Amity and co-operation

Linking a couple of recent posts, it ought to be obvious that Australia is in pretty dire need of improved trading access to the kinds of countries with which we run trade surpluses, that is with ASEAN members rather than the US. So it might be a good idea to promise not to invade those countries. But since Howard thinks that playing the regional hyperpower will play well in the western suburbs and with GWB, we won’t do it.

Meanwhile, rather contrarily, we’re pressuring them to ban landmines, an issue on which they can point to the US as a model.

Lavoisier, again

Tim Lambert links to a not-very-flattering profile of the Lavoisier Group, whose members appear to be mostly elderly gentlemen who believe that, if we all wish hard enough, Tinkerbell will summon the ghost of Lavoisier and make that nasty global warming go away.

Connoisseurs of the Australian network of right-wing front groups will not be surprised to find the inevitable Ray Evans, former executive officer of WMC, President of the HR Nicholls Society, Secretary of the Bennelong Society and Treasurer of the Samuel Griffith Society has found time in his busy life to act as secretary of, and main contact for, the Lavoisier Group.

The front groups I used to deal with thirty years ago, Concerned Stalinists for Peace and so on, made a bit more of an effort than these guys, who even, according to commenter Julian Russell, share the same IP address. I feel sorry for the handful of genuine sceptics who’ve been sucked into this deplorable scam.

The end of hyperpower

Something that’s really striking about the Ukraine crisis is the quiescence of the supposed global hyperpower. Powell took a firm line a few days ago, but he’s a lame duck who can’t be presumed to speak for the Administration. As was pointed out at (pro-war Left site) Harry’s Place, Bush’s own statement on the issue was anything but a ringing affirmation of democracy, perhaps because of Yanukovych’s membership of the Coalition of the Willing. In any case, the US has been happy to leave the running of the issue to the EU.

That’s not surprising, perhaps, given that Ukraine is a long way from Washington and right next to the EU, but how about the current situation in Iran? The US has 140 000 troops right next door to a potential nuclear power, and the threat is being dealt with (or perhaps not dealt with) by negotations with the EU.

The obvious point is that the resources of all kinds (military, diplomatic, financial and in terms of moral standing) expended on the Iraq crusade have weakened the US government to the point where it has nothing with which to impose its will on Iran. The US government can’t credibly threaten an invasion because it doesn’t have the troops, it can’t run a long bombing campaign in case the Iranians foment a Shia insurgency in Iraq, it can’t negotiate because it has already painted itself into a corner with the “Axis of Evil” line, it can’t rally the world to its cause because of its belligerent unilateralism in the past, it can’t buy the Iranians off because it’s broke, and it can’t use its intelligence resource to catch out the Iranians in any lies they are telling because US intelligence has been fatally discredited. Bush can still blow up the world, but then, so can Putin.

The era of hyperpower has been short indeed.

My take on the Ukraine

As I’ve said in the introduction to the excellent guest posts fromTom Oates and Tarik AmarI know very little about the Ukraine. But I’ve seen enough cases of rigged elections to make the judgement that the Viktor Yanukovych has lost, in the sense that he can’t resist the demand for a fresh election that he will almost certainly lose. In cases of this kind, it’s necessary for the incumbent to maintain a united front, keeping the courts, military and so on in line. Yanukovych has lost on almost every front, with the courts, parliament, official media and sections of the police turning against him. Crucially, he has hardly any support in or near the capital, and attempts to bus in large numbers of supporters have gone nowhere. Yanukovych’s only international backer of any note is Vladimir Putin, who is not a man given to sentiment. I expect that he will very shortly see the wisdom of salvaging some credit from the EU by persuading Yanukovych to do the decent thing.

As this NYT report indicates, Yanukovych’s main support base has effectively conceded defeat, by making pre-emptive demands for more autonomy in the event that their man loses. Bearing in mind my general ignorance of the situation, I’ll argue from first principles support for federalism that a deal which conceded a fair bit of regional autonomy in return for a democratic national outcome would be a good one all round.

What I’m reading

The Scar by China Mieville. Slightly out of order as I read Iron Council first, so I could write a review as part of a mini-symposium that will be held at Crooked Timber Real Soon Now. This is quite an exciting venture for me, both as something relatively new in blogging and as my first move into full-length fiction reviewing.

Coming back to The Scar, I found it, in many ways, the most enjoyable of Mieville’s books considered purely as speculative fiction. There’s something about sea voyages[1] that works really well in this context and Mieville characteristically takes it to the limit with the idea of a giant floating city. And given that much of my work lately has dealt with issues of possibility and probability, I particularly liked the Possible Sword. On the other hand, I missed the political and social layers of the books set in New Crobuzon.

fn1. When I was young, I really loved CS Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example, and of course most of space fiction is in this genre.

The case for war

Norman Geras presents a central part of the argument for war, arguing that war can be justified even when it is predictable in advance that it will do more harm than good, and that even aggressors aren’t fully responsible for the consequences of the wars they start. Here’s the crucial bit

in sum, those in the anti-war camp often argue as if there wasn’t actually a war going on – the real conflict on the ground being displaced in their minds by the argument between themselves and supporters of the war. Everything is the fault of those who took the US and its allies into that war and, secondarily, those who supported or justified this.

Except it isn’t. As I said in the earlier post, the war has two sides. One counter-argument here is likely to be that those who initiate an unjust war are responsible for everything they unleash. But first, this begs the question. Much of the case for the war’s being unjust was that it would have bad consequences. Yet, many of those bad consequences are the responsibility of forces prosecuting a manifestly unjust war – in both its objectives and its methods – on the other side. Secondly, it’s simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides – even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden? This is all-or-nothing thinking.

To respond, I’ll begin by asking a question. Suppose those of us on the Left who opposed the Iraq war had prevailed. To what extent, if any, would we have been responsible for the crimes that Saddam would undoubtedly have committed while he remained in power?
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Another guest post on the Ukraine

Following up the post from Tom Oates last week, reader Dan Hardie sends another (long) piece, by Tarik Amar, who, Dan says, is doing a PhD on Soviet history and speaks Ukranian, German and Russian, among other languages, and knows the place very well. Lacking any of these qualifications, I can only pass his analysis on to you with the observation that it’s well worth reading, and gives lots of detail on the machinations of the incumbent president.

From what I’ve read, including Tarik’s piece, this all seems very similar to Marcos in the Phillipines and Milosevic in Serbia, and hopefully will be resolved in a similar fashion.
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Academic blogging

There’s been a fair bit of discussion among academic bloggers about whether blogs count for the purposes of vitas and publication lists) and if so how. The maximalist position (so far not put forward seriously by anyone as far as I know) is that each blog post is a separate publication. The minimal claim is that blogs are a form of community service, like talking to school groups and similar. A good place to start, with plenty of links to earlier contributions, is this post by Eszter Hargittai at Crooked Timber.

Rather than engaging directly with the arguments that have been put up so far, I want to claim that the question will ultimately be settled by the way in which blogs are used and referred to. In this context, I have a couple of observations.

First, I’ve had one reader tell me that he’s cited one of my posts in an academic work, and I think this is not unique. Clearly, the more this happens, the more conventions for referring to blog posts will be developed, and the more easily they can be incorporated in vitas and so on.

Second, I had an interesting recent communication from the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia, which sets school examinations. They used this post in an exam paper for Year 12 politics. They wrote asking for copyright permission to print it in their set of past papers[1].
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