And so it goes in Belgrade

Serbia never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

It’s hard to imagine a more self-defeating polity than Serbia. Every party in the former Yugoslavia, if not in all of the Balkans, has some historical grievances—but every one but Serbia is able to recognize current realities and accommodate to them. As goes Kosovo, I have no illusions about the KLA, but my basic sympathies are with the Kosovars; even so, the widespread recognition of their independence falls to Serbia’s recalcitrance, tone deafness, and unshakeable sense of victimhood, as much as to Kosovo’s positive case. I though I’d heard it all, until this, from a former UK Ambassador in Belgrade:

While we all wrestle with the fearsomely complex policy issues surrounding Kosovo, one overwhelming fact has to be faced.

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Stop using gas as a weapon

Bad cop, worse cop in the Kremlin.

Sergey Ivanov is a piece of work. Vladimir Putin’s bilious speech at last year’s Munich Conference on Security lacked only a lectern-pounding apocryphal shoe to take us back fifty years. Ivanov is Putin on Paxil; he soothingly assured this year’s conferencegoers that all is well in Russia—and can’t we all just get along?

Europe has no cause for concern over its growing dependence on Russian gas.

Partners can rest assured that Russia has been strictly fulfilling and will continue to fulfill all its commitments regarding energy supplies—I would like to stress that particularly.

Moreover, we do our best to develop our export potential and make it free from the political conditions in certain transit countries.

Putin must not have received that memo. Just two days later, Ukrainian President Yuschenko was in Moscow, forced to kiss Putin’s ring to forestall a cutoff of gas delivery to Ukraine—and to the much of the EU. Putin acceded, conditioned, it seems, on…political conditions in certain transit countries. At a press availability following their meeting, Putin was asked about Ukraine’s NATO bid.

It’s horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine. Imagine this for a second. That is what worries us.

“Such facilities” are the proposed US missile-defense interceptors and radar (to protect against an Iranian missile launch) that have been proposed for NATO and the Czech Republic. Problem is, Ukraine is not a part of any such proposal. What would you do, Mr. Putin, if Norway deployed robot sharks—with lasers!—in the Arctic Sea?

Yuschenko, sitting next to Putin, looked as if we here daydreaming about getting a root canal.

Update: Hey, presto! It worked.

Aspiring NATO member Ukraine is prepared to adopt legislation banning the alliance’s bases from its soil, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko as saying on Wednesday.

“If the Russian side is worried about military bases then Ukraine will never go for that … We are ready to underpin that constitutionally,” he said at a meeting with members of the Ukrainian community in Moscow.

Glenn Reynolds and genocide

If you say that genocide might be “the military strategy we’ll have to follow in five or ten years,” and that it will be “unavoidable,” you shouldn’t be surprised if people think you’re not unalterably opposed to it.

The Instapundit thinks I must be “tendentious and purblind” to imagine that one of his fellow armchair warriors might favor genocide. But a reader reminds me of

Glenn’s earlier thoughts on the genocide issue:

Civilized societies have always won against barbarians ever since the industrial revolution made making things a greater source of power than breaking them.

Civilized societies have found it harder, though, to beat the barbarians without killing all, or nearly all, of them. Were it really to become all-out war of the sort that Osama and his ilk want, the likely result would be genocide &#8212 unavoidable, and provoked, perhaps, but genocide nonetheless, akin to what Rome did to Carthage, or to what Americans did to American Indians. That’s what happens when two societies can’t live together, and the weaker one won’t stop fighting &#8212 especially when the weaker one targets the civilians and children of the stronger. This is why I think it’s important to pursue a vigorous military strategy now. Because if we don’t, the military strategy we’ll have to follow in five or ten years will be light-years beyond “vigorous.”

How could I possibly have imagined that his friend Mark Steyn might be advocating a course of action Reynolds thought might become “unavoidable,” something “we” would “have to” do?

Either Glenn doesn’t think genocide is wrong, or he thinks that sometimes doing wrong is justified. Otherwise it can’t be “unavoidable” or something you “have to” do.

I might unavoidably have the choice between killing and eating another human being and starving to death myself. But I wouldn’t “have to” become a murderer and a cannibal. That would, in fact, be the wrong thing for me to do in that circumstance. And no amount of pseudo-historical theorizing about “civilized people” and “barbarians” is going to change the fact that mass slaughter is the wrong thing to do.

Is that so hard to understand?


I hadn’t seen this one:

YOU CAN’T CATCH A MAN WITH AN ARMORED DIVISION, or even a division of light infantry. Or three. Armies aren’t designed to catch individuals, and they throw up so much confusion they probably facilitate escape. So if we invade Afghanistan, it has to be for reasons other than catching Osama bin Laden. What were those again?

If we want to punish the Taliban, of course, we don’t have to “conquer” Afghanistan. We just have to wreck them enough to let the Northern Alliance take over. Then get out, and — since all we want is to punish the Taliban — we don’t care what comes next. Which is probably a good thing, since what comes next will probably be lousy, one way or another.

Do we care that much, though? How important to our main agenda is punishing the Taliban? Important enough to tie up a bunch of troops in a nasty place for a year or three? And how likely is it that the Taliban are the authors of our misfortunes? Or that punishing them to that extent would have a salutary effect on others?

NOTE: It is certainly possible to conquer Afghanistan. We simply kill everyone we see (without being too fussy about how), except those who go in “protected zones” (sounds better than Concentration Camps) where we strip everyone of arms and kill anyone who looks like Taliban. Eventually, we turn the country over to the people we like. They won’t have any trouble holding it, since we will have killed most of the people who disagree with them. This is the Boer War with better sanitation and a worse climate, and this technique always works if you don’t mind being fairly murderous. It would be a massive undertaking, though I imagine the Russians would be more than happy to help. And certainly it’s within our abilities if we care enough. But, again, what exactly do we get out of this?

(emphasis added)

That’s what I call a ringing moral stance: “What exactly do we get out of this?”

Culture and communication

Before I first spent a significant time in Italy, I had the great good fortune to read Barzini’s The Italians (still a font of useful and relevant insights after thirty years) and Edward T. Hall’s pair of books about cultural aspects of time and space, The Hidden Dimension and The Silent Language. Hall probably saved my life at a party when I was backed up to a low railing on a terrace five stories above a Roman street, as an Italian who couldn’t converse outside a personal space of about twelve inches radius advanced into my three-foot zone and I kept retreating, adrenaline pumping, until I was leaning backwards into the street. I flashed on Hall’s lessons, said “OK, I read the book and he didn’t, so I have to stand still and let him choose the distance”, gritted my teeth, and stood up straight. I have over the years learned to accommodate much more easily (it’s never effortless) to all sorts of cultural conventions, when I have my wits about me, from Latin American time to Mediterranean conversational distance to southeast Asian rules about when a dinner is over (the host decides, not the guest). But I still remember how hard it was to let that perfectly nice man literally get in my face and how I completely lost all ability to understand a word of Italian, a coherent logical sequence, or, affectively, that he was nice. Never effortless, because all these practices and habits are invisible to most of the people you are dealing with, and wired directly to my, and their, reptilian, emotional, brain zones. Talking to someone from too far away isn’t like conjugating a verb wrong or speaking with an accent, it’s hostile, and trying to interact when you have contradictory conventions can be disastrous (or hilarious), like the adjacent apartments miswired so each had the other’s thermostat.

In fact it helps a lot simply to know intellectually about (for example) high-context/high-content cultural norms, and the other contrasts in the unspoken and pervasive understandings people in different places have among themselves. In Iran, I learned the (adopted from Arabic) formula, “what I say three times is true” and its corollary, “what I say once is to protect your and my honor and self-respect, and has nothing to do with the physical world or any commmitments to consequential action”; from Japanese students when they first started to turn up here, the minefield our exactly opposite conventions about direct questions and “no” answers put us in.

This personal history came rushing back reading Michael Slackman’s article about Iranian indirection and press coverage of Louann Brizendine’s new book about the differences between male and female brains. Cultural conventions are almost as hard to change from inside a society as it is to do autoneurology

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Free David Irving

David Irving is a zit on the face of the historical profession, a right-wing Nazi sympathizer whose works have been demolished by real scholars, a racist Holocaust denier who deserves all the hatred and ridicule he has received over his career.

But he should not be in jail.

The Islamo-fascists are going to have a field day with this one: the West piously criticizes them for attacking the purveyors of Muhammed cartoons, but simultaneously imprisons a 67-year-old man for his writings.

And no: it is no defense to say that Irving’s punishment was meted out in a courtroom whereas the Islamists used a mob. Violence is inherent in the law. As Robert Cover so wisely noted, we do not walk our criminals into jail. Indeed, it is even worse to punish expression through the legal process because it masks the repressive nature of the whole enterprise.

Free David Irving.