Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

Site Meter This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
Amir Taheri thinks there's a deal with Egypt to take over Gaza after an Israeli withdrawal, and the assassination of Yassin was part of the quid pro quo: Israel has to degrade or destroy Hamas before Egypt is willing to take over.

If his sources are telling him the truth, that's very good news. But if this is wishful thinking, that's bad news.

If Sharon really has a deal with Egypt, that's great. Egypt has not been especially constructive in dealing with the Palestinians. Mubarak encouraged Arafat not to sign an agreement at Taba, and Egypt has done little to police the arms traffic through tunnels from Sinai to Gaza. And, of course, Egypt has historically refused to consider a reoccupation of Gaza. (By contrast, Egypt has been helpful in working with the Americans on our own terror war.) Egypt has expressed increasing levels of concern about the level of violence and anarchy in the territories, because they are worried about that violence spilling over into Egypt. All this is consistent with traditional Egyptian foreign policy: keep America friendly, keep Israel tied down, and avoid the outbreak of regional war. If Egypt has come to realize that it needs to play a more constructive role, and that the Palestinian intifadeh is no longer a good way to restrain Israel, that would be a great development.

'Cause here's my worry about both the Yassin assassination and the Gaza pullout plan: someone has to run the place. If Sharon is beating a "fighting retreat" and thinks this will deter future attacks after withdrawal, he's kidding himself. The Palestinians have taken enormous punishment. If Israel retreats while shooting, the Palestinians will - correctly - deduce that the Israelis couldn't take the heat and got out of the kitchen. So they'll press on.

Someone has to run Gaza. Sharon has figured out that Israel can't. Most people have figured out that purported moderates like Dahlan can't, and that Arafat won't; Arafat benefits from anarchy, and has no interest in actually running a Palestinian state. Hamas can, but they'd run it as a terror state devoted to the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. That's an unacceptable outcome. Who does that leave? Either an international force, or Egypt. An international force would be sitting ducks; they wouldn't use significant force to repress the terrorists, and they'd prevent Israeli retaliation. That's a non-starter. Egypt, on the other hand, is a reasonable option - if they are willing to move in.

When we hit Afghanistan after 9-11, we aimed to kill Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar along with the rest of the Taliban/al-Qaeda leadership, and to topple the regime. But we also built up a new government centered on Hamid Karzai, we worked out deals with the various warlords, and we formed a strategic alliance with neighboring Pakistan and with the central Asian republics, particularly Uzbekistan. Is it working perfectly? No, but it's a strategy for victory. If all Sharon is doing is hitting back, scaring the leadership, beating a fighting retreat - that's not good enough. He needs a strategy for victory, and that means a strategy for figuring out who is going to run Gaza and how, because as long as Gaza is a seething cauldron of terrorist gangs - even if they are rival gangs fighting each other as well as Israel - then victory has not been achieved.

So my fear is that Taheri's source is blowing smoke. That Sharon doesn't have an Egyptian deal in hand, but intends to make them an offer they can't refuse: agree to police Gaza or we'll leave a seething cauldron of terrorist gangs on your doorstep. And I never like "the worser the better" as a strategy.

The best evidence that Taheri has the straight dope, of course, is that the Bush Administration has been so restrained in its criticism. That suggests they know something's up. Let's hope something is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Now here's what I think would be ironic about a Mel Gibson Maccabee movie.

The big objection a lot of Jews have to The Passion is the relative assignment of blame for Jesus' death. Caiphas, the Jewish High Priest, is treated as a thorough villain, determined to kill Jesus, whereas Pilate is presented as morally ambivalent, anguished about Jesus' fate. Foxman and others have objected to this "blaming of the Jews" for the killing of the man whom Christians worship as God.

(I do not want to get into a discussion of whether this objection is legitimate, or whether other objections are legitimate. I haven't seen the movie, and I don't intend to; I don't like ultra-violent films, of which Gibson's Passion clearly is one.)

But who was Caiphas? Is he someone Jews should be eager to call their own?

Caiphas was the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was, at the time, in the hands of the Sadducees. From Josephus and other sources, we know the primary factions among the Jews of the Land of Israel at the time, of which the Sadducees were only one. The Sadducees were the Temple party, the establishment. They had significant religious differences with the Pharisees, who were especially active in the Galilee (and dominated the religious and cultural environment in which Jesus was raised), among the most notable being that the Sadducees rejected the idea of eternal life, which the Pharisees affirmed. The Essenes, whom we know primarily from their writings found at Qumran, were a quietist and ascetic sect that rejected civilization and retreated into the wilderness. The Zealots, about whom we know a great deal from Josephus and also know from the Talmud, were a political party agitating for independence from Rome. And then there were the Hellenizers and others who had, to one extent or another, assimilated to the surrounding civilization.

Why do I bring up this factionalism? Well, the Pharisees are the ancestors of rabbinic Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism traces its lineage back to Moses, through the subsequent prophets and, particularly, the scribes who were elevated by King Hezekiah to reform the religion under his reign, through the era of Ezra and Nehemiah and their reforms down to the Pharisees of the Second Temple period, and the rabbis who emerged in that period. The rishonim - the first rabbinic exegetes, the rabbis who opine on the law in the Mishnah - among whom the most prominent are Hillel and Shamai, were the leading lights among the Pharisees. And the Pharisees were opposed to the priestly party, the Sadducees. Caiphas, in other words, is not the ideological ancestor of modern Judaism; he's someone modern Judaism's ideological ancestors were opposed to.

So where did the Sadducees come from?

From the Maccabees!

The Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire and its Hellenizing Jewish satraps in the Land of Israel ended with victory for the rebels, who seized Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple, and restored traditional Jewish religion. This is the story behind the festival of Hanukkah.

But after seizing power, the Maccabees changed. First, they seized offices that they did not have traditional title to. They proclaimed themselves kings, though not in the Davidic line of succession, and they proclaimed themselves High Priests, though not in the Aaronic succession. The descendents of Zadok, the legitimate heirs to the High Priesthood, were stripped of office; one scholarly theory for the origin of the Essenes is that these were disgruntled Zadokites who retreated into the wilderness after their dispossession. The Maccabees, once in power, also began to embark on Hellenizing programs not too different from those of their predecessors against whom they had revolted. For all these reasons, the scribal or Pharisee party, who did not hold political power but operated as the custodians of religion outside of the Temple and the officials of a non-state religious legal system, turned against the Maccabees, whose priestly echelons had by now restyled themselves Sadducees (or, "righteous ones").

So the irony of Gibson's film project is twofold.

He made a film about Jesus' death that, in the mind of many Jews, slandered the Jewish High Priest with the crime of deicide. But ironically, this High Priest was someone opposed by the ancestors of today's Jews, the Pharisees. And now, to "make up" to the Jews, Gibson is proposing to make a film that glorifies the Maccabees. Normally, this would be a topic modern Jews would love, as Zionism has rehabilitated the Maccabees from their traditional rabbinic disparagement, though it's unlikely most Jews will appreciate the gesture coming from Gibson. But ironically, these Maccabees whom Gibson will celebrate are the ancestors of the same Caiphas who is the villain of Gibson's Passion!

Monday, March 22, 2004
Morgan Fairchild dated John Kerry, but donated to Dick Gephardt. I'm just going to leave that out there and say nothing more about it.

Follow-up: I basically agree with the following article in the Jerusalem Post, regarding the likely impact of the Yassin assassination. Terrorism will certainly increase in Israel, and probably abroad as well. We'll see a lot of uncoordinated, loner attacks. I suspect you will see Hamas disintegrate as an organization in the medium term, because of the loss of pivotal leadership, but I don't expect that to result in the diminution of terrorism over the same term. Splinter organizations and new organizations will arise to carry out similar attacks. So long as funding and arms can be acquired, terrorism will continue from Gaza. The one with the most to lose is Rajoub, who would like to be strongman in Gaza; he was threatened by Hamas, but he will be more threatened by the chaos to follow. The one with the most to gain is Arafat, who is now freed from any possible pressure to talk to Israel, and also freed from one of the greatest organized threats to his rule.

The question remains: what is the overarching strategy? Hamas was the only organization capable of running Gaza after an Israeli pullout. Granted that a Hamas state in Gaza would have been a disaster, worse in many ways than the Hizballah mini-state in southern Lebanon. So assuming Hamas begins to unravel without Yassin, who will govern Gaza now? All answers to the question are bad.

I'm afraid I can only make quick responses to the assassination of Sheik Yassin:

1. No one should be surprised. Israel tried to get him before, and failed. It should not be a shock they tried again, and this time succeeded.

2. Therefore, initial claims by the Administration that they had no prior knowledge are either alarming or unconvincing. I vote for the latter. Israel had tried to hit this guy before, and failed. If the US objected to his being a target, and didn't say so then, we're idiots. If we objected, and Sharon went ahead with another attempt without pre-clearing it with the US, he's way out of line and there should be a much firmer response coming from the Bush Administration than there has been so far. Since I consider both of these possibilities relatively improbably, I suspect Bush's team knew Yassin was a target (though I'm sure they were in the dark and when or if a new attempt would be made).

3. There was a great deal of debate, here and, to a greater degree, in Europe, over whether the military wing of Hamas could be separated from its political wing. The US State Department does not distinguish between them, considering them a unitary terrorist organization. That's appropriate, and it is a view that has increasingly, but not universally, adopted overseas. If that view is correct - and I believe it is - then Yassin is a legitimate target, as is every member of Hamas. Whether he had an operational role or not. Yassin was not just another preacher spewing hate. He was a key leader of an organization devoted to mass-murder of civilians. It doesn't matter whether Yassin ordered specific attacks or not. What matters is his affiliation with Hamas and his leadership role therein. If we discovered that Osama bin-Laden did not know the operational details of 9-11, but just provided the funding, the inspiration, and proclaimed himself founder and leader of the organization responsible, would anyone deny that he's a legitimate target?

4. The real question, then, should not be whether Israel was freelancing (I doubt she was), or whether Yassin was a legitimate target (he was), or whether the terrorists will respond with more terrorism (that's what terrorists do). The real question is: what is the larger strategy? Is Sharon opening all-out war on Hamas as a prelude to withdrawal, in order to strengthen the hand of Fatah in Gaza? Would taking out Yassin help such a strategy? Is Sharon trying to torpedo his own withdrawal, by goading Fatah into joining Hamas in retaliatory attacks? Is he just playing to domestic politics, bolstering his right wing to make it more possible for him to withdraw? Or, as I fear, is there no strategy; is Israel just lurching between conciliation and forceful response? That's what I fear the most.

Friday, March 19, 2004
I had intended to post today an analysis of the Iraqi Constitution - its language, its structure, its strengths and weaknesses. But I've had too much work. So hopefully I'll get something out by the beginning of next week.

In the meantime: let's remember what's been achieved in the past year, in spite of all the errors of intelligence, of planning and of diplomacy.

A murderous dictator who had declared himself an enemy of America, tried to assassinate a former American President, attacked several neighboring countries including three American allies, and had a history of using terror weapons against civilians and of seeking nuclear weapons has been humiliated, defeated and removed from power. Thankfully for the safety of our troops, Saddam turned out to be nowhere near as close to acquiring nuclear weapons as the Administration fervently believed. That failure of intelligence should be occasion for reassessing the role of those in the Administration who pushed the most extreme threat-assessment. But it is no reason to mourn the passing of Saddam Hussein's regime. And it is no reason to regret having shown the world that "an enemy of America" is an unwise title for anyone to aspire to.

The American war on Islamist terrorism, and the involvement of American troops in that effort, is now an accepted part of the landscape in a wide span of territory, from Pakistan to Yemen. We have not won the hearts and minds by a long shot, but we have won considerably more cooperation from a number of governments than we had pre-Iraq. Leaders like Pervez Musharraf know that we have crossed a Rubicon, and that they have, perforce, crossed with us; the dangers to them of turning back now are greater than the dangers of pressing forward. We may have worsened our relations with many European governments, but we have probably improved our relations with a number of governments of Muslim states. And American troops are now stationed at the frontiers of two of the biggest international supporters of Islamist terrorism: Iran and Syria. It would be rash to predict positive change in either state. But I think it would be overly pessimistic to deny that our presence will be a factor in the thinking of either regime should popular opposition break out in earnest in either state.

And finally, an Arab country is beginning a rarely-indulged experiment in self-government. In the abstract, I'd argue that there are more promising candidates for Arab democratization and liberalization than Iraq: Tunisia foremost, followed by Egypt and Algeria, and non-Arab Iran above all. But Iraq's what we've got, and if we - and they - can make it there, we can probably make it anywhere. And I have no doubt that crucial to fighting the war going forward is winning the peace in Iraq: nothing would better boost our image internationally, and nothing would do more to alleviate the strain on our military. Conversely, nothing will do more to undermine our war effort generally than for Iraq to descend into civil war or a new tyranny. We should not set our sights unrealistically high, and make the perfect the enemy of the good. But neither should we despair at the difficulties so far. Frankly, if this is the worst they can throw at us, the whole project is going to be a good deal easier than I ever imagined it would be.

We should remember from the Algerian civil war that the terrorists will get more violent and deadly the harder they are pressed. This is certainly what we saw in Madrid, and I will be not at all surprised if similar attacks take place elsewhere in Europe or in America. We should be prepared for that. Hey, I live in Brooklyn, not far from the major Arab and Muslim neighborhood in the city, whose hub is at the Atlantic Avenue train station (subway and LIRR), which I transit on the way to work. And the end of my commute is Grand Central Station, one of the two major subway and commuter rail hubs of New York, and a major New York landmark (not to mention being at the base of one of the city's major skyscrapers). If they're going to hit our trains, the trains I take are surely top targets. That fear should be no reason to retreat. We should be debating how to win, including whether the Iraq war was a good idea in retrospect. We should not be debating whether winning is worth the fight. For all the legitimate criticisms of this Administration's management of the war, I think we've won a lot in the last year. Let's keep rolling.

Thursday, March 18, 2004
Andrew Sullivan is furious at the folks in The Corner for being insufficiently severe in their condemnation of Rhea County. And he's absolutely right to be.

Recall NRO's reaction to the Lott fiasco: they quickly demanded his head, on the grounds that segregation-nostalgia - even indulged in at a drunken birthday party for a 100-year-old man who had long since adjured his segregationist roots - was absolutely unacceptable. Whatever your views on the nature and reality of race, or of meliorist race-conscious policies like affirmative action, legalized segregation was a manifest affront to the equality of black Americans as citizens, and for that reason is anathema.

By the same token, whatever your views on the nature and reality of homosexuality, the idea of a county trying to expel its citizens for the "crime against nature" of being gay is absolutely anathema. Period. Even if you think a private employer or landlord should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, even if you think homosexuality is an "objective disorder," the actions of Rhea County are utterly and completely abhorrent. If the town tried to expel schizophrenics or atheists or others the citizenry found objectionable, that would be obviously and totally unacceptable; there would not be a debate. This is basic to what it means to be a free country, and there should be no ambiguity or cutesy posturing around it.

It is particularly incumbent on those who oppose same-sex marriage to be absolutely clear that they respect and will fight to protect the rights of gay people as citizens. There is every reason to believe that a significant portion of the opposition to same-sex marriage stems from pure animus towards gay people. That's not true of everyone who takes that position; it's not true of me, it's not true of Shelby Steele, it's not true of some of the folks at NRO (Ramesh Ponnuru, for example, who I would argue is the only true federalist in this debate). If we want to be able to argue for our position without being subject to the charge of bigotry, then we've got to be especially firm in opposing real bigotry. It's not just a matter of practical politics; it's a matter of moral obligation. Ideas have consequences, and if our opposition to same-sex marriage encourages anti-gay bigotry, and we could reasonably anticipate that, and we didn't do anything to preempt that effect, we bear some blame.

To those readers who disagree: please first read this piece here, a response to an excellent article in First Things about the Church, anti-Semitism, and the Holocaust. The conclusions I draw at the end are quite pertinent to my point here.

Very good piece by Shelby Steele in The Wall Street Journal re: same-sex marriage.

Monday, March 15, 2004
Let me see if I get Andrew Sullivan's point right. A Christian conservative writes that marriage has been so thoroughly debased and drained of meaning over the course of the past 40 years (perhaps inevitably, given technological change) that it is now a purely symbolic matter. It's just a "shortcut way" to make certain legal arrangements. Same-sex marriage would not begin the destruction of the institution; it would "storm the last bastion" - it would be the coup the grace, not the opening shot.

This, Sullivan thinks, bolsters his case for same-sex marriage. Isn't marriage, as currently practiced, entirely hollow apart from the exclusion of gay souples? What's the worth of marriage if all it means is an exclusive club to which homosexuals are denied entry?

What, indeed?

But, forgive me, I thought the m-word meant something to him? I thought civil unions were unacceptable because, even if they provide a comparable shortcut to a basket of benefits, they don't come with the same associations, the same power. They suggest that there is still a special meaning to marriage beyond a set of legal shortcuts.

Doesn't that leave open at least the possibility that those meanings have something to do with the historical institution? Something to do with, you know, men and women?

Sullivan can't have it both ways; he can't argue in the alternative. He can't say that, on the one hand, same-sex marriage is a civil right because marriage has been drained of traditional meaning by heterosexuals and therefore means only exclusion, and hence must be reformed to include same-sex couples - and on the other hand that marriage is full of meaning, meaning that matters enormously to gays and that they need access to for their own health and happiness, and therefore must be reformed to include same-sex couples. He cannot approvingly quote conservatives deploring the collapse of marriage (and same-sex marriage as the last straw) and posture as a someone advocating a conservative reform of the institution. He must choose.

Three follow-ups to my last post:

First, I meant what I said in the last paragraph. I think Bush has to do more than anything is make the case rather than change his policies (on Iraq, that is). There is absolutely a case still to be made; it's not being made, though, and the reasons why it's not being made point up the problems with this Administration. But I also think this - the Iraq war - is the issue that is hurting Bush. Not jobs. Not John Ashcroft. If Bush can convince America he's the right steward for the war, he will win the election even if more Americans disapprove than approve of his stewardship of the economy. People across the political spectrum think the Administration was either mendacious in making its case for war or deluded itself about fundamental questions. That may not be fair, but it's the perception, and if Bush doesn't rebut it, he's got a big problem.

Second, to clarify my point that the Spanish reaction is comprehensible, consider an Israeli analogy. Terrorists from Gaza just murdered 11 Israelis over the weekend in Ashdod. Gaza is behind a security fence of the type Sharon is building in the West Bank to separate Israelis and Palestinians. Until recently, Sharon was a firm advocate of never negotiating with or running away from terrorists; lately, he's exchanged a huge number of prisoners with a terrorist group and has been pushing a plan to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. So: the murders in Ashdod, are they a reason to vote for Sharon (if there were a pending election), or for parties to his right, or for parties to his left? That's a political judgement call, and it doesn't mean much to say that voting one way or another would mean the terrorists have won. Let me make another Israeli analogy: in 1995, Yigal Amir murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an effort to stop the Oslo process. Not too long after, there was an election in which the Labor Party explicitly called for people not to vote for Likud and Netanyahu lest Rabin be betrayed and his murderer be vindicated. If voting Socialist this past weekend was immoral because the terrorists would thereby win, doesn't that mean that voting for Netanyahu was immoral in 1996, since this would mean Amir had won?

Third, I probably wasn't clear enough in my last post that I think the Socialists will be an absolute disaster. The rhetoric coming out of the new Spanish leader is terrifying. He's almost gleeful in his taunting of Bush and Blair and in his declaration of greater affinity for France and Germany than for the U.S. and Britain. This would be juvenile if it weren't so dangerous. There are two ways to read the tea leaves, neither of them encouraging. Either the core European nations and the parties aligned with them are now quite eager to foment a rift in the Atlantic Alliance - damn the consequences - or the parties of the left, as of the right, have coalesced into global networks such that we can no longer clearly speak of "Germany" for instance but only of the CDU/CSU or the Social Democrats, and alliances and the like will rise and fall repeatedly with a simple change in electoral majority. Or some of each, which I think is most correct. Regardless, this is, as I say, a very dangerous development.

Let me preface this post by saying that I think the Spanish election is a disaster for the war effort, a disaster for America and, equally so, a disaster for Spain. Aznar is not only the best thing to happen to Spain since the accession of Juan Carlos to the throne but one of the most impressive statesmen in all of Europe. During his eight years Spain strengthened economically, diplomatically, socially, even militarily. It is almost incomprehensible that the Spanish would throw the party that brought them so far out of office in favor of the distinctly unimpressive Socialist alternative.

Moreover, as everyone has noted, the Socialist victory is a big one for al Qaeda. Whether or not al Qaeda proves to be responsible for the attacks on 3/11, the fact is that the Socialists won because the Spanish believed al Qaeda was responsible. Which will only prove to the terrorists that such tactics can win them huge victories that they could not achieve on the battlefield. We'll see more terrorism specifically targeted to influence elections as a result of the apparent success at influencing this one.

End of preface. Now: I want to ask a hypothetical question. Suppose you were opposed to the war in Iraq, as the majority of Spanish were. Let's assume you're not a raving lunatic, that you're worried about al Qaeda and supported America's war in Afghanistan and more generally the effort to wipe out al Qaeda as an organization, but that you were unpersuaded by any connection between Saddam and al Qaeda (as, indeed, there is no substantial evidence of any connection between the two), unpersuaded that Saddam was on the brink of going nuclear (as, indeed, it turns out he was not), and unpersuaded that the war in Iraq was anything but a bizarre American adventure of which you wanted no part. You're convinced that the war was a bad idea that will only make the problem of fighting terrorism worse. How should 3/11 have affected your vote?

Suppose you think the Socialists are no great shakes - corrupt, inept, etc. - but you're generally left of center and you thought Aznar's support of America's Iraq war was a huge mistake. Indeed, you thought it would increase terrorism and make Spain a target. So pre-3/11, you weren't planning to vote - a plague on both their houses, you thought. Should 3/11 have affected that decision? How?

You know that, in the context of 3/11, voting for the Socialists would mean giving the terrorists a victory. Clearly they are punishing Spain for its support for the Iraq war, just as you predicted they would. If you vote Socialist, you're voting the way the terrorists, presumably, want you to. You don't want to do that.

But voting for the Popular Party means rewarding that party for a policy stance that, you believe, just cost the lives of 200 of your countrymen. You don't want to do that, either.

I understand why a number of Spaniards came out to vote against Aznar's party on account of 3/11. They were punishing the guy they thought caused this mess. Clearly, that doesn't mean they thought Aznar was morally equivalent to the murderers, or that they want a terrorist victory. It doesn't even necessarily mean that they think they can escape attack by abandoning the war on al Qaeda. All it means, really, is that they thought the Iraq war was a disaster, and that those who supported the war should be punished.

I think there's something facile about suggesting that the only moral thing for Spaniards to do was rally 'round the flag and not "let the terrorists win." If terrorists had struck Spain in retaliation for their support for America's war in Afghanistan, or for other actions unambiguously directed against al Qaeda, then the contention would be unassailable: the only moral course would be to rally 'round the flag and give more support to the anti-terrorist PP. But Iraq was not Afghanistan; there are entirely coherent arguments to be made that Iraq was the wrong war to fight in early 2003, and endorsing one of these arguments does not implicitly make you a traitor to the cause of fighting terrorism or al Qaeda.

Tacitus points out - correctly - that even if the Iraq war was a distraction in 2003, it is not a distraction in 2004. Now, al Qaeda and affiliated groups are active in Iraq, trying to foment civil war and establish a beachhead from which to expand their activities - not to mention that, having declared themselves opposed to the American occupation, if America leaves on terms that are anything less than triumphant, the terrorists will claim a huge victory, much bigger than their victory in Spain. Now, therefore, Iraq is central to the war on al Qaeda.

But how does that affect the electoral calculus? If you are my hypothetical Spaniard - basically left-of-center, worried about al Qaeda but convinced the Iraq war was an enormous mistake that would strengthen, not weaken, the terrorists - how does the terrorist threat affect your vote? Do you really decide, in the wake of 3/11, to vote for the guy you think is to blame for strengthening the terrorists?

Here's the terrible fact: we are not having a robust debate about how to fight the war on terror. We are having a mendacious debate about whether to fight the war on terror. This is partly the fault of the Iraq war's supporters, who have generally been eager to confuse debate about strategy with debate about the will to win. I can't tell you how many opinion pieces I read weekly that assume that there is no plausible dissent to the Administration's left on any point of the conduct of the war; you can argue that Bush has been too easy on Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or Syria, but if you argue that the Iraq war was a mistake then you are either a fool or a traitor. I wish I would never read another such piece.

But it is more the fault of the opposition party. The Democrats tried to get through the 2002 elections by refusing to debate strategy in the war, preferring to agree with the Administration on everything and hope to take the issue off the table. The very fact that they considered such a thing to be possible is an index of their unseriousness; the war is not an "issue" it is the defining question of this decade and, likely, for some time after. Then, in the primary campaign, the candidates have, generally, preferred to carp and criticize rather than propose a strategy of their own. Instead of supporting everything, now they oppose everything. And no one is worse in this regard than John Kerry. The situation in Europe is similar. I am at a loss to tell you what the leaders of France or Germany, or the new leadership in Spain, plan to do about al Qaeda and the threat of Muslim terrorism. I don't think they intend to do anything. For that matter, I'm at a loss to know what Michael Howard is planning to do about it; the Conservatives have been as willing to get to Blair's left on the war as to his right, which is fine in and of itself but there's no sense that their posturing adds up to anything more than posturing, looking for an opening for criticism, as opposed to a coherent strategy of their own. That is why we are having this mendacious debate: not about how to fight and where, but, implicitly or explicitly, about whether.

I'm not a 9/11 Republican (I'm a Giuliani Republican, if you had to boil it down to one thing), but I am a 9/11 voter. That means that the first three things I'm going to vote on in a Presidential election are the war, followed by the war, followed by the war. I'm going to vote for the guy who will be most determined and effective at prosecuting the war on our self-declared Islamist enemies and their allies to a victorious conclusion. Everything else is way, way down the list.

I would love to have two parties, two candidates to choose from. I would love to hear an honest and robust argument about how to win. But we're not having that argument. I cannot articulate clearly the Administration's policy in numerous respects, but I don't doubt their resolve. For the Democrats, I really have no idea where they stand, or if they stand.

So if I were that hypothetical Spaniard - holding his views, not mine - there's no question I'd vote for the PP, regardless of my disagreements, and even if I blamed them for 3/11, because they at least recognize that the enemy exists. But I would not be happy about it. And I can certainly understand why more folks made the opposite call.

And if Bush doesn't want the same thing to happen here, he had best start making the case, not only for the rightness of the war but for the rightness of his decisions about how to fight it.

Friday, March 12, 2004
A follow-up to the last post: one of the most crucial shortages we face in confronting our current war is a manpower shortage. We cannot occupy Iraq, conduct peacekeeping in Bosnia, Kossovo and Afghanistan, chase terrorists in the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, and Yemen, deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan and a North Korean attack on South Korea, respond to local contingencies like Haiti (or, potentially, Venezuela), and be prepared for possible full-scale wars in places like Iran, or Syria, or Pakistan, all while adequately protecting the force and maintaining overall readiness. We're stretched as thin as can be and we're not prepared for half of the above contingencies. What are we going to do about it?

It seems to me we have only a few choices:

1. Increase the size of the AVF. All it takes is money. We had a bigger force in the 1980s than we do today; we could have a bigger force again. We just have to pay for it. We don't want to shortchange on basic equipment or spending on new technology, so growing the size of the force means additive expenditure on an annual basis in the nine figure range. We now spend about 3.5% of GDP on defense. Could we up that to 6% without uprooting our civilization? Sure. That's what the figure was in 1987. I'll bet we could get a fine force structure with that kind of money. We just can't get all those guns and all the butter we seem to want. So advocating this would take political courage, and would test just how much support our current war has.

2. Reinstate the draft. Stanley Kurtz used to be a big advocate of this option; I don't know if he still is. This option would take more political courage than option #1, and would apparently be less expensive. But I'm not convinced. I bet if you tallied the indirect costs of a draft from removing productive citizens from the economy, you'd discover that a draft is at least as expensive as simply spending enough to raise a bigger volunteer army. Most of those who advocate a draft do so for implicitly or explicitly cultural and moral reasons. Those reasons are not relevant to this discussion. Nonetheless, this is an option, with political costs and benefits, so I put it out there.

3. Recruit allies. We've done a good bit of this, actually, but the problem is that there are very few allies that we can (a) really rely on; (b) have high-quality personnel available; and (c) have substantial militaries. Britain and Australia are about it, and neither is exactly enormous as a military power. The Pakistanis are helping us hunt for al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier, but they aren't exactly reliable or entirely high-quality. The Italians and the Japanese have sent troops to Iraq, but neither has exactly got a large and robust military. Allies can be useful in many ways - for diplomatic cover, for local knowledge, for basing, or just to give us someone to bounce our ideas off of. It's not obvious to me that they significantly impact out manpower shortage.

4. Recruit mercenaries. I'm not saying it's a good option, but it's an option. There's a big potential pool of people out there who could be recruited to a force to serve as an adjunct to the U.S. military, particularly if that service put them on a fast-track to U.S. citizenship or otherwise promised outsized benefits. You'd expect that on average this pool of people would be less-qualified than the recruitment pool for the U.S. military itself, but I'm not sure it would be less-qualified than the portion of the pool that winds up as ordinary grunts. Has anyone studied how much of the U.S. military's activities could be "outsourced" in some fashion? I don't know. There are, obviously, lots of downsides to using foreign mercenaries - in terms of security, diplomatic consequences, cultural consequences, etc. I'd prefer to pay more for American volunteers, just as I'd prefer American volunteers to American draftees. But, like the draft, this option should be on the table.

5. Change the mission. What is the mission, anyhow? We're trying, obviously, to wipe out al Qaeda and, to some extent, other terrorist groups. We're also trying to prevent rogue states from going nuclear, and to prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. In our more ambitious moments, we also talk about trying to change the culture of the Islamic world, though whether what we're most interested in is spreading democracy or just convincing Muslim governments to stamp out their native extremists to spare us the trouble of doing it ourselves is never 100% clear (because sometimes we favor one approach, sometimes the other, which is as it should be). Perhaps this is too ambitious? Perhaps we should focus only on al-Qaeda, and count on deterrence to deal with a nuclear Iran? I'd argue that would be a mistake, but it should be on the table as an option; someone should advocate ignoring the nuclear issue and focusing on the terrorists, if only so the question gets debated. Perhaps we should do the opposite - focus on a forceful anti-proliferation program, and forget about whether terrorists are breeding in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, etc. After all, terrorism has been with us always. This I think would also be a mistake, but it should be debated. Perhaps we should be less altruistic, forget about trying to bring democracy to Iraq or Iran or wherever, and focus only on concrete threats: if terrorists attack us from your territory, or if you go nuclear and we don't trust you, we'll bomb you silly. This choice, too, would have profound implications. If we abandoned the at this point expected humanitarian dimension of warfare for reasons of cost, the diplomatic consequences would be severe. I think everyone would agree we'd have a far harder time winning international support even for wars like Afghanistan if we said, "we intend to kill as many Afghanis as it takes to convince the Afghanis and anyone else tempted to harbor al Qaeda that they'd better not give in to that temptation. When they get the message, we're out of here, and they can rebuild the country themselves." I mean, that is pretty much the alternative to what we're doing, right?

If we don't reconceptualize the mission, then between force-protection, occupation duty, deterrence, readiness and potential new wars, we need a lot more troops than we have now. We should be talking about that. By and large, we aren't.

The Bush Administration war program has been criticized, from the left and the right, in several ways. We are told that Iraq was a distraction from the real mission. Okay, then, what's the real mission, and what's the battle plan for accomplishing it? We are told that we had insufficient troops for Iraq and a poor plan for postwar occupation. We're told the same thing about the conduct of the Afghan campaign with respect to the events at Tora Bora. Okay, then, how many troops do we need to fulfill the mission, and where are we going to get them? I would love this election campaign to revolve around why we are fighting and how we can win. I don't suspect I'm going to get my wish. I'll have to get used to disappointment, I guess.

What are we going to do about Iran?

It seems to me, Iran is in the process of calling the bluff that North Korea already called us on. Iran is threatening to withdraw from the NPT, declare themselves a nuclear power, and dare the USA or anyone else to do something about it.

What are we going to do about it?

For several years now, the Michael Ledeens of the world have been saying that all we need to do is spend more money on Persian-language Voice of America broadcasts and the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow the regime with nary a shot fired. Well, the good people of Iran have been raging against their leaders with increasing volume, and the leaders don't seem to be concerned. I fail to see how the VOA makes a decisive difference in this particular contest.

In 1991, we learned how fragile a one-party dictatorship can be when you lose the support of the people and the leadership doesn't have the guts to send in the tanks to crush them. Gorbachev killed a handful of Lithuanians and then lost the stomach for fighting; when he was overthrown in a coup, Yelstin climbed on a tank and everyone pretty much knew the game was up.

But in 1989, we learned how strong a one-party dictatorship can be when you lose the support of the people but the leadership does have the guts to send in the tanks to crush them. China's Communist Party dictatorship did not crumble in the face of the Tiananmen protests; it crushed the protestors under tank treads and rolled on into the future. When the regime ultimately falls, it will not be due to repercussions from Tiananmen; the regime has outlasted those events by 15 years, and I'd say the statute of limitations has run out on the explanatory power of those events for anything that happens from here on.

I've argued before that one side benefit - a key one - of our position as occupiers of Iraq is that we now have troops on pretty much all of Iran's borders. We have troops to the west in Iraq, troops to the east in Afghanistan, and troops to the north in bases in former Soviet Central Asian states like Uzbekistan. If events in Iran were to escalate from protest to actual revolution, as they did in Romania after Timisoara, I reasoned, the presence of American troops in a position to intervene would have a deterrent effect on the regime if it contemplated sending in the tanks, and an emboldening effect on the regular Iranian army (which is not particularly fond of the regime) should it choose to side with the people.

If I'm right about this (which I'm not sure I am), and if I'm right that the regime knows its popularity continues to wane, then they know time is not on their side. And if time is not on your side, you may become risk-seeking, because a stable situation bleeds you to death, but a risky chance could change the situation for your benefit.

North Korea has done everything but dare us to attack them because of their nuclear program. And what we've done is stand our ground, refusing to take action and refusing to fold. When and if North Korea actually detonates a nuclear weapon, our Korea policy will officially and catastrophically have failed. The consequences for the security regime of Northeast Asia are hard to reckon, but they sure don't seem good to me.

Iran is now following the North Korean path. As the inspections noose tightens, they are increasingly threatening to simply walk away from the table and go ahead with their nuclear weapons program openly. Do we have a credible response?

I'm not convinced we do. A surgical strike against Iranian facilities is unlikely to succeed completely given that Iran has multiple, independent program facilities, some of them hardened, and probably some of them unknown to us. But I'm not convinced a full-scale war is feasible either, diplomatically or militarily. Diplomatically because, frankly, after the Iraq WMD debacle this Administration in particular would have a very hard time convincing anyone that war was the only way to respond to a proliferation threat. No one is going to back such a proposition now: not Tony Blair, not even Bush's own electoral base. Perhaps things would have been different if the pre-war diplomacy on Iraq had gone better, or if WMD had not been so essential a part of Bush's case, or if the Administration had not clearly believed the threat was greater than intelligence indicated, when in fact it was substantially less. But as things stand, we would have a very hard time building the diplomatic case for military action against Iran.

But we could, of course, potentially take action without diplomatic cover, if the threat were serious enough, couldn't we? I'm not so sure. I'm not sure we have good military options against Iran. The country is four times the size of Iraq, about the size of Alaska. Much of the territory is mountainous. The regime has not been worn down by years of sanctions the way Iraq's was, nor do we have substantial internal allies as we did in Afghanistan. It would be foolish to predict that the mullahs would fold at the outset of the conflict. I'm not suggesting that we couldn't defeat the Iranians in battle; it wouldn't be much of a contest, in the end. But "in the end" may be too long. We are not operating in a context where we can initiate an open-ended military conflict. In any preemptive attack on Iran, we'd have to win decisively and quickly or suffer diplomatic consequences that would be prohibitive.

Moreover, the resources we'd need to bring to bear to defeat Iran would be considerable, and these forces are largely engaged elsewhere. One reason we went to war with Iraq when we did is that we'd been building up our strength for combat and couldn't simply maintain that force in place indefinitely. We prepared as if we were going to war for sure; if we had backed down, we'd have had to stand down. We have nothing really in place for war against Iran.

And even if we had the resources available for successful combat operations, we would need vastly more resources to occupy the country. And how many countries are we going to occupy simultaneously - Bosnia and Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran?

I bring all this up not because I think we should be going to war with Iran, but because we have to be prepared to take military action in order to threaten military action. Threats that are not credible are worse than no threats at all, because they make other threats less credible, and hence make war more likely. That's what happened with North Korea: we declared North Korean nuclearization to be unacceptable, but nuclearization is proceeding and we can't seem to do anything about it. So now Iran is tempted to call our bluff, withdraw from the NPT, and openly pursue nuclear weapons. If they successfully call our bluff, we have really big problems. So what can we credibly threaten?

I'm increasingly frustrated by right-wing commentary that suggests that all we need is the will to win, and left-wing commentary that consists of nothing but carping, worrying and Monday-morning quarterbacking. If will were all it took we'd all be speaking German today. I do not want a nuclear Iran. What are we going to do to prevent one?

Thursday, March 11, 2004
Okay, shifting gears again.

The cover story of the current (April) issue of The Atlantic (the issue is not, apparently, on the web yet), is about the ethical questions posed by genetic engineering on humans. The article starts out very strong, but kind of peters out towards the end. The tone is classic Atlantic Monthly: worried in a vague, general way about change and its awesome implications. There's nothing wrong with that tone, of course, except this: it is enervating. I opened the piece interested to see if it would help clarify the sorts of questions that I take very seriously and find a hard time answering. I left feeling that the author had the same troubles I had.

The weakest argument in the piece against engineering "better" humans is that the ability and willingness to practice such engineering will erode our sense of life as a gift (of God or of some kind of personified nature) and this will erode social solidarity. And lurking behind this argument is the Rawlsian veil of ignorance. (Digression: Rawls argues for a certain kind of redistributionist liberalism on the following grounds. He assumes, following Kant, that ethical rules must be universal or they are not truly ethical. Next, he argues that to test whether the rules for distributing goods in society are ethical, we should examine them from behind a veil of ignorance about our own interests. We should think about distribution as if we did not know whether we were the richest or the poorest, the most accomplished or the least, the strongest or the weakest, because if we do not know these facts about ourselves then we can truly construct social rules from a universal perspective, and hence these rules will be ethical. He then concludes that, from behind the veil of ignorance, we would be risk-averse, and hence would seek to establish rules that would raise the poorest, weakest and least-well-endowed of society to at least a minimum level of comfortable happiness, because we might, in fact, be one of these people, and we don't want to suffer. End of digression.) We know that our success is partly due to luck, including the genetic lottery, and this knowledge can make us feel solidarity with those who have had ill luck, and willing to share with them. If the genetic lottery is abolished, we will not feel this solidarity because we will feel our own success to be more the product of our own efforts - including our efforts at genetic management - and hence social solidarity will erode. We will be less willing to stand behind the veil of ignorance in constructing our mental picture of a just distribution of goods.

One big problem with this argument is that it presumes its conclusion. Is social solidarity good? Are ethical rules necessarily universal? Or are these principles derivative of the assumption of moral equality of all human beings? I mean, a Randian reader of the article might conclude that genetic engineering of humans is a wonderful thing precisely because it would strengthen what a Randian would consider ethical principles: intrammelled individualism, the striving for perfection, and personal responsibility for one's fate. Another problem is that it's overly consequentialist. The author skirts past any prima facie ethical questions and proceeds right to what kind of a society we'd wind up with if such and such social trend combined with new powers. That makes the argument a lot weaker than it might have been.

The stronger argument in the piece, it seemed to me, is that genetic engineering necessarily deforms the relationship between parents and children, turning the latter into products and property. But the author doesn't explore the question adequately and the difficulties in identifying when good parenting becomes engineering. It's this question that I'm going to explore in more detail below.

Genetic engineering raises unique issues only in that alterations in the genome get passed down from generation to generation. But to the extent that genetic engineering is really, really robust, even this is not a substantial difference since, presumably, changes made in one generation can be reversed in the next. So I think it might be clarifying to take genetics off the table, and talk in terms of medical interventions generally to shape the biological nature of children.

Suppose it were determined that a certain virus was the cause of 90% of congenital deafness. And suppose that a simple cure is discovered. If a woman takes a certain pill regularly through her pregnancy, she will reduce the odds of bearing a deaf child by 90%. There are no meaningful side effects; the pill simply kills the virus that causes congenital deafness, and is otherwise harmless. Is it morally permissible to take this pill? Is it morally obligatory?

I think the overwhelming majority of people would say that it is morally permissible to take this pill. I suspect that most would say it's morally obligatory. How could you condemn a child to deafness when it could have been prevented?

And yet, there are advocates for the deaf who would argue that such a moral stance amounts to "genocide" of the deaf community. If such a pill were widely used, far fewer deaf people would be born - so few that, probably, deaf culture would die out. Advocates for the deaf would argue that deaf people have unique perceptions, and have produced unique contributions to civilization - including a highly sophisticated language - that would be destroyed were there no more deaf people in the world. At a minimum, these advocates would claim, you cannot say that it is morally obligatory to take the pill; at a minimum, parents should be permitted to refuse to take the pill - deaf parents in particular, who might want a deaf child, and would be in a particularly good position to raise one, and in a less-ideal position to raise a hearing child.

Indeed, such advocates might argue, if it's acceptable for the hearing to take such a pill, it should be acceptable for the deaf to take a pill containing the virus. After all, deaf advocates might claim, the deaf consider themselves to be different from the hearing, not inferior, and they should be able to reproduce their own kind. If we're not all bound to abide by the laws of chance, then if the hearing should be guaranteed hearing children, then the deaf should be guaranteed deaf children.

I think this is an absurd line of reasoning. But it's not obvious on its face where to disagree. To be deaf is, certainly, a disability. We are made to hear. And the compensating achievements of the deaf are just that: compensations. They compensate for a deficiency; they are not some objectively equal alternative mode of perception and being. Moreover, in this thought experiment deafness is caused by a virus; how can it be impermissable to kill a virus, or permissable to introduce one, which would seem to be the arguments of our hypothetical deaf advocates?

But how far does this logic extend? Suppose, for example, that it's not a virus that causes congenital deafness, but a genetic defect. Assume there's still a pill that cures it; the pill contains a virus, custom-engineered to alter the genes of an infant to correct the deafness-causing defect. Is the moral calculus the same? The deaf advocates could now claim that the treatment is unnatural. Sure, most people are meant to be hearing, but some, because of their genes, are meant to be deaf. How can the hearing claim that their state is the only natural one, and all other states a defect?

Let's take another example. Rather than deafness, homosexuality. Suppose a "gay gene" were discovered. And suppose a genetic treatment were discovered - one that, if introduced into the uterine environment, would prevent the expression of the "gay gene" and hence ensure heterosexual orientation in one's offspring. Again, assume no side effects.

Is it permissable to take the pill? Is it obligatory? Whereas the arguments of the deaf advocates might be rejected, I suspect the arguments of gay advocates would get more of a . . . hearing. (Sorry.) Gay advocates would argue - correctly - that gay people have made enormous contributions to civilization; that the history of art in particular would be spectacularly diminished were the gay sensibility to be obliterated by such prenatal intervention. They would argue that someone's choice of sexual partner is of no moral significance, and that this fact is now enshrined in law on a number of levels. Allowing prenatal intervention to prevent the expression of "gay genes" would be tantamount to genocide against gay people.

Others, of course, would argue that gayness is a considerable disability; most prominently, it makes it impossible for someone to form a natural family, with children. Surely a parent could choose to spare his or her child from such a debility? Even if it is not morally obligatory to take the pill, surely it's morally permissable? Indeed, to say it is not permissable is to say that moral objections to homosexuality are evil even if sexual orientation is chosen. That's a pretty extreme position, isn't it?

Very well, then, the advocates might argue: if straights are permitted to prevent their children from being born gay, then gays should be permitted to ensure that their children are born gay. Isn't that reasonable? Isn't a lesbian couple in a better position to raise a lesbian daughter than a straight one? Wouldn't straights even prefer it if this were the state of affairs?

Again, I think this line of reasoning is absurd. But it is not as easy to attack as I would like. There is no hard line between difference and disability - are short people disabled? are shy people? - and therefore it is not obvious when we cross the line between therapy, which most people would consider at a minimum permissable and conceivably mandatory - and engineering for a particular outcome. Most people would argue that to take a pill to prevent deafness or homosexuality in one's offspring is legitimate if not mandatory, and to take a pill to cause deafness or homosexuality in one's offspring is abhorrent. But deaf people and gay people might well consider any such intervention an example of engineering rather than therapy, and demand the equal right to engineer their own offspring in the opposite direction - precisely what most people would find abhorrent. And yet, we can't get out of the problem by simply banning all intervention. In the examples I've given in these thought-experiments, the therapies in question are safe and do not involve tampering with the human genetic code; they involve killing or introducing viruses, expressing or suppressing the expression of genes. If these kinds of therapies are impermissable because they are interventions, then how can we prevent the expression of a schizophrenia gene, my first example?

So: suppose we take a hard line. Disabilities are disabilities, full stop. Deafness is not equal to hearing; it's inferior. Homosexuality is not equal to heterosexuality; it's inferior. You can, though you are not obligated to (we won't take that hard a line) intervene medically to prevent these conditions, not to introduce them. The compensating achievements of deaf or gay people do not constitute a moral reason to allow a disability to continue; castrati have beautiful voices, too, but we don't produce them either anymore. Does this solve our problem?

Well, let's take another thought experiment to see. There is a good body of evidence that breastfed children have a 5 IQ-point advantage over formula-fed children. (IQ is a complicated thing, with genetic and environmental components that are not well understood, and can vary over short spans of time as well as during a single individual's life, and I don't pretend to be an expert. But the breastfeeding stats appear to be pretty widely supported.) Is it permissable for a woman to breastfeed her children? Is it mandatory? I imagine no one will argue that this is anything but a choice for a woman to make; of course she can breastfeed, and of course she can bottle feed. I think we'd all agree this one falls into the "can I drive my car while pregnant" category. The main moral implications of the breast/bottle IQ finding, it seems to me, are in the area of public information: women should know the costs and risks of bottle feeding, and it's especially important to spread that knowledge among those most likely to be ignorant of these facts, most likely to bottle-feed, and whose children are most likely to suffer if they manifest low IQs (these happen to generally be the same people).

Okay: suppose the medical wizards discover a new baby formula that increases the average IQ of children by 5 points. Should such a formula be made generally available (assuming it's safe)? Should women be told that it's better for them to bottle-feed with the new formula than to breastfeed?

A lot of people will say, "sure." But some will be uncomfortable. We're edging towards engineering brighter babies, after all. It's one thing to say, "make sure your baby takes his vitamin supplement so he grows up big and strong." It's another to say, "make sure your baby takes her vitamin supplement so her IQ will go up 5 points." Isn't it?

I think most of us have, again, a sense of what constitutes a "natural" regimen - of diet, exercise, etc. - and would have no problem with science identifying what natural regimen best suits the human organism and makes us most fit, physically and mentally. We sense a shift in moral ground when we start talking about interventions that make us more than naturally fit. But is there really any difference between eating more fish and getting smarter and taking a pill and getting smarter? And is there really any difference between taking a pill and altering the expression of our genes?

Okay, let's take a hard line again: there's nothing wrong with wanting kids with higher IQs. It's morally right to do what's best for your children, so it's morally right to do whatever - from better diet to gene therapy - to raise your kid's IQs. In fact, this kind of intervention is more moral than the kinds of intensive training regimens that many pressure-cooker kids go through these days, because neither better diet nor gene therapy will deform a kid's personality the way incessant flash-card practice will. So bring it on.

So where do we draw the line? A higher IQ is good. What about a longer attention span? Quicker reflexes? Longer legs? A more winning personality? Clearer skin? Blonder hair? More sex appeal? Less sex appeal? When do we cross the line from "I'm only doing what's best for my child" to "I'm trying to engineer the best child?" The former, I think most would agree, is good. The latter, I think most would agree, is bad. Where's the line?

It's not clear where the hard lines are in any of these cases. Where do you draw the line between difference and disability? Where do you draw the line between maximizing your potential and engineering your potential? Does normal human biology have any special moral status? Does your particular nature have any moral status? These are the questions that need to be answered to speak intelligently about these matters. The extreme answers - all intervention is wrong because it is Promethean hubris; all intervention is fine because freedom should be maximized - are not, in fact, morally serious.

170 dead in Spain. Spain has 40 million people. The USA has 290 million. The number of dead in this one attack is roughly 40%, proportionately, the loss suffered by the United States on 9-11.

Basque is spoken by 2% of the Spanish population. The Basque people overwhelmingly reject the ETA terrorists; even pro-independence Basques are strongly opposed to the terrorism. There is no substantial Basque diaspora that supports the ETA against the wishes of the natives, as there is, for example, a substantial Irish diaspora that supports IRA terrorists (who are opposed by the overwhelming majority of Irish nationals). The Spanish government has, since Franco's death, repealed essentially all the repressive Franco-era rules designed to extirpate the Basque language; the Basques now have considerable autonomy in their territory and their language is an official language there. The Spanish government has also been actively trying to annihilate the ETA for decades.

Nonetheless, without overwhelming local support, without an international network of ethnic supporters, in the face of both accomodationist policy initiatives with respect to the issues that drive their substantive complaints and a determined campaign by the government to wipe out the group, the ETA has been able to inflict this kind of horrible damage on the Spanish people.

If that isn't a sobering thought in considering our own war on terrorism, I don't know what is.

My heart goes out to the good people of Spain.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Backlog of things to talk about - serious backlog. Been really, really busy at the office. Fortunately, nothing I ever want to talk about is at all timely. Anyhow, here's to making a dent in a pile.

So let's start here, with a debate, on the topic of War and Statecraft, conducted in the pages of First Things between Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and George Weigel, Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and a frequent writer on the Christian just war tradition. I'll pause a moment for you to read the debate.

Good. I think we can agree that these two fellows are very bright and very serious. I think we can also agree that there are a lot of unnecessary words in their debate, which can be boiled down to a simple question: how is a state to demonstrate the moral legitimacy of its use of force against another state?

I use the word "demonstrate" advisedly. I'm not talking about whether the use of force inherently is legitimate. Neither disagrees that the use of force against another state can be legitimate. Neither disagrees that the legitimate government of a state has an a priori duty to defend a peace of just order, which implies that such a government is obliged to use force if that is the only practical way to defend that peace and that order. Moreover, neither argues the question of just war on narrow legalistic grounds; this is not a debate about whether the Iraq war traduced some specific principle or article or international law, for even actions that are not formally illegal can be substantively illegitimate (and, by the same token, the law can be an ass).

But by the same token, neither disagrees that the moral legitimacy of the use of force needs actively to be demonstrated in some fashion to people or states unrelated to the parties to a dispute. This, in itself, is an interesting concession on Weigel's part. He agrees with the Archbishop that nations cannot act as "judges in their own cases." But why not? Weigel denies the legitimacy of the UN as a moral arbiter; assume, then, for simplicity's sake that this body, and all other formal supra-national bodies, did not exist. If a state is not to be judge in its own case, who, then, is to be judge? Weigel seems to think that the Iraq war becomes more legitimate because Britain, Poland and Japan were supportive, and dismisses French, Russian and Mexican opposition by saying that these states were not acting seriously as judges of the moral case for war. Would the case be weaker if Britain, Poland and Japan also acted "unseriously" as moral judges of the case?

Note that I'm not questioning the prudential need for allied or even, potentially, supra-national support for the use of force to protect the peace of just order. Such support may indeed be practically necessary - or it may not. The question is whether it is morally necessary. Weigel appears to concede that it is necessary, that no state can conduct war solely on its own judgement that war is necessary to achieve a just and legitimate purpose, for that judgement cannot be made in the state's own "case."

I suspect that Weigel did not intend to concede so much; I suspect, rather, that he would have no theoretical problem with America, for example, going to war with Afghanistan after 9-11 without soliciting or obtaining the approval of anyone, inasmuch as this war presented a prima facie case of national self-defense. He clearly does intend to concede something, though, for he avers that "the just war tradition demands a form of internationalism." Perhaps, then, even if there is no obligation to demonstrate the legitimacy of the use of force to dispassionate "judges" where such do not exist, there is an obligation to work towards a world where such judges do exist. Which is, itself, a considerable concession.

Archbishop Williams asks the question as to what international structures could serve as such judges. His implicit assumption is that any such structure must function as something like a world government. He imagines a body of experts who would decide when force was called for, and recommend force to the UN who would, presumably, issue the only valid warrants for the use of force. Given that the Archbishop disbelieves that Weigel's "charism of political discernment" - an infelicitous phrase - descends upon democratically-elected leaders, I wonder what leads him to believe that an international panel of experts would manifest such a gift, as such a gift is more manifestly called for in their case, relying as they would be entirely on their gifts, lacking as they would what Weigel's unlikely elected charismatics do, in fact have: legitimate authority.

So what would be a proper structure for establishing the legitimacy of the use of force? What is the alternative to an illegitimate world government or the law of private vengeance, each state acting as a judge in its own case? Is there any?

I think there is. The law is older than the state, and a community that recognizes the force of law can enforce it collectively without there being any entity with a monopoly of force. You can have law without government. The Jews have it. Islam once had it (in that the decisors of Islamic law historically renounced personally exercising state violence; this scruple has, needless to say, suffered some erosion in recent years). In a very different way, the medieval Icelanders had it.

The Archbishop seems to think that war cannot be just unless someone disinterested has issued a warrant. But this is wrong. What you might say, rather, is that where states have agreed to adjudicate their disputes through some disinterested body - for example, if two states are party to the World Trade Organization; or, if two states agree to adjudication of a border dispute through the United Nations - failure to abide by the rulings of the body in question is unjust, and recourse to force as an alterantive means of settling a dispute is unjust war, whatever the underlying merits of the case. States that refused to abide by such rulings could, in serious cases, be declared outlaws - literally: they would no longer have protection of the law, which implies that violence against them would be no crime. They would become "fair game" for any state that took it upon itself to enforce the law.

I think the Bush Administration assumed that something like this had happened to Iraq. Iraq had violated its cease-fire terms and had been declared in violation of numerous Security Council resolutions. In the Bush Administration's view, this made it an outlaw regime, one that was fair game for attack. No further case for the legitimacy of forceful action needed to be made: the ends of war would still need to be just, the means would still need to be just and proportionate, but the legitimacy of action was established. This is precisely what the Archbishop Williamses of the world do not accept, because they understand the UN to have more the function of a government, and if it did not order an attack then an attack was illegal.

If we want to have an international order - and I think we do - the concept of outlawry is useful in three ways. First, it decouples the monopoly of force from the conferral of legitimacy. The international community - through whatever organ is relevant - could, of course, choose never to recognize a violation of the law, in which case the organ in question would cease to have any moral significance, even for the Archbishop. Assuming the organ in question acted in good faith, giving it the power to declare a member to be an outlaw would not imply giving that organ - or any supra-national organ - the power to command force. What such a declaration would do is empower any state that chose to do so to take action to enforce the law; the UN would have no armies of its own at its disposal.

By the same token, it decouples the legitimacy of force from the obligation to exercise it. There are many, many lawless places on the planet, and even in domestic law enforcement it is never possible to prevent all crime, nor punish all crime that is committed. How much less so in the international sphere. It may be perfectly legitimate for the United States or France or whomever to intervene in any number of the lawless places of the world, and a formal recognition of that lawless state would make such intervention more legitimate in George Weigel's and Archbishop Williams' eyes. But it is not incumbent on America, or France, or any state to undertake such intervention. Outlawry would define the sphere of permissable forceful action, not make such action obligatory.

Finally, there is no reason that such an institution must be global in nature. The World Trade Organization is not. NATO, a very different sort of body, is not. The EU, yet another, very different body, also is not. Internationalism does not mean global government, and its legitimacy depends, crucially, on deriving its power from the freely-given consent of legitimate governments. The community before whom legitimacy must be demonstrated is self-selecting. It cannot be ad-hoc, a collection of whomever happens to agree with us at any particular time, else it confers no legitimacy by any reason I can discern. But there is no reason it need be universal, anymore than a community of interest or values need be universal.

I can imagine many objections to the above, and I can sympathize with those who would argue that "lawfulness" is not the appropriate model for the behavior of states. But there are concrete, practical benefits to legitimacy. America may be on firm moral ground when it acts as it sees fit for ends that it sees as just, inasmuch as there is no disinterested and legitimate body to whom it can make its case that what is sees is fit and just. But George Weigel may be right that America is not on moral ground when it fails to seek ways to erect such bodies, or to buttress the legitimacy - not the authority - of those that do exist. And if that is the case, then we have to think about what such bodies should look like. I think Archbishop Williams is badly wrong in his assumptions about what they should look like. I hear Weigel agreeing that such bodies should exist, and we should work to bring them into being, but I don't hear him making a very concrete argument as to how such bodies should work. Given his decidedly negative views of some of our traditional European allies, I worry that he has succumbed to the temptation to seek agreement only from those who will agree, to define the community as the community of the like-minded. And as this community is not remotely stable, changing as may with a single election, it is not, in fact, a community at all, and so will not do as the basis for any kind of objective legitimacy for the use of force.

Friday, March 05, 2004
Reviews are out for King Lear, a Stratford Festival production come to New York. Here's the NY Times and here's the Wall Street Journal.

And here's my review of the original Stratford production:

KING LEAR: This was the big disappointment of the season. (I had low expectations for The Swanne, which were met, so no disappointment there.) Not because it was a bad production; it was a good production. But the director was Jonathan Miller and the lead was Christopher Plummer, and I expected greatness. And I didn't get it. The production was set in the Elizabethan era, which is a risky proposition, but a bold one. We are used to Lear being set in a Time of Legends or in our own day (or, rather, our own recent past; Lear seems very much a piece with the age of Eliot and Beckett). We are not used to such savagery from men who wear codpieces, and when we see it, we expect it to look like Richard III. Edmund is too deep and philosophical a villain; he is somehow diminished when put in period costume. But the big failure was not the setting but the weakness in several key roles - specifically, Gloucester, the Fool, and Lear. Gloucester was played by James Blendick, whom I enjoyed immensely as Titus and as Sir Toby Belch. But it says something that he was far more moving as Titus, a homicidal maniac who deserves all his suffering, than as Gloucester, whose eyes are put out for simple-mindedness and folly, no more. Gloucester moves his estranged son Edgar to deep and sorrowful pity; if he does not so move us, something is very wrong with the performance. Indeed, it goes awry long before this, when he fails to manifest the depth of anger and betrayal one would expect when he is convinced that Edgar seeks his life. The utter loss of Gloucester leaves a hole in the heart of the drama, for the comparison and contrast of Lear and Gloucester - whom I see as the pagan and Christian response to unfathomable suffering - is crucial to the functioning of the play. Next, the fool. I like Barry MacGregor alot. He did a great job as Bardolph in last year's Henry plays, and he was excellent this year is Col. Pickering in My Fair Lady. But his Fool is imcomprehensible and lacking in feeling. And so distant from Lear! It's an incomprehensible performance. Finally, Lear himself. Plummer is a great actor, and knows what he is doing. He is utterly convincing as an old man betrayed by his daughters. In fact, I could not help but think of my own recently-departed grandfather, whom I loved dearly - but did I do all for him that I should have? I don't know. But my grandfather was not a king, as Lear should be, every inch of him. Watching Plummer, you have no sense of why Kent, or Albany, or any of the others who are loyal to Lear should be so. He has no majesty about him, not even majesty in ruins. And there is no sense, as he howls in the storm, that the storm is the consequence of the betrayal of the king; no sense, when he meets poor Tom, that he the communion he has with this supposed madman is communion with his own people in their most wretched condition. His is a very private tragedy, and that is a catastrophic reduction of Lear. The symbolic moment for me of the whole drama was when Lear, instead of carrying the dead Cordelia on-stage in the last scene, drags her on. Now I know Plummer has a bad back; I'm not saying he should break it for the sake of the role. But that distance between them is maintained to the end - he does not even look into her face as he dies! She could be in another room as he has a vision of her living - it makes a complete hash of his end; there's no pathos in it at all if he isn't looking at her, deluded into thinking she is alive. Again, it's incomprehensible to me. I have a feeling that the director - or Plummer, or both - was afraid of bathos, and so sacrificed pathos. That's no way to treat Lear, the most pathetic of tragedies. There were strengths in the play; Edmund and Edgar were both played finely, as was Cordelia, and Domini Blythe's Goneril was very strong, one to remember (not so Lucy Peacock's Regan). But it's not enough. The heart of the play is hollowed out by self-consciousness, and I was left mostly with a sense of regret that they did not offer the role to Brian Bedford, whose Lear would, I suspect, have been quite interesting, judging by his Timon.

I haven't decided yet whether to see the New York production.

Thursday, March 04, 2004
A couple of readers think I'm stretching with the gnosticism post. Maybe I am. I think I'm right in characterizing the "coming out" narrative is structurally akin to a gnostic religious narrative - and again, I'm trying to be descriptive, not damning or applauding. I kind of knew I was on thinner ice claiming the religious opposition is also tinged with gnosticism, but there's something more than just the "ick" factor or the secular arguments against gay marriage at work here. I'm trying to understand it better.

Anyhow, if folks want to know why I'm opposed to same-sex marriage, the best statement I've made on the topic is here. If folks want to know why I'm opposed to the FMA, my post on the topic is here.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Following up (sort of) on the last post, and various other same-sex marriage and homosexuality-related posts on this blog: I have a question.

Why is this a topic that excites such passion?

I understand why this is a big deal for gay people. It has enormous practical but also symbolic significance. There are big consequences for their lives that spring from the marriage question. The downside risks, whether the ones I focus on or the ones Stanley Kurtz focuses on or the ones Maggie Gallagher focuses on or what-have-you, are abstract, hypothetical, pehaps contingent. They are exercises in reasoning, predictions about what will happen to law, to culture, to the social order. The upside potential for gay people is concrete and immediate. I know why they care so much. Why do we?

Why are opponents of same-sex marriage talking about amending the Constitution over this question and not, say, no-fault divorce, given how much demonstrable harm the divorce explosion has done to families and children?

Why would a normally sane man like Dennis Prager compare the advocates of same-sex marriage to Islamist terrorists in terms of their threat to America?

Why is this the issue on which the religious right will accept no compromise (e.g., civil unions), and not, say abortion, which is, they believe, a matter of life and death?

The gay-rights crowd would say this speaks to the power of prejudice and to insecure masculinity. Really? There's no mass movement on the religious right to roll back basic women's rights, but the fight against same-sex marriage is about insecure masculinity? That doesn't sound right. And why this particular prejudice, if it is an irrational prejudice? Because it's a religious issue? But who made it a central religious question? Why, once again, isn't divorce the scandal? Or adultery? Or Sabbath-breaking?

I'm not sure I know the answer. I know I don't feel this passion myself. I view the whole question as an interesting and vexing one, but I view it as a problem to be solved: a problem of a clash of values that have to be reconciled or accommodated one to the other. I understand but disagree with the advocates of same-sex marriage. I agree with, but often don't understand, the opponents. They feel something I don't.

I think it does boil down to a religious question, but not in the way it's usually presented, as a matter of particular passages from Leviticus. (Hey: we Jews are the ones who are supposed to be abiding by those Levitical laws, abominating shrimp and all. What's with all these Christians getting into the act?) I think the heart of the matter is the tinge of gnosticism that colors American Christianity.

The ancient gnostics held that we each have an occult self, eternal, older than creation, co-substantial with the divine, which we should seek to know through introspection. This true self is pure and unsullied by the fallen nature of the world and, indeed, of our own flesh. This self, and the divinity it is part of, is to be worshipped as the true divinity, not the lord of this fallen world, the demi-urge, who is a limited, parody of the true divine, unable truly to create but only to manipulate reality.

This idea was rejected by the early Christians as heretical, but it has never entirely gone away. Harold Bloom in his much-noted book, The American Religion, identifies American religion as, in fact, a species of gnosticism notable for being (a) popular (whereas classically gnosticism was highly elitist) and (b) confusingly devoted to the worship of the demi-urge that the gnostics disdained. Bloom pushes his case too far, but there is an important truth to his argument. You can find echoes of gnostic ideas in Emerson, in the writing of Joseph Smith, in the locution of being "born again" that is ubiquitous in evangelical Protestantism.

But you can also, quite plainly, find the idea echoed in the "coming out" narrative that is central to the contemporary construction of homosexuality.

In this narrative, we are each possessed of a sexual nature that is immutable and an essential part of our deepest self. To deny or suppress knowledge or this nature is wrong. The journey to discover this nature, whether through experimentation or, more importantly, through open-minded introspection, is essential to spiritual progress as well as mental health. To reveal this knowledge, once achieved, is to evangelize - not to make others like you (they are essentially what they are) but to encourage them to undertake a similar journey to discovering their occult selves.

I don't think I'm presenting this "coming out" narrative in a negative light; I'm trying to be descriptive. I think the narrative is, in many ways, both very appealing and very American. I think it's also obviously a variation on gnosticism. When that gay Episcopal bishop says his love for his partner is a "sacrament" he can't possibly mean a Christian sacrament; he must mean a gnostic one, the expression of his true self bringing him into communion with the divine.

Howard Dean, at one point, said that God couldn't be against homosexual relations because He made people homosexual. Critics pointed out that this was absurd; God made all our desires, wholesome and unhealthy or immoral alike. Does that mean all our desires are suddenly holy? But this misses a crucial implicit assumption of Dean's. Dean was not necessarily saying that all our desires our good. He might - I think he was - saying that our sexual nature is essential to our being, and that God cannot have made our essential natures evil. This is a crucial difference.

Let me make explain a bit further. Imagine someone with an uncontrollable urge to strangle cats. He's tried all kinds of therapy to no avail; if he doesn't strangle a cat once a month at least, he starts to go mad. Finally, one day, someone invents a pill that cures cat-strangling urges. The man takes it, and the urges cease. He's better. Is he still himself? Or is he a different individual than he was when he was a cat strangler? Has his essential self been freed from a force that kept him prisoner? Or has he just murdered his essential self in an effort to conform?

I strongly suspect that the man would consider himself to be cured, that he would say that the real him is the one who doesn't want to strangle cats, and that he has been freed from the condition that forced him to do these things against his will.

But this is not the judgement that any gay man I know would make about himself. He would not say that, if he took a pill and ceased to desire men, he would be the same person. Coming out, he would say, was the process of discovering who he really was. If he destroyed that, he would cease to be himself - becoming someone else or, more likely, nobody, a shell of himself, a man whose self had been destroyed. So to say to a gay man that God wants him to be straight is to say that God wants him destroyed. You can see why he'd be furious at such a suggestion.

So why does this contention infuriate so many religious Americans?

I think the reason is that they are also, to some extent, gnostics.

I, myself, have no problem with the idea that God made some people in such a way that the rules that normally apply won't work for them. People are made with all kinds of variations and disabilities. We try to accommodate them when they are basically harmless, recognizing that a norm is still a norm. I believe that God judges us each according to our native abilities and potential; He knows that some of us have a harder hill to climb, and He accounts for that on the day of Judgement. I don't think that public acknowledgement that gay people exist is a threat to the social order in any way; indeed, since they do exist, I think it's a matter of basic justice to acknowledge that fact. My objections to same-sex marriage relate entirely to how I think such an innovation would change marriage, and have nothing to do with concerns about public acceptance of homosexuality.

If you took a more strict view of the matter than I, you might say that while acknowledging the existence of gay people is fine, nothing should be done to encourage them to act on their inclinations. You might say that while God can forgive sin, we should encourage virtue. We could argue about this all day, but here's the point: your contention is entirely prudential. You're trying to help someone live virtuously; well and good. But losing this particular battle shouldn't be an earth-shaking matter. People behave badly all the time, and much of their bad behavior is legal. Why this issue above all others?

Well, if you're a gnostic-tinged Christian - or Jew - the matter looks a little different. If you believe that God gave us an unchanging moral law, and you also believe that we have an occult soul, identified with the divine, which we have to discover, then for someone to say that the essential nature of their occult soul commands them to violate God's moral law is pretty darned blasphemous. And for that person to demand that the state explicitly endorse his blasphemy would provoke understandable outrage.

I do think that religious objections to same-sex civil marriage stem from this above all else. It's not the worry about a slippery-slope to polygamy or incest, or worries that homosexuals will "recruit" in high-schools, whatever that means. It's not about blind prejudice and it's not about some supposed determination to turn America into a theocracy, which no Christian I know seeks. It's about the sense, probably not articulated, that what the gay-rights crowd would have the state affirm is blasphemy. Which is ironic because, if I'm right, the reason it seems blasphemous is that American Christians have absorbed a bit of gnostic heresy.

I've argued before that the state should treat contemporary homosexuality analogously to the way we treat religions: the state should neither affirm nor repress. The state has no business offering an opinion on the nature of our secret selves, or whether we have secret selves. The state has no business asserting that gayness is an essential aspect of our individuality and no business denying that contention if made by any gay man. That's what freedom and a liberal order are about. I wish we could get back there.

Shifting gears violently, I'd like to talk for a few minutes about adultery.

I've been thinking about writing something on this topic since the days after the Lawrence decision, when Senator Rick Santorum remarked that the decision implied that there was no rational basis for laws criminalizing consensual incest, or necrophilia, or adultery. If I recall correctly, Andrew Sullivan, among others, zinged in on the last item in particular as evidence of Santorum's Bible-thumping troglodism. Criminalize adultery? An outrageous invasion of privacy. The very idea. (This is, of course, the same Andrew Sullivan who says that same-sex marriage should necessarily mean that couples so joined be monogamously faithful, just as we expect for straights. They say a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds; I wonder what a promiscuous contradictionism is?) Adultery is, of course, a misdemeanor in a number of jurisdictions. Is there a rational basis for such laws? Why shouldn't it be entirely a matter for the parties involved to resolve? Why should the law - other than divorce law - concern itself with adultery?

Let's start with history. The prohibition against adultery is one of the "big ten" commandments from Sinai. How, in Jewish law, is adultery defined? It is defined as a married woman having sexual relations with a man not her husband; both parties in such a relation are adulterers. That's right: a married man having sexual relations with a single woman is not an adulterer, and a single woman having sexual relations with a married man is not an adulteress.

Why the asymmetry? Polygamy. You didn't know Jews were polygamous? Well, we aren't, and haven't been (in the West) for over a thousand years, but not because the Bible mandates monogamy. Monogamy is not built into the structure of Jewish law, and technically a Jewish man who married two women would have two valid marriages under Jewish law. But for over 1000 years (in the West), it has been forbidden to officiate at a marriage ceremony that would endow a man with a second wife alongside the first, so it is as a practical matter impossible that such a valid polygamous marriage could be effected.

Because Jewish law technically permits plural marriage (even though the solemnization of such marriages is forbidden), a married man who had sexual relations with a single woman could, theoretically if not practically, make good on his implicit promise and marry her. He has therefore committed fornication, not adultery, a much lesser offense. Jewish law on legitimacy tracks this distinction as well; a bastard in Jewish law is not someone born out of wedlock but someone born of an adulterous or incestous union - someone whose parents cannot be married and thereby retroactively repair the breach caused by their premature union.

The same understanding is reflected in the concept of the marriage veil, which exists in Jewish law as well as in secular law (or did, until recently). The child of a man's wife is, in Jewish law, presumptively his child unless he chooses to challenge paternity. And an accusation of adultery against a man's wife can only be brought by that man. The structure thus produced can certainly be criticized for giving the man too much power; if he is a brute, and suspects that he has been dishonored, he could do terrible harm to his wife and to her bastard child by bringing even a justified accusation. But if he's generous, and loves his wife, he can overlook her transgression, and nothing the other man can say can then break up his still-intact family. The incentives are designed to keep the family together: to keep the children of one woman under one roof with one man. The system does not always work, but that's what it's intended to achieve.

I think this history sheds a little light on the public-policy rationale for forbidding adultery. Adultery may well be an unpardonable offense to the betrayed party, but that's not the business of the state. It may also be a prima facie affront to God, but that is also not the business of the state. But an adulterous union raises the prospect of issue who cannot be brought under the unified care of its natural parents through their marriage, because the parents in question cannot legally marry. And that - the interests of such potential issue - is the business of the state.

Well, you might say, that all may have been true generations ago, but these days procreation and intercourse are pretty well divorced from one another. Why should the state take an interest now?

"Procreation and intercourse are pretty well divorced from one another." An interesting assertion, often made, infrequently examined. What are the presumptions inherent in this statement? Contraception is not, after all, foolproof, and abortion is, let's say, morally complicated. We increasingly go about assuming that if a woman bears a child - because she has chosen to have intercourse, failed to use contraception, and decided not to have an abortion - that's her choice and her business. She could, after all, have chosen otherwise, at her sole and free discretion; the kid, therefore, is her problem. The state may have an interest in making sure the father pays for the mess he made, and may be willing to enforce his paternal "rights" - visitation, etc. - but the underlying assumption is still that women make babies, and men are ancillary figures.

In that view of the world, it's true, there's no reason to forbid adultery. If fatherhood is abolished, what difference does it make how women make babies? But is this a view of the world we want to endorse? Do we want to abolish fatherhood? Is the abolition of fatherhood mandated by the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment, or the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment?

Now, let's turn to gay couples for a minute. Sullivan - who has, in the past, extolled the spiritual virtues of anonymous sex - has argued that same-sex couples joined in civil marriage should be subject to the same social expectations of monogamy as straights. But why? Why should outsiders, whether through the state or through private censure, care whether a couple is monogamous? If a married couple wants to have an "open marriage" whose business is that of ours? I thought Sullivan was in favor of freedom and privacy? What gives?

But there is an obvious asymmetry here. For straight couples, adultery raises the prospect of children born who cannot be brought under the wings of the family. But this issue does not exist at all for same-sex couples, whose relations are necessarily non-procreative. If a lesbian cheats on her lover - or in the Netherlands, her . . . wife? partner? I'm not sure what the language ettiquette is here - we can be 100% sure that neither she nor her illicit companion will produce a child. The state need enact no laws to discourage such running around in the interests of keeping children together in one family. The state need enact no laws, so far as I can see, of any kind with respect to the two lesbians' fidelity to one another.

The assumption that adultery laws are about "enforcing" the marriage contract is flawed, and the notion that we should have laws for this purpose is fundamentally illiberal. If marriage is nothing but a private contract then adultery is a subject for private litigation, not criminal law. But if, as I argue, they are at bottom about children and the families they will grow up in, then they are not illiberal. They are a reasonable response to an "externality" of adult decisions - that sex can produce children - that is designed around heterosexual coupling and that take into account the differences between men and women. All of this is obscured by the idea of same-sex marriages, which is in turn only possible to contemplate because we falsely behave as if heterosexual intercourse were similarly non-procreative in nature, and that therefore childbearing is an entirely voluntary act on a woman's part, to which a father is only an ancillary appendage.

There are only three kinds of marital structure that we can plausibly have. We can have companionate marriage, which is organized around the complementarity of equal sexes and is the presumed order for all our modern family law. We can have traditional polygamy, in which one man may have many wives, which was the norm in earlier history in much of the world and which is certainly compatible with civilization, but which implies patriarchal dominance of women and divides society into mutually-distrustful and competing clans. Or we can have female-headed families without fathers, where the men come and go, sponging from the women or seizing what they want, a form of family organization that appears to be incompatible with civilization itself. Our law, and to some extent our social reality, has been moving in the direction of the last option. Same-sex marriage would accelerate this trend in law, even if it makes no measurable impact on social reality, because the assumptions that underlie same-sex marriage will prove incompatible with the assumptions underlying marriage, and these changes in law will, eventually, result in changes in social reality generally. Making special, exceptional rules for same-sex couples to give them some set of social benefits will have no such negative impact, because they would not imply a redefinition of marriage and its assumptions generally.