Friday, August 24, 2007

The Opinionator

August 24, 2007, 1:09 pm
Bad for the Country, and for My Numbers
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

In the Democratic presidential race, it’s been a week of ambiguously controversial remarks. Michelle Obama got things going with “if you can’t run your own house …”, and now The New York Post reports that Hillary Clinton, in a New Hampshire appearance, had this to say about a potential devastating terrorist attack on the United States: “It’s a horrible prospect to ask yourself, ‘What if? What if?’ But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world.”

For the right wing, this looks like fish in a barrel: “Got that? Another terrorist attack in the next year or so on American soil would be horrifying to think of, because it might give the GOP an election-year advantage,” writes Jules Crittenden.

“That the sitting Senator of the state which suffered the greatest number of losses on 9-11 would make these kinds of blatantly self-serving remarks about the possibility of another terrorist attack happening before the 2008 elections are very telling as to what her priorities are, and they have nothing to do with protecting the American people, but instead protecting Hillary Clinton’s chances of getting elected to serve as the first female president and Commander in Chief.”

More surprising is the reaction among some of the more thoughtful members of left side of the Web. Matt Yglesias at The Atlantic thinks it’s “a disaster”:

Two points in response. The first is that I think the Democrat best positioned to deal with GOP political mobilization in a post-attack environment is going to be the one who isn’t reflexively inclined to see failed Republican policies resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Americans as a political advantage for the Republicans. The other is that I think there’s a pretty clear sense in which the further one is from Bush’s Iraq policy, the easier it is politically to say that the failures of Bush’s national security policy should be blamed on Bush’s failed policies. Obama has a straight shot (“this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I said”) and Edwards (and Matt Yglesias) has a straightish one (“this is why we should have fought al-Qaeda like I think in retrospect”) whereas I’m not 100 percent sure what the Clinton message would be. Most of all, though, I think the politics of national security call for a strong, self-confident posture that genuinely believes liberal solutions are politically saleable and substantively workable, not the kind of worry-wort attitude that says we need to cower in fear every time Republicans say “terror.”
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August 24, 2007, 10:32 am
Antigua and Goliath
By Tobin Harshaw
Tags: , ,

Gary Rivlin of The Times reported on Thursday about a curious trade dispute between the United States and Antigua and Barbuda over Internet gambling sites. The tiny Caribbean nation instigated a trade complaint “against the United States, claiming its ban against Americans gambling over the Internet violated Antigua and Barbuda’s rights as a member of the W.T.O.” Antigua won the case in three different forums, and now is asking “the trade organization to grant a rare form of compensation if the American government refuses to accept the ruling: permission for Antiguans to violate intellectual property laws by allowing them to distribute copies of American music, movie and software products, among others.”

It’s an interesting enough story on its own, but Wretchard at the Belmont Club manages to find broader significance:

The Antigua story underscores how asymmetries operate in international trade and political relations. A regulatory regime is created, but that fact does not guarantee “fairness.” The huge disparity in the size between Antigua and the United States makes the island’s trade retaliatory power weak. And in a straight trade dispute the odds would weigh overwhelmingly in favor of the US. But lawyers are clever and the loophole cited by the New York Times makes it possible for Antigua to demand the right to pirate US intellectually property — under the rules — and “morally” too because a mechanism which allowed the US to use is preponderant economic power would be “unfair.”

Where have we seen this before? Pretty much everywhere. While not exactly the same, the Antigua decision has structural similarities to the way some international lawyers think about the Geneva Convention and human rights legislation. The US is “bound” by the letter of the law, and if a terrorist mass murderer can find a legal loophole to escape then he is “entitled” to use it. But the Convention is not obeyed by weaker parties because it is impractical to enforce it. Just as pirated DVDs can be found being openly sold in many street corners in Asia without being similarly available in Australia, countries with well-functioning legal systems find themselves at a disadvantage compared to countries with no enforcement. In the area of human rights, for example, America has courts before which lawyers can appear. Al-Qaeda has a cave in Pakistan where accommodations are notoriously poor. The US will obey a legal judgment. Legal judgments against al-Qaeda are an exercise in futility.

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