Dec. 29, 2003 I thought the New Year would be a good opportunity to revamp the format of [the home] page... From now on, nearly all new "blog" text posted to each respective section will be included on this home page. My main goal in all this is to facilitate the process of making Web log text entries, in effect relegating the topical pages to more of an "archival" function. Working full time has left very little spare time to indulge my various outside interests, much less write about them. So, let me begin to tie up some loose ends from recent months:
Two thousand three will probably go down as a major turning point in world history, as the "war on terror" escalated and generated new divisions in the Western world, while opposition to global capitalism intensified in Latin America. On the "home front," the year has treated Jacqueline and me very well: I got a splendid teaching job at James Madison University, and she got a big promotion. Fall semester classes at JMU ended on a good note, and most students did well. Indeed, some of them did VERY well, rising to the challenge of my high expectations. Most students really appreciated the intensive work I put into the Web sites for the two classes -- International Relations and Global Politics (the "lite" version for non-majors) -- though a few of them apparently resented being expected to check it regularly for news and announcements. Interactive maps, timelines, sample questions, etc. made learning a lot easier for many students. One of the best parts of the classes, I think, was my frequent use of opinion surveys (mostly anonymous), and student feedback on world issues and the class itself was posted on the Web site. There is a certain sense of isolation from the real world in Harrisonburg, but the overall atmosphere, physical setting, and the friendly and highly professional faculty combine to make JMU a top-notch public institution, as was reflected in the recent U.S. News and World Report annual survey. Now I'm preparing to teach Global Politics (again) and Latin American Politics, and am really looking forward to it.
Because of all the time I spent at my "day job," however, updates to THIS site have been highly irregular in recent months. The Photo Gallery page has just been revised, and from now on will have links to all travel-related pages. It has a link to a new annotated page with six new photos, including two shots of the ultra-photogenic James Madison University campus. In another week or two I plan to add more great photos taken by my brother John, from his trip to Arizona last summer. Two sections are badly in need of updating: War and Latin America, and I have pretty much abandoned any attempt to update the news chronologies in them. Instead I plan to concentrate on comments about important recent developments, more or less on a weekly basis.
Of course, the most heartening news from the "war on terror" was the capture of Saddam Hussein on December 13. That huge historic event just happened to coincide with the "Christmas Bird Count" (see below). I was just waking up when Paul Bremer announced in the press conference, "WE GOT HIM!" My eyes were glued to the tube as the famous "dental exam" was replayed. Talk about happy holidays! This represents a decisive psychological blow to the fascist movement whose main weapon is fear mongering. In the short term there will certainly be intensified attacks on Coalition forces, but the corner has finally been turned. Opposition to the U.S.-led occupation is NOT broad based, but is centered around five families in the "Sunni Triangle" who have lost the mafia-like privileges they enjoyed under Saddam. As the terror threat level has since been raised to "orange," once again, now the question is, will THEY get US? Let's hope that the American public, which usually suffers from a collective "Attention Deficit Disorder," doesn't delude itself into thinking victory will be quick or easy, as many seem to think.
In the world of Politics, the watchword is hardball: Republicans in Congress rammed through a Medicare bill of dubious merit and frightful fiscal implications. Democrats complained about being excluded from the conference committees, but that's just payback for their years of obstructionism.
Posted: Oct. 24, 2003 [Top]
Latest flap in Washington: a leaked memo from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to his top subordinates, posing sharp questions about whether the war against terrorism is going as well as it could be. Some people see this as a sign of creeping defeatism, but it is much more likely a reflection of Rumsfeld's blunt, candid style. Indeed, the memo was probably leaked at his behest, perhaps to distract attention from the CIA leak scandal. Rumsfeld is despised for his cockiness, both by Democrats in Congress and by many Pentagon bureaucrats. The very day before the 9/11 attacks, he made a speech effectively declaring war on the Pentagon, and has pushed hard to shake up the stodgy, complacent careerists who (he believes) are slacking off just when we need alert, agile sentinels. I've criticized the Rumsfeld/neoconservative faction for their failure to anticipate the need for a stronger postwar occupation force in Iraq, but I think he's basically correct that the Pentagon is due for a radical overhaul.
Was that innocuous, little-noticed leak of the name of a CIA agent last July a deliberate act of revenge, as someone in the White House apparently thinks? If the leak were really such a big deal, why didn't anyone pick up on it for over a month? As everyone now knows, Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, works (or worked) for a front organization of the CIA. Wilson is a Democratic party activist who was sent to Niger last year to check on reports that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium ore, and he began speaking out against Bush after the State of the Union Speech accused Iraq of obtaining the nuclear raw material from the landlocked African state. Was this apparent retaliation Karl Rove's doing, as most people suspect? Robert Novak, the author of the op-ed column that contained the original leak, says that it was just an offhand remark by a White House official, in response to Novak's question: Why would the CIA send a partisan activist on such a sensitive mission? That may be a plausible explanation, but Novak has a long record of controversial leaks, so there was probably some winking and nodding going on.
In any case, the leak of an intelligence agent's identity is a serious felony, and the President has been far too lax in getting to the bottom of the matter. This is the kind of situation where his laid-back style and reliance on expert advisers falls critically short. If he doesn't exercise strong leadership in this matter very soon, his whole administration is liable to start to cracking apart into warring factions. A Senate committee has begun investigating, and it will probably provide several months of bad publicity for Bush, possibly stretching through next year's election campaign.
Meanwhile, the Post's "Names & Faces" society/gossip column reported on Wednesday that a "shy and attractive blonde" named Valerie was among those who attended a recent party in Adams Morgan for NBC reporter Campbell Brown. Joseph Wilson was there as well...
Posted: Oct. 20, 2003 [Top]
As many of the folks who visit this site already know, I've been too busy with my new teaching job at James Madison University to devote much time to blogging lately. I have been posting comments on the baseball page for the last few weeks, however. Hopefully, I'll gradually resume political commentary as well. Seriously, I don't know how Glenn Reynolds and other world-class bloggers do it. What follows are bits and pieces of comments, catching up from the last two months, when I was detained by More Pressing Matters...
The Bush administration scored a big (though under-reported) diplomatic victory last week, when France, Russia, and Germany agreed to most of the U.S. terms for gaining U.N. approval for the U.S./Coalition-overseen Iraq Interim Authority. I'm often puzzled by the fervent argument that the United States must always seek permission of the U.N. Security Council prior to launching military action. Certainly, gaining the approval of that body is generally preferable to going it alone, but why should it be the decisive criterion, unless we no longer take our sovereign independence seriously? If it's just a partisan issue, we should remember that the Clinton administration launched several attacks on other countries without bothering to seek the U.N. "seal of legitimacy." I think it all comes down to conflicting views on what the burdens of leadership are. For many people, being a good leader means following the latest polls and carrying out the will of the majority. For others, like me, leadership means having the courage to act, even though doing so entails risking popularity.
First he went deaf, then he lost his gig at ESPN, and now he's in a rehabilitation clinic for addiction to painkillers. You have to feel sorry for the guy, don't you? Well, maybe not. I had been listening to Rush less and less over the last couple years, as he seemed increasingly isolated from his up-from-the-bootstraps grassroots fan base. Like our President, he is too prone to shallow optimism in the face of truly bleak economic circumstances. He was becoming less and less effective as a spokesman for economic conservatism, and now he has lost much of his credibility as a social conservative. What's left?
I find little to cheer about from Arnold Schwarzenegger's triumph in that weird recall election. His declaration of candidacy on Jay Leno's Tonight Show resorted to a laundry list of cheap populist rhetoric that would make a Democrat blush. The recall election was itself a perfect example of what ails California: direct democracy via popular referenda. Most of what the government taxes and spends is controlled by provisions enacted through popular voting, rather than in a legislative caucus where the leaders (usually) bear some sense of responsibility for consequences. The whole thrust of postmodern populism is to shirk responsibility for public policy failures and blame instead anonymous phantom scapegoats such as "lazy bureaucrats" or "special interests."
Toward the end of the campaign, Gray Davis was scrounging for votes as desperately as George Bush the Elder was doing back in 1992. But at least Bush Sr. never lost touch with reality. Davis was apparently pandering to the Extra-terrestial segment of the California electorate: (from sfgate.com)
My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state. We have the sons and daughters of every, of people from every planet, of every country on earth.
Talk about multicultural inclusiveness! It was probably just campaign fatigue... Writing in the Washington Post, George Will called the whole episode a "conservative travesty." Indeed. Any Republicans who were cheered by Arnold's big win are likely to regret it sooner than they expect. The idea that Bush might win Califnornia's 54 electoral votes next year is pretty far-fetched to me.
South Dakota's roguish former governor Bill Janklow finally went too far with his "yee-haw" speedster behavior, and is going to face criminal consequences. So far he seems intent on holding on to his seat in Congress in spite of his misdeeds, like Jim Wright, Wilbur Mills, so many others before him. I recall all the rumors about Janklow's bad behavior as a youth when I used to live in South Dakota, and often wondered how he got away with so much. Our modern permissive, liberal society, perhaps? How ironic.
The scheduled consecration of the Rev. Gene Robinson, an open homosexual, as bishop of Vermont on November 2 may provoke an outright schism in the Episcopal Church, to which I belong. I take a fairly relaxed attitude toward private behavior, but I don't pretend to be so "enlightened" as to ignore the moral aspect of sexual behavior. In defiance of the sentiment of most of the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church U.S.A. has set upon a course of self-destruction by bowing to the prevailing social mores with hardly even a pretense of heeding or reinterpreting scripture. Donald Sensing's blog One Hand Clapping addresses the issue head on:
There is no way on God's green earth that Robinson would have been elected bishop by his own diocese, much less the entire denomination, if he had left his wife for another woman. ... This is apparently what the Episcopal Church stands for now: sexual infidelity is okay for gays but not for straights.
Ouch. As the Church Lady used to say, Well, isn't that special?? I just learned that Sensing is an ordained Methodist minister, by the way.
In response to the clamor over his questionable assertion about Iraq's alleged purchase of uranium ore from Niger in the State of the Union speech, President Bush declared in a news conference in August:
I take personal responsibility for everything I say, absolutely.
Well, that wasn't so hard, was it? The President also voiced support for his national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, who has been hurt by the postwar controversy. The apparent inability to own up to his shortcomings is perhaps Mr. Bush's biggest liability. No one expects him to be a multi-talented "fact checker," but just a leader who accepts responsibility. If he expects to regain the trust and respect of undecided voters, he'd better grow a thicker skin soon.
Big-league blogger Steven Den Beste revisits the touchy issue of how to deal with the terrorist threat in its stronghold in the heart of the Islamic world:
We cannot win this war without confronting the Saudis. We have laid the strategic groundwork to do so, and paid with the blood of good American men and women. We cannot yet totally offset Saudi oil production but we'll be increasingly able to do so in the months to come, and we no longer need military or diplomatic cooperation from the Sauds. Their ability to harm us has declined substantially and will continue to decline in months to come. The strategic groundwork has been laid. It's time to start the confrontation.
The government must declassify and release the sections of this week's report which describe allegations of Saudi involvement.
By the way, the official 9/11 Report can be found at the Government Printing Office Web site.
While watching C-SPAN several weeks ago, I heard a speech given on August 8 by William Rivers Pitt, author of War On Iraq. It typifies the shrill, knee-jerk tone of most of the Bush opponents, few of whom have the slightest clue what they would do instead. Pitt declared,
This administration is murdering our nation's ideals with its war for the sake of lies, profit, and greed. ... If we failed to stand up and resist, we would become the traitors they say we are. ... Let them be warned: We stand our ground!
During July, Howard Dean and others on the left side of the Democratic party were calling for U.S. military intervention in Liberia after having protested against the liberation of Iraq. What motivates such apparent self-contradictory position? Charles Krauthammer set out to explain this phenomenon in one of his more acerbic and trenchant pieces last month, "Liberal Democrats' Perverse Foreign Policy." After comparing liberal Democrats' positions and arguments with respect to U.S. intervention in the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Kosovo, and Liberia, he writes,
The only conclusion one can draw is that for liberal Democrats, America's strategic interests are not just an irrelevance, but also a deterrent to intervention. This is a perversity born of moral vanity. For liberals, foreign policy is social work. National interest--i.e., national selfishness--is a taint.
One of the biggest, though seldom recognized, moral arguments in favor of acting on behalf of the national interest is that it ensures that the government will follow through whenever foreign expeditions encounter setbacks. Such as, for example, in Iraq.
Posted: July 25, 2003 [Top]
After returning from a tour of Iraq, Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made a rare admission of errors, reported in the Washington Post. He and his neoconservative advisers wrongly assumed that removing Saddam from power would likewise neutralize the threat posed by the Baath Party. Second, they wrongly assumed that large numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police officers would cooperate in reestablishing security after the war. Such wishful thinking is typical of ideologues, who are good at pushing policy agendas but often are not good at achieving concrete results. Richard Haass was quoted in the above Post article as suggesting, "that the administration planned for the wrong peace." Thus, Lt. Gen. Jay Garner lacked the proper tools to pacify Iraq in the first few weeks after the liberation of Baghdad.
As with the war itself, nevertheless, armchair generals should resist the temptation to second guess strategic decisions. Going to war meant shouldering responsibility for a number of intractable dilemmas (e.g., imposing order vs. fostering legitimacy), and some problems will almost certainly drag on for years. This doesn't mean we should rule out any comprehensive nation-building programs, it just means we should allow for plenty of friction and delay. I would say the fundamental flaw in the neoconservative approach -- and in the neoliberal approach as well -- is the failure to appreciate the terrible damage to civil society in Iraq wrought by nearly a quarter century of Baathist dictatorship. That is TWICE as long as the Nazis were in power, which suggests that the time needed to rebuild Iraqi political institutions (to the extent that they even existed in the first place) may take much longer than was the case in postwar Germany. Some former communist countries such as Poland have had a fairly successful transition to democracy, but they generally had at least some experience with democratic self-governance. (That concept is utterly alien to Iraq, or the entire Mideast for that matter.) Iraq bears more in common with Romania, which was a fascist ally of Germany during World War II and was an ultra-Stalinist totalitarian state from 1965 until 1989. Both the dictator Ceausescu and Saddam systematically poisoned social trust, to the extent that civil society is crippled. As I've mentioned before, the brittle nature of such regimes made them prone to collapse suddenly, but it also made it difficult to establish a new regime in its place.
Remember all those gloom and doom scenarios about the likely aftermath of a war in Iraq? Where are the millions of starving refugees, thousands of deaths from ethnic violence, and hundreds of burning oil wells? Well??? Amidst all the cacaphony of criticism recently, it's wise to remember that, overall, conditions in Iraq are much better than they were in the old days. In fact, things are likely to keep getting better, as Iraqis gradually adjust to living and thinking freely, with the help of dozens of brand new free newspapers and magazines. As Andrew Sullivan says, "Some quagmire." Funny how the war critics have managed to evade that issue: by deftly switching from one Gripe of the Month to the next!
One week ago, a fistfight nearly broke out on the floor of the House of Representatives, after Democrats objected to the attempt by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas to hold a vote on a piece of legislation that had been modified. They insisted on having enough time to read the changes first, and when he tried to force an immediate vote anyway, the Democrats walked out and took refuge in a caucus room. Thomas ordered the Capitol police to round up the resisters, at which point tempers flared and Angry Words were exchanged. Though illustrative of the partisan acrimony in Washington, the showdown was unnecessary and reflected badly upon the Republicans. Yesterday Thomas tearfully apologized for his bad judgment, but he will be under scrutiny in coming months. His reputation for arrogance and tactlessness is apparently well deserved.
California is going to have a recall election after all. A friend of mine who lives in California attests to the miserable state of things out there, lamenting how education has to suffer. The same problem faces many states across the fruited plain. Generally speaking, the state budget crises are the result of a "train wreck" between conservatives who refuse to pay for defective public services versus liberals who refuse to acknowledge that the problem is the resistance by their contituents (especially the teachers' unions) to any reform. [broken link repaired on July 26]
Posted: July 18, 2003 [Top]
Between familiarizing myself with Mac OS X, preparing to teach at James Madison University this fall, and a whirlwind of baseball-related activity, I've fallen behind in my routine political blogging lately. Sorry. I hope to resume posting to this page at least twice a week...
While the "yapping chihuahuas" in the U.S. and Britain keep prattling on about the alleged falsification of intelligence findings (a murky, complicated issue), British Prime Minister Tony Blair lived up to his heroic image by reminding the U.S. Congress about the Big Picture in the struggle we all face. As quoted in the Washington Post he said:
There never has been a time when the power of America was so necessary or so misunderstood, or when, except in the most general sense, a study of history provides so little instruction for our present day. ...
The spread of freedom is the best security for the free. It is our last line of defense and our first line of attack. And just as the terrorist seeks to divide humanity in hate, so we have to unify it around an idea. And that idea is liberty.
It's always a little humbling for us ruffian Yankees to hear educated Englishmen speaking the Mother Tongue with such elegance. Mr. Blair is under such heavy attack in Britain, however, that there is a chance his government will fall. That would be a terrible tragedy.
The facts are still hazy, but it appears that a British scientist who was grilled about the Iraqi WMD issue in a Parliament committee hearing has committed suicide. When will the West stop turning against itself while our enemies lie in wait for the next big attack?
After many months of uncritical docility, the U.S. press has reverted to its old typical mob-mentality habit, by harping in unison on the flawed intelligence reports cited by Mr. Bush in his State of the Union Address. Sometimes I wonder if Bush didn't go to far to justify the war in the kind of legalistic terms that his political opponents would accept. Once again, let me restate the painfully obvious: The decision to go to war did not turn on any particular piece of evidence (which indicate capabilities), but rather on the blatantly defiant foreign policy posture of the Iraqi government. There was absolutely no doubt about Iraq's hostile long-term intentions. Whatever the precise extent of Iraq's chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs, it cannot be disputed that the regime of Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the peace of the world. It constituted a rallying point for fascist movements (combining religious and nationalistic elements, to varying degrees) who are committed to subverting and tearing down Western civilization. Indeed, remnants of the old regime in Iraq continue to resist the American occupiers, and indeed Saddam Hussein himself may be directing the guerrilla attacks. Things could get very ugly for the next few months, especially if Western countries allow themselves to become more divided over how the decision to go to war was made. I will give the Bush critics one thing, however: He should have asked Congress for a declaration of war, which would have been a stronger gesture of national resolve. By taking on full responsibility for the big decision, Bush now faces all the heat. I'm not worried about getting bogged down in a Vietnam-type conflict, however: This time we are responding to a clear, grave threat to our own security, and we have huge economic interests in the Persian Gulf. Our soldiers in Baghdad may be getting weary, but we as a nation are in this for the long haul.
President Bush's five-day trip to Africa was an appropriate gesture of concern for a desperate region of the world, but it is dubious whether many people will regard it as sincere. Nowadays nearly everyone agrees on the need to increase funding to stop the spread of AIDS. What to do about humanitarian disasters in war-wracked countries is another question. The President hinted that we might intervene militarily in Liberia, then backed away. The problem is not so much Liberia itself as the danger of setting a precedent that would be hard to stop. If Liberia, why not Congo, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, etc. Obviously, U.S. forces are stretched thin around the world and we are in no position to undertaken major new commitments. And what about our friends and neighbors in Latin America? They used to enjoy a privileged position in U.S. priorities, at least among less developed countries.
Posted: July 8, 2003 [Top]
Local members of the the Republican Party got together to build a colorful float for the Fourth of July Parade in Staunton's Gypsy Hill Park, one of the loveliest public spaces this side of the Boston Commons. Other party members set up a refreshments booth, passed out campaign literature, etc. It was very hot that day, but tons of fun nevertheless. You can see some photos I took at swacgop.org. Congressman Bob Goodlatte rode in the parade, and later in the afternoon he threw out the first pitch at the Valley League baseball game between the Staunton Braves and Winchester Royals.
One of my pet peeves is flagrantly politicized redistricting, also known as "Gerrymandering." Colorado Republicans recently rammed through a redistricting measure that accentuates the Democratic advantage in two districts and dilutes it in two others, including the stronghold of Pueblo. The posh Cherry Hills suburb is being detached from the rest of (mostly) Democratic Denver so as to give its (mostly) Republican voters more clout. A UPI story on May 16 quoted a fellow U.Va. Ph.D. I used to know, Andy Bush, who noted how irregular it is to carry out redistricting in non-census years. Indeed, what is to stop state governments from changing district lines every year, to boost the incumbent majority party's electoral prospects? What could possibly be more undemocratic that to use government power to entrench one set of interests at the expense of others??? On June 16 the Denver Post published an analysis of the long-term effects of the changed district lines. Apparently, there will be more court challenges to come. You can get information from the Colorado state government, which has links to a map. As an indication of what a hot issue it remains, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) is holding a conference devoted to that sole issue this weekend.
Unfortunately, some such politicizing of the redistricting process is par for the course these days, as shown by Virginia and Maryland in recent years. The recent extreme case of Texas where the state legislators fled to Oklahoma to prevent the passage of a redistricting bill indicates that we are moving into even rougher waters, however. I have seen "blogs" (partisan Democratic ones, of course) that place the blame for this hardball campaign of solidifying Republican majorities in state legislatures on either Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas), or Karl Rove, the Machiavellian political wizard in the Bush White House. Is this another "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" red herring, or is there more to it?
Personally, I would feel a lot better if Republicans would shun the nasty "tit for tat" approach to politics, which only serves to polarize discourse even further, exactly what we don't need in time of war. The net result of such hardball tactics will be to accentuate the trend of recent years toward resolving political battles in the judicial branch. I thought that was one of those things the Republicans wanted to avoid, wasn't it?
Posted: June 26, 2003 [Top]
Nuclear bomb parts in Iraq? Not completed weapons, but solid evidence that the program to make them was well underway, and ready to resume once the vigilance of the "international community" began to wither. Dr. Mahdi Obeidi led U.S. soldiers to his backyard where centrifuges and documents related to nuclear bomb making were hidden underground. We'll find out the truth eventually, Doonesbury and Howard Dean notwithstanding. In a follow-up story on CNN.com, CIA weapons inspector David Kay says he expects many more discoveries in the near future as Iraqi scientists gain assurance that they won't be punished for the work on WMDs they did under Saddam Hussein's regime.
Quick note to all those "yapping Chihuahuas" out there: No one in the Bush administration (at least none that I'm aware of) claimed that the threat from Iraq was "imminent"; the terrorist campaign being waged against the United States and the West is of a long term nature. The "war" (if you want to call it that) may last for decades, depending on how domestic and foreign political actors behave.
Interestingly, Saudi Arabia has launched a P.R. campaign to convince Americans that they're on our side in the war against "terror." Good. The Riyadh regime seems to have woken up to the mortal peril it faces from the Arab-Islamic fascists.
In reference to the recent capture of Syrian troops somewhere near the border with Iraq, Austin Bay explains how terrorists deliberately take advantage of the sanctuary provided by the Westphalian notion of sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, they consciously take advantage of the commitment of status quo powers' (e.g., U.S., Britain) to international norms, launching strikes from clandestine bases whose existence or location cannot be proven definitively. What should we do in those cases where we are "only" 90 percent certain which countries were hosting the bad guys? Precisely because it is in human nature to give the benefit of the doubt to the "little guy," great powers should generally hold themselves to a higher standard of behavior and overlook occasional affronts by the unruly "punks" of the world. There eventually comes a time, however, when self-effacement no longer garners respect, and a response is then called for: either a measured and proportionate one, or punitive and decisive one. To drive home the point that we have been bending over backwards to avoid trampling on innocent bystanders, when we do finally decided to act, we should spare no mercy in punishing guilty parties and their tacit collaborators, wherever they reside. As Bay says, "Rogue states that aid and abet terrorists are erasing their own borders."
Over four years later, many folks on the Left still cannot get over the Clinton impeachment trial, which they believe with every fiber of their being was "just about sex." Whatever. Some of them like to sublimate their rage at President Bush by portraying him in an unfavorable light to Slick Willie. For example, Mark Morford's essay "Come Back, Clinton Sex Nation" in SF Gate (link via Connie -- thanks!) included this zinger:
Under Mr. Libido, under insanely maligned Clinton -- under, in other words, a sexually aware and energized leadership -- the nation was largely at peace, attained record budget surpluses, record low unemployment, international respect and admiration.
"Insanely maligned"? Obviously this is mostly just tongue-in-cheek patter among like-minded folk, which is all well and good, but the presumption that the prosperity of the 1990s was all Clinton's doing is pernicious "spin" designed to propagate The Myth that gives Leftists meaning in life. For me, Mr. Morford's piece only serves to remind me how thankful I am that I don't have to endure hearing about all that trailer-trash smutty behavior on the evening news any more.
When I wrote on June 21 that "I look forward to the day when millions of suburbanites who commute 25+ miles to work every day have to sacrifice their "having it both ways" lifestyle" I didn't mean to offend Mr. and Mrs. Average American. Nothing is wrong with commuting that far fewer than five days a week, or commuting a somewhat shorter distance every working day...
Posted: June 21, 2003 [Top]
Charles Krauthammer, who usually writes in a polemic tone slanted toward the right, adopts a pleasantly common-sense balanced position on the energy issue: "Energy Fix: Pump the Oil, Raise the Tax" Indeed! The left needs to get over its allergy to nuclear power and North Slope drilling, while the right needs to get over its allergy to any new taxes. As he says, it makes much more sense to raise taxes on imported oil than to maintain a permanent garrison in the Middle East. I'm one of the only people in the country who takes delight whenever oil prices start to rise, and I look forward to the day when millions of suburbanites who commute 25+ miles to work every day have to sacrifice their "having it both ways" lifestyle. I detest such profligate waste of precious natural resources. Perhaps that's why the "no blood for oil" slogan carries no weight with me. But as Krauthammer concludes about his modest proposal,
It is a simple solution. It requires only that each side recognize the virtue of the other's argument. Which is why in today's Washington it doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passage.
I've seen a lot of television ads by "United Seniors of America" putting pressure on local congressmen to vote for raise funding for prescription drugs under Medicare. They've even got good old Art Linkletter to pitch for them, and the momentum seems unstoppable. Another contrarian voice of reason, Robert Samuelson, recently explained why this proposal is so pernicious in terms of equity and efficiency. This new entitlement will create a fiscal hemorrhage, exactly the kind of thing the Concord Coalition has always warned againt. This is a classic case of a "politically compelling policy" -- one whose popularity in terms of the intended effects outweighs the legislator's doubts that the means will actually work, because his opposition would be construed as lack of sympathy. (For more on this, see my review of R. Douglas Arnold's book, The Logic of Congressional Action.)
On May 10, about six weeks ago, the New York Times announced it had "discovered" that a young reporter, Jayson Blair, had committed blatant plagiarism and outright lies in dozens of stories, including such events as the Washington serial sniper case of last fall. In fact, medium-level editors had warned about this guy for many months, to no avail. Two top editors have resigned in disgrace, which has caused a nervous breakdown among the nation's cultural elite. Not me! For years I've been told The Times had the best coverage of world events, but I've always suspected all that high-brow pomposity was a hollow mask. All those ads from Saks Fifth Avenue, etc. featuring super-rich super-models make me want to puke.
Now word comes that a similar scandal is unfolding at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, or as we prairie folk used to call it, the "Argus Liar." From what I hear, it's basically a mouthpiece for Tom Daschle and the Democratic establishment these days. Read more about it at the South Dakota Politics Web log.
Posted: June 12, 2003 [Top]
Last week's 3-2 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to loosen restrictions on ownership of local media outlets was bitterly opposed by Democrats and many others. I too have my doubts, and even such freedom-mongerers as Glenn Reynolds do too. The rationale is that advances in technology afford consumers with a range or choice in what to read, watch, or hear that could scarcely have been imagined ten or twenty years ago. True, but it's obvious that access to technology is rather skewed toward the, shall we say, rich. The Left is up in arms about "sinister right-wingers" such as Rupert Murdoch and the Fox News Channel brainwashing us all, but I think what really has them upset is that the fact that the mainstream news media is not as biased toward the Left as it used to be, especially since 9/11. A few years ago the Staunton News Leader was bought out by the Gannett conglomerate (which owns USA Today, WUSA-TV9, etc.), but its editorial slant is by no means "right wing," indeed far from it. Such acquisitions can keep struggling local newspapers afloat and often facilitate bringing more national and world news to local papers. It all depends on many factors. The recent fiasco at the New York Times (more on that soon) will help continue to break down the monotonous walls of the political correctness that stifled free thought in America for many decades. MIT "Economist" (and leftist loudmouth) Paul Krugman was railing against Clear Channel Communications for its promotion of Glenn Beck's "Rallies for America" during the war with Iraq, which Krugman believed involved a conflict of interest. In the last six years, Clear Channel has bought over 1,000 radio stations across the country. Marc Fisher wrote about this in the Washington Post Outlook section on May 18, explaining that local station staffs get slashed, and every station ends up sounding the same as the rest, with voices of people reading weather forecasts who often live hundreds of miles away. FCC Chairman Michael Powell (Colin's son) seems a bit too dogmatically pro-free-market for me, and at this point I would say it's a mistake to deregulate too much. I have been irritated that the Clear Channel station that broadcasts the Rush Limbaugh show in this part of the Shenandoah Valley often screws up, broadcasting two audio feeds simultaneously, sometimes for five or ten minutes, and nobody is there to push the right %*@$ button! This creepy Big Brotherish behavior is extremely irritating, but I have a solution: I just turn the blasted thing off. See? I'm free!
From our friends at Right Wing News comes the following compilation of thorough research: "If The Bush Administration Lied About WMD, So Did These People:" They go on to quote such luminaries as Ted Kennedy, Diane Feinstein, Tom Daschle, Robert Byrd, Jacques Chirac, ... well, you get the picture.
UPDATE ON HANS BLIX: Apparently the genial quote I heard from the good Dane was not indicative of the entire interview. In fact, he bitterly accused the Bush administration of sabotaging him. Well, well. (Or was he sabotaging us?)
Posted: June 11, 2003 [Top]
According to Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein is alive and directing the campaign of sniping against U.S. troops in Iraq. Perhaps. Meanwhile, Hans Blix is in the news again, and has lived up to the dignity of his diplomatic profession by refusing to join those who are accusing the Bush administration of deception in the matter of missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As he rightly says, there is room for reasonable difference of opinion in the interpretation of intelligence findings. But for many on Capitol Hill and the British House of Commons, it's all a big hoax! I swear, when I hear some politicians whine about Bush, the CIA, etc., it sounds like a bunch of yapping Chihuahuas. James Lileks has an apt response to those naysayers on the Left:
As many have pointed out, we haven't found Saddam Hussein either, but that doesn't mean he didn't exist.
He goes on to explain carefully the distinction between the strategic objectives of the war against Iraq -- "Extirpating the flaming nutballs and the societies that nurture them" -- and the legalistic rationales, which were necessary to gain U.N. approval. Unfortunately, the hunt for the "weapons of mass destruction" somehow became a single-minded obsession, distracting from the larger mission of eliminating terrorist bases. Lileks also calls to task the die-hard Clinton haters on the Republican side during the 1990s. (Was I was one those? I don't think so.) What will it take before all the partisan sniping at President Bush starts to ease up? I shudder to think.
Posted: June 10, 2003 [Top]
The "memoirs" of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) are now in bookstores across the land, and her face is on TV screens 24/7. The 2008 bandwagon has begun! I was a little surprised that she declined to retract her infamous line about the "vast right-wing conspiracy" back when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, except to say that "conspiracy" might have been too strong a word. Well, I guess that is to be expected; You can't expect to energize the Left these days without hyping the specter of neofascists lurking at every street corner. There are, of course, legions of die-hard Hillary worshippers and legions of Hillary demonizers. (I mostly just grimace and bite my tongue.) Surprisingly, however, her support on the Left isn't as strong as one might think. According to Brad De Long, a Democrat who worked in the White House during the Clinton years,
Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly.
Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of this today (of course), as did Glenn Reynolds. It is likely to become one of the most widely quoted paragraphs circulating in the blogosphere this week.
Posted: June 3, 2003 [Top]
Given rising tensions in recent weeks, one may wonder whether it was purely coincidental that Iranian forces just captured (and released) a group of American soldiers and civilian technicians on a small boat in the Shatt al-Arab. Glenn Reynolds has written at length about the rising tide of dissent againt the theocratic mullahs in Iran, who are having a hard time clamping down on the free flow of information via the Internet. Iran's foreign policy has seemed contradictory lately, some days claiming to cooperate in the hunt for Al Qaeda operatives, and some days pandering to Islamofascist extremists. Andrew Sullivan has some pertinent thoughts:
Iran's deep connections to Hezbollah are also a key reason for the intractability of Palestinian terror. There's much we can do short of military intervention: financial and logistic support for the student and opposition movement; aggressive attempts to monitor Iraq's weapons of mass destruction; outreach to dissidents through the Internet and Iranian exile radio; and so on. But military power shouldn't be ruled out either. We are still at war. Iraq will never be successfully pacified or reconstructed without regime change in Iran. The connections between Iran's ruling Islamofascist elite and al Qaeda need to be the subject of intense and sustained intelligence work. I suspect that we might find greater links between Tehran and al Qaeda than with any other terrorist-sponsoring state. Yes, we need to focus on Iraq right now. But not at the expense of the real source of trouble in the region.
Conspiracy theorists are gobbling up the news from Texas and the saga of those fugitive Democratic state legislators. Josh Marshall suggests that one of the sinister actors in this alleged plot was:
Jim Ellis, long-time DeLay aide and the head of DeLay's leadership PAC Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC). Ellis was the one running the redistricting operation for DeLay down in Texas.
Marshall usually seems to be on the reasonable, sane side of the Democratic party, but one wonders if he might be coming down with a case of the hyperpartisan dementia that inflicts Paul Krugman.
Peter Maass, writing in Slate, writes that he figured out who the mystery blogger from Baghdad "Salam Pax" is: Maass's very own interpreter in Baghdad!
In my rush to finish up, I neglected to clarify the context of the following blog entry from two weeks ago. The main focus of Ms. Roy's speech was to denounce the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, which she feels is a helpless victim of Westen imperialism. She is a very articulate speaker, and I was stunned by her deep hostility to the U.S., but it apparently stems from ingrained ideological blinders.
Posted: May 23, 2003 [Top]
Thanks to C-SPAN2 a few days ago, I heard a speech by Arundhati Roy, a the author of God of Small Things, which describes life in her home state of Kerala, in southwestern India. (She won the Booker Prize for this work.) Ms. Roy is the daughter of a divorced woman who led a campaign against property inheritance laws many years ago, and has emulated her mother's political activism. In March 2002 she was briefly jailed for contempt of court in Dehli, India, after criticizing a ruling on a controversial dam project. (The full text is available at Common Dreams. The deadly serious tone of pious outrage punctuated by smug smirks said it all. You can find additional comments at the varnam.org blog site. I learned from a Web site maintained by fellow Keralite Seby Varghese Thokkadam that Ms. Roy was named one of People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" in 1998. In any case, she has drawn a lot of attention and is clearly a leading voice of Third World resentment against the West. She wrote an essay, "Come September," dated October 10, 2002, which can be found on the Web site of the "Vietnam Veterans Against the War - Anti-Imperialist," one of the many demented leftist fringe groups. Here is a passage that drew my attention:
Donald Rumsfeld said that his mission in the War Against Terror was to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life. When the maddened king stamps his foot, slaves tremble in their quarters. So, standing here today, it's hard for me to say this, but: "The American Way of Life" is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn't acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.
I don't recall Secretary Rumsfeld making such an argument, but if anyone does, please let me know. I must confess, however, that her final point does have a ring of truth: the "ugly American" syndrome to which she calls attention reflects the utter disdain many Americans have for the rest of the world, which is part of a self-reinforcing cycle of distrust. To the extent that American colleges and universities continue pandering to proudly ignorant students, this situation will continue to worsen in coming years. In my humble (and obviously self-interested) opinion, restoring academic standards and making world history, culture, and geography required areas of core knowledge are a matter of national security.
Last week the Democratic members of the Texas state legislature fled the state to avoid having to vote on a Republican-written redistricting measure that would have cost the Democrats five seats. Law enforcement authorities were mobilized to track them down, and finally someone revealed their whereabouts, in a motel just across the state line in Oklahoma. I've written previously (here and here) about the need to avoid making legislative redistricting a political football, so I can understand the Democrats' concerns, but certainly not their irresponsible behavior. That is exactly the wrong approach to restoring a modicum of bipartisan trust that will be essential if we are to restore democracy. In the end, the Dems won the high-stakes showdown and returned to their desks in Austin after the Republicans withdrew the redistricting measure, but the issue is expected to come up for debate once again.
Posted: May 19, 2003 [Top]
Michael Schrage wrote a controversial op-ed piece in the Outlook section of the Washington Post on May 11, entitled "No Weapons, No Matter. We Called Saddam's Bluff." He explained that the failure (thus far) to find significant "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq does not undermine U.S. justification for the war. This outraged critics of President Bush, some of whom wrote letters asserting that this proves their belief that the decision to go to war was based on flimsy, trumped-up charges. Schrage's point is that, whether or not Saddam actually had a substantial stockpile of VX gas, anthrax, or fissionable materials, he deliberately conveyed the impression that he did have them, by refusing to cooperate with inspectors. The mere possibility that he could unleash mass death was the basis for the fear that kept his regime in power. Such ambiguity was a classic example of the "neurotic" or "passive-aggressive" behavior that is typical of ambitious emerging nation-states ruled by military regimes. It is a point that has been aptly articulated by Prof. Mohammed Ayoob (Michigan State), and I dealt extensively with this issue in my dissertation. As I summarized in Section II of Chapter 1:
This consideration [of Thomas Schelling] and those of Handel, Jackson, Ayoob, and Singer lead us to expect that, relative to advanced nation-states, emerging states' foreign policies are much more likely to rely on a deliberately confusing mixture of opportunistic bluffs, cunning manipulation of great powers, and pious appeals to global norms of humanitarianism and nonintervention. That is, whereas great powers' behavior can be generally be explained in terms of objective power conditions (as Morgenthau said), the difficulties in defining the national interests of the weaker powers incline them toward a coy, elusive ambiguity that raises unique challenges for the outside observer.
Got that? Are you beginning to understand North Korea?
Once again, President Bush has overcome doubters, winning a big battle in the U.S. Senate, which passed his tax cut bill largely intact. As a former activist with the Concord Coalition, I take budget deficits very seriously. As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I also favor the long-term goal of substantially reducing the size and expense of government. Those two goals often go hand in hand, but not always. I would like to think that the large tax cuts proposed by President Bush would generate enough economic growth to offset a large portion of the anticipated revenue loss they would cause, based on static analysis. Although I sympathize to some extent with populists, especially in hard times such as these, I deeply detest the whiny "tax cuts for the wealthy" rhetoric, which does nothing more than poison the well of social trust on which our democratic capitalist system depends. In any such system, economic recovery will ultimately depend on restoring investor confidence. The only question is whether tax cuts are the most efficient means of stimulating demand at this particular point in the business cycle.
Meanwhile, the U.S. dollar has fallen against the Euro in recent weeks, as bond markets have discounted the likely increase in U.S. budget deficits. While this may make U.S. exports more competitive, it is not a positive signal from the investors' point of view. In any case, the rationale behind the President's tax plan thus far rings a little hollow, reminding me of the "supply side" theories upon which President Reagan's original (1981) tax cut was based. From what I've observed out here in the real world of recession, the primary impediment to job-creating investment is not the allegedly punitive marginal rate of taxation on business income, but rather the myriad legal barriers, mandatory benefits (such as health insurance), and government regulations. Get rid of some of those on a permanent basis, and I bet you'll see companies start hiring more people in short order. Now, if the tax cuts are really intended as a long-term tourniquet to starve the Federal government's ability to spend, then I could see that as a worthy goal. Ideally, I would like to see overall Federal spending reduced by 20 percent or more. President Bush is right to act boldly to stimulate the economy, but he needs to either adjust his aim a little, or else speak more frankly about his long-term political-economic strategy.
In the May 16 entry of his new blog, former Senator Gary Hart rued the newly assertive use of U.S. military power exemplified by the war in Iraq:
In a few short months we have gone from a benign internationalist, cooperative, alliance-based nation to a preemptive, unilateralist, aggressive hyper-power.
Such cliches are becoming a little tiresome, but Hart does have solid grounds for raising questions about the potentially corrupting effects of imperialist expansionism. But is that really an accurate description of what is taking place? A few years ago I argued that President Clinton's extension of U.S. military power into the Balkans constituted an unwarranted, perilous step toward imperialism, but few Democrats spoke out against it. To me, the assertive policies of Bush II are an appropriate response to a genuine security threat that cannot be adequately met by multilateral means. I do not deny the pernicious risks that power-mongering politicians may abuse national defense policy for their own ends, but so far I see little evidence of it. In brief, I think Hart is overreacting. However, his claim that the historic shift in foreign policy orientation undertaken by the Bush administration since the 9/11 attacks has not been seriously debated in Congress is grossly mistaken. Hasn't he heard any speeches by Senators Robert Byrd, Tom Daschle, or John Kerry? The truth is that the vehement opposition to the war manifested in many parts of America has been loudly echoed on Capitol Hill, though not always in coherent terms. Hart recently disavowed any intention of running for president again, which I suppose is just as well, since there is already a crowd of candidates on the Democratic side.
Posted: May 7, 2003 [Top]
Michael Totten, a liberal author, admits that most of those on his side of the political spectrum are woefully ill-informed about international affairs and history. That's ironic, since lefties tend to be smugly superior about their cultural awareness. He has written a very thoughtful piece, well worth reading. In a nutshell, his answer to the seeming paradox is: "Liberals are builders and conservatives are defenders." (Link via Daniel Drezner)
Many people are gravely skeptical about prospects for liberal democracy and/or capitalism in Iraq, but they tend to be elitists from wealthy countries who know nothing about what makes the Third World tick. Renowned Peruvian economist and advocate of grass-roots "informal" enterprise, Hernando de Soto, was recently interviewed by Ramesh Ponnuru in the National Review. De Soto believes that what blocks development in most poorer countries is that most private property does not have legal sanction and therefore cannot be mobilized as capital for investment. He was asked about the applicability of his ideas to Iraq and the war on terror in general. Here are some of his observations:
There is also a law-enforcement issue. . . . The reason you could find most of the 9/11 plotters was the records that are left on property-rights documents. But Osama bin Laden lives in countries where you have no property rights. Policemen call it skip tracing. Someone's been murdered somewhere, so you find out who the neighbors are, all the apartments within four blocks, and the trail leads you to the murder. Skip tracing didn't exist before property records.
What happened was that after 1945, what MacArthur wanted to do [was] to give the peasants and the poor people and the citizens the title [to land] and take it away from the feudal class.
When you went to war in Vietnam -- Ho Chi Minh was also a titler. And the lessons that you learned in Japan you forgot in Vietnam. So they basically out-titled you.
Glenn Reynolds wonders if U.S. occupation authorities realize how giving Iraqi people title to the country's oil might be the ultimate way to win hearts and minds via grass-roots capitalism. Indeed!
Just as I expected, some Democrats are freaking out over President Bush's boldly "Clintonesque" exercise of presidential public relations prerogatives aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last week. Sen. Byrd was deeply offended, and his attitude is aptly skewered by Chris Muir's Day by Day cartoon.
Posted: May 5, 2003 [Top]
Another sign of the intriguing strategic realignment taking place in Europe is that Luxemburg (!) is joining France, Germany, and Belgium* in pushing ahead with plans to create an operational military command that is independent of NATO. Well, you can't really blame the Luxemburgers, since they are totally surrounded. Though there have been recent diplomatic moves to mend ties with the United States, this recent military initiative by France and Germany suggests that the breach may well be permanent after all. (That reminds me to plug my theory that the underlying impetus behind the anti-U.S. drive on the Continent is the need to forge political unity to keep the Euro strong. Monetary integration, which signifies a supranational reconfiguration of sovereign authority, seems to require demonization of foreign "enemies.") Meanwhile, the two brigades of the U.S. 1st Armored Division stationed in Germany are apparently being deployed to Iraq, replacing the 3rd Infantry Division, and other U.S. units in Germany may soon move to new bases in Eastern Europe. Auf wiedersehen!
* (otherwise known as the "Axis of Weasels")
Former Secretary of Health and Human Services William Bennett, author of The Book of Virtues and various spinoff works, has admitted to a serious gambling habit that was exposed by the Washington Monthly. Ouch! Michael Kinsley had an acidly sarcastic op-ed piece about Bennett in today's Washington Post, while bloggist Glenn Reynolds shrugged off the issue, opining that Bennett was a blowhard of little consequence. Ironically, I used to admire Bennett for his forthright moral clarity, though I disagreed with his draconian approach to the drug problem. Personally, I've always been so leery of gambling that I shun office pools, but I don't hold small-scale betting against other people. I do have major qualms, however, about the increasing reliance upon gambling revenues by states, as Maryland's new governor Paul Erlich has been pushing. Bennett was once rumored to be a presidential aspirant, and one wonders if this apparently out-of-control vice was what held him back. Almost everyone has some nasty habit that they would rather keep hidden, and this mini-scandal reminds us that no dogmatic approaches -- either libertarian or statist -- can provide us with a final answer to the age-old vexations of morality.
President Bush's declaration-of-victory speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last week was breathtakingly audacious from a public relations standpoint. Was Karl Rove behind this? When I used to gnash my teeth over Bill Clinton's shameless blustering appeals to sentiment, a friend pointed out to me that down-home folks love political leaders who swagger, so perhaps this is just desserts.
After last Thursday's posting, I got to thinking that maybe it was Nancy Pelosi rather than Barbara Boxer who was taunting Colin Powell with the Enron executive deck of cards. Anyway, it was one of those California brunettes...
Posted: May 1, 2003 [Top]
Secretary of State Colin Powell has been very active lately, showing his graceful modesty and rock solid character. Today he arrived in Madrid, Spain, en route to Syria, which is suspected of concealing Iraqi chemical weapons and harboring escaped Iraqi leaders. He warmly thanked Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for Spain's support of the Coalition that liberated Iraq. As reported in the Washington Post (online), he said,
We understand perfectly that this was a difficult issue for the Spanish government and for the Spanish people. ... I hope that the Spanish people will understand that their government and their leader was on the right side of history in this matter.
Yesterday Powell brought up the very promising idea of creating a centralized oil trust to share the wealth among individual Iraqi citizens, much as they do in Alaska. That would certainly undercut the "no blood for oil" argument, and could generate a political-economic miracle in Iraq. I wonder what the oligarchs in the Carlyle Group (the subject of paranoid conspiracy theories in many leftist circles) think about that?
In response to Newt Gingrich's criticism of the State Department as a "broken instrument of diplomacy" last week, Powell said his department's people have done their job "damn well, and I am not going to apologize to anybody." Hooray! Conservatives such as Jack Kemp and Vin Weber denounced Gingrich's unfair comments, which gave ammunition to President Bush's opponents.
While Powell was testifying before a Senate committee a few days ago, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was asking him questions about the situation in Iraq, etc. Her polite tone had me thinking it was a good sign of bipartisanship. Unfortunately, she spoiled the moment by sarcastically cracking that she had a deck of cards printed with the faces of former Enron executives on them. And her point was...?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has played a low-key role lately, trying to build a reputation as a serious statesperson. Like her husband, she has a keen sense of the need to appeal to centrist voters, and has thus generally supported the war against Saddam Hussein. Fine. In a recent speech to Democrats (replayed by Rush Limbaugh), however, she reverted to her strident vitriolic old self by angrily lashing out at those who question the patriotism of war dissenters. What or whom was she talking about? You would have to hear the speech to believe the harsh tone, bordering on hysteria.
Although evidence of biochemical weapons is scant thus far, there are more and more indications that the Iraqi regime was in fact collaborating with Islamic terrorists behind the scenes. A story in the Daily Telegraph reports:
Papers found yesterday in the bombed headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, reveal that an al-Qa'eda envoy was invited clandestinely to Baghdad in March 1998.
Many people doubt that those ideological opposites could ever agree on anything, but they did have a common enemy (U.S.) and a common loathing for the Saudi regime. As more facts are gathered, perhaps the "Tom Tomorrow" cartoon with the "Lethal Buddies" parody won't seem so funny in retrospect after all.
Posted: April 29, 2003 [Top]
Perhaps fearing a volley of U.S. cruise missiles at any moment, that wacky dictator from Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il, is back at his nuclear blackmail games once again. Many critics of the Bush administration in the U.S. have panicked and called for urgent meetings to defuse this threat, but Bush has wisely refused to take the bait. This cool, disdainful posture seems to have paid off, as China is starting to take a more active role in pressuring the North Koreans, and the government of new South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun is starting to see reality and has stopped blaming the U.S. He has paid a big political price by having demanded that the U.S. meet directly with North Korea, which refuses to negotiate with the South on security matters. The Washington Post reports that South Korea will not be invited to the tripartite talks being held in Beijing later this week. Well, well, well!
On a related note, there was a discussion on the Calpundit blog about the confusion over the "R" and "N" sounds in the Korean language (new President Roh Moo Hyun's name is pronounced "No Moo Hyun"), and I posted the following comment:
I hate to add to this mountain of comments, but I have an interesting angle on all this. Several years ago I had a Korean professor who not only could not explain to me why "R" is pronounced "N" (or why the "N" sound is transliterated as "R"), he could not explain why South Koreans were so willing to overlook the savage butchery committed by North Korean spy-terrorists against South Korean cabinet officials at an international conference in Southeast Asia that they would send aid money to the North. The deep emotional desire for reunification in the face of nuclear blackmail defies all logic.
Posted by: Andrew Clem at April 26, 2003 09:38 AM
Andrew Sullivan is understandably livid about Santorum's ill-considered remarks, a full transcript of which is available at SFGATE.com. Sullivan posted a long heartfelt letter from a guy who finally gave up resisting the closed-mindedness exemplified by Lott and Santorum, and quit the GOP.
Somehow Scrappleface manages to get more points across with a few lines of farcical satire than I could do with a full page of earnest prose. Here are some recent gems that are worth at least a few chuckles:
History to Hail Clinton as Warrior-Scholar
Wealthy Neo-Cons Support Mars Invasion
Dixie Chicks Launch USO Tour Overseas
Posted: April 24, 2003 [Top]
A slightly modified version of the piece about Abraham Lincoln's lessons on postwar magnanimity that I wrote back on April 2 has been published in today's Staunton Daily News Leader.
Because political action can never be entirely separated from self interest, what leaders and activists say often clashes in an ironic fashion with what they do. That is a universal phenomenon, which is why it is wise to exercise restraint in calling attention to the apparent hypocrisy of one's adversaries. That being said, it was striking that the same countries that led the opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, on the grounds that it was a thinly-veiled grab of oil resources, have been resisting an end to U.N. sanctions against Iraq -- until they get a share of the "action," that is. Money is desperately needed to pay for the war victims' medical care, and to begin the longer-term task of national reconstruction. Much human misery could be alleviated quickly by allowing Iraq to resume oil exports.
Fearing that its public image would suffer a black eye if it didn't compromise, France proposed ending the sanctions yesterday, on condition that U.N. weapons inspectors be allowed back into Iraq. That ploy seems strange since no rational person could believe that Iraq poses a threat to world peace any more. Furthermore, the insinuation that the United States cannot be trusted to conduct the search for weapons of mass destruction without the imprimatur of Hans Blix is obnoxious and paranoid. What has become certain is that the 1996 "oil-for-food" arrangement overseen by the United Nations was hopelessly corrupt and failed to improve the lives of most Iraqi people. (Note: See North Korea.) It is becoming clearer all the time that opposition to the liberation of Iraq was strongest among those who had a stake in preserving Saddam Hussein's regime. A perfect example is George Galloway, the now-infamous British member of parliament who was apparently getting a handsome cut from Saddam. Given that the United Nations does have authority over Iraqi oil exports, President Bush will probably have to make some unpleasant compromises with the Franco-German-Russian "Axis" in order to begin the emergency economic "transfusion" for Iraq. For the sake of the Iraqi people, and -- let's be honest -- for the sake of the British and American liberating troops who sacrificed their lives and limbs, let us hope that he at least drives a good bargain.
Here we go with another gaffe-and-clarification ritual: Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has created an uproar by implying in an interview about a pending Supreme Court case that homosexual conduct is equivalent to polygamy and various perversions. Howard Kurtz had a complete rundown of the press reaction. (Santorum says he was quoted out of context.) Republican Senators Frist and Specter defended Santorum, but Glenn Reynolds faults him for uttering such an incoherent explanation. I disagree with Santorum's (apparent) point, but I recognize that there are plausible Scriptural bases for holding such beliefs. One problem is that many secular Americans cannot accept the Christian hate of sin and love for the sinner; an editorial in today's Washington Post derided this distinction. To my mind, any discussion of legal "rights" in the bedroom one way or the other is absurd -- as long as minors are not involved. (Inconveniently for Republicans, a party activist in Northern Virginia just pleaded guilty to a child pornography charge.) My only general comment is that Americans should lighten up a little. Moral standards vary widely from New York to Utah to California to Tennessee, so we should work toward a reasonable balance between individual liberty and collective morality without imposing a single standard at the national level.
Posted: April 22, 2003 [Top]
Writing in The Weekly Standard, Joel Kotkin and Fred Siegel reflect on some of the winners and losers of the war in Iraq. In "Redistribution of Honor," they mention among the latter such diverse wrong-headed people and organizations as Jean Chretien, Brent Scowcroft (!), the New York Times, the BBC, the National Organization for Women, and the Congressional Black Caucus. Kotkin and Siegel call attention to "rediscovery of courage" prompted by the September 11 attacks. In their view, the cult of victimhood will lose its fashionable allure in the future. (Link thanks to InstaPundit.)
The Todd Beamers and Jessica Lynchs are the ones who make us proud, and unite us, as Americans.
Part of what's driving the change is that the United States, which has been famously indifferent to the past, has acquired a keen sense of recent history. ...
This explains why, after 9/1l and the overthrow of Saddam, the dishonored elites have continued, in Seneca's phrase, to be "resolute in their madness." Nowhere is this more obvious than in the nation's religious establishment. With few exceptions, our mainstream church leaders vehemently opposed the war.
I have personally witnessed such appalling knee-jerk anti-Americanism among fellow church members, and I can only hope and pray that their hearts and minds will open some day. The survival of Western Civilization depends on enough of us "hanging together." Kotkin and Siegel go on to skewer the dreadfully lame PC academics, most of whom are incapable of rendering moral judgments any more, and are on the verge of becoming a laughingstock caricature of yesteryear, like "Austin Powers."
On C-SPAN recently, I heard a talk by Jerry Muller, author of The Mind and the Market, which explains how Karl Marx adopted the conventional negative stereotypes about Jews and turned them into negative stereotypes about the market system as a whole. It's a fascinating thesis, extending the familiar history of how Jews in medieval Europe were in essence forced to become self-reliant capitalists by being excluded from owning land while being allowed to lend at interest. Until I heard Muller, I never realized how Marx (who had Jewish roots) and Engels borrowed antisemitic notions to popularize his Communist doctrine, and how similar sentiments persisted in Britain and even America throughout the 20th century. Recent events in France and Germany (vandalized synagogues, etc.) do seem to point to a certain connection between that particular ethnic prejudice and anti-individualist ideology in general.
Posted: April 18, 2003 [Top]
High-caliber academic blogger Daniel Drezner (U. Chicago) weighs in on the flurry of heated commentary on the recent policy ascendancy of the Neoconservatives, about whom I wrote on April 2. Drezner applies his usual scrupulous fair-mindedness and concludes:
What could be interesting in the next few weeks/months is whether the neoconservative movement splits - between "pragmatic" neocons (Kagan, Wolfowitz) that recognize the limits of what can be done right now, and "movement" neoconservatives (Woolsey, Perle) that want to start World War IV.
As reported by CNN.com, thousands of Iraqi people marched in the streets of Baghdad to protest U.S. occupation today, a wonderful display of the political rights enjoyed by free people. As Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others have said, there are likely to be a wide range of opinions about the U.S. occupation in Iraq, and some people will look back with fondness on the days of Saddam for many years to come. Given the high degree of paranoia toward the U.S. that exists in the Arab world, I think the United States should move rapidly toward granting self-governing power to the Iraqi people, starting with municipal and regional elections in the next few weeks, and moving toward an elected national provisional government soon thereafter. After hunting down the "most wanted" war criminals, U.S. forces should pull back from the big urban centers and hand over police duties to Iraqis, assisted by police forces from friendly Arab countries. We might have to keep military forces in Iraq for a year or more, but they should assume a low profile and stay off the streets, like they have done in Afghanistan. Obviously, that poses a risk that warlords will dominate the postwar scene, but our forces that remain can deal with any large-scale abuses. Ultimately it will be up to the Iraqis to learn how to govern themselves, and the sooner they start the better.
An editorial in the Arab News makes the same point that "Sparkey" did in Sgt. Stryker last week:
The fact is that the UN is as much an outsider to Iraqis as the US, and the only legitimacy that counts can come from the Iraqis themselves. If a transitional government in Baghdad is seen to be accepted by the Iraqis, despite having come into being as a result of US action, then it will be as legitimate as anything the UN could organize. In any event, all the signs are that Iraqis do not want a UN-run administration as in Kosovo. They want an interim government that is an all-Iraqi affair -- and they want it now, not in several months' time, which is how long the UN will take to get its act on the road. What they want from the UN is practical help in reconstruction. They may be suspicious of US intentions, but it seems that they would prefer that the Americans remained for the time being to provide law and order while the country gets back on its feet, and then go.
The editorial goes on to criticize the unseemly scramble for postwar spoils among American, French, and Russian business interests. On a related note, the Bechtel Corporation just won a contract for rebuilding Iraqi utilities yesterday, which will probably raise eyebrows. Everyone knows about Halliburton, and one would presume that the Bush administration is aware that the legitimacy of the U.S. occupation authority will depend on avoiding any hint of preferential profiteering. Stay tuned!
Some people were taken aback earlier this week by President Bush's stern warning to Syria not to harbor escaped Iraqi leaders. I anticipated this in my war blog (April 9), but it should come as no surprise. The President said very clearly on September 20, 2001:
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.
The Baathist regime of Bashar Assad (son of long-time dictator Hafez al-Assad, who seized power in 1971 and died two years ago) is not much different in nature than that of Saddam Hussein. Many Americans have long since forgotten, but as Raymond Tanter recounted in his excellent book Rogue Regimes, in 1982 the elder al-Assad brutally repressed an uprising of Islamic extremists in the city of Hams, resulting in over 10,000 deaths! Moreover, Syria has supported Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon for many years, and thus shares responsibility for the deaths of 241 Marines in Beirut in 1983. As Charles Krauthammer wrote in the Washington Post today, as recently as March 27 Bashar Assad hailed Iraq as an opportunity to pursue the same deadly anti-Western agenda that Syria had pursued in Lebanon. Make no mistake: whether in the guise of religious fanaticism or secular nationalism, fascism is alive and well in Syria, and we (and Israel) are its target. Demonizing the West is what keeps these rogue regimes in power.
One indisputable piece of evidence linking Saddam Hussein to terrorism came on Tuesday when Palestinian terrorist leader Abu Abbas, a.k.a. Mohammed Abbas, was captured. He had led the hijacking of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985, during which American citizen Leon Klinghoffer was killed. That reminds me, I keep wondering why many people insist so strongly that there was NO connection between the former Iraqi regime and terrorist movements such as Al Qaeda. Obviously there is room for reasonable doubt about how strong the links are, but do those people really think that Saddam Hussein -- the same guy who murdered many thousands of Iraqi people and invaded two of Iraq's neighbors -- should be "presumed innocent until proven guilty"??? Would they have supported the war if Iraq's government had been read the "Miranda rights" before the first shots were fired? I wonder what the ACLU thinks about all this. Anyone who has any understanding about the covert nature of terrorism realizes that only on rare occasions can investigators find incontrovertible documented proof about terrorists' links to governments.
Glenn Reynolds is among those on the right who is worrying that the Bush administration has gone too far in sacrificing liberties in the fight against terrorism on the home front. Senator Orrin Hatch has proposed to renew the provisions of the controversial "Patriot Act," which was originally passed under "sunset" provisions that automatically expire unless Congress explicitly passes it again. I think it's self-evident that some temporary sacrifices of freedom were necessary, and I certainly don't share the paranoid leftist view of Ashcroft, but I think it's time for a policy correction in the direction of liberty.
Posted: April 12, 2003 [Top]
At least 300 flag-waving down-to-earth patriotic Americans showed up at an enthusiastic rally today to express support for the servicemen and women serving our nation. The event was held at the gazebo in Gypsy Hill Park in Staunton, featuring music and such speakers as Delegate Steve Landes, Mayor John Avoli, plus veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Attendees were invited to write the names of relatives who are serving in the armed forces on cards, and the names were read by the speaker at the podium. I was amazed that more than a hundred people in our area are serving! Spirits were high, possibly due to the bright blue skies (after days of cold rain) or the recent good news from Baghdad. The event was covered extensively by WHSV Channel 3 in Harrisonburg, and by WVIR Channel 4 in Charlottesville. Many thanks to Lynn Mitchell, the prime organizer of this very successful event!
Having failed to use the United Nations as a way to stop the United States from liberating Iraq, France and Germany are now eager to use the U.N. to oversee a transitional postwar government. France would have hardly any influence in world poltics if it didn't have its permanent seat on the Security Council, which is why many observers wondered why Chirac was willing to risk the U.N. becoming irrelevant by adopting an uncompromising stand against the U.S. Colin Powell responded, quite appropriately, that the best way for France and Germany to contribute to normalizing Iraq would be to forgive the debts Iraq owed them, most of which was incurred for purchases of military equipment -- some of which probably killed U.S. troops. Powell is quite unlikely to forgive being stabbed in the back by France and Germany back in January, at least not any time soon. Meanwhile, Kofi Annan says that U.N. "legitimacy" is essential for establishing order in postwar Iraq. Though I'm tempted to be magnanimous in victory and say "Sure, why not?" I tend to agree with "Sparkey" from Sgt. Stryker:
This is pure elitist BS. The only legitimacy a government in Iraq needs comes from the will of the people. A will the UN tried to ignore by keeping Saddam in power. What Annan wants to legitimize is the UN after its credibility has taken an awful beating. I pray the Administration sticks to it's guns on this we will have betrayed the Iraqi people once again to realpolitik. And instead of fixing the problem, it will become worse. The UN is not about people, the UN is about gathering all the power it can. And as an administrative entity, it is not responsible to any electorate, but to itself. That is dangerous, because entities like that create Stalins and Saddams.
To me, all this talk about getting the United Nations to oversee the reconstruction of Iraq is rather strange. Has everyone forgotten what happened in the Balkans during the 1990s? U.N. peacekeeping forces were too hamstrung by diplomatic maneuvering and political constraints to do anything other than sit idly by while women were raped and whole villages were massacred, such as at Srebrenica. On those occasions when there is a solid consensus among the great powers, the U.N. can function to promote world security, but not otherwise. Realization that the U.N. is hopelessly unsuited for managing the much more common messy, ambiguous conflicts is precisely why President Clinton took it upon himself to send U.S. forces to try to extinguish the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia. As a legitimizing cover, he used NATO, but everyone knew who was running the show. The U.S. "success" in Bosnia (which many doubt was permanent) raised hopes among the oppressed Albanian minority faction in Kosovo, into which Clinton intervened without any pretense of international legitimacy. Likewise, in Macedonia.
As for Iraq in particular, whatever role the U.N. takes will most likely be attended by an astonishing degree of hypocrisy on all sides. Quite rightly, President Bush heeded Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for giving the U.N. a "vital" role in Iraq, but that could be construed as little more than humanitarian life-saving assistance. Elections would be another suitable task for the U.N., but definitely not something as sensitive as training and equipping new police or military organizations. From my point of view, the main question is whether we should play along with the pretense that the U.N. is still relevant, or state frankly that it is an annoying hindrance. The temptations to opt for the latter course are enormous, and I'm sure that this sad truth will gradually sink into the consciousness of people around the world, but in the short term I think we have to be cynical.
Looking several months and years into the future, however, we must make a clear-eyed reassessment of the whole rickety structure of the U.N., which was created by the victorious Allies at the end of World War II. Two fundamental norms keep clashing with each other: respect for sovereignty and "national self-determination" versus respect for individual human rights. The Iraq case illustrated most painfully that even the smoothest and cleverest diplomats cannot finesse that awkward contradiction forever. Westerners often tremble at the frightening audacity of rogue leaders such as Saddam Hussein, not realizing -- as the "Sgt. Stryker" excerpt above so aptly put it -- that such behavior is itself largely an artifact of the exhilaration such leaders get from getting away with bad deeds, protected by U.N. norms of sovereignty. Lesson: Containment of emerging "rogue" nation-states in the context of an international regime that privileges sovereignty is self-defeating. Thanks to France, the U.N. practically lies in ruins now, having missed its big opportunity to enforce its own resolutions. President Fox of Mexico, which is currently a member of the Security Council, has suggested reforming the system, making it "more representative" of the world's people. (In truth, it was never intended to be "representative.") He suggests curtailing the veto power enjoyed by the five permanent members. Perhaps we can work with Mexico and other medium powers in the Third World, giving some of them an intermediate "semi-permanent" status. Then we can demote France to that second tier of nations, where it belongs. One way or another, the "New" U.N. that eventually emergences from the rubble of Iraq will have to enunciate norms and institutions to resolve the tensions between the norms of national autonomy versus individual rights.
At a symposium of historians discussing the war in Iraq rebroadcast on C-SPAN last week, Gerta Lerner (author of The Creation of Feminist Consciousness), said that only a historically illiterate person could accept President Bush's assertion that Saddam Hussein was like Adolf Hitler. As a survivor of fascism in Europe, she admitted she was emotionally choked up by the issue, so her comments must be viewed in that vein. Personally, I think the comparison between the two dictators is quite valid, though obviously there are major differences, so I wouldn't take strong issue with someone who thought otherwise. But to dismiss at the outset any possible validity to the argument amounts to an extreme narrow-mindedness that undermines the very notion of open scholarly discourse.
The ugly reality of war hit home a week ago on Sunday morning when we learned that NBC reporter David Bloom had died. Bloom's gripping live-broadcast video feeds from an armored vehicle racing through the desert, or blinded by a sandstorm, provided American viewers with some of the most realistic images of war ever broadcast. Bloom's tragic death last week once again shows that modern warfare is not a video game. His amazing accomplishments over the first two weeks of war confirmed the wisdom of the Pentagon's decision to allow "embedding" of reporters with combat units on the front. I always wished that there had been more television coverage of the ground combat during Desert Storm, when reporters were kept far behind the front lines. Now we have a better -- though far from perfect -- view of what war is like, up close and personal. Having lost such an energetic, earnest, and competent reporter as David Bloom, we American "couch potatoes" have been touched by war in an unexpected but very real way.
Posted: April 4, 2003 [Top]
Victor Davis Hanson, writing in the National Review, has an absolutely superb piece on the forthcoming reconfiguration of global politics. It's entitled, "The Train Is Leaving the Station."
Something weird, something unprecedented, is unfolding, driven by American public opinion -- completely ignored in Europe -- and the nation's collective anger that Americans are dying by showing restraint as they are slandered by our "friends." Despite the protestations of a return to normalcy, this present war will ever so slowly, yet markedly nonetheless, change America's relationships in a way unseen in the last 30 years.
One by one, he lists all the countries that have demonized us and sided with Saddam, for the sake of transitory public approval ratings. He makes it clear that we Americans do not have any imperial ambitions, and suggests letting other countries pick up the slack for dealing with various crises in Korea, Cyprus, etc. He is not a triumphalist or an isolationist, and his tone is very reasonable. It's as though he tied all the points I've been trying so anxiously to make into a beautiful, harmonic whole. Political leaders in this country and abroad who do not wake up soon and adapt to the new United States posture will be left behind in the dustbin of history.
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (D), a candidate for president, got cheers from a political gathering in New Hampshire when he called for a "regime change" in the United States. Republicans were outraged by the implicit association of President Bush with Saddam Hussein, but I say, let the Democrats keep blabbing such abhorrent indecencies -- it will only isolate themselves further and further from the mainstream.
Washington Post columnist Michael Kelly, known for his harsh criticism of liberals and anti-war protesters, died today in a Humvee accident in Iraq. He was "embedded" with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, and was accompanying some of the spearhead units. His last column was a dispatch from the front: "Across the Euphrates." I had grown to admire and even envy Kelly's blunt, tell-it-like-it-is style ever since the Clinton scandals of the 1990s, and I will miss his columns terribly. He leaves a widow and two young children. For what it's worth, the Indymedia report on the accident is entitled "WP Nazi columnist bites the Iraqi dust." Par for the lefty course. (Links thanks to InstaPundit.)
Posted: April 2, 2003 [Top]
Abraham Lincoln is often cited as the model of a perfect wartime president: courageous and decisive, yet modest and inclined to reconcile with enemies. One of his most exemplary qualities that is often overlooked was his spiritual reflectiveness. Though he often cited Scriptures in his speeches, he was not a member of any denomination, which gave him a unique detached perspective on the moral and theological underpinnings of the Civil War:
In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Each may be, and one must be wrong.
Lincoln meant to dampen the self-righteousness of the "Glory"-singing Abolitionists who so angered Southerners, and the bitter echoes of all that are still with us today. In my view, adopting such an outlook would help us come to grips with the challenge posed by extremists who call for jihad against us. Yet unlike many cultural elites in Western countries today, for whom cultural relativism is the highest "standard," Lincoln did not let himself become paralyzed by such broad-mindedness. Instead, he accepted, as a tragic necessity, the burden of leadership and persisted in carrying the war through to its ultimate conclusion. The closing lines of his second inaugural address would seem very pertinent to the current war in Iraq:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
Let us hope that President Bush is wise enough to act with the magnanimity that Lincoln would have applied during Reconstruction -- were it not for John Wilkes Booth. One way to neutralize the passions of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism would be for the U.S. military and political leaders to pay respects to the surprisingly stiff defense put up by Iraqi regular soldiers, even as we punish the despicable war crimes committed by Saddam's henchmen. We ignore the wounded pride of Arabs in Iraq and around the world at our peril.
Writing in the Washington Monthly, Joshua Marshall joins the chorus of establishment protests against the neoconservative direction of foreign policy in the Bush White House. He imagines what the world might be like six months hence, after the war in Iraq is won, but as terrorism and guerrilla warfare plague the Middle East and much of the Western world:
But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.
In his view, the United States is upsetting the whole apple cart under the overconfident expectation that democracy and liberal capitalism will take root throughout the Middle East. As I've said before, I'm a little skeptical about exporting democracy and, more generally, the triumphalist agenda of the Richard Perle and the "Project for a New American Century," but I wouldn't rule it out. Marshall's criticisms are undermined by opinions that seem clouded by partisan score-settling. For example:
We now know, of course, that U.S. intelligence estimates, which many neocons thought underestimated the magnitude and durability of Soviet power, in fact wildly overestimated them.
In fact, in most respects the Soviet Union was superior in terms of military power to the United States by 1980, but its economic system was beginning to rot. As the United States regained strategic parity in the 1980s, nullifying the Soviet war machine's political utility, the economic sphere became the decisive arena of competition, and the rest is history. Rather than refighting the Cold War, a veritable clash of titans which is the neoconservatives' "home turf," critics of the Bush foreign policy would accomplish much more by basing their arguments on past "asymmetrical" conflicts. There are plenty of historical examples that might offer more relevant lessons for us today. The common denominator in nearly all past failures by great powers trying to secure compliance by troublesome lesser powers is failure to appreciate the limits of coercive power. Indeed, I would grant, many of the neocons do seem blind to that danger.
Ironically, however, the strongest philosophical basis for a grandiose project to recast the Middle East in a more friendly image comes from liberals -- classical liberals, that is. They were the ones who called attention to the evils of despotism, believing that the free, unregulated competition at the micro level of individuals and firms would spontaneously yield progress and order at the macro level of society and nations. From their point of view, chaos is "cool." It was Thomas Jefferson who said,
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
I got a kick out of a recent political cartoon in which Tony Blair used eloquent Oxford English to justify the war in Iraq, while George W. Bush, standing at the adjacent podium, responded with "Darn tootin'!" Point well taken. Nevertheless, in a press conference after the two leaders met at Camp David last week, President Bush rose to the occasion when he declared, "the grip of terror around the throats of the Iraqi people is being loosened..." It was one of the clearest statements on the war the President has made, vividly focusing the public's attention on the astonishing die-hard resistance of the enemy -- and on the vulnerability of its dying regime.
Posted: April 1, 2003 [Top]
According to a poll published by The Economist magazine, public support in Great Britain for military action against Iraq not sanctioned by the U.N. has risen from 13% in early January to 56% now. Recent anti-war demonstrations in Britain have dwindled in size, and most of those participating now are either of foreign origin or belong to some particular grievance-faction. The British mainstream is coming around to face reality, which means that Prime Minister Tony Blair is out of hot water for the moment, at least. Interestingly, there are now rumblings of angst and confusion in France, where the hugely negative consequences of alienating the United States are beginning to sink in.
Many opponents of the U.S.-led war argue that we have no right to find fault with a regime to whom we once sold weapons. That is a very distorted view of history, but thanks to "Admiral Quixote", you can now easily see for yourself who REALLY sold the most weapons to Iraq between 1973 and 1990: Russia - 57%, France - 13%, China - 12%. Very interesting. As for dealings since 1990, David Carr uncovers more dirt on the burgeoning scandal involving the French petroleum company Elf Aquitaine. There were huge illicit payoffs to the conservative party of Jacques Chirac and others. (Link via InstaPundit) The more time passes, the more evidence mounts that French opposition to the U.S. liberation of Iraq has less to do with a "principled stand" in defense of international law than with its own unsavory commercial dealings with the criminal regime in Baghdad.
Posted: March 31, 2003
President Bush is often subject to harsh criticism over his allegedly "arrogant" or "unilateral" approach to diplomacy. In today's Washington Post, however, Fred Hiatt very aptly calls attention to the fact that, in terms of concrete actions, Bush's predecessor was not much different:
President Clinton in his way also thumbed his nose at the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol and the ABM Treaty. He just didn't do it as arrogantly -- or, Bush partisans would say, as honestly.
Hiatt notes that Clinton never even submitted those treaties to the Senate for ratification, tacitly admitting that they were deeply flawed and had to be revised. Read the whole column, it reinforces one of the main points in my posting "France, global anarchy, and tragedy" of March 11. I was calling attention to the negative consequences of the over-optimistic "global-village" rhetoric that came out of the Clinton White House during the 1990s. In my view, Clinton's soaring oratory raised unrealistic expectations about the possibilities for international cooperation in the post-Cold War era, while his disingenuous "spin" on the Kyoto Treaty, etc. to domestic audiences kept Americans in the dark. Much like his feckless approach to the twin menaces of Saddam Hussein and global terrorism, Clinton's approach to diplomacy was based on taking half-measures that postponed the day of reckoning. All this set the stage for bitter disappointment with the U.S. after the inauguration of President Bush, who disdains phony, sugar-coated pretense.
As reported in Newsday, Columbia University professor Nicholas De Genova expressed unvarnished hate for his country and insulted the families of millions of American service men and women:
"The only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," Nicholas De Genova, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University told the audience at Low Library Wednesday night. "I personally would like to see a million Mogadishus."
I don't think anyone could come up with a clearer example of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." Such words are truly despicable, but pretty much par for the course in academia these days. Did he really mean it, or was he just being provocative? If you ask me, anyone who abuses the right of free speech in such an extreme way cannot possibly believe in freedom.
More rib-ticklers from Scrappleface:
Sarandon to Star in 'Iraqi Horror Picture Show'
Michael Moore Making Next Film: 'Saddam and Me'
Here's a fascinating irony: even though Michael Moore denounced the war policy, he also said on his Web site that he didn't expect the Iraqi people to make any big sacrifices for their brutal dictator. Guess again! The fact that hardliners on both the right AND the left had a mistaken impression of the degree of control Saddam exerts should tell us something.
It turns out that Richard Perle, the "Prince of Darkness" warhawk who forecast an easy victory in Iraq, is still a member of the Defense Advisory Board. He merely resigned his position as chairman. Thanks to my sister Connie, I came across a piece of cyberspace commentary on Counterpunch, alleging that the Project for a New American Century (of which Perle is a leading member) is influenced by neo-Nazis. What??? Just to be on the safe side, I checked the policy statements on the Project for a New American Century Web site. True, they are more conservative and assertive in foreign policy than I would prefer, but I didn't detect anything the least bit sinister. Lighten up, lefties!
Blogger Kevin Drum makes even bolder predictions about the war than I did.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci annoyed many of our Northern Neighbors by expressing "disappointment" that Canada has not supported the U.S. position as Britain has. At least it didn't cause nearly as much uproar as when President Bush said a few weeks ago that he would be "disappointed" if Mexico didn't support the U.S. (A faulty translation was largely to blame for that fracas.) The full text of his speech is available from the U.S. Embassy in Canada's Web site. On a brighter note, Canadian Friends of America is a welcome and refreshing sign.
Al Gore, who is widely regarded as the inventor of the Internet, has been named to the Board of Directors of Apple Computer. Long-time Macintosh user Rush Limbaugh was not at all amused, but everyone knows that Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a Democrat. According to crazyapplerumors.com, President Bush is demanding a recount and has threatened to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
Posted: March 27, 2003 [Top]
It's one thing to oppose U.S. policy, and it's quite another thing to consciously spread ideas and beliefs that promote the agenda of our enemies. Middle East expert Thomas Friedman recently interviewed a variety of people for a special television program about public attitudes toward the war. One American high school student of Islamic background said that while she didn't agree with the 9/11 attacks, she could understand it because the Muslim people didn't have any other way to get their message across. This is sick. It is beyond the pale. It lamely excuses barbarian atrocities by appealing to the empty cultural relativism that passes for sophistication in most of our public schools today. The fact that our tax dollars are being used to educate children who express such thoughts is itself a troubling sign of our nation's vulnerability to terrorism. Yet even many Americans seem to think that "we had it coming," so we are obliged to respond to the point.
Assuming for a moment that the Palestinians' cause was just and that Israel was the main obstacle to peace in the region, how could sympathetic Arabs best achieve a change in U.S. policy? People often blame the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) for distorting U.S. policy through its contributions to congressional campaigns, but what about all that Arab oil money? There are millions of Muslim voters living in the United States, so couldn't they form a lobby and outspend the pro-Israel activists? Of course they could. If changing U.S. Mideast policy were really the main goal of the Muslim extremists, there would be no need to resort to terrorism. (As we learned after the last Persian Gulf War, addressing Palestinian grievances only became possible after regional security had been reestablished in the Middle East -- not the other way around, as some people think.) Just as the Nazis used grievances over the post-World War I Versailles Treaty to justify their grab for power, the Arab-Islamic fascists today use Palestinian grievances as a cynical cloak to conceal their long-term strategy of dividing and conquering the West. In both cases, there was a small element of truth in what the fascists were saying, and in both cases the lies their propagandists spread were so enormous and so brazen that many people in democratic countries fell for them. They were just too "open-minded" and too weak-spirited to face the truth. "If we would just listen to their point of view and meet them half way, then we would all be able to get along." Hence appeasement, and hence war.
So what do the Arab nationalists and Muslim extremists "really" want? In brief, power. How much power? As much power as there is oil in the Middle East. At the root of the often-puzzling mass mobilization of Arab-Islamic peoples around the world today is a very simple and in some ways rational goal: a desire to achieve political power and prestige that is commensurate with their vast oil wealth. The fundamental source of Arab-Islamic rage against the West -- and the United States in particular -- is the huge imbalance between the vast wealth that has been accumulated in the Middle East versus the lack of effective power that those countries possess. Wanting to close the gap between power and wealth is perfectly understandable, and should not cause us fear in and of itself, were it not for the fact that the problem is mainly of an internal nature. The primary reason for the gap is that those societies remain bound by premodern social norms and legal institutions. Not being free to "pursue happiness" means that personal initiative and enterprise are systematically discouraged. Capital wealth thus tends to waste away or "leak" abroad, rather than regenerating itself. Persian Gulf countries have become, to varying degrees, export-dependent welfare states in which currying favor with state authorities is the only road to success. Since the alternative path of promoting development in the context of a liberal capitalist regime has been foreclosed, governments in Baghdad, Riyadh, Tehran, etc. are stuck in the rut of demonizing the West for the consequences of their own failures. Arab-Islamic fascists are exploiting the reluctance of Arab people to acknowledge their own societies' defects, and their movement is part of a pathological vicious cycle that will not go away of its own accord.
Witnessing the vehement protests against the United States around the world in recent months has been extremely disheartening for many Americans, who had been gratified by expressions of support after the 9/11 attacks. Yet galling though it may seem, we should not wring our hands or fret unduly when we see people in other countries burning Old Glory or effigies of Uncle Sam. Most of the protesters are just letting off some steam and having a good time acting self-righteously. To a large extent, anti-U.S. sentiment worldwide is a passing fad that exemplifies the universal human tendency to rebel against concentrated power, whatever the merits of the particular issue at hand. This love-hate complex is especially strong in the Third World, where individual dignity is most precarious. Ego-reinforcing street rallies do not necessarily signify approval of terrorism.
As for protesters who are citizens of the United States, however, a higher standard of judgment should apply. In a democracy, it is perfectly natural for differences of opinion about major issues to appear. One is struck, however, by the deep contempt toward President Bush and his policies that has been expressed by Senators Byrd and Daschle, and by the bitter sarcasm of moviemaker Michael Moore and many other antiwar activists. Are such attitudes really justified? Was their alternative course of diplomacy and appeasement really feasible? We can perhaps understand the bitter partisan strife that is taking place in the United States today as a symptom of collective neurosis that is not entirely unlike bulimia. "It's all the fault of those trigger-happy Texas cowboys!" "It's Wall Street and the big oil companies!" "It's the Jews!" (Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but one should note that both times that fascism has become a global-scale threat over the past century, anti-Semitic prejudice served to validate the propagandists' lies.) Historians have noted that nearly all major U.S. wars have been accompanied by boisterous dissent, and our fractured polity will probably ride out this storm without capsizing the ship of state. It would not be unreasonable, however, to interpret some of the feverish anti-Bush passions as an ironic twist on the familiar "diversionary theory of war," whereby political leaders mollify internal discontent by redirecting hostility toward the outside world. What seems to be happening in America today is that certain political leaders are deliberately creating imaginary enemies at home as a means to divert attention from the monstrous though nebulous evil that looms at our very doorstep. If so, it is utterly unconscionable.
Many people scoffed last year when President Bush called attention to the "Axis of Evil," and indeed, the way he cast issues of international security in such stark black-and-white terms was a big risk that backfired badly. Though the Bush administration has not always articulated its foreign policy with sufficient clarity, the President and his top officials at least deserve credit for recognizing the nature of the terrorist threat and formulating an effective response to it. Honest people can differ on the precise nature of the threat we all face, and on the most appropriate response to that threat. No one can deny, however, that individual attitudes about freedom play a decisive role in shaping opinions on the war. The sad truth is that most of the biggest antiwar protests in this country and abroad are being organized by freedom-hating Marxists who have created front organizations such as ANSWER. It is a terrible tragedy that earnest, committed pacifists have let themselves be used by people who advocate violence as a tool for political change. It is imperative, above all, that Americans not let themselves be duped into believing that grievances over U.S. foreign policy or lack of Palestinian rights are the "root cause" of terrorism. Evil exists, and evil cannot be "explained." (It cannot be exterminated, either.) Let us not mince words: Anyone who makes an effort to rationalize mass murder is in effect expressing sympathy for the political goals of Al Qaeda and like-minded terrorist movements.
Thousands of political activists blocked the streets of New York City this morning, many engaging in a "die-in" to call attention to war deaths in Iraq. Yesterday there was antiwar violence in Barcelona, Spain, which is one of our few strong allies in this war. Once again, we see simplistic, foolish slogans and infantile gestures that seem more intended to incite reactionary hatred than change minds. I often wonder what kind of persuasive strategy these people are employing, but I may be missing the point. Blogger Steven Den Beste makes an interesting conjecture on the sociological origins of the bizarre behavior and contemptuous attitudes displayed by many war protesters. He thinks it's all an initiation ritual by which extreme leftist movements build their ranks and instill loyalty:
Which would mean that in fact those organizing these displays don't care in the slightest that they have no chance of actually stopping the war or of influencing the population as a whole to oppose war. They're trying to build their membership, and these public demonstrations aid them in doing so. Each of these demonstrations amounts to an initiation ceremony, or a promotion ceremony, which are no different in psychological effect than the ones used by the Masons.
Leading warhawk Richard Perle resigned his position on the Defense Advisory Board today, saying that he didn't want to be a lightning rod of controversy at such a critical moment. He faced sharp criticism for having compromised himself by engaging in questionable business dealings in the Middle East. (See the March 14 posting, which dealt with the expose on Perle written by Seymour Hersh.) Perhaps not coincidentally, Perle has been further embarrassed in recent days by the fact that his prediction of a relatively easy victory ("cakewalk") in Iraq did not materialize.
UPDATE: Thanks to Daniel Drezner, I learned of an article by Gideon Rose in Slate that makes Richard Perle look pretty foolish. Perle thought that opposition to Saddam Hussein was so strong that we could topple him simply by providing weapons to the Iraqi National Congress. NOT! I've had the pleasure to talk to Professor Rose at APSA annual meetings a couple of times, and he is a rising star among the "neoclassical realists" with whom I identify.
One of the greatest figures of 20th Century American politics has suddenly passed away. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was universally liked and respected, perhaps one of the last true individuals who was both "a scholar and a gentleman." What's more, even though he was a Democrat and had strong opinions on a variety of controversial issues such as welfare and urban renewal (he coined the phrase "benign neglect"), he carried the torch of centrist bipartisanship throughout his long career. He used to be a professor at Harvard University, and then served four full terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1976 until 2000. George Will paid high tribute to him as a "beautiful mind" in yesterday's Washington Post. A few years ago Professor Moynihan wrote a book entitled Pandemonium on the troubling role of ethnic rivalry in international affairs. It is very pertiment to the ongoing strife in the former Yugoslavia, Africa, and much of Asia. (Being Irish, he knew what he was talking about!) I just wish there were some way to convey to the younger generation what politics in America was like when such high-minded statesmen strode the halls of the Capitol.
Posted: March 26, 2003 [Top]
Yesterday Jacqueline and I joined a small flag-waving rally to support the troops in downtown Staunton. At least 90 percent of people who drove by honked their horns to express support, which was very encouraging. One driver said he supports the troops but not the war, and one pedestrian stopped to argue that the war won't solve anything, but his contradictory statements on the role of the U.N. indicated that his opposition to the war was not really thought out. Harrisonburg's Channel 3 television station showed a brief film clip of our group.
Posted: March 24, 2003 [Top]
Yesterday Jacqueline and I went down to Richmond to participate in the "Rally for America" organized by radio talk-show host Glenn Beck, a vociferous and unabashed patriot who makes Rush Limbaugh seem mild mannered. It was a warm, sunny day -- at long last! (Little did we know that the news from the battle front had turned sour.) Between 6,000 and 10,000 people attended, and the mood was very positive, with U.S. flags flying everywhere. Some of the best signs I saw included:
U.N. = Useless Negotiations
"Iraq" is French for "Hollywood."
Our troops are awesome, Our president is a hero, Our duty is clear.
While watching Richmond's Channel 12 television news that night we saw terrorist sympathizers, I mean "peace activists," marching and breaking windows in downtown Richmond. What a contrast to our friendly, upbeat crowd! Glenn Beck's next such rally will be in Tampa on April 6.
As noted on the War page, the military setbacks suffered by Coalition forces yesterday were to a large extent the result of Iraq's resort to tactics that were in flagrant violation of the Geneva Convention. Such desperation is reminiscent of the final months of World War II, especially the Battle of the Bulge, when some Nazi soldiers donned American uniforms to infilitrate the front line and others brutally machine-gunned U.S. prisoners. As Andrew Sullivan put it:
The lesson to learn is that we have cornered the equivalent of a rabid dog. It will fight nastily, brutally and with no compunction. Those units who will go down with this regime will not go down easily. After an initial hope that this thing could be over swiftly, I think it's obvious by now that we're in for a nasty fight - and the Saddamite remnants will ally with the anti-war media to fight dirty and spin shamelessly.
Obviously, the Iraqi regime realizes that it cannot prevail on the battlefield and its only hope lies in inflicting casualties on U.S. forces by any means necessary, in an attempt to weaken the resolve of the American public. Not gonna happen.
Good news: the Where's Raed blog written by "Salam Pax" is back, after two days of no Internet access.
Posted: March 22, 2003 [Top]
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius wrote a thoughtful piece (March 20) comparing Iraq now to France in 1945. In "Rebuilding a Nation's Dignity" he observes that France carried a huge shame for years after being liberated by U.S. and British forces in 1944. It was necessary to create a myth that the French Resistance played a key role in all this, when the truth is that nearly all French people accepted German rule. This shame was a major motivation for France's self-defeating imperialist policy in Indochina until 1954, which is ironically why the United States got involved in that tragic conflict. It also explains much of France's seemingly irrational opposition to U.S. policies over the years. Ignatius concludes that the U.S. occupiers must help Iraqi people create their own myth of resistance to Saddam Hussein in order to establish a democratic regime that people will respect and obey. (As for the military circumstances, I make a comparison between Iraq now and Germany in 1945 on the War page.)
I just learned from Letter From Gotham (a blog written by Diane somebody) that the pseudonym of the Where's Raed blog author is "Salam Pax." (That's "peace" is Arabic and Latin, for you people from Rio Linda.) Diane's blog discusses the strange temporary disappearance of recent postings on "Where's Raed" and worries about whether the "shock and awe" bombardment has affected "Salam Pax." She has corresponded directly with the mysterious Baghdad Blogger (whose true identity has been questioned by some) and has some interesting thoughts about international cyberspace communication in times of war.
Posted: March 21, 2003 [Top]
If that now-universal cliché is meant as an affirmative rallying cry, it is entirely appropriate, if a little corny. If it is meant as a factual statement, on the other hand, it may easily be challenged on the basis that there are millions of Americans who deeply detest this new war, and many others who are "just not sure." In other words, we may be running the risk of "Divided we fall." Now I'm not about to question the patriotism of those who oppose the Bush administration's war policy on sincere ethical or pragmatic grounds. Nothing like a good old fashioned protest march to make you proud to live in a land of freedom. But when I see demonstrators violently tossing newspaper vending machines to block traffic in the streets of Chicago, I start to wonder. Also, the utter nonsense spouted by so many of the war protesters who get their 15 minutes of fame on a television microphone really does stretch the bounds of loyal dissent. When an otherwise distinguished U.S. Senator such as Robert Byrd (D-WV) starts wailing that the U.S. is the biggest threat to world peace, it can only serve to encourage such antiwar hysteria in America and continued resistance in Iraq by Saddam Hussein's lackeys, who might otherwise bail out. War is serious business, and those who do not argue about it on serious terms our doing our country grave harm. I pray that Americans will do a better job in shedding their narrow political confines and learn to listen and respect each other's views. Our national security depends on it.
UPDATE: This is another perfect example of what I was talking about: bloggist Michael Totten witnessed first hand the violence wrought by hate-filled anarchists in Portland. What's more, he rebukes the self-righteous IndyMedia reporters: "They claim the police started the violence, but they are lying. I watched it happen." Well said!
Yesterday, for the first time, I saw the Where's Raed Web log which is written by a guy who lives in Baghdad. I was fascinated by his first-hand reports of the war, and checked again today around noon, when he reported the grim news that B-52s were headed his way. When I checked the site later on, the postings after February 19 had mysterious vanished...
UPDATE: As of 8:50PM, "Where's Raed" postings up through March 21 are back again, but there have been no postings since the "Shock and Awe" bombings began. I should note that this anonymous blogger strongly opposes the U.S.-led war, insisting that there must have been some other way to bring about regime change in Iraq. Such as ... ?
Posted: March 18, 2003 [Top]
President Bush sounded "reveille" last night, and he conveyed the appropriate combination of grim candor and uplifting confidence. He did not sound "arrogant." It is strange to see our country embark on a war without strong allied support, but these are strange times we are living in.
More and more Democrats are now rallying around the flag, and even the hyper-partisan E. J. Dionne began his column today by granting as a theoretical possibility that President Bush might be right about war against Iraq. He now has a new line of criticism:
Supporters of going to war have regularly chastised their opponents for refusing to face the reality of Saddam Hussein's threat and the need for radical measures to eliminate it. Now it is their turn to face reality. From a desire not to unsettle the delicate foundations of their political coalition, supporters of a grand new American role in reordering the world have held their tongues about the cost of their enterprise.
I for one have criticized Bush's past lack of candor about the costs and other burdens of the war, and many other pro-war pundits have said the same thing. However, it would be silly for anyone to expect a firm estimate of the war's likely total cost, which would depend on innumerable unforeseeable factors. Well, at least we're making progress toward constructive dialogue... Former President Clinton has also grudgingly admitted that military action is necessary to carry out the regime change that he himself called for in 1998. Unfortunately, Senator Tom Daschle took the opportunity to bitterly scold the Bush administration for its alleged "miserable failure" in diplomacy. I would concede that Bush could have made a stronger diplomatic effort, and it is obvious that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has often made ill-considered remarks, but given the French attitude, I doubt very seriously that the outcome would have been much different. The truth is that Senator Daschle has failed miserably at bipartisanship! Speaking of partisan rantings, this just in from InstaPundit:
JANET RENO SAYS that you don't deal with a crazed, weapon-accumulating, charismatic leader by sending in tanks.
According to the Innocents Abroad Web log, "The European Union is Dying." They have an interesting take on the Franco-German fit of anti-U.S. hysteria:
Europeans, in general, do not dislike the US, but they have no idea how to understand a nation that still asserts its national sovereignty because they've been told that national sovereignty was at the heart of Europe's disastrous twentieth century and that the nation, all nations everywhere, must finally be overcome.
This is part of a point I've been arguing for some time: Western Europe has entered an imaginary post-historical utopia and just wants to be left alone, so they can all roll over and fall asleep. Nine out of ten American intellectuals wish our country were more like Europe (cheap public transportion and health care, rigid gun controls, long paid vacations for workers), but they are forgetting a crucial point: The luxurious (post)-modern European social economy could not possibly be sustained without cheap, mostly undocumented labor from North Africa, Turkey, and other mostly Muslim regions. THAT is why Chirac and his colleagues are so deathly afraid of upsetting the precarious social order on the Continent. In my view, the whole system is rotten to the core, and as the inner contradictions build up higher tensions, I would expect that Europe will experience a traumatic violent social upheaval not unlike what the United States went through in the 1960s. "We shall overcome!"
One of the clearest examples of European fossilization was the inability of France or any other European country to take an active role in the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. U.S. military intervention served to bail out the Europeans, but it did not advance U.S. interests, nor did it earn any gratitude from the Western Europeans -- or even from the Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo whom we saved! To many Americans, such evident ingratitude is deeply offensive, but in the real world of international politics, gratitude simply doesn't count for much. If France wants to expend its rather limited political resources challenging U.S. power in the name of upholding a multipolar international distribution of power, fine. You won't hear me talking about "freedom fries" instead of "French fries." I recall vividly arguing with colleagues at U.Va. ten years ago that we ought to put NATO in "mothballs," keeping the infrastructure intact just in case of some emergency, but otherwise closing it down. I argued that artificially prolonging the life of an alliance when the underlying mission and common interests no longer existed would lead us into trouble, one way or another. I think I was right. NATO served merely to foster false illusions about European security, providing a safety blanket for the European Union, which now aspires to be a counter-weight against the United States. Europeans admitted quite frankly in the 1990s that they saw NATO's main new role as an entryway for new EU members! Ironically, some good did come out of expanding NATO to the east, where some of the strongest pro-U.S. governments are found. At any rate, we can expect a major reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Germany before long. About time!
Posted: March 14, 2003 [Top]
One week after returning from Mexico, I'm finally getting caught up with the political and diplomatic intrigues going on in Washington and at the United Nations. There is already a brief report on politics in Mexico elsewhere on this Web site, and it will be amplified with more analysis soon.
Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Advisory Board and a leading advocate of war against Iraq, said he will file a lawsuit for libel against muckracking journalist Seymour Hersh for an article he wrote in the New Yorker magazine. (Also see the Washington Post.) Hersh reported that Perle has compromised his office by getting involved in a business venture with ill-reputed Saudi Arabian financier Adnan Khashoggi, who was at the center of the BCCI scandal in the late 1980s. (Full disclosure: Khashoggi was also a major contributor to American University, where I earned a Master's degree.) Given Perle's key policy role in the Bush administration at this critical juncture, the story deserves to be looked at, but we shouldn't jump to conclusions. Hersh has done valuable investigative work in the past, exemplified by his book The Sampson Option (1991) on the Israeli nuclear weapons program, but he is not 100% reliable or objective. We'll see. For a deep analysis of all this, see Gary Farber's amygdalagf Web log. Farber believes that Saudi Arabia lured Perle into the unseemly encounter as a trick to punish him for having invited former Lyndon Larouche advisor Laurent Murawiec to testify at a Pentagon meeting last summer that the Saudi regime was engaged in activities that were hostile to U.S. interests. The plot thickens...
Posted: March 13, 2003 [Top]
Sounds like a no-brainer kind of question, doesn't it? Well, common sense doesn't always lead to the right conclusions. Walter Russell Mead wrote in the Washington Post that, contrary to the supposition of nearly all antiwar activisits, more people die each year in Iraq as the result of economic sanctions than would probably die as the result of a U.S.-led military campaign to liberate it. Some people have quibbled over Mead's figures, but the longer the sanctions drag on, the more valid his point becomes. It's been twelve years that the Iraqi people have suffered while Saddam Hussein continues to prosper. Ironically, the only real argument in favor of sanctions at this point is that they could not possibly be sustained for very long, given the cheating and/or sabotage by countries such as France and Russia. Sanctions = surrender.
Just in case this point hasn't been made clearly enough already, consider the following: Those who claim that international institutions can create the proper incentives to keep Saddam Hussein's ambitions in check neglect the fundamental point that his regime's very legitimacy rests upon his ability to DEFY the outside world! If he were to comply fully with U.N. mandates, the totalitarian system of fear upon which his authority rests would quickly disappear. THAT is why there is essentially no difference between the goals of disarmament and regime change, as the Bush administration keeps trying to tell the U.N. Security Council. Understanding the roots and policy dynamics of defiant foreign policies in the Third World was one of the primary themes of my dissertation at the University of Virginia.
Daniel Drezner in The New Republic Online rebuts those who scoff at the idea that the U.S. can somehow instill democratic values and practices into postwar Iraq. That strategy has been pushed with great force by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, two of the biggest warhawks in the Bush administration. Their reputation as cynical, hardboiled geopolitical heavyweights would seem to undermine their claims of sincerity, but it's still a serious question for debate. Drezner recounts the warnings of Edward Said and others that all the ethnic divisions in Iraq will make democracy unworkable. Perhaps. Drezner attributes much of the ridicule coming from the academic world to the fact that area specialists have a vested interest in promoting the value of their specialized knowledge and derogating the value of broad theoretical generalizations, such as "better education leads to prosperity." It's a good observation, and one I'm intimately familiar with. Drezner quotes the highly esteemed Notre Dame political scientist Guillermo O'Donnell, writing with Philippe Schmitter in 1986:
"[T]he most frequent context within which a transition from authoritarian rule has begun in recent decades has been military defeat in an international conflict. Moreover, the factor which most probabilistically assured a democratic outcome was occupation by a foreign power which was itself a political democracy [emphasis added]."
One striking example of this pattern was when the Argentine junta collapsed after losing to Great Britain in the Falklands/Malvinas War. As for the merits of the general argument, I tend to be skeptical of democratization, both in terms of prospects for "transplanting" it into barren illiberal soil AND in terms of its alleged pacific effects. In my view, we'll do well just to free Iraqis from the Gestapo-like terror they've grown accustomed to. A more or less free market culture will spread with relative ease, I think, and eventually (10 or 20 years?), their society may become liberal enough for meaningful democratic elections to take place. I hope Bush has some clever plan that will enable us to quickly terminate the occupation, but if not I hope he doesn't repeat Clinton's mistake of setting a phony deadline for pulling out. As Drezner said a few months ago, a main aim of the war should be to hasten the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Arabian peninsula. It wouldn't stop Al Qaeda etc. terrorism, but it would at least go a long way toward delegitimizing it.
Posted: March 11, 2003 [Top]
Little by little, most skeptics of war are coming around to the idea that there is really no other choice left. Richard Cohen in the Washington Post (whose editors essentially endorsed war a couple months ago) raised valid questions about various aspects of the Bush administration's conduct of the diplomatic and military campaigns. Nevertheless, he is quite aware that failure to act now would leave Saddam Hussein -- and others like him -- virtually free to wreak havoc worldwide. I was also encouraged by the reasonable tone of stalwart liberal Christopher Dodd when he spoke on the Senate floor last Friday. Likewise, former Al Gore national security adviser Leon Fuerth was restrained in his criticism of Bush and acknowledged the reality of the threat we all face when interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press, which raises hopes for a semblance of national consensus, however fragile. One sour note was sounded by Virginia congressman Jim Moran, who blamed the Bush war policy on excessive Jewish influence in Washington. (Like Trent Lott, he will apologize over and over until we are all quite nauseous.) I used to criticize U.S. policy as being prejudiced in favor of Israel -- until Yasser Arafat passed up his one great chance for peace a couple years ago -- but I never countenanced anti-semitic rhetoric. Such hateful words seem to be coming back in style in much of Europe these days, however.
The blunt obstructionist position of France signifies the effective collapse of the "international community," which means that world security can no longer be upheld by the United Nations. We are truly back to "anarchy," that sinister-sounding word that aptly described the international configuration of power and authority until the late 20th century, when it briefly seemed to many people that some kind of peaceful utopia was at hand. The illusions of liberal internationalism will not die easy, and many of those who held out hopes for progress against environmental and social problems in a multilateral forum will probably engage in bitter recrimination against the "unilateralist" Bush administration. This charge is quite ill-founded, given President Bush's and Colin Powell's fervent, persistent efforts to work with various current and former allies. The problem is that Bush is a no-nonsense kind of guy who recoils at the kind of Never-never Land eschatological rhetoric often indulged in by his predecessor, William J. Clinton. Peace between Israelis and Palestinians? From the Clintonian viewpoint, it's just a handshake and a bear hug away. If you look at the actual provisions of the Kyoto Treaty, as another example of globalist folly, you will find not a nice path to a cleaner, brighter future world, but rather an arbitrary system of quotas that exempts less-industrialized countries such as China from stringent pollution standards. Why? Because we need to let them catch up to us, that's why! Let's make the world safe for the dictatorial military-industrial complex in Beijing! Sheesh... As for the French, they may be opportunistic, but I think their primary motivation is fear: They are deathly afraid of what the three million Muslims already living in France might do, and they are even more afraid of falling even further behind those "cowboys" in the United States. France's anti-U.S. position, though craven and ultimately self-defeating, at least points to the enduring proclivity of all nations to look first to their own interests, and when leadership is lacking, to look to their short-term interests at the expense of their long-term ones. It is precisely because of such proclivities best exemplified by France that international regimes, sanctions, and treaties only remain effective as long as there exists an underlying commonality of interests and/or values. Is this all a huge tragedy? Yes, indeed.
Posted: February 20, 2003 [Top]
Stick-in-the-mud leftist Dan Perkins' Tom Tomorrow comic strip is actually funny for a change. It portrays Saddam and Osama as opposite personalities who become action movie buddies, a la Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. I take it Mr. Perkins is ridiculing the idea that these bad guys are tacitly cooperating. Maybe not, but can we really afford to take that risk? Can we tolerate "only" a 20 percent likelihood that New York will be incinerated? Something as horrible as that might well happen if they actually are collaborating.
Eugene Volokh suggests that the nomination of Miguel Estrada may have been politically motivated, like when the Elder Bush nominated Clarence Thomas and lamely denied race had anything to do with it. Well, I suppose conservatives are obliged to meet higher standards if they'er going to make such a big point of judging men based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Can we ever get beyond race consciousness in this country?
Posted: February 18, 2003 [Top]
Even though I've made no secret of my distaste for the contemptible words and gestures of most (but not all) antiwar protesters, I've not exactly been a gung-ho warhawk, either. I really want the U.S. to exhaust the diplomatic avenues and to abide by international law to the extent possible. Also, I'm a little disappointed that President Bush has not really called on the American people to make a real sacrifice in their standard of living, which will be necessary if we are to prevail in this long, shadowy struggle. (For once, I have to agree with Doonesbury on that point.) Finally, the President's rhetoric sometimes crosses the fine line between righteous confidence and hubris, tending to alienate potential allies. It is essential that he convey the notion that our power is limited, and that our objectives must therefore be limited as well. The world we seek is not a one where secular democratic capitalism reigns supreme ("pax americana"), but simply one that is reasonably safe and orderly. I wish the President could speak to us in such moderate, reassuring tones. Given the continued threat of Arab-Islamic fascism we all face, however, and given the diplomatic setbacks we've had in NATO and the U.N., there is no apparent alternative to pressing ahead with the military option. If you agree, express your opinion on the Grassfire.net Web site. Also, we should start to think about a prominent location in Washington to build a statue for Tony Blair. But just remember, this war won't be over as soon as Iraq is liberated and we may face big setbacks here and there, as Brian Micklethwait makes clear. If we're serious about defending Western Civilization, we must be honest about the degree of commitment that will be required.
* or war soon, that is. I'd rather they refrain from attacking until we're back from Mexico in early March.
In an effort to stop the nomination of Miguel Estrada to be a U.S. circuit court judge, the Democratic minority in the Senate are demanding to see internal memos that he wrote. They are trying to portray him as a closet right-wing zealot, but it's just a transparent attempt to prevent politically incorrect minorities from gaining positions of power and influence. If you feel as strongly about this as I do, take a look at the GOP-USA Web site and sign a petition in support of Miguel Estrada.
Posted: February 15, 2003 [Top]
Based on the initial reaction to Hans Blix's report at the U.N. Security Council yesterday, it would appear that the "International Community" is willing to give Saddam Hussein another chance to comply with Resolution 1441, which means he will get another chance after that, and probably as many more chances as he wants. It is plain for all the world to see that U.N. resolutions mean nothing any more, but diplomats will pretend otherwise with their heads buried in the sand. The upshot is that the U.S. diplomatic initiative has all but failed, and even countries with whom we enjoy close collaboration such as Mexico now disdain us. (For example, an editorial in El Universal ridicules the Bush policy as belligerent and says U.S. public opinion is "often ill-informed.") It's very sad and ironic that in spite of Colin Powell's skillful, determined effort to persuade other great powers of the need for decisive action, many people still accuse the U.S. of high-handed "unilateralism." (Compare Bush and Powell's approach to Bill Clinton's precipituous unsanctioned attacks against Serbia, Sudan, and other countries during the 1990s; that was "liberal imperialism" in the words of the Economist magazine.) Now President Bush must decide how and whether to proceed without benefit of U.N. legitimacy. In my opinion, he should lay out clear, stringent conditions under which the U.S. would refrain from launching a military attack. One should always take protests and diplomatic snubs with a grain of salt, but if the rest of the world really is deadset against war with Iraq, then we may have to consider a truly isolationsist strategic orientation, or else face unremitting terrorist threats and/or attacks. If worse comes to worse, President Bush should stake a moral claim to initiating armed hostilities by asking Congress to vote on a formal declaration of war. As I've said before, such a measure, though "out of fashion" in the minds of most people, would give the U.S. much greater moral leverage to complement our unquestioned material superiority.
An organization called Cities for Peace has been persuading city councils all across the country to pass resolutions against war with Iraq, and a group of them presented a petition at the Staunton, VA city council meeting on Thursday night. (Remember all those silly declarations by cities to be "nuclear free zones" back in the 1980s?) They laid out a long list of preconditions that were obviously designed to prevent any war from ever happening. I spoke to say that it's fine to raise questions about going to war but that our nation is in real jeopardy and needs to stand united. I also pointed out that the United Nations is on the verge of rendering itself meaningless, so we shouldn't put too much faith in trying to work through it when another potential holocaust is looming. None of the city council members made a motion in favor of the citizen resolution, and Mayor John Avoli offered a resolution supporting President Bush and Congress on this issue. After a heated, awkward series of arguments, his motion fell short, 3 to 3, with one member abstaining on the grounds that foreign policy was not within the purview of local governments.
Posted: February 13, 2003 [Top]
In spite of continuing signs that Islamic fanatics are conspiring to launch a wave of terrorist attacks in Europe (or perhaps because of that threat), the governments of France and Germany have dug in their heels in a last-ditch effort to undo the firm U.S. position against Iraq. Never mind that there would be no inspections at all without the U.S. military buildup. As much as anything, this feverish outburst against the U.S. stems from a distaste toward President Bush's "cowboy" traits, a crude and distorted caricature. It also reflects the feeling of impotence Western European nations relative to the U.S. Another more sinister interpretation may also be valid: France and Germany have huge contracts with Iraq and may have transfered dangerous military technology to Iraq during the 1990s. Let's hope this is not the case. Even if it's not, it is widely known that France was circumventing U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, which perfectly illustrates why sanctions almost always crumble over time: the payoff incentives to "defecting" are just too great for lesser powers to resist. Could the irony in this case be any richer?
Now Belgium has joined the "axis of weasels" in opposing transfers of military hardware requested by Turkey, a longstanding loyal NATO ally that has been repeatedly rebuffed in its attempts to join the European Union. (Most Germans look down on Turks as fit only to do menial labor. Garbage collection is a "Turk job.") Turkey is by far the most democratic country in the Muslim world, and they resent being slighted by Europe. The Franco-German "axis" now imperils the very existence of NATO. After Defense Secretary Rumsfeld laid out the U.S. case at a security conference in Munich last week, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer replied, "Excuse me, I am not convinced." Mr. Fischer appears to be an eminently reasonable man, and many listeners were taken aback. In yesterday's Washington Post, however, Michael Kelly takes us on a trip through memory lane, back to the 1970s when Fischer (who is now the leader of the Green Party, in a coalition with the Social Democrats) was a rather violent left-wing militant with indirect ties to the Baader-Meinhof terrorist gang. Ver-r-r-y int-er-est-ing...
It has been reported that Fischer is furious with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for having leaked the diplomatic initiative which was explicitly designed to undercut the U.S. position at the U.N., and Schroeder's coalition might even fall as more dissent arises from those who are wise enough to remember what the U.S. did for German freedom during the Cold War. It's really too late, though: NATO is probably dead, which to me is no big deal since it served its purpose and now simply serves to foster false illusions about security. Likewise, Americans shouldn't waste their time scolding the French and Germans for lack of gratitude, which seldom lasts long or counts for much in the world of international politics. Countries tend to act on their (perceived) interests and cite values after the fact to justify what they have done. As for what we should do now, given the fierce opposition to the U.S., Jeffrey Cooper (note new blog address) accepts the need to punish Iraq for continued flaunting of U.N. resolutions, but he is deeply suspicious of the Bush administration and even accuses Colin Powell of going along with what he regards as a "campaign of obfuscation." I think that is grossly unfair to Secretary Powell, who deserves huge praise for having doggedly pursued the diplomatic route as far as it could go.
Many Americans are baffled by the loud and widespread chorus of protests against U.S. policies in Europe and elsewhere. "Why do they hate us?" The Gallup organization just released a poll that indicates a sharp drop in U.S. opinion of certain European countries. Don't forget what President Bush said soon after the 9/11 attacks: "If you're not with us, you're against us." Did his Manichean rhetoric take us too far out on a limb?
So why not let the U.N. inspectors have more time to hunt for biochemical weapons, etc.? The process having degenerated into a farcical shell game, it would serve no purpose other than to stall a probable U.S. attack. No one seriously expects that Iraq will let any significant weapons be found, but many people are deathly afraid that Iraq will launch an attack with biochemical weapons. It is hard for Westerners to understand what it's like living in a totalitarian society where fear is the primary motivator in people's daily lives. ABC News reported that Iraqi scientists were threatened with death if they cooperated with U.N. inspectors. For a humorous take on the silly inspection charade, take a look at this mock "U.N. resolution."
Opposition politicians in South Korea accused president Kim Dae Jung of having in effect "bought" the June 2000 summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, thus tainting the Nobel Peace Prize he received for making this historic diplomatic venture. Apparently the Seoul government funneled almost one billion dollars to the North through a complex money laundering scheme involving Hyundai and other corporations. The money was apparently used to buy new fighter planes and other military hardware, while thousands of North Koreans continue to starve to death. Some of the president's staff deny the charges, while others said it was a worthwhile effort. (It reminds me of the Iran-Contra scandal!) It may be a while before we know the full truth, but this undercuts the "sunshine policy" that president-elect Roh Moo Hyun has pledged to continue. Meanwhile, North Korea is rapidly pursuing a nuclear weapons program while most South Koreans blithely turn their wrath against the Americans. To underscore the seriousness of the threat, Japan just announced it would launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea if that country makes preparations to launch its long-range missiles. The other interested parties in the region, China and Russia, remain mute, apparently hoping that Washington will shoulder the burden.
On January 29 INS agents detained Ejaz Haider, a scholar from Pakistan who was working at the Brookings Institution but failed to register under the new program by which the INS is trying to keep better track of visitors from certain Islamic countries. The original Washington Post story written by George Lardner said the agents "accosted" him as though it were a mugging. He complained bitterly in an op-ed piece in the Post on Feb. 5 ("Wrong Message to the Muslim World"), and while I can certainly sympathize with those who are frustrated with the often-irregular enforcement of immigration laws, any scholar should know that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Goodbye! Beyond that, Haider's case illustrates a seldom-recognized but very real dilemma that United States (and other Western countries) face in this "war against terror" (i.e., Arab-Islamic fascism): We must either impose much stricter controls on who enters the country (which would raise labor costs), or else accept a far greater degree of government surveillance over all of those who already reside here (which would sacrifice our own precious liberties). Either we become less liberal (in the old sense) internationally or less liberal domestically. Which do you prefer??
Rush Limbaugh has taken umbrage at what The Nation writer Eric Alterman said about him in an Esquire interview, "I wish the guy would have gone deaf." Rush's acid satire and ad hominem vitriol often do go overboard and cause hurt feelings, so I suppose he shouldn't really complain. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that his triumph over the sudden onset of deafness he suffered last year is an inspiration to millions of people with such disabilities. On balance I still think he does more good than harm. Go ahead, call me a right-wing extremist.
Posted: February 5, 2003 [Top]
I haven't read the transcript yet, but apparently Secretary of State Powell was pretty emphatic that the U.N. Security Council will render itself obsolete unless it insists on full compliance by Iraq. Unfortunately, Franco-German opposition to Bush's firm stance makes a U.S. military attack almost inevitable.
If you're looking for sound arguments against war with Iraq, whatever you do, DO NOT READ Rolling Stone magazine. A much better choice would be: "A dove's guide: how to be an honest critic of the war" by Matthew Parris, of the London Times. (Thanks to InstaPundit for the link.)
The International Court of Justice in the Hague ruled that the United States must suspend the scheduled executions of 48 Mexican citizens who were apparently not informed of their right to assistance by Mexican consular officials. Some people would resent this ruling as an affront to American sovereignty. If it is true that the police and district attorneys in Texas and elsewhere failed to make this notification, however, I would agree that the executions should be halted, and perhaps even that the criminal cases ought to be retried -- unless the Mexicans in question lacked valid immigration documents, that is. In my view, anyone who willfully flaunts immigration laws forfeits any claim to due process they may have had under international law.
Chicago bloggist Daniel Drezner is back from New Zealand, and offers an explanation for the bizarre appeasement policy (and anti-U.S. feelings) of new president Roh (pronounced "no") Moo Hyun and other "sunshine policy" advoates in South Korea: they're deathly afraid that the Pyongyang regime will collapse, because they (the southerners) would bear the financial brunt of the resulting humanitarian catastrophe. It probably would be worse than the crisis faced by West Germany after East Germany fell apart in late 1989, so the U.S. should pledge to help out if worse comes to "worse."
Posted: February 4, 2003 [Top]
As one might expect, the tragedy over Texas on Saturday has occasioned another round of sniping at NASA. Charles Krauthammer wrote that NASA is running undue risks for little tangible benefit by launching several shuttle flights a year into low earth orbit. Indeed, how many times do we need to do experiments on the effects of weightlessness on various organisms? I've always been a big fan of space exploration, but the U.S. space program has seemed to atrophe for the last decade or two. Indeed, what is the point of all these hazardous though routine flights to orbit and back? I vividly recall how the space shuttle was originally designed to serve as a literal shuttle to a space station, but that project was canceled, and not until the International Space Station was begun a couple years ago did the shuttle fulfill its designed functions. Now, though, its technology is quite dated, and in any case there are always big risks when space vehicles are launched or reenter earth's atmosphere. Krauthammer doesn't say we should cease space flights, but rather that we should resume real exploration, sending expeditions to the Moon and Mars. I agree, but I would condition embarking on such a costly venture on first reaching a long-term cooperative agrement with Russia, whose friendship we will need in years to come. Meanwhile, China is preparing to send its first manned spaceship into orbit later this year, and it would be quite a prestige coup if they manage to do it before the U.S. shuttle flights resume.
Posted: February 3, 2003 [Top]
Once again, President Bush met and surpassed the high standards his speech had to meet in order to get his agenda (and our country's diplomatic posture) back on track. The first half of the State of the Union Address was pretty much the standard laundry list, though he did take on some tough issues. His determination to make income tax cuts permanent make sense from a long-term point of view, but ideological considerations seem to have precluded any Keynesian elements that would have yielded bigger short-term results in creating employment. (He better cross his fingers that markets work their magic before his reelection campaign begins next year!) The proposal to link medical liability reform to cutting Medicare costs was absolutely on target, and will no doubt be fiercely resisted by the Democrats. Energy independence is a worthy goal, but where the heck did that hydrogen-powered automobile proposal come from? (As I've said before, the simple long-term solution to our nation's energy dilemma is to raise taxes on energy consumption across the board, but that won't happen as long as most Americans think that cheap energy is a birthright. Clinton tried something like that in 1993 and got "burned.") Bush's proposal to spend an additional $2 billion per year on fighting AIDS in Africa and other parts of the Third World was a most welcome surprise and must have made U2 lead singer Bono happy. Was this a calculated political move concocted by Karl Rove? Or perhaps a diplomatic quid pro quo to get U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to endorse a firm stance against Iraq? Perhaps; as long as human lives are saved, what's wrong with that? Bush was at his most convincing when he solemnly argued the case for liberating Iraq. Bush aptly reminded everyone that the purpose of the U.N. inspectors is not to peek into every last hiding place in Iraq, it is to ascertain whether Saddam Hussein's regime is willing to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. By now it is abundantly clear that Iraq is not willing. Bush left no doubt that U.S. national security policy will not be subject to the decisions made by the U.N. or foreign governments. His chilling reminders of the awful potential of future terrorist attacks on our soil were appropriate, but he really needs to be more up front about the need for Americans to endure further sacrifices as this war continues.
As a sort of "pre-buttal" to the President's speech, The Atlantic Monthly magazine had a special report on the "real" state of the union. Editor James Fallows called attention to the huge chunk of money that the Federal government in effect loses every year through exclusions for pension contributions, employer contributions to health care, deductions for home mortgage interest, capital gains, and deductions for state and local tax payments. They all add up to $800 billion annually (greater than the entire discretionary portion of the Federal budget!), and I tend to agree that most of those exclusions ought to be eliminated, though I find the term "tax expenditures" which he uses to be a little misleading. It would be politically risky to take on all the beneficiaries of the existing system at once, but doing so just might make Bush's proposed end to double taxation of corporated profits more palatable.
The January 26 New York Times Magazine featured an article, "Son of Reagan" by Bill Keller, who explained how "W" has totally befuddled those who thought he would be a "puppet." In fact, President Bush has proven himself to be an effective, independent-minded conservative leader with deep religious convictions and the risk-taking instincts of a gambler. Like Reagan, he confronted a traumatic event early in his term (the assassination attempt by John Hinckley in the former case, 9/11 in the latter) that served as an "epiphany" that imbued him with a sense of destiny. Other parallels: both adopted a rigorous daily routine as a "safeguard against chaos" after being hurt by alcohol, both are radical believers in promoting free trade and democracy, and both were Western-oriented optimists who were despised and ridiculed by the Eastern establishment. "W" is clearly superior to Reagan in one way: he takes charge of managing his staff. Unlike Reagan, furthermore, he is not afraid to take on Social Security reform, the "third rail" of American politics. I once earned guffaws from fellow grad students by arguing that Reagan was perhaps as close to a great president as we would see in our lifetime (given the low quality of candidates our often-unaware voters tend to choose), and "W" just may -- may -- be regarded as one of the true greats some day.
Donald Sensing in his blog "One Hand Clapping" rebukes Bishop Melvin Talbert of United Methodist Church (to which he belongs) for serving as a stooge of Saddam Hussein. Several other mainstream Christian denominations have also let themselves be used in this manner, proselytizing their vision of Jesus Christ's message of peace and brotherly love while refraining from any hint of evangelizing on behalf of Christ. Onward Judeo-Christian soldiers?
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: Bill Whittle's latest essay on why Americans must relive the horror of 9/11 in order to prepare themselves for the likely upcoming war against Iraq. It's a very useful tonic to counteract the depressing nay-saying from the "axis of weasels" (France and Germany) and blame-America-firsters in this country. Also see map of Europe by Sean Paul Kelley, showing each country's diplomatic position on the Iraq issue. (The U.S. has more support than one might think by reading the newspapers.) Finally, Andrew Sullivan has typically thoughtful and heartfelt comments on the issue as well.
Several Democratic presidential candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring, including that amusing fellow from New York, the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), who takes himself deadly seriously and speaks in such pious tones that even a Puritan would snicker, probably has the edge early on. He has made very cautious criticisms of Bush's policy on Iraq, apparently hoping to maximize the benefit from a possible U.S. military setback in that region without actually saying he wants that to happen. My old favorite Gary Hart has expressed interest in running, but there is yet no groundswell of support from the Democratic ranks. Like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), his efforts to attract moderate centrist voters are regarded with deep suspicion by party loyalists.
Not a moment too soon! "After a post-election hiatus," Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has been officially re-launched.
Posted: January 21, 2003 [Top]
A lot of catching up to do...
The international organization ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) held a protest march in Washington on January 18. Police estimated about 30,000 people participated, but organizers claimed half a million. Given the bitterly cold temperatures that day, even 30,000 would be a pretty fair number; perhaps the organizers were using "seasonally adjusted" data like we used to do in the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Few if any of the speakers I heard sounded very convincing, and the accusations that the U.S. government is the biggest sponsor of terror forfeited whatever meager credibility the sincere pacifists among them might have had. Such statements give aid and comfort to our nation's enemies. To me what is odd is that the arguments both in favor of war and against war are so weak.
The Bush administration is obviously in a bind over the challenge from North Korea, and one hopes that the National Security staff had made plans for such a contingency, especially since President Bush singled out the Pyongyang regime as part of the "Axis of Evil." Hardboiled pundit Charles Krauthammer bewailed the collapse of the Bush administration's position, and adoption of appeasement diplomacy. Meanwhile, many leftist critics are having a field day over the apparent inconsistency in U.S. policies toward North Korea and Iraq, but as I've written before, strategic decisions are not made in conformity with fixed principles but according to changing circumstances. What can we do to regain our footing in the wake of the outburst of anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea? Actually, what the Bush administration is DOING is just about right -- playing aloof, seeking tacit diplomatic cooperation from other countries in the region. The problem is that the public rhetoric is awfully weak and confusing. To rectify that, the United States should make the following declaration:
The United States will not hold any direct meetings with any representatives of the North Korean government until it halts all activities related to nuclear weapons development and allows U.N. inspectors back in. The United States remains committed to facilitating dialogue between North and South Korea and will consider any action that the two sides believe will help achieve that long-term goal, including reducing the number of U.S. forces in Korea.
University of Chicago professor Daniel Drezner (who has just left for a trip to New Zealand) suggests an amusing explanation based on "prospect theory" for the cacaphony of divergent policy recommendations that have been offered:
Prospect theory predicts that, when faced with sudden reversals in fortune that present no-win scenarios -- like North Korea -- pundits will envisage best-case outcomes as a way of advancing their preferred policies.
I was browsing through other recent postings by Drezner (who is an honest, open-minded conservative realist) and I must say he hits the nail on the head with amazing frequency. For example, he admits that "liberals do have a valid point on the smugness ... [in the Bush administration's] articulation of policy decisions." (He's referring to the "yee-ha!" syndrome, I believe.) He also repeated an interesting comment from a couple months ago: "The best reason to invade Iraq is to remove the need for large-scale U.S. forces to be based in Saudi Arabia, which has destabilized that country for the worse." Finally, he also calls attention to good news on peace building efforts in Afghanistan. I'm going to start checking in on him at least twice a week after he gets back to blogging.
In one of his last official acts as governor, James Ryan commuted the death sentences of all 167 prisoners on death row in Illinois. He cited deep flaws in the capital punishment system, including evidence that police misconduct may have led to false convictions. No doubt some of those problems are real, but to millions of Americans (especially crime victims) it is a huge miscarriage of justice to extend leniency to the worst of the murderous offenders. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that no one who has not borne the immense moral burden of deciding whether another human being lives or dies is in much of a position to question one who has.
One of my favorite humor Web sites, Scrapple Face poked fun at rock singer Sheryl Crow, who tried to be profound at a recent music awards ceremony:
"I think war is based on greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies."
Like, totally! Actually, I'm a big fan of Sheryl Crow's music. Anyway, here are some other recent Scrapple Face fake "headlines":
- Bin Laden Unveils Plans for Patty Murray Hospital
- Lieberman Would Pick Muslim as VP
Posted: January 10, 2003 [Top]
The first episode of NBC's new political drama series "Mr. Sterling" pretty much lived up to its promotional hype. Unlike the egregiously partisan "West Wing" series, this one seems to refrain from pushing any particular agenda. (I have to admire "West Wing" for the quality of its production, at least, though its whiz-kid mind-altered producer Aaron Sorkin is another matter.) Jacqueline actually liked "Mr. Sterling," delighted by the quite unflattering portrayal of the empire-building louses that infest Capitol Hill. It made me wonder, once again, why the Republican party can't find a way to tap into the huge wellspring of skepticism toward Washington, and more specifically the attempt by bigwigs in Washington to micro-manage everything that goes on across the vast Fruited Plain. Their message to Mr. and Mrs. America ought to be crystal clear: "Do you really want power-mongering creeps like those guys on "Mr. Sterling" to play around with your hard-earned tax dollars and tell you how to live?"
Today's Washington Post had an article summarizing the eight years that Parris Glendening ran Maryland as governor. A former political science professor, he clearly relished his power and showed no compunction about pushing an aggressive old-fashioned Big Government liberal agenda, stepping on toes left and right. He alienated fellow Democrat and former governor William Schaeffer, who bitterly rebuked him at a meeting a few weeks ago, though the two pretended to make up later. Most experts agree that it was largely because of rising public discontent with Glendening and his arrogant ways that the Democratic candidate for governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, lost the recent election to Bob Ehrlich. The Post says that Glendening will be remembered for big achievements in education and environmental policy, but many will remember him for abruptly ditching his first wife and then marrying a top staff aide who bore his child seven months later. I will remember him primarily for colluding with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos (a big campaign contributor who has kept baseball out of Washington), and for diverting precious state funds to subsidize TWO pro football stadiums: one for the Baltimore Ravens (the former Cleveland Browns whose owner Art Modell cut a secret deal with Glendening to cinch the relocation) and one for the Landmark (formerly Washington) Redskins. Totally shameless, totally disgusting. He is a perfect example of why I finally got fed up with the Democratic party.
Posted: January 6, 2003 [Top]
On the Sunday news shows Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) made some rather harsh comments about President Bush's economic plan, blasting him for waging "class warfare." Talk about the pot calling the kettle... It seemed to me that Reid was calling into question the capitalist system itself. I'll wait until the proposal is fully laid out before offering a critique of the economic stimulus package. (Hint: There ARE occasional circumstances when Keynes is still relevant!) Anyway, it promises to be a real rough and tumble debate in Congress this year, as more Democratic candidates toss their hats in the ring. The economy remains in the doldrums, oil prices are rising, war clouds gather, and ... yikes!
Take a look at the preview video by PBS, which will broadcast a special program on Web logs in the near future!
While you're at it, consider nominating this humble endeavor for the 2003 Weblog Awards (the "Bloggies"), organized by Nikolai Nolan. There are many categories, and I would be deeply honored if someone thought this page or some other section of this Web site might be worthy to be compete in one of those categories.
Posted: January 4, 2003 [Top]
President Bush is preparing a new economic package that will reportedly include phasing out taxes on income from stock dividends. Of course, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already denounced the proposal even before it has been formally announced. I wonder how many of her constituents are even aware that money earned from legitimate business operations gets taxed twice? Personally, I would favor abolishing the corporate income tax and keeping taxes on dividends, but that would elicit loud, hysterical screams from Democrats, accountants, and tax lawyers. Just think of the efficiency AND equity benefits that would accrue if companies didn't have to spend so much effort conniving their way around the social engineering agenda embodied in the U.S. Tax Code. What's more, without a tax on corporate profits, the mega-businesses that dominate our economy would be forced to cut unnecessary (tax-deductible) costs and thus operate on a level playing field with smaller competitors; there would be no more hidden subsidies to advertisers, luxury suites, business travel, perks such as "skyboxes" at stadiums, etc., etc. If President Bush had enough vision (or political guts) to launch such a bold move, it just might save Main Street America from extinction! What a wonderful world it would be...
Convicted child murderer David Westerfield has just been sentenced to be executed in a California court. His lawyer asked the jury to shun "mob" justice and uphold mercy, but the fact that Westerfield showed no remorse combined with the horrible nature of his crime leave no doubt that the death penalty is appropriate in this case. Many people have raised valid questions about the way the the death penalty is carried out, and I would be willing to concede that it may be applied with excessive frequency in some states, perhaps even here in Virginia. I take strong issue, however, with the notion that we should follow the example of European countries which have banned capital punishment, supposedly abiding by more civilized standards. Trying to disprove the deterrent effect of capital punishment likewise misses the point: in a just and orderly society, criminals are punished in a way that is commensurate to the nature of the crime. Just imagine what it would be like for the family of Danielle Van Dam, the 7-year old victim, if her killer had been allowed to live. Giving free room and board for life to unredeemable leering sociopaths is NOT "punishment." Die-hard opponents of capital punishment who adopt unreasonable abolitionist positions are certainly not doing any favors to those convicts who might deserve leniency.
Steven Den Beste explains the bizarre shifts in arguments by anti-war activists (as lamented in last Tuesday's post below): "To some extent what we're looking at is a diplomatic equivalent of "CalvinBall", where the rules change constantly and people try to manipulate the rules to their own advantage." (He's referring of course to the sadly defunct "Calvin and Hobbes" comic strip by Bill Watterson.)
I forgot to mention in last Tuesday's posting that the editors of The Nation magazine (to which I subscribed for several years, by the way) still seem quite miffed by the recent departure of former contributor Christopher Hitchens. He was one of the few leftist writers with enough guts to criticize former President Bill Clinton during the various scandals of that administration, a "sin" for which he was not forgiven. Disgusted by the refusal of his former colleagues to face up to the threat of Arab-Islamic fascism, Hitchens believes that the Left in Western countries has essentially abandoned its moral standards, cringing behind a wall of dogmatic relativism. Perhaps someday leftists will begin to wake up and he will be vindicated, but for the time being, the America-haters are in charge.