Friday, February 21, 2003

Paradise Update

A local radio station did a story last week about Paradise.

Magid and Karin Dabdoub called in. (Magid was apparently one of the leading protestors). They said that they thought that the new draft was a lot better, but had some additional concerns. They thought that it was unfair that the play had the suicide recruiter tell Fatima to pray in a mosque before suicide bombing, and that it represents muslims as suicide bombers. Magid was also upset that the play didn't have some more clear statement that suicide bombing is contrary it Islam.

This is a little wierd. Apparently, one of the criticisms of the last draft was that Fatima didn't spend the day before the bombing praying.

The Dabdoubs had a variety of kind of standard criticism - that they thought the ending didn't offer a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, that they thought there wasn't a sufficient foundation established for Fatima's violence, which suggested that she was somehow culturally violent rather than aggrieved.

I support the Playhouse's right to make changes, especially for a work directed at schools, but hope that they make their own choices - no play is going to satisfy everyone.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

How Do We Know If We've Won?

Calpundit suggests some criteria for war success (found via Goblin Queen).

He asks pro-war partisans, assuming that a war results in a relatively swift regime change in Iraq, with Saddam Hussein and his top lieutenants either captured or killed, are any of the following possible "good" outcomes also necessary to consider the war a success, and would any the following possible "bad" outcomes render the war a failure?

Possible Good Outcomes:
  • Introduction, to at least some extent, of democratic institutions in Iraq.

  • Rapid reconstruction of Iraqi infrastructure and introduction of market reforms, food aid, and medical aid.

  • A clear demonstration to the world that Iraq did indeed have the hidden WMDs that we said they had.

  • Continued protection of the Kurds and other ethnic minorities in Iraq.

  • At some level, evidence that Western values introduced in Iraq are starting to make inroads in the rest of the Middle East.

Possible Bad Outcomes:
  • A serious uprising of the "Arab street" that ends up promoting increased terrorist activity.

  • Additional wars in the Middle East, whether they involve us or not.

  • Pursuit of WMDs by countries like Iran or Syria, which don't currently have them.

  • A serious attack, possibly nuclear, on Israel.

  • An interruption of the Mideast oil supply, either via embargo or war, that causes a serious recession in the rest of the world.

My Answer: I don't like to dodge questions normally, but I can't just check these off. First, I don't think most of them are binary, although a few are. It's certainly possible to have more or less "Western values", or more or less of an uprising on the Arab street.

Here's my calculus. To go to war without reservation, the following conditions must be met:
  • There must be a substantially probable net benefit to the US from the war, considering all possible costs and benefits. (I agree that other countries should use their own self-interest in deciding whether to join with the US.

  • The war must be probable to leave the people of Iraq substantially better off than if there was no war.

  • The war must be probably to leave the people of the Earth as a whole (excluding the US) not worse off than they would be without a war.

Most of Calpundit's proposed outcomes would add costs or benefits to the appropriate side of those three equations. In this case, I think it is best to go to war because I think Saddam Hussein is a substantial threat to the region, the US, and the world (in that order) and that this threat cannot be contained without war, that his people will be better off without him, including, in the medium-long run, the Kurds, and that eliminating Saddam Hussein will also eliminate a substantial threat to the world economy. I also think that eliminating him will reduce, rather than increase, world terrorism. I think that the war will weaken international structures like the UN slightly, but in areas where their value was already minimal (and it might encourage badly needed reform at the UN).

If I'm proved wrong on enough points that the US, Iraqis, or world are rendered worse off, then I would consider the war a failure at least with regard to that aspect of the equation. (Which could render it a partial success, I guess.)

As an example, the Taliban were the easiest case to meet my criteria. Almost any government imaginable would be better for the Afghans, and the Taliban were harboring murderous terrorists who took American hesitance as a license to kill more people. Iraq is close - Saddam is dangerous, Saddam is violating international law, Saddam is so bad that it's hard to imagine making the situation much worse, and easy to imagine making it substantially better. It's not as easy a case as the Taliban, but it's far enough on the continuum to make me want to go forward.

How's that?
My message, sent from (Suggested by Instapundit).
I am a constituent of yours and recently moved to Ohio. I indend to become a contributor.

I am writing to SUPPORT MILITARY ACTION AGAINST IRAQ, if possible within the UN framework but in any case as soon as possible.

Saddam Hussein and the UN are engaged in even the desultory level of inspections currently ongoing only because of a credible threat of force by the UN and its allies. However, it is increasingly clear that Saddam will never disarm and, barring a diplomatic miracle by the US and its allies, the UN will never act to enforce its own decrees.

Every day that passes is another day that the possibility of war drags on the US economy and distracts the US from dealing with North Korea, and another day in which countless Iraqis die at Saddam's hand. The sooner we act, the more people we can save and the more good we can do.

Thank you for your time,

I don't know if Truemajority will publish them or not, but I encourage as many people as possible to express their opinions, whether pro or anti-war.

What's Bush Doing in Korea?

There's been a little discussion on Brad De Long's site about Korea, and of course it's been an interest of Josh Marshall's for some time. Here's what I think.

What's Going on in North Korea

For those who don't know, North Korea has been the mother of all nightmare states for years. Despite the fact that its people are eating grass, bark, dirt, and possibly each other, it spends a third of its GNP on its military. It is a bizarre cult-of-personality Stalinist state without enough power to even turn on the lights at night. Last year, as part of its alleged "opening" to the West, North Korea revealed for the first time that it had been kidnapping Japanese citizens in order to force them to help train its spies to pass as Japanese. North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, allowed a few of the kidnappees to visit Japan for a short time (without, of course, their families, who remained in North Korea as hostages). Apparently, Kim was hurt and surprised that the Japanese weren't pleased by his announcement and gesture. Nor is kidnapping an isolated occurrence. A few years back, Kim decided that North Korea needed a world class film industry. His solution was to order one of South Korea's leading firlm directors kidnapped, then to hold him prisoner, together with his wife, while the director made a series of movies at Kim's instruction, including a pro-farmer, anti-capitalist Godzilla movie.

Over the past 10 years or so, the North Korean regime has survived as a direct result of international welfare. They receive large amounts of assistance from China, and receive humanitarian assistance from Japan, Russia, the UN, and various other organizations and countries. They also hit on one more means of generating foriegn capital - international blackmail.

In 1994, the North Koreans announced that they would no longer be bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and began preparations to start making nukes. Clinton intervened, and after a bunch of diplomacy, they agreed to quit processing nuclear material and to begin a set of political and diplomatic reforms, and we agreed (1) not to threaten them militarily; (2) to give them a metric sh-tload of heating oil each year; and (3) to build two light water nuclear reactors for them.

Opinions differ on how serious the North Koreans were regarding opening their society and rejoining the world community. They allowed some cross-border families to meet, they met with the Japanese leadership, they let those kidnapped Japanese briefly visit Japan, etc. The most optimistic people thought that North Korea was moving in the right direction, and we might be able to encourage them to enter into a partial opening to some political and economic freedom, presumably something like Vietnam or China.

Opinions also differ on who violated the Clinton agreement first. It's hard to believe that Clinton thought he would be able to deliver the two nuclear reactors - even if light water reactors are less helpful to weapons programs, there was just no way Clinton was going to get Congress to fund nuclear reactors for North Korea, especially a Republican congress. Like Kyoto, this seems to be something that Clinton signed to close the deal, like a car saleman who promises add-ons he knows his manager will never agree to. (You put the family in the car, and by the time they figure out they're not getting rustproofing, they're still likely to keep the car.) In any event, we never made any serious steps towards delivering the reactors, and I can't believe we ever would have. Meanwhile, at some point, North Korea began lying to us and the UN Nuclear Inspectors, and began secretly developing nuclear weapons, albiet at a much slower pace than they probably would have if we hadn't signed the deal. Finally, when Bush came in to office, his people started talking tough about North Korea, which some people have characterized as suggesting to the North Koreans that we might renege on the non-aggression part of the deal.

This all came to a head a few months ago. We told North Korea that we knew about their secret nuclear program, and they basically asked us what we were willing to put on the table to get them to stop it. Bush, cowboy that he is, said not a damn thing, you already promised not to refine nuclear materials. There was hair-pulling, and scratching, and the next thing we knew, all deals were off, the North Koreans had started up their full-speed nuclear program, and the Bush administration was saying (1) the International Community should handle it and (2) America wouldn't deal directly with the North Koreans until they agreed to stop their nuclear program.

So, as Sean-Paul the Agonist points out from time to time, we now have a crisis. North Korea is refining nuclear materials, and even if we eventually close a deal, we'll never know how much they made during this period or where they hid it. China and Russia apparently refuse to stop funding the North Korean regime, so sanctions seem unlikely to budge them. Attacking North Korea is a disturbing option, because North Korea has over 10,000 artillery tubes pointed at Saeul, which means that if we attack them or if they just get panicked enough to push the button, they will be able to destroy the city where 60% of Sourth Korea's population lives.

Meanwhile, the North Koreans seem determined to get missiles and nuclear weapons, possibly to sell to other countries, and possibly to bring most Japanese cities within easy range of destruction. They're likely to have nuclear missiles within a year or so if we don't make a deal with them, or within several years if we do. (Assuming that they keep cheating).

What Is Our Plan with Regard to Korea?

I think Bush is using one of two plans with regard to Korea. Either one of them requires him to keep quiet about his true plan, but one of them scares me a lot more than the other.

Option One - No Plan: It's possible that Bush doesn't know what to do with regard to Korea, feels that it's wrong to negotiate with blackmailers, and is just stalling for time while he takes care of Iraq, the economy, the tax cut, and whatever else is on his mind. This is the scary option, and I certainly hope it's not what's going on.

Option Two - Hang Tough: It's also possible that Bush has a plan, but that it's one he can't publicly disclose. If this is the case, the most likely scenario is that Bush has concluded that the North Koreans are more desperate than we are, and that if he waits, North Korea will begin to sweat enough that America will get a better deal in the eventual negotiations. Here, a better deal could mean more diplomatic concessions from NK, stronger inspections, or an agreement that leaves the NK government weaker than the one they prefer. Alternately, Bush feels that by credibly hanging tough, he will give China the signal that if NK doesn't back down, the US will just pull out its troops, let Japan develop a nuclear arsenal, and let China handle the resulting possibility of nuclear meltdown. China is the only country that can plausibly convince North Korea to back down (if anyone can), and a strong bluff may push them to do it.

Option Three - Pay Up: It's not clear what North Korea wants from the US now, or what it will offer us. Some people have suggested that all we have to do is promise not to attack (and resume the Clinton agreement aid levels), while others think we need to put something on the table.

I hope that Bush is pursuing Option Two, and is pressuring China to resolve the situation, and/or plans to make an offer to North Korea from a position of strength. I also hope he has a back-up plan (presumably a decapitation strike), and knows how to use it. South Korea is a solid ally, and hanging tough isn't worth seing Seoul destroyed.

Korea Is No Reason to Back Down on Iraq

I would also like to state that, IMHO, the North Korean crisis is no reason to back down on Iraq. We are ready to go in Iraq, and can do a lot of good. If we actually needed those troops to conquer North Korea, I would feel differently, but as I've said, North Korea has such a strong blackmail position that our options are basically a devastating first strike or nothing at all. Either way, the massive troop strength we have in Iraq would be useful only for saber-rattling, and would be likely to make the situation worse.

(Again, I'm feeling lazy, and apologize. I'll add links and do a spell-check soon. - J Mann)

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

My Visit to Paradise

As reported, I went to see the Cincinnati Playhouse reading of Paradise last night. I'd say about 300 people showed up. Everyone was well behaved, and the play was moving. I'm sorry that it probably won't be performed.


The Cincinnati Playhouse is a local theater company. One of their activities is an educational outreach program, where they do short topical plays for highschool children. Overall, the program seems fairly cool.

Unfortunately for the Playhouse, they decided to commission a play based on the famous Newsweek article that contrasted Ayat al-Akhras, an 18 year old suicide bomber, with 17 year old Israeli Rachel Levy, one of her victims. Last December, they held a preview of the play, and invited a few members of the Jewish and Muslim communities to watch it and offer suggestions. According the Weekly Standard's Christopher Caldwell and Cincinnati's Citybeat, the Muslim portion of the audience went after the play, criticizing it for not portraying the suicide bomber as more devout and not portraying the Israelis as more clearly evil. Some people were suspicious about the fact that the play's director was Jewish. (The Playhouse later replaced the director in order to defuse some of the criticism.)

A few local Muslims began criticizing the play at the Cincinnati Human Rights Commission and at local schools that had scheduled performances. Ultimately, the Playhouse cancelled the run, and O'Malley apparently hit back with an e-mail in which he claimed to have been "fatwa-ed."

The Playhouse staff played this angle down at the reading. They alluded to strong feelings at the earlier reading, and to an "angry and wounded playwright," but basically said that the December reading ultimately strengthened the play, and that they hope to present it sooner or later, in the schools if they can get support, or in a short showing at the Playhouse if they can't.

The Play

We saw a reading of the sixth draft of Paradise. (Last December's reading was the fifth draft). In short, the play follows five characters: Fatima, a teen-aged Palestinian girl living in the Dehaishe refugee camp; Omar, her cousin visiting from America; Bessam, a recruiter for "a splinter group of El-Fatah"; Sara, a Jewish teenager returning to Israel after five years in California; and Shoshonnah, Sarah's mother.

Fatima and Sara both begin the play as somewhat hopeful teenaged girls, but each loses hope in peace as the play continues. Fatima is introduced as a prizewinning writer, and is presented with a choice between the Americanized Omar, who wants to bring her to America where she can go to college, and Bessam, who feeds her feelings of resentment and attempts to recruit her. She starts out resentful but hopeful, but eventually loses all hope.

Meanwhile, Sara starts out as more of a typical American, frustrated with living behind guards, but eventually reconnects with her Jewish heritage. Similar to Fatima, Sara begins the play wishing for peace, but by the end is frustrated and nearly hopeless.

The play tries to tell the Palestinian and Israeli stories, without judging between them. Sara's mother mentions that one reason they live in a settlement is that the government subsidizes their house, but also explains that their settlement is built next to a 2700 year old Jewish ruin. Later, she explains that the largest part of her reason for moving to the settlement was sheer frustration at what she understood to be the threat to push her into the sea. Sara's biggest turning point is when her two closest friends are injured or killed in the disco bombing.

On the other side, Fatima and Omar are clearly living in a war zone. Fatima explains that her school hasn't had a full semester in years, is harassed by Israeli soldiers, and sees a number people close to her die over the course of the play. Fatima comes to see the idea of going to America as surrender, and loses objectivity about the conflict.

Bessam is the closest thing the play has to a villain. He's the only character to address the audience, and seems to represent war itself. A number of the violent acts by either Palestinians or Israelis in the play end up being traced to his guerilla struggle. Still, he comes across as eloquent and rational, if evil. He explains, primarily to the audience, that he is involved in a war to reclaim "his land" and that we and the Israelis ignore him at our peril.

My Take on the Play

Overall, I thought the play was very effective for a 70 minute school play. It isn't trying to say whether the Palestinians or the Israelis are right, just that both sides are human. I'm as pro-Israel as the next guy, and there were a bunch of times where I wanted to stand up and say "hey, that's not fair," but I'm sure a pro-Palestinian would say the same thing.

It sounds silly, it's important to remember that our enemies are people. I know that's corny and obvious, but I mean it. There are more than a few times where I've thought "Ok, I'm done with the Palestinians. There's no reaching them, so it's war." Ultimately, though, even when war is necessary (and I think it is), we need to keep at least the possibility of peace alive. I think this play is a good step in that direction.

Audience Reaction

Most of the audience questions were hillarious. There were the usual artistic poseur questions, but the vast majority of the questions basically asked why O'Malley didn't take a side between the Palestinians and the Isrealis. Some people thought that it was unfair to the Israelis to portray Fatima as so much more serious than Sara. Others thought that it was unfair to the Palestinians to portray Fatima as so much more violent than Sara. (Fatima ultimately decides to become a suicide bomber, while Sara's newfound devotion to Isreal leads her to compose an aggressively Zionist photo essay). One guy asked if the playwright would add a scene where the Israeli Defense force killed a child; another asked why there weren't more scenes showing Israeli "crimes" against Palestinians. One questioner was concerned because the alternating news stories used to transition between scenes included the BBC, CNN and Radio Jerusalem, but no Palestinian media.

O'Malley was snowed in at La Guardia, so we didn't get to hear from him, other than a pre-prepared statement, but the other Playhouse reps handled the questions as well as they could. They basically stated that the play wasn't trying to answer whether the Palestinians or the Israelis were right, it was just trying to tell a story of two people, and to argue that peace is an alternative to war.

As I said, they also downplayed any controversy arising from the last reading, and said that the changes they made after that reading have made the play stronger. The major change they explained was replacing Fatima's boyfriend with her cousin Omar, which cut out some problems the audience had with Fatima meeting alone with her boyfriend, and also presented her choice of emmigration a little bit more accessibly. I thought that was a good change, although I wonder what else was changed.

As I've said, overall, it's a worthwhile play. I hope the Playhouse manages to get it produced.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I'm hoping to go to the Cincinnati Playhouse reading of Paradise tonight. (Paradise is a play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that the Playhouse had planned to run in its educational outreach program, but was cancelled in part due to CAIR protests). Daimian Penny, Laura Ingraham, Tongue Tied, Christopher Caldwell and others have commented on the flap.

If I go, I'll post something here.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Whatta Revoltin' Development.

Generally Liberal
How Republican Are You?

brought to you by Quizilla

It's not the low Republican percentage that bothers me, it's the picture of Aaron Sorkin. However, adding insult to injury, Sorkin is, of course, leaning to the left. . .

Sunday, February 16, 2003

A (Hopefully) Complete A.N.S.W.E.R. Wrap-Up

Well, warbloggerwatch still hasn't issued a correction, but there has been some traffic on their mail list, so I thought I would post as complete an update as I can. (Note: the mail list and archive are public to anyone who signs up, so I'm assuming that the discussions there are public. I can't link to specific posts, but you can read up on them, plus "analbrenda's" invitations, by signing up yourself.)

Part I - A.N.S.W.E.R. Background:

"A.N.S.W.E.R." is the modestly named "International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to End War and Stop Racism)." As you can see from their site, they are a major player in the anti-war protests, and played a major role in organizing the protests earlier this month and a series of protests over the next few weeks.

They are also seriously dirty. They are a front group for the Worker's World Party, a Stalinist (really) political group that actually supports Slobodan Milosovic, Saddam Hussein, and both Kims of North Korea.

Not many people in the anti-war movement have seriously attempted to defend A.N.S.W.E.R. Instead, like warbloggerwatch or Slate's blogger, Mickey Kaus, they have argued that an anti-war movement is necessarily a big tent, and that A.N.S.W.E.R.'s role was limited.

A few weeks ago, the story went around the web that A.N.S.W.E.R. had blackballed Michael Lerner from speaking at a peace rally because Lerner had criticized A.N.S.W.E.R. and argued that it is possible to oppose war and support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. (For those who don't know, Lerner and his group, Tikkun, seem to be firmly among the good guys - a rabbi committed to peace and various left-wing causes for years, leading a seriously committed group of goodwilled leftists.)

Warbloggerwatch in particular tried to fight some kind of rear guard action on this, arguing that the story was "unsubstantiated" and that A.N.S.W.E.R.'s role in the protests was "little more than having secured permits and chartered buses."

Part 2 - Substantiation! (Warbloggerwatch stays silent):

Last week, David Corn of The Nation reported that the story was true -- Lerner offered to speak at a rally in San Francisco and was blackballed. Not only was Lerner blackballed, Corn reported, but two of the other groups organzing the rally, Not in Our Name and United for Peace and Justice, failed to challenge the blackball. A few days later, Lerner himself wrote about the experience.

I challenged warbloggerwatch to issue an update, as it seemed that this story was about as substantiated as it was going to get, but they, of course, have stayed quiet.

On the warbloggerwatch mail server, though, Matthew Brown has responded. He provided this report, which has a different spin on the blackball. In it, Michael Albert argues that as far as he can tell, A.N.S.W.E.R. didn't blackball Lerner, United for Peace and Justice did, because UFPJ had "promised" not to propose any speakers that had been critical of any other group. Albert argues that the promise was foolish, and that Lerner should be allowed to speak, but that it was basically a mistake, not any ill intent.

My take. First, Lerner states that A.N.S.W.E.R. itself stated publicly that he was out because they didn't want a "pro-Israel" speaker, even if the speaker was anti-war. (It's also important to remember that Lerner's criticism of A.N.S.W.E.R. was that they were tieing the anti-war and anti-Israel movements together unnecessarility).

Ultimately, whether Lerner or Albert are right on the details, it looks to me like the peace coalition, such as it is, is in bed with A.N.S.W.E.R. a lot more than it should be. If the price of getting a bunch of Stalinist stooges for the world's worst dictators to rent your buses for you is that you need to silence everyone who criticizes A.N.S.W.E.R., then you are paying way too high a price. The problem with A.N.S.W.E.R. is that they paint your whole movement as a bunch of unreasoning anti-Americans, just as people like Pat Buchanan painted the GOP as a bunch of isolationist bible-bangers (before we kicked him out, that is).

Of course, I may be proved wrong. If the left starts criticizing A.N.S.W.E.R., and invites Lerner to speak at the next set of rallies, I think the movement will be stronger, and I'll be happy to apologize. If not, and if people continue to remain silent about A.N.S.W.E.R. as the price of staying in the movement, then I'll know that you all are still in bed with the Stalinists. Let me know.

(I'm running out of steam - I apologize, but I'll have to finish the rest of the links later - J Mann).