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Terror and Liberalism

The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria


Polyarchy by Robert Dahl

The Nazi Seizure of Power

The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen

Terror and Liberalism

Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman

In Association with

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck



Idealism? Let's Be Realistic

All believers in international idealism need to read Michael Glennon's essay on "Why The Security Council Failed." The Security Council was not ruined by the tenacity and ambition of the U.S., it simply showed its long-standing ineffectiveness in this crisis. It was put on display and was shown as the joke that it is. For those who were against the war in Iraq because the U.S. did not pursue a Security Council resolution to the final dictates of France need to read this to see how the world really works. It's great to believe in peaceful, international cooperation, but that is simply now how nations function together. Self-interest will always reign supreme, it is simply unavoidable.

"The first and last geopolitical truth is that states pursue security by pursuing power. Legalist institutions that manage that pursuit maladroitly are ultimately swept away."

The Council was never a powerful center of international restraint. It passed hundreds of resolutions, but always lacked even the slightest hints of enforcement capabilities. An organization with no enforcement ability is a non-existant one. And, as long as nations act for the betterment of their own interests (which will always be the case), no enforcement mechanism will ever exist. This most recent international tension did not harm the Council. On the contrary, the Council was never at full strength.

"The truth, therefore, is that the Security Council's fate never turned on what it did or did not do on Iraq. American unipolarity had already debilitated the council, just as bipolarity paralyzed it during the Cold War. The old power structure gave the Soviet Union an incentive to deadlock the council; the current power structure encourages the United States to bypass it. Meanwhile, the council itself had no good option. Approve an American attack, and it would have seemed to rubber-stamp what it could not stop. Express disapproval of a war, and the United States would have vetoed the attempt. Decline to take any action, and the council would again have been ignored. Disagreement over Iraq did not doom the council; geopolitical reality did."

It is this geopolitical reality that all the nations of the world saw, but they all sought to use the framework of the U.N. to dictate their own self-interest through the most beneficent-seeming methods of international negotiation. Those who think France and Russia acted out of a simple desire for world peace need to get their heads screwed back on. They had their own interests, just as we had ours. The fact that our interests were brought into conflict in a forum of legislation-without-execution was a loss for the Council, not for us. Self-interest dominates, pure and simple.

"[R]ules must flow from the way states actually behave, not how they ought to behave. "The first requirement of a sound body of law," wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, "is that it should correspond with the actual feelings and demands of the community, whether right or wrong."... But these idealists might remind themselves that the international legal system is, again, voluntarist. For better or worse, its rules are based on state consent. States are not bound by rules to which they do not agree. Like it or not, that is the Westphalian system, and it is still very much with us. Pretending that the system can be based on idealists' own subjective notions of morality won't make it so.

"Architects of an authentic new world order must therefore move beyond castles in the air -- beyond imaginary truths that transcend politics -- such as, for example, just war theory and the notion of the sovereign equality of states. These and other stale dogmas rest on archaic notions of universal truth, justice, and morality. The planet today is fractured as seldom before by competing ideas of transcendent truth, by true believers on all continents who think, with Shaw's Caesar, "that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature." Medieval ideas about natural law and natural rights ("nonsense on stilts," Bentham called them) do little more than provide convenient labels for enculturated preferences -- yet serve as rallying cries for belligerents everywhere."

Idealist notions are great, but nothing more than what they are: ideal. They are not practical. These "castles in the air" are what prevent anti-war activists from seeing both that the European opponents to war were also acting on their own motives and that the world is fundamentally different than they see it.

"Getting to a consensus will be accelerated by dropping abstractions, moving beyond the polemical rhetoric of "right" and "wrong," and focusing pragmatically on the concrete needs and preferences of real people who endure suffering that may be unnecessary."

This is indeed what needs to happen. Once we can cut through the lofty idealism we can accomplish things. That is not to say that those idealist goals are to be disregarded, but the method to achieving them is not to institute a system on our current geopolitical reality. It will take time and will require a consensus of interests. Until such a consensus occurs, however, we must see the world as it is and not pretend that it is any other way.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 2:38:00 PM

Saturday, April 19, 2003  


Order Before Democracy

“Nascent Iraq.” That’s what Rousseau might call it. Iraq is in the first moments of its future. It survives in a state of ultimate possibility – it can germinate into a beacon of hope in the politically backward Middle East, or it can revert into corruption and abuse and be ruled by another crooked autocrat. The future of Iraq depends on the decisions that America will make about the future of Iraq in the coming weeks, but will ultimately rely on the boldness of the reforms and attempts at freedom and progress that Iraqis must chart out for themselves.

Today’s protests against everything that’s not Islam shows how much work the U.S. – and the allies it must work with in this process – must overcome in order to develop the hints of liberal, representative government that it has told the world it will institute. There are, however, a few things that will need to be addressed before instituting such a plan. How will true democracy work in a state that has no history of it? What will the path to representative government look like? Will representative government even be necessary in a nation that can get its income not from the people, but from the ground?

While the Bush Administration has gone out of its way to say that it will stay and rebuild Iraq and that it will include Iraqis in that process as soon as possible, this might not be the best route to success. True democracies with successful elections and a pattern of respect for the institutions of government do not appear overnight. They take time, and often start out ugly.

In Iraq this process must begin with the reestablishment of markets and trade. This can only begin with security and order. This will require the U.S. to quickly create the institutions of a lasting state system for the people of Iraq. Fareed Zakaria articulates these needs with perfection:

“In Iraq today, first establish a stable security environment and create the institutions of limited government—a constitution with a bill of rights, an independent judiciary, a sound central bank. Then and only then, move to full-fledged democracy.”

Zakaria sees this slow progression towards democracy as having several necessary steps that might not appear to be in tune with the long-run indications of the American planners. He suggests that while democracy is certainly the end goal, it is just that – an end goal. What must come first is strong leadership, backed up by the institutions of effectiveness. Zakaria sees economic progress as the first and foremost goals in the reconstruction of Iraq – ahead of political liberality.

“Over the last decade those countries that moved farthest toward liberal democracy followed a version of the Western pattern: first capitalism and the rule of law, then democracy. In much of East Asia—South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia—a dominant ruling elite liberalized the economy and the legal system. Capitalism created a middle class that then pressured the government to open up the political system. It nurtured an independent civil society that has helped consolidate democracy. In Latin America, the most successful liberal democracy today is Chile, which followed a similar path under Gen. Augusto Pinochet. These dictators were not trying to create democracy. But in modernizing their countries they ended up doing so anyway.”

In post-war Iraq, the conditions for honest political systems will not exist without the possibility of free enterprise and the assurance of lasting stability. Once political institutions do exist though, they must be made of all of Iraq’s various ethnic and religious groups. They must be all-encompassing, and the moderating qualities of government must rely on including all of these communities in the governing process.

“Diversity, properly handled, can be a great source of strength in Iraq. But power will have to be divided, shared and checked. The constitution of a new Iraq should create a federal state, with substantial local autonomy. The regions should not be all ethnically or religiously based.”

This type of federal system will be crucial to a successful post-Saddam Iraq. Power must be strong in its parts and united in its collective will. Religious leaders, tribal sheiks and civic authorities must each represent their interests, for it will be interests that will provide the framework for government at first, not constituents. Iraq will need a strong confederation of “states” that represent the welfare of Iraq’s diverse population. These “states” will allow various groups to be represented in a strong governmental system, yet under the umbrella of a central authority that will be required to negotiate the tensions between the rival local powers. It will be the responsibility of this national government though, that will ultimately determine the long-term possibility of a viable, democratic republic.

While having to deal with the tensions between various tribes and religious beliefs, the new national government, founded on order above all else, will need to provide the large scale projects that will show progress. It will be the challenge of this government to use the revenues of Iraqi oil for the benefit of the public. This must include libraries, highways, public universities, and all the other necessary infrastructure that defines a successful nation. Oil revenue will be the key to a successful rebuilding, though it may be the most difficult route to Iraq’s prosperous future.

“Countries with treasure in their soil don’t need to create the framework of laws and policies that produce economic growth and create a middle class. They simply drill into the ground for black gold. These “trust-fund states” don’t work for their wealth and thus don’t modernize—economically or politically. After all, easy money means a government doesn’t need to tax its people. That might sound like a good idea, but when a government takes money from its people, the people demand something in return. Like honesty, accountability, transparency—and eventually democracy.”

This paradox of Arab wealth will no doubt hinder the chances of Iraq producing honest, magnanimous leaders willing to use the “black gold” for public ventures of accomplishment. This will be the toughest challenge for a new Iraq. It must use its natural wealth for the benefit of all.

To carry this out, the first Iraqi leaders must set a strong prescient for sincerity and principled leadership to unite the diverse population for works of common good, while ensuring the cultural sovereignty of each particular ethnic or religious faction. Iraq can have a strong, representative government, but the representative part must be most active on the “state” level where identity politics will present themselves most. True democracy is a lofty goal for a nation with no history of government accountability and responsiveness to the people. Taking the first steps towards lasting, open governance will be difficult, but it must be the first step towards a liberal political system.

If Iraq does not have full democracy in a year, don’t be surprised. If it hasn’t reached the full extent of liberal government in ten years don’t sweat. It will come. Democracy takes time. The first step towards it though, needs to begin now with effective, unifying leadership by and for Iraqis, backed up by the economic and political might of their liberator, America. From order democracy springs. Give it time.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 10:52:00 PM

Friday, April 18, 2003  


You're Only 40!

It's OK. Jerry's gone. You can come back now. Paxson's running the show.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 12:34:00 PM

Thursday, April 17, 2003  


The Syrian Controversy

Saddam's statue hadn't even hit the ground, but the Bush administration was already turning its attention away from Iraq and onto its neighbor, Syria. Anyone who naively thought that the Administration balanced the Neocons in the Defense Department with a more friendly voice of moderation was proved wrong by the announced objective of Syria. It seems clear that the Neocon plan of a domino Mideast isn't so much a dream as a course of action. However, they seem impatient to watch the dominoes fall. Instead Perle, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney seem determined to knock each domino over individually. This is a mistake.

Thomas Friedman assesses this next step in the Neocon plan with skepticism and doubts that Syria really warrants military action. He says we need a "new stategic doctrine" for nations such as Syria who the Administration seem to be licking their chops to invade. Friedman images the mideast as a balance that will slowly be tipped towards political modernity with each nation that reforms. He sees the potential for Lebanon, the Syrian occupied, former democracy that has sadly fallen behind under a quarter century of occupation by its neighbor, as a possible key for tipping those scales for modernity. With an autonomous Lebanon, a newly created Palestinian state and a liberated Iraq, Friedman argues, the mideast could fulfill a more peaceful version of the domino theory.

"Iraq is the only Arab country that combines oil, water, brains and secularism. Lebanon has water, brains, secularism and a liberal tradition. The Palestinians have a similar potential. Which is why I favor "triple self-determination." If Lebanon, Iraq and a Palestinian state could all be made into functioning, decent, free-market, self-governing societies, it would be enough to tilt the entire Arab world onto a modernizing track."

Friedman suggests that Iraq was the hardest of these to tip, and as we've seen, that wasn't terribly difficult. He says that Syria must be "leaned on" in order to force concessions, such as a withdrawl from Lebanon and an end to support for terrorist groups such as Hezballah. I'd have to agree. Separating Syria from Lebanon would do wonders for Israeli security, mideast democracy and general prosperity throughout the region. Friedman suggests that now that Iraq has been freed, something of a "lean on" policy should be enacted.

"Bush-style military engagement with Syria is not in the cards right now. But French-style constructive engagement, which is just a cover for dancing with dictators, is a fraud. The natural third way is "aggressive engagement." That means getting in Syria's face every day. Reminding the world of its 27-year occupation of Lebanon and how much it has held that country back, and reminding the Syrian people of how much they've been deprived of a better future by their own thuggish regime."

Getting tough on Syria, with an "aggressive engagement" policy sounds like exactly what is needed. The military option was necessary in Iraq because all other means had been spent. The French option never was an option. In Syria, especially with his co-terrorist sponsor Saddam gone, the young dictator Bashar al-Assad would be far more likely to cave to strong armed diplomatic pressure from the United States.

We should try, and it is likely we would succeed. Our success though would pale in comparison to the success that would be bred across the region.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 5:08:00 PM

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  


Excellent! Wait, No...

When I first read this, I was elated. Finally, Illinois would get rid of Senator Fitzgerald. His five years in the U.S. Senate thus far have made my state look bad. He was a terrible politician, and not the most intelligent man in general. His time in office was not well spent, for much of it was based around opposing the much needed expansion of O'Hare airport on the federal level. He was an obstructionist - a space filler for the Illinois Senate seat. In contrast to Illinois' senior senator, Dick Durbin, Fitzgerald was a buffoon. He created more problems than he solved.

That said, after considering the fallout of Fitzgerald's announcement, it probably isn't a good thing for the Democrats. Had Fitzgerald ran again, he surely would have lost, certainly in the general election if not in the primary. Now though, the Democrats may face more formidable candidates such as former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan who lost in his bid for governor last November, or other prominent Illinois politicians who otherwise wouldn't have challenged the incumbent.

This announcement will surely make the race more difficult for Democrats, though it will no doubt improve Illinois' representation in the federal government from one of laughable gravitas to one of respect and worthiness of the office. There is no doubt that Fitzgerald's replacement will accomplish more in office than he ever could.

No matter who wins, it will be a win for the people of Illinois to be rid of Peter Fitzgerald.

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 11:33:00 AM

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  




What do we make of this?

"Top secret documents obtained by The Telegraph in Baghdad show that Russia provided Saddam Hussein's regime with wide-ranging assistance in the months leading up to the war, including intelligence on private conversations between Tony Blair and other Western leaders.

"Moscow also provided Saddam with lists of assassins available for "hits" in the West and details of arms deals to neighbouring countries. The two countries also signed agreements to share intelligence, help each other to "obtain" visas for agents to go to other countries and to exchange information on the activities of Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader."

This certainly explains why Russia went from being one of our strongest terrorist-fighting allies to being a Franco-German peacenik. Nevertheless, this almost goes beyond being a peacenik to being a straight ally with Saddam. Assassinations? That's shocking. I guess Putin's resume should have given us an indication of the kind of intelligence he would oversee.

(via Oliver Willis)

  posted by Kris Lofgren @ 12:30:00 AM

Sunday, April 13, 2003