Saturday, September 30, 2006

One year ago today at TigerHawk 

One year ago today we covered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's speech at Princeton University, in which she set forth the case for the democratization strategy, among other subjects.

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The Eyes have it 

In case you were thinking otherwise, this evening I will be glued to the television to watch the Iowa Hawkeyes play host to the Ohio State Buckeyes, currently the number one college football team in the country. The hype around this game has been so huge, wire services are now hyping the hype. No matter, the hype is worthy. In their entire history the Hawkeyes have only played the number one team in the country eight times, and they have never emerged victorious.

It will be different this time... won't it?


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If you aren't yet fed up with photographs of (generally) right-wing or at least libertarian bloggers and media celebrities, Michael Totten another round-up.

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A streak of tigers 

A "streak of tigers," you ask? Why not a "cast of hawks"?

Collective nouns, A-H here, and I-Z here.

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Islamist rage and the dark side of European genius 

Michelle Malkin is calling on us to support Robert Redeker. I had never heard of the man, but his cause strikes me as just:

A French high school philosophy teacher and author who carried out a scathing attack against the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in a newspaper commentary says he has gone into hiding under police protection after receiving a series of death threats, including one disseminated on an online radical Islamist forum.

The teacher, Robert Redeker, 52, wrote in the center-right daily Le Figaro 10 days ago that Muhammad was “a merciless warlord, a looter, a mass-murderer of Jews and a polygamist,” and called the Koran “a book of incredible violence.”

The Redeker case is the latest manifestation in Europe of a mounting ideological battle that pits those who believe Islam and the Prophet Muhammad can be criticized in the name of free speech against those in the Muslim community who believe no criticism can be tolerated.

And, I might add, against those in the non-Muslim community who pusillanimously shrink from the anticipated the Muslim reaction. Redeker now knows what it is like to be at the other end of that rage:
Immediately afterward, Mr. Redeker, who teaches in a public high school near Toulouse and is the author of several books on philosophy, began to receive death threats by telephone, e-mail and through the online Islamist Web site known as Al Hesbah, a password-protected forum with ties to Al Qaeda. The forum published photos of him and what it said was his home address, directions to his home and his cellphone number, according to the SITE Institute, which tracks violent Islamist groups.

That day’s issue of Le Figaro was banned in Egypt and Tunisia. Mr. Redeker was denounced by a commentator on Al Jazeera television.

“I can’t work, I can’t come and go and am obliged to hide,” Mr. Redeker told Europe 1 radio in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location on Friday. “So in some way, the Islamists have succeeded in punishing me on the territory of the republic as if I were guilty of a crime of opinion.”

Mr. Redeker, who has kept in contact with news agencies by cellphone and e-mail, said that his wife and their children had also been threatened with death. He told Europe 1 that his wife was in hiding with him, but he was less clear about his three children, saying that one of them had been forced to move and that another was in a boarding school.

Asked to describe the sort of threats he had received, Mr. Redeker replied, “You will never feel secure on this earth. One billion, three hundred thousand Muslims are ready to kill you.”

Even the New York Times was apparently unable to fullfill its usual function of finding a "moderate" Muslim who would denounce those who have threatened Redeker.

The Redeker fatwa is of a piece with the grandfather of such fatwas, the Ayatollah Khomeini's demand that Muslims assassinate Salman Rushdie for having written The Satanic Verses. Two years ago, an assassin linked to al Qaeda murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Last year, Islamists drove Ayaan Hirsi Ali into the relative security of the United States, she becoming the first refugee from the Netherlands since World War II. This year, it follows the Danish cartoons controversy, Pope Benedict's speech, and the Berlin opera -- which surrendered only this week -- in having become the latest excuse for barbaric crimes in the name of The Prophet.

Whenever I read these stories, I wonder "What would The Prophet do?" It seems to me that there are only two answers. Either The Prophet would approve of murder, arson and vandalism in his name because some infidel expresses an opinion, or he would disapprove. If he would approve, then everything these critics have said about Islam, at least as practiced by fundamentalists, must be true. If he would disapprove, then his followers -- those who would commit these crimes against free expression -- are themselves dishonoring their Prophet by lying about his teachings. Is there a third answer? I can't locate one.

Europeans are realizing this. German Prime Minister Angela Merkel stepped right up and denounced the cancellation of Mozart's Idomeneo, saying "We must be careful that we do not increasingly shy away out of fear of violent radicals. Self-censorship out of fear is not tolerable." No, it is not. Western civilization cannot tolerate the intolerant.

Prime Minister Merkel is a politician, and probably would not have been so unequivocal if she did not believe that would be popular. She would have taken the more "nuanced" position of French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who qualifies free speech with the requirement that it must "respect others, of course."

I wonder if Europe will eventually snap under these tensions. For well over a thousand years, it was the most brutal, violent continent on the planet. Has that really all changed in sixty years? Ralph Peters thinks we would be mistaken to think it had. From his excellent book, New Glory (which you are a fool not to read):
Yet Europe is likely to be good for a number of surprises - surprising not least to Europeans themselves. With our short historical memory (one American quality Germans welcome), we thoughtlessly accept that, since much of Europe appears to be pacifist now, so it shall remain. But no continent has exported as much misery and slaughter as Europe has done, and the chances are better than fair that Europe is only catching its breath after the calamities it inflicted upon itself in the last century.

We last saw widespread pacifism in Europe just before 1914 and again during the half-time break in that great European civil war that lasted until 1945 (or 1991 east of the Elbe).

Europe's current round of playing pacifist dress up was enabled by America's protection during the Cold War. We allowed our European wards to get away with a minimum number of chores. The United States did (and still does) the dirty work, seconded by our direct ancestor, Britain. Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization merely obscured how little was asked of Europe. For almost a century the work of freedom and global security has been handled by the great Anglolateral alliance born of a struggle against the tyranny of continental European philosophies hatched on the Rhine and Danube. Our struggle continues today, against fanaticism and terror.

It is unlikely that Europe's present pacifism will last... Europe will rediscover its genius, reforming itself if necessary. There will be plenty of bitterness and recriminations along the way, but Europe will accept the need to change because change will be forced upon it. The trouble with European genius, of course, is that it has a dark side. If its racist populations feel sufficiently threatened by the Muslim millions within their divided societies and by terror exported from the Islamic heartlands, Europe may respond with a cruelty unimaginable to us today. After all, Europe is the continent that mastered ethnic cleansing and genocide after a thousand years of pactice. We Americans may find ourselves in the unexpected
position of confronting the Europe of tomorrow as we try to restrain its barbarities toward Muslims.

Are there the first hints of a European backlash in the events of the last year? Just yesterday, I fell into a conversation with a colleague who recounted a dinner that he had had in Germany this week. His hosts were liberal, educated professionals who have always been most moderate in tone, but they were tired of Muslim rage, and wanted to know how long they would have to put up with it. They, like many Europeans, are far less willing than many Americans to call radical Islamism what it is -- an implacable, barbaric enemy that must be driven from our midst -- because they are afraid that to give voice to their fears will spark the return of "the dark side" of European genius, something that today's generation wishes was gone forever.

MORE: The first fifteen minutes or so of last week's "Blog Week In Review" podcast, featuring Austin Bay, Glenn Reynolds and Mark Steyn, touches on just the topic of this post and is well worth listening to (in its entirety, actually).

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Friday, September 29, 2006

The self-destruction of the Democrats: History repeats itself? 

I am enjoying Lanny Davis' book Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America quite a bit more than I would have predicted. This passage on the self-destructive bent of the "anti-war" faction within the Democratic party -- in 1968 -- perhaps has some lessons for today (even if Davis does not make the point explicitly):

So, almost without noticing, the legitimate anti-Vietnam War opposition within the mainstream liberal readership of the Democratic Party had become tarred with the same brush as those who looked, acted, and talked in ways that threatened the broad American middle class and middle-American values. With only a few exceptions, Democratic liberals were not willing to challenge them or disown them. Indeed, many -- perhaps it is accurate to say, most (including me) -- facilitated, enabled, or even defended these nihilists of the left.

During the 1968 general election campaign, the far left so dominated and intimidated many Democratic Party liberals that they actually decided, at least until the late fall of the presidential campaign, that it was not worth trying to help Vice President Hubert Humphrey defeat Richard Nixon for the presidency. I remember attending a meeting of Connecticut liberals in Hartford, Connecticut, where someone actually said that it would be better to let Nixon defeat Humphrey and his "fellow pro-War Democrats," so we could "take the country back in 1972." I actually felt some sympmathy for this stupid position after the 1968 Chicago Dedmocratic Convention. I and many other young liberal activists were furious with Democratic presidential candidate Vice President Humphrey for not criticizing the police clubbing of anti-War demonstrators on the streets outside the hall of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August 1968. And I almost agreed that it would be better for Humphrey to lose.

One is tempted to believe that this business of shooting their own is a phenomenon of Connecticut Democrats, but I somehow doubt it. It is obvious, though, that they are doing it again.

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Our absurdly high drinking age 

Ann Althouse is exactly right.

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Roger L. Simon interviews Senator Joe Lieberman 

Roger L. Simon interviewed Senator Joe Lieberman on a range of topics, including particularly the topic of the week, partisanship and its influence on the national discussion. Note particularly Lieberman's comments regarding the failure of the parties to meet the demands of the "market," and the length of his memory.

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Sabotage as idiom 

Somebody blew up an Iranian natural gas pipeline:

An explosion on a natural gas pipeline outside an Iranian border city has halted the flow of gas to Turkey, Iranian authorities said Friday.

The governor of Maku, a town in western Iran near the Turkish border, Safar Aseri, said the fire broke out at 11:30 p.m. Thursday (2000GMT) and was extinquished an hour later, state-run radio reported Friday.

Aseri was quoted as saying the cause of the explosion was under investigation. But officials at the Iranian Embassy in Ankara said they believed the explosion was an act of sabotage by separatist Kurdish rebels who are active on both sides of the Iran-Turkey border.

The question is, was this wanton destruction, or a means of communication? If you are a Kurdish guerrilla in northern Iran, what is your objective in sabotage? Surely you know that you cannot do actual damage to the Iranian economy. Perhaps you are trying to provoke the Islamic Republic. May I suggest that you may be trying to trigger an Iranian intervention so overt and violent that the world, meaning particularly the United States, has a reason to intervene on your behalf. Do the Kurds of northern Iran want their own Operation Northern Watch? Is Iranian Kurdistan the back door?

It's Friday, so flip off the safeties and comment at will.

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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fear and politics: Remembering the "Daisy" ad 

As previously reported, I'm making my way through Clinton advisor Lanny Davis' quite balanced book Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America, which I took up on Monday night to help prepare for the Pajamas Media panel discussion on partisanship. In looking for the roots of today's vicious politics, Davis surveys the history of hardball scandal-mongering and personal attacks, among them the "Daisy" ad run by the Johnson campaign during the campaign of 1964. Through the magic of YouTube, we can see that ad just like it was yesterday:

Turn up your speakers for the full effect.

Here is what Davis wrote (pp. 50-51):

TV political ads were still relatively new, with a few having been used in presidential campaigns as far back as the 1952 Eisenhower-Stevenson race. But many people believe that this ad remains one of the most successful negative-attack ads in U.S. history. It is also probably one of the nastiest and most devestating ever. The anti-Goldwater ad started out with a little girl standing in a beautiful field counting as she pulls petals off a flower (thus the "Daisy" moniker)....

The ad ran just once, during the "Movie of the Week" on September 7, 1964, but its impact was immense. News broadcasts replayed it, political pundits commented on it, and, using today's parlance, it gained "traction" in multiple national and local media. There was little doubt then, and no doubt today, that this ad was unfair, inaccurate, and over-the-top. Goldwater did not favor nuclear bombs to fight the Soviet Union. The danger of nuclear war if he had been elected President could not responsibly be suggested as greater than if Lyndon Johnson were reelected, but that is exactly what the ad suggested...

The ad could have been a key factor in turning an inevitable defeat into one of the greatest landslide defeats in U.S. history. American campaigns would never be the same. In fact, it could be argued that today's gotcha culture, using innuendo-based TV attack ads, began with this ad. We Democrats may have celebrated the ad and rationalized that it resonated because of the public's serious doubts about Goldwater's judgment, but Republican leaders -- and not just Goldwater partisans -- also took note, as did their media and political consultants. "Fair game? Well, our turn will come," they must have thought. There will be payback time, and, as we know, there was.

If Davis is right -- that the "Daisy" ad deepened the landslide that buried Goldwater -- then it also pushed the Republican party permanently to the right. Republican rules at the time allocated delegates for the nominating convention among the states according to the proportionate vote in the prior general presidential election. Because so many northeasterners abstained or voted for Johnson in 1964 out of paranoic fear of Goldwater (my grandparents, staunch "Rockefeller wing" Republicans, were among them), the more conservative south and west gained outsized influence within the party in 1968 and thereafter. Since the Goldwater debacle, no northeasterner has won the GOP nomination, and all Republicans elected to the presidency have come from California or Texas. Blame him or credit him, Lyndon Johnson and the "Daisy" ad may bear primary original responsibility for the nomination of Ronald Reagan in 1980. That's some serious blowback.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq admits to 4000 dead "foreign fighters" 

Sticky stuff, that flypaper.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq looking to spring the "blind sheikh" 

It seems that Andy McCarthy's fine work as a federal prosecutor has come to the attention of Al Qaeda in Iraq:

An audio tape has been released apparently showing al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir making a plea to supporters to capture foreign hostages.

Hamza urged his followers to undertake the kidnappings in a bid to try and free a Muslim cleric jailed in the United States.

"I call on every holy fighter in Iraq to strive during this holy month [Ramadan] ... to capture some dogs of the Christians so that we can liberate our imprisoned sheikh," said the speaker, who has been identified as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

It is thought the comments were referring to Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman who was jailed over charges linked to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

As most of you know, Andy McCarthy prosecuted the "blind sheikh" before he became a pundit and blogger (at The Corner). How many of us can say that we've actually pissed off al Qaeda? Cool.

I do have a question, though. If al Qaeda's exploitation of the Iraq war to promote terrorism constitutes evidence that we should not have invaded Iraq, is its exploitation of our prosecution of terrorists, also to promote terrorism, evidence that we should not prosecute terrorists? If not, why not?

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More pictures from the Pajamas Media National Press Club event 

For those of you who live to see pictures of your favorite bloggers, fellow Princetonian Fausta has more.

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"A keen eye for weakness" 

Fouad Ajami:

This is a region with a keen eye for the weakness of strangers. The heated debate about the origins of our drive into Iraq would surely pale by comparison to the debate that would erupt--here and elsewhere--were we to give in to despair and cast the Iraqis adrift.

For those of you who are unaware of my advice to read Ajami's book on Iraq, The Foreigner's Gift, or bizarrely unwilling to follow it, today's essay is a good introduction to its main themes.

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Notes on partisanship: Putting the Swifties in perspective 

Tom Bevan, proprietor of RealClearPolitics, was one of the participants at the previously discussed Pajamas Media panel discussion Tuesday night, the topic of which was "How partisan is too partisan"? In an essay that essentially concludes that partisanship is in the eye of the beholder, Bevan makes a couple of interesting observations about the influence of the "Swift Boat" veterans on the 2004 presidential campaign, a subject that outraged John Kerry's defenders, and which received virtually no credible coverage in the mainstream media:

One reason the question of "how partisan is too partisan" is almost impossible to answer is because the concept of partisanship is itself too subjective. The example I cited last night was the Swift Boat Veterans from the 2004 campaign. Basically half the country - meaning the 48% who voted for John Kerry - viewed the Swift Boat Veterans as an egregiously partisan attack. The other half of the country - or at least a good portion of the 51% who ended up voting for George W. Bush - thought it was perfectly legitimate, indeed newsworthy, that more than 100 of John Kerry's fellow Vietnam vets, including nearly all of his commanders, came forward and went on record to say that he was unfit to serve as Commander in Chief for a variety of reasons.

I think most would agree that if 100-plus members of the Texas Air National Guard had come forward in the same manner to denounce George W. Bush in either 2000 or 2004, liberals would have had a much different opinion on the matter - and the media would have covered it extensively.

Looking back at it, the media spent a lot of time parsing the Swifties' specific claims about the events for which John Kerry received medals, and decided that the attacks were not credible and the whole discussion was undignified. According to my frail recollection, there was fair less discussion in the press about the basic point, that 100 of John Kerry's former mates had stepped forward to denounce him. That fact, which I believe the left ignored because they assumed it was residual bitterness over his "Winter Soldier" testimony, was a clue to an underlying truth: John Kerry is not a very attractive person to average Americans, particularly average American men. Either way, there is no doubt that had the same thing happened to George W. Bush it would have suddenly become an important and legitimate story, at least on West 43rd Street.

CWCID: Paul Mirengoff.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tiger eyes 

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More on the NIE and the "fueling" of terrorism 

Extending a bit on my short notes of a few hours ago, I was delighted to see Stratfor make essentially the same point($) (since, after all, nothing is more delightful than somebody who agrees with me):

This report and the debate surrounding it go to the heart of Bush's strategy, of course. He has argued that the Iraq war helped disrupt terrorist attacks against the United States by diverting the jihadists' energies to Iraq -- while his critics have argued that the war created a breeding ground for both anti-Americanism and Islamic radicalism, swelling the pool of potential recruits. It would appear that this is an argument in which only one side could be right; but in fact, both sides could have part of the picture correct.

There is no question but that anti-Americanism increased in the region as a result of the war, as did Islamic fundamentalism. The pool of people willing to carry out terrorist attacks in Iraq certainly grew. The pool of people willing to carry out such attacks in the United States also grew. What is not clear is whether the pool of willing people capable of carrying out such attacks also grew. It is not the number of people who want to carry out an operation that matters, nearly as much as the number of people able to carry out the operation.

Begin by distinguishing strategic terrorism attacks from tactical terrorism attacks. A tactical terrorism attack is characterized by being carried out within a society where the attacker is able to blend in, on a scale that is relatively easy to organize and that causes limited casualties. A suicide bomber in Iraq or Israel who causes a few dozen casualties is tactical. By itself it does not destabilize a society. It rises to the strategic level only when a very large number of such attacks take place. Thus, in Iraq, a large series of tactical events combine to create strategic destabilization.

A strategic terrorist attack has three characteristics. It is carried out at some distance, and certainly outside the geographical area where the attacker is at home. It causes massive casualties, sufficient to destabilize a society simply by itself. In order to protect it from penetration by security, a relatively few conspirators are involved. The obvious example of a strategic attack was 9/11, an attack carried out on an intercontinental basis outside the attackers' society, causing massive casualties and involving relatively few people.

The key to the 9/11 attacks was not the attackers' willingness to die. It was the ability to organize a small number of people to penetrate the United States undetected, to conceive of the attacks and to execute them. The primary skill was not carrying box cutters through security; it was the ability to operate covertly in enemy territory for an extended period of time and then execute the attack. If you think that's easy, imagine an American team of 19 people (plus support personnel) moving to Saudi Arabia or Iran and pulling off a 9/11-style attack. Strategic terrorism is hard to do.

There has been a massive increase in tactical terrorism in Iraq. That means that there has been a huge number of attacks in Iraq by Iraqis and by other Arabs and some Iranians. These attacks have certainly destabilized Iraq, but these attackers either have not been able to, or have chosen not to, conduct strategic attacks against the United States. This does not mean they will not do so later, nor that they will not succeed. It does mean that to this point, the very real upsurge in radical Islamist sentiment in Iraq has been tactical and not strategic in nature.

In this sense, the NIE is certainly correct if it winds up saying there has been a massive increase in the terrorist pool. Bush is correct in saying that, while this might be the case, it has not so far risen to the level of strategic operations. It might also be argued that the type of people being recruited are unsuited for strategic operations because of background or training. That argument is not altogether persuasive, as we would suspect that you could find 20 potential candidates in Iraq, assuming you had the training infrastructure needed to prepare them for strategic operations without detection.

The argument should be phrased this way. The number of tactical terrorists in Iraq has soared because of the war. The number of radical Islamists in the region has also risen by an indeterminate but substantial amount. This does not by itself translate into a strategic threat to the United States, because sentiment turns itself readily into tactical attacks but not into strategic ones....

In this vein, readers may want to re-visit my extended post on the measurement of strategic progress and victory in the war on terror. May I humbly suggest that it has stood up quite well as a framework for analyzing progress, or lack thereof, in the war on terror.

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Notes from Washington: at the National Press Club 

I am on the 6 a.m. Accela out of Union Station on my way to New York. Since that required getting up at 4:50, and since I was out talking about politics and corruption at the United Nations until after midnight, I have to husband my energy against the demands of the day. Don't expect too many deep thoughts today.

As previously reported, I spent yesterday evening at the Pajamas Media event at the National Press Club and was delighted to have done so. Around the formal event there was a lot of time to chat with people whose work I very much admire and -- surprisingly for me -- people who said very nice things about some of the work we have done here. When you blog anonymously you don't get out much. Anyway, I had very nice conversations with Paul Mirengoff (to whom I am particularly indebted, Power Line having been a big supporter of this blog from the first year), Roger L. Simon (ditto), Claudia Rosett (whose deconstruction of the UN/Ba'athist "oil-for-food" scandal is Pulitzer caliber work, at least according to me), Austin Bay (a bundle of energy and enthusiasm with whom I've had an extended conversation over several Pajamas Media events) and Michael Barone, who needs no introduction. Talking to Barone, whose command of the history, trends and statistics of American politics has no peer, is like -- if I may butcher a metaphor -- drinking from a very congenial firehose. He asked me where I was from. Me: "Princeton." Barone: "72% for Kerry in 2004." Me: "I'm surprised it was that low, since at least 72% of the cars in Princeton still have 'Kerry' bumper stickers on them."

Glenn Reynolds, moderator of the panel discussion, graciously mentioned this post in his introductory remarks. He has been a huge supporter of this blog for almost two years, for which I am very thankful.

I finally met Fausta Wertz, who has a son the same age as my own and lives less than a mile away. For some reason -- my poor scheduling habits, no doubt -- we have never met. She is delightful and I was very happy to have had dinner with her. I also had a nice conversation with "Baron Bodissey," half of The Gates of Vienna.

Last but not least, I had a nice long conversation with Pamela of Atlas Shrugs, who already has posted a bunch of pictures, including a couple of me (if I don't lose some freakin' weight soon, people are going to start calling me "TigerChins"). She was very complimentary and gracious, although I think she deplores my moderation and turned violent when I leaked my guarded view that among Democrats, Hillary would be tougher on the jihadis than any of the other likely nominees.

I had briefer encounters with countless others, and I'm sorry if in the hurly-burly I've given any of them short shrift. Whether I remember our talk the morning after or not, I consider myself greatly enriched by the time that I spent with them.

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The NIE, the Iraq war and the "fueling" of terrorism 

I have not written about the leaked National Intelligence Estimate and the related claims that the Iraq war has resulted in the "fueling" terrorism because I have been too busy, and will remain too busy at least through tomorrow. Glenn has a few useful links, as does Power Line. As usual, Andy McCarthy, who has been a machine lately, has a particularly creative take.

Perhaps I will dig into this story later in the week. Until then, may I offer a few quick comments in no particular order.

Since when are National Intelligence Estimates reliable, especially with regard to Iraq? They are always hedged and chronically emphasize the wrong material, so they are put to political or argumentative ends. If NIEs are as authoritative as critics of the Bush administration seem to be suggesting, then there is nothing left of the claim that Bush "lied" to get us into the Iraq war. His arguments about Iraq's WMD came right out of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on that subject.

More substantively, we -- by which I mean anybody who has read any military history -- know that we are creating more terrorists. All escalations -- and Iraq and Afghanistan were escalations by the United States -- cause the enemy to recruit more soldiers. That does not mean that the enemy's strategic position is improved. Germany had more men under arms in 1943 than in 1940, but its strategic position had not improved, it had worsened.

Now, you would say that Germany's strategic position in 1943 had worsened because the United States and the Soviet Union were then fighting against Germany. In other words, as fast as Germany was able to put men under arms, its enemies (the Allies) put even more men into battle.

In the present conflict, as fast as al Qaeda and affiliated groups have been able to recruit people, many more soldiers have entered the fight against it. Yes, some Iraqi Sunni Arabs have entered on al Qaeda's side, and some Muslims elsewhere have been polarized into the terrorist camp. Blowback, however, goes in both directions. Since the invasion of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the Shiites of Iraq have entered the fight on our side, not because they like us -- they don't -- but because they have been forced to choose. Hundreds of thousands of Arab soldiers and police and intelligence officers are today hunting al Qaeda when in 2003 they were neutral, or trying to act as though they were. In all likelihood, the enemies of the jihadis have increased their numbers even faster than the jihad. The pool of neutrals is shrinking, and of these newly polarized people, more are joining the fight against the jihad than on its behalf.

MORE: I excerpted a relevant Stratfor analysis here.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shark attack picture of the day 

It is generally lame to send around random photos that come over the email transom, but this one is so cool I couldn't resist. It came with a caption claiming that it was a genuine picture, allegedly taken by the British Navy off the coast of South Africa during a military exercise. As always, click to enlarge.

No word on whether anything happened to the guy clinging to the ladder.

BAMBOOZLED!: Countless commenters have revealed this photo as a fake, which just goes to show that my general rule is a sound one!

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How partisan is too partisan?: Framing the Pajamas Media panel discussion 

I am in Washington, and accordingly will attend this evening's Pajamas Media event at the National Press Club. The topic will be "How partisan is too partisan?", a panel discussion devoted to deconstructing the increasingly shrill political discourse in this country.

Apart from eating no food so that the free booze will have an immediate and dramatic impact on my wit, I prepared by buying and reading the first 20 pages of Lanny Davis' just-released book, Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America. Since Scandal seems to be all about the topic at tonight's event, and since Davis has been known to engage quite reasonably with conservatives, may I suggest that Pajamas Media would have done well to secure him as a surprise guest. Let's see if they did.

Davis, in his introduction, proposes four causes for the intensely personal attacks that have supplanted what used to be more substantive disagreements between the parties. After acknowledging that personal attacks have a long and storied history in American politics, Davis distinguishes partisanship today:

Today's version of the post-Watergate scandal culture is different, however, in one significant and unprecedented way: its far greater destructive power. This unfortunate power is derived from four key changes that occurred post-Watergate in the last quarter of the twentieth century -- changes in journalistic, legal, technological and cultural attitudes and rules of the game that had been previously understood by politicians and the public alike...

The first of the four changes were the post-Watergate rules and incentives governing investigative journalism, especially when related to scandals. These were heavily influenced by the Washington Post and the Woodward-Bernstein coverage of Watergate and its aftermath. Based on how Watergate had been covered and reported, it became acceptable to engage in "connect-the-dot" journalism, where events are placed side by side, implying that they are causally related when there are no facts to show that they are....

Second, an important reaction to Watergate was the enactment of the Independent Counsel statute in 1978. This law, which started with the noble idea that a prosecutor needed to be free of conflicts of interst to investigate the president or the Executive Branch, ended up creating an extra-Constitutional monstrosity, possessed of unaccountable prosecutorial power misused by politicians to attack and perhaps destroy their opponents...

The third change that affected American political culture was the telecommunications revolution that occurred during the late 1980s and early 1990s. First came the new reality of 24-hour cable news television and the 24/7 news cycle. On top of this, the expansion of the Internet, with its wider and wider accessibility to the general public and global audience, added a whole new dimension to media communication....

Finally, accumulating bit by bit since Watergate as a result of these various changes, came a culture of public cynicism and increased willingness to accept innuendo and accusation as surrogates for due process and truth....

I don't disagree with these four points, but believe that there is a fifth cause that Davis has missed: the new development -- since the application of computers to the decennial construction of Congressional districts -- that it has become virtually impossible to unseat a member of the House of Representatives who is not already the target of a scandal. The permanent incumbancy of (almost) 435 Representatives has meant, first, that members no longer worry that if they say something angry or outrageous they may offend moderate voters who will turn on them at the next election. They no longer need guard their words because they can't lose. Their opportunities to say offensive things about political opponents have compounded with the content demands of three 24-hour news channels. The unfortunate result is that many Representatives have figured out that they can get attention in the national media by saying extreme things on television. The parties now deploy extreme Congressmen to say what the Senators and governors will not. Representatives have become the attack dogs of their parties because of their electoral invulnerability, and the public debate has coursened considerably as a result.

The permanent incumbancy also means that a challenger really needs a scandal to unseat a Representative. Well, if a scandal that humiliates a district's voters is the only way to beat an incumbant, challengers will make a priority of uncovering and promoting anything personal about a candidate that might be leveraged into humiliation. No wonder Congressmen seem oversexed and crooked. The only way to win is to prove that the incumbant is a sex fiend or a crook.

The House of Representatives is the least democratic institution in American politics, and until that changes the public discourse is unlikely to improve.

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Adultery post of the week 

Of course humans aren't naturally monogamous. If they were we wouldn't need marriage vows.


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The White House 

From the Hay-Adams Hotel:

(Click to enlarge)

No, I'm not staying at the Hay-Adams, which is way too cool and expensive for me. I'm at something called the Georgetown Suites at roughly 30th and M. But last night I had a drink -- ok, more than a drink -- at the "Off The Record" bar in the Hay-Adams, which has a sign that says "the place to be seen but not heard." As should be obvious to regular readers, I much prefer to be heard but not seen.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Curious denials 

Stratfor sent around a strange "sitrep" this afternoon:

A prominent Saudi official denied that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with high-ranking Saudi officials Sept. 12. Olmert also denied reports that he met with Saudi King Abdullah.

The Jerusalem Post has a story that seems to be the source of the Stratfor report. It is chock full of sneaky Middle Eastern deviousness:
Olmert characterized the reports as "speculation, imagination, things that are beyond the limits."

Nevertheless, he did praise the Saudis for the positive role they have played in the region recently. "When you examine their performance over the last couple of months, you see something that you haven't seen in the past," Olmert said. "More sense of responsibility, and a greater degree of readiness to stand up and speak up against Shi'ite extremists like Hizbullah."

Olmert said it was no small thing that Saudi Arabia spoke out in the early days of the war against Hizbullah. "They stood up publicly against Muslims and criticized their actions and entirely disagreed with how they handled themselves," he said. "This is not insignificant. This is a very important sign. And I think they are very much opposed to Syria and the statements that were made by the Syrian president, and I think they have also signaled their opposition to Iran."...

The Saudis, however, were quick to reject the rhetorical embrace. A senior Saudi government official flatly denied the reports of a secret meeting.

"The information is completely incorrect," Hisham al-Niali, deputy director of the Saudi Foreign Ministry's information department, told the Post by phone from Riyadh. "There was no meeting, not at all. And we have already issued a statement to the press about this," he said.

Here's the truly great part:
Osama Nuqli, a spokesman for the Saudi Foreign Ministry, told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Saturday that his country did not have any contacts with Israel.

Nuqli said Saudi policy was guided by "transparency," and that "its moves and diplomatic and political efforts are publicized and well-known," adding that there were no "secret" contacts with Israel.

You don't even have to be cynical to that's funny.

One gets the sense that these sorts of secret meetings happen all the time in this part of the world. Still, footprints in the sand are always worth examination, even if the wind blows them away before you can understand them. Suppose there is something to the rumor. If Israel were suddenly more worried about Iran and Hezbollah than the Palestinians, is there a deal to be done? Could Israel give the Palestinians enough that the Saudis and other Sunni regimes can declare "peace in Palestine," recognize Israel and then cooperate in the containment of Iran? Or is that idea so stupid I'm going to regret having written it in the morning?

No doubt you'll tell me.

UPDATE: (6:30 am Tuesday) Stratfor put out a report this morning on the significance of these contacts. Here's the money quote:
But Riyadh really does not have a choice when attempting to counter the Iranian geopolitical invasion of what it considers its turf. Saudi Arabia is trying to contain the Iranian/Shiite threat by underscoring its leadership role in the region. The Saudis know the Iranians and Syrians are trying to emerge as a player in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are thus sending a message, particularly to the Palestinians, that Riyadh, not Tehran, can secure their interests because it has the leverage on both sides to be able to mediate. The Saudis, despite their many problems, are confident there is no domestic force capable of destabilizing them, and hope they will be able to use the international embargo on the Palestinians to wean them away from the Iranian/Syrian camp.

Just as Iran used Israel to enhance its position in the region, Saudi Arabia is trying to do the same. The only difference is that while Tehran exploited its conflict with Israel, Riyadh is trying to downplay its enmity with it.

Sounds about right.

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Books people buy but do not read 


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Buy the GOP? 

I offer, without any useful commentary, the current graph of the "House06" contracts on the Iowa Electronic Markets. The green line represents the price of the "Republican hold" contract, which one would buy if one thought that the Republicans will hold their majority in the United States House of Representatives in November.

(Click to enlarge)

The Iowa Electronic Markets have a good record in forecasting elections. I wonder if that will continue, or if they are illiquid enough that they can be manipulated easily to create the impression of change in fortune. Of course, that would require that one side's artificial buying was not counteracted by politically opposite transactions from the other side. Interestingly, the Tradesports graph shows a similar GOP surge:

(Click to enlarge)

Of course, a lot can change in the next six weeks.

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Book notes 

Over the weekend I finished both Londonistan and The Ghost Brigades. Both are excellent within their respective genres.

Londonistan, by British journalist Melanie Phillips, is a crisp and well-crafted examination of the spread of radical Islam in the United Kingdom and the complete failure of the British governing class to recognize and contend with the threat it poses. The cause, according to Phillips, is a collapse in cultural confidence among the British elites, few of whom are willing to defend traditional national values for fear of being accused of racism or the "incitement" of the large and restive Muslim population in that country. Phillips fears and indeed documents the systematic subversion of British culture, and warns that the UK may not long remain a reliable ally for the United States in the defense of the West. Londonistan is a scary book for Americans, who have regarded British character and steadfastness as central to the defense of American interests for as long as any living American can remember. There is a second warning, too: this is where we will end up if we fail to appreciate the great strengths of American civil society and defend them from their enemies.

The Ghost Brigades is the better sequel to the John Scalzi's excellent Old Man's War. Both books are hard, military science fiction of the first order -- if you liked Starship Troopers, The Forever War and Ender's Game, you will delight in Scalzi.

It will be interesting to see whether enough readers buy both Londonistan and The Ghost Brigades to trip up the Amazon "readers who bought" algorithm. Somehow I doubt it, but feel free to give it a shot by clicking through the links above...

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Hawkeyes in the briar patch? 

The gloom hanging over the Iowa Hawkeye football team is palpable, and has been growing every week since the season opener. The 13th ranked Hawkeyes are undefeated after four games, having beaten their in-state rival and won two games on the road, including their Big Ten opener against Illinois which they won 24-7 on Saturday. Apparently, despite the team's recent a history of September stumbles, Iowa fans expected not just victory, but domination.

A cruise by any of the Hawkeye internet message boards is a depressing foray into fan angst. The running game is in disarray, and Albert Young has yet to notch a 100 yard day. The defense looked soft against Illinois, a team they should have dominated (never mind the great second half performance last week against Iowa State, or the already forgotten goal-line stand for the ages two weeks ago at Syracuse).

And it's not just the message boards; Des Moines Regiser columnist Nancy Keeler all but writes off the Hawkeyes' season in a column that begins as follows:

What if this is as good as it gets?

Iowa is a third of the way through its season and it's still playing flat-footed football.

Skip the worries about being embarrassed by Ohio State or Michigan. Worry about being embarrassed by Purdue or Indiana or Northwestern.

The Hawkeye football team, while hardly dominant so far this season, does not deserve this scorn. It has, after all, held up its part of the bargain, winning its first four games of the season, and setting up a significant game next Saturday against the #1 ranked team in the country, Ohio State. ESPN Gameday will broadcast from Iowa City, and the game itself will be played in primetime on national TV.

Maybe it is a fear of being embarrassed on such a stage that has Hawkeye fans in such a state. Yet someone must think they have a chance: tickets for the matchup are going for $1000, which would be hardly rational if the Hawkeyes stood no chance at all.

Iowa coach Captain Kirk Ferentz is nobody's fool. He's a fundamental football man, and he never shows his cards unless he needs to. Ohio State is a better team, with incredible depth and two of the best athletes in all of college football in quarterback Troy Smith and wideout Ted Ginn.

For Iowa to win the game, the Hawkeyes will need to play exceptionally well, and they will need to find ways to get an edge. One way to gain an advantage is to surprise your opponent, and it is difficult to do this if you have revealed your strategy for the film room in your prior games. College football games are also highly susceptible to emotional factors, not the least of which can be overconfidence. You will not see Ferentz out there this week saying Nancy Keeler has it all wrong. He'll probably be voicing some concerns while remaining optimistic, and quietly preparing his team.

Can Iowa beat Ohio State? They usually cannot (although two years ago the Buckeyes left Kinnick Stadium on the wrong side of a 33-7 score). It is true that if Iowa plays the same kind of football it has shown in recent weeks, it will be a tough game to win, but the Buckeyes looked vulnerable in their win at home over Penn State Saturday. Maybe, just maybe, the gloom hanging over Iowa City, the inevitability of a Hawkeye defeat, is the perfect prelude for a big big game.

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Fire with fire: Taking tort reform to the ballot box 

Kimberley Strassel has an inspiring and upbeat op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal (free link) about the new efforts of business to counteract the political clout of the trial bar at the ballot box. The objective is to meet the donations and tactics of the plaintiffs' lawyers head-on in the election of judges and state attorneys general. I hope Strassel's optimism is justified.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Clinton and bin Laden and the perils of citing Richard Clarke 

As every newshound in America knows, Bill Clinton flew off the handle at Chris Wallace, the Foxy demon spawn of liberal icon Mike Wallace, who was apparently impertinent in asking why Clinton didn't "connect the dots" and put al Qaeda out of business. (See round-ups at Dr. Sanity and Michelle Malkin, among the many righty bloggers with useful linkage.) Clinton's response, complete with "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" finger-pointing, included a claim that he had done more than any other president to capture bin Laden, and that we should all consult Richard Clarke if we doubt him.

Well, Byron York has done just that, pouring through Clarke's self-important screed Against All Enemies to show that Clinton may want to think twice about citing Clarke as a reference.

I, too, have suffered through Against All Enemies -- some sections more than once -- and have a few observations York might have made if he had written a rambling blog post rather than a tightly-argued column.

First, Clarke's insistent theme is that the national security establishment, particularly the CIA and the FBI but also the State Department and the uniformed military, resisted and stymied Clinton's various directives to go after Bin Laden. This is surely true to some great degree. In this regard, Clinton should (and may) have some sympathy for his successor. It will be interesting to see whether in retirement George W. Bush also takes refuge behind the excuse -- valid as it may be -- of bureaucratic obstruction.

Second, I wonder how much of the bureaucratic opposition to the Clinton's directives regarding bin Laden reflected a concern by operatives and their agents that the very heavily lawyered-up and legalistic Clintonites would turn on them at the first light of publicity. Supposedly, many of these same people worry that they will face prosecution if the Democrats get the White House back in 2008. Perhaps there is a basis for this concern rooted in their experience with the Clinton administration.

Third, there is another bit in Clarke's book that bears mentioning: Clinton and his "Principals" group resisted bombing Afghanistan because Iraq was a higher priority:

On these three occasions and during the presentations of the PolMil Plan, I tried to make the case to the Principals that we should strike at known al Qaeda camps whether or not bin Laden was in them. "I know that you don't want to blow up al Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan trying to get bin Laden only to have the bastard sow up the next day at a press conference saying how feckless we are. So don't say we were trying to get bin Laden; say we were trying to destroy the camps. If we get him, so much the better."

The response I received from all the other members of the Principals usually went along the lines of: "So we spend millions of dollars' worth of cruise missles and bombs blowing up a buck fifty's worth of jungle gyms and mud huts again?" Sometimes I heard, "Look, we are bombing Iraq every week. We may have to bomb Serbia. European, Russian, Islamic press are already calling us the Mad Bomber. You want to bomb a third country?"....

It was ironic that people had once worried whether Bill Clinton would use force and now there was criticism that he was using it too much. In the Islamic world, there was criticism that Clinton was still bombing Iraq.... (AAE, p. 201 - 202, bold emphasis added)

The allegedly distracting qualities of Iraq have plagued more than one administration, it seems.

Fourth, Byron York mentions the decision not to bomb Afghanistan after the bombing of the Cole in 2000, a choice that outraged Richard Clarke. York quotes Clarke's account of a conversation with Michael Sheehan, a State Department terrorism expert:
"What's it gonna take, Dick?" Sheehan demanded. "Who the shit do they think attacked the Cole, fucking Martians? The Pentagon brass won't let Delta go get bin Laden. Hell, they won't even let the Air Force carpet bomb the place. Does al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?"

Er, yes. York's argument, true as it goes, is that a decisive presidential order would have done the job. That may have been one of the problems -- perhaps the Clinton White House needed a bit more hierarchy and a bit less discussion, just as the Bush White House might have benefitted from the reverse -- but there was something else at work. Clinton was seduced by the ultimate Palestinian peace deal that always beckons, just out of reach:
Time was running out on the Clinton administration. There was going to be one last major national security initiative and it was going to be a final try to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. It really looked like that long-sought goal was possible. The Israeli Prime Minister had agreed to major concessions. I would have liked to have tried both, Camp David and blowing up the al Qaeda camps. Nonetheless, I understood. If we could achieve a Middle East peace much of the popular support for al Qaeda and much of the hatred for America would evaporate overnight. (AAE, p. 224)

In October 2000, Clinton was no longer constrained by political considerations. The impeachment was behind him, and he had the operational freedom of a true lame duck. Nobody could accuse him of wagging the dog in October 2000. Bill Clinton affirmatively decided against retaliating for the Cole bombing because he thought it would get in the way of peace with the Palestinian Arabs. Now this may or may not have been a good choice when made -- history has revealed that it was disastrous for Israel, the Palestinians, and possibly almost 3000 Americans -- but it was a choice nonetheless. Like the decision to avoid a prolonged campaign against al Qaeda after the embassy bombings (because Iraq was a higher priority), Clinton made a choice. I don't blame him for the fact that history strongly suggests both decisions were grievously wrong -- I believe that "all hands went to midnight" on September 11, and that everybody was caught by surprise -- but that doesn't make it any less Clinton's decision.

Finally, even a casual reading of Clarke's book reveals that it was one of the more important sources for "The Path To 9/11," the ABC miniseries that so irritated the Clintonites. For that reason and many others, I wouldn't want more people reading Clarke's book if I were Clinton.

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Londonistan: The British police go to Muslims on bended knee 

If you hunt through the world's newspaper's for the most depressing story of the day, it would be hard to do worse than a story from the Times of London, "Police to brief Muslims before terror raids."

Police have agreed to consult a panel of Muslim leaders before mounting counter-terrorist raids or arrests. Members of the panel will offer their assessment of whether information police have on a suspect is too flimsy and will also consider the consequences on community relations of a raid.

This is, of course, the single worst idea in law enforcement since Prohibition. For starters, why wouldn't the principle behind it, if it can be said there is a principle, extend to all groups? Did the British meet with the Irish before raiding the IRA so as to avoid offending Irish sensibilities? If this concept is valid in the country that gave us our legal system, it is hard to see why American police shouldn't meet with Italians and Russians before raiding the Mafia, Columbians before busting cocaine dealers, and a panel of CEOs before pursuing Sarbanes-Oxley violations. Otherwise there might be consequences for "community relations."

Of course, it would never cross the mind of the police to consult a panel of ordinary Londoners, the past and future victims of successful terrorist attacks, to see if they think the evidence in hand before a raid is too "flimsy."

Now reductio ad absurdum arguments are easy to make, especially when political correctness influences the decisions of bureaucrats. There are also numerous obvious practical problems with this idea, including that it runs huge security risks (notwithstanding promises that the panel members will be vetted) and that it gives a particular ethnic group a quasi-veto over police operations designed to interdict crimes that -- like it or not -- are almost always organized within that ethnicity. There are, however, two specific philosophical problems with these consultations that should be extremely troubling to anybody concerned with prosecution of terrorism.

First, we have people who are supposed to determine whether evidence is too "flimsy." They are called judges, and they are expert in applying the law consistently. The British police have obviously decided that judges are not nearly smart or independent enough to declare evidence "flimsy" -- they need a panel of amateurs to do that. Well, if judges are not competent to judge the worthiness of evidence before the issuance of a warrant to raid suspected terrorists, why are they competent to do so in other contexts? By agreeing to a second level of "ethnic" review, have not the British police destroyed the credibility of judges in weighing evidence in any situation? If I am wrong, please explain why in the comments.

Second, the British police are destroying their own credibility with non-Muslims. As Melanie Phillips points out in her oustanding book Londonistan, heretofore the British police have gone to absurd lengths to declare that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam or the Muslim community. While it is in your interests to read the entire book, this lengthy excerpt gives you the core Phillips' argument regarding the police:
The first line of defense against terrorist attack is the police. But the British police have become a symbol of a society that has lost its way. Britain has been progressively crippled by a "victim culture," in which minority groups effectively use moral blackmail against the majority on the grounds of its alleged oppressive behavior. Ever since a watershed case in the 1990s, when the police werre branded "institutionally racist" following the bungled investigation into the murder of a black student in south London, they have been paralyzed by the fear of giving offense to any minority group and being tarred with the lethal charge of prejudice.

The anathema that was pronounced upon them of "institutional racism" delivered a near-terminal blow to an institution that was already on the ropes. A succession of corruption scandals and miscarriage-of-justice cases back in the 1970s and 1980s had profoundly undermined police self-confidence; and this was exacerbated by the reaction of successive governments, which tied them in red tape and official directives. As a result, police professionalism took a dive and one high-profile criminal investigation after another became mired in incompetence.

In this lowered state, the charge of racism had a shattering effect. From being the thin blue line against disorder, the police now transformed themselves into the coercive arms of state-enforced virtue. Instead of preventing offenses being committed, they now gave priority to preventing offense being given. Displaying an obsession with minority rights, they devoted disproportionate time and resources to prioritizing the agendas of the fullest possible range of self-designated victim groups such as gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, disabled people, Gypsies, women and of course ethnic miniorities, and training themselves to do nothing that could conceivably give offense to any such group.

A proper concern to be respectful to cultural differences thus turned into the wholesale adoption by the police of victim-culture mentality, the pursuit of radical grievances against the majority population. So great was the grip of this mindset that officers' freedom of maneuver was often hampered by the fear that if they inadvertently offended a victim group, they would find themselves on a disciplinary charge accused of discrimination.

This was dramatically illustrated when Britain's leading police officer, the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair, was himself rebuked by an employment tribunal for "hanging his own officers out to dry" to prove his antiracist credentials. The tribunal found that he had racially discriminated against three white officers who weree disciplined aftger alleged racist remarks at a training day, in which one of them had referred to Muslim headwear as "tea cozies," mispronounced Shi'ites as "shitties" and said he felt sorry for Muslims who fasted during Ramadan. The disciplining of the officers had been grossly disproportionate. Yet Sir Ian responded to this finding against himself by declaring that he was "unrepentant," repeating that the remarks were "Islamophobic" and declaring that the Met had to "embrace diversity."

As this case indicated, Muslim sensitivities were uppermost in police minds. The charge of "Islamophobia" was one that the police would go to almost any lengths to avoid. This near-pathological sensivitity was heightened still further by the government's instruction, first after 9/11 and then again after the London bombings of 2005, to avoid doing anything to alienate Britain's Muslims, in accordance with government strategy to bring the bulk of them on board. But since Muslims tend to be alienated by any action that suggests there is anything wrong with their community or their religion, this meant the police had to deny the nature of Islamist terrorism altogether.

This was why, on the day that four Islamist suicide bombers blew themselves and more than fifty London commuters to bits, the Met's deputy assistant commissioner, Brian Paddick, stood before the television cameras and made the noteworthy comment: "As far as I am concerned, Islam and terrorists are two words that do not go together."

He amplified this by saying that while the bombers may have been Muslim the crime was not Islamic because Islam forbade the taking of innocent life. That may well be so; but across the world, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives have been ended by terrorists who are doing so under the banner of Islam, find justification in Islam for their deeds and are told by Islamic religious authorities that such actions are a religious duty. At a stroke, therefore, this senior British policeman had denied not only the nature of the atrocity on British soil but the whole basis of the war against the West.

This was not a rogue comment. For the British policy say they do not use the phrase "Islamic terrorism" or even "Islamist terrorism." They use other phrases instead, such as "international terrorism." They say that it is misleading to talk about Islamic terrrorists as it would be to refer to the IRA as Catholic terrorists. But this comparison reveals a major category confusion. True, the IRA were Catholics and their adversaries were Protestants. But their cause was not Catholicism. It was a united Ireland. They did not want to impose the authority of the Pope upon Britain. They wanted their own authority over Ireland. There is simply no comparison to the agenda of the Islamists who want to defeat the West in the name of Islam, impose Sharia law and re-establish the medieval caliphate throughout the world. That is a religious war, a jihad transposed from the seventh century to today. And that is what the police and much of the British establishment are desperate to deny. (bold emphasis added)

The problem is, the British police have destroyed even that fiction by agreeing to vet raids designed to catch terrorists with Muslims in advance of carrying them out. If Islam and terrorism have nothing to do with each other, why seek the approval of Muslim leaders? The only thread that ties together the "multiculturalist" position of the police with today's decision to consult with Muslims is the political requirement to appease a minority group. The British police have done so, on bended knee.

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Fatwa Friday! With free rubber swords for the kiddies! 

An Ohio car dealer is mocking Islamist extremists, and the multiculturalists are up in arms:

A car dealership's tongue-in-cheek radio advertisement declaring "a jihad on the automotive market," will not be changed, the company said, despite drawing sharp criticism that the ad's content is offensive to Muslims.

Several stations rejected the spot from Dennis Mitsubishi, which boasts that sales representatives wearing "burqas" — the head-to-toe traditional dress for some Islamic women — will sell vehicles that can "comfortably seat 12 jihadists in the back."

"We firmly believe the ad does not in any way disrespect any religion or culture, but we feel, I guess, that maybe poking a little fun at radical extremists is fair game," dealership president Keith Dennis said on Saturday. "It was our intention to craft something around some of the buzzwords of the day and give everyone a good chuckle and be a little bit of a tension reliever." ...

[Boilerplate objection from CAIR deleted. - ed.]

In the ad, Dennis talks about "launching a jihad on the automotive market."

"Our prices are lower than the evildoers' every day. Just ask the Pope!" the ad says. "Friday is fatwa Friday, with free rubber swords for the kiddies."

Never mind what CAIR says, some local radio stations are drawing the line on mocking the extremists:
Some radio stations are balking at the dealership's attempt to poke fun at extremists.

"With no disrespect to their creativity or their desire to build business, everything we're about is promoting the values of diversity. To air things of that sort would go against our mission statement," said Jeff Wilson, general manager of three Radio One stations in Columbus.

Mocking jihadis is contrary to "the values of diversity"? Do you know how hard it is to find somebody in this world willing to mock jihadis? There are way more jihadis than there are people willing to mock them. Somebody send Mr. Wilson a copy of Londonistan, which is all about the ways in which multiculturalist cant works to the benefit of extreme Islamists.

Yes, I appreciate that moderate Muslims are insulted at "jihadi" as a term of disparagement because of its relationship to purely spiritual struggle, but they have to sort out the nomenclature issues with their fellow Muslims. We're just using the terms that Islamist terrorists use to describe themselves. Lots of people weren't happy when the term "gay" was converted into a synonym for "homosexual," but if there was "fault" in that it lies with homosexuals, not with those of us who no longer refer to happy and lighthearted straight people as "gay" (see, e.g., the editing of the term out of the song "I Feel Pretty" in school productions of West Side Story). If the use of "jihadi" to mean "Islamist terrorist" is distressing to Muslims who are not in that category, they should take it out on al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and so forth. Until then, we poor confused Westerners will do our best to struggle with the rapidly changing terms for all of the various peoples we oppress.

In any case, it seems to me that jihadis should be mocked, just as Spike Jones and the City Slickers mocked Nazis -- who were, after all, Germanic extremists -- in "Der Fuhrer's Face". What has changed since then, other than the incorporation of "the values of diversity" into mission statements?

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tony Blair's in-law problems 

It's a good thing that the Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving, because this year's reunion at 10 Downing Street would be pretty darn uncomfortable. Prime Minister Blair's sister-in-law is cavorting with George Galloway and, in a most un-British revelation, announced to the press that her family embarrasses her.

Official Reuters caption:

Lauren Booth (2nd R), sister-in-law of Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, joins an anti-war protest march with George Galloway (2nd L) ahead of the start of the British Labour party's annual conference in Manchester, northern England September 23, 2006. Booth fronted one of the anti-war demonstrations, telling reporters it was a 'massive embarrassment' for her to be related to Blair.

I expect that Tony Blair's reciprocating emotion is less embarrassment than contempt.

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Notes from Princeton: The cervine insurgency 

Sectarian violence is ripping Princeton apart. Botanical humans are at war with a cervine insurgency that has greater defoliation power than a squadron-load of Agent Orange. Not only are these flower-devouring deer the scourage of every gardener in town, but they enjoy enormous popular support from humans who no longer have the moral confidence to support their own species (hence the obvious evidence that this deer has already been captured but, inexplicably, has not been disappeared into a secret prison). Indeed, the situation has gotten so bad that photographers who purport to document the insurgency's depredations seem to be working with the deer. How could the photographer have gotten so close if he didn't have advance knowledge that an attack would occur? Didn't the photographer have a moral obligation to protect his, er, wife's flowers? The truth is, the photographer couldn't have recorded the attack at least without some cooperation from the insurgency. He obviously did a sleazy, double-deal just to get a picture for his blog.

Context, context, and more farookin' context.

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Flogging Lewis Lapham: BDS so bad the NYT notices 

Jennifer Senior, a political writer for the New York Times, has reviewed new Bush-bashing books from Lewis Lapham, long the editor of Harper's Magazine, and Sidney Blumenthal. She takes both of them apart.

Regarding Blumenthal, she is mostly just sad, or maybe tired:

There was a time when Blumenthal was an unpredictable writer and thinker (during his years at The New Republic, for instance), but by 1997, when he left The New Yorker to go work for the Clinton White House, his transformation to predictable partisan was more or less complete. During the Ken Starr years, Blumenthal was publicly accused by the journalist Christopher Hitchens of waging a covert campaign to portray Monica Lewinsky as a stalker; today, he seems to appreciate the value of special prosecutors a good deal more. His book is dedicated to Joseph C. Wilson IV, the American diplomat who publicly challenged Bush’s claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to get yellowcake uranium from Niger, and whose wife’s identity as a spy was thought to have been leaked by the White House in retaliation. (It now looks as if the State Department was the original source of the leak, though people in the White House certainly had no trouble passing the information along.) Blumenthal devotes quite a few columns to this subject. One of them ends in a long list of questions — 19, by my count — that he hopes the prosecutor investigating the leak will ask Dick Cheney. “Mr. Vice President,” it solemnly concludes, “you are under oath.”

It must suck to have one's book overtaken by the truth before it is even published.

On Lapham, though, Ms. Senior pops open her switchblade and just starts slashing. At the risk of pushing fair use to its far horizon, I've reproduced the Lapham paragraphs from first cut to last. They are that hilarious.
Since the president’s re-election, loathers of George W. Bush have had no shortage of cudgels with which to club him: a distressingly belated response to Hurricane Katrina; an experiment in warrantless wiretapping; a modest parade of indictments; a nation-building project so distant from its original intent that our troops are now caught in a proto-civil war. One can certainly understand how these developments — and Bush’s correspondingly rotten approval ratings — have emboldened the opposition. The problem is that these developments have also made the president’s critics more susceptible to rhetorical excess, and Bush, like his predecessor, already has an impressive gift for bringing out the yawping worst in those who disagree with him. Otherwise reasonable people go slightly berserk on the subject of his motives; on the subject of his morality, the hinged fall off their door frames and even the stable become unglued. This is both an aesthetic problem and a substantive one. Substantively, it means gerrymandering evidence so that inconvenient facts don’t make it onto the map. And aesthetically, it means speaking in a compromising and not wholly credible tone.

Now, just in time for the midterm elections, the collected columns of two passionate Bush critics, Lewis H. Lapham and Sidney Blumenthal, are landing in bookstores. Both, to varying degrees, suffer from a distorting case of Bush-phobia. Lapham’s “Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration” is by far the more trying of the two. The editor emeritus of Harper’s Magazine and its Notebook columnist for more than 25 years, Lapham compares the Bush administration to a “criminal syndicate” and Condoleezza Rice to a “capo.” He likens the United States to “a well-ordered police state” and the policies of its Air Force to those of Torquemada and Osama bin Laden. He calls Bush “a liar,” “a televangelist,” “a wastrel” and (ultimately) “a criminal — known to be armed and shown to be dangerous.”

Well. At least his point of view is unambiguous. But unless you agree with it 100 percent — and are content to see almost no original reporting or analysis in support of these claims — you may feel less inclined to throttle Lapham’s targets than to throttle Lapham himself. For this book is all about Lewis Lapham: the breathtaking lyricism of his voice, the breadth of his remarkable erudition. He goes across the street and around the corner to confirm the worst stereotypes about liberals — that they’re condescending, twee, surpassingly smug. “What I find surprising is the lack of objection,” he writes of the misguided American public. “The opinion polls show four of every five respondents saying that they gladly would give up as many of their civil rights and liberties as might be needed to pay the ransom for their illusory safety.” Wouldn’t Lapham be a more interesting columnist if he took this finding seriously? And analyzed it, perhaps, giving it its due? (Though later he generously allows that not every Idahoan and Nebraskan “is as dumb as Donald Rumsfeld,” based on his “reading of the national character in the library of American history and biography and a fairly extensive acquaintance with the novels of Melville, Twain, Howells, James, Wharton, Dreiser, Faulkner, Cather, Anderson, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, O’Hara and Roth.” Idahoans and Nebraskans, rejoice.)

People who are serious about politics don’t just preen. They report, explain, explore contradictions, struggle with ideas, maybe even propose suggestions. If they do none of these things, they’re simply heckling, and if the best Lapham can do is come up with 50 inventive new ways to call Bush an imbecilic oligarch, that’s all he’s doing: heckling. Like his worst counterparts on the right, he compares those he doesn’t like to fanatics, as when he refers to David Frum and Richard Perle as “Mufti Frum” and “Mullah Perle,” adding, “Provide them with a beard, a turban and a copy of the Koran, and I expect that they wouldn’t have much trouble stoning to death a woman discovered in adultery with a cameraman from CBS News.” Possibly, but provide Lapham with a blond wig, stiletto pumps and a copy of “The Fountainhead,” and I suspect he wouldn’t look much different from Ann Coulter. He’s just another talk-radio host, really — only this time by way of Yale and Mensa.

There’s one column that’s conspicuously absent from this collection, and that’s the one from September 2004, which included a brief account of the Republican National Convention. Lapham wrote it as if the convention had already happened, ruefully reflecting on the content and sharing with readers a question that occurred to him as he listened; unfortunately, the magazine arrived on subscribers’ doorsteps before the convention had even taken place, forcing Lapham to admit that the scene was a fiction. He apologized, but pointed out that political conventions are drearily scripted anyway — he basically knew what was going to be said. By this logic, though, I could have chosen not to read “Pretensions to Empire” before reviewing it, since I already knew Lapham’s sensibility, just as he claims to know the Republicans’. But I dutifully read the whole book. And I discovered, with some ironic poignancy, that Lapham did have a point: some people never acquire any more nuance as they go.

Finally, Ms. Senior notices something that is only obvious to we few, we happy few, who read lots of stuff from right and left.
The left has often complained that what it needs isn’t polite speech, but voices as pungent as those on the right. Maybe so. But even the angriest people on the right tend to be funny. Books like [Blumenthal's] are a depressing reminder of how important it is for writers to have a slight sense of humor about themselves, if they want to be taken at all seriously.

So, who noticed the pun in the title of this post?

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Grim milestone watch: Measuring a war by its first defeat 

The wire services have counted up the dead in the American military since September 11, 2001, compared the total to the number of Americans who died in al Qaeda's victory that day, and decided that this bit of arithmetic, when positioned next to a photograph of military caskets, is news of some sort:

(Click to enlarge)

This is such a peculiar way to look at the war it almost seems as though the Associated Press is declaring defeat to make a political point. How quickly after Pearl Harbor did our casualties exceed the 2390 American souls who perished on that day? Fort Sumpter surrendered under Confederate bombardment without a single Union death. Did that fact render the first Union death newsworthy?

There are many obvious problems with the frame of mind that underlies this article, but the most troubling is that it misapprehends the foundation of the American social contract. It is of a piece with a great deal of pseudo cost-benefit analysis tossed around by people who want to minimize the jihadi threat. See, for example, this comment from a few days back, which considered the "expected losses" from terrorism to be low compared to other causes of death and concluded therefrom that there should be no contraction of our civil liberties in the interests of security. But we do not consider the slaughter of Americans by enemies of America to be just another public health problem, in some way comparable to the 30,000 people who die every year in automobile accidents or the 5600 who die from cervical cancer. Provision for the national defense is the first reason for being of any government including ours, its most basic and original purpose. It is the reason we consent to be governed at all. Of course that does not mean that we should sacrifice all competing values in the interests of the national defense, but it certainly means that we do not measure the mission of our military or the success of its campaign by its casualties compared to our dead on the first day of battle (which September 11, 2001 was not, by the way).

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Islamist trivial question of the day 

Question: When an Islamist wants to caricature the Roman pope in the foulest imagery that he can imagine, what does he conjure up?

Answer: A Jew. And not just any Jew, but Moshe Dayan.

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Economic efficiency, "Arab street" style 


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Why do Jews vote for the Democrats? 

American Jews have overwhelmingly supported Democrats, year after year giving them 70% or more of their votes. If they all read Ed Lasky's essay in the American Thinker, that percentage would decline. By a lot.

CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

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Angelina Jolie to play Dagny Taggart 

Angelina Jolie has apparently signed up to play Dagny Taggart in a big budget production of Atlas Shrugged. I will admit that my first reaction was "Angelina Jolie?!? Isn't she a looter?" But then I read that Taggart was her "dream role," and that Jolie has said that she was a big fan of Rand. None of the stories that report this fact have reconciled it with her work for the United Nations, but that is probably asking too much of any Hollywood reporter. Indeed, even a grump like me can see the value in being a "goodwill ambassador" for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.

Brad Pitt is also apparently considering a role in the film, and you have to figure that it's John Galt. The question is, how will they cast Hank Rearden? It has to be somebody amazing enough to (i) win Taggart's heart in the first instance and (ii) be just freakin' fine with losing out to John Galt in the end. Matt Damon would meet those minimal requirements, but he's too young and baby-faced to play Hank Rearden. Who in Hollywood can both play Rearden and not hate playing Rearden? It's a very short list.

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Ahmadinejad and the Council on Foreign Relations 

Wednesday night Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in a private session with the Council on Foreign Relations, much to the outrage of Rick Santorum -- who sent them a letter -- and other conservatives. Apparently many of the group's Jewish members boycotted the event, but various other luminaries attended, including Richard Haass, Brent Scowcroft, and Robert Blackwill.

There has been a great deal of controversy lately over the degree to which we should "allow" past and present leaders of the Islamic Republic to engage with the United States and the American people. I was in the small minority of American conservatives in supporting a visa for former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to visit in late August -- not because I thought he was a good guy that we should respect, but because I thought it could be useful. On the other hand, I thought it was appalling that major American universities, including especially Harvard, fell overthemselves to legitimize him. Khatami may be the "least bad" president the Islamic Republic has ever had, but that is an extremely low standard for human decency. Khatami's Iran did most of the things that Ahmadinejad's Iran has done, albeit with a less destabilizing rhetoric.

In the case of Ahmadinejad, it is obvious that the United States government should isolate him, and it is depressing, even if predictable, that the mainstream media gives him relentless opportunities to lie to the American people. However, I thought that it was potentially productive for the Council on Foreign Relations to meet with him. Yes, he is a lunatic Holocaust denier. Unfortunately, he is also the head of a pretty powerful country that has caused the United States no end of hassles for almost 30 years. It is understandable that many members would want to boycott the meeting, but I thought it would be useful nonetheless for two reasons, both deriving from the fact that there are many members of that group who are either Democrats or who are generally opposed to the Bush administration's approach to Iran. First, I thought it would be constructive for those people to take Ahmadinejad's measure in a private setting. I, for one, would like to know whether they think he is as overconfident and reckless as Iranian dissidents and American hawks (including me) believe that he is. Second, I thought that -- perhaps -- Ahmadinejad might be moved to be less reckless if he understood that even those American foreign policy experts opposed to the Bush administration were concerned about Iran's passion for the nuclear fuel cycle and international terrorism. At a minimum, that message would boost the credibility of the Bush administration's diplomacy, because it would signal that his support on the Iranian question is deeper than public opinion polls would otherwise suggest.

With that background, therefore, I was interested to hear NPR interview one of the attendees, Harvard professor Ashton Carter. Professor Carter was an advisor to John Kerry in 2004, and he served in the Clinton Administration's Secretary of State. Notwithstanding these potentially debilitating limitations, he has a sharp enough eye for strategy that he supports the Bush administration's nuclear deal with India. In other words, he is precisely the sort of person to whom sensible Democrats (in addition to John Kerry) will turn for advice on national security matters. Listen to Professor Carter, or read my rough 'n' ready annotated transcript below:

NPR: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said through a spokesman that inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a "really, really bad idea," so why did the Council invite him?

Carter: I can't speak for the Council on Foreign Relations. My own participation at their invitation was because I wanted to hear what this man had to say in a private setting and get the measure from him. I'm disappointed to report that what I found was a person who is very confident in his position, on a roll because of the perceived ascendency of Iran in the region and his own political ascendency and filled with ideas with which I'm afraid we're fated to disagree as a country. I thought it was worth hearing what he had to say but what I have to report about it is discouraging in the sense that it did not point to any solutions for the problems we are sure to have with him.

NPR: Were you able to question him directly?

Carter: I was, as were others who were present. The topics covered were his denial of the Holocaust, that came first, Iraq, Lebanon, Hezbollah, human rights in Iran and then, their nuclear program, that's the point on which I engaged him particularly. He was intent on making the point that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. I said to him, "Let's not worry about the right for the moment. The question is, is it wise for you to exercise that right given that the rest of the world does not want you to do so and that your pursuit of that path is likely to be harmful to your people because it will lead to economic and political sanctions?" He really dodged that question of the prudence of his move. I thought he missed an opportunity. Here's a group of Americans who are involved in foreign policy who have served our government... people who are very concerned about Iran but also of a problem-solving bent [this, presumably, is code for people who would solve this problem by means other than violence, since I think even those who would bomb Iran into sheet glass are of a "problem-solving bent" - ed.]. He didn't give you much if you're looking to solve any of these serious problems that we have with Iran.

NPR: Well, I'm wondering if he did it more for the public relations benefits back home than to engage in a substantive dialogue.

Carter: Well that's really exactly right and kind of the point. Here's someone who is not playing to the American audience, seems to feel that he is in a strong enough position that he doesn't need to. That's worrying. He's playing to, as he said repeatedly, to the younger generations in his part of the world, first and foremost in his country but throughout the Muslim world, who he feels have been marginalized and poorly treated. He speaks for them. He said that its been two generations since the end of World War II but the United Nations is still run by the victors of World War II. The younger generation that he represents or wishes to represent is due their place in the sun now. [If you listen to the audio, it is clear that Carter is saying that Ahmadinejad believes this, not that Carter believes this. - ed.]

NPR: Well, is there anything he said last night that made you think, 'Oh, well, yeah, I guess he does have a point and we need to be paying attention to X'?

Carter: On the nuclear problem -- and no one, including the President of the United States who has said this in recent weeks -- has any problems with Iran having nuclear power plants. We cannot have a situation in which uranium enrichment is spreading all over the world. Somewhere along the lines, that material is going to fall into the wrong hands, not just the Iranian government, maybe terrorists as well. That's the point I think he needed to hear from Americans. The other thing he needed to hear from Americans was -- he made a crack at some point that 'you all seem to be representing your government' despite the fact that the Council on Foreign Relations is an independent organization. A number of participants fired right back and said 'you need to hear that this is not just George Bush or the Bush administration that is concerned about Iran, it is a broad spectrum of opinion very concerned about what you're doing.' At a minimum I hope he took that on board but I'm not sure he did. [It is not clear whether Carter dodged the question from NPR, did not understand it, or whether NPR botched the editing. Any way you slide it, Carter didn't seem to answer the question asked. - ed.]

In rough terms, it appears that the first of my hopes for the meeting -- that liberal foreign policy experts would see first-hand that Ahmadinejad is dangerously overconfident and potentially reckless -- was fullfilled. The Democrat Ashton Carter advises next will have the benefit of this experience. The second hope -- that Ahmadinejad would understand that many American experts outside the Bush administration were very troubled about Iran's apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons capability -- seems not to have been accomplished.

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