Moreover, the remarkable GDP recovery of the past couple of years and the projected robust growth over the next few years may certainly improve Afghanistan’s HDI ranking, but may not help the overall human security situation. One reason is the unequal distribution of wealth and poverty. While reliable data is not available, anecdotal evidence points to the facts that the growth has done little to alleviate poverty and has worsened inequality.

There are almost no rural, schoolage girls attending school in the south and south central regions of Afghanistan. The primary reasons that both boys and girls in rural areas are not in school countrywide are the lack and distance of facilities.

Children under five with malnutrition: 10% acute, 50% chronic.

Under fives dying from diarrhoea: 85,000 per year

About half of children under five years of age are stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

Households with No Safe Drinking Water from Pumps or Protected Springs: 60%

Provinces with obstetric care: 11 out of 31

Probability at Birth of Not Surviving to Age 40: 46%

Monday, February 21, 2005


A Five-Sided Meme

As described in earlier posts (12/23/04 and 1/12/05), I've been tracking the spread of the meme "war on extremism" (and related variations) as a replacement for "war on terror". The trend appears to have started with Donald Rumsfeld and expanded slowly to other DOD officials, but so far it appears to be confined within the Pentagon. The latest infectee is Pentagon spokesperson Larry DiRita:
The manner in which the national security capabilities are organized to address the global war on extremism will continue to dominate our ongoing activities,” said Larry DiRita, Pentagon spokesman.
By the way, this quote comes from an article in the Financial Times titled "US signals hard line on China military threat", describing the growing concern in the US military establishment over the threat from Chinese military expansion. It's a good, worthwhile read.

Friday, February 18, 2005


Cool Diversion

Check out the videos accompanying this article in this week's issue of Science:
Efficient Bipedal Robots Based on Passive-Dynamic Walkers
Also, check out the Cornell kid. He must be going to a Dave Matthews concert after leaving the robotics lab.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


(P)lame Press Privilege

I've never understood why the reporters who received grand jury subpoenas in the Valerie Plame case tried to use the "anonymous source" privilege to get out of testifying. Now that a federal appeals court has ordered them to testify, it's clear that this case is different from others where protection of anonymous sources is vital. This graf from a Forbes article captures the distinction perfectly:
In any event, the Plame case is nothing like the prototype that might justify a privilege. In this case, the crime, if there was a crime, was the leak itself. The sources were not witnesses to scandal; they are the scandal. Those who exposed Wilson's wife in effect used the press to do their dirty work, not to cleanse it. Their goal, at least according to Wilson, was not to reveal truth, but to punish Wilson for his revelations.

As best as we can tell, they are not brave truth tellers, but craven score-settlers, and powerful government officials to boot. Wouldn't it serve even the press' interest--along with everyone else's--to expose these scoundrels rather than continue to help them hide?

Sunday, February 13, 2005


We're Helping the Iraqis!

The latest post-hoc (post-WMD) justification for the US invasion of Iraq is that we're helping the Iraqis escape from a tyrant and become a democracy. Here's what Paul Wolfowitz had to say back in early 2003 about "helping the Iraqis" as a reason for going to war:
there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two.... The third one by itself, as I think I said earlier, is a reason to help the Iraqis but it's not a reason to put American kids' lives at risk, certainly not on the scale we did it.
I repeat, not a reason to put American kids lives at risk. So what are we doing there?

Thursday, February 10, 2005


So Now it Comes to This

Bush swaggers around and smirks about how the tyrants better beware. And how does he think those tyrants are going to respond? Well, here's the response from N. Korea:
"The U.S. disclosed its attempt to topple the political system in the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] at any cost, threatening it with a nuclear stick. This compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by the people in the DPRK."
Congratulations, Mr. Bush. Among your many sad legacies will be a N. Korean nuclear arsenal of a size never envisioned in worst-case scenarios. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


Bush on Nation-Building

From Bush-Gore Debate I, October 12, 2000. Sorry for the overlong quote. No comment needed:
Yes, I'm not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say, "This is the way it's got to be. We can help." And maybe it's just our difference in government, the way we view government. I mean, I want to empower people, I don't -- you know, I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do.

I just don't think it's the role of the United States to walk into a country, say, "We do it this way, so should you." Now, I think we can help, and I know we got to encourage democracy and the marketplaces.

But take Russia, for example. We went into Russia, we said, "Here's some IMF money," and it ended up in Viktor Chernomyrdin's pocket and others. And yet we played like there was reform.

The only people that are going to reform Russia are Russia. They're going to have to make the decision themselves. Mr. Putin is going to have to make the decision as to whether or not he wants to adhere to rule of law and normal accounting practices so that if countries and or entities invest capital, there's a reasonable rate of return, a way to get the money out of the economy.

But Russia has to make the decision. We can work with them on security matters for example, but it's there call to make.

So I'm not exactly sure where the vice president is coming from. But I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying, "We do it this way, so should you."

Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Trans-Afghan Pipeline Update

I posted on Nov. 19th (see Archives) about the possible involvement of US companies in a Trans-Afghan pipepline project from Turkmenistan through Pakistan. Apparently things are moving along, with construction expected to begin in 2006. I wonder who will provide security for this pipeline?:
U.S. company Unocal Corp., based in El Segundo, California, was considering participation in the project in the 1990s, but plans were abandoned when the United States fired cruise missiles into Afghanistan in 1998 in pursuit of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, blamed for two U.S. embassy bombings that year in East Africa.

Since the U.S.-led offensive that ousted the Taliban from power, the project has been revived and drawn strong U.S. support. The pipeline would allow formerly Soviet Central Asian nations to exports rich energy resources without relying on Russian routes
Two notes: notice that Unocal didn't have any qualms about dealing with the hated Taliban until US cruise missiles made the project politically infeasible. Also note that the US is looking for ways to bypass Russia to meet its energy needs. This (and the related issue of China's energy needs) will be a major geopolitical fault line for decades to come.

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