Monday, December 31, 2007

The Economic Fraud that is China

Long-time readers of this blog know that I think the Chinese economy is much smaller and less robust than most believe. Part of the difference between the perception of China and the reality is that China lies about and inflates their economic statistics, as does every Communist country. China’s banks “lend” money to businesses to expand and build capital without any real expectation that these loans will be paid back, then must carry these non-performing rolls on their account sheets because the central government refuses to allow these companies to go bankrupt. Western companies are complicit in these fictions, because these western capitalists think that by turning a blind eye to Chinese economic perfidy, the “rich” Chinese market will be open to their Western goods.

Well, it turns out that people are finally opening their eyes to the fact that China is not nearly the huge economic juggernaut we have been lead to believe. New statistics from the World Bank show that China’s economy is about 40% smaller than advertised, making it about half the size of the US. The average consumer in China is about 1/10th as rich as the average American.

The fact that the Chinese juggernaut has been revealed as a phony should also alleviate some of the fears that China was going to challenge the US for supremacy in the western Pacific. With the combined naval might of the US and Japan, with Singapore’s excellent air force patrolling the Straits of Malacca and the Indians doing their thing in their own ocean, China does not represent much of a threat, at least to the US. China is of course a bully towards Taiwan, and continues to menace that island democracy. But China is no threat to the US, at least not in the near future.

I do want to thank the Chinese for bankrolling the dramatic improvement in the US standard of living we have experienced the last 25 years. Without the Chinese willingness to mortgage their future and subsidize cheap consumer goods for the American market, our lives would not be nearly as rich. So, to the impoverished, enslaved Chinese factory worker and their Communist overlords, I say, thank you for my flatscreen TV, thank you for my cheap GPS, thank you for my Ipod, and thank you for subsisting on rice and seaweed so that I might enjoy my Sirius radio. Good work guys, I will wave on my way to the Olympics from the backseat of my Mercedes taxi as you desperately try not to be run over on you rickety bicycle as you go from your overcrowded hovel to the sweatshop were you work. The unfortunate concomitant effect has been to kick the teeth out of the Mexican manufacturing base of their economy which has forced a quarter of their population to relocate north of the border (and for most of them to move next door to me), but you take the good with the bad. And finally to the Chinese I say, Xin nian quai le! Happy occidental new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

You are the most loathesome person of 2007

Here is the evidence.

"9. You

Charges: You believe in freedom of speech, until someone says something that offends you. You suddenly give a damn about border integrity, because the automated voice system at your pharmacy asked you to press 9 for Spanish. You cling to every scrap of bullshit you can find to support your ludicrous belief system, and reject all empirical evidence to the contrary. You know the difference between patriotism and nationalism -- it's nationalism when foreigners do it. You hate anyone who seems smarter than you. You care more about zygotes than actual people. You love to blame people for their misfortunes, even if it means screwing yourself over. You still think Republicans favor limited government. Your knowledge of politics and government are dwarfed by your concern for Britney Spears' children. You think buying Chinese goods stimulates our economy. You think you're going to get universal health care. You tolerate the phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques." You think the government is actually trying to improve education. You think watching CNN makes you smarter. You think two parties is enough. You can't spell. You think $9 trillion in debt is manageable. You believe in an afterlife for the sole reason that you don't want to die. You think lowering taxes raises revenue. You think the economy's doing well. You're an idiot.

Exhibit A: You couldn't get enough Anna Nicole Smith coverage.

Sentence: A gradual decline into abject poverty as you continue to vote against your own self-interest. Death by an easily treated disorder that your health insurance doesn't cover. You deserve it, chump."

I am guilty as charged, pretty much.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Geratric Reaganite Complains About the Stupidity of Republican Voters

It is always so quaint when Granny complains about how much better it was before, and how sorry and ignorant the whippersnappers are nowadays. Maybe next week Noonan will uncork the startling revelation that Glenn Miller would not be in the Top 40 these days.

Reagan might not be nominated now, but then again, he wasn't nominated in 1976. Invoking Reagan's timelessness to get the religious rubes in line does not seem that compelling an argument.

Reminds me of the immortal words of Democrat Dick Tuck who after hearing the finally 
tally of votes in his losing run for the California State Senate in 1964 said "The people have spoken, the bastards!"  Seems like contempt for the electorate is bi-partisan.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"Team Huck Responds to Krauthammer" is disappointing

Do you honestly listen to Huckabee with a furrowed brow? Are you so out of touch with mainstream Christian thought that attributing one's temporary success to God sounds to your ear like "I know God wants me to win?" The atheists that you slammed a few posts earlier certainly hear it that way, but then, given your disdain for atheists, why would you share their consternation with Huckabee's beliefs? But put that aside for a minute.

I can tell you for a fact that many in my church are downright giddy that there is a Christian like Huckabee running for president and doing well. We talk about it before services, we talk about it at church events and we talk about it in our small groups. Huckabee is going to get some level of support for being Christian, and as soon as it looks like he has a chance to win it, others will pile on the bandwagon.

I can also tell you that Christianity and heresy does matter to people, especially in this age. For believers, Christianity is TRUTH. Romney's speech the other day showed him to be a thoughtful man who has carefully considered the implications of his beliefs and decided to stick to his heresy. This is very troubling for thoughtful conservative Christians. Jesus addressed this specific point in Luke 6:49 "But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete." If those thoughtful conservatives want to reject Romney because of what they see as a flaw in his reasoning which will cause the destruction of the house during a torrent, even if they admire his lifestyle and family values and positions on the issues, then why are those conservatives in the wrong? There are a lot of Christians more concerned with the righteousness of a leader and where his heart is (see: David) than with his individual transgressions and policies (see: David).

We have also seen how believing in the wrong thing and following false prophets has become a blight on this earth. We are fighting evil that has sprung from the worship of false gods and heresy. Mormonism may not be that far down the heresy continuum from the TRUTH of Jesus Christ as is Islam, but you blame Christians for not wanting anything to do with either?

Here is another indication that Christian heresy matters. The consensus in my Church is that Lieberman would be more acceptable as a President than Romney. Mormons follow a false prophet, which Jesus likens to a ravenous wolf, while Jews are just not yet convinced that Jesus is the One. There is a big difference. And besides, God said that Jews are the chosen people and what God says matters, even if it torques you and Krauthammer.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Sergeant Major

I think this section is dead on: "For example, is the Marine Corps' best served by having a professional cadre of senior enlisted Marines who no longer perform duties related to their years spent developing expert knowledge? Is a ground combat unit best served by a generalist senior enlisted leader without relevant experience?" For me, having seen Sergeants Majors strut around with a ton of authority and no responsibility, the answers to these question is NO.

I would be very interested to see what the results of a survey that  asked Commanders with senior enlisted advisors who do not have experience or training related to the unit in which they serve, what their value is the organization? Would commanders prefer to have a generalist, a specialist or forgoing a senior advisor in lieu of an additional Marine in the unit? I suspect Commanders would jump at the chance to have another junior enlisted Marine that have a Sergeant Major preening around, drinking coffee, going to the gym and knocking off early.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Leaky Intel

Regarding the leaked National Intelligence Estimate, I work in a shop where we produce intelligence estimates, some of which filter up to the national estimate. I am here to tell you that any assessment written that diverts from a straight line drawn on a vector from 2003 to now and into the indefinite future will not make it past the initial chop. Notice how this leaked NIE assesses the past with such confidence. The prevailing view is that nothing has happened that has shown up on CNN (which runs constantly on two screens where I work) so nothing has happened. But I disagree with those who assign dark motives, never attribute an action to malice when incompetence, gutlessness and CYA will suffice. Most of the Colonels and Navy Captains who sign off on these estimates are betting that Iran won’t do anything for at least the next few years, by which time the Colonels will have a star or have been forced to retire. Then, whatever does happen, they can write a book claiming that their dire warnings were ignored and that they were the lone voice arguing ________ (you fill in the blank). Just wait and see.

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Jack Garrett: The Position is Filled"

JACK: “I had to choose between the life of an heiress missionary and my own neck. I’ll still here, so that should tell you something.”

ANNOUNCER: Brillo Scouring Pads brings you “Jack Garrett: The Position is Filled!” on the Mutual Radio Broadcasting System, and across the world on the Armed Forces Radio Network. Join Jack Garrett, former professor, former prize fighter, former Marine, former cop, the man willing to take any job and romance any girl, if the price is right. Tonight's episode: The Catherton Caper.

JACK: The job started before I even knew it had. I was sitting on a park bench reading the afternoon paper. I start with the Yankees box score. If they lose, I feel that all is right in the world, and I am ready to see what degradations man has done to his fellow man detailed in the rest of the paper. If the Yankees win, I toss the paper and dive into the nearest juke joint for two shots of rye. The Yankees lost that day. I can honestly say this is the only time I wish they had won. While I was poring over who did what to whom, a bombshell sashayed over and sat down on the other end of the bench. She had eyes so blue, you could have sworn you could make out Amelia Ehrhart’s plane’s silhouette in the distance in there. She was wearing a sensible jacket and skirt, but you could tell that what they were covering up would knock a man senseless. I pulled myself off the bench just far enough for someone to shove Dewey’s CV under there, and tipped my fedora. She spoke first.

CATE: Do you have the time?

JACK: Sorry, a Pullman conductor mugged me for my watch. But judging by the sweet scent of nectar in the air, and the frolicking couples on the lawn, I would say it’s springtime.

CATE: Thanks for the update, and I appreciate the geography lesson, I hadn’t realized I’d stumbled onto Poet’s Corner. But I am looking to nail the time down a little more exactly, say, to the half-day? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked someone who has had their clocked cleaned so many times.

JACK: This little crook in my nose? Would you believe that I got it tripping over the bottom rope on the way out of the ring after beating Little Freddy Muyco?

CATE: Actually, I would. I happened to be at that fight. Daddy had a piece of Muyco, and you pretty much made that piece worthless after you dismantled that little Philippino so completely. Daddy said that he should have invested in the bottom rope instead of Muyco since that seemed to be the only thing that could beat you.

JACK: Um, your daddy must be J. Pentwhistle Catherton then. I thought he was in the Orient now. I would have figured his daughter to be decked out in diamonds and pearls on the strand instead of looking like one of the Sisters of Mercy down in the Bowery.

CATE: Indeed my father is J. Percy Catherton, and I think you can say that daddy and I have had a parting of the ways. Quite literally, since he is on his way to Hong Kong and I am here. He wants to drill for oil, build things and compile of ton of money. I want to save souls. Does your soul need saving, Mr Garrett?

JACK: Only if they are giving interest.

CATE: How very droll. My name is Catherine, Catherine Catherton. Please call me Cate.

JACK: I will, if I ever have a reason to call you. Have a nice day, Ma’am.”

CATE: That is “Miss”, Mr Garrett.

JACK: “That seems like an oversight on someone’s part. Good day.” I tipped my hat for her, put the paper under my arm and headed back to the ramshackle old building where I had my room. As I pushed through the creaking front door, a horrible visage sprung in front of my eyes. For a moment, I thought I had gotten a snootful of bad gin and was having hallucinations of witches again. But turned out to be my landlady, the old, and I mean old, bawd, Mrs Butts.

MRS BUTTS: Mr Garrett, someone called to leave a message for you.

JACK: Good afternoon, Mrs Butts. Who was it? What did they want?

MRS BUTTS: Not so fast. You owe me something. Until I get what’s coming to me, you don’t get your message.

JACK: “I am paid in full through the end of the month, in fact, I paid your for three months as I recall.” She shook her head.

MRS BUTTS: The deal was, you get a discount in return for certain services around here. You have been remiss, Sir. Sadly remiss.

JACK: She was right, that had been the deal. The things we do to get a buck a quarter shaved off the rent every week. “You are right, Mrs Butts, I will come down around 7 to take care of what you’ve got.” She smiled with that little gleam in her eye that must have knocked ‘em dead when she flashed it at the boys from on top the stage lit by gas light, but now, was just ghastly.

MRS BUTTS: “The message was in response to your ad.”

JACK: She had to squint at the paper since it looked like she had written the message on the back of a wax paper some monger had wrapped a rotten fish in.

MRS BUTTS: It is from a man who wants you to meet him at Twilight Club in the Embarcadero Hotel at 11pm. He has a monacle, and will be drinking very dry martinis with the vermouth bottle on the table. A monacle! He must be rich, only rich, powerful men wear a monacle. Maybe he wants to hire you to scotch-guard his bently!

JACK: Maybe be is a waiter who got drunk and his other lens fell in his martini. Thanks for taking the message, Mrs Butts.

MRS BUTTS: Oh Jack, don’t forget our appointment at 7. You should have just enough time to finish before your date at the Twilight Club!

JACK: As I trudged up the stairs, I realized how a condemned man must feel as the hours ticked on his last day. And to top it, instead of a last meal, all I would get would be a can of sardines, and a couple of stale crackers. I walked into my room and tossed my hat onto the one knob that remained on top of my chair. The other knob had been broken off by a former tenant of Mrs Butts, probably when his wife burned the toast and he hit her with the chair, or maybe when she told him that she was leaving him for Lenny who drove the streetcar. On the table was the note pad where I had jotted down the text of the ad that I had called into the Bay City Bugler the other day.


JACK: I need an ad to run in the classified.

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Do you have the text prepared?

JACK: Yeah, you ready to copy?

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Certainly Sir, I think you would be surprised at my capacity for dictation.

JACK: I am sure I would be. Ok, here is the text. “Orphan former boxer, professor, Marine, cop, will perform any job, will fill any position. Fee negotiable. Call Mulberry 6-317.”

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Thank you Sir, I have it. There is a special today, you have 25 characters left for the same price of five cents a weeks.

JACK: Ok, add this. “Worldwide at your expense”

WOMAN IN THE CLASSIFIED DEPARTMENT: Very good Sir, it will run in tomorrows evening paper. It is too bad I don’t have any position that needs filling, I would look you up.

JACK: “You should look me up anyway, we will see what we can do.” Mulberry 6317 was a party line I shared with Mrs Butts, I paid the fee, and she got to use the phone. She spent most of her time, far as I could tell, yakking to other crones about the high cost of face cream and that dreamy Tyrone Power, but in the moments when she was not actively burning up the wires, she took the odd message for me. Most responses to that ad were cranks. People looking for me to kill business associates, or husbands. One man wanted me to try and get him a date with Lana Turner. Another woman wanted me to come over and cook a roast. I told her that there was a lot that I would do, but donning an apron was not one of them. Every so often, something good would pop up, like the monocle wearing mystery man who so fired the imagination of Mrs Butts. After I took care of the needs of Mrs Butts, I dashed back up to my room to restore my dignity and put on a dinner jacket and headed out to the Twilight Club. I weaved my way through the unnaturally large number of police who seemed to be milling around on the street outside and made my way to the top of the hotel. I was talking with the maitre d as the clock struck 11, an event that was accompanied by co-ed girls moonlighting as dancers running out on the floor as confetti sprayed into the air. It was a pretty festive place.

JACK: I am here to see a man who drinks dry martinis and keeps the vermouth bottle on the table.

MAITRE D: Oh but of course, Mr Catherton is expecting someone. Are you here in response to a message?

JACK: “Catherton, huh? Yes, I am here in response to his message, take me to him. The name is Irish Jack Garrett, Mr Catherton will know me.” I wonder what the odd are of dealing with both Catherton’s on the same day. I figured I would keep my mouth shut about meeting his daughter earlier.

MAITRE D: Right this way. Here is Mr Catherton’s table. Excuse me sir, may I present Polish Mack… I’m sorry, what did you say your name was again Sir?

JACK: That is Irish Jack Garrett you poltroon, buzz off before I give you the Muyco treatment, swish.

CATHERTON: Percy can be somewhat hard of hearing, especially on the hour when the confetti cavalcade rolls through. Turns out the University of Santa Clara Song-girls are doing an internship for credit this evening. Quite bracing to contribute to scholarship, don’t you know? Let me have a look at you.

JACK: He popped his monocle out, and opened his eyes wide. I guess captains of industry like to look the part, even if they could see twenty twenty.

CATHERTON: Indeed you are Irish Jack. You know, I lost $5000 after your collision with Muyco. He was punch drunk after that night. And with you moving up in class. I don’t think I had ever seen anyone hit another human that hard, that repeatedly. Very impressive.

JACK: Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Catherton.

CATHERTON: Trip! How very droll. As I recall, you had a trip of your own on your way out of the ring.

JACK: Look, I know you didn’t call me over to hear to reminisce about the good old days, they were not that good. Make your pitch or I shove off.

CATHERTON: I see you are not a man to be trifled with, I guess I should have learned that lesson when Muyco learned his. Very well. I need a man to accompany my daughter to Formosa. She wants to bring the good word to the savages in the interior along with tons of supplies that she is shipping over. I need someone I can trust to keep an eye on her, and to make sure that no harm comes to her.

JACK: So you think you can trust some guy with a classified ad to safeguard your daughter. You sound like one punch drunk tycoon to me.

CATHERTON: Look here Garrett. My daughter sprung this hare-brained scheme on me this morning. I was supposed to leave on the China Clipper for Hong Kong and Taipei this morning myself, but I had to postpone for a meeting soon after this. I needed to find someone right away who could leave on a moment’s notice to accompany her on the ship and who could handle himself in the wilds of Formosa. I figure that ten thousand dollars would buy a lot of trust.

JACK: Well, Catherton, if you are offering 10 G’s, you could trust me to run into a crowd of song-girls and pull even you out of it.

CATHERTON: Fine, fine. Here is a thousand dollars, I need to you to get suited out for the trip. You will be meeting my daughter and her fellow missionaries at Pier 37 at 11am. The ship sails at noon. Your passage is booked as Mr Smith from Dubuque. Keep an eye on her on the ship, and accompany her where ever she goes when they make landfall in Formosa. And make sure she returns to me, alive and in one piece. I will pay you the other nine thousand in upon her return to me at my residence in Taipei.

JACK: Let’s make that three thousand up front, and seven on the back end. And YOU buy my kit for the trip, I will head down to Brooks Brothers and to Far Eastern Outfitters in the morning. Make sure you have line of credit opened in your name for my use when I get there. Oh, and lets get this in writing, shall we? I know you industrialists like to operate on the basis of handshakes and what not, but we in the proletariat like to see a contract.

CATHERTON: Very well, Garrett. I must say that your personality is more abrasive even than a Brillo Scouring Pad, and that is certainly saying something. Evelyn, come over here, darling.

JACK: Turns out, Catherton was on a first name basis with one of the moonlighting song-girls who was hawking cigarettes to burnish her academic bona fides.

CATHERTON: Evelyn dear, let me have a piece of paper and a pen for a moment.

JACK: Evelyn reached into her costume and pulled out a folded piece of paper and took a pen off the tray and handed them both to Catherton. I watched this process in amazement, fascinated by the dual mystery of how Catherton knew Evelyn had paper secreted on her person, and secondly, how Evelyn managed to get some paper where it was hidden. There did not seem to be enough fabric available for the job. I made a mental note to question Evelyn more closely about this, at a later date. She seemed to be able to read my mind, and smiled at me a little as well. College girls can be so insightful! Catherton tore the paper in half and jotted an IOU for seven thousand. On the other sheet, he wrote a note to a Mr Phillips at First Amalgamated Bank that told the man to give we two blank checks made out to Brooks Brothers and to Far Eastern Outfitters. This job was looking like it would be a walk in the park!

CATHERTON: Now Garrett, take your money, do your job and I will see you in Taipei in a couple of months. Bring my daughter home safe. Now, if you will excuse me, Evelyn and I need to discuss her studies.

JACK: I glanced back at Evelyn, and noticed a familiar look on her face. I had seen it earlier this evening in the mirror that Mrs Butts has hanging on her wall inside the entrance to her apartment. Funny how much a broken down boxer and a song-girl can have in common, isn’t it? I left the Embarcadero Hotel and was flagging a taxi to take me back down to the docks. I was steeling myself because I knew the hacks waiting outside the hotel were going to charge extra for the slum tour when I bumped into Detective Junior Grade Jenks on the street.

JENKS: Hello, Garrett, what are you doing so far up town, looking to become a second story man?

JACK: Jenks has the kind of face that makes you want to punch it except you are worried that you will get something on your fist that is smelly and won’t come off. He has a lazy eye, a mouth that hangs open so he can breathe, a cheap suit with stains, and his shirt is always untucked on one side or the other. It makes him look stupid and in this case, you can judge a book by its cover. He was always hassling me, always trying to get my goat. I would never have given him another thought if he would just leave me alone, but it always seemed like a bell rung in his head whenever he saw me, and he wanted to go toe to toe in the ring. “Hello Jenks, they got you writing citations to hacks who have expired medallions? That sounds like something you can actually handle.”

JENKS: Why don’t you dry up and blow away, Punchy? I see you walking around after midnight, and I suspect you are out looking to bite someone to turn them into a creep like you.

JACK: “Good one, Jenks, but when I stop drinking, I am sober, but you stay ugly and stupid, day in and day out.” That one crossed the line, since I could tell he was turning red, even in the light of the streetlamp.

JENKS: You know Jack, I look at you and know I should run you in, just on general principle, but I don’t because of Oki. But you keep pushing it, and I don’t know how much longer I can hold off…

JACK: Jenks always brings up Oki, every time I see him. Jenks was an enlisted Marine from another company who got lost soon after we kicked off the attack. My platoon sergeant saw him and pulled him into our unit so he wouldn’t get himself killed, wandering around out there. We came to a cave that we had to clear out in order to keep up the advance, we suspected there were Japanese soldiers in there who would flank us if we didn’t deal with them. I ordered the flamethrower to burn it, and see if any hornets came out. We were all ready, because we knew the Japanese would come charging out and attack even if the were burning up. That is, all of us were ready, except for Jenks. For some reason, he took that moment to fiddle around with a can of peaches, just as the flamethrower blew into the hole. A half dozen screaming Japs came running out there, clothes burning up, but each one armed with a sword. We cut down five of them right away, but one of them bore down on Jenks who was staring, open mouthed at the crazed, sword wielding warrior like a man who had just been hit on the head with a frying pan by his mistress. I was the only one in a position to do anything and as I raised my weapon to fire, it jammed. I had a split second to react. I pulled my knife and ran at the burning Jap just as his sword was about to cleave the head of the dumbfounded Jenks, still holding his can of peaches. We collided, chest to chest, with just enough impact to cause the Jap to miss Jenks’ head and hit his shoulder with the razor sharp blade. The impact of the sword broke Jenks’ collar bone and almost cut his arm off. Meanwhile, the Jap and I were rolling around, him holding my knife hand, me holding his with the sword. No one could get a shot at him. Finally, I was able to head butt him a couple of times and when he turned, I bit him hard on the neck. That was what Jenks was getting at with the crack about biting someone. The bite made the Jap loosen his grip on my hand and I drove my knife right into his eye to kill him. I saved Jenks’ life, but I think the fear and gruesomeness of the moment shell-shocked him. You would think a man would shut up about something like that, but there was something in Jenks that made him keep bringing it up. I lost track of him after that, so imagine my surprise when he turned out to be an cop here in Bay City. We keep having these run ins, and I can’t get rid of him, like a boil that keeps flaring up, even after it gets lanced. “I don’t have time for you Jenks, but here is a tip, some kids shook down a 3rd grader for his milk money around the block, I figure that is a case you can crack.”

JENKS: Shut up Garrett, I am here as part of the Security Detail for the Secretary of State, he has a meeting Mr Catherton.

JACK: “Funny you should mention Catherton, I am just coming from a meeting with him myself. He gave me ten thousand dollars to do a job for him while you are down here polishing the lugnuts on his Studebaker.” Just as I thought Jenks had had enough and was going to pull out his sap to coldcock me, I heard an inspector yelling for him.

INSPECTOR: Jenks, get over here.

JACK: I took that as a cue to grab a cab, and head back to my flat to get ready for my return to the Far East.

ANNOUNCER: Join us again tomorrow night at this same time as Brillo Scouring Pads helps you follow daring Irish Jack Garrett to the wilds of Formosa as he trails the beautiful Cate.

Friday, November 30, 2007

3 More Quarters

Rhode Island Date Quarter Released: May 21, 2001 (13th) Statehood: May 29, 1790

The problem with Rhode Island is that it doesn’t really have an identity. With most states, you can at least imagine something about it when someone mentions that they are going there. But with Rhode Island, mention of the State evokes what? That it is the smallest state? That is has the longest official name of any state? (Although that last factoid is something that only major trivia geeks like myself actually know). That is not exactly the kind of inspiring, soaring motto that people in the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” would want to include on their quarter.

As for what the good people of Rhode Island actually chose for their quarter, the Pell Bridge over Narragansett Bay is not a bad choice. The bridge is an impressive structure, and the bay itself is basically the ocean. So a quarter that shows a sailboat on the bay with the moniker “The Ocean State” is not bad for an otherwise unremarkable state. Aesthetically, the design is pedestrian, so I rate it between Caesar Rodney and Connecticut’s tree.

Vermont Date Quarter Released: August 6, 2001 (14th) Statehood: March 4, 1791

Here is another one of those quarters that is such a let down when I see it. Some guy harvesting sap from maple trees? They didn’t want to go with the Green Mountain Boys? Oh well, I guess we should expect sap from the Howard Dean administration. I do credit the designers for the subtle inclusion of the Camel’s Hump Mountain landmark in the background. The mountain rises unobtrusively on the landscape, and seems like a natural part of the scene. This is a refreshing change from some state quarters whose designers have disjointedly crammed stuff from the state onto the back of the quarter like it is a sale table at a trailer park yard sale.

I take the dread and boredom I feel when I see this quarter, and leaven it with my admiration for the design and I rank this one squarely in the middle of the pack. It ranks below the RI sailboat and Vermont’s two trees beat out Connecticut’s one.

Kentucky Date Quarter Released: October 15, 2001 (14th) Statehood: June 1, 1792

This one is the bluegrass version of the Rhode Island quarter. A field, a house and a horse replace the sailboat, ocean and bridge, but otherwise, it is the same design. The elements make sense for Kentucky; composer Stephen Foster’s “Old Kentucky Home” in Bardstown and a thoroughbred racehorse. The design is undeniably sensible, but, I think we all have to admit, it lacks a certain pizzazz. No garland of roses for this one. It ties with its sister, Rhode Island.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Commandant's White Letter No. 05-07

Click to enlarge and ignore that DEMOVERSION stuff, I was conducting an experiment that went awry.

What is it with Marine Corps generalship lately? The Commandant Gen Hagee gets briefed about Haditha and assumes the worse about Marines he has been around his whole life. He then runs around telling Marines not to be war criminals even though the "knows" we are under a ton of pressure and likely to crack any time. He was a Commandant only Jack Murtha could love. Good riddance to that perfumed prince.

Now we have Gen Conway, who wants to make his mark on the Marine Corps by foolishly buying hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment that we don’t need, notably the Mine Resistant Armored Personnel Carrier and the Osprey while shortchanging the things we do need, like a lethal pistol and good radios. Then, while the Marine Corps is currently short 1900 officers and is trying to plus up to 202,000 Marines total, the Commandant enacts a policy that will make it easy for commanders to cashier Marines who “present an unsuitable military appearance.” Sounds like a kind of a subjective reason to get rid of someone. Here is the kicker…he is not talking about a sloppy Marine, or one who is over weight, or one who can’t do his pull-ups…this is a separate measure. This allows a commander who looks at a Marine and doesn’t like the cut of his jib to give that Marine a discharge. So if a commander doesn’t like the way a Marine looks in uniform, chest too big, legs too skinny, too many tattoos, skin too dark…all are fit reasons to get rid of an otherwise objectively qualified Marine.

Have a Purple Heart? Bronze star? Commendable combat record? Not good enough if you run askance of the Commandant’s fashion police. Left an arm or eye in Falluja? All the other Marines in your unit have a full complement of those Marine, time for you to get out so you don’t spoil the uniformity of our ranks!

Does this sound like a policy that General concerned about the combat effectiveness of his Corps would enact? Or does it sound like the feeble policies of a perfumed prince more concerned about how his marionettes look than how his Corps fights?

James Webb, a man for whom I had a lot of respect until recently, wrote a searing novel, “Fields of Fire” about his time as a combat platoon commander. There is a passage where Webb describes a new platoon sergeant who comes on deck to assume his post with the platoon. This Staff Sergeant is more concerned with the appearance of the platoon than with their proficiency and Webb, though his alter ego, Lt Hodges, lets the Staff Sergeant have it.

'The Staff Sergeant said, “I’ve heard you’re a damn good Lieutenant, that you know your tactics and your supporting arms. And I intend to make this a platoon you can be proud of.”

“I’m already proud of it, Sarge. Hey.” Hodges shrugged helplessly, smiling in mild bewilderment. “I can handle all that.” The Staff Sergeant squinted at the heresy. “I’m just a damned civilian playing Marine for a couple of years because there’s a war. Know what I mean?” Hodges gestured out towards the lines. “So are they, a bunch of kids who got caught up in all this bullshit. They don’t know a request mast from a walk in the woods. The only dress parade they’ll be in was when they graduated boot camp.” Hodges grinned, pondering the Staff Sergeant’s overstuffed rucksack. “Don’t get me wrong. They know the bush, and they can buckle for your dust [to fight furiously – Ed.], Sarge. But don’t turn them all around with that stateside shit.”'

Hey Commandant, don’t turn them all around with your stateside shit.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Importance of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s indigenous terrorist groups are grouped together and called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers. These groups are terrorism innovators. They perfected the suicide belt to facilitate suicide bombing terror attacks.1 The LTTE set up a parallel government in the area it controls “…establishing structures such as a police force, law courts, postal services, banks, administrative offices, television and radio broadcasting station, etc.”2 The Tamil Tigers maintain a navy capable of engaging Sri Lankan naval forces, and engaging in high seas piracy.3 The Tigers have even developed an air wing with which they intend to carry out provisioning operations or perhaps even Japanese style kamikaze attacks.4

Sri Lanka is a laboratory for determining if it is possible for a government to come to a peace agreement with a deadly, ruthless terrorist entity that is also extremely capable in many different areas. The LTTE has put itself into the strongest position of any terrorist group vis a vis the ruling government it opposes. They have skillfully parlayed their resources, most of which have been gained illicitly, to create a formidable military and political counter to the Sri Lankan government. The keys for all concerned is whether the power that the LTTE has been able to amass will be sufficient to force the Sinhalese Buddhist majority into some kind of power sharing arrangement and whether the time is ripe to push for a settlement. The United States government sees an agreement between the sides as something that would be an example to the whole world. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said: “it will be such an important achievement for the world if Sri Lankans themselves are able to resolve their differences. This will be a tremendous signal for the world.”5

A reading of the relevant literature shows that the government of Sri Lanka recognizes the strength of the Tamil terrorist groups. The Agreement on a ceasefire is a complex document whose provisions could only be implemented by a capable military and government. The “Third Communication Revolution” reflects the reality of Tamil technological advancement and re-emphasized their overall competence. This point was made even more stark when it was reported that the Tamil Tigers had hacked an Intelsat satellite to broadcast internationally.6 The writings of the NGOs predictably focus on human rights violations while the US and European governments focus on ending the conflict so that there can be stability on the island. Indian and Sri Lankan writings by the various sides adopt the point of view of the combatants favored by the authors.

For negotiations to be successful, the major powers must recognize their limitations in this conflict. Many in the Sinhalese Buddhist majority have lost faith in the impartiality of the “Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors’ Conference” EU, US, Japan and Norway. In the words of a Sinhalese columnist for the Lanka Page, “First, the countries showering us with bad advice are clearly not to be trusted an inch, and should be kept at arm’s length. …Obviously we have to live with such behemoths, but we can do so with self-respect instead of the appalling servility of the post-CFA years. For instance, we could inform them, as many countries do, that interference and comment on our internal affairs, and hob-nobbing with the LTTE and its agents, are unacceptable.” On the other side, the Tamils are not prepared to get involved in working toward peace because they perceive that peace efforts are a ruse to achieve their defeat and subjugation. In the words of one Tamil leader: “Suppose we stop fighting today, what will happen? What will be the situation for us? Peace for Tamils is that the army should get out [from the North-East]. Peace in the South might be LTTE surrendering.”7

Since there is so much distrust toward the “Co-chairs,” the best course of action would be strict impartiality during the fighting. While it is clear that the US and the other donors would prefer that a representative government that controls all of Sri Lanka be the outcome of this struggle, for the time, the Sri Lankans must be allowed to alter the facts on the ground until the time for negotiations is ripe. It is clear that the Tamils only want to negotiate when they are in a position of weakness. When the Tamils are in a position of strength, they want to press towards victory. It is clear that for negotiation to succeed, the Sri Lankans must be allowed to put so much military pressure on the Tamils, that the rebels will be forced to come to the negotiation table. At that point, the “Co-chairs” can step in to make sure that Tamil rights are preserved without forcing the Sinhalese majority into unpopular concessions. It is a delicate balancing act, but doing that kind of thing is why diplomats are paid the big bucks.

The best recommendation to President Bush and to the EU Parliament is to look at recent examples where an insurgency is militarily pressured and brought to the negotiation table. In Iraq, the policy of applying overwhelming military pressure to the insurgent fight has brought those willing to negotiate and share power to the table while killing off the recalcitrant. Something similar would happen in Sri Lanka. The US military can press ahead with training the Sri Lankan military in the latest counter-insurgency tactics (preferably at bases outside the region) while allowing the Norwegians and the Japanese to take the lead on mediation. Improving the performance of the Sri Lankan military would pressure the Tamils to negotiate in good faith, and weakest “co-chairs” would serve as impartial arbiters. There is every indication that negotiation would prove successful since the Tamils have a hunger for stability as evidenced by their creation of a parallel government. Further, it is in the interest of the world to resolve the situation in Sri Lanka, otherwise the Tamil Tigers will continue to refine their terrorist techniques and export them to the rest of the world’s bad actors.


1. Suter, Keith. “The anatomy of a suicide bomber” On line Opinion Journal 25 July 2005 at accessed 24 November 2007.

2. Ramasubramanian, R. Suicide Terrorism in Sri Lanka (New Dehli: Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies) 2004 pg. 8-9.

3. Davies, Rogers. “Sea Tigers, Stealth Technology and the North Korean Connection” Janes. March 7, 2001 at accessed 24 November 2007.

4. Raman, B. “The World's First Terrorist Air Force” South Asia Analysis Group 02.06.2005 at accessed 24 November 2007.

5. US Embassy Colombo “Armitage Says Sri Lanka Peace Would Be "Tremendous Signal” Press Release 13 June 2003 at accessed 24 November 2007.

6. Jayawardhana, Walter. “Tigers’ satellite piracy bared” Sri Lanka Daily News 13 April 2007 at accessed 24 November 2007.

7. Foxwatch. “Coping with the Co-chairs’ bad advice” Lanka Page, September 24, 2006 at’-bad-advice/ accessed 24 November 2007.

Sri Lanka Background

There seem to have been legitimate reasons for initial flare-up of tensions in Sri Lanka. Although different ethnic groups got along in government, perceived inequities in political representation brought about actual armed conflict. With the armed conflict came a hardening of sides so now mistrust reigns.

Armed conflict has also raise a generation of men who have known nothing but conflict, and have become adept at violence and extortion. This pattern has been repeated around the globe. Young men grow up around violence, and learn no other way to make a living. Similar situations exist in Serbia, Northern Ireland, Sicily, Lebanon and Southern Mexico. Any solution will have to include an outlet for the nihilistic, opportunistic criminals who use ethnic conflict as a cover for their violent organized crime.

The years of hardened positions and well-earned mistrust on all sides have narrowed the possibilities for a peaceful settlement. Since large scale, comprehensive settlements have ended in disaster and betrayal, there seems to be little stomach for this type of settlement now except among the large NGOs. The indigenous parties are much more amenable to incremental approaches that keep the spigots of international funding open. The LTTE wants access to the fundraising and criminal enterprises in Europe, and the Sinhalese parties want continued access to world markets and international capital markets. Small, face-preserving steps towards reconciliation and an end to fighting that satisfy outside observers are the best method to resolving the overall conflict.

Some might object to the go-slow approach, as ineffective. However, large scale, internationally negotiated approaches have proven disastrous. In such an environment, small-scale gestures, even symbolic ones, tend to foster an environment of trust where more substantive steps can be attempted. Another key to the success of a go-slow approach is the patience of all sides. As has been apparent in other insurgencies, the center of gravity is the attitude of the majority population. If the media can be manipulated with showy violence that saps the will of the majority to sustain a reconciliation, then the insurgency will win. Reconciliation is in the best interest of all the Sri Lankan people, but that spirit of reconciliation must be sustained even in the face of terror that is sure to come.

The reality on the ground in Sri Lanka is that sides have become so hardened that there is no more room at present for compromise. In the words of observer Jayadeva Uyangoda, “there is no objective political space at present in Sri Lanka for the two sides to consider any of the following options seriously: de-escalation of war and military disengagement, demilitarisation of the ethnic conflict, ceasefire, and resumption of negotiations with or without a ceasefire.” (Frontline) With the sides hardened for battle and no space left for compromise, President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka offers this stark option: there is “no alternative but to completely eradicate terrorism.” (Bloomburg)

The US government has adopted President Rajapaksa’s assement of the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Consequently, the US has moved to freeze the assets of a Tamil aid group that the US government says supports the LTTE terrorists. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) ostensibly raises funds for various Tamil charities but the US government sees that TRO has a different role. A press release from the US embassy in Sri Lanka makes the US policy clear: “In the United States, the TRO has raised funds on behalf of the LTTE through a network of individual representatives. According to sources within the organization, the TRO is the preferred conduit of funds from the United States to the LTTE in Sri Lanka.” (US Embassy)

With LTTE already designated a terrorist organization and with the US losing patience with one of the civilian organizations aligned with LTTE, the US has even less standing to act as an impartial participant. Therefore, the US will have to be a silent, behind the scenes encouragement to the likes of Norway or the Red Cross as they continue to press ahead with reconciliation efforts.

Sri Lanka would be a valuable ally for the United States. Beyond the general desire for peace and stability in the region, the United States would like access to the deep water port of Trincomalee on the east coast of the island. This port is of value for the shelter it provides and the deep water that can accommodate the largest aircraft carriers. China has expressed interest in the port to shelter its ships and to project power into the Indian Ocean. (Bajpayee) The United States cannot afford to let China establish naval bases all over the Indian Ocean without challenge.

United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka Blake made it clear that the United States would not support at separate Tamil State in the North and East. “And while we ourselves do not have contacts with the LTTE, we do support the current Norwegian facilitation effort. But I cannot imagine a circumstance where we would support a separate LTTE state.” (US Government) Nonetheless, the US would prefer to find a way to bolster the democratic government of Sri Lanka, marginalize the terrorist LTTE, and gain access to Sri Lankan ports so as to deny them to China. The US would prefer to accomplish these things with the minimum bloodshed, but the overriding concern to is to address US geo-political interests in Sri Lanka.


Tighe, Paul. “Sri Lankan Aid Group Says U.S. Asset Freeze Will Hurt Tamils” 19 November 2007 at accessed 20 November 2007.

US Embassy, Columbo “Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) Designated under Executive Order 13224” US Embassy Colombo Press Releases November 15, 2007 at accessed 20 November 2007.

Uyangoda, Jayadeva. “Beyond Redemption” Frontline Magazine November 24, 2007 at accessed 20 November 2007.

Bajpaee, Chietigj. “The Emerging Cold War on Asia's High Seas” Power and Interest News Report at accessed 21 November 2007.

US Government. “Ambassador Blake's Interview with Indo Asian News Service” US Embassy Sri Lanka, 23 February 2007 at accessed 21 November 2007.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

George Bush's Democratic Peace

During President George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, he declared that the policy of the United States would be to promote democracy around the world in order to safeguard the nation. “Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time. So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” With his inaugural speech, President Bush explicitly put the theory of “democratic peace” at the center of Administration policy. As an organizing principle for foreign policy, “democratic peace” is not a bad idea. “This absence of war between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations.”

President Bush has put his policy in action in rebuilding Iraq. The US military and to a lesser extent other US government agencies have been groping for the best policy to establish Davis’ prerequisites of democracy (periodic and fair elections, transparency, free flow of information, protection of human rights and a literate citizenry). By turning to intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (IGOs) for assistance in certain aspects of building democracy in Iraq, the United States would be more successful. For example, NATO, an IGO centered in Europe has a role to play in enhancing the positive example that the Kurdish north. The Lawyer’s Committee for Human Rights, which has been renamed “Human Rights First” is an NGO that can assist in solidifying the legal system in Iraq. The World Trade Organization, an IGO, has a role in jumpstarting the economy of Iraq whose massive unemployment can undermine other fledgling democratic institutions. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State recognized the importance of NGOs in accomplishing the policy goals of the US government: “I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.”

Eric Davis is emphatic about the importance of the Kurds in northern Iraq in allowing democracy to take root. “The importance of Iraq’s Kurds can provide inspiration for all of Iraq in its efforts to bring about a democratic transition.” As successful as the Kurds have been, there is still a major issue that must be resolved. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has conducted terror attacks in Turkey in an effort to establish a separate Kurdistan that stretches from current Turkish territory to Iran. Although the PKK has ostensibly abandoned the idea of Greater Kurdistan, the party continues terroristic attacks on Turkish targets. Since many Kurds in northern Iraq are generally sympathetic to the goals of the PKK, the party has found refuge in Iraq. Turkey is outraged that terrorists have safe haven over the border, and have massed troops there, threatening to invade northern Iraq to destroy the PKK.

Dealing with the presence of PKK in Iraq is precisely the type of situation where NATO could have an effect. Since Turkey is a NATO member and Iraq is kind of a junior NATO partner since the US has a huge occupying force there, NATO is uniquely poised to bring all the parties together to resolve the crisis. In fact, NATO has indeed done that, convening a working group on the crisis with high-level NATO diplomats addressing the issue. With NATO at the fore, this crisis can be resolved. Longer term, NATO should work to bring Iraq formally into the organization, so that Turkey and Iraq can use the organization as an umbrella for further bilateral talks aimed at reducing tension.

Perhaps the strongest democratic force in Iraq, and its most mature, is the legal system. United States federal court officers sent over to assist in rebuilding the Iraqi court system tell stories similar to this one: “I soon found reasons for hope. Many judges were Baathists in name only; some had reputations for honesty and fairness. Others, particularly older judges, had not been party members at all. The courage they had shown in retaining their integrity, often at great personal sacrifice, was inspiring.” Upon this foundation of jurists who retained their dignity and integrity, it is possible to rebuild court systems in which all Iraqis will have confidence. To facilitate the rebuilding, NGOs with legal experience are invaluable. Of particular note is the Lawyer’s Committee for Human rights. “It’s programs focus on building the legal institutions and structures that will guarantee human rights in the long term.” An organization with such a focus can assist the Iraqi bar to rebuild confidence in the legal system there so that it can be a bulwark against the erosion of freedoms.

The Iraq economy is in the midst of a real turn-around. With oil selling at nearly $100 a barrel, Iraq may earn approximately $70 billion in oil revenues this year. This total alone would put Iraq in the top 1/3 of all countries GDP in the world as ranked by the World Bank. The World Trade Organization should move quickly to help the Iraqi economy diversify from an economy based solely commodity export, to one that also leverages Iraq’s fertile agricultural regions and educated workforce. The equitably distributed capital available to Iraq, a tariff-free trade policy, close relations with the world’s largest economy, the United States, and assistance by the WTO stand to make Iraq a formidable economy in the medium term. The WTO would also benefit by holding up Iraq as a model for other former totalitarian basket-cases to move towards open markets and democracy.

A country that can combine leadership from a freedom-loving portion of their population, a strong legal system and a strong economy will be prosperous and peaceful. International and regional organizations can promote these goals in Iraq and at the same time, raise their reputations as groups that can actually get things done in the real world.

1. Bush, George W. “President Sworn-In to Second Term.” ( January 20, 2005 at accessed on 13 November 2007.

2. Levy, Jack S. “Domestic Politics and War” in The Origin and Prevention of Major Wars, Rotherg, Robert J and Theodore K Rabb, eds (New York: Cambridge University Press) 1988. pg 88.

3. Davis, Eric. “Strategies for Promoting Democracy in Iraq” United States Institute for Peace Special Report (Washington DC: United States Institute for Peace) October 2005. pg 2, 12.

4. Powell, Colin. “Remarks to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations” ( October 26, 2001 at accessed 13 November 2007.

5. Davis, pg 6.

6. Australian Government “Kurdistan Workers Party” in “Listing of Terrorism Organizations” ( at accessed 13 November 2007.

7. Coughlin, Richard “In Iraq, a Justice System Worth Saving” New York Times July 26, 2003 at,%20Saddam accessed 13 November 2007.

8. Aall, Pamela, Guide to IGOs NGOs and the Military (Washington DC: United States Institute of Peace Press) 2000. pg 152.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Not Darfur Again!

The conflict in Darfur started as a classic contest for resources. The Darfur region in eastern Sudan is a high desert plateau that has seen a combination of declining rainfall and increasing population for the last fifty years. As water reservoirs shrunk from lack of rain, and farms grew in size to feed the burgeoning populations, pastoral livestock herders abandoned traditional transhumance routes and began to trample homesteads on the way to water their animals. In order to prevent the pastoralists from trampling crops, the agrarians banded into militias. Eventually, the government of Sudan came into the conflict on the side of the herders, in an effort to dislodge the farmers, and seize the land for the underlying resources that consist primarily of oil.

The conflict in Darfur seems like the result of rational decisions when view from an economic perspective. There is little remaining water in the region and more people competing for this scarce resource. However, there are not only economic factors at play in the conflict. Sudan has been engaged in an on-again, off-again civil war since the 1880’s. The short hand description for this war is that it is an ideological struggle between the Christian and animist south and the Arab north. Douglas Hamilton Johnson sees the roots of the Sudan civil war as more banal; one group against another in a contest for resources. In this case however, one group wanted to enslave another to pay taxes levied by the state. “The two most significant developments contributing to the North-South divide were the impoverishment of some areas of the Northern Sudan through new forms of taxation and land ownership, which then contributed to the dramatic expansion of slave trading and slave owning.”1 Eventually the slave raiding Muslims of the north, and their black African targets in the south organized into militias for defense. The sides, identified as such, have battled back and forth ever since.

The Darfur situation occurred on the edge of the civil war and has been included in the meta-narrative for Sudanese conflict: ethnic groups vying for ethnic cleansing or genocide of the other. Numerous websites claim that what is happening in Darfur is genocide. has a weblink proclaiming that “Racism at the root of Darfur crisis.” The link leads to a Christian Science Monitor article that argues “Khartoum's genocidal policy in Darfur and the south is also a grab for resources.”2 has a large section called “Learn” on the main page with a footnote that explains the contest over resources in Darfur as a pre-text for the real aim of genocide. “When the Sudanese government launched its genocide in 2003, it instrumentalized the underlying tensions over land use by arming certain "Arab" clans and inciting them to attack "African" villages, with the promise of control of the diminishing land and water resources.”3 The point of view that sees Darfur as genocide argues the grabbing of resources and land is a side effect of the real goal, genocide. The UN sees the exact opposite, that is, the grab for resources has resulted in the mass killing of those previously in possession of those resources. If the Fur are driven off their lands in Darfur, it is unlikely the Sudanese or Janjaweed would pursue them to eradicate them.

In the report to the Secretary General about the conflict, UN investigators found what was going on in Darfur was a variant of the economic struggles that caused the wider Sudan civil war, a fight over scarce resources.

“Darfur is part of the Great Sahara region, and while it has some agricultural areas, particularly around the Jebel Marrah plateau, most of the region remains arid desert land. Drought and desertification had their impact in the 70s and 80s, and the fight for scarce resources became more intense. In particular, tensions between agriculturalists and cattle herders were affected. Cattle herders in search of pasture and water often invaded the fields and orchards of the agriculturalists, and this led to bloody clashes as described below. Corridors that were agreed upon amongst the tribes to facilitate the movements of cattle for many years were not respected. As fertile land became scarce, settled people’s tolerance of the seasonal visitors diminished.”4

To fend off the “seasonal visitors,” the agriculturists banded together into militias. The group that eventually became the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLMA) drew its initial recruits from the Fur militias. The SLM has since splintered into numerous subgroups, each with allegiance to a particular commander. The other major group defending the agriculturalists is the Justice for Equality Movement (JEM). JEM is a more ideological group that SLM since JEM explicitly calls for the destruction of the Sudan government because the government is dominated by Arabs who are stealing the wealth of black Africa. JEM is not anti-Muslim and in fact has many Islamists in their ranks. The NMRD is a Chad-dominated splinter of JEM.5

On the other side of the conflict, is the Janjaweed, or the Arab militia whose roots were in the nomadic herders. The Sudanese government has interceded on the side of the Janjaweed, partly out of pan-Arabism, but mostly because of the riches that they stand to make by controlling the oil in the region. The CEO of a civil rights group described China’s involvement this way: “China has fueled the conflict and kept the world community from protecting the victims. China's unquenchable need for foreign energy makes it Sudan's largest foreign investor and most important international supporter.”6

The major rebel groups (the exception of the Janjaweed and some splinters of JEM and SLA) and the government of Sudan, with have been meeting in Libya in an effort to come up with a wealth sharing plan. Since sharing the wealth is really the only way to end the conflict short of ethnic cleansing, this conference at least is addressing the correct cause of conflict.7

Those looking to champion a cause see the conflict in Darfur as genocide or ethnic cleansing. The problem with this analysis is that those inside the conflict know that at the root is the contest for resources. The UN has recognized this as well since a main effort in the Darfur peace process is wealth sharing. Unfortunately, the presence of the rapacious Chinese government interceding on the side of the Sudan government makes it unlikely that any wealth will be shared.

1.  Johnson, Douglas H. Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars (Kampala: International African Institute in association with Fountain Publishers) 2003. pg 5.

2.  Mutua, Makau. “Racism at root of Sudan's Darfur crisis” (Christian Science Monitor) July 14, 2004 at accessed on 7 November 2007.

3. “The Genocide in Darfur - Briefing Paper” June 2007 at accessed 7 November 2007.

4.  United Nations. “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General” (Geneva: United Nations) 25 January 2005.

5. BBC News. “Who are Sudan's Darfur rebels? 12 October 2007 at accessed 7 November 2007.

6.  Greathead, R Scott. “Moving China on Darfur” Wall Street Journal, 6 November 2007 at accessed 7 November 2007.

7.  Joint Mediation Support Team Towards Peace in Darfur website at accessed 7 November 2007.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Other People's Human Rights Keeps the US Safe

Since the 1970’s, various commentators and political science theorists have opined that liberal democratic governments do not go to war with each other. The genesis of this idea can be found in Emmanuel Kant’s essay “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” from 1795. “[I]f the consent of the citizens is required in order to decide that war should be declared (and in this constitution it cannot but be the case), nothing is more natural than that they would be very cautious in commencing such a poor game, decreeing for themselves all the calamities of war. Among the latter would be: having to fight, having to pay the costs of war from their own resources, having painfully to repair the devastation war leaves behind, and, to fill up the measure of evils, load themselves with a heavy national debt that would embitter peace itself and that can never be liquidated on account of constant wars in the future.”

In Kant’s time, there were not enough representative democracies to determine the validity of his theorizing. However, over the next two hundred years, enough representative governments came into being and enough time had passed for political scientists to confirm the essential truth of Kant’s observation. Maoz and Russett put it this way: “Beyond the extraordinary convergence of research results that confirm that "democracies rarely fight each other,” there is more importantly, significant evidence that this finding is causally meaningful.” (pg 624)

This belief that democracies rarely fight each other, has entered the popular consciousness. In response to a statement by a reporter during a news conference in 2004 that “You can be elected and be a tyrant.” President Bush responded “Well, you can be elected and then be a strong man, and then you get voted out, so long as you end up honoring democracy.” President Bush then went on to affirm the centrality of democratic peace in a way that evoked Kant: “the reason why I'm so strong on democracy is democracies don't go to war with each other. And the reason why is the people of most societies don't like war, and they understand what war means.”
It may be a banal observation, but people who rule themselves will not abuse their own rights. Countries that are democracies guarantee the human rights of their own people. Further, countries that are democracies do not go to war with other democracies that are coincidentally protecting the rights of their own people.

In the abstract, if a democratic country, (country X) can influence or force another country, (country A) to become a democracy, country X would be safe from invasion by country A. Since democracies protect human rights, the concomitant effect will be that people in country A will have human rights, but the key to security for country X is fostering democracy. In reality, history has shown this abstraction in practice. The US forced Japan and Germany to create democratic institutions and nudged South Korea in that direction. Even given the historical animus that existed between Japan and Korea, neither has fired a shot in anger at one another in more that 60 years. Germany has peacefully co-existed with its neighbors since WWII. And interestingly, given the breathing space that lack of war allows for the people to achieve real peace, all those countries have become loud and aggressive watch-dogs for human rights around the world.

Bush, George W. “President and Prime Minister Blair Discussed Iraq, Middle East” (November 12, 2004) retrieved 2 November 2007 from “”

Kant, Immanuel. “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch” (1795).

Maoz, Zeev, and Bruce Russett. “Normative and Structural Causes of Democratic Peace, 1946-1986” The American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 3 (Sep., 1993), pp. 624-638.

Other People

Clash of Civilization, or Something Else

The theses of Mueller and Huntington could not be more in opposition. Mueller states that: “And the particular focus of the paper is on the perpetrators of the violence, on those who actually carry out the killings and depredations. For them, the central motivation forces seem more nearly to reflect banal opportunism than cosmic historical patterns or necessities.” Contrast that with Huntington: “It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural.” Mueller claims that ethnic violence is the result of bad actors ginning up justifications, while Huntington sees conflict as the natural result of cultures being exposed to one another and fighting it out.

Both Mueller and Huntington seem to discount the idea that conflict is based on resource scarcity. Mueller does not see “necessities” as being the cause of conflict, and Huntington does not see conflicts being based on the “economic” concerns of the combatants. So, how can the points of view of Huntington and Mueller be reconciled?
One way would be to see Huntington’s theory as the “macro” and Mueller’s theory as the “micro.” In other words, cultural tensions exist and they can be inflamed into actual combat, but not until opportunistic politicians fan those ethnic flames. Mueller quotes Judah who makes this exact point: “The answer is that politicians could not have succeeded if there had been no ember [of ethnic tensions] to fan.”

Judah’s quotation also implies that there is a “macro” ethnic hatred that can result in conflict. The precise verb that Mueller uses in the quote is “recruited.” Certainly, the lure of rape and plunder is enough to motivate some men into action, but the forces the leader raises are still selected from within the same ethnic group. Arkan did not go looking for asocial Croatians to join his “Tigers,” he sought out his fellow Serb football hooligans. Unscrupulous individuals can exploit real, existing cultural fears to cause havoc, but it seems like these cross cultural wars only exist in the small scale.

Consider the examples that Mueller cites: Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and consider also the current war of al Qaeda against the West. Huntington argues that there are seven or eight civilizations who will come into conflict and lists them: “Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and possibly African civilization.” These are huge agglomerations of people, all of whom are now in proximity given population growth and ease of travel. 600 million “Western,” a billion plus “Hindu,” a billion plus “Confucian.” However, in even the most deadly ethnic wars, there are still only a comparatively few killed. There were perhaps 100,000 killed in Yugoslavia, but the question must be asked if that was a true ethnic war since it occurred completely within the “West?” Was it instead the “Slavic-Orthodox” against the “Islamic?” Perhaps a million were killed in Rwanda, but since they were all within the “African” civilization, was this actually just banal killing and not the clash of civilizations? How significant a civilization conflict is it between al Qaeda, an “Islamic” group and the US representing the “West” when only a few thousand have been killed in the last 6 years out of a total combined population of more than a billion?

Those conflicts occur between different ethnic groups who use the language of civilizational conflict. There does not seem to be evidence that they are the spark or precursors of larger cross-civilization war among the civilizations Huntington cites.

Peace of the Grave

Dr Udayakumar may well be correct in his analysis. I will concede that there are differences between what is evoked in the minds of non-Westerners when “peace” is mentioned, compared to that which is in the minds of Westerners. Peace as a “matter of existence” and “life oriented” sounds very much like Mahatma Ghandi’s vision of peace. Richard Jackson amplifies this Ghandian conception by writing that “Peace is not just the absence of violence; rather, it must be actively and deliberately (re)constructed through social action and political practice everyday.”
In some ways, Ghandi’s peace is the peace of the grave. In Ghandi’s book Non-violence in Peace and War, he advised England to put down their arms in the face of Nazis because it was better to be dead than to be violent: “I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions. Let them take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves man, woman and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” (pg 115)

To realize Ghandi’s peace, short of the grave, requires unnatural quantities of faith and courage to even contemplate, much less strive to obtain. Most people do not have so deep a reservoir of faith, so must be content with a definition of peace that may include the presence of justice but most emphatically MUST include “absentia bella” or absence of war, as a pre-requisite. It is only in the breathing space created by the absence of actual combat that philosophers and aesthetes can contemplate whether the absence of conflict they are in is “shallow peace” and what more need be done to deepen it.

Classic examples of this observation in action is the peace in China after the Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 and the peace that prevailed in Korea after the armistice in 1953. In both cases, the shooting stopped and people, at least on one side of the conflict, began to internalize life-oriented deep peace. These countries have experienced nearly 6 decades without armed conflict. In South Korea and Taiwan have also been liberal democracies for years. Now, there are substantial parts of the populations of both countries that are pacifist. These large groups of the electorate are having increasing influence on election and on the policies of the leaders once elected. These peace movements would like nothing more for their countries to completely renounce conflict.

South Korea and Taiwan developed this life-oriented deep peace after a cessation of conflict, and little more. There was no formal peace treaty for either country, instead, Taiwan and South Korea have existed in a sort of cold war with their primary enemy for all these years. However, the absence of conflict was sufficient to give the inhabitants of these counties a chance to develop Ghandi’s deep peace.

The conditions that prevail in South Korea and Taiwan are probably the best that a government can do to foster “full peace.” A government can respond to provocations by either resorting to combat, or not. Inside the “or not” category is the entire spectrum of options that include everything from disarmament and supplication that Ghandi urged on the English during WWII, to financing a proxy war as the America did against Afghanistan in the 80’s. However, the lack of actual combat, while it may not meet Dr Udayakumar’s definition of “full peace” nonetheless allows those so inclined to strive for full peace.

Inertia is one of the strongest forces in the universe, and psychological inertia is one of the most powerful determinants of actions in humans. If humans grow to expect a lack of conflict, humans begin to sense a lack of conflict as the natural order. It becomes harder with each generation to conceive of breaking the peace, even if that peace, all those many years ago, was based on a “temporary” armistice. Absentia bella gives people, regardless of their underlying culture, a chance to conceptualize peace, and makes Ghandi’s vision of a deeper peace that much more likely.

Gandhi, Mahatma. Non-violence in peace and war. (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Press)

Jackson, Richard (ed.). (Re)Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace. (Amsterdam: Rodopi) 2002.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Afghanistan Issues

After the attacks of 9/11, there was consensus in the country that Osama bin Laden had masterminded the attack. Since the Taliban were harboring him in Afghanistan, there was also consensus among the people of the US that Afghanistan should be attacked in retaliation. Freeman characterizes this kind of response in reaction to stimulus as part of the “national interest.” In the immediate aftermath of the attack, combined with the anthrax attacks, there was a lot of fear in the country that the survival of America was at stake. According to Freeman “Survival is the supreme national interest. Challenges to it lead to war.” (Pg 14)

Here, I think it is important to examine national power. Freeman is primarily concerned with national power as a perception in the minds of potential opponents. A crucial aspect of national power and potential is the fear that political leaders have of being voted out of office should they fail to respond as vigorously as the electorate demands. President Bush attempted to forestall an attack by diplomatically offering the Taliban a choice to give up bin Laden or being attacked. As we know, the Taliban refused and Pres Bush was forced to make a choice that would effect the international perception of national power. “Neither military, nor economic, nor political strength, no matter how immense, is much value if adversaries disbelieve it will be applied.” (pg 15) So, since Pres Bush had essentially told the Taliban to give up bin Laden or else, to preserve the perception of US national power, he toppled the regime.

Although Freeman might not agree with this use of power, President Bush has articulated another reason to attack Afghanistan. “Our strategy to keep the peace in the longer term is to help change the conditions that give rise to extremism and terror, especially in the broader Middle East. This status quo of despotism and anger cannot be ignored or appeased, kept in a box or bought off, because we have witnessed how the violence in that region can reach easily across borders and oceans. The entire world has an urgent interest in the progress, and hope, and freedom in the broader Middle East.” (March 8, 2005) Freeman, in other contexts, has worried that the US is establishing an empire, but President Bush’s attempt to instill “progress, hope and freedom” would truly be an example of the “art of power.”

Pakistan’s role in the Afghanistan’s recovery is different from Pakistan’s role is supporting the Taliban, but the end is the same. The British Foreign Minister from 1846-1851, Lord Palmerson, was reported to have said: “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they only have permanent interests.” Pakistan’s interests have not changed in the decade or so that has seen the rise and fall of the Taliban and the rise of the US back Karzai government. According to Weinbaum, Pakistan wants “strategic depth” to deal with India. Strategic depth is the safety and resources additional space provides an army or nation. V. R. Raghavan, in his article Strategic depth in Afghanistan from the Times of India of 7 November 2001 argues that in the specific case of Pakistan vis a vis Afghanistan, strategic depth refers to the belief in Pakistan, dating from the time of President Zia that “The support it received from the U.S. in waging an armed response against the Soviet occupation triggered the belief. The success of that endeavour with no apparent costs to itself, gave Islamabad the illusion of being able to play a major role in the geo-politics of Central Asia. This more than anything else led to the belief that Afghanistan provided the strategic leverage Pakistan had long been seeking. The energy-rich Muslim states of Central Asia beckoned both Pakistan and the energy-seeking multi-nationals.” Essentially, Pakistan wants a dependent or at least closely allied Pashtu nation that will support Pakistan’s strategic interests.”

Pakistan’s desire for strategic depth explains why Musharraf was so willing to disregard international condemnation for his recognition of the Taliban and also why he so quickly threw them aside when given the ultimatum by the United States. Musharraf saw having influence in Afghanistan as a vital interest, but quickly realized that staying on the good side of an angry and aggressive United States in the Fall of 2001 as a Supreme Interest. Failing to support the US could well have led to some regime change in Pakistan as well as in Afghanistan. Switching sides has benefited Pakistan and their search for “strategic depth” by making it less likely that the US will overwhelmingly tilt toward India. Freeman observes that “shifting balances of power and perception or the emergence of new issues between states will cause an alert state to reexamine and readjust its existing patter of foreign relations.” (pg 81) Musharraf was alert, and made the change.

The improved economic climate in Afghanistan has also had economic benefits for Pakistan. The combination of a relatively stable neighbor, the return of capitalism and the availability of Western capital has benefited both countries.

In the Fall of 2001, Iran also saw that the United States was angry and liable to do things that weeks earlier would have been unthinkable. With the US conduction operations in the Afghanistan, Iran made conciliatory gestures, most notable of which was the offer to assist in the rescue of downed airmen. However, with the fall of the Taliban and a return to stasis in the region, Iran has returned to their three decades long cold war against the US. Part of Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons and accurate delivery platforms is that fact that Iran is now surrounded by forces hosting significant US combat power. For years, Iran railed against the great Satan. Now, the great Satan has 200,000 troops on both flanks, significant combat power on the seas to the South and a dangerous and unpredictable ally in the Little Satan, Israel, with the ability and willingness to use weapons of mass destruction of its own. Nonetheless, Iran has decided to ratchet up the tension, supplying arms to the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Iran presses forward with the effort to obtain nuclear weapons even in the face of threats from the United States and France to prevent them forcibly from getting them. Why would Iran insist on provoking the US when it is in such a strong position?

Freeman supplies the answers. Iran does not believe that the US has the will to effectively counter its ambitions, and therefore, Iran will succeed in acquiring nuclear weapons. Once Iran has weapons the world will have to shift perceptions and accommodate Iran. Iran’s power flows from its obstinacy. Since the Islamic Revolution, it has pursued power relentlessly and is on the verge of attaining it, even with American combat power on the border. Iran’s determination to insist on terms advantageous to itself, and to increase its power to make other countries accept those terms.

I agree that there is no real national interest in moving in to instill democracy where it does not exist. If that were truly a worthwhile policy, I would recommend that we start with Zimbabwe, Cuba or North Korea. However, instilling democracy is not a goal unto itself worth the cost to America. Instead, instilling democracy is only a means towards something that is a bona fide goal of US foreign policy. That goal is to reduce the likelihood of terrorist attacks against the US homeland. The justification can be found in the adage that says “insanity can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” For the United States, the same old foreign policy towards the Middle East of propping up some dictators and trying to contain others only resulted in a breeding ground of terrorists willing and able to attack America. Merely repeating the George HW Bush – Baker – Freeman policy of ignoring oppression of everyone in the Middle East while favoring some despots resulted only in seething resentment among the people towards the US from Morocco to Indonesia. George Bush decided to overthrow the most virulent, expansionistic yet most vulnerable regimes and replace them with more representative governments. His hope was that changing the conditions that bred terrorism and the harbors of terrorism would seed further political improvement throughout the region and thereby reduce the likelihood that grievances would fester and result in terrorism against the US. Will Bush’s gamble prove successful? The jury is still out on that. We do know what the status quo brought America; the hope is that by boldly crashing the status quo, the resulting changes in the region will enhance the security of the US.

Regarding the question of how the strategic policies of the US in the region affect Pakistani and Iranian actions, I read your response to say that Iran (and Pakistan) now have the opportunity to collaborate with the US on reconstruction of Afghanistan and thereby gain prestige. I think Iran has something different in mind. Iran has been at war with the US since storming the American embassy in 1979. The US now has tens of thousands of troops and civilians within striking distance of Iranian weapons. US policy makers have worried about the threat of an Iranian weapon of mass destruction as payload on missiles aimed at Europe or the United States. However, US strategic policy has given Iran convenient targets just across their borders. Even though Iran may have had traditional trading and religious interests in Afghanistan, the chance to deal a massive defeat to America in one stroke may prove to be too tempting. Iran would at the same time be striking Afghanistan, but Iran and Iranian backed forces have shown little compunction about collateral damage when the target is the US. I think the desire to strike at the US is more likely an Iranian reaction to US strategy than an attempt to build rapport or prestige.

I wonder how “on edge” Central Asia is really feeling about the continued US presence? What evidence is there that the US stays one minute longer than it is wanted once the local government says asks the US to leave? The US even respects the wishes of a bloody tyrant like Karimov in Uzbekistan whose military is capable of little more than firing into masses of unarmed protestors. If the US were truly some kind of imperial power as Philip Gordon fantasizes, then it would have been little trouble to overthrow Karimov’s kleptocracy and install a more compliant figurehead. Instead, the US packed up and left when served an eviction notice for the K2 Airbase. It is a strange kind of empire that quits when it is asked to.

The governments of Afghanistan and Iran are well aware that if they ask, the US will pull out. Yet, neither has asked. Both governments know that evicting the US would mean victory for the murderous, nihilistic terrorists still lurking within their borders. Eviction of the Americans would hearten the terrorists to continue their murderous assault on the people. A real tangible victory would embolden the terrorists. Osama bin Laden himself made this clear when he observed in the aftermath of 9/11 in December 2001 that “when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature, they will like the strong horse.” So, while Philip Gordon and the Brookings Institution may think that re-heating the status quo ante 9/11 is really the key to American security, actual empirical evidence shows that bin Laden was dead-on in his assessment of people. People want to follow the strong horse; in Afghanistan and Iraq now, the US is the strong horse. There is no evidence that the large US presence in either country is a particularly effective recruiting device for terrorists, rather, young men are flocking to join security services whose mission is to destroy al Qaeda.

Further, Philip Gordon establishes a straw man when he argues that it would be alienating to many countries for the US to mobilize 16 million and occupy a bunch of countries and instead, the US should withdraw and allow diplomacy to change perceptions in the Middle East. Are these really the only alternatives? The US mobilized approximately 12% of the population during World War II, a proportion that would equal a force of 30 million today. Does Philip Gordon really think that if America had 30 million troops available to destroy terrorists around the world that United State’s security would decrease? Talk about a strong horse! However, such a mobilization would be achieved only at the cost of the American standard of living, and no one in the US is willing to do that. Instead, there is a middle ground between Gordon’s straw man of “total mobilization” and the feckless American diplomacy of the 30 years that preceded 9/11. That middle ground includes much of what is happening now. Pursuing terrorists where they are, supporting democrats where they exist and generally being the “strong horse.” Bin Laden would recognize that as a recipe for long term security even if Philip Gordon does not.

Freeman Jr., Chas. Arts of Power. Washington DC, 1997.

Weinbaum, Marvin G. “Afghanistan and Its Neighbors.” United States Institute of Peace Special Report (June 2006).

Bush, George. (March 8, 2005) “President Discusses War on Terror; National Defense University; Fort Lesley J. McNair.” Retrieved October 23, 2007 from

Gordon, Philip H. “Can the War on Terror Be Won?” Foreign Affairs; Nov/Dec 2007, Vol 86 Issue 6, pg 53-66

Friday, November 02, 2007

More Bateman

Sir, Your advice to readers to go back to Carnage and Culture is the most compelling counter to LTC Bateman's attack. I am not much of a student, but the thesis of the chapter on Cannae was pretty clear to me, and did not resemble the straw man that LTC Bateman constructed to argue against.

I tend to agree with your analysis that LTC Bateman's critique of you is "politically-driven, contracted-out journalism, and not intended to be serious historical examinations." This is ironic, given LTC Bateman's previous complaints about and disdain for poorly sourced history written to sell to an ignorant public. Pot, meet kettle.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Case For "Raw Deal"

It has the greatest line Arnold ever delivered. After his drunk wife throws her birthday cake at him, narrowly missing his head and instead hitting the wall, Arnold says: (wait for it) "You should not drink and bake."

Friday, October 26, 2007

Are democracy and human rights universal concepts?

Human rights and democracy are distinct concepts. In the Western mind, they are intertwined. A convenient shorthand for many Americans is that “human rights” include the ones mentioned prominently in the Declaration of Independence (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) and those enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The Declaration of Independence does not mention democracy and mentions elections only once. The writers of the declaration were much more concerned about the King’s affronts to their personal liberties and for ruling like a tyrant without concern for the effect of his rulings on those in the colonies. Likewise, the Constitution and Bill of Rights say very little about democracy or elections but quite a lot about the rights of individuals and states. It is not until the amendments that were passed in the 20th century to we have universal suffrage for all adults. The constitution only allows for men to vote for representatives to the House of Representatives. Senators were to be selected by the State Legislatures, which could themselves be constituted any way the states wanted. The President was to be selected by electors appointed to the task in the way that the state legislatures chose. The Constitution of the United States was written as if to exclude individuals from having a voice in government. On the other hand, the Bill of Rights was written to ensure that the individual was protected from the government.

As a practical matter, generations of Americans grew up confident in the protection of their rights, and confident in their ability to govern themselves. Though the framers of the constitution may have envisioned that the most educated and wise among us would somehow rise into positions of power, subsequent generations decided to write laws ensuring that the people themselves would vote for all legislative positions and many judicial positions. The American perception of human rights resulted in the people demanding more direct votes to express their democracy.

However, voting does not necessarily equate to democracy. The word democracy itself is from the Greek meaning “rule of the people.” The Athenian conception of democracy was that a select group, the “citizens,” free-born men, would rule the rest. This was essentially representative democracy in which all heads of families would represent everyone else in their households. Would this first version of democracy have met the UN standard? Well, no: Article 21, para (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.”

Given that the Athenians would not have met the UN definition of democracy, was Athens ruled by the people? The Athenians themselves thought so, as did their fellow Greeks. But given that their “democracy” did not meet the standards of Article 21, does that mean Athens was not a democracy? Rather than drilling down to paragraph (3) of Article 21, we should instead look at paragraph (1): “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. This paragraph seems closer to describing what most people would recognize as democracy.”

When democracy is defined as “rule of the people,” it is much easier to see democracy as a universal concept. The Papua New Guinea tribesman of last week’s readings whose tribal head serves in the legislature is “ruling”, even if he has never actually voted for that chief with a secret ballot. Clans in Iraq lead by sheiks representing their clan-members who have agreed to the succession of power, either overtly or tacitly. In both cases, what protects the “rule of the people” is the fate that would await a tribal leader who did not represent the rule of the people he represents. A canton President in Switzerland might face recall by the voters or indictment in court for malfeasance but a tribal chieftain risks death at the hands of his constituents should he fail them.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, the “rule by the people” is protected by the right to change the government. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” In other writings, he stated that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” So long as the people retain their rights and abilities to change their government, they are a democracy. Therefore, even though the American Colonists had immediately before been subjects of the British crown, when they declared independence, they immediately became a democracy.

Safeguarding human rights preserves a democracy and a democracy is needed to safeguard human rights. When a government must respect a people’s right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as the Declaration of Independence lists them, or life, liberty and security of person as the Universal Declaration puts it, then, those people have autonomy. Kathy Ward, in “Advancing Human Rights and Peace in a Complex World” puts it this way: “Democracy, a pillar of respect for the rights and value of each individual, remains key to obtaining lasting peace and a resolution to a number of scourges that face the world today, including terrorism, famine, corruption, and refugee flows.”

Even though the UN Universal Declaration recognizes democracy and human rights as the natural order of human relations, there are still agglomerations of countries that put out statements that contradict this position. 40 Asia governments states that they have something called "Asia's Different Standard," that recognizes "the principles of respect for national sovereignty...and noninterference in the internal affairs of States" and "discourages" "any attempt to use human rights as a conditionality for extending development assistance," and it gives special weight to collective (as opposed to individual) rights, such as the "right to development." (David Little, Human Rights East and West) Supposedly, Asian countries value to worth of the group more than the worth of the individuals.

In a similar vein, Arab countries are concerned that the Western and UN vision of human rights conflicts with Islam’s cultural and religious view of women. The UN’s Arab Human Development report of 2002, referenced in the USIP’s Special Report on Promotion Middle East Democracy, summed up the plight of women in the Islamic world: “As a result, the process of political liberalization has by-passed too many people. For example, in one country that has an elected national assembly, women are denied the right to hold office. In other countries, despite the legal equality of women and men in terms of political rights, women are greatly underrepresented in all political organizations. The proportion of women in Arab parliaments is low. ” (pg 106) The reason is that for cultural and religious reasons, women are not seen as the equal of men. The current Western concept of human rights for all including women means little to most on the Muslim side of the secular-Islamist divide.

Yet, the fact that there is little manifestation of recognized human rights in many countries in Asia and the Muslim world does not mean those rights are illusory. On the contrary, Asian and Muslim groups go to strained lengths to show how they agree with the concept of human rights, even if they do not put honor these rights in practice. Leszek Kolkowski quoted in the “Nature and Basis of Human Rights” sums the attitude in these non-Western cultures this way: “When we extend our generous acceptance of cultural diversity...and aver, e.g., that the human rights idea is a European concept, unfit for, and [not] understandable in, societies which share other traditions, is what we mean that Americans rather dislike being tortured and packed into concentration camps but Vietnamese, Iranians and Albanians do not mind or enjoy it?" Of course, representatives of governments in these non-Western Countries know the answer. Even the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2004 called for unfettered transfer of power and rights of both men and women to serve in parliament, things that they clearly do not believe. If, as Rochefoucauld states: "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue,” then so too is the Muslim conference statement that says Islamic countries must respect voting rights of their populations and the rights of women.

There is little real debate about the meaning of human rights and democracy. Though some cultures may not provide every person in that country a vote, countries can be “ruled by the people” if there is opportunity for the people to replace their local representative. With regard to human rights, even despots know that humans yearn for their rights to life liberty, happiness, and to rule themselves. This explains why despots must forcibly put down democracy demonstrations and mouth the language of human rights even though they have no intention of actually recognizing those rights.

I would argue that just because some people perpetrate despicable acts in a cultural context does not mean that those acts are right. Although this is a trite observation, the framers of the Declaration of Independence held slaves. Some cultures to this day still enslave members of other ethnic groups. Do these facts somehow argue against the idea that freedom from slavery is a basic human right? One can find many statements from religious and political leaders in the Islamic countries that condemn “honor” killing. Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan routinely prosecute “honor” killers. Just because criminals do things that the rest of the world considers violations of human rights does not mean these acts are alternatives to the Western vision of human rights, it just means those acts are crimes that must be prosecuted.

Regarding the universality of democracy, it depends on the definition of democracy. If you mean a Western style of government with universal adult suffrage and secret ballots, think you are right that some people who have never been exposed to those concepts would have a hard time imagining them. But if you define democracy as rule of the people, you would find that people relish the opportunity to rule themselves, in whatever form that rule takes. Do a thought experiment. If the Burmese were suddenly free of the ruling junta, would they yearn for its return? The answer is of course no. Chile and Argentina were rid of their juntas and established democracies. It is the natural order of things.

And I think you are exactly right about the despots wanting legitimacy by sitting on the UNHRC. These despots are applauded for their commitment to human rights. Meanwhile, sitting on the Council allows them to obfuscate their crimes and direct scrutiny away from themselves because these criminal despots know they are violating human rights.