November 27, 2006
Magical Realism Visits the Middle East
Students of Latin American literature will be familiar with "magical realism," a technique of writing frequently associated with Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, the Nobel-prize winning Colombian novelist. Wikipedia notes some elements of magical realism, several of which are excerpted here:
* Contains fantastical elementsIndeed, Garcia-Marquez's novels contain all of these elements. The primum inter pares of these is One Hundred Years of Solitude (which has even made it into Oprah's Book Club, though it was first published in 1970). Garcia-Marquez's masterpiece contains such passages as this:
* The fantastic elements may be intrinsically plausible but are never explained
* Characters accept rather than question the logic of the magical element . . .
* Distorts time so that it is cyclical or so that it appears absent. Another technique is to collapse time in order to create a setting in which the present repeats or resembles the past
* Inverts cause and effect, for instance a character may suffer before a tragedy occurs
* Incorporates legend or folklore
* Mirrors past against present; astral against physical planes; or characters one against another . . .
* Open-ended conclusion leaves the reader to determine whether the magical and/or the mundane rendering of the plot is more truthful or in accord with the world as it is.
"The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point."What could possibly be realistic in these passages? As Garcia-Marquez knew, it was the inherent fantastic nature of daily life in places like Columbia that made nearly anything believable so long as it was presented in a plausible way -- and if the storyteller believed it himself.
"She was in the crowd that was witnessing the sad spectacle of the man who had been turned into a snake for having disobeyed his parents."
"'What day is today?' Aureliano told him that it was Tuesday. 'I was thinking the same thing,' Jose Arcadio Buendia said, 'but suddenly I realized that it's still Monday, like yesterday. Look at the sky, look at the walls, look at the begonias. Today is Monday too.'"
"Colonel Aureliano Buendia organized thirty-two armed uprisings and he lost them all. He had seventeen male children by seventeen different women and they were exterminated one after the other on a single night before the oldest one had reached the age of thirty-five. He survived fourteen attempts on his life, seventy-three ambushes, and a firing squad."
"As soon as Jose Arcadio closed the bedroom door the sound of a pistol shot echoed through the house. A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps, and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendia house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano Jose, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Ursula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread."
Such lessons are illustrated in Mark Bowden's tale of the hunt for and killing of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious cocaine smuggler in history. In Killing Pablo, Bowden describes the lunacy that results when Pablo negotiates his surrender with the Colombian police, on the condition that a special jail be built for him, at a location of his choosing, staffed with "jailors" on his payroll. The place was called La Catedral:
Not long after Pablo moved into La Catedral, the purity levels of cocaine on the streets of New York were restored and the prices dropped.
Lawyer Roberto Uribe visited him weekly and found the place growing cozier. At first the living quarters, gymnasium, and cafeteria had seemed like a real prison, but gradually the furnishing became more lavish . . . Anything could be brought in. The prison guards were no more than Pablo's employees, and the army checkpoints just waved Pablo's trucks through . . . To have plenty of cash onhand, Pablo shipped in tightly rolled American hundred-dollar bills in milk cans, which would be buried in the fog of dawn at places around the prison. Two of the cans, each containing at least $1 million, were buried under the soccer field. A bar was installed, with a lounge and a disco. For the gymnasium there was a sauna. Inmates' "cells" were actually more like hotel suites, with living rooms, small kitchens, bedrooms, and bath. Workmen began constructing small, camouflaged cabanas uphill from the main prison. This is where Pablo and the other inmates intended to hide out if La Catedral was ever bombed or invaded. In the meantime, the cabanas made excellent retreats, where the men entertained women privately . . . Food was prepared for them by chefs Pablo hired away from fine restaurants, and once the bar and disco were up and running, he hosted many parties and even wedding receptions . . .
It was not a normal prison in other ways. Pablo, for instance, did not feel obliged to actually stay. He rarely missed an important pro soccer game in Medellin . . . Pablo considered such excursions minor . . . he did after all, always come back. He had made his deal with the state and intended to honor it . . .
It is all too easy to see the similarities between the fictions penned by Garcia-Marquez, the surreal nature of negotiating with terrorists such as Pablo Escobar, and the presumptions of American political elites who believe that by engaging Iran and Syria -- thereby admitting their involvement in Iraq's chaos -- that such chaos might be ended on terms favorable to either the US or Iraq. Such dreams are the stuff of our own variety of magical realism, but rather than resulting in pleasant narrative escapes, they will result in the irrelevance of the United States, whether one means its military power, its national interests, or its once-admired revolutionary Democratic ideals.
Negotiating with Iran and Syria, whilst they hold positions of strength, is likely to be only the first of the magically realist positions that the US political class breathlessly advocates. There will be more, and the ones to follow will be even sillier. In one episode in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the entire village of Macondo succumbs to an incurable insomnia, "the most fearsome part of which," was not "the impossibility of sleeping, for the body did not feel any fatigue at all, but its inexorable evolution toward a more critical manifestation: a loss of memory." Only through painstakingly going throughout the town and painting the names of objects upon them are the villagers able to remedy their memory loss.
With an inked brush he marked everything with its name: table, chair, clock, door, wall, bed, pan. He went to the corral and marked the animals and plants: cow, goat, pig, hen, cassava, caladium, banana. Little by little, studying the infinite possibilities of a loss of memory, he realized that the day might come when things would be recognized by their inscriptions but that no one would remember their use. Then he was more explicit. The sign that he hung on the neck of the cow was an exemplary proof of the way in which inhabitants of Macondo were prepared to fight against loss of memory: This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee in order to make coffee and milk. Thus they went on living in a reality that was slipping away, momentarily captured by words, but which would escape irremediably when they forgot the values of the written letters.While everyone forgets, we can begin to label the things we encounter today in the news, hoping that the values of the letters are not forgotten: evil, enemy, tyranny, appeasement, suicide, madness. The village of Macondo was saved from its insomnia-induced memory loss when a traveling gypsy magician returned from the dead and offered an antidote. Will something similar be conjured from history to redeem us?
November 22, 2006
. . . But somebody's got to do it
Der Spiegel carries a slideshow of photos of assassinated Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayal. He is seen in turn with various members of his family, including his wife, when they were married.
The Washington Post reports the details of Gemayal's death.
Gemayel, a 34-year-old father of two and an up-and-coming politician, was killed when his car was ambushed by men from one or two cars that collided with it in the suburban neighborhood of Jdeideh. At least three gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons equipped with silencers, hitting him in the head and chest, officials said. Television footage showed the tinted driver's-side window pocked with at least eight shots and the glass on the passenger's side shattered. The silver sedan's hood was crumpled from the collision.
Doctors said Gemayel was dead when he arrived at the hospital, and his bodyguard later succumbed to his wounds.
Is this a consolidation or an overextension? Iran announces it is seeking a new set of centrifuges. Syria tells James Baker it'll help in Iraq in exchange for the Golan Heights. Iran invites Iraq and Syria to a conference. Syria and Iraq re-establish diplomatic ties. Syria offs another prominent Lebanese politician.
Are Syria and Iran overplaying their hands? Have the carefully leaked deliberations of the Iraq Study Group been so much theater, meant to force an over-reaction? Victor Davis Hanson wrote in his book The Soul of Battle that upon hearing of the German offensive that came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge, Patton's inclination was to let the Germans go as far west as they could, and then take his Third Army and cut off their rear, blocking their retreat.
Patton, of course, knew from his initial conversation with Bradley that he would be under orders to go north, not to continue east: "That's too daring for them. My guess is that our offensive will be called off and we will have to go up there and save their hides."
Tony Blankley, writing at RealClearPolitics, says this:
In fact, even those Americans who today can't wait to end our involvement in the "hopeless" war in Iraq will -- when the consequences of our irresponsibility becomes manifest -- join the chorus of outrage.Jules Crittenden writes that "It's a dirty job . . .
Expedient Washington politicians, take note: Your public is fickle. They may cheer your decision today to get out of Iraq but vote you out of office tomorrow when they don't like the results . . .
Iran has been our persistent enemy for 27 years -- Syria longer. They may well be glad to give us cover while we retreat, but that would merely be an exercise in slightly delayed gratification, not self-denial, let alone benignity. So long as Iran is ruled by its current radical Shi'a theocracy, she will be vigorously and violently undercutting any potentially positive, peaceful forces in the region -- and is already triggering a prolonged clash with the terrified Sunni nations. Our absence from the region will only make matters far worse.
We need to start undermining by all methods available that dangerous Iranian regime -- as the Iranian people, free to express and implement their own opinions and policies, are our greatest natural allies in the Muslim Middle East.
We have only two choices: Get out and let the ensuing Middle East firestorm enflame the wider world; or, stay and with shrewder policies and growing material strength manage and contain the danger. [emphasis added]
This is the thing about dirty jobs that need to be done. They can only be ignored or left half-done for so long . . .But will any of this happen? What prevents it from happening right now? It is not a lack of resources. It is only a perception that all is lost, held by a large part of the political class. Fortunately, they are wrong. Sadly, they don't know it.
This is why the current move to restrain the militias in Baghdad must be stepped up. This is why the calls for more troops there must be heeded. This is why the United States must pursue and destroy militias there ruthlessly and in force.
This is why these regimes need to know that their missteps will cost them, and that their own infrastructure, seats of power and persons are not immune from our threat of force as long as they abet murder, spread instability through the region, and seek weapons of mass destruction.
Belmont Club takes the pessimistic argument: The Rout Continues:
The most comical aspect of this whole rout is the way the diplomats will continue to prepare for the big meeting with Syria and Iran to broker a regional peace, something they believe "only a Superpower" can achieve. Alas, the habits of self-importance die hard. The countries are already making their own arrangements with the new victors, because those countries realize better than Barack Obama that you cannot charge a price for what you have already given away. And what will come of it all won't be peace. It will be war on a scale that will either draw America back into a larger cauldron or send it scurrying away behind whatever line of defense it thinks it has the will to hold. More than 60 years ago, Winston Churchill told the appeasers they had a choice between war and dishonor. They had chosen dishonor, and added that now they would have both war and dishonor.
If Bush lied and people died, then Pierre Gamayel is probably dead today because Nancy Pelosi told the truth last week: Bringing the war to an end is my highest priority as Speaker. James Baker didn't stage that.
November 20, 2006
I'm not asking you to ask, I'm telling you to listen
Iran judges itself the victor in the Iraq war. It is now inviting Syria and Iraq to Tehran for a conference.
Iran has invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents to Tehran for a weekend summit with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to hash out ways to cooperate in curbing the runaway violence that has taken Iraq to the verge of civil war and threatens to spread through the region, four key lawmakers told The Associated Press on Monday.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has accepted the invitation and will fly to the Iranian capital Saturday, a close parliamentary associate said.
The Iranian diplomatic gambit appeared designed to upstage expected moves from Washington to include Syria and Iran in a wider regional effort to clamp off violence in Iraq, where more civilians have been killed in the first 20 days of November than in any other month since the AP began tallying the figures in April 2005.
The Iranian move was also a display of its increasingly muscular role in the Middle East, where it already has established deep influence over Syria and Lebanon.
"All three countries intend to hold a three-way summit among Iraq, Iran and Syria to discuss the security situation and the repercussions for stability of the region," said Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa Party and a close aide to the prime minister.
What do victors do next? They consolidate their gains. Belmont Club notes:
It was Mark Steyn who said that however evasively the Democratic party phrased it, the platform upon which they ran would be understood by its true name throughout the Middle East. George Packer, writing in the New Republic, said that now was the time to make arrangements to evacuate the thousands of Iraqis who believed in America; and that those Iraqis were even now making deals with whoever they thought would be in charge -- after the policy with the unstated name was implemented -- in order to survive.What will the conversations be like in Tehran? Hard to say, but one thing is sure: Tehran won't be asking for anything, but dictating terms instead. After the meeting, no one should be surprised at what comes next. Talabani might even change his tune as to how many US troops are needed for how long.
But the Iranians can hardly contain their glee. They know what last elections meant; and so do Iraq and Syria. There may be no need to wait for the Baker report. It is being overtaken by events.
Phase One of the "Global War on Terror" is over. It has seen two vicious regimes destroyed in the Middle East. Thousands of Al Qaeda operatives have been killed or captured. A fledgling democracy grips power by its fingernails in Iraq. Iran is emboldened and is now the dominant power in the region. A new regional war looms around the periphery of Israel and another is beginning around the periphery of Somalila. Pakistan has ceded territory to the Taliban in Waziristan. The US military now has hundreds of thousands of battle-hardened veterans.
Writing in the Weekly Standard of his latest trip to Ramadi, Michael Fumento concludes thus:
People always ask how the Iraqis feel about Americans and the war in general. I respond that they just tell you what they think will prove advantageous to them, a combination of complaints and praise for Ameriki (America). Non-embedded American reporters run into the same thing. I asked one of the north Ramadi farmers through the translator if he thinks Ramadi is getting safer. He starts out with a few complaints, such as lack of water from the Euphrates for his fields because of rationing, and then tells me: "But safety is 100 percent better now that the Americans have come along." Baloney. Things got a lot more dangerous when we first came along. They may or may not be safer now than a year ago, but this guy isn't going to tell me. None of them will tell me.There are pluses and minuses. The war is not over, but the first part of it is largely ended. It might be presumptuous to end a chapter now, but the largest use of US force has been in Iraq, and that enterprise is now destined to wither away in one form or another. It's hard to know what comes next: an interlude, or Phase Two. The previous post The Golden Mean argued that those who favor attacking Iran are now largely in the wilderness. It's hard to know if there will even be a Phase Two. But for now, the last page has been turned and it will be time to wait for the sequel in whatever form it takes.
Soldiers also give different accounts of the extent of progress in Ramadi. A Cougar driver told me nothing had changed since his last deployment, yet the very fact that he was driving into Ramadi in a convoy of just four trucks indicated otherwise. Another told me Ramadi is now "a thousand times better." Ultimately each was simply another blind man feeling his part of the elephant. With my three embeds in Anbar, I'd like to believe I've felt quite a few parts of the elephant.
Depressed? No. Thinking we won't eventually win? Not at all. Just being realistic. They don't call it a "long war" for nothing.
The Golden Mean
Pundits and armcharists have struggled for months to articulate a military strategy vis a vis Iran that fits the following constraints: the nuclear program must be stopped; there can be no invasion; and if possible the regime should be removed.
Perhaps Arthur Herman has discovered the solution to this evasive strategic proof . . .
Pelosi's Slap At Security
I've written an article for the New York Post arguing that Alcee Hastings poses an incredible security risk as chair of the intelligence committee. You can read it here.
November 15, 2006
All Together Now
The Guardian reports US Plans Last Big Push in Iraq:
President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations . . .
Point one of the strategy calls for an increase rather than a decrease in overall US force levels inside Iraq, possibly by as many as 20,000 soldiers . . . The reinforcements will be used to secure Baghdad, scene of the worst sectarian and insurgent violence, and enable redeployments of US, coalition and Iraqi forces elsewhere in the country.
Point two of the plan stresses the importance of regional cooperation to the successful rehabilitation of Iraq. This could involve the convening of an international conference of neighbouring countries or more direct diplomatic, financial and economic involvement of US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait . . .
Point three focuses on reviving the national reconciliation process between Shia, Sunni and other ethnic and religious parties. According to the sources, creating a credible political framework will be portrayed as crucial in persuading Iraqis and neighbouring countries alike that Iraq can become a fully functional state . . .
Lastly, the sources said the study group recommendations will include a call for increased resources to be allocated by Congress to support additional troop deployments and fund the training and equipment of expanded Iraqi army and police forces. It will also stress the need to counter corruption, improve local government and curtail the power of religious courts.
This all sounds eerily like the well-argued Weekly Standard article from earlier this week, Doubling Down in Iraq:
Consider these data: Between November 2004 and February 2005, according to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, the number of coalition soldiers in Iraq rose by 18,000. In that time, the number of Iraqi civilians killed fell by two-thirds, and the number of American troops wounded fell by three-fourths. The soldiers were soon pulled out; by the summer of 2005, American and Iraqi casualties rose again. Later that year, the same thing happened again. Between September and November of 2005, another 23,000 soldiers were deployed in Iraq; once again, both Iraqi and American casualties fell. In the early months of 2006, the number of soldiers fell again, and casualties spiraled up.To take one point at a time:
The picture is clear: More soldiers mean less violence, hence fewer casualties. The larger the manpower investment in the war, the smaller the war's cost, to Iraqis and Americans alike. Iraq is not an unwinnable war: Rather, as the data just cited show, it is a war we have chosen not to win. And the difference between success and failure is not 300,000 more soldiers, as some would have it. One-tenth that number would make a large difference, and has done so in the past. One-sixth would likely prove decisive.
-Sending 20,000 more troops: Ever the contrarian, just when a new Democratic congress is claiming its victory as a mandate for withdrawal, Bush is ready to throw fuel on the fire.
But why 20,000? Why not more? The answers are probably: a) force availability, and b) the desire not to become fully engaged (even though we are already decisively engaged, as far at the operational theater goes. It seems that the "all hands on deck" approach is being dismissed.
Even so, 20,000 more troops can't hurt. It may prove very helpful indeed.
-Regional cooperation: The idea that Syria or Iran will help much here is laughable. But asking Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for assistance of some sort, whether diplomatic, financial, or of an intelligence nature, could pay great dividends. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are primarily Sunni states, and it will not please them to know that the US is abandoning Iraq to be dominated by Iran, and probably for its Sunni population to be ethnically cleansed. It is in their interests to assist us -- if only for the realpolitik goal of thwarting Iran's regional ambitions.
-Reviving reconciliation: This will be the most difficult of these tasks. For the Shias and Sunnis, the last three years have seen increasing levels of vengeance and vigilantism. A shrewd effort here might pay off, but what will be done differently that we aren't already doing?
-Increased funding for a variety of goals: Hard to know what to make of this. On its face, it seems kind of undefined. But the key word in the entire phrase might be "Congress." It might merely be an attempt to get Congress to fund the war without a lot of grandstanding, in order to create a bipartisan consensus for the whole thing. Then, a rising tide will lift all boats, or in this case, political ambitions.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of the plan, at least in the Guardian's portrayal, is it's time-based essence. "One last big push" implies an end, or, in other words, a timetable. Otherwise, one last push before what?
The Guardian infers that the "what" is the US presidential election. "The "last push" strategy is also intended to give Mr Bush and the Republicans "political time and space" to recover from their election drubbing and prepare for the 2008 presidential campaign, the official said."
Without a doubt, part of the "what" is in fact driven by domestic politics. But perhaps the other part is baldly enriching uranium next door . . .
Iraq The Model on the Ministry of Education kidnappings
Iraq the Model believes that Iran was behind yesterday's brazen kidnapping of dozens of Iraqi Ministry of Education employees:
The mass abduction that shocked Baghdad yesterday was intended to be a clear message from Tehran-through its surrogates in Baghdad-to anyone who thinks productive dialogue with the Islamic republic over Iraq and Middle East peace is a possible option.
The operation was a show of victory and it was so smooth and perfect that neither the MNF nor the Iraqi military could do a thing to stop it.
And today the show continues with the assassination of the colonel who's in charge of internal investigation in the department of national police, also known as the police commandos, one day after an investigation was ordered.
Perhaps choosing a ministry like the higher education (which belongs to the Sunni Accord Front) is also a warning message to Sunni politicians who are preparing to send a delegation to Washington especially that the Accord bloc announced recently that they were looking forward to "clear the misunderstanding and mistrust" between them and the US administration to search for solutions for the situation in Iraq.
November 9, 2006
The Thousand Fathers
A small group of officers assembled by Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to draw up alternatives to the U.S. military strategy in Iraq is expected to conclude its work in December, according to defense sources. Some observers anticipate the recommendations will call for a dramatic change of course in the Persian Gulf nation and perhaps in the war on terrorism more broadly...It's the secret group to develop a backup plan in case the president doesn't like the public group's plan. Or, the secret group, being close to the top, has maybe already gotten wind of the public group's plan and decided it's awful . . .
The Joint Staff review is being carried out in extraordinary secrecy. A spokesman for Pace said this week the group has no formal name but its role is “to assess what’s working and what’s not working” in Iraq and beyond. The spokesman did not respond by press time (Nov. 8) to a number of follow-up questions posed by a reporter.
Pace’s exploration of Iraq alternatives comes as a congressionally mandated study group, co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), is conducting an independent review of the strategy to combat the insurgency and sectarian violence in the war-torn nation.
Some experts speculate the Marine Corps general decided to convene his own panel to develop new alternatives for Iraq in case the Baker-Hamilton “Iraq Study Group” offers recommendations the military or the Bush administration find unacceptable...
Participants include Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who until earlier this year commanded a cavalry regiment that pacified the Iraqi insurgent stronghold of Tall Afar, though violence has since returned to that town. Another team member is Army Col. Peter Mansoor, who directs an Army-Marine Corps counterinsurgency school at Fort Leavenworth, KS. The Marine Corps reportedly has sent Col. Thomas Greenwood, director of the Marine Command and Staff College, and the other services are represented on the study team, as well.
The Joint Staff strategy review kicked off in late September and was originally slated to last 60 days, though it now appears work will continue into December, according to officials familiar with the group who are not authorized to speak for it...
Meanwhile, Ralph Peters mentions the "all hands on deck" concept:
One proposal under discussion within the administration is to "send everything we've got" - to deploy every possible Army and Marine unit, no matter how worn and weary, for six months to "clean things up."Now there's an option for you!
John McCain said yesterday that Moqtada Al-Sadr needs "to be taken out," and that the "Mahdi Army continues to pose a threat."
Heck, even the preacher at the Duke Chapel is getting in on the game. I was out of town one weekend and missed it, but he delivered an eloquent sermon about Iraq on October 29th to what is probably a left-leaning congregation -- and he did it on parents' weekend to boot, just for maximum effect:
A number of people have asked me to preach a sermon about Iraq. Imagine you've let yourself into someone else's home and you find yourself in the kitchen. You reach up and open a cupboard door. Out fall a deluge of tightly stacked items, crashing down on your head and tumbling all over the floor. As well as being in a lot of pain, you may well feel pretty stupid. You may be saying to yourself, "I shouldn't be in this house. I certainly shouldn't have opened the door without checking what was inside." But feeling stupid and full of shame shouldn't stop you doing the one thing you simply must do. And that is, to get on your knees, clean up after yourself, and try to put everything back in the cupboard as best you can.He was kidding. Read the whole thing.
That's pretty much all I have to say about Iraq. [laughter]
This is the golden window for not only making significant changes, but for also building bipartisan consensus, before the show trials begin in January. If the Democrats are on board with an Iraq plan, even the media will drag themselves kicking and screaming toward slightly better coverage. They know where their bread is buttered.
As to my preacher, I have my differences with his view, but I'll take it. Whatever is necessary to not abandon Iraq.
James Baker is a brilliant diplomat and should not be misunderestimated. The events in the next week will spell salvation or doom in Mesopotamia.
Nancy Pelosi has her own take, recorded for posterity on HotAir. When interviewed by Fox News, "Asked if it was more important to win or leave Iraq, presumptive Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told Fox this:"
The point is, this isn't a war to win, it's a situation to be solved. And you define winning any way you want, but you must solve the problem.
It will be a very smart move to make some major changes to our strategy in Iraq before January, when this woman becomes the Speaker. At the same time, get as much buy-in from her posse as possible.
McCain's right too: No American voters are going to be upset if al Sadr goes away. In fact, best to kill The Man With One Red Shoe now, because if we do pull out of Iraq, he'll probably be the next dictator of Shiastan.
Bob Owens notes that the new Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was an advisor the the first President Bush when he screwed the Shi'ites, leading to the deaths of nearly a hundred thousand of them.
The obvious question is, "Did Bob Gates have a hand in shaping Bush's call for rebellion?"
If so, would he also partially responsible for failing to support the rebellion, leading to one of Saddam's greatest genocides? I do not know the answers to these questions, but they must be asked before he is confirmed as the next U.S. Secretary of Defense.
November 8, 2006
The End of the Rumsfeld Era
1:37pm: The President was just asked for metrics about his reading contest with Karl Rove. "I'm losing." "I obviously must have been working harder at the campaign than he was."
1:34pm: Here's an interesting interview with Rumsfeld by Thomas Barnett, from 2005.
1:28pm: I'll be on the Jack Riccardi Radio Show tonight, discussing this news. More on that later.
1:25pm: I predict that Bush's approval ratings will jump a few points in the next week or so.
1:21pm: I think this is a good move. If the Democrats want to subpoena Rumsfeld, they still can, but no one will care as much about what happens.
1:18pm: Bush says he didn't decide on Rummy before the election because he "didn't want to be talking about hypothetical troop levels or changes in the command structure coming down the stretch," and "I made that decision because I think it sends a bad signal to our troops that they think the commander in chief is constantly adjusting tactics and decisions based on politics."
1:16pm: Bush: "If we leave before the job is done, the country becomes more at risk."
1:11pm: Bush says he didn't want to inject a major decision about the war into the final days of the campaign. This is why he's making the announcement now.
The Rumsfeld era is over.
My bet is that Donald Rumsfeld has resigned.
UPDATE: Rumsfeld has resigned. Robert Gates is the new nominee for the Secretary of Defense.
UPDATE: Here is Gates' bio.
UPDATE: Bush: "We can overcome the temptation to divide this country between red and blue."
New updates from the top up from now on . . .
November 7, 2006
Election Day stuff -- LIVEBLOGGING
1:29am: No, not good night. The Fox News commentators are very animated about their desire for a united policy on Iraq. Juan Williams, Bill Kristol, and even -- KP -- what's her name, the Dem hottie female. I know that's not politically correct. But perhaps, just perhaps, if the kos crowd can be kept at bay, we can create a majority consensus on Iraq . . .
Perhaps . . .
12:35am: It looks like the Democrats have won the House. It looks like they may be within 1 seat of winning the Senate though it is impossible to tell.
No matter what happens, I want to be on the record: We must not abandon Iraq. We must not leave the Iraqis to their deaths. If so, our word will be worth nothing. Nothing.
12:29am: If I may, I will quote my contribution to TCSDaily's election roundup:
Sometimes in life it's useful to speculate on what is deserved or undeserved. This is not one such time.
The question sets up divisions between the parties, the bureaucracy, and the electorate. There's a war on and if we lose, we'll all lose together. So whoever takes the oath of office in January -- Democrat, Republican, or otherwise -- had better learn to work together and win this thing. If the Democrats gain one house of Congress, the President and Republicans should prepare to welcome them into the fight and rapidly build cross-the-aisle consensus. 'With malice toward none, with charity for all' should be on everyone's lips. Otherwise, the Republic will walk a trail of tears for a long time to come -- and possibly witness sorrows beyond imagination.
12:18am: Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, just said on Fox that Rumsfeld should go, but the anchor really had to drag it out of him.
12:06am: Wow. I can't believe how close the Allen-Webb race is. There will definitely be a recount there.
11:51pm: Read tomorrow's satirical headlines today: See Scrappleface. ' Democrats Unveil 'Contract with San Francisco'.
11:47pm: FoxNews just interviewed Michelle Malkin about "the blogs." Brit Hume called it something like "a remarkable marketplace of ideas." I'm going to see if Belmont Club is saying anything new, since the Democrats are reputed to have won.
11:42pm: The Midterm Midtacular is now being hosted by Stephen Colbert. I can't stand Stephen Colbert. Switching to Fox.
11:36pm: I have just opened a bottle of Crown Royal and am pouring a stout one over ice.
11:26pm: It appears that the Democrats now have enough seats to hold a majority in the house. Both RealClearPolitics and Drudge report so.
11:22pm: Switched to the Daily Show's "Midterm Midtacular" a few minutes. Key takeaway: "Joe Lieberman opened up an Ark of the Covenant can of whoopass" and "the Connecticut Senate race was a three-way, and like most three-ways it ended with one person watching awkwardly on the sidelines." Or some such.
11:13pm: Damn. RealClearPolitics now estimates that the Democrats need only one more seat.
11:07pm: I'm not hearing a whole lot about the Ford-Corker race. Drudge is now reporting that the Democrats need only two more seats to gain the majority. I'm going for another red wine refill.
11:02pm: Just had a lot of trouble accessing my site. This has been reported elsewhere as well. It's not too much to think that there might be a DDOS attack against Hosting Matters going on right now. Hosting Matters hosts a lot of conservative blogs (and a lot of stuff in general) and it is election day. This has happened before, by the way.
10:36pm: Drudge now reports that the Democrats need 5 more seats to gain the House, but still has no backup info. I switched to red wine a little while ago and am now going for a refill.
10:33pm: Random thought of the day: I don't understand the midwest. Being a southerner, superficially, the midwest seems very similar: some big cities, but a lot of rural areas and small towns. Lots of religious people, in Protestant denominations. Probably a similar ethnic breakdown. Yet the midwest always seems so up in the air as to whether it will be red or blue, whereas the south is red. I guess that shows my age, since the south hasn't always been that way. But it just seems weird to me that there's another part of the country that is so similar, yet so different politically.
10:24pm: Drudge is now reporting that the Dems need only 7 more seats to gain the House. But they have no link. It's not clear where they are getting their info.
9:56pm: My college roommate, whom I bet $5 that the Democrats will pick up no more than 18 seats in the House, just emailed for some pre-emptive gloating. I think he is far too pre-emptive.
9:49pm: Mrs. Chester has now finished watching "Dancing With the Stars" and expresses disbelief both that Mike Nifong has been re-elected, and that Britney Spears has filed for divorce.
9:36pm: Fox reports that the White House is upbeat.
9:32pm: Fox is projecting that Lincoln Chafee has lost in Rhode Island, and RealClearPolitics has not declared it too.
9:28pm: The Webb-Allen race has tightened to five-tenths of a percentage point, with 80% of the precints reporting.
9:23pm: Damn. Mike Nifong has just won the Durham County District Attorney's race. I guess the show must go on.
9:19pm: Ken Mehlman sounds pretty good on explaining Iraq. He just made the case that fighting a movement is much more difficult than fighting a nation. I thought he sounded pretty intelligent on the issue.
9:09pm: Thoughts, ideas, concerns? Shoot me an email at "terrier_manchester" at "yahoo.com". Also, welcome Wizbang readers!
9:06pm: Howard Dean on Fox was just asked if the Democrats win the House if it will be an ideological victory or a party victory. He replies that it will be a victory for a new direction. Perhaps, Howard, but why not tell us what direction? In Iraq at least, we know what the direction will be. Not exactly "with your shield or on it."
9:05pm: RealClearPolitics seems cautiously optimistic that there might be a chance for the GOP to retain Foley's seat in Florida.
8:59pm: Allen is over Webb 50.35% to 48.44%, with 66% of the precints reporting. I'm no expert, but it seems unlikely that Webb will pull ahead in the last 33%. But it is VERY tight.
8:46pm: Mrs. Chester just rose from a brief nap after a 40 hour shift at Duke's pediatric ward. Hopefully, "Dancing with the Stars" will put her in a good mood.
8:40pm: A Fox commentator just referenced one of Santorum's speeches. I linked to it last week, and it is indeed outstanding. Read the whole thing.
8:37pm: Cracked the second Pacifico of the evening.
8:31pm: Just realized that this segment of CNN is being hosted by Anderson Cooper. Since he's the a**hole who hosted some insurgent snuff films a few weeks ago, I don't think I'm going to watch any more CNN. Switching to Fox.
8:30pm: New term just used on CNN: "overpundify."
8:29pm: CNN also just had this AARP ad, which was quite funny.
8:27pm: Back on CNN, I just saw an ad in which lots of regular people read stories about what is happening in Darfur. Hmm. I wonder if we pull out of Iraq, and it all goes to hell, and there is some serious ethnic cleansing and genocide, I wonder if maybe then the Democrats might be up for an intervention on humanitarian grounds?
8:20pm: Just for fun, I found this old bit of quotes from our presumptive new Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, via Jim Taranto:
This weekend "60 Minutes" aired Lesley Stahl's interview with Nancy Pelosi, who most likely will become speaker if Democrats take the House. The Web write-up suggests how shallow is the Democratic Party's thinking on Iraq:I mean this with the utmost sincerity: God help us.One issue that she is fighting about here is Iraq. She opposed the war from the start and now, like her, most Democrats support a phased withdrawal of troops beginning later this year.It seems entirely too pat to say that if we leave Iraq, so will the jihadists. After all, there were jihadists in Afghanistan long before we arrived. But let's say it's true. Where does Pelosi think the jihadists will go? Isn't she worried that some of them will come here?
"Does that not open you up then to that charge of cutting and running? This is just what they're saying," Stahl asks.
"The issue is them. The issue is the war they got us into," Pelosi replies. "If the president wants to say the war in Iraq is part of the war on terror, he's not right."
"Do you not think that the war in Iraq now, today, is the war on terror?" Stahl asks.
"No. The war on terror is the war in Afghanistan," Pelosi says.
"But you don't think that the terrorists have moved into Iraq now?" Stahl continues.
"They have," Pelosi agrees. "The jihadists in Iraq. But that doesn't mean we stay there. They'll stay there as long as we're there."
8:18pm: Flipping to The Daily Show just for good measure. Jerry Seinfeld is the guest.
8:13pm: On the way back to Fox, just fell upon some Disney movie about the Presidential family, with a teenage first daughter saying, "Daddy, I don't want to be dragged to another fundraiser where a bunch of rich old people pay money to hang out with us." Hmm. Looks like something Mrs. Chester would like.
8:12pm: Just switched to MSNBC. Man, Chris Matthews is annoying.
8:04pm: On CNN, someone just called Rush a "gasbag." I think it's hilarious when the press attacks Rush. Bill Bennett is now defending him. Good for him. I think it's hilarious when Rush gets attacked because it's usually painfully obvious that the attackers have never listened to his show. Rush is smart and has quite a gift for show-business. He's very entertaining. And he always plays clips of what he says versus how it was portrayed. It's usually pretty funny. I happened to be in the car while John Kerry was defending his gaffe last week and Rush carried it live while talking in the background. When Kerry got worked up, Rush started saying, "Mention me! Mention me! Mention me!" Then, sure enough, Kerry mentioned him. It was hilarious. I don't agree with a some of what he says, but it can't be denied that the man is talented.
8pm: Well, no news on Nifong.
7:58pm: In a moment, TiVo is going to kick in and start recording "Dancing with the stars" for Mrs. Chester. I will most certainly be escaping to the other TV by then. Fox is declaring Indiana 8 as a gain for the Democrats, with I think 81% reporting.
7:57pm: Ugh. Someone in the audience just asked if the US military should approach China about counterinsurgency, since the Chinese state was established with an insurgency. Hmm. My guess is: No. Back to politics.
7:52pm: While switching to Fox, I accidentally hit CSPAN2 first and find that they're showing a conference by the CATO institute on the military and counterinsurgency. Hmm. Could be worth a slight detour.
7:47pm: Jeff Greenfield on CNN just called Indiana 09 "the seat that can't make up its mind," saying, "we should call this the Hamlet of congressional seats." [Pause] Ahem. Switching to Fox now.
7:44pm: Just cracked my first Pacifico of the evening. I have a column to write, but have decided that its content will depend on the election outcome. So might as well enjoy . . .
7:42pm: I meant to say earlier that although it rained like nobody's business today, and that wasn't fun, there were no problems whatsoever at my own polling place. I thought the NC system worked pretty well.
UPDATE: 7:40 EST: Maybe I'll do a bit of live-blogging. Here goes. Wolf Blitzer on CNN has a certain gleam in his eye as he discusses the possibility of the Democrats taking the house.
Well, I cast my votes earlier today. I'm very interested to see how the Durham County District Attorney turns out. I voted against Mike Nifong. It's unfortunate that the legal system does not include the crime of "wanton jackassery," as I'm sure he could be charged with it.
I also voted for Steve Acuff to be my congressman. We'll see how that turns out. It was an uphill battle from the start . . .
November 6, 2006
Well, I've just bet my college roommate, a diehard Democrat, $5 that the Democrats will gain no more than 18 seats tomorrow in the House.
Having done that, I'm off to go see this Borat flim that everyone's talking about. That should be a good escape.
If you need some very independent and interesting analysis, do consider Election Projection.
UPDATE: Well, Borat was at turns both hilarious and revolting. Would I recommend it? Hmm. Depends on to whom. To college buddies, sure. To my mom, not so much.
A Coffin for Dimitrios
While traveling over the weekend I read A Coffin for Dimitrios, by Eric Ambler. Fans of Alan Furst's spy fiction will love this book. Ambler wrote it in 1939 and it was one of the most popular works he ever wrote.
The premise goes something like this: An Englishman who is a successful writer of detective stories is vacationing in Turkey and has a chance social encounter with the head of the Turkish secret police. While they are discussing another issue entirely, the Turk has to attend to a professional matter: dealing with the death of one Dimitrios, a murderer, spy, assassin, and drug smuggler whose body has just turned up. The writer, who has always written crime fiction, but never really witnessed the underworld up close, is fascinated by Dimitrios' life and decides to trace it on his own out of curiosity . . .
To tell more would begin to spoil things. Hopefully that's enough to whet your appetite. The book was outstanding and I'm adding it to the Adventures of Chester Bookstore. Put it on your Christmas list!
November 1, 2006
REDS on DVD
The 1981 film REDS has been released on DVD in a 25th Anniversary Edition. REDS received 12 Oscar nominations and took home three awards. Written, produced, directed by, and starring Warren Beatty as Jack Reed, the American Communist and labor organizer of the early 20th century, it is an excellent story of two love affairs: the first is between Reed and Louise Bryant (admirably portrayed by Diane Keaton) who become lovers, separate, get married, and are then estranged again; and the second is the love affair that a certain class of American intellectuals had with Communism in the period immediately preceding, during, and after the Bolshevik Revolution. Beatty and Keaton do a superb job, and the other excellent part is that of Eugene O'Neill, the playwright, performed by Jack Nicholson.
The DVD quality is excellent. I watch a lot of older films and all too often the DVD versions seem to be straight copies of the VHS original and of poorer quality. In this case, the film quality is excellent.
Nicholson and Keaton crackle as they engage each other throughout the story, and have one exchange that speaks to the degree to which love, sex, and utopian ideas become intertwined in the world of the revolutionary intellectual. Jack has departed for Russia to seek the Comintern's approval of the new Communist Labor Party of America. Louise has refused to go with him and has gone to Eugene O'Neill for solace.
Gene: Louise, something in me tightens when an American intellectual's eyes shine and they start to talk to me about "the Russian people." Something in me says, "Watch it. A new version of Irish Catholicism is being offered for your faith," and I wonder why a lovely wife like Louise Reed, who's just seen the brave new world, is sitting around with a cynical bastard like me, instead of trotting all over Russia with her idealistic husband. It's, um, almost worth being converted.Jack Reed's perpetual dilemma is the fact that he is an excellent writer, yet desires to be a revolutionary. He is forever caught between attempting to sway people through his prose and organize them in labor societies.
Louise: Well, I was wrong to come.
Gene: You and Jack have a lot of middle class dreams for two radicals. Jack dreams that he can hustle the American working man -- whose one dream is to be rich enough not to have to work -- into a revolution led by his party. You dream that if you discuss the revolution with a man before you go to bed with him, it'll be missionary work rather than sex. I'm sorry to see you and Jack so serious about your sports. I'm particularly disappointed in you, Louise. You had a lighter touch when you were touting free love.
Ultimately, and it doesn't spoil the film to say so, Jack and Louise suffer from that inescapable fate of revolutionary utopian idealists: disillusionment that the reality they have helped to create is not what it should be.
REDS is an excellent film about a part of American history often overlooked, and about the passions of intellectuals. Though a bit long at 195 minutes, I recommend it.
Interested readers may also want to see Jack Reed's book on the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook The World.
Thanks to SpecialOpsMedia for my review copy.
October 31, 2006
An Incompetent Charlatan
In his response to the ire he has drawn upon himself, Senator Kerry says this:
If anyone thinks that a veteran, someone like me, who's been fighting my entire career to provide for veterans, to fight for their benefits, to help honor what their service is -- if anybody thinks that a veteran would somehow criticize more than 140,000 troops serving in Iraq, and not the president and his people who put them there, they're crazy. It's just wrong.And this, in response to a question:
They know my true feelings. They know I fought to provide additional money for veterans. They know I fought to provide money for combat -- for veterans. They know I fought to put money for VA. They know I've honored those veterans.
The truth is that Americans see through these slippery techniques. Senator Kerry has made a career out of being the artful dodger of American politics: he routinely makes insinuations about the American military and when called on them he trots out his service as a sort of blanket immunity for any criticism of his statements. "How could I have possibly meant that! It's absurd! After all, I'm a war hero!" The effect is supposed to be the conveyance of two separate concepts at the same time: the one to those who would agree with his disparagements of the military, the other for those who would not.
The problem is that even an undereducated idiot veteran like me can see through this. Kerry is the worst kind of magician in this regard: pitiful, for his every trick is so transparent.
Kerry, in fact, is a strange breed of politician. For all the cries about the war being run by those who are "chickenhawks," who are presumed to be eager for war due to their lack of experience with it, Kerry could be called the polar opposite: a "bulldove" or something similar, whose pronouncements about the insanity of the war are supposed to have the brilliance of received gospel, due only to the time he spent in uniform some 35 years ago.
The problem here is just as acute as it is with the so-called chickenhawks: military service does not necessarily impart infallible strategic judgment. One can serve and be wrong, or not serve and still be right. Since his return from Vietnam, Senator Kerry has fallen clearly into the former camp.
Second Lieutenant Booth and Senator Kerry
Yesterday Senator Kerry insulted those in uniform. But the day before yesterday he called the parents of Marine Second Lieutenant Joshua Booth, killed in action in Iraq earlier this month, to offer his condolences. His mother explains:
Second Lt. Joshua Booth died on Oct. 17. His mother said that what makes Kerry's words so offensive is that they come one day after Kerry called the family to offer condolences.So was Lieutenant Booth good at anything?
"We did appreciate the call. I am appreciative of anyone who reaches out to me and to then turn around and say something that is so totally incorrect," Booth said.
As to whether Kerry should apologize, Booth said that Kerry needs to do more to make amends.
"In addition to apologizing, he needs to learn a little bit about what our men and women in the military are actually made up of," Booth said. "We don't want to send that kind of signal, that you only go into the military if you are not good at anything."
You decide. Last week National Public Radio did a segment about him and it can be heard in its entirety here.
John Kerry is such a moron
For all the bashing Bush takes for being poorly-spoken, or inarticulate, does anyone recall him ever saying anything so absolutely moronic as Kerry did yesterday?
What an idiot. The US military cuts a broad swath across society. In my interactions with other officers, I've encountered men whose fathers are venture capitalists, state office-holders, successful business executives, coal-miners, and truck drivers. This is not an exaggeration. I have a particular individual in mind for each of these.
Also, Kerry might want to take a look at famous Marines.
UPDATE: I suppose the assertions I make above are more or less about class, and Kerry's statement was about education. But in a meritocracy such as ours, the two are intimately related.
UPDATE: Two buddies email:
You forgot to include immigrant union train mechanics (currently retired playing lots of golf poorly) as one of the fathers of officers you know. They are a special breed.And:
Yes and add prison dentist dad to that list.
October 30, 2006
A Presidential bid for Congressman Hunter?
I'm about to leave DC, but just heard on a local FM radio news program that there are reports that Representative Duncan Hunter will announce today an interest in a presidential bid.
This would certainly be interesting. I don't know much about Hunter, but what little I do know, I like: he's a veteran, has an in-depth knowledge of defense issues, seems well-composed on television, and is from California, which would all make for an interesting campaign.
His official bio is here.
Here's a second confirmation of this news.
October 26, 2006
"Sleepwalking into a Nightmare"
Senator Rick Santorum's speech to the National Press Club and Pennsylvania Press Club is available at National Review Online. The speech is outstanding. Read the whole thing.
Steve Acuff Airs a YouTube Video
Steve Acuff, Republican congressional candidate for North Carolina's 4th District, has just aired what I believe is his first YouTube video, in which he denounces CNN for showing an insurgent snuff film, calls for their investigation, and describes their behavior as treasonous.
I've mentioned before that I did a little bit of volunteer work for Steve's congressional campaign over the summer. I didn't help much, just once a week for a couple of hours over the course of a month or so.
So having met the man, let me say that this is the most angry I've ever seen him. Don't get me wrong. He's still got his emotions in check. But the degree to which he's upset about this issue clearly shows.
Also, the film doesn't even mention his opponent. In fact, it's not really even a political commercial, in a certain sense.
I should make it clear that I didn't assist with making this film.
Steve's campaign site is here.
"Welcome to the party, pal!"
A quick cycle through the headlines of the past two days provides an update on our NATO allies:
October 24, 2006
A Simple Plan
The New Media Journal carries a fictional bit of prognostication by one Raymond S. Kraft. It is the story of a surprise nuclear attack on the United States, performed with aplomb by Iran and North Korea [via Rocket's Brain Trust].
At 0723 Hawaii time on the 67th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack three old fishing trawlers, about 100 miles apart, and each about 300 miles off the east coast, launched six small cruise missiles from launch tubes that could be dismantled and stored in the holds under ice, or fish, and set up in less than an hour. The missiles were launched at precisely one minute intervals. As soon as each boat had launched its pair, the skeleton crew began to abandon ship into a fast rubber inflatable. The captain was last off, and just before going overboard started the timer on the scuttling charges. Fifteen minutes later and ten miles away, each crew was going up the nets into a small freighter or tanker of Moroccan or Liberian registry, where each man was issued new identification as ship's crew. The rubber inflatables were shot and sunk, and just about then charges in the bilges of each of the three trawlers blew the hulls out, and they sank with no one on board and no distress signals in less than two minutes.Commentary
The missiles had been built in a joint operation by North Korea and Iran, and tested in Iran, so they would not have to overfly any other country. The small nuclear warheads had only been tested deep underground. The GPS guidance and detonating systems had worked perfectly, after a few corrections. They flew fifty feet above sea level, and 500 feet above ground level on the last leg of the trip, using computers and terrain data modified from open market technology and flight directors, autopilots, adapted from commercial aviation units. They would adjust speed to arrive on target at specific times and altitudes, and detonate upon reaching the programmed GPS coordinates. They were not as adaptable and intelligent as American cruise missiles, but they did not need to be. Not for this mission.
I'm unfamiliar with Mr. Kraft's work, but here he succeeds in rapidly painting a scenario that is entirely plausible. The more interesting questions are those it merely implies.
October 18, 2006
Debate: Steve Acuff vs. David Price
A debate between the candidates in my congressional district was held recently and is now available on the web. Steve Acuff is the Republican Challenger and David Price is the Democratic incumbent.
Go here to view the debate, which is just under 30 minutes.
October 5, 2006
The European Intifada Continues
The violence in northern European banlieus was much in the news a year ago this month, but has strangely dropped from view. But now the French Interior Ministry warns that an "intifada" is pressing on many fronts:
Radical Muslims in France's housing estates are waging an undeclared "intifada" against the police, with violent clashes injuring an average of 14 officers each day.How will the French contain this violence? Can they?
As the interior ministry said that nearly 2,500 officers had been wounded this year, a police union declared that its members were "in a state of civil war" with Muslims in the most depressed "banlieue" estates which are heavily populated by unemployed youths of north African origin.
It said the situation was so grave that it had asked the government to provide police with armoured cars to protect officers in the estates, which are becoming no-go zones.
The interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is also the leading centre-Right candidate for the presidency, has sent heavily equipped units into areas with orders to regain control from drug smuggling gangs and other organised crime rings. Such aggressive raids were "disrupting the underground economy in the estates", one senior official told Le Figaro.There's been quite a bit of Ramadan violence in Belgium as well. See the posts from Brussels Journal here and here. The Journal warns that there may be another flare up this weekend, "The authorities are especially nervous since the Belgian municipal elections are being held on Sunday October 8th. It is likely that the elections will be won by anti-immigrant, “islamophobic” parties. Since ramadan will not be over on October 8th and many immigrants might perceive a victory of the indigenous right (as opposed to their own far-right) as an insult, Muslim indignation over the election results in major cities may spark serious disturbances."
However, not all officers on the ground accept that essentially secular interpretation. Michel Thoomis, the secretary general of the hardline Action Police trade union, has written to Mr Sarkozy warning of an "intifada" on the estates and demanding that officers be given armoured cars in the most dangerous areas.
He said yesterday: "We are in a state of civil war, orchestrated by radical Islamists. This is not a question of urban violence any more, it is an intifada, with stones and Molotov cocktails. You no longer see two or three youths confronting police, you see whole tower blocks emptying into the streets to set their 'comrades' free when they are arrested."
He added: "We need armoured vehicles and water cannon. They are the only things that can disperse crowds of hundreds of people who are trying to kill police and burn their vehicles."
October 3, 2006
In Which the European Defense Agency Shows It Has Learned Nothing in the Last Five Years
Political discourse about warfare is all too frequently shot through with utopian impulses. This is because warfare involves both the vision of an "end-state" that one's forces work toward, and millions of decisions at all levels that are easily second guessed as time passes.
An article in the London Telegraph reports that the new European Defense Agency has released a paper envisioning the next 20 years of conflict.
The paper, An Initial Long-Term Vision for European Defence Capability and Capacity Needs, paints a Europe in which plunging fertility rates leave the military struggling to recruit young men and women of fighting age, at a time when national budgets will be under unprecedented strain to pay for greying populations.It seems the study does not attempt to really envision future conflicts so much as it attempts to proscribe a series of measures that must be in place in order for the EU to engage in war. In other words, rather than focusing on enemies, it seems to focus on its own requirements. There is a term for this: self-induced friction. The EU Defense Agency is only 2 years old and already is hamstringing itself.
At the same time, increasingly cautious voters and politicians may be unwilling to contemplate casualties, or "potentially controversial interventions abroad – in particular interventions in regions from where large numbers of immigrants have come."
Voters will also be insistent on having backing from the United Nations for operations, and on crafting large coalitions of EU member states with a heavy involvement of civilian agencies, and not just fighting units, the paper states. They will also want military operations to be environmentally friendly, where possible.
All of this is similar to the Powell Doctrine in the United States, another set of internally imposed rules meant to make domestic constituents happy and to limit the kinds and types of wars that will have to be fought.
A hard-thinking, proactive enemy -- and there are few other kinds -- no doubt laughs in glee at these efforts, as it merely gives him all the more opportunities to avoid battle with the West and pursue his own agenda with impunity; or, once engaged in battle, to prevail simply by using methods and techniques that the West is institutionally (and thereby mentally) unprepared to counter.
The entire report may be downloaded here.
October 2, 2006
Could Al Qaeda team with the mob?
There is a scene near the end of the film The Rocketeer in which a deal of some kind goes south and all of a sudden three parties find themselves in a Mexican standoff: cops, the mob, and a bunch of Nazi sympathizers intent of helping Hitler invade America. When the shooting starts, the mob quickly starts fighting the Nazis. At one point a cop and a mobster are crouching next to each other, firing away with submachine guns, when they pause, look at each other, shrug, and then keep firing.
But today, this sentiment -- "hey, mobsters are awful, but at least they love America," -- must be realized as so much wishful thinking. An AP story released over the weekend [via Instapundit] reported that the FBI is keeping close tabs on the possibility of collusion between organized crime and terror-related groups.
September 30, 2006
One of the hallmarks of maneuver warfare as it has been conceived in the Marine Corps is the use of combined arms. "Combined arms" refers to the use of various weapons systems in concert, such that each reinforces the weaknesses of the other. The doctrinal definition is this:
Combined arms is the full integration of arms in such a way that to counteract one, the enemy must become more vulnerable to another. We pose the enemy not just with a problem, but with a dilemma -- a no-win situation. [from Marine Corps Doctrinal Publication 1, Warfighting]There's no reason to think that this doctrine couldn't be articulated at the national level as well. Rather than confining it to the realm of military strategy and the use of force, why not include all the elements of national power -- diplomatic, economic, informational, military, etc -- and force them to work in concert toward a common goal? This may be an ideal, but it is one at which the US does not perform so well. The primary reason is the way our foreign policy bureaucracy operates: there is little in the way of the kind of unity of command necessary for an individual decision-maker to muster all elements to work in concert.
But not so in Iran, warns Robert Kaplan:
September 27, 2006
Steve Acuff for NC4
North Carolina readers may want to visit the campaign website for Steve Acuff, who is running as a Republican in the 4th District (my own). His opponent is David Price, an incumbent with 18 years in the House.
Steve's a great guy. I did some volunteer work for the campaign this summer and found him to be very down-to-earth. Check out his his site here.
Berlin Production of Idomeneo A Little Strange to Begin With
The AP reports:
German politicians condemned on Tuesday a decision by a Berlin opera house to cancel performances of Mozart's "Idomeneo" over concerns they could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.At first glance, this seems to fit the familiar pattern of:
The Deutsche Oper in west Berlin announced on Monday it was replacing four performances of "Idomeneo" scheduled for November with "The Marriage of Figaro" and "La Traviata."
The decision was taken after Berlin security officials warned that putting on the opera as planned would present an "incalculable security risk" for the establishment.
In the production, directed by Hans Neuenfels, King Idomeneo is shown staggering on stage next to the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs.
a) Western person or institution makes a public statement with some sort of content about Islam or Mohammed
b) Muslims go nuts.
Yet perhaps there is something else to this story. First off, what the heck is Idomeneo about and why does its performance include as props "the severed heads of Buddha, Jesus, Poseidon and the Prophet Mohammad, which sit on chairs?"
Wikipedia's synopsis of the plot makes no mention of any of the these people, except for Poseidon [Neptune] and no mention of his beheading.
My guess is that this is an instance of some pretty ridiculous modern liberties taken with the script of Idomeneo. More akin to the whole "Piss Christ" controversy years ago than to either the Cartoon Jihad or, for lack of a better term, the Pope Jihad.
This doesn't mean that as free speech it shouldn't be defended. It just means that perhaps it's a little less defensible than the other instances. In the end of course, bad taste is not a crime, or shouldn't be.
September 26, 2006
The Irrational Tenth Part 2
I welcome all comments to either post.
The Irrational Tenth
Belmont Club notes a sort of ongoing conversation taking place in many circles about the war and the size of the force necessary to best prosecute it.
At that time  there was very little appreciation of what was really required to defeat the enemy. The Democrats were arguing for police action through multilateral alliances. Or for large half-million man troop deployments in Iraq. And the Conservatives thought that major combat operations were over in Iraq. But in truth, no one was asking the right questions. As one Marine Colonel (the reference to which I can't find at the moment) argued, more men of the wrong kind would have converted Iraq into a mud-trodden disaster. John Kerry understands this, and calls for more Special Forces to be used. But where to get them?Where to get them indeed. This is the type of conversation in which someone quickly chimes in, "Amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics." And they'd be right in a sense, because figuring out what kinds of forces are necessary when and where is a sort of strategic issue. Figuring out where to find them and then supplying them is more of a logistical problem, since it deals with the whole panoply of issues that entail the forming and manning of a certain kind of force. A commenter on the Small Wars Journal noted:
In the short run you have to raid tactical units for more recruiters, for drill sergeants, for instructors, etc. This means less capable deploying units. We've divested ourselves of a lot of training facilities. It will take lots of time and money to get back to the capacity we had in 1990 with a much smaller number of installations because an expanded Army has to be quartered somewhere and it has to train when not deployed.In short, institutional fear of a lack of national will hampers the ability to make a full-throated cry for increases in size.
So without some degree of political guarantee that we won't find another "Peace Dividend" there is really little to no constituency within the institutional Army to expand in anything but the most gradual way.
And this is truly the problem. New forces might be raised, new kinds of fighters might be created, but in the end without the will to use them, they come to naught. Critics can carp to no end about the lack of postwar planning in Iraq, and certainly have a point in many cases. But our national will seems too endeared with the search for a perfect plan for warfare, without acknowledging that such quests are as fruitless as perpetual motion machines. This sentiment is one of the bases of Tony Corn's wide-ranging critique of an over-reliance on Clausewitz in Policy Review:
Last but not least, the third major flaw is “strategism.” At its “best,” strategism is synonymous with “strategy for strategy’s sake,” i.e., a self-referential discourse more interested in theory-building (or is it hair-splitting?) than policy-making. Strategism would be innocuous enough were it not for the fact that, in the media and academia, “realism” today is fast becoming synonymous with “absence of memory, will, and imagination”: in that context, the self-referentiality of the strategic discourse does not exactly improve the quality of the public debate.
In making the case that there is a distinct Western military tradition dating back to the Greeks, Victor Hanson argued in The Wars of the Ancient Greeks that one such instance is "the ubiquity of literary, religious, political and artistic groups who freely demanded justification and explication of war, and thus often questioned and occasionally arrested the unwise application of military force."
Fair enough. But Corn seems to think that we have gone too far, that our conversations are "strategy for strategy's sake." Indeed, I know a different aphorism, often mentioned by field-grade logisticians with whom I served: "amateurs talk logistics, professionals talk pornography."
What this is meant to express, however earthily, is the idea that it is a sort of raw, fighting spirit which is the essence of war, and given that, all else will fall into place with merely mediocre planning. Leadership, persistence, manipulation, sheer force of will -- these are the missing elements.
T.E. Lawrence knew this. "Nine-tenths of tactics are certain and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensured by instinct, sharpened by thought practicing the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex."
Belmont Club finishes,
In the end, the single best . . . response to the attack on September 11 was simply to do something, a policy which seems to me infinitely better than doing nothing, if only because action led to learning and that was superior to sitting back and imagining that we had the answers.Yes, the irrational tenth is probably only to be discovered in combat.
September 25, 2006
Jihad and Thailand's New Leadership
News reports indicate that there were a number of reasons why Thailand's military decided to overthrow Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last week, but the most interesting among them was a disappointment with his strategy toward the Muslim insurgency in the south. From The Australian:
THE Royal Thai Army will adopt new tactics against a militant Islamic uprising, following the coup that sent Thaksin Shinawatra, the ousted prime minister, into exile in London last week.But at the same time Zachary Abuza, a political science professor at Simmons College in the US, and author of a forthcoming book about the Thai insurgency, offers a more nuanced take:
According to sources briefed by the army high command, Mr Thaksin's bungled response to the insurgency in southern Thailand, which has claimed 1700 lives in two years, was a critical factor in the generals' decision to get rid of him.
Military intelligence officers intend to negotiate with separatists and to use psychological warfare to isolate the most violent extremists, in contrast to Mr Thaksin's heavy-handed methods and harsh rhetoric.
[ . . . ]
if the prime minister's absence was the opportunity, sources said, the incentive to act was a sense that the Thai state was losing control over its southern territory, where about four million Muslims live.
A final spur for the coup came when bomb explosions tore through the south's commercial and tourist centre of Hat Yai this month, killing a Canadian visitor and three others, wounding dozens and prompting holidaymakers to flee.
Shocked Thai officials conceded that the terrorism could no longer be contained and might spread north to resorts such as Phuket and Koh Samui, with catastrophic results for the $13billion-a-year tourist industry, still reeling from 2004's Boxing Day tsunami.
[ . . . ]
When Mr Thaksin, a former policeman who made his fortune from telecommunications, came to power in 2001, he broke with the old order. He put police cronies in charge of the southern border and shut down two intelligence clearing centres.
Soon, reports in the media alleged that corruption, smuggling and racketeering were rife.
In January 2004, militants raided an armoury and started a killing spree. They have murdered Buddhist monks, teachers, hospital staff and civil servants - anyone seen as representing the Thai state. The army has seemed powerless to halt the chaos.
"Down there, you stay inside the camp at night," said a soldier who recently returned from a tour of duty. "If you go out, you die."
Mr Thaksin's iron-fisted methods went disastrously wrong. A suicidal mass assault on army and police posts by young Muslims, many armed only with machetes, ended with almost 100 "martyrs" dead. Later, 74 unarmed Muslims died at the hands of the security forces in the village of Tak Bae, most of them suffocated in trucks, and a suspected police death squad abducted Somchai Neelaphaijit, a Muslim lawyer, on a Bangkok street.
Somchai, who had brought torture cases before the National Human Rights Commission, was never seen again.
Then there is the southern insurgency. Will the CDR [Council for Democratic Reform] and interim administration be better equipped to deal with [it]? At the very least, there will be less political interference in counter-insurgent operations and fewer personnel reshuffles and policy initiatives from an impatient “CEO prime minister.” Second, the CDR is likely to implement many of the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Council that Thaksin had blatantly ignored. Though the NRC’s recommendations alone will not quell the insurgency, they will have an important impact in regaining the trust of the Muslim community. Third, Sonthi has expressed a willingness to talk with insurgents, though to date only PULO has offered to talk and the aged leaders in Europe have no control over the insurgents. And many in the military establishment including Sonthi, himself a Muslim, have publicly refused to see the insurgency for what it is, denying it any religious overtones or secessionist goals. Nor is the political situation likely to alter the campaign of the insurgents. If anything they may step up attacks in an attempt to provoke a heavy-handed government response. The Muslim provinces have been under martial law for over two and a half years, with little to show for it but an alienated and angry populace.
It seems Thailand has made two strategic errors in the past 15 years, the first of which was the dismantling of intelligence assets in the south.
A 2004 article from The Straits Times notes that
the upsurge in violence is also proving difficult to understand and control because it comes after Bangkok effectively dismantled its intelligence apparatus in the area and scaled down its military presence, thinking it had all but crushed the separatist movement in the late 1990s.Dr. Abuza made the same point in the piece above, noting,
The simple, stark fact, as admitted to me by a retired Thai general last week, is that neither the military nor the police now have a clue what is going on in the south.
“There has been a complete failure of intelligence. No one knows who the insurgents are. They don’t have a face.”In the absence of this lack of knowledge, it seems that ousted PM Thaksin made his second error: he responded to the insurgency with heavy-handed tactics, rather than classic counterinsurgency strategy. This only served to make things worse.
How will the generals do? We shall soon see. It was through cunning and realpolitik that Thailand avoided becoming a European colony while every single one of its neighbors did so in the last 300 years.
For the moment though, the south of Thailand, just like Waziristan or Somalia, has become another of the black holes with which we have become all too familiar, which the rest of us stare into with vacuous looks upon our faces, wondering intently what goes on in there, and from which the faintest traces of muezzin calls can be heard.
September 12, 2006
From Every Mountainside
Tom Ricks’ book FIASCO: The American Military Adventure in Iraq has been climbing the charts of late. Ricks lists the work Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula as being very important to understanding the fight in Iraq today. Galula was a French officer who served in Greece, Algeria, and China, and observed various different insurgencies firsthand. His work is peppered with colorful anecdotes such as the things he learned after being captured by the Chinese Communists. Nevertheless, it very much attempts to develop a theory of counterinsurgency warfare that is extremely relevant today, despite the differences between Communist fighters and those of the Islamic ilk.
Galula believed that the population must be divided into three groups, the favorable minority, who will always favor the side of the counterinsurgent, the insurgent minority, those who are the actual fighters and organizers for the insurgency, and the rest of the population, which lives between the two sides, and can be swayed in either direction. He further made the point that insurgencies are always motivated by a cause, and that counterinsurgencies must have a cause as well if they are to succeed:
The strategic problem of the counterinsurgent may be defined now as follows: “To find the favorable minority, to organize it in order to mobilize the population against the insurgent minority.” Every operation, whether in the military field of in the political, social, economic, and psychological fields, must be geared to that end.
To be sure, the better the cause and the situation, the larger will be the active minority favorable to the counterinsurgent and the easier its task. This truism dictates the main goal of the propaganda – to show that the cause the situation of the counterinsurgent are better than the insurgent’s. More important [sic], it underlines the necessity for the counterinsurgent to come out with an acceptable countercause.
All of this struck me very forcefully last week while attending the 5th Annual Defense Forum in Washington, DC, and hearing Tom Ricks give the keynote address. Ricks told the story of Army Colonel H.R. McMaster’s method of addressing the sheiks and imams in his area of operations upon arrival in Iraq in 2005. “McMaster told the Iraqis that when the American military first invaded Iraq, they were like men stumbling around furniture in a dark room. Now, the Iraqi government has turned on the lights for us, and the time for honorable resistance has ended.”
Ricks stated that this level of courtesy, used by McMaster even while implicitly threatening those who opposed him, is both necessary and extremely effective in the Arab world because the core value of that society is honor, or dignity, or respect. Ricks believes that when “Americans speak to the Iraqis about freedom, something is lost in translation.”
To use Galula’s terminology and theory, an independent observer must conclude that democracy is the “countercause” that the US seeks to advocate in the Middle East. But to use Ricks’ anecdote of Colonel McMaster, perhaps this is not the strongest or most effective countercause we might be using. Instead, perhaps we could link the honor that is so important to Arabs to what we define as freedom. Or perhaps we might attempt to dissociate jihad – especially the suicidal variant – from those actions which are perceived to be honorable.
These are tall orders but certainly possible for what has already been called a “long war.” Surely we are up to the task.
September 7, 2006
Dispatches from the Defense Forum
The Defense Forum of 2006 was an outstanding event and I'd like to thank the US Naval Institute and Marine Corps Association for making it possible for me to attend.
If any Loyal Readers are interested, here are the pieces I wrote from the conference for Pajamas Media:
First Dispatch: about the remarks of Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Giambastiani.
Second Dispatch: about a panel on the progress of the Long War.
The Third Dispatch discusses both the remarks of Tom Ricks, and a panel on the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The final dispatch recounts the final panel, about lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There's lots of good stuff in there!
August 31, 2006
Energy Followup Post
So there was quite a bit of great discussion in the two threads on Energy Independence in the last couple of weeks. (See here and here.) Two more thoughts. First, frequent commenter "Papa Ray" sent me this link: China nomads on energy's cutting edge, which is quite an interesting story. Frequent readers may know that I have a burning desire to go to Mongolia one day (at least I think I've mentioned that before). I've often wondered if the nomads there would do well with some sort of rugged electrical production system. Maybe something like this: SkyBuilt Power.
And also, a Loyal Reader sent this comment:
Let's get a little creative in our quest to reduce our consumption of
imported petroleum. Use tactics that cost little or nothing.
If every job that could be accomplished by telecommuting were to be
for 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 days a week, we'd reduce our consumption
overnight. A distributed workforce is a good thing, in wartime and
For those who can't telecommute, how about changing the workweek? Four
10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days would reduce consumption by up
Road tolls can be increased without taxing gas, increasing car-pooling.
Right turn-on-red, smart traffic signals, enforcement of pedestrian
scofflaws and a myriad other options, in combination could reduce
consumption immediately, by more than 25%, with very small impact on
No Manhattan Project (i.e., huge waste of taxpayers' funds) necessary.
Change the rules of the game.
Any thoughts, readers?
August 30, 2006
Carolina FreedomNet 2006
I've been invited to be a panelist at the upcoming conference Carolina FreedomNet 2006, which will be held in Greensboro on October 7th. See the link for details. A number of other local Carolina bloggers will be present, and the keynote remarks will be made by Scott Johnson of Power Line. Looks to be great fun and the cost to the public is only $25! That's a steal compared to other conferences I've seen or attended.
America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare
I've written an article for TCSDaily entitled Bipolar Disorder: America's Schizophrenic View of Warfare. It argues that Americans tend to view total war as positive, and counterinsurgencies as negative, rather than merely seeing them as different kinds of conflict. Go see for yourself!
August 18, 2006
Discussion: Energy Independence Part Two
Those readers who have been participating in the conversation below on Energy Independence could do no worse than to click on the ad in the sidebar for Ford and see what they're up to. (Or just go here).
My take is that Ford reads the marketplace and understands that there is a widespread demand for vehicles using a different form of energy. That demand may be due to environmental concerns, national security concerns, or economic independence concerns. It doesn't matter. Ford wants to fill that demand. I think they should be commended on an innovative ad campaign too (and no, I don't get revenue per click for Blogads, so I'm not juicing my own bottomlilne here).
All of this reinforces my earlier belief that a sense of legislative forbearance is what is most desperately needed, not some new government program akin to putting a man on the moon. If there are regulatory obstacles to projects like that of Ford, then by all means, let them be removed. But otherwise, let the market sort it out. In the end, the result will be more efficient and achieved faster than any comparable large-scale titanic government effort.
Steve Acuff for the 4th District of North Carolina
I'd like to take a brief moment to make a disclosure and a recommendation. For the past few weeks, I've volunteered about once a week for the congressional campaign of Steve Acuff, who is running in my district, NC 4.
Steve's a great guy. He's a retired Air Force colonel, a Vietnam veteran, and used to fly Air Force 2 for a time. When he left the service he settled down in Raleigh and began working at a small transportation company, where he is now a manager. Now he's decided to run against David Price, the inbumbent.
My interactions with Steve so far have confirmed to me that he's a straight shooter and there's not an ounce of BS in the man. I can honestly say that when I went knocking on the campaign office door to see if there might be a role for me, I expected those in politics to have charisma perhaps, but not much substance. I'm glad to say I've been pleasantly surprised. Steve's a good man.
Though I live in a blue-ish district, and one that has sent David Price to Washington 9 times in the past two decades, I'm still singularly unimpressed with Price. Eighteen years in Congress and not a whole heck of a lot to show for it. Whether one agrees with his positions or not, it's hard not to agree that he has not done very much of substance. I think the district can do better.
In the coming weeks, I might sit down and do an interview with Steve and publish it here on the blog. That's a little off the beaten path from normal topics, but I'm sure no one will mind, and he's quite an interesting character.
If there are any North Carolina-based bloggers out there who would like to interview Steve, shoot me an email. He'd love to chat.
And if you live in NC-4, I wholeheartedly recommend voting for Steve this fall. Visit his campaign website here.
I should say that all of what I'm telling you are my own thoughts, and while I have mentioned to the campaign that I would do a short post, I coordinated its content in no way whatsoever. Also, I am not an employee of the campaign, but just help out a couple of hours a week.
August 15, 2006
TCSDaily Article: Unfrozen Caveman Voter
I've written another piece for TCSDaily entitled, "Unfrozen Caveman Voter." Go check it out and ask yourself: are you part of the caveman demographic?
August 9, 2006
Interview with Alan Furst
I've conducted a brief interview with Alan Furst, who has written several superb spy novels set in pre-WWII Europe. The interview is now up over at TCSDaily.
Furst's own site is www.alanfurst.net.
I have to tell the story of how this came about, cause it's pretty neat.
Mrs. Chester dragged me shopping one day and I ducked into a Borders in need of a reprieve. Browsing around, I moseyed over to the Mystery/Suspense section to look for Furst's new book, The Foreign Correspondent.
I couldn't find it, so I went to the help desk. There, I saw a stack of copies, along with the entire inventory of everything else they had in stock by Furst. "Are these all on hold?" I asked the staff. "No, we've set them aside because he's supposed to come in today and sign them. He's supposed to be here any minute."
Well, this was cool! So soon enough Mr. Furst did arrive and signed a copy for me. I went and sat down in the cafe. Then a thought occurred to me: why not a blog interview? I asked him and he agreed immediately, saying he loves reading blogs.
Anyway, I thought that was very kind of him and a pretty cool little backstory.
Furst's novels are truly fascinating. You feel as though you are really in Europe right before all hell breaks loose. And in some cases after it's broken loose too.
My favorite is Night Soldiers, probably because it's a bit longer than the others, which means all the more intrigue:
I've also read The World at Night and Dark Voyage:
Those were both excellent as well. When reading these works, the scope and depth of the changes that were afoot in Europe really begins to dawn on the reader. Most interestingly perhaps is that everyone seems to know that war is coming . . .
Loyal Readers here at Adventures will probably enjoy any of Furst's novels. Go check out the interview too.
UPDATE: Here's a previous post that references his work as well: Through The Looking Glass.
July 20, 2006
Just what has the Ghana Battalion been up to?
Pajamas Media's editor in Sydney, Australia (aka the author of The Belmont Club, Richard Fernandez), has posted a link to a map showing the disposition of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFL), as of July, 2006. Richard makes the case on his own blog that the site of much of the recent fighting is in the area of operations of the Ghana Battalion of the UNIFL.
I have no problem with Ghana. A friend once did a study abroad there and spoke highly of it. But doesn't one wonder: what have the Ghanan troops and other members of the UNIFL been doing when Hezbollah yokels up and launch a rocket across the border? Any attempts to chase them down? Fight them? Arrest them?
In fact, what's the UNIFL doing right now?
Let me make an assumption that the answer is, "very little." Jed Babbin recently recollected his own experience in this regard:
The UN's years-long record on the Israel-Lebanon border makes mockery of the term "peacekeeping." On page 155 of my book, "Inside the Asylum," is a picture of a UN outpost on that border. The UN flag and the Hizballah flag fly side-by-side. Observers told me the UN and Hizballah personnel share water, telephones and that the UN presence serves as a shield against Israeli strikes against the terrorists.Here we have an answer to the questions implied in a previous post:
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:If Babbin's account of the actions of UNIFL can be trusted, then the answer to the problem of proxy war and Lebanese sovereignty is rather different than the actions necessary to end the conflict. Instead, the presence of UNIFL actually legitimizes an area of non-state lawlessness, when the goal should be to somehow reduce it.
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
It is hard to see how any United Nations force will be able to offer a solution that is favorable to either of the two states involved, Lebanon and Israel, and unfavorable to the non-state terrorist group, Hezbollah. And shouldn't the reduction of non-state terror organizations be in the interest of the international system?
One is truly left to wonder whether the actual goal is inspried more by anti-Semitism or a desire to frustrate the United States.
No, more likely is the explanation offered by Bruce Bawer in While Europe Slept as to why Europe is so tolerant of the extreme Islam growing in its midst. One of his arguments is that Europe and America learned fundamentally different lessons from WWII: The US learned not to give in to tyranny, even if war is necessary. Europe learned to avoid war at all costs, even if putting up with a bit of tyranny is required.
This is not so different from Robert Kagan's seminal essay of a few years back, Power and Weakness, in which he notes a similar problem:
It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world. On the all-important question of power — the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power — American and European perspectives are diverging. Europe is turning away from power, or to put it a little differently, it is moving beyond power into a self-contained world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation and cooperation. It is entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity, the realization of Kant’s “Perpetual Peace.” The United States, meanwhile, remains mired in history, exercising power in the anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable and where true security and the defense and promotion of a liberal order still depend on the possession and use of military might. That is why on major strategic and international questions today, Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus: They agree on little and understand one another less and less. And this state of affairs is not transitory — the product of one American election or one catastrophic event. The reasons for the transatlantic divide are deep, long in development, and likely to endure. When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies, the United States and Europe have parted ways.The UN is a vehicle for the expression of the European attitude to power as described by Kagan, and to war as described by Bawer. And this is why the Ghanans et al. have not stopped Hezbollah's attacks on Israel: Stabiliy, ceasefires, and peacekeeping are preferable to a decisive end to conflicts, because decision requires violence. Europeans are from Venus.
July 19, 2006
Game, Set, Match: Hezbollah's Demise Has Been Decided
UPDATE FOLLOWS BELOW
My spider senses tell me that the US has decided to give Israel a goodly amount of time to destroy Hezbollah. NPR's All Things Considered today interviewed US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns. Since the resignation of Robert Zoellick, a few weeks ago, Burns is the number two man at State. He's always interesting to observe and is one of the heavy hitters behind US policy. Consider: [emphases added, and let me also state for the record for the NPR folks that I duly paid $3.95 for this transcript, rather than listening with realaudio and copying myself]:
ROBERT SIEGEL, host: Secretary of State Rice said today that there should be a cease-fire in Lebanon as soon as possible when conditions are conducive. Does that mean after Israel is satisfied that is has sufficiently disabled Hezbollah?The US is creating a diplomatic dilemma for Hezbollah: in order to stop the Israeli offensive, Hezbollah will have to take actions that inherently admit defeat and discredit it. Returning the Israeli soldiers and removing itself from the south might leave the Arab street sufficiently riled up, but these actions will be strategic disasters. And that's not to even mention the attrition their forces will have suffered at whatever point the fighting stops.
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I think it means that the conditions have to be appropriate for a ceasefire to be effective. What all the leader in St. Petersburg said over the weekend - the G-8 countries and that - is that it’s very important that we go to the heart of the problem. And the heart of the problem is that Hezbollah - in deciding to abduct the Israeli soldiers and in deciding to now inflict a reign of terror on Israeli cities in the north - has actually broken four U.N. Security Council violations. And as you know Robert, this has been a 25 to 30 year struggle over that border. And what we wanted to do is make sure that the border can be safe and secure so that there’s no need for violence on either side. Hezbollah has broken that long- standing prohibition on violence.
SIEGEL: But to pursue this notion of when conditions are conducive - if the Israelis felt that it would take them several more weeks of air strikes in order to degrade Hezbollah, would that be acceptable to Washington? Or do you think that the countdown to a cease-fire is measured in days rather than weeks?
Undersecretary BURNS: I think what has to happen now is that Hezbollah has to return the abducted soldiers, and Hezbollah has to also stop the bombing of Northern Israel. That is a condition that - not only the United States - but all the European countries, Russian, and Japan laid down the other day.
That’s why Secretary Rice said when conditions are appropriate, because a cease-fire in place today would essentially leave Hezbollah in a victorious position, and Hezbollah with a sword hanging over Israel’s head. That is not a condition conducive to peace or stability. And it’s a tragic situation, because Lebanon is very much a victim of what Hezbollah has done.
SIEGEL: Does that mean, then, that Hezbollah would have to return the Israeli soldiers it captured and also completely disarm in the South of Lebanon in order for there to be conditions conducive to a cease fire?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, I don’t - we have certainly not been that specific about conditions conducive to a cease-fire, nor has anyone else. Kofi Annan has not been that specific.
Everyone knows what happened here. And I think what was remarkable about the St. Petersburg statement issued yesterday morning by the leaders was that they said there was one party responsible for this, and it’s Hezbollah. They all said that. If you look at the public statements of Egypt and of Saudi Arabia, and look at the statements of Kofi Annan himself - it was Hezbollah who started this. And Hezbollah has now put us and put us and put the Israelis in a situation where they have to defend their country.
So our task as diplomats and our task in the United States is to try to use our influence and our energy to right that situation, and it has to begin with Hezbollah.
SIEGEL: Since the president was heard saying that he believes someone ought to tell Syria to tell Hezbollah to cut it out in Southern Lebanon, why aren’t we saying that to Syria? Why aren’t we talking directly to Syria now?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well, we’re certainly talking to the Syrians. I mean, they have an ambassador in Washington, we have an embassy in Damascus. The quality of that relationship is very, very poor.
Syria, of course, is a country that in our view has destabilized Lebanon for the past 30 years. And we certainly don’t want to see Syria now try to regain its position in Lebanon. But the other day in St. Petersburg, the leader said – all of them – that in addition to the extreme miss by Hezbollah starting this conflict, there were others who supported, who bore a equal responsibility, and Syria and Iran are certainly two of them.
Siegel: Equal responsibility?
Undersecretary BURNS: Well certainly, Syria and Iran have to be held accountable for what they’ve done, and it’s our strong advice that they would stop resupplying Hezbollah in the coming days.
SIEGEL: So the long and the short of it is the Israelis should continue until they really deal a grievous blow to Hezbollah. That’s the - that should be the condition that precedes any kind of ceasefire?
Undersecretary BURNS: I wouldn’t put it like that. I would put it in the following way: that Hezbollah has the responsibility now to take the steps to end this crisis. And the obligation rests with Hezbollah to begin to lead the region back towards peace, and that’s where we will be putting our efforts over the next several days and several weeks.
Allow me to paint a best-case scenario: The US or EU brokers backchannel diplomacy between Syria and Israel to the effect that neither will attack the other unprovoked. Israel then is given diplomatic leeway to absolutely destroy Hezbollah, even to the extent of entering the Beka'a Valley, provided it takes place within a reasonable amount of time.
The next step will be: how to ensure that no terrorist force metastasizes on Israel's border once again? Or really, how to ensure that no terrorist force can threaten Israel from the north? A buffer zone isn't really helpful if Hezbollah or anyone else can just get longer-range missiles and use them from Northern Lebanon. Instead, one of two things has to happen:
a) someone responsible has to control Lebanon's borders. It could be the Israelis, though they won't want to; the Lebanese though they'll be questionble in their effectiveness; or the "international community" which probably means the US (though perhaps the French would help, given that they used to own Lebanon).
b) Lebanon's borders must be redrawn and the Beka'a declared an international DMZ of some sort. This is extremely unlikely.
The reason for the necessity of one of these options is because the international system should have no desire for a conflict like the current one to happen again. The only way this is possible is if the next time a terrorist organization supported by Syria launches attacks at Israel, it does so from within Syria. This will then clarify thngs for the rest of the world. Borders, which are among the most sacrosanct of the current system's rules, will have been violated, and that makes consequences easier.
In other words the goal of the international community should not just be the destruction of Hezbollah; it should be a solution such that a similar proxy cannot emerge.
Before you hound me in the comments, please, like I said, it's a best-case scenario . . . Some of the conditions of the best-case will undoubtedly not be met. Finally, this is excepting some event by Iran which escalates the conflict. Then, all bets are off.
UPDATE: Bill Roggio and the other smart guys at the Counterterrorism Blog study the Israeli military call-ups, rather than reading the diplomacy tea leaves like me, and come to a different conclusion:
While there is always the possibility the Israeli government and military officials are conducting a sophisticated information operations campaign, the military is not mobilizing for a large scale invasion of Lebanon. Only three battalions (about 300 troops per battalion) have been mobilized over the past few days. With Israel being a small nation, a large scale call up of troops could not be hidden from public view.Goodness knows there are smarter guys than me at the Counterterrorism Blog. All of this shows the difficulty of reaching a consensus on intelligence issues. At least those of us in the blogosphere try to make predictions . . .
The same post also mentions that "air strikes cannot defeat Hezbollah's forces alone." If their analysis is correct, then a decision will not be reached, and the entire tumult will revert to the status quo ante.
In my mind this would be unfortunate.
June 30, 2006
Discussion Topic: Defeat
One of the most interesting questions to me is that of defeat. Sometimes when you attack another force, it folds immediately under the pressure. Alternatively, sometimes the force is emboldened by your attack. Think of the differences between Pearl Harbor, which caused the US entry into World War II, and "shock and awe" which was designed to convince the Iraqi populace that resistance was futile. But ironically, US aerial campaigns are so surgical these days that there wasn't much shock or awe to it: the gov't buildings that the Iraqis expected to be hit, were hit.
When is a people defeated? The degree to which the combatants are truly exhausted of fighting dictates the degree to which they will accept the outcome of the fight. If that is the case, then each side truly gambles whenever it seeks a decisive outcome. Moreover, if nothing less than an unconditional surrender is sought, then does that make the other side fight all the harder to avoid it, thereby prolonging the conflict?
Finally, how do the answers to these questions change when the other side is an irregular force?
Military types will say that defeat is in the mind, and victory resides there as well. What is the combination of effects necessary to impose upon minds then, such that they might conclude as quickly as possible that defeat is at hand?
The pat US answer is firepower, but I think there are two other factors at work. What do you readers think? All comments to this little ramble are welcome.
June 27, 2006
Open Letter to the President of the New York Times
I just sent this email to Scott Heekin-Canedy, President and General Manager of the New York Times:
To: firstname.lastname@example.orgI do not expect a response, but will certainly print any I receive.
Subj: Publication of Classified Material
I am outraged that the New York Times chose to publicize an ongoing intelligence operation on its front page on June 23rd, 2006. By the admission of the story itself, the program to track terrorist financing was legal; it was effective; it was limited; it had no history of ongoing abuse; it was independently audited by an outside board; and it was briefed to members of Congress. What else could one want from a classified program? If the t's weren't crossed and the i's weren't dotted, then I challenge the New York Times to mount some constructive criticism that would have made the program better.
While you consider that, I am contacting the largest institutional shareholders in the New York Times Co and asking them to sell their stakes. I am also contacting the three largest buyers of national advertising and asking them to refrain from buying advertising in your publication. Below is a copy of an email I've just sent to Proctor and Gamble, General Motors, and Time-Warner.
On Friday, June 23rd, 2006, the New York Times published on its front page the details of a classified, legal, and effective program to monitor the financial transactions of terrorist networks. The program is legal and had been briefed to members of Congress. It had no known record of ongoing abuse and is audited by an independent board of auditors.
The decision to out such a government program endangers our national security, with such little benefit to the public as to seriously question the judgment of those who decided to publish the story.
As one of the largest national advertisers in the United States, I’d like to recommend that your firm seriously consider not purchasing advertising in the New York Times. Why invest in a media organization that displays such little respect for the security of the United States?
I write on my own behalf, and not for the government. Thanks very much for your consideration.
I am extremely disappointed that the Times has chosen to endanger our national security in such a blatant fashion, with such little to gain from that recklessness. And to be based in Manhattan as well! Unbelievable! Do the memories of our enemies' intent to take innocent life run so shallow on 43rd Street?
Despite your protestations of serving the public interest, I think your newspaper's decision is disgraceful.
Joshua P. Manchester
Captain, US Marine Corps Reserve
UPDATE: Response received from T. Rowe Price:
Dear Captin [sic] Manchester:Pretty standard, but the first paragraph indicates that they did actually read my email, which is better than I could have hoped for.
Thank you for your e-mail to T. Rowe Price.
We appreciate your taking the time to contact us regarding our
investment association with the New York Times Company. Please be
assured that your comments have been forwarded to the appropriate party
If you have any questions or need additional assistance, please call us
at 1-800-225-5132. Representatives are available Monday through Friday
from 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. ET and Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5
Senior Account Services Representative
April 24, 2006
Economic Determinism and Europe's Descent
Charles Boix has written a fascinating recent article in Policy Review, in which he argues that as universal as the desire for freedom may be, the conditions for the spread of democracy are limited. Chiefly, equality of economic conditions is the primary state in which democracy will take root and thrive:
The insight that equality of conditions is a precondition for democracy has a long and often forgotten tradition in the study of politics. It was apparent to most classical political thinkers that democracy could not survive without some equality among its citizens. Aristotle, who spent a substantial amount of time collecting all the constitutions of the Greek cities, concluded that to be successful, a city “ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars.” By contrast, he noticed, a state could not be well-governed where there were only very rich and very poor people because the former “could only rule despotically” and the latter “know not how to command and must be ruled like slaves.” They would simply lead “to a city, not of free persons but of slaves and masters, the ones consumed by envy, the others by contempt.” Two thousand years later Machiavelli would observe in his Discourses that a republic — that is, a regime where citizens could govern themselves — could only be constituted “where there exists, or can be brought into being, notable equality; and a regime of the opposite type, i.e. a principality, where there is notable inequality. Otherwise what is done will lack proportion and will be of but short duration.”Boix then goes on to offer a variety of empirical evidence to support this point. He takes particular aim at Islam itself, showing that it is no stronger a force against democracy than any other cultural factors in other parts of the world, and that even Islam is subordinate to economics when it comes to the flowering of democracy:
Islam has been much brandished as the cause of authoritarian attitudes and institutions in the Middle East and North Africa. But as Freedom House recently pointed out, if we take into account the large Muslim populations of countries such as India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Turkey, the majority of the world’s Muslims live now under democratic regimes. In turn, some scholars have noted that, even if Islam is compatible with free elections, the Arab world is not. Indeed, all Arab states remain undemocratic as of today — and do so by employing substantially repressive policies. The problem with this claim, however, is that it never specifies the ways in which Arab culture and behavior may be at odds with the principle of mutual toleration among winners and losers that makes democracy possible. Moreover, the few surveys we do have seem to show that Middle Eastern populations favor democracy by margins similar to those found in Latin American or Asian publics. The truth is that the politics surrounding the control of natural resources, rather than any religious or cultural factor, is what explains the preponderance of authoritarianism in the Middle East (and much of sub-Saharan Africa as well).Boix's is a great article and his ultimate conclusions are not to be dismissed.
His work though raises vexing questions about what he does not discuss. Namely, how does his economically determinate argument explain the rise of semi-autonomous, undemocratic groups within Europe? According to his economics-based theory of democratization, Europe should be a place where democracy continues to thrive indefinitely, not where it is threatened by some other system. Yet the growth of semi-autonomous immigrant communities in Europe's large cities -- places where the democratically created laws of the host society don't apply or aren't enforced -- is a frequent feature of the news these days (and even a slew of recent books).
How to account for this? Especially when all of these communities have one thing in common -- Islam?
My guess is that this phenomenon speaks less to the anti-democratic tendencies of Muslims than it does to the pusillanimous and faint-hearted efforts of the Europeans in defending and justifying their freedoms. But readers are welcome to differ . . .
April 22, 2006
Mary McCarthy: The Left's CIA Mole
Frequent readers will know that I'm a huge fan of the BBC series MI-5. This latest episode in the US regarding Mary McCarthy's alleged leaking of classified information to press agencies is very reminiscent of one episode of MI-5 in particular, in Season 3. Entitled "Sleeper," it begins with 5 seeking to "activate" a world-renowned chemist, a Nobel winner in fact, who long ago promised he'd be there when needed. The scientist is played brilliantly by Ian McDiarmid (Lord Sidious in another role, of course).
Scientist: [laughing] "Activate me?"It appears that Mary McCarthy might have either sold her own soul to the Democrats, or perhaps merely volunteered it of her own will. Either way, it appears that she serves a higher calling than the US Constitution: it appears she serves only one political party.
Harry Pierce, MI-5 senior officer: "You knew this would happen someday."
S: "Harry! That was . . . 20-odd years ago!"
H: "It was twenty-four years."
S: "That was bravado. When I said yes to you, I didn't take it that seriously."
H: "I did. Young MI-5 officer, you were the first sleeper I recruited."
S: "I never heard from you again!"
H: "We don't contact sleepers until we wake them."
S: "Ahh . . . No, no. Whatever it is you want me to do, no. My life is . . . set."
H: "Nobel prize winner. But did you really deserve it?"
S: "What the hell are you suggesting?"
H: "Your work which won you the Nobel . . . your discovery of the chemcial imbalance between neurons in the brain . . . that basic research came from nerve gas experiments at Port and Down which we made sure you were given."
S: "What . . . are you saying MI-5 manufactured my whole career?"
H: "We opened doors for you, and to your credit you barged right through them. That was the agreement: we'd help you become an expert in your field and if we ever wanted to call on your expertise we would."
S: "What am I Faust? I sold my soul to the devil for my success?"
H: "You sold your soul to your country. What's wrong with that?"
How else to explain both her meteoric rise in the intelligence bureacracy and the size and choice of her political contributions (!!! Jeez -- who knew that intelligence personnel were allowed political contributions. Last week I mentioned that George Marshall refused to vote when an officer in the Army. It appears no such apolitical regimen is required of our spooks.). From entry-level analyst to National Intelligence Officer in only 10 years. One might fervently hope that our civil service rewards excellent performance at such a quick pace, but one would be wrong, I believe. It just ain't so. The only explanation is political hackery of the first order.
And then there's the campaign contributions: perhaps as much as 9500 of Mme. McCarthy's dollars went to Democratic candidates in 2004.
You know I really don't want to accuse the Democrats of "planting" her at the CIA, or seeking her out for favors and advancement. I think it's more likely that she was especially ruthless in making known her political beliefs, and those were rewarded when the time was right, and punished later when Bush came to office. With her 2004 campaign contributions perhaps she hoped to earn a higher position than her likely demoted status under Bush. And when Bush won again, she set out to tarnish his administration, out of spite. That's the narrative which seems most likely to me.
All of this is hair-raising because it really makes one wonder: what the heck are the Chinese, Russians, Saudis, etc able to pull off if our own spooks are up to pranks like this? Who's minding the store while these yahoos have a go at some domestic political intrigue of their own? Seriously, what kind of people get their jollies from trying to maneuver their way into the position of First Assistant Deputy Assistant to the Undersecretary of Whatever, instead of trading espionage blows with the Russkies and ChiComs? If it seems bewildering to you too, I'm at a loss to explain it -- except to say that many years ago, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the CIA's clandestine service, writing under his pseudonym, Edward Shirley, published an article in The Atlantic about his own experiences at Langley, which asked the question, "Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?" The answer is either "no", or that they were playing a quite different game altogether.
In most spy stories -- real or fiction -- top agents are usually rewarded with money, positions of influence, medals, etc. I think it was John Walker who, on the occasion of one of his meetings with his Soviet handler, was told he'd been given the rank of Colonel in the KGB and awarded the Order of Lenin, or some such. Of course he'd never see any of that, but things like that were supposed to make the inside man feel better about his treachery. The same usually occurs in novels as well . . .
Well, Mary McCarthy may not have been promised anything by any official intelligence service or political party for her own treachery (if guilty of course), but she'll certainly receive it nonetheless. As In From the Cold notes via Belmont Club,
Within a few weeks, fired CIA officer Mary McCarthy will take her place in the pantheon of liberal heroes. Democratic politicians, left-leaning pundits and analysts in the drive-by media will hail her "courage" in exposing secret CIA prisons in eastern Europe, and providing that information to the Washington Post. There will almost certainly be a book and movie deal; I'm sure Joe Wilson's literary agent will be in touch, if he hasn't called already. However, timing for those media events will probably depend on whether Ms. McCarthy spends any time in jail for her "disclosures."That's right. She might not be a spy for any single foreign country or other master, but she certainly will be rewarded by the twisted interests of the Left, which seem foreign enough to me.
April 20, 2006
A Contrarian View of China's Future
As Hu Jintao's visit to the US winds down, allow a little bit of speculation about the future of China.
Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal carried an article noting Hu's upcoming visit, and stating that the Chinese government's legitimacy is dually based on economic growth and nationalism.
The WSJ today carries an editorial that ends with this line:
The larger strategic bet here is that sooner or later China's economic progress will create the internal conditions for a more democratic regime that will be more stable and less of a potential global rival.
The US strategic assumption therefore is that "sooner or later, economic growth will lead to democracy." This is a controversial statement in political science circles -- there isn't any strong agreement on this, just a kind of fervent hope. Perhaps it is because of how closely Americans associate political freedom with economic opportunity. But it's still controversial.
But a completely uncontroversial statement in economic circles is that a boom-bust cycle prevails in most if not all markets and economies. Think about it: has anyone ever heard of an economy without a recession? and usually, isn't it true that the larger the boom, the greater the bust? I'm only 28, but I remember the heady days of 1999. Anyone who said a few key buzzwords and promised ridiculous market growth could get angel funding it seems. Then the bubble burst and we had a recession and now things are humming right along again.
Has China ever had a real recession since Deng liberalized the economy in 1978? There's been some slowing of growth here and there of course, but I don't believe a full-fledged recession, in which the economy actually shrinks.
Wouldn't it seem that China is . . . overdue for a recession?
No one can know how an economic retrenchment may begin. There are many possibilities:
-a collapse in the banking sector
-a decline in US domestic consumption
-oil price shocks
-deflationary slump caused by currency revaluation (as is argued by a Stanford professor in another Journal op-ed today)
But can one say, with any reasonable seriousness, that an economy which has boomed for two or three decades will not see at least one major recession?
Moreover, compared to developing countries, our recessions here in the US have been relatively mild. Consider these other Asian economic recessions:
1. Japan in early 1990s -- deflationary slump. The Japanese economy reached such lofty heights in the 1980s that the value of downtown Tokyo real estate was gauged as being higher than all of California. Fortunately, Japan has now recovered and -- as I heard on the radio the other day -- is in the midst of its second longest expansion in the postwar period, growing for 51 straight months. But from the early 90's for about ten years, Japan suffered what has become "the lost decade." "Nihon wa ima shiniso!" my host-brother proclaimed to me in 1994. "Japan is nearly dead these days."
2. Wikipedia's article on the East Asian financial crisis of 1997 notes that per capita GDP, (measured in purchasing power parity) has declined from 1997-2005 in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In other words, those economies have been more or less stagnant overall in terms of the net effects of growth in the economy and growth in the populations ever since the currency and financial crisis of 1997.
So suffice it to say that when China has a slump or recession, there's a good chance that it won't be pretty. It will probably make one of our domestic recessions look like a single bad day at Nordstrom.
If economic growth stalls, what is to replace it as a pillar of political legitimacy? It seems there are two possibilities, more nationalism, or, in the hope of the United States, democratic legitimacy through political freedom. At the time of its recession, Japan had had a history of parliamentary elections and representative democracy for three or four decades (one could debate this given the overwhelming dominance of one party, but Japan was democratizing for a very long time to say the least). Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia all had some form of popular representation during their crises, though the democratization was varied in degrees in each. All of these countries though, at the time of their difficulties, were much, much, much further along the way toward representative and consensual government than China currently is.
Democracy in China seems unlikely to spring forward overnight during a time of economic crisis. It seems equally unlikely that any budding manifestations of it will suddenly blossom. Indeed, during the rural uprisings and riots we've seen trickling out in the news last year, it seems China was much more likely to send in the brute squads to put them down than to expand freedom for the rioters. Some of the freedoms the Chinese currently enjy might wither on the vine if poor economic times come along . . .
Perhaps nationalism will be intentionally spread to make up the difference in regime legitimacy?
This seems at least as likely a scenario as that of economic growth leading to greater political freedom, as is the strategy of the United States.
If China's roiling economy is one of the key pillars of regime legitimacy, I fear that the regime may soon learn what a bust is . . . and what might happen then?
In short, while everyone and their grandmother expects the "Chinese economy to surpass the US by 2030" or "China to emege as a global power" etc, I think it is just as likely that China will suffer a severe economic crisis, and do something horrible that makes it a pariah in the world's eyes -- whether internally or abroad; or that the Chinese regime could collapse under a popular uprising. I'm no expert, but it seems that if there's one place where they like to riot as much as France, it might be China. Flipping through a history of China is to read again and again of peasant or other popular uprisings.
If China transforms into a democracy with no political violence or economic hardship, we'll all break out the plum wine and celebrate. But all should have their eyes wide open as to the likelihood of more dreadful scenarios as well.
Sadly, I think there's little more the US can do than what we already are: building relationships with China's neighbors to counterbalance it if things go to heck; encouraging political freedom inside the country; trading with China; etc etc etc. The op-ed by the Stanford professor makes the case that we should quit complaining about their currency evalution, as a rapidly inflating currency was what led to Japan's deflation. I'm not enough of an economist to make heads or tails of that, but perhaps it's worth considering.
Perhaps we should just darn the torpedoes and pressure China to democratize much faster than it is, for its own sake . . . Given how many other things are on the US plate at the moment, it seems more likely that we'll kick this can down the road for a while longer . . .
April 18, 2006
Bloggers as news-fixated mavens
Some time ago, I ran across what might be called an obituary for bloggers in the Financial Times. Here are some of the takeaway lines:
. . . but blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s. Instead, its dependency on old media for its material brings to mind Swift’s fleas sucking upon other fleas “ad infinitum”: somewhere there has to be a host for feeding to begin. That blogs will one day rule the media world is a triumph of optimism over parasitism . . .Well that was quite a buzzkill. But it seems to make a number of assumptions about blogging that perhaps aren't quite true: that bloggers are seeking careers as bloggers, and aren't just enjoying themselves; that the infinitessimally short half-life of a blog post renders it meaningless in the grand scheme of things (even more so than journalism); that if blogs don't replace traditional journalism, they have failed, and so forth . . .
. . . Blogging will no doubt always have a place as an underground medium in closed societies; but for those in the west trying to blog their way into viable businesses, the economics are daunting . . .
. . . The dismal traffic numbers also point to another little trade secret of the blogosphere, and one missed by Judge Posner and all the other blog-evangelists when they extol the idea that blogging allows thousands of Tom Paines to bloom. As Ana Marie Cox says: “When people talk about the liberation of the armchair pajamas media, they tend to turn a blind eye to the fact that the voices with the loudest volume in the blogosphere definitely belong to people who have experience writing. They don’t have to be experienced journalists necessarily, but they write - part of their professional life is to communicate clearly in written words.”
. . . Which brings us to the spectre haunting the blogosphere - tedium. If the pornography of opinion doesn’t leave you longing for an eroticism of fact, the vast wasteland of verbiage produced by the relentless nature of blogging is the single greatest impediment to its seriousness as a medium . . .
. . . And that, in the end, is the dismal fate of blogging: it renders the word even more evanescent than journalism; yoked, as bloggers are, to the unending cycle of news and the need to post four or five times a day, five days a week, 50 weeks of the year, blogging is the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence. No Modern Library edition of the great polemicists of the blogosphere to yellow on the shelf; nothing but a virtual tomb for a billion posts - a choric song of the word-weary bloggers, forlorn mariners forever posting on the slumberless seas of news.
To the economic criticism, I'd say this: thus far, in most, if not all cases, I think bloggers have made money almost tangentially to the actual work of blogging. Making money is in other words, not the raison d^etre of most blogs, but make a little of it many do, often without trying too much, or at all. There aren't many other human activities where financial rewards (however modest) can be gained from decidedly unfinancial pursuits (readers are welcome to submit counterexamples). When I was on a panel about blogging in New York last fall, I knew what all the journos wanted to know: were any of us making any dough or not? Although it's a faux pas to discuss such things, I told them that with little effort whatsoever I'd made around $2000 in a year from all sources (Amazon links, Google Ads, BlogAds, and donations), which I considered to be not so bad for a hobby. Compare it to baseball card collecting, or hot air ballooning, or bowling if you like. Mrs. Chester is a soon-to-be MD and devours her US Weekly every week. Celebrity trivia is her escape. Mine is thinking about the big stuff. I've never taken out a single ad, and as far as I know, few bloggers have. If Pajamas Media is doing financially well, then that speaks very highly of the medium: have they even placed a single ad on, say, AOL?
But beyond all those petty economic considerations, I think the idea that bloggers will fail unless they replace newspapers is ill-conceived. Those searching for signs of that outcome will certainly be disappointed. No, something else is happening . . . but what?
Glenn Reynolds points to a Guardian article which notes something curious, since as we've read above, blogs have already peaked:
Bloggers and internet pundits are exerting a "disproportionately large influence" on society, according to a report by a technology research company. Its study suggests that although "active" web users make up only a small proportion of Europe's online population, they are increasingly dominating public conversations and creating business trends . . .How to square this with the Financial Times piece above?
Although unprompted contributors are generally younger and more vocal than the wider online population, they are increasingly important as opinion formers and trend-setters. Mr Smith says businesses, media organisations and advertisers reading blogs should be wary of making assumptions about their wider significance, but that their muscle cannot be ignored.
The immensely popular book The Tipping Point identifies three types of people who are necessary for ideas to spread: salesmen, connectors, and mavens. Salesmen are, well, good at selling a given idea. Connectors are people who know a variety of other people, disproportionate to the rest of the population. Think of that one person in your workplace who knows everyone, or the friend you have who has always been good at networking and is never shy to meet new people and make the most tenuous of encounters last -- these are connectors. According to Malcolm Gladwell, the author, mavens are those who by nature are very opinionated about everything. They hold strong opinions about the big, the small, the great events of the day, and even the trivial. According to Gladwell, ideas begin to spread when mavens recommend them because regular folk know that a maven has special knowledge of his topic(s). (Ideas also spread when salesmen sell them or when connectors spread them.)
A maven may be opinionated and knowledgable about many things or only a few things. He might be a crank or a busybody, or a pleasant fellow who just loves to talk about one certain thing. Those around him know him as a maven. Gladwell's example is of the day he spends with a certain professor at the Univ. of Texas business school, who has recommendations on what restaurant they should visit, asks the waiter to move them to a better table, and if memory serves, gives recommendations on automobiles to Gladwell during their lunch.
A long time ago, I read an inflight magazine article about the Weather Channel. The network had done detailed marketing research into its audience. It found that a large number of viewers just wanted to know about the weather in their area -- while they got ready for work or school, for example. Another very large number were
curious to know what the weather was like in areas where they had family or close friends. But the largest group by far fell into a category that they called "weather-fixated." They just loved watching the weather channel and learning about weather in all its forms. They were weather fixated.
Bloggers are news-fixated mavens. This explains our outsized influence on the rest of the world. The vast majority of people don't visit RealClearPolitics or Instapundit 20 times a day, or keep track of the intricacies of whatever it is that we keep track of. Mrs. Chester and I have this conversation a lot: most people just don't care that much about all this stuff. They just live their lives -- quite happily -- and only delve into current events occasionally, or with the shallowest sustained involvement. There's nothing wrong with this. They aren't mavens.
I'd say bloggers represent the 2% of the population who are news-fixated mavens. Blog readers who don't write themselves are perhaps another 10-20%. They are much better informed than the rest of the public and pride themselves on it. And when the rest of the uninterested public needs an opinion, they turn to those who pride themselves on their opinions.
It's no wonder then that blogs are having an unusual impact upon opinions and opinion-making. If you know of this crazy guy who always thinks and reads and writes about cauliflower, 99% of the time you are going to ignore him. But if there ever comes a time when you desperately, urgently need detailed information about cauliflower, then you certainly know where to find him.
My hypothesis is that a similar dynamic is at work with the blogosphere.
I once had a boss at work -- you know, the kind of guy who skims USA Today every morning for five minutes -- come up to my cube and ask me what I thought about Iraq. As I explained it to Bill Roggio in an email later, I gave my boss the "10-minute Western Anbar treatment." Not sure if he walked away informed, confused, or just thinking, "wow, I won't make that mistake again." But if he ever needs to know more, he knows where to find me.
April 16, 2006
Dear Generals: Please Stop, Immediately
The public denunciation of a sitting Secretary of Defense by several now-retired Generals is a profoundly disturbing affair. It would be equally disturbing were the Secretary a member of a Democratic administration. It would be no less disturbing were the generals advocating more aggression in our foreign policy, opposed to a Secretary who was more dovish -- the seeming opposite of the case we are confronted with today.
This is disturbing because, quite frankly, generals -- even retired ones -- are not supposed to do this. When General Newbold -- to take one example -- writes that officers swear an oath not to a single individual, but to the Constitution, he is papering over the fact that that very Constitution requires those same officers to follow the orders of a single individual.
Indeed, a public disagreement of this sort is not just bad for partisan politics. It's also bad for the very foundations of our democracy itself. Here's the reasons why I must respectfully ask these distinguished men to please cease and desist:
1. It is impossible for the outside observer to know the nature of a given General's retirement. Are any of them speaking out of spite? Were they passed over? Unless the news failed to report it, none of the several generals who have so publicly rebuked their former boss retired in protest. I think that would be the only case in which one of them might be justified in publicly criticizing a sitting administration -- and only temporarily at that.
2. For generals to publicly criticize the secretary of defense for whom they worked is to perpetuate a myth that has become prominent in our culture: the myth that participation in warfare is ultimately the provenance of the professional military, and not a joint effort with their political masters. Let us not forget Clausewitz's dictum of the link between warfare and politics. To suppose that politicians merely telling the generals to attack how they see fit would be the best way to run the Defense Department is to cede the political aspect of war to warfighters, whose political skills are understandably dwarfed by professional politicians who've made careers of reading political situations. All I've expressed in this paragraph is easily summed by another old expression: "war is too important to be left to the generals."
A corollary to this myth of the useless nature of politicians is the "chickenhawk protest:" that those who are not professional warriors have no business in warfare. As Eliot Cohen (who literally wrote the book on civil-military command issues) has noted, the generals are sometimes wrong: were Kennedy's military advisors correct when they recommended a nuclear first-strike during the Cuban Missile Crisis? As Cohen argues, only civilian leaders who actively challenge, question, and debate with their military officers are best equipped to guide the nation through its roughest times. A Cohen states, generals are experts in how to fight, not whether to fight.
For more on this, please read this article in its entirety:
3. But even that is not the most disturbing aspect of all of this. Most disturbing is the trend toward more open political expression among recently retired senior military officers. Recall the 2004 election, when each candidate lined up on stage with a few dozen retired senior officers, hoping to prove that he would make the best leader for their ranks. Are we soon to enter a period when a candidate cannot think of running successfully without vocal support from the officer class? Many democracies live with this curse, but I for one do not think it is healthy.
Suppose Rumsfeld were to resign at the behest of his generals. Would the next Secretary of Defense be more or less likely to challenge his generals in a very aggressive or pointed way? What if they all shunned him once they were out of uniform? Perhaps it would be best if he just kept his trap shut and let them have the run of things, rather than try to rock the boat, no? This is the danger that we face if we give too much encouragement to the type of behavior on display of late.
If the officer class needs some examples of how best to exhibit their professionalism, I offer three:
General George Marshall refused to even so much as vote while in uniform. He also literally wrote the first edition of the "Armed Forces Officer's Guide," a copy of which -- as far as I know -- is handed to every new officer soon after commissioning. I think Marshall would be appalled at such an outpouring of criticism toward a sitting Secretary of Defense.
In the meantime, they can best serve their country by heeding the example set by the martyred Shinseki. Since his departure from active duty, Shinseki has kept his own counsel. He has not joined the pack of those hounding Rumsfeld. His silence is a rebuke more telling than any words that he might speak. And it offers a model of true military professionalism as well.For a third example, I offer an unorthodox one: Ayatollah Al-Sistani, one of the indispensible men in postwar Iraq. He sees himself as inhabiting a special class of individuals -- a priesthood of sorts -- who should not participate in politics, but have a subtle influence on it nonetheless.
I don't think American retired brass should have nearly the influence that the clerics do over there, but retied generals are a sort of quasi-priesthood for sure. Sistani's forbearance in seizing power -- when it is clearly there for his taking -- offers many valuable lessons.
All of the generals who have spoken out in criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld are honorable men. Each has served over a period of time, and held a magnitude of responsibilities that strike awe into the hearts of the average guy like me. But I must ask them: please, gentlemen, keep your criticisms behind closed doors. To do otherwise is to take our democracy into territory best left unexplored.
April 12, 2006
Through the Looking Glass
Austin Bay's piece today about The Quiet War Against Muqtada Sadr has this interesting bit:
Sistani's aides told Iraqi and coalition officers: "Let us deal with Sadr. We know how to handle him and will do so. However, the coalition must not make him a martyr."I have a feeling many more than the Iraqis would understand, just not many Americans. Politics, when not democratic, makes a messy affair.
I left Iraq with the impression that Sistani's plan for handling Sadr would be a python-like squeeze only an Iraqi insider would fully understand.
Two of Alan Furst's historical novels of espionage in World War II contain moments when the soon-to-be agent realizes just what business he is about to become involved in.
The World At Night has this recruitment scene:
"So, what I"m working on." Simic lowered his voice, leaned closer to Casson. "What I'm working on is a nice private Spaniard for the British secret service. A general. An important general, respected. What could he do? What couldn't he do! He could form a guerrilla force to fight against Franco. Then form a military junta and restore the monarchy. Prince Don Juan, pretender to the Spanish throne, who is tonight living in exile in Switzerland, could be returned to Catalonia and proclaimed king. See, Franco took the country back to 1750, but there's plenty of Spaniards who want it to go back to 1250. So the junta would abolish the Falangist party, declare amnesty for the five hundred thousand loyalist fighters in prison in Spain, then declare that Spain's strict neutrality would be maintained for the course of the war. And no German march to Gibraltar."And Night Soldiers contains a similar scene, but for a different master:
Slowly, Casson sorted that out. It had nothing to do with the way he thought about things, and one of the ideas that crossed his mind was a sort of amazement that somewhere there were people who considered the world from this point of view. They had to be on the cold-hearted side to think such things, very close to evil -- a brand-new war in Spain, fresh piles of corpses, how nice. But, on the other hand, he had been reduced to crawling around like an insect hunting for crumbs in the city of his birth. It was the same sort of people behind that -- who else?
The man and the woman at the next table laughed. She began it, he joined in, one of them had said something truly amusing -- the laugh was genuine. You think you know how the world works, Casson thought, but you really don't. These people are the ones who know how it works.
"You understand, do you not," Antipin said, "that they meant for me to kill him."
"If that's his name."
"Why. To create an incident, to make politics, to give their newpapers something to say: bloody-fanged Bolshevik murders local policeman. Yes?"
Khristo though about it for a time. He understood it, but it seemed very strange. Events occurred, newspaper stories were written. That the sequence could be staged -- events made to happen so that stories would be written -- had simply never crossed his mind.
"The murder was an alternative, a second scheme to try in case their first one failed."
Khristo squinted with concentration. The world Antipin was describing seemed obscure and alien, a place to be explained by an astrologer or a magician. Violence he knew, but this was a spider web.
Or maybe such is not confined to non-democratic politics after all . . . Bruce Bawer notes this about the French in his article in the Hudson Review:
All of which makes it even more fascinating to read Timmerman on Chirac’s shabby little demimonde of bribes and bagmen. From the cash stashes in Chirac’s office toilet to the Quai d’Orsay diplomat caught poking through garbage bags outside a Houston home to the classified U.S. and UN data that Chirac, unforgivably, shared with Saddam right up to the invasion of Iraq, Timmerman’s account makes the entire history of Washington scandals from Watergate onward look like a Girl Scout cookie drive. He makes a point that’s actually occurred to me before, too: that the French are so accustomed to their politicians being profoundly cynical and corrupt that they naturally assume all American politicians are like that, too. One recalls the cheers at Cannes for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, that pastiche of falsehood and cheap innuendo; the bitter irony is that the scale of French leaders’ real-life avarice and perfidy dwarfs even the worst of that film’s accusations against their American counterparts.If America's perpetual tale is one of innocence lost, then innocence regained, perhaps we are in the midst of the eye-opening portion of that cycle . . . and once opened, what might our eyes tell us to do?
March 2, 2006
Welcome to Post-Tipping Point politics. There is no upside to doing the right thing – which is to emphasize, as one blogger put it, that there is a difference between Dubai and Damascus. There is tremendous political upside to doing the wrong thing, boldly declaring, “I don’t care what the Muslim world thinks, I’m not allowing any Arab country running ports here in America! I don’t care how much President Bush claims these guys are our allies, I don’t trust them, and I’m not going to hand them the keys to the vital entries to our country!”Geraghty points to this New Republic piece, in which Peter Beinart asks,
Courting these voters will mean supporting proposals that are supported by wide swaths of the American people, but are largely considered nonstarters in Washington circles: much tougher immigration restrictions, including patrolling the Mexican border; racial profiling of airline passengers instead of confiscating grandma’s tweezers; drastically reducing or eliminating entry visas to residents of Muslim or Arab countries; and taking a much tougher line with Saudi Arabia and coping with the consequences of that stance. Since 9/11, the Bush administration, and most leaders on Capitol Hill in both parties have dismissed those ideas as unrealistic, counterproductive, or not in accordance to American values.
If you listen to Democratic criticism of the port deal, the Jacksonian themes are clear. In the words of California Senator Barbara Boxer, "We have to have American companies running our own ports." But nationalism tinged with xenophobia makes Democrats uncomfortable.
For Democrats, stealing the Bush administration's populist, unilateralist thunder would be a remarkable coup. And it would be a remarkable historical irony, since Jacksonianism in Jeffersonian clothes--civil libertarian, anti-globalization, uninterested in transforming the world--inverts the foreign policy of the last Democratic president, Bill Clinton.
Politically, the opportunity is clear. There's just one catch: Is this really what Democrats believe?
I'm convinced this is all a remake of Naked Gun. You remember the scene: in his zealous pursuit of the Queen's would-be assassin, Lt. Frank Drebin finds himself at an Angels game, suddenly taking the place of the umpire behind home plate. A pitch is thrown. The crowd goes silent. Drebin is quiet. The pitcher stares at him. The batter turns and looks at him. Drebin looks back at him. Then he mumbles, "Strike?"
The crowd goes wild. Drebin smiles. He's got em now! He's forgotten all about the assassin for the moment. The next pitch is thrown. It's obviously way outside. Drebin calls another strike. The crowd goes nuts! Drebin does a little dance behind the plate, with two fingers up in the air, repeating, "Two! Two! Two! Strike Two!" On the next pitch, Drebin calls a strike before the ball even hits the catcher's mitt. Then he polishes it off with a moonwalk and a bit of breakdancing.
This is where the Democratic party finds itself. With their friends in the press, they've thrown out all manner of arguments in their zealous quest to wrest power from George W. Bush. Then, all of a sudden, they find themselves in a position to umpire a large commercial transaction. Everyone waits to see what they're going to say.
The country goes wild! They reinforce their success and continue on this meme. But as Beinart notes above, are they really ready to deal with the underlying reasoning that leads the nation to cheer at their calls?
We all know how that segment of the movie ends. Drebin is having so much fun that he forgets about the sleeper in his midst. Then, when he's reminded, he starts a riot on the field. Of course, it's Hollywood and in the end he's a hero. But is this the kind of national security that we want? Ask a Democrat what kinds of actions he's prepared to take in the war, and he'll say he'll withdraw troops from Iraq. Then he'll list a litany of things he would have done differently. But does he really have a plan of any substance? In the midst of discrediting the Bush Administration, he sees an opening on Bush's right. Finally! But is he really ready to go there and do the things that those constituencies want done? All of a sudden, the pre-9/11 Democrats have gone on a blind date with 2006 voters. I have a feeling that before it is all over, the Democrats will be as terrified of the voters as they are of Arabs.
This all goes back to my post of yesterday: How will our society answer the question: Is Islam compatible with a free society? The Democrats may be about to side with those who say, No. SInce this violates some of their most fundamental principles, and those of multiculturalism, can they even make this journey? Or are we witnessing a transformation of the Democratic party?
Interestingly enough, Naked Gun opens with Drebin "on vacation" in Beirut, if memory serves, where he takes out Ayatollah Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Qaddafi all at one time.
[Frank has beaten a horde of America's most-feared world leaders in a conference room and heads for a door]This was supposed to be funny back in 1988: a witless American taking the fight to the enemy: basically what the American people would have loved to see done to any of those world leaders. But it's meant to be a farce!
Muammar al-Qaddafi: Hey, who are you?
Frank: I'm Lt. Frank Drebin! Police Squad! And don't ever let me catch you guys in America!
[the door hits Frank in the face and he loses his balance]
Who knew it was prophetic of the possible electoral machinations of the Democratic party in 2006?
The Key Strategic Question
Is Islam compatible with a free society?
This is the key strategic question of our day.
In October, William Buckley wrote:
The moment has not come, but it is around the corner, when non-Muslims will reasonably demand to have evidence that the Muslim faith can operate within boundaries in which Christians and Jews (and many non-believers) live and work without unconstitutional distraction.[h-t to a Belmont Club commenter]
Buckley is correct that this is a question demanding an answer, but he misjudges the timing of its asking and answering. The truth is that assumed answers to this question have been fundamental in developing our strategies in the war on terror, and that we have yet to answer it definitively.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? A 'yes' answer offers a far different set of strategic imperatives than a 'no' answer.
In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak notes the tone of discourse in the beginning of our war:
"Surely," the proposition was put forward, by many Islamic voices as well as by the president, "a modern and faithful Islam is consistent with nonrepressive, open, economically vital societies."To say yes to our question, one assumes that there are aspects of being Muslim and faithful to Islam, that can coexist peacefully with liberty, tolerance, and equality. The strategy that follows is one of identifying the groups and sects within Islam that adhere to these notions of their religion, and then encouraging them, favoring them, propagating them, and splitting them off from the elements of Islamic practice that are all too incompatible with the portions of modernity that invigorate men's souls: free inquiry, free association, free commerce, free worship, or even the freedom to be left alone.
To answer no, one states that Islam itself is fundamentally irreconcilable with freedom. This leads to a wholly different set of tactical moves to isolate free societies from Islam. They might include:
-detention of Muslims, or an abrogation of certain of their rights;
-forced deportation of Muslims from free societies;
-rather than transformative invasions, punitive expeditions and punitive strikes;
-extreme racial profiling;
-limits on the practice and study of Islam in its entirety
And even some extreme measures if free societies find the above moves to be failing:
-forced conversion from Islam, or renunciation;
-extermination of Muslims wherever they are found.
These last are especially ghastly measures. But a society that thought Islam incompatible with freedom might in the long term slip towards them.
Since 9/11, the assumption of our government has been that Islam can be compatible with freedom. The Bush administration has been exploiting all manner of divides within the Muslim world, not to conquer it, but to transform it such that a type of Islam compatible with freedom -- and therefore the West and the US, the wellspring and birthplace of modern individual liberty -- will come to the front at the expense of a type of Islam that is irreconcilable. Every institution of government answers our key question with a resounding yes. The Pentagon, in its Quadrennial Defense Review, makes a distinction between "bin Ladenism" and moderate Muslims, our would-be allies. Bush makes speeches in praise of freedom in general and especially in the Muslim world. The defense establishment is addressing what it calls a 'war of ideas':
The U.S. government is also focusing more attention on the intangible but vital dimension of the "war of ideas" between radical Islam and moderate Western and Islamic thought. The Pentagon's September 2004 National Defense Strategy stressed the need to counter ideological support for terrorism to secure permanent gains in the war against terrorism.A yes answer to the question requires Red State Christians in the US to tolerate an Islam that tolerates them. A no answer to the question requires an abandonment of belief in the universality of ideas originating in the west, because it becomes clear that a large portion of humanity -- a fifth perhaps -- follows an incompatible religion. A yes answer forces one to attack totalitarian elements within Islam. A no answer forces a clash of civilizations, a Great Islamic War, as it assumes that all Islam is totalitarian.
It stated the importance of negating the image of a U.S. war against Islam, and instead, developing the image of a civil war within Islam, fought between moderate states and radical terrorists. This kind of imagery will feed into the broader debate beginning in the U.S. on how to win such a war of ideas and how to cultivate moderate democratic Islamic states.
A yes answer might lead to the establishment of something like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, as discussed in a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
The idea of the congress, however, grew out of a feeling among independent intellectuals on the non-Communist left, as well as American officials, that the West after World War II faced a huge Soviet commitment to propagandizing and imposing Communism, and might lose the battle for European minds to Stalinism.One principle of the CCF's founding document was, "Freedom is based on the toleration of divergent opinions. The principle of toleration does not logically permit the practice of intolerance."
So the congress — established at a 1950 Berlin meeting at which the writer Arthur Koestler declared to a crowd of 15,000, "Friends, freedom has seized the offensive!" — launched magazines, held conferences, mounted exhibitions, and generally sought to expose Stalinist falsehoods from its liberal position. At its height, according to Coleman, the CCF "had offices or representatives in 35 countries, employing a total of 280 staff members."
A no answer might disparage the notion that Westerners can say anything of import to those practicing Islam. I'm not sure if Bruce Thornton would answer no to the key question, but he doesn't seem to like the idea of Westerners trying to convince Muslims of anything new about their religion:
If, then, you are in possession of this truth that you are absolutely certain holds the key to universal happiness in this world and the next, why would you be tolerant of alternatives? Why should you tolerate a dangerous lie? Why should you “live and let live,” the credo of the spiritually moribund who stand for everything because they stand for nothing? And why wouldn’t you kill in the name of this vision, when the infidel nations work against God’s will and his beneficent intentions for the human race?A yes answer to our question might force us to reexamine the religious roots of our own conceptions of freedom, in order to figure best a way to help Muslims look for such roots in their faith. This might resemble the efforts of David Gelernter in his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, "A Religious Idea Called 'America'"
This is precisely what the jihadists tell us, what fourteen centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence tell us, what the Koran and Hadith tell us. Yet we smug Westerners, so certain of our own superior knowledge that human life is really about genes or neuroses or politics or nutrition, condescendingly look down on the true believer. Patronizing him like a child, we tell him that he doesn’t know that his own faith has been “hijacked” by “fundamentalists” who manipulate his ignorance, that what he thinks he knows about his faith is a delusion, and that the true explanation is one that we advanced, sophisticated Westerners understand while the believer remains mired in superstition and neurotic fantasy.
The most important story in and for American history is the biblical Exodus; the verse “let my people go” became the subtext of the Puritan emigration to America in the seventeenth century, the American revolution in the eighteenth, and--in significant part by Lincoln’s own efforts--of the Civil War in the nineteenth. It became important, also, to the twentieth century Americanism of Wilson and Truman and Reagan and W. Bush--Americanism as an outward-looking religion with global responsibilities.A yes answer might say that if God gave Biblical antecedents for the freedom of all mankind, He might have put some in the Koran as well . . . A yes answer would try to figure how to play our own religion-based beliefs into a conversation with Islam, as Henry Jaffa seems to argue in the Claremont Review:
In the end we do need to know the real character of Americanism. The secular version is a flat, gray rendition--no color and no fizz--of this extraordinary work of religious imagination: the idea that liberty, equality, and democracy belong to all mankind because God wants them to.
We [are], in short, engaged in telling others to accept the forms of our own political institutions, without reference to the principles or convictions that give rise to those institutions.A no answer, on the other hand, might first start with Islam as anathema to free society, then move to other religious creeds, seeing them through a lens of general suspicion.
Unless we as a political community can by reasoned discourse re-establish in our own minds the authority of the constitutionalism of the Founding Fathers and of Lincoln, of government devoted to securing the God-given equal rights of every individual human being, we will remain ill equipped to bring the fruits of freedom to others.
Is Islam compatible with a free society? Like a Zen koan, this is the question that vexes us.
Our answer of course, might change. The Bush administration has been answering yes for five years. But, inhabiting a democracy, it is of course reflective of and responsive to public sentiment. Several commentators believe that sentiment may be shifting. A piece by Jim Geraghty on his National Review blog wonders if Americans' answer to the key question is changing:
This strikes me as the fallout of the Tipping Point™ - my sense that in recent weeks, a large chunk of Americans just decided that they no longer have any faith in the good sense or non-hostile nature of the Muslim world. If subsequent polls find similar results, the port deal is dead.Perhaps the people's answer to the question is changing.
And what to make of the Manifesto from a dozen European intellectuals, Muslims or former Muslims many of them? How are they answering the key strategic question?
It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism of West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats . . .In Glenn Reynolds' podcast interview with Claire Berlinkski, author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Too, she relates this story:
Islamism is a reactionary ideology which kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present. Its success can only lead to a world of domination: man’s domination of woman, the Islamists’ domination of all the others.
Reynolds: You have this wonderful scene in your book where you talk about this, this Englishman of Bengali descent, and he said that when he traveled to the United States, he saw all these immigrants who were US citizens being welcomed by the INS and told, "Welcome home!" And he said, you know, if I ever got that kind of treatment you know when I returned to England, I'd happily lay down my life for England right there . . .In a dissenting statement to the above-mentioned manifesto, Paul Belien in Brussels Journal quotes Dr. Jos Verhulst:
Berlinski: I would have died for England on the spot, that's what he told me. If ever once, someone had said "welcome home" when I showed them my passport at customs and immigration, I would have died for England on the spot.
And now he stands at the dawn of the 21st century: the maligned individual, unsteady on his own feet after executing the inner breach with every form of imposed authority, uncertain, blinking in the brightness of the only god he is willing to recognise – Truth itself, stretching out before him unfathomably deep – full of doubt but aware that he, called to non-submission, must seek the road to the transcendent, carrying as his only property, his most valuable heirloom from his turbulent past, that one gold piece that means the utmost to him, his precious ideal of complete freedom of thought, of speech and of scientific inquiry. That is the unique advance that he received to help him in his long and difficult quest.When I was in Iraq, one Iraqi told me he wished Iraq could be the 51st state in the union. Our experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan seems to indicate that there are many Muslims who would prefer that we answer the key question with a yes, saying to those Muslims who can find Islam compatible with freedom, "Have courage!" and once they've achieved their freedom, "Welcome home!"
Meanwhile he is being beleaguered and threatened on all sides; from out of the darkness voices call him to submit and retreat; they shout that the gold in his hands is worthless, while the brightness ahead of him still makes it almost impossible for him to see what lies in store. In short: what this contemporary individual needs most of all is courage, great courage. And the will to be free and to see, which is tantamount to the will to live.
To what fate are we assigning them if we answer no?
UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers! Even though I had no direct quote above, this piece, like most that I do, had a lot of influence from Belmont Club, especially Blowback.
UPDATE2: There seems to be some problem posting comments. The server must be a little slow. It took me several tries to post last night. Thanks for your patience.
February 18, 2006
The Saddam Tapes and the Intelligence Summit
The Intelligence Summit, a "non-partisan, non-profit, educational forum", is taking place this weekend in the Washington, D.C. environs. Another blogger, Kobayashi Maru
, is there and I just spoke with him on the phone. He had some highlights from this morning's speaker, John Tierney, who discussed the tapes of Saddam Hussein recently released to ABC, and subject of a story on Nightline.
Here are some points Tierney made this morning. Take from them what you will:
-Only 4% of the tapes have been analyzed
-The tapes contain the voices of senior Iraqi scientists, meeting with Saddam. Many of these scientists' identities were completely unknown to UNSCOM. Tierney implied that they were being hidden and were never interviewed in the search for WMD in Iraq.
-References are made on the tapes to "plasma programs" of some kind, which Tierney took to mean that Iraq was attempting to manufacture hydrogen bombs first, rather than more simple nukes.
-It is clear from Saddam's tone of voice, and his laughter on the tapes, that he was supremely confident that he had UNSCOM completely running around in circles and utterly confused insitutionally as to what he was actually doing.
Other speakers in the tapes share the same view.
-Tariq Aziz is not just a diplomat at arm's length on the tapes, but is very highly valued by Saddam. At one point, Saddam tells him that when they win the fight against the Americans, Aziz will write the book about it. (Readers with a sense of irony may enjoy knowing that US troops occupied Aziz's home in the spring of 2003. A detailed account of this may be found in The March Up by Bing West and Ray Smith.)
-Many speakers on the tape punctuate their remarks with references to Allah, God's will, etc etc. Tierney points out that Saddam never stops them, corrects them, or discourages them from using such pious language. This may be meaningless, as such expressions are common in the Arab world. But they seem to speak to the notion that Saddam would never cooperate with Islamists.
-Tierney implies that in one portion of the tape, Tariq Aziz makes the case that a biological weapons attack would be more difficult to blame on Iraq than a nuclear attack. Tierney then mentions that the anthrax attacks in 2001 were in some part blamed on personnel at Fort Detrick.
-Another speaker, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Jack Shaw, has restated his case that the Russians helped move Iraqi WMD materials to Syria, and have even helped move some of them back to Iraq, and that many places in Iraq where they might be have still not been thoroughly investigated. He makes the case that the US wants to keep a lid on this in exchange for Russian cooperation with Iran in the future. Shaw also implies that some of these allegations have been corroborated by Ukrainian intelligence agencies.
So that's some highlights from today at the Intelligence Summit. Take what you will from them. Are they true? Who knows? But they're certainly interesting.
Based on my interpretation of the list of speakers at the conference, I think it probably succeeds as a non-partisan forum. Looks like quite a number of different backgrounds and viewpoints are present.
February 3, 2006
The Strength of Unpredictability
here is an important law about power that is too often overlooked by rational and peace-loving people. Any form of power, from the most primitive to the most mind-boggling, is always amplified enormously when it falls into the hands of those whose behavior is wild, erratic, and unpredictable. A gun being waved back and forth by a maniac is far more disturbing to us than the gun in the holster of the policeman, though both weapons are equally capable of shooting us dead. And what is true of guns is far more true in the case of nukes.But it's not just nukes is it? The theme of the unpredictability of tyranny seems to be pretty prevalent in the past few weeks' news:
That is why nuclear weapons in an Iran dominated by a figure like its current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad make us more nervous than nuclear weapons in the hands of the Swiss. Both could make big explosions; but the Iranian bomb would tend to keep us awake thinking in the night, while the Swiss atomic bomb would be as threatening as a cuckoo-clock. This does not mean that Iran has to use the bomb; it doesn't. All Iran has to do to make people wonder if it might use it -- and many of us are already pondering that question, thanks to the disturbingly bellicose rhetoric of Ahmadinejad.
It is an immense form of power simply to make other people wonder if you might not do something bad and unpleasant to them.
The Belmont Club has done yeoman's work in analyzing the similar crises about the Danish cartoons about Mohammed and the Washington Post cartoon depicting a quadruple amputee US soldier. The cartoons are protested violently and vociferously by the Muslim world. A British law is nearly passed that would "prohibit speech or artistic expressions deemed insulting by religious communities". In the US however, a tasteless cartoon is published, and the Joint Chiefs merely draw attention to its tastelessness. There is some outcry to be sure, but the Washington Post will probably suffer little long-term effect.
Google is asked by the Justice Department for some statistics on how frequently it is used to search for pornography. Google yawns and one of its attorneys says something like "we'll fight this tooth and nail". On the other hand, Google wants to expand in China, and in order to do so, the Chinese ask that it ban searches for controversial terms like "Tibet" "Failun Gong" etc. Google agrees.
And Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons, as Harris mentions. The world falls all over itself trying to figure out the magic combination of buttons that must be pushed to simultaneously keep Iran from doing so, and not anger the Iranian leadership or people in the process.
On behalf of the free world, I am professionally embarassed at all of this.
How would the Muslims react if some brave EU politician just told them to grow up? How would the Chinese react if Google removed its ban one day out of the blue, or made an "error" in its Adsense algorithm which displayed pro-Tibet ads on searches for Communism? How would the Iranians react if the "international community" said, "Continue your attempts to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will destroy your economy"?
I heard once that Margaret Thatcher told Saddam Hussein that if he used chemical weapons in Gulf War I, he had better take a photo of Baghdad because she'd turn it into glass. I wonder if that's true . . .
January 31, 2006
8:59: "Today, having come far in our historical journey, we must decide, will we turn back, or will we finish well?
8:58: Lots of mention of the US as a "hopeful" society. And what things a hopeful society does and doesn't do.
8:51: Now he's giving a pep talk to the nation. Giving shout-outs to both parties.
8:49: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity.
8:47: Wants new ethanol to be practical and competitive within six years.
8:44: One thing I don't really understand about the health care system. Why can't we train more doctors? Mrs. Chester, a fourth year med student, tells me that the supply of doctors has been steady for a couple of decades. I'm no economist, but that seems like a prescription for higher costs. We'll see if anything that he's talking about gets passed or has any effect if it does.
8:43: I think Bush is doing a great job at fostering bipartisanship so far. We'll see if it lasts. Good jibe about President Clinton and him both turning 60 this year.
8:40: Asks for a passage of the line-item veto. Mainly joking, I think.
8:36: [taxes . . . wait for it . . .] If we do nothing, American families will face a massive tax relief that they do not expect and will not welcome. I urge the Congress to act responsibly and make the tax cuts permanent.
8:36: Together let us protect our country, support the men and women who defend us, and lead this world toward freedom.
8:35: The only alternative to American leadership is a dramatically more dangerous . . . world.
8:33: If there are people in our country who are talking with Al Qaeda, we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.
8:32: So far, I don't think Bush has laid out a single definable platform or policy, but has merely discussed the philosophical underpinnings of his policies.
8:29: Liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. THe same is true of Iran . . . the Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons.
8:27: . . . the leaders of Hamas must recognize Israel, disarm, reject terrorism, and work for lasting peace.
8:25: He just laid down the gauntlet of challenge to the Dems: No matter what they've felt in the past, they much keep their word and stand behind the US military. -- not a quote.
8:23: There is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure. Hindsight alone is not wisdom and second-guessing is not a strategy.
8:20: We are in this fight to win and we are winning. [On that line, the Democrats didn't stand, but the Generals did.]
8:18: There is no peace in retreat and there is no honor in retreat . . . we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our own ideals or our own courage. But our friends and our enemies can be certain: The United States will not retreat from the world and we will never surrender to evil.
8:17: "allowing the violent to inherit the earth. But they have miscalculated. We love our freedom and we will fight to keep it"
8:16: More than half the people of our world live in democratic nations and we do not forget the other half, in places like Syria, Burma, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Iran, because the demands for justice . . . require their freedom as well. [Note the point of emphasis for Iran.]
8:13: Pursue enemies or retreat to a comfortable life. Good contrast. Isolationism's road broad and inviting but actually dangerous . . . The United States of America will continue to lead. We seek the end of tyranny in our world. The future security of America depends on it. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and neighbors, and join the fight against terror . . . (I think)
8:11: Sets the tone for a speech extolling bipartisanship, vows to do his part.
8:10: Watching all the politicians applaud for Bush whether they'd like to or not reminds me of a line from David Mamet's movie "Spartan:" "Savages! They're all savages!"
8:08: Here goes . . .
8:06: Here come the Chief. I wonder who the devildog sitting with the First Lady is.
8:05: I think of Norman Mineta every time I go through airport security . . . usually I think, "Four years of this now and I still have to schlep in my sock feet on tile." Small sacrifice though, if it all works.
8:04: Cool to see General Hagee and General Pace down there. I met General Hagee aboard Camp Pendleton in 2001. He's really tall.
8:03: Sheehan was the guest of a Congresswoman . . .
8:02: Cindy Sheehan taken out of the gallery not long ago. I hope we get video . . . She tried to unfurl a banner . . .
8:00: Only thing I've liveblogged before are the Iraqi elections, so this should be interesting.
September 9, 2005
The Big Government Conseratives Find Their Ambassador
National Journal has an article entitled America's Anti-Reagan Isn't Hillary Clinton. It's Rick Santorum, which compares Santorum's new book to that of Barry Goldwater's work in 1964.
In 1960, a Republican senator named Barry Goldwater published a little book called The Conscience of a Conservative. The first printing of 10,000 copies led to a second of the same size, then a third of 50,000, until ultimately it sold more than 3 million copies. Goldwater's presidential candidacy crashed in 1964, but his ideas did not: For decades, Goldwater's hostility to Big Government ruled the American Right. Until, approximately, now . . .The article notes that Santorum claims that the founders thought one goal of republican government was to jumpstart virtue within the populace. But the Journal notes the dissension on this point among the founders:
As a policy book, It Takes a Family is temperate. It serves up a healthy reminder that society needs not just good government but strong civil and social institutions, and that the traditional family serves all kinds of essential social functions. Government policies, therefore, should respect and support family and civil society instead of undermining or supplanting them. Parents should make quality time at home a high priority. Popular culture should comport itself with some sense of responsibility and taste.
Few outside the hard cultural Left -- certainly not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who makes several cameos as Santorum's bete noir -- would disagree with much of that. Not in 2005, anyway. Moreover, Santorum's policy proposals sit comfortably within the conservative mainstream. But It Takes a Family is more than a policy book. Its theory of "conservatism and the common good" seeks to rechannel the mainstream . . .
Other Founders -- notably James Madison, the father of the Constitution -- were more concerned with power than with virtue. They certainly distinguished between liberty and license, and they agreed that republican government requires republican virtues. But they believed that government's foremost calling was not to inculcate virtue but to prevent tyranny. Madison thus argued for a checked, limited government that would lack the power to impose any one faction's view of virtue on all others.How does Santorum's philosophy manifest itself in policy?
A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, "individual development accounts," publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in "every school in America" (his italics), and more. Lots more.Now I have to admit that I would probably be pleased as punch with the outcomes, or at least the intended outcomes, of these programs. Moreover, I'm in complete agreement with Santorum that the family -- extended, nuclear, or otherwise -- serves all manner of critical social functions. But I have some serious misgivings about establishing bureaucracies to enforce these functions. As we've most recently seen, government bureaucracies breed inaction, and the brief journey from their gold-plated, flag-waving inceptions, to their ultimate sclerotic entropy is not a theory -- it's a fact. Witness the boldest reorganization of the Federal government in the past five years, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Events of the recent past have shown how useless it has been at centralizing the command and control of anything. Thank God for individual initiative, without which many more would have died in Louisiana. (Significantly, the model that should have been adopted was the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, but that's another story).
Not only have large federal bureaucracies lost their legitimacy since 1964 or so, but who is to say that every single one of the institutions necessary to carry out Santorum's program won't be commandeered or shanghai'ed into carrying out other agendas by successive armies of do-gooders -- more than likely in but a few years' time, agendas far different than what Santorum has in mind. This would be a nightmare we don't need.
These are simple critiques, precisely because it is not some minor point of the conservative orthodoxy in question, but the very basis of that orthodoxy itself. Men like Reagan and Goldwater would likely agree that government's first role is to prevent tyranny -- but would then personified Santorum's program themselves through personal example, not through the expansion of the public sector. The National Journal believes that Santorum's work represents a significant challenge to the Right. I agree.
What do you think, loyal readers?
UPDATE: All of this, and many of the other issues of the day, are part and parcel of one central fact. The United States is a nation-state no longer. It is now a market-state, as elucidated by Philip Bobbitt in The Shield of Achilles. But that is another, longer story . . . Click on his title in the sidebar for illumination.
February 5, 2005
Happy Birthday, President Reagan!
Trey Jackson at Jackson's Junction has a very comprehensive tribute to President Reagan at his site. Go see for yourself.
February 3, 2005
Rummy offered his resignation twice last year
Rumsfeld Says He Offered to Resign Twice during the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal. This is entirely believable. His statement to the US Senate was that he "takes full responsibility." Bush certainly must have an extreme amount of confidence in him . . .
February 2, 2005
Here's what all the smart folks at NRO thought of the SOTU.