Pedantry - Moved to

Thursday, February 20, 2003
The road to Zermatt

Timothy Garton Ash has an editorial in today's Guardian about Europe's failure in the current crisis. I find myself in substantial agreement with him that an Anglo-Franco-German common position could have been found and that it is the specific political failure of the elected leadership which is to blame. Had the UK been on board with inspections and UN resolutions from the beginning as a real alternative to war and had Schröder taken a more nuanced position, this might well all have worked. It's still possible that Bush would be going to war regardless, but it is unlikely that European institutions would be facing the damage they're taking now.

Three are mainly responsible: Schröder, Chirac and Blair. Whatever anyone says, Germany, France and Britain are the premier league of European foreign policy. There is no guarantee that where they lead others will follow, but if they don't lead together, others will certainly diverge.

As soon as the Bush administration put Iraq at the top of its foreign policy list last autumn, for its own very mixed reasons, the phone lines between Paris, Berlin and London should have started to hum. Knowing this was a test as much for Europe as it was for the west, the three team managers of Europe's premier league should have responded to Bush thus: "Yes, we agree that international terrorism and dictators with weapons of mass destruction are a grave threat to us all. If we want peace we must prepare for war. We are with you on that, shoulder-to-shoulder. And, yes, Saddam cannot be allowed to go on violating UN resolutions. But nor can Israel. Let us work together to disarm Saddam, but also for democratic reform in Iran and Saudi Arabia, and for a new settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. We in Europe have an even more direct interest in pacifying and democratising the Middle East than you do: we're right next door. So let's make this the next big transatlantic project."

If Blair on his own contributed (apart from many internal American influences) to bringing Bush down the UN route, how much more impact might a common European position have had? A European position, that is, that started from the premise that in dealing with a dictator such as Saddam, a united front of the democracies of America and Europe is essential. Otherwise, we call our own bluff.

Of course, this is all an intellectual exercise. Had Schröder not taken an anti-war position, he might not be Bundeskanzler and a conservative German government might be on Bushes side. In the end, could either Germany or France ever have relied on Blair to take a position directly against Washington, no matter how lunatic the American position might be? Three-sided alliances are notoriously unstable because it's always easier for two to gang up on the remaining one.

I don't see in the European press much reporting on the anti-UN, anti-NATO, nihilistic foreign policy of the Bush administration. If it was clear to people that Bush was willing - as he appears to be - to burn all America's bridges, I don't think a single government in Europe would back him. Preserving an alliance with America isn't worth anything if the American government simply disregards its allies.

It keeps getting worse for the war party. Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi are both pushing hard for a UN resolution before starting a war in Iraq. And Turkey is asking for a lot more money to play than the US is willing to shill out.

The bad news is that Chirac has managed to make an ass of himself towards eastern Europe. French diplomacy is usually a little more effective than this throwing weight around. However, what little I can get from the Bulgarian and Romainian press is fairly mixed. The BTA Press Review quotes an opposition leader criticising the Bulgarian government for taking a position too "hastily." The Romanian press in English isn't much better. Both seem to categorise Chirac's remarks as rude, beyond that it's hard for me to say. My opinion is that Chirac did shoot his mouth off and should take some flack for it. The French government is already retreating from Chirac's rhetoric.

The other eastern European states that have offered the US support have already been offered admission into the EU. The Czech English-language newspaper Prague Post is pretty divided on its editorial page. However, the news section makes it clear that the government is not fully on-board with Washington.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla was asked to sign the letter but refused, saying Parliament had already spoken when it passed a Jan. 17 resolution to use troops if the UN backed war or if Iraq uses weapons of mass destruction. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said Havel's decision was personal and did not reflect the official foreign policy of the Czech Republic. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexandr Vondra gave Havel the letter to sign without Svoboda's knowledge, according to a Feb. 1 report in the daily newspaper Pravo.

(Prague Post: Leaders sidestep letter on Iraq war, Feb 5

I have the impression that a lot of the political class in eastern Europe views NATO as at least as important an alliance as membership in the EU. Considering how much the current US government has done to undermine NATO, side-lining it in Afghanistan and burning so many bridges with its largest members, I think this is an ill-considered position. However, at least it makes some sense of what is going on. The opinion polls in the east are still majority anti-war, with only minorities (although much larger ones) supporting war even with a UN mandate.

At least this latest summit (summarised by the Beeb here) has papered over some of the differences. The ultimate declaration appears to support further inspections and disarmament, which is certainly not Bush's position. But the main target - at least reading the English press - was Chirac. And it's certainly no more than he deserves.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Today, I'm going to try to introduce a new feature to Pedantry. Every time I see a number assigned to some part of the cost of war with Iraq, I'm going to divide that number by the 72 million households in the US in order to determine the share each American taxpayer is being asked to pony up.

Some people, of course, will criticise this simple math because, naturally, taxes are not evenly distributed. People with more money pay more taxes. However, since the Bush administration uses exactly the same math to describe the effects of eliminating dividend taxes, I feel safe dismissing such critiques as sour grapes.

Today's cost is $32 billion. This is the amount in cash and loan guarantees that Turkey is demanding as the price of American use of Turkish territory in a war against Iraq, according to an article in today's New York Times. Washington is offering $26 billion.

The $32 billion is composed of $10 billion in cash and $22 billion in loan guarantees. The American offer is $6 billion in cash and $20 billion in loan guarantees. Loan guarantees means the US will loan that money to Turkey, or promise to cosign loans from private institutions for that money. Turkey will, therefore, get lower interest on those loans, but if they fail to pay (and I remind you, the Turkish economy is a mess, and since it's a very tourism dependent economy, war certainly won't help make it better) Uncle Sam is left holding the bag.

Let's break this down in terms of households. Under Washington's plan, the average American taxpayer is planning on giving Turkey $83.33 up front, and cosigning a loan for $277.78 to a country with a credit rating as bad as your constantly broke brother-in-law's. Turkey is insisting on getting $138.89 out of each American taxpaying household, and having you cosign a loan for $305.56.

Your war, your money. Would you whip out your checkbook and pay this much from your own bank account in bribes to Turkey?

Tuesday, February 18, 2003
The People's Democratic Republic of California

The New York Times has, since the 2000 election, begun to take notice of the sharp divides in American society. A number of articles over the last couple of years have highlighted the decline of uniform American cultural norms, and Paul Krugman has frequently harped on the disappearance of an American society where most people grew up and lived in the same class.

As far as I can recall, this article is the first I've seen to highlight the changes in California and suggest that they are distinct from the changes taking place elsewhere in America.

Still, regardless of whether it's up or down, California does appear to be straying further away from the American mainstream. It's getting harder to argue, as Wallace Stegner once did, that the state is just like the rest of the country, only more so. Indeed, if left to its own devices as a separate nation, California might well join France in resisting war with Iraq. It would surely sign on to global environmental initiatives that Washington has opposed.

The author only offers us a very superficial analysis of what is going on and why. Of course, a short NYT editorial is hardly the place for complexity, but I think he isn't really looking in the right places. First, he points to immigration, especially from Latin America, as a - if not the - major factor in the state's transformation. I'm ill-inclined to agree. Texas is as much the target of Mexican immigration as California, yet it does not distinguish itself in the same way. Asian immigration patterns are different in California, but this is not a factor which appears to weight heavily on the state.

Diversity does, perhaps, play a role. California is a place where you simply can not rely on your neighbours to share your religion, race, standards of beauty, TV watching habits, prefered cuisine or sexual preferences. Its past role as - to quote Trotsky - where the future is forged has made it a large and complex jurisdiction where every issue of social diversity is realised. The courts, the workplace, even the highways of California have become a stage where the soap opera of social change is played out, probably more so than any other state in the union.

I'm not, however, certain that this is what is separating California from the rest of America. These same conflicts shift, like clockwork, from California to the other major centres of American life. What is a controversy today in Calfornia is a made-for-TV movie tomorrow, and an accepted part of life in New York, Chicago, Denver, Boston, Seattle, even Texas the day after that. There are parts of America where these trends are resisted, and I am constantly surprised, after living for so many years in California, how much of America is neither tolerant nor diverse. But the basic tenets of Californian diversity - freedom of family structure, racial equality, individual dignity and institutions willing to support these things - are not terribly controvertial in America. There is a population, my off-the-cuff estimate is about 30%, that does not accept these ideas. It's certainly true that too much of American government panders to this minority because they hate these ideas more than their supporters love them.

That California really is different is something that's hard to debate. My wife - born in San Diego, raised exclusively in California - actually refers to herself as ethnically Californian, sometimes using the hyphenated Californian-American to identify herself. She is convinced that California is more different that the rest of the US than Canada is. (She's wrong, but like so many Americans has little real sense for how different Canada is.) Although my wife is perhaps more radically separatist than most, the idea that California is possessed of a "distinct society" is remarkably uncontrovertial, both among Californias and other Americans.

In the old days - before Ronald Reagan - American conservatives used to talk about "the left coast." But liberal politics is certainly not a very distinctive feature of California. The state is to the left relative of the American centre. As the NYT editorial tells us:

Still, regardless of whether it's up or down, California does appear to be straying further away from the American mainstream. It's getting harder to argue, as Wallace Stegner once did, that the state is just like the rest of the country, only more so. Indeed, if left to its own devices as a separate nation, California might well join France in resisting war with Iraq. It would surely sign on to global environmental initiatives that Washington has opposed.

It is not so much that California has moved left as that so much of the rest of America has moved right, and that the Republican party has not managed to build a party machine or convincing strategy on the West Coast.

So, just what forces are keeping California outside of the American mainstream? I'm increasingly interested in this myself. The Bush administration is clearly slighting California, and I get the impression that the national Republican party is abandonning the state altogether.

I guess I just don't know what is going on. I'm not as well travelled in America as I was when I was younger. I've only really seen the last decade in California. The press certainly won't tell you. Very little of the radical changes in America over the last 15 or so years have really been reflected in the American press. The Clinton administration may have only masked the underlying reality of a California moving in a different cultural and political direction from the rest of America.

For us Canadians, "distinct society" is a loaded word, referring to Quebec separatism. If Californians both feel different, and feel that the American state has ceased to serve their needs, there is the possibility of regional political disputes. In other countries, this often rises to the level of separatism. California is both very large and very trade dependent, and it is a net contributor to the Federal budget. If any part of the US could separate, it would be them.

Sunday, February 16, 2003
The Arab street awakens

Normally, I don't have any truck with clichés like "the Arab street", but Zvi Bar'el has some interesting things to say in this article.

When Samuel Huntington wrote his paper "Clash of Civilizations" in 1993, he could not have expected the collapse of his theory a decade later, when millions of "Western" demonstrators in New York, London, Paris and Berlin would come out carrying banners opposing war against an "Eastern" Islamic country.

Also collapsed is the theory of Islamists who say the war on Iraq is part of an evil crusade against Islam. Even they will now have to explain to their followers why the wine-drinking infidels are marching to prevent an attack against the cradle of Arab civilization.

The scenario of an international day of protests against war on Iraq - the "voice of the street" - was not on the list of Washington's war plans nor in the defense schemes of the Arab states. But even before the demonstrations began, the Blix report allowed the Arab leadership to take up a clear position in which they could side with Europe without fearing a clash with the United States.

Yesterday, as Arab Foreign Ministers gathered in Cairo to prepare a summit that will in all likelihood meet on February 22, it will be safe for all of them to adopt the European stance, which calls for more time for the inspectors and no unilateral action against Iraq outside the framework of the Security Council. This will allow public Arab support for the European stance on the war, something that has been sorely lacking in recent weeks.

"It is impossible that France, Russia, China and Germany are fighting for Iraq and the Arab states are sitting on the sideline, frightened and not knowing who to support," said the editorial in Al Quds Al Arabi, the daily published in London.

Indeed, it is hard to explain the size, scope and diversity of the anti-war movement within the framework of a simplistic and reductive model of international politics. Even I am finding it difficult to sustain my usual level of cynicism about international politics in the face of recent events.

Le Figaro covers the same Arab summit, but emphasises the differences of opinion:

Les pays arabes réunis ce week-end au Caire face à la crise irakienne ont lancé des messages divergents, certains réclamant plus de temps pour les inspecteurs de l'Onu, d'autres tenant Saddam Hussein pour seul susceptible d'éviter la guerre, au besoin par l'exil.

However, reading further you can easily come to a different conclusion. Kuwait and Bahrein are pressing for Saddam to go into exile:

"Le miracle doit provenir de l'intérieur de l'Irak, soit avec le départ du régime irakien, soit que quelque chose se produise en Irak", a déclaré le chef de la diplomatie koweïtienne Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, réuni samedi au Caire avec les ministres des affaires étrangères ou représentants des 21 autres membres de la Ligue arabe.

Il convient d'"appeler les frères arabes à expliquer avec franchise à l'Irak le sérieux de la situation", a pour sa part déclaré le roi de Bahrein Hamad ben Issa Al-Khalifa, dans une déclaration à Manama avant l'ouverture des travaux du Caire.

Commencées samedi soir par une réunion consultative, les consultations des ministres arabes devaient se poursuivre dimanche.

"Si aujourd'hui les Arabes ne conseillent pas à l'Irak, sincèrement et d'une seule voix, de ne pas se laisser aller à de fausses interprétations (des intentions de Washington), nous craignons que cela (une nouvelle frappe) ne se reproduise", a conclu le roi de Bahrein.

Ces mises en garde n'ont pas étonné, de la part de deux pays du Golfe qui accueillent des milliers de soldats américains, susceptibles de participer à une invasion de l'Irak. Ils s'écartent pourtant nettement de ceux du secrétaire général de la Ligue arabe, Amr Moussa, qui estimait vendredi que les rapports des inspecteurs en désarmement avaient "mis en évidence la coopération croissante entre l'Irak et les inspecteurs".

"Il faut donner une chance aux inspecteurs et aussi (donner) la chance au gouvernement irakien de désarmer conformément à la résolution (1441) du Conseil de sécurité de l'Onu", avait insisté M. Moussa.

Bahrein and Kuwait are the countries with the largest US troop deployments, and are thus hesitant to back a peaceful resolution. The Secretary-General of the Arab League, however, is quite unambiguously in favour of continued inspections, as is Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.

Also, we learn that the state press in Egypt is flogging an Arab League offer of secure exile to Saddam, followed by elections organised by the Arab League. Now, if they actually got away with this, it would be a real coup. The Arab League's relevance would be assured, and it would undermine US policy in the region.

Zvi Bar'el's article leads us to think the Arab states will make a clear statement in favour of the French/German/Russian/Chinese position in the next few days. This would represent a huge shift in power in the middle east, with Arab states rejecting Washington in favour of Paris and Berlin. This begins to cut to the heart of matters: oil and Israel. The EU is a far larger consummer of middle eastern oil that the US, and it would be terribly damaging for America if oil was priced in Euros, as well as more or less guaranteeing the Euro as the global reserve currency. It would also sideline the US in the Israeli conflict. If America can no longer deliver compliance in the Arab world, but the EU can, Israel will have lost a major battle on the international scene.

No matter how you cut it, it appears - although it is still far from certain - that the Bush administration has taken a major setback in the last few days and things seem to be getting worse for them.

Tony Blair's speech yesterday explicitly says Britain will give the inspectors more time:

I continue to want to solve the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction through the UN. Dr Blix reported to the UN yesterday and there will be more time given to inspections.

It seems unlikely that Blair would have said this if he though Bush was going to go to war right away.

Belgium will try to resolve the disagreements in NATO with a compromise resolution Monday that appears likely to pass:

BRUSSELS, Feb. 15 -- Belgium offered a compromise today to end a bitter dispute within NATO over providing military aid to Turkey in advance of a possible war against Iraq.

Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said Belgium, France and Germany would endorse a U.S. proposal for such help if NATO makes clear the aid is defensive in nature and if the aid is not seen as making the alliance a participant in war preparations against Iraq.

(from Belgium Offers Compromise on NATO Dispute, Washington Post)

Friday's inspections report at the UN was definitely a failure for Bush. Even the regularly compliant Washington Post could hardly miss it.

The Bush administration went into yesterday's U.N. Security Council meeting believing it was poised to shift the chamber's attention from diplomacy toward imminent war against Iraq. Instead, it was hit by demands for more time and more talk.

Following a glass half full-half empty assessment of Iraqi cooperation by chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, country after country declared that even if Iraqi behavior was still far from acceptable, enough progress had been made to warrant extending the inspection effort. A number of countries whose votes the administration thought it had pocketed joined those calling for council unity and patience.

American diplomacy is so widely distained that, once again, even the largely compliant American press hasn't missed the story:

Months of painstaking efforts by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to win international consensus for military action against Iraq have been complicated by a growing resentment over what many foreign diplomats regard as the Bush administration's heavy-handed and bullying tactics over the past two years.

Those tensions boiled over at the Security Council on Friday to a degree rarely seen in the U.N. chamber. Although Iraq's cooperation with weapons inspectors was the official subject at hand, U.S. behavior became an important subtext of the debate as the audience broke U.N. rules and applauded French and Russian demands that the rush to war be slowed down.

(from Forceful Tactics Catch Up With U.S.)

In fact, the same article points to American - and sometimes pro-war - voices now critical of Bushes failed dipolmacy:

But Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter, said this attitude is shortsighted. "A united Europe is a more serious partner for the United States," he said. "To have a splintered Europe with by far the weakest part of Europe on our side, is that a bargain?"

Brzezinski said that even in countries that have pledged support, "in not a single one is public opinion in favor of a solitary war." He said "this enormous gap in outlook" is the result of conviction overseas that "disarmament is essentially a charade for removal of Saddam" Hussein.

Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute, said there is "a lot of room for criticism on how they've [the administration] sold their case," especially in not making enough effort to swing public opinion overseas. But she said many analysts were misinterpreting the roots of the dispute.

Add to this the deteriorating credibility of the Bush administration, with its plainly false efforts to paint Iraq as in league with terrorists. And the protests yesterday seriously strike at the notion that the American public can be kept in line by a compliant "yellow" press. If this kind of action becomes a regular feature on the world scene, the press will eventually turn against the administration, or else the public will turn against the press.

The next few days will tell. The US seems hesitant to start a war in the heat of summer. Various commentators point to mid-March as about the latest that the US dares start an attack. Otherwise, they will have to wait until fall.