Thursday, June 30, 2005

Domestic Repression and Foreign Threats 

Many years ago, when the Cold War was in its final "throes" (to quote VP Cheney in a different context), I was fortunate enough to attend a brilliant course at Amherst College taught by the eminent political scientest and noted expert on the Soviet Union and Nikita Khrushchev, Professor William Taubman. His central observation on the Soviet Union's internal political "legitimacy", such as it was, was that it was sustainable only through a combination of ruthless internal repression in combination with the vilification and demonization of perceived external threats to autonomy and survival. The latter justified the former. In the case of the Soviets, the US in the post WWII period was that threat.

His point was simple and clear - tyrants manufacture threats to take and keep power. That's why they're constantly at war. Since the people don't get a vote, and nobody claims legitimacy derived from God any longer (though that worked for many centuries) their only legitimacy relates to securing the country against threats. His view was that Gorbachev's rise to power, and his desire to improve relations with the west ("glasnost"), would ultimately bring about the weakening of internal Soviet repression. His prediction was more conservative than what happened.

This same point applies to virtually every tyranny -- North Korea has Japan, South Korea and the US; China has Taiwan, India or the US; Cuba has the US; Iran has the US; Iraq had Iran, Kuwait, and the US; Argentina (under the military junta) had the British. Tyrants need enemies and make war to justify the appalling abuse of their people. Over time, it seems that the people of these countries (the disenfranchised electorate, as it were), tend to admire the US - if we support their aspirations for freedom and prosperity. It's their leaders who call us the great satan to justify internal repression, outright theft and impoverishment).

A more complicated question relates to our unappealing tyrannical "friends" and "allies" in the Middle East, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Our willingness to accept the local political and economic abuse of their people is very bad for perceptions of America. They dislike us for good reason - we are aligned with their oppressors.

Thankfully, it seems we may be starting to get it right. Tyrants will always and should hate and fear us. If we consistently support the aspirations of their people to be free, it may lead to some short term instability but lead to a much happier long term result.

The near term test cases are clearly North Korea and Iran. With its new President, and his history of anti-Americanism (he was a top leader of the group which seized the American Embassy and held our people hostage for 450 days), Iran may be moving into a period of significant internal repression combined with vilification of the west. We know already that North Korea is there. How these ugly regimes, and their relationships with us evolve is unpredictable and potentially very violent.

We can predict, with some confidence, that we won't get anywhere negotiating with their current leaders. Concessions will feed perceived weakness, while saber rattling will inspire more rhetorical bluster and internal repression. They may strike out at their neighbors and start something - or perhaps simply burn out. Iran over the next 12 months will be especially unpredictable.

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Family vacation notes: Yosemite, Day One 

I've been too busy to report in detail on the TigerHawk family vacation, which started with a couple of days in Los Angeles and has now moved on to Yosemite National Park. I probably will report on the Los Angeles bit eventually, but the day in Yosemite was so spectacular I wanted to get the pictures up for friends, family, and anybody who loves the natural beauty of America's great national parks.

First up, the drive into the park from the southern entrance takes you through a tunnel that emerges with a spectacular view of the valley from the west. Here's the family with the valley and the famous peaks of Yosemite -- El Capitan and Half Dome -- in the background.

And, of course, without the family! This shot embraces the entire valley from the tunnel, including the glorious Bridal Veil waterfall on the right. Later in the day we took a guided tour of the valley. Here's a picture of The Cathedral across a meadow, and following that is a shot of El Capitan, the largest granite monolith in the world.
There were climbers all over El Cap this afternoon, which is not surprising given the season and the weather. It takes four to six days to get to the top. The climbers bring all their food and water, and sleep on an "artificial shelf" that they carry with them -- essentially a hammock that depends from fascinating devices that are wedged into crevices. I am terrified at the thought of sleeping in such a device against the 2000-foot sheer rock face, even if I could imagine making the climb otherwise. Absolutely astonishing. Oh. And they evacuate into a container that they pack out with them after they have reached the top.

Of course, you have to catch Yosemite Falls, which unlike the Bridal Veil runs dry later in the summer:

Finally, on the way back to our lodge at the south entrance we stopped to check out the Giant Sequoias, the largest trees in the world.

Some of these trees are so old that they were saplings before the founding of Rome. Think of it -- in 753 BCE, when Romulus and Remus were still be suckled by wolves -- some of these trees had sprouted.

I must admit, having seen Yellowstone a couple of years ago and Glacier a few years before that, I was skeptical when my wife suggested that we visit Yosemite. How wrong I was -- it is a trip well worth making.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The most important line of the speech 

I listened to the President's speech on the radio, crossing California on Route 41 toward Yosemite National Park, whence I blog. I thought it was a good speech, but probably persuasive only to people who accept what is to me the obvious strategic link between the attacks of September 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Those who do not accept that connection at this point reject it because they simply look at the world in a profoundly different way. For those people, there is "no connection" if Saddam's regime did not have extensive and documented contact with al Qaeda prior to September 11. One speech is not going to change that.

The speech did, however, contain at least one critical line that caused me to bounce in my seat and point at the radio:
And to those watching tonight who are considering a military career, there is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.

Military recruitment is down. The left will argue that this is because people do not want to die in wars that are at best unnecessary and at worst criminal, and the right will argue that the constant harping of the press over Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and comparisons to Nazis and such has undermined respect for the military just when it should be at its highest. I imagine that both considerations come into play, depending on the political views of the recruit and, perhaps most importantly, his or her parents.

Whatever the reason in the particular case, in a time of war an all-volunteer military is not going to get the manpower it needs from slick advertising or recruiters who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos (although both are necessary). Our political leaders need to lead, and in this case that means they need to persuade Americans that the military is an honorable calling that performs an essential function. Politicians on both sides claim they "support the troops." Well, just about the most important thing they can do to support the troops is to recruit new ones.

President Bush needs to get out in front of this effort, and then every Congressman and Senator should follow. His speech yesterday was a great start. He now needs to repeat this effort in every stump speech he makes, at every breakfast he addresses, and at every press conference he hosts. He needs to go into high schools and meet with recruits and put them on the evening news. And he needs to demand that members of his cabinet and the Congress do as well. You either believe in the volunteer army, or you don't. You either support the troops, or you don't.

By the way, a campaign to bolster recruitment would make great politics, too. If the Republicans were able to define "support for the troops" to mean support for military recruitment, Democratic presidential aspirants would either have to get behind that effort -- which would enrage their base -- or explain why they did not actively support the volunteer army by helping to recruit for it.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Patriotic Sacrifice 

The following was emailed to me by a friend and former United States Marine Force Reconnaissance officer (he is not the author). It is a sobering reminder of what our young people are sacrificing on our behalf.
Subject: The Last Full Measure
5/30/2005 By Col. Brett Wyrick USAF

BALAD, Iraq - The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule.

We had already done around a dozen surgical cases in the morning and the early afternoon. The entire medical staff had a professional meeting to discuss the business of the hospital and the care and treatment of burns.

It is not boastful or arrogant when I tell you that some of the best surgeons in the world were present - I have been to many institutions, and I have been all around the world, and at this point in time, with this level of experience, the best in the world are assembled here at Balad.

LTC Dave S., the Trauma Czar, and a real American hero is present. He has saved more people out here than anyone can imagine. The cast of characters includes two Air Force Academy graduates, Col (s) Joe W. and Maj. Max L. When you watch ER on television, the guys on the show are trying to be like Max - cool, methodical and professional. Max never misses anything on a trauma case because he sees everything on a patient and notes it the same way the great NFL running backs see the entire playing field when they are carrying the ball.

Joe is an ENT surgeon who is tenacious, bright, and technically correct every single time - I mean every single time. The guy has a lower tolerance for variance than NASA. LTC (s) Chris C. was the Surgeon of the Day (SOD), and I was the back-up SOD. Everyone else was there and available - as I said the best in the world.

As the meeting was breaking up, the call came in. An American soldier had been injured in an IED blast north of here, and he was in a bad way with head trauma. The specifics were fuzzy, but after three months here, what would need to be done was perfectly clear - the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group readied for battle. All the surgeons started to gravitate toward the PLX which is the surgeons' ready room and centrally located midway to the ER, OR and radiology.

The lab personnel checked precious units of blood, and the pharmacy made ready all the medications and drugs we would need for the upcoming fight. An operating room was cleared, and surgical instruments were laid out, the anesthesia circuits were switched over, and the gasses were checked and rechecked. An anesthesiologist and two nurse anesthetists went over the plan of action as the OR supervisor made the personnel assignments.

In the ER, bags of IV fluids were carefully hung, battery packs were checked, and the ER nursing supervisor looked over the equipment to make sure all was in working order and the back-ups were ready just in case the primaries failed. The radiology techs moved forward in their lead gowns bringing their portable machines like artillery men of old wheeling their cannon into place. Respiratory therapy set the mechanical ventilator, and double-checked the oxygen. Gowns, gloves, boots, and masks were donned by those who would be directly in the battle.

All of the resources - medical, mechanical and technological that America can bring to the war - were in place and ready along with the best skill and talent from techs to surgeons. The two neurosurgeons gathered by themselves to plan.

LTC A. is a neurosurgeon who still wears his pilot wings proudly. He used to be a T-38 instructor pilot, and some of the guys he trained to fly are now flying F-16s right here at Balad. He is good with his hands and calm under pressure. The other neurosurgeon is Maj. W., a gem of a surgeon who could play the guitar professionally if he was not dedicated to saving lives. A long time ago, at a place on the other side of the world called Oklahoma, I operated on his little brother after a car accident and helped to save his life.

The two neurosurgeons, Chris, and I joined for the briefing. Although I was the ranking officer of the group, Chris was the SOD and would be the flight lead. If this was a fighter sweep, all three of those guys would be Weapons School Patch wearers.

The plan was for me and the ER folks to assess, treat and stabilize the patient as rapidly as possible to get the guy into the hands of the neurosurgeons. The intel was that this was an IED blast, and those rarely come with a single, isolated injury. It makes no sense to save the guy's brain if you have not saved the heart pump that brings the oxygenated blood to the brain. With this kind of trauma, you must be deliberate and methodical, and you must be deliberate and methodical in a pretty damn big hurry.

All was ready, and we did not have to wait very long. The approaching rotors of a Blackhawk were heard, and Chris and I moved forward to the ER followed by several sets of surgeons' eyes as we went. We have also learned not to clog up the ER with surgeons giving orders. One guy runs the code, and the rest follow his instructions or stay out the way until they are needed.

They wheeled the soldier into the ER on a NATO gurney shortly after the chopper touched down. One look at the PJs' faces told me that the situation was grim. Their young faces were drawn and tight, and they moved with a sense of directed urgency. They did not even need to speak because the look in their eyes was pleading with us -hurry. And hurry we did.

In a flurry of activity that would seem like chaos to the uninitiated, many things happened simultaneously. Max and I received the patient as Chris watched over the shoulder to pick out anything that might be missed. An initial survey indicated a young soldier with a wound to the head, and several other obvious lacerations on the

Max called out the injuries as they were found, and one of the techs wrote them down. The C-collar was checked, the chest was auscultated as the ET tube was switched to the ventilator. Chris took the history from the PJs because the patient was not conscious. All the wounds were examined and the dressings were removed except for the one on the head.

The patient was rolled on to his side while his neck was stabilized by my hands, and Max examined the backside from the toes to the head. When we rolled the patient back over, it was onto an X-ray plate that would allow us to take the chest X-Ray immediately. The first set of vitals revealed a low blood pressure; fluid would need to be given, and it appeared as though the peripheral vascular system was on the verge of collapse.

I called the move as experienced hands rolled him again for the final survey of the back and flanks and the X-Ray plate was removed and sent for development. As we positioned him for the next part of the trauma examination, I noted that the hands that were laid on this young man were Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, American Indian, Australian, Army, Air Force, Marine, Man, Woman, Young and Older: a true cross-section of our effort here in Iraq, but there was not much time to reflect.

The patient needed fluid resuscitation fast, and there were other things yet to be done. Chris watched the initial survey and the secondary survey with a situational awareness that comes from competence and experience. Chris is never flustered, never out of ideas, and his pulse is never above fifty.

With a steady, calm, and re-assuring voice, he directed the next steps to be taken. I moved down to the chest to start a central line, Max began an ultrasonic valuation of the abdomen and pelvis. The X-rays and ultrasound examination were reviewed as I sewed the line in place, and it was clear to Chris that the young soldier's head was the only apparent life-threatening injury.

The two neurosurgeons came forward, and removed the gauze covering the soldier's rounded head, and everyone's heart sank as we saw the blossom of red blood spreading out from shredded white and grey matter of the brain. Experience told all the surgeons present that there was no way to survive the injury, and this was one battle the Medical Group was going to lose. But he was American, and it was not time to quit, yet.

Gentle pressure was applied over the wound, and the patient went directly to the CT scanner as drugs and fluids were pumped into the line to keep his heart and lungs functioning in a fading hope to restore the brain. The time elapsed from his arrival in the ER to the time he was in the CT scanner was five minutes.

The CT scan confirmed what we had feared. The wounds to the brain were horrific and mortal, and there was no way on earth to replace the volume of tissue that had been blasted away by the explosion. The neurosurgeons looked at the scan, they looked at the scan a second time, and then they re-examined the patient to confirm once again.

The OR crew waited anxiously outside the doors of radiology in the hope they would be utilized, but Chris, LTCs A and S., and Maj W. all agreed. There was no brain activity whatsoever. The chaplain came to pray, and reluctantly, the vent was turned from full mechanical ventilation to flow by. He had no hint of respiratory activity, his heart that had beat so strongly early in the day ceased to beat forever, and he was pronounced dead.

The pumps were turned off; the machines were stopped, and the IVs were discontinued. Respectful quiet remained, and it was time to get ready for the next round of casualties. The techs and nurses gently moved the body over to the back of the ER to await mortuary services. And everyone agreed there was nothing more we could have one.

When it was quiet, there was time to really look at the young soldier and see him as he was. Young, probably in his late teens, with not an ounce of fat anywhere. His muscles were powerful and well defined, and in death, his face was pleasant and calm.

I am always surprised that anyone still has tears to shed here at Balad, but thank God they still do. The nurses and techs continued to care for him and do what they could. Not all the tubes and catheters can be removed because there is always a forensic investigation to be done at Dover AFB, but the nurses took out the lines they could. Fresh bandages were placed over the wounds, and the blood clots were washed from his hair as his wound was covered once more. His hands and feet were washed with care. A broken toenail was trimmed, and he was silently placed in the body bag when mortuary services arrived as gently as if they were tucking him into bed.

Later that night was Patriot Detail - our last goodbye for an American hero. All the volunteers gathered at Base Ops after midnight under a three-quarter moon that was partially hidden by high, thin clouds. There was only silence as the chief master sergeant gave the Detail its instructions. Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, colonels, privates and sergeants, pilots, gunners, mechanics, surgeons and clerks all marched out side-by-side to the back of the waiting transport, and presently, the flag-draped coffin was carried through the cordon as military salutes were rendered.

The Detail marched back from the flight line, and slowly the doors of the big ransport were secured. The chaplain offered prayers for anyone who wanted to participate, and then the group broke up as the people started to move away into the darkness. The big engines on the transport fired up, and the ground rumbled for miles as they took the runway. His duty was done - he had given the last full measure, and he was on his way home.

The first rule of war is that young men and women die. The second rule of war is that surgeons cannot change the first rule. I think the third rule of war should be that those who have given their all for our freedom are never forgotten, and they are always honored.

I wish there was not a war, and I wish our young people did not have to fight and die. But I cannot wish away evil men like Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi. These men are not wayward children who have gone astray; they are not great men who are simply misunderstood.

These are cold-blooded killers and they will kill you, me, and everyone we love and hold dear if we do not kill them first. You cannot reason with these people, you cannot negotiate with these people, and this war will not be over until they are dead. That is the ugly, awful, and brutal truth.

I wish the situation was different, but it is not. Americans have two choices. They can run from the threat, deny it exists, candy-coat it, debate it, and hope it goes away. And then, Americans will be fair game around the world and slaughtered by the thousands for the sheep they have become.

Our second choice is to crush these evil men where they live and for us to have the political will and courage to finish what we came over here to do.

The last thing we need here in Iraq is an exit strategy or some damn timetable for withdrawal. Thank God there was no timetable for withdrawal after the Battle of the Bulge or Iwo Jima. Thank God there was no exit strategy at Valley Forge. Freedom is not easy, and it comes with a terrible price - I saw the bill here yesterday.

The third rule of war should be that we never forget the sacrifices made by our young men and women, and we always honor them. We honor them by finishing what they came to accomplish. We remember them by never quitting and having the backbone and the guts to never bend to the yoke of oppression.

We honor them and remember them by having the courage to live free.

Col. Brett Wyrick is commander of the 154th Medical Group, Hawaii Air National Guard, and is serving as a surgeon in Balad with the 332nd Expeditionary Medical Group. This column is part of a series of email reports from Iraq that Wyrick has been sending to his father, a Vietnam-era fighter pilot, who in turn distributes them to a circle of friends and acquaintances.

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This Just In. Viagra Does Not Cause Blindness 

Didn't they use to tell us it was some related activity which may cause that?

This has stirring comment potential. Please send them in.

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Antisemites throughout history have pointed to a "conspiracy of Jews" trying to control the World. The neocon "cabal" accusation, usually leveled at Wolfowitz, Feith, Irving Kristol and the like has this underlying feel to it, derived from the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a well known Russian Tsarist antisemitic tract. Honestly, this is such an audacious bit of chutzpah -- the remarkable, repeating and effective conspiracy seems to be clearly in the other direction. Psychiatrists call this transferance, I think, when you attribute your own behavior incorrectly to somebody else because your inaccurate interpretation of events is colored by your perspective. For another example of a sizeable antisemitic conspiracy round the globe to try to isolate, condemn, even annihilate this rather small group of people, I recommend to you this op-ed piece from today's New York Sun, which story will almost certainly be ignored or missed by the mainstream media.

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More on the Expectations Game 

As an addition to TH's post on expectations-setting, check out Tradesports.com which sets odds on any number of things, including the potential for selected international "events" and political contests.

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The expectations game in western Iraq, and evidence we are winning 

Virtually all news -- whether corporate earnings or sports scores or news from Iraq -- is reported with reference to "expectations." News that is fundamentally "good" against some objective standard -- history, or treasury bond rates -- becomes "bad" if the reporter of that news detects disappointment.

It is only sometimes clear who had the "expectations" that were unsettled by the news in question. In the case of an earnings report, it is "analysts" who had the expectations that were or were not met. Fortunately, the expectations for sporting events are the most credible, because they are a function of the odds set by bookies. Where one's personal money is involved, expectations tend to be sincere.

Expectations are not just "had," but they are "set." Analysts may have expectations for a company's earnings, but how did they get them? Management tries to set them, but they are presumably also influenced by factors beyond management's control.

In Iraq there are many competing actors who have sought to set the expectations that determine the tone of the press coverage. Virtually anybody with a public voice has tried to set expectations in accordance with their own policy objective, be it to support the invasion, prevent the invasion, humiliate the United States, attack George Bush, humiliate John Kerry, win a turf battle against another agency, sustain public support for the war, and so forth.

If, therefore, a reporter is going to claim that a bit of news either favorably or unfavorably confounds "expectations," he should always state who held the expectations in question, and who set the expectations in question. Failure to explain who held and set the expectations that bear on whether a particular bit of news represents success or failure is inherently misleading.

Now you're ready to read this story, which describes a new Marine offensive in western Iraq:
The new campaign is focusing on communities along the Euphrates River between the towns of Hit and Haditha in the volatile Anbar province, said Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a spokesman.

The region, about 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, is a hotbed of insurgent activity. The Marines, though, received a friendlier-than-expected welcome from Hit's residents in the early going.

A group of troops, operating in sweltering temperatures, stopped at one home to take advantage of the air conditioning. The hosts even changed the channel on the satellite TV to an English-language talk show about the Middle East.

"Friendlier-than-expected" by whom? If you knew that it was friendlier-than-expected by the Marines, does that not give a completely different impression than if it was friendlier-than-expected by Jacob Silderberg, the Associated Press writer? What is Silderberg trying to say? Why doesn't he say it? For the life of me, I do not understand why the MSM ever attributes expectations without specifying the object of the attribution. Cynics of the left and right (depending on the story) will claim it is because the press has an agenda. I think it is that the press is just sloppy in its thinking and its writing.

Beyond the beating of expectations, Silderberg's story reveals something much more important: that the counterinsurgency in Iraq is winning. The family that invited the Marines in for air-conditioning and television must not have been afraid of reprisals after the Marines left. That strongly suggests that the insurgency is losing its ability to coerce Iraqis into cooperation, even in the middle of its supposed "hotbed." Once an insurgency loses the ability to coerce coooperation, it has lost the war. It will be able to kill people indiscriminately for some time -- perhaps years, as Rummy recently suggested -- but if residents of Hit feel free to offer Marines hummus and a spot of tea and a television break, you have to wonder whether the insurgency can really induce changes in the behavior of the average Iraqi. If it can't, it will not win.

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On Defeatism, Iraq, Vietnam and the Quagmire 

Teddy Kennedy is a depressed old man, who has witnessed and experienced great tragedy in his life. He has also enabled it, as a young man, and fared poorly in the ultimate tests of character which many people face in their life. He is a bitter failure; and it is sad to see play out on television. He thinks the world keeps getting worse, and in fact each day things get better.

Among the public reflections of that bitterness and depression are his defeatism in matters patriotic. My point here is not to analyze it however. It is simply to defuse it. His rantings, and those of Senator Durbin, Howard Dean and those other anti-war types are out of synch with the requirements demanded by the American electorate of an electable candidate.

Here's the thought process. It focuses on what I believe is a fundamental journalistic misunderstanding of the period from 1968-1975, our withdrawal from Vietnam, mainstream American will, and what brought about LBJ's and Nixon's political decline. The press seems to hold out that antiwar sentiment in that era, and the American population's refusal to see continued losses in Vietnam, brought about our withdrawal. That, in my opinion, is bunk.

LBJ and the JFK administration holdovers did not have the political will to sustain the Vietnam War. So they quit. Flat out quit in 1968. Nixon barely defeated Humphrey and promptly expanded the war into Laos and Cambodia. In 1972, he beat McGovern's (the Dean of his day, but who at least had served honorably in WWII) brains out in a spectacular landslide (I guess Kerry was a better candidate than McGovern). And it wasn't due to Nixon's economic policies, which were in many cases stupid (abandon Bretton Woods; price controls?!). The American people were squarely behind his conduct of the War. How else does he pound the antiwar candidate so badly (no doubt what would have happened had Bush run against Dean)? And this is after Kent State, hippie antiwar demonstrations on TV every night, and Walter Cronkite and the Smothers Brothers whining about the War.

The problem was Nixon completely unravelled. His paranoia led to really atrocious abuses of power and, with an unstable White House (remember Agnew was chucked out for abuses as well and we wound up with Gerry Ford as VP, then President), the US was really left little choice but to hurriedly abandon Vietnam. It had nothing to do with war defeatism or exhaustion by the American public or journalistic carping. It had to do with, first, the lack of LBJ's political will and failure of leadership, and second, Nixon's lack of integrity and failure of leadership.

Most problematic -- LBJ's and then Carter's inability or unwillingness to back up Containment (which gave rise to detente) stimulated continued Soviet aggression until they spent themselves to death with blood in Afghanistan and and with money trying to keep up with Reagan's buildup. American distrust of Democratic Party security policy and national defense priorities derives fundamentally from this experience with LBJ and Carter. Clinton, not faced with the magnitude of wartime leadership decisions these Democrats faced, did not overcome this mistrust.

By contrast, Reagan and GWBush, both daily abused by the press, have been well treated by the electorate because they have not failed to lead on matters of security and national defense. The American public will support our actions in the Middle East, Guantanamo and wherever til the end as long as well feel properly led-- and no minority weak-kneed whining from the press, Teddy Kennedy, Durbin, Pelosi, Reid or anybody else will change that. It will merely ensure the inability of the Democratic Party to win the Presidency and may condemn them to isolationist minority status in Congress for 20 years. We lost 50,000 lives in Vietnam over 12 years, and the Vietnamese never attacked NY or Washington. American resolve was merely based on a theory of Containment of "godless" Soviet communism. In the current case, we've lost fewer than 2500 lives in Afghanistan and Iraq in the battles against Islamism and Middle Eastern Fascism since we lost 3000 civilians on 9/11. It's been less than 4 years. Some (like the NYT) will say Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11. Bunk again! It has everything to do with 9/11! Something like 80% of Americans think so. That's the market, not some elitist sniffing to the contrary.

Buckle in. If you think we the American people haven't got the stomach Teddy, you are dead wrong. Contrary to certain revisionist opinion (which misguidedly tortures Vietnam vets to this day), we had it in Vietnam, and we have more of it today -- because our military is better, our resources are greater, and our adversaries are relatively weaker. The press and the way left wing will have zero impact on that. Sustained political will and leadership will ensure long term victory.

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Monday, June 27, 2005

More on Karl Rove 

Here's the transcript from the Washington Post

Big deal. What Rove said is so controversial? You must be kidding. Politics is a contact sport. Clinton clearly understands the need for the Democratic Party to adopt and articulate a coherent Security Policy. Rove simply cited all sorts of so- called liberals -- Moveon.org, Michael Moore, Senator Durbin, Howard Dean -- who have, in place of coherent Security Policy, articulated senselessness and idiocy. He called them out.

Rove did the Democratic Party a huge bloody favor. He told them specifically who's killing them. When will some serious Democrat "come out" and trash these fools in a Sister Souljah moment? And it can't be Joe Lieberman. Zell Miller didn't wake them from their stupor either. It has to be a prominent potential winner. Or maybe Bill Clinton himself? Hillary? In their wanderings, the Democrats are turning to Jimmy Carter and Zbig Brzezinski - the biggest foreign policy losers in American history!

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Job title inflation (via Blackberry) 

I'm live-blogging our family tour of the Warner Brothers studio. I just
learned that the movie industry no longer refers to people who appear in the
background of movies as "extras." Title inflation demands that we call
these people "atmospheric talent," which, in my opinion, suggests that
"talent" is something possessed by everybody who can stand around in costume
for hours at a time.

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The United Democratic Nations 

A new league. Why not? It worked for the NFL. Kinda for the NBA. Why not create a proper competitor for the UN? Put India front and center.

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Budget Deficits - Ya Gotta Love 'Em! 

Bellyaching about the annual US budget deficits is really a bit ridiculous and I wish could be removed from political and journalistic discussion.

Let's start with this: a government budget surplus is senseless. You're giving your hard earned money to politicians over and above what they've already agreed to spend. Is this an IQ test? If in surplus, give me my money back!

Then, for step 2, can we agree in bipartisan fashion that no politician can help himself -- Republican or Democrat -- he or she will spend whatever you give him or her no matter what? There is no benefit to being an actual (versus rhetorical) spending hawk. Every elected official has a responsibility to bring bacon him to his or her own jurisdiction. The way they ensure success is to give it as well to those whose agreement they require to bring it home. Enough said on this.

So step three: the only way to limit a politician's own worst tendencies and incentives is to deny him or her the revenue they crave. By creating a real budget constraint, and related deficits, government borrowing and the demands of the market (namely, interest rate demands), the obvious momentum to spend is mitigated and the need to prioritize spending instead supplants purely outrageous porking (though of course it is unstoppable to a degree).

Said another way - another great Reagan discovery, by the way - we must run deficits and have significant government debt outstanding to serve as the final discipline on our Legislative and Executive Branches' natural tendency to waste our money.

Are our debts dangerous? Well, our outstanding debt owed to external parties (non Americans) is a small fraction of our $11 trillion annual national income. For those homeowners out there, most understand that individuals usually borrow a multiple of their annual income to finance a home. SO I think we're just fine, thank you. Current 10 year Treasury rates confirm that...

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More on Kids Today 

Given Tigerhawk's recent post on this subject, I recommend William F. Buckley's commentary on Milton Friedman and School Choice in Today's New York Sun.

I must admit, I don't spend much time thinking about public schools and their related issues. I was fortunate to attend a 12 year private school outside of Baltimore Maryland which provided me an exceptional education, reinforced a very strong set of core values which I also experienced at home and launched me in a direction for which I am eternally grateful. It was a stern and disciplined place, once a military school, subsequently demilitarized and transformed into a coed school by my graduation. As a current resident of New York City, I send my kids to a wonderful, small N-8th grade coed private school. They love it and clearly are well taught (though less severely taught than I was, still not without discipline).

Many of the points Buckley argues regarding public schooling are self evident and correct. Everybody, regardless of political affiliation, can agree that current public schooling is generally inferior and should be improved. The differences in political philosophy, then, which give rise to vastly different tactics to address this important shortcoming deserve honest thought and consideration.

It seems to me money cannot solve the problem. We have tried that in public schools and it has failed. More money has begat worse education. I am a believer in competition, results, standards, discipline, toughness. I tend not to believe in teacher's unions (or most unions, for that matter), politicians (of most any stripe, by the way), bureaucrats and the like. So I like privatization and school choice. I suspect over the long haul it will win the day...

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Kids today... 

I'm quite worried that my children will think they are part of the "Entitlement Generation":
Now, deserved or not, this latest generation is being pegged, too — as one with shockingly high expectations for salary, job flexibility and duties but little willingness to take on grunt work or remain loyal to a company.

"We're seeing an epidemic of people who are having a hard time making the transition to work — kids who had too much success early in life and who've become accustomed to instant gratification," says Dr. Mel Levine, a pediatrics professor at the University of North Carolina Medical School and author of a book on the topic called "Ready or Not, Here Life Comes."

Many parents of our generation -- particularly, I think, educated professionals -- stand ready to smooth the bumps or interdict troubles for their children at every juncture. Not only do they fail to make genuinely tough demands on their own children, but they interfere so that nobody else does. Under pressure from such parents, schools struggle to make sure that children never hurt their feelings, let alone their bodies. How many children face incredibly demanding teachers like "Mr. Burnett," the drill sargeant who thought wood shop was preparation for all that was important in life? Addressing our class the first day, he said "Some of you will hate the very ground I walk on. The rest of you will learn something." In fact, nothing was good enough for him -- you could whittle the Statue of Liberty out of the end of a two-by-four and he wouldn't be impressed if you didn't sand it perfectly. I worked on my stupid "pump lamp" until I cried -- which is pretty farookin' humiliating in the 8th grade -- but in the end I had the satisfaction of not having been beaten (as in defeated) by Mr. Burnett. After him, I understood that there were no challenges -- in school, at least -- that I would not be able to meet. And I still have the pump lamp, having inherited it from my parents who kept it their living room for 25 years.

Our parents, who were fairly well off, had several advantages going for them. First, they were raising their children in Iowa, where I suspect even today "entitlement" is a dirty word (unless, of course, it is a crop subsidy). Iowans do not appreciate people who flaunt their wealth, so affluent kids dressed and acted the same as kids from families that struggled. Suffice it to say that this is not true in suburban New Jersey in 2005, or even 1975. Second, our parents were not consumerists in the millenial sense. They both believed and preached "deferred gratification," deplored "the Joneses" with whom other struggled to keep up, and spent their money on experiences rather than things. We were often among the last of our friends to get a new gadget, but we were the first to go on an extended family trip through Europe.

Today, the world is much changed. Chinese manufacturing has made toys dirt cheap in constant dollars, so it seems churlish to deny them to your kids on principle. Popular psychology has had a tremendous influence on how we raise and teach our children, so we are extremely careful to avoid traumatizing them. Demanding parents, sometimes backed by trial lawyers, have taken away the flexibility of teachers to make children uncomfortable. Imagine what would happen to a teacher today who predicted that many of his students would "hate the ground I walk on" and then acted to ensure that result, even if it turned out to be incredibly effective at building character?

Kids today. Somebody's gotta teach them that life is not a box of chocolates.

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Realism, idealism and democracy as the only antidote to terrorism 

Cassandra explains how George W. Bush has fused American traditions of realism and idealism to develop the only real antidote to Islamic jihad. It is the blog post of the week, or maybe even the month, on the grand strategy of George W. Bush. I have nothing to add. Read the whole thing.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Annals of ridiculous warnings 

If the elevator stops, I shouldn't panic, because there is apparently little danger of running out of air or the elevator dropping uncontrollably.

OK. I have a couple of issues with this sign.

First, it raises questions that I prefer never to think about when I get into an elevator. Did it ever occur to any phobia-free person that you might run out of air? Do elevators ever drop uncontrollably (other than when terrorists have blown out the stops, of course)?

Second, and more importantly, what fool of a lawyer insisted on the "little danger" qualification? Did he or she honestly think that this qualification might somehow preserve an "assumption of the risk" defense in the event that people actually did suffocate in an elevator, or plunge to their deaths in an uncontrolled drop? I have practiced law (practiced being the operative verb) for 19 years, and I'm fairly sure I've never seen a warning quite this asinine.

CWCID: The TigerHawk Son, who is developing a keen sense of humor and sharp powers of observation, both of which make his father very proud.

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Durbin v. Rove: The difference in press coverage 

The Washington Times noticed the astonishing difference in coverage of Dick Durbin's absurd speech in the Senate, and Karl Rove's much more moderate presentation a week later:
Major news outlets that largely ignored the controversial comments of the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate last week immediately reported on a fiery speech by White House adviser Karl Rove, giving the story front-page prominence and the lead of newscasts.

Early yesterday morning, NBC's "Today" show, the CBS "Morning Show," and ABC's "Good Morning America" all featured the Democratic outrage over Mr. Rove's comments that after September 11 liberals "wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers" while conservatives "prepared for war."

Each network's nightly newscasts on Thursday also ran stories on Mr. Rove's speech, delivered Wednesday night.

On June 14, Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin compared the military's interrogation techniques at the prison camp at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to that of the Nazis and other murderous regimes.

Yet CBS did not broadcast a single story on the Illinois Democrat's comments. "Today" and "Good Morning America" and those networks' nightly news programs didn't air anything about it until the senator apologized after a week of complaints by Republicans, the Anti-Defamation League and veterans groups.

"What the networks did was zero, zero, zero, zero on Durbin, and as soon as Rove shows up, boom," said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center. "To say that one deserves zero coverage and the other huge coverage is just bizarre."

Steve Lovelady, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review Daily, said he's "not sure if the network morning shows even qualify as journalism these days," describing them as "yuk-fests with periodic headline updates tossed into the mix almost as an afterthought."

But he was still puzzled about why CBS, including their evening news program, ignored the Durbin story altogether. "Nothing about Durbin ever, even after the apology," he said. "I'd love to hear how they justify that."

It really is quite something.


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On bended knee, an American soldier treats an Iraqi civilian injured during a suicide attack A US soldier treats the wounds on an Iraqi civilian, who was injured in a car bomb attack in the northern city of Samarra. Persistent Iraq violence killed at least 37 people and wounded dozens more.(AFP/Dia Hamid)

The press and the political class look at war entirely in terms of the costs - in both lives and dollars - to achieve victory or suffer defeat. This picture reminds us, though, that for every American killed in Iraq, there are dozens if not hundreds who pass through that country and become better men and women for it. Sure, they are learning new skills and our military is vastly more powerful because of their experiences. But they are also developing a nuanced compassion and textured sense of the world that will shape our society for two generations. The veterans of Iraq will eventually go into business, medicine, politics, teaching and community service, and they will change our country.

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Will reform rise in the wake of Ahmadinejad's victory? 

Big Pharoah thinks so:
Now, ever since the youth of Iran brought Khatami to power, apathy started to contaminate the political veins of those youth who are the only ones capable of bringing the regime down. The youth were busy enjoying the few freedoms that Khatami brought (nail polish, pop music, lax dress codes, etc) and they were busy searching for jobs and getting stoned on mountains around Tehran. The protests of the late 90s seemed to be something of the past. I am hoping that AJ and his radical way of governing will shake the people up again...

I know that what I am saying sounds cruel and inhumane. In fact, who am I to say that the Iranian people have to endure the rule of a hardliner so that they might rise up and usher in another people revolution? However, I just cannot help but think that way even though I know that I would have voted for Rafsanjani to avoid an AJ term if I were an Iranian. Let us hope that... we'll see this one good thing in Ahmadinejad's Iran.

Far be it from me to argue with the Pharoah on matters of politics in that part of the world, but I think it is unlikely that the silver lining he hopes for will reveal itself quickly. The chances for gradual reform and liberalization have gone down, it seems to me. The options for Iranians now have dwindled to risky confrontations that will be very painful for any Iranian with the courage to challenge the regime, and probably his or her family. Iran's religious authorities are too closed to the world and too combative to loosen the reins peacefully so soon after they feel they have won a great victory at the ballot box.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

The New York Times on Iraq 

This morning's New York Times brings us an unsigned editorial that claims it is vital to acknowledge "three facts" about the war in Iraq, the first two of which are asinine:
The war has nothing to do with Sept. 11. Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of Washington, but there was no Iraq-Qaeda axis, no connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist attacks on the United States. Yet the president and his supporters continue to duck behind 9/11 whenever they feel pressure about what is happening in Iraq. The most cynical recent example was Karl Rove's absurd and offensive declaration this week that conservatives and liberals had different reactions to 9/11. Let's be clear: Americans of every political stripe were united in their outrage and grief, united in their determination to punish those who plotted the mass murder, and united behind the war in Afghanistan, which was an assault on terrorists. Trying to pretend otherwise is the surest recipe for turning political dialogue into meaningless squabbling.

This is, of course, absurd. That there may have been no material connection between Saddam Hussein's government and September 11 hardly means that the war in Iraq has nothing to do with September 11. While there were definitely important reasons independant of September 11 to take Saddam down -- it was American policy to bring about the fall of his government even before George W. Bush came into office -- the invasion itself was directly related to our war on al Qaeda and its cognates. First, we needed to re-establish out credibility in the Arab world, which credibility was squandered by virtually every president since Jimmy Carter. This could only happen by brining the war into the heart of the Arab world and taking casualties killing jihadists. We are doing that every day. Second, we needed to put ourselves in a position to coerce the regimes most important to the war on Islamist jihad, including particularly Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia joined the fight only when it realized that we did not need its bases or its geography once we occupied Iraq. Third, we simply could not run the risk that an undeterrable and power crazy tyrant like Saddam Hussein might make common cause with al Qaeda.

One might well argue that these purposes for the war are inadequate, but there are many people outside the administration who have no particular partisan ax to gring -- me, for example -- who think they carry the day. For the Times to declare as a fact that the Iraq war has "nothing to do with September 11" is transportingly dishonest.
The war has not made the world, or this nation, safer from terrorism. The breeding grounds for terrorists used to be Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia; now Iraq has become one. Of all the justifications for invading Iraq that the administration juggled in the beginning, the only one that has held up over time is the desire to create a democratic nation that could help stabilize the Middle East. Any sensible discussion of what to do next has to begin by acknowledging that. The surest way to make sure that conversation does not happen is for the administration to continue pasting the "soft on terror" label on those who want to talk about the war.

It seems to me that the second sentence contradicts the first. By forcing the "breedinng grounds" for terrorists out of Afghanistan -- where we had no influence before we invaded -- and Saudi Arabia -- where there are both money and multiple connections to the West -- to the Sunni Triangle where we can freely attack and kill the jihadis, we have gained a strategic advantage over the terrorists. More importantly, we are forcing them to defend their position in Iraq. They know that if they lose Iraq to representantive democracy their credibility will be shattered, so they are pouring resources into that country. There is every possibility that Iraq will be their Stalingrad, and that the United States and the West will emerge substantially stronger than it went in. Indeed, the fact that Iraq is attracting jihadis from all over the Arab world makes it obvious, it seems to me, that they are less likely to strike the soft targets in the West.

The Times obviously cares more about preaching to the converted than rebuilding its credibility among people who consider the world with an open mind.

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Better contact highs north of the border 

'Spray alternative to pot on the market in Canada' - headline, USAToday.com.

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The darkness in Iran 

The mayor of Tehran won Iran's presidency in a landslide yesterday, using support from the country's ruling clerical hierarchy and its vast military to restore total control of the government to Islamic fundamentalists and end an eight-year experiment in reform....

Voters divided by class and ideology had gone to the polls in a battle for Iran's future, with many poor favoring the fundamentalist mayor who has vowed to end corruption and bring back revolutionary fervor. More affluent and liberal Iranians had regarded Rafsanjani, a centrist [Huh? Only compared to the guy who won. - ed.], as the last hope for reforms.

After being roundly rebuffed by voters in the past two presidential elections, conservatives regained control by painting the reformist camp represented by outgoing President Mohammad Khatami as corrupt, ineffectual and out of touch with ordinary people.

They were also helped by a trend among many opponents of the Islamic republic's religious elite to reject reform as impossible in a country where the constitution gives the unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, control of the main levers of power, including the judiciary and the armed forces.

The hard-liner's victory would appear to rule out any early improvement in relations between Iran and the West, and could increase chances of confrontation with the United States over the country's nuclear program, which Ahmadinejad has praised.

In many cases, a defeat in a context like this could lead to rejectionism and even insurgency by the defeated. Unfortunately, it may well be that the hard-line position in Iraq is the populist one, even if its election victory is built on an entirely unreprepresentative foundation. Populists are particularly good at fending off civil resistance to their rule.

This election also forecloses Western options in its dealings with Iran. The problem with Iran's nuclear weapons programs is not that Iranians or even Muslims per se will control the launch codes, but that people who specifically advocate war with the United States and Israel by suicidal means will control the launch codes. A moderate government bent on rolling back the power of the mullahs and building a consumerist economy in Iran would have been deterrable as all governments who look to the future are. Unfortunately, our enemies inside Iran have consolidated their control. Any failure of the new government will morph into rage at the United States, and pressure will increase on the West to do something about it.

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Sniping at Paul Krugman's morning column 

There are at least 30 bloggers who do a better job of fisking Paul Krugman than I do, but this morning's column requires a couple of rifleshot responses.

The column asserts that George W. Bush "actually wanted to go to war," did so "wrongfully" and thereby committed "an unprecedented abuse of power," that the Downing Street memo is smoking gun evidence of this, that Iraq is a "quagmire" that we can't win, that conservatives claim that "anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic," and "that we have to make it clear that the people who led us to war on false pretenses have no credibility, and no right to lecture the rest of us about patriotism."

In short, you need not just a bath but a purging fast and a colonoscopy to feel clean again after reading Paul Krugman this morning.

Most of this reveals such a transparent ignorance of history and even current events that it isn't even worth discussing. The claim that Bush wanted to go to war in the abstract is ridiculous and does not hold up in any reading of any of the contemporaneous accounts (see, e.g., both of Bob Woodward's books, neither of which suggests that Bush "wanted" war apart from believing that it was the best course for American policy). If Krugman refers to the war on Islamist jihad narrowly defined, al Qaeda attacked us, not once but repeatedly. Even after the American defeats in Somalia, the USS Cole, Kenya, Tanzania, and Saudi Arabia, George Bush did not even understand that we were at war until September 11, 2001 (continuing the Clinton administration's policy of turning the other cheek). If he refers to Iraq, he is simply assuming the liberal criticism of the war, which is to deny that it has any bearing on America's grand strategy in the struggle against militant Islam. As we have argued in this blog to the point of tedium (most recently here), the invasion and occupation of Iraq was essential to that war even if there was no connection between Saddam's government and al Qaeda.

I'll let others tackle the "quagmire" allegation, and whether Iraq is a success or a failure. Regular readers know that we think the war has been an astonishing success, and that the fact of our intransigence in the teeth of a ferocious insurgency contributes every day to an essential American war aim, which is the restoration of American credibility in the Arab world.

I do, however, want to respond to Krugman's assertion that "moderates and even liberals" are "intimidated" because "anyone who suggests that the United States will have to settle for something that falls far short of victory is accused of being unpatriotic." This is, of course, slander of the worse sort. The accusation leveled at such people is not that they are "unpatriotic" -- this charge was invented, or at least promoted, by the Kerry campaign to deflect criticism of his Vietnam era campaign against that war. It has since morphed into a general liberal response to criticism from hawks: "It is outrageous that you are calling me unpatriotic!"

Did we once say that? No, sir, you are not unpatriotic. You are so blinded by your hatred of the President that you are simply unable to see the strategic victory unfolding before you. It would only be unpatriotic if you in fact understood that victory was within our grasp and you were deliberating denying it to undermine the President. Living as I do in Princeton, though, I know that you and your ilk simply do not understand.

Obviously, I gotta go take a chill pill.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Take the survey 

Take the MIT Weblog Survey

If you blog, take the survey.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

China draws a line in the sand... 

Around Iran:
Iran Press News: "China will never permit the Islamic Republic of Iran to gain access to nuclear weapons" said the Foreign Minister of China, Li Hoaxing who was visiting Israel.

Li Hoaxing who is on an official state trip to Israel spoke from Jerusalem. He continued: "Though China does have certain relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran, it will never agree to permit such a regime to equipped with nuclear weapons."

That the Foreign Minister of China should say this in Jerusalem is interesting. Israel has built strong relations with India in the last few years, and now China's foreign minister takes a vocal stand in a matter of huge importance to Israel on a visit to Jerusalem. Israel's diplomatic isolation seems to be ending.

I admit that I do not understand why it is in China's interest to do this, especially since it has been going to great lengths to secure its supply of oil from the Persian Gulf. One would think that facing the mullahs from Jerusalem would not be the best way to guarantee the flow of crude.

Any ideas? Knock yourself out. Since I am sweltering in an unairconditioned hotel room in Lyon with little chance of sleeping, I may even respond tonight.

CWCID: Solomonia.

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Talking about Iraq responsibly 

Callimachus passes along a proposal from a retired Lt. Colonel in the United States Army for ground rules that should govern any principled discussion of the Iraq war. Whether you are left or right, pro or con, it is well worth reading.

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Stratfor on the Downing Street memo 

Stratfor's George Friedman yesterday issued a "global intelligence report" discussing the implications of the "Downing Street memo," which has become a popular topic of discussion among America's "gotcha" class since its flogging in Britain's elections a few weeks ago. The Downing Street memo, for those few blog readers who may have missed it, was an internal memorandum dated July 23, 2002, in which the writer reports on the perception of the head of British intelligence ("C") that the Bush administration was preparing for war and that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." This is taken in some circles as smoking gun proof of the Bush administration's bad faith. Friedman dispatches this argument much as other writers have, and moves on to the really interesting points, which are that George Bush and nobody else -- not Dick Cheney and not some dark neocon cabal -- was the prime mover behind the Iraq war, and that the memo is conspicuously fails to explain why Bush was so intent on war.
The memorandum is not startling. It is extremely interesting, but far more for what it does not contain than what it does. Consider the following two, separate excerpts:

C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.

The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.

Two points are present in both excerpts: first, that U.S. President George W. Bush had made up his mind to invade Iraq by the time the memo was written, and second, that links to terrorism and -- far more important -- the existence of a program to develop weapons of mass destruction would be the justification for the invasion. It is clear that British intelligence did not believe that the Iraqi program was as advanced as those of other countries; nevertheless, this was to be the justification for the war.

What is missing from this memo, the glaring omission, is why Bush was so eager to invade Iraq. Matthew Rycroft, the foreign policy aide who wrote this memo, demonstrates a remarkable lack of curiosity about this. C, the moniker hung on the head of British foreign intelligence, had visited the United States for routine consultations. It is extremely important to note that C is asserting that this -- invading Iraq -- is Bush's policy. Indeed, the second paragraph above quotes the British foreign minister as saying that it is Bush's policy. There is no mention here of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or any of the others who analysts had thought were the real drivers behind the policy. So much for the belief that a cabal of neo-cons had taken control of the president's brain.

To the contrary, British intelligence is clearly reporting to the prime minister that it is George W. Bush who is making the decisions. The only other name mentioned in this memo is that of Colin Powell. Rumsfeld is mentioned only in the context of being briefed on the war plan, not on instigating it. That appears to us the single most important revelation in the document. Bush was president all along, and all the Washington gossips were wrong. The only other explanation is that C didn't know what he was talking about, or that he gave a superficial report. We doubt that either was the case.

The Downing Street memo has been a topic of fevered discussion in the British press, and more recently the American media (goaded, in part and to their credit, by lefty bloggers). Nowhere have I seen the point made that the memo is powerful contemporaneous evidence that there is no puppeteer behind the presidency of George W. Bush, a revelation should should rock lefty orthodoxy to its foundation.

Friedman also asks the obvious question raised by the memo: "If the document makes it clear that Bush was in control of U.S. decision-making, there is a glaring omission: Why did Bush want to invade Iraq?"

Friedman answered this question in his excellent book, America's Secret War, and summarizes the case in yesterday's letter.
U.S. officials believed at the time that al Qaeda was planning another strike, larger than the 9/11 strikes. The United States could not stop al Qaeda on the strength of its own intelligence; it needed the cooperation of intelligence services in the Muslim world. These services were reluctant to cooperate because their view of the United States -- after having watched 20 years of weak responses in warfare --was that it was unable to absorb the risks and casualties of war. Leaders in crucial parts of the Muslim world feared al Qaeda more than the United States. Since a covert strike against al Qaeda was not possible, the United States had no good options. Bush chose the best of a bad lot. He hoped for a change in Arab perception of the United States, from hatred and contempt to hatred and fear. He also wanted to occupy the most strategic territory in the Middle East, bringing pressure to bear on the Saudis.

In this conception of the world, we had to invade and occupy an Arab country to restore the credibility squandered since 1979. Iraq was the best target, in part because it posed a longer-term threat and a casus belli already existed whether or not there were WMD stockpiles (for those view of you who have not read my justification for the invasion of Iraq, click here), and also because it's unfortunate geography put us in a position to gain leverage over Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

There are three essential points that derive from Friedman's thesis. The first is that it matters far more for the United States to be credible than to be loved. Indeed, it is impossible for the United States to be loved in the Arab world -- Arab hatred of the United States stretches across the generations, and is not likely to change in our lifetimes. The choice is as Friedman poses it: they hate us and have contempt for us, or they hate us but respect our power. It is foolishness to think that Arab affection is a possibility on a geopolitical schedule.

Second, if the restoration of American credibility is the objective, then the extended civil insurgency furthers that objective by proving America's willingness to suffer casualties in a long war. In this regard, the American soldiers who are bleeding in the desert are rescuing America credibility from the depredations of Carter, Reagan and Clinton, all of whom turned tail in the wake of serious defeats at the hands of the Islamists.

Third, Friedman forces us to wonder why the Downing Street Memo does not reveal why Bush was so intent on invading Iraq, and why the British accepted this. The answer, at some length, is that the principal derivative target of the war was Saudi Arabia:
There was a sound, but complex, justification for the war that could have been provided [as opposed to the WMD argument], consisting of the following pieces:

1. Saddam Hussein might not have aided al Qaeda prior to 9/11, but given his attitude toward the United States, given his past record and given the risks involved, disposing of Hussein is a prudent and necessary action.

2. The Muslim world does not take American military power seriously. It does not think the United States has the will to fight. The United States cannot win the war unless that myth is destroyed by decisive action. If, in the course of that action, Saddam Hussein is destroyed, so much the better. It should be noted here that the United States' decision to fight in Korea, for example, was explicitly based on the theory that the Communists were testing American will - and that unless the United States demonstrated its will to fight, the Communists would take it as a sign of weakness and increase their pressure. There are worse reasons for fighting, and this one has precedent.

3. Iraq is a strategic country whose occupation would permit the United States to place pressure on regimes like Iran or Syria directly.

The mystery in the document, and the mystery since the summer of 2002, is why Bush almost never used these justifications but clung instead to the weapons of mass destruction rationale. Since it is clear that WMD was not his primary motivator, why did he not come forward with a clear explanation?

The obvious answer is that he did not have a better explanation. That would mean that he had no good reason for invading Iraq -- he simply wanted to do so and did. You can pile onto this theories that he wanted to avenge the attempted murder of his father by Iraqi agents, that he is a stupid man who doesn't think much, or that black helicopters took control of his brain. All of this may be possible. But in looking at Bush and reading this memo, there nowhere emerges an image of a man who thinks like this. There is a willful, unbending man. There is a decisive man who can make substantial mistakes and refuse to concede error. But it is hard to locate the stupid man of myth.

So why doesn't Bush come plain with his reasoning? Better still, why doesn't this memo -- which cries out for a paragraph in which C explains Bush's reasoning -- contain a word on that? Why isn't there even a mention that it is not clear what Bush is up to? Everyone in the room knows that WMD is a pretext for war, but the obvious next paragraph -- an analysis of Bush's real reasoning -- simply isn't there.

And not only isn't that discussion there, but no one in the room seemed to be even curious about it. Either they had the least curiosity of any group of men on earth, or they knew the answer.

We continue to believe the answer is Saudi Arabia.
It was the elephant in the room. It was the world's largest oil producer, a close ally of both the United States and Britain, willfully uncooperative in the war against al Qaeda. We understand why the United States or Britain would not want to make this a public matter. Humiliating the Saudis was not in anyone's interest. But in the end, Bush and Tony Blair continue to pay the price of the great mistake of the war. They still haven't come up with a good justification for the invasion of Iraq, despite the fact that even we can think of several.

If, then, the coercion of Saudi Arabia to our side in the war on al Qaeda was the critical derivative reason for the war, was the war a success? I submit that it was, insofar as the House of Saud did not go to war against al Qaeda in a fundamental sense until 2003. From Michael Doran's lecture on al Qaeda's grand strategy:
[The House of Saud] didn’t lift a finger against al Qaeda until the bombs started going off, but I’ve been surprised at how effective they have been since. Al Qaeda is significantly weakened there. The Saudi leadership is pragmatic at the top levels.

Pragmatic indeed, at least as long as there is a President in the White House who understands the importance of credible coercion.

Afterthought: Callimachus considers principled and unprincipled liberal reactions to the Downing Street Memo.

Another afterthought: John Henke attacks the argument that the Downing Street memo proves that the Bush administration did not plan adequately for the postwar. It does not. History has proven that the Bush administration did not plan adequately for the postwar. The question is not whether the postwar planning was adequate or not, but whether its inadequacy reflected incompetence or not.

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Twelve tons of frog legs 

Last night I had a wonderful dinner of snails, frog legs and "baby rabbit" at Auberge de Fond Rose of Lyon, one of the top restaurants in one of the great gastronomic cities of the world. It was a fixed menu, and I believe the product of a mild effort to gross out the American guy, who, I might add, remained unflappable.

Frogs naturally came up in conversation. According to my hosts, during the "season" for frogs, which is apparently now, restaurants in Lyon chew through twelve tons of frog legs every day. As France's entire annual frog crop is only about twelve tons, the huge difference has to come from abroad. So where do most of the frogs imported by the restaurants of Lyon come from?


Or so said my hosts, who claimed extensive knowledge of the subject. Bizarrely, though, there is no mention of Kuwait as a major frog exporter in the study, The World Market for Frogs' Legs: A 2005 Global Trade Perspective, which is available for only $795. A Google search involving "Kuwait" and "frog exports" turns up references to the FROG missile system, which is not food, even in Lyon. So what gives? This, gentle reader, is what we call a mystery.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Au blog citoyens! 

Until today, if you had asked me under what circumstances I would buy the French left-wing tabloid Liberation, I would have said none that I could imagine. However, no devoted blogger fail to buy today's edition:

Unfortunately, my "command" of French is such that I will need a dictionary to get to a decent understanding of most of the articles on the inside, which is just as well because I am fairly sure that their substance would subtract from my joy over the cover graphic. There is, however, an editorial on the inside that discusses the immense threat that bloggers pose to the established order. This much I understood (with apologies for the American character set):
Cette democratisation quasi sans limites de la liberte d'expression publique destabilise les entreprises, les ecoles, les notables locaux... -- sans parles des mollahs iraniens ou des commissaires politiques chinois, qui imposent a leurs blogueurs surveillance et censure.

The revolution is everywhere, even -- or especially -- France, which has more than 2,000,000 blogueurs according to current estimates.

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Six Days of War and Arab anti-Americanism 

If you read just one book on the Arab-Israeli conflict, I unreservedly recommend Michael B. Oren's Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. It is both immensely interesting and -- true to its cover blurb -- "riveting reading."

The book is full of interesting anecdotes and detail about the both the personalities -- Egypt's Nasser and 'Amer, Jordan's Hussein, and Israel's Ben Gurion, Dyan, Rabin, Begin, Eshkol, Sharon, America's Lyndon Johnson and his team of advisors, and critical Russian players -- and the historic geopolitical struggle that swirled around them. I was most interested, though, in Oren's account of the Nasser's Big Lie -- that Egypt's embarrassing defeat was the direct consequence of American and British intervention.
Egyptian leaders appeared to agree, at least with regard to the military struggle. In the wake of the retreat, Egypt's emphasis swerved from tanks and guns to political propaganda, specifically the charge of U.S. and British intervention for Israel. Here, at least, the coordination between Nasser and [head of Egypt's armed forces 'Abd al-Hakim']Amer was complete. Both held conversations with Soviet ambassador Pojidaev, evincing the collusion claim as a means of securing direct Soviet support. 'Amer, unable to furnish proof of U.S. and British attacks, accused the USSR of supply faulty weapons to Egypt. "I'm no expert on weaponry," Pojidaev replied, "but I do know that the arms we've given the Vietnamese have certainly proved superior to the Americans'." But Nasser left little room for debate. He simply dictated a direct letter to [Soviet Premier Alexi] Kosygin informed him that the 6th Fleet, together with U.S. bases in the region, was actively aiding the Israelis. The Jews now stood to reap a great victory unless Moscow extended similar help to Egypt, which was desperately in need of planes.

The myth snowballed rapidly as the day progressed, reaching all corners of the Arab world. "British bombers, taking off in engless waves from Cyprus, are aiding and supplying the Israelis," Damascus Radio declared. "Canberra bombers are striking our forward positions." Radio Amman claimed that three American aircraft carriers were operating off Israel's coast. American warships were reportedly sighted off Port Said, in Haifa harbor, and blocking the entrace to the Canal. [The Sixth Fleet was more than 200 miles away. - ed.] Other sources spoke of Israelis piloting American planes with CIA-supplied maps of Egypt and of American pilots flying incognito for Israel. Captured Israeli pilots purportedly "confessed" to collaborating with the U.S. Israel, which had attacked Egypt with 1,200 jets, could not possibly have acted alone -- so the argument ran. In a widely distributed communique, Nasser called on "the Arab masses to destroy all imperialist interests."

Within hours of the broadcast, mobs attacked American embaassies and consulates throughout the Middle East. In Baghdad and Basra, Aleppo, Alexandria, and Algiers, even in congenial cities such as Tunis and Benghazi, American diplomats barricaded themselves in their compounds and prepared for the worst. Oil facilities were shut in Iraq and Libya, while Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain banned oil shipments to the United States and Britain. "America is now the number one enemy of the Arabs," proclaimed Algiers Radio, "the American presence ... must be exterminated from the Arab homeland." Americans in Egypt, many of them long-time residents, were given minutes to pack and then, at gunpoint, searched and summarily deported. "This is how people felt on their way to Auschwitz," wrote Thomas Thompson, a Life correspondent, who was among the hundreds banished [I doubt it. - ed.]. In Cairo, Richard Nolte watched as an angry crowd gathered outside his office. "We are burning all -- repeat all -- classified papers and preparing for demonstration and attempt to clear building," he wired. Yet, at the height of this tension, Nolte was summond and escorted to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, there to be told the "facts" of the Anglo-American conspiracy with Israel.

"You say you are against aggression, but when you have aggression of Israel against Egypt you do nothing," Mahmoud Riad excoriated Nolte. "You say you don't know who is the aggressor. It is perfectly clear who is the aggressor and there are 90 or at least 80 ambassadors in Cairo who know this to be true." The ambassador's only reply was to stress the international sympathy Egypt could reap by accepting a cease-fire resolution that would specifically label Israel as the aggressor. [Note Washington's willingness to curry favor with Arabs even as they were lying about American involvement. - ed.]... But his words failed to impress the foreign minister, who continued in a similar vein: "If Egypt had been the aggressor, the Sixth Fleet would now be on its shores!"

Of course, Nasser's big lie wouldn't get any traction if Jordan's King Hussein didn't sign on. Hussein was in desperate straits, for having attacked Israel on the West Bank, by the second day of the war Jordan's army was in a lot of trouble. It was clear that Hussein would say anything to get out of his jam:
Over the course of the night [of June 6], Hussein conveyed no less than four requests for a de facto cease-fire [via the Americans], but each time the response was negative. "I believe it is probably too late to arouse any interest in Israel for the preservation of Hussein and his regime," [American ambassador Wally] Barbour explained from Tel Aviv. Citing the continuing battles in both the Jerusalem and Nablus sectors, the Israelis claimed that Hussein had either lost control of his troops or was trying to deceive them into canceling their attack. While it supported a halt to the fighting, Washington's reply to Hussein was no warmer: Either take personal charge of your army [Hussein having ceded command to Egypt] or else remain a target.

Gravely disappointed, desperate, the king retorted with a warning of his own. If the fighting continued, Jordan would have no option but to corrogorate Nasser's charged of Anglo-American conspiracy.

It was not an idle threat, as Hussein proved a half-hour later, when a phone call arrived from Cairo. "Will we say that the U.S. and Britain [are attacking], or just the United States?" asked Nasser, inquiring whether the British even had aircraft carriers. Hussein responded, "United States and England," and agreed to issue a statement to that effect immediately. Nasser was heartened. "By God," he exclaimed, "I will make an announcement and you will make an announcement that American and British airplanes are taking part against us from aircraft carriers. We will stress the matter. And we will drive the point home."

Unfortunately for Nasser and Hussein, they were speaking on an unscrambled civilian line, and the entire conversation was recorded by Israeli intelligence. So was born the conspiracy to defame the United States, which Lyndon Johnson dubbed "the Big Lie."

Nasser invented the Big Lie to explain away his own humiliating defeat and to goad the Soviets into direct intervention on behalf of the Arabs. The consequences for American credibility in the Arab world were disastrous, and probably persist to this day. The consequences for the Arabs weren't so good either -- as Oren shows, Lyndon Johnson was so angry over the Big Lie that even those American diplomats inclined to sympathize with the Arabs were forced to back Israel in the crucial days leading up to the cease fire.

Read the whole thing (even though it's a book).

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Monday, June 20, 2005

Is Batman a Republican? 

Fausta marshalls the evidence.

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Today's Financial Times: Stem cells, Saddam's trial, and the typo of the month 

I flew to London last night, and spent Monday at our plant in southern England. A colleague and I then hopped across to Paris, in time for a late dinner and a good night's sleep in advance of a long meeting tomorrow morning with our lawyers.

British Airways handed out free copies of Financial Times, which I read cover-to-cover owing to a long stretch on the tarmac at Heathrow. I noticed a couple of things. Unfortunately, FT is available online subscription only, so you'll have to take my word for some of this stuff.

On the front page, there is an article entitled "Universities and companies rush to file stem cell patents in spite of controversy." The essence of the article is that all the public controversy has not delayed work in stem cells:
Companies and universities are patenting stem cell discoveries at a frenetic pace in spite of public controversies and legal and regulatory difficulties, according to a study due to be published today at the world's biggest biotechnology conference.

The report by Marks & Clerk, a London-based firm of patent attorneys, shows that more than 3,000 patents related to stem cells have been filed worldwide in the past five years. The rate of filing has doubled during the period with the U.S., Japan, Australia and UK toping the league table.

Claire Irvine, co-author of the report, said: "The message seems to be simple: biotech companies are undeterred by the hostile research environment that currently governs the stem cell sector."

As I have argued before, the argument over federal funding for embryonic stem cell research will not determine whether discoveries are made or people are cured. It is entirely about subsidizing professors who want to do their work inside American universities instead of in the private sector or abroad. The Financial Times article is, I believe, evidence that the work is being done all over the world including the United States, notwithstanding the lack of funding from our federal government.

Today's issue also contains an op-ed piece about the "dubious justice" that Saddam may receive on account of Iraq's failure to live up to Western procedural niceties. The article ("Saddam's trial risks delivering a dubious justice") is by Michael Byers, professor of law at the University of British Columbia. Byers contends that "two different trials will soon begin in Baghdad," Saddam's and "the tribunal is itself under scrutiny, to determine whether it meets international standards of justice and due process."

Byers proceeds to twist his hanky for 15 column inches over the many theoretical flaws in the prosecution of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Special Tribunal that will try Saddam, for example, "was born in dubious circumstances" because Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council selected the judges prior to Iraq regaining its sovereignty. Not only does Washington "still [fund] the tribunal," but "the Federal Bureau of Intelligence [sic] helps gather evidence." According to Byers, Washington's dollars and the support of the FBI compromise the fairness of the trial that Saddam will face. WTF? Were the Nuremberg trials illegitimate because the Allies paid for them?

Byers is also troubled that the law under which Saddam will be prosecuted does not require that built be established "beyond a reasonable doubt," but only that the judges be "satisfied" of guilt. Query whether this isn't the same standard under which Saddam prosecuted his enemies. Goose, gander, etc. But even if two wrongs do not make a right, it is probably safe to assume that if Saddam were prosecuted under the standard Byers proposes he might very well be the first person prosecuted in Iraq under such a, er, Western burden of proof. Don't we want to raise the bar after Saddam and his henchmen have been convicted?

Among the tribunal's other outrages, Saddam was not allowed a defense counsel in the courtroom when charges were read against him last year (precisely how did this prejudice his rights? -- would the lawyer have counseled him not to rant about how he was still the president of Iraq?), and he has "suffered legal prejudice" because "Iraqi ministers have repeatedly stated that he is guilty and must be promptly put to death." George W. Bush also violated the presumption of innocence, according to Byers, when he suggested that he "deserves justice, the ultimate justice." Indeed, Byers argues that Saddam inherently suffers because many governments and organizations that would support the process refuse to participate in a capital trial.
The death penalty also creates a moral dilemma for Human Rights Watch. For more than a decade, the international human rights organisation has compiled evidence of atrocities committeed during Mr. Hussein's regime. This evidence could ensure a conviction but it could also lead to punishment that the campaigners oppose.

Brilliant. Now capital punishers the world over know that Human Rights Watch is looking out for their interests. At least once they are no longer in a position to punish capitally.

Byers is passionate that Saddam be tried under perfect procedure, writing on it repeatedly for European and Canadian audiences. Indeed, this campaign in support of Saddam is a continuation of Byers' extensive efforts against American policy in Iraq, much of it before the invasion. One might well wonder whether his repetitious pile of screeds challenging the procedures for the prosecution of Saddam and his cronies is really just another means of undermining the legitimacy of American policy in Iraq. Since there is no evidence that Byers campaigns for criminal procedure reform elsewhere in the Arab world, it is safe to conclude that he is motivated more by pro-Ba'athism or anti-Americanism than any genuine concern for Arab civil rights.

Finally, in an article devoted to the "new bulls" supporting the recent rally in the United States dollar, we have this headline (surprisingly not evidence in the online edition):

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Condoleezza Rice minces no words 

The Bush Administration has broken with many recent American policies, including among them appeasement of the Arab fascists in the cause of "stability." Indeed, we have not tip-toed away from this tradition, but stated our policy reversal explicitly. In case the world has not been listening to the President, Condoleezza Rice slammed it home today in Cairo:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a forceful case for democracy in the Muslim world Monday, telling Egypt's conservative government leaders "the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty."

Rice's remarks were to some 700 invited government officials, academics and other guests at the American University in Cairo. The setting is notable, both because Egypt plans multiparty elections in the fall and because the Bush administration has made no secret of its dissatisfaction with political progress and the treatment of opposition figures by the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," Rice said. "Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

Rice's substantive point is exactly correct. Rightly or wrongly, we are explicitly willing to sacrifice stability for change in Muslim political society. Disorder in a fascist society is often (although not necessarily) the friend of the true democrat. The next time, therefore, you hear somebody complain that American policy has made the Middle East less stable, remember that instability is the understood consequence of our policy, not evidence that the policy has failed. It is highly unlikely that most of the people in that part of the world will free themselves from the kings and dictators who keep them down without massive instability and probably violence. It is a journey that these societies will have to take, though, in order that they may emerge with representative and legitimate governments. It is high time that we got started. Now, faster. Please.

UPDATE: Watching CNN Europe late Monday night in my hotel room in Paris. They are giving Rice's visit a huge amount of coverage, and they showed a large part of her very strong speech. Of course, they then interviewed a bunch of Arabs who were upset by it, including an "Egyptian democracy activist" who said that "democracy should be our dream, not America's." Bush may well have the impact on the world's aspirations that Woodrow Wilson had, but will get no credit for it from his own generation.

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