An Orange Christmas

So, we took the kids up to the top of the Empire State Building yesterday, Orange Alert or no Orange Alert. Naturally, they were thrilled to be in the tallest building in NY (we still haven’t told them about the World Trade Center, and I think by now they’ve forgotten I worked there).
You know, I’ll never carry a rifle in this war, never go to a foreign combat zone, and I don’t confuse my part in this with those who do. But there is a role to play for the rest of us back home, particularly New York, the City with the Big Bullseye, and that’s just to hold our ground and not let our daily business be affected by threats. It’s the least we can do.

Red Dawn

Last entry for today, I promise. After Tim Noah and others complained about the US military naming the operation that captured Saddam Hussein after the cheesy 80s movie “Red Dawn” (about a ragtag band of Americans resisting a Soviet invasion), Eugene Volokh observed that the title probably was just picked by some soldiers who liked the movie without thought for the wider propaganda value, and Eugene and Sasha Volokh marshalled the evidence on the film’s popularity with soldiers.
Let me add my own experience. Each summer, the US Military Academy at West Point offers an “Invitational Academic Workshop.” You spend a week at the Point, get an overview of what the school has to offer academically and militarily, and generally get to see the life of the cadets up close but without too many of the hard parts. At the time, at least, I believe the main criteria for attending was a high PSAT score, which wasn’t really a great predictor of interest in a career in the military, but the workshop was good propaganda for West Point (an important consideration for any public institution, especially with a population of academic high achievers who could go on to other influential positions in life), and it was a good recruiting tool for those who were so inclined. (The program still exists today, although it looks like they’ve changed the criteria a little).
Anyway, I attended in a brutally hot week in June 1988, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was a fun week, we had a little taste of the ‘gung ho’ with being roused from bed around 6am with a loudspeaker blaring, in succession, the opening monologue from Patton and the song “Danger Zone” from Top Gun. We didn’t get to do too many of the outdoor activities – it was 104 degrees out, and they wouldn’t even let the cadets exercise – which was fine by me, since I was about 5’9″ and 110 pounds at the time and almost as nearsighted as I am today.
Getting at long last to the point here, one highlight of the week was a showing of Red Dawn. Remember, this is 1988, the last summer before the Soviet bloc unraveled, and the cadets were mostly kids who chose a military career during the Reagan years. Let me tell you: you have not seen Red Dawn until you’ve seen it with an audience of West Point cadets during the Cold War. There was much rejoicing at numerous points in the film when the Rooskies got their comeuppance and the homeland was defended. And who knows? Probably a few of those cadets are officers in Iraq now, probably a good ways up the chain of command by this point.

Quotes of the Week

Saddam Hussein, on the American GI: “Why didn’t you fight?” one Governing Council member asked Hussein as their meeting ended. Hussein gestured toward the U.S. soldiers guarding him and asked his own question: “Would you fight them?”
A US official, on Saddam’s capture: “We can now determine,” he said, “if he is the mastermind of everything or not.” The official elaborated: “Have we actually cut the head of the snake or is he just an idiot hiding in a hole?”
And two from last week:
Tom Maguire, on Howard Dean: “[W]ill centrists peer in confusion at their television screens and wonder, who is this little man yelling at me, and why is his face so red?”
Tom Burka, with a little humor: “Gore To Claim He Invented Dean, Says GOP”
(Read the whole thing; link via Plum Crazy)

Dean Doctrine

Howard Dean’s major foreign policy address on Monday was probably a mixed bag politically; while Dean’s anti-war crusade was yet again upstaged by reality, he once again succeeded in framing the public debate as Dean vs. Bush, and in the primaries, that’s what you need.
On the substance? Well, Dean argued that he wouldn’t abandon the idea of pre-emption, but (1) would stage a preemptive attack only where an “imminent” threat existed and (2) doesn’t think Iraq met that test. It’s a politically clever tactic, since it wouldn’t necessarily tie down his own freedom of action as President in another case as dramatically as if he rejected preemption entirely, although it does call into question his judgment and does indicate a return to pre-September 11 policy (i.e., Operation Desert Fox vs. Gulf War II as the logical response to Saddam). Of course, I disagree completely with Dean on this.

Continue reading Dean Doctrine

BLOG/ Manning The Post

I’ve signed on as a contributor to The Command Post; you can see my first entry here. Given my already busy schedule, I don’t expect to be a regular contributor, least of all during times like this when the more regular contributors are posting breaking news at a frantic pace, but it made sense to get posting privileges over there for those times when I do see something noteworthy that hasn’t been posted, especially during the slower periods in what still promises to be a very long war against terrorism and the tyrannies that support it. It’s not a big part, but I’ll do my bit.

Atta-Nidal-Saddam Link

Looks like that Telegraph report is getting lots of attention in the blogosphere and even some attention in the mainstream media. I’m still skeptical, but this is too important a story to let pass without investigating it thoroughly.
UPDATE 12/18: More on this to come, but Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball have done some digging and think the memo is probably, as suspected, some sort of forgery. Their evidence isn’t ironclad, particularly since they haven’t seen the document or investigated its provenance, but they cite FBI records showing that Atta’s movements are mostly accounted for in the spring and summer of 2001 – making it unlikely, though not impossible, that he could have slipped off to Baghdad for three days – and they note that the Telegraph reporter simply says he got it from “a ‘senior’ member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was ‘genuine,'” and the Iraqi National Congress thinks the document is bunk.
Good leg work on this by Isikoff and Hosenball; this story needed to be checked out, and it looks like they scooped everyone else in doing so. Stay tuned to see if there’s anything else to this story.

The Lead-In

Interesting now to look back on this article from Friday’s NY Times, which was good news in itself in Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno talking about breaking up the “cycle of financing” for the insurgency in Iraq; Odierno, who’s today’s man of the hour, added this:
Capturing or killing Mr. Hussein would provide a huge lift toward that goal. “It’s psychological,” General Odierno said. “I don’t think he’s really directing any of the operations, but I think he has a psychological effect. They fear him. They absolutely fear him. And there’s a fear he might come back and suppress them.”
An elite team of Special Operations Forces and Central Intelligence Agency operatives, called Task Force 121, is leading the hunt for Mr. Hussein and other top former Iraqi officials. General Odierno said American forces believe they had at least two close calls with the former Iraqi dictator in recent months. In a raid on a safehouse in the Tikrit area this past summer, American forces said they had learned from Iraqis they detained that Mr. Hussein had been there just eight hours earlier.
“Do I think he’s operating in this area? Probably,” General Odierno said. “Do I know if he’s in this area? I don’t. What I do know are his tribal connections here and his family connections here. The tribal and family connections are binding, and it’s very tough to get inside them. But one day we will.”
“I think he’s moving around,” General Odierno said. “Look at the quality of his tapes. Any one of my soldiers could make a better tape than he does right now.”

Smoking Gun – Or Flaming Lie?

The London Telegraph is reporting an improbably damning find — a memo to Saddam Hussein himself demonstrating that Mohammed Atta was training in Baghdad under Abu Nidal in the summer of 2001, and tossing in claims about uranium from Niger to boot:
Details of Atta’s visit to the Iraqi capital in the summer of 2001, just weeks before he launched the most devastating terrorist attack in US history, are contained in a top secret memo written to Saddam Hussein, the then Iraqi president, by Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti, the former head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
The handwritten memo, a copy of which has been obtained exclusively by the Telegraph, is dated July 1, 2001 and provides a short resume of a three-day “work programme” Atta had undertaken at Abu Nidal’s base in Baghdad.
In the memo, Habbush reports that Atta “displayed extraordinary effort” and demonstrated his ability to lead the team that would be “responsible for attacking the targets that we have agreed to destroy”.
The second part of the memo, which is headed “Niger Shipment”, contains a report about an unspecified shipment – believed to be uranium – that it says has been transported to Iraq via Libya and Syria.
Although Iraqi officials refused to disclose how and where they had obtained the document, Dr Ayad Allawi, a member of Iraq’s ruling seven-man Presidential Committee, said the document was genuine.
“We are uncovering evidence all the time of Saddam’s involvement with al-Qaeda,” he said. “But this is the most compelling piece of evidence that we have found so far. It shows that not only did Saddam have contacts with al-Qaeda, he had contact with those responsible for the September 11 attacks.”

(Link via The Corner)
This is a huge story if it has even a grain of truth to it, and a significant story (i.e, big-time fabrication) if it doesn’t. Frankly, this almost seems too convenient — it’s entirely possible that all this happened, but finding a memo addressed to the dictator himself and including both the Al Qaeda connection in its strongest form (i.e., contemporaneous support of September 11) and the Niger story in the same breath makes me rather suspicious. I’m sure if there’s anything bad to be known about Dr Ayad Allawi, we’ll be hearing it very soon from the usual suspects (Josh Marshall, call your office). Certainly, it’s not improbable that the Iraqi provisional government includes some people who are desperate to suck up to the Bush Administration and not too subtle about doing so.
The article doesn’t say whether Tahir Jalil Habbush al-Tikriti is in US custody, and a cursory web search indicates he may still be at large (although I may have missed something; the best list a Google search turned up was this BBC list from October).
Either way, it’s a story we need to hear more about.

These Are Not The Allies You Are Looking For

Rich Lowry was blogging the Democrats’ most recent debate, and came up with this, on a statement from Howard Dean:
Dean also seems to have boned up on his Iraq policy, although he is still not making much sense. He calls for foreign troops from Iraq’s neighbors to come into the country, apparently not noticing that that is exactly what the Iraqi’s don’t want. That’s why there are no Turkish troops in Iraq now…
I was aghast at this; who are Iraq’s neighbors besides Turkey?
Saudi Arabia
I could be wrong, but I suspect that the Kuwaiti armed forces aren’t particularly useful. And we sure as hell don’t want Saudis, Syrians and Iranians patrolling the country if we’re hoping to make it safe for democracy. Besides their other flaws – like the fact that none of them is really on our side in the war on terror, to put it mildly – they all have their own regional agendas. That leaves Jordan, which ain’t much of a coalition if your alternative is scoffing at allies like Britian and Australia.
But I thought I’d check out the transcript, and Lowry doesn’t seem to have precisely captured Dean’s statement:

Continue reading These Are Not The Allies You Are Looking For

Trading Places

Peter Beinart (in a column that’s now web-accessible only to subscribers of The New Republic) suggested some weeks back that, given the GOP’s skepticism about nation-building during the Clinton years and the hesitance of some Republicans to support the Clinton Administration’s policy on the war in Kosovo, one might assume that if the Democrats still held the White House, the Republicans would be playing the same role of petulant anti-warriors currently filled by the Democrats. Beinart’s a reasonable enough guy, and he understands national security issues well, but he clearly doesn’t understand much about Republicans if he thinks we would have been calling for a President Gore to restrain his response after September 11. Did Republicans castigate Harry Truman for being too much of a hard-line anti-Communist? I think it far more likely that if Gore were in the White House on September 11, Republicans would have been calling for a much more belligerent response, full of Old Testament-style smiting and wrath.

Giving Thanks In The Right Place

Last month, I echoed Frank Gaffney’s suggestion on NRO that President Bush should go to Baghdad; I suggested that Thanksgiving would be an appropriate time to go. I was dismayed to see reports that Hillary Clinton would be going (she was in Afghanistan today), not just for the partisan points but because her presence only underlined Bush’s absence from what would be an important morale-boosting visit.
News came today, though, that the president did the right thing. Whatever you think of the politics of the event, that’s just what it was: the right thing to do, for the sake of our soldiers who don’t have the luxury of deciding where they’d like to be for Thanksgiving.
(PS – Oddly, The Corner is noting the visit without giving due credit to Gaffney for being an early booster of the idea)

The Times’ War Continues

It took a while, but on Thursday, the NY Times finally addressed the memo from Douglas Feith laying out the evidence of longstanding connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and al Qaeda; whatever you think of the credibility or novelty of the memo, it’s unquestionably newsworthy to have all the evidence laid out in one place.
So, what does the Times do, but include this line:
“With the disclosure of Mr. Feith’s memorandum, some conservative commentators have resurrected claims of a link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks, even though President Bush said in September that he had seen no such evidence.”
Now, for the millionth time, evidence of connections to al Qaeda is not necessarily the same as evidence of connections to September 11; opponents of the Iraq war have repeatedly obscured this distinction to accuse conservatives and the Administration of making the latter charge (which is supported by only very tenuous evidence) when most have made the former, which is supported by a more substantial body of allegations. But what stinks here is the way the Times makes this assertion: it doesn’t quote anyone, thus leaving the impression that it’s talking about leading commentators (the Sept. 11 point is not really being pushed by any of the leading lights on the Right), and then it just dismisses those arguments without giving the unnamed commentators at least a sentence or two to say what their argument is.

Not About The Money

This Andrew Sullivan item on how Bernard Lewis emphasizes the Islamist terrorists’ belief that the US would be an easier foe to defeat than the Soviet Union is interesting on at least two levels (beyond the fact that these nutjobs think they were the sole or primary cause of the USSR’s collapse):
1. They, like the Nazis, may be making the mistake of underestimating their enemies by equating ruthlessness with strength;
2. If true — and Lewis knows this subject far better than I do — Lewis’ point actually underlines how little they have in common with the Western Left, which tends to see all things in economic terms. Anyone who pays attention to economics had to realize, at least in retrospect, that the US would present a far more enduring adversary than did the Sovient Union, with its doddering state-run economic system.

Men of Zeal

Steven den Beste makes an interesting point about al Qaeda’s strategy in the war on terror: it can’t be explained in rational, secular terms because “bin Laden’s strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel.” Moreover, the absence of a rational plan is an essential element in its success:
bin Laden could not create and follow the kind of plan which we’d think was essential. If bin Laden’s plan had been based entirely on temporal power and cogent strategy and real resources, and if such a plan did not rely on miracles, it would have demonstrated lack of faith. If there were no place in the plan for God, it would prove that bin Laden didn’t truly believe God would help.
And it would therefore prove that bin Laden didn’t deserve any help from God, because it would prove that his faith wasn’t really pure. For bin Laden to create such a plan would be a heretical act. . . . [A] rationalist post-Enlightenment Christian . . . faces no crisis of faith in a similar situation. He can make rational plans which don’t rely on miracles because his faith acknowledges that God doesn’t usually work that way. Such a Christian doesn’t pray for victory; he prays for the wisdom to create rational plans and the strength to carry them out.
But for bin Laden and other Islamic zealots bent on jihad, even that would be heresy. The only way to truly prove your faith is to rely on miracles, and that’s what I think they’re doing. I think that was bin Laden’s strategy.
If anything, I think den Beste (who has a fairly firm grip on Christian theology for an aethiest) underestimates the gap between fundamentalist Muslim theology and contemporary Christian theology on this point. It’s true that Christians regard it as an extraordinary display of faith in some situations to put your trust completely in God, but to many Christians, such an egregiously audacious venture undertaken with no earthly hope of success isn’t just overreaching into a belief in more direct divine intervention than we ordinarily believe in; it also trammels awfully close to the Biblical injunction against putting the Lord your God to the test. I’m not sure exactly where that line is, but if I jump off a bridge and ask God to save me, I’ve almost certainly done something wrong by trying to compel the Lord to take a specific action in a specific situation.

The Traitor

Another request by Jonathan Pollard for a modification of his sentence for spying on his own country has been denied by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. While there’s an understandable urge to treat Pollard as somehow less culpable for selling us out to our friends (Israel) than those who sell us out to our enemies, the fact is that he betrayed his country, and now is not the time to go easy on those who would be tempted to do so.

Why Nation-Building?

I really shouldn’t read Michael Kinsley anymore; he just gets me mad. . . Kinsley’s stock in trade — in fact, virtually the only column he ever writes — is the one where he charges Republicans with hypocrisy by looking at what he sees as inconsistencies in rhetoric or inconsistencies between rhetoric and action — most often, by arguing that Republicans fail to follow some principle to its logical extreme. A Kinsley drinking game would have extra points for every time he said something like “if they really mean this,” or “if they were really serious about this,” . . .
Jonah Goldberg diagnosed this aspect of Kinsley’s work a few years ago. This post by Kevin Drum offers some specific criticisms of one of Kinsley’s pieces along these lines, including a major theme: Kinsley’s tendency to leave out an obvious explanation for why people make a particular distinction.
Yesterday’s column, in which he accused President Bush of not meaning what he says about our commitment to democracy, was a classic of the genre. Basically, Kinsley argued that Bush can’t be serious because he campaigned against “nation-building” in 2000:
One way to show your respect for democracy is to state your beliefs when running for office and then apply those same beliefs when you’re elected. . . . it can be quite noble for a politician to change his or her mind. It can demonstrate courage, integrity, open-mindedness. Has Bush changed his mind on America’s role in the world? Or is it all just words�was there no mind to change?
One simple test of a change of mind is whether it is acknowledged and explained. In his eloquent speech this month, Bush made a gutsy reference to “sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East.” . . . there is every reason to suppose that our current Bush also supported this approach for most of those 60 years, including his entire adult life until a few months ago when Iraq started going bad. What caused the scales to fall from his eyes?
A man who sincerely has changed his mind about something important ought to hold his new views with less certainty and express them with a bit of rhetorical humility. There should be room for doubt. How can your current beliefs be so transcendentally correct if you yourself recently believed something very different? How can critics of what you say now be so obviously wrong if you yourself used to be one of them? But Bush is cocksure that active, sometimes military, promotion of American values in the world is a good idea, just as he was, or appeared to be, cocksure of the opposite not long ago.
* * *
The Comintern at the height of its powers, in the 1930s, couldn’t have engineered a more impressive U-turn. If places like Fox News and the Wall Street Journal editorial page had been as enthusiastic about nation-building back in 2000 as they are now, Al Gore might be president today.

First, Kinsley’s been down this road before, and I explained why he was wrong about nation-building then — the Republican critique wasn’t of nation-building per se but of interventions that sought nation-building without a connection to vital U.S. national interests.
Second, one of the dumbest things a columnist can do is to ask a rhetorical question to which there’s a blindingly obvious answer. Re-read Kinsley’s column and see if there’s something missing (hint: an event occurring in the month of September). How can you possibly ask what changed Bush’s thinking about the necessity of nation-building and its connection to vital U.S. national interests without mentioning the September 11 attacks as a watershed event? I guess for Kinsley, they weren’t.
Third, as I’ve also pointed out before, the real problem with humanitarian peacekeeping/nation-building adventures has been our unwillingness to take sides. The problem I have isn’t with going into a country to remove or eliminate evildoers and support allies; it’s with going in with the idea that we’re just there to help two warring factions work things out peacefully without caring which one triumphs. If you don’t take sides, you’ve taken victory off the table; and the military should not be used when it has no hope of taking the initiative in seeking an identifiable victory.

Pop Goes Bin Laden

Just ran across this one from some months back: The Guardian reported that Osama bin Laden’s 26-year-old niece, Waffa bin Laden, is trying to launch a pop music career in England. This smacks a bit of trading on one’s notoriety, but you can’t blame her for who her family is. Waffa is apparently an American-educated lawyer who lived near the World Trade Center (ironically enough) in downtown Manhattan until (hmm?) just around or before September 11. You can check out a picture of the very Westernized Ms. bin Laden over at the Iranian magazine Salam Worldwide.

No Plan

Classic Goldberg File yesterday on the Democrats’ new charges against Bush’s Iraq policy; this alone was worth reading the whole column:
Of course, the administration does have a plan. And central to that plan is, well, spending money to rebuild Iraq. The Democrats make it sound like all the U.S. Army is doing in Iraq is having one giant-sized Chinese fire drill every day. One can just imagine John Kerry going to the local garage:
Kerry: I won’t pay you to fix my car until you have a plan.
Mechanic: Um, I do have a plan: You pay me. I replace the engine I just took out. Your car works. That’s the plan.
Kerry:How can you say you have a plan? Look at the terrible shape my car is in. It’s worse than before; there isn’t even an engine.
Mechanic: You’re an idiot.

The Tough Questioner

At a time when he’s under fire yet again, this May 2001 New York Times profile of Don Rumsfeld is interesting, in retrospect:
Mr. Rumsfeld, now 68, is back at the Pentagon’s helm. And once again he is arguing before a wary Congress that the armed forces need an expensive face-lift to counter emerging threats like terrorists with biological weapons and potentially hostile nations with long-range ballistic missiles.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Rumsfeld will begin making his case for adding billions of dollars to the current defense budget and increasing President Bush’s proposed $324 billion Pentagon budget. His goal is to transform the military into a more agile, lethal and stealthy force, and to build a costly and unproven missile shield.
Though Americans may feel safer today than in decades, he asserts that “weakness is provocative,” that the nation is in danger of growing complacent and that the military must remain strong enough to deter and punish aggressors in this “dangerous and untidy world.”
“If things are not bad, why do you need to change anything?” Mr. Rumsfeld said in an hourlong interview this week in his Pentagon office overlooking the Potomac. “And, of course, that’s exactly when institutions suffer. If they think things are good, and they relax and don’t recognize the changes taking place in the world, they tend to fail.”
Critics contend that Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush’s other top advisers have exaggerated the military challenges facing the United States and that he is arguing for a missile shield at a time when, at least numerically, the missile threat has lessened.
* * *
“The weapons of mass destruction are more widely dispersed,” he said. “And they are in the hands of people who are different than the people who had them 25 years ago.”
* * *
Aides have become accustomed to a deluge of “snowflakes” from Mr. Rumsfeld � a seemingly endless flurry of questions, problems or assignments he dictates into a Dictaphone and has transcribed by secretaries and dispatched to all areas of the Pentagon. Responses are expected to be terse: as much information and as little prose as possible.
* * *
“It’s wrong to allow people to develop a zero tolerance for risk,” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “We would not have airplanes if the first 20 times the Wright brothers crashed and failed we said, `Stop it, don’t try it again, you’re wasting money.’ ”

To Baghdad

I missed blogging this at the time, but Frank Gaffney had an important point on NRO two weeks ago that I’d been thinking about myself: to transform the debate on Iraq, President Bush should go to Baghdad:
By so doing, the president will have an opportunity to see for himself the facts on the ground. Having just returned myself from a trip to Iraq and meetings with most of the senior civilian and military personnel in the theater, I can attest that there is simply no better way to take stock of the conditions that exist � and those that are being brought about, thanks to ever-more-effective collaboration between U.S. and Coalition personnel and the Iraqis.
Mr. Bush’s personal visit will also afford him a truly unique opportunity to convey a surpassingly important message to both our troops and the people they are helping to experience and secure freedom: We are unalterably committed to realizing that goal.
A presidential trip to Baghdad will also compel the American and international media to address the real progress being made on the ground in Iraq � not just the random attacks there and other over-reported setbacks. It should be accompanied by a call for news organizations once again to embed journalists with Coalition forces, ensuring that their success in securing the peace is as faithfully and as accurately covered as their success in winning it.

As Gaffney points out, both Powell and Rumsfeld have made the trip already, so the logistics of security should already be in place. Personally, I’d suggest that if bolstering morale is part of the mission, the president should go on a holiday to visit with troops who have spent more than a few holidays away from home — Christmas would be best for that reason, but would probably be a non-starter (given the diplomatic sensitivities of being too overtly Christian a celebration), so I’d suggest Thanksgiving. Such a trip would hardly be unprecedented; Eisenhower went to Korea, remember. But if memory serves correctly (I could be wrong), no American president went to Vietnam.
Speaking of Vietnam, somebody needs to send a rescue party there to bring back Ted Kennedy, who’s apparently stuck in a time warp; check out this hilarious fisking of his latest diatribe, which reads like something from a bad campus newspaper. (Link via Michele).

Not Free

This Reuters report on a UN study has some fairly damning conclusions about freedom of speech and thought in the Arab world, despite some fairly flimsy attempts by both Reuters and the UN to blame this on the US:
The U.S.-led war on terror has radicalized more Arabs angry both with the West and their autocratic rulers who are bent on curbing their political rights, a U.N.-commissioned study released Monday showed. . . . Arab disenchantment was deepened by autocratic rulers who were given a “spurious justification for curbing freedoms on the pretext of fighting terrorism” by Washington’s war on terror.
Of course, it’s “Washington’s war.” No mention of terror’s war on the rest of the world. I don’t doubt that repressive Arab regimes that have lined up on our side (like Egypt or some of the small Gulf states) have used the war on terror as yet another justification for the same old repression, but this is really a footnote to the real story:
Arab countries lagged other regions in dissemination of knowledge. Readership of books was relatively limited, education dictated submission rather than critical thought, the Arabic language was in crisis. . . . The report said even a best selling novel sold on average only 5,000 copies compared to hundreds of thousands elsewhere. . . The number of books published in the Arab world did not exceed 1.1 percent of world production though Arabs constitute 5 percent of the world population.
It cited official educational curricula in Arab countries that ” bred submission, obedience, subordination and compliance rather than free critical thinking.”
* * *
The U.N. also touched on the state of Arab universities, decrying lack of autonomy and the direct control of governments that ran them on political whims. . . . No more than 10,000 books were translated into Arabic over the entire millennium, equivalent to the number translated every year into Spanish.
Research and Development in the Arab world did not exceed 0.2 percent of Gross National Product (GNP). . . The number of telephone lines in Arab countries was barely one fifth of that in developed countries.
Access to digital media was also among the lowest in the world. There are 18 computers per 1,000 people compared to a global average of 78. Only 1.6 percent of over 270 million Arabs have internet access, one of the lowest ratios in the world, the report said.

It’s no wonder that paranoia, delusional ideas and ridiculous propaganda can be so easily disseminated in countries that lack even the most rudimentary forms and traditions of free expression. More’s the point: remember this the next time someone tries to complain about U.S. ‘cultural imperialism’ in the region. Arab culture is choking to death as it is, at the hands of its own leaders. Freedom can only be an improvement.

Ledeen at Work

This AP article has a fascinating angle: apparently Michael Ledeen has been trying to get the CIA to investigate possible transfers of enriched uranium from Saddam Hussein’s regime into Iran five years ago, but past credibility problems with Ledeen’s contact have led the CIA to be skeptical.
At this distance it’s impossible to tell who’s right here, but it makes for a good yarn, and it’s a reminder of the uncertainties inherent in the intelligence business. How can you trust a guy who lied in the past – but how can you turn him away, with potential information like this?

Idolatry Part II

Last October, I looked at the essential features of sharia courts and asked if the institution was, in strictly Islamic terms, essentially idolatrous/blasphemous by “effectively set[ting] up the sharia court itself as the object of worship, obedience and devotion, under the harshest of penalties, and in substitution for the devotion of invidual conscience directly to divine authority”. Christopher Hitchens interviews the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, himself a Shiite cleric, who makes a similar point:
A sentence of death for apostasy cannot really be pronounced, or acted upon, unless there is “an infallible imam,” and there is no such thing. The Shiite faithful believe in a “hidden imam” who may one day be restored to them, but they have learned to be wary of impostors or false prophets. In any event, added Khomeini, there was an important distinction between what the Quran said and what an ayatollah as head of state might say. “We cannot nowadays have executions in this form.”

Gas up the Whackmobile!

If you believe that the Bush Administration is engaged in a grand strategy to overthrow hostile and dangerous tyrannies, particularly in the Middle East, you have to assume that an important component of that strategy is the building of public support, at home and abroad, for targeting specific enemies. Certainly, in Iraq, that part worked, as the war was backed by Congress, a large percentage of the public, and several key allies (and parts of the case for war, such as Saddam’s violation of UN resolutions, were validated by the UN and even many of the war’s critics).
A tougher nut to crack will be Saudi Arabia, which (1) casts itself as an ally, (2) never engages in openly hostile acts towards its neighbors, (3) has no weapons of mass destruction, (4) has no identifiable dictator so much as a diffuse class of feudal lords, (5) is seen as a symbolic leader of the Muslim world, and (6) has all sorts of people on its payroll, from bipartisan former government officials at home to Islamic movements all over the world.
But the Administration, if it set out to build public support for a confrontation with the Saudis, has one thing on its side: even the nuttiest of the nutty Left has now started calling on Bush to take a tougher line with Riyadh. When you can get Michael Moore demanding that you be thrown in the briar patch . . .

Where Are The Weapons of Mass Destruction?

As I noted last night, you must check out Andrew Sullivan’s summary of David Kay’s report on Iraq’s WMD programs. Sullivan suggests that we should read the whole report, which I intend to do myself shortly.
In fairness, of course, you should also check out Gregg Easterbrook’s take. Easterbrook focuses on the absence of a continuing nuclear program, and takes it as evidence that Bill Clinton’s missile strikes on Iraq were more successful than a lot of (particularly conservative) observers thought:
Set aside the question of whether the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003; history may still judge this decision favorably, as a liberation of the oppressed. But if most of the Iraq atomic weapons program stopped in 1998, as Kay concludes, then Clinton administration policy on Iraq was far more effective than once assumed; then the WMD case for invasion this year was even weaker than now assumed; and then the case for airstrikes to halt the North Korean nuclear-weapons program may be stronger than now assumed.
Unlike, say, Josh Marshall, I never bought the idea that the entire case for war depended on whether or not Saddam had an active nuclear program; on top of the many other reasons for war, biological and chemical weapons looked plenty bad enough. But Easterbrook’s probably right that Clinton is owed an apology on this point, up to a point (it would still have been better if he’d moved more aggressively against both Saddam and bin Laden; maybe if he’d been threatened with impeachment more often . . . )

Back to the UN

One of the loopier tropes we keep hearing from critics of the Bush Administration’s Iraq policy is how Bush had to change direction and go crawling back to the UN for help. Um . . . no. Asking for UN help was in no way a flip-flop or admission of failure. Let’s review:
1. Fall 2002: We ask the UN (i.e., France/Germany/Russia) to agree with us about the problem with the Iraqi regime. The UN agrees.
2. Early Spring 2003: We ask the UN to help us solve the problem. We make clear that we’re not asking permission; we’re going to fix the problem, we’ve got some allies, but we want more help. The UN refuses.
3. Late Spring 2003: We take care of the problem without the UN’s help, but with the help of a number of allies.
4. Fall 2003: We come back to the UN, even after it pissed in our face, and ask for help again with the aftermath. This time, at least some of the nations involved appear more conciliatory.
How exactly have we admitted failure? We said we could and would do this with whatever allies we could get, but we always wanted more allies and more help than we got. This is like asking out the same girl who stood you up once before; if anything, it shows the Administration’s humility in being willing to ask again rather than say, “they didn’t get on the boat when it sailed, screw them.”

More from the Plame Wars

I don’t have the ambition to do a big post on this yet — but Sparkey over at Sgt. Stryker noted something vurrrry interesting: Joseph Wilson is employed by the Middle East Institute, a think tank funded by my friend and yours, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (He’s also apparently an advisor to a lobbying firm for the Turkish government).
Now, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Valerie Plame really was a covert operative — or even an analyst with access to sensitive information and responsibility for interpreting it — working on sensitive WMD intelligence issues. Am I the only one who finds it scary that, at the very same time, her husband is on the payroll of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is (to put it mildly) at least an arguably unfriendly government? At the risk of sounding like Tailgunner Joe here, how many other people on the CIA’s Middle East/terrorism/WMD beat are financially supported by the Wahabbis or other hostile/fanatical foreign powers? And if there isn’t a law against this, shouldn’t there be?

Silverstein Loses

The Second Circuit today affirmed summary judgment against Larry Silverstein and his related real estate companies, holding that the September 11 attacks on One and Two World Trade Center were a single “occurrence” rather than two “occurrences” within the meaning of the insurance policies on the World Trade Center, and thus that Silverstein is entitled to $3.5 billion rather than $7 billion in insurance proceeds. I mostly just skimmed the 62-page opinion (link opens in PDF form), which appears to be rather dusty reading relating to the negotiation of the various insurance policies; probably the most interesting part looks to be the court’s decision that the Port Authority is a citizen of both New York and New Jersey for purposes of federal diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction.
Of course, if I’d just won a case saving my client $3.5 billion, I’d find that pretty interesting. Congratulations to the 47 lawyers listed as appearing on the appellees’ various briefs, including my Constitutional Law professor, Charles Fried, and my college classmate and fellow Harvard Law grad John C. Demers.

Just For The Record

It’s probably not going to happen. But if the Bush Administration has anything new that could be aired about ties between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups, or about WMD, today’s speech before the U.N. — just after the end of summer, with guaranteed worldwide attention, just at a time when the Administration is getting jittery about polls again — would be an awfully good time.

Iraq Page

I’m going to use this page as a reference, a holding place for collecting internal and external links of enduring interest on the Iraq war, its justifications and its critics (for now, I’m still filling in the blanks here; I’ll add in more links and categories when I have more time):
Overall Strategy
Steven Den Beste’s Strategic Overview
President Bush’s September 7, 2003 speech on the continuing postwar hostilities in Iraq.
President Bush’s November 6, 2003 speech: “the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.”
Iraq and Terrorism
Richard Minter at TechCentralStation summarizes the extensive links between Iraq and Al Qaeda (Sept. 25, 2003).
Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard reviews the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection as of September 2003. (And a similar summary: James Robbins in NRO on September 19, 2003).
Hayes reviews the evidence on the careers of Ahmad Hikmat Shakir and Abdul Rahman Yasin, both providing possible links between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaeda, as of October 2003.
Hayes again, from the November 3, 2003 issue, on Mahmdouh Mahmud Salim a/k/a Abu Hajer al Iraqi, a close confidant of bin Laden’s who may have acted as a critical go-between with Saddam Hussein; this article also rehashes a good deal of the prior article.
Hayes yet again, from the November 24, 2003 issue, on a memo from Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith summarizing Al Qaeda-Saddam contacts.
Gilbert Merritt on the Al Qaeda Connection
Deroy Murdock on Salman Pak and Abu Abbas.
Christian Lowe in The Weekly Standard October 1, 2003 on Foreign Terrorists Captured in Iraq
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Tony Blair’s War Message (March 2003)
John McCain and Jed Babbin on WMD (June 2003)
Andrew Sullivan’s summary of David Kay’s report on Iraq’s WMD programs as of October 2, 2003; the Kay Report itself; and Gregg Easterbrook’s take.
Dick Gephardt on why he believed Iraq had WMD (November 2003).
Den Beste on the Allies in post-war Iraq (as of October 2003)
Spinsanity, July 29, 2003
Daily Howler, July 28, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 17, 2003, July 16, 2003, and July 15, 2003.
Clifford May on Niger
16 Words, in Context
Baathist Brutality
Photos of mass graves.
Roundup of links on use of poison gas on civilians at Halabja.
Sports Illustrated on Uday’s depradations as head of the Iraqi Olympic program.
Saddam executed 61,000 people in Baghdad alone.
Media Complicity
John Burns on reporters looking the other way.
Instapundit April 11, 2003 on CNN’s Eason Jordan’s op-ed as “a journalistic Enron”; a followup from Jordan in the Boston Phoenix.

Two Years Gone

Two years. . . . if you’re looking for a remembrance of the day, you can start with my column written two days later, and Jeff Jarvis’ account, and then you can head on over to Michele Catalano’s Voices project for more individual narratives.
Two years . . . the good news is, I’m still here, and so are you — and so are more Americans than we’d dreamed. The visible parts of the war on terror have been a success: no major attacks in the U.S. (the biggest ones being freelance operations like the DC snipers and the LA airport shooter), and really only one large-scale attack (in Bali) outside of what we would think of as ‘hotspots’ like Israel, Iraq and the Chechen war with Russia. (The hotspots are part of the war too, but they are more expected forms of trouble). Two regimes toppled that were part of the problem, and major efforts underway to remake those countries in a more positive direction. Numerous bad guys killed or captured, including several who are believed to be key figures.
There is yet more to be done, and there are ways in which the hidden part of the war — the plots against us, the movement of dangerous weapons — could be going badly and we might not know it for years. But there’s more time to plan and to celebrate victory. Today, just remembering where we were, and being thankful for where we have not yet gone, is enough.

Hall of Mirrors

The president’s speech last night contained few surprises. Bush said what he needed to say:
Two years ago, I told the Congress and the country that the war on terror would be a lengthy war, a different kind of war, fought on many fronts in many places. Iraq is now the central front. Enemies of freedom are making a desperate stand there — and there they must be defeated. This will take time and require sacrifice. Yet we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary, to achieve this essential victory in the war on terror, to promote freedom and to make our own nation more secure.
All the key concepts in what has been called the neoconservative battle plan were on full display: the idea that the struggle against terrorism is a single, multi-front war; the idea that the fight in Iraq is part of “a systematic campaign against terrorism” that began after September 11; the idea that “[t]he Middle East will either become a place of progress and peace, or it will be an exporter of violence and terror that takes more lives in America and in other free nations . . . Everywhere that freedom takes hold, terror will retreat”; the analogy to the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II; and the repeated references to democracy as the goal of our rebuilding in Iraq.
Then the president finishes up, and (on NBC, where I was watching this), Joe Biden gets on, says he likes the speech but characterizes it as a 180 degree reversal from what “the neoconservatives,” who he identifies as “Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz” have been telling Bush. Huh? I mean, Biden does identify some conflicts: he notes that some of the difficulties and troop requirements had been prefigured by hearings held by Richard Lugar and Biden before the war, as opposed to some administration sources. But the core message here is the “neocon” strategy 101.
As for the request for UN help . . . as I noted, I’m not a fan of letting the UN decide anything here, but as more attentive commentators have noted, Bush is just asking for UN auspices to add additional troops from other nations that would remain under US/UK command. Which is what the UN was supposed to be about anyway. This isn’t new ground . . . the whole idea of the UN was that it was supposed to be more effective than the League of Nations in stopping aggressive tyrannies, in part because it would abandon the League’s pretenses at imposing rules on the great powers (which were a big reason why the US refused to join in 1919) and would instead serve primarily as a vehicle for concerted action. In short, the UN was established with the intent of eliminating barriers to collective action, so long as such action didn’t infringe on the interests of any of the permanent members of the Security Council.
Thus, the idea that it is the UN’s role to arbitrate the international legitimacy of war with Iraq was always misguided, and remains so now; the only proper question for the UN is whether it is in the interests of enough members of the international community to justify using the UN as a vehicle to organize a division to participate in rebuilding Iraq. Period.

Real Allies

Polish troops take over administration of southern Iraq, including the Shiite holy city of Najaf.
For the record, count me among those concerned that the U.S. is considering handing over more control to the same U.N. that shamefully rejected U.S. offers of security assistance at the headquarters that was bombed and that continued to employ Baathist sympathizers as guards. I’d have no problem with getting U.N. help if that would make Iraq more secure — but I see nothing in the U.N.’s record to suggest that it will do so.

On The Same Bus

Nice gesture for Mayor Bloomberg to ride the Jerusalem No. 2 bus in solidarity with the victims of the latest suicide bombing, even if it does mean a little foreign policy grandstanding that takes him from his real job.
I have to ask: why does anybody in Israel still ride the bus? I mean, I’m being serious and not critical of the Israelis, who presumably know what they are doing with regard to terrorists; there must be good reasons why, given the fact that suicide bombers have relentlessly targeted buses. I assume part of the problem is a lack of car ownership and the need to navigate narrows streets that aren’t well suited to heavy traffic.
Hey, maybe this is the elusive market for the Segway: you can’t sneak a suicide bomber onto a Segway, after all.
UPDATE: Yeah, I know the Segway is pretty useless for anything beyond a few blocks because it’s so slow. Still, this is the kind of outside-the-box transit solution that may have to be considered to make commuters and tourists in Israel less vulnerable (Low Occupancy Vehicle lanes?)