Monday, November 24, 2014.

August 5, 2012

The Israeli-Iranian Covert War

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July 24, 2012

Open Source Security

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June 7, 2012

Attitudes behind the Arab Spring










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January 23, 2012

Ashdown on the global power shift










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December 24, 2011

The hidden light of Afghanistan










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September 13, 2011

How to win this particular war

War on TerrorIn the context of the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Spencer Ackerman reminds us of the point that James Fallows and others have been making for over five years - the most effective way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized:

In case you haven't noticed, hysteria is what the terrorists want. In fact, it's the only win a decapitated, weakened al-Qaida can get these days. The only hope that these eschatological conspiracy theorists possess for success lies in compelling the U.S. to spend its way into oblivion and pursue ill-conceived wars. That's how Osama bin Laden transforms from a cave-dwelling psycho into a world-historical figure -- not because of what he was, but because of how we reacted to him.

And that points to the only way out of a trap that's lasted a decade. It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics. The U.S. has to embrace the reality that terrorism is not anything remotely like the existential threat we make it out to be. We can honor those 2,996 without being permanently haunted by them.[.  .  .]

The risk, in other words, is a political risk. The culture of fear: It's a bipartisan race to the bottom. And it's why the National Security State constructed by the George W. Bush administration has found a diligent steward in President Obama. Asked recently if the post-9/11 security apparatus might diminish soon now that al-Qaida looks weak, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, replied, "No." [.  .  .]

Only when citizens make it acceptable for politicians to recognize that the threat of terrorism isn't so significant can the country finally get what it really needs, 10 years later: closure.

Read the entire piece. That citizens still have to endure such outrages as security theater reinforces the truth of what Ackerman writes.

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July 27, 2011

Rory Stewart on the Afghan War

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May 21, 2011

Security theater as comedy


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April 27, 2011

Bruce Schneier on security theater

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April 20, 2011

National Security Wisdom from the Joker

Security TheaterCato's Julian Sanchez brilliantly sums up the logic behind the national security policy that leads our government to impose this kind of absurd abuse on its citizens:

Batman's archnemesis the Joker--played memorably by Heath Ledger in 2008′s blockbuster The Dark Knight--might seem like an improbable font of political wisdom, but it's lately occurred to me that one of his more memorable lines from the film is surprisingly relevant to our national security policy:

"You know what I've noticed? Nobody panics when things go 'according to plan.' Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it's all 'part of the plan.'"

There are, one hopes, limits. The latest in a string of videos from airport security to provoke online outrage shows a six-year-old girl being subjected to an invasive Transportation Security Administration pat down--including an agent feeling around in the waistband of the girl's pants. I'm somewhat reassured that people don't appear to be greatly mollified by TSA's response:

"A video taken of one of our officers patting down a six year-old has attracted quite a bit of attention. Some folks are asking if the proper procedures were followed. Yes. TSA has reviewed the incident and the security officer in the video followed the current standard operating procedures."

While I suppose it would be disturbing if individual agents were just improvising groping protocol on the fly (so to speak), the response suggests that TSA thinks our concerns should be assuaged once we've been reassured that everything is being done by the book--even if the book is horrifying. But in a sense, that's the underlying idea behind all security theater: Show people that there's a Plan, that procedures are in place, whether or not there's any good evidence that the Plan actually makes us safer.

And this is not all about civil liberties, either. As David Henderson points out, citizens who throw up their hands in disgust with the TSA's security theater and elect to drive rather than take a short-haul flight risk a fatality rate that is 80 times higher per mile than travelers on a commercial airliner face.

In short, the TSA is killing people.

As with the overcriminalization of American life, the TSA is an ominous reflection of a federal government and major political parties that are increasingly remote and unresponsive to citizens.

Is it too late to change? That would be a good question for someone to ask President Obama, who was famously elected on the slogan of "change we can believe in."

 

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April 10, 2011

More Security Theater

Security theater endures to absurd levels. Is this dispositive proof that citizens no longer can limit abuses of power by the federal government?:

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March 20, 2011

Elie Wiesel on the perils of indifference

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March 17, 2011

On why we need to protect Bradley Manning and R. Allen Stanford

Bradley ManningGlenn Greenwald has done an outstanding job of directing the blogosphere's attention toward the U.S. Army's inhumane pre-trial imprisonment of Private Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing classified information to WikiLeaks, which in turn published the info for the world to read.

The Manning affair has been bubbling just below the surface of public controversy for the past nine months. However, it started to become a full-blown public scandal last week when President Obama - who campaigned on the disingenuous slogan of "change we can believe in" - endorsed the military's brutal treatment of this innocent young man while giving a feckless answer to a question about Manning's treatment during a press conference.

Now, the Manning affair is turning into a firestorm. In addition to this scathing NY Times editorial, Greenwald's latest post links to the international attention that our government's abusive treatment of Manning is now getting. Constitutional Law scholar Jack Balkin and his colleagues over at Balkinization have prepared and are circulating this excellent statement to the Obama Administration condemning the "degrading and inhumane" conditions of Manning's "illegal and immoral" detention.

I applaud Greenwald for focusing attention on the gross injustice of the Manning case and for the others who are now objecting publicly to this outrageous misuse of governmental power. As with the government's vapid security theater and overcriminalization of American life, Manning's treatment is another powerful reminder of just how remote and unresponsive the government has become to civilized society.

Meanwhile, though, I'm wondering about something.

Why is Manning's treatment - as barbaric as it is - generating much more outcry than the arguably worse treatment that R. Allen Stanford has received during his pre-trial incarceration?

If we are going to forego protecting the innocent because the accusations against them are serious and seemingly compelling, then - as Thomas More reminds us -- "when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, .  .  . the laws all being flat?"

"This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, .  .  . do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?"

"Yes, I'd give the Devil the benefit of the law."

"For my own safety's sake."

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January 11, 2011

Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Free Trade and Drug Prohibition in Latin America

The Mary Anastasia O’Grady –  longtime WSJ Americas columnist -- is one of the most insightful commentators on Latin American politics and economics. In this ReasonTV interview, O’Grady comments on the impact of free trade and drug prohibition on Latin America:

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January 4, 2011

Old narratives die hard

PD*27270710A Russian criminal court sentenced former OAO Yukos chairman and CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky to another seven years in prison last week. As if on cue, the mainstream U.S. media reported on the event as a reflection of the capricious and arbitrary nature of the Russian legal system.

We really are better than those corrupt Russians, aren't we?

Meanwhile, the mainstream media continues to neglect -- and often promotes -- similar mistreatment and persecution of business executives in the U.S. I mean, really. Would R. Allen Stanford fare much worse in a Russian prison than he has in U.S. jails?

And to that the unnecessary and shameful criminalization of large segments of American society in other respects and you start wondering whether those writing for the mainstream media have any idea of what is going on in their own backyards?

Yeah, Russian criminal justice system is corrupt. The U.S. system is far superior.

Old narratives die hard.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

December 2, 2010

How WikiLeaks is like the office holiday party

wikileaksInasmuch as I believe the hoopla over the WikiLeaks disclosures is mostly overblown, I'm not going to post much on it. Except to point out again that the FT's Gideon Rachman really has the right perspective toward it all:

It's amusing for the rest of us to read US diplomats' frank and sometimes unflattering verdicts on foreign leaders, and it's obviously embarrassing for the Americans.

It's a bit like somebody getting drunk at a party and making bitchy comments in too loud a voice. Nobody is incredibly shocked that such things happen. But it's still awkward to be overheard by the person you are talking about.

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November 30, 2010

Defending WikiLeaks

wikileaksAlthough my view of the latest WikiLeaks disclosures is much the same as FT's Gideon Rachman (I mean, really, who would have thought that Silvio Berlusconi is feckless and vain?), my sense is that Will Wilkinson's initial analysis correctly identifies the importance of these disclosures:

To get at the value of WikiLeaks, I think it's important to distinguish between the government-the temporary, elected authors of national policy-and the state-the permanent bureaucratic and military apparatus superficially but not fully controlled by the reigning government. The careerists scattered about the world in America's intelligence agencies, military, and consular offices largely operate behind a veil of secrecy executing policy which is itself largely secret. American citizens mostly have no idea what they are doing, or whether what they are doing is working out well. The actually-existing structure and strategy of the American empire remains a near-total mystery to those who foot the bill and whose children fight its wars. And that is the way the elite of America's unelected permanent state, perhaps the most powerful class of people on Earth, like it. [.  .  .]

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee.

Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy. Some folks ask, "Who elected Julian Assange?" The answer is nobody did, which is, ironically, why WikiLeaks is able to improve the quality of our democracy.

Of course, those jealously protective of the privileges of unaccountable state power will tell us that people will die if we can read their email, but so what? Different people, maybe more people, will die if we can't.

Reminds me of the debate that occurred as a result of similar disclosures over a generation ago.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

November 29, 2010

The Real Threat of Security Theater

snltsaWriting in the NY Times over the holiday weekend, Roger Cohen lucidly identifies the true threat of the elaborate security theater that the Transportation Security Administration has foisted upon us in our nation's airports:

I don't doubt the patriotism of the Americans involved in keeping the country safe, nor do I discount the threat, but I am sure of this: The unfettered growth of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A. represent a greater long-term threat to the prosperity, character and wellbeing of the United States than a few madmen in the valleys of Waziristan or the voids of Yemen.

America is a nation of openness, boldness and risk-taking. Close this nation, cow it, constrict it and you unravel its magic. [.  .  .]

.  .  . During the Bosnian war, besieged Sarajevans had a word - "inat" - for the contempt-cum-spite they showed barbarous gunners on the hills by dressing and carrying on as normal. Inat is what Americans should show the jihadist cave-dwellers.

So I give thanks this week for the Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I give thanks for Benjamin Franklin's words after the 1787 Constitutional Convention describing the results of its deliberations: "A Republic, if you can keep it."

To keep it, push back against enhanced patting, Chertoff's naked-screening and the sinister drumbeat of fear.

Amen.

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November 16, 2010

Will Security Theater Endure?

nun-muslim-frisk-300x261Regular readers of this blog know that I've been critical of the Transportation Security Administration's absurdly inefficient and largely worthless airport screening procedures for five years now.

Although always hopeful, I never thought that it was realistic to dismantle the TSA entirely. Sadly, it's become yet another governmental jobs program with its own vested interests lobbying for its existence in perpetuity.

Nevertheless, I remained hopeful that something could eventually be done to constrain the TSA's seemingly unfettered capacity to make airline travel an mostly miserable experience.

So, the recent groundswell of opposition to the TSA's latest  outrage in screening procedures - as summarized in this Art Carden/Forbes article (see also pilot Patrick Smith's Salon op-ed here)- has been an unexpected but welcome movement. I mean, really. How many more TSA outrages such as the that  John Tyner chronicled will have to occur before politicians who oppose constructive change will be at risk of losing their jobs?

As airlines brace for the possible negative impact that the TSA agents' boorish actions may have on the upcoming holiday travel season, David Henderson notes one of the unanticipated consequences of the TSA's chilling effect on airline travel:

.   .   . let's remember the stakes. It's not just our privacy, our dignity, and our right not to be sexually assaulted. It's also about our lives. People who decide to drive rather than take a short-haul flight will face approximately 80 times the fatality rate per mile that people on commercial airlines face.

The TSA is killing people.

Moreover, beyond the infantile behavior of TSA agents, the wasted time and expense resulting from these procedures is appalling. Michael Chertoff, the former head of Homeland Security, promoted the supposed benefits of the new scanners when he was in office, and now he is a lobbyist persuading TSA to buy them!

As with the overcriminalization of American life, the TSA is another symbol of a federal government that is increasingly remote and unresponsive to its citizens.

Is this a trend that can be changed? Perhaps the curious case of the TSA will answer that question.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

September 22, 2010

The Nakba Narrative

Israeli-Palestinian conflict Don't miss this insightful Sol Stern/City Journal article on a key dynamic that prevents substantive progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations:

A specter is haunting the prospective Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations-the specter of the Nakba. The literal meaning of the Arabic word is "disaster"; but in its current, expansive usage, it connotes a historical catastrophe inflicted on an innocent and blameless people (in this case, the Palestinians) by an overpowering outside force (international Zionism).

The Nakba is the heart of the Palestinians' backward-looking national narrative, which depicts the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 as the original sin that dispossessed the land's native people. Every year, on the anniversary of Israel's independence, more and more Palestinians (including Arab citizens of Israel) commemorate the Nakba with pageants that express longing for a lost paradise. Every year, the legend grows of the crimes committed against the Palestinians in 1948, crimes now routinely equated with the Holocaust. Echoing the Nakba narrative is an international coalition of leftists that celebrates the Palestinians as the quintessential Other, the last victims of Western racism and colonialism. [.  .  .]

Unfortunately, no amount of documentation and evidence about what really happened in 1948 will puncture the Nakba narrative. The tale of dispossession has been institutionalized now, an essential part of the Palestinians' armament for what they see as the long struggle ahead. It has become the moral basis for their insistence on the refugees' right to return to Israel, which in turn leads them to reject one reasonable two-state peace plan after another.

In the meantime, the more radical Palestinians continue to insist that the only balm for the Nakba is the complete undoing of the historical crime of Zionism-either eliminating Israel or submerging it into a secular democratic state called Palestine. (The proposal is hard to take seriously from adherents of a religion and a culture that abjure secularism and allow little democracy.)

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July 20, 2010

And you thought the TSA was bad?

intelligence agenciesThe silliness of the federal governments security theater policy has long been a common topic on this blog. But if you thought that the governments security theater jobs program is bad, check out this first installment of the Dana Priest-William Arkin/Washington Post series on the explosion in the hiring of government contractors and employees doing top-secret work for the governments intelligence agencies and programs:

After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.  .   .   . Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.  .  .  . Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications. The NSA sorts a fraction of those into 70 separate databases. The same problem bedevils every other intelligence agency, none of which have enough analysts and translators for all this work.

The first Post installment goes to detail the utter failure of the matrix of government intelligence resources to generate the quantity or quality of intelligence that would justify the billions of dollars being spent on them, while telling the all-too-familiar tale of Congress failing to require any meaningful accountability from the intelligence agencies.

All of which prompts one to wonder. We already know what happens when Wall Street crashes.

But with the explosive growth in the intelligence and security theater bureaucracies, as well as the growth in government that is just beginning in regard to Obamacare and the 2,000-plus page Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform legislation -- and not to overlook the bloated bureaucracy that already exists to enforce the federal governments absurdly-complex tax laws what happens when out-of-control government growth crashes?

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July 18, 2010

Restrepo

I caught this remarkable documentary on Friday night at the Angelika. Anyone interested in the issues addressed in this earlier post will not want to miss it.

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July 11, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in America

From First Run Features (H/T Rhetorics and Heretics).

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May 27, 2010

Children of the Taliban

Another fascinating TED video.

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May 16, 2010

What would Mao Zedong say?

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April 29, 2010

Why do we do this to ourselves?

tsa_profiling As we ponder how one governmental agency -- which couldn't uncover Bernie Madoff or Stanford Financial's sketchy affairs despite being told about them -- is going to make a fraud case against Goldman Sachs on a transaction between sophisticated investors who knew what was going on, let's check out another government agency's bumbling decision-making:

More than thirty organizations across the political spectrum have filed a formal petition with the Department of Homeland Security, urging the federal agency to suspend the airport body scanner program.

Leading security expert Bruce Schneier stated, "Body scanners are one more example of security theater.

Last year, the organizations asked Secretary Janet Napolitano to give the public an opportunity to comment on the proposal to expand the body scanner program. Secretary Napolitano rejected the request. Since that time, evidence has emerged that the privacy safeguards do not work and that the devices are not very effective.

"At this point, there is no question that the body scanner program should be shut down. This is the worst type of government boondoggle -- expensive, ineffective, and offensive to Constitutional rights and deeply held religious beliefs," said Marc Rotenberg, President of EPIC.

And if Bruce Schneier's opinion isn't good enough for you, take heed of what a leading security expert who is constantly on the front lines says about the scanners:

A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install "useless" imaging machines at airports across the country.

"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority and a 30-year veteran in airport security and defence technology, helped design the security at Ben Gurion.

Despite what the experts say, he wasteful airport security process that we have allowed the Transportation Security Administration to impose on us continues unabated at a substantial direct cost and an even greater indirect one.

It's bad enough that the TSA's procedures do virtually nothing to discourage serious terrorist threats. What's worse is that the inspection process is really just "security theater" that makes only a few naive travelers feel safer about airline travel.

And if all that weren't bad enough, the worst news is that once a governmental "safeguard" such as the TSA procedures are adopted, Congress has no interest in dismantling it even when it's clear that process is ineffective, expensive and obtrusive to citizens. Stated simply, the TSA has become a jobs program for thousands of registered voters.

James Fallows sums up the absurdity of the situation well:

TSA + defense contractor + security theater vs Israeli expert + Schneier + common sense.

Hmmm, I don't know what to believe.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (4) |

April 9, 2010

Another absurd cost of security theater

Fed Marshals Service How much wasteful spending on security theater is enough?

Bruce Schneier links to U.S. Representative John Duncans Congressional observation about the Federal Air Marshals Service:

Actually, there have been many more arrests of Federal air marshals than that story reported, quite a few for felony offenses. In fact, more air marshals have been arrested than the number of people arrested by air marshals.

We now have approximately 4,000 in the Federal Air Marshals Service, yet they have made an average of just 4.2 arrests a year since 2001. This comes out to an average of about one arrest a year per 1,000 employees.

Now, let me make that clear. Their thousands of employees are not making one arrest per year each. They are averaging slightly over four arrests each year by the entire agency.

In other words, we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest.

Let me repeat that: we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest.

One could quibble that spending per arrest is not an entirely fair measure of effectiveness. A good deterrent effect means fewer arrests, right?

Nevertheless, its a pretty good indication of misdirected resources if a law enforcement agencys officers are more likely to be arrested than to make arrests.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

March 12, 2010

Exposing the myth of American exceptionalism

conrad_black Conrad Blacks prison routine allows him time to think and write, which is a good thing in view of the enormous waste that results from his dubious imprisonment.

This week Lord Black takes aim at the myth of American exceptionalism promoted in this recent Richard Lowry and Ramesh Ponnurus essay (Walter McDougall has examined the origins of this myth in detail in the first two books of his fine three-part series on American history). In challenging the myth, Lord Black takes dead aim at a common topic on this blog the overcriminalization of American life:

The wages of this [Cold War] victory have included the stale-dating of the authors claim that America is freer, more individualistic, more democratic, and more open and dynamic than any other nation on earth. It is more dynamic because of its size, the torpor of Europe and Japan, and the shambles of Russia.

But Americans do not do themselves a favor by not recognizing the terrible erosion of their countrys education, justice, and political systems, the shortcomings of U.S. health care, the collapse of its financial industry, the flight of most of its manufacturing, and the steep and generally unlamented decline of its prestige.

.   .    .   Rampaging and often lawless prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases (compared to 55 percent in Canada), by softening the pursuit of some in exchange for inculpatory perjury against others, in the plea-bargain system. The U.S. has six to fourteen times as many imprisoned people as other advanced prosperous democracies, and they languish in a corrupt carceral system that retains as many people as possible for as long as possible. There are an astounding 47 million Americans with a record, and the country glories with unseemly glee in the joys of the death penalty. Due process and the other guarantees of individual rights of the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments (such as the grand jury as any sort of assurance against capricious prosecution) scarcely exist in practice.

Most of the Congress is an infestation of paid-for legislators from rotten boroughs, representing the interests that finance their elections and exchanging earmarks with their colleagues like casbah hucksters.  .   .   .

Lord Black can sure still turn a phrase -- casbah hucksters. Ha!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (9) |

February 24, 2010

No way to fight a war

urban4 Here we go again. U.S. military forces are put on the defensive because of what might be an unfortunate mistake in prosecuting the war against the Taliban.

When are we going to learn that fighting wars under unrealistic rules of engagement is a waste of time and precious resources?

A reasonable case can be made that the U.S. should not be conducting military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly, a reasonable case can be made that such operations are necessary for the defense of the U.S.

But once the decision is made to commit military forces, no reasonable case can be made -- particularly given the enormous difficulties faced-- that U.S. Armed Forces should be constrained from winning the war by unrealistic rules of engagement.

If we are unwilling to stomach to do the dirty business that is necessary to win such wars, then we have no business getting involved in them in the first place. The defense summation in Breaker Morant brilliantly frames the issue in the context of Britain's involvement in the Boer War:

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

February 22, 2010

A culture of abuse

doj_logo_today The big legal news over the weekend is the Department of Justices decision not to recommend disciplinary proceedings against Cal-Berkeley law professor John C. Yoo and federal appellate Judge Jay S. Bybee for their participation in a series of DOJ memos that provided the dubious legal basis for the use of torture against enemy prisoners after the attacks of September 11, 2001. John Steele has done a great job of cataloging the blogospheres reaction to the DOJs decision.

The DOJs report outraged Jack Balkin, who opined that the standard for attorney misconduct is set pretty damn low, and is only violated by lawyers who (here I put it colloquially) are the scum of the earth. Lawyers barely above the scum of the earth are therefore excused. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal contends that the report vindicates Yoo and Bybee. Yoo provides his own defense here.

Although the DOJs report paints a fairly clear case of Yoo and Bybee providing a colorable legal cover for what the interrogation tactics that the Bush Administration wanted to pursue come hell or high water, that conduct is utterly unsurprising. The DOJ has been engaging in torture-like treatment over the past year of Allen Stanford, who is still awaiting trial. Similarly, the DOJ has regularly engaged in other astonishing abuses of power in connection with the prosecutions of Jeff Skilling, Jamie Olis and many others.

Our failure to hold governmental officials responsible for abuse of power toward our fellow citizens helped create the culture in which the leap to sanction torture against enemy combatants was a small one. That culture will be very difficult to change.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

January 31, 2010

Lone Survivor

lone survivor (2) I recently finished reading Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 (Little, Brown and Company 2009), Marcus Luttrell's engrossing story of his experience in surviving a vicious battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. I recommend the book highly to anyone who is interested in United States foreign policy.

Lone Survivor is not a great book. A substantial part of it - particularly the parts of Luttrell's Navy SEAL training - are repetitive and unnecessary. Likewise, Luttrell's political views are somewhat simplistic and do not add much to the story.

But Luttrell's story is spot on in portraying the troubling problem that the U.S. Armed Forces face in fighting wars under rules of engagement that constrain doing what is necessary to accomplish the purpose of the war. During their mission, Luttrell and his squad mates had to make a key decision under the rules of engagement -- and it was not even a clearly wrong one -- that ultimately resulted in a disaster for the squad.

Luttrell's story is also insightful from a cultural standpoint. After fending off over a hundred Taliban attackers in battle, Luttrell was ultimately saved by members of an Afghan community who decided to resist the Taliban. The cultural dynamics at play are as confusing as they are fascinating.

Should the United States be sending true American heroes such as Luttrell and his comrades into such a complicated cultural conflict under rules that hinder them from accomplishing the mission?

It is a question that should be much more difficult for our government's leaders than it appears to be.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

January 8, 2010

A better kind of security theater

The Reason.tv video below puts the Transportation Security Administration's silly security theater policies in perspective, while Bruce Schneier provides another excellent post on the kind of security (including some security theater) that makes much more sense.

Is anyone in Washington, D.C. even listening?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 29, 2009

Thinking about security theater

Homeland security Given the Homeland Security Department and Transportation Security Administration's typically over-the-top reaction (see also here) to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a jet flying into Detroit from Amsterdam, one wonders at what point the government's elaborate "security theater" will finally make flying so miserable that it will choke the life out of the U.S. airline industry? Professor Bainbridge provides a good roundup of the blogosphere's discussion of that and related issues.

The latest incident also reminded me of this prophetic Bruce Schneier post from about a month ago. Schneier does the best job that I've read of explaining why a balance between legitimate and symbolic is helpful in deterring terrorism, but that most of Homeland Security's security theater is utterly misguided, as well as a waste of time and resources.

The entire post is excellent, but two points he makes are particularly important.

First, Schneier observes that the governmental impulse "to do something" in response to an attack is mostly misdirected:

Often, this 'something' is directly related to the details of a recent event: we confiscate liquids, screen shoes, and ban box cutters on aeroplanes. But it's not the target and tactics of the last attack that are important, but the next attack. These measures are only effective if we happen to guess what the next terrorists are planning .   .   . Terrorists don't care what they blow up and it shouldn't be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets  .   .   .

Even more importantly, Schneier points out that the right kind of security theater -- that is, the best way to counteract the damage that terrorism attempts to inflict upon all of us -- is to act as if we are not scared of it:

The best way to help people feel secure is by acting secure around them. Instead of reacting to terrorism with fear, we -- and our leaders -- need to react with indomitability.

By not overreacting, by not responding to movie-plot threats, and by not becoming defensive, we demonstrate the resilience of our society, in our laws, our culture, our freedoms. There is a difference between indomitability and arrogant 'bring 'em on' ehetoric. There's a difference between accepting the inherent risk that comes with a free and open society, and hyping the threats .   .   .

Despite fearful rhetoric to the contrary, terrorism is not a transcendent threat. A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country's way of life; it's only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage.

Schneier is spot on. Rather than making air travel increasingly distasteful, Homeland Security and the TSA ought to be encouraging Americans to spit in the terrorists' collective eye by traveling even more by air under reasonably tolerable and legitimate security arrangements.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

November 24, 2009

Who fears freeing whom?

Khodorkovsky In this lengthy NY Times Magazine piece from this past weekend, Andrew Meier decries the Russian government's unjust prosecution and treatment of former Yukos chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky:

Many can’t quite embrace an oligarch as a prisoner of conscience. He is a titan who fell from favor, some say, not a dissident physicist or a novelist arrested for a subversive manuscript. Whatever his sins, though, Khodorkovsky was not jailed for breaking the law. His courting of the Bush White House and pursuit of oil partners at home and abroad infuriated the Kremlin. But his gravest error was to challenge Putin. The reason behind his imprisonment, Khodorkovsky claims, “is well known and widely discussed. It was my constant support of opposition parties and the Kremlin’s desire to deprive them of an independent source of financing. As for the more base reason, it was the desire to seize someone else’s efficient company.”

His motives may have been mercenary, but Khodorkovsky in his cell has come to embody the fiat of the state, its arbitrary and boundless power. To date, the authorities have brought charges against 43 former Yukos employees and associates, conducted more than 100 raids .   .   .

Meanwhile, the Times and most of the rest of the mainstream media have largely ignored -- and often promoted -- similar mistreatment and persecution of business executives in our own country.

Yeah, Russian criminal justice system is corrupt, America's is far superior.

Old narratives die hard.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

September 6, 2009

Confession and Avoidance

As our own country confronts the difficult issues involved in conducting war, it seems appropriate to recall the closing defense argument in one of the all-time great lawyer movies, Breaker Morant.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 30, 2009

Hitchens lays the wood to an apologist for Islamic jihad

Christopher Hitchens at his best (H/T Reuben Moore).

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 26, 2009

Re-tracing Graham Greene's journey across Mexico

The Lawless Roads In the first of a series of upcoming blog posts that will interest most Texans, The Atlantic's Graeme Wood addresses many of the difficult issues facing Mexico that have been a frequent topic on this blog. Wood is re-tracing the journey across Mexico of Graham Greene of The Lawless Roads fame seventy years ago:

Seventy years ago, Graham Greene crossed the US-Mexican border into a land blighted by violence, unrest, insurgency, and religious and counter-religious mayhem. If he came back today he would find a country riven by other forces, but in some ways just as chaotic, and just as worthy of the title he gave his account of the journey, The Lawless Roads.

The news out of Mexico is all bad. When I was a kid, my parents and I went across the border at Reynosa, Matamoros, and Tijuana to take awkwardly posed photos on the backs of burros, buy cheap Kahlúa, and eat frog-legs at Garcia's. Now the drug war has re-ignited, the rules of engagement between police and crime syndicates have changed, and the environment has become more savage. The government of Felipe Calderon has challenged the narco-traffickers and has militarized the border. Garcia's is still open, but tourists have vanished. College kids don't head down here from South Padre so much, which is a good indicator of the downturn, because they are college students, and that Kahlúa was awfully cheap. There are serious questions of whether Mexico is becoming that scariest of things, a military state in only partial control -- i.e., a Latin American Pakistan.

Only some of the drama is on the border. Greene's trip through Mexico crossed the country on its long axis and reported how Mexicans were dealing with the effects of the Cristero War, its violent suppression of the Catholic church, and the armed discontent that suppression sparked. Over the next cycle of posts, I will steer my rented Mexican Ford (an inglorious chariot that feels like it would crumple like a soda can, if I were to give it a bear-hug) along Greene's path, with deviations, to see whether that lawlessness is a permanent condition.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 8, 2009

Crossing Heaven's Border

Over the past decade, tens of thousands defectors have crossed the dangerous waters of the Tumen and Yalu Rivers into northeast China to escape from North Korea, the world’s last closed Communist state. In the hour-long documentary Crossing Heaven’s Border, Wide Angle tells the moving stories of a few of those defectors.

Pastor Chun Ki Won is the director of Durihana, a Christian missionary organization that helps North Korean defectors make the treacherous journey along the Asian underground railroad to safety in South Korea. In the six-minute interview below, Chun describes the ordeal that the defectors endure and the complex relationship that they have with Christianity. The Wide Angle website on Crossing Heaven's Border is here.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

June 20, 2009

The Defense of Freedom

There is no question that President Obama is confronted with a delicate diplomatic situation in regard to the ongoing political unrest in Iran. But it is ironic that the main issue that is bubbling over on the streets of Tehran is the same one that John Quincy Adams addressed in the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of the illegally imported slaves that is wonderfully portrayed in the Stephen Spielberg movie, Amistad. In a magnificent performance, Anthony Hopkins plays the elderly Adams defending the slaves before the Supreme Court. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 22, 2009

Brothers at War

The trailer for the new documentary -- particularly appropriate for the Memorial Day weekend -- is below.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

February 5, 2009

Thinking about Cheney's remarks

dick-cheney Many Americans were repulsed by the methods former Vice-President Dick Cheney used to consolidate and exercise war powers in the Executive Branch during the administration of George W. Bush.

Unfortunately, that controversy clouds many people's judgment on Cheney's many noteworthy accomplishments during his 30-year career in public service. He has been an extraordinary public servant.

My sense is that Cheney based his aggressive exercise of war powers during the Bush Administration in large part on classified information regarding the risk of more attacks on U.S. citizens after the attacks of September 11, 2001, a point that Barton Gellman notes in his seminal but generally critical book on the Cheney vice-presidency, Angler: The Cheney Vice-Presidency (Penguin 2008).

Cheney's public comments from earlier this week appear to be consistent with my impression regarding his assessment of the risk of further attacks.

Given that, when you have 25 minutes or so, take the time to watch the video below of Irwin Redlener's recent TED lecture on how the nature of a nuclear attack threat on the United States has changed, but our generally deficient approach to preparing for one has not.

As Dick Cheney says, fighting those who would levy such an attack on the U.S. is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business.”

Here's hoping that the Obama Administration is up to the task.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (5) |

January 24, 2009

Oral history of the Bush White House

Bush white house When you have a spare hour or so, check out this "Oral History of the Bush White House" by Cullen Murphy, Todd Purdum and Philippe Sands in the current issue of Vanity Fair.

The format of the article is a timeline recreating of the last eight years with participants' observations on many of the major moments and a number of minor ones, which often end up being as instructive as the reactions to the major ones.

The entire article is a must-read, but the following observations of Kenneth Adelman, a member of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s advisory Defense Policy Board, will give you a flavor.

The context of Adelman's comments are a confrontation that he had with the Defense Secretary several days after Rumsfeld had dismissed the significance of the breakdown of civil order in Iraq by publicly observing that "stuff happens":

So he says, It might be best if you got off the Defense Policy Board. You’re very negative. I said, I am negative, Don. You’re absolutely right. I’m not negative about our friendship. But I think your decisions have been abysmal when it really counted.

Start out with, you know, when you stood up there and said things—“Stuff happens.” I said, That’s your entry in Bartlett’s. The only thing people will remember about you is “Stuff happens.” I mean, how could you say that? “This is what free people do.” This is not what free people do. This is what barbarians do. And I said, Do you realize what the looting did to us? It legitimized the idea that liberation comes with chaos rather than with freedom and a better life. And it demystified the potency of American forces. Plus, destroying, what, 30 percent of the infrastructure.

I said, You have 140,000 troops there, and they didn’t do jack shit. I said, There was no order to stop the looting. And he says, There was an order. I said, Well, did you give the order? He says, I didn’t give the order, but someone around here gave the order. I said, Who gave the order?

So he takes out his yellow pad of paper and he writes down—he says, I’m going to tell you. I’ll get back to you and tell you. And I said, I’d like to know who gave the order, and write down the second question on your yellow pad there. Tell me why 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq disobeyed the order. Write that down, too.

And so that was not a successful conversation.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

January 1, 2009

The Big Picture does Gaza

Islamic Jihad

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 4, 2008

Reflections on Mumbai

Jonathan Ehrlich is a Vancouver businessman who was in one of the hotels that was attacked last week in Mumbai. Take a few minutes to listen to his harrowing story and to read the email (under the fold below) that he sent to his family members and friends during his trip home after the attack. A good example of the fighting spirit that is needed to win this battle.

And don't miss this spot-on analysis of the Mumbai attacks by John Stewart and John Oliver:

Hey guys.

       Got all your notes. Thank you. I'm ok. A little shaky to be honest but really just happy to be here. I can't thank you enough for your notes.

       You have no idea what the mean to me. Hope to see and speak to you all soon.

       I wrote the following on the plane.

       It's 3.33 am Thursday Nov 27th. And I am writing this from Jet Airways flight 0227, First leg of the Mumbai – Brussels - Toronto – Vancouver journey . It is a stream of "adrenaline" piece. I apologize in advance for the grammatical errors. But I wanted it raw and unedited.

       First, some context.

       I have always been truly blessed. Lucky to be born to the most love a child could ever wish for. Luck to be born into a family that prided itself on teaching me how to be a man. Lucky to have been protected and sheltered by three strong, decent brothers. Lucky to have found and married the kindest heart on the face of the earth. Lucky to be blessed beyond blessed with four healthy, beautiful children.  Lucky to have wonderful friends who tolerate my idiosyncrasies.

       Tonight, these blessings, these gifts of love and life bestowed upon me, this incredible good fortune, saved my life. And I honestly don't know why.

       The details.

       I am in Mumbai on business. I'm staying at the Trident hotel. It's sister hotel, the Oberai, is right next-door and attached by a small walkway.

       I had dinner by myself in the Oberai lobby after some late meetings.

       I retired upstairs to my room. About 10min later my colleague, Alex Chamerlin, text-ed asking me to join him and his friend in the Oberai lounge for a drink. I started to make my way out the door but decided that I was really too tired.  I had a 7am flight, and needed to be up at 5. Rest beckoned. I closed the light, got into bed and quickly fell asleep. Lucky life-saving decision number 1.

       About 1hree minutes later there was knock at my door. A few seconds later, the doorbell rang (they have doorbells for hotel rooms here – who'da thunk?). I thought – who the hell is knocking at my door?  Turn down service? This late? Forget it. So I just lay there and hoped they would go away. Lucky life-saving decision number 2.

       Five minutes later I heard and felt a huge bang. I got up and went to look out the window. A huge cloud of grey smoke billowed up from the road below.  I thought.  Fireworks? I didn't see anyone milling about so knew something wasn't right. I started to walk to the light switch when -  BANG – another huge explosion shook the entire hotel.

       Oh fuck, I thought. Is that what I think this is? I opened the door to the hallway. A few people were already outside.

       I heard the word "bomb".

       Oh shit. Oh shit I thought.

       I'd like to tell you that I calmly collected my myself and my things and proceeded to the exits.

       I didn't.  An adrenaline explosion erupted inside me and almost lifted me off the floor. And I began to move. Really move.

       I went back inside, quickly packed my stuff and went back into the hall.

       I ran to the emergency exit and started making my way down the stairs (I was on the 18th floor).

       There were a few people in the stairwell. I was flying by them. I swear I could have run a marathon in 2hrs. I felt like pure energy.

       About halfway down, I called my friend Mark, told him what had happened and asked him to get me a flight – any flight – the hell out of Mumbai.

       I got to the lobby level. There was a crowd of people in the corridor.

       No one moving. No one doing anything. No hotel staff. No security people.

       Shit. I thought. We are sitting ducks.

       I decided to get out of there. First, into the lobby.

       I stepped through the door into the silent lobby. My first sight was a blood soaked plastic bag and bloody footsteps leading into the reception area.  I proceeded forward.  The windows were shattered and glass was everywhere. There wasn't a soul around.

       Bad decision, I thought. I quickly retreated to the corridor. The crowd of people had grown.

       We've got to get out of here I yelled.  Let's go.

       I looked around for the emergency exit and started running towards it.

       I made my way through the bowels of the hotel and out into a dark alley. It was empty and silent. I looked to my left and about 100m away saw a few security guards milling about.

       Run they screamed. I began to move toward them.

       I reached the main street and was immediately swept up into the Indian throngs (for those who have been to Mumbai, you know what I mean).

       People everywhere. But they were all eerily quiet. No one was talking.

       No car horns. Nothing.

       I started yelling "airport airport".

       Some one  (a hotel cook I believe) grabbed me and my bag and threw me in a rusty mini-cab.

       As I sped away, I didn't see a single police car nor hear a single siren. Just the sound of this shit-box car speeding down the deserted road.

       Traffic was stop and go. I made it to the airport in about 1hr, cleared customs and buried myself in a corner of a packed departure lounge, called my wife, called my parents and brothers and started emailing those friends who knew I was in Mumbai.

       Sadly, Alex - my colleague who texted me for a drink – and his friend were not so lucky. The terrorists stormed into the lobby bar and killed several people. They took Alex and his friend hostage and started to march them up to the roof of the hotel.

       About half way up, Alex managed to escape (he ducked through an open door and hid) but his friend was caught. And as I write this, that poor man is still on the roof of the Oberai.

       Alex is safe but as expected, extremely worried about his friend.

       I'm telling you right now. If I decided to meet Alex for that drink tonight I'd either be dead, a hostage on the roof of a building 30 hours away from everyone I love or - if I had the balls of Alex – a stupid-but-lucky-to-be-alive jerk.

       And remember that knock/ring at my door? Well, I subsequently learned that the first thing the terrorists did was get the names and room numbers of western guests. They then went to the rooms to find them.

       Ehrlich, with an E, room 1820.

       I'll bet my entire life savings that they were the knock at my door.

       Thank god for jet lag.

       Thank god for "cranky tired Jonny" (as many of my friends and family know so well) that compelled to get into and stay in bed.

       Thank god for being on the 18th floor.

       Thank god for the kind kind people of Mumbai of helped me tonight. The wonderfully kind hotel staff. That cook. My cab driver who constantly said "relaxation" "relaxation" "I help" and who kept me in the cab when we hit a particularly gnarly traffic jam and i wanted to get out and walk. And for other people in traffic who, upon hearing from my own cab driver that I was at the Oberai, literally risked life and limb to stop traffic to let us get by (as again, only those who have been to Mumbai can truly appreciate).

       Mumbai is a tragically beautiful place. Incredibly sad. But I am convinced that its inhabitants are definitely children of some troubled but immensely soulfully god.

       I'm sitting on plane (upgraded to first class….see, told you I'm lucky ?). Just had the best tasting bowl of corn flakes I've ever had in my life. Hennessey coursing through my veins. Concentration starting to loosen and sleep beginning to creep onto my horizon.

       I still feel a bit numb. But mostly I feel like I've just watched a really really bad movie staring me.  Because right now, it all doesn't feel real. Maybe a few hours of CNN will knock me into reality. But the truth is numb is fine with me for a while.  If I do end up thinking about the what if's, I don't really want to do that until I'm much much closer to home. And I have 30 more hours of travel time to go.

       But before I sign off, let me say this.

       The people who did this have no souls. They have no hearts. They are simply the living manifestation of evil and they only know killing and murder.  We – all of us - need to understand that.  Their target tonight was first and foremost Americans. Why? Because they fear everything that America stands for. They fear hope and change and freedom and peace.  Let's make no mistake; they would have shot me and my children point blank tonight with out a moment's hesitation. Most of us sorta know that but sometimes we equivocate.  We can't equivocate. Not ever.

       I know that I want to go back. Lay some flowers. Wrap my arms around these people. Say thank you. Spend some money on overpriced hotel gifts and tip well. And generally give the bastards who did this the big fuck you and
show them that I am not – I  repeat not – afraid of them.

       But first I need to go squeeze my wife. Dry her tears. Then have her dry mine as I hold my beautiful beautiful babies who will be (thankfully) oblivious to all of this. Because isn't that what life is really about?

       I appreciate you taking the time to listen.

       With much much love.

       Jonathan

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

May 13, 2008

Ignoring the noise from next door

after-prohibition_130 The problems that the obsolescent U.S. drug prohibition policy exacerbate along the Texas-Mexico border are a frequent topic on this blog, so this Mary Anastasia O'Grady/W$J article on the latest developments in the drug war just south of the border caught my eye:

American nonchalance about drug use stands in sharp contrast to what is happening across the border in Mexico. There lawmen are taking heavy casualties in a showdown with drug-running crime syndicates. On Thursday the chief of the Mexican federal police, Edgar Millán Gómez, was assassinated by men waiting for him when he came home, becoming the latest and most prominent victim of the syndicates. [.  .  .]

It's no secret that the narcotics trade is like a roach infestation. If you see one shipment or dealer, you can be sure that there are many others that go undetected. That's why such brazen behavior at [San Diego State University] should be disturbing to America's drug warriors. The signs of an infestation are everywhere, making a joke of their 40-year claim that any day now they will wipe out American drug use. [.  .  .]

The upshot: Americans underwrite Mexico's vicious organized crime syndicates. The gringos get their drugs and the Mexican mafia gets weapons, technology and the means to buy off or intimidate anyone who gets in their way. Caught in the middle is a poor country striving to develop sound institutions for law enforcement.

The trouble for Mexico is that, even if it understands that U.S. demand is not going away, it cannot afford to cede large swaths of the country to the drug cartels. Thus Mexican President Felipe Calderón has made confronting organized crime a priority since taking office in December 2006. His attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, told me in February that the goal is to reclaim the state's authority where it has been lost to the mafias.

But after 17 months of engagement, while San Diego students party on, victory remains elusive and the Mexican death toll is mounting. Most of the drug-related killings since Mr. Calderón took office seem to be a result of battles between rival cartels. Still, the escalating violence is troubling. The official death toll attributable to organized crime since the Calderón crackdown began now stands at 3,995. Of that, 1,170 have died this year.

Especially alarming are the number of assassinations among military personnel and municipal, state and federal police officers. The total is 439 for the 17 months and 109 so far this year. Many of these victims have been ordinary police officers whose refusal to be bought off or back off cost them their lives.

But as the murder of police chief Millan makes clear, high rank offers no safety. Two weeks before he was gunned down, Roberto Velasco, the head of the organized crime division of the federal police, was shot in the head. The assailants took his car, which leaves open the possibility that it was a random event, but most Mexicans are not buying that theory. Eleven federal law enforcement agents have been killed in ambushes and executions in the last four weeks alone.

If U.S. law enforcement agencies were losing their finest at such a rate, you can bet Americans would give greater thought to the violence generated by high demand and prohibition. Our friends in Mexico deserve equal consideration.

The most troubling aspect of all this is that spillover violence toward U.S. authorities would probably just be met with beefed-up prohibition efforts. Are the vested interests who benefit from the outmoded-but-lucrative prohibition policy simply too entrenched for there to be serious Congressional consideration given to a more humane and cost-effective drug policy?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

April 29, 2008

Fueling food riots

food riot Peter Gordon observed the other day that "politicians are better at creating problems than addressing them. Schools, housing, health care, transportation and others suffer from too much political attention."

Echoing that idea, Clear Thinkers favorite James Hamilton writes about one of the underlying economic reasons for food riots that are occurring in developing nations in some parts of the world:

As a result of ethanol subsidies and mandates, the dollar value of what we ourselves throw away in order to produce fuel in this fashion could be 50% greater than the value of the fuel itself. In other words, we could have more food for the Haitians, more fuel for us, and still have something left over for your other favorite cause, if we were simply to use our existing resources more wisely.

We have adopted this policy not because we want to drive our cars, but because our elected officials perceive a greater reward from generating a windfall for American farmers.

But the food price increases are now biting ordinary Americans as well. That could make those political calculations change, and may present be an opportunity for a nimble politician to demonstrate a bit of real leadership. I notice, for example, that although Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) was among those who voted in favor of the monstrous 2005 Energy Bill that began these mandates, Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and John McCain (R-AZ) were among the 26 senators who bravely voted against it.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if one of them actually tried to make this a campaign issue?

Sigh. Read the entire post.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

February 24, 2008

"The sand trap from hell"

fidel-che golfDon't miss this entertaining José de Córdoba/W$J article on the dour legacy of golf in Communist Cuba and the attempt to revive the game to attract more tourism. Turns out that the game flagged in Cuba after Che' Guevara kicked Fidel Castro's ass in a big golf game shortly after Castro seized power:

In 1962, Mr. Castro lost a round of golf to Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who had been a caddy in his Argentine hometown before he became a guerrilla icon. Mr. Castro's defeat may have had disastrous consequences for the sport. He had one Havana golf course turned into a military school, another into an art school. A journalist who wrote about the defeat of Cuba's Maximum Leader, who was a notoriously bad loser, was fired the next day. [.  .  .]

The famous game between Messrs. Castro and Guevara took place shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to José Lorenzo Fuentes, Mr. Castro's former personal scribe, who covered the game. Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says the match was supposed to send a friendly signal to President Kennedy. "Castro told me that the headline of the story the next day would be 'President Castro challenges President Kennedy to a friendly game of golf,'" he says.

But the game became a competitive affair between two men who did not like to lose, says Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes, who recalls that Mr. Guevara "played with a lot of passion." Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says he felt he couldn't lie about the game's outcome, so he wrote a newspaper story saying Fidel had lost. Mr. Lorenzo Fuentes says he lost his job the next day, eventually fell afoul of the regime and now lives in Miami.

At any rate, Raul Castro has jumped started efforts to rebuild Cuba's golf infrastructure for tourism purposes. But it's not going to be easy. First, there is that whole "private property is a bad thing" problem:

To make golf tourism work, Cuba, which does not recognize the right to buy and sell property, will have to permit leases of as long as 75 years for foreigners, to entice them to invest in the villas and condos on which modern golf development depends. Some believe those leases are the tip of the spear that will, over time, reinstate full property rights. [.  .  .]

If history is any guide, bringing back golf won't be easy. "Cuba is the sand trap from hell," says John Kavulich, senior policy adviser at the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, who has followed the travails of entrepreneurs trying to develop golf projects in Cuba.

On the other hand, given how the U.S. golf industry is going, maybe investing in the sand trap from hell is not looking all that bad.

Speaking of Cuba, don't miss this Michael Stasny post (with pictures) on his recent trip to Cuba. He notes at the end of the post:

Cubans don't have access to "world news" (no foreign newspapers, no internet, no satellite dishes), so the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation ("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" (translation mine)) and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard (I didn't have the impression that they were afraid to speak openly).

The rest of the trip I stayed on the beach in Varadero, a tourist zone that is closed for Cubans (only those who work there can enter). The hotel was really nice (Iberostar Varadero) and the service was excellent. In case you like being on the beach and food and a fast and cheap internet connection isn't your highest priority, it's the place to be.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

January 19, 2008

China Road

china_road_cover_inside.jpgClear Thinkers favorite James Fallows, who is currently working in China for The Atlantic, posts a recommendation for China Road (Random House 2007), a new book about China by NPR's long-time China correspondent Rob Gifford. Inasmuch as one of the best books that I read last year was Adrian Goldsworthy's extraordinary biography of Julius Caesar, Caesar: Life of a Colossus (Yale 2006), one passage from Gifford's book that Fallows includes in his blog post intrigued me, particularly given the West's difficulties over the centuries in maintaining normalized political relations with various Chinese governments:

Chairman Mao was just the most recent of a long line of re-unifiers, and if Emperor Qin were to return to China today, he would recognize the mode of government used by the Communist Party. I have to say that I find this idea rather scary, that two thousand years of history might have done nothing to change the political system of a country. Imagine a Europe today where the Roman Empire had never fallen, that still covered an area from England to North Africa and the Middle East and was run by one man based in Rome, backed by a large army. There you have, roughly, ancient and modern China. The fact that this setup has not changed, or been able to change, in two thousand years must also have huge implications for the question Can China ever change its political system.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

January 3, 2008

The Waziristan problem

pakistan_map%20010307.gifStanley Kurtz provides this must read op-ed on the safe haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban in northwest Pakistan that Lord Curzon once observed will not be pacified "until the military steam-roller has passed over the country from end to end . . . But I do not want to be the person to start that machine."

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

December 16, 2007

The continuing horror that is North Korea

north_korea_map.gifAmidst the slow progress of the United States' diplomatic efforts to bring North Korea into the community of the world's civilized nations (previous posts on North Korea are here), this recent W$J op-ed by Shin Dong-Hyok -- who lived the first 23 years of his life in a North Korean gulag -- reminds us of the stakes to humanity involved in finding a way to release the North Korean government's death grip on North Koreans:

I was born a prisoner on Nov. 19, 1982, and until two years ago, North Korea's Political Prison Camp No. 14 was the only place I had ever called home. [. . .]

I was a slave under club and fist. It was a world where love, happiness, joy or resistance found no meaning. This was the situation I found myself in until I escaped to China, and then South Korea. There, I was told why I was imprisoned by my distant relatives, who had escaped to the South during the Korean War.

In the midst of that conflict, two of my father's brothers fled to freedom. Because of this "traitorous" crime, my grandparents, father and uncle back in the North were found guilty of treason and crimes against the state, and were arrested. My father and uncle were separated from each other and my grandparents, and were stripped of all identification and property.

I am still not sure why my mother was incarcerated. While serving their sentences in Kaechon, my parents were allowed to marry. (Sometimes, inmates are given permission to marry if they work very hard and find favor in the eyes of the State Security agents). This was how both my brother and I were born as political prisoners.

Although we were a family by fiat, there was nothing familial about us. We showed no affection for one another, nor was that even possible.

When I was 14 years old, my mother and brother were arrested while trying to escape. Although I had no idea they were planning to run away, I was detained in another part of prison. The State Security agents there demanded that I reveal what my family was conspiring to do. I was tortured severely for seven months. To this day, I still carry the scars on my back and shudder at the memory of that time.

On Nov. 29, 1996, my mother and brother were found guilty of treason and sentenced to public execution. I was taken outside and forced to witness their deaths. [. . .]

As I sit here writing this op-ed comfortably in Seoul, I can't help but wonder at the vastly different lives South Koreans and inmates of Political Prison Camp No. 14 live. In South Korea, although there is disappointment and sadness, there is also so much joy, happiness and comfort. In Kaechon, I did not even know such emotions existed. The only emotion I ever knew was fear: fear of beatings, fear of starvation, fear of torture and fear of death. [. . .]

These political prisoners live with no dignity as human beings. They are treated, and taught, that they are merely beasts without intelligence, emotions or dreams. If a prisoner attempts to escape, he is severely punished and will most likely be publicly executed.

Humans should never be treated this way. It is time for us to stand up for those being persecuted in North Korean gulags. They do not deserve to die in silence. We must protest these violent acts against humanity. We must become their voice.

Read the entire incredible op-ed.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (3) |

December 7, 2007

The world according to Americans

globeclk1.jpgThis map would be funnier if it wasn't so darn accurate.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

October 6, 2007

Rosett on the Wyatt trial

Oscar%20Wyatt%20100507.gifClaudia Rosett is a journalist in residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who has written extensively about the U.S. Oil-for-Food program and resulting scandal that recently snared the plea bargain conviction of longtime Houston oilman, Oscar S. Wyatt, Jr. (previous posts here). Rosett attended Wyatt's trial in New York and this Wall Street Journal op-ed on the aftermath of Wyatt's plea bargain pretty much confirms my earlier speculation that Wyatt cut a good deal for himself under the circumstances:

Star witnesses facing Wyatt from the stand included two former Iraqi officials, Mubdir Al-Khudair and Yacoub Y. Yacoub. They have never before been questioned in a public setting, and were relocated to the U.S. by federal authorities this past year to protect them against retaliation in Iraq for cooperating in this probe.

Messrs. Khudair and Yacoub described a system corrupt to the core. Their duties inside Saddam Hussein's bureaucracy consisted largely, and officially, of handling and keeping track of kickbacks. That included who had paid and how much, and via which front companies. When Saddam's regime systematized its Oil for Food kickback demands across the board in 2000, keeping track of the graft flowing into Saddam's secret coffers became a job so extensive that the marketing arm of Iraq's Ministry of Oil, known as SOMO (State Oil Marketing Organization) developed an electronic database to track the flow of the "surcharges," as they were called.

To show how this worked, prosecutors last week produced a silver laptop onto which Saddam's entire oil kickback database had been downloaded by Mr. Yacoub, from backup copies he made just before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. With the laptop display projected onto a big screen before the jury, Mr. Yacoub booted up the system and into a query box typed "Coastal," the name of Wyatt's former oil company. Up came itemized lists of millions of dollars worth of surcharges he testified that Wyatt's company, or affiliated fronts, had paid to the Iraqi regime. These were broken down not only chronologically, but according to which front companies Mr. Yacoub said had channeled the money.

Read the entire piece. Brett Clanton of the Chronicle adds this report on how the Wyatt case highlights the perils of doing business in foreign hotspots. Interesting stuff.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 3, 2007

Hersh on the plan for Iran

iran_flag.pngIn this New Yorker article, Seymour Hersh lays out his theory on the Bush Administration's plans for neutralizing Iran. As with most of Hersh's work, it is a fascinating read. He concludes with the following story about tensions between Allied forces:

Another recent incident, in Afghanistan, reflects the tension over intelligence. In July, the London Telegraph reported that what appeared to be an SA-7 shoulder-launched missile was fired at an American C-130 Hercules aircraft. The missile missed its mark. Months earlier, British commandos had intercepted a few truckloads of weapons, including one containing a working SA-7 missile, coming across the Iranian border. But there was no way of determining whether the missile fired at the C-130 had come from Iranespecially since SA-7s are available through black-market arms dealers.

Vincent Cannistraro, a retired C.I.A. officer who has worked closely with his counterparts in Britain, added to the story: The Brits told me that they were afraid at first to tell us about the incidentin fear that Cheney would use it as a reason to attack Iran. The intelligence subsequently was forwarded, he said.

The retired four-star general confirmed that British intelligence was worried about passing the information along. The Brits dont trust the Iranians, the retired general said, but they also dont trust Bush and Cheney.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (2) |

September 24, 2007

Jaffa on Tyranny

jaffa.jpgIn the magnificent penultimate scene in Steven Spielberg's 1997 film, Amistad, John Quincy Adams (played brilliantly by Anthony Hopkins) concludes his oral argument in the U.S. Supreme Court with the following abnomition regarding the curse of slavery that is a central issue in the case::

"We desperately need your strength and wisdom to triumph over our fears, our prejudices, ourselves. Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war, then let it come. And when it does, may it be, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution."

"That's all I have to say."

Harry V. Jaffa, a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute and the author of the well-known study of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates (University of Chicago Press, 1959) pens this interesting blog post in which he makes the following observation about President Bush's goal of eliminating tyranny in the world:

. . . [T]he president has . . . [declared] that it is our intention to eliminate tyranny from the world. These pronouncements show a profound ignorance, both of history and of political philosophy.

Our own government, by constitutional majorities, became possible only when sectarian religious differences were removed from the political process. The Constitution declares in Article VI that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. Such a provision could not be found in any instrument of government in all of human history. (The Toleration Act of 1689 in England was full of religious tests.) In the aftermath of the religious wars in Europe, in which Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other without restraint, our Founding Fathers recognized that majority rule was not possible if Protestants could thereby determine the religion of Catholics, or Catholics of Protestants, or Christians of Jews, or Jews of Christians. Government by majority rule democracy in any sense is not possible unless sectarian religious differences are kept out of the political process. But in Iraq, in the Middle East generally, there are no political differences that are not sectarian.

According to Abraham Lincoln, The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society. By this he meant the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. It was fidelity to these principles that led Lincoln in the great secession winter of 1860 and 1861 to refuse any compromise that permitted the extension of slavery. Compromises are possible only among those who share principles more fundamental than the interests they are asked to compromise. As a practical historical fact, when compromises are not possible war is the alternative, as it was in our Civil War. John Stuart Mill, an admirer of Lincoln, declared that Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians. The dominant forms of political life throughout the Middle East are, with only one exception, as barbaric as those of Europe during the wars of religion. Only a despotism, as benign as we can find, and one that can begin turning people away from sectarian fanaticism, will answer our purpose. Otherwise, they will have to fight it out among themselves, as we did.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

August 9, 2007

Solzhenitsyn speaks

solzh-1.jpgWhen you have a few minutes, don't miss this Speigel Online interview with prominent Russian writer and Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Check out Solzhenitsyn's overview of Russia's political leaders since the fall of Communism:

Gorbachev's administration was amazingly politically nave, inexperienced and irresponsible towards the country. It was not governance but a thoughtless renunciation of power. The admiration of the West in return only strengthened his conviction that his approach was right. But let us be clear that it was Gorbachev, and not Yeltsin, as is now widely being claimed, who first gave freedom of speech and movement to the citizens of our country.

Yeltsin's period was characterized by a no less irresponsible attitude to people's lives, but in other ways. In his haste to have private rather than state ownership as quickly as possible, Yeltsin started a mass, multi-billion-dollar fire sale of the national patrimony. Wanting to gain the support of regional leaders, Yeltsin called directly for separatism and passed laws that encouraged and empowered the collapse of the Russian state. This, of course, deprived Russia of its historical role for which it had worked so hard, and lowered its standing in the international community. All this met with even more hearty Western applause.

Putin inherited a ransacked and bewildered country, with a poor and demoralized people. And he started to do what was possible -- a slow and gradual restoration. These efforts were not noticed, nor appreciated, immediately. In any case, one is hard pressed to find examples in history when steps by one country to restore its strength were met favorably by other governments.

Read the entire interview.

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) |

July 23, 2007

Dalrymple on Tony Blair

Tony%20Blair.jpgThe recent resignation of U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair provides an opportunity for British psychiatrist and author, Anthony Daniels (who writes under the pen name of Theodore Dalrymple), to provide this interesting early appraisal of the Blair years:

There undoubtedly were things to be grateful for during the Blair years. His support for American policy in Iraq won him much sympathy in the U.S., of course. He was often eloquent in defense of liberty. And under Mr. Blair's leadership, Britain enjoyed 10 years of uninterrupted economic growth, leaving large parts of the country prosperous as never before. London became one of the world's richest cities, vying with New York to be the global economy's financial center. Mr. Blair did inherit a strapping economy from his predecessor, and he left its management more or less to the man who succeeds him, Gordon Brown. Still, unlike previous Labour prime ministers, he did not preside over an economic crisis: in itself, something to be proud of.

But how history will judge him overall, and whether it will absolve him (to adapt slightly a phrase coined by a famous, though now ailing, Antillean dictator), is another matter [. . .]

Tony Blair was the perfect politician for an age of short attention spans. What he said on one day had no necessary connection with what he said on the following day: and if someone pointed out the contradiction, he would use his favorite phrase, "It's time to move on," as if detecting contradictions in what he said were some kind of curious psychological symptom in the person detecting them.

Many have surmised that there was an essential flaw in Mr. Blair's makeup that turned him gradually from the most popular to the most unpopular prime minister of recent history. The problem is to name that essential flaw. As a psychiatrist, I found this problem peculiarly irritating (bearing in mind that it is always highly speculative to make a diagnosis at a distance). But finally, a possible solution arrived in a flash of illumination. Mr. Blair suffered from a condition previously unknown to me: delusions of honesty.

Check out the entire op-ed. It's worth the time.

Posted by Tom at 12:20 AM | Comments (0) |

July 13, 2007

Myths of the war

dhs_threat_new-tbn_1.jpgMy nephew Richard and I had a good laugh about the new Homeland Security Threat Level on the left that resulted from Michael Chertoff's ill-advised warning regarding the terror threat from earlier in the week. But kidding aside, following on this earlier post regarding James Fallows' Atlantic Monthly piece, this Steve Chapman RCP op-ed provides a level-headed analysis of the actual threat of an attack from Islamic fascists and the counterproductive nature of the Bush Administration's characterization of the conflict as a global "war on terror." Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 12:19 AM | Comments (1) |

June 12, 2007

But what about Pakistan?

pakistan_map.gifSenator Joe Lieberman's hawkish comments from over the weekend regarding Iran received much media attention, but Gregory Scoblete in this TCS op-ed makes the case that Pakistan is actually the more toubling foreign policy problem:

While the 2008 presidential candidates are busy fielding questions about how they would confront Iran's nuclear ambitions, few seem interested in addressing a much more pressing issue: Pakistan. [. . .]

The truth is Pakistan represents a far greater danger to the U.S. than Iran, at least for the foreseeable future. Let us count the ways. Pakistan is a nuclear power. Iran is not. Pakistan has a proven track record of proliferation, including a dalliance with al Qaeda. It was Pakistani nuclear scientists, after all, who met with bin Laden. Indeed, it was a Pakistani scientist, A. Q. Khan, whose black-market network significantly expanded the reach of nuclear equipment and know-how. Meanwhile, Iranian scientists are still laboring to master the basic elements of the nuclear fuel cycle (though progress continues).

Pakistan was one of three countries prior to 9/11 to recognize and provide significant material support to the Taliban - the one regime whose accommodation made 9/11 possible. Iran opposed the Taliban. Elements within the Pakistani military continue to support rump Taliban elements as they battle NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported that Pakistani army elements have gone so far as to directly fire on Afghan forces (though Pakistan denies it).

Ideologically, Pakistan is vastly more sympathetic to al Qaeda than Iran. Its religious schools preach the extremist variety of Sunni Islam that animates bin Laden's jihad. While Iran's Shiite theocrats preach "death to America," few Iranians have actually embraced the mantra. There are, for instance, 65 Pakistanis in Guantanamo Bay; there are zero Iranians. Unlike al Qaeda, Iran's Shiite proxy Hezbollah has not embraced mass-causality suicide terrorism against American civilian targets. Indeed, Hezbollah's most significant anti-American strike was against a military target 24 years ago: a Marine barracks in Lebanon.

The single most important element, however, is the presence of a reconstituted al Qaeda leadership network in Pakistan. The country plays host (whether willingly or not) to the architects of the largest massacre on U.S. soil in history: Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. In contrast, Iran reportedly harbors a small number of lesser al Qaeda figures.

In Senate testimony earlier this year, intelligence chief John Negroponte described Pakistan as a "secure hide-out" within which al Qaeda plots further carnage. In February, the New York Times reported that al Qaeda "had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan" including full-fledged terror training camps. In Waziristan, al Qaeda inhabits a failed state within a functioning, nuclear-armed one.

In sum, the danger to Americans in America is emanating principally from Pakistan, not Iran. . .

Read the entire article. Scoblete makes a compelling case.

Posted by Tom at 4:15 AM | Comments (2) |

June 5, 2007

The importance of the images of war

iraq%20war%20dead.jpgFollowing on recent posts here and here on the seemingly intractable problems in Iraq, this David Carr/NY Times op-ed comments on the efforts of the U.S. military to control the publication of images of injured or killed soldiers from the Iraq War. Carr's op-ed prompted this letter to the Times editor by University of Houston Professor Bill Monroe, who you may recall had the best line at the Memorial Service for the late Ross M. Lence. Professor Monroe's letter provides as follows:

To the Editor:

Not to See the Fallen Is No Favor, by David Carr (The Media Equation, May 28), suggests that the reigning assumption among leaders in Iraq is that we cant handle the truth. In a curious way, it may well be the duty of fallen soldiers to let us see them wounded, dying and dead.

If we have the temerity to ask them to risk life and limb protecting American interests, we must ask them to help us know what it looks like, what it feels like, so that we can decide, as a Republic and a people, whether we in fact want to exact that private and public cost.

It is well, Robert E. Lee is reported to have said, that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.

We cant handle the truth? We had better.

William Monroe
Houston, May 30, 2007

Posted by Tom at 4:20 AM | Comments (0) |

June 4, 2007

Life in Baghdad

baghdad02_large_300.jpgFurther in line with this sobering analysis from last week on the obstacles that U.S. Armed Forces face in training the Iraqi Army, Terry McCarthy -- Baghdad correspondent for ABC News -- provides this equally daunting report on day-to-day life in Baghdad:

Danger is everywhere in Baghdad; life here is a continuous series of risk assessments. From the moment people wake up, they have to check whether it is safe to leave the house. Is there an unusual amount of gunfire? Have strangers been seen driving through the neighborhood? Is there something new to be afraid of?

Anything out of the ordinary is cause for fear. A friend who lives in southwest Baghdad says a man recently parked a car on the main street across from his apartment block, then ran away. He was spotted by a butcher, who summoned a U.S. patrol. The troops cordoned off the area and defused what turned out to be a massive bomb inside the suspicious car. The brave butcher was taking a risk either way: He could have had his store blown up, but now he risks a bullet from insurgents for informing the Americans about the car.

Read the entire intriguing piece. And also this one on the status of the current U.S. "push" to stabilize Baghdad.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

May 29, 2007

Training the enemy

insurgents.jpgRegardless of one's position on the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, this does not sound good:

Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents. [. . .]

But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this past February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bombers body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

I thought, What are we doing here? Why are we still here? said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. Were helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us. [. . .]

On April 29, a Delta Company patrol was responding to a tip at Al Sadr mosque, a short distance from its base. The soldiers saw men in the distance erecting burning barricades, and the streets emptied out quickly. Then a militia, believed to be the Mahdi Army, which is affiliated with the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, began firing at them from rooftops and windows.

[Sgt. Kevin OFlarity] and his squad maneuvered their Humvees through alleyways and side streets, firing back at an estimated 60 insurgents during a gun battle that raged for two and a half hours. . . .When the battle was over, Delta Company learned that among the enemy dead were at least two Iraqi Army soldiers that American forces had helped train and arm.

Read the entire troubling article.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

April 27, 2007

Not your typical obituary

boris%20yeltsin.gifBased on this Rolling Stone obituary, it's a safe bet that the family of Boris Yeltsin will not be hiring Matt Tabbi to write the official biography of the late former Russian premier:

Boris Yeltsin was literally born in mud and raised in shit. He was descended from a long line of drunken peasants who in hundreds of years of non-trying had failed to escape the stinky-ass backwater of the Talitsky region, a barren landscape of mud and weeds whose history is so undistinguished that even the most talented Russian historians struggle to find mention of it in imperial documents. They did find Yeltsins here and there in the Czarist censuses, but until the 20th century none made any mark in history. The best of the lot turned out to be Boris's grandfather, a legendarily mean and greedy old prick named Ignatiy Yeltsin, who achieved what was considered great wealth by village standards, owning a mill and a horse. Naturally, the flesh-devouring Soviet government, the government that would later make Boris Yeltsin one of its favored and feared vampires, liquidated Ignatiy for the crime of affluence, for the crime of having a mill and a horse. [. . .]

The communist government found its leaders among the meanest and greediest of the children who survived and thrived in places like this. Boris Yeltsin was such a child. As a teenager he only knew two things; how to drink vodka and smash people in the face. At the very first opportunity he joined up with the communists who had liquidated his grandfather and persecuted his father and became a professional thief and face-smasher, rising quickly through the communist ranks to become a boss of the Sverdlovsk region, where he was again famous for two things: his heroic drinking and his keen political sense in looting and distributing the booty from Soviet highway and construction contracts. If Boris Yeltsin ever had a soul, it was not observable in his early biography. He sold out as soon as he could and was his whole life a human appendage of a rotting, corrupt state, a crook who would emerge even from the hottest bath still stinking of booze, concrete and sausage.

There is much more.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

April 9, 2007

Wolfowitz at the World Bank

Wolfowitz.jpgThis New Yorker profile provides some interesting information on influential neo-con and World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz and also on the work of the World Bank, which is not well-understood generally. Definitely recommended reading.

By the way, did you know that Wolfowitz taught himself Arabic in the 1980's while working at the State Department, and that he also speaks French, German, Hebrew, and Indonesian?

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

March 16, 2007

How much do they charge him for making copies?

Hugo-Chavez-and-Fidel-Castro-have-signed-an-energy-pact-with-Caribbean-states-leaders-2.jpgSpeaking of Rudy Giuliani, it looks as if his recent association with Houston-based Bracewell & Giuliani is making for some rather interesting associations:

Rudolph W. Giulianis law firm has lobbied for years on behalf of an oil company controlled by the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chvez, a strident critic of President Bush and American-style capitalism.

Bracewell & Giuliani, the firm based in Houston that Mr. Giuliani joined as a name partner two years ago, handles lobbying in the Texas capital for the Citgo Petroleum Corporation of Houston. Citgo is the American subsidiary of Petrleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company that Mr. Chvez controls.

This is really a mountain of a molehill as Giuliani doesn't have anything to do with the small amount of business that his law firm does on behalf of Chavez and Citgo. But then again, it doesn't seem all that unfair for folks to trump up charges of hypocrisy against Candidate Giuliani.

Posted by Tom at 4:32 AM | Comments (0) |

February 18, 2007

Missing in Baghdad

baghdad%20map.gifIf there is only one newspaper article that you read this weekend, then make it this fascinating Wall Street Journal ($) article written by Sarmad Ali, an Iraqi-born student reporter for the Journal who somehow made his way from Iraq to Columbia University two years ago to study journalism. Ali had taught himself English while growing up in Baghdad during the turbulent period that included the Iraq-Iran War, Desert Storm in 1991 and the present Iraqi War.

The subject of the article is the desperate search of Ali's family for their father, a car mechanic who was recently reported missing after a bombing in Baghdad. The story is not only a riveting first-hand account of how a normal Iraqi family deals with the civil strife that has become commonplace in Baghdad, but also an excellent example of why the U.S. should always keep its arms open for immigrants who seek to improve their lives. Columbia and the WSJ should be proud for helping make that happen for Ali.

Posted by Tom at 6:49 AM | Comments (0) |

October 27, 2006

More trouble across the border

Mexican Drug Wars.jpgFollowing up from this post from a year ago regarding the increased drug-related violence along the Texas-Mexico border, this NY Times article reports on a particularly gruesome uptick in the violence -- beheadings of rival gang members:

An underworld war between drug gangs is raging in Mexico, medieval in its barbarity, its foot soldiers operating with little fear of interference from the police, its scope and brutality unprecedented, even in a country accustomed to high levels of drug violence.

In recent months the violence has included a total of two dozen beheadings, a raid on a local police station by men with grenades and a bazooka, and daytime kidnappings of top law enforcement officials. At least 123 law enforcement officials, among them 2 judges and 3 prosecutors, have been gunned down or tortured to death. Five police officers were among those beheaded.

In all, the violence has claimed more than 1,700 civilian lives this year, and federal officials say the killings are on course to top the estimated 1,800 underworld killings last year. Those death tolls compare with 1,304 in 2004 and 1,080 in 2001, these officials say.

By the way, a fence will not stop this particular problem from spilling over the border.

Posted by Tom at 4:49 AM | Comments (2) |

October 16, 2006

What to do about North Korea?

north_korea_nighttime_shrunk.jpgWith last week's confirmation that North Korea had tested a nuclear device, The Atlantic Monthly has put online Robert D. Kaplan's cover article from the October print edition, When North Korea Falls, a stark analysis of the disaster that could occur when the fragile North Korean society finally collapses. Kaplan sums up the problem that North Korea's inevitable collapse presents to the US:

Middle- and upper-middle-level U.S. officers based in South Korea and Japan are planning for a meltdown of North Korea that, within days or even hours of its occurrence, could present the worldmeaning, really, the American militarywith the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II. It could be the mother of all humanitarian relief operations, Army Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell told me. On one day, a semi-starving population of 23 million people would be Kim Jong Ils responsibility; on the next, it would be the U.S. militarys, which would have to work out an arrangement with the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (among others) about how to manage the crisis.

Read the entire article, which is essential reading for understanding the motivations of North Korea's current nuclear brinksmanship. Which, by the way, generated the best crack of last week, from David Letterman:

"The North Koreans are starting to gloat a little bit. The test was a big success, and to celebrate, today Kim Jong-il is wearing his hair in the shape of a mushroom cloud."

Posted by Tom at 4:40 AM | Comments (0) |

August 16, 2006

On the Iraqi counterinsurgency and radical Islam

Keegan John.jpgIn this short review of Thomas Ricks' new book, Fiasco (Penguin July, 2006), renowned British military historian and author Sir John Keegan (previous posts here) provides a typically lucid explanation of "how a brilliantly executed invasion turned into a messy counterinsurgency struggle." Keegan concludes with the following observation:

[W]hat may underlie the whole insurgency, . . . is the rise of Islamic militancy across the Muslim world.

America was so certain that what it had to offer--modern government in an incorrupt and democratic form--was so obviously desirable that it failed altogether to understand that the Iraqis wanted something else, which is self-government in an Islamic form. It is too late now to start again.

All that can be hoped is that the U.S. Army will prevail in its counterinsurgency and, as Mr. Ricks's gripping accounts of the troops in action suggest, it may still. His description of Marines "attacking into an ambush" leaves one in no doubt that American soldiers know combat secrets that their enemies do not and cannot match. Whether pure military skills will win the war, however, cannot be predicted.

Meanwhile, in this NY Times op-ed, Yale fellow Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslims Call for Reform in Her Faith (St. Martin's 2004) reminds us that radical Islamic jihadists do not require foreign policy grievances to justify their violence, and that support of responsible Islamic leadership is the key to success in the Middle East:

Whether in Britain or America, those who claim to speak for Muslims have a responsibility to the majority, which wants to reconcile Islam with pluralism. Whatever their imperial urges, it is not for Tony Blair or George W. Bush to restore Islams better angels. That duty and glory goes to Muslims.

And finally, Will Wilkinson points to this wonderful, short Bertrand Russell essay that identifies one of the key human dynamics underlying not only radical Muslin jihadists, but demagogues in any culture:

Ignore fact and reason, live entirely in the world of your own fantastic and myth-producing passions; do this whole-heartedly and with conviction, and you will become one of the prophets of your age.

Posted by Tom at 5:08 AM | Comments (1) |

August 11, 2006

James Fallows - "We've won the War on Terror"

War on Terror.jpgOne of the unfortunate results of the news regarding the latest foiled terrorist attack in London is that it will inevitably distract from a point that James Fallows (previous posts here) makes in this excellent Atlantic Monthly article -- we've won the War on Terror.

In preparing the AM article, Fallows -- who is of America's most gifted investigative reporters on foreign policy and military issues -- interviewed over 60 leading terrorism analysts and concludes that terrorists, through their own efforts, can damage, but not destroy us. Their real destructive power lies in what they can provoke us to do. Fallows goes on to observe that if we allow fear rather than reason to control our reaction to terrorism, then groups such as Al Qaeda can provoke the US into launching unnecessary wars that are far more damaging to our ultimate cause than the terrorist attack that provoked the war in the first place. Accordingly, Fallows urges in the article that the US drop the war metaphor in continuing its fight against groups such as Al Qaeda.

As we assess further information regarding the London airline terrorist plot, Fallows' cogent optimism reminds us that fear is the fuel for demagogic threats to the freedom that we most cherish. Check it out.

Update: Stratfor echos Fallows' optimism in his pre-London terrorist plot article with this post-plot analysis:

There are four takeaway lessons from this incident:

First, while there obviously remains a threat from those not only sympathetic to al Qaeda, but actually participating in planning with those in the al Qaeda apex leadership, their ability to launch successful attacks outside of the Middle East is severely degraded.

Second, if the cell truly does have 50 people and 21 have already been detained, then al Qaeda might have lost its ability to operate below the radar of Western -- or at least U.K. -- intelligence agencies. Al Qaeda's defining characteristic has always been its ability to maintain operational security. If that has been compromised, then al Qaeda's importance as a force has diminished greatly.

Third, though further attacks could occur, it appears al Qaeda has lost the ability to alter the political decision-making of its targets. The Sept. 11 attack changed the world. The Madrid train attacks changed a government. This failed airliner attack only succeeded in closing an airport temporarily.

Fourth, the vanguard of militant Islamism appears to have passed from Sunni/Wahhabi al Qaeda to Shiite Iran and Hezbollah. It is Iran that is shaping Western policies on the Middle East, and Hezbollah who is directly engaged with Israel. Al Qaeda, in contrast, appears unable to do significantly more than issue snazzy videos.

Will Wilkinson agrees and notes that the response in terms of airline security needs to be proportionate to the true risk.

Posted by Tom at 6:38 AM | Comments (2) |

August 5, 2006

The view from the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan

rory stewart.jpgScottish author and diplomat Rory Stewart has packed a lifetime of fascinating experiences into his 33 years. In this interesting interview tucked into the weekend Wall Street Journal ($), the WSJ's Jeffrey Trachtenberg talks with Stewart, who has become one of the foremost authorities on the day-to-day problems involved in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan after years of brutal totalitarian governments.

Born in Hong Kong, Stewart went on to receive undergraduate and master's degrees in Modern History and Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Balliol College, Oxford University, and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Granta and the London Review of Books. After college, Stewart served in the British Army and Foreign Office in a variety of capacities before electing in 2000 to set off on a two-year, 6,000 mile walking journey through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. He chronicled his journey through Afghanistan during the the winter of 2002 in The Places in Between (Picador/Macmillan 2004), which Harcourt Harvest published this past May in paperback.

Stewart returned to public service in late 2003 as Deputy Governorate Coordinator (Amara/Maysan) and Senior Adviser and Deputy Governorate Coordinator (Nasiriyah/Dhi Qar) in which Stewart established the governance structures of Maysan province, resolved tribal disputes to restore security and consolidate the authority of the Iraqi government and the police, set up NGOs and civil society organizations, ran municipal elections, inaugurated a new Provincial Council in Dhi Qar and saw the province through to the transfer of sovereignty in June 2004. Stewart was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the British Government for his service in Iraq.

Last week, Harcourt published Stewart's second book -- The Prince of the Marshes -- in which Stewart describes his recent experiences in Iraq, including the troubling problem of persuading the Iraqis to embrace the Coalition's mission there and the abject failure of a Coalition military unit from Italy to come to Mr. Stewart's rescue when his compound came under a brutal mortar attack. During the WSJ interview, Stewart provides many insights into the practical problems involved in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, including the following:

Q: Did you expect to find the Afghanistan you describe in your first book -- poor, hungry and feudalistic?

A: No, I was surprised. I wasn't prepared for how poor and remote from the rest of the world Afghanistan turned out to be.

Q: Is Afghanistan going to be a perpetual war zone?

A: For the next generation it will be fragile and unstable. You're unlikely to have much government control of the tribal areas. People have a very strong sense of honor and admiration for courage. Particularly young men can become quite excitable and sympathetic towards violence. The older generation would like peace. But half the population is under 18, and that's where a lot of the trouble is coming from.

Q: Very few people you met [in Afghanistan] seemed opposed to the Taliban. Does this suggest that fundamentalism is part of the country's culture?

A: Rural communities are much more conservative in their Islamic beliefs than we acknowledge. If they had problems with the Taliban it had to do with burning their village, or stealing a donkey. But they were in favor of the social codes. In Kabul, there is a lot of unhappiness that people are allowed to drink alcohol. Outside the urban areas you'll find people are surprisingly xenophobic.

Q: Near the end of book, you describe a mortar and small arms attack on your compound in Nasiriyah. Is Iraq the new Yugoslavia, a country that only a tyrant could govern?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. Certain Iraqis seem to want a more authoritarian government. We were pushing for gentler policing, but a lot of Iraqis were suspicious of that. Iraq probably needs a very firm government to restore security. What it needs above all are good politicians flexible enough to restore a sense of national identity.

Q: In light of the behavior of the Italian Quick Reaction Force when your compound was attacked, what chance is there that a multinational armed force can successfully serve as a buffer between Israel and Lebanon?

A: This is a real problem. I don't believe in multinational armed forces except as a symbol. As a fighting force they are often inadequate militarily. Their strength is political; their presence spreads the blame. A coalition says a broader section of the international community is involved. The interesting thing is that the Nasiriyah province is looking better than some other parts of Iraq. Perhaps the Italian approach of doing very little turned out to have positive consequences, in that the Iraqis sorted themselves out rather than relying on foreigners.

Jonathan Tepperman, deputy managing editor of Foreign Affairs, has more on the folly of relying on a multinational force to resolve the ongoing Hezbollah-Israeli conflict.

Posted by Tom at 8:52 AM | Comments (0) |

July 27, 2006

Islam's real struggle

islamic_woman.jpgThe current escalation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah is currenly getting most of the attention on the world stage, but NYU Islamic Studies professor Bernard Haykel reminds us in this NY times op-ed that an even knottier problem than Islamic hatred of Israel is the conflict within Islam between Sunni and the Shiite ideologies.

Sunni ideology regards Shiites as heretics and Sunni groups such as Al Qaeda profoundly distrust Shiite groups such as Hezbollah (Al Qaeda reportedly gave the green light months ago to Sunni extremists in Iraq to attack Shiite civilians and holy sites). But if Hezbollah is successful in its current attack on Israel -- and "success" may only necessitate survival -- Haykel sees ominous signs for the West:

What will such a victory [by Hezbollah over Israel] mean? Perhaps Hezbollahs ascendancy among Sunnis will make it possible for Shiites and Sunnis to stop the bloodletting in Iraq and to focus instead on their real enemies, namely the United States and Israel. Rumblings against Israeli actions in Lebanon from both Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq already suggest such an outcome.

That may be good news for Iraqis, but it marks a dangerous turn for the West. And there are darker implications still. Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.

Read the entire piece. And don't miss Dan Senor's Opinion Journal op-ed that explains how the militant Shiite forces in Iraq are shaping domestic and foreign policy there.

Posted by Tom at 6:37 AM | Comments (0) |

July 24, 2006

Thinking about foreign policy

foreign_affairs.jpgInasmuch as foreign affairs issues are simmering all over the place right now, I pass along the following items that I've come across recently:

In this Investors Business Daily article, Claremont Institute President Brian Kennedy evaluates the US missle defense capabilities and explains why it is wholly indequate. Most interestingly, Kennedy describes an admittedly "fanciful" scenario under which North Korea would hit Seattle with a nuclear missle and an aftermath that is foreboding. The Claremont Institute is also maintaining this site that updates America's vulnerability to ballistic missile attack as the proliferation of ballistic missile technology increases.

We haven't checked in with Victor Davis Hanson in awhile, so this National Review op-ed provides a welcome contrary view to the gloom and doom of most media reports regarding the current Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

For up-to-the-minute updates on the situation in the Middle East, the Truth Laid Bare provides this useful page of bloggers categorized by region and this NY Times article passes along several online diaries from the front of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict.

Finally, Foreign Affairs magazine is providing this excellent online forum on the question of "What to Do in Iraq." Take a few minutes to review the give-and-take from the various experts particpating in the forum.

Posted by Tom at 5:14 AM | Comments (0) |

July 5, 2006

The big problem with Mexico

mexican flag at port.jpgThe presidential election in Mexico garners more interest in Texas than many places because of the increasing problems that the state faces in regard to the influx of immigrants and violence on the border. Calderon's apparent victory is almost certainly better economically for Mexico, and Opinion Journal's Mary Anastasia O'Grady observes that the handling of the election is a hopeful sign for Mexico's emerging multi-party political system. However, the Washington Post's Robert Samuelson identifies in this column the problem that continues to vex Mexico's economic development -- inefficient big businesses that are protected by the government and vibrant small businesses that are threatened by it:

[Mexico's] economy consists of two vast sectors, each slow to adopt better technology and business practices.

One sector involves large, modern firms in semi-protected markets that limit the pressure to improve efficiency or lower prices. "Mexico's business sector is risk-averse. It's never had to operate in a true competitive environment," says Pamela Starr, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm. "It's operated with monopolies and oligopolies encouraged by the government."...

The other part of the economy is usually called the "informal sector." It consists of thousands of small firms -- street vendors, stores, repair shops, tiny manufacturers -- that theoretically aren't legal, because they haven't registered with the government and often don't pay taxes or comply with regulations on wages and hiring and firing. Almost two-thirds of Mexico's workers may be employed in the informal sector, according to one rough estimate by the International Monetary Fund.

The sector's size might suggest great entrepreneurial vitality. The trouble is that these firms are virtually compelled to remain small and inefficient. Because they're technically illegal, they can't easily get bank loans and can't grow too large without being forced to pay taxes or comply with government regulations.

Read the entire column.

Posted by Tom at 7:19 AM | Comments (0) |

March 14, 2006

Fukuyama's pivot on Iraq

fukuyama_bio.jpgFrancis Fukuyama is a professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, an award-winning author and a former neoconservative supporter of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy (previous post here).

As a result, Fukuyama's new book -- America at the Crossroads (Yale 2006) -- that summarizes Fukuyama's views on neoconservatism, why he parted ways with other neocons on the Iraq war, and where we go from here is causing quite a stir in foreign policy circles. The NY Times' Michiko Kakutani has this favorable review of Fukuyama's book while the Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens weighs in with this critical one. Finally, in this NPO piece, Victor Davis Hanson makes the case for holding the line in Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 5:47 AM | Comments (7) |

February 1, 2006

John Keegan on the Iraq policy

Face of Battle2.jpgJohn Keegan is England's foremost military historian and, for many years, was the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His book -- The Second World War -- is arguably the best single volume book on World War II and his book The Face of Battle is essential reading for anyone seeking an understanding of the history of warfare. In short, when John Keegan writes about war, it is wise to take note.

In this London Telegraph op-ed, Mr. Keegan provides an overview of what the U.S. and Britain have accomplished in Iraq, and then makes a persuasive case for following through with what is an increasingly unpopular role in that country:

Critics should remember that, in nine tenths of Iraq, peace reigns. Thousands of Iraqi towns and villages are untroubled by insurrection and continue to regard the British and Americans as liberators. They cannot be abandoned to terrorists, fanatics and friends of the defunct dictatorship. To urge that we should go on as we are is an unpopular line of argument. That it is unpopular does not, however, mean it is wrong.

There is a final consideration. The Middle East is exceedingly complex, and one of its complexities is formed by Iran's determination to become a nuclear power. To withdraw the Western forces from Iraq now would in effect be to encourage Iran to persist in its nuclear challenge. Even if, as the Foreign Secretary insists, military action against Iran is unthinkable, it is at least prudent to retain the capacity for military action in the region.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 6:38 AM | Comments (0) |

December 6, 2005

A Grotian Moment

saddam.jpgA "Grotian Moment" is a legal development that is so significant that it can create new customary international law or radically transform the interpretation of treaty-based law. The trial of Saddam Hussein is such a moment, and this Case Western School of Law blog is providing expert commentary on the legal and foreign policy implications of arguably the most important international trial since Nuremberg. The subject of the latest post is former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is a member of Saddam's defense team. The post's author -- Case Western international law professor Michael Scharf -- notes the following:

Clark is known for turning international trials into political stages from which to launch attacks against U.S. foreign policy. He has represented Liberian political figure Charles Taylor during his 1985 fight against extradition from the United States to Liberia; Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Hutu leader implicated in the Rwandan genocide; PLO leaders in a lawsuit brought by the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair bound elderly American who was shot and tossed overboard from the hijacked Achille Lauro cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists in 1986; and most recently Slobodan Milosevic, the former leader of Serbia who is on trial for genocide before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Sounds just like your typical former U.S. Attorney General, doesn't it? ;^)

Posted by Tom at 5:51 AM | Comments (1) |

November 14, 2005

The Rumsfeld Reorganization

rumsfeld3.jpgDon't miss this important David Von Drehle/Washington Post article that provides a decent overview of the reorganization of the Defense Department under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during preparations for the Iraq War. This is an important issue that has been festering since the Reagan Administration and has major domestic and foreign policy implications (previous posts on the issue are here). However, the issue tends to fly somewhat beneath the radar screen for various reasons, not the least of which is the depth of the issue and the overshadowing effect of related issues, such as detainee policy.

Into this mini-vacuum of analysis, Mr. Von Drehle does a good job of framing the issue:

Diving in, he found his marching orders in a speech given by candidate Bush at the Citadel in 1999, calling for a "transformation" of the great but lumbering U.S. military. The Cold War force was built around big foreign bases and heavy weapons "platforms," such as tank columns and aircraft carriers. With the Cold War over, Bush said, America should use the chance to "skip a generation" of weaponry and tactics to seize the future of warfare ahead of everyone else. A transformed military would be lightly armored, rapidly deployable, invisible to radar, guided by satellites. It would fight with Special Operations troops and futuristic "systems" of weaponry, robots alongside soldiers, all linked by computers. This force would be unmatchable in combat, Bush predicted, but it should not be used for the sort of "nation-building" that characterized Pentagon deployments to Haiti and the Balkans under Clinton.
Little of this was entirely new. Since Vietnam, Pentagon leaders -- including the younger Rumsfeld -- had been searching for more efficient, less entangling, ways to project U.S. power. Even the Army, perhaps the most hidebound of the services, had begun a complete reorganization to make itself easier to deploy. "Some things had been done since the end of the Cold War," Rumsfeld conceded in the interview.

But the Pentagon is the world's biggest, richest bureaucracy, with an annual budget larger than the entire economies of all but about a dozen nations -- bigger than Switzerland or Sweden. The leviathan managed to shrug off most deep and lasting changes. Thus, when Rumsfeld took office in 2001, he recalled, "we were located pretty much where we had been located, geographically, around the world. We still had the same processes and systems and approaches."

Some of the most important changes on Rumsfeld's menu were also the toughest, because of the entrenched interests involved. Weapons programs and bases provide jobs in nearly every congressional district. Republican or Democrat doesn't matter when it comes time to protect those jobs, so the programs and the bases endure even after the strategy behind them has expired. Some defense secretaries quail before this status quo, but not Rumsfeld. Shortly after taking office, he began questioning continued funding for the Crusader supercannon, an artillery piece designed to destroy Soviet tank columns that no longer existed, and the Comanche helicopter, another Cold War relic. Such efforts made him a hero in the military think tanks but earned him a lot of enemies on the Hill. By late summer 2001, Washington was buzzing with rumors that Rumsfeld would soon resign.

Then came September 11.

Read the entire article, which Mr. Von Drehle will be discussing today on washingtonpost.com/liveonline at noon, Houston time.

The Pentagon is a notoriously tradition-bound organization where new ideas that do not come through the normal chain of command are viewed by Pentagon generals with skepticism. Nevertheless, over the past 25 years, the Pentagon has increasingly embraced intellectual ideas from non-conventional sources. For example, Andrew Marshall in the late 1970's and early 80's argued from an obscure Pentagon office that wars could be revolutionized by precision bombs, unmanned planes and wireless communications that would allow the American military to destroy enemies from a distance. Similarly, the work of the late Pentagon iconoclast John Boyd and his acolytes in revolutioning the way in which the American military approaches war in the late 20th and early 21st century has been well-chronicled in Robert Coram's book, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little, Brown 2002).

Consequently, it is important to remember that things are not always as they seem on the surface in regard to the American military. For example, the Pentagon brass often fought tooth and nail against the innovative ideas of people such as Boyd, Marshall, and now Rumsfeld, primarily because their ideas often ran contrary to the sacred cow military appropriations that the Pentagon hierarchy aggressively protect. On the other hand, you will not learn from the superficial media accounts that it took leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell over the past two decades to open up and accept recommendations from lower Pentagon sources such as Boyd and Marshall that have revolutionized and dramatically improved America's ability to conduct war in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But for the willingness of leaders such as Messrs. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell to listen to these unconventional sources of information, the traditional Pentagon brass would have squelched those innovative ideas before they would have ever seen the light of day.

For an interesting discussion of the WaPo article and these issues, check out this Gregory Djerejian post and related comments over at The Belgravia Dispatch. For another interesting strategic view of Rumsfeld's conduct of the war against Islamic fascism, check out this TigerHawk post.

Posted by Tom at 7:22 AM | Comments (2) |

November 7, 2005

Thinking about the source of the French riots

French Revolution.jpgRioting across France hit a new peak during the 11th night of rioting last night, as the violence -- initially centered in the Paris suburbs -- worsened elsewhere in France. From the original outburst of violence in suburban Paris housing projects, the violence has expanded into a widespread show of disdain for French authority from youths, mostly the children of Arabs and black Africans who are the products of high unemployment, poor housing and discrimination in French society. This Opinion.Telegraph piece provides a British perspective on the current situation.

Interestingly, Theodore Dalrymple -- the pen name of British psychiatrist and author, Anthony Daniels -- predicted all of this back in 2002 in this City Journal piece on the developing European underclass:

Whether France was wise to have permitted the mass immigration of people culturally very different from its own population to solve a temporary labor shortage and to assuage its own abstract liberal conscience is disputable . . . Indisputably, however, France has handled the resultant situation in the worst possible way. Unless it assimilates these millions successfully, its future will be grim. But it has separated and isolated immigrants and their descendants geographically into dehumanizing ghettos; it has pursued economic policies to promote unemployment and create dependence among them, with all the inevitable psychological consequences; it has flattered the repellent and worthless culture that they have developed; and it has withdrawn the protection of the law from them, allowing them to create their own lawless order.

No one should underestimate the danger that this failure poses, not only for France but also for the world. The inhabitants of the cits are exceptionally well armed. When the professional robbers among them raid a bank or an armored car delivering cash, they do so with bazookas and rocket launchers, and dress in paramilitary uniforms. From time to time, the police discover whole arsenals of Kalashnikovs in the cits. There is a vigorous informal trade between France and post-communist Eastern Europe: workshops in underground garages in the cits change the serial numbers of stolen luxury cars prior to export to the East, in exchange for sophisticated weaponry.

A profoundly alienated population is thus armed with serious firepower; and in conditions of violent social upheaval, such as France is in the habit of experiencing every few decades, it could prove difficult to control. The French state is caught in a dilemma between honoring its commitments to the more privileged section of the population, many of whom earn their livelihoods from administering the dirigiste economy, and freeing the labor market sufficiently to give the hope of a normal life to the inhabitants of the cits. Most likely, the state will solve the dilemma by attempts to buy off the disaffected with more benefits and rights, at the cost of higher taxes that will further stifle the job creation that would most help the cit dwellers. If that fails, as in the long run it will, harsh repression will follow.

Following up on one of those themes, Dalrymple writes today in this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed that France's economic policies that end up encouraging unemployment have much to do with the current situtation:

A French employee works 30% fewer hours than a British worker, and a much smaller percentage of the French population than the British works at all, yet total French output is very nearly equal in value to British. In other words, the French are much more efficient economically than the British. But their relative efficiency has been bought at a price: the creation of a large caste of people more or less permanently unintegrated into the rest of society.

A Martian observing France dispassionately, without ideological preconceptions, would come to the conclusion that the French had accepted with equanimity a kind of social settlement in which all those with jobs would enjoy various legally sanctioned perks and protections, while those without jobs would remain unemployed forever, though they would be tossed enough state charity to keep body and cellphone together. And since there are many more employed people than unemployed people in France, this is a settlement that suits most people, who will vote for it forever. It is therefore politically unassailable, either by the left or the right, which explains the paralysis of the French state in the present impasse.

The only fly in the ointment (apart from the fact that the rest of the economies of the world won't leave the French economy in peace) is that the portion of the population whom the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, so tactlessly, but in the secret opinion of most Frenchmen so accurately, referred to as the "racaille" -- scum -- is not very happy with the settlement as it stands. It wants to be left alone to commit crimes uninterrupted by the police, as is its inalienable right.

Unfortunately, to economic division is added ethnic and cultural division: For the fact is that most of Mr. Sarkozy's racaille are of North African or African descent, predominantly Muslim. And the French state has adopted, whether by policy or inadvertence, the South African solution to the problem of social disaffection (in the days of Apartheid): It has concentrated the great majority of the disaffected paupers geographically in townships whose architecture would have pleased that great Francophone (actually Swiss) modernist architect, Le Corbusier, who -- be it remembered -- wanted to raze the whole of Paris and rebuild it along the lines of Clichy-sous-Bois (known now as Clichy-sur-Jungle).

If you wanted to create and run a battery farm for young delinquents, you could hardly do better. But as one "community leader" put it when asked whether he thought that better architecture might help, there's no point in turning 15-story chicken coops into three-story chicken coops.

Meanwhile, Victor Davis Hanson reminds us in this City Journal piece that the core problem remains radical Islamic fascism, the importation of which America remains strangely tolerant:

Some say, reassuringly, that Islamic extremism has little appeal to Americas growing Muslim population. America prides itself on being unlike Europe in its powers of assimilation. Thanks to the melting pot and a vigorous economy, this argument goes, we have no Marseilles-like Muslim ghettos or Rotterdam-style dish cities, blighted Islamic suburbs where assimilation remains rare and terrorist sympathies widespread even after generations of living in the West. We certainly dont have the difficulties in assimilating Muslims that England experiences. A chilling Daily Telegraph poll, for example, found that one in four British Muslims sympathized with the motives of Julys subway killers, about one in five voiced little loyalty toward Britain, and a third felt that Western culture was decadent and that they should help to bring it to an end.

Yet U.S. self-congratulation is premature. Before we condemn Britain as hopelessly retrograde, we need to recognize that we have no idea how much some American Muslims support jihadist causescomprehensive polls dont exist. Of the few surveys taken, the results arent encouraging. The Hamilton College Muslim America poll of April 2003 revealed that 44 percent of U.S. Muslims had no opinion on whether Usama bin Ladin was involved with the September 11 attacks. Only one out of three blamed al-Qaida. . . .

If we really are in a war against Muslim terror, our enemies and those who support or appease them pose a quandary on the home front unlike anything we have faced in past struggles. . .

Yet immigration controlas the Dutch and French have learnedmay be the most powerful tool in the war against the jihadists. Not only does it help keep terrorists out, it also carries symbolic weight. In the Middle East, America is worshipped even as it is hatedconstantly slurred even as it proves the Number One destination for thousands upon thousands of would-be immigrants from the Islamic world. Once we have deported the Islamists, and Middle Easterners and other Muslims find it much harder to enter the U.S. because of their governments tolerance for radical anti-Americanism, the message will resound all the more loudly in the Muslim world itself that terrorism is intolerable.

Such toughness opposes the current orthodoxy, which holds that curtailing immigration from the Arab and Muslim world will cost us a key opportunity to inculcate moderates and eventually send back emissaries of goodwill. Maybe; but so far, the profile of the Islamic terrorist is someone who has paid back our magnanimity with deadly contempt. Just as bin Ladin, Dr. Zawahiri, and the Pakistanis suspected of bombing the London subways were not poor, uneducated, or unfamiliar with the West, so too we find that those arrested for terrorist activities on our shores seem to hate us all the more because of our liberality.

Perhaps if the message does begin to be heard that America is as unpredictable as it is merciless toward the advocates and supporters of radical Islam, then the much praised but rarely heard moderates of the Muslim world will at last step forward and keep the few from ruining things for the many. Meantime, we should stop allowing illiberals into the United Statesilliberals who either wish to undermine Western tolerance or wont worry too much when others in their midst try.

Posted by Tom at 4:34 AM | Comments (0) |

November 4, 2005

Riots spreading in suburban France

Paris Violence2.jpgThis story has been flying a big under the radar screen (at least outside the blogosphere) over the past week, but France's government is coming under increasing political pressure to find a solution for civil unrest in suburban France that has unfolded over the past week. Over the past couple of nights, rioting youths in the the Seine-Saint-Denis region north of Paris have shot at police and firemen as they battled youths who torched car dealerships, public buses and a school.

The triggering event of the rioting occured last Thursday in the northeastern Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois after the accidental deaths of two teenagers who were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation. However, the unrest is really the outgrowth of French society's failure to integrate millions of immigrants who have come to France over the past generation, many of whom are unemployed immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa who live in poverty in low-cost, suburban housing projects. The riots are focusing attention on the differences between France's generally affluent big cities and their poor suburbs, where the North African and Muslim immigrants and their French-born children struggle with high unemployment, crime, poverty and a lack of opportunities. As with such ghetto areas anywhere, crime-ridden gangs dealing drugs and stolen goods control many of the more decrepit housing projects and are benefitting from the chaos of the current riots.

As we saw in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the line between civil order and unrest is fragile, and not easily restored once crossed. Daniel Drezner has more along those lines in this post and related comments.

Posted by Tom at 4:31 AM | Comments (5) |

October 31, 2005

John Keegan on the Dresden firebombing

slaughterhouse five.jpgJohn Keegan is England's foremost military historian and, for many years, was the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His book -- The Second World War -- is arguably the best single volume book on World War II and his book The Face of Battle is essential reading for anyone seeking an understanding of the history of warfare. His latest book -- The Iraq War -- was published in 2004, and here are prior posts on Mr. Keegan's views on the Iraq War. In short, when John Keegan writes about war, it is wise to take note.

Over this past weekend, over 100,000 Germans celebrated the reopening of Dresden, Germany's beautiful Baroque church -- the Frauenkirche -- which had laid in ruins for almost 60 years as a bleak reminder of the Allied fire-bombing raids of February 1945 that killed 25,000 people and incinerated Dresden's old city. The Dresden firebombing remained largely unnoticed outside of military circles until the early 1970's when it formed the basis of Kurt Vonnegut's haunting novel, Slaughterhouse Five, which in turn formed the basis of the 1972 George Roy Hill movie of the same name.

In this Daily Telegraph op-ed, Mr. Keegan uses the occasion of the Frauenkirche celebration to review the Dresden firebombing and to observe how Allied terror bombing during World War II raises difficult issues in these times of widespread civilian terror bombing against Americans and citizens of Allied countries. As with all of Mr. Keegan's writings, the entire piece is well worth reading, and his conclusion gives you a taste of his special perspective:

In the last, remembering Dresden forces one to recognise that there is nothing nice or admirable about any war, and that victory, even a victory as desirable as that over Nazi Germany, is purchased at the cost of terrible human suffering, the suffering of the completely innocent as well as of their elders and their parents in arms. It is right to remember Dresden, but chiefly as a warning against repetition of the mass warfare that tortured Europe in the 20th century.

Posted by Tom at 6:11 AM | Comments (0) |

July 29, 2005

The IRA's announcement

ira.jpgIn a potentially significant step that could end over three decades of violence in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland, the Irish Republican Army has ordered its members to discard their weapons. As noted in this earlier post, the I.R.A.'s continued use of terrorism in attempting to achieve its political goals -- and some United States politicians' often ambivalent stance toward it -- represented one of the more troubling hypocrocies of the U.S.'s current War on Terror.

More than 3,000 people have died since Northern Ireland's "Troubles" began in the 1970s, about two thirds of which were the result of IRA-sponsored incidents. The purported goal of the IRA's campaign of violence to reunite Ireland and win independence from Great Britain. Despite that, IRA violence hasn't been the top priority of U.K. security forces for several years. In 1994, the IRA declared a cease-fire in its war to force Britain out of Northern Ireland, but that cease-fire was violated when the IRA set off a huge bomb in London's docklands financial district in 1996. Nevetheless, since a comprehensive peace deal in 1998, the only further attacks have been by IRA splinter groups. Political authority was shifted from London to a Northern Irish assembly in which Sinn Fein -- the IRA's political wing -- briefly shared power with Northern Ireland's majority Protestant parties, but the IRA's failure to lay down its arms had prompted Northern Ireland's mainly Protestant Unionist parties to continue objecting to Sinn Fein's involvement in the government.

The United Irelander has some thoughts here on how the various interest groups in the U.K. are reacting to the IRA's announcement.

Posted by Tom at 5:18 AM | Comments (2) |

July 18, 2005

Why they hate us

Faith at War.jpgYaroslav Trofimov is a Wall Street Journal reporter from the Ukraine who is fluent in Arabic. While carrying an Italian passport, Mr. Trofimov traveled through the Middle East recently interviewing Muslims for his new book, Faith at War : A Journey on the Frontlines of Islam, from Baghdad to Timbuktu (Henry Holt and Co. 2005).

In this NY Times Book Review, reviewer Philip Caputo notes that many of Mr. Trofimov's encounters led him to the conclusion that poverty is not the root cause of Islamic extremism. More often than not, the most radical ideas regarding Western civilization came from the relatively wealthy and privileged who had experience with the West, not the downtrodden who are typically cast as the primary source of Muslim animus toward the West. One anecdotal experience is particularly telling:

On [Mr. Trofimov's] first stop, Cairo, undergraduates dining in a McDonald's a few days after 9/11 demonstrate that it's possible to delight in a Big Mac and in the fiery deaths of 3,000 Americans at the same time. "Everyone celebrated," an 18-year-old university student gushes as she dips her fries into ketchup, "cheering that America finally got what it deserved."

Posted by Tom at 6:48 AM | Comments (0) |

July 12, 2005

On foreign aid

posner2.jpgThe always entertaining Richard Posner (prior posts here) weighs in on the efficacy of foreign aid:

I do not favor foreign aid, debt relief (which is simply another form of such aid), or other financial transfers to poor countries, in Africa or anywhere else. Countries that are not corrupt do not require foreign aid, and foreign aid to corrupt countries entrenches corruption by increasing the gains to corruption. Foreign aid to Zimbabwe, for example, will simply prop up dictator Mugabe.

Foreign aid makes people in wealthy countries feel generous, but retards reform in those countries as well as in the donee countries. . .

Meanwhile, over at Mahalanobis, Michael Stasny refers to this Bill Easterly paper on foreign aid (pdf):

If Zambia had converted all the aid it received since 1960 to investment and all of that investment to growth, it would have had a per capita GDP of about $20,000 by the early 1990s. Instead, Zambia?s per capita GDP in the early 1990s was lower than it had been in 1960, hovering under $500.

To which Tyler Cowen reminds us that, as of 1960 or so, Zambia and South Korea had roughly the same standard of living.

Posted by Tom at 7:38 AM | Comments (0) |

June 27, 2005

The risks of exporting freedom

Liberty.jpgMichael Ignatieff is the Carr professor of human rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and the editor of the new book American Exceptionalism and Human Rights. In this superb NY Sunday Times Magazine piece, Professor Ignatieff analyzes the risks that American society faces in pursuing a foreign policy based on the Jeffersonian dream of inevitable world-wide Republicanism. The entire article is balanced and well-written, as the following excerpts reflect:

Until George W. Bush, no American president -- not even Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson -- actually risked his presidency on the premise that Jefferson might be right. But this gambler from Texas has bet his place in history on the proposition, as he stated in a speech in March, that decades of American presidents' "excusing and accommodating tyranny, in the pursuit of stability" in the Middle East inflamed the hatred of the fanatics who piloted the planes into the twin towers on Sept. 11.
If democracy plants itself in Iraq and spreads throughout the Middle East, Bush will be remembered as a plain-speaking visionary. If Iraq fails, it will be his Vietnam, and nothing else will matter much about his time in office. For any president, it must be daunting to know already that his reputation depends on what Jefferson once called "so inscrutable [an] arrangement of causes and consequences in this world."
The charge that promoting democracy is imperialism by another name is baffling to many Americans. How can it be imperialist to help people throw off the shackles of tyranny?
If the American project of encouraging freedom fails, there may be no one else available with the resourcefulness and energy, even the self-deception, necessary for the task. Very few countries can achieve and maintain freedom without outside help. Big imperial allies are often necessary to the establishment of liberty. As the Harvard ethicist Arthur Applbaum likes to put it, ''All foundings are forced.'' Just remember how much America itself needed the assistance of France to free itself of the British. Who else is available to sponsor liberty in the Middle East but America? Certainly the Europeans themselves have not done a very distinguished job defending freedom close to home.
On this issue, there has been a huge reversal of roles in American politics. Once upon a time, liberal Democrats were the custodians of the Jeffersonian message that American democracy should be exported to the world, and conservative Republicans were its realist opponents. . . The liberals who founded Americans for Democratic Action refounded liberalism as an anti-Communist internationalism, dedicated to defending freedom and democracy abroad from Communist threat. The missionary Jeffersonianism in this reinvention worried many people -- for example, George Kennan, the diplomat and foreign-policy analyst who argued that containment of the Communist menace was all that prudent politics could accomplish.

The leading Republicans of the 1950's -- Robert Taft, for example -- were isolationist realists, doubtful that America should impose its way on the world. Eisenhower, that wise old veteran of European carnage, was in that vein, too: prudent, risk-avoiding, letting the Soviets walk into Hungary because he thought war was simply out of the question, too horrible to contemplate. In the 1960's and 70's, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger remained in the realist mode. Since stability mattered more to them than freedom, they propped up the shah of Iran, despite his odious secret police, and helped to depose Salvador Allende in Chile. Kissinger's guiding star was not Jefferson but Bismarck. . .

It was Reagan who began the realignment of American politics, making the Republicans into internationalist Jeffersonians with his speech in London at the Palace of Westminster in 1982, which led to the creation of the National Endowment for Democracy and the emergence of democracy promotion as a central goal of United States foreign policy. . . the withdrawal of American liberalism from the defense and promotion of freedom overseas has been startling. The Michael Moore-style left conquered the Democratic Party's heart; now the view was that America's only guiding interest overseas was furthering the interests of Halliburton and Exxon. The relentless emphasis on the hidden role of oil makes the promotion of democracy seem like a devious cover or lame excuse. The unseen cost of this pseudo-Marxist realism is that it disconnected the Democratic Party from the patriotic idealism of the very electorate it sought to persuade.

It would be a noble thing if one day 26 million Iraqis could live their lives without fear in a country of their own. But it would also have been a noble dream if the South Vietnamese had been able to resist the armored divisions of North Vietnam and to maintain such freedom as they had. Lyndon Johnson said the reason Americans were there was the "principle for which our ancestors fought in the valleys of Pennsylvania," the right of people to choose their own path to change. Noble dream or not, the price turned out to be just too high.

If you read just one article this month on American foreign policy, then Professor Ignatieff's article should be it. Kudos to the Times for running it.

Posted by Tom at 8:01 AM | Comments (7) |

June 17, 2005

Squandered Victory

squandered victory.jpgOver a year ago, this post noted Hoover fellow and former U.S. Iraqi advisor Larry Diamond's reservations the United States' failure to provide adequate security for the Iraqi people who are willing to risk commitment to democratic principles.

Now, Mr. Diamond has written a book on his experiences in Iraq and, according to this New York Times book review, the book harshly criticizes the Bush Administration's adoption of the Rumsfeld Policy of attempting to reconstruct Iraq with a relatively small fighting force:

Mr. Diamond believes that one of the "most ill-fated decisions of the postwar engagement" was President Bush's acceptance of the plan designed by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld - "to go into Iraq with a relatively light force of about 150,000 coalition troops, despite the warnings of the United States Army and outside experts on post-conflict reconstruction that - whatever the needs of the war itself - securing the peace would require a force two to three times that size." Committing more troops than the United States initially did, Mr. Diamond argues, "would have necessitated an immediate mobilization of the military reserves and National Guard (which would come later, in creeping fashion), and might have alarmed the public into questioning the costs and feasibility of the entire operation" - a development that might have slowed the gallop to war.

The lack of sufficient troops, Mr. Diamond goes on, would create a further set of problems: an inability to prevent looting and restore law and order, which would further undermine Iraqis' trust in the United States; and inability to seal the country's borders, which would allow foreign terrorists to enter and help foment further violence. "The first lesson," Mr. Diamond writes, "is that we cannot get to Jefferson and Madison without going through Thomas Hobbes. You can't build a democratic state unless you first have a state, and the essential condition for a state is that it must have an effective monopoly over the means of violence."

Posted by Tom at 5:17 AM | Comments (0) |

May 31, 2005

Implications of the "Non" revolt

cnfrench31.jpgThis Telegraph article provides a nice summary of the potential implications to French business interests of the vote over the weekend by French voters to reject the proposed European Union constitution.

The French left's vote heavily influenced the election, with two thirds of the Socialist base voting no, including over 70 per cent no vote levels in hard-Left strongholds such as Calais. French employers are clearly worried about the implications of the vote, which they believe will stymie employment reforms that would allow the French economy to become more competitive with the U.S. and emerging economic powers such as China and India.

By the way, Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen notes in this post that it's already not easy to find a plumber in France.

Meanwhile, Forbes Paul Maidment provides this insightful summary of the political implications of the vote, including this observation:

The French campaign united some strange political bedfellows. Witness the Trotskyite far left making common eurosceptic cause with the conservative right, The "no" camp was also boosted by the unpopularity of President Jacques Chirac and the cautious economic reform-minded Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, both advocates of the draft constitution.

But the pre-vote polling reflected a growing mistrust of Europe's institutions, not confined to France, we should note, as well as wider economic and social anxieties. The proposed EU constitution was attacked by its French opponents for being an Anglo-Saxon neoliberal document that threatens the integrity of the French social economy. (In the U.K, of course, the constitution is mainly opposed because it is a Franco-German neo-statist document that threatens the integrity of the British market economy.) So caution is required in interpreting the outcome of Sunday's poll.

And, Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information sums up the implications of the vote this way:

I'll tell you what is a big deal for the EU, though: the euro. The disparities between euro-zone economies are not shrinking as everyone had hoped; in some places, they're growing. That is making it nearly impossible to craft monetary policy that is both hawkish on inflation, and doesn't throw huge economies (i.e. Italy and Germany) deeper into the slough of economic despond. Italy, meanwhile, is managing to disprove the adage that "inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon" by having stagflation, a recession, and an inflation hawk at the monetary helm. If the euro falls apart, it could have major repercussions for the EU, as it would be a full scale retreat from "ever-closer union".

Posted by Tom at 4:18 AM | Comments (0) |

May 28, 2005

More on the wild world of Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial_Guinea.gifAs noted in these previous posts, the tiny West African dictatorship of Equatorial Guinea is one fascinating place.

Quashed coups (five since 1996) are so routine in Equatorial Guinea that some wags observe that the the government stages them like Broadway plays to add luster to its macho image. The latest coup last year was the stuff of novels, involving a highly dysfunctional ruling family, a rap-music-producing heir apparent who drives a Lamborghini, and a political opponent in exile who contends that Equatorial Guinea's dictator is a cannibal who particularly enjoys eating human gonads. The coup also allegedly involved a Lebanese front company, Sir Mark Thatcher (here and here and about 100 mercenaries from South Africa, Germany, Armenia and Kazakhstan. Add to that background the fact that Equatorial Guinea has huge oil and gas reserves that many Western exploration and production companies are competing to develop and you have a tempest of international intrigue and corruption.

Against that colorful backdrop, Simon Kareri, a former Riggs Bank senior vice president and his wife, Nene Fall Kareri, were arrested yesterday in Washington on fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges related to accounts at the bank of the Equatorial Guinea government, which formerly was the bank's largest customer.

Riggs Bank, which is now owned by PNC Financial Services Group Inc., pleaded guilty in January to a felony charge of failing to report suspicious transactions involving foreigners, including former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and members of his family. The bank also agreed to pay a $16 million fine, which the bank paid on top of a record $25 million civil fine that Treasury Department assessed against the bank last ago.

Mr. Kareri was Riggs' senior international banking manager and has been a target of a federal grand jury investigation since he took the Fifth Amendment at a Senate subcommittee hearing investigating U.S. oil company investments in Equatorial Guinea last July. In an example of a typical transaction, Senate investigators found payments totaling almost a half million dollars from a big U.S. oil company into the account of a 14-year-old relative of Equatorial Guinea's dictator, earmarked for "renting office space."

Life really is stranger than fiction.

Posted by Tom at 4:52 AM | Comments (0) |

May 10, 2005

The Allies' tainted triumph

WW2 plaque.jpgV-E Day - the day on which the Allies remember their victory over Nazi Germany during World War II - fell on Mother's Day this year, so the 60th anniversary celebrations seemed somewhat muted. In that regard, British historian Niall Ferguson reminds us in this LA Times op-ed that, despite the courage of the Allied forces in ridding the world of the monstrous Axis powers, we should not forget the moral compromises that were part of the price of winning the war:

Most historians today would give the lion's share of the credit for the Allied victory to the Soviet Union. It was, after all, the Soviets who suffered the largest number of wartime casualties (about 25 million). That reflected in large measure the appalling barbarity with which the Germans waged the war on the Eastern Front. Yet it also reflected the indifference of Stalin's totalitarian regime to the lives and rights of its own citizens. It might have been expected that in the crisis of war, Stalin would suspend the terror that had characterized his regime in the 1930s. On the contrary. The lowest estimates for the period (1942-1945) indicate that 7 million Soviet citizens lost their lives via political executions, deportations or death in the gulag system. All of this reminds us that to defeat an enemy they routinely denounced as barbaric, the Western powers made common cause with an ally that was morally little better.
At Potsdam and in the subsequent Nuremberg trials the victors also struck splendidly sanctimonious poses. The leaders of Germany and Japan had "set in motion evils which [left] no home in the world untouched." Yet the Soviet Union had been on Hitler's side in 1939, something the Baltic states invaded by Stalin have not forgotten.

As for the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, it suffered a similar fate in 1945. Britain had gone to war with Germany ostensibly to prevent Poland from being overrun by Germany, as Czechoslovakia had been. Yet within a few years of the war's end, the whole of Eastern and Central Europe up to the River Elbe was firmly under Stalin's iron fist.

While noting that the Allied bombing campaigns restricted German's ability to mobilize its war economy, diverted key German resources from the Eastern Front and ended the war with Japan, Mr. Ferguson notes that the campaigns also raise serious moral questions:

[T]he destruction caused by the British and American air forces in their bombing campaigns against civilian populations in Germany and Japan is hardly something we can look back on with pride. Hamburg was destroyed in a firestorm code-named Operation Gomorrah; about 45,000 people died. Similar numbers perished when Dresden was bombed. Tokyo was literally incinerated in a raid that killed between 83,000 and 100,000 people, maybe more.

Such bombing was precisely what the U.S. State Department had denounced as "unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and humanity" in 1937, when the Japanese bombed Chinese cities. And it was precisely what Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill's predecessor as prime minister, had dismissed as "mere terrorism," to which "His Majesty's government [would] never resort."

After the war, the charges against the Japanese leaders who stood trial included "the wholesale destruction of human lives, not alone on the field of battle, but in the homes, hospitals, and orphanages, in factories and fields." Yet this had been the very essence of the Allied policy of strategic bombing.

Mr. Ferguson is no half-baked historian who fails to recognize the moral superiority of the Allied cause during WWII, so he concludes in the following measured manner:

None of this is intended to detract from the valor of the millions of Allied service personnel who lost or risked their lives in World War II. Nor is it to deny that the war had to be fought to rid the world of two of the most evil empires in all history. There is a moral difference between Auschwitz and Hiroshima. The Axis cities would never have been bombed if the Axis powers had not launched their war of aggression. And the Axis powers would have killed even more innocent people had it not been for the determination of the Allied powers to prevail.

Nevertheless, we would do well, this V-E Day, to face some harsh realities about the nature of the Allied victory, if only to remind ourselves about the nature of all wars. To win World War II, we joined forces with a despot who was every bit as brutal a tyrant as Hitler; we adopted tactics that we ourselves had said were depraved; and we left too many of those we set out to liberate firmly in the grip of totalitarianism.

Hat tip to Professor Bainbridge for the link to Mr. Ferguson's piece.

Also, Deutsche Welle has this outstanding collection of photo essays that show then-and-now pictures of World War II.

Posted by Tom at 5:27 AM | Comments (1) |

March 18, 2005

George Kennan, RIP

marshallposter.jpgDiplomat and Pulitzer Prize-winning historian George F. Kennan died Thursday night at his Princeton, N.J. home at the age of 101.

Mr. Kennan was one of America's foremost foreign policy experts of the post-World War II and Cold War eras. He was one of the primary architects of the highly successful Marshall Plan that underwrote the reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II, and he had an equal amount of influence on the development of the containment postwar foreign policy that the United States government adopted to combat the Soviet Union's promotion of totalitarism during the Cold War.

When he was chief of the State Department's policy planning staff, Mr. Kennan was the author identified only as "X" in a famous 1947 article in the Foreign Affairs journal that outlined the containment policy and predicted the demise of Soviet communism that eventually occurred over 40 years later. When the Communist Party was finally driven from power in the Soviet Union after the 1991 coup attempt, Mr. Kennan publicly called the development "a turning point of the most momentous historical significance."

georgekennan.jpgDespite the "X" article and his work in formulating the Marshall Plan, Mr. Kennan left government service in 1950 after he and Truman administration Secretary of State Dean Acheson disagreed over the reunification of Germany (Kennan supported it). He briefly served as ambassador to Moscow in May 1952, but he soon left foreign service again until the Kennedy Administration after butting heads with the Eisenhower Administration's first Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles.

During the Kennedy Administration, Mr. Kennan returned to foreign service in as ambassador to Yugoslavia from 1961-63, but his highest profile engagement during the 60's came in 1967 when he persuaded Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, to come to the United States. During the late 1960s, Mr. Kennan opposed American involvement in Vietnam because he argued that the United States had only five areas of vital interest -- the Soviet Union, Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States.

Mr. Kennan won the Pulitzer Prize for history and a National Book Award for Russia Leaves the War (1956) and a second Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for Memoirs 1925-1950. As a young college student, I read my late father's copy of the latter book and it stimulated an interest in foreign affairs that continues to this day. Mr. Kennan's honors also included the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989, Albert Einstein Peace Prize in 1981, the German Book Trade Peace Prize in 1982, and the Gold Medal in History from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1984.

Professor Drezner, who is one of the blogosphere's most insightful foreign policy analysts, has more on Mr. Kennan here.

Posted by Tom at 6:00 AM | Comments (2) |

March 15, 2005

Clear thinking regarding the IRA

This Daily Telegraph op-ed addresses the long overdue disdain that is being heaped upon Gerry Adams, who is the leader of Sinn Fein, which is the Irish Republican Army's "political" wing, as the MSM tepidly refers to the group.

One of the more incongruous developments in the post-September 11 world has been the way in which Mr. Adams has been able to avoid scrutiny for his and his followers' support of terroristic activities over the past 30 years. Despite this dubious background, this week is the first time since the mid-'90s that American political leaders will not welcome Mr. Adams with open arms in connection with traditional St. Patrick's Day celebrations. Rather, President Bush will host the family members of the late Robert McCartney, the 33-year-old Northern Irish Catholic who was brutally killed outside a Belfast bar in January. Given the IRA's mob-like control of certain local communities in Northern Ireland, none of the numerous witnesses to the McCartney murder -- which include two Sinn Fein political candidates -- have been willing to step up and identify the murderers.

Meanwhile, the IRA remains the prime suspect in the $50 million bank robbery that occurred in Belfast this past December just as British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a last ditch offer to restart the deadlocked Northern Ireland Assembly. That deadlock grows out of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement under which Mr. Blair agreed that the Assembly rules would require that operations be approved by parties such as Sinn Fein that represent only a small minority of the vote. After September 11, the Assembly increasingly appears to be a symbol of the failed policy of appeasement toward terroristic tactics.

As a result, the U.S., British and Irish governments are all finally on the verge of blowing off this failed policy toward dealing with the IRA and Sinn Fein. Inasmuch as Northern Ireland citizens -- unlike the oppressed citizens of most Islamic countries -- have always been fully represented in a democratic British government, one can only wonder why it has taken the governments this long to recognize the folly of appeasing the IRA and Sinn Fein.

The bottom line is that IRA is not a freedom movement of oppressed Catholics. Rather, it has evolved into a criminal enterprise that embraces a radical political agenda and cooperates with virtually every radical terrorist group, including radical Palestinian and Libyan factions. Over the past 35 years, the IRA has killed about 3,000 people, and has undertaken several assassination attempts on various British prime ministers.

Meanwhile, the IRA and Sinn Fein have for years secretly raised millions of dollars in contributions in the United States, and the groups have been allowed to raise contributions openly in the U.S. since President Clinton lifted the ban on the group in the mid-90's. Politicians such as Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy (Democrat) and New York Congressman Peter King (Republican) have been among the IRA and Sinn Fein's biggest American fundraisers.

In one of the more refreshing moves of the year, the Bush Administration has finally revoked the IRA and Sinn Fein's license to raise funds openly in the U.S. this year, and even Messrs. Kennedy and King are shunning Mr. Adams during his visit to the States this year. However, keep watching this process carefully. Appeasement is almost always a more comfortable policy than confrontation for politicians to embrace, and organizations such as the IRA and Sinn Fein are masters at pushing the edge of the violence envelope under an appeasement policy. It does not make much sense for America to be fighting terroism that seeks to sustain radical Islamic fascism in the Middle East if it is unwilling to confront terrorism that seeks to undermine democratic government in our closest ally.

Posted by Tom at 5:30 AM | Comments (1) |

March 3, 2005

A "just war" debate

On the heels of this earlier interview, don't miss this Dartmouth Review article reporting on the recent "just war" debate between Professor Hanson and popular Dartmouth adjunct history professor Ronald Edsforth. Included in the article is this interesting report:

Edsforth proposed that the human race has learned the dangers of war, especially after the blood-soaked twentieth century. ?Evolution [of human behavior] is a fact,? he said. ?It didn?t stop back in ancient times? We are capable of learning as humans and changing our environment in such a way that that which we abhor is less and less likely.? . . . He proposed that the United States adopt a foreign policy for ?the twenty-first century, not the fifth century B.C., not the nineteenth century, not 1941.? The world sees ?war as a legacy of the imperialist era,? he added.

Hanson, though, maintained that the human race has not changed significantly in the past several thousand years. ?Human nature is set,? he said?it was ?primordial, reptilian,? adding that man is always ?governed by pride and fear and envy.? He cited Thucydides, who wrote that his works would remain valid through the ages precisely because human nature is unchanging. ?We have not reached the end of history.?

Whether human opinion changes is irrelevant to the question of human nature, Hanson said; . . .

At a question-and-answer session at the end of the debate, this view of human nature was the subject of much disdain by many members of the audience. One fellow questioned whether ?you and Homer and Thucydides two-thousand years ago? were cut out for modernity. Another asked Hanson when the war in Iraq would come to end??when will we reap the benefits of preemptive war???and wondered whether ?Pericles would have any advice for defeating suicide bombers in an urban environment.? Actually, Hanson retorted, the juxtaposition was poorly-chosen, as Peloponnesian War lasted for ?twenty-seven and a half years.?

During one of the lighter moments, Hanson jokingly observed that the Iraq war had made some unlikely allies. ?I never thought in my lifetime that Noam Chomsky and Pat Buchanan would have an alliance of convenience,? he said, smiling.

Posted by Tom at 9:39 AM | Comments (0) |

February 2, 2005

Last gasps of a Stalinist regime

This Times Online article opines that there are clear signs of increasing instability within the government of North Korea. Earlier posts on the sad saga of North Korea may be reviewed here, here, and here.

Posted by Tom at 7:20 AM | Comments (0) |

January 23, 2005

Remembering Auschwitz and Dachau

Samuel Pisar is an international lawyer and author Of Blood and Hope (MacMillan 1979), who is probably best known for his advocacy of free trade between the U.S. and Russia. However, Mr. Pisar is also one of the youngest survivors of the Nazi death camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. Don't miss Mr. Pisar's Washington Post op-ed on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the death camps. Wise words from a gentleman who truly understands the inherent depravity of man.

Posted by Tom at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) |

January 22, 2005

The risks of the Texas-Mexico border

This Washington Post article reports on a troubling development that many Texans prefer to ignore -- that is, the increasing number of missing persons who are being abducted in the Mexican border towns along the border of Texas and Mexico.

21 U.S. citizens have been kidnapped or disappeared between August and December of last year. Of those 21, nine were later released, two were killed, and 10 remain missing. Moreover, law enforcement officials report an alarming rate of kidnappings that are occurring across Mexico, including what are dubbed "express" kidnappings that are performed for "quick cash" ransoms.

The Rio Grande Valley of Texas -- or "the Valley" as Texans call it -- has always been a fascinating and troubling part of Texan culture. Larry McMurtry portrayed the late 19th century version of the area brilliantly in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Lonesome Dove, which was made into one of the best television mini-series of all time in 1989 with Robert Duvall and Tommie Lee Jones in the main roles. Filmmaker John Sayles provides an equally remarkable portrayal of the area during the 1950's and 1980's in his fine 1996 film, Lone Star, which includes Valley native Kris Kristofferson in the flat out best performance of his acting career. The area is among the lowest in terms of per capita income in the United States, yet even that chronically depressed economy is a fantasy of riches for many of those living in the poverty of the teeming Mexican border towns.

The region's problems are complex and difficult, which makes the area prone to being ignored. The increased violence of late is the natural result of such neglect, and the usual response to such spikes in violence along the border -- i.e., heightened law enforcement -- is only a short term solution that often contributes to the animus that many of the Hispanic citizens of the area have toward the state. The area is desperate for leadership and a vision for solving its problems, yet those intractable problems tend to repel those in government who are in a position to do something about them. In short, the Valley needs statesmen, which are in short supply in the polarized American political landscape of the early 21st century.

Posted by Tom at 7:21 AM | Comments (0) |

January 19, 2005

John Keegan on the current situation in Iraq

John Keegan is England's foremost military historian and, for many years, was the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His book -- The Second World War -- is arguably the best single volume book on World War II and his book The Face of Battle is essential reading for anyone seeking an understanding of the history of warfare. His newest book -- The Iraq War -- was published in 2004, and here are prior posts on Mr. Keegan's views on the Iraq War.

In short, when John Keegan talks about war, pull up a chair an listen.

In this Daily Telegraph op-ed, Mr. Keegan provides a pragmatic analysis of the American-British approach to the war and elections in Iraq. In so doing, he disabuses several popular notions about the war effort, including the notion that the current violence in the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad reflect larger problems with the war effort:

Regarded solely as a military operation, the Iraq war of 2003 was a scintillating success. It is the aftermath that has sowed doubt among those who supported the decision to risk an attack.

Casualties among the Western forces have risen. Casualties among Iraqis have risen even higher and continue to rise; not, however, for the reasons foreseen by the anti-war party. It is not conventional force or conventional defence tactics that end lives, but something quite different, which may be called large-scale terrorism, largely by car bombing, suicide bombing and the assassination of Iraqis who co-operate with Westerners.

This is not a new development. What is going on in Iraq resembles the second Palestinian intifada, though it is more intensive and better organised. It is also more difficult to counter, since the Western forces lack the detailed intelligence to which the Israeli security forces have access.

Mr. Keegan also puts to rest the increasingly popular notion that America's involvement in Iraq is "becoming another Vietnam:"

Some critics of Western occupation policy are raising the idea that Iraq is becoming a Vietnam, a popular thought with old-style opponents of American foreign policy, but quite inaccurate. What America confronted in Vietnam was ideological nationalism, organised at several levels, political and military, all ultimately depending on the Vietcong's ability to defeat the enemy by conventional methods. There is absolutely no equivalent in Iraq of the Vietcong main force and its battalions of highly motivated infantrymen.

With his powerful historical perspective, Mr. Keegan goes to explain the source of the Iraqi opposition, the difficulties involved in quelling it, and the threatening nature of the upcoming elections to that opposition. These are compelling and thoughtful points of a true clear thinking expert on the nature of war. Check out the entire article.

Posted by Tom at 6:17 AM | Comments (0) |

January 1, 2005

Outstanding Tsunami feature

When you have a moment, take a look at this fine New York Times feature of photos and graphics relating to last week's killer tsunami.

By the way, when I added the donation link through Amazon to the Red Cross Tsunami Relief Fund on Wednesday, the total amount of donations was about $1.9 million. As of this writing, the total donations are in excess of $10.6 million. The power of the Internet is truly amazing.

Posted by Tom at 7:37 AM | Comments (0) |

December 22, 2004

The Mosul mess hall attack

The Belmont Club has this excellent initial analysis of the insurgent attack in Mosul yesterday that killed more than 20 people, including American military and civilian personnel.

The information and analysis that can be gleaned from blogs such as the Belmont Club puts the accounts of such incidents generated from the mainstream media to shame.

Posted by Tom at 6:39 AM | Comments (0) |

December 4, 2004

Islam and Freedom

James Q. Wilson is the Ronald Reagan professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. In this must read Commentary article, Professor Wilson explores the prospects for the emergence of liberal democracies in Muslim countries such as Iraq. His introduction to the topic foretells the depth with which Professor Wilson treats this important issue:

What are the prospects for the emergence of liberal societies in Muslim countries? Note my choice of words: ?liberal,? not ?democratic.? Democracy, defined as competitive elections among rival slates of candidates, is much harder to find in the world than liberalism, defined as a decent respect for the freedom and autonomy of individuals. There are more Muslim nations?indeed, more nations of any stripe?that provide a reasonable level of freedom than ones that provide democracy in anything like the American or British versions.

Freedom?that is, liberalism?is more important than democracy because freedom produces human opportunity. In the long run, however, democracy is essential to freedom, because no political regime will long maintain the freedoms it has provided if it has an ironclad grip on power. Culture and constitutions can produce freedom; democracy safeguards and expands it.

This is what lies at the heart of our efforts to make Afghanistan and Iraq into liberal states. . .

There are certainly grounds for pessimism. For centuries, only Great Britain and its former colonies?Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States?could be called democratic. And even in those countries, the struggle to acquire both liberal and democratic values had been a long and hard one. It took half a millennium before England moved from the signing of Magna Carta to the achievement of parliamentary supremacy; three centuries after Magna Carta, Catholics were being burned at the stake. The United States was a British colony for two centuries, and less than a century after its independence was split by a frightful civil war. Elsewhere, Portugal and Spain became reasonably free only late in the 20th century, and in Latin America many societies have never even achieved the stage of liberalism. The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan once remarked that, of all the states in existence in the world in 1914, only eight would escape a violent change of government between then and the early 1990?s.

Nevertheless, liberal regimes have been less uncommon than democratic ones. In 1914 there were three democracies in Europe, but many more countries where your neck would be reasonably safe from the heel of government. You might not have wished to live in Germany, but Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway, and Sweden offered reasonably attractive alternatives even if few of them could then have been called democracies in the modern American or British sense.

As for the Middle East, there have been only three democracies in its history: Lebanon, Turkey, and of course Israel. Israel remains free and democratic despite being besieged by enemies. But of the two Muslim nations, only one, Turkey, became reasonably democratic after a 50-year effort, while Lebanon, which has been liberal and democratic on some occasions and not on others, is today a satellite of Syria and the home of anti-Israel and anti-Western terrorists; Freedom House ranks it as ?not free.?

Is the matter as universally hopeless as this picture might suggest? Suppose, as a freedom-loving individual, you had to live in a Muslim nation somewhere in the world. You would assuredly not pick Baathist Syria or theocratic Iran or Saddam?s Iraq. But you might pick Turkey, or Indonesia, or Morocco. In what follows, I want to explore what makes those three countries different, and what the difference might mean for the future.

Professor Wilson's following conclusion also reflects the wisdom with which he addresses his subject:

The good news is that, as compared with support for democracy, support for a liberal regime [in Iraq] is very broad. Over 90 percent want free speech, about three-fourths want freedom of religion, and over three-fourths favor free assembly. Freedom is more important than democracy?a fact that might well have been true in America and England in the 18th century.

And here is where an important lesson lurks for us. Scholars at the RAND corporation have studied America?s efforts at nation-building in the last half-century, ranging from our successes (Germany and Japan) to our failures (Haiti and Somalia) and to all the uncertain outcomes in-between (Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo). One of the most important things we should have learned, they conclude, is that ?while staying long does not guarantee success, leaving early ensures failure.?

In order for freedom to have a chance of developing in Iraq, we must be patient as well as strong. It would be an unmitigated disaster to leave too early. Our Iraqi supporters would be crushed, terrorists and Islamic radicals would have won, and our own struggle and sacrifices would have been for naught.

Liberalism and democracy would bring immeasurable gains to Iraq, and through Iraq to the Middle East as a whole. So far, the country lacks what has helped other Muslim nations make the change?a remarkably skilled and powerful leader, a strong army devoted to secular rule, an absence of ethnic conflict. If we may nevertheless be cautiously optimistic, it is because of the hope that we will indeed stay there as long as we are needed.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 8:32 AM | Comments (0) |

December 3, 2004

Seize the moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Longtime Houstonian and former Secretary of both the State and Treasury Departments, James A. Baker III, opines in this NY Times op-ed that the time is now to begin substantive discussions for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he provides some concrete thoughts on how to accomplish that goal:

Stability in Iraq and peace between Palestinians and Israelis can be pursued at the same time. In fact, working toward the latter improves the chances of attaining the former. . .

The so-called quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), which has been working on a "road map" for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis for several years, supports a two-state solution, as do the vast majority of both Palestinians and Israelis. President Bush certainly favors this goal, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has publicly supported it as well, . . .

So the real question is how to take advantage of this window of opportunity to achieve that two-state solution. Specifically, what steps should be taken? Who needs to do what?

First, it is critical that negotiations resume. For this to happen, of course, Israel must have a negotiating partner on the Palestinian side. That partner will best emerge from free elections. Elections have been scheduled for Jan. 9, and all who support peace between Israel and the Palestinians have an obligation to do all within their power to see that those elections are successfully held.

Palestinian candidates should clearly and unequivocally renounce terrorism as a means of achieving a political result - and call upon their supporters to do likewise. And those Palestinians should commit themselves to an unequivocal, good-faith effort to crack down on terrorist groups that make a target of Israel.

In exchange, Israel should announce that upon the election of a Palestinian negotiating partner, it is prepared to resume substantive negotiations for peace without requiring that all terrorist activities cease in advance. To require the absence of any terrorist act in advance simply empowers the terrorists themselves to prevent the resumption of peace negotiations.

The United States should itself clearly embrace and articulate the unequivocal, good-faith standard for the resumption of dialogue. The United States should further prevail upon Israel to cease settlement activity in the occupied territories pending Palestinian elections and during the resumption of peace negotiations. Washington should also do everything else that it can to encourage both sides to resume meaningful talks. And it should serve, where necessary, as a direct participant in the talks, offering suggestions, brokering compromises and extending assurances.

We cannot, of course, prejudge the final outcome of any talks. But the plan presented by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 - and rejected by Yasir Arafat - surely offers one plausible place to start.

While the United States cannot dictate the terms of peace to either party, it can and should actively promote the resumption of negotiations. The time to start is now.

Read the entire piece. Mr. Baker is certainly correct that conditioning talks on the cessation of terrorist attacks simply empowers the radical Islamic fascists whose only goal is the destruction of Israel.

However, the legacy of failed negotiations with Arafat is the fact that he supported such attacks, on one hand, while negotiating with Israel on the other. The lack of trust that resulted from that duplicity has permeated Israeli-Palestinian relations for the past generation. Whether the new Palestinian leadership is capable of standing up to the forces within its leadership that foment that lack of trust will ultimately be the key element to the success or failure of any new initative.

Posted by Tom at 6:46 AM | Comments (0) |

November 28, 2004

More on the wild world of Equatorial Guinea

The latest news from the wild world of Equatorial Guinea is not good for Mark Thatcher, the son of former English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Here are the previous posts on this lurid affair. Movie rights to be sold soon.

Posted by Tom at 7:28 AM | Comments (0) |

November 27, 2004

Profiling radical Islamic fascists

Marc Sageman was a CIA case officer in Afghanistan between 1987?89 and is now a forensic psychiatrist in Philadelphia. His book, Understanding Terror Networks, was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press earlier this year.

After the attacks on New York and Washington of September 11, 2002, Dr. Sageman noticed the lack of systematic data on the perpetrators, so he began to apply the principles of evidence-based medicine to terrorism research. He gathered terrorist biographies from various sources, relying most heavily on the records of various criminal trials. After matrixing approximately 400 biographies, Dr. Sageman began a social-network analysis of this group.

This Foreign Policy Research Institute article provides a summary of Dr. Sageman's findings and conclusions. Inasmuch as the entire article is fascinating, I had a difficult time deciding which excerpts to pass along, but here are a few.

First, Dr. Sageman notes that the key period of development for the current radical Islamic fascists was the time in the late 1980's and early 1990's when their leadership gathered in Khartoum, Sudan to hatch their dream of indepedent "Salafi" states:

The Khartoum period is critical, because what these violent Salafists basically want to do is to create a Salafi state in a core Arab country. Salafi (from Salaf, ?ancient ones? or ?predecessors? in Arabic) is an emulation, an imitation of the mythical Muslim community that existed at the time of Mohammed and his companion, which Salafists believe was the only fair and just society that ever existed. A very small subset of Salafis, the disciples of Qutb, believe they cannot create this state peacefully through the ballot-box but have to use violence. The utopia they strive for is similar to most utopias in European thought of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, such as the communist classless society.

Moreover, Dr. Sageman points out that the background of the radical Islamic fascist leadership is similar to that of the "best and the brightest" of the societies from which they have emerged:

Most people think that terrorism comes from poverty, broken families, ignorance, immaturity, lack of family or occupational responsibilities, weak minds susceptible to brainwashing - the sociopath, the criminals, the religious fanatic, or, in this country, some believe they?re just plain evil.

Taking these perceived root causes in turn, three quarters of my sample came from the upper or middle class. The vast majority?90 percent?came from caring, intact families. Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5-6 percent that?s usual for the third world. These are the best and brightest of their societies in many ways.

Al Qaeda?s members are not the Palestinian fourteen-year- olds we see on the news, but join the jihad at the average age of 26. Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists. Very few humanities are represented, and quite surprisingly very few had any background in religion. The natural sciences predominate. Bin Laden himself is a civil engineer, Zawahiri is a physician, Mohammed Atta was, of course, an architect; and a few members are military, such as Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, who is supposedly the head of the military committee.

Mr. Sageman notes that there really is not one profile for a radical Islamic fascist:

So what?s in common? There?s really no profile, just similar trajectories to joining the jihad and that most of these men were upwardly and geographically mobile. Because they were the best and brightest, they were sent abroad to study. They came from moderately religious, caring, middle-class families. They?re skilled in computer technology. They spoke three, four, five, six languages. Most Americans don?t know Arabic; these men know two or three Western languages: German, French, English.

When they became homesick, they did what anyone would and tried to congregate with people like themselves, whom they would find at mosques. So they drifted towards the mosque, not because they were religious, but because they were seeking friends. They moved in together in apartments, in order to share the rent and also to eat together - they were mostly halal, those who observed the Muslim dietary laws, similar in some respects to the kosher laws of Judaism. Some argue that such laws help to bind a group together since observing them is something very difficult and more easily done in a group. A micro-culture develops that strengthens and absorbs the participants as a unit. This is a halal theory of terrorism, if you like.

These cliques, often in the vicinity of mosques that had a militant script advocating violence to overthrow the corrupt regimes, transformed alienated young Muslims into terrorists. It?s all really group dynamics. You cannot understand the 9/11 type of terrorism from individual characteristics. The suicide bombers in Spain are another perfect example. Seven terrorists sharing an apartment and one saying ?Tonight we?re all going to go, guys.? You can?t betray your friends, and so you go along. Individually, they probably would not have done it.

In fact, the lack of these social networks is one of the reasons why Dr. Sageman believes that another 9/11-type attack has not occurred in the United States:

Indeed, there are not that many terrorists in America. There have never been any sleeper cells. All the terrorists are fairly obvious. The FBI cases we see in the press tend to unravel. The Detroit group has been exonerated, and the prosecutor is now being prosecuted for malfeasance on the planted evidence. He allegedly knew exculpatory facts that he did not present to the defense. The only sleeper America has ever had in a century was Soviet Col. Rudolf Abel, who was arrested in the late 1950s and exchanged for Gary Powers, the U2 pilot. Eastern European countries did send sleepers to this country, men fully trained who ?go to sleep??lead normal lives?and then are activated to become fully operational. But they all became Americans.

In order to really sustain your motivation to do terrorism, you need the reinforcement of group dynamics. You need reinforcement from your family, your friends. This social movement was dependent on volunteers, and there are huge gaps worldwide on those volunteers. One of the gaps is the United States. This is one of two reasons we have not had a major terrorist operation in the United States since 9/11. The other is that we are far more vigilant. We have actually made coming to the U.S. far more difficult for potential terrorists since 2001.

But Dr. Sageman warns that the radical Islamic fascists have adapted and changed the way in which they will plan future attacks:

We hear that Al Qaeda plans its attacks for years and years. It may have before 9-11, but not anymore. Operatives in caves simply cannot communicate with people in the field. The network has been fairly well broken by our intelligence services. The network is now self-organized from the bottom up, and is very decentralized. With local initiative and flexibility, it?s very robust. True, two-thirds to three- quarters of the old leaders have been taken out, but that doesn?t mean that we?re home free. The network grows organically, like the Internet. We couldn?t have identified the Madrid culprits, because we wouldn?t have known of them until the first bomb exploded.

So in 2004, Al Qaeda has new leadership. In a way today?s operatives are far more aggressive and senseless than the earlier leaders. The whole network is held together by the vision of creating the Salafi state. A fuzzy, idea-based network really requires an idea-based solution. The war of ideas is very important and this is one we haven?t really started to engage yet.

Read the entire article.

Posted by Tom at 10:26 AM | Comments (3) |

November 23, 2004

The theological dilemma of moderate Islam

In this Asia Times op-ed from the Asia Times, Spengler explores the the theological challege that moderate Muslims face in siding with the West in its war against the radical Islamic fascists. The entire piece is a must read, but this excerpt gives you a taste of the dilemma that moderate Muslims face:

Smugness oozes from European politicians who demand that Muslims repudiate violence as a precondition for residence in the West. To repudiate the death sentence for blasphemy would be the same as abandoning the Islamic order in traditional society in favor of a Western-style religion of personal conscience. The West spent centuries of time and rivers of blood to make such a transition, and carried it off badly. Whether Islam can do so at all remains doubtful.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:11 AM | Comments (0) |

November 22, 2004

James A. Baker, III gets results

This NY Times article reports on the agreement of The world's leading industrial nations to cancel 80 percent of the nearly $40 billion of debt that Iraq owes them, which is a critical step in rebuilding the country's devastated economy and an important precedent for placing pressure on Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq's other Middle Eastern neighbors to forgive Iraq's obligations owed to them.

Longtime Houstonian and former Secretary of both the State and Treasury Departments, James Baker III, who President Bush appointed last year as a special envoy to press Iraq's creditors to write off money owed them, toured the world over the past year persuading various foreign governments to sign on to the debt forgiveness plan. Kudos to Mr. Baker for a job well done.

Posted by Tom at 6:43 AM | Comments (1) |

November 16, 2004

The Diplomad on Colin Powell

I regularly read an interesting blog called The Diplomad, which is authored by several Republican U.S. Foreign Service officers who describe themselves as being "in an institution (State Department)in which being a Republican can be bad for your career -- even with a Republican President!"

In this recent post, the Diplomad passes along an analysis of Colin Powell's tenure at the State Department from a former Foreign Service Officer. It's an interesting and balanced piece, and I recommend that you give it a look, along with this interesting blog.

Posted by Tom at 10:01 AM | Comments (0) |

Signs of growing dissent in North Korea

This Der Spiegel article notes the signs.

Posted by Tom at 6:38 AM | Comments (0) |

November 10, 2004

Arafat's fatal flaw

As noted in these previous posts, Richard Chesnoff is one of America's foremost commentators on Middle East affairs. He is also one of the relatively few American journalists to have interviewed and spent time with Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

With Arafat near death, Mr. Chesnoff writes this NY Daily News op-ed in which he notes what could have been:

If anyone had the ability to forge a Palestinian state then, it was Arafat. He had the political power, the money and the military force.

Tragically, like other Palestinian leaders before him, he wasted his chance. He used his political power to gain more power and the money to corrupt and control. Worst of all, instead of using his military force to squelch terrorism, he financed it, bringing more destruction to his people as well as to Israelis.

Then, Mr. Chesnoff zeros in on Arafat's fatal leadership flaw:

Why did a man who had both the opportunity and the intellect to deliver his people a state of their own fail to do so?

He lacked the realism, the vision and, most important, the courage to make the shift from terrorist to statesman. He spoke (in Arabic) not of peace with Israel but of a truce, something he could always break. And he refused to tell his people that Israel never would commit demographic suicide by letting millions of Palestinians return.

He also feared that if he ever told his people to accept a state that was less than what he had promised, he would lose stature, popularity and the place he believed he deserved in Arab history.

False pride is often a fatal error in the Arab world - a character flaw born not of heroism but of cowardice.

Read the entire piece. Would not it be ironic if Arafat's legacy is a new generation of Palestinian leadership that understands the destructive futility of Arafat's strategy towards Israel and embarks on a new, realistic path toward a Palestinian state?

Meanwhile, Max Boot writes of Arafat in this L.A. Times piece:

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. In fact, he seemed well on his way toward this goal when I met him in 1998 as part of a delegation of American scholars and journalists.

The place was his Ramallah compound, the time after midnight (Arafat was a night owl). He was wearing his trademark fatigues, and his hands and lips were shaking uncontrollably. Much of the session was conducted via translator, but Arafat broke into English when asked a question about Palestinian violations of the Oslo accords. It was the kind of query a democratic statesman would have batted away without a second thought.

Arafat, however, grew visibly agitated and stammered: "Be careful when you are speaking to me! Be careful, you are speaking to Arafat!" The threat of violence hung in the air as we left. Clearly Arafat had not quite mastered the art of being a politician or, rather, he was a politician in the mold of Mugabe or Mao.

Posted by Tom at 6:29 PM | Comments (0) |

November 9, 2004

The Battle of Fallujah

The Belmont Club is providing an excellent and often updated thread on the Battle of Fallujah.

Posted by Tom at 9:43 AM | Comments (0) |

October 11, 2004

The Purpose of the Sword

As readers of this blog know, I am not enamored of many Bush Administration policies, but I am a supporter of the Administration's overall policy in prosecuting the war against the radical Islamic fascists despite the fact that the Administration has made tactical errors and not always presented the proper case for the war. Apart from the disingenuousness reflected by his his questionable record on defense matters generally, my sense is that Mr. Kerry's criticism of the Administration's war policy is somewhat akin to sniping at FDR's decision to invade North Africa early in World War II rather than opening up the key European front or confronting the Japanese directly in the South Pacific.

However, what really underlies Mr. Kerry's criticism of the war against the radical Islamic fascists is the belief that this is not truly a just war. Addressing that issue head on in this recent review of Jean Bethke Elshtain's book, Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World, one of my favorite political philosophy professors -- the Reverend James V. Schall of Georgetown University -- persuasively refutes those who argue against the morality of the Bush Administration's decision to wage war on the radical Islamic fascists:

The last time we were up in arms, so to speak, about "just war" was when we were all overly wrought about nuclear proliferation, piously denying that deterrence could not work. Little did we know at the time that this nuclear worry, with all its subtle distinctions, would not be our most pressing war problem a few decades later?unless the terrorists get nuclear weapons, which they well might. The latter possibility makes it even more immoral not to do all we can to stop them now.

Professor Schall then addresses the muddled thinking of those who rationalize inaction in the face of pure evil:

A surprisingly few determined Muslims, none poor or uneducated, have made every airport and public building in the world a potential inferno, one at a time. They have made every airport and train station, most public buildings, small armed camps on constant look out for disaster. The "suicide bomber" turns out to be more dangerous by far than Soviet missiles. And instead of international outrage at the very idea of religious sources encouraging this suicide weapon, we even have those who claim it might be "justified" for sociological reasons. We are in danger of losing sight of common-sense principles: "The best preparation for peace," it used to be said, "is to prepare for war." The trick is to know what kind of a war is before us. All nations have a record of preparing diligently for the last war. This book warns against that sort of preparation.
. . . [C]ertain types of ideological and religious mind will not stop their aggression unless their minds are changed voluntarily or unless they are taken out before they carry out their plans. We do not like to hear this. We are little prepared with our own tolerant ideology even to imagine such minds. But they exist and to deny it is a form of blindness. Elshtain does not deny their existence. We are "ecumenical" at our peril when we fail to engage in debates about suicide bombings. The killing of the innocent by this terrible method is more than just the killing of the innocent. It is the bankruptcy of a theology that supports it, a proof that it cannot be true.

Professor Schall notes that the main problem is in the nature of Islam itself, something that the liberal West is loathe to admit:

This endeavor requires a much more careful look at Islam and its long, disturbing record than many would like to face. It is not that there are no "peaceful" Muslims, but as Elshtain recognizes, even the peaceful ones are under threat in their own world from those more bent on pursuing the ancient Islamic goal of world domination usually by military means. What most of us, with our more liberal bent, are loathe to admit, is that any historical movement can seek century after century to pursue a single goal of world domination. Our memories are shorter than many Muslim visionaries.

Belloc, in his writings on Islam, understood this likelihood, this persistency over time. We have to have a certain begrudging admiration, as well as fear, for this determination. But it is an aberration and needs to be called such. Moreover the lack of freedom and independence within actual Muslim societies needs to be much more honestly faced and described. Few are willing to recall that Europe is not Muslim today because it was stopped in France and before Vienna by the sword. At bottom, the Crusades were classic defensive war against an aggressive power, without which Europe would have been absorbed centuries ago.

And although good intelligence is the first line of defense, the will to exercise force remains the key to overcoming "the determined wrath of wrongdoers:"

But though the first line of defense is intelligence in the sense of knowing the enemy, the situation, we need force. We cannot doubt that some individuals and movements cannot be stopped except by force. Force means army, navy, air power, technology, and above all will and brains. But it also means intention. It cannot be lost in legalities or institutions that prevent action on an immediate danger. If there is anything new about this situation, it is found in the very title of the Elshtain book, Just War Against Terror. Something can and must be done about terror, beginning with its proper identification as to its source and cause. This "doing something" requires that potential threats be stopped where they are by armed force acting justly.

Professor Schall concludes by noting that, lest we forget, another 9/11-type attack can happen:

[More radical Islamic terrorist attacks] can happen again, are intended to happen again, and that they not only can be stopped, but can be stopped morally. The fact is, since 9/11, because of our military and security efforts, terrorists have been stopped. All we do not know is the full record of this success that has saved things we cannot imagine, as we can now imagine the World Trade Center destroyed. This prevention, after all, is the purpose of the "sword"?"he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer." Jean Elshtain understands this use of mind and force and her book is a comfort for those who, in honor and justice, have to carry out, often at the cost of their lives, the rugged work that prevents the determined wrath of the wrongdoers from falling on us all.

Read the entire piece. And here is Professor Schall's website.

Posted by Tom at 8:14 AM | Comments (1) |

September 24, 2004

Decisions during the fog of war

Max Boot is a Senior Fellow of National Security Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations, and an award-winning author and former editorial features editor of The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Boot is an expert on national security policy and U.S. military history and technology.

In this LA Times op-ed, Mr. Boot gives an interesting historical perspective to the criticism levied against the Bush Administration recently for its tactical decisions in the war against the Islamic fascists:

Reading the depressing headlines, one is tempted to ask: Has any president in U.S. history ever botched a war or its aftermath so badly?

Actually, yes. Most wartime presidents have made catastrophic blunders, from James Madison losing his capital to the British in 1814 to Harry Truman getting embroiled with China in 1950. Errors tend to shrink in retrospect if committed in a winning cause (Korea); they get magnified in a losing one (Vietnam).

Despite all that's gone wrong so far, Iraq could still go either way. (In one recent poll, 51% of Iraqis said their country was headed in "the right direction"; only 31% felt it was going the wrong way.)

Mr. Boot then reviews the blunders that two of our most revered Presidents -- Lincoln and FDR -- made in connection with their wars:

Lincoln is remembered, of course, for winning the Civil War and freeing the slaves. We tend to forget that along the way he lost more battles than any other president: First and Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Chickamauga?. The list of federal defeats was long and dispiriting. So was the list of federal victories (e.g., Antietam, Gettysburg) that could have been exploited to shorten the conflict, but weren't.

As the Union's fortunes fell, opponents tarred Lincoln with invective that might make even Michael Moore blush. Harper's magazine called him a "despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus." As late as the summer of 1864, Lincoln appeared likely to lose his bid for reelection. Only the fall of Atlanta on Sept. 2 saved his presidency.

Most of the Union's failures were because of inept generalship, but it was Lincoln who chose the generals, including many political appointees with scant military experience. He ultimately won the war only by backing Ulysses Grant's brutal attritional tactics that have often been criticized as sheer butchery.

FDR had some doozies, too:

Roosevelt had more than his share of mistakes too, the most notorious being his failure to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though U.S. code breakers had given him better intelligence than Bush had before Sept. 11. FDR also did not do enough to prepare the armed forces for war, and then pushed them into early offensives at Guadalcanal and North Africa that took a heavy toll on inexperienced troops. At Kasserine Pass, Tunisia, in 1943, the U.S. Army was mauled by veteran German units, losing more than 6,000 soldiers.

The Allies went on to win the war but still suffered many snafus, such as Operation Market Garden, a failed airborne assault on Holland in September 1944, and the Battle of the Bulge three months later, when a massive German onslaught in the Ardennes caught U.S. troops napping.

Though FDR bore only indirect responsibility for most of these screw-ups, he was more directly culpable for other bad calls, such as the decision to detain 120,000 Japanese Americans without any proof of their disloyalty. Like Lincoln, who jailed suspected Southern sympathizers without trial, Roosevelt was guilty of civil liberties restrictions that were light-years beyond the Patriot Act. And, like Bush, Roosevelt didn't do enough to prepare for the postwar period. His failure to occupy more of Eastern Europe before the Red Army arrived consigned millions to tyranny; his failure to plan for the future of Korea and Vietnam after the Japanese left helped lead to two wars that killed 100,000 Americans.

Mr. Boot closes by placing the current criticism of the Bush Administation's tactical decisions in Iraq into historical perspective:

None of this is meant in any way to denigrate the inspired leadership of two great presidents. Both Lincoln and Roosevelt were brilliant wartime leaders precisely because they were able to overcome adversity and inspire the country toward ultimate victory with their unflagging will to win. That's what Bush is trying to do today.

And, no, I'm not suggesting Bush is another Lincoln or Roosevelt. But even if Bush hasn't reached their lofty heights, neither has he experienced their depths of despair. We are losing one or two soldiers a day in Iraq. Lincoln lost an average of 250 daily for four years, Roosevelt 300 daily for more than 3 1/2 years. If they could overcome such numbing losses to prevail against far more formidable foes than we face now, it's ludicrous to give in to today's fashionable funk.

"Colossal failures of judgment" are to be expected in wartime; I daresay even John Kerry (whose judgment on Iraq changes every 30 minutes) might commit a few. They do not have to spell defeat now any more than they did in 1865 or 1945.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 6:59 AM | Comments (0) |

September 23, 2004

Keegan on the Iraq War

John Keegan is England's foremost military historian and, for many years, was the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His book -- The Second World War -- is arguably the best single volume book on World War II and his book The Face of Battle is essential reading for anyone seeking an understanding of the history of warfare. His newest book -- The Iraq War -- was published earlier this year, and here is a post from June on one of Mr. Keegan's earlier op-ed's on the Iraq War.

In this London Telegraph op-ed, Mr. Keegan weighs in on the current situation in Iraq, which has been the subject of these Victor Davis Hanson and James Fallows posts from over the past several days. Essentially, Mr. Keegan notes that mistakes have been made, but points out that the situation could be far worse than it is.

Inasmuch as England's Prime Minister Tony Blair is currently bearing the same criticism over the Iraq War that President Bush is enduring from similar forces in the U.S., Mr. Keegan first addresses the motives behind such criticism:

It is difficult to understand the motives of those who are making life difficult for the Prime Minister. Some are legalists who continue to insist that the war was launched without justification in international law and wish to punish those responsible for their transgressions.

T hey belong to that tiresome but increasingly numerous tribe who seem to think that men are made for laws and not laws for men. In any case, their arguments are contested, since many (including the Attorney General) hold that UN Resolutions 678, 687 and 1441 do in fact provide justification for the taking of military action against Saddam.

Some of Tony Blair's castigators are old-fashioned anti-militarists, usually with a strong anti-imperialist tinge, who deprecate the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy in almost any circumstances. They ignore the fact that Saddam was in breach of at least nine UN resolutions and flaunted his defiance. They also failed to explain why they in effect would support Saddam's continuance in power and the maintenance of his cruel and dictatorial rule over the Iraqi people.

Some anti-Blairites are, of course, simply playing internal Labour Party politics. They dislike the Prime Minister's unwritten contract with the middle classes, his refusal to institute progressive taxation and his disinclination to take back into public ownership any of the denationalised industries. They are usually anti-American as well, and take pleasure at the spectacle of President Bush's failure to translate the victory of 2003 into a successful transition to stable government.

Mr. Keegan then goes on to point out one of the big mistakes that the American military made during the occupation of Iraq:

It was a serious mistake to dissolve the Iraqi police force and to disband the Iraqi army. The reasons for doing so seem to have been based on distant memories of the occupation of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Ba'ath party was identified as the Iraqi version of the Nazi party and the view taken that no supporters of the old regime should be allowed to exercise power under a new regime.

That policy may also have drawn on an idealistic but naive American belief in the existence of a potential democratic majority inside any repressed population, ready to elect an enlightened government if given the chance to vote. The effect in practice was to throw into unemployment hundreds of thousands of young Iraqi males, instantly discontented but skilled in the use of weapons. As almost every Iraqi male has access to weapons, the result was to make for disorder.

However, the disorder in Iraq is isolated to the Sunni Triangle, and Mr. Keegan notes that there is precedent in the Islamic world for this type of disorder:

The trouble that persists is centred on the so-called Sunni triangle, west of Baghdad, and is fomented by ex-Ba'athists who fear that properly conducted elections will exclude them from the position of dominance they were accustomed to enjoy in the Saddam years. Such elections are scheduled for January and that timetable is the spur to the current spate of bombings and shootings, which take as their principal targets those Iraqis who are brave enough to seek enlistment in the new police force and the new army.

Other dissidents are Shia militants, many followers of the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who fear a revival of Sunni dominance through American-sponsored governmental means and who, in any case, regard Western forms of democratic government as un-Islamic. Their aims, if not their beliefs, are supported by the foreign infiltrators, particularly from Syria but also from Iran and the anti-royalist regions of Saudi Arabia, who want nothing less than the restoration of the seventh-century caliphate and a return to the rule of God on earth.

Britain has been here before. In the 1920s, at the beginning of its exercise of the League of Nations Mandate over Iraq, it had to pacify a disturbed ex-Turkish Ottoman territory in which, as the first British governor complained, every man had a rifle. Then, as now, Shia and Sunni were at loggerheads and the whole Muslim world was disturbed by the fall of the caliphate, brought about by Kemal Ataturk's dissolution of Islamic rule in Turkey.

Nevertheless, Mr. Keegan notes that Iraq is a secular state and that its population is one of the best educated in the Middle East, and concludes by pointing out an essential truth regarding the calculated use of force:

When not silenced by the threat of violence from extremists and criminals, [most Iraqis] are also ready to say that they continue to regard the Western troops in their midst as liberators. Western so-called progressives who denounce the war of 2003 as a mistake are in fact illiberal and reactionary. They should be ashamed of themselves. Denunciation of war-making is much more fun than the recognition of the truth that the calculated use of force can achieve good. The United States and Britain must not be deterred.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 5:56 AM | Comments (0) |

September 21, 2004

James Fallows on the Iraq War

James Fallows is the National Correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, where he has worked for more than twenty years. He is one of the most important and gifted investigative reporters of our time. During his long and storied career, Mr. Fallows has written extensively on such diverse topics as defense policy, economics, computer technology, politics, and immigration.

Over the past two years, Mr. Fallows has written a series of investigative articles in The Atlantic in which Mr. Fallows argues that the Bush Administration has squandered valuable resources and opportunities as a result of its drive to war against Iraq. In this Atlantic Monthly ($) interview, Mr. Fallows elaborates on his views regarding the mistakes that he believes that the Bush Administration has made in pursuing the Iraqi front in the war on Islamic fascism. It is a valuable and thought provoking piece from a serious reporter and thinker, and the following are several tidbits of the interview to arouse your curiosity.

On why Mr. Fallows contends that 2002 was the Bush Adminitration's "lost year:"

I was trying to get at what happened in one surprisingly short period, a little over a year. This was the time between America's immediate reaction to being attacked on 9/11, and its situation barely a year later, when so much of the treasure of the country�its military manpower, its government, its international influence�was concentrated on the single goal of removing Saddam Hussein.

At the beginning of 2002, the U.S. had a vast range of resources and opportunities at its disposal. But over the course of that year, we lost or traded away a number of those, including: the ability to conceive of the terrorist threat in the broadest possible terms; the ability to draw upon deep reserves of international support; the ability to rely upon national unity; the ability to field a strong and agile military; and the ability to put government financial resources to effective use. It's the loss of all those opportunities that amounted to a lost year.

On dissent within the Bush Administration regarding the Iraq policy, and the failure of such dissent to be passed up to the President:

My own personal judgment is that for decades into the future, political scientists and historians will study the decision-making process that led to the Iraq war as a case study in failure. Or at least deliberative disfunction.

You have a president who has made a point of neither inviting challenge on points of detail nor himself seeking out significant facts. John Kennedy was famous for picking up the phone and calling a third-level person in the State Department to ask, "What's really going on in Laos?" Bush has never shown an inclination to do that kind of thing and, in fact, has prided himself on not being bogged down by the details.

The result of all this is a kind of path of folly where the people who could say, "Wait a minute, is this a good idea?" were systematically excluded from the decisions, and a smaller and smaller group of people reassured each other on the basis of hope rather than evidence. As a procedural matter, it started with the president's own personality and intellectual traits and radiated out from there.

On the failures relating to the post-war occupation of Iraq:

Historically, a tremendous strength of the United States was that it would start thinking about what would happen after a war while the war was still going on. I mentioned in my previous article that by 1942, when the U.S. had barely gotten into the European war and was still on the losing side of the Pacific war, it set up a school of military government for postwar Japan and Germany. Within the military this same tradition was very much honored in the Iraq war. There were very, very careful efforts to plan for a postwar occupation. Through a combination of arrogance and failure of imagination, none of those plans was put to use until now, when they're suddenly being looked at. One of many things I still find puzzling is why the people who were most determined that the war succeed and that Iraq become a successful example were so totally uninterested in those efforts to make the occupation work. Of course I'm thinking of people like Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, and President Bush.

On whether America is a safer place as a result of the war in Iraq:

The most impressive thing to me in reporting this article is that there is virtually no dissent among national security professionals on the idea that invading Iraq has made America much less secure. I think that's an underappreciated point in the general public�to put it mildly. Except for those who have an occupational obligation to support the Administration's policy, everybody in the national security business says, "Of course, this has made the U.S. more vulnerable than it was before." Our army is more overextended and weaker; our allies are much less on our side; the source of opposition is much, much, much more intense than it was before. And we've lost time in dealing with Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Fallows is lengendary in media circles for the Pentagon sources that he developed during the weapons system battles of the early 1980's that challenged many of the Pentagon's conventional theories of how the American military should fight wars, and he continues to cull similar networks regarding his research on the Iraq war:

Two of the long pieces I've done in the last two years ("The Fifty-first State" and "Blind Into Baghdad") and one short one ("The Hollow Army") have brought a lot of people out of the woodwork. A lot of people have written to me after those articles appeared, saying, "Oh, you don't know the half of it." Email really is wonderful! There has also been a nucleus of people I've known for a long time as they've risen through various ranks of the military and the national security community. There has been a kind of ongoing conversation among these people about the way America responds to different foreign policy threats. The fact that these people proved to be right early on about Iraq has made their view increasingly interesting to me, so I've kept in close touch with them. There are networks of people who, as they gain confidence, know they can talk to you without having their views distorted or, in certain cases, their cover blown. You're able to have more sustained talks with them.

Mr. Fallows comments on criticism of Donald Rumsfeld's "light and fast" military, a theory that Mr. Fallows has reported on extensively for much of his reporting career:

What is behind Rumsfeld's "light and fast" military ethos? It seems like there's a lot of evidence that it doesn't seem to be able to stabilize a country in the long term. I'm just wondering, why are we still seeing troop reassignments in that same model?
The "light and fast" approach in general is a good one, and I think that part of Rumsfeld's reform doctrine has been a valuable part of the fight he's been trying to lead. The difficulty is that he has apparently cared more about winning that symbolic battle than thinking carefully about this particular war in this particular country�Iraq. It's certainly the case that these light, fast units are wonderful for destabilizing regimes or for lighting strikes. But the job in Iraq, as it was conceived by the administration, was a different one. It wasn't just about getting rid of Saddam Hussein and then leaving. It was about transforming the country altogether. That's a very different undertaking. Rumsfeld apparently has a longstanding disagreement with the Army establishment. He thought they were too slow in changing their ways. He let that spill over into ignoring, disregarding, and overruling their very prescient warnings about what it would take to actually run Iraq. In his past life, he would have ridiculed pointy-headed theorists, but his regime within the Pentagon has meant the triumph of the pointy-headed theorist over the people who actually have to occupy territory and pacify neighborhoods.

Mr. Fallows comments on the festering problem of Iran:

Iran is in a very, very unstable area. It's a major power in that area, and it's acquiring weapons while it's surrounded by also very well-armed powers. So there are a number of dangers: will Israel feel it needs to take preemptive action against Iran? Will the Saudis feel they need to get nuclear weapons if Iran has them? It's just an inherently unstable area compared even to Asia.

And on allegations that Mr. Fallows' series of articles on Iraq have been a partisan attack against the Bush Administration?:

What I've been doing over the last two years is looking at America's military and diplomatic response to the pressures it's come under since September 11. This article is a logical continuation of the other work I've been doing about how Iraq happened, how things could have gone better, how they could have gotten worse. Part of The Atlantic's historic role has been to explain, as best we can understand, the big issues of our time. During the Vietnam War, The Atlantic was not a partisan magazine, but it published an increasing number of articles saying, "How could this war have happened? How could it have unfolded in just this way? How is it likely to end?" The magazine's coverage of that war was not partisan, even if the governments then in power�first Democrats, then Republicans�were unhappy about some of its implications.

As I said a while ago, I think the road to Iraq will be studied as a specimen of a failure of decision-making. And while that is a hostile judgment about the nature of the current administration, I'm not intending it as a partisan judgment. If Democrats had done the same thing I would be just as critical. What I'm saying is that in carrying out the public trust and committing the nation to war, the current Administration did not perform well. They ignored crucial information, they fooled themselves on certain important points, and they did not, based on the available evidence, consider the broadest possible view of America's strengths and weaknesses and how to defend them.

Read the entire interview. Regardless of your position on the Bush Administration's handling of the war against the Islamic fascists (and mine is more sympathetic than Mr. Fallows'), Mr. Fallows' views are well-reasoned and worthy of serious consideration. Interestingly, the flawed decision-making process that Mr. Fallows contends took place in regard to the Iraq war is similar to the lack of policy analysis in developing and finalizing domestic policy that former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill described in his earlier book, "The Price of Loyalty."

By the way, my dream debate on the war against Islamic fascism: James Fallows and Victor Davis Hanson.

Posted by Tom at 7:27 PM | Comments (0) |

"War is a series of catastrophes that results in victory"

Victor Davis Hanson's latest NRO op-ed reminds us that the fog of war often makes it difficult to evaluate progress during war. However, Professor Hanson points out that the difficulties of battle should not deter us from focusing on finishing the Iraqi stage of the war against Islamic fascism:

It is always difficult for those involved to determine the pulse of any ongoing war. The last 90 days in the Pacific theater were among the most costly of World War II, as we incurred 50,000 casualties on Okinawa just weeks before the Japanese collapse. December 1944 and January 1945 were the worst months for the American army in Europe, bled white repelling Hitler's last gasp in the Battle of the Bulge. Contemporaries shuddered, after observing those killing fields, that the war would go on for years more. The summer of 1864 convinced many that Grant and Lincoln were losers, and that McClellan alone could end the conflict by what would amount to a negotiated surrender of Northern war aims.

It is true that parts of Iraq are unsafe and that terrorists are flowing into the country; but there is no doubt that the removal of Saddam Hussein is bringing matters to a head. Islamic fascists are now fighting openly and losing battles, and are increasingly desperate as they realize the democratization process slowly grinds ahead leaving them and what they have to offer by the wayside. Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and others must send aid to the terrorists and stealthy warriors into Iraq, for the battle is not just for Baghdad but for their futures as well. The world's attention is turning to Syria's occupation of Lebanon and Iran's nukes, a new scrutiny predicated on American initiatives and persistence, and easily evaporated by a withdrawal from Iraq. So by taking the fight to the heart of darkness in Saddam's realm, we have opened the climactic phase of the war, and thereupon can either win or lose far more than Iraq.

The world grasps this, and thus slowly is waking up and starting to see that if it walks and sounds like an Islamic fascist ? whether in Russia, Spain, Istanbul, Israel, Iraq, or India ? it really is an Islamic fascist, with the now-familiar odious signature of car bombings, suicide belts, and incoherent communiqus mixed with self-pity and passive-aggressive bluster.

For all these reasons and more, something like "See ya, wouldn't want to be ya" is the absolute worst prescription for Iraq ? both for America and those Iraqis who are counting on us in their historic efforts to reclaim their country from barbarism. Amid the daily car bombings in Iraq, murder in Russia, and slaughter in the Middle East, we cannot see much hope ? but it is there, and we are winning on a variety of fronts as the world continues to shrink for the Islamic fascist and those who would abet him.

Read the entire article.

Posted by Tom at 1:17 PM | Comments (0) |

August 4, 2004

VDH on European animus toward America

Victor Davis Hanson has another compelling Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed today in which he points out that the European desire that George Bush be defeated in the upcoming election could very well backfire on European interests:

Yet the European meddling in this particular presidential election is. Less talked about is that the image of an allied Europe has been shattered here at home. And all the retired NATO brass and Council on Foreign Relations grandees are finding it hard to put the pieces back together again. The American public now wants to be told exactly why thousands in their undermanned military are stationed in a continent larger and richer than our own without conventional enemies on its borders. If Europeans think it is nonsensical to connect Iraq with our own post 9/11 security, then Americans believe it is far more absurd to envision an American-led NATO patrolling their skies and roads 15 years after a nearby hostile empire collapsed -- especially when NATO turns out to be as isolationist as America is expected to be engaged abroad.

The election of John Kerry would probably not reverse either the current policy in Iraq or the ongoing reappraisal of our foreign relations. The European fixation with the upcoming election and rabid hatred of George Bush instead may backfire here at home; indeed, even now European animus acerbates our own growing unease with what we read and see abroad

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:15 AM | Comments (0) |

July 29, 2004

The prison of radical Islam

In this Opinion Journal.com piece, Danielle Crittenden reviews a new book -- "Inside the Kingdom" -- by Osama Bin Ladin's former sister-in-law, Carmen bin Ladin.

Inasmuch as women of radical Islamic families risk severe punishment for speaking out, first person accounts of life in this culture are rare. As Ms. Crittendon notes, Ms. Bin Ladin is not a distant relative seeking to cash in on her the Bin Ladin family's notoriety. Rather, her story is arguably the most vivid account yet to appear in the West of the oppressive lives of Saudi women:

Carmen's life in Saudi Arabia began when her car pulled up to Yeslam's mother's compound outside Jeddah. In the mid-1970s, the town was still not much more than a donkey crossroads in the middle of the desert. If winds weren't whipping up the sand in blinding funnels, the sun was scorching down with unbearable heat. Shrouded in her unfamiliar and suffocating black robes, Carmen entered what sounds like a luridly decorated marble tomb. From then on, she was no longer free.

Each day, Yeslam vanished to work. Carmen and her young daughter passed the hours in the company of his mother and sister. Rarely could she leave the house--rarely, even, did she see sunlight. Courtyards had to be cleared of male servants before she could poke her head outside; she was not even permitted to cross the street alone to visit a relative. When she did venture out, she had to wear a choking abaya and thick socks to hide her ankles. "It was like carrying a jail on your back," she writes.

Nor was she much freer inside the house. She could not listen to music, pick up an uncensored book or newspaper, or watch anything on television but a dour man reading the Quran. Nor could she absorb herself in household tasks. These were left to foreign servants, including the care of children.

Carmen was horrified by the effects of this isolation and uselessness. "The Bin Laden women were like pets kept by their husbands;. . . .Occasionally they were patted on the head and given presents; sometimes they were taken out, mostly to each other's houses;. . . .I never once saw one of my sisters-in-law pick up a book. These women never met with men other than their husbands, and never talked about larger issues even with the men they had married. They had nothing to say."

Read the whole piece.

Posted by Tom at 6:57 AM | Comments (0) |

July 26, 2004

Debating American foreign policy

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett professor of history and political science Yale University and Paul Kennedy is the J. Richardson Dilworth professor of history at the same school. In this NY Times Book Review interview, the two debate their views on American foreign policy. The entire piece is well worth reading, and the following are a couple of tidbits of their insights:

How Did 9/11 Change America's Thinking About Foreign Policy?

GADDIS. The whole premise of our thinking had been that threats come from states. Then suddenly, overnight, levels of damage were done exceeding those at Pearl Harbor by a gang most of us had never heard of. That is a profound change in the national security environment. It exposes a level of vulnerability that Americans have not seen since they were living on the edge of a dangerous frontier 150 years ago.

KENNEDY. I'd agree, and then add another slant. The whole system of international law was predicated upon states. There's no thought given in the U.N. Charter to nonstate actors. There needs to be agreement on what states can do now with threats from nonstate actors.

Does the United States Have an Empire?

GADDIS. The really important question is to look at the uses to which imperial power is put. And in this regard, it seems to me on balance American imperial power in the 20th century has been a remarkable force for good, for democracy, for prosperity. What is striking is that great opposition has not arisen to the American empire. Most empires in history have given rise to their own resistance through their imperious behavior. For most of its history as an empire, the United States did manage to be imperial without being imperious. The great concern I have with the current administration is that it has slid over into imperious behavior.

KENNEDY. John has put his finger on something very interesting, which is this dominant position of the U.S. not yet causing the emergence of counterweights. And I say ''yet'' because I think there's quite a considerable danger that it will. We now have a Europe with a larger G.D.P., and we have a China growing so fast you can hardly keep your eyes on it. Our great power status is unchallenged at the orthodox military level. But it's beginning to look a little bit more fragmented in other dimensions.

Posted by Tom at 6:04 AM | Comments (0) |

July 21, 2004

Making foreign policy decisions based on imperfect intelligence

Stephen Sestanovich is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor of international diplomacy at Columbia University. From 1997 to 2001 he was United States ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union.

In this intelligent NY Times Op-ed, Professor Sestanovich points out that key foreign policy decisions are often the product of imperfect intelligence and government officials' reaction to it. Sensitive intelligence is often too weak to guide important decisions, and if the information fits what the governmental officials already believe -- or what they want to do -- it often gets too little scrutiny. He then relates a humorous story:

Most anyone who's worked in government has a story - probably re-told often these days, given the Iraq debate - about facing a big decision on the basis of information that then turned out to be wrong. My favorite is from August 1998 when, with Bill Clinton just three days away from a trip to Moscow, the Central Intelligence Agency reported that President Boris Yeltsin of Russia was dead.

In 1998 the news that Mr. Yeltsin had died was, of course, no more surprising than the news, in 2003, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It matched what we knew of his health and habits, and the secretive handling of his earlier illnesses. Nor was anyone puzzled by the lack of an announcement. Russia's financial crash 10 days earlier had set off a political crisis, and we assumed a fierce Kremlin succession struggle was raging behind the scenes.

In the agonizing conference calls that ensued, all government agencies played their usual parts. The C.I.A. stood by its sources but was uncomfortable making any recommendation. National Security Council officials, knowing Mr. Clinton wasn't eager for the trip, wanted to pull the plug immediately. The State Department (in this case, me) insisted we'd look pretty ridiculous canceling the meeting because Mr. Yeltsin was dead - only to discover that he wasn't.

Eventually we decided that the Russians had to let the deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, who was in Moscow for pre-summit meetings, see Mr. Yeltsin within 24 hours or the trip was off. Nothing else would convince us: no phone call, no television appearance, no doctor's testimony. The next day Mr. Yeltsin, hale and hearty, greeted Mr. Talbott in his office, and two days later Bill Clinton got on the plane to Moscow.

When the trip was over, I phoned the C.I.A. analyst who had relayed the false report. He was apologetic - sort of. "You have to understand," he said. "We missed the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests last spring. We're under a lot of pressure not to miss anything else."

So, what do governmental officials do with such imperfect information?:

When policymakers have imperfect information about a serious problem (which is almost always), what should they do? The answer, then as now, is to shift the burden of proof to the other guy. If we had been denied that meeting with Mr. Yeltsin, it would hardly have proved that he was dead. But we would have canceled the trip all the same. Russian uncooperativeness - not our poor intelligence - would have left us no choice.

And how does that relate to the current debate over the Bush Administration's decision to go to war in Iraq on the basis of imperfect intelligence?:

Going to war and canceling a trip are vastly different matters, but what the Bush administration did with Saddam Hussein in the run-up to war followed the same rule: it challenged him to prove that American intelligence was wrong, so that the responsibility for war was his, not ours.

Clearly, President Bush and his advisers did not expect Saddam Hussein to cooperate in this test, and might still have wanted war if he had. But even if the administration had handled other aspects of the issue differently, it would still have been necessary to subject Iraq to a test. In our debate about the war, we need to acknowledge that the administration set the right test for Saddam Hussein - and that he did not pass it.

When America demanded that Iraq follow the example of countries like Ukraine and South Africa, which sought international help in dismantling their weapons of mass destruction, it set the bar extremely high, but not unreasonably so. The right test had to reflect Saddam Hussein's long record of acquiring, using and concealing such weapons. Just as important, it had to yield a clear enough result to satisfy doubters on both sides, either breaking the momentum for war or showing that it was justified.

But, some protest, does not this approach treat Saddam Hussein as guilty until proven innocent?:

They're right. But the Bush administration did not invent this logic. When Saddam Hussein forced out United Nations inspectors in 1998, President Clinton responded with days of bombings - not because he knew what weapons Iraq had, but because Iraq's actions kept us from finding out.
A decision on war is almost never based simply on what we know, or think we know. Intelligence is always disputed. Instead, we respond to what the other guy does. This is how we went to war in Iraq. The next time we face such a choice, whether our intelligence has improved or not, we'll almost surely decide in the very same way.

The Bush Administration deserves much criticism on a variety of issues. However, its decision to go to war with Iraq -- and its overall prosecution of tha war -- are not issues that deserve the criticism that some politicos are heaping upon the Administration during this political season.

Hat tip to Bill Hesson for the link to this fine op-ed.

Posted by Tom at 9:14 PM | Comments (0) |

July 17, 2004

The inevitable errors of war

/Victor Davis Hanson's latest NRO column is another outstanding history lesson the inevitable mistakes of conducting warfare. Good stuff.

Posted by Tom at 9:09 AM | Comments (0) |

July 16, 2004

Richard Chesnoff on the Jordanian option

Richard Z. Chesnoff has long been one of America's leading correspondents on Middle East affairs, and his pieces have been noted here on several previous occasions.

In this NY Daily News op-ed, Mr. Chesnoff comments on the new ideas that are springing from Israel and Jordan regarding a resolution to the Palestinian problem. Although not yet the subject of widespread political support, the ideas are are notable in that they do not include relying on Yassir Arafat for support, as Mr. Chesnoff notes:

[The] extreme ideas are not welcome among Palestinians, Jordanians or most Israelis. But in between there may be a meeting of the minds. Why not offer financial compensation to West Bankers willing to to move to unsettled parts of Jordan? Why not a border secured in part by Jordan? Why not a Palestinian West Bank and Gaza (minus border areas Israel needs for security) linked to Jordan with an economic union bonding both to Israel's burgeoning economy?

Anything would be better than the options Arafat & Co. offer: more blood, more corruption, more hatred, more suffering for all sides.

Amen. Read the whole piece.

Posted by Tom at 8:11 AM | Comments (0) |

July 10, 2004

Civilization v. Trivia

Victor Davis Hanson's latest NRO piece addresses that portion of American society that belittles President Bush and the administration's policy toward Iraq and the Middle East without providing any meaningful alternative other than the continuation of the disastrous policies that culminated in the 9/11 attacks. The entire article is well worth reading, and the following will give you a taste for it:

Do the trivialists want Saddam and the Taliban back in power? Does a Mr. Allawi repulse them? Do they wish 10,000 American troops back in Saudi Arabia? Perhaps they want Libya to resume its work on nukes? Do they care whether Dr. Khan returns to his lab? Or do they think it is child's play to hike back through the Dark Ages into the Pakistani borderlands looking for bin Laden? And is it all that easy to have prevented another 9/11 attack for almost three years now of constant vigilance? Perhaps they would like to deal with the corrupt, duplicitous, and tottering Saudi Royal family, which just happens to sit on 25 percent of the world's oil reserves ? without whose daily production the economies of Japan, Korea, and China would almost immediately grind to a halt.

Only belatedly has John Kerry grasped that his shrill supporters are often not just trivial but stark-raving mad. If he doesn't quickly jump into some Levis, shoot off a shotgun, and start hanging out in Ohio, he will lose this election and do so badly.

The war that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards once caricatured as a fiasco and amoral is now, for all its tragedies, emerging in some sort of historical perspective as a long-overdue liberation.

. . . For over a year now, we have witnessed a level of invective not seen since the summer of 1964 ? much of it the result of a dying 60's generation's last gasps of lost self-importance. Instead of the "innocent" Rosenbergs and "framed" Alger Hiss we now get the whisk-the-bin-Laden-family-out-of-the-country conspiracy. Michael Moore is a poor substitute for the upfront buffoonery of Abbie Hoffman.
. . . It was politically unwise and idealistic ? not smart and cynical ? for Mr. Bush to gamble his presidency on getting rid of fascists in Iraq. There really was a tie between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein ? just as Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton once believed and Mr. Putin and Mr. Allawi now remind us. The United States really did plan to put Iraqi oil under Iraqi democratic supervision for the first time in the country's history. And it did.

This war ? like all wars ? is a terrible thing; but far, far worse are the mass murder of 3,000 innocents and the explosion of a city block in Manhattan, a ghoulish Islamic fascism and unfettered global terrorism, and 30 years of unchecked Baathist mass murder. So for myself, I prefer to be on the side of people like the Kurds, Elie Wiesel, Hamid Karzai, and Iyad Allawi rather than the idiotocrats like Jacques Chirac, Ralph (the Israelis are "puppeteers") Nader, Michael Moore, and Billy Crystal.

Sometimes life's choices really are that simple.

Read the whole piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:43 PM | Comments (0) |

June 26, 2004

VDH takes stock of the war and the home front

In his latest NRO column, Victor Davis Hanson is bullish on the prospects for a successful conclusion of the Iraqi front of the war against the radical Islamic fascists, but more bearish on American society's capacity to sustain the effort necessary to achieve that successful conclusion:

As we neared three years of fighting in World War II, Patton was stalled near Germany for want of gas, V-2 rockets began raining down on England, and we were fighting to take the Marianas in preparation for future B-29 bases. In comparison, what exactly is our current status in this, our confusing third year of war against Islamic fascists and their autocratic sponsors?

Unlike the Cold War, when our tactical options were circumscribed by nuclear enemies, today the world's true powers are decidedly unfriendly to radical Islam ? and growing more so daily.

Two-thirds of al Qaeda's leadership are either dead or in jail. Their sanctuaries, sponsors, and kindred spirits in Afghanistan and Iraq are long gone. Detention is increasingly common for Islamicists in Europe and America. The Hamas intifada has failed. Its implosion serves as a warning for al Qaeda that Western democracies can still fight back. There is also a lesson for America that even in our postmodern world most people still admire principled success: No one is lamenting the recent targeted killings of Hamas bullies or the preemptive assassination of suicide bombers.

We are winning the military war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorists are on the run. And slowly, even ineptly, we are achieving our political goals of democratic reform in once-awful places. Thirty years of genocide, vast forced transfers of whole peoples, the desecration of entire landscapes, a ruined infrastructure, and a brutalized and demoralized civilian psyche are being remedied, often under fire. All this and more has been achieved at the price of political turmoil, deep divisions in the West ? here and abroad ? and the emergence of a strong minority, led by mostly elites, who simply wish it all to fail.

Whether this influential, snarling minority ? so prominent in the media, on campuses, in government, and in the arts ? succeeds in turning victory into defeat is open to question. Right now the matter rests on the nerve of a half-dozen in Washington who are daily slandered (Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz), and with brilliant and courageous soldiers in the field. They are fighting desperately against the always-ticking clock of American impatience, and are forced to confront an Orwellian world in which their battle sacrifice is ignored or deprecated while killing a vicious enemy is tantamount to murder.

No, we ? along with those brave Iraqis who have opted for freedom ? could very easily still lose this war that our brave troops are somehow now winning.

Read the whole column.

Posted by Tom at 12:02 PM | Comments (0) |

Good news on the Iraqi Front

Daniel Drezner reports good news on the Iraqi front.

Posted by Tom at 9:54 AM | Comments (0) |

June 15, 2004

VDH on America's odd relationship with the radical Islamic fascists

Victor Davis Hanson's latest is up at NRO and, as usual, his historical perspective is right on the money:

As long as the mythical Athenians were willing to send, every nine years, seven maidens and seven young men down to King Minos's monster in the labyrinth, Athens was left alone by the Cretan fleet. The king rightly figured that harvesting just enough Athenians would remind them of their subservience without leading to open rebellion ? as long as somebody impetuous like a Theseus didn't show up to wreck the arrangement.

Ever since the storming of the Tehran embassy in November 1979 we Americans have been paying the same sort of human tribute to grotesque Islamofascists. Over the last 25 years a few hundred of our own were cut down in Lebanon, East Africa, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen, and New York on a semi-annual basis, even as the rules of the tribute to be paid ? never spoken, but always understood ? were rigorously followed.

In exchange for our not retaliating in any meaningful way against the killers ? addressing their sanctuaries in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, or Syria, or severing their financial links in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia ? Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and their various state-sanctioned kindred operatives agreed to keep the number killed to reasonable levels. They were to reap their lethal harvests abroad and confine them mostly to professional diplomats, soldiers, or bumbling tourists, whose disappearance we distracted Americans would predictably chalk up to the perils of foreign service and exotic travel.

Despite the occasional fiery rhetoric, both sides found the informal Minoan arrangement mutually beneficial. The terrorists believed that they were ever so incrementally, ever so insidiously eroding America's commitment to a pro-Western Middle East. We offered our annual tribute so that over the decades we could go from Dallas to Extreme Makeover and Madonna to Britney without too much distraction or inconvenience.

But then a greedy, over-reaching bin Laden wrecked the agreement on September 11. Or did he?

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:19 AM | Comments (0) |

June 14, 2004

The Saudi paradox

Michael Scott Doran is Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University and Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. In this Foreign Affairs article, Professor Doran analyzes the political paradox that confronts the leaders of Saudi Arabia:

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis, but its elite is bitterly divided on how to escape it. Crown Prince Abdullah leads a camp of liberal reformers seeking rapprochement with the West, while Prince Nayef, the interior minister, sides with an anti-American Wahhabi religious establishment that has much in common with al Qaeda. Abdullah cuts a higher profile abroad -- but at home Nayef casts a longer and darker shadow.

In this Washington Post op-ed, Thomas Lippman, a former Washington Post correspondent in the Middle East, is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, frames the conflict in the following fashion:

Saudi forces will win their gun battles with the terrorists. The greater challenge before the House of Saud is to satisfy the aspirations of the majority -- and maintain their security and economic ties with the United States -- without further inciting the religious extremists whose rhetoric gives cover to the terrorists. The task is especially difficult because the royal family's sole claim to legitimacy is its role as the upholder of Islam. To the extent that the regime embraces social progress that can be depicted as un-Islamic, and especially if it appears to do so at the behest of the United States, the backlash could elevate the violence of the past year into a full-scale insurrection.

Hat tip to Craig Newmark for the links to these insightful pieces.

Posted by Tom at 8:12 AM | Comments (0) |

June 6, 2004

Where did all of this come from?

This NY Times article reports on the investigations into how hundreds of millions of dollars in new U.S. bills found their way into the Iraqi central bank during a period of extreme economic sanctions? As the story relates, there are no final answers at this stage, but the search for those answers is proving to be quite interesting.

Posted by Tom at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) |

June 5, 2004

John Keegan's perspective on Iraq

John Keegan is England's foremost military historian and, for many years, was the Senior Lecturer at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. His book -- The Second World War -- is arguably the best single volume book on World War II.

Professor Keegan recently wrote this op-ed in the London Telegraph in which he places current events regarding the war in Iraq in historical perspective:

The Second World War, which has largely formed Western attitudes to war termination, ended neatly for simple reasons: both the Germans and Japanese had had the stuffing knocked out of them. Their cities had been burnt out or bombed flat, millions of their young men had been killed in battle, so had hundreds of thousands of their women and children by strategic bombing. The Japanese were actually starving, while the Germans looked to their Western occupiers both to feed them and to save them from the spectre of Soviet rule. Two highly disciplined and law-abiding populations meekly submitted to defeat.

Because we in the Atlantic region remember 1945 as the year of victory over our deadliest enemies, we usually forget that the Second World War did not end neatly in other parts of the world. In Greece, the guerrilla war against the Germans became a civil war which lasted until 1949 and killed 150,000 people. Peace never really came to Japanese-occupied Asia. In China, Vietnam, Indonesia and Burma, the Second World War became several wars of national liberation, lasting years and killing hundreds of thousands. In Burma, the civil war persists.

The aftermath of the First World War was worse. On Armistice night, Lloyd George, leaving the House of Commons with Winston Churchill, remarked: "The war of the giants is over. The war of the pygmies is about to begin." The pygmies, in civil wars in Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and above all Russia, went on fighting for years, killing or starving to death millions. A full-blown war of conquest by Greece against Turkey ended in a Greek humiliation but also 300,000 deaths.

And there was, of course, a war in Iraq, caused by Britain's attempt to enforce the mandate to rule granted by the League of Nations. Britain eventually prevailed, but at the cost of 6,000 Iraqi deaths and 500 in its own forces. British casualties in this war scarcely exceed 100. Then, as now, the occupiers complained that "every Iraqi has a rifle".

Then, Professor Keegan puts the current troubles in Iraq in the context of previous 20th Century wars:

History boys can explain easily - and convincingly - why some wars, as that against Germany in 1945, end in unopposed occupation of enemy territory and why others, as in Iraq in 1920 and 2004, do not. In the first case, the defeated nation has exhausted itself in the struggle and is dependent on the victor both for necessities and for protection against further disaster - social revolution or aggression by another enemy. In the second case, the war has not done much harm but has broken the power of the state and encouraged the dispossessed and the irresponsible to grab what they can before order is fully restored.

What monopolises the headlines and prime time television at the moment is news from Iraq on the activity of small, localised minorities struggling to entrench themselves before full peace is imposed and an effective state structure is restored.

While noting those troubles, Professor Keegan closes by focusing on the bottom line:

It is a regrettable but not wholly to be unexpected outcome of a campaign to overthrow a dangerous Third World dictator. If those who show themselves so eager to denounce the American President and the British Prime Minister feel strongly enough on the issue, please will they explain their reasons for wishing that Saddam Hussein should still be in power in Baghdad.

Posted by Tom at 2:19 PM | Comments (0) |

June 2, 2004

Two informative articles on radical Islamic fascists

I'm on the road for a couple of days, so I don't have much time for blogging. But I wanted to pass along two articles on radical Islamic fascists that are particularly insightful.

First, Daniel Pipes has this article that summarizes the evolution of the strange political climate that currently exists in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Pipes notes Bernard Lewis' analogy that helps understand the Saudi position among Muslims in general:

"Imagine that the Ku Klux Klan gets total control of the state of Texas. And the Ku Klux Klan has at its disposal all the oil rigs in Texas. And they use this money to set up a well-endowed network of colleges and schools throughout Christendom, peddling their peculiar brand of Christianity. You would then have an approximate equivalent of what has happened in the modern Muslim world."

H'mm. In other words, Dr. Lewis, sort of like what happened with the Mormons, Utah and the United States? ;^)

The other article of note is this one from Richard Chesnoff, who has been reporting on the wars of the Middle East for over 30 years. I particularly like Richard because he is a real war reporter and does not mince words. An example:

Al Qaeda also has apparently infiltrated a number of nongovernmental agencies. Among them, the Yemen Women's Rights Organization. My source explains: "Because of Islamic society's strict taboo on body searches for women, Al Qaeda finds women ideal couriers."

The situation in Saudi Arabia seems worse. Though Saudi officials frequently cloud or completely deny the facts, intelligence shows that two Saudi Air Force pilots, Lt. Safr al-Shahrani and Major Sayyaf al-Bishi, were arrested last year on suspicion of having Al Qaeda ties and of planting missiles in the Al Qawiza area south of Jeddah Port. Their reported plan: attack U.S. military vessels.

There are also reports that the Al Qaeda terrorists whose suicide bomb killed 35 people in Riyadh last year were secretly helped by members of the Saudi National Guard, the same force that supposedly protects the Saudi Royal Family. In Khobar this weekend, the terrorists reportedly wore Saudi Army fatigue uniforms. Did they steal them? Or were they supplied to them by somebody within the national guard?

There are similar reports of internal infiltration coming from Sudan and Pakistan.

The Islamic fascists remain a formidable threat to United States and world security, and this threat is far too serious to be just another political football during the upcoming Presidential campaign.

Posted by Tom at 12:09 AM | Comments (1) |

May 29, 2004

Daniel Drezner on the Iraq War plan

In this New Republic ($) Online article, Daniel Drezner does a good job of concisely analyzing the Iraq War plan and the execution of its goal. The entire article is well worth reading, and the following is a tidbit to pique your interest:

Say what you will about the neoconservatives' skills at manners or management; their big idea cannot be dismissed lightly. There is a compelling logic to the argument that the primary source of frustration among Arabs in the Middle East is a sense of powerlessness. Trapped in a region littered with authoritarian and corrupt regimes, they are encouraged by these regimes and their Islamic critics to blame their situation on Israel and the United States. This is an ideal environment for fomenting terrorism. Creating an open society in Iraq would put the lie to this kind of hate-mongering.

To be sure, democracy promotion is far from easy. Indeed, regime change in the Middle East looks like a lousy, rotten policy option for addressing the root causes of terrorism, until one considers the alternatives--appeasement or muddling through. The latter option was essentially the pre-9/11 position of the United States and its allies, and has been found wanting. Appeasement or isolation has the same benefits and costs that the strategy had in the 1930s: It buys short-term solace but raises the long-term costs of facing a stronger and potentially undeterrable adversary.

For all their criticism of Bush's grand strategy, Europeans and left-wingers have offered very little in the way of alternatives to his vision. Some say that American soft power could bring about change in the Middle East. But decades of alternately coddling, cajoling, and ostracizing Arab despots has not led to liberalization or democratization. We have showered Egypt with aid, but have succeeded only in propping up an authoritarian monster in Hosni Mubarak. We have tried to isolate Syria, but have only strengthened that country's anti-American credentials. Maybe U.S. soft power is part of the solution to the Middle East's woes, but soft power alone cannot accomplish our desired ends.

The craft of foreign policy is choosing wisely from a set of imperfect options. While flawed, the neoconservative plan of democracy promotion in the Middle East remains preferable to any known alternatives.


Posted by Tom at 8:22 AM | Comments (0) |

VDH quotes Al Davis

Victor Davis Hanson quoting Oakland Raiders' owner Al Davis? Read about it here. One of Professor Hanson's typically insightful observations is the following:

If one goes back to the fifth week of Bill Clinton's 79-day bombing campaign against Serbia ? no U.N. approval, no congressional sanction, NATO partners backing out ? one reads of castigation from the American Right about bombing a Christian Orthodox country in Europe, from neoconservatives about not committing ground troops, and from the Left about going to war at all. But with Milosevic in the dock and the mass murder stopped, we now are told that the Clinton administration's efforts to stop the bloodbath in the Balkans proved to be about the only success of his scandal-ridden administration. Why? He persevered and won ? and we can imagine what would have happened had he caved in at week six and called it another Mogadishu.

The truth is that for all our education, nuance, and professed idealism, too many of us think and act with our limbic systems, which are hard-wired to appreciate perceived success and feel comfortable with consensus. Like most in the animal kingdom, man wishes to identify with good fortune and abhors apparent failure, and thus seeks conveniently to find distance from it. After Abu Graib and the insurrections in Fallujah and Najef, the loudmouth critic Michael Moore is praised as a gifted filmmaker at the Cannes Film Festival even as prominent conservatives and ex-generals, now in their newfound genius, trash the war and claim they were brainwashed, nave, or not listened to.

Our leaders should remember this volatility. In the long run, of course, the present strategy is sound and in a decade will be judged as such by historians. How could it not be sound to remove a mass murderer who posed a threat to the region and our country and then sponsor a consensual government in his place?

Listening Al Gore?

Posted by Tom at 7:55 AM | Comments (0) |

May 17, 2004

Seymour Hersh on Abu Ghraib

Seymour Hersh's articles on the Abu Ghraib scandal are the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes. Here is his latest article in which he implicates the top Pentagon brass in the interrogation techniques that led to the abuse of prisoners at the prison. His earlier articles on the prison are here and here.

Joel Mowbray in this FrontPageMagazine.com piece provides a counterbalance to Mr. Hersh's pieces. This John Miller profile of Hersh is along the same lines.

Read all and decide for yourself.

Posted by Tom at 7:40 AM | Comments (0) |

Richard Chesnoff on Iran's support of radical Islamic fascists

As noted in this earlier post, Richard Z. Chesnoff has long been one of America's most prominent reporters on foreign affairs. In this NY Daily News op-ed, Mr. Chesnoff reports on Iran's systematic support for the radical Islamic fascists who are waging war against the United States. As Mr. Chesnoff notes:

Tehran's mad mullahs have thrown their support behind select Islamic extremists for many years. But a top-secret report prepared by senior Mideast intelligence sources says Iran has recently stepped up its efforts to train and arm a widening range of terrorists, many of whom pose direct threats to Western targets, including in Iraq.

Iran's protgs, new and old, are both Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and they hail from all across the Middle East: Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. Many are already ensconced in Iranian training camps.

Most of these Iranian-fostered groups are violently anti-American. Some, like Lebanon's Usbat al-Ansar and Iraq's Ansar al-Islam, have direct ties to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Chesnoff also points out the ominous implications of this Iranian support of the enemy for the war effort in Iraq:

Most frightening of all, my sources say there are indications Hamas is helping Ansar al-Islam develop short-range rockets with which to attack coalition troops in Iraq. These are the same type of Qassem rockets that Hamas has been producing in Gaza and firing at Israeli settlements and towns.

"The coalition's abundance of defensive armor in Iraq," says one source, "has made it increasingly difficult for Ansar al-Islam to attack stationary targets."

Qassem-style rockets would help our enemies overcome that difficulty.

A Hamas-financed Qassem workshop, I'm told, has been set up in Iran under the supervision of a Hamas cell leader named Abu Husam, who is a qualified engineer.

Needless to say, Iran is eager not to leave any traces of its involvement in attacks against the U.S.

But Iranian intelligence has quietly helped its terrorist protgs cross over into the United Arab Emirates and return with materials for the rocket project through the Iranian military port of Bandar Abbas.

"According to the Hamas-Al Qaeda plan," says an intelligence source, "the first rockets are to become operative in Iraq in early June, just before rule is transferred to the Iraqi interim government."

And Mr. Chesnoff concludes by asking the $64 question:

What was that we were being told recently about the Iranian government's "moderating" its positions?

Read on.

Posted by Tom at 7:24 AM | Comments (0) |

May 15, 2004

Comparing images of Abu Ghraib and Nicholas Berg

Charles Paul Freund is a senior editor of Reason, a monthly magazine on politics and culture, who has written extensively on the political manipulation of culture, the ideological use of imagery and language, modern techniques of persuasion and the process of disseminating ideas.

In this LA Times op-ed, which is a must read in its entirety, Mr. Freund makes the following salient point in comparing the responses to the recent images of the Abu Ghraib prison and the beheading of Nicholas Berg:

The Abu Ghraib pictures reveal American soldiers humiliating their prisoners in a sadistic manner (in some images, the Americans are actually smirking). It's a painful sight because it is cruel on its own terms (we don't even know whether the terrorized individuals are actually guilty of anything) and because we regard such sadism as unworthy of our image of ourselves.

By contrast, Zarqawi intentionally videotapes and distributes his bloody atrocity; the literal slaughter of an innocent is offered as an example of his righteousness. For Zarqawi, the question of unworthiness simply never enters the calculation; that the action is inhuman is its point.

Shameless brutality of this degree has the power to transform the shame of Zarqawi's enemies. Zarqawi has reminded his enemies that, unlike him, they are at least capable of shame.

Zarqawi's righteous snuff movie is an act of lunacy, a gift to his enemies, and, one hopes, an unwitting suicide note.

Hat tip to Virginia Postrel for the link to Mr. Freund's timely piece.

Posted by Tom at 9:32 AM | Comments (0) |

May 14, 2004

All politics are local, even in Iraq

David Ignatius of the Washington Post (free online subscription required) has some interesting observations in this piece titled "Reassembling Iraq" based on his recent trip to Iraq. The entire piece is well worth reading, and the folloiwng will give you a flavor for it:

After each visit to Iraq over the past year, I've tried to weigh how things are going. At the end of a trip last week, one answer was that it depends on where you live. Even in the wilds of Mesopotamia, all politics is local.

Overall, Iraq is a mess. . .

Yet this disarray on the macro level masks local pockets of stability. Southern Iraq, where I traveled for a week with British troops, is surprisingly calm -- thanks to a quiet alliance of tribal sheiks and Shiite religious leaders with the British occupiers. The British have been wise enough to let the Iraqis find their own solutions to problems. Their motto, says the British chief of staff in the south, Col. Jim Tanner, is that "one size doesn't fit all."

The Kurdish north is also relatively calm and stable. Kurdish political leaders know they've got a good thing going in their quasi-autonomy from the Arabs to the south. Their troops and clan leaders are maintaining order, and while they may pay lip service to the notion of the Iraqi state, they're quite happy to be running their own show.

The nightmare area is the U.S.-controlled zone in the center of the country. This was always going to be the toughest piece of the puzzle. Where the Shiite south and Kurdish north are each relatively homogenous, central Iraq is an ethnic, religious and political jumble.

But even in the center, temporary pockets of stability have emerged over the past month, as the United States steps back from the brink of all-out urban warfare. Much like the British in the south, the U.S. occupiers now seem ready to accept some Iraqi solutions that are backed by the nation's traditional power bases, such as the tribes, religious leaders and semi-respectable remnants of the old army.

Sometimes we'll have to hold our noses at these local solutions, as when a former Republican Guard general restores order in Fallujah. But that kind of pragmatic approach seems preferable to waging a bitter war of occupation.

Unfortunately, the checkerboard Iraq that I'm describing isn't any longer a single nation. It's a country in the process of de facto partition -- with the north and the south going their own ways and the center in a bloody state of ferment.

Posted by Tom at 4:31 PM | Comments (0) |

VDH on Rumsfeld

Victor Davis Hanson's latest NRO column is up and, as usual, he places the calls for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation or firing in the proper perspective:

The idea that anyone would suggest that Donald Rumsfeld -- and now Richard Meyers! -- should step down, in the midst of a global war, for the excesses and criminality of a handful of miscreant guards and their lax immediate superiors in the cauldron of Iraq is absurd and depressing all at once.

What would we think now if George Marshall had been forced out on news that 3,000 miles away George S. Patton's men had shot some Italian prisoners, or Gen. Hodges's soldiers summarily executed German commandoes out of uniform, or drivers of the Red Ball express had raped French women? Should Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell have been relieved from his command for the February 12-13, 1991, nocturnal bombing of the Al Firdos compound in Baghdad, in which hundreds of women and children of Baathist loyalists were tragically incinerated and pictures of their corpses broadcast around the world, prompting the United States to cease all further pre-planned and approved attacks on the elite in Saddam's bunkers throughout Baghdad? Of course not.

Rumsfeld and Meyers have presided over two amazingly successful wars. In an aggregate of 11 weeks, and at the tragic cost of 700 combat dead, the American military defeated the two worst regimes in the Middle East and stayed on to implant democratic change where no such idea has ever existed. Had anyone envisioned, say in 1999, that the United States could do such a thing -- that Saddam Hussein and Mullah Omar would both be out of power, and that governing councils would be there in their place -- he would have been dismissed as unhinged. What they are attempting to do is not to keep some psychopath "in his box" or lob over cruise missiles. The latter are palliative but ultimately solely punitive measures that kill a few hundred or thousand anonymous Middle Easterners and keep the nasty business off the evening news, thus in the long term inciting rather than solving the problem.

Then, VDH turns to Rumsfeld's record:

Have we forgotten the world before September 11? It was not all certain that going to Afghanistan was preordained, much less the rapid fall of the Taliban ? reread the use of "quagmire" and its kindred language of doom after the first few weeks of war by experts on the New York Times opinion pages. Those on the left said victory was impossible; those on the right said we were losing due to far too few troops. . .

Yet Rumsfeld's Special Forces and air power really did win the war, and Afghanistan is now more secure with far fewer troops than is Iraq. A new policy toward North Korea; a mature sobriety about the post-Cold War European hypocrisy of wanting continued protection without even the simulacra of responsible partnership; a new honesty with South Korea ? all this is due largely to Donald Rumsfeld. Add the Libyan turn-around, Dr. Khan's confessions, troops out of Saudi Arabia, and the Iranian worry about new scrutiny ? all dividends from his acceptance of the world as it is rather than what we used to dream it to be. The Democratic leadership asking for his scalp should spell out exactly how the U.N. representative in Iraq is not de facto U.N. participation, how the paltry NATO contingent in Afghanistan is proof that Europe will help if asked to join a truly multilateral coalition, and what exactly they would have done differently in the war that the vast majority of them voted for and funded.

And finally, Professor Hanson, who is a registered Democrat, has these words for the leaders of his party:

One final jarring scene from the televised spectacles was the image of the lone, beleaguered Joe Lieberman calling for patience and sobriety, and worried about our troops in the field and the pulse of the war. This decent and honest man reminds us of what the present party of Ted Kennedy and Terry McAuliffe used to be. The confidence of a Truman, JFK, and Scoop Jackson ? caricatured now for dropping the bomb, a fiery "pay-any-price" speech, and heating up the Cold War ? is now nowhere to be found.

This is a vital point, because either this year or sometime in the next decade a Democratic administration may well take the reins of power and in matters of national security it will be far to the left of the Liebermans of the world. And the disturbing events that we saw in the 1990s ? constant appeasement of Middle East terrorists and their national sponsors, the emergence of a nuclear Pakistan and North Korea, sudden withdrawal from messy places like Mogadishu, a jetting special envoy Jimmy Carter ? will return, though made worse through the prism of the present fury over Iraq.

If it were not so tragic it would be ironic to see what the present prescient critics are going to say ? much less do ? when they confront the hideous reality that Iran and perhaps Syria will have acquired nuclear weapons and with them the ability, without a neighboring nuclear India staring them down, to blackmail most of the Middle East and the oil-hungry world at large.

We will soon learn what Middle Eastern nuclear honor, atomic loss of face, or radioactive jihad really means. Most who now damn unilateralism and preemption won't find their beloved but shaken U.N., EU, or NATO at their side. More likely there will come a day when in exasperation they will call up someone like Don Rumsfeld for advice ? albeit in silence and off the record.


Posted by Tom at 9:22 AM | Comments (0) |

May 12, 2004

Bernard Lewis on U.N. involvement in Middle East

Princeton University Professor Emeritus Bernard Lewis is America's foremost expert on Middle East history, and prior posts involving his work and views can be viewed here. In this Wall Street Journal ($) piece, Dr. Lewis makes some typically insightful observations in regard to relying on the United Nations as an agent for progress in the Middle East:

The record of the U.N. in dealing with conflicts is not encouraging -- neither in terms of fairness, nor of efficacy. Its record on human rights is even worse -- hardly surprising, since the members of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights include such practitioners of human rights as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. In dealing with conflicts, as a European observer once remarked, its purpose seems to be conservation rather than resolution.

A case in point: In 1947 the British Empire in India was partitioned into two states, India and Pakistan. There was a bitter military struggle, and an estimated 10 million refugees were displaced. Despite continuing friction, some sort of accommodation was reached between the two states and the refugees were resettled. No outside power or organization was involved.

In the following year, 1948, the British-mandated territory of Palestine was partitioned -- in terms of area and numbers, a triviality compared with India. Yet that conflict continues, and the 750,000 Arab refugees from Israel and their millions of descendants remain refugees, in camps maintained and staffed by the U.N. Except for Jordan, no Arab state has been willing to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees or to their locally born descendants, or even to allow them the rights of resident aliens. They are now entering their fifth generation as stateless refugee aliens. The whole operation is maintained and sustained by a massive apparatus of U.N. officials, some of whom have spent virtually their whole careers on this issue. What progress has been made on the Arab-Israel problem -- the resettlement in Israel of Jewish refugees from the Arab-held parts of mandatory Palestine and from Arab countries, the Egyptian and Jordanian peace agreements -- was achieved outside the framework of the U.N. One shudders to think what might have been the fate of the Indian subcontinent if the U.N. had been involved in its partition.


Posted by Tom at 7:25 AM | Comments (0) |

May 11, 2004

Laurie Myrolie updates Iraqi 9-11 links

In this FrontPageMagazine piece, Laurie Mylroie reports on an important new piece of evidence that links Iraqi intelligence to one of the leaders of the 9-11 attacks on New York and Washington.

As this earlier post notes, Ms. Mylroie is a former Clinton Administration advisor on Iraqi intelligence matters who has clashed with Richard Clarke regarding his dismissal that Iraq was involved in either the 1993 World Trade Center or the 9-11 attacks.

Hat tip to Powerline for the link to Ms Mylroie's article.

Posted by Tom at 9:06 AM | Comments (0) |

War Theory

This Wall Street Journal ($) article reports on an interesting area of Pentagon research that is not discussed much in the mainstream media -- that is, the fundamental shift that has taken place over the past generation in the theory behind the way in which American military forces fight wars.

The WSJ article focuses on Thomas Barnett, a 41 year old obscure Defense Department analyst, teamed up with senior executives at the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald LP in 1998 to study how globalization was changing national security. The entire WSJ article is well worth reading, and the following are a few tidbits to whet your appetite:

One scenario [Mr. Barnett and his associates] studied was a meltdown caused by the Y2K computer bug followed by terrorist attacks designed to exploit the chaos. Mr. Barnett posited that Wall Street would shut down for a week. Gun violence, racially motivated attacks and sales of antidepressants would surge. The U.S. military would find itself embroiled in brushfire conflicts across the developing world.

His theories were met with skepticism. "People began referring to me as the Nostradamus of Y2K," Mr. Barnett says.

Then came the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Suddenly Mr. Barnett didn't look so crazy.

Accordingly, at the urging of certain Pentagon researchers, Mr. Barnett overhauled the concept to address more directly the post-9/11 world and condensed it into a three hour PowerPoint briefing. As a result, Mr. Barnett has become a key figure in the debate currently raging about what the modern military should look like. Senior military officials say his controversial ideas are influencing the way the Pentagon views its enemies, vulnerabilities and future structure. The WSJ article notes:

Mr. Barnett's military is a far cry from the shape of today's armed forces. Instead of a single force to wage wars and rebuild nations, Mr. Barnett envisions two. The first, which he dubs "Leviathan," would be hard-hitting, ready to take on conventional foes such as Saddam Hussein on a moment's notice. The second, more unconventional force of "System Administrators" would focus on bringing dysfunctional states into the mainstream through the type of nation-building operations seen in Iraq, the Balkans and Eastern Africa. It wouldn't only mop up after wars but would travel the world during peacetime building local security forces and infrastructure.

You will never discover in the mainstream media that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is one of the reasons why Mr. Barnett's theories are seeing the light of day:

Mr. Barnett conjured up his vision at the urging of Retired Vice Adm. Arthur Cebrowski. After 9/11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tapped the admiral to run a new office in the Pentagon, dubbed the Office of Force Transformation, focusing on changing the military, one of Mr. Rumsfeld's pet projects.
In Mr. Barnett's world, countries are divided into two categories. His "core" countries are part of a global community linked by trade, migration and capital flows. Europe, the U.S., India and China fall into this group. Then there are "gap" countries that either refuse to join the global mainstream (such as Saudi Arabia and Iran), or are unable to because they have no central government or are struggling with debilitating crises (such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and much of sub-Saharan Africa).

"The "gap" is a petri dish of grief, repression, terrorism and disease," says Adm. Cebrowski. "And 9/11 shows we can't wall ourselves off from it."

To join those worlds together, Mr. Barnett envisions two different military forces. The Leviathan force consists of stealthy submarines, long-range bombers and highly trained soldiers who are "young, unmarried and slightly p- off," Mr. Barnett says.

The System Administrator force is named for the technology wonks who run corporate computer networks. This force is focused on training "gap state" security forces, stamping out insurgencies and rebuilding basic infrastructure such as legal systems and power grids.

That force would include lightly armored soldiers, the Marine Corps and officials from the State, Justice and Commerce departments along with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Its troops would be older and more specialized than the Leviathans. The purpose of the System Administrators would be to bring order to a country, but the force would also be strong enough to defend itself.

The Pentagon is a notoriously tradition-bound organization where new ideas that do not come through the normal chain of command are viewed by Pentagon generals with skepticism. Nevertheless, over the past 30 years, the Pentagon has increasingly embraced intellectual ideas from non-conventional sources.

For example, Andrew Marshall in the late 1970's and early 80's argued from an obscure Pentagon office that wars could be revolutionized by precision bombs, unmanned planes and wireless communications that would allow the American military to destroy enemies from a distance. Similarly, the work of the late Pentagon iconoclast John Boyd and his acolytes in revolutioning the way in which the American military approaches war in the late 20th and early 21st century has been well-chronicled in Robert Coram's book, "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.

As we evaluate the performance of America's military leaders in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, it is important to remember that things are not always as they seem in regard to the American military.

For example, the Pentagon brass fought tooth and nail against the innovative ideas of people such as Boyd, Marshall, and now Barnett, primarily because their ideas often run contrary to the sacred cow military appropriations that the Pentagon hierarchy aggressively protect.

On the other hand, you will not learn from the mainstream media that it took leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell over the past two decades to open up and accept recommendations from lower Pentagon sources such as Boyd and Marshall that have revolutionized and dramatically improved America's ability to conduct war in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But for the willingness of leaders such as Messrs. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell to listen to these unconventional sources of information, the traditional Pentagon brass would have squelched those innovative ideas before they would have ever seen the light of day.

Consequently, for those who are calling for the heads of Messrs. Rumsfeld and Cheney, I give this advice: Be very careful what you wish for.

Posted by Tom at 7:55 AM | Comments (0) |

May 7, 2004

VDH on our weird way of war

I am at a loss to describe the brilliance of Victor Davis Hanson's insight, which has been a bright light in America ever since the 9/11 attacks. In his unequaled string of outstanding columns over the past three years, this week's op-ed for NRO may be the best. Read the entire piece, but the following will give you a flavor for it:

But our problems are not just with the paradoxes of the fourth-dimensional, asymmetric warfare that the United States has dealt with since the fighting in the Philippines and knew so well in Vietnam.

No, the challenge again is that bin Laden, the al Qaedists, the Baathist remnants, and the generic radical Islamicists of the Middle East have mastered the knowledge of the Western mind. Indeed they know us far better than we do ourselves. Three years ago, if one had dared to suggest that a few terrorists could bring down the Spanish government and send their legion scurrying out of Iraq, we would have thought it impossible.

Who would have imagined that Americans could go, in a few weeks, from the terror of seeing two skyscrapers topple to civil discord over the diet and clothing of war in Guantanamo, some of whom were released only to turn up to shoot at us again on the battlefields of Afghanistan? Our grandfathers would have dubbed Arafat a gangster, and al Sadr a psychopathic faker; many of us in our infinite capacity for fairness and non-judgementalism deemed the one a statesman and the other a holy man.

So our enemies realize that the struggle, lost on the battlefield, can yet be won with images and rhetoric offered up to alter the mentality and erode the will of an affluent, leisured and consensual West. They grasp that we are not so much worried about being convicted of being illiberal as having the charge even raised in the first place.

The one caveat they have learned? Do not provoke us too dramatically to bring on an open shooting war, in which the Arab Street hysteria, empty threats on spec, and silly fatwas nos. 1 through 1,000 mean nothing against the U.S. Marines and Cobra gunships. Instead, their modus operandi is to push all the way up to war ? now provoking, now backing down, sometimes threatening, sometimes weeping ? the key being to see the struggle in the long duration as a war of attrition, if you will, rather than a brief contest of annihilation.

These rules of the strategy of exhaustion are complex, and yet have been nearly mastered by the radicals of the Middle East. First, shock the sensibilities of a Western society into utter despair at facing primordial enemies from the Dark Ages. The decapitation of a Daniel Pearl; the probing of charred bodies with sticks, whether in Iran in 1980 or Fallujah in 2004; the promise of torturing Japanese hostages ? all this is designed to make the Western suburbanite change channels and head to the patio, mumbling either, "How can we fight such barbarians" or ? better yet ? "Why would we wish to?"

If, on occasion, an exasperated and furious West sinks to the same level ? renegade prisoner guards gratuitously humiliating or torturing naked Iraqi prisoners on tape ? all the better, as proof that the elevated pretensions of Western decency and humanity are but a sham. A single violation of civility, a momentary lapse in humanism and in the new world of Western cultural relativism and moral equivalence, presto, the West loses its carefully carved-out moral high ground as it engages not merely in much needed self-critique and scrutiny, but reaches a feeding frenzy that evolves to outright cultural cannibalism.

For someone in a coffee-house in Brussels the idea that Bush apologizes for a dozen or so prison guards makes him the same as or worse than Saddam and his sons shooting prisoners for sport ? moral equivalence lapped up by the state-controlled and censored Arab media that is largely responsible for the collective Middle East absence of rage over the exploding, decapitating, and incinerating of Western civilians in its midst.

Posted by Tom at 9:28 AM | Comments (0) |

May 1, 2004

Bernard Lewis on the situation in Iraq

Princeton University Professor Emeritus Bernard Lewis is America's foremost expert on Middle East history and the author of "What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East" and the new "From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East." This Atlantic Monthly Online interview provides Dr. Lewis' current insights into Middle Eastern affairs and America's role in that region. The entire interview is well worth reading, and these following observations on the effect of the growth of the strong centralized state in Middle Eastern societies is an example:

In a 1957 lecture about tensions in the Middle East you said that Westernization, in spite of its benefits, was the chief cause "of the political and social formlessness, instability and irresponsibility that bedevils public life of the Middle East." I wonder, as you were writing nearly a half century ago, which particular aspects of Westernization you were referring to?
First of all, let me say what I mean by Westernization. This process was not mainly imposed by Western imperial rulers, who tend to be very cautious and conservative, tampering as little as possible with the existing institutions. It was done by reformers in the independent Middle Eastern countries. Enthusiastic reformers who recognized the success and power of the Western world and wanted to get the same for their own people?a very natural and very laudable ambition. But often with the very best of intentions, they achieved appalling results.

What I had in mind in particular was two things, both tending in the same direction. In the old order, the traditional Islamic Middle Eastern society was certainly authoritarian, but it was not despotic or dictatorial. It was a limited autocracy in which the power of the ruler, the Sultan or the Shah or the Pasha, whoever he might be, was limited both in theory and in practice. It was limited in theory by the Holy Law?the Divine Law to which the ruler was subject no less than the meanest of his slaves. It was also limited in practice by the existence of strong entrenched interests in society. You had the merchants of the bazaar, powerful guilds. You had the country gentry. You have the bureaucratic establishment, the military establishment, and the religious establishment. Each of these groups produced their own leaders?leaders who were not appointed by the State, who were not paid by the State, and who were not answerable to the State. These, therefore, formed a very important constraint on the autocracy of government.

Then came the process of modernization or Westernization, which for practical purposes are the same thing. It enormously increased the power of the central government by placing at its disposal the whole modern apparatus of surveillance and control: first the telegraph, later the telephone; the possibility of moving troops quickly, first by train then by truck or by plane. So the central government was able to assert itself and enforce its will even in remote provinces in a way that was inconceivable in earlier times. The effect of this was to weaken or even eliminate those intermediate powers that limited the autocracy of government.

When people look at the kind of regime that was operated by Saddam Hussein and say, "Well, that's how they are, that's their way of doing things," it is simply not true. I mean, that kind of dictatorship has no roots in either the Arab or the Islamic past. It, unfortunately, is the consequence of Westernization or modernization in the Middle East.

And what about the currently popular speculation that representative government simply may not work in Middle Eastern societies?:

Well, there are certain elements in Islamic law and tradition which I think are conducive to democracy. The idea that government is contractual and consensual, for one thing. According to the Islamic Treatise on Holy Law, the ruler comes to power by an agreement between the ruler and his subjects. This is bilateral. Both sides have obligations. It is also limited. The ruler rules under the Holy Law, which he cannot change and which he must obey. So these two elements, I think, of consent and contract, also have the element of limitation, and can be very conducive to the development of democratic institutions. There is also a deeply rooted rejection in traditional Islamic writing of despotism or dictatorship, of the capricious rule of the ruler without due regard to the law and to the opinion of the various groups in society.

And finally, is Dr. Lewis optimistic about Iraq?:

I'm cautiously optimistic about what's happening in Iraq. What bothers me is what's happening here in the United States.
Do you mean the controversy over the occupation? The pressure to pull out?
Yes, because the message that this is sending to people in that region is that the Americans are frightened, they want to get out. They'll abandon us the same as they did in '91. And you know what happened in '91.


Posted by Tom at 8:37 AM | Comments (0) |

VDH's latest

Victor Davis Hanson's latest at NRO is typically perceptive and summed up by his conclusion:

Finally, this is not just a struggle to defeat the Islamic fundamentalists, but to establish the principle that the United States in a moment of its greatest success, material wealth, and power can still make terrible sacrifices that throughout the ages have always been the cost for the freedom and security of its citizens and friends abroad. What Osama bin Laden, and those who actively support him, have started, we in the United States most surely will finish.

Read the entire article. Dr. Hanson is the epitome of a clear thinker.

Posted by Tom at 8:13 AM | Comments (0) |

April 28, 2004

On the ground in Baghdad

Yass Alkafaji is a Northeastern Illinois University accounting professor and an migr from Iraq. Professor Alkafaji went to Baghdad in January as the director of finance for the Ministry of Higher Education of the Coalition Provisional Authority. In this Chicago Tribune (free subscription required) interview, he relates what it's like on the ground in Baghdad. Read the entire interview, but here are a few highlights:

Alkafaji recently left Baghdad during one of the bloodiest months of the U.S. occupation. We shared chai lattes at a Starbucks in Sauganash to discuss what he saw and heard while he was there. We thought he would be full of tales of violence in Sadr City, mutilations in Fallujah and bombings in Basra. But, oddly enough, he said that while he was there, he hardly noticed these events that made headlines all over the world.
Q. You were in Iraq during some of the worst anti-American violence of the occupation. How did that affect your work?
A. I did not notice it. Even though I was in the middle of it, I was apart from it. It was not something we thought about on a daily basis. We got briefings, and we'd hear people saying things here and there. Sometimes I would receive calls from my wife, and she was telling me what was happening in the green zone, where I was living, but I didn't know it. Or we would be working in the middle of the day at our computers and we would hear explosions, boom boom, and we would simply look up and go back to work.
Q. What is your take on the mood of the Iraqi people?
A. They are thankful to the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and they are content that the military needs to be there. But after that, they are divided between how long should the U.S. military stay and whether they are doing a good job or not. The U.S. military presence is very visible, and they [the soldiers] are really scared, so their posture is very offensive. They see Iraqis, and they put guns in your face. They move in convoys, and they tell people to get away from them. When the convoys are in a traffic jam in the middle of Baghdad, that is the most dangerous thing. So they shout at people to get out of the way, and they drive up on the sidewalk of some stores. That creates a lot of hard feelings for the Iraqis.
Q. What about the economic and employment situation with ordinary Iraqis?
A. Most of the people are not informed of what the U.S. is doing because they don't see the visible improvement of their livelihood, especially those who don't have a government job . . . I think there is still a lot of confusion about who is the good Iraqi and who is the bad Iraqi. I think [the U.S.] has shown to the rest of the world that we are really ignorant when it comes to dealing with other cultures. We have a great military power, but when it comes to building nations we have no idea. You can see the tension in the clashes between the British and Americans in the palace. The Americans will say `do this or do that' and the British will just be shaking their head. But the British have a much longer history in the Middle East, and they know how to deal with the Arab mentality. They feel very marginalized.
Q. Depending on how people want to spin it, they characterize the recent violence as a few bad apples or a popular uprising. How do you see it?
A. Surveys show about 70 percent of the Iraqi people accept that there is a need for the American military to be in Iraq, otherwise it will be chaotic and there will be no security on the ground. Of course, if you talk to someone in Sadr City with a first-grade education, they will say otherwise. One day I was waiting seven hours to try to leave the compound to try to see my sister. We had some thugs from the Sadr group demonstrating 15 feet away saying, "We want the U.S. out." So I said, "OK, the U.S. is out and then what next? Who is going to control the country?" They don't think about the implications of what they say.

Hat tip to Daniel Drezner for the link to this interesting interview.

Posted by Tom at 8:36 PM | Comments (0) |

April 27, 2004

The consequences of inadequate security

Daniel Drezner points to this San Francisco Chronicle article about the Iraq experience of Larry Diamond, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institute who was an advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and a promoter of democratic principles in government. As Mr. Drezner's post points out, Diamond is still a promoter of democracy, but is not optimistic about Iraq, primarily because of the United States' failure to provide adequate security for the Iraqi people willing to risk commitment to democratic principles. As the Chronicle article notes:

We just bungled this so badly," said Diamond, a 52-year-old senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "We just weren't honest with ourselves or with the American people about what was going to be needed to secure the country."

"You can't develop democracy without security," he said. "In Iraq, it's really a security nightmare that did not have to be. If you don't get that right, nothing else is possible. Everything else is connected to that."

Diamond relates that his realization of the deficiencies in the American security force came to him while speaking to a woman's group in Baghdad:

"I had one of those moments when you cut through all the bull," he said. "I was speaking to this women's group, and one woman got up and asked, 'If we do all these things, who's going to protect us?' " Diamond recalled. "That was the moment when I said to myself, 'Oh my God, some of these women are going to be assassinated because they are here listening to me.' It just struck me between the eyes."

As the violence spread, Diamond said, he felt ever more painfully the mistake the United States had made by not sending in more troops to keep the insurgents at bay.

The American policies basically encouraged Iraqis to stand up -- only to face the threat of being mowed down for doing so, he said.

"It was totally hypocritical of us to do one and not the other," Diamond said of the lack of security.

The entire article is interesting and thought provoking, so read it all.

Posted by Tom at 8:00 AM | Comments (0) |

April 26, 2004

Fiddling while Rome burns

This NY Times article reports on a couple of remarkable public meetings just outside London last week in which radical Islamic fascist clerics suggested that Tony Blair should be killed and that an Islamic flag should be hanging outside No. 10 Downey Street. The article notes as follows:

Stoking that anger are some of the same fiery Islamic clerics who preached violence and martyrdom before the Sept. 11 attacks.

On Friday, Abu Hamza, the cleric accused of tutoring Richard Reid before he tried to blow up a Paris-to-Miami jetliner with explosives hidden in his shoe, urged a crowd of 200 outside his former Finsbury Park mosque to embrace death and the "culture of martyrdom."
* * *
On Thursday evening, at a tennis center community hall in Slough, west of London, their leader, Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammad, spoke of his adherence to Osama bin Laden. If Europe fails to heed Mr. bin Laden's offer of a truce ? provided that all foreign troops are withdrawn from Iraq in three months ? Muslims will no longer be restrained from attacking the Western countries that play host to them, the sheik said.

"All Muslims of the West will be obliged," he said, to "become his sword" in a new battle. Europeans take heed, he added, saying, "It is foolish to fight people who want death ? that is what they are looking for."

One chapter in Sheik Omar's lectures these days is "The Psyche of Muslims for Suicide Bombing."

Call me old fashioned, but I am appalled that these clerics -- one of who is already under investigation for a serious crime -- could spew this type of subversion without apparent qualm. The reason they can get away with it is explained later in the article:

Though the British home secretary, David Blunkett, has sought to strip Abu Hamza of his British citizenship and deport him, the legal battle has dragged on for years while Abu Hamza keeps calling down the wrath of God.

Despite tougher antiterrorism laws, the police, prosecutors and intelligence chiefs across Europe say they are struggling to contain the openly seditious speech of Islamic extremists, some of whom, they say, have been inciting young men to suicidal violence since the 1990's.

The authorities say that laws to protect religious expression and civil liberties have the result of limiting what they can do to stop hateful speech. In the case of foreigners, they say they are often left to seek deportation, a lengthy and uncertain process subject to legal appeals, when the suspect can keep inciting attacks.

That leaves the authorities to resort to less effective means, such as mouse-trapping Islamic radicals with immigration violations in hopes of making a deportation case stick. "In many countries, the laws are liberal and it's not easy," an official said.


Posted by Tom at 6:44 AM | Comments (0) |

April 22, 2004

VDH on the lessons of Vietnam

Victor Davis Hanson answers the following question on his website:

My question is about the lessons of Vietnam. In your book, 'Carnage and Culture' . . . you point out that millions died as a result of our withdrawal. You also point out the hypocrisy of the left in ignoring this point. It seems like we're now in the exact same situation as we were then, a tenuous military situation in Iraq and the radical left screeching to get out. How do we avoid the catastrophic mistake of Vietnam?
Hanson: We must hope that we are folk more like that of the Okinawa-generation than the Mogadishu public. If we take Fallujah, and alienate and end Sadr?s militia, then the reconstruction will be back on track?offering more of a moral boost than before the present turmoil. The entire struggle depends on whether the United States believes we are in a real war? or whether we think this is a criminal matter. Imagine May 1945 in the midst of trying to dislodge the Japanese from Sugar Loaf Hill: would we engage in national inquiry about who got us into the war with Japan? Or blame each other over Pearl Harbor? Become despondent from horrific footage of suicide bombers? Cease the assault and ask to parley with Japanese generals? Or begin a national debate about leaving the Pacific to avoid such seemingly senseless carnage?

Posted by Tom at 7:08 AM | Comments (0) |

April 20, 2004

Fukuyama on the next chapter in Iraq

Francis Fukuyama, professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins and award winning author, writes this excellent op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal ($) in which he analyzes the tough issues that the United States will be facing in the next stage of reconstruction in Iraq. First, Professor Fukuyama addresses the non-issues (the June 30 deadline, more international involvement, etc.), which seem to get more media play than the real issues, but then turns to the four major issues, the first of which is security:

Once we get past these nonissues, there are at least four very large problems that have to be solved before we get to a democratic Iraq. The first is so obvious that it does not need to be stressed here: security. A great deal of the good nation-building work of improving the electricity supply, roads, schools, and hospitals, as well as the billions of dollars the U.S. has dedicated to these tasks, are now stuck in the pipeline because many of the thousands of aid workers and contractors there find it too dangerous to leave their fortified compounds. At the same time, there is good reason to think that much of the recent violence will subside. Muqtada al-Sadr, the violent Shiite cleric whose Mahdi militia caused so much trouble throughout southern Iraq, miscalculated in staging a grab for power earlier this month. He is in the process of being isolated by his fellow Shiite clerics, and will likely be disarmed though a combination of negotiations and force.

The second issue is preserving the state's "monopoly on legitimate violence":

Much less easily solved is the second major problem, that of Iraq's other militias. If the classic definition of a state is its monopoly of legitimate violence, then the new Iraq is not going to qualify for statehood anytime soon. We have seen in the past two weeks the deficiencies of the new Iraqi army, civil defense corps, and police, all of which have had units that have remained passive, refused to obey orders, or even switched to the other side. If you are a Kurd or Shiite today, it would take a great leap of faith to trust the security of your family to these new institutions.

It is thus not surprising that all of the major Shiite groups and not just Sadr's followers have been frenetically building their own militias over the past few months. The Badr brigades, which are associated with the Iranian-influenced Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the armed cells of the al-Dawa party, are potentially more powerful than the Mahdi militia. They are biding their time and building strength even as their political wings participate in the Iraqi Governing Council. The Kurds, for their part, have had their own Peshmerga forces to defend their interests for the past decade now.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is deep into a negotiation over what is called "demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration" -- DDR, in nation-building lingo -- which would dismantle these militias and fold them into the new national institutions. But the Shiite groups won't disarm unless the Kurds do so as well, and in the current climate of violence it is very hard to see what kinds of incentives the U.S. can offer to bring this about.

The third problem is that of Kurd-Shiite relations:

The third major problem has to do with long-term Kurdish-Shiite relations. The Transitional Administrative Law that was signed in early March contains a provision that any article of the new constitution can be vetoed by a two-thirds vote in any three of Iraq's 18 governorates, effectively giving the Kurds veto power over the entire constitution. The Kurds want this because they remain deeply suspicious that the Shiite groups, including those associated with Ayatollah Sistani (who up to this point has been a force for moderation), will seek to impose Sharia law once the constitutional process is under way. Mr. Sistani, for his part, has been equally vehement that this provision be removed. If the Kurds and Shiites cannot figure out how to share power, it is hard to see where the political basis for the new Iraq lies.

Finally, the fourth is how best to integrate the Sunni's into the Iraq government:

The final problem has to do with how to integrate the Sunnis who are at the center of the current troubles in cities like Fallujah and Ramadi. Contrary to some media reports, it is not clear that a Sunni "silent majority" could not one day find representation in political parties willing to contest power via the ballot box rather than the gun. But after the demise of the Baath Party, they are the least politically developed of all of Iraq's major groups. Prior to the Marines' Fallujah offensive, various democracy-promotion groups such as the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute had been making some headway in organizing democratic Sunni political parties. How the Fallujah standoff will be resolved, and what will remain of any residual Sunni goodwill toward the new Iraq in its aftermath, are open questions now.

Then, Professor Fuyukama concludes with words of prudent wisdom regarding the task at hand:

If we make progress in solving these four problems, and if we get through the two elections outlined by President Bush, we should not kid ourselves about what will emerge at the end of the process. The new Iraqi state will be more legitimate than any other state in the Arab world, but it will also likely be very weak and dependent on outside assistance. It may be an Islamic Republic, in which religion plays a more significant role than the U.S. would like; its armed forces may be a hodgepodge of militias that will crack apart under stress; it will likely face a continuing violent insurgency fed by outside terrorists; its writ is unlikely to extend to important parts of Iraq.

Thus if part of the vision being offered to the American people is the prospect that we will be able to disengage militarily from Iraq in less than two years, the administration should think again. It will be extremely difficult to stick to the timetable outlined by the president, and even if the U.S. do it will have big lingering commitments. The American public should not be blindsided about the total costs of the reconstruction, as it was about the costs of the war itself. For all of the reasons offered by President Bush, it is absolutely critical that America stay the course and ensure that Iraq becomes a stable, democratic country.

Given the incessant criticism during the political season regarding America's mission to clean up the Iraq mess, it is refreshing to read the constructive thoughts of Professor Fuyukama regarding the tough issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

Posted by Tom at 6:56 AM | Comments (0) |

Sharon's simple plan

Richard Z. Chesnoff, author of "Pack of Thieves" about the Nazi plundering of European Jews during the WWII era, has long been one of America's most prominent reporters on foreign affairs. Richard is also the brother of my old friend David Z. Chesnoff, who is one of Las Vegas' most prominent criminal defense lawyers (and also Britney Spears' lawyer in her recent annulment case, but that's another story).

In this NY Daily News op-ed today, Richard insightfully and succinctly explains Ariel Sharon's innovative withdrawal plan in regard to moving the chronically intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward resolution:

Sharon's plan is brilliant in its simplicity - a sort of uncontestable, one-way divorce. Unwilling to wait any longer for the Palestinians to stop terror and negotiate peace seriously, Sharon plans single-handedly to disengage Israeli forces from Gaza, withdraw the 7,000 Jewish settlers who currently live there, turn control of the desert strip over to the Palestinians and begin to do the same in the West Bank by dismantling some Israeli settlements there as well.

At the same time, Sharon announced that Israel plans to complete the controversial security barricade it has been building to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers. Moreover, until a final peace settlement is drawn up, several significant West Bank settlements will remain on the Israeli side of the barricade.

Of course, Sharon doesn't want the Palestinians to see Israel's withdrawal from Gaza as a reward for Arab terrorism. He has been making sure to drive that point home by weakening the terrorists before the Israeli Army pulls out. Hence, the recent targeted killing of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and Saturday's successful hit on Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the pediatrician-cum-killer who took over from Yassin. In case Hamas & co. still don't get the message, the Israelis also have announced that even after withdrawal, their army will counterstrike if Gaza-based terrorism continues.

One of the best parts of Sharon's plan is his offer to turn over the buildings and homes in Israel's soon-to-be-abandoned Gaza settlements to needy Palestinian families. There's one condition: Some international body will have to guarantee that the homes actually go to refugee families and not to Hamas terrorists or friends of Arafat and other well-connected Palestinians. Without that guarantee, Sharon said, he'll have the settlements dynamited before the Israelis leave.

And then there is the most important of all declarations: America is backing the Israelis on their position that the so-called right of return is valid only for entry into a future Palestinian state and not to the Jewish state, thus thwarting the Arab attempt to destroy Israel by cramming millions of so-called Palestinian refugees down its throat.

And Richard concludes with an observation and a recommendation for the Palestinians:

The Palestinians have a long history of rejecting Israeli offers, only to see the dream of peace, prosperity and their own state recede farther over the horizon. This time, they should accept Sharon's plan not as an outrageous insult but as a great opportunity.

Above all, they should remember that next time, the chances are that they'll be offered even less.

Posted by Tom at 6:33 AM | Comments (2) |

April 16, 2004

VDH's latest

Victor Davis Hanson's latest piece on NRO is up. As always, it is worth reading in its entirety, and the following should pique your interest:

We are glad when dictators fall like Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam did. But we all prefer that they tumble spontaneously ? even though we accept privately that such is never the case in this present unipolar world, where all the smug talk about the U.N., EU, and multilateralism means absolutely nothing without the will and skill of the American military. So let us feel terrible about not preempting the genocide in Rwanda; let us hate ourselves for belatedly preempting in vain to save a quarter-million Bosnians and Kosovars in the Balkans; and then let us be ashamed even more that we finally really were preempting to take out a mass-murderer in Iraq ? and let us scream and slur about all this all at once!

Deep down we know that some sort of freedom is what most Iraqis want ? and what Islamic extremists in and outside Iraq most fear. But we wish its creation to proceed flawlessly without loss of blood or treasure. And at all times we insist on gratitude from those we aid, who are humbled, perhaps even furious, because we are giving them precisely what they seek ? but also what in the past they lacked the resources, skill, or courage to obtain on their own.

Posted by Tom at 9:23 AM | Comments (0) |

April 14, 2004

The incongruities of foreign policy

One day they burn our flag and hurl vile insults. The next day, this. Sigh.

Posted by Tom at 6:49 AM | Comments (0) |

President Bush's statement

President Bush is not an articulate man, and he is not, as we lawyers like to say, "quick on his feet" in responding to questions extemporaneously (on the other hand, President Clinton was very good at this). However, last night, I thought that the President's statement at the beginning of his press conference was quite good. Here it is in its entirety:

Good evening. Before I take your questions, let me speak with the American people about the situation in Iraq.

This has been tough weeks in that country. Coalition forces have encountered serious violence in some areas of Iraq. Our military commanders report that this violence is being instigated by three groups: Some remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime, along with Islamic militants have attacked coalition forces in the city of Fallujah. Terrorists from other countries have infiltrated Iraq to incite and organize attacks. In the south of Iraq, coalition forces face riots and attacks that are being incited by a radical cleric named al-Sadr. He has assembled some of his supporters into an illegal militia, and publicly supported the terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. Al-Sadr's methods of violence and intimidation are widely repudiated by other Iraqi Shia. He's been indicted by Iraqi authorities for the murder of a prominent Shia cleric.

Although these instigations of violence come from different factions, they share common goals. They want to run us out of Iraq and destroy the democratic hopes of the Iraqi people. The violence we have seen is a power grab by these extreme and ruthless elements.

It's not a civil war; it's not a popular uprising. Most of Iraq is relatively stable. Most Iraqis, by far, reject violence and oppose dictatorship. In forums where Iraqis have met to discuss their political future, and in all the proceedings of the Iraqi Governing Council, Iraqis have expressed clear commitments. They want strong protections for individual rights; they want their independence; and they want their freedom.

America's commitment to freedom in Iraq is consistent with our ideals, and required by our interests. Iraq will either be a peaceful, democratic country, or it will again be a source of violence, a haven for terror, and a threat to America and to the world. By helping to secure a free Iraq, Americans serving in that country are protecting their fellow citizens. Our nation is grateful to them all, and to their families that face hardship and long separation.

This weekend, at a Fort Hood hospital, I presented a Purple Heart to some of our wounded; had the honor of thanking them on behalf of all Americans. Other men and women have paid an even greater cost. Our nation honors the memory of those who have been killed, and we pray that their families will find God's comfort in the midst of their grief. As I have said to those who have lost loved ones, we will finish the work of the fallen.

America's armed forces are performing brilliantly, with all the skill and honor we expect of them. We're constantly reviewing their needs. Troop strength, now and in the future, is determined by the situation on the ground. If additional forces are needed, I will send them. If additional resources are needed, we will provide them. The people of our country are united behind our men and women in uniform, and this government will do all that is necessary to assure the success of their historic mission.

One central commitment of that mission is the transfer of sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. We have set a deadline of June 30th. It is important that we meet that deadline. As a proud and independent people, Iraqis do not support an indefinite occupation -- and neither does America. We're not an imperial power, as nations such as Japan and Germany can attest. We are a liberating power, as nations in Europe and Asia can attest, as well. America's objective in Iraq is limited, and it is firm: We seek an independent, free and secure Iraq.

Were the coalition to step back from the June 30th pledge, many Iraqis would question our intentions and feel their hopes betrayed. And those in Iraq who trade in hatred and conspiracy theories would find a larger audience and gain a stronger hand. We will not step back from our pledge. On June 30th, Iraqi sovereignty will be placed in Iraqi hands.

Sovereignty involves more than a date and a ceremony. It requires Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own future. Iraqi authorities are now confronting the security challenge of the last several weeks. In Fallujah, coalition forces have suspended offensive operations, allowing members of the Iraqi Governing Council and local leaders to work on the restoration of central authority in that city. These leaders are communicating with the insurgents to ensure an orderly turnover of that city to Iraqi forces, so that the resumption of military action does not become necessary. They're also insisting that those who killed and mutilated four American contract workers be handed over for trial and punishment. In addition, members of the Governing Council are seeking to resolve the situation in the south. Al-Sadr must answer the charges against him and disband his illegal militia.

Our coalition is standing with responsible Iraqi leaders as they establish growing authority in their country. The transition to sovereignty requires that we demonstrate confidence in Iraqis, and we have that confidence. Many Iraqi leaders are showing great personal courage, and their example will bring out the same quality in others. The transition to sovereignty also requires an atmosphere of security, and our coalition is working to provide that security. We will continue taking the greatest care to prevent harm to innocent civilians; yet we will not permit the spread of chaos and violence. I have directed our military commanders to make every preparation to use decisive force, if necessary, to maintain order and to protect our troops.

The nation of Iraq is moving toward self-rule, and Iraqis and Americans will see evidence in the months to come. On June 30th, when the flag of free Iraq is raised, Iraqi officials will assume full responsibility for the ministries of government. On that day, the transitional administrative law, including a bill of rights that is unprecedented in the Arab world, will take full effect.

The United States, and all the nations of our coalition, will establish normal diplomatic relations with the Iraqi government. An American embassy will open, and an American ambassador will be posted.

According to the schedule already approved by the Governing Council, Iraq will hold elections for a national assembly no later than next January. That assembly will draft a new, permanent constitution which will be presented to the Iraqi people in a national referendum held in October of next year. Iraqis will then elect a permanent government by December 15, 2005 -- an event that will mark the completion of Iraq's transition from dictatorship to freedom.

Other nations and international institutions are stepping up to their responsibilities in building a free and secure Iraq. We're working closely with the United Nations envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, and with Iraqis to determine the exact form of the government that will receive sovereignty on June 30th. The United Nations election assistance team, headed by Karina Parelli (phonetic), is in Iraq, developing plans for next January's election. NATO is providing support for the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq. And 17 of NATO's 26 members are contributing forces to maintain security.

Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of State Rumsfeld, and a number of NATO defense and foreign ministers are exploring a more formal role for NATO, such as turning the Polish-led division into a NATO operation, and giving NATO specific responsibilities for border control.

Iraqi's neighbors also have responsibilities to make their region more stable. So I am sending Deputy Secretary of State Armitage to the Middle East to discuss with these nations our common interest in a free and independent Iraq, and how they can help achieve this goal.

As we've made clear all along, our commitment to the success and security of Iraq will not end on June 30th. On July 1st, and beyond, our reconstruction assistance will continue, and our military commitment will continue. Having helped Iraqis establish a new government, coalition military forces will help Iraqis to protect their government from external aggression and internal subversion.

The success of free government in Iraq is vital for many reasons. A free Iraq is vital because 25 million Iraqis have as much right to live in freedom as we do. A free Iraq will stand as an example to reformers across the Middle East. A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace, as we have already shown in Kuwait and Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. A free Iraq will confirm to a watching world that America's word, once given, can be relied upon, even in the toughest times.

Above all, the defeat of violence and terror in Iraq is vital to the defeat of violence and terror elsewhere; and vital, therefore, to the safety of the American people. Now is the time, and Iraq is the place, in which the enemies of the civilized world are testing the will of the civilized world. We must not waver.

The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages, or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali, and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew.

We've seen the same ideology of murder in the killing of 241 Marines in Beirut, the first attack on the World Trade Center, in the destruction of two embassies in Africa, in the attack on the USS Cole, and in the merciless horror inflicted upon thousands of innocent men and women and children on September the 11th, 2001.

None of these acts is the work of a religion; all are the work of a fanatical, political ideology. The servants of this ideology seek tyranny in the Middle East and beyond. They seek to oppress and persecute women. They seek the death of Jews and Christians, and every Muslim who desires peace over theocratic terror. They seek to intimidate America into panic and retreat, and to set free nations against each other. And they seek weapons of mass destruction, to blackmail and murder on a massive scale.

Over the last several decades, we've seen that any concession or retreat on our part will only embolden this enemy and invite more bloodshed. And the enemy has seen, over the last 31 months, that we will no longer live in denial or seek to appease them. For the first time, the civilized world has provided a concerted response to the ideology of terror -- a series of powerful, effective blows.

The terrorists have lost the shelter of the Taliban and the training camps in Afghanistan. They've lost safe havens in Pakistan. They lost an ally in Baghdad. And Libya has turned its back on terror. They've lost many leaders in an unrelenting international manhunt. And perhaps most frightening to these men and their movement, the terrorists are seeing the advance of freedom and reform in the greater Middle East.

A desperate enemy is also a dangerous enemy, and our work may become more difficult before it is finished. No one can predict all the hazards that lie ahead, or the costs they will bring. Yet, in this conflict, there is no safe alternative to resolute action. The consequences of failure in Iraq would be unthinkable. Every friend of America and Iraq would be betrayed to prison and murder as a new tyranny arose. Every enemy of America and the world would celebrate, proclaiming our weakness and decadence, and using that victory to recruit a new generation of killers.

We will succeed in Iraq. We're carrying out a decision that has already been made and will not change: Iraq will be a free, independent country, and America and the Middle East will be safer because of it. Our coalition has the means and the will to prevail. We serve the cause of liberty, and that is, always and everywhere, a cause worth serving.

Now, I'll be glad to take your questions. I will start with you.


Posted by Tom at 6:24 AM | Comments (0) |

April 12, 2004

VDH expands on the consequences of appeasement

In this earlier post from last week, historian Victor Davis Hanson expounded on the futility of appeasement. In this longer City Journal piece, Dr. Hanson expands on the consequences and causes of the appeasement of radical Islamic fascists that has occurred over the past 25 years since the radical Iranians seized the American hostages in 1979. The entire piece is an excellent history lesson, and here are a few of Dr. Hanson's pearls of wisdow:

The twentieth century should have taught the citizens of liberal democracies the catastrophic consequences of placating tyrants. British and French restraint over the occupation of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the absorption of the Czech Sudetenland, and the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia did not win gratitude but rather Hitler?s contempt for their weakness. Fifty million dead, the Holocaust, and the near destruction of European civilization were the wages of ?appeasement??a term that early-1930s liberals proudly embraced as far more enlightened than the old idea of ?deterrence? and ?military readiness.?

* * *
As long ago as the fourth century b.c., Demosthenes warned how complacency and self-delusion among an affluent and free Athenian people allowed a Macedonian thug like Philip II to end some four centuries of Greek liberty?and in a mere 20 years of creeping aggrandizement down the Greek peninsula. Thereafter, these historical lessons should have been clear to citizens of any liberal society: we must neither presume that comfort and security are our birthrights and are guaranteed without constant sacrifice and vigilance, nor expect that peoples outside the purview of bourgeois liberalism share our commitment to reason, tolerance, and enlightened self-interest.

Most important, military deterrence and the willingness to use force against evil in its infancy usually end up, in the terrible arithmetic of war, saving more lives than they cost. All this can be a hard lesson to relearn each generation, especially now that we contend with the sirens of the mall, Oprah, and latte. Our affluence and leisure are as antithetical to the use of force as rural life and relative poverty once were catalysts for muscular action. The age-old lure of appeasement?perhaps they will cease with this latest concession, perhaps we provoked our enemies, perhaps demonstrations of our future good intentions will win their approval?was never more evident than in the recent Spanish elections, when an affluent European electorate, reeling from the horrific terrorist attack of 3/11, swept from power the pro-U.S. center-right government on the grounds that the mass murders were more the fault of the United States for dragging Spain into the effort to remove fascists and implant democracy in Iraq than of the primordial al-Qaidist culprits, who long ago promised the Western and Christian Iberians ruin for the Crusades and the Reconquista.

Then, after describing the numerous specific attrocities that radical Islamic fascists perpetrated on the United States through four administrations, and the failure of any of those administrations to confront the fascists effectively, Dr. Hanson observes as follows:

[T]he primary cause for our surprising indifference to the events leading up to September 11 lies within ourselves. Westerners always have had a propensity for complacency because of our wealth and freedom; and Americans in particular have enjoyed a comfortable isolation in being separated from the rest of the world by two oceans.
Finally, Dr. Hanson lays it on the line with both Democratic and Republican Administrations' failure to confront the leading exporter of radical Islamic fascism, Saudi Arabia:
Neither oil-concerned Republicans nor multicultural Democrats were ready to expose the corrupt American relationship with Saudi Arabia. No country is more culpable than that kingdom in funding extremist madrassas and subsidizing terror, or more antithetical to liberal American values from free speech to religious tolerance. But Saudi propagandists learned from the Palestinians the value of constructing their own victimhood as a long-oppressed colonial people. Call a Saudi fundamentalist mullah a fascist, and you can be sure you?ll be tarred as an Islamophobe.

Even when Middle Easterners regularly blew us up, the Clinton administration, unwilling to challenge the new myth of Muslim victimhood, transformed Middle Eastern terrorists bent on destroying America into wayward individual criminals who did not spring from a pathological culture. Thus, Clinton treated the first World Trade Center bombing as only a criminal justice matter?which of course allowed the United States to avoid confronting the issue and taking on the messy and increasingly unpopular business the Bush administration has been engaged in since September 11. Clinton dispatched FBI agents, not soldiers, to Yemen and Saudi Arabia after the attacks on the USS Cole and the Khobar Towers. Yasser Arafat, responsible in the 1970s for the murder of a U.S. diplomat in the Sudan, turned out to be the most frequent foreign visitor to the Clinton Oval Office.

Take the time to read the entire article. Dr. Hanson is shooting straight with us, and it is not comforting. Thanks to my friend Bill Hesson for the pointer to the article.

Posted by Tom at 4:35 PM | Comments (0) |

April 10, 2004

DDT and the law of unintended consequences

This NY Times article reports on yet another tragic result of the law of unintended consequences -- the ban on DDT that the wealthy West pushed on Third World countries has caused millions of deaths from malaria.

Posted by Tom at 9:39 AM | Comments (0) |

April 9, 2004

Were the Fallujah victims lured into an ambush?

This NY Times story provides the basis for the theory that the four victims of the Fallujah incident last week were set up for the ambush.

Posted by Tom at 7:29 AM | Comments (0) |

What's really currently going on in Iraq

It's sad to say, but most Americans are informed on current events through television news reports that are intrinsically superficial in nature. As a result, opinions are often formed through emotional reactions to images, as opposed to thoughtful consideration and discussion of underlying issues.

Take, for example, this week's increase in Iraqi resistance to the U.S.-led coalition. Television news reports show graphic images of the fighting and the casualities, but rarely explores the underlying political struggles that are at the root of the violence.

In this op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal ($), Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East specialist and currently a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, provides an excellent overview of the political conflicts that are causing the current uptick in violence in Iraq. The entire piece is a must read, and here are a few of Mr. Gerecht's pertinent points:

The dogged violence in the Sunni areas of Iraq since early summer has fortified the impression throughout the Shiite community that the historic Sunni will to power did not end with the fall of Saddam Hussein and the collapse of the Baath Party. Privately, if not publicly, senior Shiite clerics [including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's pre-eminent Shiite divine] are thankful that the Americans have persevered in their country. Shiites are, however, also uneasy and embarrassed by America's occupation, by the need for American protection. It is enormously difficult for the Shiite clergy, which has a profound sense of being the country's most steadfast defender against both foreign and domestic enemies, to be beholden to Americans (and their former British overlords). It is difficult to forgive the Americans for the "betrayal" -- the ugly word in Arabic is khiyana -- in 1991, when George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraqis to rise up, the Shiites did, and Saddam slaughtered them by the tens of thousands while U.S. aircraft flew overhead.

Mr. Gerecht then explains how Muqtada al-Sadr, the young Shiite cleric who is leading most of the current Iraqi resistance, fits into the picture:

Muqtada al-Sadr is an unaccomplished young cleric who has no chance to prosper through the normal channels of scholarly advancement. Like Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, he intends to shake, if not destroy, the traditional establishment so that explicitly political clerics, who are more fond of street power than of Islamic law, can become the de facto rulers of Iraq. He and his followers need chaos to thrive. They are gambling that they can spark the propensity for violence in Iraqi society and produce a chain reaction that Ayatollah Sistani cannot stop. Ideally, the Grand Ayatollah will have no choice but to join the ranks of the young firebrand. What charisma Sadr possesses derives in great part from his ability to encourage such violence and survive. And his allure has grown enormously owing to American incompetence.

By early fall 2003, it was perfectly clear to the Shiite clergy, as well as to the Pentagon, that Sadr had been complicitous in the death of American soldiers, yet the CPA did not seize him. All Iraqis, particularly the traditional clergy, know that Sadr has an awe-inspiring bloodline -- his uncle Baqir al-Sadr, murdered by Saddam in 1980, was one of the great radical Shiite clerics of the 20th century; and Muqtada's father, Sadiq al-Sadr, was a relatively inconsequential cleric, once favored by Saddam, who, as he rose, bravely challenged the dictator until he, too, was assassinated in 1999. America's early inaction against Sadr has made it much more difficult for the traditional clergy to dismiss him as an uneducated and thuggish son of a noble family.

Then, he addresses the key political problem within Iraq:

Sadr has played on a growing perception in the Shiite community that the Transitional Administrative Law -- the interim constitution that will, in theory, guide Iraqi politics until a final constitution can be written in an elected constituent assembly -- is an unfair and unworkable document. Americans and highly Westernized Iraqis are proud of the Law's guarantees for individual, especially, women's rights. However, it cedes authority over any future constitution to "two-thirds of the voters in three or more governorates," who have the power to veto a final document. This means the Kurds, who are likely to vote as a bloc, have essentially complete control over the future shape of any Iraqi democracy.

For Ayatollah Sistani, and probably for most Shiites, this grants the Kurds, for whom the Shiites have until now borne no ill will, too much power. The Kurds, who are 20% of the population and have been brutalized for decades by Sunni Arab regimes, of course don't see it that way. Shiite objections, which are unlikely to go away, will be a serious challenge for the CPA, which desperately wants to believe that it currently has a workable blueprint for a transitional Iraqi government. Quite understandably, it has no desire to open up the Administrative Law to a rewrite, particularly since Iraq has become more volatile, and agreement among Iraqis could even be more difficult to achieve than before.

However, we all need to understand the risk the U.S. is running by refusing to have a more open, public debate in Iraq about the transitional constitution and government. If the Shiites have the impression that they are once again being cheated of an effective democratic majority, then it is entirely possible that the consensus among Shiites about America's beneficial presence in their country could quickly end. Sadr's argument to his flock -- that military force is the best way to ensure a Shiite victory -- could start to look very appealing.

Finally, Mr. Geracht sees as the solution to the current violence:

Muqtada al-Sadr's guerrilla attacks are a wake-up call for both the Americans and Ayatollah Sistani. The Americans need to crush Sadr's al-Mahdi army; Sistani needs to ensure he has control in Najaf. And then both parties, plus the Arab Sunnis and the Kurds, need publicly to discuss again, however acrimoniously, the Transitional Administrative Law. The transfer of Iraqi sovereignty on June 30 could be a meaningless day if the Shiites see it as a step backward from democracy.

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that former President Bush's decision in 1991 to abandon support for the anti-Saddam forces within Iraq was an unfortunate error. We are now paying the political and military price for that mistake in our current effort to stabilize Iraq. That should make our resolve to succeed greater amid our recognition that it is never easy to bring the relative grace of consensual government to people who have known only brutal repression over the past generation.

Posted by Tom at 7:11 AM | Comments (0) |

April 8, 2004

VDH on the futility of appeasement

Victor Davis Hanson's NRO column this week explores the futility of appeasement toward radical Islamic fascists. The entire column is excellent, and the following are several of his insightful observations:

The sad truth is that civilization itself is engaged in a worldwide struggle against the barbarism of Islamic fundamentalism. Just this past month the killers and their plots have been uncovered in London, Paris, Madrid, Pakistan, and North Africa ? the same tired rhetoric of their hatred echoing from Iraq to the West Bank. While Western elites quibble over exact ties between the various terrorist ganglia, the global viewer turns on the television to see the same suicide bombing, the same infantile threats, the same hatred of the West, the same chants, the same Koranic promises of death to the unbeliever, and the same street demonstrations across the world.

Looking for exact professed cooperation between an Islamic fascist and the rogue regime that finds such anti-Western violence useful is like proving that Mussolini, Tojo, and Hitler all coordinated their attacks and worked in some conspiratorial fashion ? when in fact Japan had no knowledge of the invasion of Russia, and Hitler had no warning of Pearl Harbor or Mussolini's invasion of Greece.

In fact, it didn't matter that they were united only by a loose and shared hatred of Western liberalism and emboldened by a decade of democratic appeasement. And our fathers, perhaps better men than we, didn't care too much for beating their breasts about the exact nature of collective Axis strategy or blaming each other for past lapses, but instead went to pretty terrible places like Bastogne, Anzio, and Okinawa to put an end to their enemies all.

Now, in the middle of this terrible conflict, unlike the postbellum inquiry after Pearl Harbor, we are holding acrimonious hearings about culpability for September 11. And here the story gets even more depressing than just political opportunism and election-year timing. After eight years of appeasement that saw repeated attacks on Americans, Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons under Dr. Khan, and Osama's 1998 declaration of war against every American, we are suddenly grilling, of all people, Condoleezza Rice ? one of the few key advisers most to be credited for insisting on using our military, rather than the local DA, to defeat these fanatics.
* * *
Everything that the world holds dear ? the free exchange of ideas, the security of congregating and traveling safely, the long struggle for tolerance of differing ideas and religions, the promise of equality between the sexes and ethnic groups, and the very trust that lies at the heart of all global economic relationships ? all this and more Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and the adherents of fascism in the Middle East have sought to destroy: some as killers themselves, others providing the money, sanctuary, and spiritual support.

We did not ask for this war, but it came. In our time and according to our station, it is now our duty to end it. And that resolution will not come from recrimination in time of war, nor promises to let fundamentalists and their autocratic sponsors alone, but only through the military defeat and subsequent humiliation of their cause. So let us cease the hysterics, make the needed sacrifices, and allow our military the resources, money, and support with which it most surely will destroy the guilty and give hope at last to the innocent.

Posted by Tom at 10:06 PM | Comments (0) |

April 5, 2004

VDH on Fallujah

Arguably the most insightful commentator on the war against the radical Islamic fascists -- Victor Davis Hanson -- posts this excellent article with his insights into last week's debacle at Fallujah:

I am sorry, but these toxic fumes of the Dark-Ages permeate everywhere. It won?t do any more simply to repeat quite logical exegeses. Without consensual government, the poor Arab Middle East is caught in the throes of rampant unemployment, illiteracy, statism, and corruption. Thus in frustration it vents through its state-run media invective against Jews and Americans to assuage the shame and pain. Whatever.

But at some point the world is asking: ?Is Mr. Assad or Hussein, the Saudi Royal Family, or a Khadafy really an aberration?all rogues who hijacked Arab countries?or are they the logical expression of a tribal patriarchal society whose frequent tolerance of barbarism is in fact reflected in its leadership? Are the citizens of Fallujah the victims of Saddam, or did folk like this find their natural identity expressed in Saddam? Postcolonial theory and victimology argue that European colonialism, Zionism, and petrodollars wrecked the Middle East. But to believe that one must see India in shambles, Latin America under blanket autocracy, and an array of suicide bombers pouring out of Mexico or Nigeria. South Korea was a moonscape of war when oil began gushing out of Iraq and Saudi Arabia; why is it now exporting cars while the latter are exporting death? Apartheid was far worse than the Shah?s modernization program; yet why did South Africa renounce nuclear weapons while the Mullahs cheated on every UN protocol they could?

Then, Mr. Hanson lays it on the line:

The enemy of the Middle East is not the West so much as modernism itself and the humiliation that accrues when millions themselves are nursed by fantasies, hypocrisies, and conspiracies to explain their own failures. Quite simply, any society in which citizens owe their allegiance to the tribe rather than the nation, do not believe in democracy enough to institute it, shun female intellectual contributions, allow polygamy, insist on patriarchy, institutionalize religious persecution, ignore family planning, expect endemic corruption, tolerate honor killings, see no need to vote, and define knowledge as mastery of the Koran is deeply pathological.

And sums it up as follows:

I support the bold efforts of the United States to make a start in cleaning up this mess, in hopes that a Fallujah might one day exorcize its demons. But in the meantime, we should have no illusions about the enormity of our task, where every positive effort will be met with violence, fury, hypocrisy, and ingratitude.

If we are to try to bring some good to the Middle East, then we must first have the intellectual courage to confess that for the most part the pathologies embedded there are not merely the work of corrupt leaders but often the very people who put them in place and allowed them to continue their ruin.

So the question remains: did Saddam create Fallujah or Fallujah Saddam?

Read the entire piece. VDH is the essense of clear thinking.

Posted by Tom at 8:33 AM | Comments (0) |

WSJ on the case of Colonel Dowdy

This Wall Street Journal ($) article relates the interesting story of Marine Colonel Joe D. Dowdy, who was relieved of his command during the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year. Not only is this a fascinating story about the pressures involved in commanding a Marine regiment in battle, but it also provides insight into the battlefield tactics that the U.S. military has executed brilliantly and effectively in the last three major military operations -- Desert Strorm, Afghanistan, and the latest Iraq operation:

A potential 150-mile bypass around Nasiriyah didn't seem feasible. Col. Dowdy wasn't sure he had enough fuel and didn't know what resistance he might face. The First Regiment was stuck.

The halt was anathema to Gen. Mattis, a devotee of a modern military doctrine known as "maneuver warfare." Though Marines have practiced the technique for years, the Iraqi war was its first large-scale test. Instead of following rigid battle plans and attacking on well-defined fronts, this tactic calls for smaller forces to move quickly over combat zones, exploiting opportunities and sowing confusion among the enemy. The technique is summed up in Gen. Mattis' radio call name: "Chaos."


* * *

The issue of speed in Iraq remains in debate. Last fall, the Army War College, a Pentagon-financed school where officers analyze tactics, released a study saying there was little evidence that speed affected the outcome of the war. The stiff resistance outside Baghdad suggests U.S. forces may have done better by moving at a more measured pace, entering more cities, rooting out fighters and leaving more troops in the provinces to enforce order, the report said.

However, in another study yet to be finalized, the military's Joint Center for Lessons Learned says speed was integral to U.S. military success in Iraq. In a speech in February, Adm. E.P. Giambastiani, commander of the Joint Forces, said speed "reduces decision and execution cycles, creates opportunities, denies an enemy options and speeds his collapse."

As noted in this earlier post, the creative and effective military tactics used in the current Iraq operation and the two earlier operations were not embraced easily within the military establishment. Author Robert Coram's book, "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War," presents a compelling story of how dedicated military experts outside of the Pentagon establishment fought over a 20 year period to change traditional Pentagon thinking on military tactics. As noted in the earlier post, appearances are deceiving with regard to the Pentagon, the special interests that attempt to control it, and the elected officials who attempt to lead it.

This is not a story that the mainstream media covers well, so Mr. Coram's book and a few others are essential to an understanding of the way in which the U.S. Armed Forces confront issues of military tactics in modern warfare. It is particularly noteworthy that, during their service in the Reagan, first Bush, and current Bush Administrations, Messrs. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Powell have been leaders at the forefront of facilitating these new ideas on military tactics. Their support for those new ideas has often put them at odds with the Pentagon establishment, which is a "behind the scenes" conflict that the mainstream media has largely ignored. That is an important point to remember during this political season when these public servants will likely be accused of being lapdogs for the military establishment.

Posted by Tom at 6:55 AM | Comments (0) |

April 3, 2004

Profiles of the Fallujah victims

This NY Times article profiles the four victims of the Fallujah mob earlier this week in Iraq.

One can only hope that the blogger of questionable judgment described in this post reads the article and repents. Hat tip to the fine folks at Southern Appeal for calling out this appalling post.

Posted by Tom at 10:52 AM | Comments (0) |

April 2, 2004

Hitchens on Fallujah

Christopher Hitchens has an excellent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal ($) today regarding the recent barbarism in Fallujah. Mr. Hitchens points out the following:

But this "Heart of Darkness" element is part of the case for regime-change to begin with. A few more years of Saddam Hussein, or perhaps the succession of his charming sons Uday and Qusay, and whole swathes of Iraq would have looked like Fallujah. The Baathists, by playing off tribe against tribe, Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shiite, were preparing the conditions for a Hobbesian state of affairs. Their looting and beggaring of the state and the society -- something about which we now possess even more painfully exact information -- was having the same effect. A broken and maimed and traumatized Iraq was in our future no matter what.

And Mr. Hitchens concludes with this particularly insightful thought:

Fallujah is a reminder, not just of what Saddamism looks like, or of what the future might look like if we fail, but of what the future held before the Coalition took a hand.

Posted by Tom at 6:09 AM | Comments (0) |

March 31, 2004

David Warren on the Arab League

David Warren's newest piece comments on the news this week that the Arab League summit has been called off because of the desire of several participants to discuss further realignment of Arab states with the United States. Mr. Warren is his usual insightful self, and discusses George Shultz's excellent op-ed from earlier this week. In concluding, Mr. Warren observes:

The issue is more fundamental than democracy, and glib rhetoric about democracy (from Bush and Blair, among others) has helped to obscure it. In the present circumstances of the world, where a suitcase nuclear bomb or vial of anthrax can open the gates of hell, we cannot afford to ignore breeding grounds for terrorists. Failed or rogue states -- states unable or unwilling to deal with international threats as they form within their own territories -- must be replaced with states that are able and willing. Hence regime change in e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 7:46 AM | Comments (0) |

March 29, 2004

An Essential War

Former Secretary of State George Schultz, now a distinguished fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, is inarguably a great American. In this extraordinary Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed, Mr. Schultz uses his depth and experience to give us the big picture on why the decision to go to war in Iraq was the correct one. Mr. Schultz begins by pointing out the devastating effect that Islamic fascists have had on the state system, which is the bedrock of international relations:

Today, looking back on the past quarter century of terrorism, we can see that it is the method of choice of an extensive, internationally connected ideological movement dedicated to the destruction of our international system of cooperation and progress. We can see that the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat, the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 2001 destruction of the Twin Towers, the bombs on the trains in Madrid, and scores of other terrorist attacks in between and in many countries, were carried out by one part or another of this movement. And the movement is connected to states that develop awesome weaponry, with some of it, or with expertise, for sale.

What should we do? First and foremost, shore up the state system.

The world has worked for three centuries with the sovereign state as the basic operating entity, presumably accountable to its citizens and responsible for their well-being. In this system, states also interact with each other -- bilaterally or multilaterally -- to accomplish ends that transcend their borders. They create international organizations to serve their ends, not govern them.

Increasingly, the state system has been eroding. Terrorists have exploited this weakness by burrowing into the state system in order to attack it. While the state system weakens, no replacement is in sight that can perform the essential functions of establishing an orderly and lawful society, protecting essential freedoms, providing a framework for fruitful economic activity, contributing to effective international cooperation, and providing for the common defense.

Mr. Schultz goes on to provide a compelling background to the Bush Administration's decision to use force in Iraq, noting Saddam Hussein's violation of the 1991 cease-fire and 17 U.N. Resolutions, and the consistency of the Bush Administration's decision with prior actions that the U.S. government had taken during the Clinton Administration. Mr. Schultz notes the highlights:

Where do we stand now? These key points need to be understood:

? There has never been a clearer case of a rogue state using its privileges of statehood to advance its dictator's interests in ways that defy and endanger the international state system.

? The international legal case against Saddam -- 17 resolutions -- was unprecedented.

? The intelligence services of all involved nations and the U.N. inspectors over more than a decade all agreed that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a threat to international peace and security.

? Saddam had four undisturbed years [from 1998 when he threw out the weapons inspectors to 2002] to augment, conceal, disperse, or otherwise deal with his arsenal.

? He used every means to avoid cooperating or explaining what he has done with them. This refusal in itself was, under the U.N. resolutions, adequate grounds for resuming the military operation against him that had been put in abeyance in 1991 pending his compliance.

? President Bush, in ordering U.S. forces into action, stated that we were doing so under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 678 and 687, the original bases for military action against Saddam Hussein in 1991. Those who criticize the U.S. for unilateralism should recognize that no nation in the history of the United Nations has ever engaged in such a sustained and committed multilateral diplomatic effort to adhere to the principles of international law and international organization within the international system. In the end, it was the U.S. that upheld and acted in accordance with the U.N. resolutions on Iraq, not those on the Security Council who tried to stop us.

Finally, with the depth of insight of one who has lived and studied an earlier dark time in the world's past, Mr. Schultz concludes as follows:

Sept. 11 forced us to comprehend the extent and danger of the challenge. We began to act before our enemy was able to extend and consolidate his network.

If we put this in terms of World War II, we are now sometime around 1937. In the 1930s, the world failed to do what it needed to do to head off a world war. Appeasement never works. Today we are in action. We must not flinch. With a powerful interplay of strength and diplomacy, we can win this war.

Posted by Tom at 6:47 AM | Comments (0) |

March 28, 2004

Gordon Prather on Richard Clarke and the Vulcans

The always entertaining physicist Gordon Prather pens this piece on Richard Clarke and the "Vulcans" in the Bush Administration.

Posted by Tom at 1:41 PM | Comments (0) |

The ten-year anniversary of the Rwandan genocide

A decade ago, fresh from a disastrous intervention in Somalia, the Clinton Administration and the United Nations failed to intervene in Rwanda, and the result was one of the worst episodes of genocide of the 20th century. In 1994, Rwanda's president was mysteriously assassinated, and an existing civil war between the two main ethnic groups -- the Hutu and the Tutsi -- turned into a campaign of genocide, which the rest of the world largely ignored. An estimated 800,000 people (mainly Tutsis) were murdered in 100 days.

In this interesting post, Daniel Drezner addresses the long-term implications of the world's tepid response to the Rwanda genocide. Given the ongoing genocide currently taking place in Sudan, and the potential for it in places such as Iraq, one is certainly justified in asking: When will the world learn?

Posted by Tom at 7:36 AM | Comments (0) |

March 27, 2004

The Richard Clarke Affair -- Where does the buck stop?

This NY Times article examines an American cultural phenomenon that several historians are noting -- that is, a national culture of shifting blame, which is reflected best in American politics.

Along those lines, several friends of this blog have asked why I have not commented on Richard C. Clarke's testimony earlier this week before the 9/11 Commission. Actually, there are several reasons. First and foremost, numerous other bloggers have already done an outstanding job in tracking the various issues raised by Mr. Clarke's testimony, notably Glenn Reynolds and Daniel Drezner. I could not improve on their efforts.

However, I must admit that I am somewhat frustrated by the way in which the issues that Mr. Clarke's testimony raised have played out in the mainstream media. I concede that much of the media storm is a byproduct of the 9/11 Commission hearings and the related television coverage. Regrettably, most folks do not take the time to research these issues on their own, so their impressions and views toward the issues are often formed through television viewing and commentary. That is unfortunate because television, for business reasons, tends to sensationalize news such as Mr. Clarke's testimony when, in reality, such testimony does not relate anything particularly new. Thus, people who evaluate such issues through the prism of television tend to believe Mr. Clarke is revealing something not previously known when, in fact, he is not.

The fact of the matter is that, long before Richard Clarke's testimony this week, the U.S. Government and intelligence community's failure to deal effectively with the actions and threats of Islamic fascists had been well-documented. Gerald Posner's excellent "Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11" relates how the failure to prevent the 9/11 attacks was systematic and had its seeds for failure sown repeatedly in twenty years of fumbled intelligence investigations and misplaced priorities. Similarly, Laurie Mylroie's "The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks: A Study of Revenge" and "Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror" both describe in excrutiating detail how the U.S. government's approach to dealing with Islamic fascism has been compromised by restrictions placed on the intelligence agencies and political wrangling. Finally, former CIA agent Robert Baer's "See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism" insightfully relates from the "ground floor" how each administration over the past 25 years allowed the intelligence agencies to become a political football, which directly led to the substandard intelligence that facilitated the 9/11 attackers' success. These are just a few of the recent books that have examined the same issues that were raised during this week's testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

Inasmuch as I have read the foregoing books and several others on these issues, Mr. Clarke's testimony was not particularly insightful or noteworthy to me. I will read his book eventually to compare his insights to those contained in the books mentioned above, and I will post about it when I am through.

However, in the meantime, to the extent that Mr. Clarke's position is that the Bush Administration is more culpable for the 9/11 attacks than any one of the previous five (three Republican, two Democrat) administrations, his position is fundamentally flawed. America's intelligence failures over the past generation have been the result of a litany of bipartisan mistakes. If Mr. Clarke is suggesting that the Bush Administration's failures in this area are any more egregious than those of its predecessors, then he is doing his country a grave disservice and, in fact, is engaging in precisely the type of political posturing that has been so damaging to the intelligence community over the past 25 years.

Courtesy of Phil Carter and Mark Kleiman, the most insightful commentary that I have reviewed on the 9/11 Commission hearings to date comes from UCLA School of Public Policy professor Amy Zegart, author of "Flawed by Design" that deals with the national security process. Professor Zegart -- who had Condi Rice as her thesis adviser -- makes the following observations about the national security process, and what happens when government fails to establish clear priorities for the intelligence community:

. . . The [9/11] Commission asked the wrong question. Was terrorism a priority? Of course it was. The real question is how many other priorities both administrations were confronting. I'll tell you: too many.

Clinton wrote a Presidential Decision Directive in 1995 that sought to establish clear priorities for the intelligence community. There were so many in the top tier, they actually divided them into Tier 1A and Tier 1B. But it gets better (or worse). There was also a Tier 0, apparently for the very very very top priorities. Note to self: when you can't list priorities with regular numbers, you haven't really made priorities.

As time passed, priorities were added to the list but old ones were never removed. By 9/11, the National Security Agency had roughly 1,500 formal requirements, and developed 200,000 "Essential Elements of Information." I'm not making this up. See the Congressional Intelligence Committees' Joint Inquiry Report, December 2002, p.49. Intelligence officials told Congressional investigators that the prioritization process was "so broad as to be meaningless."

This is not new. For the past 50 years, there have been more than 40 major studies about the intelligence community. A common theme among them has been the spotty and fleeting attention policy makers have given to setting intelligence priorities. One former senior intelligence official told me that during the Cold War, he was asked about the state of the Soviet economy exactly once, when the Secretary of Defense wanted to convert rubles to dollars for a budget presentation to Congress.

Professor Zegar hits the nail on the head. Rather than finger pointing, the 9/11 Commission needs to recommend a basic procedure by which the government establishes clear priorities for the intelligence community. As Mr. Carter points out, if you prioritize everything, you effectively prioritize nothing. Hopefully, the Committee will rise above the usual political posturing and focus its recommendations on revamping and reinvigorating an intelligence community that we have allowed our political leaders to eviscerate. The success of the war against the radical Islamic fascists depends on it.

Posted by Tom at 1:21 PM | Comments (0) |

March 26, 2004

VDH: We are Finishing the War

Victor Davis Hanson's latest at NRO is here.

Posted by Tom at 6:39 PM | Comments (0) |

Who's to blame for 9/11?

This Daniel Pipes post nails the answer.

Posted by Tom at 4:34 PM | Comments (0) |

March 25, 2004

David Warren on the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin

This typically insightful David Warren piece puts the recent Israeli assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin into perspective within the Byzantine political landscape of the Middle East. Here are a few excerpts, beginning with the moral question:

On the moral question, whether it was right for the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to order the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, there is no difference from the question whether it would be right to assassinate Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden co-founded Al Qaeda, Yassin founded Hamas. These are organizations which exist for the express purpose of killing people; Qaeda being committed to killing "Crusaders and Zionists" plus bystanders; Hamas more specifically Jews plus bystanders. The question is not whether one should do it, but how.

The Israelis calculate Sheikh Yassin cost them 377 dead and 2,076 maimed -- including only a handful in military uniform. He was known to personally order the hits, and he ordered hundreds of them, both through Hamas and affiliates; culminating in last week's attack on the Israeli port of Ashdod, in which terrorists very nearly succeeded in blowing up large stores of toxic industrial chemicals. That was also the first successful "vengeance operation" (I use Al Jazeera's terminology) mounted from inside Gaza, since the Israelis succeeded in fencing the territory -- a "heritage moment" in Hamas propaganda. Yassin is the reciprocal Israeli heritage moment.

And then the pragmatic issue:

The Israelis are calculating that the advantages of disrupting the management of Hamas, which actually delivers the terrorism, outweigh the disadvantage of providing them with a recruitment tool. Most seasoned observers of the Middle East would guess they got it right. It is certainly the calculation the Bush administration has made, in going after Qaeda's senior management; and it appears to be working -- preventing more terrorist hits than it inspires.

And finally the political analysis:

Strange to say (and I can hear the guffaws of my numerous if inattentive leftwing readers) the assassination was a typically moderate act. Note [Ariel Sharon] killed Sheikh Yassin, and not Yasser Arafat, though the latter is also up to his ears in innocent Israeli blood, and the IDF know where to find him.

The unbelievable truth is that Mr. Sharon is trying to advance the "peace process", by giving Arafat's Palestinian Administration a leg up on Hamas, before their inevitable civil war. For despite all its butchery, even Arafat 's Fatah is the slightly more accommodating party. The only thing that keeps Fatah and Hamas together is their common target of Israel; with Israel removed, they become two scorpions in a bottle. There are big risks in weighing in so decisively, but even bigger ones if Hamas succeeds in its ambition of ruling Gaza after the Israeli departure.

Posted by Tom at 6:28 AM | Comments (0) |

February 26, 2004

A thought for the day

We all recall the attack on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001, but few of us remember that today is the anniversary of this earlier attack on the WTC.

Posted by Tom at 11:49 AM | Comments (0) |

February 25, 2004

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is one of the most insightful current commentators on America's war against Islamic extremists, and his articles are often referred to in this blog. This LA Times piece is about this interesting man. Thanks to Occam's Toothbrush for the link.

Posted by Tom at 4:57 PM | Comments (0) |

February 23, 2004

Haiti Blog

As the civil war worsens in Haiti, Daniel Drezner and Tyler Cowan point to Haiti Pundit, a blog about news and views on Haitian politics and culture. With American armed forces entering Haiti today, this is a good source of current information on the Haitian situation.

Posted by Tom at 5:48 PM | Comments (1) |

Rumsfeld's War

"Rumsfeld's War" is a new book by Rowan Scarborough, defense reporter for The Washington Times. Today's Times contains the first excerpt of a series from the book.

Mr. Rumsfeld's efforts to transform the Pentagon have an interesting background that stretches back several decades. Author Robert Coram compellingly presents this interesting story in his book, "Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War." Suffice it to say that appearances are deceiving with regard to the Pentagon, the special interests that attempt to control it, and the elected officials that attempt to lead it. This is not a story that the mainstream media has covered well, so Mr. Coram's book and a few others that deal with this interesting story are essential to a sound understanding of the key issues confronting the United States Armed Forces in the context of modern warfare.

Posted by Tom at 6:51 AM | Comments (0) |

February 20, 2004

VDH on the law of unintended consequences

Victor Davis Hanson, a registered Democrat and among the most insightful current commentators on America's role in the Middle East, predicts in this NRO Online piece that the Democratic party's approach to the current Presidential campaign is doomed to failure. The entire piece is well worth reading, but here is a tidbit:

No one wishes to occupy a country. But after the instability in Iraq and a cost nearing 400 combat deaths the Democrats are now not merely questioning the tactics of achieving democracy in Iraq, but the entire notion of occupation itself. But once they go down that road they will discover history is not on their side and will be hard put to offer better alternatives to the present course.

For the record, not occupying Germany in 1918 led to the myth that the Prussians were never beaten, but stabbed in the back while occupying foreign territory ? a terrible mistake not repeated with postwar Japan and Germany. It might have been neater and quicker to leave Afghanistan after the Soviets were expelled in the 1980s and to depart Haiti in a flash, but the wages of those exit strategies were the Taliban and September 11 as well as the current mess in the Caribbean. The first Bush administration left the present jumble in Iraq to the second, which to its everlasting credit is determined not to leave it to others. Had Mr. Clinton bombed and then just left the Balkans, rather than the present costly and bothersome peace we would have had the sectarian and tribal sort of ruin that surely will get worse if we run now from Iraq.

Since the Democrats viciously and clumsily have attacked one of the most courageous (and humane) policies of any administration in the last 30 years, the American people will soon come to ask what they in fact will propose instead ("put up or shut up"). Most of us are cognizant that bombing from 40,000 feet gives an "exit strategy," but, without soldiers on the ground, postpones the problem of tyrannical resurgence ? and thus will inevitably leave either another war for another generation or something far worse still on the horizon like September 11.

There were a number of legitimate areas of debate for the fall campaign ? deficits, unfunded security measures at home, moral scrutiny over postwar contracts, more help for Afghanistan, greater control of domestic entitlements, unworkable immigration proposals, and the like. But instead of statesmanship from the opposition, we got slander about Mr. Bush's National Guard service, misrepresentations about intelligence failures that had hampered both previous administrations and the present congress, preference for an unsupportable European position over our own, and stupidity about what to do in Iraq.

The Democrats may have seen some short-term gains from all the attention given to their bluster, but theirs still remain untenable issues. And so nemesis will bite them like they will not believe in the autumn ? and, of course, just when it matters most.

Posted by Tom at 8:33 AM | Comments (0) |

February 19, 2004

Kim Jong II cook's story

One of my favorite magazines is Atlantic Monthly. In the February edition, North Korea dictator Kim Jong II's former cook pens an article ($) about the decade he spent cooking for the, might we say, idiosyncratic Mr. Kim. The entire article is well worth reading, but here is a sampling:

Kim Jong Il is an avid equestrian, and has even appeared in a TV movie atop a snow-white horse. (All horses belonging to the Kim family are white.) I often accompanied him on long rides. . . One day in 1992, as I was riding behind Kim Jong Il at a right-turning path, I noticed that his horse was standing by itself. Kim had fallen off the horse. It had apparently slipped on a bed of pebbles laid over some asphalt being repaired. Kim Jong Il had hit his head and shoulder quite hard and had fallen unconscious. A doctor was called immediately.

I'm not sure when he regained consciousness, but the next day we all returned to Pyongyang by his private train. From that day, every evening at 10:00 P.M. for the next month, five or six of his administrative staff members and I would be injected with the same painkiller that Kim Jong Il was taking. He was afraid he would become addicted to it, and didn't want to be the only one.


Posted by Tom at 8:07 AM | Comments (0) |

February 13, 2004

The Right Mistake to Make

Jonathon Rauch senior writer for the National Journal states in this solid piece that the War in Iraq was a mistake, but the right kind of mistake to make. Mr. Rauch concludes as follows:

If reasonable people thought Saddam possessed forbidden weapons, that was because Saddam sought to give the impression that he possessed them. He may have believed he possessed them. (His fearful and corrupt scientists, Kay hypothesized, may have been running a sham weapons program.) For four years after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq successfully hid its chemical weapons program. When a defector blew the whistle, weapons inspectors were stunned at the extent of Saddam's deception. The Iraqis responded not by coming clean but by redoubling their efforts to obstruct and intimidate -- for example, interfering with inspectors' helicopter flights and, at one point, firing a grenade into their headquarters. No one could have failed to conclude that Saddam was hiding the truth.

The truth he hid, however, was not his weapons but his weakness. Or perhaps his minions were hiding his weakness from him. In either case, his power and prestige depended upon his fearsome reputation at home and his defiant posture abroad. He was contained but could not afford to let anyone know it, for fear of being invaded or overthrown. So he waved what looked like a gun and got shot.

Many people now demand to know why American intelligence was so badly fooled. The subject certainly merits investigating. Questions should be asked. Chins should be stroked. But even without an investigation, we know the most important reason we were fooled: Saddam Hussein did everything in his power to fool us, and by the time he stopped trying to fool us -- if he stopped trying -- it was too late for anyone ever to believe him.

The war was based on lies. Not Bush's or the CIA's; Saddam Hussein's.


Posted by Tom at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) |

February 11, 2004

CSM on Haiti Unrest

The increasing political unrest in Haiti was noted earlier here. Today, the Christian Science Monitor provides a good overview of the current conflict. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department warned Americans against travel to Haiti.

Posted by Tom at 7:33 AM | Comments (0) |

February 10, 2004

Al Qaeda and Iraq

WaPo and the NY Times report on a recently discovered memo requesting more Al Qaeda support for Iraqi insurgent groups. The shadowy ties between Saddam's Iraq, Al Qaeda, and various other Islamic extremist groups is explored in great detail in Laurie Mylroie's book, "The War Against America."

Posted by Tom at 9:49 AM | Comments (0) |

February 9, 2004

Did you notice that there is a revolution going on in Haiti?

Between the Super Bowl and Martha Stewart's trial, it's easy to miss that Haiti is dealing with yet another revolution. You can read about it here. I think it's safe to say that the U.S. will not invade this time, as we did in 1994.

Posted by Tom at 10:01 PM | Comments (0) |

On Bush and War

The mercurial Victor Davis Hanson weighs in with another fine piece that makes a compelling case for the war against Iraq. As Hanson adroitly notes:

The real outrage is instead that at a time of one of the most important developments of the last half-century, when this country is waging a war to the death against radical Islamic fascism and attempting to bring democracy to an autocratic wasteland, we hear instead daily about some mythical rogue CIA agent who supposedly faked evidence, Martha Stewart's courtroom shoes, Michael Jackson's purported perversion, and Scott Peterson's most recent alibi. Amazing.

Thomas Friedman of the NY Times, a supporter of the war, nevertheless criticizes the Bush Administration's approach to prosecuting it. Thanks to my friend Professor Scott Hagen for pointing me toward Friedman's piece.

Finally, Ryan Scarborough of the Washington Times makes the point that the successes of our intelligence agencies are often ignored in the rush to criticize their errors.

Posted by Tom at 6:58 PM | Comments (0) |

February 4, 2004

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson has been one of the most insighful commentators on the Bush Administration's policy in fighting the war against the Islamic fascists. Dr. Hanson weighs in again with another excellent piece in National Review Online that sorts out the many agendas regarding the war in Iraq.

Posted by Tom at 7:49 AM | Comments (0) |

February 3, 2004

The Lewis Doctrine

The Wall Street Journal today has a front page article (subscription required) on Bernard Lewis, the Princeton historian who is one of America's leading experts on Islam and the Middle East. Dr. Lewis' "What Went Wrong"--a book about the reasons behind the failure of many Islamic countries to modernize--was a bestseller after the 9/11 attacks. Lewis' thinking about Islam and the Middle East is influencing many policy makers in the Bush Administration, so this is important reading.

Posted by Tom at 8:26 AM | Comments (0) |

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