Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Campaign by Proxy0

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday April 18, 2007 at 2:06 pm)

Attacking your opponent with unfavorable comparisons is a long-standing tradition. Why is it so popular? Simple — having to prove that what someone does is wrong takes far more time and effort than alleging that they act like others with reputations for doing things that are wrong.

The Liberals had a policy, for some time now of anti-Americanism as campaign fodder, especially concentrated on painting the Conservatives as pro-US lackeys in the 2006 campaign, as Canadians deepened their antipathy for the US government. Moderately successful as a last-minute tactic in June of 2004, it was significantly less successful in January of 2006.

But merely alleging a parallel and parallel action are two different things, as the Liberals have now realized. Taking the lead from their purported southern siblings, the Democratic Party, the Liberals will present a motion to require the government to serve NATO allies with Canadian plans for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The political value of which rests on two foundations:

  • The average Canadian likely has trouble distinguishing between the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (and some who can would not separate the two) . As a result, outrage over the situation in Iraq bleeds effortlessly over into Canadians’ impressions of the Afghan mission, particularly considering the dominant amount of airtime the former receives. Every report of Canadian casualties is measured in the context of the conflict they’re not engaged in. Small wonder that, absent any convincing explanation of Canadians’ purpose there (humanitarianism being no less vague than security), the public is closely split on whether the sacrifices are worthwhile.

    In that context, a motion to get out of Afghanistan is pretty much like a motion to get out of Iraq, and the Liberals hope to capitalize on that sentiment. The difference between this motion and earlier efforts is simple: this isn’t about saying no to being there, it’s about ending being there. The latter doesn’t look as negative, and isn’t an instance of saying “no” to foreign allies or badmouthing the mission the Liberals previously approved. Hence, no charges of hypocrisy.

  • Just as importantly, the motion is reminiscent of the Democrats’ bill down south. Not only does that give it the anti-Bush sheen the Liberals have loved to portray, it also rides on the coattails of coverage of that bill. Free publicity is free publicity, and there’s no reason to turn it down.

Just how the government will respond to the motion isn’t quite clear as yet. There’s every chance the motion will be backed by the other parties in the House, so defeating it isn’t likely to be a real option.

But, these more obvious points aside, it’s welcome to see that the Liberals are at last finding common ground with Canada’s largest economic partner and nearest ally.

Iran Ahoy!0

Posted by JJ in Strategic Planning, Crossroads of Culture (Thursday March 29, 2007 at 2:19 pm)

How fortunate for Iran that just as the United Nations Security Council agreed on a resolution against its nuclear efforts, a group of British sailors wandered into their territorial waters. Possibly. It’s the perfect way to focus global attention on someone else’s alleged aggression.

No one has asserted, thus far, that the trespass was intentional. This leads to only one possible conclusion: someone was misdirected. But whom?

The Sailors?
Possibly. It’s plausible that a group of sailors on a small vessel drifted out of position or got things wrong. The British have released GPS data placing the ship within Iraqi waters.
The Iranians?
Possibly. After all, they did change their story early on:

A map with coordinates that Iran provided on Saturday “turned out to confirm [the sailors] were in Iraqi waters,” and Iraq has supported that position, Style said.

Iran later provided a second set of coordinates on Monday that placed the vessel inside Iranian waters, Style said. Those coordinates placed the ship “over two nautical miles” from the position shown by the HMS Cornwall and confirmed by the merchant vessel the British personnel had boarded when captured.

So clearly, they were misdirected at some point.

But who was really misdirected? Consider: misdirection is one of the key skills in magic.

And where do mages come from? If you said Iran, you’d be right.

Great Arguments — The Tyrant’s Tirade0

The Frosty Wonk’s primary line of work is political analysis, not rhetoric. But the cut-and-thrust of modern debate demands some effort at unraveling its arguments.

Today’s guest, Rock Samson, has coached prizewinning fighters in twelve disciplines since his discharge from an undisclosed paramilitary group. This makes him uniquely qualified to discuss questions of conflict; and he has agreed to offer his valuable services as a regular commentator on debating technique and argumentation.

Today, we’ll be discussing this piece, in which Gary Kamiya, Salon editor, recycles his own work from 2005 on the conflict in Iraq.

Rock: Wonk, Kamiya’s angry. The war’s ragin’ and he’s mad as a bear in a trap that nobody’s bitchin’ about it.

Wonk: But Rock, people are complaining. He’s complaining, isn’t he? There are protests all the time.

Rock: Not enough, Wonk. A few thousand protesters can’t gum up the works the way Kamiya wants. He’s lookin’ for an all-out brawl with the big boys — streets choked with men and women until the President cracks.

Wonk: Why does he think that’s likely to happen?

Rock: It’s gotta. Kamiya knows that any sane person wants to fight against the war with everything it takes.

Wonk: So why don’t they?

Rock: They don’t know what’s good for ‘em. If they were payin’ attention and had all the facts, they’d all agree with him.

Wonk: Is that what he means when he writes that:

It is too late to stop the fatal endgame of Bush’s war. But at least we can honor those who have died in that war, Iraqis and Americans alike, by refusing to look away from their deaths.

Rock: Right on. He knows that if you’re payin’ attention to the deaths, you’re against the war.

Wonk: But isn’t it possible for people to come to different conclusions based on the same facts?

Rock: Not if they’re usin’ their brains. That’s what rational thinkin’s for! There’s only one answer to any question. If you plug the right facts in, you’ll get the right answer. There’s just no other way.

Wonk: But reason doesn’t work that way. It’s not the same thing as logic — reasonable people can differ over the same things.

Rock: Kamiya’s not buyin’ that. Reason only has one answer — his; and he’s goin’ to the wall for it.

Wonk: So why does he bother to assume that people are reasonable?

Rock: Flatters ‘em. Check out Aristotle some time, Wonk, he explains why that matters.

Wonk: And if he claimed that people were incapable of coming to the right conclusion, he’d effectively be pointing to a problem with democracy, wouldn’t he? If people aren’t capable of coming to the right notion, then there’s a strong justification for excluding them from most kinds of decision-making.

Rock: Hold on there, ’cause you’ll love the rest. If everybody’s reasonable, and reason always gives the same answer on the same facts, then he’s got dynamite proof that folks don’t know the facts — they disagree with him! That makes his claim righter.

Wonk: I don’t think you can use that word that way.

Rock: ‘Proof’? Sure you can.

Wonk: Alright. So Kamiya’s argument says that people would complain if they knew what was going on, and that we know they don’t know what’s going on because they aren’t complaining.

Rock: You got it.

Wonk: How does he know that he’s the one who’s right? Isn’t everyone going to come to the same conclusion and justify it the same way?

Rock: Sure they could, but he knows his argument against the war’s right. So now, he’s got to explain why other folks don’t agree.

Wonk: So this is really a frustrated outburst? A temper tantrum?

Rock: Right.

Wonk: But if he thinks he’s right, why is he bothered by the fact that others disagree?

Rock: It’s a serious issue, Wonk. He’s sure that if enough people agreed, they’d be able to end the war!

Wonk: So the fact that he wants this to happen by convincing the public demonstrates his commitment to democratic principles?

Rock: Probably.

Wonk: But the idea that there can be only one right answer for any reasonable person is profoundly undemocratic! It’s authoritarianism applied to thinking! It’s tyranny!

Rock: Not no more it ain’t, Wonk. Not no more it ain’t.

Nothing Doing0

Posted by JJ in The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday January 10, 2007 at 7:36 pm)

And the Democrats’ strategy to win in Iraq is off, with an unsurprising play!

Senator Kennedy (you know the one) is set to block President Bush’s plan to send an additional 20,000 US troops to Iraq. Notwithstanding that this comes at least three years after more troops were needed, the first move of the new Congressional leadership will ironically be to keep the President from changing things in Iraq.

Ironic, because that’s what we call “staying the course”, a strategy championed by President Bush barely three years ago; but one since abandoned in the face of a profound attack of common sense.

So why would the Democrats want to “stay the course”? Simple.

Let’s assume, just for a moment, that there is no real solution to the US’s problems in Iraq which can be implemented between now and the next Presidential inauguration (January 2009).

If so, then whether the Democrats have such a solution or not, implementing it now won’t help them win the next set of elections (one with a Presidential race and everything!) Moreover, fixing things now just might help the President look better, which eliminates the anti-Republican fervour they’re hoping will help carry Middle America over to their side.

Better by far, then, to stop him from doing much of anything, especially when it’s something as unpopular as the possibility of more American troops exposed to dangerous conditions. The longer he stays the course, the better they look as an alternative; and if they can keep passing laws to make that happen, they look like they’re actually doing something at the same time. Not half bad.

Stay the course, Big Teddy, stay the course.

Crystal Gazing 20070

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, The Elephant, A House Divided, Trillium, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday December 31, 2006 at 6:06 pm)

The Flash-Frozen Wonk isn’t really in the prediction racket. This is a house of analysis, not divination. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to think about it.

What that means is watching stories; and there are a few big ones in the coming year:

Tack to the Middle
Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper shift to dealing with middle-class ambitions in the coming year? Will that be enough to contain the opposition in a ring of suburban Tory strongholds?
Middle East
Does the US Democratic party have any way to impact the Iraqi situation? Will they bother to try, given the possibility that any improvement could still be claimed as a victory by the Republican administration?
East of Ontario
Will Quebec’s Premier get something worthwhile out of a federal government eager to secure its inroads in La Belle Province? Will the recent boost in Liberal fortunes prove as temporary as the economic boost from their convention?
Ontario at the Hustings
A government whose blunders (Health Premium) are long-behind them is headed to the polls. Will any issue large enough to rile Ontarians crop up to ruin Premier Dalton McGuinty’s hopes of a second majority?

That’s more than enough for one year, and far too much for one night. Here’s looking to the future, and a great New Year.

Then and Now0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday December 6, 2006 at 9:30 am)

As Canadian soldiers gripe about the public’s misunderstanding of the Afghan mission, opposition defence critic, Ujjal Dosanjh thinks he knows how things got so messed up:

Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh blamed the information vacuum on the Conservatives and their policy of muzzling ministers and officials.
“I have the utmost respect for Gen. Fraser, the work he’s done, and I understand his frustration,” said Dosanjh. “But it’s really up to the government to provide information. And they have not been providing that information.”
Opposition MPs and senators — especially parliamentary defence committees — have “fought tooth and nail” to be briefed on the latest goings on in Afghanistan, he said.

And as the Harper government is well-known for its incommunicado policy, that sounds just about plausible.

But hold on, hasn’t it been only two months since the opposition was confidently assuring Canadians that the mission lacked the very humanitarian efforts which General Fraser now insists are going on? If the opposition wants to blame public misapprehension on the lack of information, how did it come to its own conclusions? Could it be that the opposition’s claims were then as they appeared to be — a disingenuous decision to spread false news rather than inform Canadians?

But don’t take that too heavily to heart. If, as Mr. Dosanjh suggests, it’s the government’s job to inform the public, perhaps the opposition is left with no role to play but to mislead it.

Disingenuity on Focus0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday October 29, 2006 at 10:48 am)

It was inevitable that protests against the Canadian mission to Afghanistan would follow a rise in casualties and the first well-publicised Canadian military action in decades. Was it inevitable that casualties would lead to intentional obfuscation?

It began with former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s critique of the mission:

“You can’t win the military war if you can’t win the hearts and minds of the people,” Martin said.

He said that he approved what military planners refer to as the “3-D” approach to the mission: diplomacy, defence and development.

“We are doing the defence,” Martin said. “In fact, we are doing the defence quite aggressively — and you can’t do it passively.

“But are we doing the amount of reconstruction, the amount of aid that I believe was part of the original mission? The answer unequivocally is that we’re not. And I believe that we should.”

Timed brilliantly to follow the loss of four Canadian soldiers to a suicide bomber while handing out aid on a tour of the southern region. Let alone that these deaths were suffered while doing what Martin claimed wasn’t being done. The attack, plainly designed to make the population fearful of Canadian aid-givers would surely be unnecessary if Canadians weren’t providing aid, would it?

But that assertion of a misguided mission is the position opponents are flocking to. In this corner, we have Jack Layton, NDP Leader, repeating the mantra of “unbalance”:

[The mission is] not well constructed, it’s unbalanced, we’re putting 10 times as much into the military side as we are into aid, and we now have famine and real problems spreading in Afghanistan,

In truth, there was a famine going on in Afghanistan before the invasion. Besides which, when the military is the body delivering aid, isn’t it disingenuous to suggest that you can separate its budget from the aid budget for comparison? How much of that “military side” is money spent on aid?

If you’re appealling to quick emotional reaction (whether anti-war or anti-Bush), that’s the kind of question you don’t want people to ask. Which is why the crucial element is suggesting that the mission’s mandate is either to carry out purely American ends or uncertain:

Brian Mason, who leads Alberta’s NDP, said military families in the province often look for “some really good reason why they’re involved in what they’re doing.

“But, I think that increasingly, some of them are starting to question why their loved ones are over there.”

This goes so far, in some cases, as to be an out-and-out lie:

Contrary to endless misleading stories in the mainstream media, the Canadian mission in Afghanistan is NOT a NATO mission, nor has it been specifically authorized by the UN. It is, in fact part of the American Operation Enduring Freedom begun in 2001. (My source? The Canadian Department of National Defense:…_e.asp?id=1703 )

A quick trip to the cited source reveals the following:

More than 2000 members of the Canadian Forces (CF) are in Afghanistan today at the request of the Afghan Government, most of them as part of the UN-Sanctioned NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF) mission

So why fight so hard to obfuscate the mission? After all, anyone interested in finding out more about the mission’s professed aims and objectives could do so by a simple check on NATO information? Is this a Michael-Moore style “fight disinformation with disinformation” campaign? Do Canadians really not bother to check on the most elementary of claims by their would-be leaders?

Don’t answer that last one, you might cry.

That this approach would profess to spring from genuine concern is especially baffling when it could so easily shift to something real from straw men and misdirection. As a former US soldier put it at a protest in Toronto:

We refuse to participate in an illegal and immoral war under the guise of freedom,

A position which requires more. Why is it illegal to be in Afghanistan? Why is it immoral to do what NATO is doing there? To adopt such a position would require informing Canadians and engaging them in real debate. But that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be on some to-do lists.

Andre of Arabia0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, All Politics, Crossroads of Culture (Friday October 6, 2006 at 8:37 am)

The Maginot line of fortifications has achieved such cultural cachet that ever more perplexing references to it come with little explanation. One might therefore imagine that its lessons for tacticians and strategists are scarcely worth mentioning.

What, then, to make of Saudi Arabia’s plan to defend itself from potential spillover of the Iraqi conflict with a fence along the nations’ mutual border?

Has Saudi Intelligence forgotten that they also border Jordan? Will Syria and Jordan implement similar controls, or will it be their fate to play the low countries to the Saudi’s France? Will those who fail to learn from history be doomed to repeat it?

See Iran’s Totally Rad Rods0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday October 4, 2006 at 2:57 pm)

The volley from Ahmadinejad’s Iran has a familiar ring to it. They won’t let UN nuclear inspectors examine Iranian research facilities, but they will let tourists wander through their power plants. After all, no one inspects things as thoroughly as random tourists.

This move will doubtless bring full exposure to such burning problems as whether female scientists must wear burqas at work, whether power plants are wheelchair-accessible, and how much hot dogs cost at the Bushehr facility’s snack bar. And of course, debriefing exercises will probably shed much-needed light on the peaceful use of nuclear arms:

INTEL AGENT: “Were they using nuclear material for weapons development?”

FANNYPACK-PACKING TOURIST: “Well, we didn’t see any missiles or anything. They had some fellas in white coats, but that’s about it.”

STRAW HAT-WEARING TOURIST: “Oh, and they showed us the rods, honey. Remember those rods?”

FPT: “I was getting to that, Bernice. Yeah, there were some rods in this big thing behind glass.”

IA: “This is important, folks, I need to you try to remember carefully. Did the rods or anything around you look enriched?”

FPT: “Well, I wouldn’t say they looked enriched. They did ask us not to use tripods, though.”

SHWT: “They said you could use one, Frank. You were just too cheap to pay for the pass!”

CHILD TOURIST: “I got a hat!”

The world can rest easy — the cream of human investigators are on the case.

Iran’s President has decided that a coordinated PR campaign is a way to garner public support and undermine the authority of those opposing him. In the face of continuing domestic problems, he not only needs to focus on generating external threats (see Chavez, Hugo), but to get help from outside to do it.

The question remains: will his efforts be as effective in achieving popular respect as those of his obvious model?

The Wrong Right0

Posted by JJ in Hats Off, Gentlemen, Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Tuesday October 3, 2006 at 8:22 pm)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others’ calls for the restaging of Idomeneo by the Berlin German Opera Company are absolutely right. The edition to be staged, including a scene with the severed heads of several religious leaders, was cancelled over fears of violence from Muslim extremists (despite the fact that a previous staging in 2003 resulted in no such incidents). But by focusing on the threat to free expression, those fighting for liberal rights have ignored the legitimate foundation of Muslims’ complaint, and revealed that the real problem in this case and others isn’t expression — it’s conscience.

Of course there are some in the Muslim world exploiting these issues to sow fear of aWestern plot against Islam, those threats belong, with others, in the “to be ignored” pile. Blackmail begets blackmail, and as Chancellor Merkel and others have rightly observed, succumbing to the threat of violence is the surest way to magnify that threat.

The legitimate concern is harder to dismiss. For many Muslims, it is wrong to depict the prophet Mohammed. Hence, in some paintings and illustrations of Koranic tales, Mohammed is veiled (of course, the practice isn’t universal). Those Muslims who object to such depiction may genuinely be offended by such works as this version of Idomeneo.

The first response is the right one — liberal society doesn’t protect anyone from mere offence. Still, appeals to religious tolerance may demand forebearance.

Those are wrong in the most fundamental sense. The essence of religious tolerance in Western society stems from State persecution aimed at enforcing uniform behaviour. Faith became a major contention when Protestants broke from the Catholic Church; and rulers across Europe were often brutal in their efforts to impose the “right” choice on their subjects.

Queen Elizabeth’s response was typical of her clarity of insight:

I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.

In ten words, the crux of that most cherished of liberal values: the freedom of the conscience. We may be required to do many things, and punished for many others, but the State cannot justify either command or condemnation by the need to control what we believe. It is from this fundamental principle that the right to religious belief, tolerance, and worship are born.

And this is the problem with calls for non-Muslims to respect Muslim practice. Religious tolerance means allowing those with beliefs to hold them, not requiring non-believers to do the same or, what is worse, act only in conformity with others’ beliefs.

This is the real threat to rights — not that to expression, which is always bounded by considerations of balance and propriety. It is the threat to freedom of conscience posed by allowing religious belief and practice to be imposed on nonbelievers for the sake of believers.

There remains the problem of offensiveness. When you know something will be offensive, there must surely be extra consideration. Common courtesy demands that we not allow ourselves to recklessly or cheaply offend others. But that is no matter for government, as those who attacked Danish embassies did not understand. Policing morals no more befits a state than threats of violence do deep religious feeling.

There may be no more fundamental right than this: the right to a conscience free to find its own way. We check our expressions daily, biting our tongues over harsh words, letting others take the spotlight, refraining from merely adding our agreement to a chorus, or ending a discussion with discretion. But our minds are not so easily checked, and often run on once our words run dry.

We can therefore tolerate the occasional attack on what we say, all in the name of sociability. But our freedom to believe — no matter how casually threatened — is too precious to yield.

A World in Need of a Word, Indeed0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Monday September 18, 2006 at 11:41 pm)

Encore une fois, chers lecteurs, it is I, Dr. Glaucon Equipoise, humble handmaid to hale and hearty rhetoric. It is rare that either you or I find ourselves at a loss for words. So, under the circumstances, I thought it only right to call on my good friend, the Hard-Rimed Wonk, to indulge us all.

I noticed, recently, that the Wonk had described a certain spiritual leader’s remarks as hypocritical. Being somewhat hyper-critical of poor word use, I sat down to rack my adjective-riddled mind for a better choice. A cursory glance at the meaning of hypocrisy should explain the origins of my conundrum:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behaviour does not conform; pretense.

Which is plainly inadequate to describe the real rhetorical sin in question:

Knowingly and falsely ascribing to another the fault which, in your act of ascription, you reveal yourself to have.

True, meine freunde, one engaged in such shameful dialogue may well be a hypocrite; but this is not necessarily true. After all, such a one has neither necessarily denied that the fault is a fault nor denied that they are faulty themselves.

While the focus of hypocrisy is self-conflicting behaviour, the focus here is on condemning others. What is more, in this scenario the claim is patently false and, consequentially, either fraudulent or foolish. A hypocrite need not say anything of others, nor is their professed standard necessarily false. It is that their behaviour is self-contradictory, which may arise from fraudulence or from forgetfulness; and the only party truly tainted is the hypocrite himself.

It is a thing of this sort that concerns me so:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said recent remarks by the Pope on Islam were in line with what he called a “crusade” against Muslims.
The background to the controversy, he said, was the “wish of powers whose survival depends on creating crises”.
. . .
Ayatollah Khamenei said the remarks by Pope Benedict XVI last Tuesday were the “latest link” in “the chain of a conspiracy to set in train a crusade”.

The Pope’s remarks were ably referenced by the Wonk in the article I cited above. Since those remarks were in specific condemnation of all violence committed in the name of religion, claiming that they are part of a conspiracy to incite a religious war is a form of nonsense reasonable only to those who have not read the speech and those who wish to believe in spite of what they know. Augustine’s thought on the relationship between the two was different, and has so far proven the more durable approach.

The Ayatollah’s remarks were made by a religious leader who depends on the continued presence of external threats (the Shah, Iraq, and the Great Satan) to maintain an iron grip on political power and the ideology of his countrymen.

For all these reasons, hypocrisy does not suffice. Words, we cruelly see, fail us.

But we need not fail ourselves, and I turn to that for comfort. I suggest that the repeated appearance of this practice demands that it be named. For which, thanks to the Wonk, I have an avenue of hope.

I propose that we develop a word suitable for the purpose. “Projection”, a term used in psychology, is too neutral and closely bound up with personality to be truly useful for the purpose, but could serve as a useful base. So might hypocritical, if suitably “pimped”. A few preliminary thoughts:

Too cute at first, but is the adjectival “extrojerkic” not more satisfyingly technical?
It captures the sense of falsehood and projection, but does it trip lightly from the tongue?
Not without precedents, but should the word suggest that he was the progenitor?
Seldom can I play with Attic roots — Grazie, Wonk.
Why not?

Feel free, by way of the Wonk’s commentary facilities, to judge or add your own. I suspect that with your considerable skills, an answer lies close at hand. To comment, simply click the number to the right of this article’s title.

Until we meet again, O Readers of Wonkisms, bear in mind the words of Antonio Porchia:

What words say does not last. The words last. Because words are always the same, and what they say is never the same.*

*Voces, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

Power or Faith0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday September 15, 2006 at 11:20 pm)

Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture this week on reason and faith had a barb in its tail. To introduce the problem of violence committed in the name of faith, he quoted a 14th century document, translated by Adel Theodore Khoury, a serious scholar of Christian/Muslim relations. In the document, the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus contended that Islam added nothing positive to the faiths which had inspired it.

Naturally, this kicked off protests and the kind of spontaneous demonstrations which show precisely how poorly the general population of the Muslim world appreciates the Pope’s influence (and how much attention gets paid to his many speaking engagements) and how eager their leaders are to maintain unity through external threats:

“This is a new crusade against the Arab Islamic world. It comes in different forms, in cartoons or lectures … they hate our religion,” Ismail Radwan, a local Hamas official, told the rally.

Which shows precisely how committed Mr. Radwan is to bringing the Pope’s words to his people. After all, what speech condemning violence in the name of religion isn’t a call for a crusade?

But it’s precisely this utterly unselfconscious approach to one’s own words that lies at the heart of the just condemnation of what the Pope said:

“One would expect a religious leader such as the pope to act and speak with responsibility and repudiate the Byzantine emperor’s views in the interests of truth and harmonious relations between the followers of Islam and Catholicism,” said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the [British Muslim Council’s] secretary-general.

One can’t naively believe that the uncritical use of such remarks, however incidental, is acceptable — the more so because they were incidental. The use of that particular quotation was not crucial to the point, however much it was the quotation that set the Pope to thinking on the subject. Had he merely mentioned the document and left off there, it seems unlikely that any of the few hundred attending the lecture at the University of Regensburg would have bothered to look up the reference and consider the possibility of its being offensive. After all, it was likely the media coverage pointing out the potential problems with the speech which drew attention to it in the first place (no complaints were voiced until a full two days had passed, one day after the first stories appeared). It seems unlikely that Hamas officials and Iraqi Imams make a routine practice of scrutinizing encyclicals.

But Mr. Radwan’s response is hardly better. If he believes it, he hasn’t read the speech; and that bodes ill. If he doesn’t believe it, there’s a serious problem of unselfconscious misrepresentation — a disappointing sign of deceptive techniques for exploitation following so closely on promising undertakings in the genuine interest of the Palestinian people.

Still, the prize for self-interested disregard for inherent inconsistency must go to Iraqi Sheik Abdul-Kareem al-Ghazi:

“The pope and Vatican proved to be Zionists and that they are far from Christianity, which does not differ from Islam. Both religions call for forgiveness, love and brotherhood.”

And Sheik al-Ghazi proved to be closer to the pope he envisions than to love and brotherhood. After all, bigotry is bigotry, and “Zionist” as an epithet can only produce this kind of hypocrisy from those who value their own power over forgiveness, peace, and faith in the divine.

Doomed if You Do, Doomed if You Don’t0

Posted by JJ in By other means. . ., Crossroads of Culture (Saturday August 26, 2006 at 12:59 am)

Syria’s latest foray into Lebanese politics ought to send shivers up the spine of history buffs. Why? The striking parallels with the first and only opponent the United Nations has ever unequivocally sought to “finally destroy”: Nazi Germany.

No, this isn’t some over-the-top claim that Syria is as bad as Nazi Germany, whatever that means; and it shouldn’t encourage presposterous comparisons with Hitler. It’s not even a call to draw attention to the relationship between the Ba’athist regime in Syria and Nazi Germany (though that should be required research for regional commentators).

What it is about is the connection between the present situation and one of Nazi Germany’s earliest aggressive acts: the Rhineland Crisis.

The Rhineland, a German region bordering France, had been set aside as a demilitarized zone under the Treaty of Versailles and confirmed as such by Germany in the more voluntary Locarno Pact. In 1936, small numbers of German troops were moved into the Rhineland. Despite French protests and calls for military force to drive out the as-yet-smaller German army, the League of Nations preferred negotiation, leading ultimately to a promise of peace, and the reality of World War II.

But wait, cry the eager historians! Syria claims that the UN presence would be hostile! Isn’t he France here, and the UN Germany, moving potentially agressive forces into what should be a demilitarized zone?

Ah, but things go back farther still. It was, after all, the Irano-Syrian supported Hezbollah that moved troops and armaments into the area, rather than allowing the Lebanese government to take control of itself or its own territory (and continue to support that state of affairs). Those countries’ interest in fighting a war by proxy (see privateer) meant the movement and use of weapons through Lebanon, a country Syria had been dominating since its devastating Civil War.

So it was largely Syria’s support of Hezbollah both as a proxy for its war with Israel (officially in ceasefire) and as a suitable surrogate for their decreasingly-valid ADF presence in Syria (ended only recently, and that after Hezbollah had achieved domestic political authority, obviating the main rationale for a Syrian presence). Which means that Hezbollah, carrying Syrian hopes, is the occupier of the Rhineland.

There is no precedent for what UN resolution 1701 proposes in the Rhineland Crisis. It is, simply, what France demanded and failed to get in 1936 (which makes France’s present reaction all the more perverse, except, perhaps, as jilted spite). And what Syria vaguely threatens may well be worth remembering: a deployment actually trying to disarm Hezbollah could bring war, not peace to the region. But it’s worth wondering: how much of a fuss could Hitler have righteously kicked up had the League of Nations called him on things? Does Syria really have the right to complain here?

The question may prove to be whether the region is doomed to repeat history or doomed to more conflict; but the past consequences of the failure to act fuel the hope, at least, that action offers an unprecedented and sorely longed-for peace.

Foreign Dependencies1

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Crossroads of Culture (Friday August 11, 2006 at 2:05 pm)

It’s not every day that Canadian politicians fall over themselves to speak of bi- (or even multi-) partisanship. That’s why it’s nice to hear Liberal MP Wajid Khan explain his new post advising his political rivals in the expected terms:

Khan has said he sees no problem with working for the prime minister because the crisis in the Middle East transcends political affiliations.

But there’s just one problem:

“It is not Liberal or Conservative, it is a Canadian issue,” he said. “It is, going forward, what Canada can do? How can we go forward, medium and long term? That is what we are going for.”

No, it isn’t. Canada isn’t any country’s father, mother, or legal guardian; and the idea that it’s somehow the responsibility of Canada when Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Iran can’t play nicely is a load just wide enough to stay out of the UN’s doors. If there are people who left those countries to live in Canada who think that they have a right to fight old enemies by proxy in or through the country, it’s about time they were disabused of the notion.

It’s not a Canadian issue that these countries are incapable of negotiating peacefully rather than striking, retreating, and playing the victim like a child at his worse. And much as Canada needs more children, it prefers the kind that eventually grow up. The United Nations isn’t supposed to be a club where little kids ask bigger kids to protect them from one another — it’s supposed to be a meeting of equals.

You can’t make peace for other people any more than you can grow up for them; and Canada must be careful not to further succour the hurt dependency theory of third world countries. Victimizing people isn’t productive, and at some point, that crying kid has to learn to suck it up, play properly, and take responsibility for his role in the matter.

Now wouldn’t it be nice if Canadian politicians took a non-partisan stand on things that actually were Canadian issues?

The First Rule of Peacekeeping Club0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, By other means. . ., Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Friday July 28, 2006 at 3:22 pm)

It’s an excellent club for politicians. They get to make peace instead of making war, and the public at home isn’t usually sure whether you or the United Nations is in charge. That makes it the best of all possible worlds for a government, which can:

  • mobilize a military response, satisfying those moderates with just a touch of warmongering bloodlust but a mortal fear of the actual sight of blood
  • work with the United Nations, satisfying those moderates keen on multilateralism but reluctant to surrender sovereign control
  • help people (people who need help!), satisfying those moderates eager do good but vaguely uncomfortable with the “hippie” politics of some NGOs and utterly ignorant of the Red Cross Society

Which can, in many countries, be a winning coalition. It’s just good politics.

Which is what, one must assume, was the point of Bill Graham’s rebuke to Stephen Harper’s musings on the UN mission in Lebanon: UNTSO. After the Israeli bombing of one UNTSO position left Canadian Major Paeta Hess-von Krudener missing and presumed dead, the Prime Minister questioned the fact that the UN observers had not been withdrawn from the area, given the severity of the conflict.

This prompted the Leader of the Opposition to call the Prime Minister’s comment “completely unacceptable”, as reported in this article:

Graham says Harper seems to have forgotten that Canada has been part of UN missions for several decades.

That seems unlikely. The Prime Minister would be somewhat less likely to ask such questions if he thought Canada had little involvement. In point of fact, questioning the effective deployment of UN forces should really be the least the government does to ensure the safety of Canadians who serve in them, as at least one former observer pointed out.

Then why object so strenuously to the Prime Minister’s reaction? Should there have been greater condemnation of the Israeli army? The Liberals’ own statement on the subject does nothing of the kind, so that seems unlikely. It can only be an attempt to stand up for peacekeeping against those who would oppose it — a conclusion supported by Graham’s complaint that support for the Israeli position undermines Canada’s reputation as a peacekeeping nation.

But criticism isn’t always destructive or wrong-headed, any more than peacekeeping is always flawed. What the Liberal Leader is really trying to do is make the connection that, by criticising the conduct of a peacekeeping mission, the Prime Minister proves himself to be against peacekeeping. It’s a variant of the “hidden agenda” argument that’s become so popular in Canada of late.

Hidden agenda theories are popular because of the recent plague of ideological arrogance that has left much of the population, like zombies, aggressive, infectious, and sorely in need of brains. The ideologue can’t comprehend that another position could be valid (or that his could be better) — things are merely right or wrong (a point which all hues of the political spectra cry foolishly). It’s simply too hard to take the fact that an issue is arguable, or that multiple answers could be right, depending on perspective.

The result of admitting no argument is that criticism and counterpoints must be invalid by definition. If so, then they can only be explained in one of two ways. Either the speaker is too stupid to understand that he can’t be right, or she’s making the point for an unknown strategic reason. That unknown reason must be the real agenda, and is divined much as the unknown reason for lightning (a panoply of powerful pushers). Of course, many people who believe in hidden agendas don’t believe that Thor makes thunder; but it might just take a bolt out of the blue for them to make the connection.

What’s worse, given the reality of its existence and the immediacy of threats, debate over the validity of peacekeeping may not be as important as debate over its execution. There are real lives engaged in the activity, and an important way to safeguard them is ensuring that they are properly commanded. It’s not like the mandate for the operation is hard to find (the group in question is presently attached to UNIFIL):

  • Confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon
  • Restore international peace and security
  • Assist the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area

Which raises the question: what part of the mandate was the group expected to undertake at the time? The UN’s subsequent reorganization of the mission as much as admits the truth of the Prime Minister’s complaint. It’s nothing to suggest that the situation become unsafe following the bombing — it was already unsafe at the time of the bombing, it’s just that either:

  • Command hadn’t realised it
  • or

  • Command hadn’t acted on it

Which of the two is acceptable?

Whether the attack was intentional or not is an argument for another site — the Chilly Wonk just doesn’t know; but it’s not the same issue as a real and important question about the work being done by Canadian soldiers abroad: are the UN missions being properly managed?

The question transcends troop safety and demands to know why the mission has failed at achieving objective 2, despite its frequent reports and demands to both sides? That, too, is an important question.

Asking important questions about the conduct of peacekeeping missions doesn’t go against peacekeeping, doesn’t go against the UN, and doesn’t go against Canada. It just goes against the first rule of political choices: never make the hard argument when the facile one will do.

Broken Telephones at DFAIT*2

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Crossroads of Culture (Thursday July 27, 2006 at 3:34 pm)

In the wake of the Canadian government’s lacklustre rescue operations in Lebanon, there is no shortage of government policies to be reconsidered. Poor communication with Canadians in Lebanon was a serious obstacle, though the problem (whether understandable or not) wasn’t confined to Canadian efforts. But the evacuees have a suggestion, and the Liberal Party of Canada thinks it’s a valid option for the reworking of official communications:

But for many Canadians in Lebanon, one of the few sources of information is relatives back in Canada.

Many Lebanese-Canadians have expressed frustration that the government chose not to take advantage of these unofficial lines of communications and make details of their plan for evacuating Canadians available to the public as soon as possible.

Liberal Consular Affairs Critic Dan McTeague agreed with this criticism.

After all, there’s no more reliable means of communicating complex instructions than by broadcasting them publicly and having people watching them call their friends and pass along the message.

Consular Affairs Critic Dan McTeague was formerly employed (before the beginning of his mindnarrowingly insider political career) as the kid who stood behind that chubby kid in the schoolyard (you know, the one who talked about sex) yelling “Yeah!” encouragingly and offering authoritative confirmation of the details by way of his Swiss friend’s father. Which helps to explain the origin of his position on the unborn, same-sex unions, and rap.

That he panders shamelessly, that is; not that he learned it from the chubby kid (who is, the Frosty Wonk is told, quite the 50 Cent fan).

Look forward, under future Minister McTeague, to a major innovation in AIDS education — the chubby kid getting federal funding for his “condoms” bit.

*DFAIT-Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Canadian Foreign Service

Fact is Stranger to Fiction0

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, The Elephant, Crossroads of Culture (Wednesday July 26, 2006 at 8:01 am)

Those who think President Bush doesn’t devote enough time to studying the problems he faces are wrong. He doesn’t devote enough time to watching TV.

A few more hours might give him an even chance of catching reruns of “Yes, (Prime) Minister”, whose politically-minded, policy-light title character might give him pause. Or at least might make him reconsider the likes of the following remark:

“Obviously, the violence in Baghdad is still terrible, and therefore there needs to be more troops,” Mr. Bush said at the news conference, held in the East Room after a morning meeting with Mr. Maliki in the Oval Office. “Our military commanders tell me that this deployment will better reflect the current conditions on the ground in Iraq.”

And as much as facile comparisons to Vietnam should be treated with the scornful physical comedy they so richly deserve, the offering of no solution but “more troops” was one contributing factor to the removal of General Westmoreland from command of that operation. Facile solutions are just as deserving.

But physical comedy is no substitute for a word fitly spoken; and those are Sir Humphrey’s sole legacy. Just imagine how much more sound the President’s decision might have been, had he arrived before his generals bearing in mind the Cabinet Secretary’s eminently diplomatic rejoinder:

Her Majesty’s government is not convinced that having more men with guns in London would make it a safer place.

Diplomatic Chemistry0

Posted by JJ in Bad Press, Golden Tacks, Crossroads of Culture (Thursday July 20, 2006 at 1:16 pm)

There’s a paean of sorts here to what might be called the Canadian way in the world: “scrupulous neutrality.” The importance of this tradition is clear:

For half a century Canada has taken some considerable satisfaction in its credibility as an international good fellow on matters relating to the Middle East. That status flowed directly from Lester Pearson’s volunteering of Canada for a peacekeeping role after the disastrous 1956 Suez invasion.

Canada’s role then and since then has depended on a scrupulous neutrality in an area where neutrality was almost impossible to sustain. Neither side could point to Canada and say its neutrality had been compromised, so Canada could serve as mediator or peacekeeper. No more.

It’s gloriously self-satisfying to know that Canada could have served as a mediator or peacekeeper. It might have been noble to think that it actually had; but what did Canada accomplish with fourty years of that reputation? Did it broker the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement? Was it the pivot on which the Oslo Accords swung? Or is it, perhaps, responsible for the current state of peaceful resolution?

The nobility of Canada’s position is of a different kind. Perhaps, like blue-bloodedness, it’s a mark of inaction. Or, like the noble gases, not much happens when Canada gets together with others.

Either way, and whatever the virtue or vice of the Prime Minister’s remarks, Canada’s history in this area isn’t anything to take pride in.

What’s the Plural of Anecdote?0

Something very special has been threatened with the rise of weblogs, but don’t be worried. It’s simply the natural order of truth and common sense.

One of the most difficult parts of producing online material, as the Frigid Wonk well knows, is properly representing facts. It takes more than merely linking to the source of a particular reference — you must provide context and fairly represent what is said. Leaving it to the reader to discover that the context is deliberately or completely skewed can’t be easily excused.

That’s why a recent report on a serious claim merits fuller investigation than has been given it.

Jurist, a respectable and serious purveyor of online information, has recently run a report on a purported increase in desertions from the British army.

According to Jurist, this increase, reported by the BBC, has reached 1,000 total deserters since the beginning of the campaign, as annually recorded:

A total of 134 deserted in 2003, 229 in 2004, 377 in 2005, and 189 so far in 2006, up from 86 in 2001, and 118 in 2002.

Which looks like a significant change.

The problem is that the numbers aren’t the total desertions, but the total number of deserters still missing, as stated here by the BBC — the very report to which the Jurist piece refers.

The difference is highly significant. Deserters don’t just wander back home and resume a normal life — they have to go on the run. Consequently, one would expect them to be found over time. Hence, a simple application of common sense dictates that if desertion rates remain roughly constant or even drop slightly, the number remaining at large would be higher in later years than in earlier ones.

But ignore that, as well as the fact that war seems likely to increase desertions anyway, because there’s sounder evidence than either common sense or properly labelled statistics. There’s purely anecdotal evidence by interested parties:

An increase in Iraq-related desertions is nonetheless supported by anecdotal evidence from Iraq war resisters in the UK and their associates, including the lawyer for former Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith [JURIST news archive], recently dismissed from the military and sentenced to eight months in prison [JURIST report] for refusing to return to service in Iraq, and former SAS member Ben Griffin [JURIST report], who told the BBC that “There’s a lot of dissent in the Army about the legality of war and concerns that they’re spending too much time there.”

As an old colleague of the Wonk’s once put it: the plural of anecdote is not data.

But surely, a cry goes up, the government, too, is an interested party; and they have an interest in providing false statistics as surely as the war protestors have one in falsely interpreting statistics.

Only too true, but aside from providing a slightly different (and perhaps even unjustifiedly alarmist) headline for the daily dose on the conflict in Iraq (government still defensive, protestors still opposed, if you’re not caught up), the story reveals no new salvo for either side. Morale and recruitment were already known to be down, and the army (an interested party, and the same one denying an increase in desertions) admitted the decline was due to the campaign.

What to do, then? Forget that “pinch of salt” nonsense — it’s not a guideline, it’s a glib line. Use a bit of common sense and realise that there’s nothing new added to the debate by this story.

If you’ve already chosen a side, this story wasn’t that likely to change your mind (if you’re pro-war, it just doesn’t seem likely that you’re swayed by army rebels). If you hadn’t, the story might persuade you. But should people be persuaded by shoddy research? Opponents of the war might suggest that what got the UK into it might just be the best way to get it out (Michael Moore, anyone?) But repeating a mistake-making process just doesn’t square with common sense.

The Frosty Wonk has a different perspective. Bull is bull, no matter how purely intended; and the plural of anecdote is urban legend.

Deploremus Union3

Posted by JJ in Doubletake/Doubletalk, Vague Check, Crossroads of Culture (Sunday May 28, 2006 at 12:37 pm)

The Frosty Wonk won’t get into the more serious issues at stake here (many others will). The real questions are:

1. Why are unions taking action on non-labour related foreign affairs questions?
2. Can we trust them to?

The answers:

1. Umm. . .they’ve got nothing better to do?
2. No.

While the first is far from certain, the latter is clear at once.

Having decided to support a boycott of Israel until it recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination (which it has already done, actually, if you read this), CUPE Ontario “will develop an education campaign about the issue”.

Any problems? Well, yes:

1. CUPE seems to be confused about the history in question:

As noted above, the right to self-determination has been recognized. That’s what the Palestinian elections have been about. What CUPE really seems to be talking about is the right of return:

. . .the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties.

Which is controversial not only because it involves potential compensation issues, but because it involves the counter-claim for Jews evicted or forced from their own homes in the West Bank and other neighbouring countries in 1948.

2. CUPE seems to be a bit confused about the geography in question:

In Ontario, the liquor control board carried more than 30 Israeli wines, many produced in the occupied Golan Heights, CUPE said.

Quite so. But the occupied Golan Heights were not part of British mandate Palestine as divided by the UN in 1947 — they were part of Syria. Were Palestinians evicted by Israelis from a part of Syria twenty years before Israeli forces entered the area? However nicely you ask Israel to grant Palestinians access to the Golan Heights, they can’t let people back into homes they never had.

However you slice it, CUPE clearly doesn’t know what it’s talking about, yet wants to produce an educational pamphlet on the subject.

And that’s why unions might not be the best candidates to conduct foreign relations. Just in case you were wondering.

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