Washington Diarist

The Lost Art
April 20, 2012

By the standards of contemporary atrocity, Lieutenant Colonel Shalom Eisner’s striking Andreas Ias in the face with the butt of his M-16 was a trifle. Eisner was the deputy commander of the Jordan Valley Brigade of the Israeli army, and Ias was a Dane on a bicycle who supported the Palestinians. The video of the incident depicts Eisner screaming in Hebrew to a group that does not understand Hebrew to go home, and holding his rifle horizontally, like an instrument of crowd control.

The Confidence Game
March 29, 2012

Thirty years ago I wrote a tiny book in defense of nuclear deterrence. Against the nuclear freezers and the nuclear war-fighters, deterrence was not hard to defend: my argument was drearily sensible. But I was nervously aware that I was urging good sense about a strategic situation that was senseless, because it was premised upon the credibility of a threat of holocaust. I was careful to note my discomfort in my book: deterrence, I said, may be supported but not celebrated, because it is another term for an unprecedentedly lethal danger, which it elects to manage rather than to abolish.

Specks of War
March 14, 2012

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and so the other day I read Rachel Maddow’s new book. It is called Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and it is an anthropologically useful document of the new American disaffection with American force.

Fevers
January 25, 2012

“The list of controversies grows weekly,” Ethan Bronner and Isabel Kershner, filing from Jerusalem, write in The New York Times.

Going to Melody
January 11, 2012

In a country as injured as ours, there is something unseemly about all this sagacious talk of creative destruction. A concept that was designed to suggest the ironic cruelty of innovation has been twisted into an extenuation of economic misery—into capitalism’s theodicy. Where there are winners, there are losers: praise the Lord and pass the Kindle.

Beyond Tahrir
November 23, 2011

Democratization is not an event in the life of a society, it is an era: a protracted turbulence. There is no other way. Dictatorships are more easily established. But if strong nerves are required for the birth of a liberal order, so, too, are open eyes. In the interval between the fall of a tyranny and the rise of a democracy, a lot can go wrong. Every saga of democratization includes adversaries of democracy, whose objection to the tyranny that fell was that it repressed society for the wrong reason.

Against One
October 26, 2011

Nothing demystifies a dictator like death. The videos of Qaddafi dragged from a drainpipe, addled and bloodied, and then dead on the floor of a large freezer, harshly illustrated the absurdity of tyranny. An entire country held for forty-two years in the grip of this flabby, destructible man? It makes no sense; or rather this particular view of dictatorship makes no sense—the cinematically simple notion of the dictator as shrewdly, almost magically in control of a whole people, a solitary villain at the top whose removal is all that is required for his society to be free.

Justice for Jebusites
October 12, 2011

What a poor student of Edward Said Sari Nusseibeh is!

The Casuist
September 29, 2011

Political argument is never pure. I do not mean that it is always influenced by interests. I do not believe that. Even as the black arts of influence flourish as never before, I quixotically insist upon the possibility of objectivity, because without it this democracy is doomed. Logic and evidence (which must be funded!) will sooner or later thwart the attempts of the powerful—numerically, financially—to define the true. The integrity of argument is one of the requirements of a political order that determines its course by the expression, and the evaluation, of opinion.

After Nobility
September 14, 2011

The politics of anti-politics is a great American comedy. Contempt for Washington has become one of the primary qualifications for elevation to Washington. Those who despise government are desperate to join it; those who despise politics are politicians. And those who cherish government and cherish politics are ominously instructed by their consultants to be silent. Inside the system they pretend that they are outside the system, and denounce the institutions as if they are not talking about themselves.

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