April 26, 2003


While writing an essay on Senator Rick Santorum’s recent comments on the legal status of homosexuality and other sexual practices (see “Rick’s Fix”), I became aware of the fact that there is no specific name for one who engages in incest. One who engages in bigamy is a bigamist; one guilty of adultery is an adulterer; etc. But what is one who engages in incest? The lack of such a word is a sure sign that such people are devoid of political clout, of course. Perhaps such a person could be called an “incester” or “incestor,” though one might argue that these words sound too much like “ancestor.” Perhaps “incestuist,” derived from “incestuous,” would be a better choice. Feel free to help me popularize one of these neologisms, but don’t expect it to catch on any time soon.

April 15, 2003

The Next Battle for Iraq

The first of many promised meetings to discuss the future polity of Iraq was held today in Ur. The U.S. government has not yet released a list of Iraqi participants, though we know that it was represented by Zalmay Khalilzad, Ryan Crocker, and Jay Garner. Surprisingly, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi only sent a representative.

One hopes, of course, that this meeting is part of a process that leads to a stable and, ultimately, democratic government for Iraq, but the odds favor a less happy outcome. The people of the region have virtually no experience with the mechanics of democracy. (Granted, the Kurds of northern Iraq have shown some ability to put aside narrow group interests for the greater good, and this may be cause for some slight optimism.) Shiite Muslims, the oppressed majority under Saddam Hussein, are already expressing concern that their interests will be slighted. There is every reason to expect that we are watching the beginning of a political battle among interest groups, with no one representing the interests of Iraq as a whole, which is, after all, an artificial state assembled nearly a century ago by the British. (Iraq’s raison d’être is more geopolitical than it is national.)

It is not often that successful governments are created from scratch. Of those that have been, most seem to have been the product of one man. (The governments of Sparta, Athens—perhaps—and, in modern times, the postwar Japanese constitution imposed by MacArthur come to mind.) Of the governments formed through any sort of group process, our own federal government is the most notable exemplar; perhaps the revolutionaries of France achieved the most glorious failure. Development of the U.S. Constitution was, despite the representation of very diverse interests, a remarkably philosophical exercise. Although it was not a work of scholars, the Founding Fathers knew political theory. How many political scientists and philosophers—American neoconservatives, however intellectual, do not count—do we expect will take part in the discussion in Iraq? Although I hope I am wrong, I expect the result in Iraq will be a product of political hardball, raw numbers, and who can mount the most intimidating demonstrations. It will take a good deal imagination on our part to achieve any other result. World opinion is unlikely to be favorably disposed to any constitution the U.S. would impose, however enlightened, though I do wonder whether we don’t need a General MacArthur just now.

April 14, 2003


In light of the administration’s stated intention to use the infrastructure of the former government of Iraq as a basis for an interim government, the military’s apparent indifference to looting in Baghdad and elsewhere is perplexing. There may indeed be some wisdom in letting oppressed Iraqis blow off steam; destroying Saddam Hussein statues is preferable to attacking American tanks. Looting is hardly a civic virtue to be encouraged, however, even if limited to buildings of the fallen regime. Those buildings will be needed for whatever government is established in the future, and that government will need desks, computers, and filing cabinets. Every looted piece of office equipment is potentially an item that will need to be replaced by American taxpayers. Some of the looted goods, of course, may be irreplaceable—government documents that could help us document atrocities and weapons violations by the former regime. Why would we entrust these to Iraqi looters?

What is taking place is senseless, recreational looting. People are taking property for which they clearly have no use. Alas, much of the damage has already been done. The worst of it—because the looted objects are irreplaceable and more important than mere government paperwork—has been the theft and destruction of antiquities from the national museum, documentation of the world’s oldest civilizations. This is a substantially worse crime against our shared cultural heritage than the destruction of monumental Buddhas by the Taliban. (This experience suggests the wisdom of distributing ancient artifacts to museums around the world, rather than concentrating them in the region of their origin. That’s an argument for another day, however.)

The military is not fond of taking on police duties. The need to bring civil order to Iraq is acute, however, and no other institutions are available. The U.S. must end the chaos in the streets immediately. Anarchy is seldom the mother of democracy.

April 9, 2003


While watching the NCAA women’s basketball final last night. I was surprised to hear a female announcer on ESPN describe the Tennessee women as using a “man-to-man” defense. Is this politically correct? Can you really say that on the air?

Of course, I thought the description perfectly reasonable, but it does seem to be going against the tide. In the future, will feminists insist on use of the term “woman-to-woman”? If they do, will the team be back into a zone defense before the sportscaster can get “woman-to-woman” out of her mouth?