March 7, 2005 | 12:00 PM ET

Things are looking good in the Middle East, but it's too early to gloat. But if you just can't resist, well, nobody does it better than Mark Steyn:

By the way, when's the next Not In Our Name rally? How about this Saturday? Millions of Nionists can flood into Trafalgar Square to proclaim to folks in Iraq and Lebanon and Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority that all the changes under way in the region are most certainly Not In Their Name. Among the celebrity Nionists, Harold Pinter should be available to denounce Blair as a 'war criminal' and a 'hired Christian thug' one mo' time. For as the Guardian reported this week, the great man announced that 'he has decided to abandon his career as a playwright in order to concentrate exclusively on politics'....

Here's another line of mine that looks pretty good this week — my claim back in January that this is 'the most important year in the region since Churchill drew the map of the modern Middle East in 1922.'

I'll stand on that one. But what I'd like to know is this: when Martin Kettle says he and the Nionists were right 'in most respects', which respects is he thinking of? What exactly did the Nionist Entity get right? That the seething 'Arab street' would rise up? Well, after three and a half years they finally did — in Beirut. There never was an 'Arab street': that's part of the same reductive thinking that leads Dominique de Villepin to pass off some feeble schmoozing from Mubarak as the voice of the Muslim people. The entire concept of the 'Arab street' was lazy and condescending.

With hindsight, the fellow travellers were let off far too easily when the Iron Curtain fell like a discarded burka. Little more than a decade later, they barely hesitated a moment before jumping in on the wrong side of history yet again — and this time without the excuse that the ideological virtues of communism had merely gone awry in practice. It's hard to make that argument about Islamism or Baathism, though Rod Liddle gamely gave the latter a whirl. But personally I hope if ever I find myself one of the unfortunate subjects of a totalitarian dictatorship, that it's Bush and the Republicans who take up my cause rather than the Left.

The other day I found myself, for the umpteenth time, driving in Vermont behind a Kerry/Edwards supporter whose vehicle also bore the slogan 'FREE TIBET.' It must be great to be the guy with the printing contract for the 'FREE TIBET' stickers. Not so good to be the guy back in Tibet wondering when the freeing thereof will actually get under way.

It's easy to see why Steyn feels tempted to gloat. But democratization is a process, not an event, and this is a process that is barely under way. Yes, the outbreak of interest in democracy is heartening -- even the usually gloom New York Times had to
report: "Unexpected Whiff of Freedom Proves Bracing for Mideast" -- but at the moment, it's just a whiff, not a gale.  It's true that it's a major embarrassment for those who argued that Arabs were for some reason uninterested in democracy and happy living under dictators. You could hear that, of course, just as you used to hear that blacks in the South were happy living under Jim Crow. But in both cases, it wasn't true. (In both cases, in fact, it was the result of preference falsification, and in both cases that should have been obvious to anyone who was paying attention.)

But there's a lot of work to do yet.  Democratization in Eastern Europe isn't finished, and the Soviet Union has been dead for a long time. Gloat for a moment if you must, but don't take your eyes off the ball.

March 3, 2005 | 7:22 PM ET

KARL ROVE:  HALF-SMART?

Karl Rove is an eviil genius.  Democrats say it in dismay; Republicans say it with undisguised smugness.

And he is pretty smart.  But nobody's perfect. And it seems to me that Karl Rove is missing a big trick as he tries to engineer a Republican realignment that will last past 2008.
Republicans are making inroads into younger voters, and I think that the push for Social Security reform is as much about positioning Republicans favorably with younger voters (and linking the Democrats with the Geritol set and status-quo politics) as it is about actually getting the legislation passed. Bush and Rove want to win on the merits, of course, but they've picked an issue that will bring them long-term dividends even if they lose.

But Rove's missing another trick.  The entertainment industries -- Hollywood and the record industry -- have gotten very favorable treatment from Congress over the past several years.  But their protectionist efforts -- the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copy protection, the FCC's "Broadcast Flag" requirement, etc. -- are unpopular with consumers, and especially with younger ones who regard downloading and ripping music as a right.

With Republican control of the House and Senate, the GOP ought to be able to undo some of those provisions, simultaneously winning over younger voters (especially if the Dems are foolish enough to publicly go to bat for the movie and record industries) while hitting a hostile industry in the pocketbook: The entertainment industry, after all, is a key element of the Democrats' financial base.  So why aren't they moving on this?

You can see me talk about these and other issues on CNBC's Kudlow & Company by clicking on this video link .

March 2, 2005 | 7:22 PM ET

Earlier, I mentioned that Bush's pro-democracy policy seems to be working in Lebanon, as pro-democracy demonstrators -- whose approach is modelled on that of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" -- have forced the resignation of the pro-Syrian government.

Now Bush is raising the stakes:

President Bush on Wednesday demanded in blunt terms that Syria get out of Lebanon, saying the free world is in agreement that Damascus' authority over the political affairs of its neighbor must end now.

He applauded the strong message sent to Syria when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier held a joint news conference on London on Tuesday.
"Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, 'You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish'," Bush said during an appearance at a community college in Maryland to tout his job training programs.

The world, Bush said, "is speaking with one voice when it comes to making sure that democracy has a chance to flourish in Lebanon."

The French weren't able to protect Saddam, and they aren't even trying to protect the Syrians. And Bush speaks with the authority of a man with lots of troops stationed right along the border, troops that make it unlikely the Syrians will pull a Tiananmen Square in Beirut.
Back in 2003, some people were warning that Bush was more interested in spreading democracy through the Mideast than in simply toppling Saddam. But as we Microsoft employees are fond of saying, "that's not a bug -- it's a feature!"

In fact, it wasn't just a feature, but the plan all along. The Bush Administration has been taking the "root causes" talk seriously, instead of using it as an excuse to do nothing. It's addressing the root causes of terrorism by uprooting the Arab tyrannies that have encouraged terrorism to flourish.

Not everybody likes that, as it threatens "stability" in the region. But a stable tyranny isn't so great.  I'm happy to see them coming down. And if you want to know why this is happening, and what may come next, you could do worse than read this strategic overview by Steven Den Beste. It's a bit old, now, but it's held up pretty well.

February 28, 2005 | 3:22 PM ET

Even as Arabs are marching for democracy in Lebanon, many people are wondering what will happen to Old Europe, where enthusiasm for democracy seems more, well, muted.  Columnist Mark Steyn took a pretty negative view in London's Telegraph, recently:

But, in the broader sense vis-à-vis Europe, the administration is changing the tone precisely because it understands there can be no substance.  And, if there's no substance that can be changed, what's to quarrel about?  International relations are like ex-girlfriends: if you're still deluding yourself you can get her back, every encounter will perforce be fraught and turbulent; once you realise that's never gonna happen, you can meet for a quick decaf latte every six – make that 10 – months and do the whole hey-isn't-it-terrific-the-way-we're-able-to-be-such-great-friends routine because you couldn't care less. You can even make a few pleasant noises about her new romance (the so-called European Constitution) secure in the knowledge he's a total loser.
...
So what would you do in Bush's shoes? Slap 'em around a bit? What for?  Where would it get you? Or would you do exactly what he's doing?  Climb into the old soup-and-fish, make small talk with Mme Chirac and raise a glass of champagne to the enduring friendship of our peoples: what else is left? This week we're toasting the end of an idea: the death of "the West."

Lest anyone misunderstand, Steyn took an even more negative view in this column in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Most administration officials subscribe to one of two views: a) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater; or b) Europe is a smugly irritating but irrelevant backwater where the whole powder keg's about to go up.

For what it's worth, I incline to the latter position.  Europe's problems -- its unaffordable social programs, its deathbed demographics, its dependence on immigration numbers that no stable nation (not even America in the Ellis Island era) has ever successfully absorbed -- are all of Europe's making.
...
Until the shape of the new Europe begins to emerge, there's no point picking fights with the terminally ill. The old Europe is dying, and Mr. Bush did the diplomatic equivalent of the Oscar night lifetime-achievement tribute at which the current stars salute a once glamorous old-timer whose fading aura is no threat to them.  The 21st century is being built elsewhere.

Steyn thinks that Europe will likely become Eurabia, with immigrants bringing increasingly violent Islamist beliefs, and behaviors with them.  The likely endpoint:  Economic collapse (from the social programs) and civil war or Islamization.

Even Europeans are admitting that Europe has problems, as chronicled at some length in this piece by Brian Moynahan in the Sunday Times.   Mickey Kaus thinks that the social programs, immigration, and terrorism go together, and that welfare reform ought to be the first step:

1) Welfare for people who could work plus 2) potential prejudice against a discrete, identifiable group still seems like the universal recipe for an underclass.  It was in the U.S.. It is in France. It is in Holland. I'm sure this equation is facile but I don't see how. ...
P.S.: A practical lesson from the U.S. for the Dutch?  Of the two preconditions, welfare is probably the easiest to change first (though of course you want to try to change both). End perceived freeloading on welfare--as our 1996 welfare reform at least partially did--and you then have a much better shot at diminishing prejudice. You've attacked one of its "root causes," if you will. (Plus the discriminated-against group is forced out of its isolation and into the labor market.) Attack prejudice without reforming welfare and you wind up accusing a bunch of middle class workers of being racists, with predictably ineffective results.

Mickey's probably right, but will European politicians have the courage to change?  Or will they pull the covers over their heads, as they've been doing for years?  Blogger / columnist / Army reservist Austin Bay thinks Steyn is too negative, and posts a response to Steyn that includes this observation:

Giving up on people is so passe' –okay, give up on the ex-girlfriend but don't write off the Dutch or the French. I think Pim Fortuyn was the forefront of a reassertion of western values in Holland. Yup, a gay ex-professor.
...
Last summer –a hot night in Baghdad– I sat in on a routine ops and plans briefing. As the meeting broke up a very senior general sitting at the table started talking about "the real strategic challenge of our time.  The (global) south is moving north." No, that's not a new thought, but –though it's late and we're tired– it's an interesting thought. We got into a completely non-classified discussion about causes, perceptions and consequences of this great migration. No one at that table saw this demographic movement as an invasion, but a fact of life spurred by men and women seeking better economic opportunities. Declining native European populations got a mention –as in the demand for entry level labor. Another word entered the conversation: "liberty." Put yourself in the other man's shoes, one officer said. You're from El Salvador and you're tired of being caught in the crossfire between artistocrats of the left and right. You're a Dinka and you're tired of being in the crossfire. You're an Berber in Algeria and you're tired of being in the crossfire. So you head north– the US in the Salvadoran case, in all probability Europe is the Dinka and Berber destination You cannot help but bring your own culture and experience with you. Once you arrive there is the inevitable clash of "new arrival" versus the homeboys.

Now the conversation turned to "What do we do?" especially in the case of immigrants who resist integration. The best idea: change the conditions that spark the migration– everything else is mitigation, though domestic policies that spur integration and adaptation are certainly part of the answer. Changing conditions that spark migration means extending economic opportunities and "the liberty engine" that drives creative economic success into the hellholes our Salvadoran and Dinka and Berber are departing. I'm paraphrasing, but one of the officers in the discussion said to the effect: "These people need a break back home."

As someone who has worked developmental aid issues in Central America and East Africa, I'm extremely sympathetic with this view.

But how do you break the corrupt, autocratic grip that oppresses so many of these endemically poor societies? What is the mechanism of this great change that will shape the great migration? The senior general said to me, laconically: "It could be this war we're in."

And that's the biggest irony.  It could be that Bush's plan to democratize the Middle East -- which, you may have noticed, seems to be working -- will save Europe, in spite of European politicians' opposition.  It wouldn't be the first time, after all, that America has saved Europe from itself.

February 27, 2005 | 10:04 PM ET

Lawblogging

Thanks very much to Ann Althouse for guest-blogging for me last week.  If you enjoyed her appearances here, you should check out her own blog, where she's got lots more.

Ann is one of many law professors with blogs.  You might want to check out law-professor group-blog The Volokh Conspiracy, organized by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, with a host of other participants.  Meanwhile, law professor Stephen Bainbridge blogs on business law, corporate governance, and (in a separate blog) on wine.

The Right Coast is another law-professor group-blog, one that, as you might expect, leans right.  Meanwhile, Balkinization, a group blog organized by Yale law professor Jack Balkin, leans left.

Law professor Larry Solum's legal theory blog is about, well, legal theory.  And although it's not a law-professor blog, exactly, Howard Bashman's How Appealing blog -- sponsored by Legal Affairs magazine -- focuses on appellate litigation around the country, and raises all sorts of interesting topics.  And Denise Howell's blog, Bag and Baggage, offers legal news and audio podcasts for enthusiasts.

There's lots more legal-blogging out there, but this should be a good start for those of you who are interested.  I guess it's no surprise that law professors and lawyers, who talk for a living, have a lot to say in the blogosphere, too.

February 25, 2005 | 9:55 AM ET

These boots are made for running for President

Guest blogging this week for Glenn is Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she teaches constitutional law and the jurisdiction of courts.  Her regular blog can be found at Althouse.blogspot.com.

"Condoleezza Rice's Commanding Clothes" is the headline for a piece in The Washington Post:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived at the Wiesbaden Army Airfield on Wednesday dressed all in black. She was wearing a black skirt that hit just above the knee, and it was topped with a black coat that fell to mid-calf. The coat, with its seven gold buttons running down the front and its band collar, called to mind a Marine's dress uniform or the "save humanity" ensemble worn by Keanu Reeves in "The Matrix."

As Rice walked out to greet the troops, the coat blew open in a rather swashbuckling way to reveal the top of a pair of knee-high boots. The boots had a high, slender heel that is not particularly practical. But it is a popular silhouette because it tends to elongate and flatter the leg. In short, the boots are sexy.

Condoleezza Rice gets applause from troops at Weisbaden Army Airfield Base
Kevin Lamarque  /  Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza is applauded by soldiers of the 1st Armored Division at Weisbaden Army Airfield Base in Germany.
This piece, written by Robin Givhan, heavy-breathes about the sexuality of Rice's clothes, even though all we're really talking about here is that the outfit was all black ("The darkness lends an air of mystery and foreboding"), that the boots had high heels ("Heels … alter her posture in myriad enticing ways, all of which are politically incorrect to discuss"), and that women often dress much less attractively ("She was not wearing a bland suit with a loose-fitting skirt and short boxy jacket with a pair of sensible pumps").

Women with power easily unleash ideation about sex -- and sex and power.  If the woman can't be contained by the thought that her powerfulness has removed her sexuality altogether, then the thought becomes that her sexuality has merged with her power. In the case of Condoleezza Rice, who has a high position of power and is distinctly attractive, she seems to become a strange new being -- a superhero – like Neo in "The Matrix"!

Is it wrong to talk about powerful women this way?  I say no.  Image, fashion, and beauty are all important.  And we certainly didn't refrain from talking about how the male candidates for President looked in 2004.  We obsessed over their ties, their hair and their makeup, and the bulges under their clothes.  So go ahead and spout your theories about the meaning of Condoleezza Rice's high-heeled boots.

Mine is: these boots are made for running for President.

February 24, 2005 | 10:19 AM ET

Guest blogging this week for Glenn is Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she teaches constitutional law and the jurisdiction of courts.  Her regular blog can be found at Althouse.blogspot.com.

Is blogging a male game?

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly recently opined that women aren't well suited to blogging:

[M]en are more comfortable with the food fight nature of opinion writing — both writing it and reading it.  Since I don't wish to suffer the fate of Larry Summers I'll refrain from speculating on deep causes — it might be social, cultural, genetic, or Martian mind rays for all I know — but I imagine that the fundamental viciousness and self aggrandizement inherent in opinion writing turns off a lot of women.

Drum wants to avoid the Larry Summers pitfall: Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers came in for no end of criticism when he suggested that there might be some biological factor limiting women's capacity for high achievement in the sciences.  But where's the safety in casually stereotyping women and not even bothering to offer any ideas?

In a follow-up post, where he links to the many blogs that lambaste him, Drum feebly attributes his stereotype to things women have said to him: they are "turned off" by the "fundamental viciousness" of blogging.  I don't have the transcript of what Drum's women friends might have said to him, but whether they are "turned off" or not – and why must the opinions of women be stated in the sexualized language of turns ons and turn offs? – I'm not going to accept their opinion, if indeed they stated any, about what is "fundamental" about blogging.

Blogging is just writing. There's no reason why it needs to be nasty and domineering. The best writing is not a "playground dominance game"  – to use Drum's term. The best writing has some subtlety, charm, humor, and insight.  It is not name-calling and bluster.  Drum's idea of a "fundamental" blog is a blog I don't even want to read.  Maybe there is one form of blog game a lot of women won't play -- though some will -- but there are endless other things you can do with a blog if you're capable of breaking out of your playground mindset.

February 22, 2005 | 10:36 AM ET

Guest blogging this week for Glenn is Ann Althouse, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she teaches constitutional law and the jurisdiction of courts.  Her regular blog can be found at Althouse.blogspot.com.

Fat is sinfully complicated

Yes, of course, Americans are fat, but we're not just fat, we're incapable of dealing in a straightforward way with the fact that we're fat.  The federal government mocks us with ever-more-stringent diet recommendations.  You thought it was hard to eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day?  Well, you've got to eat nine now.  And shut up, or it's going to be fifteen.  We overreact and say I'm only going to lose weight in some excitingly transgressive way, where you eat a lot of butter and bacon.

There are those who want us to be good, and those who like the idea of being bad.  We can't think about obesity as a simple problem.  We must complicate it – enrich it! – with ideas about sin and virtue.  Look, here's Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee showing off his massive weight loss and packaging dieting as a religious ritual:

"If my body belonged to the Lord, I was not following the design of the Designer …

"I was living in a way that made my body unfit as a temple where He might live.  It was not only unhealthy.  It was sinful."

Americans tend to be religious, and we also tend to be fat, so maybe turning dieting into a spiritual quest is not such a good idea.  Even though eating too much is normally the stuff of sin –a sin with its own special name, gluttony– we can try to turn it into a virtue with some infusion of gourmet values.  That's what Mireille Guiliano tries to do with her book " French Women Don't Get Fat ."  In this theory, we're fat because of our American attitude toward food.  Instead of fearing the sin of overeating and atoning with dieting, we should, like the thin Frenchwoman, eat a joyous array of delectable, elegant foods.  In fact, why don't you start seeing yourself as sinful because you fail to appreciate the beauty of life – you lack the French joie de vivre?

But here's Jessica Siegel to shoot down the French woman theory.  It's not the food, she says, it's all that smoking.  The French are thin because they've embraced the devil tobacco.  We in America have sworn off the smoking sin.  We have made our bodies a temple, Governor Huckabee.  A fat temple.

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