Friday, March 31, 2006

John Dean relives glory days 

John Dean, who peaked very early in life when he helped topple Richard Nixon, will say absolutely anything, no matter how absurd, to return the limelight:
Former White House counsel John Dean said on Friday that U.S. President George W. Bush's domestic spying program raised more concerns about abuse of power than the Watergate scandal that toppled his boss Richard Nixon.

Even if the NSA wiretap program were a "domestic spying program" that constitutes an "abuse of power" -- and both characterizations are only political positions, notwithstanding Reuters acceptance of them as received truth -- the claim that it is worse than Watergate is absurd. Watergate involved a conspiracy to subvert the domestic electoral process, followed by a massive coverup from the top. The NSA wiretap program was not covered up in the least. Yes, it was kept secret because its military value depended upon secrecy, but it was both disclosed to Congress and defended forthrightly by the President when revealed to the enemy by the New York Times. It is at worst a violation of the law in the service of national security objectives pursued in good faith, and even that remains to be seen. Iran-Contra is a far better analogy than Watergate, and even that was obviously a much graver violation of law and subversion of justice than the NSA case, which may well be entirely lawful.


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Swonk: The bombing starts in eight months 

I attended an investment conference yesterday in Dayton, Ohio. Investors don't like talking politics much, but one cannot look at financial markets in a bubble; geopolitical issues and domestic politics are often discussed at these types of events, at least in passing.

Nevertheless, I was surprised to hear Diane Swonk, the Chief Economist at Mesirow Financial say the following to room of more than 1000 people (mostly MBA candidates):

"We're going to hit Iran. We are currently selling Israel 5 planes a month. They've got about 40, and will need 60, five squadrons, to help us complete the mission which will be a joint effort. It will begin the week after the US mid-term elections." (paraphrased from my notes.)

This topic came up in the context of a question regarding whether or not the US would put pressure on China to change their exchange rates. Her answer was no, because the US will need China's support in executing the Iranian mission, which she described as above.

This is a pretty provocative thing for anyone to say, but from an economist? Economists are usually quite careful with their predictions, always hedging with contingencies, variables, and assumptions. And yet here she was predicting without qualification not only the action that will occur, but the week in which it would occur! It was one of the more interesting things I heard all day. Certainly it will be worth seeing whether her prediction comes to pass, and if it does, we're going to have to pay closer attention to the writings of Diane Swonk.

(Later in the day, self-described "adventure capitalist" Jim Rogers was asked what he would do his first day if he were Chairman of the Fed. Without hesitation he said he would "close down the Fed and resign." All in all it was a pretty amusing conference.)

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What was the first battle of the American Revolution? 

If you said "Lexington and Concord," you would be wrong, at least according to the United States Congress. It was the Battle of Point Pleasant, Virginia, October 10, 1774, officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1908 as the first battle of the American Revolution. Learn these and other exciting factoids at this online timeline of the American Revolution.

CWCID: The TigerHawk daughter.

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The treatment for guinea pig ringworm 

We had occasion in our family to learn the treatment for guinea pig ringworm (yes, "Tie Die" has an ugly skin condition). Who knew it was available over-the-counter in any pharmacy?

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The Iran Crisis: A "roundtable" discussion at Princeton University 

Last night I attended "roundtable" discussion of the Iranian nuclear crisis at Princeton University. I originally wrote my report up as a "live-blogging" session, but it was sometimes tough to hear through the accents and some of it turned out to be a bit basic for our readers, so I have rendered it into an after-action report.

The discussion, at the Woodrow Wilson School's Dodds Auditorium, featured the following luminaries:
Ali Ansari, reader in the School for Modern History at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and author of the forthcoming Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy And the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East (which I expect to be quite smart if Ansari's well-balanced commentary is any measure).

Johannes Reissner, head of the Department for Near East and Africa at the German Institute for International Politics and Security in Berlin.

Frank von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs and co-director of the Program on Science and Global Security in the Woodrow Wilson School.

Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, director of the Liechtenstein Institute.

It was not obvious why our Teutonic friends dominated the panel, although Professor von Hippel spoke English sans accent, suggesting that the demographic make-up may have been coincidental. I can, however, report that after reading Kenneth Timmerman's Countdown to Crisis : The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran, which obsesses about German technical assistance to Iran, there is the sense that in matters involving Iran, one cannot be too paranoid.

Rather than relate the whole discussion, which was interesting to listen to but tough to render into interesting blog fare, I'll mention a couple of the high points.

Professor von Hippel gave an interesting technical presentation about Iran's nuclear options, the sum and substance of which is that they are building their power program specifically around "dual use" technologies for which there are alternatives. If their sole concern was to build a power system, they could do so in ways that are much less inflammatory.

"It's a tale of two isotopes, and two routes to the bomb." U-235 will sustain a fission chain reaction if separated, and U-238 if turned into plutonium. Iran is pursuing both methods.

Iran is furthest along in separating out U-235 using gas centrifuges. You fill a spinning cylinder with a gaseous uranium. The heavier molecules go closer to the wall of the centrifuge, and a scoop skims them off. For a power reactor, you need a 4% concentration, but for weapons you need a 90% concentration. A cascade for power generation requires 987 centrifuges to get to 4% concentration, and a weapons grade cascade rquires around 4000 centrifuges (see, for example, a captured Libyan design). Professor von Hippel showed a slide of first-generation Urenco centrifuges in the Netherlands in the 1970s, a vast room that appeared larger than an airplane hanger with thousands of the things, all spinning down U-235.

Iran has build underground centrifuge halls, suitable for housing 50,000 of them. Professor von Hippel displayed a satellite image of the Natanz facility, which revealed the constructon of two larged centrifuge halls, plus a pilot plant for perfecting the technique. You can see a copy of the satellite image here.

What could Iran do with the 1000 centrifuges in the pilot plant?
Master the technology for commercial-scale enrichment.

Make enough weapon-grade uranium for a bomb in one year using natural-uranium feed.

Produce low-enriched uranium for a year and then enrich the product to enough for a bomb in two months.

Iran could also try to build a clandestine enrichment plant.

No one has argued that Iran could produce enough HEU for a single nuclear weapon before 2009. (emphasis in original slide)

There is also the plutonium route -- India's chosen path, for example, and Israel's. Iran is building a 40 megawatt plant, which could produce enough inventory for a couple of Nagasaki-sized bombs a year.

Iran is developing a nuclear weapon option, although still a few years from fruition.

von Hippel notes that if Iran really just wanted an energy program, it has less provocative alternatives. If Iran were worried that it would be cut off from its supply of fuel, it could build ten years of fuel in advance, a buffer against fuel supply dispruptions.

Or, it could use a light-water reactor instead of heavy-water. Its light water research reactor could produce almost as many neutrons for research as the 40 MWt heavy-water reactor while producing less than 2% of the plutonium. Von Hippel asks, could these elements be part of a larger compromise?

The question of the fuel cycle keeps coming up, as it did later in the discussion. One questioner asked whether Iran might be receptive to a deal to enrich uranium in another country, so that the fuel could be tracked. One of the professors present believed that it might at one time have entertained such a proposal from the Western Europeans -- meaning the French -- but that it did not trust the Russians to live up to their word. The French, who are the only one of the E-3 with the capability of supplying Iran's fuel cycle, were not willing to entertain the proposal in part because they have been bending over backward to avoid ruffling Washington's feathers during this crisis. I admit, I had not realized that the French were working so hard to repair their relationship with the United States, but apparently they have been, which explains why Jacques Chirac has in some respects been Europe's most intransigent hawk in the confrontation with Iran.

Professor Ansari observed that one version or another of this crisis extends back a very long time. He reminded us of the thriller from 1976, the Crash of '79, which posits an expansionist Shah with a nuclear weapon, who hatches a plan to drop that bomb on the Saudi oil fields, grab the Iraqi fields in a surprise attack across the Shat al-Arab, and corner the market on variable oil production. Ouch.

Professor Ansari's most interesting comments related to the significance of Iran's new President Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ahmadinejad represents a "throwback" to the early ideals of the revolutionary era. His main platform was one of anti-corruption, social justice and the redistribution of wealth. During his campaign, he did not really mention religion at all, because he was worried that people would be turned off by it. He was therefore elected for three reasons. First, he ignored religion, which would not have been popular among the voters. Second, there was a massive fraud to get him into the second round. And, finally, the electorate preferred the unknown Ahmadinejad to Rafsanjani, who was very unpopular but foolishly thought he would win without having to campaign for it.

Ahmadinejad is not a particularly saavy person, and was quite surprised, perhaps, by his own election. Power seems to have seduced him rather quickly, and he appears to enjoy being provocative without having a real awareness of how his outrageous statements have hurt Iran's standing and polarized Western public opinion against Iran. He is a parochial person who had never been beyond the borders of Iran, and has an very, very deep distrust of the West. Unlike the reformists, or even the centrist technocrats such as Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad does not even have a willingness to deal with the West.

He does not have a strong political base, and did not do what he might have done, which was to spend the surging oil revenues on big public works projects.

He also has a rather fascinating obsession with the return of the "hidden Imam," which he says will return from a well in the ground south of Tehran, perhaps imminently.

Ahmadinejad is increasingly thought of as a loon within Iran, even among the elites, and he is not in a strong position. Ansari quoted an Iranian diplomat, who was amazed that Ahmadinejad thinks that he dazzled the United Nations with his oratory: "If he goes on like this we won't have to worry because the ayatollahs will get him." Ansari says that people are beginning to wonder whether he is leading the country.

All of this hammers home the point that Iranian politics is substantially more complicated than, say, Saddam's Iraq. Ahmadinejad is, in fact, a loon, but it is not at all clear that he himself has the power to move the military or press any button that might be available to press.

Ansari's other interesting observation related to the impact within Iran of the West's failure to react to the "stolen" parliamentary elections of early 2004. The parliamentary elections in 2004 were massively fraudulent by Western standards, insofar as the Guardian Council disqualified literally thousands of candidates, including all the reformists. There was a great deal of consternation in the Iranian press -- which while not free in the Western sense is substantially more robust than in much of the Arab world -- that the elections were not more open and, according to Ansari, that the West -- particularly the Europeans -- stood silent. This was compounded by Prince Charles' "quite unwise" visit to Tehran shortly thereafter, which suggested that the West actually supported the fraud that occurred. This has greatly eroded the credibility of the West in the eyes of those Iranian elites who are not friendly toward the mullahs.

Professor Ansari finally added that he thought that the nuclear crisis was to a great degree a proxy for other unresolved conflicts with Iran. He believe that if a crisis does emerge, it will be over Iraq, where Iran wants neither a permanent American presence nor instability.

Professor Reissner spoke quietly and with a fairly strong accent, so I had a hard time following him. He did, however, make a couple of observations that struck me as very sensible.

First, Reissner argues that it is not possible for Europeans to negotiate effectively with Iran while the United States and Iran are not themselves on speaking terms. This is too big a burden for the E-3 to shoulder, and it makes it very difficult for them to accomplish anything. Does the recent breaking of this taboo over Iraq, at least, indicate that some new thinking has been going on in the Iranian leadership? [And see this article off the wire yesterday, in which an unnamed U.S. "official" "did not, however, rule out direct discussions between the United States and Iran, suggesting they could be a spinoff of the U.S. administration's decision earlier this month to talk to Iran about Iraq after a nearly three-decade break in diplomatic ties."]

Profesor Reissner also argued persuasively that communication needs to improve considerably. The E-3 badly botched the presentation of the "incentives package" that Iran so defiantly rejected last August. In this regard, the E-3's failure to line up its own press in advance was significant -- Reissner believes that the Iranian leadership plays close attention to the Western media, and judges the credibility of Western negotiations based to a great degree on our own press coverage.

Reissner also observed that the Iranians thought that the Europeans were using the negotiations with Iran as "therapy" to repair their relationship with Washington after the Iraq crisis, and that to some degree the Iranians were correct in this perception. The essence of the charge is that the Europeans were less interested in the actual results with Iran than in rebuilding their credibility with the United States.

During the question and answer session, three generated a lot of discussion. The first was the question about whether a deal might still be done to enrich Iranian fuel in some other country, the upshot of which is discussed above.

The second had to do with looking at Iran's security situation from Tehran's perspective: the United States, a hostile power, has effectively encircled Iran with its military, squeezes Iran with sanctions, talks endlessly about regime change, has in fact changed the regimes of two bordering countries with military force, and quite openly appropriates money to undermine the regime. Why should we be surprised that Tehran is looking for a nuclear deterrant?

The panel looked at this question from several angles. The questioner's observations were surely true -- Iran's feelings of insecurity in the reality of American encirclement are surely genuine. In addition, the panel appeared to agree almost universally that the Bush administration "regime change" vocabulary was not helping the situation. Ansari in particular argued that it was not well enough defined to be useful -- that you cannot get American officials to say what they mean in detail when they use the words "regime change" in the Iranian context. He noted wryly that the Americans seemed to be awakening to this analytical sloppiness insofar as Condoleezza Rice was begining to use the term "regime transformation." In any case, in a complex government such as Iran's with multiple elites and power centers, the threat to "change" the regime causes a great many people to wonder whether they are included in the group to be removed, and that has the perverse effect of strengthening the regime. [I agree. Note that "regime change" was pointedly not on the table in our negotiations with Libya(pdf), and that almost certainly made it easier for Qaddafi to come in from the cold.]

Finally, Ansari observed that the Iranians have not exactly handled their relations with the United States well. "You can't sieze their embassy and not expect the Americans to hit back some day. You can't destabilize Iraq and not expect American to bite back."

The third question came from me: If we have this time underestimated the pace of Iran's weapons program as we did with Saddam's the first time around, or if Iran has acquired a weapon on the black market, how do we react on the revelation of that fact? What do we know about Iran's command and control over its military? How do we know that our deterrance threat will be received credibly?

The answers to these questions are, I think, momentous, because the odds are quite low that we will actually prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic weapon. To my narrower questions the panelists offered a series of observations. First, these questions were eerily reminiscent of the debates in advance of Pakistan's atomic bomb, and we have learned to deal with that. This should not necessarily give us comfort in the Iranian case, but it does suggest that we will find a way to manage. [It is not at all clear that the Pakistani bomb will not yet prove to be a disaster -- see Wednesday's news that Pakistan may be helping Saudi Arabia build a bomb.] Second, Professor Ansari thought that the Iranians would maintain very tight control over any weapons that they did build. Their program has, to date, been characterized by a great deal of discipline, so there is no reason to think that it would become lax in its handling of an actual weapon. Finally, the credibility of American deterrance, Ansari observed, required that the United States actually have a clear policy toward Iran. Thus far, it has failed to articulate one beyond the demand that Iran not complete the nuclear fuel cycle and that it stop sponsoring terrorism. America needs to be much more clear in its objectives and its basis for negotiation going forward.

That, it seems to me, is very true.

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Iraq, al Qaeda and "blowback": Correspondance with my sister 

My sister, who consorts with six-legged fauna for a living, sent me an email this afternoon with a gently worded question about the risk that Iraq might result in blowback against Americans or American interests, just as the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan did. I thought you might be interested in the question and the response (slightly edited from the originals).

The sister:
My book group just read Good Muslim, Bad Muslim : America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror by Mahmood Mamdani, an interesting analysis of current global events from an African. Have you read it? (You once told me that your time was better spent reading authors you disagree with rather that agree with.) [True, until I can't take it any more. - ed.] It's clear this author has an agenda, but his thesis is compelling. One part of it
(which I believe is pretty well accepted in the mainstream) is that in training the Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviets and then cutting them loose after Soviet withdrawl, we basically unleashed a lot of bloodthirsty killers on the world who were in need of a new target. It struck me during discussions of the book that this is not a new problem. Remember Dad's research on the French routiers? ["Routiers" were brigands -- in effect, unemployed knights -- that were the scourage of Europe for much of the late Middle Ages. They terrorized the country for generations, until finally the French king rolled them up into an army. - ed.] My question is, putting aside any benefit that has occurred or can occur from this point in Iraq, aren't we doing the same thing now? (This time it isn't
the CIA training the future terrorists, but we have provided a training ground by turning the country over to chaos.)

My brotherly answer:
Hey, how are you? How's my niece? And [the brother-in-law] for that matter?

Haven't read Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, although it sounds familiar. I'll take it under advisement.

My solicited thoughts:

1. There is no question that al Qaeda is, to some significant degree, blowback from the Soviet/Afghan war. The book to read on that topic is Ghost Wars by Steven Coll.

The question, of course, is what lesson there is to be learned from this. All wars create the conditions for the next security problem. So, for example, the Treaty of Versailles created the conditions in Germany that made National Socialism a popular alternative. Hitler was, to some degree, "blowback" from the Allied victory in World War I. Had Germany won, or at least won the peace, fascism might never have taken root there.

Similarly, the Soviet Union was a wimpy power until its victory over Germany in World War II. We armed the Russians so that they would take most of the casualties during the war (roughly 60 Russians died for every American in World War II) and drain Germany. The result? Soviet occupation of half of Europe and a Cold War that involved massively more American bloodshed than Iran, Afghanistan, and September 11 combined. Again, blowback.

Still, we generally view both of these victories as worth the cost, notwithstanding the subsequent security problems that flowed from them. My own take is that the same can be said of the aid we provided to the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Which is worse: the Cold War, which cost a staggering amount of money (defense spending is still only about half what it was during that period) and hundreds of thousands of lives and which always presented the risk of global annihilation, or the current war, even if broadly defined? I'll take this war over the Cold War any day of the week.

2. There is also no question that the war in Iraq is going to result in blowback. I wouldn't dream of arguing with that point. But: the inquiry should not end there, however much that critics of the war wish that it would. We are not the only people in the world who suffer blowback. The jihad is also suffering from blowback. The tactics of the insurgency in Iraq have created a great many new enemies of al Qaeda, both in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world. It is very instructive that the popularity of al Qaeda in the Arab and Muslim world peaked in 2003, and has been steadily declining since. Lots of Arabs and other Muslims around the world have taken up arms against al Qaeda since 2001, and the trend has only accelerated since 2003. So, my answer is that it is far too soon to know whether Iraq is a strategic defeat for the United States. Even with all the troubles there, I do not see how the position of the jihad is stronger today relative to all its enemies than it was in early 2003.

I have written a ton on this subject, as you may or may not know, but this post captures most of my thinking in one handy reference.

Love, "TigerHawk"

That's the kind of family we are.

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Hamas campaign video 

For your lunchtime viewing pleasure.1
1. Unless, of course, it would violate your company's computer use policy to run a video over its network (you know who you are!).

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Are we afraid of ordinary Muslims? 

Is our fear of ordinary Muslims changing our behavior in countless small ways? In the last day or so, Charles Johnson and Eugene Volokh have documented two very different cases of major institutions -- a huge corporation and a famous university -- giving in to Muslim pressure because they are afraid. This fear is quite obviously not of al Qaeda, but of ordinary Muslims. Is it warranted, or are Borders Books and New York University racist institutions, conjuring and spreading unjustified fear? I'm struggling to come up with a third explanation.

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Immigration: Chicago and the new underground railroad 

[UPDATED below]

I regret to say that I have a hard time getting agitated about the immigration issue. Part of this is that I am not a nativist, and I think that the nativist element that has been part of the Republican Party since it absorbed the "Know Nothings" in the late 1850s is just about the GOP's least attractive constituency. Combine that with the fact that I think that Mexican immigrants, legal or otherwise, are a large net positive for the United States (even if not the taxpayers of a few states), and you can see that I am generally unsympathetic with the various people who want to build high walls and secund employers to the INS.

I am, of course, all for trying to keep al Qaeda out of the country, but I generally think that is a hopeless task. If they can sneak into Gaza notwithstanding Israeli security, they can certainly get in to the United States, whether or not we have a southern wall. For starters, they can walk across the vast Canadian border, which is a lot harder to defend than the Mexican. If keeping out the jihadis is the real concern, why don't we build a northern wall? Let's be honest: security against terrorism is mostly an excuse for essentially anti-Mexican immigration policies.

All of that having been said, I think it would be a disaster for the United States to become a de jure bilingual country, a la Canada and Belgium. I am a very strong proponent of the view that the only official language should be English, and that as a society we should look dimly on people who do not make a game effort to learn enough English to get along. The American version of the English language is central to our national identity and founding myths, and if it takes a constitutional amendment to require that only English be used in all government transactions, then let us adopt that amendment post haste. If today's immigrants know that they have to learn English to get along, as the European immigrants did of old, it will speed their assimilation.

All of that leads me to this article from Chicago's Sun-Times, which reports that Chicago's city council has passed an ordinance prospectively nullifying some versions of proposed federal legislation insofar as they relate to the provision of social services. I am actually sympathetic with the City Council (although I wonder if Chicago wants to become a specific magnet for illegal immigrants, which will be the obvious if unintended consequence of this legislation), but the rhetoric in support of this ordinance is over the top even in the long tradition of Chicago blowharditude:

If the great immigration debate now raging in Congress is decided in a way that turns illegal immigrants into criminals, Chicago Police officers and other city employees would not enforce it, the City Council decided Wednesday.

Three weeks after a massive rally in Chicago demanding better treatment of immigrants, Chicago aldermen blazed another trail on the red-hot issue.

They turned a 1989 executive order on immigration into law...

The ordinance passed Wednesday "would say, 'Look, when we provide city services, be it by police or any other city agency, our focus is not immigration status,'" said Ricardo Meza, regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who testified in support of the law.

The U.S. Senate is debating legislation this week that would tighten border security while enabling illegal immigrants eventually to become citizens.

But any Senate bill would have to be reconciled with a get-tough measure passed earlier by the House of Representatives. That version would turn illegal immigrants into felons and compel private individuals and employers to report them.

"But there is nothing in the proposed law that says you have to check someone's status before providing them with free city services and opportunities," said Meza. "This law would not supersede employment laws. It is not going to be in conflict with any federal statute."

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th), the City Council's resident historian, noted that there is Chicago precedent for defying draconian federal laws on human rights issues.

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act that mandated citizens to report and return runaway slaves to their owners.

Led by then-Mayor James Curtis and Ald. Amos Throop, for whom a Chicago street is named, the City Council ordered Chicago Police officers not to enforce the act.

"I would encourage you to recall the courage and fortitude of our predecessors in refusing to cooperate with extreme and ill-conceived federal law," Burke said.

Huh? Giving social services to illegal immigrants is akin to nullifying the Fugitive Slave Act? Is Alderman Burke really proposing an underground railroad through Chicago for illegal immigrants? I hope Chicago is ready for it.

UPDATE: The same Chicago that elected James Curtiss of Fugitive Slave Act fame (whose remains, incidentally, were "lost" during the construction of Lincoln Park) then elevated one Levi Boone, one of the few significant "Know Nothing" elected officials. Boone campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform -- the unpopular groups of the day were German and Irish Catholics -- and he promptly barred all immigrants from city jobs. He also quite famously banned the sale of beer on Sundays, which led to the Lager Beer Riot of April 21, 1855. So there is all kinds of precedent buried in Chicago's ante-bellum politics. We do not, however, expect today's nativists to invoke the ghost of Mayor Boone to answer Eddie Burke's Fugitive Slave Act analogy.

CWCID: Spoons.

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A small thought in line at the DMV 

My driver's license was to expire tomorrow, so I went this fine spring morning to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the one next to the Quakerbridge Mall on Route 1, for Garden State DMV afficionados. You cannot determine the hours of operation from the web site, so I guessed that it opened at 7:30, as I remember that it always has. Guessed wrong, as did lots of other people who waited in line until the doors opened at 8 a.m. No matter -- I had in hand Loretta Napoleoni's book, Insurgent Iraq : Al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, which led to a conversation with the guy behind me, who had a friend who had just gotten back from a stint as an interrogator in Iraq. The returned soldier was only 22 years old, and had been through one of the military's language schools for an intensive course in Arabic, which after a year in Iraq he could claim fluency in. Because of a shortage of such people, he will be going back in a few months.

All of this reminded me of a thought I have had before: the Iraq experience, for better or for worse, is creating a huge pool of Americans with a much deeper and more subtle understanding of Arab and Muslim culture. Many of these returning soldiers are going to leave the military and go to graduate school, or into the private sector, or into a civilian agency in the government. Eventually, a few of them will go in to politics. Aside from the direct and indirect geopolitical consequences, what will be the long-term impact on our society, culture, economy and public policy of running hundreds of thousands of our best young people through Iraq?

Comments are more than welcome.

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The Reynolds family has a very bad week 

First, the Instapundit's grandmother dies, and now this. If you are an oncologist who knows how to treat a high grade stage III rhabdomyosarcoma, he is looking for some advice. If you are not an oncologist, please invoke your customary divine or mystical intervention.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Bill Clinton has a good idea 

Bill Clinton has called for mandatory testing for HIV/AIDS in nations that have high infection rates.


I agree with this. There will be huge social consequences that flow from the full revelation of HIV infections in the developing world, but we will decrease the fatalities from the epidemic if we act courageously now to measure the scope of the infection precisely now. And, Clinton is right when he says this, too:

"I think there needs to be a total rethinking of this testing position in the AIDS community and a real push for this," Clinton said. "There is no way we are going to reduce the spread of this epidemic without more testing because 90 percent of the people who are HIV positive don't know it."...

"The whole idea is to treat this as a public health problem, not as some source of shame or disgrace and to keep as many people alive as possible," he explained.

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The "Dream Deferred" Essay Contest on Civil Rights in the Middle East 

This strikes me as a very interesting project, and we should watch the results. Entries are due by the end of the day Friday, but if you are an American student under the age of 26 and write quickly, you have a real opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

CWCID: Sabbah, who has many more links to "moderate Arab voices."

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Amir Tahari:

Hassan Abbasi has a dream--a helicopter doing an arabesque in cloudy skies to avoid being shot at from the ground. On board are the last of the "fleeing Americans," forced out of the Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) by "the Army of Muhammad." Presented by his friends as "The Dr. Kissinger of Islam," Mr. Abbasi is "professor of strategy" at the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guard Corps University and, according to Tehran sources, the principal foreign policy voice in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's new radical administration.

For the past several weeks Mr. Abbasi has been addressing crowds of Guard and Baseej Mustadafin (Mobilization of the Dispossessed) officers in Tehran with a simple theme: The U.S. does not have the stomach for a long conflict and will soon revert to its traditional policy of "running away," leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed the whole of the Middle East, to be reshaped by Iran and its regional allies.

To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of "the last helicopter." It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein's generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton's helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

For the span of a generation -- a longer period than the politically conscious lives of the great majority of people in the Arab and Muslim world -- America has fled from conflict in a part of the world where weakness earns contempt and begets more aggression, not less. On September 11, 2001 we reaped the whirlwind. So, whatever our strategy in the long war -- and you will read no argument here that it cannot be improved upon -- we must end Hassan Abbasi's helicopter metaphor. Helicopters can stand for different things. Let them no longer conjure the image of "fleeing Americans."

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mao on the object of war 

We were discussing the rise of Communism in China over dinner -- it is the subject of the Son's history homework tonight -- and I was moved to hunt through the attic bookshelves for my copy of the Little Red Book, the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. I bought the book in 1977, new, for a dollar, cheap for a book even then. The low price makes sense, of course: commies can't be seen to be turning a profit on the sayings of Chairman Mao.

Now, Mao is one of the biggest dirtbags in history. But that doesn't mean that he didn't have a smart thing or two to say about people's war, of which he is the modern architect. This passage on the object of war stands up well, I think:
The object of war is specifically "to preserve oneself and destroy the enemy" (to destroy the enemy means to disarm him or "deprive him of th epower to resist", and does not mean to destroy every member of his forces physically). In ancient warfare, the spear and the shield were used, the spear to attack and destroy the enemy, and the shield to defend and preserve onself. To the present day, all weapons are still an extension of the spear and the shield. The bomber, the machine-gun, the long range gun and poison gas are developments of the spear, while the air-raid shelter, the steel helmet, the concrete fortification and the gas mask are developments of the shield. The rank is a new weapon combining the functions of both spear and shield. Attack is the chief means of destroying the enemy, but defence cannot be dispensed with. In attack the immediate object is to destroy the enemy, but at the same time it is self-preservation, because if the enmy is not destroyed, you will be destroyed. In defence the immediate object is to preserve yourself, but at the same time defence is a means of supplementing attack or preparing to go over to the attack. Retreat is in the category of defence and is a continuation of defence, while pursuit is a continuation of attack. It should be pointed out that destruction of the enemy is the primary object of war and self-preservation the secondary, because only by destroying the enemy in large numbers can one effectively preserve oneself. Therefore attack, the chief means of destroying the enemy, is primary, while defence, a supplementary means of desroying the enemy and a means of self-preservation, is secondary. In actual warfare the chief role is played by defence much of the time and by attack for the rest of the time, but if war is taken as a whole, attack remains primary.

"On Protracted War" (May 1938), Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 156.

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Earth to Sharon Stone 

Actress Sharon Stone graduates from the Alec Baldwin school of public policy with this startling piece of political analysis (via drudge):

"I think Hillary Clinton is fantastic. But I think it is too soon for her to run. This may sound odd, but a woman should be past her sexuality when she runs. Hillary still has sexual power, and I don't think people will accept that. It's too threatening."

Just for the sake of argument, let's adopt Sharon's basic premise. My cursory analysis indicates it is indeed safe for Hillary to run.

Extending the argument to its logical end, I can also conclude that Sharon Stone made a wise decision in deferring her candidacy back in 1992.

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Saddam and al Qaeda: Overarguing denial 

The United States government is releasing a huge cache of documents captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which are indeed tantalizing in their hints at contacts between the Iraqi Ba'athists and al Qaeda or its allies. However, my gut tells me that the 911 Commission's basic conclusion will stand even after all the evidence is in: that the relationship between the two was tentative, and did not lead to any actual operations. Peter Bergen pushed me further in that direction this morning, with his assertion that "not one of the thousands of documents found in Afghanistan substantiate such an alliance, even though Al Qaeda was1 [sic] a highly bureaucratic organization that required potential recruits to fill out application forms." Since Bergen is a credible guy with deep knowledge of his subject matter (he is the author of the recently published The Osama bin Laden I Know : An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader, which I have purchased with great enthusiasm but not yet read), I trust that this claim is true as far as he knows. Smoking gun enthusiasts will argue that we may find as yet untranslated gems in that trove, but let's assume that the odds of that are diminishing every day.

However, in their zeal to resist the idea that Saddam and al Qaeda might have cooperated, the critics of the administration -- including Bergen -- do a lot of damage to their own credibility. First, they try to discredit the argument for a connection by responding to two different arguments as if they were one and the same: that Saddam and al Qaeda were working together on substantive matters (probably not true) and that Saddam and al Qaeda were likely enough to work together in the future that the United States had to take action in advance. The documents that have emerged so far tend to reinforce the 911 Commission's finding that Saddam and al Qaeda had not actually planned any missions together, but they make me, at least, less comfortable that they would not have in the future.

Bergen anticipates my point to some degree, but he does so by rather dramatically overstating his case:
Some administration supporters have drawn an analogy to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, in which Stalin and Hitler put aside ideology in favor of pragmatic goals (carving up the Baltic states, Poland and Finland). But history is not a good guide here: not only was the ideological divide between Al Qaeda and Baathist Iraq far greater than that between the two 20th-century dictators, but unlike Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the two sides had nothing practical to gain by working together. (bold emphasis added)

Now, I'm not going to argue with Bergen's estimate of the ideological divide between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda, but it does seem to me that the Stalin-Hitler analogy is exactly on point. Stalin and Hitler promoted starkly adverse ideologies -- you can't get further apart than communism and national socialism -- that drove them to similar results: expansionist totalitarianism. Saddam and al Qaeda claim different ideological roots, but they both aspire to the reestablishment of the Caliphate, they both use terrorism to promote that end, they both are intransigent opponents of the United States and Israel, they both hate the House of Saud, and, by the nineties, they both were using Islamist rhetoric in support of their geopolitical objectives.

That leads me to the second point, which is that Bergen and other critics hurt themselves by overstating their case. In addition to his highly suspect rejection of the analogy to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Bergen in his short op-ed piece Bergen makes at least two other highly disingenuous points. First, he writes that "Vice President Dick Cheney has argued that the evidence for such an alliance was 'overwhelming'". False, actually. According to the left-wing Center for American Progress, Cheney said:
There's overwhelming evidence there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government. I am very confident that there was an established relationship there. (bold emphasis added)

This is precisely the conclusion of the 911 Commission, which is cited approvingly by Bergen. The argument here is not over Cheney's statements, however much Bergen tries to make it so, but over the significance of the "connection" that everybody agrees was there. Did it hold the potential for an alliance that the United States could ill afford?

Second, Bergen tries to discredit evidence of a 1995 meeting between Osama bin Laden and Iraqi government representatives:
The results of this meeting were ... nothing. Two subsequent attacks against American forces in Saudi Arabia — a car bombing that year and the Khobar Towers attack in 1996 — were carried out, respectively, by locals who said they were influenced by Mr. bin Laden and by the Saudi branch of Hezbollah, a Shiite group aided by Iranian government officials.

What Bergen does not tell you, however, is that the same 9/11 Commission that he cites so approvingly for the proposition that Iraq and al Qaeda had no operational connection noted that there was, in fact, evidence that tied al Qaeda to the Khobar Towers bombing. See the 9/11 Commission report at p. 60 and the sources cited there. Khobar Towers was, in all probability, a joint venture. It is extremely disingenuous of Bergen to fail to note at least the possibility that this might be true.

Beyond the simple objective of bashing the Bush administration, the important question remains unrefuted: could the United States tolerate the risk that Saddam's Iraq, free of sanctions, would form an alliance of convenience with al Qaeda? I still believe that the answer was that we could not.
1. Bergen's use of the past tense is curious. It is interesting that opponents of the Bush administration's policies can't decide whether the war with al Qaeda is over or if it has gotten much worse because of his incompetence.

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Documenting Francophobia 

If you haven't checked out the presidential campaign "hotel demands" of John Kerry and Dick Cheney, now available at The Smoking Gun, please do. No matter who you are, your reaction to these disclosures will probably reinforce your conviction that you voted for the right ticket in November 2004.

The matter of bottled water is particularly political, apparently. The Vice President was quite happy with "four cans" of Diet Caffeine Free Sprite (I had thought that all Sprite was caffeine free, but we can forgive the hapless advance man for being careful), but when "Mrs. Cheney" was along they also required two bottles of sparkling water, "Calistoga or Perrier" (emphasis added). It seems that in the most francophobic American political campaign maybe ever, our vice president was -- *cough* -- letting his wife drink Perrier. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true power.

John Kerry's advance team, however, used very imperative language: "Bottled water must be everyplace that JK is." Woe betide the bottled water that is not in proximity to John Kerry.

The Kerrys like their bottled water sans gas, as we say in Provence. However, we never hear this in Provence: "Poland Spring preferred. No Evian" (emphasis added). Apparently neither French ancestry nor having actual French relatives -- to say nothing of looking French -- is enough for John Kerry to overcome a loathing for Evian that he must have acquired... hmmm. When and where did Kerry learn to hate Evian so much? When he studied a laboratory analysis of its contents.

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Monday, March 27, 2006

"Hey bin Laden" 

LGF helpfully points us to the new "Patrick Henry" song, "Hey bin Laden." Give it a listen. As Charles observed, if this one doesn't earn him a fatwa, nothing will.

I'm a big believer in mocking the enemy, and there's been far too little of it in this war. Sixty years ago, Spike Jones and the City Slickers made a specialty of it, particularly with their smash hit, "Der Fuhrer's Face." Yes, we need to kill jihadis, and killing is a serious business. But the seriousness of the war doesn't mean that it is somehow inappropriate to ridicule these sanctimonious, preachy, decapitating, bomb-detonating, mass-murdering windbags. After all, who is more important to mock than your enemy?

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Rubbing two brain cells together 

Alec Baldwin v. Sean Hannity.

Who ya got?

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Common sense and multiculturalism 

Mark Steyn has an article on the Abdul Rahman story in the JWR that, as always, is worth reading in its entirety.

Steyn gives us two thought provoking anecdotes that say a lot about how the West's values and approach to other cultures has evolved:

Consider, for example, the words of the Prince of Wales, speaking a few days ago at al-Azhar University in Cairo. This is "the world's oldest university," though what they learn there makes the average Ivy League nuthouse look like a beacon of sanity. Anyway, this is what His Royal Highness had to say to 800 Islamic "scholars":

"The recent ghastly strife and anger over the Danish cartoons shows the danger that comes of our failure to listen and to respect what is precious and sacred to others. In my view, the true mark of a civilized society is the respect it pays to minorities and to strangers."

That's correct. But the reality is our society pays enormous respect to minorities — President Bush holds a month-long Ramadan-a-ding-dong at the White House every year; the immediate reaction to the slaughter of 9/11 by the president, the prince, the prime ministers of Britain, Canada and everywhere else was to visit a mosque to demonstrate their great respect for Islam. One party to this dispute is respectful to a fault: after all, to describe the violence perpetrated by Muslims over the Danish cartoons as the "recent ghastly strife" barely passes muster as effete Brit toff understatement.

In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of "suttee" — the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. General Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:

''You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows.You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."

India today is better off without suttee. If we shrink from the logic of that, then in Afghanistan and many places far closer to home the implications are, as the Prince of Wales would say, "ghastly."

I think the term "culturally confident" is extremely apt, at least as illustrated in the two quotes from Britain's leaders. Somewhere along the line, multiculturalism, which began I think as a good faith tolerance of cultures different from our own, has evolved not into open minded tolerance, but into a lack of confidence, if not downright intolerance, of our own culural values.

Clearly, there are many many people in the West who have lost their cultural confidence. We've been walking on eggshells for years now, and to what effect? The Islamists don't seem to have any problems imposing their values on us when given the opportunity. Is cultural confidence lost to the West, and if not, what will it take to bring it back? Four years ago I would have predicted that we had begun a reversal of sorts, but the West's collective lack of spine in defending our own cherished values of free expression during the cartoon kerfuffle make me wonder whether, as a society, we've passed the point of no return.

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Will the Hamptons be destroyed? 

The CNBC weather man is beating the drums this morning about the risk of a major hurricane in the northeastern United States during the next decade or so. Pointedly, he did not blame global warming, but instead observed that ocean temperature patterns today are corresponding with those that triggered huge hurricanes in the northeast in 1938, 1944, and 1954.

The basis of CNBC's report seems to be this story, or one like it.

The current cycle and above-normal water temperatures are reminiscent of the pattern that eventually produced the 1938 hurricane that struck Providence, R.I. That storm killed 600 people in New England and Long Island. The 1938 hurricane was the strongest tropical system to strike the northeastern U.S. in recorded history, with maximum gusts of 186 mph, a 15- to 20-foot storm surge and 25- to 50-foot waves that left much of Providence under 10-15 feet of water. Forecasters at AccuWeather.com say that patterns are similar to those of the 1930s, 40s and 50s when storms such as the 1938 hurricane, the 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricanes and the Trio of 1954--Carol, Edna and Hazel--battered the coast from the Carolinas to New England. The worry is that it will be sooner, rather than later, for this region to be blasted again.

The 1938 storm was so powerful it altered the counters of the Long Island coastline. Click here and scroll down for some startling "before and after" aerial photographs. The difference between then and now is that the Hamptons were not nearly as built up. One can only wonder whether the houses there were built to withstand hurricane force winds. Have Hamptonites full absorbed the Department of Homeland Security's disaster preparedness tips? One can only hope.

And we must not forget the lessons of Katrina. Let's all agree right now that if the Hamptons are inundated by a huge hurricane we won't abandon all the poor people who can't evacuate while school buses sit undisturbed in their parking lots.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

The importance of the perception of victory: replying to Tbogg 

Lefty blog TBogg and his commenters are mocking me for this post, in which I asserted that we should all want the perception that al Qaeda has been defeated in Iraq, whatever our personal politics. Specifically:
Anybody who thinks that an American withdrawal from Iraq will weaken al Qaeda because there will no longer be the "incitement" of the "crusader occupation" is a fool. Victory begets victory, and defeat begets defeat. Whether or not the Iraq invasion has worked out precisely as its supporters had hoped -- it obviously has not -- it is surely in the interests of all Americans, and indeed all Westerners, that it be perceived as a defeat for al Qaeda. Any American who argues otherwise does so from a narrower agenda, such as the political advancement of Democrats. Any other Westerner who argues otherwise does so from misplaced anti-Americanism. There is no other plausible explanation.

TBogg replied:
To recap: victory begets victory which is not exclusively limited to victory and may also include defeat if you can make it look like victory. And if you point out that the defeat is, in actuality, defeat, and not victory, which it isn't - you hate America.

Personally I preferred pre-9/11 plausibility when reality was still in vogue.

Actually, the first part of TBogg's "recap" is precisely correct: "victory begets victory which is not exclusively limited to victory and may also include defeat if you can make it look like victory." There are countless such examples in American military history going both ways (see, e.g., the defense of the Alamo, virtually the entire campaign of the Confederacy before the fall of Atlanta, and the American war in the Philippines, for starters), but the archtype is the Tet offensive. The Tet offensive, a coordinated nationwide attack by the Viet Cong on the date of the Vietnamese lunar new year in January 1968, is now widely understood to have been an operational catastrophe for the insurgency that may have broken the back of the Viet Cong. But that's not the way it was reported in the Western press, probably because the attack's ferocity and proximity to Saigon seemed to discredit the claims of American commanders that they were winning. Shortly thereafter, Walter Cronkite delivered his now famous report "We are mired in stalemate," Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the 1968 election, and the public debate turned away from the prospect of victory to the acceptable conditions for withdrawal. Even though the war would drag on for Americans for four more years while Nixon and Kissinger negotiated the Paris accords that would end American involvement, the United States had effectively given up just as it was relearning the art of counterinsurgency (as we seem condemned to do every couple of generations) because of the Viet Cong was perceived to have won a victory, regardless of the reality.

Setting aside for a future post the question of how to measure success or failure for the United States in Iraq, I believe we can agree on at least a few points.

First, al Qaeda has declared that it will drive the United States from Iraq and has staked its prestige on that objective. If it succeeds, its prestige will grow just as its antecedents rose to influence after driving the Soviets from Afghanistan.1 If it doesn't, al Qaeda will suffer a blow to its credibility, one of many we must inflict in order to degrade the attractiveness of its ideology and, ultimately, operational power.

Second, when the United States does ultimately withdraw its military from Iraq, al Qaeda will benefit if it is widely believed that it forced the United States from Iraq, and it will suffer if it is widely agreed -- especially in the Muslim world -- that whatever the reason for American withdrawal, al Qaeda did not bring it about.

Third, genuine enemies of the jihad should want al Qaeda to suffer, and therefore should want the world to perceive that al Qaeda did not bring about the American withdrawal from Iraq, when and if it occurs. No matter how much they also hate George Bush.

The left instinctively agrees with me that perceptions matter in war. It proves this every day in the debate over the reasons for the war. Whatever the stated reasons of the Bush administration -- which has, both legitimately and illegitimately2, pushed a particular perception of its reasons for deciding to invade -- the left often or perhaps usually claims that the Bush administration is not telling the truth about its motives. We have been hearing and reading these explanations for years: the Iraq war is to grab the oil for Halliburton, or because Israel issues the White House secret instructions through a cabal of neocons, or to foment a "climate of fear" to achieve electoral advantage, or because Bush the son has to exorcize the demons of Bush the father. The left does this because it knows that American voters will be much less forgiving of the alleged "failure" in Iraq if they believe that the reasons for the war were in the personal interest of the president and his chief advisors, rather than a sincere expression of the perceived national interest.

Well, if the perceptions of our reasons for starting the war matter, the perceptions of our reasons for ending it -- or at least our involvement in it -- must also matter. My fairly incrementalist claim is that they matter beyond American domestic political considerations. They also matter to the credibility and fortunes of al Qaeda. In this, the anti-al Qaeda left should agree with me that we are all much better off if at the end of the American time in Iraq, whenever that end shall come, the world perceives al Qaeda as having failed.

The good news for our compadres on the left -- at least those who are more concerned with advancing American interests in the war against al Qaeda than validating every last criticism of the current administration -- is that it is entirely possible to believe that the Iraq adventure has been an operational failure for the United States in the sense that it was not worth the cost and still agree with me that it has been a grievous defeat for al Qaeda. One can believe Bush is incompetent and scream it from the rooftops, and still advertise the idea that al Qaeda is worse for wear having turned Mesopotamia into a battleground. On Iraq, lefties can have their cake and eat it too, which they almost never get to do.

Of course, unreconstructed lefties will complain that it is not credible to claim that al Qaeda is on its way to defeat in Iraq. Some lefties still bleat that "Iraq has nothing to do with f*cking al Qaeda. Putz!" Even if that were true before the war, pretty much everybody, not least of all al Qaeda, agrees that since the invasion Iraq has had quite a bit to do with al Qaeda. If al Qaeda was not in Iraq before the Coalition's invasion, it is now, attracted there by the prospect of humiliating the United States, just as it believes it humiliated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Indeed, this is the crux of the main lefty complaint about the Iraq war, at least as it relates to al Qaeda: that the jihadis have exploited popular outrage among Arabs and other Muslims over the Iraq war to recruit men and attract money for the purpose of ousting Westerners from Iraq, ensuring that popular sovereignty never gains legitimacy there, and attacking Westerners elsewhere, all of which undermines American credibility and diminishes our security. In this way of thinking, the problem isn't just that the war in Iraq is a waste, or that the costs far outweigh the benefits of ousting Saddam. It's that the war has, allegedly, strengthened the jihadis.

But has it? Is it not possible that just as al Qaeda has leveraged the battle of Iraq into more recruits and money, its methods and ideology -- now fully revealed in all their implications for Arabs and other Muslims -- have also inspired many hundreds of thousands to take up arms against it? About a month ago I spelled out this argument in some modest detail:
Recognizing that there are bitter divisions over whether Iraq was a legitimate extension of the wider war, almost nobody disagrees that it is part of that war now. Commentators tend to obsess about the impact of present-day events on the future of Iraq and the politics of Coalition democracies, but the most important effects are on the wider war against al Qaeda and its ideological allies. When we look at Iraq through that lens, we see an entirely different debate. The clear majority in the West argue that the war in Iraq is enormously beneficial to the jihad. A small, besieged minority -- of which I am a member -- believe that Iraq is to al Qaeda as Kursk was to Germany, or Afghanistan was to the Soviet Union: a strategic ambush. Even as the war has clearly deepened anti-Americanism in the region, perhaps irredeemably so, as Peters argues it has also polarized millions of Arabs and other Muslims against the jihad. This polarization is the necessary first step to victory against the jihadi ideology.

Jihadism will not be defeated and the terrorist threat to the West ended until the ideology that underlies it is discredited among Arabs and Muslims. Why? Because only Arabs and Muslims can win this war, which is first and foremost a massive civil insurgency within Islam. If love of America were a prerequisite to that result, we would be in a lot of trouble in the wider war. However, as I have argued many times before, the crucial prerequisite is not that we win hearts, but that the jihad, by its actions and failures, makes enemies. As this happens, as the Arab and Muslim world realizes that the jihadis offer only death and despair notwithstanding their soaring rhetoric, more Arabs and Muslims will supply the intelligence and make the sacrifices necessary to defeat al Qaeda and its allies in the streets and finally in the caves.

The great opponents of the Iraq war, including many liberal hawks who have now "returned," argue that al Qaeda has leveraged the Iraq war into waves of new volunteers and huge new resources. However, this almost certainly true but exquisitely unidimensional fact is of little use in describing the wider jihad's strategic condition. The armed forces and military industrial capacity of Germany were almost certainly larger at the end of 1942 than at the end of 1941, but that did not mean that its position had improved. So it is with al Qaeda.

How do the jihadis earn these enemies that will one day, this generation or the next, defeat them? In two ways. First, the jihadis hurt their own credibility by adopting tactics that alienate Arabs and Muslims. The United States and its allies presented al Qaeda with an irresistable hard target when it occupied Iraq. Austin Bay made precisely this point two months before the invasion. When al Qaeda and its domestic Sunni allies failed to dent the hard target they had to choose between giving up on Iraq -- a decision that would have shattered their credibility -- or attacking softer targets. They started blowing up civilians, particularly Shiites, which decision polarized the insurgency and created millions of enemies of al Qaeda. They extended their war to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey taken before the attacks on Egypt and Jordan, support among Muslims for suicide bombing as a tactic and Osama bin Laden as a leader declined significantly between 2003 and July 2005, notwithstanding surging anti-Americanism during the same period. It is a safe bet that the jihad and its ideology is even less popular after the slaughter at Sharm al-Sheikh, Amman and the Golden Mosque.

Second, the jihadis create enemies by failing. Yes, al Qaeda was able to attract volunteers, money and arms to "defend" Iraq. Notwithstanding the ignominious failure of the optimistic scenarios peddled by the Bush administration before the war and in the early months of the occupation, the lingering imperfections of Iraqi democracy and the continuing low-grade war, it is far more likely than not that Iraq will sustain the most diverse and representative government in the Arab world (with the possible exception of Lebanon). More importantly, it does not matter if the Arab world believes that this result is in spite of America's efforts, rather than because of them. Indeed, al Qaeda will be all the more humiliated -- and its ideology that much more discredited among Muslims -- if Muslims believe that Iraqis alone defeated it in Iraq.

So, yes, Tbogg, America can fail in many of its objectives in Iraq and al Qaeda can still come out the big loser. You can hate Bush and still celebrate a defeat for the jihad. The question is, why don't you?
1. Bin Laden recognizes the value of claiming the credit for victory. He quite famously promoted the perception of the victory over the Soviets as having been entirely to the credit of the mujahideen, even though they weren't able to get anywhere against the Soviet helicopters until the United States gave them Stinger missiles.
2. Legitimate reasons are geopolitical -- the protocols of diplomacy require us to deny that one of our reasons for invade Iraq was to coerce and cajole Saudi Arabia into cracking down on al Qaeda. But it was. Illegitimate reasons include the administration's deliberately unclear statements about the connections between Saddam's government and September 11, which were largely for domestic political purposes.

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Today, I've lived longer than F. Scott Fitzgerald 

As of today, I have lived longer than F. Scott Fitzgerald did. That's, er, sobering. And, in light of our respective lifetime achievements, food for thought.

At age 24, Fitzgerald published This Side of Paradise, an autobiographical novel set at my favorite university. It was an instant hit and made Fitzgerald famous, such that my grandmother, who was four years younger than Fitzgerald, remembered when it was a bestseller stacked up in book stores. That same year, 1920, Fitzgerald "married the beautiful Zelda Sayre and together they embarked on a rich life of endless parties."

To be clear, I've done none of that. I'm rarely even invited to parties, and when I have been I either forget to go or the hosts regret having me.

The rich life of endless parties, however, did not stop Fitzgerald from pumping out The Beautiful and the Damned, which I have never read but which you have to admit has a cool title, and, of course, The Great Gatsby, which is, according to The Guardian, the 48th greatest novel of all time.

Fitzgerald also wrote screenplays, and some very amusing short stories during a time when short stories were a staple of American popular entertainment. He even veered into speculative or even science fiction, although lit snobs would find some specious ground to deny it. See, e.g., "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz." (Both short story links go to the full text, so you can read them right now if you are so inclined!)

Here's to hoping that I can accomplish in my entire life a fraction of what Scott Fitzgerald achieved in his truncated one.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

My kind of kitten blogging 

A four-week-old Siberian tiger at the zoo in Berlin, 2004. Two wild baby tigers, orphaned and famished, scrambled out of a Siberian forest in eastern Russia and into the hands of startled loggers, the Russian ministry of natural resources said.

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Harper's Magazine has gone insane 

I subscribed to Harper's Magazine for many years, but gave it up a few years back when my subscription lapsed. It has developed such a case of unreconstructed "Bush derangement syndrome" that it has moved from the credible center-left to to the barking moonbat left. The March issue was given over to the magazine's campaign for the impeachment of the president. Now, the April issue devotes its cover story to the prospect of an "American Coup D'Etat" (no link). The opening paragraph reads thusly:
Eternal vigilence being the price of liberty, Americans -- who spent decades wargaming a Soviet invasion and have taken more recently to daydreaming about "ticking bomb" scenarios -- should cast at least an occasional thought toward the only truly existential threat that American democracy might face today. We now live in a unipolar world, after all, in which conquest of the United States by an outside power is nearly inconceivable. Even the best-equipped terrorists, for their part, could dispatch at most a city or two; and armed revolution is a futile prospect, so fearsomely is our homeland secured by police and military forces. To subdue America entirely, the only route remaining would be to seize the machinery of state itself, to steer it toward malign ends -- to carry out, that is, a coup d'etat.

When the far right used to say such things -- remember the black helicopter crowd? -- liberals denounced them as crazies when and if they gave them any thought at all. What has changed to cause one of America's leading pop intellectual magazines to raise a scenario it would have mocked a few years ago? Feel free to offer your speculations in the comments.

In the meantime, reflect upon this bit from the same issue, a factoid from the Harper's Index:
Percentage of Americans who say they trust the military, the presidency, and the Congress, respectively: 74, 44, 22.

Does this make Harper's speculation more or less absurd?

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Of course we want permanent bases in Iraq 

This kind of thinking is very silly:
Even as military planners look to withdraw significant numbers of American troops from Iraq in the coming year, the Bush administration continues to request hundreds of millions of dollars for large bases there, raising concerns over whether they are intended as permanent sites for U.S. forces.

When have we ever fought a war and invested our strategic hopes in a new government and not kept permanent bases? I can think of but one example.

The argument, of course, is that a "permanent" presence will incite al Qaeda:
"It's the kind of thing that incites terrorism," Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said of long-term or permanent U.S. bases in countries such as Iraq.

Paul, a critic of the war, is co-sponsoring a bipartisan bill that would make it official policy not to maintain such bases in Iraq. He noted that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden cited U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia as grounds for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Why do people, especially Republicans from Texas, insist on legitimizing bin Laden's view of the world? Who cares if bin Laden "cited U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia" as grounds for the September 11 attacks? He also cited the expulsion of Saddam from Kuwait in 1991 and American support for Israel. He thinks that Spain should be a Muslim country called al Andalus, that women should walk around with bags over their heads, and that the only legitimate source of governmental power is Allah. Do we think that al Qaeda will pack it in -- "all right, then, you're out of Iraq, no hard feelings" -- if America withdraws? Indeed, I can't think of a better reason in support of permanent bases in Iraq than bin Laden's opposition to them. That, and the containment of Iran.

Let us agree on several propositions, which I believe to be self-evident but apparently require endless reinforcement.

First, we will keep no troops in Iraq over the objections of its legitimate government.

Second, having been the midwife of that government, we will not abandon it as long as it is legitimate in the eyes of most Iraqis.

Third, if the legitimate government of any country offers basing privileges to the United States and if it is otherwise in our strategic interests to accept those privileges, we should not allow the objections of Osama bin Laden to dictate a contrary decision.

Fourth, al Qaeda has publicly vowed to expel the United States from Iraq. We are far more likely to strengthen al Qaeda's credibility and therefore its ability to attract men and money if we grant it that victory than if we deny it.

Anybody who thinks that an American withdrawal from Iraq will weaken al Qaeda because there will no longer be the "incitement" of the "crusader occupation" is a fool. Victory begets victory, and defeat begets defeat. Whether or not the Iraq invasion has worked out precisely as its supporters had hoped -- it obviously has not -- it is surely in the interests of all Americans, and indeed all Westerners, that it be perceived as a defeat for al Qaeda. Any American who argues otherwise does so from a narrower agenda, such as the political advancement of Democrats. Any other Westerner who argues otherwise does so from misplaced anti-Americanism. There is no other plausible explanation.

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Impending milestone 

At some point later today, this blog will achieve its millionth page view since the Site Meter went up. That's, like, a lot of page views for a humble blog.

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America sucks! 


CWCID: John Hawkins.

In other news, my week of intense travel and other commitments, which began Sunday evening in Washington at a delightful dinner with the Villain and Cassandra, ends today. I have pent up a lot of things, much of which should come pouring out, for better or for worse, in the next few days.

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Why America supports Israel 

Time and again we read that America's foreign policy is slaved to Israel because of the nefarious workings of the "Israel lobby." I have heard this myself ever since my undergraduate days more than 25 years ago, from leftist professors and even the mother of a girlfriend who was working toward a graduate degree in "United Nations studies."

Martin Kramer's response, which sets forth the "realist" case for supporting Israel, is today's essential reading.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006


Is China pandaring to the people of Taiwan, or is Chen pandaring to his hard-line voters?
Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian told China on Thursday to drop the idea of giving the island a goodwill gift of a pair of pandas, saying they would not be happy.

"A-bian sincerely urges the Chinese leaders to leave the giant pandas in their natural habitat, because pandas brought up in cages or given as gifts will not be happy," Chen wrote in a weekly electronic newsletter, using his nickname...

Or maybe I'm just pandaring to our readers.

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The murder of Allen Ginsberg 


(Real thing here).

CWCID: Glenn.

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Who is Dave Pike? 

As a collector of jazz and funky music, I learned the answer to that question about four years ago. As a fan of "traditional" jazz, it took me many years to venture too far afield from the well known artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Clifford Brown, and other giants. But enjoying and collecting music is all about exploration, and at some point I stumbled into the genre of "soul jazz," or at least the form of it so well rendered on the Prestige label, whose artists brought forth great music with plenty of organ and guitar and heavy drums. Organists like Charles Kynard and Trudy Pitts, guitarists like Melvin Sparks and Boogaloo Joe Jones, drummers like Bernard Purdie and Idris Muhammed. And from there I was sufficiently emboldened to explore some of the more untraditional forms of jazz, some of which cross dangerously over to other genres like funk and soul, and, dare I say it, easy listening pop. And then I discovered Dave Pike.

Who is Dave Pike? Hyp Wax tells it like it is.

Dave Pike is a class act, unafraid to try any style, at least for an album, and usually succeeding wildly at it. His earliest LPs and session work are classics and mostly hard to find. Then as he "freaked out" in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he laid down some monster cuts of psychedelic soul jazz, James Brown covers, funky-sitar beats, and more that still enjoy new favor in the nightclubs of the subsequent century. There are not that many soul-jazz and funk vibraphonists of great note, but Dave Pike is the first name in hip vibe records.

Born in 1938 Detroit, he first played piano and drums, even joining the Detroit Junior Symphony Orchestra at age eleven. Having moved to Los Angeles, Pike in 1954 discovered the vibraphone at a drum shop. This became his chief instrument, seconded by the marimba, which he played early on with Mexican bands and later on his albums. He played rock and Latin in his early days, and later this experience lent his music great versatility as well as popular appeal. Playing always with great earnestness, humor, and even earthiness, he can be heard chanting along with the tunes on several LPs.

Pike began to gig with such jazz stars as Elmo Hope, Buddy DeFranco, and Paul Bley by 1956. By 1958 Pike had moved to San Francisco to be closer to New York musicians, and in 1960 he made the move to New York. Siz years of stints with globetrotting Herbie Mann exposed him to some of the world's farther-flung music. In 1966 he moved to Germany, where the newly formed Dave Pike Set quickly became the leading jazz act. Pike's usually thematic albums are recognized as seminal jazz and soul-jazz classics, and at least one cut has reached immortal status among disc jockeys.

What to buy (assuming y'all still buy music in some album form)? Its all good, but I'd recommend starting with Jazz for the Jet Set, which came out on Atlantic in 1968. It features Herbie Hancock and is groovy, baby. Manhattan Latin is a nice loungey set with a Latin vib, suitable for all occasions. The Dave Pike Set albums on MPS, like Noisy Silence - Gentle Noise are a bit more sophisticated and varied, using a wide range of rhythms and adding the occasional sitar twang, but they are truly outstanding as well. The best of the MPS albums have been collected on the compilation Masterpieces, which is fantastic, albeit hard to find. (Note: I have linked to Amazon, but have had better luck finding some of these titles over at Dusty Groove America.)
Updated with album links.

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Well well well 

ABC News:

A newly released pre-war Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995 after approval by Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995 and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open (in the future) based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.


Of course there has been plenty of evidence linking Saddam and Al-Qaeda, yet there are plenty of people who make a point of denying any connection whatsoever. But at some point the evidence will become overwhelming, and I suspect that we have reached that point, or will very soon now that these documents are being examined.

(And before you Hooligans start foaming on your keyboards, please note that I am making no assertions whatsoever regarding any direct linkage between 9-11 and Saddam, and never have.)

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Military deaths 

Powerline reveals a startling statistic:

[M]ore active duty service members (2,392) died in 1980, Jimmy Carter's last year in office, than in either 2003 or 2004, when the Iraq war was being fought (1,410 and 1,887, respectively). No military actions were conducted during 1980 other than the failed effort to rescue the hostages in Iran, in which eight servicemen lost their lives. Keep that in mind next time you hear Carter pontificating about the "carnage" in Iraq.

In my original post, I did not get into the back and forth over these statistics that is happening around the blogosphere, but it is quite interesting. As often is the case, Belmont Club cuts right to the chase with an excellent summary and analysis of the issue at hand.

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