Sunday, February 29, 2004

It is becoming evident, at least to me at any rate, that after climbing on top of the tank during the August Coup, Boris Yeltsin's most significant historical legacy will be his selection of Vladmir Putin as his successor as president of the Russian Federation. Putin, an ideologically ambiguous but highly capable former KGB colonel, has succeeded in consolidating Russia's unstable post-Soviet government into a new and probably durable authoritarian system. ( Anne Applebaum holds a similar view) After the next presidential election, two weeks hence, Putin will be less Russia's president than it's Vozhd whose exercise of power will be checked mainly by his own methodical style and the extent to which Russia requires the goodwill of the West to prosper.

Previously, I blogged about Putin's centralization of all security and intelligence agencies in his own hands to a degree not seen since the days of Stalin, an ominous act by the Russian government that went generally unremarked in the Western press. In addition to a bureaucratic stranglehold on the security apparatus, the recent elections for the Duma in December
have given Putin an overriding dominance of the legislature in addition to his already substantial constitutional powers as chief of the executive.

According to Richard Farkas of DePaul University, Putin now commands the loyalty of 350 members of the Duma, fifty more than required to amend the Russian Constitution ( which, being still unratified, is technically of nebulous legality). Moreover, the breakdown of the State Duma, which has seats allocated by a mix of " Party" and " nonpartisan" elections, is dominated by the authoritarian parties:


Total Ballots cast: 60, 712,299 ( 55 % of eligible registered voters)

UNITED RUSSIA ( Putin's party) 37.57 % 120 seats

COMMUNIST ( KPRF) 12.61 % 40 seats

LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ( Fascist) 11.45 % 36 seats

RODINA " Homeland " ( Putin allies) 9.02 % 29 seats

The two democratic, pro-Western parties Yabloko and SPS each failed to get even 5 % of the vote, meaning they lose their party seats in the Duma and must meet exceptionally onerous ballot certification requirements that will make their participation in future elections as functioning political parties virtually impossible. They still can run candidates for the nominally " nonpartisan " seats. According to Farkas, while Zhirinovsky's neofascist LD party is rhetorically critical of Putin, in the Duma the LD always votes with UR and Rodina, the latter of which Putin cronies hijacked and use to siphon off leftist protest votes from the Communists. Russian voters essentially will no longer have even a voice of democratic opposition, much less any democrats engaged in the exercise of power or policy.

Which makes the question " What will Putin do with this unrivalled power over Russia ? " a pressing one for American foreign policy.
Friday, February 27, 2004

I'm away today attendfing a conference which has given me much to ruminate over this weekend - I've heard an academic analyzing the meaning of the latest election results in Russia and from a CFR fellow a discussion of America as " The Lonely Empire " and the evolution of our relationship with the EU. I'll blog in detail on Sunday when I've collected my thoughts.


Hat tip to riting on the wall for the link and there will be some new additions to the blogroll coming soon.
Thursday, February 26, 2004

In response to Buzzmachine, Jeff at Caerdroia has an interesting post on the two party system which you should go read first.

I found Jeff's choice of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton as examples of presidents unable to rise above party to be intriguing and understandable. There are numerous, perhaps innumerable, examples of each man during their political careers acting in fundamentally groundbreaking ways to extend partisanship into heretofore nonpartisan or apolitical arenas.

Nixon's use of impoundment, refusal to fill subcabinet posts to cripple hostile bureaucracies, his pioneering ( with political guru Murray Chotiner) of negative advertising all leap to mind ( The Watergate plumbers were hardly novel except in the sense that the FBI " black bag jobs" that had been done for presidents by J.Edgar Hoover since at least FDR were privately outsourced by Nixon). On Clinton's watch we see the wholesale sacking of the fifty U.S. Attorneys, the infamous White house coffees, the sale of presidential pardons, the " war room " operation to name just a few examples. In essence, both men as presidents were supremely partisan in the negative sense of attacking the other party, but were they " positive partisans " ? Did they do much of anything to help their own side ? I think the case can be made that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were with their party, not of their party and that of the two men, Clinton succeeded in this gambit where Nixon failed.

Nixon, at least as president, was entirely distant not only from the national party and the Congressional GOP but even from his own Republican appointees within his administration. An even casual perusal of the Haldeman Diaries or Stanley Kutler's transcriptions of Nixon's tapes in his Abuse of Power makes clear Nixon's utter disdain for the intellectual and political abilities of his own allies. Richard Reeves has written a masterful profile of Nixon's enormous analytical prowess operating in a self-imposed isolation, screened by Haldeman and Ehrlichman, scribbling ideas on yellow legal pads or conferring with Henry Kissinger or John Connally. The former of course was an Eastern Establishment professional intellectual and the latter a Democrat, supposedly the last kind of people the partisan anticommunist, Richard Nixon would choose to provide close counsel.

When he ran for re-election in 1972, Nixon's association with the rest of the GOP was merely incidental - as he rolled up a historic landslide against George McGovern the party lost seats in Congress. Once ensconced in office Nixon demanded resignation letters from his entire cabinet and set about centralizing the executive branch decision making in his own hands, basically stiff-arming the Congress. Of course, when Nixon needed Congressional Republicans to weather Watergate, they deserted him and Goldwater led a delegation to tell Nixon to resign. In the aftermath of Watergate, the 1974 elections almost destroyed the GOP as a political party, all thanks to Nixon.

Bill Clinton's presidency was almost as devastating to the Democrats but Clinton secured both loyalty and control over the party apparatus - a control that continues to this day. The fortunes of fellow Democrats and the party were almost completely subordinate to Clinton's immediate political needs. The worst thing a political leader could do, according to Tip O'Neill, was to make someone cast a vote that would cost them the election. Clinton's initial budget was passed by coercing a freshman Democrat into a vote that would-and did- result in her being a one term Congressman.

If Nixon and the GOP were like a married couple undergoing trial separation then the paradigm for the Democratic Party and Clinton was that of a battered wife and her abuser - addicted to his charm, fundraising prowess, fealty to abortion-rights and hatred of the Republicans. Nixon left office in disgrace; after costing his party the Congress and a majority of the governorships Clinton sits on a political empire. His creature, Terry McAuliffe is DNC chairman, his foundations and presidential library are flush with cash, Hillary is a senator from New York and two of the presidential candidates for the nomination came from his camp with Clinton's advice and blessing. Even Herbert Hoover, a longtime GOP stringpuller from behind the scenes in retirement, never matched the power Bill Clinton wields over his party as an ex-president. He's the most powerful and influential former president in American history.

Someday, we'll see Bill Clinton back again in an overt role - perhaps as UN Secretary-General or First Husband to President Hillary or even in the Senate, probably in Tom Daschle's job. Nixon, who was in five national elections and won four of them - a record I believe is matched only by FDR - cannot compare, he lacked not partisanship nor intellect nor will to power but the right kind personality.

Is a constitutional amendment to defend the sanctity of the Constitution. It might actually cause the government to follow it on occasion.

Reuters is pushing a story that the recent coup via a rigged election by the Khameini-Rafsanjani-Pasdaran hardline clique in Iran actually bodes well for a new era of detente between Iran and the United States.

It would be interesting to know who is leaking this analysis. I'm highly skeptical though I concede the dynamic is not theoretically impossible. Overall it strikes me as either wishful thinking or an attempt to push a reconsideration of current policy by someone on either side.

( Hey - three Nixon references in two days ! A new Zenpundit record ! )

From Juan Cole.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

An anti-war outfit looks for neocons with names that sound Jewish

Next up, this liberal magazine looks for pundits who might be " passing ".

More than a half-century after the famous clash between Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss, the particulars of the case that made Richard Nixon a household name continues to fascinate scholars, intellectuals and the committed political partisans. Most people on the left now grudgingly concede that the accumulated evidence points to Hiss as a secret Communist, traitor, spy and perjurer but the residual attitude toward the case and the figures associated with it can be very revealing, as I argued here.

Frontpagemag.com is running a review of a new Hiss biography while H-Diplo has seen a technical debate over the evidence from the Venona decrypts as it relates to the Hiss case. For those interested in longer pieces I recommend the biography of Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tannenhaus.

I received a nice plug the other day over at Winds of Change - thanks guys - and since they are looking at Eurasia I thought they might find the following story on regional security cooperation with the United States interesting.

Go here. Of, course, these are the same guys who said Iran did not have a nuclear program either for much of the 1990's.

The Khameini-Rafsanjani Hardliners, in my view, will only stabilize their control if they can deliver economic growth - something their ideology and mania for control mitigate against. Widespread unpopularity and unemployment are an explosive combination for any regime.
Monday, February 23, 2004

Milt Rosenberg over at Milt's File reports that the well-known academic, public intellectual and Communitarian guru Amitai Etzioni has been unable to find an outlet to publish this piece that ties Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ to the wider revival of anti-semitism, particularly in Europe.

Normally, I would not give Dr. Etzioni a platform on Zenpundit because being moderately libertarian, I am not sympathetic to Communitarianism ( more on the philosophical roots of that movement here). Nor do I agree with Etzioni that Mel Gibson's film will be a slick, 21st century Hollywood analog to Jud Suss but like Dr. Rosenberg I do find it a little odd that a thinker of Etzioni's caliber could not find a publisher anywhere who was willing to accept such a highly topical op-ed piece. Editors have space to fill and in the main they'd rather publish articles from someone like Etzioni or Diane Ravitch or Robert Reich than one by unknown assistant prof from Big State school U. Particularly,if like Etzioni's, the op-ed piece is a provocative one likely to grab attention for the newspaper.

Back in the 1970's, in the aftermath of Vietnam, a surly " anti - anti-communist" attitude migrated from leftist, intellectual, circles where it was fashionable to believe that Alger Hiss was a martyr and the Rosenbergs had been framed, to the wider media culture. Anti-anti-communism was not so much an argument or a position as it was a reflexive, emotional response of hostility toward any expression of views critical of Communist states followed by a desire to shout down the offender with a supposed litany of American misdeeds. With that in mind, I am wondering if we have not embarked upon the age of " Anti-anti-anti-semitism ".

I'm not considering Holocaust deniers, globalization protestors with " Zionazi " signs or the clueless, young, topless, European women going to demonstrations outfitted as half-naked suicide bombers. Those people are simply anti-semites who mix Jew-hatred with their radical socialism and anti-Americanism. Rather, I'm referring to the newfound belligerence with which otherwise respectable people quickly dismiss Jewish concerns over increases in anti-semitic violence or attempt to suppress such information. I speak of those people who maintain they are stoutly " anti-zionist " in criticizing Israeli policies when what they actually want is not justice for Palestinians but for Israel to disappear quietly. Anti-anti-anti-semitism is a position of irritated weariness and antipathy instead of thought or reflection, more a dismissal born of an impatient disdain than of hatred. Nevertheless, it is no more logical than the anti-anti-communism of years past and it often can be found floating in the same tired, bitter, leftist political circles.
Friday, February 20, 2004

I just finished reading a couple of articles on George Soros' recent stint at the University of Chicago as a better educated, much richer, more European version of Michael Moore. Even the author who was in sympathy with the position Soros was articulating was unimpressed with the force of his arguments which reminds me of a phenomenon I have often observed. I find it odd that people who have achieved notoriety in some field or accomplishment often believe this expertise or authority is transferrable to fields of which they know nothing but invite strong opinion - politics, the arts,religion, sports, economic policy and the like.

Soros is a bright man with enviable skill in financial markets but his political arguments at Chicago were so inconsistent that they probably could not have withstood testing by the grad students in the audience in a formal debate. Or perhaps even from the undergraduates. I have seen any number actors, musicians, doctors and scientists pontificate loudly on political or historical subjects of which they clearly know very little but they would find it bizarre if say, a historian or a political consultant lectured them about method acting or particle physics.

Perhaps this is a human temptation resulting from excessive ego or it is
simply that some topics seem to touch of all of us and we forget that these areas of common human interest often require as much experience or study to understand well as does more specialized subjects. James Carville, Dick Morris and Roger Ailes comprehend the American political process far,far better than most of their critics could ever hope to grasp yet we tend to feel our opinions are not only equally valid but more incisive as well.
Thursday, February 19, 2004

Iranian nuclear equipment found at military site.

The NYT just ran an article on the activities of alleged nuclear black marketeer and probable ISI agent B.S.A. Tahir which raises the question of how American policy regards such individuals in the context of the War on Terror.

Proliferation of nuclear weapons capability, technology, expertise and materials remains the gravest threat to national security and world peace. This problem was one justification for the Iraq war, the extreme tensions with North Korea, international pressure on Iran and it aggravates Pakistani-Indian clashes over Kashmir. Documents and other evidence siezed in Afghanistan by American forces indicate al Qaida has had a long term interest in acquiring some kind of nuclear or radiological bomb capability ( also here ).

With that in mind, how should the United States deal with shadowy individuals like Mr. Tahir who operate under the protection of authoritarian or corrupt regimes or their intelligence services ? In states not under the rule of law - which would be most nations outside of the West, Japan, South Korea and Israel such figures are only arrested not for criminal activities but because of intense outside political pressure. Even then, as in the case of Pakistan's Khan, the arrest may only be a charade and nominal concession. Given the gravity of this threat and the paucity of legal options ( unless proliferators are operating from an allied state with a functioning and reliable justice system) to deal with perpetrators like Tahir and Khan shouldn't the objective of the United States be suppression and deterrence ?

States that shelter such individuals should face high and painful costs, particularly to the personal interests of key political supporters of the regime as was done with Serbia in the Kosovo war. Ultimately, proliferation is a decision of state leadership either by ignoring it or directing it for profit or strategic advantage but risk taking middlemen like Tahir make the WMD black market function. Individuals like Tahir and Khan, where no legal remedy exists, should be treated in much them same vein as al Qaida leaders and have their activities interdicted by any effective means ranging from confiscating their assets to being treated as a military target. Generally, quieter is better for the United States but making examples of several high profile proliferators will serve to deter many other arms dealers from trafficking in nuclear technology. Why risk getting your head blown off or your bank account being sequestered when you can quietly sell less catastrophic merchandise without attracting American attention ?


Israeli arms merchant on trial for nuclear sales.


Nuclear black market in Kazakhstan.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The debates would certainly sound a whole lot different !
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Prepared by Brookings. I have just begun to read the material but this will interest academics and foreign policy buffs.

The Chicago Tribune is running a profile on the Iraqi-American lawyer who has emerged as a key figure in brokering compromises over the proposed Iraqi Constitution - including the clause that denotes the Islamic character of Iraq but stops short of making the Sharia the Constitutional basis for positive legislation.

The Bush administration squandered any opportunity for a " MacArthur Moment " by failing to push through democratic reforms in the immediate aftermath of defeat when the shock and potential goodwill of Iraqis were at their peak. The disorganization, confusion and isolation of the CPA frittered away valuable time and political legitimacy to the point where the entire process now hangs by a thread of Sistani's apparent willingness to make reasonable concessions to the fears of Kurds,Sunnis and smaller minorities. Moreover, Sistani's authority is informal and he could easily die or be eclipsed by more radical voices ( though the interests of the Shiite community, which form Sistani's calculus would not change).

Iraq is a majority Islamic society and a democratic system will reflect that so conceding that point costs nothing. Bremer however must stand firm on saying " no" the Sharia and " yes " for the political equality of women - to cave here is to give away the game to the Islamists and hand them an advantage they probably could not win at the ballot box.
Friday, February 13, 2004
A CAPITAL IDEA ! ( Intellectual capital that is)

Juan Cole has launched a project to translate American literature and political writings into Arabic. This strikes me as an eminently sensible idea and something that should have been done by the State Department or The National Endowment for Democracy ages ago. Arabs in repressive regimes have probably less access to Western ideas than Russians did under the Soviets when a vigorous samizdat literature circulated-albeit with risk - in the 1960's and 1970's. This is an effort anyone with an interest in intellectual freedom can support ( Professor Cole has Paypal set up for those wishing to contribute).
Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Let us celebrate.

Iran has become the pre-Solidarity Poland of Islamism. How long the aging hardline mullahs will manage to keep a lid on the discontent of a young,restless and economically frustrated population is anybody's guess but here are two articles on the situation today - go here and here.
Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Eugene Volokh appears in the Chicago Tribune today, both paper and online copies
Monday, February 09, 2004

From the Chronicle of Higher Education via Milt's File.

"Revisionists also argue that totalitarians are wrong to neglect the ways that the Soviet regime did benefit its people. In the March 2000 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Mr. Getty argued that "terror does not wholly negate achievements such as universal literacy, one of the best technological-education systems in the world, the first man in space, free education and health care, and security in old age."

And the Holocaust should not obscure the fact that the Nazis sure held some fine parades.

Reviving a Brezhnev era Soviet plan to divert Siberian rivers to the arid steppes of Central Asia, Russian President Putin hopes to save the Aral sea and rebuild economic and political ties with Russia's Muslim " Near Abroad ".

The original plan was skotched under international criticism as unworkable and dangerously unsound as it entailed changing the course of rivers using nuclear explosions. No indication that such shortcuts are envisioned in the new version of the plan.

Errr...why no questions about Pakistan ? Here we have the admission of wide-ranging nuclear proliferation to dangerous rogue states and not a single question posed to the President of the United States. Isn't that at least kind of important ???

Yes, Bush did a mediocre job on Meet The Press but the fact remains that the next president will have to make major strategic decisions regarding the war and the major role played in Islamist terrorism by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Bush and the Democratic nominee, presumably Kerry at this juncture, need to be asked " Where will you take us ? What are your top objectives in combatting terrorism?" and in the case of Senator Kerry " Are we at war or not ? ".

What answers will we hear, I wonder. Will such questions even be asked by a press consumed by superficialities, personality and image ?

The NYT ran an article, linked to by Drudge, on a document presumably written by a senior al Qaida terrorist lamenting the long, hard, slog the organization faces in Iraq and the lack of zeal for jihad shown by Iraqi Sunnis

Who knows how complete a picture this may be given that it is a single paper released selectively but it is certainly explicable considering the ruthless secularization that Saddam and the Baath pursued in Iraq over the last thirty plus years.

Apparently their own lack of legitimacy is something that embarrasses even them and in a move straight out of an Ayn Rand novel they have taken to threatening the remaining reformist officials and candidates if they fail to participate in the upcoming rigged elections. " Supreme Guide " Ayatollah Khameini has called for " enthusiastic " electoral activity - with a preordained outcome of course.

" Skills of action are every bit as important as skills of knowledge"

- Edward de Bono
Sunday, February 08, 2004

Nathan at The Argus has a thoughtful post about the irrational politics of sympathy for separatist movements for oppressed minorities, comparing in this case the plight of the Uighurs and the Tibetans. Both suffer under authoritarian rule from Beijing and a policy of forced Sinicization ( how many Han Chinese would willingly relocate to either Tibet or Xinjiang without a mixture of bribery and coercion from China's central authorities ? ) yet the former cause languishes while the second is celebrated.

To use a Soviet analogy, Tibet is China's equivalent of the Baltic states. Forcibly and illegally incorporated into China by Mao, Tibet is apt to leave the minute Beijing's grip relaxes and it is safe to do so. Oppression has no more made the average Tibetan into thinking they were Chinese than Stalin's terror transformed Lithuanians or Estonians into good Soviets. On a juridical basis, if not a moral one, the Tibetans have a stronger claim.

The Uighurs have a more inchoate history but one in which Chinese rule is also tenuous at best. The Soviet equivalent here is more akin to that of the Chechens, another Muslim group highly resistant to assimilation and whose claims to autonomy were often opposed by Moscow at a bloody price. Historically, Chinese rule over " Kashgaria " often amounted to periodic punitive expeditions marching into Turkestan, deposing local rulers who sometimes were not even Turkic themselves and appointing new tributaries ( again sometimes not even Turks) who often proved disloyal in the long run. When China lapsed into warlordism as it did during dynastic collapses, the Uighurs were effectively independent though usually under relatively transitory " empires " of some kind.

Nathan is correct. Both minority groups are suffering the same kind of oppression and morally speaking it would be hard to differentiate the two claims but " marketing " is crucial to success in the international arena and the Uighurs need that kind of help if they are to alleviate some of their suffering.
Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Go Here.

Apparently Stephen Breyer thinks so. An outstanding article from The Public Interest on the growing tendency of the Federal judiciary to inject customary international law theory -i.e. the political agenda of transnational progressive NGOs, EU bureaucrats and au courant law profs - into cases dealing with principles of Constitutional law. It's an excellent analysis of a worrisome trend gaining traction with liberal intellectuals. A quote from the article:

"Behind these seemingly benign references to international agreements and foreign practice stands a vast and ongoing intellectual project, one which the justices themselves occasionally acknowledge. Justice Breyer, the Court’s most intellectually au courant justice, boldly declared last spring on ABC’s “This Week” that “whether [and how] our Constitution ... fits into the governing documents of other nations” is a “challenge for the next generations.” In a speech before the American Society of International Law, Justice Breyer issued a public call to lawyers and law professors to provide the Court with “relevant comparative material” that would otherwise prove difficult for its justices and clerks to find. In an earlier speech before the same audience, Justice Ginsburg announced that “comparative analysis emphatically is relevant to the task of interpreting constitutions and enforcing human rights,” and that “conclusions reached by other countries and by the international community should at times constitute persuasive authority.”

Naturally, as you might assume, the attractiveness of this gambit is not merely in the substantive policy results that might accrue - draconian gun control, abolition of the death penalty, international supervision of American elections to ensure the " correct" result, expansion of the welfare state to European norms - but also in the process that could be established. Essentially, if this tactic of borrowing liberally from foreign and international courts becomes legitimized then anytime a judge felt unduly constrained by a federal statute, precedent or the language of the Constitution the judge could then substitute the reasoning of a proclamation from an undemocratic body on any vaguely cognate matter. It's a remarkably elitist viewpoint and absolutely breathtaking in it's contempt for the principles that undergird the American political system, particularly democratic accountability and the Supremacy clause of the Constitution.

There is a simple answer though it is one I doubt the GOP will dare to call for - the Congress can simply exercise it's constitutional authority to set the jurisdiction of the Federal courts to referring to American case law, statutes and ratified treaties when making rulings. A severe and unprecedented sanction but a corrective that may be required if Americans are to retain any semblance of control over their government and their individual liberties.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Iranian voters appear to be so disillusioned with Iran's psuedo-democracy that provides a fig leaf of legitimacy for the numerically tiny clique of hardline mullahs and Pasdaran security apparatus bureaucrats around " Supreme Guide" Khameini that they are greeting the mass-resignations of reformist legislators with a shrug.

In the early 20th century, Bolshevik radicals following Lenin used the expression " the worse the better " as a slogan to greet worsening conditions for the lower classes in the Russia of Tsar Nicholas II. The Marxist Left's hope was that unbearable suffering would bring about a revolutionary explosion that they could ( and did ) exploit.

Since the advent of President Khatami and his reformist brand of Shiite Islamism, Iranian hardliners have escaped some of the accountability for their unpopular policies because the ineffectuality of reformers and their electoral majority in an ultimately powerless Majlis became targets for the frustration of average Iranians demanding liberalization and greater democracy. The only silver lining to this latest twist to the struggle in Iran is that the hardliners will stand alone on their national stage over a mostly discontented, mostly young population.

A potential powder keg the United States should try to light.

William Safire has an interesting column on how the late Bill Casey's swashbuckling style CIA punished the Soviets for their massive industrial espionage program that was stealing American technology hand over fist by dangling decoys that the Russians would reverse-engineer into boondoggles and disasters.

It would be interesting to speculate how William Casey would have handled Iraq, both intel analysis and covert operations, had he been DCI.
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