Political Animal

CASTRO AND CUBA….Matt Welch has

CASTRO AND CUBA….Matt Welch has been keeping a close eye on the Castro show trials (just start at the top and scroll down), and I have to admit that the whole Castro things perplexes me. On the one hand, I can’t conceive of why so many Hollywood celebrities seem to idolize him. Sure, Batista was no great shakes, but Castro’s not exactly heading up a liberal democracy over there in Cuba either. He runs a pretty tough operation.

On the other hand, Cuban exiles in Miami excepted, the conservative obsession with him also seems odd. I mean, he’s really just a garden variety tinpot dictator. I don’t like him either, but there’s at least several dozen in the world who are as bad or worse.

One of the mysteries of life, I suppose.

UPDATE: Nathan Newman has more. Apparently there’s a “Lefties Against Castro” petition circulating. Add your name to the list!

THE UN AND IRAQ….The topic

THE UN AND IRAQ….The topic of the 60 Minutes Clinton & Dole debate tonight was whether the UN should be involved in rebuilding Iraq. Bob Dole, unsurprisingly, was opposed. Humanitarian aid, sure, but helping to set up a government? Not a chance. We don’t want “Kofi Annan’s crowd” messing things up.

Now, it’s true that the UN has its problems, and I certainly know that conservatives just generally despise the UN, but this got me thinking. What exactly do they have against letting the UN have a say in rebuilding the Iraqi government? How would they mess it up? By proposing tax rates that were too progressive?

What’s the deal here?


THE NEOCON AEI GRAND PLAN….Phil McCombs has a pretty interesting article in today’s Washington Post about the whole neocon agenda for international affairs. The interesting thing, however, is that he never uses the word “neocon.” It’s the same cast of characters, but in his article they’ve all morphed into members of the AEI mafia:

You could see it one recent morning as 20 protesters marched in front of the nondescript downtown Washington office building where the American Enterprise Institute is located.

Their chant, reminiscent of the Vietnam era: “Hey hey! Ho ho! Richard Perle has gotta go!” Perle is an avuncular guy based at AEI whose job is to sit around and think, and talk with other thinkers — like Cohen and Woolsey — about global strategy. Which is just what he’s doing inside, in a “Black Coffee Briefing” on “The Road to War and Beyond.”

….In short, if there’s a new American Imperium, the AEI group is its intellectual Praetorian Guard. Some 20 AEI scholars serve in the Bush administration, and though Cohen isn’t on today’s panel, he’s a member of AEI’s Council of Academic Advisers, present in spirit.

McCombs also gives us a good rundown of the whole “World War IV” meme that’s so popular these days.

(What’s that? Did you miss a war during your American history class? No, no, not at all, it’s just that all the cool kids know that the Cold War was World War III, which upgrades our current War on Terror to World War IV. It’s an easy mistake to make, so don’t blame yourself for not getting it, but you better read McCombs’ article if you want to catch up in time for the final.)


THE “HUMAN RIGHTS EXCEPTION”….Mickey Kaus asked the other day if there should be a “human rights exception” to the general rule that you don’t start a war unless someone else starts it first. It is questions like this that make it so frustrating to me that left and right are so far apart these days.

The reason for this frustration is that I think the answer to his question is yes. I would be delighted to see the civilized world take a stronger stand against brutal, dictatorial regimes like Saddam Hussein’s. There’s no sophisticated thinking behind this, either. It’s just that I don’t like torture, repression, and mass murder, and I do like democracy, religious tolerance, and personal freedom. And these are things I feel strongly enough about that I’m willing to impose them by force on the occasions where it seems feasible to do so.

The obvious question, of course, is: who gets to decide when a regime is bad enough that it ought to be forcibly removed and replaced by something (hopefully) better? I take it as a given that organizations with power should not be solely in charge of using their power. That’s why ? like everyone ? I’m in favor of civilian control of the military and city council control of local police forces. It’s not that I’m anti-cop, it’s just that I recognize that the kind of people who are good at wielding power are not the same people who are good at deciding when and how to wield it. They need oversight.

The same applies rather obviously to international affairs. Just to take the Middle East as one example, American backing for Israel, though laudable on many grounds, has been so one-sided that it’s been ineffective in mediating an end to 50 years of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians; we supported the Shah of Iran with disastrous consequences; we supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran; and we supported the Mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, a splinter of which eventually became the Taliban. All of these seemed like defensible short-term decisions at the time, but the longer term effects have been catastrophic.

On the other hand, when we are part of a genuinely effective multilateral effort ? World War I, World War II, the Cold War ? we’ve done quite a bit better. It’s unfortunate, then, that anti-war liberals seem to put rather too much stock in the UN, an organization that has too many institutional barriers to action to be an effective multilateral force, while conservatives disdain any kind of multilateral body that might genuinely constrain American use of force.

We seem to be at an impasse these days and I wonder where the statesmanship will come from to break it? Oddly enough, in the same sense that only Nixon could go to China, the statesmanship could come from George Bush.

But what are the odds?