Saturday, August 06, 2005

A relationship of mutual dependence: The United States and Saudi Arabia

As oil and gas prices continue to soar (here in Toronto, regular unleaded is fast approaching $1.00/liter -- which is a lot, trust me), as King Abdullah assumes the reins (and the reign) in Riyadh, as Iraq comes to look more and more like a quagmire from which there will be no easy withdrawal, and as terrorism continues to dominate the front pages on both sides of the Atlantic, there seems to be renewed attention on Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the U.S. Whether you accepted Michael Moore's controversial and admittedly one-sided depiction of that relationship in Fahrenheit 9/11 or not -- and I, for one, accepted much of it, including the frighteningly close friendship between the Bushes (H.W. and W.) and the Saudi royal family -- there is no doubt that the two countries are intricately linked:

President Bush might not have turned up personally in Riyadh yesterday but he certainly sent a high-powered delegation to pay his respects to the new leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.

The American turnout, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, former President George H. W. Bush, and former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, was the latest signal that relations between the two countries have thawed since the strains of 9/11. But it was also an acknowledgment of a simple fact: like it or not, the United States is more dependent than ever on Saudi Arabia.

Obviously, the source of that dependence is oil. Renewable energy sources may be the wave of the future, but, at present, developed economies are oil-based and hence oil-dependent:

"The Saudis are in a great position today," said Jean-François Seznec, a professor at Columbia University's Middle East Institute. "We cannot be enemies with everybody. We need their oil desperately."

Indeed, the alternatives to Saudi Arabia are fewer today than seemed to be the case just three years ago. Predictions of a boom in Iraqi oil have been proved wrong; Iran, OPEC's second-largest oil producer, is locked on a collision course with the West; Venezuela is following an erratic path; and Russia's commitment to market reforms and foreign investments seems increasingly unreliable.

All this has added to Saudi Arabia's already impressive clout. What is more, other powers - mainly from Asia - seek greater access to its resources and have been increasingly courting the Saudis. "They can play the United States against other buyers, like China," Mr. Seznec said. "And why wouldn't they?"

Well, exactly. But here's what's interesting:

At present, I would say that conservative foreign policy is divided into three main factions: realists, neoconservatives, and moral interventionists. The first two are the dominant factions. Moral interventionism, perhaps best represented by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, isn't much of a force, though it seems to link up well with one of the dominant factions on the left, liberal interventionism. Isolationism, best represented by Pat Buchanan and once the most powerful faction on the right, is no longer a force at all.

Now, the realists -- George H.W. Bush, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, et al. -- have always accepted and even encouraged the oil-dependent relationship with Saudi Arabia. Indeed, many of them have profited from it significantly. If we are to believe the neocons, however, one of the goals of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was the lessening of dependence on Saudi oil -- and hence eventual regime change in Riyadh, not just Baghdad -- through control (via a friendly government in Baghdad) of Iraqi oil supplies and, it was dreamed, domino-effect democratization through the Middle East.

But the neocons, as we now know, were wrong. Their pursuit of democracy may have been, and may still be, noble, but their idealism blinded them to any sense of what would really happen once U.S. forces invaded Iraq and took down Saddam. There hasn't been a swift and easy political transformation in Iraq and Iraqi oil production hasn't been what it was hoped it would be:

Among the fringe benefits of removing Saddam Hussein from power, went the thinking in the United States at the time, would be a rapid recovery of that country's oil production. In some hawkish circles in Washington, it was thought that a free Iraq would eventually undercut OPEC's power and marginalize Saudi Arabia.

The day American troops entered Baghdad, Mr. Cheney told the American Society of Newspaper Editors that Iraq would be able to produce as much as three million barrels a day, "hopefully, by the end of the year."

Still more optimistic forecasts predicted that Iraqi production would climb to six million barrels a day within five years, and provided more fodder to the theory that American troops went into Iraq to break OPEC's back, weaken the Saud dynasty and reduce the kingdom's oil-based influence.

Of course, these predictions turned out to be wrong. Iraq's production is struggling at two million barrels a day because of the relentless targeting of pipelines and infrastructure by the insurgency. Exports lag prewar levels and today few, even among Washington's most radical neoconservatives, expect that a restoration of Iraq's oil sector will quickly chip away at Saudi Arabia's clout. The kingdom remains unrivaled.

Iran's production comes in a distant second, but that country, which just elected a conservative president, is at odds with the international community over its decision to develop a civilian nuclear program. That leaves Libya, a country at the center of attention from American diplomats and oil executives last year, but its reserves are less than a sixth those of Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, "Saudi Arabia has proved time and again that it is indispensable to the stability of oil markets". And this means that for the foreseeable future Saudi Arabia will continue to exert extraordinary influence over the United States. Given the friendliness between the two countries, it may do so in a fairly benign way, boosting oil production and generally keeping oil prices down at manageable levels, but, in return, there isn't much the U.S. will be able to do about what is still a relatively authoritarian regime at the heart of the Middle East, one with intimate ties to international terrorism (let's remember that the most famous Saudi of all, one Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose). The U.S. may say the right things, as Condoleezza Rice has, but it's unlikely, given this dependent friendship (and the Saudi royal family needs U.S. support and approval just as much as the U.S. needs Saudi oil), that the rhetoric will be backed up with anything in the way of substance.

But this relationship of mutual dependence can't last forever -- and, indeed, it may end sooner rather than later for two reasons:

1) Saudi oil reserves might not be as deep as the Saudis themselves want us to believe. It may be that Saudi Arabia has maxed out at peak production. According to the Times article linked above, "[q]uestions still surround Saudi Arabia, fanning doubt over the country's ability to meet the world's growing demand for oil. These revolve around the true extent of its huge oil reserves, the rate at which its fields are depleting, and the output at Ghawar, the world's largest oil field, which accounts for half the nation's output." The Saudis deny such allegations, but the truth is that at some point the Saudi oil supply will begin to run dry.

2) There will soon be a generational hand-over of power in Riyadh. Since its founding in 1932, Saudi Arabia has been ruled in succession by Abdud Aziz Al Saud and four of his sons -- Saud, Faisal, Khalid, and, until his death this past week, Fahd. The new king, Abdullah, is a half-brother to these four and is hence of the same generation. But it may very well be that he's already something of a lame-duck king, and it's not clear what will happen when he dies and the next generation (or one of his more conservative brothers) takes over. Abdullah's been running Saudi Arabia, more or less, since 1995, but "most Saudi watchers doubt he will be much more powerful than he has been to date, given his age, his brothers around him who don't share his political views, and the questions left unresolved as to which line of grandchildren will eventually inherit the throne".

Like the neocons (and many others), I would like to see a new regime in Riyadh. But that new regime could very well be one explicitly hostile to the U.S. and its allies. Similarly, I would like to see the U.S. and other developed countries invest more heavily in renewable energy and hence to lessen its dependence on oil generally and Saudi oil in particular. But, for now, there's simply no way to circumvent such dependence (contrary to conservative claims, drilling in the Arctic wouldn't help much). This means that we're stuck with this relationship of mutual dependence between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, that is, with a friendship with an authoritarian regime at the heart of the Middle East.

All the U.S. (or anyone else) can realistically do now is encourage baby steps towards liberal democracy in Saudi Arabia, even if, realistically, a liberal democratic Saudi Arabia is a long way off. In the meantime, though, the U.S. (and everyone else) needs to prepare for the inevitable: a Saudi Arabia with a dwindling oil supply and a potentially hostile regime in Riyadh. Whatever we may think of the current regime -- and I, for one, don't think too highly of it -- a radicalized Saudi Arabia with nothing to keep it in check would be a lot worse.

For more, see:

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Friday, August 05, 2005

Bush v. Kerry (again)

The Carpetbagger Report revisits the 2004 election. Yes, if only we could do it all over again. Would Bush still win? Who cares, you say? Well, compare Candidate Bush and President Bush. Are they really the same person? Kerry wasn't a great candidate, to be sure, but haven't Bush's ineptitude, overreach, and just plain bad policies (and offensive nominations) thus far in his second term prove Kerry right? Don't they make Kerry seem like a much more appealing candidate?

(I wonder what some of my conservative friends think of this...)

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Apparently, Bob Novak is losing his mind...

...or maybe he lost it a long time ago.

For such a bad show, CNN's Crossfire continues to provide for some compelling drama. Remember when Jon Stewart called Tucker Carlson a "dick" and otherwise ripped the show to pieces? Well, on Thursday it was Bob Novak's turn to provide the odd turn, and he didn't disappoint. Confronted with a provocative, if implicitly hostile, statement from fellow host James Carville, Novak used rather foul language, at least for national TV, and walked off the set. The AP has the full story here. An excerpt:

Carville and Novak were both trying to speak while they were handicapping the GOP candidacy of Katherine Harris. Novak said the opposition of the Republican establishment in Florida might not be fatal for her.

"Let me just finish, James, please," Novak continued. "I know you hate to hear me, but you have to."

Carville, addressing the camera, said: "He's got to show these right wingers that he's got a backbone, you know. It's why the Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show 'em that you're tough."

"Well, I think that's bull---- and I hate that," Novak replied. "Just let it go."

As moderator [Ed] Henry stepped in to ask Carville a question, Novak walked off the set.

It was unnecessary (and silly) for Carville to refer to Novak's role in the Plame Game during a discussion (such as there is any discussion on Crossfire) of Florida politics, but apparently he was warned that the subject would come up and his response may attest to his state of mind at the moment. CNN has kept him on the air during the investigation into the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, but in response to his outburst a CNN spokesperson said that the network has "asked Mr. Novak to take some time off". He may or may not need it, but I, for one, would like to know just what role he did play in the Plame Game. Regardless of his on-air antics -- and he's always been a provocative pundit, like him or not -- that's what's really important here.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

It's the war on terror again, baby!

Oh, I heard it through the grapevine (Grapevine, Texas, that is). First it was G-WOT (Global War on Terror), then Rumsfeld et al. tried to slip G-SAVE (Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism) by us, and now Bush reminds that, uh, nothing's changed, it's still a war and the enemy is still terror... or terrorism... or terrorists. Whatever.

Here's how the Times puts it:

President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers on Wednesday in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war."

In a speech here, Mr. Bush used the phrase "war on terror" no less than five times. Not once did he refer to the "global struggle against violent extremism," the wording consciously adopted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials in recent weeks after internal deliberations about the best way to communicate how the United States views the challenge it is facing.

In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word "war," and some of Mr. Bush's top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, "the global war on terror."

So what happened?

[A]dministration officials became concerned when some news reports linked the change in language to signals of a shift in policy. At the same time, Mr. Bush, by some accounts, told aides that he was not happy with the new phrasing, a change of tone from the wording he had consistently used since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It is not clear whether the new language embraced by other administration officials was adopted without Mr. Bush's approval or whether he reversed himself after the change was made. Either way, he planted himself on Wednesday firmly on the side of framing the conflict primarily in military terms and appeared intent on emphasizing that there had been no change in American policy.

"We're at war with an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001," Mr. Bush said in his address here, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of state legislators. "We're at war against an enemy that, since that day, has continued to kill."

Mr. Bush made a nod to the criticism that "war on terror" was a misleading phrase in the sense that the enemy is not terrorism, but those who used it to achieve their goals. In doing so, he used the word "war," as he did at least 13 other times in his 47-minute speech, most of which was about domestic policy.

"Make no mistake about it, this is a war against people who profess an ideology, and they use terror as a means to achieve their objectives," he said.

Well, fine. At least it wasn't another "Mission Accomplished" speech.

Nothing happens by accident or without official approval in the Bush White House, and I suspect that Bush has simply backed down from G-SAVE in the face of widespread public disapproval (much like Jon Stewart backing away from his ugly new set). In the end, after all, it's all about public relations. "War on terror" isn't much of a slogan, I admit, and the "war" against the fascist jihadists does require more than military might, but G-SAVE was just stupid. At least we're back where we were.

For more, see:

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A modest judge: John Roberts, gay rights, and legal precedent

With Joe away on tour -- he's in Wyoming today -- I've been posting over at The Moderate Voice this evening. But I also want to cross-post back here at The Reaction. Here's one on John Roberts, with links to my previous posts on Bush's Supreme Court nominee:

I'm not above admitting that my views change -- or, more specifically, that I modify them as I learn more -- and I seem to be warming more and more to Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. When he was first nominated, I called him "a right wing radical" and I argued that his nomination was "clearly for the base" (see here). A day later, having digested the pick and gotten over my wishful thinking that Bush would tap more of a moderate, I admitted that I was "not terribly outraged," that Roberts might "turn out to be an excellent justice," and that, as a balancing act between moderates and conservatives, "Roberts's nomination is something of a master-stroke" (see here).

To be sure, there are many on the left who will never warm to Roberts -- and, indeed, who wouldn't have warmed to any Bush pick (even Gonzales would have been beyond the pale, given his excessive partisanship and, oh, the torture thing. For example, Armando at Daily Kos worried recently that Roberts could vote against the right to privacy, specifically against the rights to abortion and contraception. It hardly matters that Roberts has stated that he intends to uphold settled law (Democrats are skeptical).

In his first response to Senate questions, Roberts showed that he is hardly a radical (unless he's lying -- for now, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and believe what he says).

According to the Times (see here):

In his first written response to questions from the lawmakers who will review his nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge John G. Roberts Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that judges must possess "a degree of modesty and humility," must be respectful of legal precedent and must be willing to change their minds.

The remarks, contained in a brief essay on judicial activism, expand on private conversations Judge Roberts has had with senators, in which he has said he places a high emphasis on "'modesty" and "stability."

The essay, which provides the public the first glimpse of Judge Roberts's philosophy in his own words, was part of his response to a wide-ranging questionnaire the Senate Judiciary Committee sent him a week ago. In it, the nominee seeks to cast himself as a proponent of judicial restraint, a quality prized by senators at a time when conservative critics of the judiciary are bemoaning activist judges. "

Judges must be constantly aware that their role, while important, is limited," Judge Roberts wrote. "They do not have a commission to solve society's problems, as they see them, but simply to decide cases before them according to the rule of law."

Roberts's response hardly inspires fear. Although liberals might prefer an activist of their own -- activists can come from anywhere on the political spectrum -- Roberts seems to be an advocate of judicial restraint, of judging according to the law, not legislating from the bench. Clearly, he's no Scalia (although it's not clear what kind of justice he'd be -- who could have predicted, say, Souter's stunning shift to the left?).

Well, now there's more. Although the bloggers at Daily Kos continue to find anything they can to bring him down (and seem, in the process, to be grasping at straws -- although I admire their passion and support them on certain other issues), it has come out that "Roberts worked behind the scenes for gay rights activists, and his legal expertise helped them persuade the Supreme Court to issue a landmark 1996 ruling protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation":

Then a lawyer specializing in appellate work, the conservative Roberts helped represent the gay rights activists as part of his law firm's pro bono work. He did not write the legal briefs or argue the case before the high court, but he was instrumental in reviewing filings and preparing oral arguments, according to several lawyers intimately involved in the case.

Gay rights activists at the time described the court's 6-3 ruling as the movement's most important legal victory. The dissenting justices were those to whom Roberts is frequently likened for their conservative ideology: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Roberts' work on behalf of gay rights activists, whose cause is anathema to many conservatives, appears to illustrate his allegiance to the credo of the legal profession: to zealously represent the interests of the client, whoever it might be.

There is no other record of Roberts being involved in gay rights cases that would suggest his position on such issues. He has stressed, however, that a client's views are not necessarily shared by the lawyer who argues on his or her behalf.

The lawyer who asked for Roberts' help on the case, Walter A. Smith Jr., then head of the pro bono department at Hogan & Hartson, said Roberts didn't hesitate. "He said, 'Let's do it.' And it's illustrative of his open-mindedness, his fair-mindedness. He did a brilliant job."

To repeat, the three justices who dissented (and hence who disagreed with Roberts) were Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, the conservative triumvirate on the Court.

And that's not all:

Roberts personally handled two pro bono cases.

In the first, Roberts was asked by Rehnquist — for whom he previously had been a clerk — to represent a man who had been convicted of Medicaid fraud, sentenced to prison and fined $5,000. The federal government also had filed a civil suit in the case and won a $130,000 judgment.

In U.S. vs. Halper, Roberts' first appearance before the high court, he argued that adding a civil penalty to a criminal one was double jeopardy and therefore unconstitutional.

In 1989, the court agreed unanimously. Eight years later the court reversed itself, again 9 to 0.

The second case was a Washington, D.C., welfare case that involved about 1,000 residents who lost benefits when the city cut programs amid a budget crisis.

Roberts, representing homeless people and others who could not work because of illness or injuries, argued before an appellate court that the city had erred in not first formally notifying recipients about the change in benefits.

The court ruled against him in December 1995 in one of Roberts' few appellate losses.

According to others who worked on the case, Roberts asked the court to reconsider, then appealed to the Supreme Court. The high court declined to hear the case.

"Mr. Roberts was essentially the principal counsel," recalled R. Scott McNeilly, a staff lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "He was very involved."

When the welfare recipients lost in the courts, McNeilly said, most "were put out on the streets. They lost the money they were using to take the bus to see a social worker or money they were paying to a friend to sleep on his couch."

In the questionnaire, Roberts described them as "the neediest people" in Washington.

Not bad, eh?

Look, I'm not saying he's perfect, and he's certainly a more conservative nominee than I would have liked to see. But his pro bono work and his stated commitment to settled law and precedent indicate that he's not about to destroy America's legal fabric (or the liberal state) in the name of some pre-conceived political ideology based on, say, some radical understanding of "first principles".

If he respects the law and treats each case according to its merits, well, that wouldn't be so bad. In fact, he could very well turn out to be quite a surprise. Even to liberals and others who now oppose him.

For more, see:

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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The cloned life of Snuppy the Dog

There's been a major breakthrough -- for better or for worse -- in the world of cloning:

South Korean researchers are reporting today that they have cloned what scientists deem the most difficult animal, the dog.

The group worked for nearly three years, seven days a week, 365 days a year and used 1,095 eggs from 122 dogs before finally succeeding with the birth of a cloned male Afghan hound. The surrogate mother was a yellow Labrador retriever.

Dogs have such an unusual reproductive biology, far more so than humans, scientists say, that the methods that allowed cloning of sheep, mice, cows, goats, pigs, rabbits, cats, a mule, a horse and three rats, and creation of cloned human embryos for stem cells, simply do not work with them.

Cloning enthusiasts no doubt see this as a major triumph, but ethicists may see it as yet another, well, Sign of the Apocalypse. I'm somewhat ambivalent.

On the one hand, I find cloning troubling enough as it is, and, now that it's moved on into the canine world, I'm even more seriously disturbed by it. I'm hardly a moralist, let alone a religious one, but do I worry when humans play God and mess with nature. I know that's a fairly simplistic way to look at it, but I'm just not sure that the cloning of human beings would be such a good thing. (Use your imagination and think of what could be done and what could go wrong.)

On the other hand, I recognize that a lot of good could come from cloning, or at least from cloning research. I support stem-cell research, for example, and these same South Korean researchers have already extracted stem-cells from cloned human embryos.

No, I wouldn't say that this latest development is a SOTA -- surely it's not as troubling as, say, Brangelina (see right sidebar) -- but it's quite possible that ill-conceived and ill-advised cloning will lead us ever further in that direction. Scientific advancement is very much a part of the human condition, but it needs to be balanced by a healthy sense of responsibility and perspective. I wonder if the cloning enthusiasts really know what they're doing.

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Palmeiro update: From stanozolol to Cooperstown?

(I've previous discussed Palmeiro here and here -- see the interesting exchange on performance-enhancing drugs and other medical treatments at the latter post.)

Reports now suggest that Palmeiro tested positive for "stanozolol, a powerful anabolic steroid that is not available in dietary supplements". It's also "known by the brand name Winstrol, most notably linked to the Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson".

Palmeiro has also agreed to share the details of his positive test with Congress.

Jason Giambi of the Yankees (and likely a former steroid user himself) weighs in here: "It is just an unfortunate thing that happened. I don't wish it on anybody." Unfortunate? No. (What does "fortune" have to do with it?) Stupid? Yes.

Also see SI's Tom Verducci's take
here. (He's a Hall-of-Fame voter who knows his stuff like almost no other baseball writer out there.) Verducci's wait-and-see approach to Palmeiro's eventual Cooperstown vote makes sense, and it may well be that Palmeiro's positive test will ultimately boost the chances of guys like Fred McGriff and Jim Rice. The bigger questions down the road will be Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds. Are they Cooperstown-worthy? (On the other side, ESPN's Jayson Stark would still vote for Palmeiro.)

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The next cold war: Canada vs. Denmark

Vivek Krishnamurthy has the shocking story at DW&CS. Maybe this is just what we need to keep this great country together. (By the way, they're now called "freedom pastries," not Danishes. Yes, ordinary Canadians are fighting back!) Actually, if you want the "real" story of the Hans Island dispute, click here and here.

(Note: We could kick their asses at hockey!)

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Bush's faith-based reality: Stop the insanity!

In a roundtable interview yesterday with a group of Texas journalists, as reported by the Post's Dan Froomkin, President Bush addressed Rove, Palmeiro, and intelligent design. (You might want to sit down for this.) In the interview, Bush:
  1. Expressed "complete confidence" in top aide Karl Rove -- while stubbornly refusing to say anything more about what he knows about the investigation into the leak of a CIA agent's identity;
  2. Said he still believes his friend, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, has never used steroids -- in spite of the player's suspension Monday for violating baseball's anti-drug policy; [and]
  3. Endorsed efforts by Christian conservatives to include the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes.

The complete transcript of the interview is here.

Essentially, Bush believes in Rove, believes in Palmeiro, and believes in something other than Darwinian evolution. Does the evidence even matter? No, of course not. Rove and Palmeiro are friends, each of a sort, and that's all that matters. Bush likely hasn't taken the time to study evolution, nor to weigh the cases for and against so-called intelligent design, and that's all that matters. It's enough to believe that something is true, or at least that something else may or may not be true. And this from the president of the United States! This from the most powerful man in the world!

Okay, it's the second one that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Bush may still have "complete confidence" in Rove even if the latter has committed a crime or otherwise acted unethically. Similarly, he may believe in some sort of divine (which is what "intelligent" means in this context -- it's just a way for creationists to skirt around the issue) order to the universe even if the available scientific evidence would seem to support Darwin. But how can Bush possibly believe that Palmeiro has never used steroids even after the latter tested positive and had his appeal rejected by Major League Baseball? Or is this just a case of Palmeiro's tricky rhetoric coming to mirror Bush's? You know, WMDs become WMD-related programs, the war on terror becomes the struggle against violent extremism, and Palmeiro conveniently inserts the word "intentionally" into his denial.

(No wonder they're friends.)

In Bush's White House, reality stops at the door to the Oval Office. (Is it possible the Bush presidency isn't real? Maybe if I believe hard enough...)

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More violence in the Sudan: Whither Darfur?

The Coalition for Darfur has all the latest on the helicopter accident (?) that killed Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader John Garang, the appointment of Salva Kiir as his successor, and the U.S. response (a 135-word statement from the White House), as well as some (rather depressing) discussion of what it all means for Darfur . There's a lot of stuff there, but check it all out. It's worth your while.

In addition, there's a link to the latest piece by Sudan expert Eric Reeves at TNR:

The chances for an end to Darfur's genocide were dealt a potentially severe blow this weekend by the helicopter crash that killed the country's new vice president, John Garang de Mabior. But this is not because Garang was, as U.S. State Department officials have disingenuously implied, a powerful force within Sudan's new national unity government, able to exert real pressure on Khartoum's National Islamic Front (NIF) to negotiate a just peace with Darfur's insurgency movements. (In an example of this excessively optimistic reasoning, Condoleezza Rice said two weeks ago that Garang "has been saying the right things" about the genocide and that "we want him to be very involved in Darfur.") Rather, Garang's death imperils the January 2005 north-south peace agreement--and thereby increases the odds that the genocide in Darfur will accelerate. The relationship between Darfur and southern Sudan is complex, but it takes on a terrible urgency in the wake of Garang's death.

Not good.

(For my last post on Darfur (which criticized Congress for scuttling the Darfur Accountability Act), see here.)

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...but may be a decade away from a nuclear weapon

In my last post, I noted that Iran was about to remove the IAEA seals from one of its uranium-conversion facilities, thereby re-entering "the nuclear game". That's very bad news, of course, but Iran's latest move surely reveals the limitations of Europe-led diplomacy. That diplomacy ought to continue, if at all possible, but, clearly, Iran is going to be a big problem somewhere down the road -- and it could be a problem that calls for more than the soft hand of diplomacy.

Regardless, a new U.S. intelligence report (see here for the Post article) indicates that Iran may be a decade away from nuclear weaponry:

A major U.S. intelligence review has projected that Iran is about a decade away from manufacturing the key ingredient for a nuclear weapon, roughly doubling the previous estimate of five years, according to government sources with firsthand knowledge of the new analysis.

The carefully hedged assessments, which represent consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies, contrast with forceful public statements by the White House. Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal. The new estimate could provide more time for diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. President Bush has said that he wants the crisis resolved diplomatically but that "all options are on the table."

The new National Intelligence Estimate includes what the intelligence community views as credible indicators that Iran's military is conducting clandestine work. But the sources said there is no information linking those projects directly to a nuclear weapons program. What is clear is that Iran, mostly through its energy program, is acquiring and mastering technologies that could be diverted to bombmaking.

The estimate expresses uncertainty about whether Iran's ruling clerics have made a decision to build a nuclear arsenal, three U.S. sources said. Still, a senior intelligence official familiar with the findings said that "it is the judgment of the intelligence community that, left to its own devices, Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons."

At no time in the past three years has the White House attributed its assertions about Iran to U.S. intelligence, as it did about Iraq in the run-up to the March 2003 invasion. Instead, it has pointed to years of Iranian concealment and questioned why a country with as much oil as Iran would require a large-scale nuclear energy program...

The new estimate takes a broader approach to the question of Iran's political future. But it is unable to answer whether the country's ruling clerics will still be in control by the time the country is capable of producing fissile material. The administration keeps "hoping the mullahs will leave before Iran gets a nuclear weapons capability," said an official familiar with policy discussions.

The key passages are in bold. Needless to say, one hopes for a diplomatic solution -- well, preferably, one hopes for reform (and ideally for a new regime) that would bring Iran closer to the West (indeed, as I've argued before, the West needs to encourage Iran's reformist tendencies). Iran may yet be looking ahead to building a nuclear arsenal, but at least there seems to be enough time to pursue non-military options.

Everything ought to be on the table, yes, but there's evidently no need to rush into any sort of ill-advised, short-sighted military campaign (or to fix the intelligence around some equally ill-advised, short-sighted policy).

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Iran gets back in the nuclear game...

Well, that didn't last long. The Times reports here:

Defying the warning of European leaders, Iran said Monday that it was removing the seals placed by the United Nations nuclear agency at one of its nuclear sites to restart activities there.

European diplomats said that if Iran did go ahead and resume the nuclear activities, then they would have little choice but to ask for the agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to place the issue before the United Nations Security Council for possible political and economic sanctions.

A senior Iranian official, Ali Aghamohammadi, said technicians were going to break the seals to the uranium ore conversion plant in Isfahan on Monday afternoon in the presence of the inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who are currently in Iran, the IRNA news agency reported.

By the end of the day, however, it could not be determined whether Iran had actually broken the seals...

Iran agreed nine months ago to freeze all its enrichment-related activities for as long as talks with Germany, France, Britain and the European Union continued. The United States maintains, and the European countries had come to agree, that Iran intends to make nuclear weapons. Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes...

Iran says it is keeping its freeze on another, more advanced, process in the program to enrich uranium, which can lead to making nuclear fuel for power plants, or if enriched to high levels, for making nuclear weapons.

And tensions resume... I wonder how Bolton will handle this? (Regardless, this is bad, bad news.)

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The more things change...

King Fahd is dead. Not that much will change. (It's Saudi Arabia, after all.)

Or will Abdullah continue to be the reformer he's made himself out to be these past few years?

That's the question that needs to be asked, and the U.S. needs to step up and ensure that its key ally takes the necessary steps to enter modernity. Nothing less should be acceptable.

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The hypocrisy of the right

Oh, trust me, there's hypocrisy on the left, too -- and, by all means, tell me about it. But AmbivaBlog, drawing on an excellent post at CommonSenseDesk (which itself draws on three other blogs -- such is life in the blogosphere), looks at why "Being (far) right means never having to say you're sorry". It's all worth reading, whatever your political inclinations.

I would add that the hypocrisy of the right is more visible -- and more troubling -- than the hypocrisy on the left in part because at the moment the right is in power and the left is in disarray. Back at Tufts, where in the early-'90s the left was in power (within the limited context of campus politics) and the right was vilified (and yours truly along with it -- how dare I have criticized the orthodoxy of political correctness?), I wrote extensively on the hypocrisy of the left. In such matters, one tends to direct one's attention at the powers that be, not the powers that be not.

Perhaps it's all a matter of context and perspective. Hypocrisy is everywhere.

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Bypassing democracy: Bolton's recess appointment to the U.N.

I haven't written about Bolton for some time, but thankfully the good people at The Washington Note have, and they've done their work with passion and care. Check them out. Also, Joe's done a fantastic round-up and analysis over at The Moderate Voice, all while on the road. Read what he's got, then follow the links according to your interests. Otherwise, the latest Times article is here.

I vehemently opposed Bolton's appointment, and I was unsure whether Bush would go so far as to appoint him during the Senate recess. But he has, and here we are. What more is there to say? Well, Joe's right on this:

  • The bottom line: it is NOT an illegal move.
  • The other bottom line: Bolton doesn't go to the United Nations as someone who enjoys widespread support in the Senate. Nor in opinion polls. Nor, if you believe the testimony, among many people who worked with him. The United States has never had a UN Ambassador who has had so little solid political backing.
And I generally subscribe to his "take" (which, as a TMV co-blogger, I'm happy to call my own, sort of):

  1. You can't accurately call this an abuse of power because it is perfectly legal.
  2. Bolton won't be going with much credibility, beyond the administration and GOP partisans.
  3. The media is going to watch him like a hawk. If he slips they will be all over him and Bush may regret this appointment. Remember that Bolton has virtually zilch Democratic support and is not beloved even among some Republicans.
  4. It won't impact John Roberts' Supreme Court hearings if nothing new surfaces about Roberts. But if some new negative material comes out the Bolton appointment may play a role in pressing it (pay back).
  5. It again underscores the in-your-face nature of this administration, which many Americans find attractive. Bush wanted him so he put him in — the hell with Senate confirmation (and remember again recess appointments are perfectly legal).
  6. It's a sad commentary on how this President apparently views his own party and how many GOPers view it. You can't tell yours truly that the Republican party, with its millions of members who are diplomats, jurists, lawyers, etc., could not produce someone ELSE to go to the UN who would be as or more qualified than John Bolton.

The key here might be #3. Bolton will be under a microscope. And is that really what Bush wants? Is that how he intends to reform the U.N.? Surely not -- but now he, like us, is stuck with the man he stood by so stubbornly throughout this long, drawn-out confirmation process.

No, recess appointments aren't illegal, and there is something to be said for presidential prerogative, but it's unfortunate that Bolton's appointment to an institution with which the U.S. already has a rather strained relationship required the circumvention of what, at last check, was still a co-equal branch of government. Whatever havoc Bolton wreaks at the U.N. -- and I doubt he'll now be in much of a position to do anything truly revolutionary -- the real victim here is American democracy.

But, alas, what's done is done, and as Marc Schneider put it here at The Reaction several weeks ago (see first link, below): "While I think Bolton is an egregious choice, I think Bush should have a lot of leeway in selecting his foreign policy team. True, the Senate has a role in advising and consenting, but the president is the primary player in foreign policy and I think, absent some grave moral failing -- which I don't think Bolton presents -- Bush should be given enough rope to hang himself."

Fair enough. Let's all pay close attention to how Bolton conducts himself in his new job. He's Bush's man, and it's Bush who bears the responsibility for his appointment.

(My last two posts on Bolton, with links back to all the previous ones, are here and here.)

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Monday, August 01, 2005

Viagra Man strikes out: Rafael Palmeiro tests positive for steroids

Earlier this year, in his statement before Congress, Rafael Palmeiro was emphatic: "I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never." But now things have changed. The latest player to join the 3,000-hit club (and one of only four players all-time with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs) has tested positive for a banned substance (i.e., steroids) and has been handed a 10-game suspension by Major League Baseball. Palmeiro has accepted the suspension, but denies having taken steroids intentionally:

I have never intentionally taken a banned substance. Ultimately, although I never intentionally put a banned substance into my body the independent arbitrator ruled that I had to be suspended under the terms of the program... I am sure you will ask how I tested positive for a banned substance. As I look back, I don't have a specific answer to give. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body. The arbitrator did not find that I used a banned substance intentionally in fact, he said he found my testimony to be compelling but he ruled that I could not meet the heavy burden imposed on players who test positive under the new drug policy. I accept this punishment...

I suppose we'll have to wait and see what comes of this. For questions abound: Did he or didn't he? He denies it, but how did he test positive? What was in his body? And how did it get there?

I've never really been a fan of any of his teams (Baltimore and Texas, mostly), but I've always liked Palmeiro. In an age of prima donna superstars like Barry Bonds, he always seemed like a real guy who just went out there and did his job. Maybe that's still true, but serious doubt has now begun to pollute his career -- a career that, in my opinion, had him on his way to Cooperstown. No, he was never one of the truly best players in baseball at any given time, but his consistently solid numbers over a lengthy career -- including those 3,000+ hits and 500+ home runs, not to mention nine consecutive seasons (11, if we extrapolate his solid strike-shortened 1994 stats over a full season) of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI -- should have been enough to convince those notoriously tough voters that he was worthy of a spot in the Hall.

And now? Unless there's a reasonable explanation for the positive test -- and I suspect that there isn't -- it seems unlikely that the voters will give him the benefit of the doubt, at least in the first few years of voting. And that's a shame, given his admirable career, but Raffy likely has no one to blame but himself.

UPDATE: George Vecsey at the Times (see here).

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Debating GERD, G-SAVE, and Iraq

It's been a lovely long weekend up here in Toronto -- today is Simcoe Day, a civic holiday -- hence the dearth of new posts over the past couple of days. I'll be back at it later today responding to such irritating and aggravating events as the Bolton recess appointment (when in doubt, circumvent democracy -- this seems to be the lesson, and Bush's pattern), the Palmeiro steroids scandal (deny, deny, deny -- and when the truth comes out?), violence in the Sudan (surprise, surprise, surprise), and the like.

For now, if I may be so self-serving, I'd like to direct your attention to some interesting discussions/debates going on in the comments sections of three recent posts here at The Reaction:
  1. See here: Paul Wells of Macleans (and the great Inkless Wells) has been kind enough, even on holiday, to comment on my recent post on GERD (i.e., Canada's spending on R&D), and he and another commenter, Observer, have been going back and forth on what is a much more serious matter than would, at first glance, seem to be the case.
  2. See here: G-WOT becomes G-SAVE. That is, the re-branding of the war on terror. America's not waging war, she's saving the world. Or so they want us to believe (because, apparently, they think we're stupid). Long-time reader Nate, whose comments are always appreciated even if he thinks he's just speaking to himself and banging his head against the wall, weighs in.
  3. See here: The Iraqi quagmire. Or as Jon Stewart puts it: Mess-o-potamia. What to do about it? When to get out? Marc, Nate, and The Fixer go at it. Plus, a comment from an anonymous reader, part of which I must quote here: "In my 48 years, as an American, as a military brat and as a career serviceman, I've never come close to feeling the way I do today about my government. I am ashamed." Strong words -- but, obviously, from the heart and based on experience that, let's face it, most of us just don't have. I thank him for taking the time to visit The Reaction and for telling us how he feels. Needless to say, Iraq's a complicated issue, and we need to hear from all sides.

Well, that's it for now. Check back later for some new stuff. I hope you all had -- or are still having -- a nice weekend.

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