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!


* Today, another terrible and cowardly attack in Iraq claimed the lives of more good men and women. Recent news from the Middle East has recently been a mix of hopeful signs (see here, here and here) and desperate violence. I think that the former is a major incentive to the latter, an unfortunate dynamic that we�re going to struggle with for the foreseeable future.
* Indonesia�s second trial of one of the founders of al Qaeda�s Southeast Asian partner, Jemaah Islamiyah, is under way.
* David Adesnik dissents from the view of David Ignatius that the U.S. should engage in covert operations to influence the Iraqi election (as Iran is almost certainly doing).

Spanning the Globe, 12/19/04

* Orin Kerr looks at some sloppy reporting of a recent survey about �civil liberties� and Muslim-Americans. (Via The Corner).
* A new RAND study has some good suggestions for winning the ideological component of the War on Terror.
* I�m no expert on military logistics, but Powerline has a link to an Army press conference that puts the armor issue in some useful context. (Via Instapundit).
* On the other hand, as critics of Donald Rumsfeld go, Greg Djerejian is among the most credible. (Via Just One Minute).
* The evidence against Ali Hassan al-Majid (a.k.a. �Chemical Ali�) is finally being aired. It is about time.
* Finally, Indiana Jones and the Battle for Fallujah?
UPDATE: Speaking of context, I�m curious as to the context of attacks against Rumsfeld for writing, but not personally signing, some �condolence� letters. In World War II, did George Marshall? In Vietnam, did Robert McNamara? In the Gulf War, did Dick Cheney? In Somalia, did Les Aspin? I honestly don�t know and would like to. There is an issue of time, but it does seem to me that a personalized letter from a subordinate would be preferable to a form letter from the Secretary. Anyway, it does sound a little tacky, but some context is necessary for me to know if this is something that is at all unique to Rumsfeld.

Habeas Extended

Judge John Bates of the US District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion today in Omar Abu Ali v. Ashcroft (the kind of case that pretty well announces what it’s about in the caption) refusing to dismiss a habeas petition brought by a US citizen who has been detained by Saudi Arabia since June 2003. Ali, who alleges that he has been tortured by the Saudis, also alleges that he is being held at the behest of the US government. The court concluded that habeas jurisdiction was not necessarily barred either by the fact that Ali was held outside the US nor by the fact that he was in the custody of a foreign power, but ordered further discovery proceedings to develop the factual record.

Spanning the Globe, 12/15/04

* Not to point any fingers or anything, but this is a cool article on the KGB�s historical fondness for using poison (complete with spring-loaded umbrellas!).
* The Washington Post covers Germany�s frustrating inability to prosecute anyone in connection with the 9/11 attacks. The more one reads about modern-day Germany, the more clear it is why it has been a favorite rest stop for terrorists: the legacy of the Nazis has left the country unwilling to take responsible security measures, both internally and externally.
* Like the Abu Ghraib case, this should be investigated and any wrongdoers should be severely punished.
* In criticizing Bernard Kerik, who clearly had some issues, a few of which might even be relevant, I�m pretty much in agreement with Rich Lowry�s argument that the first rationale for his withdrawal was the most important.
* Speaking of which, John Derbyshire doesn�t like the way some caricature the immigration debate.
* One of the contributors over at Slugger O�Toole provides a nice reminder as to which side in the dispute in Northern Ireland was recently praising the late, unlamented Yasser Arafat. (Hint: it�s not the one many Irish-Americans like to demonize). That said, from my limited knowledge, the anti-Catholic Rev. Paisley is someone I�m pretty loathe to defend.
* Finally, Ed Morrissey looks at the recent statement by Mahmoud Abbas calling the intifadas a �mistake as well as having some good suggestions as to how to support the troops this Christmas.
UPDATE: There is some dispute over the facts of the Kerik �nanny� situation. I have nothing to add about that, one way or another. My point was a more general one: for a potential head of DHS, or for anyone that matter, allegations of violating of U.S. immigration law should be viewed as a deadly serious matter in a post-9/11 world.

The Last March of the Ents?

I don�t agree with all of it, but Victor Davis Hanson has a cool column today on the �Ents of Europe� and the War on Terror. J.R.R. Tolkien probably would have hated it, once writing that �The Lord of the Rings� was �neither allegorical nor topical.� As these things go though, Hanson�s analogy strikes me as pretty apt.
Hopefully, for all of us, the final outcome will be similar.

12/10/04 Links

*Great, great column by Tom Friedman on the radicalization of Iraqis under sanctions. Friedman often infuriates; he’s right about diagnosing problems but responds by suggesting daft solutions. This one’s more on the diagnosis side. (Link via Geraghty).
*A fine primer on Ukrainian history from a Ukrainian friend of LT Smash. If you’ve studied Russian history, as I did in college, some of this will be familiar, but there were also things here that were new to me or that I’d long forgotten.
*You’ll want to head over to Soxblog, where pseudonymous blogger James Frederick Dwight (you really shouldn’t need to think too hard on the origin of his pseudonym) is tearing apart a sloppy New Yorker piece comparing hospitals and clinics that treat cystic fibrosis (start here and scroll up for followup posts, including his discussion of my initial reaction to the piece, which was that it sounds like something drafted by the plaintiffs’ bar).
*Yes, the Onion’s Iraq Alert System just killed me. (Link via Simmons’ Intern).
*Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor who advocates a “hawk
engagement” strategy regarding North Korea, will assume the post of Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council.
*You can look at this chart here and argue, as these Berkeley professors do, that the results on this graph show that the 2004 vote in Broward and Palm Beach counties were a suspicious outlier, but isn’t the far more logical inference that the 2000 count in Broward and Palm Beach is the suspicious outlier? Gee, does anyone remember any controversy over the vote-counting methods used in Broward and Palm Beach in 2000? I wonder if the results would look less anomolous if you used the Election Day 2000 counts in those two counties rather than the figures that were generated a month later.
*The Gift That Keeps On Giving, Part LXVIII.
*Ann Althouse on Nancy Pelosi’s horrible facelift/plastic surgery.

Depends How You Define “Facts”

Earlier today, I made the mistake of reading Eric Alterman’s column on MSNBC.com. After discussing how French anti-Semitism during World War II was basically a myth, which seems to conflict with a number of events I remember reading about in history class, Alterman launches into a critique of a registration-only article discussing bias at The New York Times. Needless to say, Alterman disagrees with its author, basically asserting that the Times is, in fact, a right-wing mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. Fine.
Anyway, Alterman goes on about how Saddam Hussein had no connection whatsoever with al Qaeda and about how this is a skull-thumpingly obvious fact that everyone knows. I don’t want to rehash the whole debate over Iraq’s al Qaeda connections, which are contentiously debated (see here, here and here for counter-arguments, as well as here for my take). But having just recently been reading the 9/11 Commission report, which Alterman apparently never has, I was struck by his certainty.

Continue reading Depends How You Define “Facts”

Mr. Bin Laden�s Wild Ride

Reading this story – about how (newly democratic) Afghanistan is hoping to make the caves of Tora Bora into a �visitor attraction� – suggests to me that tourism may not be the best hope for that country�s economy.
Although you never know:

Tourism was once a major industry for Afghanistan. In the 1960s and 1970s the country was a key stopping point on the Hippy Trail from Europe to India � famed for its spectacular scenery, ancient ruins and local intoxicants. But the Russian invasion of 1979 placed Afghanistan off limits and, for 25 years, it has remained in tourist limbo.
Now the first visitors are returning. The latest issue of the Lonely Planet Central Asia guide is the first to include a section on the country.
Previous editions contained a two word entry on Afghanistan: �Don�t go!�

Havel-Mania Update

With Instapundit in full dog-with-a-bone mode on my idea of Vaclav Havel for UN Secretary General – which, I admit, is more wishful thinking than anything – Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard picks up the idea, while A Fistful of Euros notes that Havel’s eclectic and sometimes dyspeptic worldview isn’t entirely a conservative’s dream. Well, yeah. But a good man unafraid to speak the truth would be such a vast improvement at the UN that it’s worth it.

The UN’s Abu Ghraib – and Havel for the UN!

Captain Ed notes a UN scandal larger and worse than Abu Ghraib, as there have been more than 150 charges of rape, prostitution, pedophilia and other sexual abuses by UN peacekeepers in the Congo against innocent refugees. Of course, as with the Oil-for-Food scam, stories that reflect badly on the UN get only a fraction of the attention devoted to stories that reflect badly on the Bush Administration, even if the story itself is considerably worse. And that imbalance in the worldwide press has tangible bad effects on the credibility of the US as opposed to the credibility of the UN, which by any right ought to be close to zero at this stage.
Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds, who’s been doing great work pulling together the latest from the Ukraine, likes my suggestion that Vaclav Havel should replace Kofi Annan as head of the UN.
UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg calls my suggestion of Havel “a great, wonderful, humane, inspired idea.” Now, if only I can figure a way to get traffic to the blog out of this . . .
SECOND UPDATE: Matt Welch, who knows a lot more about Havel than I do from his years in what was then Czechoslovakia, is also supportive: “I think it’s a capital idea, and would likely bring a gust of support behind the growing “Community of Democracies” reform initiative.”

Defeat in Ukraine

Looks like the reform-minded, pro-Western challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, has been defeated by Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine’s presidential election, in a victory for Yanukovich ally Vladimir Putin, who obviously wants Ukraine bound more tightly to Russia. The usual cries of voter fraud are being raised, although at this distance it’s never easy to tell if they are valid or not.

Links 11/19/04

*Real subtle, that Zarqawi:

In video shot by an embedded CNN cameraman, soldiers walked through an imposing building with concrete columns and with a large sign in Arabic on the wall reading “Al Qaida Organization” and “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger.”
Inside the building, U.S. soldiers found documents, old computers, notebooks, photographs and copies of the Quran.

*Jay G has an amusingly profanity-laden tirade (you were warned!) about critics of Hardee’s new super-fatburger.
*While what he did may well have been wrong, I’m loath to sit in judgment of the Marine who shot what appears to be a wounded and non-threatening sniper in Fallujah. I believe very, very strongly that a man who wears the uniform is entitled to the benefit of every doubt. But Dale Franks explains why sometimes soldiers have to be punished for reasons that have nothing to do with justice and everything to do with discipline.
*David Frum lays out options for blockading Iran and has some helpful history of the words “Palestine” and “Philistine”.
*NZ Bear reminds us that we still need a loyal opposition.
*Kevin Drum notes that the exit polls always overestimate support for the Democrats.
*What are these “morals” you speak of?
*Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post on the centrality of corruption to Arafatistan. Jeff Jacoby, of course, had the definitive Arafat post-mortem:

In a better world, the PLO chief would have met his end on a gallows, hanged for mass murder much as the Nazi chiefs were hanged at Nuremberg.

*How the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign made better use of email than the Democrats.

�Semper Fi�

Though it is a subscription-only “featured” article, Thursday�s Wall Street Journal editorial offers a clear-eyed perspective of recent events in Fallujah, in proper perspective. It is worth excerpting heavily:

Some 40 Marines have just lost their lives cleaning out one of the world’s worst terror dens, in Fallujah, yet all the world wants to talk about is the NBC videotape of a Marine shooting a prostrate Iraqi inside a mosque. Have we lost all sense of moral proportion?�Never mind that the pictures don’t come close to telling us about the context of the incident, much less what was on the mind of the soldier after days of combat�
When not disemboweling Iraqi women�killers hide in mosques and hospitals, booby-trap dead bodies, and open fire as they pretend to surrender. Their snipers kill U.S. soldiers out of nowhere. According to one account, the Marine in the videotape had seen a member of his unit killed by another insurgent pretending to be dead. Who from the safety of his Manhattan sofa has standing to judge what that Marine did in that mosque?
Beyond the one incident, think of what the Marine and Army units just accomplished in Fallujah. In a single week, they killed as many as 1,200 of the enemy and captured 1,000 more. They did this despite forfeiting the element of surprise, so civilians could escape, and while taking precautions to protect Iraqis that no doubt made their own mission more difficult and hazardous. And they did all of this not for personal advantage, and certainly not to get rich, but only out of a sense of duty to their comrades, their mission and their country.
In a more grateful age, this would be hailed as one of the great battles in Marine history–with Guadalcanal, Peleliu, Hue City and the Chosin Reservoir. We’d know the names of these military units, and of many of the soldiers too. Instead, the name we know belongs to the NBC correspondent, Kevin Sites. We suppose he was only doing his job, too. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to indulge in the moral abdication that would equate deliberate televised beheadings of civilians with a Marine shooting a terrorist, who may or may not have been armed, amid the ferocity of battle.

The incident in question should be investigated fully at some later date, but in the meantime we should be deeply grateful to the Marines – whose death toll has apparently since risen – for moving mountains yet again, under the most difficult of circumstances. Semper fi, indeed.
UPDATE: I�ve never been in the military, but this sounds like sensible advice to me.

France�s Nuanced Diplomacy

Speaking from formerly German-occupied territory, Jacques Chirac is again lecturing Tony Blair on the wisdom of taking sides against the United States in Iraq:

Britain gave its support but I did not see anything in return. I�m not sure it is in the nature of our American friends at the moment to return favours systematically.

He sputters on:

It is like that nice guy in America � what�s his name again? � who spoke about �old Europe�. It has no sense. It�s a lack of culture to imagine that. Imagining that there can be division between the British and French vision of Europe is as absurd as imagining that we are building Europe against the United States. [Emphasis added]

Yes, who could imagine that? If I was going to make up snooty, hypocritical and overly sensitive things for Chirac to be saying I don�t think I could do a better job. Hopefully, the British retain the good sense to remember why they�ve been suspicious of the French since the dawn of Western Civilization. And remind me: what exactly has France gained by working tirelessly to fray European relations with the United States?
(That is, except for stories like this and hearings like this.)
UPDATE: Despite the ever-infuriating Chirac, it is good to hear that the Bush Administration is still working with France. After all, we still have shared interests with that country and European thought, in general, is larger than just one man, regardless of the size of his ego.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Australian Arthur Chrenkoff has a nice history lesson about why Poland is increasingly siding with the U.S. over France.

New Day Dawning?

Daniel Drezner is soliciting views as to whether Yasser Arafat�s death will mean progress for Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. He also has similar thoughts to my own:

Assuming that Arafat’s successor recognizes the futility of the second intifada, one wonders whether, to use a crude analogy, the Palestinians will be to Bush what the Soviets were to Reagan — an implacable foe that was transformed into a near ally after a display of toughness on the U.S. side and a change in leadership on the other side.
Of course, this requires a Palestinian version of Gorbachev.

Who knows? But the U.S. should get involved again here without looking like it�s picking leaders for the Palestinians. In my view, this is an excellent area for the Bush Administration to reach out to Democrats. Bringing in some Clinton-era type, perhaps a George Mitchell, Kenneth Pollock or even Richard Holbrooke, might be a good move for all concerned parties. The broad outline of what a final agreement might look like has not tremendously changed since the Clinton era, the Bush Administration has just taken a firmer stand, mainly due to Arafat. With him gone, peace may be closer. Since the other apparent option is Palestinian civil war, let�s hope for the best.
UPDATE: I agree with Max Boot’s assessment of Arafat:

There has been no more successful terrorist in the modern age. Yet his biggest victims were not Israelis. It was his own people who suffered the most. If Arafat had displayed the wisdom of a Gandhi or Mandela, he would long ago have presided over the establishment of a fully independent Palestine comprising all of the Gaza Strip, part of Jerusalem and at least 95% of the West Bank.

11/6/04 Links

*Now, They Tell Us: the lead story on the NY Times website yesterday was one that veterans of the 1992 election will find familiar: the discovery, all of a sudden, that the jobs picture is better than it was painted in the run-up to the election. I’m watching carefully for signs of economic revisionism where Democrats and Bush Administration critics who just a few days ago were comparing this economy to the Great Depression start arguing that Bush was hard to beat because economic times are good.
*Kos just topped the “screw ’em” classic, by openly hoping for America’s defeat in Iraq:

The big silver lining, and it’s significant, is that Kerry won’t be tarred for cleaning up Bush’s mess. Had Kerry gotten us out of Iraq, he would’ve been blamed for “losing the war”. Now Bush will ineptly lose it for himself.

Kos is taken firmly to task for this by Greg Djejerian:

[S]uch flippant treatment of a major national security issue is also very small; and the American people have smelled this smallness out. That’s part of the reason a somewhat embattled American president, with a less than ideal economy and with a tough war on his hands, was handily re-elected (I believe not since FDR has a President been re-elected while simultaneously gaining seats for his party in both Houses of Congress). Americans like to dream of big projects and goals–and the Democratic party is failing them in this–content instead to lazily carp from the sidelines. Worse, some of that party’s activists, it too often appears, would wish for some important, declared national objectives to be scuttled. Trust me, that wasn’t a winning strategy in the past, it isn’t one right now, and it won’t be one in the future.

Kos is undoubtedly particularly peeved at the failure of his personal ambition to become a power player in the Democratic party, as all 15 of the House and Senate candidates he backed lost. The list, here, is particularly funny now due to the misspellings and egregious cheap shots, like claiming Jim Bunning’s mental health was deteriorating. (Link via Blogs for Bush)
*Speaking of Blogs for Bush, the site will continue in a new format, although it’s unclear to me how its function will differ from that of RedState.
*Catch Mark Steyn in something close to full gloat mode here and here. I liked this one:

Michael Mooronification damages everyone who gets it.
Look at the recently resurrected Osama bin Laden. Three years ago he was Mr Jihad, demanding the restoration of the caliphate, the return of Andalucia, the conversion of every infidel to Islam, the imposition of sharia and an end to fornication, homosexuality and alcoholic beverages. In his latest video he sounds like some elderly Berkeley sociology student making lame jokes about Halliburton and Bush reading My Pet Goat.

*Speaking of gloating, while I might divide the group differently, I endorse the general sentiment of John Derbyshire as to the people who deserve to be gloated at and those who don’t.
*From November 2: Best Jimmy Breslin column ever.
*Lileks on New Yorkers who are aghast at the supposed ignorance of the red states that voted for Bush:

It’s a big country. Please take this in the spirit it’s offered: we watch the news that comes from New York, read the magazines that come from New York, see the shows that come from New York. It’s entirely possible we know you better than you know us. Nu?

*Tim Blair links to some classic inside stuff from the Bush and Kerry camps. The guy who comes off in this as the real political brains isn’t Karl Rove but Bush himself – note that Bush figured out before Rove did that Howard Dean was toast in the primaries. Of course, this is consistent with the theory that Bush’s expertise is knowing people, and he knew Dean personally.
*Stuart Buck thinks – and I agree with him – that Justices Rehnquist and O’Connor would have retired before the election if it were not for the legitimacy questions that people raised after Bush v. Gore.
*Where credit is due: Wretchard notes that “[t]he French may have performed a valuable service by admitting Arafat to a military hospital in Europe which will reduce the risk of imputing his death to Jewish poisoning, a rumor that has already made the rounds in the Middle East.”

Why They Fight

I was reading The Atlantic Monthly earlier today and came across a very lengthy and eloquent “letter to the editor” by a Marine Reservist who served in Iraq. Anyway, since the Atlantic makes you subscribe to access much of its online content, I couldn�t reprint it as it appeared, but it turns out the main text of the letter has circulated before. Here is the full text. (Via Pejman Yousefzadeh). Here is an excerpt:

The analogy is simple. For years, you have watched the same large, violent man come home every night, and you have listened to his yelling and the crying and the screams of children and the noise of breaking glass, and you have always known that he was beating his wife and his children. Everyone on the block has known it. You ask, cajole, threaten, and beg him to stop, on behalf of the rest of the neighborhood. Nothing works. After listening to it for 13 years, you finally gather up the biggest, meanest guys you can find, you go over to his house, and you kick the door down. You punch him in the face and drag him away. The house is a mess, the family poor and abused – but now there is hope. You did the right thing.

It�s worth reading in full.
UPDATE: From that same issue and available here, Robert Kaplan had a good piece on the clash of cultures between the generally liberal media and the generally conservative military. This quote, about the value military men tend to place on plain speaking, struck me:

One Air Force master sergeant told me, �I reject the notion that Bush is inarticulate. He is more articulate than Clinton. When Bush says something, he’s clear enough that you argue about whether you agree with him or not. When Clinton talks, you argue over what he really meant.�

The Case For War – The First Time

OK, a blast from the past, but one that still has some timeliness today. I finally got around to digging out a column I wrote in December 1990, back when I was a college sophmore, laying out the case for war with Iraq. The first one, of course. In college, I wrote a weekly op-ed column, mostly politics and campus events (we already had Bill Simmons writing the main sports column).
It’s interesting, of course, to see how much the arguments then echoed the ones those of us who supported the second war made again, especially the bottom-line conclusion: “there is not just one reason to stop Hussein, but every reason to stop him.” You can read the whole thing here.
One major change in my thinking since then, of course, is my attitude towards Israel; until the Gulf War, I had generally fallen into the “Israel as an ally is more trouble than it is worth” camp, and that comes out here.

OK, He’s Not Dead

Mark Steyn is eating crow served by his readers on his longstanding argument that bin Laden died in December 2001. Meanwhile, Beldar thinks bin Laden’s “leave us alone and we will leave you alone” theme is an effort to speak the language of appeasement: “I think it’s a very clear attempt to begin negotiations with a Kerry administration for a “cease-fire” in the Global War on Terror.” You don’t have to think that Kerry would accept such a proposal – as Beldar apparently does – to worry about the possibility that Kerry has succeeded in communicating to the rest of the world, which may have trouble grasping the nuances of his position, that he would do precisely that.

An RDX Disposal Question

Paul at Wizbang wants answers. For now, all he has is a potentially plausible working hypothesis: that by January 2003, all but 3 tons of the 141 tons of RDX at Al Qa’qaa was gone from that facility, and that IAEA inspectors knew this and withheld the fact from the UN Security Council during the pre-war debate. If you can help shed light on his analysis, drop by and lend a link or a comment.
I have to say, given that “there were no dangerous weapons in Iraq” was one of the points Kerry had decisively won in this year’s political debate, he seems to have shot himself in the foot by placing so much emphasis on the eve of the election on the dangers posed by these conventional weapons that were in Saddam’s hands before the war.

Prayers For Repentance

I can pray for billionaire terrorist Yasser Arafat to repent his sins. But, as with Fidel Castro, I feel not a shred of guilt in hoping for his death, which will improve and perhaps save countless lives. Roger Simon wonders if he’s dead already, and on the very day that Ariel Sharon wins approval for his Nixon-goes-to-China plan for unilateral pullback of some of the settlements.
Back to the ballgame.

Getting The Job Done

The latest and apparently last theory that Kerry and his media allies have settled on is to attack Bush’s execution of the War on Terror, including both the Iraq war and Afghanistan; the theme of the attacks has been that Bush is incompetent, which is taken now as received wisdom beyond challenge by fact. Go read Greg Djerejian’s long essay on this point, and yesterday’s shorter Wall Street Journal op-ed (for a similar analysis, see Dan Darling on the Washington Post’s effort to argue that the Iraq war and anti-Iran hardliners undermined the al Qaeda manhunt). Both contribute to a few of the key points that need to be borne in mind in evaluating the Bush Administration’s performance:
1. War is a difficult and complex endeavor, requiring the making of scores of decisions large and small. Many of those decisions are, by their very nature, made on the basis of severely incomplete information, fraught with uncertainty and likely to have lethal consequences if they go wrong – and often if they go right, as well. The military acronym SNAFU got that way for a reason. Bush, by leading the nation in wartime, is certain to make more mistakes, and with worse consequences, than any peacetime president.
2. The history of wars, in fact, is almost unbroken in the making of catastrophic misjudgments by even the best of wartime leaders. Certainly if you review the records of Lincoln, FDR and Churchill, three of the models of civilian leadership in war, they and their generals and civilian advisers made numerous errors that cost scores of lives, many of which in retrospect seem like obvious blunders. I’d like the critics who formerly supported Bush and have now abandoned him to at least admit that on the same grounds, they would have voted for Dewey in 1944 and McClellan in 1864.
3. More specifically to the issue at hand, in almost all cases, the decisions by Bush and his civilian and military advisers involved avoiding alternatives that had their own potential bad consequences, and the critics are judging these decisions in a vacuum. The decision to disband Saddam’s army and undergo a thorough de-Ba’athification is a classic example, cited incessantly by critics on the Left. But what if Bush had kept that army together, and they had acted in the heavy-handed (to put it mildly) fashion to which the Ba’athists were accustomed, say, by firing on crowds of civilians? Isn’t it an absolute certainty that all the same critics would be singing “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” accusing Bush’s commitment to democracy as being a sham and a cover for a desire to set up friendly tyrants to keep the oil pumping, that we’d hear constantly about how we’ve alienated the Iraqi people by enabling their oppressors, how we showed misunderstanding of the country by leaving a minority Sunni power structure in place over the Shi’ite majority? Wouldn’t we hear the very same things we hear now about Afghanistan, about using too few US troops and “outsourcing” the job, or the same civil-liberties concerns we hear when we turn over suspects for interrogation to countries without our restraint when it comes to torture? Don’t insult our intelligence and try to deny it.
The same goes for many decisions. More troops? We’d hear that this is a heavy-handed US occupation. I mean, we heard something like that when Giuliani put more cops on the street in New York, let alone a foreign country. Like most conservatives, my preference would have been to go hard into Fallujauh in April. But even if the alternative decision to hold off until there could be significant Iraqi participation in the assault was wrong, it was not an illogical one, but rather a decision made with the patience and foresight to consider the long-range political consequences in Iraq of differing military approaches.
4. Many of the decisions at issue here, from specific ground commanders’ decisions to secure particular sites to Tommy Franks’ call on Tora Bora, were decisions principally made by people lower in the chain of command, many of them in the military. This is not to say that Bush, as the head of that chain of command, is not ultimately responsible to the voters for those decisions; he is. But it is to remind people that they are not second-guessing solely the judgments of a small coterie of the president and civilian advisers, but the entire chain of command. Tom Maguire makes this point explicitly with regard to Tora Bora:

[I]f the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff chose not to overrule his subordinate, why should Bush? This . . . actually strenghtens Bush’s case – the issue was identified, alternatives were weighed, and a decision was made. We all wish the right guess had been made, but I, at least, am glad that the decision making team was aware of the issues and the alternatives.
If Kerry is campaigning on a promise to make the battlefield decisions and always make the right ones, good for him. Say Anything, John.

5. Much of the criticism has focused on the idea that Bush needs to admit more errors, and that Kerry would be better at recognizing and admitting mistakes. Djerejian zeroes in on an argument made by David Adesnik and Dan Drezner:

[P]eople like Drezner and Adesnik are asking: maybe Kerry’s a gamble–but at least he’s not a proven train wreck. While Adesnik think “accountability”, in the main, is the issue that has gotten waverers on board for Kerry–the real core grievance appears to be best reflected, instead, in this Adesnik graf that Drezner approvingly links too:

As a professional researcher, I think I simply find it almost impossible to trust someone whose thought process is apparently so different from my own.
In theory, I am sure that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld all believe in evaluating the relevant data and adjusting their decisions to reflect reality. Thus, when I say that I object to the way that this administration makes decisions, I am saying that I do not believe that it has lived up to the intellectual standard it presumably accepts. [emphasis added]

Let’s put all this in plainer English, OK? What Dan and David are saying, I think, is: When this Bush team effs up (and they have effed up a lot), are they able to (on a bare-bones constitutive level, say): a) even recognize they have effed up and b) then move to redress the eff up?

As an initial matter, admitting mistakes, especially in wartime, is overrated, particularly if that means (1) admitting a decision was wrong before you have all the information to reach a final conclusion about it, or (2) making a public self-analysis that gives useful information to the enemy. How often did Churchill, battling daily to keep up the fighting spirit of the British, go on the radio to say, “sorry folks, I blew it again and got a bunch of people killed”? I tend to think that Bush made a big mistake of this kind when he conceded the point last summer on the inclusion in the State of the Union Address of British charges that Saddam was trying to buy uranium in Africa; as it turned out, the Brits stood by their report, and Saddam really did send an envoy there to do precisely that.
The more important point in wartime is the ability to recognize what’s not working and change tactics or, if appropriate, strategies. Djerejian cites several examples of Bush doing precisely that, most notably with the firing of Jay Garner but also extending to expanding the number of troops on the ground.
In any event, where, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don’t even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry’s behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry’s own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes. As Jonah Goldberg notes, Kerry’s “liberal hawk” backers may argue that the decades of bad judgment in Kerry’s past are rendered inoperative by September 11, but Kerry’s stubborn insistence that he hasn’t changed in response to September 11, and that he had the right answers all along even when he wrote a book in 1997 that barely mentioned Islamic terrorism, gives the lie to the notion that Kerry is a model of self-reflection. Even the man’s own supporters can’t seriously defend the proposition – on which many of them heaped well-deserved scorn during the primary season – that Kerry has been consistent from the start on whether Saddam was a serious threat that justified a military response. Yet there Kerry stands, insisting to all the world what nobody believes, that he hasn’t changed his position. Preferring Kerry to Bush because Bush won’t admit mistakes is like preferring fresh water to salt water because salt water is wet.
In any event, will Kerry somehow change, grow in office, shed a lifetime of bad judgments and blanching at the use of American power, suddenly stop valuing diplomacy as an end and the status quo as the highest virtue? Just because Bush changed in office means nothing. First of all, Bush was a guy who had already proven his willingness to change and admit his problems when he quit drinking, had a religious awakening and basically overhauled his whole approach to life in his forties; Kerry can show no similar example of a willingness to change. And Kerry is now in his sixties, six years older than Bush in 2000, and while Bush may count September 11 as a life-changing event, Kerry had already had his, in Vietnam. Kerry’s foreign policy world view was set decades ago, both by the example of his diplomat father and by Vietnam. The fact that Kerry has been malleable and vascillating over the years, clear a pattern though that may be, is no reason to think that he will suddenly re-examine his approach to accept the need for the United States to lead a continuing effort to overturn the corrupt, rotten and deadly status quo in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
6. The final charge is that Bush’s errors would be forgiveable if he had done more, earlier, to explain the risks and burdens of war to the American people. Of course, this has nothing to do with the execution of the war, but political leadership is important, and in many ways it’s much more the president’s job than is the decision to use X number of troops to seal off a particular location. First off, the charge that Bush argued the war would be easy is refuted by virtually all his speeches, in which he said over and over and over again that we were in for a long haul, and there would be difficult times ahead. Of course, that has long since become obvious from events, and in any event we really were not in a position before the war to know precisely how it would all play out. But I will agree that he never gave a Churchillian “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech specifically about Iraq, and that many hawks in and out of the administration underestimated in their public arguments the difficulties of a post-conquest insurgency (then again, many doves told us that we’d be bogged down with thousands of casualties taking Baghdad). Of course, the war itself, up to and through the fall of Baghdad, was as much of a “cakewalk” as a real life shooting war against a substantial enemy can ever be; the problem is simply that we didn’t broadcast the coming insurgency (which, by the way, would have had the effect of greatly encouraging the insurgents).
In the end, that’s what this argument is all about – not the difficulties of war, which are well-understood, but simply a political argument about the use of speeches to predict the unpredictable. Moreover, on that ground, again, there’s no reason to think Kerry would be better; after all, Kerry is the guy who won’t even admit to this day that his war vote was a vote for war. Kerry’s the guy who wasn’t able to predict that his campaign would have to prepare for attacks by people who’d been holding a grudge against him for 30 years.
No, Bush hasn’t been a perfect war leader, but show me who was. He’s had tough calls to make, and unlike Kerry he can’t shift with the wind without consequence. Progress has been frustrating at times, because our overall enemy – the forces of terror and tyranny, of radical Islamism and fascist gangsterism – have recognized that an American victory in Iraq would be a defeat for them in the war on terror. You know that, I know that, they know that. But that just makes it all the more urgent to stick with a guy who believes in the mission, and who has proven that he will keep on trying new approaches until the job is finished, rather than looking for the door.

Hitchens and Castro

Must-read: Hitchens on what you have to believe to believe that Zarqawi’s presence and organization in pre-invasion Iraq is not evidence of Saddam’s complicity with Islamist radical terrorists.
Also: Andrew Sullivan catches this quote, which I heartily endorse, from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:

QUESTION: Did you hear that Castro fell?
MR. BOUCHER: We heard that Castro fell. There are, I think, various reports that he broke a leg, an arm, a foot, and other things, and I’d guess you’d have to check with the Cubans to find out what’s broken about Mr. Castro. We, obviously, have expressed our views about what’s broken in Cuba.
QUESTION: Do you wish him a speedy recovery?

Castro definitely fits that narrow category of persons whose death would so improve the lives of so many that I feel no guilt in wishing him ill.
UPDATE: So the Bush Administration chose, for a variety of reasons (the quality of available intelligence is, as always, disputed), not to imitate Clinton’s ineffective missile strikes on Afghanistan but instead wait for the invasion to deal in toto with Zarqawi’s terror camps. And Saddam was able to plan an insurgency, move around dangerous weapons and possibly move men, money and weapons to Syria during the run-up to war. Which may well have included the high explosives the NY Times was huffing about yesterday, which the inspectors had left in Saddam’s hands (along with hundreds of thousands of tons of other conventional explosives) without concern.
I’m beginning to think Mark Steyn was right that the real problem with the Iraq War is that we waited too long trying to go through all the international hoops before invading, costing us the ability to catch Saddam by strategic surprise. And yet, as Wretchard puts it, “[t]he price of passing the “Global Test” was very high; and having been gypped once, there are some who are still eager to be taken to the cleaners again.”

BASEBALL/Field of Dreams

Nice article here on Iraq�s national baseball team. It is truly a shame, however, to hear that so many of the players enjoy playing the game, but fear its association with America. That fear is indicative of the climate of terror which some hope to permanently reinstate in Iraqi society and which is anathema to the spirit of the joyful pastime we often take for granted.

Kicking In

Spirit of America needs our help again. Dan Henninger has more on the good cause in today�s Wall Street Journal.
Why should we care about elections in Iraq? Regardless of your view on the Iraq War and its aftermath, helping assure free and fair Iraqi elections is the right thing for America to do and, if successful, will only speed the safe return of American troops. See here for my view. Either way, this is important business.

Open War Is Upon You, Whether You Would Risk It Or Not

Radical Islam apparently didn�t get the memo that Spain is supposed to be on the sidelines of the War on Terror:

The suspected leader of a militant Muslim cell plotted to deal Spain the �biggest blow of its history� � a suicide truck bomb laden with half a ton of explosives aimed at killing the country�s top judges investigating Islamic terror and destroying their case files, officials said Wednesday.
Police said they had intercepted hundreds of letters from suspected cell members in which they said they were willing to stage suicide attacks.
The plot to blow up the National Court, Spain�s nerve center for investigating Islamic terror, was detailed in a report from the National Police intelligence unit obtained by the Associated Press. The report quotes a protected witness who had been in contact with the suspected ringleader Mohamed Achraf, an Algerian born in the United Arab Emirates.

Thankfully, tragedy was averted�this time. We should take this kind of thing personally. Despite its distasteful current government, Spain is our NATO ally. An attack on it should be treated like an attack on us. We should do all we can to help the people of Spain defend themselves. Only by banding together can the countries of NATO and the world defeat the scourge which threatens us all. Terrorism is not a nuisance which can be simply wished away or fought by law enforcement alone, not by the United States and not by Spain.
Welcome back to the fight.

Showdown in Fallujah

The Big One is on in Iraq, as US forces are finally doing what, at least in retrospect, they should have done back in April, cordoning off Fallujah and opening a major offensive against the heart of the insurgency. I can’t offer any insights on the military angle, but here’s what’s interesting: the Bush Administration was quite happy to leak word earlier this week that it had no intention of any major offensive actions in Iraq until after Election Day. The left, predictably, went nuts over this report (see Kevin Drum, Mark Kleiman, Matt Yglesias, Atrios, Brad DeLong, and, yes, even the Kerry campaign), claiming that Bush was putting politics over national security by not launching an offensive in mid-October. Which raises four possibilities:
1. Something changed between Monday and today. Unlikely, given the amount of preparation that goes into something like this.
2. The media stories were wrong and/or based on reports from people who knew nothing. Always a possibility.
3. This was a head-fake to throw off the enemy in Iraq.
4. This was a head-fake to throw off the Bush Administration’s domestic political opponents so they’d demand that Bush go on the offensive, which would make it more difficult for them to immediately switch course and cry “October Surprise”.
Without discounting the other possibilities, #4 sure sounds like typical Bush political strategy, with #3, of course, being an added bonus. And the usual suckers fell for it, for the same reasons they always do.
And maybe now we know why Bush wanted to talk to Kerry after the debate.

Stop the Presses

Academics disagreeing with the direction of Republican foreign policy? Shocking!
In fairness, the letter Drezner links to is worth checking out and the comments of Drezner himself are characteristically fair. The credentials and assertions of the �S3FP� should be weighed a little more heavily than much of what usually passes for anti-war arguments, but those arguments themselves are still basically repackaged Democratic talking points, some of which (notably General Shinseki�s comments, the cited James Fallows piece) have been the basis for frequent distortions by the Kerry campaign.
Rich Lowry has a cover story in National Review this month, which cites a large number of Administration officials and which, while supportive of the war, is very critical of a number of aspects of its management. (I�d link to it were it available online). Anyway, Lowry nicely debunks Fallows� view – which has become orthodoxy in many circles – that the Defense Department ignored all pre-war plans concerning reconstruction. It should also be said that Lowry�s article reads largely as a Defense Department rebuttal to proxy attacks by the State Department and, thus, should be read critically. Yet, that very legitimate side of the argument is too often ignored by the more Foggy Bottom-friendly press corps.
As for my position on the Iraq War, I strongly disagree with the stated position of the S3FP. Most of their arguments were addressed in my lengthy, four-part defense of the war (see here, here, here and here). Check it out, especially the third part.
Finally, as for the scholars� notion that �on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious� – inaction would only have meant increasing the number of stories like this. Maybe they can live with that. I�m glad we don�t have to.
UPDATE: John Derbyshire has some comments on the Lowry article, which, again, I wish I could to link to here directly. It has a lot of good stuff to ponder, regardless of where you ultimately come down on the war.

The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART IV

This is the final part of a four-part series on the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein�s Iraq. Part III looked at why the decision to go to war in Iraq was necessary and justified. Those questions provide a necessary background to this analysis.
This part looks at what, roughly a year and a half on, America has gained and what it has lost from the Iraq War. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? The answer, attempting to look at the war from all angles, is yes.

Continue reading The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART IV

The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART III

This is the third part of a four-part series in praise of, and defense of, the Iraq War.
Part I looked at why America could not rest after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and why state sponsors of terror, such as Iraq, require our attention. Part II looked at why, in particular, North Korea and Iran should not have taken precedence over Saddam Hussein�s Iraq.
This part, the longest yet, details why America and its allies were right to take it upon themselves to enforce years of violated UN Resolutions by military force and, ultimately, to remove Saddam Hussein. In other words, this is the meat of the sandwich.
The hardest part of writing this is deciding where to start.

Continue reading The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART III

The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART II

This is the second part of a four-part series on why the Iraq War, contrary to the position de jour of Senator John Kerry, was the right war in the right place at the right time (see Part I here). America acted both wisely and decisively in removing Saddam Hussein from power and is doing the only right thing in helping the Iraqi people get their country back on its feet.
Why, though, of North Korea, Iran and Iraq was a military response appropriate for the latter but not for the first two?
Let�s look at them one at a time.

Continue reading The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time � PART II

Go John Go!

Make sure you check out Tim Blair for a well-deserved bout of “[h]urtful, savage, imbalanced and triumphalist ranting” at Saturday’s election victory by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Howard’s opponent, Mark Latham, sounds like an an Aussie Howard Dean:

The real importance of tomorrow’s election lies in the foreign policy changes that would be instituted under the Labor Government of Mark Latham. The man who once broke a taxi-driver’s arm, and ran Liverpool’s (a suburb of southern Sydney) municipal council into historic levels of debt and political chaos now has an opportunity to shape Australia’s place in the world. The shape it would take can be speculated upon by the remarks Mr Latham has, in the past, made about the President of the United States. “The most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory” he declared about the American President who overthrew two tyrannical regimes in a single term. Latham then went on to label his Australian conservative opponents as a “conga-line of suckholes” for having originally supported the United States in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Senator John Kerry, Mr Latham has prevaricated and occasionally made complete reversals of policy on what Labor would do in Government. “All the troops home by Christmas” was the original clarion call. Then it became some of the troops. Their position hasn’t been clarified for some weeks, and thanks to Labor’s compliant fifth columnists — the media — it isn’t likely to be placed under any scrutiny, any time soon. But the fetid stench of appeasement wafts through the air, and it is unmistakable.

Meanwhile, some irregularities but no widespread violence as Afghans went to the polls for the first time since the US liberated their country from the Taliban.
In both cases, of course, the elections represent a setback for John Kerry’s campaign. Afghanistan is a clear triumph for the Bush Administration; we’re hardly home free there, but the ability to conduct an election free of violence gives the lie to claims that the country has fallen apart, and gives hope for similar progress in Iraq. That’s terrible news for Kerry.
In Australia, of course, Kerry’s sister – the head of his campaign there – created a stir in mid-September when she basically told Autralians to side against the United States by voting Howard out of office:

JOHN Kerry’s campaign has warned Australians that the Howard Government’s support for the US in Iraq has made them a bigger target for international terrorists.
Diana Kerry, younger sister of the Democrat presidential candidate, told The Weekend Australian that the Bali bombing and the recent attack on the Australian embassy in Jakarta clearly showed the danger to Australians had increased.
“Australia has kept faith with the US and we are endangering the Australians now by this wanton disregard for international law and multilateral channels,” she said, referring to the invasion of Iraq.
Asked if she believed the terrorist threat to Australians was now greater because of the support for Republican George W. Bush, Ms Kerry said: “The most recent attack was on the Australian embassy in Jakarta — I would have to say that.”
Ms Kerry, who taught school in Indonesia for 15 years until 2000, is heading a campaign called Americans Overseas for Kerry which aims to secure the votes of Americans abroad — including the more than 100,000 living in Australia.

Howard’s victory stands as a rebuke to the Kerrys and their ham-handed attempt to pry another ally out of the coalition. And, of course – of much greater importance – it preserves the role of our most faithful ally as a vigilant force against terrorism.

The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART I

The United States and its coalition partners were right to invade Iraq to depose and disarm Saddam Hussein and we are right to be staying to help the Iraqi people combat a ruthless insurgency and develop a stable, representative government. President Bush made the right strategic decision at the right time.
Why Iraq? This is the first of a very lengthy, four-part post on that question. (Like the Crank, I�m sorry to be short-changing baseball – which I do love – but I feel that these are important issues and that this may be the very biggest.).
As we live in the continuing wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has a responsibility to aggressively confront rogue regimes, allies of terror and repressive dictatorships wherever and whenever it can. Saddam Hussein�s Iraq emphatically fit all three categories.
I strongly disagree with the argument that state sponsors of terror are irrelevant to the Global War on Terrorism simply because the specific terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were sub-state actors. Following the successful invasion of Afghanistan and the fall of the Taliban, the United States was right to broaden its sights and to act to head off gathering threats, correct festering wrongs and enforce long-ignored international resolutions. The approximately 3,000 victims of September 11th deserve no less.
The main question is where, post-Afghanistan, should the next front have been? Let’s examine that.

Continue reading The Right War, The Right Place, The Right Time – PART I

What We Take For Granted

This picture says a lot. As usual, a Churchill quote comes to mind:

At the bottom of all the tributes paid to democracy is the little man, walking into the little booth, with a little pencil, making a little cross on a little bit of paper.

That quote may need to be updated. The little woman in the little burqa in the little hut in post-Taliban Afghanistan, risking her life to vote in a process she may not even fully comprehend, may be the best tribute of all.
UPDATE: John Hillen offers an amusing corrective to negative media spin of the Afghan election. See here for more.

The Big Picture

Tonight’s debate will do much to decide this election. The president also needs for it to help the country focus on something broader: a debate about the fundamental question of what kind of war we are now engaged in. That is the question that has divided our political system since at least the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an �axis of evil.� None of this is new ground for those of us who have followed these questions closely and debated them endlessly. But as the time of decision approaches, it is useful once again to go back to first principles on the issues that divide us.
Here’s the bottom line:
Kerry: We are at war with Al Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban because they attacked us; we are at war in Iraq because we attacked them.
Bush: We are at war with any and all international terror groups, whether or not they have previously attacked us, and we can win only when we have removed or fundamentally altered the regimes that support or harbor them.

That’s the distinction. Let’s explore. There are a number of different strains of thought among President Bush�s critics on the Left, ranging from those whose disagreements focus principally on the mechanics of war-fighting to the Michael Moore/Ted Rall=type lefties who opposed the war in Afghanistan and would oppose basically anything that involves the exercise of American power. The latter group, of course, is beyond reason or argument.
The principal thrust of the argument advanced by many mainstream Democrats, however, and recently embraced by John Kerry, goes something like this:

1. The US may only go to war (a) to respond to an attack, (b) to interdict an imminent threat, or (c) with the sanction of the UN. In other words, we have the right to engage in direct self-defense ((a) or (b)), but the legitimacy of any mission that goes beyond direct self-defense depends on the agreement of collective bodies like the UN and, to a lesser extent, NATO.
2. The US was attacked by Al Qaeda on September 11.
3. Therefore, the US has the right to strike back at Al Qaeda, including nations that directly support Al Qaeda.
4. There is no evidence of direct involvement by Iraq in supporting Al Qaeda attacks on the US, and therefore any war against Iraq is not a part of any war of self-defense or retaliation in response to September 11, and is arguably a distraction from finishing that war.
5. There turned out to be no evidence that Iraq had sufficient WMD capabilities, let alone intent to use them, to establish an imminent threat to the US.
6. Therefore, we had no right to act against Iraq without international sanction.
The relevant international organizations had not reached a determination to attack Iraq. Absent an imminent threat or a connection to the war against Al Qaeda, we should not have gone to war until they did.

On one level or another, this has been the argument of critics like Howard Dean, Al Gore, and Bob Graham, and John Kerry has now embraced it by calling the Iraq war a “diversion”. I think I�ve been fair in setting out the syllogistic quality of this line of thought, which in its defense does have deep roots in Western thought about war. I actually agree with some of its underlying philosophy, although as I�ll discuss below, the current situation demands the competing argument of the Bush Administration and its supporters that this approach is hopelessly insufficient to deal with the ongoing threat of international terrorism.
For all of John Kerry�s past efforts to appeal to pro- and anti-war voters alike, there has long been copious evidence to suggest that this is what Kerry actually thinks. One of the clearest signs came back in June, when Kerry said this:

This administration took its eye off of al-Qaeda, took its eye off of the real war on terror in Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan and transferred it for reasons of its own to Iraq . . .

In short: we are at war with a single organization (Al Qaeda) and have gone and started a second, separate war in Iraq, without meeting necessary preconditions for doing so.
What Bush, his administration and its supporters (myself included) have consistently argued is that the old way of looking at these issues is wrong, for a number of reasons; I’ll focus here on two.
1. “Al Qaeda” is not the only enemy. Yes, that’s who attacked us. But the goal here isn’t just to put them out of business but to end the terrorist threat to the U.S. once and for all. To my mind, we are at war with (a) any organized terrorist group that can reach across national borders or within the U.S.; (b) any state that sponsors, supports or gives aid and comfort to any such group. Even if you discount the evidence of Saddam’s overtures to bin Laden, the fact that Saddam had a long history of actively supporting some terrorists and harboring others makes the ability to tie him to bin Laden almost academic; you can’t well say you are at war with terrorist sponsors and leave Saddam in place. Remember, after all, that Al Qaeda itself is only a loose association of groups anyway, formed by a merger with the Egyptian group Islamic Jihad. It’s sort of silly to have arguments over whether, say, Ansar al-Islam or Zarqawi were or are part of Al Qaeda; the similarity in rhetoric, tactics, goals and ideology makes them part of the same problem regardless of where the lines on their org charts point.
2. We can’t win the war without broadening it. Because we are fighting a type of enemy, united by its ideas and tactics rather than as a single organism, we can’t win just by rolling up body counts, capturing territory and choking of funds, although all of those are helpful. What we need to do is change the dynamics of the states that have fostered the problem, both by supporting such organizations and by encouraging the hatreds that breed terrorists.
The choice between Bush and Kerry is clear, it is fundamental, and it is essential to our security. It’s a matter of life and death that we get it right.

Making The Next Guy Think Twice

Kaus has a good point about the idea that “Saddam only wanted us to think he had WMD,” and one that’s closely related to the point about credibility I made below:

If a man says he has a gun, acts like he has a gun, and convinces everyone around him he has a gun, and starts waving it around and behaving recklessly, the police are justified in shooting him (even if it turns out later he just had a black bar of soap). Similarly, according to the Duelfer report, Saddam seems to have intentionally convinced other countries, and his own generals, that he had WMDs. He also convinced much of the U.S. government. If we reacted accordingly and he turns out not to have had WMDs, whose fault is that?

Of course, if the cops shoot him, the next guy will think twice about claiming to have a gun, now won’t he?

A Word About Credibility

One of the major themes of the first two debates has been America’s credibility in the world at large, and the corresponding ability of the nation to get other nations to follow us. John Kerry and John Edwards insist that America has “misled” the world, as far as the reasons for war and the progress in Iraq. Bush and Cheney have responded that Kerry has sent “mixed signals” that undermine our credibility. Now, far be it from me to suggest that it doesn’t matter, particularly on the home front, if the president tells the truth. (I also don’t agree with Kerry and Edwards that this administration has been misleading about why we are in Iraq and how we’re doing there, but that’s another day’s argument). But Bush and Cheney are, fundamentally, talking about an entirely different type of credibility – the type that really matters in international affairs.
Because, in the end, most of the countries on this earth, and most of the large masses of people, aren’t real big on believing what foreign governments tell them, and with good reason. Most of us on some level – and diplomats and heads of state most of all – recognize that governments speak self-interestedly, and don’t take what they say at face value. Or, at a minimum, they make their own minds up – the justifications for war in England are viewed as an issue of Tony Blair’s credibility, in Australia an issue of John Howard’s credibility, not so much Bush’s.
But where a nation’s credibility is critical is when you ask whether it is believed that a country keeps its promises – and its threats – acts reliably in its own interests, finishes the jobs it starts, and the like. Did the Soviet Union care if the United States saw “the light at the end of the tunnel” in Vietnam, or whether the explosion in the Gulf of Tonkin was just a pretext? Of course not. But the Soviets watched very carefully when they saw that America didn’t stay to finish the war and didn’t stand behind the South Vietnamese when the resulting peace treaty was violated by the renewed invasion from the North. And they watched equally carefully when Reagan started fighting to back up our interests, even in places like Grenada where the direct US interests were relatively minor. Because Reagan understood that our credibility in the Hobbesian world of international affairs depended upon not taking slights lightly. And every new president faces, fairly early, tests of his credibility – that is, in some sense, what the Chinese did to Bush in early 2001. There have been other tests, too – and don’t think the world hasn’t noticed that from Kyoto to the ABM treaty to the International Criminal Court, Bush has stood for one thing and one thing only: protecting US interests against agreements that failed to adequately protect them. Next time someone wants to make a deal with us, they will remember that. In short, credibility in international affairs isn’t about telling the truth – it’s about being clear where you stand and following through, so your allies know you will keep your promises and your enemies know you will back up your threats. Does anybody seriously think Kerry has that kind of credibility?
The real problem of US credibility in the Middle East – and yes, it’s been a bipartisan one – is the widespread belief that we don’t have the guts to stick it out through tough times and that we will abandon our allies on the ground to the same old despots. Think Somalia, or the abandonment of the Kurds and Shi’ites in 1991. In a way, that’s one of the most compelling reasons, if an unstated one – but one that any world leader immediately understood – why we went to war with Saddam. The guy was flouting the terms of the cease-fire, calling into question the credibility of our willingness to enforce agreements with the US. He was thumbing his nose at the US in myriad ways (including his public cheerleading for the September 11 attacks, something nearly none of even our declared enemies dared to do), calling into question the credibility of our willingness to respond to slights, insults and threats.
And now, we have found ourselves in a daily struggle to win over the Iraqi people – and the biggest obstacle is the fear that we will once again cut and run and abandon them to the same old forces of evil, as we did in 1991, as we did in Somalia, as we did in South Vietnam. It is critically essential to our credibility – and to the security of the situation of our troops in the field – that there be no doubt that the US can not be deterred from finishing the job in Iraq, no matter how long it takes, what the obstacles or the costs are or what political pressures are brought to bear on the president by the Howard Deans of the world. Can John Kerry say he has that kind of credibility, the kind that led the Iranians to conclude that they didn’t want to be holding US hostages even a minute into the new Reagan Administration? Bush and Cheney are dead right, and deadly serious, about the fact that Kerry does not. Everything in his record and history suggest a guy who is consumed by fear of the quagmire, who hemmed and hawed and finally opposed the first Gulf War, who has grown gloomy and panicked about this war whenever things have gone badly in the field or in his own political campaign. In fact, Kerry has even argued that we should have threatened war with Saddam – but not been ready to back that threat up the minute he failed to cooperate.
Credibility matters. Lack of it gets people killed. The kind of credibility that counts is not the credibility to persuade people in argument or admit mistakes. It’s the credibility to say, “this we will do,” or “this we will not stand for,” and then prove that you will not yield in that determination. That’s the credibility that Bush has, and Kerry does not.

A Bloody Corner

The violence between Christians (principally Catholics) and Muslims in just one state in Nigeria has, over the past three years, claimed more than 53,000 lives, nearly the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Of course, this being Africa, the violence is tied in with ethnic, political and financial rivalries (unlike in most parts of the world, the oil in Nigeria isn’t in the Muslim parts of the country) as well as religious hatreds. Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country, probably its richest in natural resources and one of the (relatively) better-off countries in terms of some of the conditions for self-rule. But the past several years have been hard ones for the country. It’s one of the places we have to hope to see get a handle on itself.

Failing the Test of History

With the Presidential campaign finally heading towards a climax and the baseball playoffs in full swing, I couldn�t resist jumping back into the mix here, however temporarily.
Anyway, I noted with some satisfaction that President Bush finally went on the offensive about one of the most glaring weak points in John Kerry�s various positions on Iraq: his vote against the 1991 Gulf War.
John Kerry and John Edwards have very disingenuously been holding up the Gulf War as a model of multilateral military engagement and cost-sharing. The problem is not that this isn�t true � it clearly is � but that Kerry voted against the very war which his campaign now says forms the criteria by which he defines acceptable multilateralism (i.e. virtually the entire world on our side).
A rough history follows (I apologize for any errors, but am mainly going from memory). In 1991, Saddam Hussein�s Iraq was, for the second time, on the verge of developing nuclear weapons, yet, in an act of almost incomprehensible recklessness and stupidity, invaded neighboring Kuwait prior to attaining a nuclear capability. After some hesitation, the United States led by the first President Bush decided that the invasion could not stand and developed the largest international coalition in history, backed by, among many others, the U.N. Security Council, a number of Arab allies and the indispensable sine qua non of any successful military alliance: the French.
Yet, when the vote had come before the U.S. Congress, Kerry voted against taking military action.

Continue reading Failing the Test of History

There’s Something Happening Here, But What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear

Too many cops on the street in Manhattan this morning. Cops ringing my office building. Whole bunch of cop cars with their lights flashing lining up by the NASDAQ Marketplace building in Times Square. I’m not sure what’s up, but unless there’s a big event in town (I know the President’s headed to Missouri today), something’s up that I’m not hearing about.

The “Q” Word

A big controversy erupted back in April when Ted Kennedy called Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam;” commentators on the right like Instapundit and Jonah Goldberg accused Kennedy of preaching defeatism, while people on the left, like Mark Kleiman and Matt Yglesias, tried to argue that Kennedy hadn’t really meant an unwinnable quagmire; Kleiman eventually relented when Eugene Volokh pointed to Kennedy using the “q” word:

Eugene Volokh finds a news account of a Senate debate today in which Kennedy explicitly likens the Iraq situation to Vietnam, describing both as “quagmires.” Unlike Kennedy’s Brookings speech, this is unambiguously defeatist language. I don’t know whether it’s accurate analysis . . . but, accurate or not, it’s fair to say that having it used on the Senate floor is likely to make it harder to convince, e.g., Ali al-Sistani to come down on our side rather than Sadr’s side.

Well. Now, we have John Kerry running a campaign commercial criticizing ads run by Bush “[i]n the face of the Iraq quagmire . . .” Defeatism has become the major theme of the Kerry campaign in the closing weeks, to the point where he would run an ad just assuming that the war in Iraq is a “quagmire.”
Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Follow The Money

Austin Bay, just back from Iraq, had an important observation about a key driving force in the insurgency there:

[Before the war,] no one knew the Baath hardcore had so much money. . . . Saddam stole billions. How much of the trove remains? I don’t think the Swiss, Persian Gulf and Asian bankers who helped him stash it know. Recall the crisp $600 million U.S. soldiers found in a building in Baghdad. No doubt stockpiles of Baathist cash remain hidden in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.
The Baghdad rumor mill says Baath warlords pay bombers anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per attack, so even a million dollars can buy a lot of bang. It also buys TV time. The thousands of trucks that successfully deliver goods in Iraq don’t make CNN. The one that the mercenary bomber blew to bits does.
It’s a strategic weakness every PR operative knows: TV demands drama. TV magnifies the thug’s bomb.

(Link via Instapundit). This is a huge point. It’s also why I can’t understand why we’re not turning some serious screws to get Oil-for-“Food” documents out of the UN’s grubby hands – the faster we find the money, the faster we can strangle the insurgency. (Unless we already have that stuff behind the scenes and are not making a big public stink so it’s not widely known we have it, or unless the trail’s gone cold enough that it’s no longer urgent)
See here for more on how the Oil-for-“Food” money may have been used to fund al Qaeda as well, despite the conventional wisdom that Saddam would never have anything to do with terrorists. (Hat tip: CQ)
Meanwhile, Ollie North, also back from Iraq, offers his own perspective; you may not like North, but he has two advantages that many reporters don’t: he’s a combat veteran himself, and he actually went back to re-embed in some of the hot zones to see what was going on. He makes an important point about why, even if it stretches the definition of “terrorist” to cover people attacking foreign troops in their own native land, they can hardly be described as anything but:

[T]his is no “guerrilla insurgency.” By definition, “guerrillas” or “insurgents” represent an organized political alternative to an established regime. Radical Sunni and Shi’ite clerics like Muqtada al-Sadr, who tortured and killed 200 men, women and children and buried them in a mass grave in Najaf, don’t promise to make things better for the Iraqi people. Nor do the remaining Ba’ath Party warlords or foreign extremists like Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. These men inciting gunfights in Iraq aren’t “insurgents” � they are anarchists. They offer no unified “platform” other than “jihad.” When not shooting at coalition or Iraqi security forces, they are trying to kill each other. Dangerous? Yes. A “guerrilla army”? No.

I’m not sure I agree with regard to al-Sadr, who clearly has an endgame in mind that results with him gaining some form of political power. But many of the Sunni insurgents, Zarqawi included, fit this description to a T.