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Total number of comments: 29 (since 2013-11-28 15:54:37)

Michael Pollak

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  • Top Ten Myths about the Libya War
    • This is a very good I told you so. Not only is it civil, but it's analytically useful for the future.

      The strongest point on the side of people who thought the odds were low this would work was that it had never happened before. (If one correctly analyzed Kosovo, it proved the opposite -- that boots on the ground were necessary. (Unless you tricked the Russians into betraying the Serbs into letting you in.)) Now that it has happened, it proves it can again, and your list highlights the key points people should look for when judging the next case. Well done on all counts.

      And congrats on being right. It's a moment of both theoretical and moral vindication, and neither were easy. Well done indeed.

  • An Open Letter to the Left on Libya
    • An excellent statement of principles and a forthright taking of a public position. Quite frankly, this is a time when I am personally very happy to be obscure and allowed to go back and forth as I puzzle things out and watch them play out.

      IMHO, there is one key dimension you leave out of your survey of the possible left positions: results. Your position seems built on the assumption that the rebels will quickly overthrow Gaddafy. If they do it in less than 90 days, and the no-fly zone is not renewed, it would indeed seem hard to make a retrospective case against it.

      There is however another possibility: that rebels never overthrow Gaddafy, and that the result is a permanent aerial occupation (since any withdrawal in the future would let loose the slaughter that the zone is holding back today). That is precisely what happened with the first no-fly zone, set up in Northern Iraq 1991. (Which was also legalized by a UNSC vote, passed on April 5, 1991, and also called up in a very similar way: France, the UK and the US were embarrassed into something they were initially against by civilian suffering and the promise of more to come.)

      Perhaps you would also support it in that case, that it led to a de facto division of the country for decades. But at any rate, it's not addressed. It seems to me a ground for reasonable people to disagree, this evaluation of probabilities. And I would certainly love to hear your reasons why you think the probability of successful overthrow is so high.


    • Michael Pollak 03/27/2011 at 9:43 pm

      That link is to Peter Hitchens, not Christopher Hitchens. It's the latter who is Juan's sparring partner. Peter is against all internventions on paleoconservative grounds. He was against the invasion of Iraq IIRC.

  • Top Ten Ways that Libya 2011 is Not Iraq 2003
    • Forgot to add one minor but key parallel: the original 1991 no fly zone was of course also set up by a UN Security Counsel resolution, and also had the US, UK and France voting for and China and Russia abstaining.

    • Michael Pollak 03/25/2011 at 9:32 pm

      Sorry to be coming to this late -- life moves so fast sometimes.

      This historical analogy seems wrong. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the setting up of a Libyan no fly zone seem to have nothing in common. Indeed, that seems exactly the thrust of your post, that they have nothing common.

      But FWIW there seems an obvious parallel case that has a lot in common, namely the original setting up of an Iraqi no fly zone in April 1991 to protect the Kurds from the counterattack by Saddam Hussein.

      In both cases, there was an uprising against a ruler that was perceived to be ready to topple over. In both cases, the counterattack from the regime was savage. In both cases, the US, France and the UK at first didn't want to intervene but were essentially embarassed into it as not intervening made them look steadily worse and worse. In both cases, France took the lead (Bernard Kouchner -- remember him?), then the UK, with the US bringing up the rear. And in both cases, the initial aims were very limited. In fact they were in fact much more limited in the case of the Kurds. There, the rhetoric was phrased in terms of refugees, not revolutionaries, and the goal was simply to stop the regime from slaughtering them using airpower.

      The result? The no-fly zone was never removed. It remained in place for the next dozen years. The country was de facto partitioned, a partition that even survived a three year civil war between Kurdish factions. So long as there was no regime change, the zone couldn't be lifted. And yet the zone couldn't produce regime change. The result was a growing tension with seemingly no possible satisfactory resolution.

      I'm not saying the same will happen here. Clearly there are hopes in this case that the support provided by a no-fly zone will be sufficient to provide to the space to allow a largely non-military "people power" revolution to overthrow the regime -- hopes that no one had in 1991.

      But if you want a parallel, that seems clearly to be the one to look to. And I think it throws into serious doubt the idea that this is a no risk proposition.

      If this works out well, it will be unique in history.
      Here's hoping that indeed turns out to be the case.

  • Fear Not the Muslim Brotherhood Boogeyman: Cole in Truthdig
  • Christians, Muslims "One Hand" in Egypt's Youth Revolution
    • Michael Pollak 02/07/2011 at 3:57 am

      If you didn't already see it, here is a wonderful photo, that deserves to be iconic, of Egyptian Christian youth guarding Muslims during prayer: link to

  • Egypt: I ask Myself Why
  • Why Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979
    • Michael Pollak 02/02/2011 at 6:53 am

      Excellent sociological breakdown, not merely of this comparison, but of the whole situation. KUTGW!

  • Egypt's Class Conflict
    • This is a great concise analysis of Egypt -- news we can use, or rather, a framework for understanding the news.

      I have only a minor tangential scholarly quibble in re Max Weber. The legitimacy framework you use, as something existing between a regime and the people, is a good one, and you use it well, and it's widely known. But it's really got nothing to do with Max Weber, even though it was originally developed by his acolytes and they attribute it to him. If you do analysis of his many examples, Weber's three kinds of Herrschaft aren't about the relation between the regime and the people. They are rather about the relations of the ruler and his regime. The puzzle, for Weber, was why the Praetorian guard obeyed Caesar, because they had options -- they could cut off his head. And similarly with the question of why knights obey kings or why bureaucracies obey politicians. But as for the rest of the population, he generally assumed that if the staff was on side, the mass of the population could be kept down by force. One has to remember that Economy & Society is one of those classic Urschlim bis Gegenwarts books, and for 99% of the history that it is comparatively surveying, the "people" had little say.

      I say this purely as ex-sociologist noodge. Most people think Weber said what you said because that's what Parsons said he said. And there has been brilliant work in that tradition. But it's closer to Habermas than to Weber.

  • Top Ten Myths about Afghanistan, 2010
    • Excellent list! A reader of your column has heard all these
      points from you before. But it's surprising just how clear and
      powerful it all is compressed into a list. More effective than
      trying to answer what will happen when the US leaves; or to
      counter-argue "Why are we there?"; is simply to stand back and list
      the failures and absurdities. The conclusion then is obvious and
      overwhelming with no squirming room: there is nothing in this that
      makes sense.

  • Al-Khoei: Why We Shouldn't Be Celebrating Iraq's New Government: Power-Sharing Means Nothing without Reconciliation
  • Bad "Weather" between Obama and Karzai Forestalls Meeting
    • Michael Pollak 12/04/2010 at 8:04 am

      This might be an over-interpretation. If you look at the press conference given on the plane to Bagram -- link to -- Gibbs stresses that this was a holiday trip to see the troops and the purpose wasn't to see Karzai, whom Obama saw a couple weeks ago in Lisbon. Gibbs' reaction to the bad weather report en route suggests they might have been happy for the excuse to get out of an obligation.

  • Gates, the Adult in the Room, Rebuffs Israeli, Republican Warmongering on Iran
    • Michael Pollak 11/09/2010 at 1:02 am

      Another first rate speech. Bravo. You are like Cato the Elder in reverse :-)

  • O'Donnell would have Joined Hare Krishnas
  • Iran Wins Iraqi Elections 7 Months Later
  • 59 Dead, 120 Wounded in Iraqi Suicide Bombing;
    Iraqi Parties reject US Power Sharing Proposal
    • Michael Pollak 08/17/2010 at 8:39 am

      This is a first rate piece of commentary. But while most of it is very specific to this time and place, there is one line which I think is, unfortunately, so reusable it deserves to become a classic quote: "The guerrillas, once having had a serious political agenda, have become nothing more than serial killers taking revenge on reality for their irrelevance."

  • An Israeli Attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a One-Term President
    • The S-300 missiles you link to would certainly make a difference. But we should keep in mind, esp. considering the sources, that Russia also makes inflatable dummy S-300's: link to

      Maybe the Persia House video is shot up close enough to make clear they are real; not being a subscriber, I couldn't access it.

  • Burning the Qur'an? 'Wherever they burn books, they will in the end Burn Human Beings'
    • Michael Pollak 07/31/2010 at 9:15 am

      Wonderful reading recommendations. I look forward to checking them out.

      FWIW, I've very much enjoyed the translation/commentary by Muhammad Asad entitled _The Message of the Qur'an_. It's pitched at people like me who are more philosophical than religious. And he himself of course was a wonderful human symbol of cosmopolitanism -- a secular Jew who converted to Islam and became Pakistan's first ambassador to the UN.

      I also recommend Youssef Chahine's wonderful movie "Destiny" where Avveroes is cast as a cosmopolitan hero. The punch of the message is seamlessly woven into a rousing song and dance musical in the way only Egypt or Bollywood can do.

  • Rethinking Rethinking Afghanistan, Pt. 1
    • Michael Pollak 07/22/2010 at 9:19 am

      Thanks for posting Greenwald's movie. I wouldn't have watched it without your imprimatur because his movies tell me what I already know. But it's surprisingly involving and affirming. Good job using your rep to get something more play.

  • NATO Secretly Planning to Leave Afghanistan by 2014;
    5 NATO Troops Killed
    • Michael Pollak 07/18/2010 at 2:04 pm

      That headline, "NATO Secretly Planning to Leave Afghanistan by 2014," reminds me of the Woody Allen joke, "And then, when I was 27, I ran away from home."

  • 7 NATO Troops Killed;
    as Karzai is Said to Dicker with Insurgents;
    and Panetta Scoffs
    Taliban Rejoice in McChrystal Firing
  • Public Souring on the Afghanistan War
    • Michael Pollak 06/27/2010 at 7:56 am

      I must have missed this when you first did it, but I think your "two-party epistemology" is a brilliant formal explanation of an old conundrum, namely why Democrats have consistently been more imperialist than Republicans. Your fellow Michiganian Dennis Perrin lays out the case in detail in his book Savage Mules. But he mainly explains it in terms of perfidy. I like your structural explanation more. Although there is certainly room for both.

      Secondly, in re Rory Stewart, you probably already know this, but other IC readers might be interested to know that he laid out his case at length a year ago in the London Review of Books and, unusually, it's available online to non-subscribers:
      link to

  • On Ghana
    • Michael Pollak 06/27/2010 at 8:15 am

      Kevin Gaines is a great 3G Black history scholar. Cool plug and great idea for a post.

  • McCain Bashes Obama's Afghan Withdrawal Timetable
    As British, Poles, Dutch Plan Exit
    • Michael Pollak 06/25/2010 at 3:28 pm

      Great reporting, as always -- it's remarkable how much value you add to the news by selection and aggregation in addition to your comments.

      And I think you might make a point with your collection of exit times that is different than your own conclusion. McCain's idea that our setting an exit time may be wrong in the specifics, but it's quite strong in general. It's precisely because the populations of our allies are massively against being there -- and their elites are only risking hits to their popularity because it's weighed against the cost of US displeasure -- that a US exit time could well play a role in their national debates and provide the tipping point push for others. It provides cover for the political factions that want to withdraw: The US has already said it's getting out in a year! On paper it's not hard to imagine a rush for the NATO exits if Obama ever did announce a firm exit date, a rush that would end up making that date even firmer. And in strategic theory terms, McCain is right that announcing an exit time is like disclosing your real price when you're haggling. It's considered inherently giving away huge advantage to your opponent. But in terms of mass politics, a firm date is exactly what you want. So it's a bit of a rhetorical bind when a president is trying to appear like a leader to both a mass audience and an elite one.

  • Obama's MacArthur Moment? McChrystal Disses Biden
    • Excellent intervention.

      For comic relief, I can't resist quoting Truman's immortal words on MacArthur:
      link to

      "I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."

  • Why Pakistan needs the Separation of Religion and State;
    Atrocities by Taliban against Ahmadis
    • Michael Pollak 05/30/2010 at 2:20 am

      Although it may seem counter-intuitive to combine a belief in modern reform with a conviction that the Muslim promised one had come and the end-time is near, such a combination is common in modern Islamic history....I would argue that millenarianism, the belief in the advent of a messiah figure and the drawing near of the Last Days, can open up religious authority structures so as to allow for radical reform of the sort that modernity makes necessary.

      Just as a scholarly footnote for your work, one of the most respected books in intellectual history, JGA Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment, made exactly the same argument about Christianity -- that millenarianism was a crucial part of what made the categories of the modern political thought possible in the first place. See esp. chaps. 2 and 4.

  • Iran Threatens to Pull out of Nuclear Deal over new UN Sanctions
    • Top notch post -- great analysis, great summary, great collection of links.

      My only minor difference is in the last paragraph, in the realm of speculation over the hidden springs. I think you nailed it better earlier on: the pragmatic position is a much better one to campaign on. Objectively, inarguably and sadly.

  • Blog Migration
    • Michael Pollak 04/12/2010 at 1:31 am

      Finding out that the old URLs will still work is the cheeriest news I've gotten today. I was bummed! Congrats on the move. Sounds like they just forced you to do something you always wanted to.

Showing comments 29 - 1