"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
War 2005 Archives
December 27, 2005
WAR: Hey, That's Not Diplomatic! Part II
Reform at the UN proceeds. Who'd a thunk it?
December 23, 2005
WAR/LAW: Spying on Al Qaeda in the United States
Am I bothered by the revelation that President Bush has authorized, without a warrant, surveillance on telephone calls and emails involving people within the United States? Let's walk through the issues to explain why I think the criticisms of the Bush Administration are, as usual, vastly overblown; the only substantial legal or policy issue here is whether the surveillance at issue violated FISA, and there is (1) at least an argument that it did not, and (2) a substantial argument that FISA has been effectively repealed in the case of Al Qaeda by the Congressional authorization to use force against the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks. The bottom line is that as far as I can tell, the Administration is, in fact, taking an aggressive but plausible reading of the available legal authority - and doing so to advance our ability to interdict Al Qaeda. Which is precisely what the Administration should be doing.
(For now, I'll leave aside the loose lips that put this story in the New York Times; hopefully, Patrick Fitzgerald will have his day with them. I'll also leave aside some of the side issues here, such as how different the Bush Administration's program is from what was done under Clinton and the precise factual circumstances of some of the examples cited by the Administration of the kinds of past communications this program would have captured).
I. The Policy
As far as I can tell from the press accounts I've seen thus far, the National Security Agency spying program at issue involves continuous electronic surveillance of foreign communications - including communications originating in foreign sources but entering the U.S. - and extends to human review of a subset of those communications that are flagged for various reasons as involving Al Qaeda. Richard Posner explains well why the approach these programs take to data collection are no great threat to privacy.
Leaving aside the law for the moment - more on that below - as a policy matter, I see nothing even remotely objectionable about this. The universe of surveilled communications is limited in two ways: every communication involves at least one participant outside the United States (apparently it must be the participant who initiates the communication), and every communication involves at least one participant suspected of being part of, or closely associated with, Al Qaeda, our undisputed #1 enemy in this war. It's awfully hard to argue that we shouldn't be spying on Al Qaeda and associated groups with every means available to us; the only issue is whether we should pull some of our punches when Al Qaeda operates within the U.S. - despite the obvious fact that, because Al Qaeda is a terrorist group and not a conventional military power, Al Qaeda's core operations require it to operate within the U.S. And this Byron York piece on FISA is a good start in explaining why the pre-September 11 legal structures just don't allow enough flexibility to do all the things we need to do to keep up with Al Qaeda.
Sure, opponents of the Administration will say, the program may be limited now, but without judicial oversight, how can we stop the program from expanding? The answer, of course, is that all executive powers are subject to some abuses, including FISA; but the time to complain is when there is something to complain about. To play this story as if Bush has been doing surveillance of domestic political opponents is just disingenuous.
II. The Law
Our government is one of enumerated powers, circumscribed by enumerated limitations and rights of the people. A number of commenters, unfortunately, confuse this issue. The fact that the president has certain very broad powers, for example, does not make him a king; however broad those powers are, they remain subject to certain express limitations. Thus, the legal issue has to be approached in two main parts: does the president have the power, and are there rights and limitations that impose constraints on that power?
A. The President's Powers
1. Constitutional Authority
The President of the United States has two main sources of power in the area of national defense. First, Article II of the Constitution directly provides that "[t]he President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States," a power that therefore requires no further Congressional authorization and that, when properly exercised, at least arguably may not be restricted by Congress without amending Article II.
Second, Congress has several powers under Article I that bear upon the power of the Commander in Chief:
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;
Article I also grants Congress authority "[t]o make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof," a grant of authority that is arguably broader in scope than the powers granted to the President and the courts. Nonetheless, it has long been recognized that both the President and the federal courts have certain "inherent" unenumerated powers to take actions necessary to make effective their enumerated powers.
The idea that this somehow makes the president like a king is ludicrous. The inherent powers of the executive can not be arbitrarily expanded to whatever area the president believes would be useful, any more than the Necessary and Proper clause grants legislative authority over unenumerated areas to Congress or the inherent powers of the federal courts extend beyond the kinds of powers (e.g., contempt sanctions, injunctions against conflicting proceedings) that are required to carry out the judicial function.
The Supreme Court made this quite clear in 1952 in rejecting President Truman's effort to use the exigencies of the Korean War as an excuse to seize steel mills. Justice Jackson, in his concurring opinion in that case (which I would recommend re-reading in its entirety), made this point succintly:
There are indications that the Constitution did not contemplate that the title Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy will constitute him also Commander in Chief of the country, its industries and its inhabitants. He has no monopoly of "war powers," whatever they are. While Congress cannot deprive the President of the command of the army and navy, only Congress can provide him an army or navy to command. It is also empowered to make rules for the "Government and Regulation of land and naval Forces," by which it may, to some unknown extent, impinge upon even command functions.
Justice Jackson also aptly described how the President's powers act in combination with those of Congress:
1. When the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum, for it includes all that he possesses in his own right plus all that Congress can delegate. In these circumstances, and in these only, may he be said (for what it may be worth) to personify the federal sovereignty. If his act is held unconstitutional under these circumstances, it usually means that the Federal Government, as an undivided whole, lacks power. A seizure executed by the President pursuant to an Act of Congress would be supported by the strongest of presumptions and the widest latitude of judicial interpretation, and the burden of persuasion would rest heavily upon any who might attack it.
The Administration and its defenders have argued - and I would agree - that the use of espionage and surveillance against foreign enemies, including electronic surveillance, is a necessary incident of the power to act as Commander in Chief by virtue of being an ancient and well-recognized weapon of war, albeit one that is enhanced by modern technologies unforseen in the time of the Framers. The extension of this authority to surveillance of enemy actions, agents and associates within the territory of the United States is not in any way unsual: would the President need a warrant to spy on an invading army once it has crossed the border? Had you suggested this to James Madison after the British Army torched the White House, he would have been horrified. Anyway, the DOJ letter detailing the Administration's position notes that this position has been upheld in the courts (although I confess I haven't read the cases).
So, yes: the power to conduct the limited surveillance at issue - on declared foreign enemies of the United States and their agents and associates within our borders - is unquestionably within the inherent authority of the Commander-in-Chief. Thus, the only questions are whether that authority has been expanded or restricted by Congress and whether it is elsewhere restricted by the Constitution.
2. Statutory Authority
In light of Justice Jackson's framework, two Congressional enactments are at issue. The first is the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda. The DOJ letter makes clear that this "AUMF" augments the president's constitutional authority:
The AUMF authorizes the President "to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, . . . in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States." Sec. 2(a), The AUMF clearly contemplates action within the United States, See also id. pmbl. (the attacks of September 11 "render it both necessary and appropriate that the United States exercise its rights to self-defense and to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad").
The second statute at issue is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA"). I will discuss FISA below, as it is impossible to separate the question of what powers FISA grants the President from what restrictions it imposes on him; in my view, the question of whether the NSA program can be squared with FISA is the only substantial question of law or policy in this whole brouhaha. But bear in mind that, even under Justice Jackson's third prong - which expresses deep skepticism about the scope of presidential authority when exercised in the teeth of a contrary federal statute - if the President violates an Act of Congress that does not render his actions automatically unlawful any more than the Supreme Court acts unlawfully in holding an Act of Congress to be unconstitutional; in either case, the question is whether a coordinate branch of government has properly or improperly concluded that Congress has overstepped the legitimate bounds of its authority.
B. Limitations on the President's Powers
1. Constitutional Limitations
The main Constitutional limit - really the only one of significance here - is the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment provides:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
As a number of courts and scholars, most notably Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar have argued, the touchstone of any Fourth Amendment analysis is reasonableness, not the presence of a warrant. Warrants are often required in domestic law enforcement as a prophylactic measure to ensure that searches and seizures are reasonable, but the caselaw is rife with exceptions to the warrant requirement, from "hot pursuit" and other exigent circumstance cases to certain good-faith errors in the warrant process to stops-and-frisks on the street; there's nothing in the Fourth Amendment that protects anyone against electronic eavesdropping without a warrant if, under the circumstances, such eavesdropping is reasonable. And again, I dare anyone to argue that such eavesdropping in the situations the NSA program actually aims at - communications initiated by members and associates of Al Qaeda and associated groups operating outside the US - is unreasonable. The fact that there are other communications as to which such eavesdropping would be unreasonable is entirely beside the point.
2. Statutory Limitations
This brings us to FISA. I am, I confess, no expert on FISA. Put briefly, FISA - enacted in the 1970s as part of the reaction to Watergate-era disclosures of excessive use of domestic spying - purports to be the exclusive avenue for executive authority to use such surveillance. The statute provides:
Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that--
The statute's definition of "foreign power" breaks down as follows:
(1) a foreign government or any component thereof, whether or not recognized by the United States;
Notably, the DOJ letter does not argue that the surveillance at issue complied with any of these exeptions (I wonder whether the Attorney General ever provided the required certifications to fit within them). Instead, the DOJ argues that, because the AUMF gave the president war-fighting powers against Al Qaeda, those war-fighting powers - which necessarily include the power of electronic surveillance as an incident of war - follow Al Qaeda wherever it may be, including within the United States. Thus, the argument goes, the AUMF has implicitly repealed FISA within the limited scope of surveillance against Al Qaeda and other parties determined by the President to be behind the September 11 attacks.
Orin Kerr, whose opinion I greatly respect, isn't a FISA expert either but it's a lot closer to his areas of expertise than mine, and his detailed analysis concludes that the NSA program violated FISA, and that the AUMF probably doesn't repeal FISA in this circumstance. Cass Sunstein, one of the nation's two or three most prominent liberal law professors and generally - though I usually disagree with him - a serious guy, believes that the AUMF probably should be read as repealing FISA for this limited purpose, a point he makes in this blog post and expands upon in this interview with Hugh Hewitt:
[I]f the president is just restricted to al Qaeda, and al Qaeda's friends, then he's on very firm ground under the authorization. If, on the other hand, the president has been engaging in wiretapping of people whose connection to al Qaeda is very uncertain and indirect, then the authorization is less helpful for him.
I guess I'd say there are a couple of possibilities. One is that we should interpret FISA conformably with the president's Constitutional authority. So if FISA is ambiguous, or its applicability is in question, the prudent thing to do, as the first President Bush liked to say, is to interpret it so that FISA doesn't compromise the president's Constitutional power. And that's very reasonable, given the fact that there's an authorization to wage war, and you cannot wage war without engaging in surveillance. If FISA is interpreted as preventing the president from doing what he did here, then the president does have an argument that the FISA so interpreted is unconstitutional. So I don't think any president would relinquish the argument that the Congress lacks the authority to prevent him from acting in a way that protects national security, by engaging in foreign surveillance under the specific circumstances of post-9/11.
I should note here, in support of Sunstein's point about the ambiguity of FISA's coverage and of its implied repeal by the AUMF, that the conclusion that FISA was violated is hardly bulletproof; Leon H of RedState makes a plausible argument as to why the exceptions apply, with citations to some caselaw. Again, I'm not a FISA expert and I haven't read the cases.
Is the DOJ's argument a slam dunk? Hardly. This is a close call in a number of ways. But I agree with Sunstein that, when you consider that the president acted in ways consistent with both his express constitutional authority and his authorization to use force, and not inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment, and in an area in which FISA itself may be ambiguous and may well have been implicitly repealed by the AUMF, the prudent conclusion is that the president does have the constitutional authority to do what is, to my mind, unquestionably the right thing: pursue Al Qaeda at top speed wherever it may operate, in or out of the United States.
December 19, 2005
WAR: Just Askin'
You know, re-reading this characteristically incisive Mark Steyn column, it occurred to me that if we do wind up in a military confrontation of some sort with Iran's new saber-rattling fanatic of a president, all the usual suspects on the Left are going to burst into a chorus of how you must believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and not George W. Bush, if Bush says that the Iranians are dangerously close to having a fully armed and operational nuclear arsenal.
Which brings to mind an important point about rounding up political support for the American position in such a confrontation. Many politicians in the Democratic party went on record, on the basis of their review of the applicable intelligence, as saying that Iraq had and/or was working on weapons of mass destruction. Now, of course, many of them want to disclaim those statements and say they don't believe Bush, Clinton, Blair and the other heads of state who said Saddam had or was working on WMD.
Well, if the Democrats claim to be wiser now, they need to be asked point-blank: are the Iranians dangerously close to getting nuclear weapons in the next 2-3 years, or sooner? And they need to be willing to stand by their answers, knowing that if they say "no" and are proven wrong, they will have shown to the American people their willingness to err on the side of underestimating threats to national security, if that's the posture they want to take.
December 18, 2005
WAR: Cheney Goes East
The Vice President visits Iraq. It's getting to be about time for President Bush to return to Iraq as well. While it's obviously a security nightmare to handle these visits, given what a huge target the President or Vice President is, we've got more than enough people risking life and limb over there to justify another trip.
December 17, 2005
WAR: The Last Milestone
I've been terribly delinquent in not writing more about the Iraqi elections this week, but I didn't have anything new to add. Smash and Steven den Beste discuss the implications for terrorism in Iraq: Smash says Al Qaeda has to know it is finished, while den Beste cautions that Iraqi Sunnis will continue to use terrorism as a political tool.
Only the former, of course, is our problem; the difficulty of managing the ethnic and sectarian tensions within Iraq was inevitably going to be a problem once Saddam was gone whether we invaded or not, as was the case in the former Yugoslavia. By establishing democratic institutions and training Iraqi forces, we have given the Iraqis the tools they will need to deal with the problem in the future.
This week's elections represent, in a real sense, the last milestone to political victory in Iraq. We already had military victory in the broad sense when we conquered Iraqi territory and overthrew the old regime. Military victory against the insurgency, particularly the foreign terrorist element, has been slower in coming, and it's not done yet, not until we can complete the job of training Iraqi forces that can do the job themselves (a job that's a good deal further along than it was a year ago) and take down the bulk of the remaining foreign fighters. But on the political side, there's really nothing left to do except what Iraqis have to do themselves.
December 14, 2005
Don't forget to check the full coverage of the Iraqi election by U.S. and Iraqi bloggers at No End But Victory.
December 9, 2005
WAR: What's Farsi for "Mein Kampf"?
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad engages in some Holocaust denial and suggests that Israelis should be relocated to Europe. (More here, as even Reuters can't spin this story to create an equivalence between Israel and Iran).
Ahmadinejad's remarks raise again the question: when a world leader threatens the unspeakable, to we take him at his word? Nobody took Hitler at his word until it was too late. We didn't really take bin Laden at his word until after September 11. On the other hand, even today there are those who argue that we should ignore the words of Saddam Hussein, relentlessly calling for jihad against America and trumpeting the September 11 attacks, in determining whether he was a threat.
We have Ahmadinejad's thinking, in his own words. Will we do anything before it's too late?
December 6, 2005
WAR/FOOTBALL: Crusading Again
Great KC Star story about Rob McGovern, Holy Cross class of '89 and a 4-year veteran of the Kansas City Chiefs, who has spent the past four years as a JAG lawyer in Afghanistan and Iraq. There was a whole family of McGoverns that played football at HC - they all went to Bergen Catholic, my high school's hated arch rivals (the BC football team was also the Crusaders).
WAR: Taking the "New" Out of "News"
The Washington Times on how coverage of Guantanamo Bay is outdated, including the fact that most of the photos used in news stories about Gitmo are from Camp X-Ray, which closed in April 2002.
December 1, 2005
WAR: A Seymour Hersh Reader
Since the subject came up in the comments, I thought I'd offer a little reading list on the issue of Seymour Hersh's credibility. Some of these are rather long, a few raise duplicative subjects, and some are obviously written by people with axes to grind, but the sheer mass of problems with Hersh's writings and speeches, combined with the near-impossibility of confirming the truth of most of Hersh's anonymously-sourced claims, makes it foolish in the extreme to take Hersh's reporting at face value:
*Long 2003 profile of Hersh by Scott Sherman in the Columbia Journalism Review, focusing among others on the credibility problems that led to Hersh's departure from the New York Times.
*Barbara Comstock at National Review (May 2004) on Hersh's rap sheet, focusing on his book on the Kennedys and other books.
*Greyhawk at Mudville Gazette (May 2004) on Hersh misrepresenting the Abu Ghraib investigation.
*John Miller at National Review (December 2001) on Hersh an anonymous sources, focusing on the Kennedy book and his reporting on Afghanistan in 2001.
*Max Boot in the LA Times (January 2005) on various Hersh misstatements.
*Lowell Ponte in FrontPageMag (May 2004) on Hersh's history, with skeptical quotes from several liberal journalists, reference to a 1991 book sourced to a scam artist and criticism of Hersh's reporting on Chile in the 1970s.
*Dafydd ab Hugh email posted at Powerline (May 2004) noting an obvious misrepresentation of the Taguba Report.
*Michael Totten (November 2005) on Hersh's distortion of the assassination of Rafik Hariri.
*Scott Shuger in Slate (November 2001) on Hersh's Afghanistan reportage.
*Jason Maoz of The Jewish Press (January 1999) summarizing multiple attacks on Hersh's credibility.
WAR: Expanding the Battlefield
Reading through the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq put out by the White House yesterday, my mind kept coming back to the idea of expanding the battlefield. It is, however, a concept much easier said than done.
One of the themes in the National Strategy is essentially a version of the "flypaper" theory:
Prevailing in Iraq will help us win the war on terror. +The terrorists regard Iraq as the central front in their war against humanity. And we must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror. +Osama Bin Laden has declared that the "third world war...is raging" in Iraq, and it will end there, in "either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation." +Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri has declared Iraq to be "the place for the greatest battle," where he hopes to "expel the Americans" and then spread "the jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq." +Al Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has openly declared that "we fight today in Iraq, and tomorrow in the Land of the Two Holy Places, and after there the west." +As the terrorists themselves recognize, the outcome in Iraq -- success or failure -- is critical to the outcome in the broader war on terrorism.
Essentially, the idea is that, by removing Saddam Hussein's terror-sponsoring tyranny and clearing the path for the first-ever free representative democracy in the Arab world, we have forced Al Qaeda and others sharing its basic ideology to fight us at a time and in a place of our choosing; both sides now recognize that the victor in Iraq will be in an immeasurably stronger position, both strategically and on the propaganda front, to pursue its goals throughout the region. Of course, Iraq was, aside from the other reasons for war, well-suited to this role for many reasons: the population was bone-tired of tyranny, the Kurdish north had developed institutions of self-government, the Shi-ite majority would not be receptive to foreign Sunni fanatics, and the terrain is more favorable to U.S. military technological advantages than, say, mountainous Afghanistan.
None of this is to say that the insurgency has been a good thing, but rather that the situation was one in which we could deal a blow to the enemy whether they fought or not. It is the recognition of that challenge that has compelled them to fight.
Anyway, part of the battle in Iraq has been essentially a war of attrition: we've been killing the enemy in large numbers and draining their financial and operational resources, while they have sought to find the magic number of U.S. casualties that will cause us to buckle and turn tail. Obviously, one of the major questions about this kind of war is to what extent the manpower and resources of the global enemy are finite, as opposed to being expanded by conflict. The National Strategy identifies three groups fighting our troops in Iraq:
Rejectionists are the largest group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to a democratically governed state. Not all Sunni Arabs fall into this category. But those that do are against a new Iraq in which they are no longer the privileged elite. Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests.We judge that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.
The first two groups are unique to Iraq, although similar factions would exist elsewhere. But it's the third group we are interested in fighting worldwide. I suspect that there is, in fact, some element of truth to the idea that the Iraq War "created" more terrorists in the third group, in the sense that conflict always enables extremists to rally more people to their banners. It's impossible to quantify that effect, though, and the bottom line is that this brand of extremist comes from the pool of those who are already strongly sympathetic to the jihadists. I have to believe that there remain real limits to how much manpower and financial and operational resources the jihadis can call upon.
That's where the concept of expanding the battlefield comes into play. At present, U.S. forces are operating in two theaters where the enemy needs to put resources into fighting us - Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the lessons both of the Cold War and the two World Wars, however, is that America's deep vein of untapped financial, technological and manpower resources gives us a major strategic advantage in war once we can open enough different fronts to force the enemy to become overextended. This is particularly true when we can call upon the assistance of allies, at least to the extent of assisting us within their homelands and home regions. Even after years of controvesry over Iraq, we still have a few allies willing and able to commit major resources to the war on terror generally (the UK, Israel, and Australia) a few others willing and able to commit major resources locally (notably India and Russia), and a wider variety of allies willing to make partial commitments (the French and Germans have reportedly been quite helpful on the law enforcement side) or to offer case-by-case assistance.
But how do we bring those advantages to bear? The obvious answer would be to fight another war, displacing another terror-sponsoring tyranny in the Arab and/or Muslim worlds with a fledgling democracy. While it may yet be necessary to go to war with Syria and/or Iran, however, I don't really need to list here all the reasons why we shouldn't be eager for another war if it's not strictly necessary to the overall victory in the war on terror.
The Cold War would seem to offer a partial operational model. During the Reagan years, after all, we found many ways to put pressure on the Communist world without committing U.S. troops to another full-scale war like Vietnam and Korea. Some of those methods, like a budget-busting state vs. state nuclear arms race, can't be replicated here. But the strategy of promoting proxy battles against the Soviets, forcing up the cost of penetrating places like Afghanistan and Central America, while promoting democracy movements in the Soviet heartland in Eastern Europe, can be a partial model. After all, if we can encourage peaceful (or violent) movements towards democracy in multiple other states at once, we can compel the enemy to divert scarce resources away from Iraq to try to prevent democratic norms - which are anathema to the jihadists - from taking root across the region. The National Strategy identifies the opportunities:
[C]hange is coming to the region, with Syrian occupation ended and democracy emerging in Lebanon, and free elections and new leadership in the Palestinian Territories. From Kuwait to Morocco, Jordan, and Egypt, there are stirrings of political pluralism, often for the first time in generations.
While none of this is new, the commentary on these stirrings of democracy have tended to focus on two aspects: (1) the idea that our ideals are being vindicated and (2) the idea that we are progressing towards long-term regional goals. But that overlooks the strategic advantage of pressing for more democracy, more liberty, and, yes, more destabilization of existing regimes now and all at once: the more places on the map we can turn into vital interests that the enemy needs to address by dispatching terrorists, money and other operational resources to battle against the forces of democratization and liberty, the more it helps us win everywhere. Regardless of how we go about it, that's the effect we need to be thinking about in the context of expanding the battlefield.
November 29, 2005
WAR: Hawkish Noises
November 28, 2005
WAR: The Vendetta
When the history of the decision to go to war in Iraq is written, there's one fact that I have to believe will get more attention than it does today: the fact that Saddam Hussein hired terrorists to murder George H.W. Bush.
On one level, it's not hard to see why this hasn't been a larger part of the story. War supporters, focusing on the case for war in our broad national interests, have been loathe to focus on a casus belli of uniquely personal interest to the president. War opponents have two motives: those who ascribe the war to ideological or pro-Israel neocon perfidy or to "blood for oil" can't bear to admit that the wrongdoing of Saddam Hussein played a greater role, and besides, admitting that a terrorist attack by Saddam's regime was one of the causes of the war requires opponents of the war to admit the very thing they have consistently contended was unthinkable: Iraqi planning and initiation of a cross-border terrorist attack.
The Bush Administration has likewise mostly shied away from this storyline, with the notable exception being aSeptember 2002 GOP fundraiser where Bush referred to Saddam as "the guy who tried to kill my dad." Even personality-driven commentators like Maureen Dowd have tended to focus on the connection of the war to Bush's father as being more about unfinished business from the first Gulf War than about revenge for attempted murder. As to the Arab world - well, many parts of Arab society remain traditionally clannish and patriarchal, and in such a society, it's hard to think of a better reason to go to war than an attempt on the life of the patriarch of the family. Thus, to denounce the war on terms agreeable to many Arabs, it's necessary to gloss over this fact.
The basic facts are essentially undisputed, and laid out in detail in Stephen Hayes' masterful book The Connection: in 1993, Saddam's regime sent two assassins, Iraqi nationals, into Kuwait with explosives and orders to set off bombs with the hope of killing Bush (and, presumably, lots of bystanders in the process). One of the men even carried a suicide bomber's belt. President Clinton said at the time - in a nationally televised speech - that there was "compelling evidence" of the plot, that it "was directed and pursued by the Iraqi Intelligence Service," and his Secretary of Defense stated that "[t]he evidence is very conclusive" that the plot "would have had to have been approved by the highest levels of the Iraqi government." Of course, while the men were presumably picked to provide deniability to the Iraqi government - one was a Shiite who had been involved in an anti-Saddam uprising - their subsequent capture and exposure carried the obvious lesson that using domestic Iraqi nationals still made such operations too easy to trace.
Now, the decision to go to war is, and should be, a decision made in the nation's interest, and not for the satisfaction of the president's personal grudges. And, like most supporters of the war, I'm content to justify it on those grounds, and think it unlikely that the many grounds for war were somehow a pretext. (Although some might say that Bush has unique moral authority on the subject of the dangers of the Iraqi dictator as a result of the targeting of his family) But realistically, you would expect the attempt to blow up the president's father to affect the decisionmaking process. Put yourself in Bush's shoes: if you were asked to decide whether Saddam Hussein would ever get involved with terrorism, wouldn't it affect the way you looked at the evidence that Saddam had already attempted a terrorist attack designed to kill a member of your family? And isn't that, in fact, an entirely logical and natural way to approach such a question?
WAR: Closing Bases in Iraq
Kathryn Jean Lopez noted last week the handover of Forward Operating Base Danger in Iraq to Iraqi forces, the 29th such transition so far. Now, first of all, the larger trend ought to be big news. That's a lot of bases, and even if they don't lead immediately to a draw-down of U.S. troop strength, they represent tangible evidence of a growing ability to trust the Iraqi forces with security of particular locations. This is what the exit strategy looks like, and should look like: Iraq for the Iraqis.
Of course, FOB Danger has a special significance because of its location: Saddam's own home town of Tikrit, which has at times been a hotbed of insurgent activity. The base was previously occupied first by the 4th Infantry Division, then the 1st, and then the 42nd Infantry Division of the New York National Guard.
Regular readers of this site will also recognize FOB Danger as the operating base of then-pseudonymous guest blogger "Andy Tollhaus" (who recounted watching the 2004 ALCS there) since identified here and in Dan Shaughnessy's book "Reversing the Curse." During the time the base was controlled by the New York National Guard, it was also the site of the murder, in June, of Phillip Esposito and Louis Allen by one of their own men; Esposito was from near my home town in Rockland County.
November 26, 2005
WAR: Hey, That's Not Diplomatic!
November 25, 2005
WAR: Bravely Calling Retreat
November 23, 2005
WAR: Blowing Smoke
No End But Victory provides a concise summation of the fraud that is the Kos-led Left's claim that white phosphorous used by U.S. troops in Iraq is a chemical weapon. And yes, I do question the patriotism of anyone - especially an Army veteran like Kos, who must know better - who pushes such an obvious falsehood, providing useful propaganda for the enemy, for the purpose of harming a U.S. war effort. Lord Haw-Haw couldn't do more than this.
November 20, 2005
WAR: Proceed With Caution
Rumors of this type are a dime a dozen, but keep your eye on the latest rumor that a U.S. raid killed Zarqawi:
U.S. forces sealed off a house in the northern city of Mosul where eight suspected al-Qaida members died in a gunfight — some by their own hand to avoid capture. A U.S. official said Sunday that efforts were under way to determine if terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was among the dead.
In Washington, a U.S. official said the identities of the terror suspects killed in the Saturday raid was unknown. Asked if they could include al-Zarqawi, the official replied: "There are efforts under way to determine if he was killed."
November 16, 2005
WAR: Deny, Deny, Deny
This Matt Yglesias post is an interesting example of WMD revisionism. Yglesias sites, as an "outlandish" example of "some of the things the administration said before the war" the following statement by Dick Cheney in March 2003:
I have argued in the past, and would again, if we had been able to pre-empt the attacks of 9/11 would we have done it? And I think absolutely. We have to be prepared now to take the kind of bold action that's being contemplated with respect to Iraq in order to ensure that we don't get hit with a devastating attack when the terrorists' organization gets married up with a rogue state that's willing to provide it with the kinds of deadly capabilities that Saddam Hussein has developed and used over the years.
(Emphasis mine). First of all, what, precisely, is wrong with this statement? Yes, we expected to find more in the way of WMD when we got into Iraq, and that absence has a variety of troubling implications. But you can't well deny that Saddam had developed chemical and biological weapons in the past, had tried to develop nuclear weapons in the past, had actually used chemical weapons, had hired terrorists and worked with various international terrorist groups in the past, regarded the US as an enemy, and had a tremendous motive and every opportunity to use such groups to carry out attacks against his enemies that could not easily be traced back to him.
Yglesias says only that "[t]here was absolutely no reason to believe that invading Iraq in March 2003 would be a good way to pre-empt a WMD terrorist attack on the American homeland sponsored by Iraq." But why not? First of all, as of March 2003, the possibility of Saddam sponsoring such a WMD attack at some point in the future was not zero, and was even more emphatically not zero based on the best imperfect information that was available then or going to be available any time soon. Saddam had the motive and the opportunity, and even the various postwar reports have indicated that he had a long-term strategy to develop the means once he could finish the nearly completed task of undermining the corrupt and ineffectual sanctions regime.
Today, by contrast, the chance that the Iraqi regime will sponsor such an attack on the US is zero, and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.
If Yglesias' point is that the degree of the threat was overstated by implication in Cheney's statement - well, fair enough. Reasonable minds can differ on that. But as I read his post, Yglesias is either saying there was zero chance of such an attack or that the odds were not reduced by the invasion. And that's nonsense.
November 10, 2005
WAR: Trust But Verify
Apparently, the Russians will now be responsible for keeping Iran's nuclear program peaceful. Which may be a workable plan in the short run - I can't think Putin wants to see another unstable neighbor with nukes - but it still falls under the heading of "never thought I'd live to see the day."
November 7, 2005
WAR: Bin Laden to U.S.: " "
It's quiet. Too quiet?
November 6, 2005
WAR: Paris Burning
October 24, 2005
WAR: The Tuskeegee Airmen's Last Mission
At least, one would assume it's their last, as the oldest troops yet are sent to Iraq:
Lt. Col. Herbert Carter is 86 years old and ready for deployment. . . . Col. Carter is one of seven aging Tuskegee Airmen traveling this weekend to Balad, Iraq - a city ravaged by roadside bombs and insurgent activity - to inspire a younger generation of airmen who carry on the traditions of the storied 332nd Fighter Group. "I don't think it hurts to have someone who can empathize with them and offer them encouragement," he said.
Read the whole thing.
October 6, 2005
WAR: Subway Threat
Could the war be moving back to New York City?
A "credible threat" to the subway system has prompted a vast mobilization of police officers, law enforcement sources said today.
According to sources in intelligence, emergency services and police headquarters, when three Iraqi insurgents were arrested several days ago during a raid by a joint FBI-CIA team, one of those caught disclosed the threat. Because it slipped out during the arrest, the plot was deemed credible.
I'm a little confused here - were FBI agents in Iraq? If this "source" was arrested in the U.S., why refer to him as an "Iraqi insurgent"?
Question: If he was arrested in Iraq and his information helps thwart a terror attack in New York, does that help or hurt the case for U.S. troops remaining in Iraq?
September 28, 2005
WAR: Putin Says He'll Go
Vladimir Putin continues to insist he will respect the term limits in Russia's constitution and step down in 2008. Which is good news, although it remains to be seen if he will follow through. Putin also had some KGB humor to offer Russian TV viewers in a nationally televised interview:
"I do not see my goal as sitting in the Kremlin endlessly and having Channels One, Two and Three constantly show the same face, and if someone chooses a different channel, the FSB director would appear on the screen and tell viewers to go back to the first three channels," he said during the nearly three-hour program, alluding to a joke from Soviet times. The FSB is the domestic successor of the KGB, the feared Soviet security service.
WAR: From The Horse's . . .
The lead segment recounted Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which the narrator proclaimed as a "great victory," while showing Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia walking and talking among celebrating compatriots.
September 15, 2005
KATRINA: Making FEMA a First Responder
We've heard a lot lately about the notion that FEMA should have taken, and should take in the future, a more leading role in making the federal government, in effect, a first responder to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Now, there's a fair debate here over whether the federal government ought to improve its ability to respond quickly with redundant capacity to provide emergency supplies, evacuation, etc. in the event that state or local first responders are for one reason or another incapacitated.
But we should resist, at all costs, the idea (pushed by Mickey Kaus, among others) that the federal government should centralize a greater amount of the nation's first-response capacity. Let's look at two aspects of this problem.
Let's think rationally here, in terms Osama bin Laden would understand, and we - as long as we're fighting him, or fighting anybody else, for that matter - can ill afford to forget. We have two choices:
A. Centralize disaster-response with FEMA, with the heads of DHS and FEMA and the President personally responsible for making the crucial decisions.
B. Decentralize disaster-response, with decisionmaking power in the hands of 50 Governors and scores of Mayors.
Even the leader of a ragtag terrorist operation can tell you that decentralizing authority into local cells that can operate on their own for long stretches makes you less vulnerable to your enemies. The more we centralize our response to disasters with FEMA, the more we hand our enemies the ability to cripple our response to multiple simultaneous attacks in different parts of the country. Imagine if Flight 93 had hit the White House - wouldn't it then have been a particularly good thing that Rudy and Pataki could put the NYPD and NYFD into action without awaiting word from Uncle Sam? Why on earth should our response to this disaster be to centralize rather than distribute our ability to respond in a crisis?
2. Local Knowledge
As critics of the Iraq War never tire of reminding us - and, for that matter, as opponents of the Vietnam War often noted - for out-of-towners, there's no substitute for knowing the neighborhood. Even closer to home, consider the lesson of the 2004 election. As was much remarked at the time, outside of the big cities - where Democrats had longstanding political machines skilled in getting voters to the polls on Election Day - Republican get-out-the-vote efforts were generally more successful than those of the Democratic side, in part because the Republican "GOTV" operation was carried out locally by local voters, whereas the Democrats in many areas were dependent upon outside groups. While you can debate the degree of importance of this factor, virtually every post-mortem on the election concluded that the Democrats need to improve their local grassroots operations.
What has this got to do with disaster preparedness? Quite a lot, actually. Just as with voter turnout, getting people to evacuate a city or gather in a safe shelter is a job in which there's just no substitute for local knowledge. You have to know who lives where, how to persuade them to budge, and you have to know the fastest way out of Dodge. And even moreso than in doing Election Day turnout, you don't have time to learn all of that in the chaos of a disaster or an attack that may give just a few days' or hours' warning, if even that much.
By all means, let's talk about improving the federal response to disasters; regardless of who deserves credit and blame for the response to Hurricane Katrina, nobody who watched the unfolding of events in New Orleans could conclude that there is no room left for improvement at all levels. But in so doing, let's not make ourselves more dependent upon Washington and less reliant on the people who are in the best position to know their own turf.
Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:22 AM | Hurricane Katrina | War 2005 | Comments (4) | TrackBack (1)
September 13, 2005
WAR: Time To Plan The Victory Parade
June 12, 2007, will mark the 20th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin. While I suppose I would prefer a more obviously non-partisan anniversary (the 50th anniversary of Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech is in March 2006, which is probably too soon to plan something like this with everything else that's going on), this would seem as good an anniversary as ever to plan something that should have been done long, long ago: a victory parade in the nation's capital for America's veterans of the Cold War.
In past wars, America celebrated victory with parades suitable to honor the returning soldier. That was never done for Vietnam, and as far as I know, it wasn't done for Korea, either. While the veterans of those wars are mostly still with us, it's past time to rectify that omission with a celebration that truly embraces their sacrifice and honors their contribution to ultimate victory over Communism.
The main reasons, I suspect, for not having a formal celebration back when the Cold War ended were (1) the way the "long, twilight struggle" ended in gradual stages and (2) a desire to let sleeping dogs lie by not rubbing Russia's face in its defeat at a time when we were trying to coax it to democracy. 15 years on, those considerations are less pressing. And it could have a salutary effect in the current struggle to remind the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan that their country has the will to win a long struggle and a long enough memory that their sacrifices won't soon be forgotten, even when we hit setbacks and ask them to fight battles that end with a whimper rather than a bang.
Whether the anniversary of the Reagan speech is used as the jumping-off point or not, of course, there's no reason why a parade honoring veterans of Korea, Vietnam and other, smaller Cold War battles would not be a genuinely bipartisan event, as there are numerous members of both parties in Congress and elsewhere who fought in those wars and would or should be interested in a formal display of honor for their former comrades in arms.
What are we waiting for?
September 11, 2005
WAR: Equal Time for Terror?
Steven Spielberg's upcoming movie about the 1972 Palestinian terrorist attacks on the Israeli Olympic team in Munich is bound to stir controversy; I'm withholding my own opinion until I see it. But this is ridiculous:
Steven Spielberg has been criticized by the only surviving Palestinian terrorist behind the massacre at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany, because the director failed to consult him over his new movie dramatization of the tragic events.
So, who did he call? Well, I'll give you one guess . . .
WAR: I REMEMBER
August 31, 2005
WAR: The Chavez Menace
Julian Sanchez, in Reason Online, gives an overview of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez and the fascist thuggery and regional meddling (including support for FARC terrorists in perenially unstable neighboring Colombia) that characterize his regime.
More background on Chavez:
*Ivan Osorio, in NRO, on a former Venezuelan Air Force major who claims that Chavez gave money to Al Qaeda. I'm not so sure about this one, but as Osorio notes, Chavez has adopted the classic rogue state pose of befriending anyone he can find who hates and threatens America.
Unfortunately, Otto Reich's May 2005 NR cover story - an article that hit close enough to home to be denounced by Fidel Castro - is not available online.
ONE MORE: Also from NRO.
Actually, this is only tangentially related to the war - in that people were afraid of a suicide bomber - but it's pretty horrible nonetheless.
August 26, 2005
WAR/RELIGION: It's Just Pat
We hardly needed his latest blunder - publicly musing about the wisdom of assassinating Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez - to remind us that Pat Robertson is a fool and a liability to the conservative cause. (And proof that a good resume is no substitute for good judgment: among Robertson's attainments, in addition to his ministry, he is a graduate of Yale Law School and a combat veteran as a Marine in the Korean War).
What's so grating about this remark is that Robertson is a man of God, and as such ought to be much more careful about indulging speculation about resorting to violence than the average public figure. Assassinating tyrants may well be morally justifiable, but if a man of the cloth can't at least offer caution and restraint on our impulses in that direction, he's really not doing Jesus or His followers any favors.
And in that regard, this is considerably more problematic than just praying for the Lord to engage in some Old Testament-style smiting of Chavez. That, after all, is the distinction I find so troubling about many Muslim leaders; as I've written before:
I have no problem with people who believe that God is going to send me to Hell for being a Catholic. They believe their thing, and I believe mine. I have a major problem with people who think that they, rather than God Himself, should send me there.
Of course, unlike many of the pronouncements of radical mullahs, nobody can seriously believe that anyone will threaten the life of Chavez as a result of Robertson's statement, so it's not really comparable in terms of the direct mischief caused. Instead, what's much more damaging about Robertson is simply that it gives Chavez, who like most tyrants thrives on his self-arrogated role as a victim of American plots, an excuse to further consolidate his power and spread yet more anti-American propaganda in Latin America. Thanks, Pat. You've given the real bad guys ammunition just as much as Dick Durbin ever did.
Finally, two last notes:
*Predictably, there was no such hue and cry when George Stephanopolous called for assassinating Saddam in 1997. (Via Wizbang). But in fairness, the situations were not the same. Chavez was orignally democratically elected, and while his re-election was likely the result of violent intimidation and outright fraud, he has considerably more plausible claims to some sort of legitimacy than Saddam did. Also, by 1997 we'd been to war with Saddam once, and appeared to be on the eve of war with him again as part of his decade-long failure to comply with the terms of the cease-fire; he'd tried to assassinate a former US president himself, he was openly paying terrorists in Israel, he'd been to war with Kuwait and Iran and bombed Israel and Saudi Arabia, he'd used chemical weapons in battle and against his own people . . . you know the drill. Chavez has made all sorts of trouble and promises more to come, but he doesn't (yet) have the kind of rap sheet Saddam did as far as putting himself beyond the pale of even the kind of conduct we have wearily grown to expect from rogue states, let alone civilized nations.
*Byron York argues that Robertson isn't as irrelevant to conservatism as some commentators make him out to be. Although he may in some ways be right, I find York's argument a bit unconvincing, as all he really points to is Robertson's TV ratings, and not everyone who still watches his show necessarily takes his political meanderings all that seriously.
August 19, 2005
WAR: Best Worst Option
BONUS LINK: Mark Steyn on Cindy Sheehan (more from me on her later, hopefully). (Registration required, but worth it to read Steyn's Spectator columns regularly).
August 1, 2005
WAR: The King Is Dead
I have to regard the death of Saudi Arabia's long-ailing King Fahd as a good thing. Of course, in an ideal world, we'd be dealing with a more democratic Saudi Arabia, but it's hard to see that as a realistic prospect until a lot of the more tractable situations in the region have been moved in that direction. In the meantime, the diffuse and feudal power structure of Saudi Arabia all too often seems to hand us all the difficulties of dealing with an autocracy as an ally but none of the benefits. While that structure is likely to remain unchanged in its fundamental nature, and while I still would not be trusting or optimistic in dealing with now-King Abdullah, you have to figure that Abdullah's ascension to the formal role of King will help him solidify his power and give the West a slightly clearer picture of who is in charge over there.
July 28, 2005
WAR: Tony the Tiger
"September 11 for me was a wake up call. Do you know what I think the problem is? That a lot of the world woke up for a short time and then turned over and went back to sleep again," he said.
By contrast, we have London Mayor "Red Ken" Livingston, who has already resumed his slumbers:
"If at the end of the First World War we had done what we promised the Arabs, which was to let them be free and have their own governments, and kept out of Arab affairs, and just bought their oil, rather than feeling we had to control the flow of oil, I suspect this wouldn't have arisen."
Yeah, blame Churchill and Lloyd George, not the guys who get on buses with bombs. And Livingston's historical analysis is, in any event, off the mark. The Saudis have never been ruled by the West. Iraq was a League of Nations mandate after the Ottoman Empire collapsed, but became independent in 1932. The places that were longer under the British flag were Palestine/Jordan/Israel and Pakistan/India, neither of which had any oil (and India's doing fine). Same with Syria, which was French (of course) until 1946. Egypt, also oil-less, acquired some independence in 1922 and full independence after WW2. Afghanistan has never successfully been ruled from outside (or inside, for that matter). The fact is, the Muslim and Arab worlds have never been as heavily influenced or controlled by Europe and the United States as were many parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, or Latin America.
And for those who would dig further back than World War I for origins, if you trace the battle between Islam and the West to its original roots, you have to ask who invaded Spain, who invaded Greece, who overran the Byzantine Empire, who got as far as Vienna and would have put the whole of Christian Europe to the choice of the sword or the Koran. We in the West don't brood over those initial assaults, but they do serve as a counterpoint to the notion that only the West has ever sought to impose its will and vision on its neighbors.
July 18, 2005
WAR: Saddam and Abu Sayyaf
A question for my left-leaning readers, who I can usually count on to be vocal. I am inspired by this Pejman post disputing this Kevin Drum post, both of which discuss the Saddam-Al Qaeda relationship mainly at the level of conclusions from reports. But the relationship is, to my mind, better understood by the conclusions that can be drawn from specific facts.
In reading Stephen Hayes' book "The Connection," one of the more striking and telling facts, to me, was the expulsion of an Iraqi embassy official named Hisham Hussein from the Philippines following an October 2002 suicide bombing by Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf terrorists at a cafe/bar frequented by US soldiers from a nearby base. The bombing killed one American soldier and wounded another. Phone records and surveillance tied the Iraqi official directly to Abu Sayyaf leaders (including records of calls on a captured cell phone that was to have been used for another bombing). And one Abu Sayyaf leader claimed that Iraq had been financing them to the tune of about $20,000 per year.
Now, you can argue that one bombing and one dead soldier do not make a casus belli, and that Abu Sayyaf was, in and of itself, a pretty local actor. But Hayes' presentation of this incident (echoed in other reports) makes pretty clear that the connection to Abu Sayyaf demonstrated the Saddam regime's willingness - even after September 11 - to continue to support, finance and associate with Al Qaeda-linked militant Islamic suicide bombers whose only conceivable connection to Saddam's regional interests was their attacks on Americans wherever they might be found. And that willingness - denied so heatedly by so many bloggers and pundits on the Left - was, after, all, at the very core of the case for war with Iraq.
So here's the question. So far as I can tell, no liberal blogger or pundit has ever attempted to grapple with Iraq's involvement in financing and associating with Abu Sayyaf. (This mostly fact-free Media Matters broadside against Hayes, for example, mainly attacks Douglas Feith and Rupert Murdoch). Have I missed something?
July 12, 2005
WAR: Srebrenica, Ten Years On
The Wall Street Journal remembers Srebrenica, ten years later:
Ten years ago today, Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic entered the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica, then being defended by Dutch peacekeepers. General Mladic made three demands: that the townsmen surrender their weapons; that all males between the ages of 12 and 77 be separated out for "questioning"; and that the rest of the population be expelled to Muslim areas. Within two days, 23,000 women and children had been deported. Another 5,000 Muslim men and boys who had taken refuge on a nearby Dutch base were also delivered to the Mladic forces.
It was . . . unclear whether the U.N. soldiers in safe areas were actually authorized to use force to defend the people in their care. Worst of all, the price Muslims paid for U.N. protection was to abandon their weapons, which they did within a week of the safe areas' creation.
. . . Europeans alternated between half-measures and attempts at negotiation with the Serbs, even as they exposed thousands of their own soldiers to risk in futile operations. When Margaret Thatcher, by then a former prime minister, called Serb atrocities "evil" and said "humanitarian aid is not enough," her views were dismissed by British Defense Minister Malcolm Rifkind as "emotional nonsense."
It's easy enough to mock the UN and the Europeans for failing to live up to even the limited mission objectives they set for themselves. But the real problem at Srebrenica was a problem I've written about before: deploying troops without identifying an enemy and taking sides against that enemy. Had the Dutch seen the Bosnian Muslims as allies they needed to win the war, they would not have surrendered them to be slaughtered without a fight. More to the point, had the European powers seen themselves as being at war with Milosevic, they would never have allowed the situation to get that far; they would have done, at the barest minimum, what Clinton eventually did in Kosovo, and launched an air assault on Milosevic's troops. And they should, were they serious, have done more than that, and resolved to smash his war machine before it could inflict such atrocities.
This was the fundamental weakness of so many of the interventions of the 1990s: lacking the will to make war, the Western powers turned soldiers into sitting ducks, hunched in a defensive crouch, unable to protect the weak and the defenseless and unwilling to disable evildoers before they could carry out their plots. The contrast with our presence in Afghanistan and Iraq could not be clearer: while we are certainly engaged there as well in "nation-building," the main role of our soldiers is to hunt down the enemy, and our mission objectives are not in any way limited to being reactive.
Now, I confess that I didn't follow the crises in the Balkans closely enough in the 1990s to have a firm opinion at the time of what should be done, and even in retrospect I can't say for certain what the right answer was. As in Vietnam, there were hard choices and no good ones. But Srebrenica was the worst of both worlds: without the UN, the Bosnian Muslims could at least have remained armed to defend themselves.
I was fond of saying at the time that the US should not draw its sword in anger lightly, unless we were willing to keep it unsheathed until the job was done, and that lesson remains a vivid one today. There is peace, and there is war. Pretending you can play a halfway game between the two is a recipe for more Srebrenicas.
July 11, 2005
WAR: Another Lesson of Vietnam
Wretchard makes an important point about Iraq:
Unfortunately, the more ferocious the Sunni attacks on the Shi'ites and Kurds, the less likely they are to agree on the expulsion of their guarantor. The Shi'ites and Kurds will remember the real lesson from Vietnam: how easily Washington abandons its allies after ground troops have been withdrawn. The American antiwar Left drew a peculiar and narrow lesson from Southeast Asia. For the rest of the world the moral of Vietnam is that if you are going to fight a war with American help it is essential to keep them engaged until victory or your entire constituency will wind up refugees.
July 8, 2005
Atrios, Pandagon, Kos, and - more disturbingly, if it proves predictive of how the Democratic leadership will respond - at least one Democratic congresswoman I'm aware of, are all suggesting that today's London bombings prove that the "flypaper theory" is demonstrably false, this despite the documented fact of thousands upon thousands of jihadis pouring into Iraq each month, where many of them will be killed.
UPDATE: Two things. First, I should make clear that the post title, "Simpletons," refers to the people Goldstein is criticizing, not to the discussion that follows on Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum. Second, Kos' critique of the "flypaper" theory - that attracting terrorists to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight the US military reduces the number of terrorists available elsewhere in the world - is actually disproven by data cited by Kos himself, as this Steve Verdon analysis makes clear (see the chart at the end showing trends in terror attacks outside the Middle East). Via Vodkapundit.
Meanwhile, Josh Marshall is taking the "Fortress America" view that this sort of thing can be stopped by better homeland security:
The immediate answer to this is to hunt down the people immediately responsible, root out the primarily-non-state terror networks that support, plan and make these attacks possible and start getting about serious homeland defense -- port security, rail security, nuclear power plant security.
Of course, everyone wants to hunt down the individual terrorists, not that Marshall has any special insight into how you do that, nor any explanation of how you do it when they can fall back into the territory of sympathetic states (ask yourself how Saddam would have responded to requests for help in tracking down the various terrorists who received refuge within his borders). But the insistence that the strategy can be limited to manhunts and securing targets (heck, Marshall doesn't even mention border security) is impossibly naive.
On the other hand, there's Kevin Drum, writing the day before the London attacks:
This is pretty much at the heart of the liberal/conservative divide over Iraq. Is our real battle with terrorists themselves? Or is it with the fact that far too many people are sympathetic with their aims?
I take Drum at his word that he accurately states his own view. But as you can see, Marshall takes precisely the view Drum projects onto conservatives, i.e., viewing all this just as a manhunt. And it was repeatedly made apparent throughout last year's presidential campaign that John Kerry and Howard Dean took the same tack.
In fact, while it may be true tht Bush has sometimes been maddeningly vague in his talk of fighting "terrorists," it could not be clearer that the "forward strategy of freedom" espoused by Bush, his Administration and the great bulk of its supporters among conservative pundits and bloggers is aimed directly at the realization that you can't stop with the manhunts themselves, you have to change the conditions in the Muslim/Arab worlds, both by removing state sponsors of terror and by replacing them with states that are more responsive to their own peoples' needs, in ways that reduce the pressure that gets redirected against the United States and its allies (especially Israel). The focus on killing the hard-core jihadists in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan is only one piece of this broader strategy.
In other words, Drum's portrayal of his differences with conservatives is entirely incorrect - unless you correct it to state that it's really his beef with his own party and many of its leading lights. Instead, Drum is really disagreeing with the Right only as to means, i.e., his belief that military action is not useful in toppling tyrants, or at least is more trouble than it's worth. While that's a debate that's worth having (and that we have had, ad nauseum), it would be more useful to recognize that he has the philosophical battle lines drawn backwards.
UPDATE: Stephen Green has some additional thoughts on that Josh Marshall piece.
July 7, 2005
WAR: Terror in London
Obviously, attacks on big-city commuters make me particularly jumpy. A reminder, as if one were needed, that the war goes on, the task is not done, and the security in big urban areas will never be enough. Keep pulling them out at the roots; it's the only way.
UPDATE: Well, this is cheery:
The London bombings are likely part of a wider al Qaeda summer offensive. A letter attributed to Osama bin Laden addressed to the Muslim community (ummah) surfaced in Pakistan on June 20, stating that he was "preparing for the next round of jihad." He wrote that "we want to give good news to the Muslim ummah that, with the blessings of Almighty Allah, we have been successful in reorganizing ourselves and are going to launch a jihadi program that is absolutely in accordance with the changed situation." He stated that new recruits were ready, and that they were armed with the weapons of the enemy (no indication what that means exactly). He also threatened the rulers of Muslim countries who have not signed onto his program (which is all of them, at least publicly). More foreign fighters have appeared and are active in Afghanistan and diplomats from Muslim countries are being systematically targeted in Iraq.
Empty bravado, perhaps. It often has been. But not always.
SECOND UPDATE: More to come?
It feels like summer. Summer 2001, that is. Then, as now, Africa was in the news. There was a big UN conference on 'racism' in Durban the week before 11 September. Remember that? They demanded America pay reparations - for the Rwandan genocide. And Robert Mugabe was cheered to the rafters when he called on the United States and the United Kingdom to 'apologise unreservedly for their crimes against humanity'.
Read the whole thing.
Rudy Giuliani was near the site of the first bombing this morning. It's like Bruce Willis in Die Hard II: what are the odds on that?
June 30, 2005
WAR: The Hostage Taker
Yeah, it sure looks like Iran's new president was heavily involved in the taking of American hostages. Rusty has the pictures to prove it, and lots more.
June 28, 2005
WAR: Media Bias!
These days, everyone's a media critic.
WAR: On The Same Page
June 27, 2005
WAR: Why They Will Lose
Good Max Boot effort setting out the major reasons why the insurgency can't and won't win. His points about the lack of a leader and lack of territory are significant, and you would hope that the ex-Baathists and other misguided nationalists in the movement would begin to realize that they are playing a losing hand.
On the other hand, neither factor would prevent the country from slipping into civil war or just plain chaos, which may be the real goal here. The problem, especially with regard to the foreign jihadis, is the extent to which war with America is an end in itself. The problem with fighting nihilists is that you can't take their nothing away from them. The best we can do on that score is (1) as Boot suggests, do a better job of sealing the Syrian border and (2) keep preparing the Iraqi military to carryu on the fight, since the real endgame for us here is having an Iraqi force willing and able to defend its own territory.
UPDATE: I do think the time will come when we will want and need a fixed exit date from Iraq, once we feel that the Iraqi forces are ready (just as we had fixed dates for the transfer of sovereignty and the Iraqi elections). But setting such a date more than a few months in advance of that day would be a disaster, for reasons Chester explains. And setting an October 2006 date - transparently linked to the 2006 Congressional elections rather than the facts on the ground - would be nothing but politics.
WAR: The Enemy
June 26, 2005
WAR: Godspeed, Phil Carter
June 22, 2005
WAR: Thanks, and Prayers
June 21, 2005
WAR: Who Died at Gitmo?
One of the unfortunate ironies of the furor over Guantanamo Bay (as noted here) is that, while over 100 prisoners have died in U.S. custody, approximately 27 under suspicious or questionable circumstances, there do not appear to have been any deaths at Guantanamo Bay. A fact confirmed by Dick Durbin himself:
Q: I guess one of the reasons people are having such a hard time with this one, is when comparisons are made and you use names like Nazis and Soviet gulags, when you are talking Nazis there were what, 9 million people killed in the camps there. The gulags had about 3 million and so forth. And I know Gitmo is not the Holiday Inn down there, but I don't think anyone has died down there, have they?
June 20, 2005
All the evidence proves that Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi is working for America, because his victims are Iraqis and not [members of] the coalition forces under the command of the American occupation forces in Iraq. . . .
[W]hy is Al-Zarqawi massacring innocent Iraqi citizens and [members of] the Iraqi National Guard, the Iraqi army and the Iraqi Interior Ministry? Al-Zarqawi undeniably aims to harm the Iraqi people and members of the Iraqi forces, who undergo training to protect [their] homeland in the future. This massacre of the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi people is meant to strengthen the American occupation of the region . . .
You could call this more evidence of paranoid anti-Americanism from a nominal ally, Egypt. But is there more to this? After all, if you read between the lines here, the Egyptians are (1) denouncing al-Zarqawi for attacking Iraqis, (2) noting the obvious fact that any violence in Iraq only serves to prolong the U.S. military presence, and (3) going out of its way to note that Zarqawi is a (Jordanian) foreigner attacking Iraqis. Baby steps, cloaked in the language of baroque conspiracy theory, but steps in the right direction nonetheless, perhaps.
WAR: This Would Be Good To Know
CIA Chief Porter Goss says of Osama bin Laden, "I have an excellent idea where he is", after discussing the difficulties of "dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states". Which sounds to me like "Pakistan."
Does this mean anything? Who knows? The problem, of course, is that even if the Pakistanis could help us get bin Laden, doing so would require them to admit he was in their country.
WAR: Strategic Overview, June 2005
Mackubin T. Owens had a good nutshell summary of the ongoing campaigns in Iraq last week (via Powerline); a more big-picture evaluation comes from Wretchard here and here.
June 17, 2005
WAR: Sunnis Accept Compromise
This NY Times report seems like it should have been a bigger deal:
Iraqi political leaders broke weeks of deadlock on Thursday, with Sunni Arabs accepting a compromise offer to increase their representation on the Shiite-led parliamentary committee that is to draft a constitution.
Time to declare victory? Of course not. But seeing as how "we need Sunni participation" is the gripe du jour of the anti-war crowd, it's encouraging to see another hurdle cleared.
WAR: How To Make People Not Care About Torture
Let's say that you are an independent, or a mainstream Democrat, who has no particular stake in defending the Bush Administration. And let's say that you believe that the actual incidence of murder, torture or other serious physical abuse of prisoners in US custody and the custody of US allies in the war on terror is unacceptably high, higher than should occur just from the natural fact that some prisoners in any prison population will be mistreated by guards or interrogators. (Jon Henke lays out a credible argument that this is, in fact, the case, even if a few of the examples he cites seem rather strained). And let's say that you would actually like something to be done about this.
Shouldn't you be incensed right now at Dick Durbin, Joe Biden, Amnesty International, Newsweek, and Time Magazine? Let's recall briefly:
*Durbin compared US troops' treatment of prisoners in their custody to the Nazis, the Soviets, or Pol Pot, a comparison predictably trumpeted by Al Jazeera.
*Biden called for the closing of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay and the release of its occupants, although he did then render this assertion largely nonsensical by saying we should "keep those we have reason to keep." Biden further complained about the indefinite nature of the detention of terrorists at Gitmo, to the hosannas of Daily Kos.
*Time Magazine ran a profile of the interrogation of an actual Al Qaeda hijacker wannabe - i.e., someone who wanted to kill me, and would very much like to have killed you too - complaining about a whole raft of "coercive" interrogation procedures, like that were justly mocked for their mildness, under the circumstances, by Lileks in this penetrating Screed.
*Newsweek, of course, started the whole movement to refocus attention away from mistreatment of prisoners to charges that American troops committed blasphemy by mishandling the Koran.
Several of these folks, Durbin in particular, also blamed everything on the U.S. not following the Geneva Conventions.
Let's take a deep breath here. Look: conservative Republicans are in power right now in Washington, controlling the Executive Branch and holding partisan majorities in both Houses of Congress. And will continue to control the White House and Senate, and probably the House, for 3 1/2 more years, at least. You will get nothing accomplished without persuading them that it is (1) morally imperative, (2) in our national interest, and/or (3) in their political interest to do something about the treatment of prisoners in US custody in the War on Terror.
Republicans know that the majority of the public voted for Bush, knowing all about Abu Ghraib, and knowing all about all the other charges against the Iraq War. Republicans know full well that comparing American soldiers to Nazis is a political gaffe of enormous proportions, the kind of gift from your political opponents that you can't turn down. (See Patrick Ruffini and Hugh Hewitt on why this whole conversation is poison for the Democrats). Conservative Republicans believe, and have very good reasons to think the majority of the American public believes, that the United States should decide for itself what is right and in its national interest, rather than being told what to do by a bunch of international agreements. And there are plenty of us who believe, as I do, that in a war of this nature, where the most dangerous weapons are the jihadis themselves, there's nothing wrong with holding people who are out to get us until we are certain that there is no more danger - however long that takes. And then there's this:
Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And that my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
See, Colonel Jessep was the bad guy in that movie. He did something that was indisputably bad, and the audience rightly cheers when he goes to prison. We don't expect our military, no matter what their other virtues, to act like barbarians.
But don't you think there are a lot of people out there who listen to this particular speech and say, "he has a point"? (In your heart of hearts, don't you feel that way?) Don't you think American troops deserve the benefit of every doubt? Isn't it obviously the fact that the bulk of the American people don't much care to complain about a little rough treatment for actual, bona fide terrorists who would slit the throat of a young child if they could? Isn't it obviously the case that our troops are dealing with people who are not only trained to lie about mistreatment, but are lethally dangerous to their captors if treated like ordinary prisoners? And then we recall, as Bill Whittle discusses at length, that our adversaries in Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever else we capture them have committed war crimes not as isolated incidents but as a fish swims in the water; nearly everything they do, from fighting out of uniform, to faking surrenders, to targeting civilians, violates the most basic rules of warfare that have existed between combatants since many centuries before there was any such thing as "international law." Read Whittle and be reminded that it would be, not merely unwise, but a moral atrocity to reward this type of conduct by treating these guys exactly the same as we treat enemies who abide by those rules.*
In short, if you are selling "the Iraq War is evil" and "Americans are acting like Nazis" and "it's just like the gulag" and "boo hoo for actual sworn members of Al Qaeda who have to endure excessive heat and too much air conditioning (this, for guys who previously lived in caves) and have to listen to loud music" and "we ought to let these guys go free" and "we are acting illegally by not following some treaty" - well, you already know that the guys in power don't buy that, and they didn't get elected by buying it, and they don't believe the public buys it, and they're almost certainly right on that score.
So, you have two choices. One, you can just keep peddling inflammatory we-lefties-alone-have-the-moral-high-ground rhetoric and engaging in moral self-gratification, and keep pushing complaints about easily mocked hardhsips for vicious killers. This tactic is guaranteed to cause people in power to circle the wagons and tune you out and the public to lump you in with dope-addled peaceniks with no common sense, however much it may make you feel wonderful about yourself. Or - go back and read Henke again - you can keep a laser-like focus on the worst abuses, the actual deaths and genuine, indefensible instances of torture and mistreatment, and try to win over enough Republicans to force some changes.
There are plenty of us who are willing to be persuaded by arguments like Henke's that leave out the overwrought and frankly anti-American comparisons to Communists and Nazis but that also zero in on genuine abuses rather than sob stories about how these guys were treated a little mean. But when you call American soldiers Nazis and call Guantanamo the gulag - as it sits just miles from actual gulags - you cheapen the meaning of "Nazi" and "gulag". And when you call the interrogation methods that have been approved by the Pentagon "torture," you cheapen the meaning of torture. And you end up devaluing your own words to the point where they flow over the listener like so much rainwater.
Plus, you wind up driving away people who might be tempted to listen to you. I tried to lay out my own thoughts back in February, and still I had people jumping down my throat for not denouncing the Bush Administration and all its works, to the point where I wound up frankly wondering if it's worth the grief you get for writing about this subject. If you want to get things done, try not attacking people who try to meet you half way on these things.
Predictably, we see where the Democrats' hearts lead them. They want to relive 1987, when they pilloried Reagan over Iran-Contra as their path to win back the White House. Of course, that didn't work, but it felt good. As a number of commentators have pointed out, that debate would have gone much better for the Dems if they'd focused on what was genuinely bad - trading arms for hostages - but no, they wanted to settle scores with Reagan over his determination to battle Communism in Central America, a fight where Reagan had a lot more public support. Here we go again, with the Democrats trying to paint American efforts as evil and wrong in a big way, rather than flawed in a specific and correctible way, and framing an argument about whether we are being too hard on the evildoers. The more you hear "Nazi" and "gulag" and "Geneva" and complaints about sleep deprivation and rap music, the less will get done about guys getting raped or beaten to death in custody. That can't be what the Left wants - can it?
Read More »
*This is neither here nor there in the rest of this argument, but this Atlantic Monthly article (subscription required) makes the case that, in most cases, a friendly interrogator will get better results than harsh, coercive methods. I have my doubts that this is an ironclad rule, that there are never exceptions, that the world is that simple, with no tradeoffs. But there is a rational point to be made here that we may have self-interested reasons to treat prisoners better as well.
« Close It
WAR: Yes, There Were Flowers
The welcome that I've seen American and British forces get in parts of Iraq is something I . . . want to mention first because there are people who say that that never happened. It is commonly said by, umm, political philosophers like Maureen Dowd . . . where were the sweets and where were the flowers? Well, I saw it happen with my own eyes and no one's going to tell me that I didn't. I saw it . . . months after the invasion, people still lining the roads . . . Especially in the south - still lining the roads and waving and the children waving which is always the sign, because if the parents don't want them to, they don't. For miles, it . . . was like, this is the nearest I'll get to taking part in the liberation of the country, to ride in with the liberating army. I'll never forget, and I will not allow it not to be said that that did not happen. And in the marshes too - the marsh Arab area of the country which was drained and burned out and poisoned by Saddam Hussein. Again, almost hysterical welcome, and in Kurdistan in the north.
June 16, 2005
WAR: And, Where Are We Supposed To Put Them?
June 14, 2005
WAR: Penn in Iran
If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, maybe there's hope yet for Sean Penn. (via Drudge) At least he's not there to suck up to the mullahs.
June 13, 2005
WAR: What Smash Said
This is, of course, one reason why I'm so glad we still have Bush in office. I get the sense that, whatever else is going on, Bush still wakes up in the morning looking to take the fight to the bad guys. And, perversely, as his presidency eventually reaches lame-duck status, he'll only be more single-minded on the objective, which is his legacy whether he chooses it or not.
June 11, 2005
WAR/POLITICS: The Constable Blundered
Go read Captain Ed's thorough summary of the new report on the FBI's failings leading up to September 11. Of course, it's easy to find law enforcement errors with the benefit of hindsight; investigation's a tough job. But the blow-by-blow both emphasizes why the Patriot Act was needed and underlines the damage done by fear of racial profiling.
June 8, 2005
WAR: This Is Wrong
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. I read this piece in the WSJ yesterday and I'm still too angry to write about it rationally.
June 1, 2005
WAR: Self-Parody Alert, Bias Edition
I swear I am not making this up. Who "saw" this "bias"?
After the arraignment, Anthony Ricco, one of Mr. Shah's two lawyers, said the arrest was typical of the government's efforts to cast suspicion on Muslims in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Well, that part may or may not be true, but not in the way Mr. Ricco suggests, and certainly not in a way that would reflect favorably on Mr. Shah's brand of Islam. Specifically, it is not a defense to this:
Prosecutors said the two men were recorded by a government informer swearing a formal loyalty oath to Al Qaeda. They were charged with one count of conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda.
Bias against people who swear loyalty to Al Qaeda . . . I can live with that. Where does this sinister bias lead?
The two cases have caused Muslims to tread carefully in academic settings, two young men said yesterday as they stood in the foyer of the Islamic Cultural Center on East 96th Street.
Well, caution in swearing fealty to the nation's enemies is not necessarily a bad thing. But I do hope that a college professor would see that there is a difference between criticizing the Patriot Act and promising one's services to Osama bin Laden.
May 27, 2005
BASEBALL/WAR: Save Ali
(You can go to the main page here if the link above won't open).
WAR: Winning Is The Only Thing
In general, I agree with this Max Boot column on revisiting the roles of women and gays in the military. (via Instapundit). The only question, in both cases, should be whether the effectiveness of the military can be increased. Like Boot and a lot of other conservatives, my big concern in the 1990s was that people pushing social changes in the military were subordinating that objective to other goals.
Ultimately, of course, this is one issue that should be decided solely by the professional military leadership, without political interference from either side. But it couldn't hurt to make sure that the military leadership has confidence that whatever decisions it makes won't be second-guessed politically.
May 26, 2005
WAR: Say It Ain't So
It couldn't possibly be the case that terrorists are also liars, could it?
WAR: Those Pesky Connections
We just keep getting more pieces of the puzzle connecting Saddam's regime to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups (via Instapundit), although as always, there are questions of how much we really know (see questions raised here by Smash). I, for one, am glad that the option of collaborating with a regime like Saddam's is no longer open to Al Qaeda, and that we're no longer subject to that uncertainty.
In another year or two, someone needs to do a revised version of Stephen Hayes' book and really tie together what we do and don't know about Saddam's ties to Al Qeada, and which things we think we know but haven't proven one way or another. Frankly, given the covert nature of these kinds of contacts, I'm amazed we know as much as we do. Not that we're likely to get much help from the media, which regards this as a closed question.
May 25, 2005
WAR: The Saddam News Network
May 20, 2005
WAR: We Don't Need To Know
You know, while the pitcures taken of Saddam Hussein when he was captured were humiliating, that was a good thing - crack the mystique and all - and necessary to show we had him. But pictures of him in his underwear seem quite unnecessary, to say nothing of something we just don't want to see on the front page of a newspaper.
(I'll warn you before you click the link that the NY Post is now requiring registration. Ugh.)
May 18, 2005
WAR: The Saudi Insurgency
Christopher Hitchens (via Vodka), Megan McArdle and Tyler Cowen all ponder a New York Times article noting that the insurgency in Iraq isn't following any of the traditional patterns for an insurgency, in the sense of (1) trying to build popular support or (2) having a comprehensible set of goals or demands. Hitchens - whose column is a must read - notes the obvious: the "insurgents" are basically Zarqawi's organization and the former Ba'athists. Zarqawi's group is part of Al Qaeda and composed of non-Iraqis; their behavior is precisely in line with Al Qaeda's MO and stated ideology, and they are no more an Iraqi "insurgency" than Al Qaeda in the United States is an American insurgency:
The Bin Laden and Zarqawi organizations, and their co-thinkers in other countries, have gone to great pains to announce, on several occasions, that they will win because they love death, while their enemies are so soft and degenerate that they prefer life. Are we supposed to think that they were just boasting when they said this? Their actions demonstrate it every day, and there are burned-out school buses and clinics and hospitals to prove it, as well as mosques . . .
This point is underlined by a recent Washington Post analysis pointing out the high proportion of young Saudi jihadists in the "insurgency". These are reckless, frustrated young men, in their teens and early twenties, who desire martyrdom. Not only are they foreigners whose only interests are harming America and bringing death on themselves, but the fact that they have no plan or program for the future of Iraq is about as surprising as the idea that a 15-year-old boy who gets his girlfriend pregnant has no long term plan for fatherhood.
Then there's the Ba'athists; Hitchens again:
[W]hy would the "secular" former Baathists join in such theocratic mayhem? Let me see if I can guess. Leaving aside the formation of another well-named group - the Fedayeen Saddam - to perform state-sponsored jihad before the intervention, how did the Baath Party actually rule? Yes, it's coming back to me. By putting every Iraqi citizen in daily fear of his or her life, by random and capricious torture and murder, and by cynical divide-and-rule among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. Does this remind you of anything?
I can understand why people objected, early in the insurgency, to calling the perpetrators of a guerilla campaign that then had some modicum of popular support "terrorism," although the main motive for the objection was to deny any connection between Iraq and the larger war. At this point, however, it requires a fairly powerful desire to flee reality to keep treating these guys as anything but nihilistic, jihad-oriented terrorists.
May 17, 2005
WAR: In Memory of One Marine
Al Bethke asks us to drop by a tribute site to Cpl. Robert P. "Bobby" Warns II, a Marine from Wisconsin killed in Iraq on November 8, 2004; the site includes a tribute video, pictures of the daughter he never saw (born May 5, 2005), comments from folks who have viewed the video, and a place to donate to the little girl.
May 15, 2005
WAR: Sorry About The Mess
Badly-sourced Newsweek report retracted; only 15 people were killed as a result. Another day, another dollar. Instapundit, as always, has more.
May 12, 2005
WAR: Abu Ghraib In Focus
Rich Lowry and Christopher Hitchens (link via Roger Simon) offer up some perspective on the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse story. Lowry notes that the details of this New York Times story pretty well undermine the desperate efforts of Bush Administration critics to paint the abuses by the Abu Ghraib night shift as being done on orders from above; among other things, Graner and England admitted that they had been taking lewd pictures of themselves with others even before they got to the prison. Graner was an obvious bad apple, a guy whose first wife had three orders of protection out on him, and as I've noted before, only an arbitrator's interference prevented Graner from being fired from his stateside job as a prison guard due to a serious history of disciplinary problems. Meanwhile, I hadn't realized that England was a clerk who didn't even work in that part of the prison and had been ordered not to go there. At this point, the only basis for concluding that what went on at Abu Ghraib was ordered from above is that some people want to believe it.
Hitchens, meanwhile, notes the bitter irony of Abu Ghraib being known solely as a house of American horrors:
To the Iraqis, it was a name to be mentioned in whispers, if at all, as "the house of the end." It was a Dachau. Numberless people were consigned there and were never heard of again. Its execution shed worked overtime, as did its torturers, and we are still trying to discover how many Iraqis and Kurds died in its precincts.
If a handful of Americans had sexually and otherwise humiliated some Nazi prisoners at Auschwitz in 1946, would the name "Auschwitz" today be known solely as a place where Americans did bad things? In some circles, probably.
May 9, 2005
WAR: Peer into the Darkness
A senior European Commissioner marked VE Day yesterday by accusing Eurosceptics of risking a return to the Holocaust by clinging to "nationalistic pride".
This sort of thing is, of course, yet more evidence that the "world government" crowd is more than a figment of the fevered imaginations of the American black-helicopter crowd. These people have actually convinced themselves - assuming they believe their own rhetoric - that demolishing national sovereignty is a workable plan for peace rather than what it really is, the removal of power from the sources of democratic accountability and the consent of the governed.
WAR: It's The Vladmobile!
But when they flash the Vlad Signal in the sky, is it the hammer and sickle? I remain convinced that Putin-good/Putin-bad punditry is way too simplistic. But Putin will probably be out of office before we can really assess his impact.
May 4, 2005
WAR: I'll Have One Of Those
WAR: A Lot of Explaining To Do
Wesley Clark has an article in the Washington Monthly straining to explain away all the progress in the Middle East as having nothing to do with the Iraq war. Clark, still angling for that job in a Democratic administration someday, argues:
Anyone who has traveled regularly to the Middle East over the years, as I have, knows that the recent hopeful democratic moves in Lebanon, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories have causal roots that long predate our arrival in Iraq, or that are otherwise unconnected to the war.
Mm-hm. Anybody remember this guy talking about these "causal roots" when he was running for president? Sure, there are other causes. But that's not the point; the point is that American policy removed one major obstacle to democratization (Saddam, who was part of the problem in multiple parts of the region), provided an object lesson in democracy by allowing it to flourish in Iraq (at least Clark doesn't claim that Iraq was democratizing before the war), and - by isolating Arafat and announcing democratization as part of the way out in Palestine - strongly encouraged his successors to seek an alternative. And for whatever Egypt's moves towards democracy are worth, it's awful hard to look at two decades of intransignet Mubarak rule followed by a rapid about-face on elections the day after Condi Rice cancelled a trip to Egypt and not find a big American footprint. There's a better argument that a movement in Lebanon might have developed anyway - but what made the Lebanese people think they could stand up to Syria without retribution, and made the Syrians think it wasn't safe to crack down? American power may not have planted the seeds, but it certainly weeded the garden at a critical time.
Anyway, the funniest thing in the whole article, after all of Clark's partisan spin and his efforts to deny credit to the Bush Administration, is his concluding sentence:
Let's give credit where credit is due—and leave the political spin at the water's edge.
April 29, 2005
WAR: D'Oh Canada
Austin Bay (link via Instapundit) thinks Canada is a failed state that could collapse and splinter . . . I understand why Bay thinks Quebec could and probably should secede from Canada, and while it may or may not be true that the current scandals engulfing the ruling Liberal Party could provide an impetus for Quebec's separatists to gain power and demand secession, I don't really follow the logic of why this would result in Anglophone Canada crumbling into bits as a result. It's certainly true that the Canadian West is politically a poor fit with Ontario, but no moreso - and for many of the same reasons - than America's red and blue states are at odds. Thus, even if we do finally see Quebec go its own way, there's no reason why the rest of Canada shouldn't remain intact.
April 28, 2005
WAR: Taylor Trouble
David Adesnik points to this WaPo op-ed arguing that the U.S. should press Nigeria to turn over former Liberian leader Charles Taylor to the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. While I'm a skeptic about international courts generally, the only issue here seems to be whether we should adhere to a prior agreement that removed Taylor from power, and at least this piece suggests strong evidence that Taylor hasn't held up his end of the bargain. He should be reminded that deals we make with dictators are easily voided if they don't comply.
April 26, 2005
WAR: Canada For Sale
It turns out that one of the beneficiaries of Saddam's payoffs was a company 4.6% owned by Paul Martin, the Canadian Prime Minister. I'm shocked, shocked.
Saddam knew well where to spend his money.
April 25, 2005
WAR: That Big Meanie John Bolton
You would have to labor long and hard to come up with a crueler parody of the modern Democratic party than the opposition of Democrats to a male appointee to a serious national security position on the grounds that he is too hard on his subordinates or is a "bully". (See here for a typical example of this rhetoric). Yet, somehow, that is where they have found themselves with John Bolton. Andrew Jackson must be rolling over in his grave.
Look, most people have worked for difficult or abusive bosses at some point in their careers; nobody likes them, and they can in many cases be counterproductive. But most of us also understand that the more serious the task and the higher the pressure, the more leeway you give a guy who gets results, and when you are talking about national security, the balance ought to tip decidedly towards getting the job done. This PTA-focus-grouped attack is all too reminiscent of the cringe-inducing line Dick Gephardt used over and over again during the 2004 primaries about how Bush "would get a mark on his report card: doesn't play well with others." Um, Dick, we're not talking about kicking over a tower of blocks here.
And Democrats wonder why they lost men by 11 points in the last election. From the election results you can infer that women didn't buy this either, of course, but I suspect that this sort of thing - placing politeness above effectiveness - has a particularly strong fingernails-on-the-blackboard effect on men.
For a twofer, Democrats have somehow allowed themselves to be publicly maneuvered, against what must be their better judgment, into the posture of defenders of the corrupt, hypocritical, anti-American, anti-Semitic United Nations. Win-win!
April 21, 2005
WAR: She Da Man
March 24, 2005
WAR: French Voters Face Reality
I can't think of anything that would amuse me more than the prospect of French voters rejecting the EU constitution. And it looks as if French protestors have been getting mugged by reality as well.
March 21, 2005
WAR: Putin, Up Close and Personal
There was a great article in the March 2005 issue of The Atlantic profiling Vladimir Putin (it's available on the web only to subscribers but worth reading however you can get it). Paul Starobin, the author of the piece, makes the point that Putin doesn't fit neatly into Western efforts to either embrace him as a democrat or denounce him as a dictator, and divides the profile in three parts: Putin the fighter, the Chekist (i.e., his KGB background), and the religious believer. On the first point, Starobin's profile draws an obvious parallel to Theodore Roosevelt, as Putin was a weak, sickly kid who by force of will transformed himself into a judo champion. On the latter point, Starobin notes that Putin is apparently a devout follower of the Russian Orthodox church - a fact that, as with the religious Tony Blair, helps explain why Putin hit it off immediately with George W. Bush. (One amusing fact I didn't know: down the hall from Putin's Kremlin office is a private Orthodox chapel built by Boris Yeltsin in what used to be Josef Stalin's living quarters. The irony is delicious).
Starobin also notes that Putin views the battle against Islamic terrorism as Russia's to win, and of course that's another reason why he's seen as a key ally in the war on terror, for all the faults of his regime and the difficulties he's given us in Iraq and Iran. The best allies in this fight are the ones who see themselves not as coming to U.S. aid but as themselves having a stake in the fight, like Israel, India, and Australia (one reason Blair has taken so much heat is because not enough people in Britain share his view that the fight is Britain's).
March 10, 2005
WAR: About Time
At long last, an anti-bin Laden fatwa.
Not the strong horse, anymore.
February 28, 2005
WAR: Freedom of the Press, Russian-Style
[W]hen Bush talked about the Kremlin's crackdown on the media and explained that democracies require a free press, the Russian leader gave a rebuttal that left the President nonplussed. If the press was so free in the U.S., Putin asked, then why had those reporters at CBS lost their jobs? Bush was openmouthed. "Putin thought we'd fired Dan Rather," says a senior Administration official. "It was like something out of 1984."
Another example of why we need better and more aggressive public diplomacy. We can't control what information gets to Putin, but it would be nice to create a climate where somebody in his circle would at least be aware of how ridiculous this sounds to Western ears (well, most of them).
via Rather Biased
February 26, 2005
WAR: Getting Results?
"The election of a president will be through direct, secret balloting, giving the chance for political parties to run for the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose among them with their own will," Mubarak said in an address broadcast live on Egyptian television.
Is this real progress, in a country of 76 million people, three times the size of Iraq's population and larger than the population of France? Wait and see.
February 23, 2005
WAR: Fake, and Inaccurate
Jon Henke catches Robert Scheer, the poor man's Paul Krugman, fabricating 9/11 stories by claiming to know the contents of "secret" documents reviewed by the 9/11 Commission, in spite of the 9/11 Commission's unambiguous statement that Scheer's claims were supported by "no documentary evidence reviewed by the commission or testimony we have received to this point . . . "
February 22, 2005
WAR: Battle Droids
The U.S. military is developing robot soldiers? This seems like it could have some real hazards to work out:
"They don't get hungry," said Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command. "They're not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has just been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes."
The robot soldier has been a dream at the Pentagon for 30 years. And some involved in the work say it may take at least 30 more years to realize in full. Well before then, they say, the military will have to answer some tough questions if it intends to trust robots with the responsibility of distinguishing friend from foe, combatant from innocent bystander.
Of course, even aside from the issue of whether robots can be trusted not to target civilians, there's a second issue: as Victor Davis Hanson has often argued, a significant part of America's competitive advantage in combat is the brains and flexibility of soldiers from free societies, as opposed to those trained and conditioned in autocracies. Hopefully, a movement in the direction of automated soldiers won't erode that.
February 20, 2005
WAR: "Low-Hanging Fruit"
Dean also said the Bush administration has ignored the mounting threat in Iran and North Korea. "We picked the low hanging fruit in Iraq and did nothing" about the other, more dangerous regimes, he said.
So, now Dean's complaint about the Iraq War is that it was . . . too easy?
Also, so much for Dean taking a role as a quiet functionary.
February 17, 2005
WAR: Meeting With The Enemy
It's time for another episode of "let's make an important distinction here."
Matt Yglesias continues to argue that the Powerline guys are way, way out of line to say that Jimmy Carter is "on the other side," contending that this "What's being elided here is the all-important distinction between political disagreement and warfare." Naturally, Atrios and Kevin Drum agree.
Powerline clarifies the charge here with a discussion of Carter's meetings with the Soviet foreign minister, expanding on John Hinderaker's original post containing the original attack on Carter. Jon Henke thinks Powerline goes too far, but nonetheless offers additional supporting examples, including an unnamed Clinton Cabinet member calling Carter a "treasonous prick" over his meetings with the North Korean leadership.
I'm mostly with Henke here - I don't think Carter actually wants to bring about harm to the United States, but I do think that his activities since leaving office have gone well beyond what you could fairly characterize as just "political disagreement." Carter may not be on the other side, but he has repeatedly and consistently shown up to offer his help to the other side in such a broad variety of international controversies that you can't help but wonder what on earth the man does think he's doing.
There's a critical distinction here that the critics on the Left, most notably Yglesias - who's posted on this three times now without addressing the distinction - need to grapple with. And that is this: giving speeches and the like here at home is, indeed, just "political disagreement." It may help us or it may hurt us, but it is just speech. But that's not what Hinderaker is talking about, although you'd never know from reading Yglesias. What he's talking about is traveling around the world, meeting with foreign leaders and taking positions contrary to those of the United States or rendering assistance directly to hostile forces and regimes.
This is, of course, a recurring theme in conservative criticisms of a number of liberals - besides Carter's many trips, prominent examples include John Kerry's famous meeting with the North Vietnamese and the trip Kerry and Tom Harkin took to meet with Daniel Ortega in the 1980s. Jesse Jackson is also a master at this. To say nothing of Jane Fonda and Ramsey Clark. (I can't think offhand of conservative examples of the same; I'm sure you can find some, but the practice has been far more pervasive on the Left, and not only because we've had mostly Republican presidents since the dawn of the modern Left in 1968). Time and again, whether they be legislators, state officials, ex-leaders, or private citizens, we've seen the spectacle of people on the Left sitting down with hostile heads of state and assuring them that the United States does not present a united front against them. They, in turn, often use such meetings for propaganda purposes, including for the purpose of telling their own people that the United States is not going to help them.
This is just wrong; you may disagree with the Commander-in-Chief, but you don't run around the world undermining him in front of our enemies. Other than Clark - who is very deeply on the other side and should have been prosecuted for treason for his visit to North Vietnam in 1971, saving us the spectacle of him offering legal aid to Saddam Hussein - Carter is the single worst offender on this score, and he does deserve a much greater degree of criticism for these persistent displays of what you can't help but call disloyalty than the average "dissenter."
Why does Carter do these things? He must understand, or at least believe, that he has some influence, some ability to alter the outcome of international controversies by actively intervening in them. When he does, he almost always takes a position that undermines or actively opposes the position taken by the duly elected chief executive of the United States. Does Yglesias care to explain why this practice is just "political disagreement"? Does anyone? If not, Yglesias shouldn't be so quick to jump on the critics of a practice he himself considers indefensible.
If you can tolerate a few more of the sordid details of Carter's transgressions against loyalty - not an exhaustive account, to be sure - try the Jay Nordlinger article here:
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For years, Carter has been a thorn in the side of presidents, acting as a kind of "anti-president," as Lance Morrow once put it in an essay for Time. You recall how Carter irked Clinton on Haiti and North Korea. His low moment, however, came during the run-up to the [first] Gulf War, when he wrote members of the U.N. Security Council - including Mitterrand's France and Communist China - urging them to thwart the Bush administration's effort. Our government found out about it when the Canadian prime minister, Brian Mulroney, called the defense secretary, Dick Cheney, and said, "What the . . .?"
Then there's billionaire terrorist Yasser Arafat (as Nordlinger notes, "Arabs are heavy-duty funders of the Carter Center, and they get a lot for their money"):
After the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia was mad at Arafat, because the PLO chief had sided with Saddam Hussein. So Arafat asked Carter to fly to Riyadh to smooth things over with the princes and restore Saudi funding to him - which Carter did.
At their first meeting - in 1990 - Carter boasted of his toughness toward Israel, assuring Arafat at one point, ". . . you should not be concerned that I am biased. I am much more harsh with the Israelis." Arafat, for his part, railed against the Reagan administration and its alleged "betrayals." Rosalynn Carter, taking notes for her husband, interjected, "You don't have to convince us!" Brinkley records that this "elicited gales of laughter all round." Carter himself, according to Brinkley, "agreed that the Reagan administration was not renowned as promise keepers" (this, to Arafat).
After Carter had that first meeting with Arafat, he went home and promptly served the PLO head as PR adviser and speechwriter. What do I mean? Listen to Brinkley: "On May 24 Carter drafted on his home computer the strategy and wording for a generic speech Arafat was to deliver soon for Western ears . . ." Said Carter, "The audience is not the Security Council, but the world community. The objective of the speech should be to secure maximum sympathy and support of other world leaders . . . The Likud leaders are now on the defensive, and must not be given any excuse for continuing their present abusive policies."
There's Carter sucking up to dictators:
While in office, Carter hailed Yugoslavia's Tito as "a man who believes in human rights." He said of Romania's barbaric Ceausescu and himself, "Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics . . . We believe in enhancing human rights." While out of office, Carter has praised Syria's late Assad (killer of at least 20,000 in Hama) and the Ethiopian tyrant Mengistu (killer of many more than that). In Haiti, he told the dictator Cédras that he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country."
(More Nordlinger on Carter here).
« Close It
WAR: Us and Them
No time to blog this morning, I'll just leave you with two links. First, Stuart Buck points us to this must-read Boston Globe article on interrogation tactics, from the perspective of the interrogators. The stuff on the areas of division, and of agreement, in the intelligence community was also instructive:
A retired general interrupted, "There is only one war. In Afghanistan, in Iraq. It's all one war."
Then there's Mark Steyn's latest, on why UN moral corruption is both inevitable and so pervasive the media barely notices it:
Now how about this? The Third Infantry Division are raping nine-year olds in Ramadi. Ready, set, go! That thundering sound outside your window isn't the new IKEA sale, but the great herd of BBC/CNN/Independent/Guardian/New York Times/Le Monde/Sydney Morning Herald/Irish Times/Cork Examiner reporters stampeding to the Sunni Triangle. Whoa, hold up, lads, it's only hypothetical. But think about it: the merest glimpse of a freaky West Virginia tramp leading an Abu Ghraib inmate around with girlie knickers on his head was enough to prompt calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, and for Ted Kennedy to charge that Saddam's torture chambers were now open "under new management", and for Robert Fisk to be driven into the kind of orgasmic frenzy unseen since his column on how much he enjoyed being beaten up by an Afghan mob: "Just look at the way US army reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi," wrote Fisk. "No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September 2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash."
February 14, 2005
WAR: The Torture Problem
Sebastian Holsclaw (link via Yglesias) says those of us on the Right ought to do more to denounce the use of torture by the United States in general, and the practice of "rendering" terror-related suspects to countries that have no restraint about torture in particular. (See also more links he supplies to a must-read New Yorker article here that actually quotes non-anonymous sources and here to a collection of blog links). Holsclaw also argues that now - with things going fairly well in Iraq and the presidential election behind us - is the most opportune moment to get some momentum on this subject. He's right.
Like, I think, a lot of people on the Right, I've been hesitant to wade into this issue, for a bunch of reasons. Partly it's the fact that this is a hard issue to get a factual handle on, if you want to get a realistic view of what's actually happening, why, to and by whom, and what the legal framework is; I keep putting off writing about this stuff thinking that there's another 50-page memo or 70-page court decision I ought to have read (although I did read one of the big 50+ page Gonzales memos, and honestly it just looked like typical lawyer advice to me: here's what the statutes say, here's how they've been interpreted, here's where we think the legal lines are). And partly, yes, it's the incessant bait-and-switching by the Left (including the media) - the efforts to connect the Abu Ghraib sexual and other abuses to so-called "torture memos" despite a complete absence of evidence that the prison guards involved had any knowledge of internal White House legal memoranda; the effort to stretch the word "torture" to cover nearly anything that sounded remotely unpleasant and denounce anyone who tried to make reasoned distrinctions as an apologist for terror; the inability to distinguish between moral standards and legal standards; the constant and entirely beside-the-point invocation of the Geneva Conventions; and so forth. To say nothing of the need to separate fact from, well, Seymour Hersh. But again, Holsclaw is right that at some point, we have to put our heads down and focus on what's actually going on and what should be done about it, and not use the Left as an excuse to duck the issue.
(I'm not touching here on the issue of due process and detainees, which is a whole 'nother ball of wax for another day.)
On general principles, I suspect that my own views on torture are probably not far from those of a lot of people on this issue:
1. I'd agree that there are a number of different cases against torture - a moral case against extreme mistreatment of fellow human beings, a practical case against torture as an effective means of interrogation, a legal case, a case that torture encourages our enemies to do the same to our people, and a case that any hint of torture harms our public image abroad. But I'm not so sure I'd agree that each case is coextensive - while I understand the argument that torture winds up yielding a lot of useless information, I think it's probably likely that at least in some situations, things we shouldn't do for other reasons might turn out to be effective on a practical level. And it's certainly true that, in this war at least, our enemies have no restraints on their behavior no matter how we ourselves act. And, of course, we'll get some types of bad p.r. around the world from the Seymour Hershes and Robert Fisks of the world pretty much regardless of what the actual facts are. Arguing otherwise on any of these counts really tends to gloss over some of the real trade-offs and moral dilemmas we face between the need for effective intelligence-gathering and things we can't and shouldn't try to morally justify.
2. The Geneva Conventions have nothing to do with this issue, and are perhaps the single biggest red herring in the whole argument. The Geneva Conventions are a treaty. They bind the signatory nations to grant certain types of treatment to the uniformed combatants of other signatory nations. You can find good summaries of this issue by the National Review here (part of the article is subscription-only) and here, and by Jay Tea at Wizbang here and here. Among other things, NR notes that the Geneva Conventions require that captured POWs receive "dormitories, kitchenettes, sports equipment, canteens, and a monthly pay allowance in Swiss francs"; in fact, because the Geneva Conventions are focused entirely on wartime nations' interest in taking uniformed combatants off the battlefield rather than on interrogation, "[e]ven tempting detainees who are POWs with a candy bar to answer questions beyond name, rank and serial number violates the Third Geneva Convention."
Yes, say some on the Left, but we should take the noble step of complying even if our enemies don't, so we don't become like them . . . see, this is one of the biggest divides between Right and Left: the Left tends to see treaties as gestures of American good faith and submission to multinational rules; as ends in and of themselves. But if you take treaties seriously, you have to remember what they are: agreed-upon bilateral frameworks of incentives. A treaty just formalizes a carrot-and-stick approach: if you do A we will do B; if you don't do X we won't do Y. This just keeps coming up: the Left wanted us to sign the Kyoto treaty even though we were only one of, if memory serves, either one or two of the world's six largest nations that would have been bound by it; the Left wanted Israel to have treaties with Arafat without any mechanism to punish the Palestinians for violating the treaties; the Left wanted more negotiations and more treaties with North Korea instead of any consequences for violating the last treaty; the Left successfully demanded that the U.S. do nothing when the North Vietnamese violated the treaty that ended the Vietnam War with an independent South Vietnam; the Left wanted us not to resume hostilities with Saddam Hussein when he violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. But if we just give away the benefits of treaties without requiring anything in return, we lose the ability to use treaties to get anything we want. (This is the same basic rule the Right applies in economic debates to reforming welfare for the poor or cutting taxes for the rich: everybody responds to incentives).
3. Of course, getting back to Sebastian's point, just because the Geneva Conventions don't and shouldn't apply, and just because practices like "extraordinary rendition" may be legal, doesn't answer the moral and policy question of whether they are the right thing to do. Sometimes, we can't let the law do all our thinking for us. We have to make our own judgments.
4. It's also true that something can be wrong without being "torture." The simplest definition of tourture is the infliction of lasting or permanent physical harm. Most of us would probably extend that definition further, to the infliction of intense physical pain, whether or not it leaves a mark.
I think a lot of what appalled people about Abu Ghraib was the psycho-sexual stuff. A lot of that really doesn't seem like "torture," things like stacking up a bunch of guys naked; humiliation, yes, torture, no. But the Right tends to get boxed in sometimes to by resisting the argument that if it's bad, it must be torture. Sexual humiliation is bad, regardless of what label you put on it.
5. On the specific subject of what are and are not acceptable practices, I don't have any problem with some of the coercive interrogation techniques that have been widely mooted about, things like sleep deprivation and "stress positions," and we can have a fair debate about some of the other stuff, where the line should be drawn. I'm probably not alone in thinking you draw the line a little further out if you are dealing with known insurgents rather than witnesses with unknown affilitions, a little further out if you're dealing with foreign fighters rather than Iraqis, a little further out yet with known hardened Al Qaeda terrorists. That said, do I know myself where the right line is? No. And I think it would be productive to give a fresh look at this issue that focuses prospectively on what we want the rules of the road to be, rather than wasting time debating existing structures like the Geneva Conventions or wallowing in efforts to play "gotcha" over who has done what up to now. That's particularly where I think Senate and House Republicans could and should lead the way in putting together at least some general guidelines for the future, even despite the obvious and sensible objection to using statutes to micromanage things like interrogation of terrorists. This link-filled Instapundit post is a great place to start in terms of examining the issue.
6. Returning to the issue of rendition, the New Yorker article undoubtedly oversimplifies the issue (if these are allies, can we refuse to hand over anyone they have a warrant out for?), and there may be legitimate needs for the program in some sense, but there's no escaping the bottom line that, whatever our rules are or should be, if there are things we wouldn't want to do to people in custody ourselves, we shouldn't hand them over to somebody else to do it, period.
UPDATE: John Cole has some detailed background on "extraordinary rendition." Like I said, I'm less concerned about demonizing the overall practice than about its specific use in routing people to foreign governments for the purpose of having them tortured.
February 9, 2005
WAR: Baby Steps
The Saudi elections go forward. I would hardly characterize this as real progress, but the symbolic progress of having elections isn't nothing. Still, on the whole, I continue to regard Saudi Arabia as one of the weaker prospects for democratization in the Arab world (the worst may be Egypt, with its massive and mostly illiterate population and no economy to speak of).
WAR: From The Ground Up
Absolute required reading: "Black Hawk Down" author Mark Bowden (reporting through the eyes of one of the veterans of Mogadishu) on the difficulties of building a new NCO and officer corps in the Iraqi Army. Bowden suggests that conventional wisdom may be wrong on one major point:
It has become generally accepted wisdom that it was a mistake for the Coalition Provisional Authority to disband Saddam's army after American forces took Baghdad two years ago. If Maj. Lechner's experience is typical, then retaining the old force would have just created a whole different set of problems, and might well have further set back efforts to create a flexible, effective Iraqi army. Solving the problem in the 7th Battalion ultimately required rooting out nearly all of those officers who had served under the old regime.
[I]n 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?
I still have no way to judge if disbanding the old army was the right thing to do, and Bowden explains why, either way, the task ahead may yet be long and difficult (although the end result, if it works, could be the most effective military in the region other than Israel and Turkey, given that similar problems with the officer and NCO corps abound in Arab militaries).
February 8, 2005
WAR: A Response to Juan Cole
I, for one, am sicker than sick of the "chicken hawk" argument, which I've dealt with on this site so frequently as to be not worth linking back to them all. But the latest salvo from Juan Cole in his feud with Jonah Goldberg prompted me to write this email in response, which I reprint here:
Dear Prof. Cole:
WAR: Who Thinks Michael Moore Stole From Him?
February 7, 2005
These guys I believe deliberately missed it. And really misled their readers. And they don't have egg on their face. They have an omelet on their face this morning.
And on the Iraq War in general:
I went through angst during these last three years, thinking, my God, have I been behind something that's going to be the biggest catastrophe in American foreign policy? It still might. But at least, after these elections, there is now a chance for a decent outcome. And Howie, if this works, this is going to be bigger, in my view -- this is going to be the biggest thing since Napoleon invaded Egypt. This is really, really big.
February 4, 2005
WAR: A Man, A Plan, Iran
Condoleazza Rice, meeting with Tony Blair, stresses that we are not yet at the point of armed conflict with the Iranian mullahs. Andrew McCarthy says no serious person should object to news that the U.S. has been developing war plans to deal with the possibility of war with Iran. True enough on both scores - but what is the Administration's affirmative plan for Iran? We got a glimpse Wednesday night in the State of the Union Address:
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act -- and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.
(Emphasis mine; the promotion of Syria to this kind of treatment in the State of the Union speech is also momentous). Regime Change Iran thinks that Bush is maneuvering to pressure Iran on human rights, a common ground that will be palatable to the EU and UN. (via Instapundit). This may be right, but it seems a bit narrow - I don't think it was idle chatter for Bush to stress Iran's role as the leading state sponsor of terror. I suspect that he'll try to pressure Iran on multiple grounds and not just human rights, with sponsorship of terrorists being also on the table. But the blogger's point about the coming Iranian election in June suggests a flashpoint - we may try to use the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the Palestinian Authority to drum up international support for microscopic scrutiny of Iran's election process (although a fair vote is meaningless if the candidates are still hand-picked or their offices are powerless).
I'm happy to see the debate shift away from too great a focus on Iran's nuclear capabilities, which can be notoriously difficult to ascertain from afar, and onto the nature of its regime, which is the real problem. At the end of the day, after all, our gripe with the Iranians' terror-sponsoring tyranny, not with their having weapons. This ties into a point Stanley Kurtz made the other day about Iraq (scroll down to "Korea and Iraq" if the link doesn't work) -i.e., that Iraq's ability to get WMDs from outside sources like North Korea means that the actual state of its stocks of those weapons was far less important than its intentions and behavior. As I've said since before the invasion, the problem was the nature of the regime itself:
The test for whether we should seek regime change should be whether a regime has (1) the desire to attack civilian targets outside the context of an openly declared war and (2) has or is working on the means to do so, or to give aid and comfort to those who do so. Number (1) is the key, and it's not always susceptible to hard proof, but the best evidence of a regime's desire to attack American or other civilians is the level of anti-American vitriol in its official statements. It amazes me that people debating the merits of these things always tell us to ignore what the other guy says. Evidence of past complicity in terrorism, or past aggressive wars by the same basic regime (by which I mean the guy in power or predecessors in the same unelected junta, not ancient history) are also key. Try a little common sense, and it's not hard to figure out who our enemies really are. There are a million little ways that a regime shows itself to be unwilling to abide by the basic norms of international behavior (by which I mean standards other nations actually live by, not pie-in-the-sky ideals like Kyoto), and when you add them up it's easy to discern the difference between countries with weapons of mass destruction ("WMD") that merely disdain us but would never do violence to us (i.e., France) and places like Iraq and North Korea and Cuba and Syria and Iran that don't respect the rights of their own people or anyone else's in the day-to-day commerce of nations. Look for countries that don't allow free foreign press, just as a sample.
The key problem with Saddam was neither his possession of WMDs nor his ability to acquire them, but rather his intent - we knew he could be ruthless enough to use chemical weapons in battle and against his own people, we knew he had shown a willingness to work with terrorists, and we knew he was known to do things that were not, at least by our standards, rational (the best example of which was when he tried to have George HW Bush blown up). All these "well, if you go after Saddam, where does it stop" arguments always ignored the fact that the key issue was Saddam's behavior and state of mind, not his capabilies. If we didn't learn that from seeing a handful of guys armed with box cutters kill 3,000 people, we never will.
And that's why Iran and Syria stand ahead of other countries that may have arsenals of weapons or deprive their people of rights - because the overall track record of the regimes' hostility to the U.S. and support for terrorism makes them a threat. Hopefully, Bush will turn the screws on Iran in multiple directions to try to get another rehime of that nature out of power.
February 3, 2005
WAR: Fallujah Unspun
The Green Side has another email from a Marine in Fallujah who points out that, for all of the Western press' spin about how Fallujah was an unimportant battle because the insurgents could get away and melt back into the countryside, that's not what the insurgents were telling their own people before the battle, which is why the victory there has been so important:
Part of the motivation for the attack on insurgents in Fallujah back in November was to set the conditions for successful elections to be held 30 January. . . If the insurgent leadership headquarted inside the city was not directly projecting operations to cities as far away as Basrah or Mosul, their activities and overt posture undoubtedly inspired insurgents in other parts of the country to continue.
(Link via Instapundit)
WAR: Gas Poisoning
The prime minister of Georgia, Zurab Zhvania, died of "gas poisoning" at a friend's house, under circumstances that thus far don't seem to clearly indicate whether the death was an accident or foul play, although they are calling it an accident for now:
An Iranian-made gas-powered heating stove was in the main room of the mezzanine-floor apartment, where a table was set up with a backgammon set lying open upon it, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said in a televised statement reported by The Associated Press.
February 2, 2005
WAR: Bad Headline
I think the Washington Times could have chosen its words more carefully in Monday's headline on the Iraqi elections:
Joy explodes across Iraq
We naturally don't get too many laughs in the War on Terror, but yesterday's hoax - in which an Islamist website's claim that it held an American GI hostage, only to have it quickly discovered that the photo of the soldier clearly showed that he was a toy action figure - was frankly hilarious. If this was actually perpetrated by some Islamists hoping to scare us, it's just the most pathetic thing I've ever seen. The Command Post had the timeline.
February 1, 2005
WAR: Go, Go Genocide!
The Minute Man notices that John Kerry now says of his legendary trip to Cambodia, "We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia." Which would be interesting, given that the Khmer Rouge were on the other side. I'll credit a slip of the tongue here, but isn't it interesting that Kerry can't even remember whose side he was on in Vietnam anymore? I mean, hey, what's a little mixup when you're talking about the Khmer Rouge, who went on to perpetrate perhaps the worst (per capita) genocide of the 20th century (which is saying quite a lot)?
Speaking of Vietnam, Hitchens has an amusing column explaining why Iraq is no Vietnam from the perspective of someone who (like Hitchens) was an opponent of the Vietnam War. Interesting reading, although of course Hitchens leaves off many other reasons why the parallel doesn't withstand even momentary scrutiny, the most obvious of which is that there is no North Vietnam in this one, no half of the country controlled by the enemy.
One of the parallels that people forget, of course, is that U.S. participation in Vietnam ended with a peace treaty that settled the war on terms we could live with. The North Vietnamese then violated the treaty by re-invading the South in 1975, and the U.S. turned its back on its ally, sending the unequivocal message that treaties with the United States need not be respected - a message that pretty much destroys the case for negotiating with anyone, since without the will to enforce treaties, they aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Fast forward to the 1990s, and we had a replay of that, as Saddam Hussein repeatedly violated the terms of the 1991 cease-fire. We could enforce those terms, or we could yet again tell the world that we don't care who lives up to agreements with us. (I have yet to hear anyone who calls the current war "illegal" attempt to grapple honestly with the question of whether international law, or whatever other source of law you care to think on, requires nations to take violations of terms of a cease-fire lying down).
WAR: Tired, Tired Tropes
January 30, 2005
WAR: Another Milestone
Hard to find much to add to today's events in Iraq, but to say that, judging by the goals I set out in June, we've taken another important step. It's truly historic to see the determination of so many Iraqis to brave threats to vote - really the first time since Saddam's regime fell in April 2003 that the Iraqi people have put their heads up and made such a statement on their own behalf.
WAR: Secular Media Bias=Progress
Was just watching CNN's surprisingly upbeat coverage of the Iraqi elections, and Christian Amanpour was interviewing an Iraqi policeman who was speaking hopefully about the future . . . I noticed that the first word of his response, before the translator's voice-over kicked in, was "insh'allah." Now, if I know five words of Arabic it's a lot, but even I know that that roughly translates as "God willing," yet the translator's rendering left out all references to God.
Still, I guess if oridnary Iraqis have to start worrying about the Western media looking down on their religion, well, that'll be real progress from the things that have plagued them in the past.
WAR: New Instability
January 28, 2005
WAR: No, No Natan?
Chris Suellentrop pens a silly, silly article for Slate on Natan Sharansky's book "The Case for Democracy" - much lauded by President Bush - and "where Sharanksy disagrees with the president's policies." The underlying silliness is that Suellentrop is trying to discredit Bush's overall strategy here by pointing out tactical disagreements. The details are sillier.
Let's review the charges:
1. "Sharansky directly criticizes the administration's haste to hold elections in Afghanistan and Iraq." Fair enough, although that's an issue on which a lot of fair-minded people can disagree, and we won't know the answer for many years.
2. "Sharansky also questions the legitimacy of the Palestinian elections won by Mahmoud Abbas" . . . Sharansky rips the "road map," . . . "Sharansky says Mahmoud Abbas desires only a "temporary truce" with Israel." Of course, Sharansky is looking at peace talks with Abbas from the Israeli perspective and asking if this will work. Bush has a broader issue to consider: will renewing talks with Abbas help alleviate anti-U.S. tensions elsewhere? Talking to Arafat truly was useless. But Abbas was elected, apparently reasonably fairly, and he has publicly called for a stop to terror. I understand well Sharansky's point - Abbas isn't renouncing Arafat's overall strategy, just shifting tactics. But there's reason enough to believe that Abbas may be a practical man we can do business with - like Gorbachev, who similarly wanted to change tactics in the face of reality - and it's worth finding out. In any event, Suellentrop isn't interested in these nuances, he's just trying to drive a wedge in the traditional "even Bush's closest advisers disagree with him" mold.
3. Check this one:
Sharansky sharply criticizes the way human rights "has come to mean sympathy for the poor, the weak, and the suffering," because "sympathy can also be placed in the service of evil."
Is Suellentrop really accusing Bush of being too concerned with battling international poverty? Boy, liberalism sure has changed.
4. This is a doozy:
Criticizing U.S. Policy Provides Aid and Comfort to Whom? Page xii: Reading The Morning Star, a London Communist daily, "would prove highly subversive" for young Sharansky. Rather than absorbing the content of the paper, he was astounded by "the very fact that people outside the Soviet Union were free to criticize their own government without going to prison.
C'mon, it has never been the Bush Administration's policy that all criticism is aid and comfort to the enemy, and I doubt you could ever find a quote where Bush says anything like that. That's an absurd canard. Yes, Republicans have argued that the tone and volume of some criticism, particularly the media drumbeat of negativity, has been a boon to our enemies. But how this shows Sharansky disagreeing with Bush's policy of promoting democracy is beyond me.
5. And this:
Let a Thousand Frances Bloom! Page 95: "The democracy that hates you is less dangerous than the dictator that loves you."
That's different from our policy of promoting democracy how? It's not like we're trying to replace Chirac with a Musharraf type.
6. Suellentrop also goes after a quote in Sharansky's book:
Sharansky says Arthur Schlesinger Jr. opined in the 1980s that "those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves." But Sharansky's footnote for this remark declares vaguely, "Schlesinger is reported to have made this statement after his return from a trip to the Soviet Union in 1982."
Well, I don't have an original source for that quote either, but a simple Google search shows it coming from a 1999 book and subsequent articles by Dinesh D'Souza; it's not like Sharansky made this up.
WAR: The Future of War
Check out Tom Barnett's op-ed on The Command Post. He's not overly kind to Rumsfeld, but gives him his due; at a minimum, Barnett aptly cuts to the core of the debate between air and ground power and the need to maintain both for differing purposes. This part resonated:
WAR: Who's Winning The Iraqi Elections?
Patrick Ruffini looks at an overlooked question. Of course, Sadr isn't Dennis Kucinich, he's Al Sharpton.
January 24, 2005
WAR: Looking Ahead
Three decades before Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center with planes, a secret presidential panel warned that Islamic terrorists might blow up U.S. jetliners or contaminate cities with radioactive "dirty bombs."
January 21, 2005
WAR: Bully Pulpit
One of the core convictions that separates conservatives from liberals - and, to some extent, libertarians as well - is the importance conservatives place on strong law enforcement, a strong military and a tough foreign policy. In his Second Inaugural Address yesterday, President Bush said something that really cut to the core of that conviction:
Now, I got pushed around a lot when I was younger, and probably the main reason I became a conservative, even before I started thinking through the other aspects of conservatism, was the realization that conservatives know how to deal with bullies, which is to say not through negotiation or paying them off, but by confronting them with superior force.
On the other hand, this struck me as going too far, and something Bush will live to regret:
Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world:
There is, it is true, no question that the Bush Administration's sympathies will lie with everyone who fights for liberty and democracy, and that the White House and the State Department will issue nice little press releases on their behalf, which is better than nothing. And it's also true that our end objective is to promote liberty and democracy everywhere.
But we shouldn't pretend that we will stand up equally for dissidents against every regime, because we won't. Winning a long-term global war means picking our battles and, among other things, deciding where we can live with unsavory allies for a time. That means, in practical reality, that we're not going to do very much to support pro-democracy forces in, say, Turkmenistan, because we have bigger fish to fry at the moment.
This fact is why I give no credence to complaints that the U.S. is somehow hypocritical in promoting democracy in some places while making alliances of convenience with nasty dictators in others. Our long-term goal of promoting democracy and liberty is unchanged, but we have to get there by starting somewhere. Complaints about hypocrisy are like the case of a man who decides to repaint his house from blue to green, and his neighbor comes by a few weeks later and says, "You hypocrite! You said you wanted a green house, but here we stand weeks later and the whole back of the house is still blue, while you lavish green paint on the front; why can't you put green paint on all sides of the house equally?" Naturally, the man will reply, "you idiot! I'm trying to finish painting the front of the house, and get that job done right, before I start the back."
Bush, unfortunately, made it sound yesterday like we intend to paint all sides of the house equally, which we can't, shouldn't and won't.
On the other hand, I did like Jonah Goldberg's line about the speech: "I wish someone would wrap a dead fish with it and drop it off at the Saudi embassy."
WAR: Watch Your Back, Jack
Jack Kemp needs to choose his foreign friends and clients more wisely (Jay Nordlinger's recent NR piece on Hugo Chavez had an embarrassing episode involving Kemp as well, flacking for Chavez). This is how Kemp's buddy Jude Wanniski wound up marginalized in conservative circles.
January 20, 2005
WAR: Fear Comes To Boston
Jeff Quinton has a roundup of the latest news on the terror alert in the Boston area focusing on four named Chinese nationals.
Could the current scare be linked to this story, especially given that law enforcement apparently has a tip that the suspects crossed the border from Mexico?
January 6, 2005
WAR: Boston Street Gang Linked to Al Qaeda
An ominous development: the Boston Herald reported yesterday that federal law enforcement agencies have warned the Boston police that an East Boston street gang with roots in El Salvador is cooperating with Al Qaeda:
A burgeoning East Boston-based street gang made up of alleged rapists and machete-wielding robbers has been linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist network, prompting Boston police to ``turn up the heat'' on its members, the Herald has learned.
The theory that Salvadoran criminals manage to smuggle people over the border was bolstered this month when two Boston men described as MS-13 leaders were spotted on the North Shore days before Christmas - a year after they were deported by Boston Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators for gang-related crimes.
Read the whole thing. Of course, while I'm generally pro-immigration, the connection between control of smuggling of illegal immigrants from Mexico and smuggling of Al Qaeda terrorists across the border is enough to give even the most ardent open-borders types pause.
January 5, 2005
WAR: Claiming Credit
Which, translated out of UN-speak, means the Sri Lankans can go screw themselves.
As always, read the whole thing.
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!
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