"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
War 2004 Archives
December 31, 2004
BLOG: Turning Over A New Leaf
As I've done in the past, I'm creating brand-new categories for the new year. You'll now go to Baseball 2005 for new baseball entries, Politics 2005 for new politics entries, War 2005 for new war entries, and Law 2005 for new law entries (the Law category hadn't needed an overhaul last year). I'll shortly be updating the link to baseball-only posts at the top of the page as well to send you to Baseball 2005.
Happy New Year!
Posted by Baseball Crank at 5:18 PM | Baseball 2004 | Baseball 2005 | Blog 2002-05 | Law 2002-04 | Law 2005 | Politics 2004 | Politics 2005 | War 2004 | War 2005 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 21, 2004
* Today, another terrible and cowardly attack in Iraq claimed the lives of more good men and women. Recent news from the Middle East has recently been a mix of hopeful signs (see here, here and here) and desperate violence. I think that the former is a major incentive to the latter, an unfortunate dynamic that we’re going to struggle with for the foreseeable future.
* David Adesnik dissents from the view of David Ignatius that the U.S. should engage in covert operations to influence the Iraqi election (as Iran is almost certainly doing).
December 19, 2004
WAR: Spanning the Globe, 12/19/04
* A new RAND study has some good suggestions for winning the ideological component of the War on Terror.
* Finally, Indiana Jones and the Battle for Fallujah?
UPDATE: Speaking of context, I’m curious as to the context of attacks against Rumsfeld for writing, but not personally signing, some “condolence” letters. In World War II, did George Marshall? In Vietnam, did Robert McNamara? In the Gulf War, did Dick Cheney? In Somalia, did Les Aspin? I honestly don’t know and would like to. There is an issue of time, but it does seem to me that a personalized letter from a subordinate would be preferable to a form letter from the Secretary. Anyway, it does sound a little tacky, but some context is necessary for me to know if this is something that is at all unique to Rumsfeld.
December 16, 2004
LAW/WAR: Habeas Extended
Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion today in Omar Abu Ali v. Ashcroft (the kind of case that pretty well announces what it's about in the caption) refusing to dismiss a habeas petition brought by a US citizen who has been detained by Saudi Arabia since June 2003. Ali, who alleges that he has been tortured by the Saudis, also alleges that he is being held at the behest of the US government. The court concluded that habeas jurisdiction was not necessarily barred either by the fact that Ali was held outside the US nor by the fact that he was in the custody of a foreign power, but ordered further discovery proceedings to develop the factual record.
December 15, 2004
WAR: Spanning the Globe, 12/15/04
* Not to point any fingers or anything, but this is a cool article on the KGB’s historical fondness for using poison (complete with spring-loaded umbrellas!).
* The Washington Post covers Germany’s frustrating inability to prosecute anyone in connection with the 9/11 attacks. The more one reads about modern-day Germany, the more clear it is why it has been a favorite rest stop for terrorists: the legacy of the Nazis has left the country unwilling to take responsible security measures, both internally and externally.
* Like the Abu Ghraib case, this should be investigated and any wrongdoers should be severely punished.
* In criticizing Bernard Kerik, who clearly had some issues, a few of which might even be relevant, I’m pretty much in agreement with Rich Lowry’s argument that the first rationale for his withdrawal was the most important.
* Speaking of which, John Derbyshire doesn’t like the way some caricature the immigration debate.
* One of the contributors over at Slugger O’Toole provides a nice reminder as to which side in the dispute in Northern Ireland was recently praising the late, unlamented Yasser Arafat. (Hint: it’s not the one many Irish-Americans like to demonize). That said, from my limited knowledge, the anti-Catholic Rev. Paisley is someone I’m pretty loathe to defend.
UPDATE: There is some dispute over the facts of the Kerik “nanny” situation. I have nothing to add about that, one way or another. My point was a more general one: for a potential head of DHS, or for anyone that matter, allegations of violating of U.S. immigration law should be viewed as a deadly serious matter in a post-9/11 world.
December 10, 2004
WAR: The Last March of the Ents?
I don’t agree with all of it, but Victor Davis Hanson has a cool column today on the “Ents of Europe” and the War on Terror. J.R.R. Tolkien probably would have hated it, once writing that “The Lord of the Rings” was “neither allegorical nor topical.” As these things go though, Hanson’s analogy strikes me as pretty apt.
Hopefully, for all of us, the final outcome will be similar.
WAR/POLITICS: 12/10/04 Links
*Great, great column by Tom Friedman on the radicalization of Iraqis under sanctions. Friedman often infuriates; he's right about diagnosing problems but responds by suggesting daft solutions. This one's more on the diagnosis side. (Link via Geraghty).
*A fine primer on Ukrainian history from a Ukrainian friend of LT Smash. If you've studied Russian history, as I did in college, some of this will be familiar, but there were also things here that were new to me or that I'd long forgotten.
*You'll want to head over to Soxblog, where pseudonymous blogger James Frederick Dwight (you really shouldn't need to think too hard on the origin of his pseudonym) is tearing apart a sloppy New Yorker piece comparing hospitals and clinics that treat cystic fibrosis (start here and scroll up for followup posts, including his discussion of my initial reaction to the piece, which was that it sounds like something drafted by the plaintiffs' bar).
*Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor who advocates a "hawk
*You can look at this chart here and argue, as these Berkeley professors do, that the results on this graph show that the 2004 vote in Broward and Palm Beach counties were a suspicious outlier, but isn't the far more logical inference that the 2000 count in Broward and Palm Beach is the suspicious outlier? Gee, does anyone remember any controversy over the vote-counting methods used in Broward and Palm Beach in 2000? I wonder if the results would look less anomolous if you used the Election Day 2000 counts in those two counties rather than the figures that were generated a month later.
December 7, 2004
WAR: Depends How You Define “Facts”
Earlier today, I made the mistake of reading Eric Alterman’s column on MSNBC.com. After discussing how French anti-Semitism during World War II was basically a myth, which seems to conflict with a number of events I remember reading about in history class, Alterman launches into a critique of a registration-only article discussing bias at The New York Times. Needless to say, Alterman disagrees with its author, basically asserting that the Times is, in fact, a right-wing mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. Fine.
Anyway, Alterman goes on about how Saddam Hussein had no connection whatsoever with al Qaeda and about how this is a skull-thumpingly obvious fact that everyone knows. I don’t want to rehash the whole debate over Iraq’s al Qaeda connections, which are contentiously debated (see here, here and here for counter-arguments, as well as here for my take). But having just recently been reading the 9/11 Commission report, which Alterman apparently never has, I was struck by his certainty.
Read More Â»
One tiny example, from p. 134 of the paperback version of the report:
I know others have sifted through all of this and come to differing rational conclusions - the Commission ultimately dodged the issue - but I doubt that Alterman is one of them. Instead, he simply makes conclusory statements unsupported by evidence. It might not all be so bad if he wasn’t criticizing others for doing exactly what he is doing.
Â« Close It
WAR: Mr. Bin Laden’s Wild Ride
Reading this story - about how (newly democratic) Afghanistan is hoping to make the caves of Tora Bora into a “visitor attraction” - suggests to me that tourism may not be the best hope for that country’s economy.
Although you never know:
Now the first visitors are returning. The latest issue of the Lonely Planet Central Asia guide is the first to include a section on the country.
Previous editions contained a two word entry on Afghanistan: “Don’t go!”
November 30, 2004
WAR: Another Opportunity to Help
Via IMAO, here's a page from a California radio host with a variety of suggestions and calls to action that includes an address where you can send get-well wishes to wounded soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq:
AMERICAN HEROES KOGO RADIO 9660 GRANITE RIDGE DRIVE SAN DIEGO, CA 92123
November 26, 2004
WAR: Havel-Mania Update
With Instapundit in full dog-with-a-bone mode on my idea of Vaclav Havel for UN Secretary General - which, I admit, is more wishful thinking than anything - Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard picks up the idea, while A Fistful of Euros notes that Havel's eclectic and sometimes dyspeptic worldview isn't entirely a conservative's dream. Well, yeah. But a good man unafraid to speak the truth would be such a vast improvement at the UN that it's worth it.
November 24, 2004
WAR: The UN's Abu Ghraib - and Havel for the UN!
Captain Ed notes a UN scandal larger and worse than Abu Ghraib, as there have been more than 150 charges of rape, prostitution, pedophilia and other sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers in the Congo against innocent refugees. Of course, as with the Oil-for-Food scam, stories that reflect badly on the UN get only a fraction of the attention devoted to stories that reflect badly on the Bush Administration, even if the story itself is considerably worse. And that imbalance in the worldwide press has tangible bad effects on the credibility of the US as opposed to the credibility of the UN, which by any right ought to be close to zero at this stage.
Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds, who's been doing great work pulling together the latest from the Ukraine, likes my suggestion that Vaclav Havel should replace Kofi Annan as head of the UN.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg calls my suggestion of Havel "a great, wonderful, humane, inspired idea." Now, if only I can figure a way to get traffic to the blog out of this . . .
SECOND UPDATE: Matt Welch, who knows a lot more about Havel than I do from his years in what was then Czechoslovakia, is also supportive: "I think it's a capital idea, and would likely bring a gust of support behind the growing "Community of Democracies" reform initiative."
November 22, 2004
WAR: Defeat in Ukraine
Looks like the reform-minded, pro-Western challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, has been defeated by Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine's presidential election, in a victory for Yanukovich ally Vladimir Putin, who obviously wants Ukraine bound more tightly to Russia. The usual cries of voter fraud are being raised, although at this distance it's never easy to tell if they are valid or not.
November 19, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Links 11/19/04
Inside the building, U.S. soldiers found documents, old computers, notebooks, photographs and copies of the Quran.
*While what he did may well have been wrong, I'm loath to sit in judgment of the Marine who shot what appears to be a wounded and non-threatening sniper in Fallujah. I believe very, very strongly that a man who wears the uniform is entitled to the benefit of every doubt. But Dale Franks explains why sometimes soldiers have to be punished for reasons that have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with discipline.
*Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post on the centrality of corruption to Arafatistan. Jeff Jacoby, of course, had the definitive Arafat post-mortem:
November 18, 2004
WAR: “Semper Fi”
Though it is a subscription-only "featured" article, Thursday’s Wall Street Journal editorial offers a clear-eyed perspective of recent events in Fallujah, in proper perspective. It is worth excerpting heavily:
Beyond the one incident, think of what the Marine and Army units just accomplished in Fallujah. In a single week, they killed as many as 1,200 of the enemy and captured 1,000 more. They did this despite forfeiting the element of surprise, so civilians could escape, and while taking precautions to protect Iraqis that no doubt made their own mission more difficult and hazardous. And they did all of this not for personal advantage, and certainly not to get rich, but only out of a sense of duty to their comrades, their mission and their country.
In a more grateful age, this would be hailed as one of the great battles in Marine history--with Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Hue City and the Chosin Reservoir. We'd know the names of these military units, and of many of the soldiers too. Instead, the name we know belongs to the NBC correspondent, Kevin Sites. We suppose he was only doing his job, too. But that doesn't mean the rest of us have to indulge in the moral abdication that would equate deliberate televised beheadings of civilians with a Marine shooting a terrorist, who may or may not have been armed, amid the ferocity of battle.
The incident in question should be investigated fully at some later date, but in the meantime we should be deeply grateful to the Marines - whose death toll has apparently since risen - for moving mountains yet again, under the most difficult of circumstances. Semper fi, indeed.
UPDATE: I’ve never been in the military, but this sounds like sensible advice to me.
November 16, 2004
WAR: France’s Nuanced Diplomacy
Speaking from formerly German-occupied territory, Jacques Chirac is again lecturing Tony Blair on the wisdom of taking sides against the United States in Iraq:
He sputters on:
Yes, who could imagine that? If I was going to make up snooty, hypocritical and overly sensitive things for Chirac to be saying I don’t think I could do a better job. Hopefully, the British retain the good sense to remember why they’ve been suspicious of the French since the dawn of Western Civilization. And remind me: what exactly has France gained by working tirelessly to fray European relations with the United States?
UPDATE: Despite the ever-infuriating Chirac, it is good to hear that the Bush Administration is still working with France. After all, we still have shared interests with that country and European thought, in general, is larger than just one man, regardless of the size of his ego.
November 13, 2004
WAR: Another Way To Help
If you're looking for a way to say "thanks" to our men and women in harm's way overseas, go here for more on the “Help Our Troops Call Home” program and donate prepaid calling cards. One of the best gifts that soldiers deployed overseas can use is the ability to call home and talk to their families.
November 11, 2004
WAR: Giving Thanks
Following up on yesterday’s thoughts, happy Veterans Day to all those who have so bravely served and defended our country through the years, whether in popular or less popular wars.
We owe much to all of them.
WAR: New Day Dawning?
Daniel Drezner is soliciting views as to whether Yasser Arafat’s death will mean progress for Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. He also has similar thoughts to my own:
Of course, this requires a Palestinian version of Gorbachev.
Who knows? But the U.S. should get involved again here without looking like it’s picking leaders for the Palestinians. In my view, this is an excellent area for the Bush Administration to reach out to Democrats. Bringing in some Clinton-era type, perhaps a George Mitchell, Kenneth Pollock or even Richard Holbrooke, might be a good move for all concerned parties. The broad outline of what a final agreement might look like has not tremendously changed since the Clinton era, the Bush Administration has just taken a firmer stand, mainly due to Arafat. With him gone, peace may be closer. Since the other apparent option is Palestinian civil war, let’s hope for the best.
UPDATE: I agree with Max Boot's assessment of Arafat:
There has been no more successful terrorist in the modern age. Yet his biggest victims were not Israelis. It was his own people who suffered the most. If Arafat had displayed the wisdom of a Gandhi or Mandela, he would long ago have presided over the establishment of a fully independent Palestine comprising all of the Gaza Strip, part of Jerusalem and at least 95% of the West Bank.
November 10, 2004
WAR: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy
I feel thankful that they’re on our side.
November 6, 2004
POLITICS/WAR/LAW: 11/6/04 Links
*Now, They Tell Us: the lead story on the NY Times website yesterday was one that veterans of the 1992 election will find familiar: the discovery, all of a sudden, that the jobs picture is better than it was painted in the run-up to the election. I'm watching carefully for signs of economic revisionism where Democrats and Bush Administration critics who just a few days ago were comparing this economy to the Great Depression start arguing that Bush was hard to beat because economic times are good.
*Kos just topped the "screw 'em" classic, by openly hoping for America's defeat in Iraq:
Kos is undoubtedly particularly peeved at the failure of his personal ambition to become a power player in the Democratic party, as all 15 of the House and Senate candidates he backed lost. The list, here, is particularly funny now due to the misspellings and egregious cheap shots, like claiming Jim Bunning's mental health was deteriorating. (Link via Blogs for Bush)
Look at the recently resurrected Osama bin Laden. Three years ago he was Mr Jihad, demanding the restoration of the caliphate, the return of Andalucia, the conversion of every infidel to Islam, the imposition of sharia and an end to fornication, homosexuality and alcoholic beverages. In his latest video he sounds like some elderly Berkeley sociology student making lame jokes about Halliburton and Bush reading My Pet Goat.
*Speaking of gloating, while I might divide the group differently, I endorse the general sentiment of John Derbyshire as to the people who deserve to be gloated at and those who don't.
*From November 2: Best Jimmy Breslin column ever.
*Lileks on New Yorkers who are aghast at the supposed ignorance of the red states that voted for Bush:
*Tim Blair links to some classic inside stuff from the Bush and Kerry camps. The guy who comes off in this as the real political brains isn't Karl Rove but Bush himself - note that Bush figured out before Rove did that Howard Dean was toast in the primaries. Of course, this is consistent with the theory that Bush's expertise is knowing people, and he knew Dean personally.
*Stuart Buck thinks - and I agree with him - that Justices Rehnquist and O'Connor would have retired before the election if it were not for the legitimacy questions that people raised after Bush v. Gore.
*Where credit is due: Wretchard notes that "[t]he French may have performed a valuable service by admitting Arafat to a military hospital in Europe which will reduce the risk of imputing his death to Jewish poisoning, a rumor that has already made the rounds in the Middle East."
Posted by Baseball Crank at 10:35 AM | Law 2002-04 | Politics 2004 | War 2004 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
October 31, 2004
WAR: Why They Fight
I was reading The Atlantic Monthly earlier today and came across a very lengthy and eloquent "letter to the editor" by a Marine Reservist who served in Iraq. Anyway, since the Atlantic makes you subscribe to access much of its online content, I couldn’t reprint it as it appeared, but it turns out the main text of the letter has circulated before. Here is the full text. (Via Pejman Yousefzadeh). Here is an excerpt:
It’s worth reading in full.
UPDATE: From that same issue and available here, Robert Kaplan had a good piece on the clash of cultures between the generally liberal media and the generally conservative military. This quote, about the value military men tend to place on plain speaking, struck me:
“One Air Force master sergeant told me, ‘I reject the notion that Bush is inarticulate. He is more articulate than Clinton. When Bush says something, he's clear enough that you argue about whether you agree with him or not. When Clinton talks, you argue over what he really meant.’”
WAR: The Case For War - The First Time
OK, a blast from the past, but one that still has some timeliness today. I finally got around to digging out a column I wrote in December 1990, back when I was a college sophmore, laying out the case for war with Iraq. The first one, of course. In college, I wrote a weekly op-ed column, mostly politics and campus events (we already had Bill Simmons writing the main sports column).
It's interesting, of course, to see how much the arguments then echoed the ones those of us who supported the second war made again, especially the bottom-line conclusion: "there is not just one reason to stop Hussein, but every reason to stop him." You can read the whole thing here.
One major change in my thinking since then, of course, is my attitude towards Israel; until the Gulf War, I had generally fallen into the "Israel as an ally is more trouble than it is worth" camp, and that comes out here.
October 30, 2004
WAR: OK, He's Not Dead
Mark Steyn is eating crow served by his readers on his longstanding argument that bin Laden died in December 2001. Meanwhile, Beldar thinks bin Laden's "leave us alone and we will leave you alone" theme is an effort to speak the language of appeasement: "I think it's a very clear attempt to begin negotiations with a Kerry administration for a "cease-fire" in the Global War on Terror." You don't have to think that Kerry would accept such a proposal - as Beldar apparently does - to worry about the possibility that Kerry has succeeded in communicating to the rest of the world, which may have trouble grasping the nuances of his position, that he would do precisely that.
WAR: Heat Rising Near Fallujah
The good news: heavier fighting around Fallujah, as coalition forces turn up the volume on the "insurgent" stronghold, including the heaviest and sustained artillery barrage in recent weeks. The bad news: 8 Marines killed and nine wounded "in a single incident" (no further details presently available) in the area. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families.
October 28, 2004
WAR: Don't Say It
I agree 100% with Dales: "tapes made by terrorists should never be given any press at all by our press.". This isn't a journalistic issue and it isn't a political issue; it's a security issue, and that takes precedence.
POLITICS/WAR: An RDX Disposal Question
Paul at Wizbang wants answers. For now, all he has is a potentially plausible working hypothesis: that by January 2003, all but 3 tons of the 141 tons of RDX at Al Qa'qaa was gone from that facility, and that IAEA inspectors knew this and withheld the fact from the UN Security Council during the pre-war debate. If you can help shed light on his analysis, drop by and lend a link or a comment.
I have to say, given that "there were no dangerous weapons in Iraq" was one of the points Kerry had decisively won in this year's political debate, he seems to have shot himself in the foot by placing so much emphasis on the eve of the election on the dangers posed by these conventional weapons that were in Saddam's hands before the war.
October 27, 2004
WAR: Prayers For Repentance
I can pray for billionaire terrorist Yasser Arafat to repent his sins. But, as with Fidel Castro, I feel not a shred of guilt in hoping for his death, which will improve and perhaps save countless lives. Roger Simon wonders if he's dead already, and on the very day that Ariel Sharon wins approval for his Nixon-goes-to-China plan for unilateral pullback of some of the settlements.
Back to the ballgame.
POLITICS: Getting The Job Done
The latest and apparently last theory that Kerry and his media allies have settled on is to attack Bush's execution of the War on Terror, including both the Iraq war and Afghanistan; the theme of the attacks has been that Bush is incompetent, which is taken now as received wisdom beyond challenge by fact. Go read Greg Djerejian's long essay on this point, and yesterday's shorter Wall Street Journal op-ed (for a similar analysis, see Dan Darling on the Washington Post's effort to argue that the Iraq war and anti-Iran hardliners undermined the al Qaeda manhunt). Both contribute to a few of the key points that need to be borne in mind in evaluating the Bush Administration's performance:
1. War is a difficult and complex endeavor, requiring the making of scores of decisions large and small. Many of those decisions are, by their very nature, made on the basis of severely incomplete information, fraught with uncertainty and likely to have lethal consequences if they go wrong - and often if they go right, as well. The military acronym SNAFU got that way for a reason. Bush, by leading the nation in wartime, is certain to make more mistakes, and with worse consequences, than any peacetime president.
2. The history of wars, in fact, is almost unbroken in the making of catastrophic misjudgments by even the best of wartime leaders. Certainly if you review the records of Lincoln, FDR and Churchill, three of the models of civilian leadership in war, they and their generals and civilian advisers made numerous errors that cost scores of lives, many of which in retrospect seem like obvious blunders. I'd like the critics who formerly supported Bush and have now abandoned him to at least admit that on the same grounds, they would have voted for Dewey in 1944 and McClellan in 1864.
3. More specifically to the issue at hand, in almost all cases, the decisions by Bush and his civilian and military advisers involved avoiding alternatives that had their own potential bad consequences, and the critics are judging these decisions in a vacuum. The decision to disband Saddam's army and undergo a thorough de-Ba'athification is a classic example, cited incessantly by critics on the Left. But what if Bush had kept that army together, and they had acted in the heavy-handed (to put it mildly) fashion to which the Ba'athists were accustomed, say, by firing on crowds of civilians? Isn't it an absolute certainty that all the same critics would be singing "meet the new boss, same as the old boss," accusing Bush's commitment to democracy as being a sham and a cover for a desire to set up friendly tyrants to keep the oil pumping, that we'd hear constantly about how we've alienated the Iraqi people by enabling their oppressors, how we showed misunderstanding of the country by leaving a minority Sunni power structure in place over the Shi'ite majority? Wouldn't we hear the very same things we hear now about Afghanistan, about using too few US troops and "outsourcing" the job, or the same civil-liberties concerns we hear when we turn over suspects for interrogation to countries without our restraint when it comes to torture? Don't insult our intelligence and try to deny it.
The same goes for many decisions. More troops? We'd hear that this is a heavy-handed US occupation. I mean, we heard something like that when Giuliani put more cops on the street in New York, let alone a foreign country. Like most conservatives, my preference would have been to go hard into Fallujauh in April. But even if the alternative decision to hold off until there could be significant Iraqi participation in the assault was wrong, it was not an illogical one, but rather a decision made with the patience and foresight to consider the long-range political consequences in Iraq of differing military approaches.
4. Many of the decisions at issue here, from specific ground commanders' decisions to secure particular sites to Tommy Franks' call on Tora Bora, were decisions principally made by people lower in the chain of command, many of them in the military. This is not to say that Bush, as the head of that chain of command, is not ultimately responsible to the voters for those decisions; he is. But it is to remind people that they are not second-guessing solely the judgments of a small coterie of the president and civilian advisers, but the entire chain of command. Tom Maguire makes this point explicitly with regard to Tora Bora:
If Kerry is campaigning on a promise to make the battlefield decisions and always make the right ones, good for him. Say Anything, John.
5. Much of the criticism has focused on the idea that Bush needs to admit more errors, and that Kerry would be better at recognizing and admitting mistakes. Djerejian zeroes in on an argument made by David Adesnik and Dan Drezner:
As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own. In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts. [emphasis added]
As an initial matter, admitting mistakes, especially in wartime, is overrated, particularly if that means (1) admitting a decision was wrong before you have all the information to reach a final conclusion about it, or (2) making a public self-analysis that gives useful information to the enemy. How often did Churchill, battling daily to keep up the fighting spirit of the British, go on the radio to say, "sorry folks, I blew it again and got a bunch of people killed"? I tend to think that Bush made a big mistake of this kind when he conceded the point last summer on the inclusion in the State of the Union Address of British charges that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa; as it turned out, the Brits stood by their report, and Saddam really did send an envoy there to do precisely that.
The more important point in wartime is the ability to recognize what's not working and change tactics or, if appropriate, strategies. Djerejian cites several examples of Bush doing precisely that, most notably with the firing of Jay Garner but also extending to expanding the number of troops on the ground.
In any event, where, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don't even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry's behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry's own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes. As Jonah Goldberg notes, Kerry's "liberal hawk" backers may argue that the decades of bad judgment in Kerry's past are rendered inoperative by September 11, but Kerry's stubborn insistence that he hasn't changed in response to September 11, and that he had the right answers all along even when he wrote a book in 1997 that barely mentioned Islamic terrorism, gives the lie to the notion that Kerry is a model of self-reflection. Even the man's own supporters can't seriously defend the proposition - on which many of them heaped well-deserved scorn during the primary season - that Kerry has been consistent from the start on whether Saddam was a serious threat that justified a military response. Yet there Kerry stands, insisting to all the world what nobody believes, that he hasn't changed his position. Preferring Kerry to Bush because Bush won't admit mistakes is like preferring fresh water to salt water because salt water is wet.
In any event, will Kerry somehow change, grow in office, shed a lifetime of bad judgments and blanching at the use of American power, suddenly stop valuing diplomacy as an end and the status quo as the highest virtue? Just because Bush changed in office means nothing. First of all, Bush was a guy who had already proven his willingness to change and admit his problems when he quit drinking, had a religious awakening and basically overhauled his whole approach to life in his forties; Kerry can show no similar example of a willingness to change. And Kerry is now in his sixties, six years older than Bush in 2000, and while Bush may count September 11 as a life-changing event, Kerry had already had his, in Vietnam. Kerry's foreign policy world view was set decades ago, both by the example of his diplomat father and by Vietnam. The fact that Kerry has been malleable and vascillating over the years, clear a pattern though that may be, is no reason to think that he will suddenly re-examine his approach to accept the need for the United States to lead a continuing effort to overturn the corrupt, rotten and deadly status quo in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
6. The final charge is that Bush's errors would be forgiveable if he had done more, earlier, to explain the risks and burdens of war to the American people. Of course, this has nothing to do with the execution of the war, but political leadership is important, and in many ways it's much more the president's job than is the decision to use X number of troops to seal off a particular location. First off, the charge that Bush argued the war would be easy is refuted by virtually all his speeches, in which he said over and over and over again that we were in for a long haul, and there would be difficult times ahead. Of course, that has long since become obvious from events, and in any event we really were not in a position before the war to know precisely how it would all play out. But I will agree that he never gave a Churchillian "blood, toil, tears and sweat" speech specifically about Iraq, and that many hawks in and out of the administration underestimated in their public arguments the difficulties of a post-conquest insurgency (then again, many doves told us that we'd be bogged down with thousands of casualties taking Baghdad). Of course, the war itself, up to and through the fall of Baghdad, was as much of a "cakewalk" as a real life shooting war against a substantial enemy can ever be; the problem is simply that we didn't broadcast the coming insurgency (which, by the way, would have had the effect of greatly encouraging the insurgents).
In the end, that's what this argument is all about - not the difficulties of war, which are well-understood, but simply a political argument about the use of speeches to predict the unpredictable. Moreover, on that ground, again, there's no reason to think Kerry would be better; after all, Kerry is the guy who won't even admit to this day that his war vote was a vote for war. Kerry's the guy who wasn't able to predict that his campaign would have to prepare for attacks by people who'd been holding a grudge against him for 30 years.
No, Bush hasn't been a perfect war leader, but show me who was. He's had tough calls to make, and unlike Kerry he can't shift with the wind without consequence. Progress has been frustrating at times, because our overall enemy - the forces of terror and tyranny, of radical Islamism and fascist gangsterism - have recognized that an American victory in Iraq would be a defeat for them in the war on terror. You know that, I know that, they know that. But that just makes it all the more urgent to stick with a guy who believes in the mission, and who has proven that he will keep on trying new approaches until the job is finished, rather than looking for the door.
October 26, 2004
WAR: Hitchens and Castro
Must-read: Hitchens on what you have to believe to believe that Zarqawi's presence and organization in pre-invasion Iraq is not evidence of Saddam's complicity with Islamist radical terrorists.
Also: Andrew Sullivan catches this quote, which I heartily endorse, from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:
MR. BOUCHER: We heard that Castro fell. There are, I think, various reports that he broke a leg, an arm, a foot, and other things, and I'd guess you'd have to check with the Cubans to find out what's broken about Mr. Castro. We, obviously, have expressed our views about what's broken in Cuba.
QUESTION: Do you wish him a speedy recovery?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
Castro definitely fits that narrow category of persons whose death would so improve the lives of so many that I feel no guilt in wishing him ill.
UPDATE: So the Bush Administration chose, for a variety of reasons (the quality of available intelligence is, as always, disputed), not to imitate Clinton's ineffective missile strikes on Afghanistan but instead wait for the invasion to deal in toto with Zarqawi's terror camps. And Saddam was able to plan an insurgency, move around dangerous weapons and possibly move men, money and weapons to Syria during the run-up to war. Which may well have included the high explosives the NY Times was huffing about yesterday, which the inspectors had left in Saddam's hands (along with hundreds of thousands of tons of other conventional explosives) without concern.
I'm beginning to think Mark Steyn was right that the real problem with the Iraq War is that we waited too long trying to go through all the international hoops before invading, costing us the ability to catch Saddam by strategic surprise. And yet, as Wretchard puts it, "[t]he price of passing the "Global Test" was very high; and having been gypped once, there are some who are still eager to be taken to the cleaners again."
October 24, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Field of Dreams
Nice article here on Iraq’s national baseball team. It is truly a shame, however, to hear that so many of the players enjoy playing the game, but fear its association with America. That fear is indicative of the climate of terror which some hope to permanently reinstate in Iraqi society and which is anathema to the spirit of the joyful pastime we often take for granted.
October 22, 2004
WAR: Kicking In
Why should we care about elections in Iraq? Regardless of your view on the Iraq War and its aftermath, helping assure free and fair Iraqi elections is the right thing for America to do and, if successful, will only speed the safe return of American troops. See here for my view. Either way, this is important business.
October 20, 2004
WAR: Open War Is Upon You, Whether You Would Risk It Or Not
Police said they had intercepted hundreds of letters from suspected cell members in which they said they were willing to stage suicide attacks.
The plot to blow up the National Court, Spain’s nerve center for investigating Islamic terror, was detailed in a report from the National Police intelligence unit obtained by the Associated Press. The report quotes a protected witness who had been in contact with the suspected ringleader Mohamed Achraf, an Algerian born in the United Arab Emirates.
Thankfully, tragedy was averted…this time. We should take this kind of thing personally. Despite its distasteful current government, Spain is our NATO ally. An attack on it should be treated like an attack on us. We should do all we can to help the people of Spain defend themselves. Only by banding together can the countries of NATO and the world defeat the scourge which threatens us all. Terrorism is not a nuisance which can be simply wished away or fought by law enforcement alone, not by the United States and not by Spain.
Welcome back to the fight.
October 15, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Showdown in Fallujah
The Big One is on in Iraq, as US forces are finally doing what, at least in retrospect, they should have done back in April, cordoning off Fallujah and opening a major offensive against the heart of the insurgency. I can't offer any insights on the military angle, but here's what's interesting: the Bush Administration was quite happy to leak word earlier this week that it had no intention of any major offensive actions in Iraq until after Election Day. The left, predictably, went nuts over this report (see Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, Atrios, Brad DeLong, and, yes, even the Kerry campaign), claiming that Bush was putting politics over national security by not launching an offensive in mid-October. Which raises four possibilities:
1. Something changed between Monday and today. Unlikely, given the amount of preparation that goes into something like this.
Without discounting the other possibilities, #4 sure sounds like typical Bush political strategy, with #3, of course, being an added bonus. And the usual suckers fell for it, for the same reasons they always do.
And maybe now we know why Bush wanted to talk to Kerry after the debate.
October 14, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Stop the Presses
In fairness, the letter Drezner links to is worth checking out and the comments of Drezner himself are characteristically fair. The credentials and assertions of the “S3FP” should be weighed a little more heavily than much of what usually passes for anti-war arguments, but those arguments themselves are still basically repackaged Democratic talking points, some of which (notably General Shinseki’s comments, the cited James Fallows piece) have been the basis for frequent distortions by the Kerry campaign.
Rich Lowry has a cover story in National Review this month, which cites a large number of Administration officials and which, while supportive of the war, is very critical of a number of aspects of its management. (I’d link to it were it available online). Anyway, Lowry nicely debunks Fallows’ view - which has become orthodoxy in many circles - that the Defense Department ignored all pre-war plans concerning reconstruction. It should also be said that Lowry’s article reads largely as a Defense Department rebuttal to proxy attacks by the State Department and, thus, should be read critically. Yet, that very legitimate side of the argument is too often ignored by the more Foggy Bottom-friendly press corps.
As for my position on the Iraq War, I strongly disagree with the stated position of the S3FP. Most of their arguments were addressed in my lengthy, four-part defense of the war (see here, here, here and here). Check it out, especially the third part.
Finally, as for the scholars’ notion that “on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious” - inaction would only have meant increasing the number of stories like this. Maybe they can live with that. I’m glad we don’t have to.
UPDATE: John Derbyshire has some comments on the Lowry article, which, again, I wish I could to link to here directly. It has a lot of good stuff to ponder, regardless of where you ultimately come down on the war.
October 12, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART IV
This is the final part of a four-part series on the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Part III looked at why the decision to go to war in Iraq was necessary and justified. Those questions provide a necessary background to this analysis.
This part looks at what, roughly a year and a half on, America has gained and what it has lost from the Iraq War. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? The answer, attempting to look at the war from all angles, is yes.
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First, however, it’s useful to take a few steps back and get some perspective what “the war” was and is. The Iraq War, insofar as it originally aimed to achieve the disarmament of Saddam Hussein and force regime change, was a smashing success. Those objectives have long since been accomplished. Post-war reconstruction and counter-insurgency continue, however, and together are far more difficult, challenging and potentially rewarding than even the war itself. Perhaps it’s a semantic point, but the war and the insurgency are two different animals. America and its allies won the war. America, its allies and the new Iraqi government have not yet put down the insurgency.
Overall though, what has the war (if, for shorthand, we define it as both) cost us?
The sacrifices of our troops are nothing short of awe-inspiring and should give us pause. Spend a little time over at this site. It is relatively easy to sit here and advocate or justify war when others are volunteering to fight it. They are our very best men and women. I know some people who have been in Iraq, some who are in Iraq and some who will be going to Iraq. I have the deepest admiration for their service and concern for their safety.
Furthermore, we should never overlook or trivialize the deaths of those on whose behalf our troops are now acting and even those against whom they are fighting. People are being killed in Iraq and it is all too easy to say that our actions have resulted only in the death of terrorists and radicals. When people are dying from our bullets and our bombs, however much we may regret and try to avoid it, we need to always have a damn good answer ready as to why we are fighting. In Iraq, the answer is that, long-term, the temporary suffering from establishing a stable, representative government and removing a tyrannical dictatorship is outweighed by the inevitable suffering which would have resulted from leaving such a brutal and militarily reckless regime in place. The only thing worse than military action would have been inaction.
Also, while I don’t want to get into grisly tallies of body counts from other conflicts, suffice to say, that comparisons between the human toll of the current Iraq conflict and Vietnam are highly lacking in perspective. Approximately 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam War. We have not even taken 2 % as many casualties in Iraq. It demeans the sacrifices America made during the Vietnam War to equate it with this conflict (yet, it must be said, we have perhaps achieved more of our objectives in less than two years in Iraq than we did in a over a decade in Vietnam). Another perspective: almost three times as many Americans died on September 11, 2001, as have died in over a year and half in Iraq.
Some would also emphasize the financial and diplomatic costs. Neither is a wholly inconsequential consideration. Yet, neither should have prevented decisive action.
By any measure, the Iraq War and post-war reconstruction have been financially costly. As John Kerry and John Edwards point out, the first Gulf War was tremendously cheaper, due to the size of that coalition and the cost-sharing involved. However, the Gulf War – which Kerry voted against – was the exception rather than the rule; the 1991 coalition was the largest in history and the war’s objectives were very narrowly defined. Wars, like foreign aid or humanitarian assistance, tend to be costly.
Yet, national security concerns trump short-term economic considerations. So, too, should humanitarian concern for helping rebuild a country crippled by decades of dictatorship and war. But, if money is your major concern, think strategically. A stable, relatively friendly and oil-producing Iraq should be an economically viable partner. Look at the prosperity enjoyed by previous countries the United States has rebuilt. Look at Western Europe. Look at Germany. Look at Japan. Look at South Korea. Think about what those countries’ prosperity has meant to ours. Iraq is unlikely to ever achieve those economic heights, but, if it can get on its feet, its standing will only improve.
Also, the war, which is very unpopular in many foreign quarters, has clearly taken some diplomatic toll on the U.S. Global popular opinion tends to disapprove of any reminders of American hegemony, no matter how justified the action in question. Our alliance structure survives nonetheless. Still, America’s alliances are important, but they are not as important as doing what’s right, both for our own interests and for those of maintaining global order. Responsibility and occasional unpopularity are the price America pays for its hegemonic status. At the same time, international bodies will never be fully accepted by Americans until they are willing to stand up decisively to tyrants and until serial violators of their resolutions are dealt with resolutely.
Some would say the war was a distraction from the “real war” against al Qaeda. That is indeed the main event, but, as indicated earlier in Part I, the U.S. can’t just go openly barreling into a place like Pakistan just because we are frustrated and impatient for results. Unfortunately, the war against al Qaeda is one which, for the most part, must be fought in the shadows. It is frustrating, but (a) just because we are not hearing about certain activities does not mean they are not taking place, (b) this is the nature of fighting terrorism and (c) it is why it is critically important to hold accountable those supporters of terrorism, like Saddam Hussein, who were flouting the will of America and the world out in the open. (As an aside regarding distractions, I would add that deploying all of the troops we have in Iraq as a “bluff” to allow for the never-ending dance of the weapons inspectors - which some floated as an option - would likely have been equally “distracting” without any of the advantages of removing a vile and menacing dictatorship…for good.)
Finally, some would argue that the war is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and that it will only provoke more terrorism. This is the “we are giving bin Laden what he wants” argument. I agree that the Iraq War is a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and I agree that short-term it is certainly encouraging terrorism in Iraq. But long-term, which is how we absolutely need to think about all this, the promotion of a stable and representative Iraq would be a body blow to al Qaeda and its ideals. Open and accountable Middle Eastern governments are the best long-term solution to radical Islamic terrorism. More on that in a moment.
Unquestionably, the Iraq War has not been without very real costs. What, then, has it all accomplished?
We should not be unrealistic about the many obstacles to democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds and we should recognize that democracy, in general, is not a panacea, but we should also not be reflexively pessimistic. Iraq need not ever look like America. If it could become a stable, representative, yet still utterly imperfect, democracy like Turkey, the world would be a much better place. Recently, Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation, held relatively free democratic elections for the first time. Afghanistan followed soon after. Iraq, with our help, is scheduled to have elections in January. The tide may slowly be turning against autocracy in the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. We should do all we can to see that it does.
Only by establishing accountable governments will terrorism slowly recede. Middle East autocracies have for decades been passing off their internal failings by diverting hatred towards the United States and Israel. In so doing, they encourage terrorism against us. While Arab-Israeli peace is one potential solution we should push for, it is not on the near horizon. A move towards democracy and away from repressive strongmen like Saddam is the other solution and it could have much more sweeping ramifications in the long-term.
One small silly anecdote comes to mind. When New York Governor George Pataki visited Iraq he was asked what he thought. He offered a seemingly glib reply that it reminded him of his time as mayor of Peekskill, New York – everyone was complaining, about sewers, power outages, schools, etc… In a democracy, people generally do not spend their days worrying about how to evade the secret police or being encouraged to rain fire down upon a “Great Satan” or planning to strap explosives to themselves to blow up Zionists. They care about things like feeding their family, paying their bills, educating their children and fixing the septic tank.
Democracy was simply never going to take root under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein. Even the most sincere and committed opponents of this war must recognize that. Saddam, in fact, now sits in a jail cell, awaiting trial before an Iraqi tribunal to publicly air his crimes and render the long-overdue justice he so richly deserves.
The Iraq War has had other benefits. Libya, soon after the war, made its most dramatic reversal in its public stance, peacefully agreeing to verifiably dismantle its weapons of mass destruction in return for a slow reemergence into the community of nations. Between Iraq and Libya, the United States and its allies have two very distinct examples to show to Iran, North Korea and other would-be dictators, proliferators, and potential enemies. Used wisely, these contrasting examples can be an invaluable deterrent to war and should encourage resolute engagement with such regimes, on our terms, not just on theirs. (The war should be justified on terms other than just chest-pounding posturing, but there is something to be said for Jonah Goldberg’s two-part pre-war argument - see here and here – analogizing international relations to a prison yard and…well…follow that to its logical conclusion.)
Amid an insurgency which needs to be combated, much good is coming of America’s war in Iraq. See here and here for just two of such examples. Of course, the bloody reality of that insurgency cannot be ignored; some mistakes were clearly made by Rumsfeld and others in the early stages of reconstruction and, I think, the Bush Administration has been overly tentative in its tactics during the past year. Many comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam are unwarranted, but I think it is fair to say that counter-insurgency strategy and election-year politics do not make great bedfellows, be it 1964 or 2004.
What does the future hold? I have no idea. Post-war success in Iraq, as defined as a stable, representative Iraqi government we can live with, is by no means assured. The United States and its allies have a huge role to play, but ultimately the future will be written by the Iraqi people. Freedom is theirs for the taking.
Broadly speaking, two sets of foreigners have poured into Iraq. One fought to remove Saddam Hussein from power and has brought security assistance, humanitarian aid and the determination to allow the embattled country to forge a new democratic future. The other is ruthlessly fighting to repel the first group through an indiscriminate campaign of roadside car bombs, ambushes (often aided by pushing children in front of military convoys) and videotaped beheadings, designed at establishing either a repressive, close-minded theocracy or an anarchistic safe haven for terrorists. Iraqis face a stark choice between those two groups. We must do all we can to help them make the right decisions, but, in the end, they will chart their own course.
Once the Iraqi government has established a relatively stable foothold, we should begin to slowly and responsibly withdraw. America need not, and should not, remain there in perpetuity. One thing I can proudly say about this country: I have read countless articles and editorials by proponents of the war - some even far to my right - but I cannot readily remember even one observer seriously suggesting that America should have even the slightest designs on conquering, colonizing or unfairly exploiting Iraq for material gain. I’m sure some such people exist, but they are a distinct and silent minority.
On a personal note, I will add that I was not always supportive of the notion of military confrontation with Iraq. I once held the view that Saddam was contained and barely tolerable and that al Qaeda should be America’s primary focus. I no longer believe the former, still believe the latter, but, above all, have come to believe that the combination of realpolitik and balancing of evils that characterized America’s policy towards the Middle East needed to change. While realism should always be a part of our worldview, American foreign policy is at its best when our ideals are aligned with our interests. The pre-9/11 status quo in the Middle East of authoritarian regimes, anti-American designs and seething misdirected hatred needed to be altered for the better. After deposing the Taliban and removing terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan, no better or more deserving candidate for regime change existed than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, an open state sponsor of terror led by a man who would do anything to hurt the United States.
Here’s hoping we see it through.
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October 11, 2004
WAR: We Remember, Again
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART III
This is the third part of a four-part series in praise of, and defense of, the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
This part, the longest yet, details why America and its allies were right to take it upon themselves to enforce years of violated UN Resolutions by military force and, ultimately, to remove Saddam Hussein. In other words, this is the meat of the sandwich.
The hardest part of writing this is deciding where to start.
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* In the fall of 1980, when Saddam ordered the invasion of Iran, provoking the eight-year Iran-Iraq War, one of the bloodiest and most pointless conflicts in modern history?
* On June 7, 1981, when Israel, acting unilaterally, destroyed Saddam’s French-built Osirak nuclear reactor, which was the centerpiece of his secret nuclear plan? Europe and the most of the rest of the world, including even some quarters of the Reagan Administration, reacted with scorn. Today, that world is immeasurably safer as a result. (See Rodger Claire’s “Raid on the Sun” for a great book on this topic).
* In 1985, when Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas murdered a 69-year old Jewish American in a wheelchair aboard the hijacked Achille Lauro, only to find welcoming arms in Iraq? Or in April 2003, when Abbas was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Baghdad?
* Throughout the 1980’s, when Abu Nidal and his organization, sponsored by Saddam’s Iraq, “mounted terrorist operations in 20 countries, killing about 300 people and wounding hundreds more.” Or in 2002, when Nidal died in Baghdad?
* In 1988, in Halabja, when Saddam ordered “the largest-scale chemical weapons (CW) attack against a civilian population in modern times”?
* In 1991, when an again-almost-nuclear Saddam invaded, without provocation, neighboring Kuwait? Armed with the largest coalition in history, the United States acted, over the objection of a certain Massachusetts senator, to repel the invasion, but not before Iraq fired missiles into Israel and Saudi Arabia and torched its own oil fields. Regrettably, in retrospect, the U.S., believing Saddam would soon fall, did not finish the job and encouraged Iraqis to rise up, only to pull back and watch them be slaughtered by Saddam’s henchmen after the cease-fire.
* Throughout the 1990’s, when Saddam violated virtually every provision of that cease-fire, brutally suppressing all internal challenges to his power along the way? When, during that period, Saddam had Iraqi forces routinely fire at American planes patrolling the no-fly zone?
* In 1993, when Saddam plotted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush on his visit to Kuwait?
* When, in May of 1994, Saddam ordered amputation of the ears of approximately 3,500 of his former troops?
* When Saddam ordered the crushing of a two-year old toddler’s feet when her father fell under suspicion?
* When his sons, potential heirs to the regime, tortured Iraqi Olympians and toured the streets of Baghdad looking for women to rape?
* When Saddam initiated a system of financial rewards for the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, including members of Hamas and other radical organizations?
* In 1998, when Saddam kicked out weapons inspectors? Those inspectors were only reintroduced to Iraq by President Bush’s threat of imminent military force, a threat which could not be credibly maintained in perpetuity.
* When, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Saddam issued the following statement?
* When Saddam violated UN Resolutions 678, 686, 687, 688, 707, 715, 949, 1051, 1060, 1115, 1134, 1137, 1154, 1194, 1205 and 1284, leading up the final act in 2002-03?
* When, as the Duelfer Report details, Saddam perverted the Oil-for-Food program, turned the world against the sanctions programs aimed against him and engaged in a systemic campaign to bribe French, Russian, Chinese and other UN leaders?
* Or right before the war, when Saddam was obligated by UN Resolution 1441 to unconditionally and verifiably disarm or face “serious consequences”? Saddam did not comply. After a decade of defiance, would another slap on the wrist have been a serious consequence?
* With the 9/11 Commission hearings, which raised more questions than they answered about long-debated ties between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda? [The evidence here really is inconclusive, but if the lessons of pre-war intelligence teach us anything, it is that we should not jump to conclusions, in either direction, or rule out that which is clearly possible].
* Or in January 2004, by which time approximately 270 mass graves had been reported and 53 found and confirmed in the killing fields of Iraq?
What about the weapons of mass destruction? Read the Duelfer Report for more on that, as well as this and this. We have to think long and hard about how the world’s assumptions were so wrong about that issue and how to improve, but, centrally, those are intelligence questions, not political ones. Presidents and Prime Ministers are forced with life and death choices in real time, not with the luxury of hindsight. I, for one, am far more content to accept that we invaded Iraq and found no weapons of mass destruction, rather than invading and, as many feared, seeing those weapons dropped on the heads of our troops. [And, as a final word, I would say that there is no final word on this. Again, I’m deeply skeptical of the notion that we really now know for absolute certain what Saddam had and did not have and where such weapons may be today. Given some of the alternatives, I sincerely hope they didn’t exist.]
Again, rambling as all of the foregoing may seem, it remains a highly incomplete list of why military action was justified. An attempted summary: America’s containment policies towards Iraq were no longer working. Saddam had twisted the international sanctions regime to his advantage, to the point where world opinion had turned against them. Further, the Duelfer Report indicates Saddam’s intent and capability to aggressively reconstitute his WMD programs shortly after any lifting of sanctions. As it now appears, three members of the UN Security Council (France, Russia and China) were receiving substantial bribes from Saddam’s regime, deterring the world body from approving of any kind of decisive action.
Weapons inspectors, only allowed back into Iraq under threat of a massive imminent invasion, could not possibly provide the level of unconditional assurance the U.S. had every right to seek within the time frame they were given. In a sense, that process was doomed from the beginning due to its very circular dynamics (i.e. Saddam historically played games with or exiled inspectors when force was not imminent; however, credibly maintaining that threat indefinitely would have been massively expensive and unrealistic logistically. Such delay would eventually have only led to more games from Saddam and time was on his side until a policy of zero-tolerance was enacted and enforced).
Saddam’s track record of military recklessness, support for terrorism and an obsession with weapons of mass destruction gave the U.S. every reason to consider his regime an unacceptable threat in a post-9/11 world. The unspeakable brutality of his regime was a convincing moral rationale for action and a decade of defiance of a laundry list of UN Resolutions was a convincing legal rationale.
Tactically, unlike Iran and North Korea, the United States had a recent track record of fighting the Iraqi army and the likelihood of military disaster was quite low. In fact, the war itself, not to be confused with its aftermath, was a triumphant success. More on that in the final part, but, suffice to say, we sometimes take for granted everything that has gone right in Iraq. Quite a lot, in fact, did go right.
In the end, some would have you believe that the U.S. went to war to serve the narrow ideological interests of some sort of “neo-conservative” cabal. That cabal apparently includes the following:
Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Kenneth Pollack, Christopher Hitchens, Joe Biden, John McCain, John Edwards and even, at times, John Kerry, along with many, many others.
I cite these moderate to left-leaning figures, not to mock them, but because they shared the same assumptions, and in many cases, advocated the same policies as the “neocons” (whatever that term means anyway). Some of their facts may occasionally have been wrong, but they were on the right side of history nonetheless. If only the latter two, in particular, would stick to that conviction.
Of course, Saddam never attained the capabilities of his infamously tyrannical predecessors (such as the Nazis or, his idol, Josef Stalin). For some, that is proof that America was wrong to wage war to remove him from power. For many of us, however, it is reason to be proud and grateful that he was removed when he was.
The decision to go to war was the right one. A year and half later, what, then, have we lost and what have we gained?
More on that in Part IV.
UPDATE: I re-read the link regarding mass graves and updated the post accordingly; 270 were reported, "only" 53 have been found. I imagine that is small comfort to those who are buried within them.
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October 10, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART II
This is the second part of a four-part series on why the Iraq War, contrary to the position de jour of Senator John Kerry, was the right war in the right place at the right time (see Part I here). America acted both wisely and decisively in removing Saddam Hussein from power and is doing the only right thing in helping the Iraqi people get their country back on its feet.
Why, though, of North Korea, Iran and Iraq was a military response appropriate for the latter but not for the first two?
Let’s look at them one at a time.
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North Korea, a staggeringly repressive and twisted regime, is a hard-line Stalinist government which starves its own people so that it can spend its money on conventional and nuclear weapons. It throws out wild anti-American rhetoric, acts in a militarily provocative nature, tramples over agreements and has brazenly pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is, arguably, the primary threat to the United States.
Yet, North Korea is a regime which acts out of extreme weakness. Its Soviet patrons have faded into history. Its southern counterpart, just across the DMZ, has become a thriving democratic society. Its primary ideological enemy, America, maintains a huge military presence on its doorstep. It is a regime which is contained and feels threatened.
By way of analogy, North Korea is like the last survivor of gang of armed robbers who unsuccessfully tried to knock over a liquor store. Its partners are now dead, the store’s alarm is ringing and the cops have the place surrounded. If it starts a shoot-out or surrenders, it will be the end of the road. It apparently views its only rational course as negotiating with a gun (i.e. nuclear weapons) pointed at the head of the owner.
A military attack on North Korea is an eventuality no one should desire. It has the military forces and artillery to devastate key South Korean population centers and kill thousands of Americans in the opening hours of any conflict. Its nuclear weapons could be fired at American forces in Japan or even, possibly, American territory. North Korea, as we know it, would be destroyed and its regime would fall, but at what cost.
There are a whole host of bad options with North Korea and only one strikes me as particularly viable: some sort of policy of resolute engagement (well outlined here). In particular, unilaterally giving in to every North Korean demand would set an awful precedent to aspiring violators of the NPT. I wish we could quietly ignore North Korea’s weapons and threats and wait for its eventual collapse (i.e. simply give it no reason to lash out). However, actively negotiating its way back from the brink is probably necessary. Bush has chosen to do this while not buckling to North Korean demands of face-to-face talks and firmly demanding the inclusion of other relevant parties. He is choosing what looks like the worst possible course of action. Except for all the others.
In any case, focusing primarily on North Korea, to the exclusion of lingering Middle East threats, never struck me as most logical second phase of a War on Terror begun on September 11th.
What, then, about Iran?
Clearly, the U.S. has few longer-term enemies than the Islamic Republic which decries us as the “Great Satan”, famously held American Embassy personnel as hostages, supports terrorism and trumpets its desire to destroy the state of Israel. Its advancing nuclear program now appears to have been far beyond that of Iraq, a state we once supported against Iran in the 1980s. In fact, the bill of particulars against Iran is almost as long as that against Iraq.
It would be too much of an effort to explain every reason why the Iranian regime is repugnant. Perhaps Salman Rushdie can do that for you. A few stand out: its nuclear development, unbending hatred of Israel, involvement in the Khobar Towers bombing and ties to al Qaeda.
You want to get rid of the Iranian regime? Sign me up.
The problem is how.
There is significant support for engaging Iran among European states, which, even though many appeased him, were willing to stipulate to the awfulness of Saddam Hussein. Also, Iran is a huge country, with a stock of religious fanatics we don’t need to look hard to see – many are in highest positions of government. However, that government does have some sense of legitimacy; it is far from our understanding of democracy, but it was originally brought into power by popular movement, not simply military coup. Furthermore, as a legal matter, Iran has not flaunted the will of the United Nations as consistently as Iraq and the United States was not in a state of cease-fire with Iran, as was the case with Iraq. Above all, Iran is an enormously complex country, one which makes our understanding of Iraq seem profound by comparison. Any plan which calls for the occupation of Iran - at any stage - would be folly.
There are many options for Iran: massive air strikes, direct negotiation, détente, tougher economic sanctions, etc… Similar to Daniel Drezner, I personally support a policy of more carrots and sticks; giving the Iranians some of the benefits of American engagement, while showing them the tangible consequences of misbehavior (i.e. pulling back such benefits). I think the way to deal with them is to show strength while being willing to talk and simultaneously being prepared to use incremental force. The more the regime opens up, the more likely its internal collapse will be. The mutual interests we both have in an Iraq democratically controlled by a Shia majority are a good starting point and I think Bush alone, among our two candidates, has the hard-line credibility to be able to come to the table without appearing like a weakling.
It seems fair to say that military action against Iran, especially as a distinct and overriding alternative to action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, would have been misguided.
The foregoing has been an argument against taking certain military actions and in favor of engagement strategies and diplomacy. In the case of Iraq, however, such options were simply not viable.
In Iraq, in late 2002, it was time to act.
More on why in Part III.
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WAR/POLITICS: Go John Go!
Make sure you check out Tim Blair for a well-deserved bout of "[h]urtful, savage, imbalanced and triumphalist ranting" at Saturday's election victory by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Howard's opponent, Mark Latham, sounds like an an Aussie Howard Dean:
Meanwhile, some irregularities but no widespread violence as Afghans went to the polls for the first time since the US liberated their country from the Taliban.
In both cases, of course, the elections represent a setback for John Kerry's campaign. Afghanistan is a clear triumph for the Bush Administration; we're hardly home free there, but the ability to conduct an election free of violence gives the lie to claims that the country has fallen apart, and gives hope for similar progress in Iraq. That's terrible news for Kerry.
In Australia, of course, Kerry's sister - the head of his campaign there - created a stir in mid-September when she basically told Autralians to side against the United States by voting Howard out of office:
Diana Kerry, younger sister of the Democrat presidential candidate, told The Weekend Australian that the Bali bombing and the recent attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta clearly showed the danger to Australians had increased.
"Australia has kept faith with the US and we are endangering the Australians now by this wanton disregard for international law and multilateral channels," she said, referring to the invasion of Iraq.
Asked if she believed the terrorist threat to Australians was now greater because of the support for Republican George W. Bush, Ms Kerry said: "The most recent attack was on the Australian embassy in Jakarta -- I would have to say that."
Ms Kerry, who taught school in Indonesia for 15 years until 2000, is heading a campaign called Americans Overseas for Kerry which aims to secure the votes of Americans abroad -- including the more than 100,000 living in Australia.
Howard's victory stands as a rebuke to the Kerrys and their ham-handed attempt to pry another ally out of the coalition. And, of course - of much greater importance - it preserves the role of our most faithful ally as a vigilant force against terrorism.
October 9, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time - PART I
The United States and its coalition partners were right to invade Iraq to depose and disarm Saddam Hussein and we are right to be staying to help the Iraqi people combat a ruthless insurgency and develop a stable, representative government. President Bush made the right strategic decision at the right time.
Why Iraq? This is the first of a very lengthy, four-part post on that question. (Like the Crank, I’m sorry to be short-changing baseball - which I do love - but I feel that these are important issues and that this may be the very biggest.).
As we live in the continuing wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has a responsibility to aggressively confront rogue regimes, allies of terror and repressive dictatorships wherever and whenever it can. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq emphatically fit all three categories.
I strongly disagree with the argument that state sponsors of terror are irrelevant to the Global War on Terrorism simply because the specific terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were sub-state actors. Following the successful invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, the United States was right to broaden its sights and to act to head off gathering threats, correct festering wrongs and enforce long-ignored international resolutions. The approximately 3,000 victims of September 11th deserve no less.
The main question is where, post-Afghanistan, should the next front have been? Let's examine that.
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Believing that war should be, if not a last resort, certainly not the first one, I reject the notion that our response should’ve been to attack one of our allies. Two examples come to mind.
Michael Moore has disingenuously suggested that, in response to (a) the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis, (b) other legitimately repugnant behavior and (c) several utterly facile conspiracy theories, the United States should have attacked Saudi Arabia. Following such thinking: would the occupation of Mecca and Medina serve as a disincentive to al Qaeda recruiting and win the U.S. support and respect in the Muslim world? Moore is not a serious figure and I will pay him the complement of not taking his ideas seriously.
Similarly, Kevin Drum, motivated by legitimate frustration with Osama bin Laden’s elusiveness as well as myopic partisanship, has previously suggested that President Bush has been irresponsible in not openly invading Pakistan. The invaluable cooperation the Musharraf government is giving the U.S., the very apparent risk of provoking a destabilizing Islamist coup and the resulting threat of nuclear war on the Indian sub-continent are apparently acceptable costs of an anything-but-Bush approach to foreign policy driven by impulsive frustration.
Should we demand, and are we demanding, more of untrustworthy allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Yes. Are there ways of doing that short of war? You bet.
On to more serious arguments.
During the period in question, the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terror included Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba, all of which are objectively enemies of the United States.
However, some represented more realistic threats than others. Cuba is primarily a political and ideological enemy of the United States; its support for terror is somewhat incidental to its place on this list. Libya was a long-term enemy of the U.S., but one which had substantially mellowed its behavior, even prior to 9/11. Colonel Qadhafi was aptly characterized as “the rogue who came in from the cold” even before the Iraq invasion prompted his most dramatic reversal of behavior (more on that later) and eventual removal from the list.
Sudan and Syria are legitimate sponsors of terror which are receiving the increased pressure they deserve from the United States. However, Syria’s support for Hezbollah is primarily tied to Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most Americans would agree that that is a conflict we should seek to reconcile, not actively fight ourselves. Sudan, as the Darfur crisis indicates, is a repulsive state, but also an absolute basket case. As a hotbed of al Qaeda, it deserves our attention, but is a place where legitimate humanitarian concerns would likely subsume any military mission. In other words, both require vigilant attention, but would’ve been poor choices for immediate post-Afghanistan action.
Which brings us to the “Axis of Evil” – three states, North Korea, Iran and Iraq, which are not really an “axis” because they did not act in concert, but which were led by undeniably “evil” and threatening regimes.
Of the three, Iraq was, by far, the most logical choice to confront first.
In fact, I believe Iraq is the only one of the three that was a good candidate for direct military confrontation.
More on why in Part II.
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WAR: What We Take For Granted
This picture says a lot. As usual, a Churchill quote comes to mind:
That quote may need to be updated. The little woman in the little burqa in the little hut in post-Taliban Afghanistan, risking her life to vote in a process she may not even fully comprehend, may be the best tribute of all.
UPDATE: John Hillen offers an amusing corrective to negative media spin of the Afghan election. See here for more.
October 8, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: The Big Picture
Tonight's debate will do much to decide this election. The president also needs for it to help the country focus on something broader: a debate about the fundamental question of what kind of war we are now engaged in. That is the question that has divided our political system since at least the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.” None of this is new ground for those of us who have followed these questions closely and debated them endlessly. But as the time of decision approaches, it is useful once again to go back to first principles on the issues that divide us.
Here's the bottom line:
Kerry: We are at war with Al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban because they attacked us; we are at war in Iraq because we attacked them.
Bush: We are at war with any and all international terror groups, whether or not they have previously attacked us, and we can win only when we have removed or fundamentally altered the regimes that support or harbor them.
That's the distinction. Let's explore. There are a number of different strains of thought among President Bush’s critics on the Left, ranging from those whose disagreements focus principally on the mechanics of war-fighting to the Michael Moore/Ted Rall=type lefties who opposed the war in Afghanistan and would oppose basically anything that involves the exercise of American power. The latter group, of course, is beyond reason or argument.
The principal thrust of the argument advanced by many mainstream Democrats, however, and recently embraced by John Kerry, goes something like this:
1. The US may only go to war (a) to respond to an attack, (b) to interdict an imminent threat, or (c) with the sanction of the UN. In other words, we have the right to engage in direct self-defense ((a) or (b)), but the legitimacy of any mission that goes beyond direct self-defense depends on the agreement of collective bodies like the UN and, to a lesser extent, NATO.
On one level or another, this has been the argument of critics like Howard Dean, Al Gore, and Bob Graham, and John Kerry has now embraced it by calling the Iraq war a "diversion". I think I’ve been fair in setting out the syllogistic quality of this line of thought, which in its defense does have deep roots in Western thought about war. I actually agree with some of its underlying philosophy, although as I’ll discuss below, the current situation demands the competing argument of the Bush Administration and its supporters that this approach is hopelessly insufficient to deal with the ongoing threat of international terrorism.
For all of John Kerry’s past efforts to appeal to pro- and anti-war voters alike, there has long been copious evidence to suggest that this is what Kerry actually thinks. One of the clearest signs came back in June, when Kerry said this:
In short: we are at war with a single organization (Al Qaeda) and have gone and started a second, separate war in Iraq, without meeting necessary preconditions for doing so.
What Bush, his administration and its supporters (myself included) have consistently argued is that the old way of looking at these issues is wrong, for a number of reasons; I'll focus here on two.
1. "Al Qaeda" is not the only enemy. Yes, that's who attacked us. But the goal here isn't just to put them out of business but to end the terrorist threat to the U.S. once and for all. To my mind, we are at war with (a) any organized terrorist group that can reach across national borders or within the U.S.; (b) any state that sponsors, supports or gives aid and comfort to any such group. Even if you discount the evidence of Saddam's overtures to bin Laden, the fact that Saddam had a long history of actively supporting some terrorists and harboring others makes the ability to tie him to bin Laden almost academic; you can't well say you are at war with terrorist sponsors and leave Saddam in place. Remember, after all, that Al Qaeda itself is only a loose association of groups anyway, formed by a merger with the Egyptian group Islamic Jihad. It's sort of silly to have arguments over whether, say, Ansar al-Islam or Zarqawi were or are part of Al Qaeda; the similarity in rhetoric, tactics, goals and ideology makes them part of the same problem regardless of where the lines on their org charts point.
2. We can't win the war without broadening it. Because we are fighting a type of enemy, united by its ideas and tactics rather than as a single organism, we can't win just by rolling up body counts, capturing territory and choking of funds, although all of those are helpful. What we need to do is change the dynamics of the states that have fostered the problem, both by supporting such organizations and by encouraging the hatreds that breed terrorists.
The choice between Bush and Kerry is clear, it is fundamental, and it is essential to our security. It's a matter of life and death that we get it right.
WAR: Making The Next Guy Think Twice
Kaus has a good point about the idea that "Saddam only wanted us to think he had WMD," and one that's closely related to the point about credibility I made below:
Of course, if the cops shoot him, the next guy will think twice about claiming to have a gun, now won't he?
POLITICS/WAR: A Word About Credibility
One of the major themes of the first two debates has been America's credibility in the world at large, and the corresponding ability of the nation to get other nations to follow us. John Kerry and John Edwards insist that America has "misled" the world, as far as the reasons for war and the progress in Iraq. Bush and Cheney have responded that Kerry has sent "mixed signals" that undermine our credibility. Now, far be it from me to suggest that it doesn't matter, particularly on the home front, if the president tells the truth. (I also don't agree with Kerry and Edwards that this administration has been misleading about why we are in Iraq and how we're doing there, but that's another day's argument). But Bush and Cheney are, fundamentally, talking about an entirely different type of credibility - the type that really matters in international affairs.
Because, in the end, most of the countries on this earth, and most of the large masses of people, aren't real big on believing what foreign governments tell them, and with good reason. Most of us on some level - and diplomats and heads of state most of all - recognize that governments speak self-interestedly, and don't take what they say at face value. Or, at a minimum, they make their own minds up - the justifications for war in England are viewed as an issue of Tony Blair's credibility, in Australia an issue of John Howard's credibility, not so much Bush's.
But where a nation's credibility is critical is when you ask whether it is believed that a country keeps its promises - and its threats - acts reliably in its own interests, finishes the jobs it starts, and the like. Did the Soviet Union care if the United States saw "the light at the end of the tunnel" in Vietnam, or whether the explosion in the Gulf of Tonkin was just a pretext? Of course not. But the Soviets watched very carefully when they saw that America didn't stay to finish the war and didn't stand behind the South Vietnamese when the resulting peace treaty was violated by the renewed invasion from the North. And they watched equally carefully when Reagan started fighting to back up our interests, even in places like Grenada where the direct US interests were relatively minor. Because Reagan understood that our credibility in the Hobbesian world of international affairs depended upon not taking slights lightly. And every new president faces, fairly early, tests of his credibility - that is, in some sense, what the Chinese did to Bush in early 2001. There have been other tests, too - and don't think the world hasn't noticed that from Kyoto to the ABM treaty to the International Criminal Court, Bush has stood for one thing and one thing only: protecting US interests against agreements that failed to adequately protect them. Next time someone wants to make a deal with us, they will remember that. In short, credibility in international affairs isn't about telling the truth - it's about being clear where you stand and following through, so your allies know you will keep your promises and your enemies know you will back up your threats. Does anybody seriously think Kerry has that kind of credibility?
The real problem of US credibility in the Middle East - and yes, it's been a bipartisan one - is the widespread belief that we don't have the guts to stick it out through tough times and that we will abandon our allies on the ground to the same old despots. Think Somalia, or the abandonment of the Kurds and Shi'ites in 1991. In a way, that's one of the most compelling reasons, if an unstated one - but one that any world leader immediately understood - why we went to war with Saddam. The guy was flouting the terms of the cease-fire, calling into question the credibility of our willingness to enforce agreements with the US. He was thumbing his nose at the US in myriad ways (including his public cheerleading for the September 11 attacks, something nearly none of even our declared enemies dared to do), calling into question the credibility of our willingness to respond to slights, insults and threats.
And now, we have found ourselves in a daily struggle to win over the Iraqi people - and the biggest obstacle is the fear that we will once again cut and run and abandon them to the same old forces of evil, as we did in 1991, as we did in Somalia, as we did in South Vietnam. It is critically essential to our credibility - and to the security of the situation of our troops in the field - that there be no doubt that the US can not be deterred from finishing the job in Iraq, no matter how long it takes, what the obstacles or the costs are or what political pressures are brought to bear on the president by the Howard Deans of the world. Can John Kerry say he has that kind of credibility, the kind that led the Iranians to conclude that they didn't want to be holding US hostages even a minute into the new Reagan Administration? Bush and Cheney are dead right, and deadly serious, about the fact that Kerry does not. Everything in his record and history suggest a guy who is consumed by fear of the quagmire, who hemmed and hawed and finally opposed the first Gulf War, who has grown gloomy and panicked about this war whenever things have gone badly in the field or in his own political campaign. In fact, Kerry has even argued that we should have threatened war with Saddam - but not been ready to back that threat up the minute he failed to cooperate.
Credibility matters. Lack of it gets people killed. The kind of credibility that counts is not the credibility to persuade people in argument or admit mistakes. It's the credibility to say, "this we will do," or "this we will not stand for," and then prove that you will not yield in that determination. That's the credibility that Bush has, and Kerry does not.
October 7, 2004
WAR: A Bloody Corner
The violence between Christians (principally Catholics) and Muslims in just one state in Nigeria has, over the past three years, claimed more than 53,000 lives, nearly the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Of course, this being Africa, the violence is tied in with ethnic, political and financial rivalries (unlike in most parts of the world, the oil in Nigeria isn't in the Muslim parts of the country) as well as religious hatreds. Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa's most populous country, probably its richest in natural resources and one of the (relatively) better-off countries in terms of some of the conditions for self-rule. But the past several years have been hard ones for the country. It's one of the places we have to hope to see get a handle on itself.
POLITICS/WAR: Failing the Test of History
With the Presidential campaign finally heading towards a climax and the baseball playoffs in full swing, I couldn’t resist jumping back into the mix here, however temporarily.
Anyway, I noted with some satisfaction that President Bush finally went on the offensive about one of the most glaring weak points in John Kerry’s various positions on Iraq: his vote against the 1991 Gulf War.
John Kerry and John Edwards have very disingenuously been holding up the Gulf War as a model of multilateral military engagement and cost-sharing. The problem is not that this isn’t true – it clearly is – but that Kerry voted against the very war which his campaign now says forms the criteria by which he defines acceptable multilateralism (i.e. virtually the entire world on our side).
A rough history follows (I apologize for any errors, but am mainly going from memory). In 1991, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was, for the second time, on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, yet, in an act of almost incomprehensible recklessness and stupidity, invaded neighboring Kuwait prior to attaining a nuclear capability. After some hesitation, the United States led by the first President Bush decided that the invasion could not stand and developed the largest international coalition in history, backed by, among many others, the U.N. Security Council, a number of Arab allies and the indispensable sine qua non of any successful military alliance: the French.
Yet, when the vote had come before the U.S. Congress, Kerry voted against taking military action.
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The U.S. alliance met every possible criteria that Kerry has articulated in his efforts to undermine the credibility of the current U.S. coalition. Iraq had unilaterally and brazenly invaded a neighbor and virtually the whole world was prepared to take action. Yet, Kerry was not.
As Bush said yesterday:
Over the years, Senator Kerry has looked for every excuse to constrain America's action in the world. These days he praises America's broad coalition in the Gulf War, but in 1991 he criticized those coalition members as, quote, shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden. Sounds familiar.
Looking back, the consequences of inaction in the first Gulf War are hard to imagine. Saddam would have occupied Kuwait unopposed and would likely have had nuclear weapons very soon afterwards. He would have been a hero in the Arab world and would have been further encouraged to menace Israel, Saudi Arabia and other nearby neighbors as he did during the Gulf War and since. Saddam’s support for terrorism would likely have only increased and, just as worrisome, terrorist support for him would have grown.
But Saddam would’ve been virtually untouchable and protected by a nuclear shield. To be sure, there would’ve been many other unpredictable consequences (American involvement in the war was a major motivation for bin Laden), but it is very hard to look back and not see how the first Gulf War was, in every way, justified.
As John Edwards holds up the Gulf War as model of U.S. action, Kerry’s defense to voting against that action, to the extent he offers any, is that this was long before September 11th and that the world forever changed that day.
The world has indeed changed, but my fear remains that Kerry has not.
UPDATE: "I do not believe our nation is prepared for war. If we do go to war, for years people will ask why Congress gave in. They will ask why there was such a rush to so much death and destruction when it did not have to happen." – John Kerry in 1991, justifying his vote against the Gulf War. (Via Tacitus).
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WAR: There's Something Happening Here, But What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear
Too many cops on the street in Manhattan this morning. Cops ringing my office building. Whole bunch of cop cars with their lights flashing lining up by the NASDAQ Marketplace building in Times Square. I'm not sure what's up, but unless there's a big event in town (I know the President's headed to Missouri today), something's up that I'm not hearing about.
September 27, 2004
WAR: The "Q" Word
A big controversy erupted back in April when Ted Kennedy called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam;" commentators on the right like Instapundit and Jonah Goldberg accused Kennedy of preaching defeatism, while people on the left, like Mark Kleiman and Matt Yglesias, tried to argue that Kennedy hadn't really meant an unwinnable quagmire; Kleiman eventually relented when Eugene Volokh pointed to Kennedy using the "q" word:
Well. Now, we have John Kerry running a campaign commercial criticizing ads run by Bush "[i]n the face of the Iraq quagmire . . ." Defeatism has become the major theme of the Kerry campaign in the closing weeks, to the point where he would run an ad just assuming that the war in Iraq is a "quagmire."
Don't say you weren't warned.
September 26, 2004
WAR: Follow The Money
Austin Bay, just back from Iraq, had an important observation about a key driving force in the insurgency there:
The Baghdad rumor mill says Baath warlords pay bombers anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per attack, so even a million dollars can buy a lot of bang. It also buys TV time. The thousands of trucks that successfully deliver goods in Iraq don't make CNN. The one that the mercenary bomber blew to bits does.
It's a strategic weakness every PR operative knows: TV demands drama. TV magnifies the thug's bomb.
(Link via Instapundit). This is a huge point. It's also why I can't understand why we're not turning some serious screws to get Oil-for-"Food" documents out of the UN's grubby hands - the faster we find the money, the faster we can strangle the insurgency. (Unless we already have that stuff behind the scenes and are not making a big public stink so it's not widely known we have it, or unless the trail's gone cold enough that it's no longer urgent)
See here for more on how the Oil-for-"Food" money may have been used to fund al Qaeda as well, despite the conventional wisdom that Saddam would never have anything to do with terrorists. (Hat tip: CQ)
Meanwhile, Ollie North, also back from Iraq, offers his own perspective; you may not like North, but he has two advantages that many reporters don't: he's a combat veteran himself, and he actually went back to re-embed in some of the hot zones to see what was going on. He makes an important point about why, even if it stretches the definition of "terrorist" to cover people attacking foreign troops in their own native land, they can hardly be described as anything but:
I'm not sure I agree with regard to al-Sadr, who clearly has an endgame in mind that results with him gaining some form of political power. But many of the Sunni insurgents, Zarqawi included, fit this description to a T.
September 22, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Flip, Flop & Fly
Tracking all the Kerry flip-flops on Iraq is a hopeless endeavor, but here is a choice one. Kerry's speech on Monday:
Secretary of State Powell admits that Iraq was not a magnet for international terrorists before the war. Now it is, and they are operating against our troops. Iraq is becoming a sanctuary for a new generation of terrorists who someday could hit the United States.
A brutal, oppressive dictator, guilty of personally murdering and condoning murder and torture, grotesque violence against women, execution of political opponents, a war criminal who used chemical weapons against another nation and, of course, as we know, against his own people, the Kurds. He has diverted funds from the Oil-for-Food program, intended by the international community to go to his own people. He has supported and harbored terrorist groups, particularly radical Palestinian groups such as Abu Nidal, and he has given money to families of suicide murderers in Israel.
Man, this is just too easy sometimes. I also found this amusing:
The President . . . should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction process.
So, after all of Kerry's bluster about a coalition of "the coerced and the bribed," be wants to get more people on our side by . . . bribing them. But at least he's being consistent in calling for outsourcing jobs currently done by U.S. companies and workers, right?
September 14, 2004
WAR: Excess of Evil
German newspaper Die Welt, "citing unnamed western security sources," charges that Syria tested chemical weapons on civilians in Sudan's troubled western Darfur region in June and killed dozens of people:
Die Welt said the sources had indicated that the weapons tests were undertaken following a military exercise between Syria and Sudan.
Syrian officers were reported to have met in May with Sudanese military leaders in a Khartoum suburb to discuss the possibility of improving cooperation between their armies.
Read the whole thing. (Link via The Corner). You will recall that Sudan was the site of a suspected chemical weapons factory (which may or may not have been an aspirin factory instead of or in addition to manufacturing chemical weapons) that had ties to both Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, according to Clinton Administration officials justifying the 1998 bombing of the factory.
September 11, 2004
WAR: Where I Was
Can't do much more for today than send you back to where I was on September 11, 2001.
September 7, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: The Iraq Straddle
Kerry supporters have been howling since the Republican convention (see this EJ Dionne column on Zell Miller's speech for an example) that Republicans were somehow dishonest for suggesting that a Kerry Administration would subordinate its judgment to that of the UN or let decisions to protect U.S. national security be held up by the French.
In a lot of ways, this is classic Kerry non-definition: the man spends nearly all his energies (including those spent on Vietnam, which is deployed in the service of this endeavor) trying to explain what he doesn't stand for rather than what he does ("that dog won't hunt"). Let's see if we can unpack Kerry's semi-current Iraq position on its own terms and see if I can explain precisely why I find these cries of outrage - and, indeed, Kerry's entire position on the Iraq war - so spectacularly disingenuous.
1. Was Iraq A Sufficient Threat To U.S. National Security To Justify War? The Bush Administration and other war supporters made many arguments about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to our national security (see here and here for some of my own thoughts on the subject), ranging from his pursuit of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction to his ties to international terrorists to broader arguments about his role in the region.
There is a coherent argument - albeit one I regard as dangerously irresponsible - to the effect that Saddam's regime was not a threat, and there are those who dispute particular items in the Administration's bill of particulars against him. But Kerry has not renounced his prior conclusion - underlying his vote in favor of authority to use force against Saddam's regime - that the regime posed such a threat. Despite generalized blather about "misleading the nation into war," Kerry has never, to my knowledge, made a serious effort to attack the factual underpinnings of the Administration's case, something that would be particularly difficult to do on the WMD issue given his own and Edwards' prior statements on the issue. He hasn't tried to deny Saddam's ties to terrorist groups and provision of safe haven to terrorists; that's a place Kerry, wisely, doesn't want to go.
2. Could Steps Short of War Have Removed The Threat or Revealed It To Be Overstated? Another of the "process" arguments before the war, and emphasized by some critics since, is that if the weapons inspectors or sanctions had been given more time, we would have discovered an absence of weapons - and not gone to war - or would have found some other way to defuse the multifaceted threat posed by Saddam's regime. Kerry has also not attempted to pursue this argument, perhaps recognizing the foolishness of arguing that we could at some point have taken Saddam's word - or the word of the inspectors he was actively working to deceive - that he was cooperating with inspections (when there's been substantial evidence since the war that he was doing anything but), and perhaps simply recognizing that Kerry would look foolish if he renounced his own war vote. Instead, Kerry has admitted that, even knowing what he knows now, he would have voted the same way. In other words, for all his arguments that war was unnecessary, Kerry hasn't made any effort to convince the public that the reasons he cited for voting in favor of war would or could have been resolved short of war.
3. Should We Have Waited For More Allies? Instead, Kerry's main argument has been that (1) we went to war without sufficient support from our allies and (2) things would have gone better, and easier, for us if we had waited to get that support. Of course, given what we now know about weapons inspections - i.e., that inspectors were never going to unearth a "smoking gun" - it is entirely implausible to suggest that "more time" would have resulted in a larger coalition. What was going to happen to change the minds of the war's critics? If the 12-year history of the conflict shows anything, it's that prolonging confrontations inevitably leads to fissures in the coalition encircling Saddam. Delay would only have led more of the allies to walk away from war.
In short . . . Kerry's position on the war, at least as set forth in his convention speech and some of his other efforts to explain it, amounts to this: we needed more allies, we shouldn't have gone to war without them . . . but we weren't getting them. If that's not a veto in the hands of our "allies," specifically those (France, Germany, Russia and China) with seats on the UN Security Council or leading positions in NATO, what is? (Howard Dean on Bill Maher's show the other night was focusing this point on Iraq's neighbors, but let's not pretend that any more Arab states would have lined up to give public support to the war).
P.S. - Of course, all this is an analysis of Kerry's position on the war as of his speech to the Democratic Convention, not the Howard Dean imitation he's now peddling. Bill Kristol notes that Kerry's current position is one he previously saw as so irresponsible as to disqualify one from high office:
Not an unheard of point of view. Indeed, as President Bush pointed out today, it was Howard Dean's position during the primary season. On December 15, 2003, in a speech at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles, Dean said that "the capture of Saddam Hussein has not made America safer." Dean also said, "The difficulties and tragedies we have faced in Iraq show the administration launched the war in the wrong way, at the wrong time, with inadequate planning, insufficient help, and at the extraordinary cost, so far, of $166 billion."
But who challenged Dean immediately? John Kerry. On December 16, at Drake University in Iowa, Kerry asserted that "those who doubted whether Iraq or the world would be better off without Saddam Hussein, and those who believe today that we are not safer with his capture, don't have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president."
Kerry was right then.
WAR: Oh Yeah, Life Goes On
Michele Catalano breaks radio silence over at A Small Victory to explain why she isn't going to do wall-to-wall September 11 remembrances this year. The decision to put tragedy behind us in some way can be a painful one, but life is far too short to feel guilty about deciding to focus a little more on what we have left.
July 30, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: But, Will He Fight?
On the big questions - would Kerry come out as an anti-war candidate or as a guy who stands by his vote for the Iraq war - and its practical significance (does he embrace the idea of an offensive strategy, including preemption and sometimes having to move without French and German allies), Kerry, unsurprisingly, didn't give an answer and tried to have it both ways. I've perma-linked this at the top; you owe it to yourself, in examining Kerry's views on this issue, to watch the RNC's devastating video on his contradictory positions over the years.
Where do we start?
Of course, Kerry himself cited Saddam's WMD in voting for the Iraq war. But hey, nobody watching at home remembers that, do they?
In theory, I agree with that, but "have to" means many different things to many different people. Was Iraq part of the larger war, which no one should dispute is one we have to fight?
In other words: threat has to be imminent. Initiative has to belong to the enemy. That's a "no" on voting for the Iraq war.
Here is the reality: that won’t happen until we have a president who restores America’s respect and leadership — so we don’t have to go it alone in the world.
We all know this is hokum - the major European powers have neither the will nor the means to project more than token military support into Iraq. Kerry knows this, and does not care.
"[B]efore they get us"? Sounds like we're back to preemption and being willing to go on the attack.
Oh, only if we're attacked first. As if there was any doubt that Kerry would respond to an attack. Well, unless - as is almost invariably true - the intelligence is fuzzy on exactly who attacked us, where they are located, and who their patrons are.
Sounds nice, but if you really mean the stuff before about needing allies, eventually there are times when the only realistic choice is to go with only ten or twenty of them or to wait for the whole world to get on board, resulting in inaction.
We will add 40,000 active duty troops - not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended, and under pressure. We will double our special forces to conduct anti-terrorist operations. We will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives - and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of National Guard and reservists.
Note how quick to say "not in Iraq." So much for the idea that we need more troops there. Also, Kerry doesn't exactly have the best record of voting for "the newest weapons and technology."
Which sounds good, but I note also that nearly nobody at this convention talked about the sicknesses of jihadism and anti-Semitism and tyranny in the Muslim and Arab worlds. You'd think the problem was just a few renegades.
Actually, I'd like a president who is willing to say that today.
July 16, 2004
WAR: Don't Read This Before Flying
Very long, creepy story (via Instapundit). But one you won't hear from the mainstream media.
July 13, 2004
WAR: Smash Get Angry
WAR: A Voice
Yes, Iraq's government now has something of its own to say about foreign troops: in response to word that the government of the Philippines may withdraw its troop presence earlier than planned in return for the release of a hostage, the Iraqis are asking foreign governments not to negotiate with hostage-takers.
July 7, 2004
WAR: Yes, Virginia, There Is Yellowcake
Instapundit reports that a British commission on intelligence "is expected to conclude that Britain's spies were correct to say that Saddam Hussein's regime sought to buy uranium from Niger." So much for Joe Wilson's Hercule Poirot act, and so much for the supposed unreasonableness of President Bush's reliance on the British reports in the 2003 State of the Union Address. But then, the report also vindicates this guy ("[A]ll U.S. intelligence experts agree that they are seeking nuclear weapons. There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop them.") and this guy ("We know that [Saddam Hussein] is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.").
WAR/LAW: Edmonds Gets Shut Down
Remember Sibel Dinez Edmonds, the disgruntled former FBI translator who aired sensational charges of disloyalty and deliberate incompetence at the FBI after September 11? Well, on Tuesday the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed her lawsuit, accepting an affidavit by John Ashcroft to the effect that resolution of her claims would require the disclosure of state secrets.
Edmonds' charges are grave, but not tremendously credible. Here's hoping that Congress has conducted or will conduct an adequate investigation, because her claims (probably properly) won't get their day in court.
July 6, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Edwards on the Iraq War
Memory lane - an October 10, 2002 press release:
Senator Edwards said the debate on the congressional resolution helped make the case to the American people that Saddam Hussein must be stopped from adding nuclear weapons to his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
I posted much more in this vein at the Command Post back in January. On the other hand, see this Peter Beinart column from last fall trashing Edwards and Kerry for voting against the $87 billion in Iraq reconstruction funds:
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In policy terms, the sound bite is almost meaningless. Whatever its earlier blunders, the Bush administration now clearly does have a plan to reconstruct Iraq. Its aid request specifies in excruciating detail how the United States will rebuild different sectors of Iraqi society. And, on the day Edwards and Kerry voted no, the United States won U.N. backing for a plan under which Iraq will write a constitution and then hold elections in 2004. But that's the whole point: On one of the key national security votes of the post-September 11 era, policy barely mattered at all. And it's not likely to anytime soon.
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July 5, 2004
WAR: Moore is Not Better
One of the nuttier memes rising on the Left is an effort to seek a moral equivalence between Michael Moore and the Bush Administration; we'll let Paul Krugman play the tune, although people like Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias are following him to the sea:
Leave aside the laughable notion that Moore didn't get anything seriously wrong. (My favorite example is when ABC's Jake Tapper confronted him with Richard Clarke's admission - very much against Clarke's interest - that he and he alone, not dark, powerful moneyed interests around President Bush, authorized the flights of members of the bin Laden family out of the US after September 11, and Moore countered that "I don't agree with Clarke on this point." Yeah, what would Richard Clarke know about decisions made by Richard Clarke?)
Anyway, this is a classic debater's trick of raising the level of generality to the point where factual refutation is almost pointless . . . the comparison is so obscene that I hate to give it credence by trying to refute it, but consider just a few obvious points:
1. The Adminisration made a number of well-supported and nearly undisputed points in the run-up to war about intelligence relating to Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, past stockpiles, ongoing deceptions, and connections to Al Qaeda. From this, the Administration argued for some inferences - such as an ongoing and/or future threat of Saddam-Al Qaeda cooperation or the existence of large WMD stockpiles - some of which remain controversial and others of which haven't panned out. The chief charge of late against the Administration is that, by some sort of Jedi mind trick, it sought to subliminally (or subliminablely, as it were) convince people of an Iraqi connection to September 11, for which the evidence is exceptionally sparse and generally unconvincing.
By contrast, the issue with Moore isn't that he made valid points but some people think he was insinuating something unsupportable. Virtually all of Moore's points of any substance are wholly speculative and either rely on non-existent evidence or ignore substantial contrary evidence. If you peel back the frauds and the tricks, there's nothing there at all.
2. Even considered in the most uncharitable light, the Bush Administration was asking us to draw dark inferences about the most diabolical and conspiratorial characters on the face of the earth. Saddam having WMD? Well, this is a guy who's used the stuff, both in battle and against civilians, let alone the whole record of his cat-and-mouse games with inspectors. This is rather like accusing Steve Howe of being mixed up in drugs. And Saddam doing business with bin Laden, and maybe participating in a crazy attack on the U.S.? This is a textbook totalitarian dictator with a rap sheet a mile long of unprovoked aggressions that were manifestly not in his best interests, including trying to assassinate a former president of the United States, which would serve no purpose at all but spite. Is it really that crazy to suggest that a regime who boasts of paying suicide bombers and puts up murals and celebratory newspaper coverage of the September 11 attacks would get mixed up with terrorists?
Moore, meanwhile . . . I mean, I just don't know anymore what color the sky is in Krugman's world, but Drum and Yglesias can't really believe that Bush went to war in Afghanistan principally to benefit Unocal, or that Bush is somehow in bin Laden's pocket. Is it really easier to believe that Bush is a tool of bin Laden than that Saddam would do business with him? Or have they become so consumed by Bush-hatred that the difference between the President of the United States and a guy who sat and watched with glee while his subjects were eaten by dogs is totally lost on these guys?
UPDATE: Drum's still at it. This is apparently now one of his favorite hobbyhorses.
July 4, 2004
WAR: The Media Enemy
We can debate until the cows come home what the obligations of a free press in wartime are, whether it's fair to impugn the motives and biases of the Western media, and whether it makes you a Nazi to even discuss the subject. What's not debatable is that modern war requires the U.S. military to regard the media (Western and otherwise) as a potential source for turning victories into defeats, simply by the way coverage of stories tends to focus on U.S. setbacks and the way any absence of peace is portrayed as an American failing. Wretchard at Belmont Club has a poignant example of how this affects tactics:
Ted Koppel was determined to read the names of 700 American servicemen who have died in Iraq to remind us how serious was their loss. Michael Moore has dedicated his film Farenheit 9/11 to the Americans who died in Afghanistan. And they did a land office business. But at least they didn't get to show Sadr's miliamen dancing around a battered Humvee. The men of the First Armored paid the price to stop that screening and those concerned can keep the change.
WAR: Amnesty, National
Iraq's new provisional government ponders amnesty for Iraqi insurgents, which strikes me as a good thing, in theory; it's all well and good to take a hard line, but offers of amnesty are often good ways to try to draw down a guerilla war in face-saving fashion.
In practice, there are twin problems: first, the somewhat invisible nature of the enemy may make them uninterested in the benefits of amnesty. Then again, these guys may be less invisible to Iraqis than to us, and nobody wants to live in the wilderness forever. If the long-term strategy is to peel off all but the hardest-core jihadists, this may be a worthwhile strategy. Second, of course, you need some way to verify that people have actually laid down their arms.
It should go without saying, of course, that no amnesty should be shown to non-Iraqis who have entered the country to fight. The only solution to those guys is to kill them.
In a perhaps not-unrelated development, Muqtada al-Sadr is again blasting the Iraqi government:
"We announce that the current government is illegitimate and illegal," al-Sadr said. "It's generally following the occupation. We demand complete sovereignty and independence by holding honest elections."
The call for elections is an interesting touch, and suggests that he may still be giving himself a fallback position to get involved in the new government while stoking anti-American resentments. In the case of al-Sadr, as with the amnesty decision, it really has to be up to the Iraqis (who understand the byzantine power dynamics of the place better than we could hope to) to deal with him. That's the risk we have to take if we're going to bank on self-governance.
July 3, 2004
WAR: I'm Sayin, Bro
This is too funny for words:
July 1, 2004
WAR: Shame, Shame on Krugman
David Frum notes Paul Krugman's latest jeremiad, this one against Simone Ledeen, the daughter of Michael Ledeen, who has been working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; it's a good illustration of why Krugman is basically Michael Moore with degrees:
June 30, 2004
I've stressed before that I'm not that interested in pinning blame on Americans for the September 11 attacks; there's way too much 20/20 hindsight out there. Nonetheless, it's important to keep the historical record straight - not least as a reminder that those who want to return to the pre-September 11 policies are horrifically mistaken, and also as a curative against current agitprop that seeks to blame President Bush for the problem. In that light, it's important to keep the Clinton legacy on terrorism in perspective and understand why, with the benefit of that hindsight, it was such a disaster.
Clinton likes to speak today of his "virtual obsession" with getting Osama bin Laden. Here's his explanation of why he didn't, from Larry King's show on Sunday night:
So we were deeply immersed in this. So what I say all the time is -- and what I told President Bush when we had our little meeting after the Supreme Court decision -- I regret deeply that I didn't get him. I tried everything I knew to get him.
I wish -- the only real regret I have in terms of our efforts is nearly everybody in the world knew that he did the USS Cole in October of 2000. I knew what our options were, I knew what our military options were, I knew what our covert options were. And I felt I couldn't take strong military action against Afghanistan because the FBI and the CIA didn't officially agree that bin Laden had done it until after I left office.
If they had done so when I was in office, I would have taken stronger action -- even as a lame duck president.
KING: Do you know why they didn't?
CLINTON: I think they just had a process they wanted to go through. And keep in mind, you know, when Oklahoma City happened, which before 9/11 was the worst domestic terrorist incident, a lot of people immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was a Muslim militant terrorist. And I remember standing in the Rose Garden of the White House pleading with the American people not to jump to any conclusions.
So I felt if I launched a full scale attack, violated air space of countries that wouldn't give me permission, had to do the logistics of doing that without basing rights like we had in Uzbekistan and other things we had after 9/11, I would have been on grounds without an approval.
But I don't think -- I don't know of anything that I could have done that I didn't do at the time that would have dramatically increased the chances of getting bin Laden because I wanted to do it and I regretted not doing it.
There's just a world of misguided caution there, and not just on Clinton's part; the FBI and CIA bear some pretty substantial responsibility as well. But note that Clinton treated the Cole incident exactly as the current critics of the Iraq war would have treated Saddam Hussein: by giving bin Laden the benefit of every doubt, by treating it as a law enforcement matter requiring indictable evidence before one moves to protect the nation. The consequences of this approach, as we now know, were catastrophic.
Clinton's approach was also problematic for a deeper reason: he spoke at the time and speaks now, as President Bush has wisely stopped doing, as if apprehending a single leader (bin Laden) was the goal, and as if military action was pointless if he didn't apprehend the #1 guy. But we also know, as Clinton knew and told the nation as far back as August 1998, that Taliban Afghanistan was home to "a network of terrorist compounds near the Pakistani border that housed supporters of Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden." Of course, it was the men training in those camps, not bin Laden himself, who actually executed the September 11 plot, and thousands more trained there who may still be at large. In a January 1999 speech, Clinton reiterated the problem:
Last May, at the Naval Academy commencement, I said terrorist and outlaw states are extending the world's fields of battle, from physical space to cyberspace, from our earth's vast bodies of water to the complex workings of our own human bodies. The enemies of peace realize they cannot defeat us with traditional military means. So they are working on two new forms of assault, which you've heard about today: cyber attacks on our critical computer systems, and attacks with weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, potentially even nuclear weapons. We must be ready -- ready if our adversaries try to use computers to disable power grids, banking, communications and transportation networks, police, fire and health services -- or military assets.
Counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke had ordered his staff to review existing intelligence in relation to the bombing of the USS Cole. After that review, he and Michael Sheehan, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, were convinced it was the work of Osama bin Laden. The Pentagon had on-the-shelf, regularly updated and detailed strike plans for bin Laden's training camps and strongholds in Afghanistan.
At a meeting with Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Attorney General Janet Reno, and other staffers, Clarke was the only one in favor of retaliation against bin Laden. Reno thought retaliation might violate international law and was therefore against it. Tenet wanted to more definitive proof that bin Laden was behind the attack, although he personally thought he was. Albright was concerned about the reaction of world opinion to a retaliation against Muslims, and the impact it would have in the final days of the Clinton Middle East peace process. Cohen, according to Clarke, did not consider the Cole attack "sufficient provocation" for a military retaliation. Michael Sheehan was particularly surprised that the Pentagon did not want to act. He told Clarke: "What's it going to take to get them to hit al Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon?"
Instead of destroying bin Laden's terrorist infrastructure and capabilities, President Clinton phoned twice phoned the president of Yemen demanding better cooperation between the FBI and the Yemeni security services. If Clarke's plan had been implemented, al Qaeda's infrastructure would have been demolished and bin Laden might well have been killed. Sept. 11, 2001 might have been just another sunny day.
Now, Clinton's failure to act is sometimes excused by other circumstances: impeachment distracted him, he had to prosecute the Kosovo war, he couldn't act during an election. Let's go to the timeline of Clinton's military responses against al Qaeda or, for that matter, against Iraq, charted against a selection (admittedly incomplete) of significant events:
Again, the purpose of the timeline isn't to damn Clinton (although one does come away with the conclusion that his military aggressiveness tended to wane when he wasn't in extreme political/legal peril, and question what he could have been doing instead of spending "a whole day a week every week for a year, maybe a little more" in marriage counseling), but to point out the obvious: for more than three years after the August 1998 attacks, the nation and its president (Clinton, for most of that period) knew there were terrorist camps operating in Afghanistan, and failed to treat them as a lethal threat. In the latter half of 1999 in particular, it seems difficult to explain why an offensive against terrorists could not have been a higher priority. Let us not repeat that error.
June 29, 2004
WAR: The Comic Bomber
June 24, 2004
WAR: Going Hard on the Mullahs
David Warren thinks the rising nuclear threat presented by the repressive theocarcy in Iran is so grave that Bush should launch military strikes, even if it costs him the election. Via Bill Hobbs, who agrees but thinks Bush's electoral prospects wouldn't be harmed. I'm highly sympathetic to the idea of using air power to take out Iran's nuclear capacity and using covery operations to speed the overthrow the Iranian government by pro-Western democratic reformers. I'm less certain that we've quite reached the right moment for either, but I would certainly hope that the Administration is considering the question closely, election or no election.
Of course, given Iran's vast size and our commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea, there's no way we'd be able to provide nation-building security support in Iran. But then, democracies broke out all over the place in the late 80s and early 90s without American hand-holding, in many cases in countries ravaged by Communism. In Iran, there's no possibility of getting a worse government than the current one, so the only real risks would be (1) total destabilization of the place and (2) we better be damn sure we hit all the nuclear sites. Those are real risks. But nuclear weapons in the hands of the sponsors of Hezbollah is a prospect too frightening to contemplate.
Like the man says: faster, please.
WAR: No Mahdi
The good news from the Washington Times' account of the 1st Armored Division's defeat of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army (link via Sullivan): "The division estimates it killed at least several thousand militia members" out of an estimated 10,000 strong militia. I'm less disappointed in letting Sadr go if we killed so many of his men, since that makes it much harded for him to rebuild a power base. I'm hopeful that Sadr will be dealt with eventually, just not by us. The important thing is, he was defeated and by this point, everybody knows it.
June 18, 2004
WAR: The Weathervane
Over at the Command Post I note John Kerry's latest broadside against the idea that the Iraq war is part of the war on terror, and contrast it with what he said back in 2002 when he voted to authorize the war. It's Kerry's clearest statement yet that he simply wants no part of the current strategy in the war on terror - viewing the problem as one arising from the nature of the whole Middle East and requiring a regional solution - but sees the war as just Afghanistan and some parts of Pakistan where Al Qaeda remains in concentrated hiding.
John McCain, by stark contrast, has not gone wobbly at all; in this New Republic article (subscription only), despite some criticisms for how the Bush Administration handled the pre- and post-war situation in Iraq, McCain expresses no reservations about the decision to go to war based on the information we had at the time (or on what we know now), and makes clear that he buys in completely to the "neocon" vision of the war's overall strategy:
So, in the end, we had essentially three choices--deal with Saddam early, while we could; deal with Saddam later, after sanctions had lost force, he had resuscitated his weapons programs, and more Iraqis had lost their lives; or simply sit back and hope for the best. We were right to act. And we have paid a high price for our noble ambitions--over 800 Americans dead, well over $100 billion and counting spent on the war, disgrace at Abu Ghraib. But, when I stood in August at the mass grave at Hilla, where 10,000 Iraqis were executed--some tied together and shot so as to save bullets--I did not wish to take it all back. We believed we would be greeted as liberators, and in many places we have been--not everywhere, to be sure, but, during my visit to the country, there was widespread thanks for the coalition.
Count me with McCain on this one. We know where he stands. The best you can say about Kerry's position is that it's subject to change.
June 16, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Neither Here Nor There
Apropos of nothing: Walter O'Malley catching a game at Ebbets Field with King Faisal of Iraq in 1952.
June 15, 2004
WAR: No Worse Friend, No Better Enemy
I'm just speechless. This sounds like something from the Onion, but it's not.
Is it me, or doesn't this picture suggest that the Army's new uniforms stand out against the backdrop - which isn't really what you want from camouflage? Still, I guess the new uniforms are good for urban combat.
June 14, 2004
WAR: The Missing M.O.
As David Adesnik notes, the Reagan foreign policy legacy of using democracy promotion as a strategy and not just an aspiration is alive and well in the Bush Administration's Iraq policy.
But there is one significant area in which Bush has thus far not made use of the Reagan era precedents. There were, to simplify a bit, three major foreign policy approaches during the Cold War. One, identified primarily with the Nixon and Ford years, was Detente: treating the Soviet Union as if it was any other nation and making deals that presupposed that we could peacefully co-exist with a massive tyranny. One, identified mostly with Truman and JFK, was Containment: the idea that if we refused to do anything to assist the Soviets and opposed their expansion at every turn, the combination of the Communist centrally planned economic system and the Soviet empire's ethnic tensions (George Kennan particularly stressed the latter) would sooner or later cause the whole system to collapse under its own weight. The third, coined during the Eisenhower years, was Rollback - the idea that rather than wait passively for trouble, the United States should work to undermine Communist control of captive nations.
It's clear that no administration relied exclusively on one of these strategies; most tended to pursue a mixture of all three, but there was a distinct shift in emphasis from one administration to the next, and the Reagan years involved particularly agressive efforts not only to peel back recent Communist gains but to undermine the basis of Communist tyranny in the heartland of the Warsaw Pact nations.
Of course, a similar debate over the overall strategy is alive today, as President Bush pushes for rolling back the terror-sponsoring tyrannies of the Arab world, while critics argue for a more reactive "containment" strategy. What's particularly worth remembering from the Reagan years, however, is that there were multiple ways to skin the cat of Soviet oppression, and the Bush team doesn't seem to be doing much to project two of America's most potent weapons: material support for domestic insurgencies fighting within tyrranies, and ensuring that our message gets heard within those nations.
On the latter there have been some efforts to revive the "Radio Free Europe" concept for the Arab world. On the former, though, we seem to have no strategy. Granted, supporting revolts within Iraq failed miserably in the 1990s. But in some of the other Arab or Muslim states in the region, the ground may be more fertile, notably in Iran, where popular discontent with the mullahrchy appears to be widespread. We don't want or need to wait to go to open war with Iran to put our efforts into weakening or removing its oppressive government.
June 13, 2004
WAR: Nothing To See Here, Please Move Along
The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.
The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.
I'm not so sure about the World Tribune's sources or credibility, but as usual this sounds like it could bear watching.
UPDATE: The World Tribune is apparently a NewsMax-style wire service run by some Washington Times staffers, so a grain of salt is appropriate, but most of the various pieces of this story are basically confirmed by reports in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and that right-wing rag, the New York Times. However, these sources don't refer to shipments of materiel prior to the Iraq war, focusing instead on the banned missile components disappearing after the war.
June 10, 2004
WAR: Hearts and Minds, Part II
As I've insisted before, "the war for "hearts and minds" isn't about making them love us; it's about making the Iraqis and others in the Arab and Muslim worlds take responsibility for their own back yards, stop blaming us for everything and stop encouraging and assisting people to try to kill us."
According to Tom Friedman, Lt. Gen. David Petraeus gets it:
Also: more good news for the new Iraqi government in the disbanding of the militias (link via Iraq the Model) and the new government's assertion of full control over Iraq's oil industry (link via Joe Katzman of Winds of Change).
WAR: War Aims
The Belmont Club identifies a key problem in the War on Terror: the absence of publicly announced goals for the next stage of the war. The first step in the WOT was obvious: removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and closing up the terrorist camps there (although it did have its Chomskyite detractors on the Left). The second was an interim measure: making clear that the United States wasn't going to waste its time negotiating with Arafatistan, and would essentially back-burner the "peace process" until there was new Palestinian leadership. This caused only a relatively minimal controversy because the policy ended up simply leaving the status quo in place. The third step was also obvious but controversial, removing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
Wretchard identifies six areas where we need to identify our goals, but #4 is about Iraq and the last two are about Europe; I'm more interested in the problem presented by the first three:
Now, I have little doubt that George Bush will pursue a more aggressive policy as to each of these than John Kerry would, given how steeped Kerry is in the diplomatic status quo and how little enthusiasm he seems to have for viewing the WOT as a war at all. But the fact is, Bush has not committed anything but the barest of his energies to building a public case - at home or internationally - to #2 & 3, and none at all to #1.
Thus far, the steps taken have been the imposition of sanctions on Syria, the naming of Iran as part of the "axis of evil," the slow-motion (as these things always are) nuclear inspections of Iran, and Bush's occasional rhetorical bone thrown to democracy in Iran. As to the Saudis, they remain nominally our allies.
But here's the problem that the broad strategy in the WOT has faced all along, and that is now approaching a crossroads, especially as to the Saudis: at some point, with the obvious steps taken care of, the president needs to put the squeeze on these three regimes - but at the same time, maintaining some modicum of support with our other, tenuous allies in the region may be impossible if we declare openly our intention of overturning these regimes. In other words, it may not (at least yet) be in our national interest to announce our next steps.
At the same time, eventual public support will need to be prepared - not just for the future but to buck up support at home during the long twilight struggle in Iraq - and there is, of course, an election coming in which the people ought to be told why it is that Bush has a strategy for dealing with these three regimes and Kerry doesn't.
Put another way, Bush may have to choose between honesty and a certain amount of deception (or, more properly, silence and ambiguity), where honesty is in his best political interest but ambiguity is in the nation's interest. I fear the consequences of either course.
June 9, 2004
WAR: What Is Sovereignty?
The big meme on the left side of the blogosphere regarding the transfer of power on June 30 in Iraq is . . . well, it's just a sneer:
It amazes me that some people actually buy this Iraqi handover and "transition". After the handover, we still run Iraq from our embassy there. The new government has no real power. The UN resolution doesn't provide for any extra troops in the field.
(Link via QandO). Now, I don't have all the answers here; as usual, I'm content just to re-frame the questions. What is sovereignty, after all? Yes, it's true that a country doesn't have complete and total sovereignty over its territory if there are foreign troops running around and they can't easily be told to leave. But is that the only aspect of sovereignty? (It's ironic, if you think about it, that so many folks on the Left are equating the Hobbesian monopoly on force with the sole measure of government).
There are many entities in the world that have some but not plenary sovereignty over their territory:
*The State and City of New York lack many attributes of sovereignty, such as the ability to coin money or run a foreign policy, but my state and local governments still have the ability to lay and collect taxes, send people to jail, run fire departments and schools and collect trash, tell me where to put bottles and cans for recycling, and impose all sorts of onerous requirements on businesses doing business in New York. Quebec has even more sovereignty than New York does.
*France similarly lacks its own currency, control over its own trade policies, and must even submit to the dictates of Belgian bureaucrats as to the regulation of its beloved cheeses. Yet, it is unquestionable that France exercises considerable sovereignty.
*Even the United States' sovereignty has limits: not only are some powers reserved to the states, but we are bound by treaties with Native American tribes that reside within our own borders.
So, how do we determine whether the new Iraqi government has been given sovereignty and is beginning to exercise it (two different things - letting the Iraqis have a police force is not the same as it actually functioning)? Let's start with this handy checklist:
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To borrow Money on the credit of [Iraq];
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among [internal units of local government];
To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout [Iraq];
To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;
To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of [Iraq];
To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
To raise and support Armies . . . ;
To provide and maintain a Navy;
To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;
To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of [Iraq] . . . ;
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers . . .
Those are, of course, the powers of the Congress of the United States in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. One might add the powers of local governments and administrative agences in the United States, including the establishment of police and fire departments, sanitation and ambulance corps, regulation and licensing of businesses (including banks, stock exchanges, and mineral rights, among others), running schools, etc.
Will the new Iraqi government have all these powers? Certainly not, at first. But as to a good many of them, I suspect it will have as much authority as it can take, with no interference from the United States or the UN. To say that's nothing is to ignore the multifaceted nature of sovereign governments.
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WAR: Personal Diplomacy
Interesting WaPo article on how President Bush relates personally to other world leaders. In the end, though - unsurprisingly - personal relationships only go so far; Bush has apparently hit it off much more with Vicente Fox than with Ariel Sharon, but it's Sharon he's worked with more lately because that's where US interests are. While I have a pretty low opinion of the Saudis and their unctuous spokesman Adel al-Jubeir, he at least has been open about the fundamental basis of U.S.-Saudi relations:
June 8, 2004
WAR: "The Marines did it through aggressive raiding and downright obstinate refusal to budge regardless of the costs."
An interesting analysis of the situation in Fallujah, with a conclusion that's not so reassuring, from a Marine on the front lines. (via Andrew Sullivan)
It's amazing how many guys there are on the front lines who are capable of drawing a compelling narrative of what's going on and are willing to put in the time to do so. We've come a long way from Vietnam and Walter Cronkite having absolute control over what the public got to hear (or, for that matter, World War II and the Pentagon having absolute control). And, of course, the less a few anti-war voices in the media can control the storyline, the better.
June 7, 2004
WAR: Moving the Bases
Phil Carter notes some preliminary progress in a good and long overdue idea: leaving behind the last vestiges of America's Cold War-oriented military bases in Germany and rearranging our forces to fit their current and likely future missions.
WAR: Charting The Cost
Interesting chart here showing the distribution of American soldiers killed in Iraq by proportion of state population. Unsurprisingly, given the formula, small states dominated the top of the list, mostly "red" states in the mountain/plains area (the Dakotas, Wyoming, Nebraska) but also including several New England states. The more urban states - NY, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts - tended towards the bottom half.
June 2, 2004
WAR: Hook Will Bring You Back
Bob "The Prince of Darkness" Novak - a fine conservative of good standing in many domestic battles, but also a guy who's been a relentless critic of the Bush Administration's foreign policies, to the point where the National Review openly questioned his patriotism - has a gloom-and-doom look at Afghanistan. Sgt. Hook, who's actually serving in Afghanistan at the moment, takes umbrage.
WAR: The Goalposts
We can't well judge where we stand on victory in Iraq - and how much more needs to be done - without stepping back and reviewing what our objectives there were in the first place. I'm not looking so much to answer all these questions in this one entry as to frame the issues:
1. Removing the Regime: As I've explained repeatedly before (see here, for example) and will no doubt return to again soon, the first and primary reason for the Iraq war was the nature of the regime itself - implacably hostile to the United States, planted at the center of the region that has been the epicenter for terrorism against the United States and its allies, immune to outside persuasion or pressure, safe from any internal revolt, and unpredictable in its actions. The regime's record on numerous issues supported the conclusion that it could neither be changed nor safely ignored. Recall just one example, one of the most critical facts about Saddam Hussein's regime: after September 11, when nearly all of the world's worst dictators - Castro, Khaddafi, even Arafat - were lining up to give lip service to denouncing the attacks, Saddam's state-run media was trumpeting them with front-page celebrations. The Ba'athist regime put up murals cheering the attacks. All of which underlined why the United States Congress had passed, and President Clinton signed into law, legislation making "regime change" in Iraq the formal policy of the United States. Removing the regime would also take care of its appalling human rights record.
The objective of removing the regime was, of course, accomplished by mid-April 2003, which is what anyone who was paying attention understood to be the "Mission Accomplished" announced by President Bush a few weeks later. The final nails in the coffin were the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein and the December 2003 capture of Saddam himself. While it's true that some ex-Ba'athists are starting to resurface in the new Iraq, notably in the Fallujah Brigade tasked with pacifying Fallujah (and now the head of the new provisional government), that's as unremarkable as the presence of ex-Communists (like Yeltsin and Putin) in post-Soviet Russia, given the lack of alternatives to being in the Ba'ath party while Saddam ruled the country. There's nothing to fear in terms of the regime rising again in anything resembling its prior form, especially given how much of that form was dictated by the personality of Saddam Hussein himself.
2. Removal of the WMD Threat - While the human element was Iraq's chief threat, the regime's persistent pursuit of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological, nuclear - was, famously, the subject of international debate for years before the war dating back to Israel's bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. On the issue of WMD programs, we can feel pretty good about what we've accomplished - we know that the regime was continuing to, at a minimum, 'keep its powder dry' in terms of maintaining the know-how and capability to ramp up production of chemical and biological weapons, which are cheaper, quicker and easier to produce and transport than nuclear weapons; that that capability was concealed from weapons inspectors; and that that capability is now dissipated.
Actual weapons - including the large stockpiles previously identified by the UN (and cited by President Bush) but not accounted for - are another matter. If we ever get comfortable that there really were no such stockpiles by the time of the war, of course, that would be good news; a propaganda victory for war opponents, but good news nonetheless. On the other hand, if there's one thing that's made me genuinely nervous about the aftermath of the war (or perhaps the interminable 14-month "rush to war"), it's the possibility that WMD materiel made its way to Syria or into the hands of rogue individuals or groups, including Al Qaeda or other international terror groups. Thus, it remains premature to declare victory on this front, and we may never really get to the bottom of the question.
3. Eliminate Iraq as a Terrorist Safe Haven: Regardless of the continuing debate over the extent of Saddam's active operational and financial assistance to various terror groups, the incontestible fact remains that Iraq before March 2003 was (as Iran and Syria remain) a black hole on the map into which terrorists of all kinds - Zarqawi, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, Ansar Al-Islam, possibly some of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers - could disappear or encamp without fear of being apprehended or reliably traced. For the moment, that aspect has been greatly diminished - it's true that we haven't found Zarqawi, but then fugitives in the US have been known to evade capture for years as well, and there have been many, many foreign terrorists captured or killed by US forces there. There's at least been very significant progress in reducing the freedom of terrorists to move into Iraq as a safe haven. And, of course, Saddam is no longer pumping cash into the suicide-bombing operations in Israel, which is good.
4. Prevent the Re-Emergence of a Hostile Regime: Obviously, this is the big-ticket endgame right now, and one that might ultimately require us to play power politics, since neither the Shiites, the Sunnis nor the Kurds can create a dangerous rogue regime in Iraq if the other two groups retain some base of power. The major danger would be an Islamist theocracy controlled by Iran under someone like al-Sadr (who's pretty well discredited and weakened at the moment, although the careers of the likes of Khomeini and Saddam suggest that a guy like this is a continuing danger to bounce back until he's actually dead or in permanent US custody).
5. Prevent the Descent of Iraq into a Failed State: The opposite pole, and the first of the objectives that represents an objective of the reconstruction rather than the war (although Christopher Hitchens, among others, has argued that Iraq was headed this way anyway) is preventing anarchy - if Iraq winds up looking like Somalia, it will resume its status as a place for transnational terror groups to congregate. Again, the jury's still out, but the growth of local institutions in the Kurdish north and the Shiite south hopefully could create a fallback position where if post-occupation Iraq started to crumble, there would be hope of salvaging parts of the country from anarchy.
6. Building a Role Model: Most of the objectives of the Iraq war were negative - get Saddam out of power, stop the spread of weapons and terror groups, etc. The positive goal - building democracy in Iraq - has attracted mountains of scorn, but when you consider that we had little choice but to try to rebuild the place anyway once we'd removed the existing regime, why wouldn't we want to use all the persuasive powers at our command to try to provide a positive example to the rest of the region? Needless to say, this aspect of President Bush's "forward strategy of freedom" has a ways to go, although there's no reason to suspect that there won't be elections by January - the more troubling question is what comes after that. My own bottom line: regardless of the shape it takes, if the resulting institutions provide accountable government that the Iraqi people are happy with, that alone will put pressure on the neighbors to shape up. Considering the number of former tyrannies around the world that have transitioned to functioning or semi-functioning democracies in the last 20 years without any U.S. troops at all, and sometimes in the face of bitter-end internal resistance, faltering economies, and/or inhospitable cultural traditions, I hardly consider this an unrealistic endeavor.
7. Humanitarian Reconstruction: Rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals, etc. Keeping the lights on. By all accounts, this is going well. In fact, we made significant progress just by putting and end to the failed sanctions regime, which gave the "containment" policy a brutal cost in human life.
8. Prevent Iraqi-on-Iraqi Violence: At the end of the day, this is Iraq's problem, not ours, although we obviously need to keep violence from overwhelming the other mission objectives. The US media has tended to elevated this to Job One in Iraq, thus missing the entire point of the exercise.
(I'm ignoring "prevent violence against US troops," since that's not so much an end goal as something we're trying to do while working towards our goals; in military terms, force protection is an ongoing priority but not a mission objective - if every other job on the list was done, we could keep the troops safe just by bringing them home. The importance and difficulty of protecting our forces has, of course, been a critical concern through all of this.).
9. "Flypaper": The notion that our troops would serve as "flypaper" - attracting jihadist fanatics to Iraq to kill them rather than have to hunt them down elsewhere - always struck me more as a sliver lining to the cloud of the insurgency rather than a positive goal. It's not that we actually want people attacking our soldiers. But if they are going to pour into Iraq, killing a lot of them is a laudable goal that will advance our ultimate war aims, and the casualty figures from the front suggest that we are indeed doing this at a fairly high volume.
10. Get the Wells Pumping: Nobody seriously argued that oil should have been a valid reason for war - we could have increased Iraq's production by lifting UN sanctions - but given oil's importance to the Iraqi, world and US economies, getting the wells pumping at full tilt was obviously an important thing to do. From what I've read, that's going fine, although it may be some time before Iraq can really tap into its full potential as an oil producer.
11. Reorganize US Base Structure: Basing US troops in Saudi Arabia, of course, was not only expensive and inefficient (like the Germans, the Saudis could be picky about where they would let us go), but also an irritant cited by bin Laden as a grounds for jihad. We seem to be headed towards the first leg of this objective, getting our bases out of Saudi Arabia, and for now we have temporary bases in Iraq from which to stage more operations against the likes of Syria and Iran. But it's an open question whether the new Iraqi government will agree to long-term basing rights.
I've probably forgotten something, and I'm also leaving off some of the more intangible objectives, like demonstrating US resolve, sending a message to other dictators, improving the future credibility of UN resolutions, repaying the Kurds and Shiites for abandoning them in the past, etc. I'm also ignoring the end of the oil-for-food boondoggle, since that wasn't and couldn't have been fully appreciated as a war aim before the war.
June 1, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Kerry All Over the Map
The Bush campaign has a very amusing graphic showing John Kerry's shifting positions on Iraq. (Link via Instapundit).
May 29, 2004
WAR: MoveOn Speech By Man Who Can't Move On
Fear Leads To Anger, Anger Leads To Hate, Hate Leads To Suffering
For those of us bloggers and pundits on the right, an Al Gore speech is just a gift that keeps on giving. Here's the full horror:
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He promised to "restore honor and integrity to the White House." Instead, he has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon.
Honor? He decided not to honor the Geneva Convention. Just as he would not honor the United Nations, international treaties, the opinions of our allies, the role of Congress and the courts, or what Jefferson described as "a decent respect for the opinion of mankind." He did not honor the advice, experience and judgment of our military leaders in designing his invasion of Iraq. And now he will not honor our fallen dead by attending any funerals or even by permitting photos of their flag-draped coffins.
* * *
[F]rom its earliest days in power, this administration sought to radically destroy the foreign policy consensus that had guided America since the end of World War II. The long successful strategy of containment was abandoned in favor of the new strategy of "preemption." . . .
* * *
What happened at the prison, it is now clear, was not the result of random acts by "a few bad apples," it was the natural consequence of the Bush Administration policy that has dismantled those wise constraints and has made war on America's checks and balances.
There's really too much leftist nujobbery here to cover in one sitting, as Powerline has noted. Surely, Gore recognizes the irony of accusing Bush of "sexual depravity" and being "the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon," given who Gore sold his soul to.
Michele accurately captures the spirit of the speech (you missed a lot if you didn't see or hear quite how unglued Gore sounded and looked). John Podhoretz thinks Gore has genuinely lost his mind. Gore begins to remind me of Johnny Sack from the Sopranos, driven to self-destructive extremes by his resentments:
I realize Bush wouldn't have handled losing as Gore did very well either; few politicians would have, although I suspect that Bush would have had the discipline to hold his team together for a rematch in 2004. Nixon is the worst example: he truly became the Nixon of Watergate because he believed he'd been robbed and cheated in 1960 (witness his abuse of the IRS after he believed the Kennedys had had him audited in the early 1960s). But Gore has gone so far off the deep end, it's scary to think how he would have handled crises in the White House; I dread the thought of him under the stresses that the War on Terror have brought.
I'll give Taranto the last word on the wages of believing your own overheated rhetoric:
There's a telling line right at the beginning of Gore's speech: George W. Bush, he says, "has brought deep dishonor to our country and built a durable reputation as the most dishonest president since Richard Nixon." Here Gore is engaging in what psychologists call "projection": attributing one's own faults to others. The most dishonest president since Richard Nixon obviously is the one who was impeached for lying under oath--the president, that is, whose No. 2 was none other than Al Gore.
Gore would have become president had Bill Clinton resigned after his 1998 impeachment, or had 17 Democratic senators voted to convict him in his impeachment trial. President Gore likely would have been re-elected in 2000, since he would have had the advantage of incumbency and been free of the Clinton taint that (unaccompanied by the Clinton charm) hurt him so much in the "red" states.
Instead, party discipline held, and the Senate acquitted Clinton. This was another missed opportunity for Gore. Had he publicly broken from Clinton and called on the president to resign, other Democrats might well have followed his lead. Instead, he appeared at a White House rally immediately after the impeachment vote and described Clinton as "a man who I believe will be regarded in the history books as one of our greatest presidents."
Thus it was Al Gore, more than anyone else, who assured the election of George W. Bush as president. And if Gore actually believes all the paranoid nonsense he utters about "global warming," "an unprecedented assault on civil liberties," the "American gulag," the "catastrophe" in Iraq and so on, he let down not only his party but his country and the world, which will soon be destroyed thanks to Bush's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto treaty.
That's more guilt than anyone should be forced to endure.
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May 28, 2004
WAR: Today's War Links
*Gerard Vander Leun on moving the goalposts regarding Saddam's WMD programs.
WAR: One of the Bigger Lies
NRO looked at the response to Bush's big Iraq speech earlier in the week, and of course it was full of blather about the need to get certain unnamed countries (France and Germany) involved in the mission. Kerry released a statement saying that leadership in Iraq would "require the President to genuinely reach out to our allies so the United States doesn't have to continue to go it alone". It's amazing what one-trick ponies the leading Dem spokespersonages are on punting foreign policy responsibilities to countries that don't want them (it's consistent with calls for drafting people who don't want to serve into an army that doesn't want them). But we can argue yet another day about the idea that the United States needs more help from the Coalition of the Unwilling.
What sticks in my craw is the constant abuse by Democrats and by left-leaning bloggers and commentators of the word "unilateral" and the phrase "go it alone" to describe our supposed complete lack of allies in Iraq. I'm sorry, but the word "unilaterally" does not mean "with the support of a bunch of other countries but not all of them." Argue if you will that we need more help, but these words don't mean what they're being used to mean. When the British announce they are sending more troops to Iraq, as they did yesterday, doesn't that mean that more troops are going to Iraq and that they are not Americans? When soldiers from other nations are killed in Iraq - as many have been - do they not die? Every single time a Democrat describes our Iraq policy as "unilateral" or "go it alone," this is a knowing and flagrant falsehood. Period. Just stop it.
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PS - Dollars to donuts says somebody tries to change the subject in the comments to "But BUSH LIED!!!!!!! about [fill in your favorite subject-changer here]." C'mon people, just deal with this one directly.
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May 27, 2004
WAR: War Links 5/27/04
*You've doubtless read this somewhere before - it's been linked all over - but if you haven't, go read this plea for a computer game that simulates the frustrations of real war, complete with weathervane politicians, hyper-negative media, fatuous celebrities, and all the other horrors of modern PR in wartime. It's sidesplittingly funny precisely because it captures the tragic reality so well.
*The Wall Street Journal, LT Smash and Cori Dauber have more on the continuing stream of emerging evidence of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda before the Iraq war, including some intriguing links to the September 11th plot (a linkage I've always been skeptical of but that seems here to have some potential substance to it). The Saddam equivalent of the "there is no Mafia" crowd will continue to deny, deny, deny, but Saddam's multifarious ties to terror groups were always cloaked in uncertainties, and the question was always how much of a chance we were willing to bet on his good will.
*Tim Noah, attacking a recent statement by Attorney General John Ashcroft, tries to argue that bin Laden wouldn't care about influencing the election to defeat George Bush. Noah throws in a totally gratuitous comparison of Ashcroft to bin Laden ("Chatterbox thought Ashcroft would show a greater aptitude for imagining the thought processes of an insane religious fanatic."). He also assumes, erroneously, that bin Laden would understand American politics well enough that "surely he would know—or someone would tell him—that the overwhelmingly likely political result of an attack against the United States in the months leading up to Election Day would be a landslide victory for Bush." This seems inconsistent with bin Laden's prior actions and statements, which suggest a guy who thinks the U.S. is weak and will fold at the first sign of trouble.
Now, I can understand why the idea that bin Laden could be rooting for Kerry - something Kerry can do little enough about, at this point - would rankle a Democrat like Noah. But get real: everyone outside the U.S. will read a Kerry victory as a defeat for an aggressive U.S. foreign policy, much as the contrary conclusion was drawn in 2002. The Islamists Bush has tangled with will declare victory. To some extent that happens whenever the incumbent loses, but it will be greatly magnified in the current circumstances. Trying to deny this makes Noah sound desperate.
*Wartime humor only from the mind of Laurence Simon: "Hey. Cool. Pandas."
*Shades of Larry David: Time Magazine gives Don Rumsfeld crap for calling himself a "survivor," but Tim Blair is ready with examples of Time reporters calling Bill Clinton a survivor for surviving nothing worse than oral sex and Newt Gingrich. Unmentioned here: uh, Rumsfeld also survived a terrorist attack - don't forget that he was in the Pentagon when it was hit by American Airlines Flight 77.
A slight tangent: maybe I've paid too little attention or maybe it's the media here in New York, but has the 9/11 Commission focused awfully heavily on the World Trade Center and ignored the Pentagon? Of course, the Pentagon's victims and survivors are a lot less sympathetic to Democrats, but still . . .
*Kevin Drum links to an article making the obvious point that the World War II Memorial shouldn't be criticized for having been built in a style that was popular during, well, World War II.
*Warblogger Dan Darling shows how blogging can be a great career move - if you're a college student. I just loved the part where he couldn't get recommendations from his professors because he wanted to work at the American Enterprise Institute.
May 26, 2004
WAR: 18,000 Terrorists?
WAR: A Shiite Sakharov?
The Washington Post identifies Hussain Shahristani as the likely prime minister of the new Iraqi provisional government that will rule from June 30 until elections can be held. The Post profile makes Shahristani out as a sort of Shiite Sakharov:
But unlike other exiles, Shahristani was not active in opposition parties, choosing instead to focus on humanitarian aid projects. He does, however, have a critical connection: He is close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, whose support is essential for the viability of an interim government.
That would be the nuclear weapons program that didn't exist, of course; Saddam put scientists in jail for refusing to participate in it even though it didn't exist.
Shahristani's ties to Sistani are a double-edged sword, although there's really no denying Sistani's positive influence (or, more importantly, his influence, period) thus far. You can read Shahristani's own thoughts, in one of his Wall Street Journal op-eds urging faster elections, here:
The most practical way to help Iraq now is to allow the U.N. to work with representatives of all constituents of the Iraqi society to develop a formula for early direct elections--an achievable task. Elections will be held in Iraq, sooner or later. The sooner they are held, and a truly democratic Iraq is established, the fewer Iraqi and American lives will be lost.
Interesting side note: the WaPo article says that another one of Shahristani's WSJ op-eds (subscription only) was what called the attention of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to Shahristani. I'm sure the WSJ op-ed editors are smiling at the opportuinity to play kingmaker, as it were. Here's a selection from that article:
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The U.N. envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, rightly pointed out in his press conference on April 14 that "There is no substitute for the legitimacy that comes from free and fair elections. Therefore, Iraq will have a genuinely representative government only after [such elections]." He also explained that "[T]here is a general legal principle, and that is that the elected body, especially if it is entrusted with drafting the constitution, should not have its hands tied by anything, but should be independent. It should be able to draft the constitution with unfettered freedom."
The new provisional government should only be a caretaker government to prepare for elections. It should not indulge in negotiating military, economic or political treaties or agreements that will bind legitimately elected governments in the future. To do so will convince even those Iraqis who still have faith in the American good will that the U.S. troops are there not to help Iraqis to build a free and just society and develop a democratic political system, but to extort from them military concessions and exploit their oil reserves.
At stake today is not just Iraq's political future, but America's credibility throughout the Middle East. Having pledged to bring democracy to Iraq, the Bush administration needs to respect the desire of the majority of Iraqis to elect a representative and accountable government that serves its people and observes human rights.
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May 25, 2004
WAR: Hearts and Minds
Matt Yglesias misunderstands the basic point about winning hearts and minds in Iraq that I make below:
One stable [sic] of "Iraq's all good, man" commentary has been to note that Muqtada al-Sadr is very anti-American while Ayatollah Sistani is not a fan of al-Sadr. Since Sistani is a very influential figure, this could be good news indeed. Good news, that is, if the fact that Sistani is a Sadr opponent implied that he was a fan of the American occupation. But it doesn't and, in fact, he isn't. So we're screwed either way. Less screwed, admittedly, under a scenario where we undercut Sadr military and Sistani undercuts him politically than we would be under the alternative, but still screwed.
The fact that Sistani's "no fan of the occupation" means nothing. Heck, George Bush is no fan of the occupation - what sane person would be? What matters is that Sistani does not appear to be supporting attacks on coalition troops or on his fellow Iraqis, and for the moment he doesn't appear to be pushing a jihadist theocracy.
Remember: the war for "hearts and minds" isn't about making them love us; it's about making the Iraqis and others in the Arab and Muslim worlds take responsibility for their own back yards, stop blaming us for everything and stop encouraging and assisting people to try to kill us . . . just because the Germans don't much like America doesn't mean we didn't win the "hearts and minds" war after World War II. Iraq for the Iraqis is good news for us.
WAR: Rallying The Troops
If President Bush's latest effort was less than inspirational, you can always count on the internet for a pep talk. Bill Whittle has a tremendously long two-part essay starting here reviewing the case for going to war in Iraq and why we must press on to victory. (Link via Instapundit) Not a lot of new information here, but uplifting nonetheless. Whittle's analysis of Fallujah bears repeating:
The Fallujah bridge pissed off a lot of Americans. It really made us see red. Would we be disgusted enough to walk away, or furious enough to go in and indiscriminately slaughter thousands? The architects of that atrocity must have thought they nailed that perfect tic-tac-toe move: we go one way, they win on the other. Quoth Den Beste: the object of Terrorism is to provoke an overwhelming response. And the response to that response is the political and strategic goal of the terrorist.
Al Sadr, you less than magnificent bastard! We read your book!
Blah, blah…war is lost…blah blah blah... disaster, wreck and ruin… Only it turns out that the United States military may have produced a few life-long professionals who actually hold victory more precious than crowing loud. Many of us value reason over emotion, and reality over wishful thinking. Well, we did not level Fallujah, and we did not do it because those bodies on that bridge were bait, pure and simple. We didn’t take the bait. Or, I should say, our military didn’t take the bait; I took it, hook line and sinker. I wanted to level the goddam city and then walk away and let them kill each other. Now, as Al Sadr’s support evaporates; as his militia thugs are being hunted and killed by shadowy Iraqi ghost armies and extremely corporeal Marines; as his fellow Mullahs condemn him; as Iraqi demonstrations against him and all that poison and ruin he represents continue to rise; as his headquarters are destroyed, his most vicious ‘soldiers’ killed in their own backyards, playing defense in an urban environment by Marines whose skill and tactics stagger credulity for their expertise and success – now, we must ask ourselves: did you want to feel good or did you want to win?
I want to win. I was an idiot for taking that bait. And I thank God daily that America makes better, smarter people than me.
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Emphasis in original; read the whole thing. On the same note, NRO provides some choice words from Marine Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis:
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Back in the 1940s and 50s they had British officers and NCOs in command of Jordanian and the Jordan Legion. The Jordan Legion did not like the United Kingdom and Great Britain. They didn't like them. They were a very good counter-terrorist force because they were going to take care of their Hassamite king. . . . we don't have to agree on every issue, every international diplomatic issue for us to have some kind of chance for peace in the streets of Fallujah or Husaybah or Ramadi. We have to understand we have a common cause here to restore peace, stop the violence, rebuild Iraq, the Americans get out of the way and move on. . . .
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Again, the key point here - important responsibilities are being transferred on the ground to Iraqis who recognize that it is in their own self-interest to take the fight to the enemy, and do so through local knowledge we don't have. This isn't Tora Bora; these are cities, and our local allies have to live in them.
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WAR: Will Hollywood Get It?
Sometimes, unfortunately, persuasion has to come retail. Little Green Footballs notes that Madonna canceled a concert in Israel due to death threats from Palestinians against her and her children.
WAR: Hillary Is Right!
Yes, I'll say it: Hillary Clinton is right to call for a larger Army, in an ironic joint statement with former House impeachment manager (now Senator) Lindsey Graham (the Senate's too small for grudges). You don't have to believe that we need more troops in Iraq today to conclude that, on the whole, the demands of the War on Terror require us to expand our capacity to fight wars and/or occupations/insurgencies on multiple fronts at once to preserve our credibility in dealing with multiple problems at the same time.
What will Bush do? He's thus far resisted calls for a larger Army. But he's reversed course before after initially resisting calls for, among other things, a Homeland Security department, and left his critics outflanked on all sides as a result. If Bush decided to veer rightward and demand a bigger Army, the Democrats - as usual - would find themselves with no room to move, since many of them have gotten to Bush's right on this issue and couldn't flip far enough to get back to his left. Presumably, their only response would then be to call for more taxes to pay for more soldiers, but Democrats call for more taxes in just about any situation, usually without effect.
WAR: The Fireside Chat
President Bush spoke to the nation last night to lay out the case for staying the course in Iraq. The president's delivery sounded awfully flat on the radio, and the speech was hardly a stirring one. On the substance, though, some good points were made.
Mickey Kaus, in his
In a key passage, the President surveyed the security situation on the ground:
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In the city of Fallujah, there's been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's Governing Council and local officials, and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population, and increase support for the insurgency. So we have pursued a different approach. We're making security a shared responsibility in Fallujah. Coalition commanders have worked with local leaders to create an all-Iraqi security force, which is now patrolling the city. Our soldiers and Marines will continue to disrupt enemy attacks on our supply routes, conduct joint patrols with Iraqis to destroy bomb factories and safe houses, and kill or capture any enemy.
We want Iraqi forces to gain experience and confidence in dealing with their country's enemies. We want the Iraqi people to know that we trust their growing capabilities, even as we help build them. At the same time, Fallujah must cease to be a sanctuary for the enemy, and those responsible for terrorism will be held to account.
In the cities of Najaf and Karbala and Kufa, most of the violence has been incited by a young, radical cleric who commands an illegal militia. These enemies have been hiding behind an innocent civilian population, storing arms and ammunition in mosques, and launching attacks from holy shrines. Our soldiers have treated religious sites with respect, while systematically dismantling the illegal militia. We're also seeing Iraqis, themselves, take more responsibility for restoring order. In recent weeks, Iraqi forces have ejected elements of this militia from the governor's office in Najaf. Yesterday, an elite Iraqi unit cleared out a weapons cache from a large mosque in Kufa. Respected Shia leaders have called on the militia to withdraw from these towns. Ordinary Iraqis have marched in protest against the militants.
As challenges arise in Fallujah, Najaf, and elsewhere, the tactics of our military will be flexible. Commanders on the ground will pay close attention to local conditions. And we will do all that is necessary -- by measured force or overwhelming force -- to achieve a stable Iraq.
Iraq's military, police, and border forces have begun to take on broader responsibilities. Eventually, they must be the primary defenders of Iraqi security, as American and coalition forces are withdrawn. And we're helping them to prepare for this role. In some cases, the early performance of Iraqi forces fell short. Some refused orders to engage the enemy. We've learned from these failures, and we've taken steps to correct them. Successful fighting units need a sense of cohesion, so we've lengthened and intensified their training. Successful units need to know they are fighting for the future of their own country, not for any occupying power, so we are ensuring that Iraqi forces serve under an Iraqi chain of command. Successful fighting units need the best possible leadership, so we improved the vetting and training of Iraqi officers and senior enlisted men.
At my direction, and with the support of Iraqi authorities, we are accelerating our program to help train Iraqis to defend their country. A new team of senior military officers is now assessing every unit in Iraq's security forces. I've asked this team to oversee the training of a force of 260,000 Iraqi soldiers, police, and other security personnel. Five Iraqi army battalions are in the field now, with another eight battalions to join them by July the 1st. The eventual goal is an Iraqi army of 35,000 soldiers in 27 battalions, fully prepared to defend their country.
After June 30th, American and other forces will still have important duties. American military forces in Iraq will operate under American command as a part of a multinational force authorized by the United Nations. Iraq's new sovereign government will still face enormous security challenges, and our forces will be there to help.
This isn't exactly FDR, but Bush did lay out why the local commanders made the decisions they did. Consistent with the view from The Belmont Club and other relatively optimistic observers of the situation on the ground, Bush made three points clear: (1) we chose not to level Fallujah and take a more subtle approach based on an assessment of how best to permit the local Iraqi forces to take responsibility for the situation; (2) the situation in Najaf and the other Shiite areas is improving dramatically as al-Sadr loses support and isolates himself from the Shiite leadership and majority; and, perhaps most interestingly, albeit implicitly, (3) many of the key decisions at this stage are being made by the military men on the ground.
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May 23, 2004
WAR: Moore Again
Heard on the radio in the shower this morning: Michael Moore described as "humbled" by being given an award at Cannes. Followed by audio clip of him saying he intended to make sure the soldiers in Iraq had not died in vain.
Even before the audio clip - dripping with self-importance and self-satisfaction, as always, to say nothing of hypocrisy - my wife could hear me laughing at the concept of Moore being "humbled" by anything.
May 19, 2004
WAR: The Fantasy of Containment
Kevin Drum links to a Wesley Clark article (also in the Washington Monthly) on the lessons of the Cold War:
Clark's point is a simple one: Neither Reagan nor any of the seven Cold War presidents before him ever attacked either the Soviet Union or one of its satellites directly. This wasn't because of insufficient dedication to anticommunism, but because it wouldn't have worked. . . .
* * *
(Emphasis in original). Now, there are fair arguments about the Cold War's history; suffice it to say that you can take the victory without agreeing that containment without a more aggressive approach was the right call at each and every historical moment. And there were those on the Left who never accepted the costs and burdens of containment, let alone of Reagan's policies, notably including John Kerry. But leave all that aside for now. Because Drum's idea that a "patient strategy of military containment and cultural engagement" is a feasible way to run the war on terror - a notion he apparently shares with Clark and many others on the Left - is pure fantasy.
There was a substantial downside to merely containing the Soviets: the loss of lives and freedom in places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, etc., as communists lashed out in the far corners of the world and we could never do more than push back in a reactive way. But while lots of people died at the hands of our enemies, they were often not Americans, so I can see how you can consider this a viable option. Here, however, the downside of taking punches while waiting for containment to work is, we lose an office building, a planeload of civilians, a city.
Containment sorta worked, in preventing direct attacks on us, because we had deterrence. But that just isn't present anymore. As to non-state actors, where do you hit them back? And as to their state sponsors, the critical problem is deniability. Ask yourself: if Saddam was involved in the first WTC bombing, or Oklahoma City, or September 11, how would we prove to a certainty? One thing we surely know from the Iraq war debate is that there would be no shortage of Americans eager to defend any foreign dictator against charges of complicity in terrorism, and no shortage of obstacles to getting perfect evidence in the aftermath of an attack.
On a related note, containment requires solid and dependable intelligence; we can't rest easily on a strategy of decades of patience if we don't know what the other guy is up to. We now know that much of the intelligence developed about Iraq - not only by the Bush Administration but by the Clinton Administration, the governments of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and others, and relied on and cited even by the UN and Congressional Democrats - was off base in a number of significant ways, and not all of them in the direction of overestimating threats. In fact, it turned out at the end of the Cold War that the CIA got a lot wrong there as well. Consistently dependable intelligence is hard; who among the containment advocates would argue that we will always have good enough intelligence to switch to an offensive posture when and only when threats of attack are imminent?
Also, the anaolgy to our pressure on the Soviet economy doesn't fly. We can't collapse Arab economies, because we can't kill the oil business and that's all they have anyway. Certainly, Arab and Muslim leaders have proven quite adept at convincing a largely illiterate populace that their problems stem from a Zionist conspiracy and not the faults of their leaders. Accepting the status quo means accepting that as a permanent condition. Containment does nothing to stop the anti-American propaganda that feuls hatred of us and is at the very core of our problem.
Also, containment in Iraq was a fiasco - it was expensive and dangerous and we now know that the sanctions regime, while imposing real hardships on the Iraqi people, was largely ineffective to stop Saddam from skimming off an almost limitless supply of funds that were available to make mischief.
Also, containment means accepting that hostile regimes (as Saddam's was) will, at a minimum, decline to cooperate with our law enforcement efforts against non-state actors. As long as their were big black holes on the map into which we couldn't follow the trail of terrorists, they sure as heck were not contained.
The problem of the war on terror is, we need to change the behavior of regimes in the region - either by external pressure, internal pressure, or regime change - and we need for our own safety to do so ASAP, not four decades from now. The reason Saddam was first in line (after the Taliban) is that his behavior was most intractable and least subject to change, but others are due for more pressure next. Just living with him wasn't an option.
Containment isn't always a workable option; it wasn't in World War II or several other historical conflicts. It isn't now. It's frightening that many Democrats don't understand that.
May 17, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Linkmania 5/17/04
Time to dump out a bunch of links I'd accumulated but won't have time upon which to blog:
*Where else in the world but the U.S. is it a "coverup" if you announce an investigation in a press release posted on the internet? Also: if the problem with Abu Ghraib is humiliation, isn't that multiplied by airing the pictures? I mean, the media won't publish the names of rape victims, but it will show this? And this picture about says it all on the President's reaction to this story.
*Michael Barone thinks it's 1988 again. Read the whole thing.
*Too good to be true? Vodkapundit sees hope for the end of EU farm subsidies.
*Boston Globe on blogs; the key point here is the fact that blogs are all about the print media, and can miss out on the significance of events that are especially TV-centric.
*Missing hijacker? Nelson Ascher takes this with a grain of salt, and you should too, but it's an intriguing one.
He has no idea why George Tenet still runs the CIA. "I think he must have some negatives somewhere," McCain says, meaning photo negatives.
McCain is that rarest of creatures, a genuine maverick. Guys like him usually wind up just being in the wrong party, like Arlen Specter or Zell Miller. But McCain is, on some issues, as conservative as they come, and on others he is frankly quite liberal. But wherever he sets his sails, he never trims them.
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*Interesting NYT Magazine profile of Bill Richardson, who the WSJ Political Diary says has been ruled out of Kerry's veepstakes on account of "indiscretions involving women." The profile paints him, without saying so, as being very personally similar to Bush: a retail gladhander, short on details but long on the ability to read people and get deals done. Annoying: NYT refers to Los Alamos solely as a PR problem. Most off-message quote: "I've seen the Republicans' Spanish ads. They're good.'" This doesn't fit the Dems' endless mantra that Republicans could never possibly communicate with 'minority' communities.
[T]he audience fears it has seen this movie before. Those of us born before 1960 get a sick feeling --it cannot be happening again, can it? Not after 9/11? The last time it was harder to see the consequences of retreat --the boat people, the Cambodian holocaust-- but not this time. This time retreat means death on these shores and in large, possibly overwhelming numbers. They came close to destroying the government less than three years ago, and Kennedy's outrage is unreported?
(Link via Instapundit).
[E]ven if Papa Khadr did turn out to be a big A-list al-Qaeda guy, M Chretien personally intervening to get him sprung from jail in Pakistan so he could resume his, ah, "charity work" still "sends the right message" about what a multicultural society we are. We're so multicultural we'll let you choose which side of the war you want to be on. And, when M Chretien told Mr Khadr's son that "once I was a son of a farmer, and I became Prime Minister. Maybe one day you will become one", that too "sent the right message" - that in Canada anyone can grow up to be Prime Minister, as long as they're from Quebec.
* * *
Canada . . . is less an exception to every rule than a guy who's holding the rule-book upside down. It's a big country in an age of ever smaller states. It's a big country with a querulous regional minority not on the distant horizon - as the Basques are to Madrid or Northern Irish nationalists are to London - but a querulous regional minority the subvention of whom is the governing principle of the state.
Read the whole thing, if you can (registration required).
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Now this is bad news: the head of the Iraqi Governing Council has been killed by a suicide bomber. The worst-case scenarios for Iraq that always troubled me the most were the ones that looked at what happened in Lebanon after its president was killed by a bomb in the early 1980s.
May 13, 2004
WAR: Iraq and Al Qaeda, Again
Dan Darling over at Winds of Change has a long, fact-packed discussion of his reasons for supporting the Iraq war, focusing heavily on the Iraqi regime's terrorist connections. (Links to interviews with the two defectors who first publicized the Salman Pak hijacker-training story, which Darling discusses at some length, can be found here and here). Meanwhile, Laurie Mylroie has some new details in her dogged pursuit of the theory that the Iraqi regime was, in fact, involved directly with Mohammed Atta. Darling also has a good discussion of Mylroie's theories, which remain pretty speculative; as I have, he concludes that Mylroie's critics haven't done themselves any favors by their overreliance on scorn and ad hominem attacks, but that it's hard to put too much weight on her work in the absence of more solid evidence. Both pieces are well worth the read; judge for yourself.
May 12, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Sanity Check
Robert Tagorda points us to polls showing a high level of public support for Don Rumsfeld in the Iraq prisoner abuse crisis. Which I would attribute, to some extent, to common sense: not blaming the head of such a vast organization as the Armed Forces for the behavior of every soldier. People get the fact that Rumsfeld, as it were, did not order the Code Red. In fact, it appears that, outside of the Abu Ghraib facility, nobody did.
Democrats screaming for Rumsfeld's head and looking to score points against President Bush would be wise to first ask themselves what they would want their guy to do in the same shoes. The facile answer is that a Democrat would never find himself (or herself) in the situation of having prisoners mistreated by American soldiers. One way to put that is that a Democrat wouldn't have gone to war in Iraq; while that is probably true, it's also true that many Democrats did vote for war (and some still support it), including the party's current presidential nominee. You certainly can't look at the broader situation - American troops sent into sometimes hostile territory and engaged in putting down an insurgency while building national institutions - and say no Democrat would ever go there.
The second idea is that this is somehow the fault of insufficient troop strength, and a Democrat would never have made the mistake of providing an insufficient number of troops. Even crediting this argument, this position is highly implausible (anyone remember Mogadishu, Desert One, or the Bay of Pigs? Democrats have often been accused of applying insufficient force).
The third, I suppose, is that the absence of formal Geneva Convention rules here was the problem, although I fail to see where such rules would be a substitute for better field-level supervision of individual soldiers.
All that really leaves is the charge that Democrats are better at supervision . . . which is also ridiculous. Bad stuff happens at lower echelons in any organization. Are we to believe this sort of thing doesn't happen in prisons in the U.S. under the supervision of elected Democrats? And have the Dems ever espoused such stringent "the leader must fall on his sword" doctrines for their own - did they call for the resignations of Janet Reno after Waco, Bill Richardson after Los Alamos, or are they calling even now for the head of Kofi Annan?
The fact is, this problem happened on the ground, and while the Administration's response after the fact may not have been pitch-perfect, it's been diligent, contrite and relatively open in ensuring that those responsible will be punished. I certainly haven't heard a realistic explanation of how the Administration has done anything particularly disappointing since learning about the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
WAR: Bait and Switch Watch
Following up on yesterday's point, in political arguments (or any arguments), you always have to be on the lookout for the bait and switch. Of course, no one side has a monopoly on this tactic, but one of the more egregious ones that we've seen used ad nauseum is the Left's insistence on switching between connecting Saddam Hussein's regime to Al Qaeda and connecting the regime to September 11; for example, the absence of a September 11 connection is taken as definitive proof that there was no Al Qaeda connection, and statements by the Bush Administration drawing an Al Qaeda connection are taken as if they drew a September 11 connection. Trying to get some people to recognize this distinction can be like talking to a brick wall, unfortunately. Chris Matthews' recent interview with Don Rumsfeld contained a classic of the genre although the transcript doesn't capture how fast Matthews was talking in his (ultimately unsuccessful, of course) effort to trick Rumsfeld:
MATTHEWS: You know, when you watch the culture of the country, there’s a great sense in country music, you remember how you felt. You’ve heard these songs. They’re so American. And they talk about the war in Iraq as being some kind of payback or justice for what happened to us on 9/11.
May 11, 2004
WAR: The Wrong Thing
Stryker has the best gut-level reaction I've seen to the whole Iraq prisoner-abuse story . . . I haven't yet gotten to a longer post on the subject - as you may have noticed, I don't always like to jump on issues I haven't had a chance to think through - but, at the end of the day, (1) I don't have a problem, and I suspect the chain of command all the way up to Rumsfeld didn't have a problem, with some fairly rough interrogation techniques (in terms of imposing psychological pressure) for getting critical information out of captured insurgents, but (2) saying that you can live with "rough interrogation techniques" or were aware they were being used is a far cry from accepting the sort of sicko sexual abuse and degradation we've seen depicted. And beware of anyone who tries the bait-and-switch tactic of blaming the higher-ups for knowing about (2) if all they expected was going on was (1). (Greyhawk over at Mudville Gazette, in a post linked by Instapundit, caught Seymour Hersh in a similar bait-and-switch talking about civilian detainees who were not housed in the controversial part of the prison and aren't part of the allegations here).
May 7, 2004
WAR: The Star
May 6, 2004
WAR: Make This Man An Honorary Scotsman!
BASEBALL/WAR: Mr. Met, Patriot
He’s serving in the U.S. Army now and has gone from wearing a baseball as a head to keeping the ball rolling at a prison camp for terrorists.
Of course, the Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are sure to confess when he walks into the interrogation room in the Mr. Met head . . .
May 4, 2004
WAR: The Long Journey Home
This has been linked all over, but you still need to read the simple yet powerful narrative of a fallen Marine's journey from Dover Air Force Base to his final resting place in Wyoming, written by the Marine Lt. Col. who escorted the remains.
April 30, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Political Natural Selection
There's been a lot of piling on UMass grad student Rene Gonzalez over his breathtakingly asinine op-ed essentially spitting on Pat Tillman's grave (even drawing co-blogger Kiner's Korner out of his long hibernation). Ricky West has the goods on Gonzalez' other public fulmintions, including (predictably enough) anti-Semitism and racial slurs aimed at African-American Republicans, and one of his commenters notes that Gonzalez is also a signer of one of those appallingly discriminatory "divest from Israel" petitions.
Gonzalez' attitudes are despicable, of course, although he's as much to be pitied for his ignorance as hated; the guy is obviously so isolated and so lacking in social skills that he had no clue how offensive the vast majority of sentient adults would find his remarks. Hopefully, UMass has the sense not to have this idiot teaching anything to undergrads; he has, or should have, killed any chance he ever had of teaching anywhere, since nobody wants to court lawsuits by hiring an instructor so completely lacking in basic sensitivity.
Rene is now a graduate student. He's active in politics, he's interested in all the big issues, he's maybe thinking about a political career, and he's just written something he'll deeply regret . . . Rene will get what's coming to him. Picture him a couple of decades from now, struggling to explain his youthful extremism to party officials or journalists or voters.
As you will recall, this is the same reason why I support keeping flag-burning legal: anything that allows guys like this to imprint the scarlet letter of anti-Americanism on themselves before they get into politics is A Good Thing.
(On a related note . . . when I worked on Jim Rappaport's 1990 Senate campaign against John Kerry back in my College Republican days, there were rumors among the low-level volunteers that somebody had video of Kerry from the early 70s burning a flag. Knowing what I know now, it's obvious that Kerry was never as far gone as all that - but if he had been, it would have been political death for him even in Massachusetts).
WAR: Walking Out
I've long thought the September 11 Commission was, at best, pointless, since there had already been numerous official and unofficial inquiries into September 11, leading to overhauls of airport security, the Homeland Security Department, the Patriot Act, the war in Afghanistan and the new preemption posture leading to the war in Iraq, etc. Much of the really important stuff was public record anyway. The relevant question 2 1/2 years later is how those efforts are working, and not why policies that are no longer in place failed.
Anyway, for months and months now we've been hearing about the necessity of having the president testify, and the usual suspects have been up in arms about how it's beyond the pale for Bush and Cheney to testify together rather than have the president testify alone. (Never mind that Bush is, at the end of all this, the primary person with responsibility for national security to whom the commission must report anyway). So, how important was the president's testimony? Two Democrats on the panel didn't even bother to stay for the whole thing due to minor speaking engagements. And how appalling was it that Bush was permitted to testify with his #2 man at his side? Well, Henry Hanks reminds us of a fact the critics have consistently omitted: that Bill Clinton was allowed to show up to testify before the commission with his lawyer/damage control expert Bruce Lindsey and his National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, in tow.
So much for that storyline.
WAR: I've Been Looking Too Long At These Pictures of You
At first glance, the Reuters report noted by The Command Post about how many North Koreans died in last week's train explosion because they ran back into their houses to save portraits of Kim Jong-il and his father - portraits the oppressed North Korean people are required to maintain in their homes - sounds like an urban legend spread by opponents of the regime to demonstrate its inhumanity and the level of regimented terror ordinary North Koreans live in on a daily basis, to the extent that they would run into a burning building rather than face what their government would do to them if for even the most understandable of reasons they didn't have their portraits of the Dear Leader.
But what's far creepier is the fact that these reports were actually coming from the North Korean regime itself. Why on earth would the regime publicize this? The only answer, of course - other than the regime's complete and total isolation from and indifference to the opinions of anyone outside the police state's borders - must be the intimidating effect the story would have on an already terrified North Korean population, by emphasizing the fact that the regime is actually proud of the fact that it values a picture of Kim more than it values the lives of its subjects.
April 29, 2004
WAR/FOOTBALL: Pat Tillman, R.I.P.
As with The Crank, there is little I can add, or say more eloquently, about Pat Tillman that has not been said already. Suffice it to say, he was an extraordinarily example in a world that grows increasingly concerned with celebrity status. I'm glad our country still produces people like him, and I hope his family finds comfort in the tremendous example he provides for us.
There are, of course, a few critics of even Tillman. Here's one as an example. But this clearly is a ridiculous attack from an immature person trying to create a stir and name for himself. For a worthy dismal of this attack, read here. Moreover, the UMass President deserves credit for his strong criticism of the column.
For a more amusing attack, note this:
Simeon Rice, a former Arizona Cardinals teammate now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scoffed when Tillman enlisted in May 2002.
"He really wasn't that good, not really . . . Maybe it's the Rambo movies, maybe it's Sylvester Stallone, Rocky," he told a radio interviewer.
Can you say, "No more endorsement deals for me!", Mr. Rice?
WAR: A House Divided Against Itself
WAR: The Tin Cup Is Rattling
I've post-dated this post to April 29 so it will stay at the top of the page until then (updated as necessary), humbly asking you to donate to the Spirit of America, a charitable group supporting the efforts of U.S. troops to spread good will in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It's a worthy goal, and one that gives us private citizens a chance to do a little something to help out in the war for hearts and minds. See here and here for more details. I'm in with one of three coalitions of blogs competing in a drive to raise money for Spirit of America by April 29. For rewards, Michele is offering to dedicate posts and music to people who donate, and Dean Esmay is offering supporters of his coalition a post on a topic of their choice. Bah. I can do better: I promise that if you donate to Spirit of America, the Cubs and the Red Sox will win the World Series in your lifetime, or your money back. [disclaimer: refund may only be claimed after conclusion of lifetime] So there.
Give Victory a Chance! Please Donate Here. Thank you.
April 28, 2004
WAR: Oh, Those WMD
We already knew that the critical charge supporting the legal basis (if you take such things as UN resolutions seriously) of the war in Iraq has been confirmed by David Kay: Saddam Hussein's regime failed to comply with numerous UN resolutions that formed the basis of the 1991 cease-fire between the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq, specifically including his use of force and fraud to deceive UN inspectors about the status of his WMD programs.
But the question remains: what, really, had those programs accomplished, and why did our intelligence project a more advanced program than we have found evidence of?
Kenneth Timmerman at the conservative publication Insight Magazine has been parsing the evidence coming out of Iraq and now claims that we have, in fact, found many of the pieces of the WMD puzzle, but in ways that lack the sex appeal needed to dislodge the now-settled media narrative that the Bush Administration was just making this stuff up out of thin air for the past six years. Among the items Timmerman notes:
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*A prison laboratory complex that may have been used for human testing of BW agents and "that Iraqi officials working to prepare the U.N. inspections were explicitly ordered not to declare to the U.N." Why was Saddam interested in testing biological-warfare agents on humans if he didn't have a biological-weapons program?
Timmerman also notes evidence that Iraqi WMD were moved to Syria during the interminable 14-month "rush to war". (Links via Powerline here and here).
Let's see how this plays out.
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April 27, 2004
WAR: Natural Selection
American Digest brings us an example, from Iraq, of "The Darwin Awards in Real Time." Priceless. On a similar note, Laurence from Amish Tech Support has an amusing tale of some Palestinian hoodlums who tried to rob a fully armed suicide bomber, an escapade that, shall we say, did not end well for anyone involved.
April 26, 2004
BASEBALL/WAR: Men of Honor
I have little to add about the death of Pat Tillman that hasn't been better said elsewhere, although a quote from General George S. Patton I'd seen used elsewhere lately seemed a fitting tribute: "It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
It is worthwhile, at such a time, to remember that Tillman is not the first professional athlete to put his athletic career aside and put his life on the line for his country. The sacrifices of the World War II generation, like Ted Williams, is also a tale that's been better told elsewhere, including the contributions of Williams, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Ralph Houk, Phil Rizzuto, Cecil Travis, Mickey Vernon, Dom DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Johnny Pesky, Dick Wakefield, Joe Gordon, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller, Alvin Dark, Sam Chapman, Buddy Lewis, Hank Sauer, Sid Gordon, Virgil Trucks, Hank Bauer, Barney McCosky, Ferris Fain, Eddie Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Wally Judnich, Enos Slaughter, Pete Reiser, Elbie Fletcher, Terry Moore, Al Rosen, Ralph Kiner, Pee Wee Reese, and others.
But baseball's sacrifices in the First World War need remembering, too, including:
*"Harvard Eddie" Grant, formerly an everyday third baseman for the Phillies and Reds, killed in action October 5, 1918 in the Argonne Forest.
*German-born Robert Gustave "Bun" Troy, who made a brief appearance with the Tigers in 1912, killed in action October 7, 1918 in Petit Maujouym, in France.
*Christy Mathewson, who suffered severe health problems from which he never recovered - possibly contributing to his death in 1925 at age 45 from tuberculosis - after inhaling poison gas in a training accident. (Ty Cobb also served in the same unit).
*Grover Cleveland Alexander, who as I explained here, would probably have made it to 400 wins or close to it if he hadn't lost a year at his peak to World War I, and who suffered lasting trauma from seeing combat with an artillery outfit.
*Sam Rice, who as I explained here, missed a year following his first big season after being drafted into the Army in World War I; Rice also got a late start in the majors because he’d joined the Navy at age 23 after his parents, wife and two children were killed by a tornado (Rice saw combat in the Navy, landing at Vera Cruz in 1914). Without those interruptions, Rice could easily have had 3500-3700 hits in the major leagues.
*Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville also missed a year to the Great War, as did several others I've overlooked here.
Perhaps not quite on the same level as a guy like Tillman, who volunteered for some of the Army's most hazardous duty, but in the long run those are just details. Heroes all.
April 22, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Communism Sucks
Yeah, you knew that already - if "sucks" is strong enough a word for the senseless death, imprisonment, torture, oppression and impoverishment of millions worldwide, not to mention an arms race, numerous wars and coups, etc. We had a grim reminder today of those horrors in the thousands incinerated in North Korea by a train collision, an event that was almost certainly caused by the endemic and frequently fatal incompetence of communist regimes.
Thankfully, we're down to just two hard-core Communist states (North Korea and Cuba), although nominally Communist China is still a tyranny and some shifty ex-Communists can still be found in power throughout the former Warsaw Pact. No thanks to John Kerry (seen here shaking hands with Sandanista dictator Daniel Ortega), who from his return from Vietnam all the way through the end of the Cold War never really got on board with the notion that it was a worthwhile endeavor to rid the world of this malignancy. Today's edition of OpinionJournal's Political Diary (worth every penny of the $3.95/month cost) gives some examples from Kerry's tour with the anti-war movement in the early seventies, the efforts that shot him to the political prominence on which his entire subsequent career has been founded:
Mr. Kerry may have to explain yet more dubious remarks from  at West Virginia's Bethany College in which he declared: "Our democracy is a farce; it is not the best in the world." College newspaper accounts report Mr. Kerry also told students that "there is a disbelief in the American Dream, people are questioning if it is really a dream or if the dream still exists."
NRO also has words with a Vietnam-era critic of Kerry's blithe use of false charges against American soldiers; it's a good read, and an important one. Kerry's conduct in the early 70s wasn't just irresponsible or impulsive youth; it was about the conscious use of sensational slanders to advance his own career at the expense of the national interest, and about patterns of thought and behavior about national security issues that have plagued his entire public career.
WAR: True or False?
The Man Without Qualities does some September 11 myth-busting. Among the myths:
3. The September 11 hijackers used box cutters as weapons. Instead, the Commission said it was more likely the hijackers used "Leatherman" utility knives that have several tools and a long, sharp blade that locks into position - which at least two of the hijackers probably purchased and FAA guidelines permitted on board. Box cutters were banned.
WAR/POP CULTURE: Springtime for Arafat
For those who have complained - rightly - of Hollywood's post-September 11 squeamishness about making movies about terrorism where the bad guys are (duh!) Muslim and/or Arab fanatics, there is hope: Steven Spielberg, who's likely to be pretty damn unsympathetic to lunatic Jew-hating Palestinian terrorists, is making a movie about the terror attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
April 21, 2004
WAR: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
I'll break in here quickly from my lunch to remind you to donate to the Spirit of America, a charitable group supporting the efforts of U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere to spread good will with the people who live there. See here for more on the group's current need for donations, and here for a first-hand testimonial from LT Smash. I've joined up with the coalition of blogs headed by Kevin from Wizbang and Michele from A Small Victory in soliciting donations daily between today and next Thursday for this worthy cause (Michele has more on the friendly competition with two other blog coalitions to see who can raise the most money).
WAR: Saudi Oil Deal, or Saudi Oil Weapon?
Presented for your consideration:
*Matt Welch and Kevin Drum try to make something of the idea that President Bush struck some sort of secret deal with the Saudis to drive down oil prices before the elections (which, as James Joyner notes, is pretty much what John Kerry was critizing the Bush Administration for not doing only a few weeks ago).
What intrigued me about this whole story, though, is that only a month ago, in a widely-discussed piece, Ed Lasky was arguing precisely the opposite: that the Saudis were deliberately using high oil prices to squeeze the economy to try to get Bush out of office.
The truth? Hard to say. Although I've long since concluded that Occam's Razor, especially when applied along criteria we in the West would understand, does not apply to the motivations of the Saudi regime, given the byzantine internal politics of the Saudi royal family.
POLITICS/WAR/LAW: Lileks and More Lileks
Lileks has been on a ferocious roll lately. Tuesday's Bleat looks at Claudia Rossett's NRO piece drawing up a roadmap of the ties between the UN's oil-for-food boondoggle for the benefit of
[W]hat does this do for John Kerry’s credibility? He stated on Sunday that Saddam had no connections to Al-Qaeda, an assertion that has now taken on the mantle of Absolute Fact.
Monday, Lileks gave a well-deserved Fisking to Andrew Sullivan's call for a regressive, growth-strangling gas tax. Read the whole thing.
Friday, Lileks offered up the best effort I've read yet to articulate the opposition to the gay marriage movement (indicative of his openness to honest debate on the one issue but not the other, Sullivan links to the gas tax Bleat but ignores this one). After noting that he doesn't have a religious issue with homosexual relations or with same-sex marriage, Lileks tears into the argument of an anthropologist in support of same-sex marriage, in terms that are worth reprinting here in full:
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[W]hat perked up my ears was one of the anthropologist’s assertions that there is no difference between a two-parent / two-sex family and a two-parent / same-sex family. None. He said: Any preference for a traditional mom/dad family was based in a “superstition.” His word: “Superstition.” Because, you see, there was no evidence that two moms were different in any important way than a mom and a dad. Belief in werewolves, belief in the evil eye, belief in the walking undead or the superiority of a mom-dad household: superstition.
Lileks admits that this may not be the prevailing view of advocates of same-sex marriage -- oh, but it is, at least as it's presented in the courts (as opposed to some legislatively negotiated, half-a-loaf compromise), and he nails precisely why this argument strikes such an emotional chord with opponents of same-sex marriage. Remeber: under well-settled constitutional law standards, the legal argument under the Equal Protection Clause depends on showing that the distinction between same-sex marriage and traditional marriage has no rational basis at all. That the State has no reason that could be articulated with a straight face as justifying a preference for marriage in the form it has always existed, including its integral relationship to the bearing, begetting and rearing of the next generation. If they concede that there is any unique value whatsoever to children having both a mother and a father, advocates of imposing same-sex marriage through the courts have no argument; they've given away the game. Thus, they must attack, and attack, and attack, and chip away at faith in the institution so many of us hold dear, and denigrate it to the point where it's indistinguishable from the alternative.
But those of us who value marriage, who believe that having a mother and a father is a good thing for children - we're the ones who are being "divisive".
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:42 AM | Law 2002-04 | Politics 2004 | War 2004 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
Michael King looks at a shameful banner ad run by the Kerry campaign demonizing Halliburton while its employees are in the firing line over in Iraq. (In fact, if you know your history - the British East India Company, anyone? - the Kerry people even have the past wrong). It's still amazing that the guy can simultaneously run on a platform of (1) demonizing companies that send American jobs to foreign countries and (2) threatening to take big contracts away from an American company and give them to foreigners.
King also notes that Doonesbury is about to have a character, former football star B.D., lose a leg in Iraq (I'm not clear what he's doing there, but then if I read Doonesbury twice a year it's a lot). I agree with King that while this could be a good storyline in less aggressively partisan hands - and probably good for the aging, decades-past-its-prime comic strip - Trudeau's record doesn't suggest a guy who's capable of that kind of balance.
WAR: On The Other Side
Somebody explain to me why anyone still listens to Michael Moore? (Link via Instapundit).
WAR: The WMD That Aren't There
April 20, 2004
WAR: Um, That Would Be Good To Know
Stuart Buck shares an unfinished tale of what may have been additional September 11 hijackers who got away without even being identified. There's gotta be more to this story. Right?
April 19, 2004
WAR: Man, That Ain't Oil, That's Blood
To date, thirty Halliburton workers have been killed in Iraq. Question of the day for Democrats who have bashed the company: are these Americans we are proud of? (I only caught the tail end, but CNN was running an interview with some Halliburton workers last night that seemed to be putting a human face on the company' workers in Iraq that doesn't look like a Thomas Nast cartoon).
On a related note, the papers have been buzzing about an Italian (read: "fraudulent" coalition member) security guard, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who was executed by his captors in Iraq; Quattrocchi reportedly tried to pull off his hood to look his captors in the eye and shouted, "I’m going to show you how an Italian dies." Noteworthy observation: in extremis, facing death and with nothing left to him but his pride, Quattrocchi fell back on something that mattered to him - his nationality. Not, "Europe" and not the "legitimacy" of international organizations. It is worthwhile, before sending men to fight and die - even sending private citizens into war zones - to remember for what they will do so.
April 15, 2004
WAR: Spread The Word
Michele is raising money to help the Marines in Iraq set up a TV station to win hearts and minds. Head on over and lend a hand - especially all you libertarians who want to show that even core government functions like foreign policy can be supported by private donations.
April 14, 2004
WAR: Playing Offense, Playing Defense
I can't say this often enough: in asking what could have been done pre-September 11, you have to divide the question in two parts: offense (taking the fight to the terrorists) and defense (ratcheting up homeland defense and law enforcement).
On offense, in hindsight, Clinton was a (can we use the phrase?) miserable failure. There are, I think, fair-minded arguments on both sides about whether and what Clinton could or should have done based on what was known at the time, but we now recognize with the benefits of hindsight that he should have done more to pressure and/or topple terror-sponsoring states, finish off the camps in Afghanistan, etc. Bush failed, again in hindsight, by failing to change Clinton's policies in this regard. But with just 8 months in office, no public mandate for war, no consensus on the issue among our allies, and his hands full just trying to get all his foreign policy people through the Senate (the people who want UN approval for everything didn't mind dragging their feet on Bush's UN ambassador), a quick change in policy would have been turning a battleship in a bathtub.
On defense, again, hindsight proves that there were systemic and bipartisan failings in providing for airport security, FBI/CIA cooperation, processing of intelligence, wiretap authority, etc. It seems clear that some of these could have cracked the case if we'd been organized as we are today. None of those systemic failures can be pinned on Bush (again, how many top DOJ jobs were left vacant for weeks or months?), and it's debatable how many can be pinned on Clinton, either. The problems were systemic.
What that leaves is the idea that, even with the faulty apparatus for gathering domestic inteligence and even with the meager infrastructure that existed for screening airline passengers pre-September 11, there was some information that went up the chain to the White House that should have led to the conclusion that something needed to be done ASAP that wasn't already being done. The FBI certainly seems to have been busy reassuring the President that they were all over this issue like PB on J.
What's left? That's where we get this August 6 briefing (although you can't evaluate it if you haven't seen what's in every briefing). As noted below, though, I just don't see what information was in that memo, taken in context and not just in hindsight, that says "stop what we're doing now, call the airports and look for Arab men fitting, you know, a certain profile." The bin Laden threat was indeed well-known - most of us knew September 11 was bin Laden as soon as the planes hit the towers. But the Democrats just haven't made the case that the red warning light of impending airline hijackings, specifically, should have gone off in a way that should have pointed to a practical solution.
WAR: Japan Getting Serious?
Setting the World to Rights has some thoughts on Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi's response to threats to kill the Japanese hostages in Iraq.
[W]hen Bush read the carefully chosen title of the Aug. 6 brief -- "Bin Laden determined to strike in the US" -- he should have demanded that his national security team scour files for useful information and institute immediate preventive precautions.
(Emphasis added). Talk about nonsense - does the Globe really think that the people making these decisions report directly to the president, or for that matter, have less than about 10 layers of reporting between them and the president? And remember, every level you go down, to get action, you have to order that many other people to do other things that wouldn't get you anywhere . . .
You're George Bush in August 2001. Tell me, specifically, what you would have done based on that memo, that would have a reasonable chance of apprehending the hijackers. "Put the government on alert" is glaringly insufficient. The memo says that Al Qaeda may want to hijack an airplane to secure the release of militants, or that it may aim to make some sort of attack in Washington. Given that you do not know which of these, if either, is true, nor when, where, or how the attack will come; given that the "chatter" to which opponents of Mr Bush like to refer has more often not presaged an attack (as we have seen with the numerous "Orange Alerts" and so forth); and given that any measures you take will be expensive and anger some subset of the population, what do you do? If your answers include, with astonishing foresight, such unprecedented things as strip searching passengers on domestic flights or ordering pilots not to open cockpit doors even after hijackers have begun killing passengers, please explain which of the tens of thousands of domestic flights taking off in the United States each day you plan to target; where you will get the extra personnel to do so; how you will respond when the ACLU and the airlines get a preliminary injunction against you for flagrantly violating passengers' civil rights; how you plan to sell the massive delays to the millions of angry passengers; what you are going to do about the inevitable Democratic charges of racial profiling; and how long you plan to keep this up, given that you have no idea whether an attack is due this week, this year, or at all? You must also include a section explaining what you are going to do about the North Korea expert shouting in your ear that you really need to pay attention to this intelligence saying that crazy Cousin Kim may have nukes.
(Emphasis in original). Read the whole thing.
April 13, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: The Oldies Station
It's late, so forgive me if I ramble . . . Instapundit asks, "[t]o the Democrats, well, 'we'd all love to see the plan.' Where is it?" I'm starting to wonder if Kerry is running the Nixon '68 playbook, what with his platform of having a secret plan to end the insurgency in Iraq and have peace with honor, the details of which he won't share with us. (Of course, he voted for it because he was brainwashed by Bush!) Here's a problem with nominating a guy like Kerry whose entire resume is built on something he did 35 years ago - the ability to adapt his thoughts to new and changing circumstances is painfully limited. Frankly, Kerry's a has-been. George W. Bush gets accused of being inflexible, but maybe there are advantages to nominating a guy who didn't make up his mind on a lot of things until recently.
Meanwhile, Goldberg blasts Ted Kennedy for raising the specter of quagmire. Jonah's column is pretty standard fare - there's something to be said for the idea that using the "V" word is a universally recognized signal for defeatism. Frankly, when you hear a liberal say "Vietnam," you know the meaning of what he's saying without listening just as sure as you know a conservative's meaning when you hear him mention Neville Chamberlain. But it did make me wonder: as Lileks has noted, despite the Democrats' current conventional wisdom that Vietnam was Nixon's war, Kennedy actually voted for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, as did Robert Byrd, the other big quagmirist in the current war (has Kerry ever asked either one for an apology?). As with John McCain and campaign finance reform, or Trent Lott's momentary vow to become a born-again fan of affirmative action: Lord save us from penitent politicians, forever making amends at our expense.
Unrelated Cynical Question of the Day: What percentage of America's voting public is aware that Wesley Clark and Richard Clarke are not the same person? (Not that I blame the average voter for a certain rational indifference to the Beltway crisis of the hour, by the way). There's this Clark guy running around on TV, used to be sort of a Republican, used to work for Clinton, now he says Bush should have prevented 9/11 and not gone to war with Iraq . . . I can see how folks would get confused.
Finally, speaking of McCain, I think it's just funny that the Democrats' cupboard of leadership is so bare that many of them would kill to put a Republican (and not just any Republican, but one who's more of a war hawk than Bush, and is a firm supporter of school choice and private Social Security accounts and other heresies) on the ticket. I mean, could you imagine anybody in the conservative press or blogosphere agitating to put Bob Kerrey or even Zell Miller on the GOP ticket? The closest we'd come is lifelong liberal Republicans like Powell or Giuliani or Schwarzenegger, and even they'd be viewed with mixed feelings.
April 12, 2004
WAR: Training On Safety
I've seen very little media coverage on this, other than generalized reports on stepping up safety alerts at train stations after the March 11 bombing in Madrid, but one thing I noticed in the last two weeks: most of the trash cans have disappeared from the LIRR waiting area in Penn Station. I have to assume this is connected.
April 8, 2004
WAR: Died For What?
Given the horrible headlines that followed the brutal deaths of four Americans last week, you’d think that would be the main story, or at least something that merited a mention in a headline. But a dozen dead Marines is the main story. The reason they died is not the main story. What has been accomplished is not the main story. To me, this is like printing “Four Thousand Dead in French Assault” and putting “Omaha Beach secured” in the subhead.
Read the whole thing; he's got lots more good stuff on other topics.
POLITICS/WAR: Kos Theory
I generally prefer to blog on a subject like last week's Kos Kontroversy when I've got sufficient uninterrupted blogging time to unpack all its implications, but I haven't had that kind of time lately and the issue's getting a bit stale now. So, I'll just run through my quick thoughts.
First of all, if you missed it, blogger Markos Zuniga of the popular far-left site Daily Kos (which I had added to my blogroll not long ago because of its excellent horse-race coverage, notwithstanding the overall left-wing nuttiness of the site) created a big stir when he made the following remarks on the death of the four Americans who were lynched by a mob in Fallujah:
Every death should be on the front page
I won't get into all the subsequent controversies, covered well enough by Michele (also here), Instapundit, and others far too numerous to mention, about (1) whether Kos misbehaved in trying to erase/conceal the entry on his site and in his various semi-apologies and justifications, (2) whether it's proper to pressure Kos' advertisers over a remark on his blog (I'll agree that the trend there is disturbing), or (3) to what extent left-leaning bloggers had an obligation to denounce what Kos said. (The latter being a point I'll expand on another day, the short answer being that it depends how bad the comments are, how prominent the blogger making them is, how prominent, prolific and/or professional the blogger with the 'obligation' is, and whether the latter blogger often makes similar demands of the other side; in any event, Oliver Willis gets credit for being the first big blogger on the left to denounce this). Random thoughts, though, on a few aspects:
First, I don't have much use for people who, in the course of defending Kos, describe his remarks merely as "stupid". Yes, they were stupid. But the problem isn't that they were stupid, or ignorant, or prejudiced, none of which is exactly rare on blogs or anywhere else people air their opinions. Nor is the problem that Kos was too flip and too disrespectful of the dead. The snarky, quick-hit, shoot-from-the-hip style of blogs does, sometimes, lead to undue callousness. As someone who writes under intense time pressure (when time runs out, I gotta run for a train), I can sympathize with bloggers who don't always get to dress up their statements with the appropriate nods to convention and politesse.
No, the problem with Kos' remarks is that they were vicious and mean, and effectively took sides with a lynch mob. Now, I recognize that many on the Right have been equally rough on Ahmed Yassin, Uday and Qusay, and even on less thoroughly evil figures like Rachel Corrie. But there's a common denominator there: those are all people who chose to take sides with those who want to kill us. They're on the other side.
And that's how Kos treated the men who were lynched in Fallujah: as not on his side. Except that, whatever you think of "mercenaries" and their motives (more on that below), there's no dispute that these guys' were in ultimately in Iraq because the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted them there to assist in its efforts to rebuild the country into a democracy. The fact that Kos sees the people engaged in that task as being on the other side puts him, at least emotionally, on the side of the lynch mob, the fascists, and the Islamists.
In any case, the viciousness of siding with a lynch mob, in any case short of the Ceacesceaus of the world, is impossible to justify; as Kevin Drum put it:
I really don't think it matters if they were private contractors in any case. They were burned to death and hung from a bridge. Nor does it matter much that you don't like the war. Some of the wingnuts on the right gloated over the deaths of UN workers in last August's bombing, and that was wrong as well, regardless of what they thought of the UN.
(Emphasis in original). I don't think that Kos' attitude is representative of liberals/the Left as a whole. Still, there were those on the left side of the spectrum who insisted that any criticism of Kos whatsoever for this attitude was out of line. Check out Jeralyn Merritt's take:
We will make our position very clear: We wholeheartedly support Markos. He made a comment most people find objectionable and then retracted it and explained why he made it. To us, it should be the end of the story. Any attempt to inflate it or even to keep it alive has little to do with Markos, and everything to do with right-wing conservatives trying to make political hay out of it. This has become a right-wing ploy to debase the left. Don't let it happen. Don't let them win. . . .
(Emphasis added). Wow. "Shame" on anyone who even criticizes Kos' hateful comments? That's an astonishing view. I can't see how you can say that people like Drum and Willis should be ashamed of themselves for finding Kos' comments offensive unless you are arguing either that (1) his "screw 'em" attitude is not only correct but beyond question, or (2) there is no level of offensive behavior by the left that should be valued above ideological solidarity (well, except for the dire offense of being a "centrist"). Neither is an appealing option.
On the other hand, as nasty as Kos' attitude on the war is - and even though I felt compelled to de-link him, especially since I had him on my list of bloggers who form the "Loyal Opposition" - I'm not prepared to give him the "Fredo, you're nothing to me now" speech the way the perennially overwrought Mark Kleiman did, at least initially:
[Ann Coulter] put herself beyond the pale of civilized discourse. Anyone who now quotes her, links to her approvingly, or supports her financially is dirtying himself: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.
There are all kinds of people out there who contribute something to public discourse, even if they have some views that are appallingly uncivilized. Sure, there are some that are totally out of bounds, and I certainly wouldn't cite the likes of either Coulter or Kos on any subject without some appropriate caveats (nor would I have even before Kos made this comment; he's always been way out there, at least on the war). But, as I've long stressed, a person can do a thing that is entirely indefensible and still not be worthy of capital punishment. Put another way: we're all sinners here.
The second thing, and one that's also been covered extensively elsewhere so I won't dwell on it: I don't see what makes these guys 'mercenaries' as opposed to just security guards, which everyone needs in Iraq or many other dangerous places (Moscow, Mexico City, etc.) It's not like they were conducting offensive operations or anything. To say that every civilian who carries a gun for a paycheck is a "mercenary" means the security guard at the local shopping mall is a mercenary. You can call him that if you want, but in so doing, you've rigged your argument by abandoning the accepted commonsense meaning of the term.
Like Xbox? Yeah, when I saw my office building pouring smoke and bodies falling out of it, I thought it was just like f#&!%ing Space Invaders. Even on the substantive point - Kos' argument that every corpse in Iraq should be placed on the front page: we don't put every drug dealer who shoots another drug dealer on the front page. We don't put every fetus who's aborted on the front page. We don't put every Israeli victim of suicide bombings on the front page. We didn't put the victims of the Rwandan or Cambodian genocides on the front page, not every last one of them. We sure as hell haven't put everyone who was raped or gassed or run through a shredder by the Ba'athists on the front page. Massively publicizing every death is a decision about what things to highlight. Kos wants to stack the deck.
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*Ed Moltzen at Late Final notes something I've seen on my own blog: sometimes, people who have a personal connection to the events in question will drop by, read what you wrote, and comment, sometimes months or a year later.
*Here's Kos trying to make himself out as the victim of some "wingnut" conspiracy. Someone who regularly lumps people like Glenn Reynolds, Andrew Sullivan and Michele Catalano into a single, undifferentiated mass of "wingnuts" has simply gone so far over to one side that they've completely lost their sense of proportion.
*Wonkette's take on the Konstroversy: Please, don't take me seriously!
*I and everyone else who's made up pun-filled headlines had assumed that "Kos" is pronounced as in Cosby. But, really, if it's short for "Markos," that can't be the case, can it?
*Mark Steyn passes up the "Kos said what all Democrats really think" cheap shot, but focuses in on a much more damning indictment, supported by illustrative quotes: that the hatred spewing from people like Kos is actually coming in part from the Democratic leadership, as much as the other way around:
Where would [Kos] have got the idea that American civilians in Iraq are ‘mercenaries’ who aren’t ‘trying to help the people’ but are there to ‘wage war for profit’? Maybe from Senator John Edwards, former presidential candidate, whose solitary reference to the war in his stump speech was a pledge to stop ‘Bush’s friends’ from ‘war-profiteering in Iraq’. Or maybe from Senator Bob Graham, another candidate, justifying his vote against the Iraqi reconstruction bill by saying, ‘I will not support a dime to protect the profits of Halliburton in Iraq.’ Or DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe declaring on TV last October that Bush would never withdraw from Iraq because ‘I don’t think they want to give up Halliburton and the $6 billion of no-bid contracts they’ve got on oilfields over there.’ Or Kerry sidekick and former senator Max Cleland, who fumed that Bush’s ‘insane’ war was all to do with profiteering and ‘oil wells’ and ‘Cheney getting income from Halliburton’. Or John Kerry, who says, ‘Halliburton is guilty of shameful war-profiteering.’
(link requires registration). (Also, a reminder of how things have changed in the blog world: Kos makes a quick post on his blog in California, and it winds up in a mainstream pundit's column in a magazine in England).
*The Kontroversy is not the only recent example of Kleiman backing down from his original, overwrought reaction; he also had to abandon his fact-challenged "Ted Kennedy didn't mean quagmire when he referred to Iraq as George Bush's Vietnam" spin when Eugene Volokh pointed out that Kennedy had elsewhere made the quagmire analogy explicit.
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WAR: The Mahdi
Reading this Belmont Club analysis (via Instapundit), I couldn't help but notice the reference to Muqtada Sadr's group calling itself "the Mahdi Army." You'll recall the self-proclaimed 'Mahdi,' from your 19th century history as the quasi-messianic figure who led an Islamist revolt against the British in Sudan that was ultimately suppressed following the defeat of the Mahdi's army by General 'Chinese' Gordon at Omdurman (more on that in general here and specifically here).
April 6, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Quote of the Week
From the Krauthammer column I noted yesterday, this Q&A from the September 11 hearings is all you really need to know about desperate efforts to blame the Bush Administration for September 11:
SEN. SLADE GORTON: "Assuming that the recommendations that you made on January 25th of 2001 ... had all been adopted say on January 26th, year 2001, is there the remotest chance that it would have prevented 9/11?"
April 2, 2004
WAR: "[T]he evidence that we saw . . . was not real"
Lileks has already had ample fun with John Kerry's interview on MTV, but this passage (also excerpted on Best of the Web) caught my attention - Kerry explaining the evidence that convinced him that Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction:
[T]he evidence that we saw--we were given photographs, direct evidence--was not real. I mean, it just turned out not to be, not to pan out, so I think the vote was a correct one based on the evidence that everybody was given.
Kerry's in a hole on this one, since he has to explain how it is that he looked at the same evidence Bush did, came to the same conclusion, yet Bush is a Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire, yet Kerry is uniquely qualified to make decisions about war and peace. What he seems to suggest here before he backs away is not that the evidence wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but that it was somehow faked or intentionally doctored. That's what he wants people to believe - Bush gave me bad data - but it won't withstand minimal scrutiny and totally abdicates Kerry's own responsbility for reaching his own conclusions.
The fact is, some of the evidence did not, as Kerry said, "pan out." There's much more to the WMD story than that, of course - like Saddam's trail of deception of weapons inspectors - but if Kerry's story depends on the CIA fabricating phony photographs, he's not going to convince anybody outside the fever swamps.
POLITICS/WAR: Clarke 4/2/04
OpinionJournal carries just a devastating review of Richard Clarke's book. Also, I noted yesterday allegations from the Left, amplified (as always) by Paul Krugman, of a smear job aimed at Clarke's personal life (see also here), but in fairness, I should note that the unsourced rumors involved give us, frankly, no evidence at all to tie them to anybody in the Bush camp, and nearly everything I've seen on this comes from the lefties (although Wonkette does seem to think that Laura Ingraham has been implying the same thing). I still think it's wrong if it's being done - but let's not be too quick to indulge the assumption that whatever Wolf Blitzer says is the gospel truth.
(On a side note, it still cracks me up that Blitzer is seen by the lefties as some sort of right-wing secret agent. Talk about paranoid).
WAR: Peggy Noonan, Tough Guy
We know what the men and boys who did the atrocity of Fallujah look like; they posed for the cameras. We know exactly what they did--again, the cameras. We know they massed on a bridge and raised their guns triumphantly. It's all there on film. It would be good not only for elemental justice but for Iraq and its future if a large force of coalition troops led by U.S. Marines would go into Fallujah, find the young men, arrest them or kill them, and, to make sure the point isn't lost on them, blow up the bridge. Whatever the long-term impact of the charred bodies the short term response must be a message to Fallujah and to all the young men of Iraq: the violent and unlawful will be broken.
WAR: Queer Eye For The Warlord Guy
A German fashion designer praises Hamid Karzai for his fashion sense. (Actually, "warlord" is a bit unfair to Karzai, but that's another post). Hey, a little superficiality is a welcome break from Afghanistan's usual methods of getting in the news.
March 31, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Who Is Sibel Dinez Edmonds?
Powerline notes that the always-unhinged Paul Begala is calling Condoleazza Rice a liar in large part on the strength of allegations made by one Sibel Dinez Edmonds, a disgruntled former FBI translator who was hired after September 11. I noted Edmonds' sensational charges here.
Also on Powerline: a hilarious commentary on John Kerry's snowboarding attire.
POLITICS/WAR: Daily Clarke, 3/31/04
So the Bush Administration gets thrown in the briar patch yet again by allowing Condi Rice to testify. You gotta admit, Bush sure knows when to fold 'em. I'm actually distressed at the precedent here - refusing to let the National Security Council staff testify is something other administrations have stood for as well (including the 1999 refusal to allow Richard Clarke to testify). Chalk up another one for how little this whole September 11 commission will accomplish besides just scoring political points.
More on the Clarke Affair:
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*Gregg Easterbrook notes that Clarke's newfound opposition to the Iraq war was undetectable in his commentary on the war on ABC News at the time.
*Econopundit notes that "You know you're dealing with a guy who voted for Al Gore" from this item:
Told that he had to vacate his warren of offices overlooking the Ellipse...in order to make room for the NSC communications and speechwriting staff, Clarke threatened to sue.
(Emphasis added by Econopundit). From that same MSNBC story, I found this Rumsfeld quote amusing:
During the Clinton administration, [Clarke] would call midlevel Defense officials and bluster, "The White House wants ..." Bush's Defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, forbade underlings to respond to Clarke unless the request came through proper channels. "The White House doesn't do [or want] anything," Rumsfeld acidly declared. "The White House is a building. The Pentagon doesn't do anything either. But I am secretary of Defense and I damned well can do things."
This administration came into office to discover that al Qaeda had been allowed to grow into a full-blown menace. It lost six precious weeks to the Florida recount - and then weeks after Inauguration Day to the go-slow confirmation procedures of a 50-50 Senate. As late as the summer of 2001, pitifully few of Bush's own people had taken their jobs at State, Defense, and the NSC. Then it was hit by 9/11. And now, now the same people who allowed al Qaeda to grow up, who delayed the staffing of the administration, who did nothing when it was their turn to act, who said nothing when they could have spoken in advance of the attack - these same people accuse George Bush of doing too little? There's a long answer to give folks like that - and also a short one. And the short one is: How dare you?
Clarke implies that the Bush administration should have made Al Qaeda the highest priority -- as it supposedly was during the second term of the Clinton administration. However, the Clinton sections have a familiar refrain -- Clarke's team tries to get the government to move, the White House is behind the push, and the effort dies somewhere in the bowels of the CIA, FBI, or the Pentagon. Now, the heads of the CIA and FBI were unchanged during the first eight months of the Bush administration, and Rumsfeld's difficulties with the uniformed brass at Defense during those months prompted rumors of resignation. So it's hard to see how anything would have changed unless the Bush team had focused on Al Qaeda to the exclusion of all other foreign policy priorities, which no one, not even Clarke, was suggesting at the time.
Drezner also leads us to this typically pointed Christopher Hitchens analysis, noting that Clarke, David Kay and other prominent Clinton-era officials were quite convinced of Saddam Hussein's ties to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in 1998.
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March 29, 2004
WAR: The Rumor Files
Presented without further comment: This Powerline item from last week on new evidence of Saddam's Al Qaeda ties caught my attention, although I haven't tracked down the followup enough to have an opinion on whether it holds up.
POLITICS/WAR: Then and Now
I've noted this before, but it is sometimes useful to look back:
[President Bush] misled the American people in his own State of the Union Address about Saddam's nuclear program and WMD's.
Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing weaponizing of a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles, such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers and covert operatives which would bring them to the United States itself.
March 28, 2004
WAR: Straight From The Horse's . . .
If you haven't already, you need to check out Smash's account from last week (here, here and here) of his attendance at an anti-war rally and his interview with one of the speakers. Unbelievable. There's only so much effort you need to expend on these people, but it's always enlightening to see what makes them tick. As Lileks put it:
These people are the fringe of the left; yes. They are the Klan with out the sheets. Worse: they don't have the inbred moonshine-addled mah-pappy-hated-nigras-an-I-hate-'em-too dense-as-a-neutron-star stupidity of your average Kluxer. They didn't come to this level of stupidity naturally. They had to work at it. I'm sure you'll find in these pictures people who have cool jobs in San Francisco, people who get grants, write code, run the coffee-frother at a funky bookstore, and have no problem marching alongside someone who spells Israel with swastika instead of an S.
You can see an effective parody of this mindset in Frank J's Universal Democratic Underground thread, which -- if you've spent much time at the comment boards of the big left-wing sites -- is pretty dead-on accurate.
March 27, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Clarke Star Crashing
Some controversies, you can't blog halfway, and with so many people blogging on the Clarke thing and so much new dirt on the guy every day, it's been pretty pointless for me to try to keep up even if I hadn't been swamped at work all week. One thought, on his easily disproven whopper about Condi Rice: there's no older cliche in the political book than disgruntled insiders claiming people they met with didn't know what was going on. Hell, they tried that with George Washington.
For what it's worth, here's my link-free, bottom-line take on what I think we know thus far about the propriety of blaming Clinton and/or Bush for September 11 (I may or may not go back and dig up the supporting links on this some other day, but it's all out there):
1. With the benefit of hinsdight, it's now clear that Clinton's people screwed up our anti-terror policy, beginning after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, through too much caution about committing to use military force and by a law enforcement-centered approach, despite having regularly considered more aggressive approaches.
2. In so doing, they were largely unchallenged by the GOP and not sufficiently challenged by the conservative press.
4. Clinton's people knew well how bad the overall threat was, and warned Bush's people about the nature of the threat.
5. On the other hand, they didn't hand over any kind of a strategy or plan to do anything about it other than a continuation of the prior insufficient efforts.
6. Clinton also recognized the Saddam problem -- that the 'containment' regime's premises had collapsed and the status quo was ultimately unsustainable -- but similarly didn't hand over any strategy to do anything about Saddam.
7. Bush & Gore both recognized in the 2000 campaign that the status quo with Iraq needed to change, and both would have headed towards a clash with Saddam even without 9/11.
8. Neither Bush nor Gore said much about bin Laden or terrorism in the 2000 campaign. It was not an issue and didn't even come up at the debates.
9. The Bush Administration, like its predecessor, did nothing of significance on terror or on Iraq for its first 8 months in office.
10. However, the Bush Administration appears to have been developing strategies to deal with both problems (bin Laden and Saddam) by early September 2001, albeit without the urgency we'd want, with hindsight, to have seen from both Bush & Clinton.
11. The Bush Administration also seems to have had some warnings about Al Qaeda using airplanes as a weapon - in fact, I checked and there were widespread press accounts in June 2001 of Al Qaeda reportedly plotting use airplanes as a weapon at the G8 summit in Italy that summer - but never got more specific information, in part because of pre-Patriot Act restrictions on law enforcement's ability to connect the dots.
Bottom line: yes, in hindsight, both the Bush and Clinton Administrations, with more foresight, could have done more on both counts. Yes, they should have done more. Yes, I hand Clinton the larger share of the blame, at least as far as the failure to develop a long-range offensive strategy is concerned - whereas it appears that Bush was at least thinking in that direction. On the defensive question (i.e., having the homeland on alert), there's less to fault Clinton and a bit to question about Bush, but I regard the failings as mostly institutional - the problem was the inability to pursue evidentiary leads and get urgent warnings up the ladder, rather than a failure of leadership.
But the blame isn't, in my view, the important question - as I said, none of it is entirely damning, and it's bipartisan in nature. The important question is what's been learned. The Bush Administration, of course, is famously unwilling to throw red meat to its critics by admitting error (witness what happened when they gave an inch on the State of the Union), but its actions have shown a willingness to re-evaluate U.S. military doctrine and law enforcement practice in numerous ways since. The Democrats . . . not so much. I really don't have confidence that John Kerry, who's been busy blasting Bush for being too eager to go to war and who's campaigned against the expanded law enforcement powers of the Patriot Act, has really learned anything.
March 26, 2004
WAR: American Warlord
Hey, doesn't that sound like a cool reality show? But it's also the military strategy du jour in Afghanistan. Link via Vodkapundit.
Tom Maguire's been all over the Richard Clarke saga - so I don't have to! In one of his latest installments, he notes a choice vignette from Clarke's book:
[Bush r]esolved to attack al-Qaida on the evening of Sept. 11. That night, Bush spoke to his staff: "I want you to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters." When Donald Rumsfeld pointed out the legal problems posed by some proposed attacks, Bush said, "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass."
WAR: The Little Flame, Three Years Later
Yet again I've been too busy at work to blog, but I had to mention that today is the three-year anniversary of an event that probably did more than any other to convince me of the impossibility of civilized people treating the Israelis and Palestinians as just two sides of a morally neutral "cycle of violence." Yes, the Palestinians have their grievances, and yes, children die on both sides. But a society that honors and celebrates a sniper blowing the head off of a ten-month-old girl is simply not ready to walk amongst the community of nations.
March 24, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: So, It Should Be About Oiiiiiillllll?
The Bush Administration comes under fire for not putting more emphasis in its foreign policy on increasing the supply of oil? Of course, this article is a classic disembodied passive-voice attack, containing only one fairly mild criticism from the Kerry campaign and no named critics. But it's more than a little ironic to think that Bush would face criticism for not placing a higher priority on oil in our Middle East policy.
March 19, 2004
WAR: On Taiwan
Assassination attempts on Taiwan's president and vice president can't be good news.
March 18, 2004
WAR: Got Him! No, wait . . .
MSNBC has a look at why the Clinton Administration didn't get Osama bin Laden when it had the best intelligence you could hope for as to his whereabouts:
If the U.S. government had bin Laden and the camps in its sights in real time, why was no action taken against them?
Link via Andrew Sullivan. Now, the Bush Administration, after coming into office, wasn't much better before September 11, although there remains endless controversy over what the Clinton people told the Bush people, what plans the Bush Administration was drawing up in early September 2001, etc. More to the point, though, is the need after September 11 to get entirely away from a law-enforcement-first mentality that has been proven catastrophically misguided in dealing with international terrorists. Do you have confidence that John Kerry will stay the course in that regard, given some of his public statements on the issue?
WAR: Gassing The Kurds
Picture, thousand words, etc.
March 15, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Hard Sell
Here's another way of looking at what's fundamentally wrong with John Kerry's approach to foriegn policy. Kerry, of course, has repeatedly insisted that he will, as president, do more to rebuild America's alliances with various foreign nations. But how, and at what cost?
There are, fundamentally, two types of diplomacy: you can think of them as hard diplomacy and soft diplomacy. Hard diplomacy is about getting people to change their behavior by changing the facts and/or changing your position; the most obvious examples are threats or reprisals and bribes with concessions. (Another example is creating the fait accompli, where you simply alter the facts on the ground). Soft diplomacy is, in essence, everything else, any effort that entails getting the other guy to change his position without changing yours. A lot of what people think of as diplomacy falls in this area, from ass-kissing on a personal or national level (i.e., talking nicer), to simple persuasion. The problem, of course, is that there's very little reason, in the real world, to believe that soft diplomacy has very much impact on the behavior of nations.
Here's what worries me: when Kerry talks about improving our diplomacy, there are two possibilities. One is that he's fool enough to believe that soft diplomacy is really important, and that he'll be able to get our reluctant allies to change their behavior just by asking nicer. Not only is this foolishly naive, but when has Kerry ever shown himself to be the kind of guy who can do this? He's never put in the effort to be a coalition-builder in two decades in the Senate; never tried for a leadership position, never worked in any notable way across party lines, never led a fight on major legislation (all these stand in marked contrast to Bush's record in Texas, by the way, and don't go telling me that Kerry can compensate by being more charming in person than Bush).
(One possible line of argument sometimes heard from the Left is that the U.S. has lost credibility on account of misusing intelligence, and that this has made us less persuasive . . . again, there are two possibilities: either Kerry intends to improve our intelligence-gathering operations, which would be a sharp reversal of his positions over the past 30 years, or he intends to be less willing to act on the kind of warnings we had in Iraq.)
The other possibility is that Kerry expects to use hard diplomacy . . . but threats of force or other reprisals? I doubt it. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that what Kerry means, fundamentally, is that he will concede American interests and negotiating positions in ways Bush wouldn't.
That really could make Kerry popular in foreign capitals. But it shouldn't make him popular here.
March 12, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: The War Is Not An Issue?
I just love this one, from Pejman: in 1944, a Democratic Senator who was the chairman of the party's national convention referred to a potential GOP victory as "Hitler's secret weapon."
It ain't beanbag. Lileks had more in this vein yesterday:
Accusing one's opponent of treason is a personal attack. . . . There's nothing comparable on the other side. Nothing. I mean, the Bush team runs an ad that has a second of 9/11 footage, and his opponents pitch a carefully staged fit - because that's all they have. . . I ask: imagine, if you will, that we're at war. (Just pretend.) A Democrat president is attempting to pacify Krepistan, which has been shooting at American planes for a decade. The Republican candidate says he's been in contact with foreign leaders who really want him to win, and is caught on tape telling a supporter he thinks the current administration is made up of crooked liars.
WAR/POLITICS: Let Slip The Dogs of Impeachment
The impeachment of South Korea's president seems like it might be a big deal, no?
Which reminds me: if John Kerry were actually to (ha, ha) offer the vice presidential nomination to John McCain, would McCain re-use his best applause line from his 2000 stump speech, the one where he promised to rid the country of "the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore"? Would Clinton stump for a ticket including a man who voted to remove him from office?
WAR: An Attack on Us
To their credit, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and the big three NY papers (the Times, Daily News and the Post) all give the Madrid bombing the blaring-headline treatment this morning. I haven't had time to absorb the whole thing myself . . . even if it does turn out that this is a purely local operation by the Basque terror group (last I saw, Al Qaeda was claiming 'responsibility,' but that sounds more like resume-puffing by a group whose successes have been few and far between lately), we should treat this as an attack on the United States. Spain has been an important and faithful ally in our war on Islamist/Arab terror, and we owe them no less than we have asked of them.
March 11, 2004
WAR: On The Spot in Spain
Iberian Notes, an excellent blog run by American expats in Spain (and one we've traded links with from time to time), is all over the breaking story of this morning's terrorist attacks in Spain. Check it out. The Command Post should also have more throughout the day.
The war's not over, folks. I only wish.
March 6, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Bring It On, Vol. 2
March 3, 2004
Maybe there's more to this story, but this NBC report sure looks like a huge black eye both for the Bush Administration and for critics who argued that the Administration exaggerated Iraq's terror connections and acted too aggressively in Iraq:
With Tuesday’s attacks, Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to al-Qaida, is now blamed for more than 700 terrorist killings in Iraq.
* * *
In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.
* * *
Four months later, intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe.
* * *
In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq.
Read the whole thing. . . of course, left unanswered here is exactly where in Iraq this was (i.e., was it an area under Saddam's control?), as well as how feasible the military plan really was. But undercutting the case for war? If we had shot first here and asked questions later, I'd think we'd have been able to argue that the presence of Al Qaeda-linked terror camps developing WMD was more than enough reason to go all the way and be rid of Saddam ASAP.
March 1, 2004
WAR: Not in the Box
The most important thing to remember about the new revelations about the scope of Saddam Hussein's regime's ability to skim off funds from the UN's 'oil-for-food' program is not that Saddam was generally a bad guy or even that the UN is corrupt and/or incompetent. The most important thing is that the status quo wasn't working. The program, as sanctions often do, was hurting the Iraqi people without doing much to really interdict the flow of funds to the regime for use in any number of illicit purposes. And this was fairly well-known even before the war. It simply wasn't tenable to keep Saddam in a box indefinitely.
February 28, 2004
WAR: Whose Chalabi?
One of the more tangled webs of the pre-war planning and intelligence in Iraq was the US government's controversial relationship with Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi. I never knew quite what to make of Chalabi, who was often lionized by the conservative press and vilified by those who preferred to leave Saddam in power. But a report a few weeks ago by StratFor (available by email to subscribers) raises some interesting questions - to wit, whether Chalabi, a Shi'ite, has long had some allegiance or connection to the Iranian mullahs.
The mullahs, of course, have a wide variety of interests in Iraq, some of which have been threatened by our invasion but others of which have been helped; their long-term goal, presumably, would be to see a weak Iraq controlled by an easily manipulable Shi'ite government. While it doesn't necessarily demean Chalabi's usefulness to us if he has - rationally - worked with the mullahs just as he worked with us to obtain his objective of a Saddam-free Iraq, any connection to the Iranian regime should set off alarm bells as to his trustworthiness.
One thing StratFor noted about Chalabi's background is that an Iranian connection could help explain much about the collapse of the bank he ran in Jordan until the late 1980s, which ended with a bank fraud conviction (of dubious validity) being entered against Chalabi in a Jordanian court. If Chalabi's bank was used as a conduit for Iranian funds during the Iran-Iraq War, this would explain why the Jordanians were suddenly interested in shutting it down as soon as the war ended (lest that come to light), as well as why they didn't treat Chalabi as a criminal so much as persona non grata, with the Crown Prince of Jordan personally escorting him out of the country.
A related question I've wondered about is how much of Chalabi's Iranian connections have been known to some of the fiercer opponents of the Iranian regime who have also been big cheerleaders of Chalabi, such as Michael Ledeen (see here and here for examples of Ledeen saying glowing things about Chalabi). I could be wrong, but I thought I had read somewhere that Ledeen's source on his charge that the Iranians were buying uranium in Iraq was a Chalabi contact . . . the plot, as always in that part of the world, is undoubtedly a thick one, and one that may never fully be known.
February 27, 2004
WAR: It's Never Good News
WAR/POLITICS: Get Unserious
I found it very revealing when Matt Yglesias suggested a few weeks ago that John Kerry should "really commit himself" to "build[ing] a viable democratic state in Iraq" . . . but that until the nomination was salted away he shouldn't do so because it would "be unpopular with the primary electorate and possibly lead to a Dean-resurgence."
Of course, with Dean out of the way, I'm still not holding my breath for Kerry to get serious. But it's more than a little scary to hear from a commited Democrat the idea that the Democratic primary voters aren't prepared to hear a serious, adult discussion about America's role in the world or its strategy for winning the war on terror.
February 25, 2004
WAR: All One Problem, Part II
George Tenet has his problems, but his testimony yesterday indicates that he gets one key point: the war on terror is less and less about Al Qaeda per se, and more and more about smaller or harder to track groups that share the same fundamental anti-American political ideology.
WAR: How Many Times?
Meryl Yourish notes that since September 2000, Israel has seen more than 7,000 people killed or injured in terrorist attacks of its population of 5.4 million Jews . . . she asks how many September 11ths that adds up to, proportional to the U.S. population. Of course, when you check the link to the IDF statistics, it's 928 killed and the rest wounded, including soldiers; the actual number of civilians killed is 653. If you just compare the 7,000 to the 3,000 or so killed on September 11, it's more than 100 times our loss; if you compare the 653 number, it's more like ten September 11ths. But no matter how you splice the numbers, it's a heck of a lot of blood spilled in four years. It's something to chew on, before condemning the Israelis for anything.
February 24, 2004
WAR: I Taunt You
1. The Islamists accusing the French of "Crusader envy." So much for the superiority of the French approach to the "simplistic" and "arrogant" American tack in getting a break from these nutballs.
2. There was something rather pathetic in the efforts to taunt Bush:
"Bush, fortify your targets, tighten your defense, intensify your security measures," the tape recording warned, "because the fighting Islamic community — which sent you New York and Washington battalions — has decided to send you one battalion after the other, carrying death and seeking heaven."
Sure, they could pull something off at any time . . . but until they do, this stuff sounds like bluster that wouldn't be necessary if their operations weren't severely crimped. Or, put another way:
I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. . . now go away before I taunt you a second time.
February 23, 2004
LAW/WAR: This Time, It's Personal
Darren Kaplan notes that Solicitor General Ted Olson will personally argue the government's case before the Supreme Court in Rumsfeld v. Padilla, the case addressing the government's ability to detain "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla. As you may remember, Olson's wife was killed on September 11.
February 19, 2004
WAR: It's All One Problem
Tacitus has a great series of posts here, here and here on why we should wake up and realize that Hezbollah and other non-Al Qaeda jihadist terror groups are also at war with us. This is very close to the core of what I believe Bush understands, and his critics willfully misunderstand, about the war on terror, and why the fissures over Iraq are so deep. (Among other things, Saddam's open support for suicide bombers in Israel and his known support for other terror groups - together with his invocation of the jihadist ideology in his public pronouncements - was, in my mind, a huge factor in why we were right to go to war with him). We simply can no longer tolerate the existence of groups like this. It's all one problem, and there's really no way to keep suicidal jihadist fanatics from following their anti-American creed to its logical conclusion.
While you're over at Tacitus' place, by the way, don't miss his two-part series here and here on the history and aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, including some first-hand reporting from Tacitus' trip to Rwanda late last year. It's a heart-rending account of a story that I, for one, have never entirely gotten my mind around (the French don't come off too well, although nobody else in the West does either), and is some of the best writing you are likely to see on any blog on any subject.
February 18, 2004
WAR: A Fitting Tribute
Check out this story on a statue paying tribute to members of the 4th Infantry Division who have died in Iraq. (From LT Smash). I love the fact that the statue was done by an Iraqi sculptor and was cast from metal from melted-down statues of Saddam. A fitting tribute to that for which they gave their lives.
February 17, 2004
WAR: Man of Straw
Tim Blair catches an Australian critic of Bush and the Iraq war fabricating quotes about WMD, including altering passages from the State of the Union.
February 15, 2004
WAR: James Carroll
One of the very worst columnists in the business has to be James Carroll of the Boston Globe, a guy who will buy into any anti-American cliche, no matter how attenuated its relationship to the facts. Anyway, I hadn't fully grasped the roots of Carroll's problems until I stumbled accross this book review on Amazon:
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If the Civil War pitted brother against brother, the Vietnam War is best understood as pitting father against son. Some of Vietnam's longest lasting battles were fought in heavy rages and even heavier silences across the dinner table. James Carroll is a veteran of many such skirmishes. A novelist now, this book is his story of what it was like to be an anti-war priest in the '60s while his father was an Air Force general deeply involved in Pentagon planning. What makes the book particularly moving is that Carroll comes to realize that his father is no mono-dimensional saber-rattler (indeed, he suspects that his father's military career came to its sudden end because of the stances he took inside the corridors of power against expanding and intensifying the war). But the terrible truth was that neither the father nor the son ever managed to transcend the boundaries of their particular roles to meet each other in a candid, reciprocal relationship.
Orrin Judd, who's sprinkled his insightful book reviews liberally accross Amazon, elaborates:
In point of fact, the War seems to have had little to do with Carroll's personal crisis, certainly its morality had nothing to do with it, instead the story he has to tell is that age old tale of youth rebelling against authority. I'm loathe to engage in psychoanalysis, being both unqualified and not much of a believer in its efficacy, but Carroll uses the term Oedipal so often and the book is cast so clearly in the form of an Oedipal drama that it's hard to avoid doing so. Start with the fact that he outdoes his father by actually becoming a priest, where Joe fell short; continue with the way that this profession figuratively wed him to his pious mother, whose entry to Heaven would be virtually guaranteed by virtue of having borne a priest; move along to his utter rejection of his father's profession and an eventual adoption of complete pacifism; then conclude with his decision to leave the priesthood after his father had been forced out of government and crippled by disease. It's hard to see how Vietnam actually matters to any of this psychodrama : had his Dad been a butcher, Carroll would have become a vegetarian, had he been a fireman, Carroll would have been an arsonist. This is a mere story of generational tension dressed up in the ennobling guise of a great moral struggle.
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February 14, 2004
WAR: A Fifth Column?
Either FBI supervisor Mike Feghali ought to be fired instantly (and investigated to see if he should be prosecuted), or he has one heck of a libel suit . . . check out this potential bombshell article from FrontPage Magazine, charging that Feghali, a naturalized Arab-American, led his unit (translators who are a critical link in our homeland security apparatus) in celebrating the September 11 attacks, and added to that the Washington vice of deliberately slowing down work at his unit to show a need for more budget. (Link via Roger Simon).
But take the whole story, especially the more sensational parts, with a grain of salt, at least for now. The allegations seem to come entirely from one Sibel Dinez Edmonds, a disgruntled former employee who was fired by the FBI, and it's hardly unheard-of for disgruntled former employees to make up sensational charges. Still, the Senate Judiciary Committee, to whom Edmonds has complained, ought to make some efforts to ascertain the credibility of these charges.
Read the whole thing.
February 10, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: Bush Meets The Press
Adding my two cents here . . . I watched Bush's interview on CNBC Sunday night at 10. I thought Russert was noticeably more deferential to Bush than to his usual guests, although he asked plenty of tough questions; the difference was more in the followup.
My take on Bush: obviously, this isn't his best format, but we knew that already. On Iraq, at least, I thought he was great. He stayed relentlessly on message (Bush's ability to not say things is a hugely underestimated skill), but once he got rolling he was also fiesty and impassioned on the importance of Iraq to the larger situation. On the connection between Iraq and the larger war on terror, you couldn't help but be impressed by his depth of conviction.
He had definitely prepared extensively for this. After each question, he'd pause and say "sure" or "OK" and then launch into his prepared answer, which made clear that he was there to stake out his positions rather than to engage in genuine back-and-forth conversation. Which is frustrating, but it also shows an un-Dean-like appreciation of the gravity of every word that comes from the President.
He was weaker on the other stuff. He was too defensive on the economy, didn't stress enough how things have improved lately, but then, he doesn't want to seem unconcerned to people who haven't tasted the recovery yet. I also thought when he started talking about how the market started dropping in March 2000 and the recession began a year later, he could have tossed in a dig about how when he proposed his tax cuts in 2001, the Democrats were saying he was overstating the country's economic problems (remember "talking down the economy"?). Maybe by debate time, the opposition research people will have dug up Kerry saying that.
Like Andrew Sullivan, I don't know what planet Bush gets his budget numbers from. But then, I don't put much stock in anybody's budget numbers.
On the AWOL issue, Bust could have said more but he doesn't want to dignify the issue; what the Democrats have been stupid about is giving him an opening to rip them for lumping in Guard service with desertion or fleeing to Canada.
From the NY Daily News:
A new Time/CNN poll . . . found that 60% of voters deem Kerry did proper service in Vietnam, but only 39% deem Bush did.
So . . . 40% of survey respondents think that Kerry piloting his boat through firefights isn't enough? What would satisfy these people? Do the other 40% think he (1) should have died there, or (2) should have refused to serve?
On the other hand, Charles Johnson points out that this is dishonorable:
Al Gore . . . was a featured speaker at the Arab League’s lunatic “think tank” known as the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-up . . . what should we call lending the prestige of the US Vice Presidency to a blatantly insane anti-America, antisemitic Arab hate group in the Persian Gulf—after September 11? And taking their money—no doubt quite a lot of it?
Johnson also links to an example of the kind of stuff the Zayed Centre has featured from other speakers.
February 6, 2004
WAR: It's Not All Good
Josh Chafetz reminds us that the troubles Gerhard Schroeder is having in Germany may actually be bad news, to the extent that his political problems have less to do with his antiwar stance and more to do with his support for tax cuts, reform of Germany's bloated welfare state and other needed reforms, and given that his replacement could be even worse.
WAR/POLITICS: On Bringing It On
Ed from Late Final, on the difference between Bush and Kerry on the war:
Kerry: When he says, "Bring it on," he refers to President Bush, the RNC and Karl Rove.
"The President’s comment yesterday regarding the continued attacks on American troops in Iraq was unwise, unworthy of the office and his role as commander in chief, and unhelpful to American soldiers under fire. The deteriorating situation in Iraq requires less swagger and more thoughtfulness and statesmanship," Kerry said in a statement.
WAR: What Intelligence?
“I think it’s legitimate for me to question all of our intelligence information because that I never learned anything from those briefings that I hadn’t learned in the newspapers. If they don’t know anything more than they’re telling us, what’s the use of having an intelligence agency, and why bother to brief us?”
February 4, 2004
WAR: Why War In Iraq?
I made this comment over at Roger Simon's site, but it bears repeating here because this issue keeps coming up. In the course of addressing a broader point, Simon said
"there were always two major arguments for War in Iraq-the moral one (Saddam was a mass murdering dictator) and the "practical" one (the "imminent"... or not) WMD threat."
This is a common formulation, but it's a false choice, and one that liberals enamored of the humanitarian argument are too quick to point to. There were, in fact, several other arguments. To name five: (1) Strategic: replacing tyranny with democracy in Iraq puts pressure on other Arab & Muslim states to reform. (2) Tactical: taking out Saddam removes a country where we couldn't track the flow of terrorists and weapons, thus increasing our ability to use our law enforcement and intelligence apparatuses, and also puts our troops on the borders of other notorious offenders. (3) Making an Example: Knocking off our most prominent enemy, a guy whose media celebrated Sept. 11, sent a powerful message that we are dead serious about not taking this crap anymore. (4) Legal: Saddam violated UN resolutions that were the conditions of ceasefire. (5) Combatting terror: the strongest argument of all, if controversial on the evidence, looked at Saddam's open support for Palestinian terror, his connections to Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas, and the evidence linking him to Al Qaeda and other groups. Don't let the WMD thing distract you from the fact that supporting terrorism is bad whether you have WMD or not.
January 30, 2004
WAR: On The Other Side
Matt Welch notes a recent interview with British journalist John Pilger in which he urges support for the Iraqi "anti-occupation resistance." Matt's headline is right on target.
January 29, 2004
WAR: Kay For Everyone
David Kay's appearance before Congress (besides confirming that Kay is a dead ringer for Bob Barr) gives plenty for both sides of the neverending Iraq war debate to think about. Let's start by flashing back to what I wrote on this topic in September 2002:
There's been an unreal quality about the whole Iraq debate, arising from the gulf between the real, practical considerations for going to war and the legal arguments, under international and U.S. law, for doing so in a way that will bring Congress and the U.N. with us. The real reasons include Saddam's motive to use terrorist proxies and weapons of mass destruction against us, his opportunity to do so, the interconnection between Saddam's tyranny and aggressiveness and the general cesspool of government in the Muslim and Arab worlds and the positive example of fear we set by taking out our #1 declared enemy among nation-states. The legal arguments, by contrast, include the pre-existing Congressional and U.N. resolutions authorizing force, the legal and practical fact that we remain at war with him by virtue of his violation of cease-fire conditions and the unabated hostilities over the no-fly zone, and specifically Saddam's noncompliance with weapons inspections.
* * *
[T]he question is not whether we can meet the heavy burden of developing a casus belli from scratch. Bush is not a prosecutor overcoming the presumption of innocence; he's the exasperated parole officer of a guy who's violated all the conditions of his probation. And he made it quite plain that the international community has to understand that if Saddam gets away with this, the U.N. will never be able to put anyone on probation again.
For fans of the legal argument - generally the opponents of war - Kay's findings have been damning: it is now clear that Saddam's regime was in very serious violation of numerous UN resolutions, including continuing to have WMD programs and failing to cooperate with weapons inspections. It is equally clear that further inspections would not have gotten to the bottom of this, given the apparatus of deception and intimidation surrounding the programs. And recall, again, that these resolutions were the conditions of the 1991 cease-fire; we had all the grounds we needed to call off the cease-fire and resume hostilities.
But for those of us who were more interested in the practical arguments, we have to live with the painful ambiguity: Saddam probably didn't have WMD that presented an imminent threat. Of course, caveats apply to that: there were other reasons for war; the whole point of the Bush Doctrine of preemption is to head off threats before they are imminent; Saddam may still have had bioweapons stocks sufficient to kill Americans and cause panic, in the wrong hands (consider how little anthrax was needed to panic the country's faith in the mail). But the hope for a smoking gun that would humble the critics into submission is long gone.
One guy who's vindicated in this whole thing is James Lacey, the TIME reporter who I believe was the first person (at least that I saw; check out his May 15, 2003 article on NRO) to float the theory that is now Kay's working hypothesis after delving deeply into the evidence: that Saddam himself was deceived by terrified underlings into believing that he had an extensive WMD program. Not only does this explain why Saddam worked so hard to avoid detection of the program, why the world's intelligence agencies were all fooled, and why even Saddam's own generals believed he had a WMD program (including why they issued gas masks to Iraqi soldiers in the field), but it also explains why we keep seeing 'mobile bio-weapons labs' and 'drones' that look sort of like the tools of a WMD program, but turn out on inspection to be functionally useless. Occam's Razor wins another round.
January 23, 2004
POLITICS/WAR: EDWARDS LIED!!!!!!!!!!!!
In addressing some of Bush's key points of attack against John Edwards yesterday, I didn't mention Edwards' obvious inexperience, particularly in foreign affairs. Naturally, that remains his biggest vulnerability, which I'll get into more another day.
But Edwards is vulnerable from another flank as well: once Joe Lieberman is out of the race, he becomes the most pro-Iraq-war Democrat left, and that could render him uniquely exposed to the potential for a third-party challenge. A left-wing anti-war third party would get its most votes in places like California and the Northeast, where the Democrats are likely to run strongly anyway, but the places where it could be a factor are a number of swing states the Democrats need badly: Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
It's not just that Edwards supported the war (I'll deal another day with his position since the main combat operations ended); it's that his full-throated support for the most controversial justification for the war -- that Saddam's regime had weapons of mass destruction -- puts him so totally at odds with the charges made by the anti-war Left (Dean, Clark, Ted Kennedy, Paul Krugman, etc.) that the war was some sort of political stunt or oil grab dreamed up in Texas and that our WMD intelligence was all a creation of Dick Cheney and the perfidious neocons.
Of course, we all know that Edwards has plenty of company on the Left - others who stuck their necks out on the WMD allegations include such right-wing warmongers as Bill and Hillary Clinton, Dick Gephardt, Lieberman and Tony Blair. But Edwards' statements on the matter were notably definitive:
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As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I firmly believe that the issue of Iraq is not about politics. It's about national security. We know that for at least 20 years, Saddam Hussein has obsessively sought weapons of mass destruction through every means available. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons today. He has used them in the past, and he is doing everything he can to build more. Each day he inches closer to his longtime goal of nuclear capability -- a capability that could be less than a year away.
You will note that Edwards is on the Intelligence Committee (no doubt, to be fair, a fact his defenders will point to to show his experience). What that means is, he had access to intelligence on his own -- not everything that was available to the president, to be sure, but plenty enough to make up his own mind.
Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave threat to America and our allies, including our vital ally, Israel. For more than two decades, Saddam Hussein has sought weapons of mass destruction through every available means. We know that he has chemical and biological weapons. He has already used them against his neighbors and his own people, and is trying to build more. We know that he is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons, and we know that each day he gets closer to achieving that goal.
Now, I should stress here that I agree entirely with Edwards' statements from the fall of 2002: the available evidence did indeed suggest very strongly that Saddam was a "clear threat" and a "grave threat" to the United States, possessed chemical and biological weapons, and intended to acquire nuclear weapons. But having agreed with the president on this issue, Edwards may have trouble winning over voters in his own party who view these positions as a massive fraud.
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January 22, 2004
WAR/RELIGION: Serving Two Difficult Masters
The Washington Post carries an inspiring look at Dan Knight, a former Green Beret who's now a military chaplain on the front lines in Iraq:
"Being a noncombatant is not exactly my cup of tea, but if it's what God wants me to do, I'll abide," said Knight, 37, whose duties are to nurture the living, comfort the wounded and honor the dead. "I don't crave combat, but I fight to get on every mission I can. There's nothing more rewarding to me than being on the battlefield, praying with a wounded man."
It's a hard life to follow one of those callings, let alone both. As one soldier puts it, "He's just got an extra chain of command than the rest of us do."
January 21, 2004
POP CULTURE/BASEBALL/POLITICS, etc.: A Few Of My Favorite Books
Nothing scratches the blog itch quite like a little bout of list-making. With that in mind, I decided to draw up a list of my all-time favorite books. For reasons that will become obvious, I limited myself to one book per author, and in some cases the one book is something of a stand-in for a larger body of work. The top 10-15 of these are the real immortals, the ones I go back to again and again. In some cases, I suppose, I've also stretched the definition of "book," but hey, it's my list. I also decline to apologize for the paucity of literature and the prominence of baseball memoirs on this list; I've always preferred polemics, analyses, humor and great storytelling, and I've never made pretense at being deeply intellectual in my interests:
24. Raymond Woodcock, Take the Bar and Beat Me: I enjoy my job and the law, but not to the point where I can't see the humor in the profession of law. Woodcock, a reformed lawyer, graduate of Columbia Law School and practitioner at a big New York firm that has since gone under, wrote a scathingly humorous look at law school and the legal profession, and one I highly recommend to anyone considering a career in the law. Woodcock's take is blithely cynical in some places, but also self-critical, as he looks at how the law changed him, including his divorce (an occupational hazard of lawyering).
23. Leo Durocher, Nice Guys Finish Last: Leo's book, like Leo himself, is funny, vindictive, manipulative and an essential key to understanding six decades of baseball history, from Leo's run-ins with Ty Cobb to his frustrations with Cesar Cedeno.
22. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged: A cliched choice for conservatives, although I came to read this one relatively late in life (just a few years ago) after I was pretty well set in my thoughts, and I still haven't read any of Rand's others. It's a tale well-told (even if John Galt's didactic speech drags a bit), skillfully playing on the unfairness, pettiness and venality of a system that gives some people the ability to decide how to dispose of the fruits of others' labors.
21. Joe Garagiola, Baseball is a Funny Game: Garagiola's was one of the first baseball books I read as a kid, and dog-eared it rather severely. It's unmistakably pre-Ball Four in its G-rated treatment of the game (it was published in 1960), and thus will seem horribly dated to the modern adult reader, but still manages to capture the earthy humor of ballplayers and the genuine love for the game of guys like Garagiola and his boyhood pal Yogi Berra, who came up from a working-class Italian-American section of St. Louis. Garagiola also captures an up-close look at important figures like Branch Rickey and Frankie Frisch. A similar collection of humorous stories about the game from the 1970s can be found in the late Ron Luciano's books.
20. Stephen Carter, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby: A tough choice between Carter's books on church and state, affirmative action, and judicial confirmations, so I picked the one I read first. Carter describes himself mostly as a political liberal, but he fits comfortably in the neo-liberal camp in his willingness to challenge orthodoxies of the Left, especially on questions of race and religion. His writing is also a model of clarity and directness.
19. Scott Turow, One L: Yes, this was particularly influential because (like most everybody else in my law school class) I read it the summer before starting law school at Harvard. Harvard and law schools generally have changed a good deal since the 1970s, but Turow captures perfectly (and contributes to) the essentially internal psychodrama of the place. I'm also giving Turow credit here for his works of straight fiction, which are intricate and absorbing, however seamy.
18. Stephen King, Christine: King's books are always gripping, most of all The Shining and Christine. The latter gets extra points here for King's vividly accurate portrait of the minds of high school kids and the real and imagined terrors that can overcome them.
17. Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down: As frightening as any Stephen King book, but much sadder; Bowden not only rescued the Battle of Mogadishu from historical obscurity, but in the process drew a compelling picture of the modern American military and the men who populate it, the mindset and tactics of its Third World adversaries (sometimes in spite of decent men in their midst), and the gulf that separates the two. The book's indictment of foreign-policy adventures like Somalia is almost an afterthought but one that stays with you.
16. Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August: If Bowden provided a readable and engrossing look at war from the ground level, Tuchman's World War I classic did the same from the top down. Tuchman recognized the Shakespearean tragedy of the onset of the Great War, and presents the plans of the various generals and the vissicitudes of the onset of war to maximize that effect. I also loved her book A Distant Mirror, a chilling compendium of the ills (literal and figurative) of 14th Century Europe.
15. Raymond Smullyan, Alice in Puzzle-Land: One of the many things I got from my mother was a love of logic puzzles, and Smullyan is the master of them. This book isn't just a collection of increasingly brain-bending puzzles, like his book The Lady or The Tiger?; it's also a clever and stylish takeoff on Lewis Carroll's bizarre cast of characters. The book is out of print and hard to find, but it remains a favorite.
14. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: I was a bit of a latecomer to the Harry Potter books, having seen the first two movies with my wife (who'd read the books) before diving into this, the third installment (I've subsequently read the first two to my son); now I'm hooked. Having read all five, the third is the best, with a taut, fast-moving plot carrying lots twists (granted that a number of the surprises are telegraphed in advance). Perhaps as importantly, for the adult reader, Prisoner of Azkaban introduces the series' serious adult characters (i.e., characters who are more than just quirky authority figures).
13. The Opinions of Justice Antonin Scalia: The Caustic Conservative: Yes, I'm cheating here by citing a book that hasn't been released yet, based on its likely contents consisting of judicial opinions. I'll narrow it down here to its essence: the two opinions I particularly have in mind, and which have greatly influenced my thinking about American government and its principles, are his lone dissent in Morrison v. Olson (in which he argued that the independent counsel statute was unconstitutional, in terms that his nearly unanimous critics eventually had to concede a decade later), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (his denunciation of the theoretical emptiness and illegitimacy of the Court's abortion jurisprudence). Taken together, the opinions set out a central theme of conservative thought about government: the need to draw governmental power only from sources whose legitimacy can be reaffirmed by keeping them accountable to the people.
12. Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who: In enumerating favorite and influential books, too many people neglect the books they learned from first. But Dr. Seuss deserves a special place, and not only for charming this and many other hearers of his books to become readers of books in the first place. (I've also noted their usefulness in teaching children to read aloud). His longer books, with stories that have a moral to them, are masterpieces of precise and whimsical use of the English language, and in most cases manage to make their point without getting preachy, even on subjects (e.g., The Lorax and environmentalism) that are prone to heavy-handed one-sidedness. And they hold up so well that they are the rare children's book that an adult actually enjoys reading for its own sake.
My current favorite of these is I Had Trouble In Getting To Solla Sollew, which is a none-too-thinly-veiled slap at utopianism of all kinds. But the one that's endured the most in my consciousness since childhood is Horton Hears a Who, with a mantra that should be the creed of any pro-lifer: "A person's a person no matter how small." And its message of Horton's solitary courage when surrounded by neighbors who wish to define the Whos out of existence (one with undoubted Holocaust overtones) remains a powerful one for readers tall and small alike.
11. Baseball Prospectus 1999: I've arbitrarily picked the first of the BP books I bought. The Prospectus hasn't always been on the right side of the many arguments its staff has raised. Nor has it been as influential or groundbreaking, or nearly as entertaining, as Bill James' work; but the comparison is unfair. What matters is that they've consistently asked the important questions that were needed to move serious analysis of the game forward in the 1990s and beyond, and in so doing they've done a lot to drive the terms of debate ever since. I would never have understood baseball's post-1994 business environment and its ramifications without BP, and their work on projections, translations and pitcher workloads has often been groundbreaking. This is the first book I turn to every year to get a handle on the new season.
10. Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the Vanities: Wolfe's novel about a Wall Street investment banker who becomes a cause celebre after hitting a young African-American teen with his car after taking a wrong turn in the Bronx just perfectly sums up all the ills of pre-Giuliani New York (only some of which have been fixed since then). The satirical bite of the book is only enhanced by Hollywood's ham-handed efforts to sanitize its portrait of New York's ethnic politics. My dad, who was on the NYPD until the late 80s, swears by the authenticity of many of the scenes in this classic.
9. Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need: If you've only read Dave Barry's columns and skipped his books, you've missed a lot. I had a tough choice between the Travel Guide and Barry's Short History of the United States, which is basically his annual year-end column writ large, but the Travel Guide packed in just an unbelievable number of laughs in a short space.
8. Lawrence Ritter, The Glory of Their Times: Simply the best oral history of baseball ever done, and the one all the others copied. Ritter got a number of ballplayers from the early 20th century to open up to him; all or nearly all of them are dead and gone now, but not their stories.
7. The Book of Job: As you can no doubt tell from the balance of content on this blog, I'm a Catholic who doesn't think about religion as often as I should. But the Bible undoubtedly informs my thinking in ways I can't even perceive, and when I have read Scripture, the book I've most enjoyed reading (from the Old Testament, ahem) is Job. Job deals with the toughest questions that face any believer in an omnipotent and benevolent God must grapple with -- why bad things happen to good people, where sin and suffering belong in the world -- and doesn't provide any easy answers.
6. Peter Gammons, Beyond the Sixth Game: The best assignment I ever had in school was when my sophomore English teacher, Mr. Donnelly, gave us a list of books to report on and one of them was this classic by Peter Gammons. Gammons is a lot of things to a lot of people, and these days he's best known for (1) having the game's most extensive network of sources, and (2) uncritically repeating everything those sources tell him (which is not unrelated to the maintenance of (1)). He is at times an open mind friendly to statistical analyses of the game, and at times gives a soapbox and his imprimatur to denunciations of statistical analyses of the game.
But first and foremost, Gammons is a guy who loves baseball, loves the Red Sox, and can really write. Beyond the Sixth Game is the tale of the Red Sox from 1976-1985, when Gammons was the Boston Globe's beat writer for the team, and it's a love letter to every fan whose heart was broken by those teams, and a cold-eyed analysis of how it happened (Gammons' thesis is that the ownership of the Sox failed to appreciate the new financial realities of the free agent era). His portraits of the players are detailed and affectionate (especially Carlton Fisk and Luis Tiant, two guys Gammons obviously really did think were very special people), and his narratives of the pivotal 1977 and 1978 seasons soar. No Red Sox fan - no baseball fan - should do without this book.
5. Peggy Noonan, What I Saw at the Revolution: Ask conservatives of my generation about Ronald Reagan or conservatism, and chances are pretty good that you will get a picture heavily influenced by one of his "wordsmiths," Peggy Noonan. The book is only secondarily a memoir, although it does capture (with Noonan's eye for sympathetic detail) numerous Washington figures of the 80s, as well as her previous boss, Dan Rather, of whom Noonan was very fond despite his politics. More importantly, it's a book about writing -- about a particular kind of writing (political speeches), how they get created, why they matter, and what's important in crafting them. It's also a tribute to a set of conservative ideals, and how they continued to inspire conservatives even when their practitioners didn't always live up to their promise.
4. The Orwell Reader: Yes, I'm cheating again by including an anthology. Another invaluable assignment -- the best thing I got out of college, academically -- was buying this book for Professor Green's British Empire class. I re-read it end to end again after September 11. Orwell hardly needs my introduction; his depictions of working-class life in the 1930s (coal miners, dish washers) are famously vivid, and his jeremiads against those who wouldn't stand up to fascism are the stuff of legend. My favorite essays are "Politics and the English Language" and "England Your England" (I reached for the latter in the opening of my September 11 column, as well as reaching for a scene from the Council of Elrond from the next selection) and I'm sure I'm not alone in those choices.
3. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: I had a tough choice here; The Hobbit was the first "grownup" book I ever read, back in the second grade, and it remains Tolkien's best-written book. But Fellowship of the Ring perfectly bridges the gap between the lighthearted adventure of The Hobbit and the epic sweep of Lord of the Rings, and launches the greatest fantasy epic of all time. The question: what will good men do in the face of unremitting evil? Tolkien's answer isn't always reassuring.
2. P.J. O'Rourke, Parliament of Whores: As far as I'm concerned, still the best book ever written about American government; O'Rourke brings his vicious humor to every branch and agency of the federal government he can locate. His chapter on farm policy is the best thing I've ever read on the subject, and his account of a Housing NOW! march is sidesplitting. Along the way he encounters everyone from Pat Moynihan to Mike Dukakis to Ken Starr. But the book does have just one terribly cringe-inducing line, in retrospect; in his look at American foreign policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, O'Rourke states that
the main thing to be learned about foreign policy in this part of the world is that a wise foreign policy would be one that kept you out of here. There are some things you ignore at your peril, but you pay attention to Central Asia at the risk of your life.
Well, you knew that was coming; if I hadn't limited myself to one book per author, I'd have had a top 10 of Bill James books. As I've repeatedly noted, James has had a tremendous influence not only on my thinking about baseball but on my entire thinking process. I picked the first edition of the historical book because it is, on balance, the largest compilation of James' most pointed and entertaining writing and original thought, effortlessly spanning twelve decades of baseball history and bringing even the most distant past vibrantly to life. (I reviewed the new Historical Abstract here).
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BASEBALL: Jim Bouton's Ball Four; Ron Luciano's umpire books (noted above); Pete Palmer and John Thorn, The Hidden Game of Baseball; Keith Hernandez, If at First (a very post-Ball Four look at the 1985 Mets); Rob Neyer and Eddie Epstein, Baseball Dynasties (another one I'd have enjoyed more if I didn't know the subject so well already); Charles Alexander's biographies of Ty Cobb, John McGraw and Rogers Hornsby; Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (I really didn't enjoy the first part, about Kahn himself, but the sections on the players were fascinating, and it was particularly poignant in retrospect to read about Carl Furillo as a hardhat helping build the World Trade Center).
POLITICS: Jeffrey Birnbaum and Alan Murray, Showdown at Gucci Gulch; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind; Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
WAR/HISTORY: George Kennan's writings on the Soviet Union and on American foreign policy; David Pryce-Jones, Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs.
LAW/LEGAL FICTION: The works of John Grisham, notably his first few novels; Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action.
HUMOR: The collected books and cartoons of Gary Larson (The Far Side), Scott Adams (Dilbert), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Charles Addams, Berke Breathed (Bloom County) and Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes).
FICTION/LITERATURE: The collected works (nearly all of them) of Michael Crichton; Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
SCI-FI/FANTASY: The works of Isaac Asimov (including many of his books in other areas, notably his mysteries). There's a number of others I've enjoyed, but not enough to note a mention here.
BASKETBALL: The Rick Barry basketball annuals; I haven't seen one in years, but they heavily influenced my thoughts on the game in the early 1990s. I'm still reading the Basketball Prospectus, and that could be on the list soon.
CHILDREN'S BOOKS: The works of Richard Scarry; the Curious George books.
UPDATE: The Mad Hibernian reminds me that Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels should have been on this list.
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Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:48 AM | Baseball 2004 | Law 2002-04 | Politics 2004 | Pop Culture | War 2004 | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
January 14, 2004
WAR: Pipes' Battle
If the government needed to develop newer and better rockets, and it handed over millions in grants to university physicists to do so, wouldn't it be the government's business to make sure that the physicists weren't neo-Ptolemaic crackpots who thought the earth was flat? If the government wanted to develop new vaccines, and it handed over millions in grants to university biologists to do so, wouldn't it be the government's business to make sure that the biologists understood and accepted basic tenets of modern medicine? When taxpayer money is involved, the government has every right to demand that its subsidies -- given for a concrete purpose -- are bing used by competent people who are actually working to achieve that purpose.
At bottom, that's all that Daniel Pipes' and Martin Kramer's projects to hold government-supported Middle East Studies programs accountable for their denials of the realities of the Arab and Muslim worlds are all about. The Washington Post, in a surprisingly even-handed profile, has more.
January 12, 2004
WAR: The Memorial
Zev Chafets argues that the WTC memorial proposal is distinctively Israeli in style, and attributes this to the fact that its designer is Israeli. Key quote: "Israelis understand how to commemorate mass murder the way Eskimos know how to deal with snowstorms."
I had posted this comment over at Michele's place, where she was criticizing the two-reflecting-pools design for being too cold and sterile: I didn't really look at the alternatives, but as somebody who worked in Tower One, I like the idea of being able to go back and stand where the plaza was and reorient myself to the holes where the towers stood; one thing that's unsettling about downtown now is the sense of having lost exactly where the towers were.
Rebuild the towers? Emotionally, I love it. Practically, who the hell wants to go back and work there? Not my firm, I'll tell you that. Rebuilding two 110-story towers and getting stuck with empty floors because few companies can get their employees to go back or can afford the insurance. . . that would be more depressing than anything.
January 8, 2004
WAR/POLITICS: Dean's Not To Judge?
Over at NRO, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has a devastating look at why Howard Dean's remarks about not pre-judging Osama bin Laden's guilt until he'd been tried by a jury are such damning evidence of Dean's unfitness for high office. Key paragraphs:
Even at their most superficial level, Dean's remarks illustrate a mind-bending naiveté about the president's central role in federal law enforcement. Our Constitution commits the prosecution of criminals to the executive. United States attorneys in each federal district are appointees of the president; it is solely under presidential authority that they bring cases. The presumption of innocence - widely overused as a rhetorical lifeline for the arrantly guilty - is indeed deeply rooted in Anglo-American common law. But it is germane only as an evidentiary presumption, a vehicle for assigning the burden of proof at a criminal trial to the government rather than the accused. Yes, it solemnly binds the jury, but it has little if any relevance outside the trial context. For example, those accused of violent crimes are routinely held in jail prior to trial, often for well over a year. Even though they've not yet been convicted of anything, the presumption of innocence avails them nothing in bail proceedings.
McCarthy also reviews the history of why it was so damaging to contiunue treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem after the mid-1990s.
Dean's inability to pass judgment on bin Laden isn't a gaffe; it's inseparable from his steadfast refusal to connect any dots about Saddam Hussein; it's the same attitude.
WAR: Nose Down
When that Egypt Air flight went down in the Red Sea recently, I couldn't help but think of the 1999 crash brought on when one of the pilots put the plane into a nose dive - apparently deliberately - while repeating an Islamic prayer of sorts, an event that in retrospect seems like an obvious precursor to what came later. Michele had the same thought, and links to this chilling 2001 Atlantic article about that crash; if you haven't read it before, it's a must-read.
December 27, 2003
BLOG: New Categories
Those of you who prefer to skip to the baseball content, or who want to check the category archives, may have noticed that three of the categories here (Baseball, Politics and War, my three main areas of interest) load very slowly due to the huge number of entries since the blog started in August 2002 (as well as a few oddball archived emails from before that date). To remedy the problem for the new year, I've renamed the old categories ("Baseball 2002-03," etc.) and created a new set of categories ("Baseball 2004," etc.) to hold this year's entries. I've also changed the link at the top of the page so it goes to the Baseball 2004 category, and I'm notifying the few sites that link to my baseball category page rather than the main page to fix their URLs.
If you're looking for baseball entries from 2003 and earlier, click here for the Baseball 2002-03 category.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 1:52 PM | Baseball 2004 | Blog 2002-05 | Politics 2004 | War 2004 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 7, 1990
WAR: ALL THE REASON WE NEED
This article originally appeared in The Crusader, the Holy Cross College campus newspaper for which I wrote a weekly column at the time.
As America lurches closer and closer to war in the Middle East, President Bush has come under heavy criticism. In a nutshell, it is argued that he has not offered one single compelling reason free of all other motives why America is involved in the reckless adventures of Saddam Hussein. This is a manifestation of Americans' desire to simplify complex foreign policy crises into simple black-and-white issues.
We must be sure not to mistake questions about the US-Israel alliance for an attempt to reduce the situation to a sort of "Arab-good, Israeli-bad" dichotomy. This would be even worse than its opposite, which all too often is resorted to in our policy decisions. The Israelis merely need to be held accountable for their actions, as we try to do with all of our allies.
In Iraq, however, while the situation is in fact complicated, America faces one of those rare cases where (as with Hitler in World War II) virtually all the facets of our foreign policy process indicate the same course of action. In short, there is not just one reason to stop Hussein, but every reason to stop him.
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Rather than face the disillusionment of those Americans who were shocked after World War I to discover that we had fought for more than just to "make the world safe for democracy," let us now look at the reasons for our involvement in the Persian Gulf.
First of all, it has always been America's policy to oppose aggression. Hussein's seizure of Kuwait was nothing more than naked aggression, veiled by only the slimmest pretext of any other motive. U.S. policy in particular can never tolerate totalitarian aggression, the perpetual expansion and war of rulers like Hussein who need to distract their people's attention to some exterior objective enemy to prevent the formation of any united opposition at home.
Those who claim a parallel between Hussein and the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama have overlooked a few key facts: Kuwait does not have a treaty granting Iraqi military bases in its territory; Kuwait did not have a democratic government subverted by a military dictator but a legitimate (if undemocratic) monarchy; Kuwait did not declare war on Iraq; and Iraq has not made any attempts to hold free elections and re-establish a legitimate government in Kuwait, to name a few. Hussein must be stopped because, like Hitler or Stalin, he will expand until he is defeated or checked.
Second, in the interests of democracy, Hussein is a dictator who maintains power through fear and oppression and who has destroyed the legitimate government of a neighboring state. He is undemocratic and a threat to self-determination.
Third, American security interests demand that Hussein be removed now before he extends his military influence in the Gulf and acquires nuclear weapons. The point has been made that many other nations have nuclear arms and America doesn't try to stop them, but other nations have poison gas, too. Nobody but Hussein uses it. We have little reason to doubt that this man would have little compunction about using nuclear arms, and therefore it is in our best interests to see to it that he never acquires the capability.
Fourth, whatever objections (legitimate or otherwise) may be raised to our allies in the region, we must stand up for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in a moment of crisis. We have many allies the world over who are no friends of liberty and democracy; the time to chastise them is not during a military crisis.
Hussein's bitter opposition to Israel is clear, and the likelihood of an invasion of Saudi Arabia in August was high, particularly after Hussein called for the overthrow of the Saudi government. His continued existence unchecked would remain a constant threat to our staunchest allies in the region.
Fifth, we must do more than merely get a quick appeasement of Hussein. As long as he remains in power unchecked and unmarred by any clear rebuke, the stability of the region will be threatened. His military machine is too powerful to remain at peace with richer, weaker neighbors.
Sixth, while the cost of war in dollars is high, our economic needs do require a check on Hussein's influence over the oil market; the immediate trigger for the invasion was Kuwait's refusal to raise its oil prices. Yes, this means protecting oil companies, but there's more than that at stake. Anyone who remembers the 1970s can remember how much havoc an oil cartel and high oil prices can play on our economy.
Consumers are hurt by price hikes in oil and anything transported by vehicles or from any company using heating oil-the result is massive price shock in the economy that hurts consumers, producers, and workers. Therefore, though not our only motive, the fight over oil is real and is an important one. Anyone who denies the importance of oil should remember that the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a direct response to FDR?s decision to cut Japan's oil supply.
Seventh, Hussein is an exceptionally brutal ruler. Just ask the Kurds, if you can find one still breathing. He murders his advisers with his own hands, uses poison gas on his own people, and has been vicious in his treatment of Kuwait.
Finally, the U.S. has at long last the full support of the United Nations and the world community in opposing Hussein's atrocities. If ever the hour is to come when the noble experiment of collective security is to be put into action, this is that hour. President Bush has all the reason he needs to act strongly and decisively with the support of the civilized world against Saddam Hussein. The time to stop him will never be more opportune.
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