Anne Applebaum Is Full of It


Still, freedom to practice religion in the West shouldn’t imply freedom to hold jobs that impinge on that practice. An Orthodox Jew should not have an absolute right to work in a restaurant that is open only on Saturdays. A Quaker cannot join the Army and then state that his religion prohibits him from fighting. By the same token, a Muslim woman who wants to cover her face has no absolute right to work in a school or an office where face-to-face conversations are part of the job. It isn’t religious discrimination or anti-Muslim bias to tell her that she must be polite to the natives, respect the local customs, try to speak some of the local patois—and uncover her face.

First off, Applebaum has obviously never heard of conscientious objection, because if she had she would have known that many a pacifist Quaker has served in the US Army, just in non-combat roles. This includes Quakers who enlisted, and were not conscripted.
Second, there’s a difference between not being able to serve in the military/work on Saturdays and not being able to communicate with someone without a veil. The former requirements are major impediments to one’s ability to work in very specific field; they are easily managed. But veils not only do not harm the wearer’s ability to do just about any job, but they apply during all occupations. So allowing Muslims to be discriminated against on the basis of veil-wearing would, in theory, ban female Muslims from workplaces for doing something that does not impede their ability to work. Not only that, but they could be banned for no good reason from just about any workplace, unlike Orthodox Jews or Quakers. That’s not fair, and Applebaum’s smart enough to know it.

Porn As An Outlet

Greg Mankiw quotes a study by a Clemon economist:

The arrival of the internet caused a large decline in both the pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of accessing pornography. Using state-level panel data from 1998-2003, I find that the arrival of the internet was associated with a reduction in rape incidence. However, growth in internet usage had no apparent effect on other crimes. Moreover, when I disaggregate the rape data by offender age, I find that the effect of the internet on rape is concentrated among those for whom the internet-induced fall in the non-pecuniary price of pornography was the largest – men ages 15-19, who typically live with their parents.

At first I was skeptical; the study focused on the correlation between internet access and rape rates. It seemed like a stretch to assume that pornography usage and internet usage are one and the same. But now that I notice that rape was the only statistic affected, and that the drop was mainly focused on the most heavily pornified segment of the population, I find the conclusion much more plausible. The study poses a potent challenge to the old-school feminist notion that rape is about power, not sex; that the same urges that lead to rape can be channeled through porn seems to suggest that rape is, in fact, a sexual act. On the other hand, if these potential rapists were looking at violent porn, which isn’t that unlikely, the rape-power connection stands. More research needs to be done, of course, but at the very least Catharine MacKinnon should be making some apologies.

Positive Rumblings in Israel

While I deplore Avigdor Lieberman’s undoubtedly racist ethnic cleansing policies, I still have to say that, from a policy viewpoint, Israel Beiteinu’s addition to the Israeli governing coalition is a very good thing. Here’s why:

In recent weeks, Mr. Lieberman has pushed a proposal that would change Israel’s government from a parliamentary system to a strong presidential system, similar to that of the United States. Under his plan, the presidency, which is now a mostly ceremonial position chosen by the Parliament, would be a directly elected by voters and would have wide-ranging powers.
Mr. Lieberman’s proposal was narrowly approved by Israel’s cabinet on Sunday, but is expected to face an uphill battle if it is introduced in the Parliament.

Let’s hope that the full Knesset agrees to it. As great as proportional representation seems in theory, it wreaks spectacular havoc in countries where there are volatile foreign policy situations, like Israel. Whereas winner-take-all systems have a bias toward centrist parties that reflect the opinions of the median voter, proportional rep systems put disproportionate power in the hands of small extremist parties – like Lieberman’s, incidentally – that major parties need to garner the support of in order to organize a governing coalition. In the case of Israel, this means that the National Union and various religious parties get more policy sway than their vote totals would indicate; as these parties are decidedly rightist in their views on the Palestinian issue, this makes negotiating a final peace settlement difficult, to say the least. So while a presidential system won’t tear down all barriers to a peace settlement, it will put more power in centrist forces, which is a step in the right direction.

In Defense of Intervention

Again, Matt, with the easily debunkable attacks on a hypothetical Darfur intervention:

A feasible intervention against the government, it seems to me, would have to be an intervention on behalf of the rebels and their political agenda.
This is a course of action that nobody actually wants to explicitly endorse. Perhaps that’s wrong. Perhaps Darfuri independence is a cause we should get behind.

Matt, as with most intervention skeptics, seems to forget that we’ve done this before – in Kosovo. In 1999, we did exactly what Matt seemingly thinks is unthinkable: we had the US Air Force become the de facto air corps of the Kosovo Liberation Army, and we implicitly signed on to the agenda of Kosovar independence. That didn’t end up too badly, as I recall. Moreover, both Kosovar independence and Darfuri independence are worthy causes. Both are instances of minority groups being savagely brutalized by the majority ethnic group in their countries, and both situations can be solved by giving the minority an army and sovereignty as a bulwark against further aggression. It’s that simple.
When someone presents a convincing case for how the situation in Darfur is substantially different than the situation in Kosovo was, or for why an intervention in Darfur would be substantially less successful than the intervention in Kosovo was, I’ll take the anti-intervention argument seriously. But no one has done either of those things, and so the anti-intervention agenda remains one of complacency. Worse still, the urge to recharacterize the conflict as a big, complicated civil war rather than a genocide is eerily reminiscent of the rhetoric of David Irving-types who wrote off the Holocaust to the fact that a war was going on. I’m sure that Matt is not arguing from the same motives as Irving, certainly, and genuinely believes that the conflict is too complicated to intervene in. But he’s a smart guy, and he doesn’t deserve to be on the wrong side of history.

Obama’s Thinking

This isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s certainly encouraging:

Sen. Barack Obama acknowledged Sunday he was considering a run for president in 2008, backing off previous statements that he would not do so.
The Illinois Democrat said he could no longer stand by the statements he made after his 2004 election and earlier this year that he would serve a full six-year term in Congress. He said he would not make a decision until after the Nov. 7 elections.

“Given the responses that I’ve been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility” although not with the seriousness or depth required, he said. “My main focus right now is in the ’06. … After November 7, I’ll sit down, I’ll sit down and consider, and if at some point I change my mind, I will make a public announcement and everybody will be able to go at me.”

Via Mike Crowley. I find that last quote very interesting. It suggests he’s leaning one way, but it’s completely ambiguous as to which way that is. One the one hand, it could mean that he’s leaning toward running, in which case the “public announcement” and “go[ing] at [him]” would be similar to what’s happened to Mark Warner recently. On the other, the “public announcement” could refer to an announcement of a run, in which case he’s leaning against running. I think it’s impossible to parse that sentence so as to find a definitive answer, so I’ll just keep on hoping he’ll run. Because if he doesn’t, I’ll be forced to choose between either the distasteful (Feingold, Edwards), the bland (Dodd, Vilsack), or both (Hillary, Kerry). To be fair, Biden and Clark aren’t that bad, although Biden’s vote for the war and Washington insider status are certainly going to hurt him. But even Clark doesn’t measure up to Obama’s potential.

The Case Against Afghanistan

Brad Plumer, with his usual counterintuitive flair, argues that perhaps, given the consequences, invading Afghanistan wasn’t a good idea in the first place:

After September 11 of course, the United States had to deal with al Qaeda in the short term, no matter what happened next. I remember reading, in various European newspapers at the time, about talk of a deal with the Taliban to extradite bin Laden and his associates. That fell through. But why? Was it because Mullah Omar had married bin Laden’s daughter and wouldn’t hand over his friend? Was it because the United States wanted to go to war come what may? And if so, why?
Some reports indicated that the Taliban had agreed to extradite bin Laden to Pakistan, but the United States killed that deal. Jason Burke’s book on al Qaeda reported that after the embassy bombings in 1998, the Taliban was also ready to rid itself of bin Laden, but after Clinton ordered a missile strike on Afghanistan, the Taliban, obviously embittered, changed its mind. If that’s true, it sounds like the Taliban leadership was never thrilled with bin Laden, but had too much pride to bend to U.S. browbeating. Perhaps if an International Criminal Court had been in place in 2001, that would’ve been an acceptable compromise. We’ll never know, obviously.
Of course, perhaps the United States had good reason to turn down these offers. Afghanistan, after all, was a terrorist haven—with training camps and everything—and getting bin Laden alone might not have been enough. But is this true? Some reports suggested that most al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, circa 2001, basically existed to fight the Northern Alliance. Were they a threat to the United States? I don’t know. Moreover, would enhanced police and intelligence operations around the world, in conjunction with political pressure on the Taliban, have been just as disruptive to al Qaeda as an invasion was?

It’s impossible to know whether or not browbeating the Taliban or just backing the Northern Alliance or expanding traditional law enforcement efforts against al-Qaeda would have disrupted al-Qaeda as much as the invasion of Afghanistan did (and, according to James Fallows, it disrupted them quite a lot). But I think the more salient question is whether or not al-Qaeda’s stronger, pre-invasion operation was a sufficient threat that disruption was in order to ensure American security. And, as I have pointed out time and again, I don’t think al-Qaeda has ever in its history been a threat of a size warranting significant American response. Perhaps the war in Afghanistan could be justified in moral terms, though given that the country seems to be tip-toeing back to theocracy this line of apologia seems dubious. But there’s no way to defend Afghanistan on national security grounds.
But that’s besides the point. The most critical point in Brad’s post is the one he finds the most distasteful:

A cynic would say that, after September 11, the Bush administration needed to do something dramatic—perhaps partly for public consumption. As Thomas Friedman said, “after 9/11 the United States needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world.” There was some psychological need to smash shit up. I mean, sure I think that attitude’s sick and twisted, but it appeared to be fairly widespread. Political pressure and covert operations wouldn’t have satisfied the masses. A dramatic air war was just the thing. Any administration, Democratic or Republican, would’ve understood that, I think.

Exactly. In the words of David Cross, “Nader would have f*cking bombed Afghanistan…What did we expect he was gonna do? The planes hit and he’s gonna hole up in a Motel 8 with a bottle of Jack, just crying in a corner?” It’s irrational, but the US has a pathological need – especially after it’s attacked – to find an enemy and defeat it. It’s sad, but there you have it.

More Page Stuff

Oh, goody:

Rep. Jerry Weller, R-Morris, through his election attorney, moved Thursday to inform the House that a former page or intern may have been the subject of inappropriate attention from another lawmaker, Weller’s campaign manager said Thursday.
Steven Shearer said the congressman was not prepared to reveal the identity of the youth, the timing, nor the identity of the lawmaker, but felt confident that a former page or intern was “inappropriately invited to a social function by another congressman.”

Of course, it’s bad when congressmen hit on wee little pages. But if it’s going to happen, it might as well happen at the end of October. Assuming the congressman’s a Republican, of course.