The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Many articles great and small

July 16, 2006

My daughter’s sick and I’m pretty tired – from writing and reading – so here’s what’s catching my eye

In the “Crisis in the Middle East” department, things seem to be getting worse with the death of eight Israeli civilians in Haifa. The IDF is also resuming strikes in Gaza.

Mubarak claims he persuaded the Israelis not to launch a ground offensive against Beirut. Mossad’s chief leaves for the US this week to discuss the Iranian nuclear program. That will certainly prompt some major speculation on the part of serious and conspiracy-minded analysts. Speaking of Mossad’s chief, Steve Clemons, for his part, wonders if the impact of the crisis–whether intentional or inadvertent–involves “clipping American wings in the region.”

Marc Lynch comments on the Arab League meeting, specifically the aggressive questioning of Arab foreign ministers by reporters on behalf of the “street”:

A range of journalists threw out furious questions about why the Arab League was ignoring the anger of the Arab street (their word, not mine) over Israeli aggression against Lebanon and the Palestinians (ditto). Musa, taken aback, expressed understanding and even agreement with his questioners – saying that the assembled officials had agreed that the peace process had completely collapsed and that “certain world powers” had conspired against the process on Israel’s behalf. How impressed the assembled journalists were by his response is unclear. But it is a telling moment, with Musa and the Arab League confronted by this angry set of journalists claiming to speak for the Arab public…

Zvi Bar’el argues in Haaretz that, in fact, the line taken by the Saudis does not bode well for the Lebanese position.

Some worthwhile reads on the “human costs” side of the equation. The Washington Post reports on how “A Poor Beirut Neighborhood Feels the Brunt of War” while 3 Quarks Daily prints a letter to Moshe Behar from his friend Rasha in Beirut:

This is all bringing back echoes of 1982, the Israeli siege of Beirut. My living nightmare, well one of my living nightmares. It was summer then as well. The Israeli army marched through the south and besieged Beirut. For 3 months, the US administration kept dispatching urges for the Israeli military to act with restraint. And the Israelis assured them they were acting appropriately. We had the PLO command in West Beirut then. I felt safe with the handsome fighters. How I miss them. Between Hezbollah and the Lebanese army I don’t feel safe. We are exposed, defenseless, pathetic. And I am older, more aware of danger. I am 37 years old and actually scared. The sound of the warplanes scares me. I am not defiant, there is no more fight left in me. And there is no solidarity, no real cause.

She also discusses the three major theories making the rounds in Beirut about why this is happening.

Glenn Frankel tries to shed light on the “Israel lobby” in the Post, but Michael Massing’s New York Review of Books article remains a far better resource for the curious.

Just when I was starting to wonder if everything the Bush administration touches turns into a putrid, ickygreeen glop of biohazardous waste, I learn that they at least managed to get the Security Council to slap North Korea. But “slap” is definitely the right word:

The accord, Resolution 1695, came after President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who are attending the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, yielded to Chinese and Russian pressure to drop an explicit reference to a provision in the Charter of the United Nations that has traditionally been cited to impose sanctions and authorize military force. The accord also followed a failed Chinese diplomatic initiative to persuade Pyongyang to halt its program.

North Korea, regardless, didn’t take the news particularly well.

I kind of mean the above hyperbole, if you really must know. I’m starting to think that if The Princess Bride gets remade in a decade or two, Vizzini will substitute “never fight a preventative war in the Middle East” for “never get involved in a land war in Asia.”

Russia won’t be, at least for now, a member of the WTO. And Putin makes Bush look foolish.

On a “lighter” note, David Adesnik argues that liberals don’t have as much of a claim on Truman’s legacy as they think:

Anyhow, I think it is fair to say that Beinart represents multilateralism as an integral part of the Truman legacy. In short, Truman traded power for legitimacy.

But is that really what Truman did? Although NATO is a multilateral institution it really doesn’t belong in the same category as the United Nations. NATO was a military alliance of like-minded anti-Communist states, almost all of them democratic. The primary value of NATO was not that it legitimized American power, but that it reassured those in Europe who believed that America might retreat into isolationism once again.

As for the United Nations, it doesn’t really belong in the same category as the United Nations either. When it was born in San Francisco in 1945, China and the Soviet Union were American allies. The institution itself was as much an extension of the wartime alliance (to which FDR referred as “the United Nations”) as it was an effort to trade power for legitimacy.

Of course, the alliance did not last for long. In that regard, Noemie Emery argues in the Weekly Standard that Truman recognized the inevitable dysfunction of a United Nations with the Soviet Union on its Security Council. Thus, when preparing to go war in Korea, Truman did not consider the approval of the Security Council to be necessary. Emery writes that:

[Truman] did get its consent, only because the Soviet Union blundered by boycotting the Council. But as Max Boot reminds us, “Truman had already committed air and naval forces to combat before the vote,” later writing to Acheson that without the U.N., “We would have had to go into Korea alone.”

Although I’ve spent some time studying Truman’s foreign policy, I cannot personally vouch for Emery’s interpretation of this episode, although she is certainly correct that the Soviets boycotted the relevant vote.

Nonetheless, the more relevant point may be that Truman’s aspiring heirs on the Democratic side of the aisle never seem to recognize that the Truman of Korea is not the good multilateralist they want to canonize. For example, the index at the back of Peter Beinart’s book doesn’t even have an entry for Korea (south, north or otherwise).

I express my complete bewilderment over terms of this debate in comments. At least David doesn’t assert, as does an anonymous commentator on a different post at Oxblog, that:

[Democrat’s] policy consensus is also incoherent as they favor bilateral negotiations with North Korea, while they criticize Bush for having a unilateral foreign policy. Bilateral negotiatons make no sense from either a liberal internationalist, neoconservative, or realist foreign policy.

I sure as hell hope “anonymous” wasn’t one of my students at Georgetown, because someone done taught him (or her) wrong.

Moving along, through a set of link-following on ahistorocality I wound up reading a hilarious post on the rules for writing historical faction. A sample:

11. The first wife of your Napoleonic Wars naval hero always dies, usually in a coach accident, although smallpox has been used as an alternative. Your hero is now free to marry the woman with whom he has been carrying out a beautiful, but apparently doomed, adulterous relationship. (Her elderly husband is always killed by a convenient cannonball.) If the first wife has been engaging in an adulterous relationship of her own, this is entirely wicked and she will be punished for it by the aforementioned fatal coach crash.

Wow, there’s so much more. Mr. Trend at Alterdestiny captures my own ambivalence about zoos. Interesting commentary on mutations in Nigerian-scam spam. More later, perhaps.

UPDATE: I thought being President was “hard work.” Apparently, not so much. I know we try to be at least relatively evenhanded here, but I’m really looking forward to November of 2008 when, pretty much no matter which of the likely candidates wins, our long national nightmare might finally be over.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.