Simple Answers to Simple Questions

Ron Asmus, of the German Marshall fund, asks

“Is this president and Administration capable, in its last 18 months in office, of using this new lineup [of leaders] in Europe to begin to lay the foundation for a new relationship for his successor?”

No.

Concept of simple answers gleefully lifted from Atrios.

By Their Friends Shall Ye Know Them

And by their enemies. It is now clear that the Iraq and treatment of detainees policy of the current US administration has found little favour down at the Financial Times. The FT is hardly a ‘radical rag’ and views expressed there can hardly be dismissed in the same way some might feel able to lightly-brush-aside opinion expressed in more predictably anti-Bush quarters. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that the battle for the heart and mind of the Financial Times has now been definitively lost. Some may not care. I beg to suggest they would be making an important mistake.

Today the FT carries prominently on its website this article from the New York Times:


Al-Qaeda link to Iraq tied to coercion claim

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration’s heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi’s accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

A Little Archipelago

If you had long suspected that under the Bush administration the CIA was running secret prisons around the world, now you know. It wasn’t just the one in Thailand, which was closed in 2003, and the annex at the tip of Cuba, closed last year.

The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

Which Eastern European countries, you may ask?

UPDATE: FT Deutschland does indeed say more, as does the FT in English.
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Where All Roads Lead

So we’re all following the US news, and we know that Bush’s senior aides may be indicted this week for exposing a US spy, right? And the reason the people in the White House deliberately exposed one of America’s own intelligence agents is that they were mad at her husband. And they were mad at her husband because he went to Africa and discovered that what the Bush administration wanted to say about Iraq buying uranium from Niger was not true.

Well. The documents that the Bush administration wanted to hang their claims on were forgeries. And the source of the forgeries, it is becoming increasingly clear, is Italy. La Repubblica is naming names and providing dates. It’s starting to echo in the US press, at the L.A. Times for example, and in the blogs. Questions still abound. Who was behind the forging? Why? Was Iran involved? Did the Berlusconi government know what SISMI was up to? Why were intelligence contacts being run through the Pentagon instead of the CIA? And more…

Josh Marshall has been on this story for a long time, and is all over it this week. At one time, he took a lot of ribbing because he had said in public that it would “shake the tectonic plates” in Washington. Then parts were published or broadcast, and not much seemed to happen. But tectonic plates and their fault lines can be deceiving. It may just take time for the pressure to build up.

Formerly Known as FYROM

This blog doesn’t usually resound with praise for the far-sighted wisdom and diplomatic cunning of the Bush administration. (Neither does my own blog, for that matter.)

So I thought I’d be a bit contrarian, and point to a recent episode where Bush, or Colin Powell, or undersecretary of state Marc Grossman, or /someone/, seems to have done something wonderfully and exactly right.

Macedonia: small country in the Balkans, former Yugoslav Republic. Gained independence in 1991. For fourteen years, has been officially entitled, not Macedonia, but “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” — aka FYROM. This ugly neologism came into existence purely and entirely because the idea of a country called “Macedonia” drove Greek nationalists gibbering crazy.

(No, don’t ask. It doesn’t make any sense at all, and never did, so never mind. Oh, we could go into stuff like the early-’90s rivalry between Mitsotakis and Papandreou, and how they and their parties got locked into an escalating spiral of whipping up nationalist opinion on this stupid, stupid issue, but never mind. Just take it as given.)

So: on November 3 — the very first day after the election — the Bush administration announced that, after fourteen years, it was going to start recognizing Macedonia by the name it wanted to be recognized: i.e., Macedonia. And that there’d be no more of this FYROM stuff, thanks.

So why was this such a good thing?
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Downbeat on Iraq?

Colin Powell has been making the headlines over the weekend for his seemingly more realistic appraisal of the difficulties facing current US policy in Iraq when compared to the view emmanating from other members of the Bush administration. Again Juan Cole has been offering some informed comment on the topic here.

All of which makes the current consensus view from France and Germany pretty preoccupying in its own way.

“I cannot imagine that there will be any change in our decision not to send troops, whoever becomes president,” Gert Weisskirchen, member of parliament and foreign policy expert for Germany’s ruling Social Democratic Party, said in an interview.

Michel Barnier, the French foreign minister, said last week that France, which has tense relations with interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, had no plans to send troops “either now or later”.
Source: Financial Times

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Daniel Pipes on Tariq Ramadan: Why French literacy still matters

Readers of my previous comment on Tariq Ramadan will no doubt have come away with the impression that I don’t much like Daniel Pipes. This is not an entirely accurate assessment of my opinon of him. I think Pipes is an unreconstructed bigot and xenophobic fanatic whose academic work fails to meet even the lowest standards of scholarship, whose career has been built on politically driven attacks, and who has set up with his “Campus Watch” as a terrorist front designed to intimidate academics and ensure that there is as little debate, discussion or rational thought on Israel, US foreign policy or Islam as possible. His reseach and scholarship are not intended to better inform action but to support specific agendas, usually revolving around hating some foreign force or people. Instead of fostering debate, his work is intended to intimidate. Pipes advocates religiously targetted surveillance, he supports making federal university funding conditional on ideology, and he has helped to terrorise professors who are named on his website. In short, I think Pipes is swine.

He is a second generation right-wing tool, the son of one of the men most responsible for America’s “Team B”, which grossly overblew the Soviet menace in the 70s and 80s – causing massive US defense spending and resulting deficits – and complained that anyone with a better sense of reality was soft on communism. Normally, Pipes’ parentage would constitute poor grounds for condeming him as having a pathological relationship to facts. But keep this in mind, since it constitutes one of his arguments against Ramadan.

All you need is Google to find out why I think these things about Daniel Pipes. It’s not a lot of work. His own website provides ample examples.

But, today, I will be targeting something a little more specific. Pipes has put up on his website his comment on Tariq Ramadan’s visa denial, originally published in the New York Post on Friday. In it, he makes specific points against Tariq Ramadan, linking, in some cases, to articles on the web in support. These articles are primarily in French. As a service to our non-francophone readers, we will be translating the relevant sections, since they lead one to the conclusion that Pipes assumes his readers will just take his word on their contents.

We report, you decide.
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Getting Endorsed

In the US presidential elections the big news of the week must be the endorsement of Howard Dean by Al Gore. A somewhat smaller, but still interesting, development – although this isn’t exactly new, but simply new to my attention – is the fact that someone has created an Economists for Dean weblog. Finally, if you are really short on ‘breaking news’ and if you really want to go down to the fine print of the week, you might just notice that I seem to be included in the sidebar, in amongst a variety of other economists who undoubtedly have rather more public appeal than I do. I would like to say that as a European I consider it an honour to figure in such company: this does however present us with a number of questions worth thinking about, and it is to those that I would now like to turn.
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Anyone Want to Play Ball With Me?

Even though it may appear that this post runs along much the same lines as my last two or three, I should warn you: appearances are sometimes deceptive. The origins of what I want to say here stretch back in time two or three days to some comments I made on an earlier post and a subsequent piece which I have entitled the ‘Pele-Ronaldo’ effect. Surprising as it may seem, the topic here is only tangentially football. The real topic is the so-called brain drain, and how our initial intuitions may mislead us. The aforementioned effect is associated with the apparent detail that all those Brazilians ‘heading the ball’ here in Europe have not notedly had a detrimental effect on the rate at which Brazilian football produces outstanding new stars. In fact quite the contrary.

Now here’s the rub: just think of all those Indian IT ‘stars’ working at NASA, Microsoft and the like, and try to imagine the consequences back home in India. Well then try to imagine the consequences of the secondary effect in India on the employment situation in the US and now increasingly in Europe, and we get to the point of all this. We are experiencing a phenomenon which some are calling ‘hollowing out’. This has been noticed in the first place in the US, but with the EU structural reforms, and the relatively high euro, this tendency is going to make itself felt more and more over here. So this is the purpose of the post. To find out what people think.
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Sturm, Drang and Laetitia Casta’s breasts – or – Why France bashing is a feminist issue

[Nota Bene: Due to the deeply inane nature of JavaScript, clicking the “continue reading” link may not display images linked to posts. It doesn’t work for me in Mozilla or IE. If you click on the permalink, you will see all the content.]

Reader Christophe Kotowski sends a link to today’s International Herald-Tribune (a.k.a. The New York Times in Paris), in which New York Times reporter Nina Bernstein offers an solution to my earlier confusion about American policy towards France and Germany:

Meet Mr. Germany and Ms. France

It was on display again last week, that old double standard. On camera, Germany’s chancellor got a muscular handshake from America’s president and a meeting that let bygones be bygones. France’s president got the official cold shoulder and columnists’ heated denunciations.

Yet France and Germany had taken the same position on the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. Both were offering to help train Iraqi security forces, but not to send soldiers. Both argued that only accelerated Iraqi sovereignty and a larger UN role could secure peace.

Apparently, it sounded different in French. Somehow, to American ears, it always does. At this point in strained trans-Atlantic relations, an obvious explanation comes to mind: In the American imagination, France is a woman, and Germany is just another guy.

The French themselves depict La Belle France as a bare-breasted “Marianne” on the barricades. They export high fashion, cosmetics, fine food – delicacies traditionally linked to a woman’s pleasure. And French has always been Hollywood’s language of love.

Germany, meanwhile, is the Fatherland, its spike helmets retooled into the sleek insignia of cars like the Mercedes and the BMW. It also exports heavy machinery and strong beer – products associated with manliness. Notwithstanding Goethe, Schiller and Franka Potente, German is Hollywood’s language of war, barked to the beat of combat boots in half a century of movies.

Such images simply overpower facts that do not fit the picture – like decades of German pacifism and French militarism since World War II. So what if France was fighting in Vietnam, Algeria and elsewhere in Africa and deploying a force of 36,000 troops around the world, while Germans held peace vigils and invented Berlin’s Love Parade. For Americans, it seems, World War II permanently inoculated Germans against “the wimp factor” and branded the French indelibly as sissies. [...]

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