headlife has moved

I've moved headlife to wordpress.com. Most of it is because I am an incessant tinkerer, but Wordpress is cooler. I couldn't be bothered to host it myself, but wordpress.com seems to do the job. The port from blogger seems to have put all posts in my name. I will fix this as I go along.
Adieu, Maryland

America has this smell, you know. It's aromatically neutral and you only notice it when you land at an American airport, but it's there all right. Off the plane...sniff...ah America!

Four years ago I caught my first whiff of Maryland. It was a steamy summer's evening. I had two suitcases and a bike and was ready to begin my life in Baltimore. Lutherville, actually, but Baltimore will do.

I have a few memories of those first weeks. Catching the Orioles at Camden Yards welcomed me to America at her best; a little later, the Washington Sniper welcomed me to the worst. Soon, I will be leaving for Europe, a welcome change, but one that leaves me with a pang of anticipated homesickness for the great state of Maryland.

Some of it is personal. We came here with Jacob and added two more, so Maryland will always be synonymous with our young family, the happy memories of young children. My Jacob is almost seven; he was two when we arrived, barely potty-trained. Now he seems so grown-up. Ditto William. And our Maryland Mary with her US passport will always be our most vivid American souvenir. This golden age belongs to 11 Nightingale Way, Lutherville, and I am desperately sad to say goodbye.

Some of it is Maryland. Here's what I love: the northern Baltimore corridors, all colonial mansions and wide lawns; the Inner Harbor glitz; the rolling hills of Appalachia; the feeling of freedom as you escape over the Bay Bridge to the Eastern Shore; the rickety boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach (Delaware, but close enough); the proximity to legendary places like DC, Philly, New York.

I have grown fond of Maryland, of America. When the sun shines on Americans, I think they have the best life in the world. I drove down the mainstreet of Myersville, Maryland yesterday (a town at the foot of the Appalachian Trail) and felt a nostalgia for something I have never even experienced. I thought of prom queens and summer parades, ice cream and barber shops. It's a happy thing to have lived in America, to have breathed that smell, even if it is sometimes only a dream, an illusion. The United States has many problems and her leaders do not always act in her best interest, but I wish her well. America has a friend in me.
Why the US soccer team lost

3-0 is a drubbing. No getting over it. And this from a team that is supposed to be ranked number 5 in the world.

But Team USA's woes are easily remedied: get W to keep his nose out. Whatever the opposite of the Midas touch is, Mr. Heckavajobbrownie's got it. Bush called the US team today before their game vs. the Czech Republic. This was the sporting equivalent of his famous call to Rumsfeld before the Iraq War, "I love yer plan Rummy. Them Iraqi's'll luv it too."

Jinxed. Poor Yanks. Good luck against Italy. My advice? Unplug the phone.
Road Trip #2: Wyoming and the Rockies

After four years, I think I finally get America. The Truth came to me as I changed a tyre on a dirt road in the Laramie mountains of Wyoming.

I think I already "got" the coasts, but that big bit in the middle -- those ghastly "Red States" -- had eluded my intellectual grasp. In Europe, and also from the American Northeast, we sneer at these cowboys in the centre. Their conservative values, their ignorance, their obscene trucks.

I drove up from Denver in a monstrous SUV (free upgrade) headed for Casper, Wyoming. My map showed a road cutting through the mountains north of Cheyenne, so I decided to put the Jeep through its paces. For three hours I meandered on dirt tracks with nary a soul in sight. Fact number one: a Prius would have never survived this trip. The SUV, certainly a disgrace in New York, is essential in the mountains. As it happened, I still got a flat, but it was largely my fault for skidding on the gravel around every turn. Changing the tyre also gave me the chance to ponder the True Meaning of America.

Spring had arrived on the Plains and it was warm. Still, it was easy to imagine, especially when the wind picked up, how perishingly cold this place must get. A six-month winter, and the utter isolation of many of the communities that abound in the West, would lend, I think, to a certain detachment from the wider world. So, fact number two: asking the Montana mountain man when it's minus 40 outside to worry about a black single mother in a LA ghetto is asking him to imagine life on Mars. For one thing, no-one is bailing him out of the snow. Which leads to fact number three: do not ask him to worry about the world. His town is his world.

So there you have it. Ronan gets America.

Oh, and one other fact: the Hispanics are coming. Somewhere in Nowhere, Wyoming I was searching for a radio station. There were four: one, a fundamentalist Bible station. The other three, Spanish.

(My thoughts on Martin's Cove, Wyoming, are posted at By Common Consent.)
Were we terrorists? Apparently so.

My silly story about English Germanophobia hides a grimmer truth. During the Second World War, the British slaughtered German civilians in a way that boggles the mind. A new book asks whether the Allied bombing campaign in the War was a war crime. For the British child who hunts imaginary Jerries with plastic guns the narrative is simple: evil Nazis started the war; evil Nazis invaded other countries; evil Nazis murdered millions; evil Nazis lost to the Good Guys; we were the Good Guys; the ends justified the means.

But what happens when the Good Guys themselves turn to evil, to "terror"? Grayling's book details the deliberate targeting of German civilians by Allied (particularly British) bombers. 600,000 dead. For sure, the Germans dropped their fair share of bombs on England (my mum has vague memories of the bomb shelter at the bottom of her road in Worcester), but here's where it all gets so terrible: discussions like these tend to bring out the calculator -- German civilian deaths vs. English civilian deaths vs. the Holocaust vs. potential deaths vs. the specter of a Nazi Europe vs. this vs. that. At what point are 600,000 dead a price worth paying?

War sucketh with much suckitude.

Anyway, this reminds me of an article about English vs. German humour. Apparently, this was meant as a joke:
On my first night in Hannover I had gone out drinking with some young German actors. "You will notice there are no old buildings in Hannover," one of them said. "That is because you bombed them all." At the time I found this shocking and embarrassing. Now it seems like the funniest thing you could possibly say to a nervous English visitor.
(Slaps knee.)

(The Transatlantic Minute)
Chick Diplomacy

The New Times reports that America has caught up with the Dixie Chicks. The article refers to the Incident. That's when Chick Natalie Maines proclaimed her disdain for George Bush in London on the eve of the third Gulf War. The right wing forced country radio stations to boycott the Chicks. When their songs got no air time, the album sold "only" six million times.

As Americans have come to agree with them, the Chicks feel validated. They dedicated their new album to the Incident. While one needs to remember that they have been working on the album for over a year, the President's low approval ratings can only help the Chicks' marketing. It'll be interesting to see if Americans embrace their leadership now that the Chicks turned out to be wiser than their president.

Speaking of which, not only do the Chicks and Americans agree about George Bush. So do Americans and the rest of the world. For the first time since 2003, Americans and their European cousins agree in their assessment of the Republican leader. While European conservatives have understood from the beginning the George Bush wasn't one of them, American conservatives are realizing belatedly that he has damaged their movement and their program.

Chick Natalie Maines wanted to send a message that Americans have more in common with Europeans than it appeared at the moment. Her judgment turned out to be on target. The confluence of public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic is an opportunity to reforge the alliance of Western democracies.

May be, Europeans will even be willing to listen to country music once again.
Why Isn't Thomas Hobbes Conservative Enough?

According to a blog of the Washington Post, professors at Patrick Henry College feel discouraged from reading Thomas Hobbes. Patrick Henry College sees itself as a conservative Christian institution.

Isn't it ironic that a "conservative" university would dicourage its students to read the conservative philosopher Thomas Hobbes?

I don't know why Patrick Henry College takes this position but I have read Hobbes. His discussion of politics and religion is indeed a repudiation of the religious right's agenda. Hobbes understood that fundamentalism undermines reason, induces fanaticism, and becomes self-destructive.

I am all for religion in the public square but unless it is tempered with tolerance and humility, religion is a destructive force. Thoughtful thinkers of the Christian Right understand that. Most of the political entrepreneurs do not.

Since the Renaissance, Europeans do not agree about the nature of God anymore. Among other things, that's what Hobbes wrote about. We still don't agree about God today. Hence Hobbes remains an important voice in contemporary politics.

If it were true that Patrick Henry College discourages the study of Hobbes then that would amount to an admission of weakness. It's stuff like this that gives religion a bad name.
Iranian Letter

I read with great interest the letter sent by Iran's President to President Bush this week -- and, despite myself, liked much of it.

Unfortunately, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reveals his true colors in a predictable non sequitur at the end of the letter. Ahmadinejad closes an otherwise relatively sensible letter with the following statement that by no means follows from the foregoing content of the letter:
Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems.

We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point – that is the Almighty God. Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is : Do you not want to join them?
So much for sensible dialogue from Iran.
English Germanophobia

Hellmut will be horrified by this, but here goes. As a boy, I used to play soldiers with my mates. Now, this may be a normal thing for a boy to do, but who, in 1983, were our play "enemies"? Invariably, they were the Germans, or "Jerries"* as we preferred to call them. (Remember that in 1983 we had just finished a war with Argentina, yet Argie-hatred was nothing close to Hun-hatred.)

British Germanophobia runs deep. Everyone's favourite Fawlty Towers episode has John Cleese clumsily exclaiming, "don't mention the war" when a group of German tourists visits his hotel; football victory over the Germans sends the nation into delirium; and as we have seen, British schoolboys who grew up 40 years after the Second World War cannot forget it. So dire is Britain's popular view of Germany that the German ambassador to the UK is embarking on a publicity campaign to encourage Brits to view Germany beyond the Nazi stereotype.

A new book describes how all this nonsense came about. According to John Ramsden in Don't Mention the War: The British and the Germans Since 1890, things deteriorated long before the world wars. For much of the 19th century there was a sense of a shared Anglo-Saxon heritage with Germany, and many Germans were held in high regard in Britain, Luther, Handel, Hegel, Kant, Beethoven, and Wagner chief among them. This all changed with the unification of the German states and their victory over France in 1870-1. The balance of power in Europe was disrupted, and Teutonic imperial ambition was felt in Britain to clash with Britannia's divine right to rule the waves. The world wars certainly did not help, but the roots of Germanophobia go deeper: why else would otherwise sane Britons believe that the EU is a German plot to build the Fourth Reich?

Of course, such Germanophobia horrifies me (a German speaker and soon to be Austria expat), and Britons desperately need some lessons in German history and culture that goes back further than 1914 (and beyond 1945). But I'll tell you this, if England meet and beat Germany in the World Cup, well, my stein runneth over. I can't help it, I've been defeating Germans in my head since I was seven.

*Preferable to Krauts, nicht wahr?

(The Transatlantic Minute)
How to save Europe

Actually, I have in mind how to "save Britain." This may or may not save Europe but it might help. Quite frankly, I have no idea how to save Belgium.

Not a week goes by without some commentator predicting the death of Europe from "cultural suicide." Europe is under attack from two aggressors, writes George Weigel this week.
The aggressors in Culture War A are radical secularists, motivated by what the legal scholar Joseph Weiler has dubbed “Christophobia.” They aim to eliminate the vestiges of Europe’s Judeo-Christian culture from a post-Christian European Union... The aggressors in Culture War B are radical and jihadist Muslims who detest the West, who are determined to impose Islamic taboos on Western societies by violent protest and other forms of coercion if necessary, and who see such operations as the first stage toward the Islamification of Europe... The question Europe must face, but which much of Europe seems reluctant to face, is whether the aggressors in Culture War A have not made it exceptionally difficult for the forces of true tolerance and authentic civil society to prevail in Culture War B.
For a non-self-loathing European such as myself, this stuff makes for depressing reading. I suspect Weigel is right, but I wonder what is to be done about it. Here are three simple suggestions for the United Kingdom to save itself from A and B.

1. Preserve the monarchy at all costs, and make sure the British monarch remains head of the Church of England. This anchors us to our roots and promotes the benign, liberal Christianity that has served the UK well. (I am not, by the way, an Anglican.)

2. Encourage immigration and integration. Demographics suggest we need more workers but social conditions in many English post-industrial cities (and the London bombings) suggest we have failed at multi-culturalism. Let's promote a fast-track to citizenship for immigrants and give the decidedly lame citizenship test some teeth. I do not want a homogenous Little England but I do not want a Londonistan either.

3. Help Britons reproduce. We need more children, not to poor, teenaged girls, but to twenty and early-thirty something adults. Continue to improve maternity and paternity leave; increase child tax credits; promote and support adult retraining so that mothers can easily return to the workplace.

Easy, eh?
The Great American Road Trip #1

It is the size of America that astounds the European, for whom a mere twenty miles (say Holland to Germany) entails meeting a new country, a new people, a new language.

The Great American Road Trip is the shangri-la of many European travellers. It's a dream as old as Tocqueville (one recently revived with grating pomposity by Bernard Henri-Levy). My battered Rough Guide to the USA lists "hitting the open road" in its things everyone should do in America (next to #35, Pike Place Market, Seattle, Wa.--been there, done that). One imagines Big Sky Country, an empty road, utterly straight, jetting through the desert like a UFO on its way to Roswell.

My Great American Road Trip was of the East Coast variety, where the towns are more interesting, and the scenery a great deal more gemütlich. Think Great Smokey Mountains rather than cacti and dust.

We had been holidaying in Orlando. Most Brits in Florida have a week in Disneyville then head off to the coast for some R&R, but we had to get home to Baltimore. Rather than take the bland I-95 route that rockets from New York to Miami, we took the scenic route through the mountains. On the map it doesn't look that big, but, for example, a drive up I-81 through Virginia--the freeway that follows the spine of the Appalachian mountains--is about 320 miles. That is the equivalent of Birmingham to Edinburgh. In other words, a pretty long way. Add to it Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland and you have one hell of a road trip: 1200 miles, one car, three days. Stories of the Great American Road Trip and a few photographs will follow.
Bigots and Heroes

I love the bumper sticker "God Bless the Whole World, No Exceptions." This morning the BBC Newshour broadcasted a spontaneous demonstration in Dahab where residents chanted: "We love everyone! We love everyone!"

By contrast, Osama bin Laden is calling on his followers to defend the genocidal murderers in Sudan.

Apparently, bin Laden does not care that the murdered men and raped women are Muslims. Instead of celebrating the efforts of the African Union and the United Nations to improve the situation of the victims, bin Laden maligns them as enemies of Islam.

It seems to me that human beings have an obligation to help the victims. While I am not an expert of Islam, I dare say that the Quran supports that view, especially when Muslims are suffering.

Bin Laden's attitude proves that he does not care about Muslims. He reserves his solidarity only to Arabs, a group of which he happens to be a member. In bin Laden's opinion, Arab Muslims apparently deserve protection under all circumstances even when they rape and murder other Muslims.

I can only conclude that bin Laden is just another racist. The heroes are the African soldiers and UN observers, forsaken by the world community, that put their lifes on the line to safe human beings.

The war against al Quaeda is really a civil war that splits every community.
America at 800

Lawrence Wilkerson had an interesting OpEd in the Baltimore Sun this past weekend. Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel and aide to Colin Powell, claims the US Government has fallen pray to a neo-Jacobin conspiracy, that Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld et.al. are latter-day Robespierre's, not brave patriots of the American model like George Washington.

For Wilkerson, the American Revolution was not so much a revolution as an evolution: "We came as much from the Magna Carta as from our own doings, as much from British common law and parliamentary development as from the Declaration of Independence and Continental Congress." The greatness (and goodness) of America has been 800 years in the making. But America, according to Wilkerson, is in danger of formenting a new revolution, one more akin to the radical revolution that engulfed France and produced not freedom, but Napolean. The sins? Kyoto, the International Criminal Court, torture, rendition, illegal domestic surveillance, lies, leaks, energy ineptitude, junk science, Rumsfeld (a "martinet and tyrant"), the cherry-picking of intelligence, fiscal irresponsibility, sleaze, corruption, Big Government, the betrayal of the Constitution, Iraq.

Alexis de Tocqueville once said: "America is great because she is good. If America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." That is Wilkerson's worry. He speaks in hyperbole, but maybe that's the way to get attention today.
The Shia Kurdish Front in Iraq

The vote for an Iraqi prime minister and last week's fighting reveal that the Shia Kurdish alliance is disintegrating. In the past, their fear of Saddam and the Baathists has united Shiites and Kurds. The axiom that the enemy of my enemy is my friend now induces the collaboration of Sunnis and Kurds in parliament.

A coalition of Sunni and Kurdish voting blocs had vetoed Ibrahim al-Jafaari. Publicly, Kurds and Sunnis blames al-Jafaari for being ineffective with respect to public safety. Beneath the surface, the opposition blames al-Jafaari for allowing the Badr militia to encorporate its death squads into the Iraqi interior ministry.

Moreover, the Stars and Stripes reports that Shiite private armies such as the Moqtar army and the Badr Brigade are positioning themselves to fight the Kurds. As Shiite fighters are infiltrating Kirkuk's oil fields, Iran has begun shelling Iraqi Kurdish territory last week.

Both Iran and Turkey are concerned about their own Kurdish populations and increased separatist violence. I do not know whether Iran and the Iraqi Shia militias are coordinating their actions against Kurds. Since the Badr Brigade was stationed for two decades in Iran, however, it would be naive to assume that the militia and Iran will not coordinate their approach to their respective Kurdish problems at some level.

That threatens the stability of the Kurdish provinces, the only true success story in the wake of Saddam's deposition.
The Queen at 80

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is 80 today. This loyal subject and ardent monarchist would like to wish Her Majesty many happy returns.

I am a big fan of the constitutional monarch, the symbolic, apolitical head of state. To those republicans in the UK who want a president I have two words: Jacques Chirac. Something about the fact that Tony Blair has to bow before the monarch every week is pleasing to me. That, and the reminder he receives that there are things more permanent than him (the Queen has been receiving Prime Ministers since Churchill).

But in a real sense, Elizabeth R is not just the monarch, she's the monarchy. The British monarchy will survive under Kings Charles and William, but I suspect that the Commonwealth will struggle to find relevance after Elizabeth. The Queen has been the warm face of imperial transition; once she has gone, I think the Empire, and any of its residual institutions will finally be dead. No bad thing maybe. In the meantime, God save the Queen.
Fancy Footwork

Soccer fans: if you haven't seen it, you have to go to the Nike website now. Then go to the Soccer section. To the right are a series of small videos called "Joga TV." Scroll down till you find the one called "Brazilian Ping Pong" and watch it. It will blow your mind.

If that doesn't convince you that Ronaldinho is the best player in the world right now, nothing will.
Iraqi Cartoons

There is a fascinating discussion of Iraqi cartoons in the New York Times.

Among other things, one cartoonist is denouncing Mubarak as an Israeli agent for stoking communal violence.
The Writing Is On the Wall

Accusing Iraqi Shiites of treason, Hosni Mubarak implies his desire to restore Sunni hegemony in Iraq. When the Americans leave then Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan will support the Sunnis while some Shia militias will enjoy the support of Iran.

From the perspective of foreign Arab powers, support for Iraqi Sunnis makes sense not only on cultural but on realist grounds.

Iraq and Iran are the only countries in the Middle East that have oil and water. It would be impossible for the gulf states to resist an Iraqi-Iranian alliance because without water the oil states lack the population to match the size of Iraq's and Iran's armed forces.

Therefore the gulf states and their clients Egypt and Syria depend on an Iraqi-Iranian rivalry. Moreover, the weaker the base of an Iraqi government, the more leverage Arab governments will enjoy in Iraqi politics.

Clearly, Mubarak anticipates both an American withdrawal and the failure of Iraqi communities to settle their differences. His rhetoric positons him to pursue Egyptian interests vigorously. When Egypt brings its support to bear in the form of training, equipment, and advisors, oil money will finance her efforts.
On Niger

Hearing so much criticism of the war in Iraq lately, I have begun to wonder whether people think (at this point) that the United States and Great Britain would have been justified to invade Iraq even if Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger, as Bush alleged in his State of the Union address in 2003.

It would seem that Iraq did make such an attempt, as noted on Slate (and the Deulfer report):

In the late 1980s, the Iraqi representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency—Iraq's senior public envoy for nuclear matters, in effect—was a man named Wissam al-Zahawie. After the Kuwait war in 1991, when Rolf Ekeus arrived in Baghdad to begin the inspection and disarmament work of UNSCOM, he was greeted by Zahawie, who told him in a bitter manner that "now that you have come to take away our assets," the two men could no longer be friends. (They had known each other in earlier incarnations at the United Nations in New York.) . . .

In February 1999, Zahawie left his Vatican office for a few days and paid an official visit to Niger, a country known for absolutely nothing except its vast deposits of uranium ore. It was from Niger that Iraq had originally acquired uranium in 1981, as confirmed in the Duelfer Report. In order to take the Joseph Wilson view of this Baathist ambassadorial initiative, you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein's long-term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious. Italian intelligence (which first noticed the Zahawie trip from Rome) found it difficult to take this view and alerted French intelligence (which has better contacts in West Africa and a stronger interest in nuclear questions). In due time, the French tipped off the British, who in their cousinly way conveyed the suggestive information to Washington. As everyone now knows, the disclosure appeared in watered-down and secondhand form in the president's State of the Union address in January 2003. . . .

The Duelfer Report also cites "a second contact between Iraq and Niger," which occurred in 2001, when a Niger minister visited Baghdad "to request assistance in obtaining petroleum products to alleviate Niger's economic problems." According to the deposition of Ja'far Diya' Ja'far (the head of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program), these negotiations involved no offer of uranium ore but only "cash in exchange for petroleum." West Africa is awash in petroleum, and Niger is poor in cash. Iraq in 2001 was cash-rich through the oil-for-food racket, but you may if you wish choose to believe that a near-bankrupt African delegation from a uranium-based country traveled across a continent and a half with nothing on its mind but shopping for oil.
Does the Niger connection matter?
Power Corrupts and What to Do About It

When the First Vatican Council proclaimed the doctrine of Papal Infallibility in 1870, the Catholic historian Lord Acton responded: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

If one subscribes to the notion that there can be too much power then one ought to be worried about a unipolar world where the sole superpower can pursue her whims at will.

That is indeed the attitude of some Western Europeans who regard America’s sole superpower status with apprehension. They fail to recognize, however, that one can hardly blame the USA for the imbalance. It's only natural that a state should pursue power.

France and Germany cannot expect that other powers serve their priorities. They have to take responsibility for their own agenda.

It begins with a reasonable defense budget and acquiring logistics that can actually reach places like East Timor, Darfur, and Zimbabwe. The foundation has to be, however, that France and Germany finally come to terms with globalization. They need to restructure their states and economies so that the considerable creativity of their citizens and residents can be unleashed in the market place.

Until then, there will be no balance in world politics . . . and only France and Germany are to blame.
American Triumph, European Failure

Fareed Zakaria's excellent comparison between European and American immigration policies gives the price to the United States.

It's true. American immigration policy bests France and Germany easily.

Driven by petty jealousy and fear, Germans have been unable to attract tech workers from India. But Germany does have plenty of underpriviliged immigrants from the former East bloc and Africa. Those people are so poor that they will not be deterred by draconian laws or a weak economy.

The best qualified individuals, however, have options. As Zakaria points out they will not leave their home countries and their families to be discriminated until the end of their days. A generous immigration policy attracting the best and the brightest, is one of America's most important advantages over her global competitors. It drives what America is best at: innovation.

Criminalizing foreign students and researchers when they get married or their visas lapse on technicalities and bureaucratic delays will only induce the best and the brightest to go to Canada or Australia. The latter two get it. They have already taken advantage of a less attractive America and recruited talent that was deterred by immigration reform after September 11.

Researchers will be less willing to invest their life time if they are told that they can only stay a few years. That's why it would be a mistake to establish a Kennedy-McCain guestworker program. The Germans have tried it and failed. They have not learned from it. May be, Americans can learn the lessons of history better.

French and German attitudes to foreign talent are driven by arrogance, insecurity, and jealousy. It's a model that pleases their passions but does not serve their interests.

Americans would do well to check passion and calculate the effect of any immigration reform on their interests. That does not mean that nothing can be done about illegal immigration. But knee jerk reactions driven by anger will only make things worse.

The best and the brightest do not come here to get criminalized. They come to the United States in pursuit of their talents and their future. A guest worker program that will deport them soon, cannot meet their needs. Their loss is our loss when the American economy looses top personnel.
The Special Relationship is back on

Make up your mind about the Special Relationship, kids! A couple of weeks ago the Guardian told us that the UK-US alliance was a load of meat pie. Now, after Condi's sampling of said pies in Blackburn, the Observer (Sunday Guardian) tells us that "Britain's special relationship with the world's most powerful democracy is a prized strategic asset, not just for us but for Europe as a whole."

Why the change in heart?
While Presidents and Prime Ministers come and go, the axis between London and Washington remains the most stable and strongest alliance in the world. Maintaining it has rightly been a foreign policy priority for every British government since the Second World War.
Because being poodle is better than being nothing. At least that's what Whitehall has decided.

Bonus: Heritage Foundation bloke ponders the SR post-Blair.
The People's Soldiers

Vietnam and Afganistan veteran Geoffrey Lambert complains how the neo-cons are hiding behind the honor of our military and how misguided lefties are beginning to scapegoat soldiers.
Bashar Al-Assad on Charlie Rose

If Charlie Rose were British he'd be Sir Charlie. This guy is a national treasure and his show on PBS is one of four must-watch current affairs programmes for me (along with Bill Maher, Fareed Zakaria's Foreign Exchange, and the Daily Show). His recent hour-long interview with Bashar Al-Assad is excellent. Ever since I went to Syria in 1999 I have been fascinated with the Assad's. Bashar's remarkably mild manner is disarming; imagine what you will about his regime, but this guy is very savvy and obfuscates in such a gentle manner that you want to squeeze his cheeks.

The absolutist philosopher Jean Bodin pointed out that the sovereign cannot credibly bind himself. Any promise that a sovereign king might make, can be reversed with impunity in the future.

That's a serious problem for the biggest kid on the block. Nobody can ever trust his promises.

As the only superpower, it is difficult for the United States to make credible commitments. Nobody believes us when we say that we are not in Iraq for oil and bases. For the same reason, nobody believes Condoleezza Rice when she insists that there is no torture in Guantanamo.

That's a problem that could have easily been remedied had we allowed multilateral institutions to bind us. We would have lost a marginal amount of freedom and won the trust of the world. That is a precondition for the success of the war. For without trust, no one can afford to lay down arms.

If the Bush administration is serious about snatching victory from defeat then it better design a multilateral vehicle to realize America's national interest.
Arrogane, Ignorance, and Impotence

On the Sunday talk shows Condoleezza Rice argued that were the United States to withdraw then Iraq would become Al Quaeda’s refuge like Afghanistan used to be. Her rhetoric reveals that the Bush administration has still not come to terms with realities in Iraq and with the limits of American power.

Afghanistan and Iraq are different. In the absence of Russian aspiration to the Indian Ocean, Afghanistan has been strategically irrelevant since the arrival of European powers on the Indian subcontinent. When the Soviets gave up in Afghanistan during the late 1980s, Afghanistan did not matter to the world any longer.

While Russia sustained the Northern Alliance to defend its southern border, the Taliban took over the bulk of the country with Pakistani support. As the Taliban suppressed the Afghani people, the economy could not recover and the contributions of an Arab millionaire was an important source of foreign currency to a regime caught up in the middle ages.

Iraq, on the other hand, is the geostrategic keystone of the Arab peninsula. Iraq is one of two states in the Middle East that have water and oil. Oil means wealth. Water means people. Next to Iran, Iraq is the second most populous oil state. Thanks to its geographic location, Iraq blocks Iranian influence.

That’s why Kuwait, the Emirates, and Saudi Arabia will remain involved in Iraq even if the United States were to withdraw. In the past, the oil countries have paid Syrians, Egyptians, and Pakistanis for security services. It is difficult to predict how such a coalition would shape Iraqi politics, especially if it supports the Sunnis while Iran backs the Shia. But one thing is sure; Iraq will not be left to its own devices even if the United States were to retrench in Kurdistan, Kuwait, and the Persian Gulf.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Shia or Sunnis would come out on top. Either way, Al Quaeda will not be allowed to remain in Iraq. The Shia will expel Al Quaeda to put an end to the terrorist violence that targets primarily Shia civilians and holy sites. The Sunni will expel Al Quaeda because Sunnis will want to establish a monopoly on coercion. Their foreign allies will make sure that Iraqis have the means to deny Al Quaeda a lair in Iraq.

The real danger in Iraq is that current conditions persist. If the Iraqi state cannot be recreated then Iran cannot be contained nor will Al Quaeda be expelled. The price will be horrendous bloodshed among the Iraqi people and a strategic disaster for the United States and the western world.

The way to get around is not to muddle on but to involve Iraq's neighbors. The Iraqi constitution will remain meaningless unless all parties, foreign and domestic, will have a stake in the institution. That's why international negotiations that involve Iraq's neighbors have to determine the answer to two questions:
What will it take that Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds will feel safe?
What will it take that Iran, Turkey, and the oil states will consider themselves safe? (Syria matters but can be controlled with Saudi money.)

The outcome of that inquiry will set the parameters for a rational use of American forces in Iraq, not the other way around. There will be neither peace nor an Iraqi state until the Iraqi people and Iraq's neighbors expect to be secure. Until the administration engages the security needs of all parties, military efforts will be in vain.
Why Russia is Funny

Russia is a caricature of itself. These guys weren't just opposing the action in Iraq, they were handing over the playbook. The notion--which seems to be uncritically embraced by plenty of war critics--that Europe's (or the part of Europe known "Germany, France, the little countries that hang out with them and their barrel-chested cousin, Russia") opposition to the Iraq invasion was all about principle is comedy and little else. I've known for a long time that Russia was intent on blocking the invasion because they were worried about not recovering their pre-war debts from Iraq. And I think that the Bush admin played it very badly. But THIS is just a clownshow.
Geography Matters

Hellmut joins us, a German political scientist at the University of Maryland.

Walter Russell Meade attributes the aphorism “A special providence protects fools, drunkards, little children, and the United States of America,” to Otto Prince Bismarck. Likewise Nate Oman, who will no doubt be pleased to be cited in the same breath as Prince Bismarck, advances an argument of American exceptionalism. According to Oman, Americans are less squeamish about war than Europeans because the United States has been able to meet its needs by going to war.

That’s a thought provoking argument. However, it can probably not withstand empirical scrutiny. For one thing, the United States has not universally benefited from war during the twentieth century. True, World War II created a power vacuum that the United States filled energetically in Europe and less competently in Asia. But she was party to the messy settlement of World War I. Korea was a draw, Vietnam a loss. The Bay of Pigs was a debacle. Grenada and Panama were glorious but small interventions. The second Gulf War was a triumph. Somalia did not advance American interests.

Though this list is not complete, clearly, the United States’ record of pursuing her interests violently is a mixed bag. Lots can be said about the whys and hows, which I will leave for future posts. It is clear, however, that the United States does not have a consistent track record of obtaining her interests by war.

That begs the question, what does explain different attitudes about war in the United States and western Europe?

It’s about geography. Compared to European powers, the United States suffered modest casualties in her wars, which should not distract us from individual heroism and suffering of particular Americans. From a European perspective it is remarkable, but not surprising, that the United States has suffered so few civilian casualties in both World Wars. In spite of Sputnik, to date, enemy forces have unable to devastate the American mainland. While the oceans can no longer avert the specter of war at home, the American and European experiences of war remains qualitatively different.

In the absence of the draft, casualties in Iraq do not affect most Americans. If their mothers and grandmothers would be talking about nights in the bomb shelter, rape, murder, and hunger then war might be much more relevant in many people’s life. Because the United States is in the fortunate position of developing a liberal tradition in a location without strong neighbors, during our life time Americans have been spared the experience of war at home. That’s the difference that shapes attitudes across the Atlantic.

But that’s history. With respect to the Iraq War, the gap between American and western European attitudes has already narrowed. With thousands of casualties and no end in sight, many Americans appreciate the realties of war well enough and have come to share the views of their European cousins.

In that sense, it’s Vietnam or Korea all over again: lessons learned, lessons forgotten. Once the suffering is about mothers and grandmothers, nations tend to remember the nature of war a lot longer.

The challenge for my hypothesis is, of course, the central and eastern European experience. Their civilians suffered even more than British, French, and German women and children during World War II and the Cold War. Yet their leaders and populations supported the invasion of Iraq. There is an answer but I will leave it for another post.
Seattle, Washington

Not so special

Remind me again what the British get out of the US-UK "special relationship"? Writing in the Guardian, Richard Norton-Taylor sets out this disfunctional relationship in all its glory:

  • A senior British military commander says that Donald Rumsfeld should be tried for war crimes.
  • The Brits are still furious that the decision to disband the Iraqi army after the invasion contradicted orders given by British military chiefs to their commanders in the field.
  • Warnings from British officials that the Bush administration had no post-invasion strategy
    went unheaded.
  • The British begged the US to bomb the poppy fields of Afghanistan because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. The US refused.
  • Bush has blocked a billion-dollar deal with Rolls-Royce to build engines for the proposed joint strike fighter, despite repeated lobbying from Blair.
  • The US refuses to share advanced military technology with the UK.
  • It refuses to let British agencies question terrorist suspects.
  • The US has a longstanding demand that the US-UK relationship "may entail on occasion the applying of UK resources to the meeting of US requirements" (but not vice versa).
Norton-Taylor asks:
Is it in Britain's national interest to be so closely allied to a US that takes Britain for granted, to an administration that sets up Guantánamo Bay - where the treatment of prisoners led a high-court judge to remark that "America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations"?
I think that GitMo is indeed symbolic of the distance between the US and UK: in Britain, we just cannot believe how the US can justify it. Still, despite the ideological chasm on many things, the Brits will continue to play poodle: the US gives us a seat at the table, a seat we wouldn't otherwise have. Of course, the dinner invite has one requirement: you get what you're given. Be quiet and eat!