30 January, 2006

Teddy Kennedy and the Turning Tides of Political History

Earlier today we opined on how progressives' ultimate goals are often hazy - consistent with their being jealously guarded by an elite that chafes at debating their long-term merits:

The reasoning process here is of the same variety that the left has used on virtually every topic it deems 'progressive'. (Progressive towards what?, one might ask. 'Progressive' in whose world view? But that's post for another day)... There are, in the minds of a set of liberal mandarins 'rights' that only they can fully appreciate. We must not question.
In a related vein, we note this post by John Hinderaker of Powerline, linking to his recent piece in the Daily Standard:
When liberals talk about a "living Constitution," what they really mean is a leftward-marching Constitution. Liberals--especially those of an age to be senators--have spent most of their lives secure in the conviction that history was moving their way. History meant progress, and progress meant progressive politics. In judicial terms, that implied a one-way ratchet: "conservative" precedents can and should be overturned, while decisions that embody liberal principles are sacrosanct.

Many liberals actually believe that the job of a Supreme Court justice is to be "part of the whole movement of the continued march towards progress." That is to say, to impose liberal philosophies by fiat when Americans won't vote for them.
I find it amusing that liberal angst surrounding the inevitable generations-long ebb and flow of political sentiment ignores the fact that what would have been seen as liberal in 1960 (i.e., with JFK) is now seen as utterly reactionary - by his brother. I thought he knew more about tides.

UPDATE I: Sigmund, Carl & Alfred has a nice factual send-up of Ted Kennedy's judicial 'logic' here, referencing Michelle Malkin's inspired live-blogging of TK's self-immolation Monday ("I am watching Sen. Ted Kennedy on C-SPAN unraveling before my eyes. He is screaming. The face is fire-engine red. The fists are waving furiously.") We also note the following, buried deep down in yesterday's NYTimes article on the groundwork Reagan and others laid for the latest Supreme Court picks to become viable:
...the last gasp of resistance came in a Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday when Senator Edward M. Kennedy, joined by Senator John Kerry, both of Massachusetts, unsuccessfully tried to persuade the party to organize a filibuster. No one defended Judge Alito or argued that he did not warrant opposition, Mr. Kennedy said in an interview. Instead, opponents of the filibuster argued about the political cost of being accused of obstructionism by conservatives. [emphasis added]
It's worth noting that in a party that once prided itself on grassroots diversity and principle, the dynamic of the Democratic caucus had nothing to do with the nominee's qualifications. Not a single voice could be found to take a contrarian position, to say "wait a minute, what might we gain if we were gracious in defeat just this once?" Not one. Democrats have become homogeneous in opinion, unquestioning of internal authority, and utterly self-serving in their objectives. Sadly, we may be witnessing not just the meltdown of Teddy Kennedy (oft reported, never fulfilled), but the nadir of his party (if it even survives a host of other crises plaguing it).

UPDATE II: Re-reading the Chappaquiddick story in all of its telling moment-by-moment detail Monday night, it struck us that the desperate, last-stand behavior of Teddy Kennedy in the Alito nomination has little to do with rational political calculus and a great deal to do with attempting to extract meaning from a life and a Senatorial career overshadowed by deep feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

That's neither a new insight nor an excuse. But it explains a lot.

Teddy Kennedy the political buffoon is still Teddy Kennedy the grieving, guilt-ridden younger brother. He knows now beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will never redeem the legacy of Bobby and Jack. That a man much like his brother sits in the oval office only grinds salt into that wound. It forces Teddy to confront ever more clearly how far he has moved away from his brothers' expansive ideals and (even more painfully) how his own reprehensibly irresponsible behavior and its result (the death of a young woman) one night half a life ago cost him the chance of ever sitting there himself.

Narcissism Writ Large: Clinton at Davos (Again)

In light of Bill Clinton's comments last year at Davos (i.e., praising progressivist liberal Iran while bad-mouthing the United States), I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised that this year at Davos, he's insisting that attempting to fix the unfixable and fundamentally unknowable possible results 100 years from now of a set of desperately biased computer simulations (aka, "global climate change") should be the world's top priority:

"First, I worry about climate change. It's the only thing that I believe has the power to fundamentally end the march of civilization as we know it, and make a lot of the other efforts that we're making irrelevant and impossible."
Unbelievable. Delusional. Terrorism in his view, comes in third place behind this and (in second place) the Marxist koan, "global inequality". Hint to Bill: the 9-11 terrorists had advanced degrees, trust funds and bright futures. Their motivations had nothing to do with 'inequality'. Similarly, the Palestinians have had almost 60 years to make themselves prosperous - as so many others have done. They chose instead to follow leaders whose idea of progress was blowing up airliners.

Bill went on to say that people around the world:
"...basically want to know that we're on their side, that we wish them well, that we want the best for them, that we're pulling for them."
Which basically means nothing - neatly illustrating why I'm really really glad he's not president anymore. It's not "basically", Bill. Not "wish". Not "want". Not "pulling". (Yeesh... how many waffle words can you pack into a single sentence?) The people of the world don't want good intentions and meaningless assurances from a comfortable elite at a five-star hotel in the Swiss Alps. They want proof that we support them and not the maniacal intentions of their misguided if well-spoken leaders.

They want help in establishing justice and individual freedom and democracy and free market principles that can set them on the road to prosperity as they've seen happen in dozens of other nations already. They want action to back up nice words, not just the adoration of your liberal cronies. They want to hear - as Natan Sharansky did from the Soviet gulag - a man (Reagan) with the full intention of backing up his rhetoric calling evil by its name. They want - as the violated Kuwaitis did - to hear "this will not stand" and know that it won't.

They want to look a Marine grunt in the eye and smile and know that he's not going home on the whim of some turncoat politician more interested in today's polling results and tomorrow's headlines and next November's election than he is in adhering to enduring principles and staying the course and making the sacrifice for something truly better.

Those are things your idols once stood for, Bill. What happened? We both know. Power and women and lies and a gilded ability to convince anyone that you feel for them - really feel for them - even when it's all a load of crap and it's all about you and always has been. That and a thousand other things that ate away at what integrity you might once have had as a young man. It's sad, really. Sad that you so obviously need the limelight to feel fully yourself.

No, Bill, the people of the world (if we can even generalize about such a thing) long to see the 101st Airborne kick out the guy who ran their uncle through an industrial shredder while his sister watched and her daughter was raped and then hung for the 'crime'.

Yes, they want us "pulling" for them but in concrete ways: Like when the American military was first on the scene after the tsunami. Like when we stood by our rhetoric and brought the Soviet Union to its knees, unleashing a cascade of freedom in Eastern Europe. Like when, over the past century, we've stood up to tyrants and thugs at incredibly high cost to ourselves instead of lobbing an easy missile or two when the headlines about our torrid office affairs got too hot and then calling in the UN to go in in their air-conditioned SUVs and rape a few more civilians. Like when we stuck by our commitment to see the Iraqi people through to an election. Like when this administration refused to call the leaders of North Korea, Iran and Syria something other than what they are.

Those kinds of things, Bill. Those kinds of things have costs - big costs. They can cost popularity, money... and lives. Thank goodness there are men and women in uniform (and in that office you used to inhabit) who understand these things and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices. Thank goodness there are individuals who have not sold it all for fame and a fat speaking fee who have enough sense of what they stand for not to have to suck at the teat of narcissistic liberal reassurance that you so obviously and pitifully crave.

UPDATE: Sounding a similar note, No Oil for Pacifists notes that:
It is you, not the Bush Administration, with bloody hands. It is you [the loony left] -- departing from liberal Democrats of the past -- who have abandoned the still enslaved around the world.

Rights: The New, Revised, Super-Expanded Edition

There are at least four great things about the founding documents of the United States: 1) their definition of human rights in terms that are brief, timeless, universal and essential, 2) their absolutist stand on those essentials (e.g., "inalienable", "self evident"), 3) their clear acknowledgement of a divine source ("Creator") and 4) the fact that the authors managed to avoid cluttering them up with a long, gussied-up list of "rights" that would have required expansive government programs and expenditures and/or locked in political favors to particular individuals or groups for all time.

This high school level review of American government shouldn't be necessary in 2006. Sadly, it is.

Sadly, for example, we hear straight-faced debate from otherwise well-educated people about whether the Palestinian Authority has a 'right', under Hamas leadership (or any other for that matter), to our continued financial largesse. The fact that they've held an election has also been interpreted by some as conferring a 'right' to be free from criticism of any policies they choose to pursue. It's as if the process of holding an election - because we encouraged it - automatically confers permanent amnesty on Palestinian leadership from responsibility for all subsequent decisions and actions and instead pins it on us.

Sorry guys. It doesn't work that way. The election was the first step. Next you have to govern. Then you have to convince us that you're acting in ways that are in concert with our values and priorities and those of our chosen allies. Then and only then should you even think about asking us for money. At which point we'll consider it - if it's in our national interest and you give us cause to believe you and our electorate supports it.

In a similar vein we hear some arguing that the Bush administration has no 'right' to define foreign terrorist organizations and apply the laws of the land to those who might aide, abet or provide comfort to them (a point on which - it's worth pointing out - this administration has shown enormous restraint when one considers the damage the New York Times' leak has done to our ability to protect ourselves.) We hear also in the NSA flap the implication that the administration has no 'right' to take basic, prudent measures to see that terrorist organizations do not act on their stated intent to harm us or our allies.

In this, the critics are narrowly correct.

There is no administration "right" to these things in the sense that the Constitution means it. There is however, a clear set of responsibilities and powers that we the people (the only entities in with inalienable rights endowed by God) have conferred on our leaders through war and peace, sickness and health, riches and poverty, Whigs, Democrats, Republicans and the accumulated wisdom of 230 years of messy but ultimately fair democratic tri-partite process.

To suddenly pull the rug out from under all that and argue that none of it matters because, (don't you see?), Bush is an evil, fascist, misogynist, Bible-thumping, greedy, anti-progressive, condescending, bigoted, power-hungry, election-stealing pig bent on world domination. Such shrillness, coming from politicians once considered responsible and 'moderate' starts to sound, well... revolutionary - and not in the positive sense of that word. Toss it all out. I don't like the result. I don't like that we keep losing. I don't like that nobody is listening to me anymore. I don't like this country if it's going to be like this, they seem to say and often do. Never mind precedent and process. Never mind history. Never mind the popular will. Never mind that people are trying to kill us and we need to protect ourselves. Stop it. I want to get off.

To which I'm tempted to reply: be my guest.

We also hear the left hatching grand self-fulfilling conspiracy theories at the disciplining of a government employee (a NASA 'scientist') as if a high-paying, taxpayer-funded, high-profile government job and its misuse for personal political purposes over more than five years was a 'right' akin to academic tenure (a bad idea even in that context - a catastrophically misguided idea in the public sphere.)

Where no rights exist, they are invented (largely but not exclusively by the left) to justify political points of view. Calling something a 'right' gives it extra special status in the debate. Taxpayer subsidy of a foreign organization openly hostile to our well being somehow becomes (by a process of 'reasoning' I can scarcely begin to fathom) a 'right' at the expense of not only our financial sovereignty but of our physical safety. Taxpayer subsidy of art and abortion and illegal aliens and a thousand other things becomes a right, well... because it was a right last year and someone thought that it seemed like a good idea at the time so let's just keep writing checks and don't question it.

What harm can this extension of 'rights' do? Plenty. Misusing language by calling something a right that is not degrades those rights that are truly fundamental. Not unlike the filibuster, ratcheting up the rhetoric is a tactic reserved for those who were never taught by their parents that throwing temper tantrums and disrespecting the will of the majority is not how reasoning adults deal with one another (to say nothing of being Constitutionally proper or politically wise.)

If such logical contortions have become fair game then why should Hamas not pay us for having created a climate in which an election became virtually inevitable? Why should Hamas not pay reparations to Israel for the damage that its suicide bombers have caused? Why should a ranting NASA scientist not pay back the portion of his salary that went to making political statements that have nothing to do with the research job we pay him to do on our behalf?

I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised. The reasoning process here is of the same variety that the left has used on virtually every topic it deems 'progressive'. (Progressive towards what?, one might ask. 'Progressive' in whose world view? But that's post for another day.)

Step one: Establish a new 'right' for a particular special interest group (e.g., the Palestinians.)
Step two: Demonize as bigoted all criticism (and critics) of those 'rights'.
Step three: Get the government to subsidize the 'right'.
Step four: Kick and scream and fight at the barest hint of opposition.

Whether the initial justification for the subsidy is now moot does not matter. Whether the justification made sense in the first place does not matter. Whether the hazy justification of 'public good' makes any sense to the current electorate doesn't matter. There are, in the minds of a set of liberal mandarins 'rights' that only they can fully appreciate. We must not question. The fact that continuing to subsidize Hamas is even up for debate throws thousands of other 'rights' and associated subsidies into the harsh light they should have been subject to long ago.

UPDATE: As if on cue...

A senior leader of Hamas urged the European Union and other international donors Monday to continue funding the Palestinian Authority once the radical Islamic group enters the government a few weeks from now. "We are asking you to cooperate with our mission by keeping an open mind," Ismail Haniyeh, the top candidate on Hamas' national list, told journalists at his house in a beachside refugee camp here. "We are asking you to respect these results and respect the will of the Palestinians."
This is tremendously clever, really. The words 'cooperation' and 'open mind' are like Pavlovian insta-triggers, guaranteed to put some on the left into a trance-like, unquestioning state. To be uncooperative or close-minded, after all is a bad thing. Never mind that what they are asking for cooperation with is Hamas' mission, which is... to eliminate Israel. So how's that again? Let's translate: Hamas is asking Europe (including Germany) to cooperate in wiping out Jews? Haven't we been here before? The even more clever part is in conflating funding with acceptance of the election results.

The two could not be more different.

For the record, we accept the Palestinian election results. We are disturbed by them, but we accept them. Now the Palestinian people have to accept the consequences of having voted as they did.

When George Bush was elected, individual Americans were suddenly looked on as persona non grata (or persona ridiculosa or persona neanderthalis) in parts of the world (e.g., Europe) where they had once been feted as saviors. I should know. I've had these conversations with European members of my family. And I accept the consequences of having elected George Bush. The Palestinians need to accept the signals they have sent in electing Hamas. Those consequences may include less funding from the rest of the Western, civilized world that it seeks to destroy. Next time they may think a little harder about where their meal ticket really comes from before they vote. If they don't like it, they don't have to cash the checks.

29 January, 2006

Guile, Power and Projection

Dr. Sanity neatly sums up our continuing perplexity at how the left can see this president and the actions he's taken in the war on terror as not just a different point of view but as evil incarnate:

It is impossible for [the left] to believe that anyone in politics would not play the game to maximize their hold on power (since that is what they would do if they were in power); and might actually take action because it is the right thing to do; or that it might be important for national security or in the national interest of America. What a concept! All their rationalizations and rhetoric represent a classic case of projection, pure and simple. [emphasis in original]
Guile cannot credit guilelessness in others. It can only see feint and deception.

28 January, 2006

Peacemaking and Peacemakers

This story doesn't have a tidy conclusion. Stop reading now if that bothers you. I'm still not sure what it means or where it goes, but I can't escape feeling that it ties into recent troubling headlines out of the Middle East.

This past week, I found myself talking to my sister-in-law, (or 'Sis', or 'J', or 'hey you', or whatever it is that one is supposed to call the dear widow of one's recently deceased brother), about childhood memories of him. Most were stories she'd never heard, or if she had, she'd only heard his version in bits and pieces over the years. It's possible that other people would remember the same scenes, but I haven't been in touch with any of them in almost 30 years.

It's a funny thing being the keeper of such things: at once very heavy (gulp... I'm the only one who remembers now!) and also very light (it feels like he's listening as I tell them...)

I spoke mostly about the summers my brother and I spent at an all-boys overnight camp in Maine. They were delightful times - not without their adolescent conflicts and anxieties, but formative and important and pleasant to recall: the struggles of closely fought games of 'capture-the-flag', the way the setting sun filtered through the pines during the evening softball game, the mist on the lake during the early morning swims, the talks around the campfire and in the cabins after lights-out...

As I recalled things I hadn't thought about in decades, I kept coming back to one kid: Abel. That was his real name. Abel, as in the brother that Cain murdered in the book of Genesis.

Abel was about my age. He was also black - one of a handful of inner city kids given a chance to attend camp on scholarship. The significance of that went largely over my head at the time. For the most part, our camp had been lily white for the first couple of years that my brother and I had gone there. That wasn't particularly anybody's fault. The owners and staff were perfectly enlightened - quite liberal in fact. It just hadn't occurred to anyone until the mid '70's to think terribly hard about integration or diversity of any of the things that pervade the culture now.

I first met Abel a couple of years after the forced bussing debacle in Boston. Tensions stayed mostly below the surface but there were fights. Some were interracial. Many were not. I don't remember any weapons, or anyone getting hurt beyond the occasional bloody nose. Skin color just didn't have a lot to do with it. Fighting is and always has been just part of what boys do.

One thing that stood out about Abel was that he was never party to those fights - at least not to my recollection. He was the only boy in a large family. I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but in hindsight Abel was a pretty mature kid for his age. Whenever someone had a conflict - violent or not - Abel was often there, helping to break it up, helping the counselors cool things down, helping kids to talk it out and move on and get back to the business of being kids and playing sports and having fun. He seemed drawn to be the peacemaker.

My brother was desperately homesick his first year away at camp. (He was only nine.) Abel took him (and many other younger kids) under his wing. Peacemaker. Consoler. Friend.

Ten years later, Abel was dead.

I remember riding in a cab on my way to the airport when I found out. August, 1987. Leafing through the paper... wham! A name I hadn't heard in years. Abel... No way, I thought. It can't be him. The story made clear that it was. Abel was shot twice in the head while attempting to talk down a cocaine-crazed gunman who'd entered the bar where he was working. The crowd had peeled back, crouching low as the music stopped. (Pardon the link to an otherwise... unusual website but it's by far the best firsthand account of Abel's last days that I could find.)

Abel leaped the bar and walked towards the guy firing into the ceiling - his palms outstretched in a gesture of peace, according to witnesses. Abel died a few days later. About the same time, they caught the guy who'd shot him - on the run in Kansas. He's serving a life sentence for first degree murder back here in Massachusetts. This post is not about the death penalty.

What this post is about is a guy with an exceptional gift. Abel. A black guy perfectly comfortable and friendly and trusting in places that logically he shouldn't have been - at least not at that time: Abel, the guy who felt it his calling in any situation to make friends with everyone, to be the peacemaker, the arbitrator, the guy to cool things down.

Why was I suddenly drawn to think about Abel last week after almost twenty years? I don't know. What I do know is that my brother was even more shocked and crushed than I was when he'd heard the news of Abel's murder - disconsolate for days in a way that's uniquely true of the first time that a true friend and contemporary passes on. My brother: a patient man (far more patient than I). Abel: the guy to toss oil on angry waters even when he had every reason to jump into them. What I sense also in this serendipitous meander down memory lane is that Abel was there to greet my brother when he died. And that puts a huge smile on my face.

This incredible, instinctual, highly gifted peacemaker - someone able to confront pure evil and save others without a thought for his own safety - just happened to come vividly to mind at the end of a month that's seen one of the biggest escalations in tensions in the Middle East in decades. I don't think of Abel as the kind of patsy some so-called peacemakers seem to be. He was street smart. He knew an aggressor when he saw one and didn't let other factors color that judgment. He liked to party. He was cool. I could tell other stories. I won't.

And yet, when the time came to step in, he did the right thing without a second thought. What does it mean? Again, I don't know. I'm just comforted in the knowledge that he and my brother are together, that saints both named and unnamed are watching over world events as they unfold, that angels ride in the whirlwind, directing the storm... in ways we cannot know.

Why Abel? Why now? I can't help wondering as the news continues to unfold...

Genesis 4:6-16
Then the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." Now Cain said to his brother Abel, "Let's go out to the field." And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, "Where is your brother Abel?" "I don't know," he replied. "Am I my brother's keeper?" The Lord said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth." Cain said to the Lord, "My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me." But the Lord said to him, "Not so; if anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over." Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord's presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
UPDATE I: The friend of Abel's who was in the bar when he was shot in 1987 and who put up the website about his final days points me to this trip he felt called in a dream to take to Rome to witness the election of Pope Benedict XVI last April. He recounts the unlikely pilgrimage, as well as the odd 'coincidence' of finding "the camera transfixed for a long shot of me, singled out from a crowd of a half million...a long receding shot" on worldwide coverage immediately after the puff of white smoke. If I wasn't sure where the main part of this story was heading when I wrote it, I'm even less sure now. But my spidey sense is tingling...

UPDATE II: Less than 24 hours after I posted this ("still not sure... where it goes"), I was confronted with this short prayer by one of my favorite spiritual authors, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, on the inside flap of our church program:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

27 January, 2006

Condi's Clear Speaking

I really hope she runs in '08...

"[The Iranians are] doing nothing but trying to throw up chaff so that they are not referred to the (UN) Security Council and people shouldn't let them get away with it. The time for talking outside the Security Council is over."

- Condi Rice, on Iran's demands for in-country uranium enrichment

26 January, 2006

Mideast Thought Experiment

This has probably been around for years, but I just heard it for the first time today. It's a simple little thought experiment that neatly highlights the fallacy of moral equivalence:

Question: If tomorrow morning we woke up and all of the Islamic nations and peoples surrounding Israel were completely without any weapons more powerful than a ripe eggplant, (and Israel retained theirs) what would happen next?
Answer: Very little.

Question: If the reverse were true, what would happen?
Answer: Israel would be overrun in a matter of days if not hours.

The Wolf Comes to Dinner

We note this morning the absolute victory by Hamas in yesterday's Palestinian parliamentary elections. (Sorry to be the bearer of fantastically, head-swimmingly, world-shakingly bad news if this is the first place you're reading about it.) The WaPo notes blandly that Hamas' election would:

...severely complicate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' policy of pursuing negotiations with Israel under a U.S.-backed peace plan known as the roadmap
Why? Because it...
...conflicts with Hamas' platform in several key respects.
What would those "several key respects" be, you may ask?
Hamas officials in Gaza City, where their victory was greatest, said the group has no plans to negotiate with Israel or recognize Israel's right to exist.
Yeah, I'd say that that's a key respect. And in case some of the WaPo's readers were just waking from an Austin Powers 40-year time capsule, the WaPo wastes ink and pixels stating that:
Europe, Israel and the United States classify Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, as a terrorist organization.
Phew! Thanks goodness for diplomatic consensus. I was confused. I thought they were the ones organizing knitting circles and potluck suppers in the church basement on Wednesday evenings. I'll give the New York Times a little more credit than the WaPo as they mustered the decency to call the Hamas victory:
a shocking upset sure to throw Mideast peacemaking into turmoil... The result could have a devastating effect on the peace process with Israel.
Well, yeah. But what's amazing is that even with those slightly stronger adjectives, the Grey Lady of Times Square still seems to live inside a world view that imagines there is a peace 'process'. That it's still all about fake Clintonesque smiles and earnest Jimmy Carter/Madeine Albright shuttles and meaningless Nobel Prizes and documents that boil down to "suckah!" In light of recent developments, that is utter delusion. When one negotiating party has made unilateral concessions and the response of the other has been to spit a kind of anti-Semitic "we'll stop at nothing less than killing you all" vitriol that even Hitler didn't think he could pull off until he'd pushed the Allies back across the English Channel, then we're waaaay past 'process'.

25 January, 2006

Japan - Conflicted Over Iran

Fascinating little piece in this Thursday's Asahi Shimbun:

Iran's publicly stated intention to advance its nuclear technology threatens a key element of Japan's energy strategy--development of the Azadegan oil field [in Iran]... a senior official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry explains Japan's dilemma. "We want to develop the field at any cost," the official said. "But opposing nuclear weapons proliferation is the national policy of Japan as the world's only country to suffer atomic bombings. It's impossible for Azadegan alone to escape any impact (from the nuclear issue and possible sanctions)."

While joining the United States and Europe in calling on Iran to drop its nuclear program, resource-poor Japan cannot afford to lose the development rights. With estimated reserves of 26 billion barrels, the Azadegan field is one of the largest in the Middle East. Japan's Inpex Corp., in which the government has a 36-percent stake, won 75 percent of development rights in February 2004. It was a much-needed enhancement of Japan's energy security after Arabian Oil Co., a Japanese company, lost its rights to Saudi Arabia's Khafji field in 2000...

...[Japanese] officials are concerned with China's aggressive push to strengthen ties with Iran. It recently won rights to the Yadavaran oil field in the country. "Even if Japan gives up Azadegan, China will move in, resulting in no damage whatsoever to Iran," said a senior ministry official.
Dilemma indeed. I'll give them the "at any cost" bit as something that may have been mangled in translation; but it's true: Japan has no ANWR equivalent. They are truly stuck. China by contrast, can buy its way out of an energy crunch at the cost of slowing its astronomical growth rate, further develop its domestic resources (as its doing) and/or impose its will on Iran or other Middle Eastern countries. (Wonder if we'll see any "No Jintao Oil Greed!" banners if that goes down. Hmm... Doesn't seem likely.)

We find the Japanese dilemma closely analogous to the have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too thinking that pervades much left-leaning environmental rhetoric. We're against nukes, but we're also against freezing in the dark or burning coal. Inconvenience a few caribou? Impose higher costs on people who live far away from their jobs? Attempt to pacify an unstable but oil-rich region of the world? The choices and trade-offs are seldom absolute... but neither are they optional.

Iran's Pressure Points: Syria Comes Back Into the Spotlight

Syria is coming back around as a leverage point in our efforts to alter the strategic landscape of the Middle East in our favor. As wiser commentators observed nearly a year ago, Syria is intimately tied to everything we've been talking about here the past month, most especially Israel and Iran. Michael Ledeen, has this highly educational piece in NRO on Iran's alliance with Syria and Hezbollah and the ethnic vulnerability they have in a repressed ethnic minority in their richest oil region. (H/T: Fausta at Bad Hair Blog):

In short, the Assad family's grip on Syria is weakening, and this is welcome news indeed, both for the long-suffering Syrian people and for us. The Iranians are obviously desperate to keep Assad in power, and Hezbollah armed to the teeth. Should things go the other way, Iran would lose its principal ally in the war against us in Iraq. As is their wont, the Iranians have been paying others to do much of their dirtiest work, and they have awarded Assad tens of millions of dollars' worth of oil, as well as cash subsidies, to cover the costs of recruiting, training and transporting young jihadis, who move from Syria into the Iraqi battle space (and, according to Jane's, a serious publication, the Iranians have also sent some of their WMDs to Assad for safekeeping). That deadly flow has been considerably reduced in recent months, thanks to an extended campaign waged by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Anbar Province, and further along the Iraq/Syria border. The Syrians have accordingly sent radical Islamists into Lebanon, perhaps to link up with Hezbollah in a new jihad against Israel.
And as we noted last April from a NYTimes article on the CIA's final but incomplete report on WMD in Iraq, Syria may well have provided (and may still be providing) similar 'safekeeping' services on behalf of Iraq:
...a group formed to investigate whether WMD-related material was shipped out of Iraq before the invasion wasn't able to reach firm conclusions because the deteriorating security situation limited and later halted their work. Investigators were focusing on transfers from Iraq to Syria. [emphasis added]
Others have noted further pieces of the same story. Iraq did have WMD - how many we are not sure. Some of them were discovered. The rest went... somewhere. One caller on a radio show I happened to catch yesterday had an isolationist, Bush-bashing axe to grind in this vein, observing that tracking WMD in the Middle East seems like a shell game. His question: When does it stop? His implication: Aren't we the suckers here? Our response: We are suckers only to the extent that we agree to look under one shell. That's usually the way the game works. But then in the carnival version, the huckster hiding the coin is the one in control. This particular set of hucksters has shown the world quite clearly that they ought not to be (in control).

As we speculated yesterday in a comment, the most likely scenario for an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel will originate not from a 'suitcase' (for all practical purposes a Jack Baueresque myth) but from a cargo container - on a ship, a truck, or a civilian airliner. And at least for the latter two, having a nearby partner (nearby to Israel, that is) would make sense. Syria. As we noted last March, Syria "may be a flashpoint".

Missiles are something that Iran would like to have, and is probably developing or purchasing, but they don't need them. Thinking in those terms is a classic case of imposing our paradigm (human life is precious) in a context where the base assumption is false. In short: they have hundreds if not many thousands of willing 'drivers' for nukes. We only had one... and he was fictional. I can even imagine that the competition for that role would be fierce... among those who are into that sort of thing.

Ledeen at NRO continues:
Should the jihadist traffic into Iraq and Lebanon cease, we and the Iraqis would be free to concentrate our attention on the Iranian border, especially in the oil-rich south, where Revolutionary Guards forces are very active, both to contain the anti-regime rage of the Ahwaz Arabs on the Iranian side of the border, and to infiltrate the Iraqi side, both in support of Zarqawi's terror network, and to agitate for an Islamic republic in the Shiite region around Basra. The Iranians have been hyperactive in that area ever since the fall of Saddam, and it would be a very good thing to start to turn the tables on them. For, just as many Iraqi oil fields, and millions of Iraqi Shiites are vulnerable to Iranian maneuver, the reverse is also true: the bulk of the Iranian oil fields, and millions of Iranians, are vulnerable. And the strategic balance is definitely in our favor.

The population of the Iranian oil region is largely Arab, and they have been brutally oppressed and ethnically cleansed by the mullahs. Tehran has gobbled up thousands of square kilometers of land on the pretext of building industrial parks or expanding military facilities, and the locals have been protesting on and off for many months. As I wrote last week, the regime is so nervous about disorder in the spinal cord of the Iranian economy that they sent Lebanese Hezbollahis and members of the Badr Corps (Shiites of Iraqi origin trained in Iran for the past two decades and then sent into Iraq to fight the Coalition).
In other words, working on toppling Syria's brutal regime (method TBD, but I'm open) may be one of our best strategic options, accomplishing several things at once. It would eliminate an immediate, easy avenue for Iran to reach Israel with nukes, i.e., the map-wiping it says it desires - potential missile programs notwithstanding. It would turn over yet one more highly plausible WMD shell in the area. It would put Iran and others on notice that we ain't screwin' around. It would, as Fedeen notes, free up some of our resources to focus on the Iranian border area which is sure to be an increasing source of trouble under almost any scenario. And finally, it would free a people crushed under brutal oppression - a desirable but neither sufficient nor absolutely essential element in my neocon world view. (For those unfamiliar with just how brutal Syria under the Assads has been check out - believe it or not - the World Socialist Website and try to overlook the BS about bourgeosie and imperialism:
[In 1980 Hafez el-] Assad was targeted in a grenade attack. In revenge, his brother Rifaat, head of Syria's security forces, gunned down more than 250 religious opponents in their prison cells. In February 1982 a Muslim Brotherhood revolt broke out in Hama. Ba'ath Party officials were killed and appeals were broadcast from the mosques for a national insurrection. Assad's retribution was ruthless. The military levelled [sic] half of the city, slaughtering an estimated 10,000 to 25,000 people. It is estimated [by Amnesty International] that between 1982 and 1992 thousands were arrested for political dissent and 10,000 were executed.
(Tom Friedman outlines the same story in his 1989 book From Beirut to Jerusalem but I couldn't find a convenient link to its content.)

Wretchard at The Belmont Club has this to say, about the unfortunately atrophied capabilities and therefore limited options we have between feckless, flaccid talk and raining down metal and heat and death:
Perhaps one of the reasons the US adopted the military approach against terrorism and struck at targets amenable to the application of force was that it was obliged to use the only instruments of national power which reliably worked. They had a bureaucratic repertoire which in any case was all they could play. All the talk about "nuanced" or "sophisticated" approaches evaded the fact that there were no effective policy instruments between a diplomatic note and sending in the Marines. After you composed a nuanced and literary diplomatic demarche there was nothing left but to order in the Third Infantry Division. If American society really wanted the capability to covertly upend mentally disturbed dictators it would take the trouble to build up the mechanism to do it. Instead, General Michael Hayden, former director of the National Security Agency recently had to explain before a hostile audience at the National Press Club why it was necessary to wiretap Al Qaeda. [emphasis added]
Part of the capability IMHO involves a more sustained and forthright case (playing on offense instead of defense) on the need for prudent national security measures that the ACLU routinely opposes. Wretchard harmonizes with (without duplicating) things that Tom Barnett has been preaching for years.

And then, for those inclined to such things, there is the eerie prophesied confluence of Syria, Iran and Russia supporting a major attack on Israel before the end of the Hebrew year 5766... which equates with the end of March... this year. As we've warned: fasten your seatbelts.

24 January, 2006

Making It Up As They Go Along

Diplomacy is...
...asking the cop who just stopped you for speeding if he'd mind if you take your hands off the wheel for a moment in order to pull your cell phone out of your pocket to call your daughter to tell her you're going to be late to pick her up from school while he writes up your ticket.

Diplomacy is not...
...putting your mob friend Guido on the phone to tell said cop that he'd better put down that ticket pad and get back in his squad car now or you're going to drive off in a spray of gravel and burning rubber and oh by the way the reason you were speeding was that you're on your way to a shooting spree at the local elementary school and he'd better not follow you or you'll get him and his family too and would he mind terribly if you continue loading your Uzi while he sat by and watched and could he please hold the mirror while you do another line of coke?

That is called contempt.

Russia's national security chief and Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Tuesday that Tehran's nuclear standoff must be resolved by diplomatic efforts in the U.N. atomic watchdog agency [IAEA]. The Kremlin statement reflected Russia's efforts to delay Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council and Moscow's opposition to international sanctions against Tehran. "Both sides expressed their desire to solve the issue in a diplomatic way within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency," Russia's Security Council said in a statement after the meeting between council chief Igor Ivanov and Ali Larijani of Iran. The meeting came after Iran warned that IAEA referral to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear ambitions would lead it to move forward with a full-scale uranium enrichment program, a possible precursor to making atomic weapons. [emphasis added]
Completely blowing off your appointment with the IAEA in Vienna does not make anyone more likely to believe that you would abide by what they have to say anyway. And threatening to do something you're already doing (or that everyone believes you're doing) isn't really much of a threat. I shouldn't have expected as much as I did from the Russian negotiations. What a waste. Iran is both setting the tempo and dealing the cards and that's not good.

Remembering Reagan

Without really thinking about this being the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's first inauguration, I found myself watching a PBS American Experience documentary on his life yesterday. Given that it was PBS, they did a reasonable job of it.

Many things stand out, but one that I had not recognized at the time (being on the other side, as I was back then) was the poignancy of a few moments at the 1976 Republican National Convention when - speaking reluctantly and extemporaneously - Reagan absolutely galvanized the crowd. As someone noted, "it was then that most in the room recognized that they'd nominated the wrong man" (Gerald Ford).

In light of what happened over the next four years, it's an interesting thought exercise to imagine how the world might have been different had even a few delegates voted their gut and swung the nomination his way. What was at least as remarkable was the sense from several who knew him of how he was gracious in defeat - biding his time knowing it seems, that his time would come, that it was important and it was not his to choose.

To the delight of some of our more liberal-leaning readers, I'll give them this: to listen to Reagan speak is to cringe at George Bush. One can love a man's conviction and faith and follow-through and still pine for the kind of galvanizing speechcraft that we lost when Reagan passed last year. I hated him at the time. I miss him now. And in that vein, few could do better than this incredibly moving firsthand account by Dr. Sanity of meeting and speaking with him - a chance encounter as both of them played primary roles in the aftermath of the Challenger disaster.

Motivations and Preparations: Dealing With Iran

I've received a number of comments and e-mails recently (several of which I've summarily deleted... for reasons which will become apparent in a moment) asking roughly the same two questions: why? and what?

1) Why is Iran motivated to say what it's saying and do what it's doing? (or less savory words to the same effect). That is, why is Iran - or rather, why are its radical leaders - lashing out at the U.S. and Israel in what seems to be (as I described it yesterday) a 'suicide by cop' challenge? I.e., "we're going to kill as many of you as we can... we know we'll probably get flattened trying... but we're gambling on the long odds that we won't... and in any case we don't care 'cause we're the 12th imam..." It's the insane, desperate lunge after Clint Eastwood declares: "Go ahead. Make my day."

This is simply a variant on the much flogged "why do they hate us?" question that made the rounds after 9-11. I'd imagined - perhaps naively - that it had been obliterated by the overwhelming evidence since then, i.e., that the 'reasons' of the Islamofascists are all ex post facto and selected for their audience du jour. (Sorry, three languages; one sentence; bad blogger, baaad...) The real reason is the restoration of an Islamic empire twelve centuries in decline. But if they said that more often it would tip more of us off to their real and consistently imperialistic motives.

The only answer - because it is the one they've given in their most candid moments - is that they hate us because of who we are, not because of what we do. This has been repeated so often I would have thought it would be clear. For some, apparently it is not. So let's try this approach: ask the same for any primary aggressor in history - that is, for any nation or movement that has declared expansionist, conquest-oriented ambitions backed up by the capacity to act on them. E.g.,

  • Why did Imperial Japan attack Pearl Harbor? (not to mention China and Korea and much of Eastern Asia and the Western Pacific)

  • Why did the USSR press into Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba, Nicaragua, Eastern Europe and a slew of other places and impose what all thinking people now recognize to be an utterly oppressive, dehumanizing system?

  • Why did Hitler overrun Europe?
Better historians than I could make a much longer list going back centuries if not millennia but for now these will suffice. The answer to all of them is the same: Because they could. They did what they did because they calculated (wrongly as it turned out) that they could pick off the weak and defenseless and that nobody was going to stop them. In light of history it is clear that had nobody tried to stop them the world would be a much more brutal terrifying place today.

Hitler owning Europe, standing for "re-election" in 1970 and garnering 100% of the 'vote'? All too possible without Churchill and Roosevelt. Tojo's son in charge of Australia, Hawaii and most of Eastern Asia? Not all that hard to imagine in light of how North Korea has managed to persist. The Cold War still bumping along after Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel and others took a bullet to the head and were buried in anonymous graves? Easy to imagine without Reagan and Pope John Paul. Iran, Syria, Saddam and Saudi triumphantly marching into the glass parking lot that was once Jerusalem? Easy to imagine under President Kerry or Mondale or Gore or Dukakis or Carter.

And that's the nice answer. :)

The less nice answer is that to even ask those questions is utterly noxious in light of what we now know of those regimes, their methods, the bitter fruit they bore, and their larger ambitions that the world managed to put a stop to. Yes, the cost was great. Visit the cemeteries in Northern France and ask the whispering pines and silent stones whether it was worth it. They will tell you: it was. Oh how it was! Terrible and regrettable and painful and yet... oh so worth it. We don't even care if they're grateful over in Europe. (OK, we do. We're human. But it was worth it just the same.)

Plumbing the motives of these regimes as if they were simply the opposing gymnastics team in the next town over is an exercise in empathy with pure evil. It is abhorrent because it puts "understanding" of those regimes ahead of compassion for the people crushed under the megalomania of their leaders.

One cannot empathize with both - it is simply not possible. One has to choose.

One either spends energy trying to see what 'good' Castro (e.g.) has done for 'his' people or one asks the obvious follow-on: "Compared to what?" and notes that the overwhelming majority of people with the means to leave his little Cuban 'paradise' with their families have done so.

One either tries to understand Hamas and the carnage it has attempted to make routine, or one tries to understand why Israel has taken measures to protect its people from said carnage - quite restrained really, when one contemplates Israel's enormous capability to fight back unilaterally.

One either tries to understand Iran's seeming insanity or one takes it at face value and says: nope; can't allow that and tells them as slowly and clearly as possible that we disagree with their racist, expansionist ambitions and will oppose them with as much force as we need to to ensure that they are not fulfilled. Which leads to the next question:

2) What do you propose that we actually do about it (Iran)?

Some have read into my words the idea that I propose nuking Iran unilaterally. I challenge anyone to comb back through the archives and find where I said so because I did not. Nuclear weapons suck, frankly. I do not relish the thought of my country having to use them. At the same time however, to declare that we will not ever (or that we will unilaterally undo our nuclear capability) is foolish. We cannot responsibly rule out their use under all circumstances. War, unfortunately is hell - especially with an aggressor who does not play 'nice.

So what do I propose?

Limited diplomacy. Diplomacy that recognizes that some do not bargain in good faith and that endless talk sometimes serves the ambitions of tyrants far better than it serves the cause of long term peace and freedom. Not to get too Biblical here, but it's virtually the hallmark of evil that it niggles and negotiates with words with the precise purpose of distracting from larger wordless truths.

Democratic solidarity with the president. Let's be plain: I did not and do not like Bill Clinton. But I also recognize that he did some good: i.e., he was not Jimmy Carter. He had enough sense to fire some warning shots at Al Qaeda. Yes, they were ineffectual. Yes, I would have done a lot differently in light of what we all know now but then he might have too. I can't say with conviction that in the climate of the 1990's Bob Dole would have done substantially better. In any case, that's past. What I could and did do then was to say: he's the president and we have a process and until we have the chance to replace him in another election I'll hold my choicest comments.

It was also a different time: the history of political infighting in the country - up until Vietnam anyway - was to apply just a little more decorum during wartime than not. I'm not going to bother fisking the usual vacuous responses (e.g., "we have a duty to oppose the president!" and "he got us into the war in the first place!" or "we're not really at war".) We're talking about a recognition of the fact that we (and I emphasize WE) were attacked in force on 9-11, that our efforts to see that it does not happen again are very much in progress and that without sufficient support they very well could fail to our collective detriment. What we say to one another is more visible to our enemies than at any time in history and they've proven that they are only too able and willing to use it to hurt us.

Democratic wakefulness. I won't belabor this one, but for the most part , the left needs to open their eyes to what time it is and what's going on in the world. We are at war - and not of our own making. Joe Lieberman is the exception that proves the rule and - at least in how her mouth moves - to some extent Hillary Clinton is also. I don't believe her and don't believe she should be president, but at least she's not lost in the same kind of fantasy land as Nancy Pelosi et al. The continual sense I get is that the left believes that our global problems are either (take your pick): our fault for having interests beyond our shores, our fault for being successful, our fault for electing George Bush, the result of going into Iraq to depose Saddam (our fault again), or not so challenging as to require anything more than a 1990's brush-fire management and law enforcement approach. Wake up, people. It is 1938.

Carry a big stick. Prepare (and visibly so) to back up our words with whatever action our president, his advisors (including Congress) and our smartest military planners deem least worst among our options. There are blogs better equipped to flesh out the details on this. I hope it does not involve nukes on our side but the alternatives may be worse.

Use China and Russia. I am deeply wary of the leadership of both nations but the fact is that both have influence that we do not. I have read about and contemplated countless scenarios involving each (some good, some bad, some simply treacherous). What they all have in common is that they may be our best shot and that we cannot afford - the world cannot afford - a nuclear misunderstanding between us. Iran is bad. All out war with China or Russia (the latter much like a wounded pit bull) is something to be avoided - and I think it can be. Note that I did not say "at all costs". There are some things we would not do to avoid it (standing by and not retaliating on Iran while Israel got nuked). In the meantime I am thankful that more rather than fewer channels of communication appear to be opening up with the Chinese and the Russians.

Keep an eye on France. This may be a red herring, but someone commented recently on another blog that if anyone were to retaliate with nukes vis a vis Iran and with scarcely a second thought, it would be France. It's a strange thing to say in light of their behavior on Iraq, but this situation is vastly different (a much longer post for another day.)

Pray. Some may sniggle at this, but I'd be remiss in leaving it out. I can scarcely imagine the burden that the president is under in these times. Agree with him or don't but please pray for him. Unlike Roosevelt, he cannot wait until yet another galvanizing shot is fired at us to act since this time the shot may be the final one (at least as far as some of our allies are concerned and possibly some in our largest urban areas).

The inspiration for this blog's title is precisely the kind of situation we face: seemingly unsolvable. And when man's capacity falls short (as it inevitably does), we need help in discerning how to "reprogram the simulation" we find ourselves in to achieve a better outcome than all of the awful ones that seem to lie before us.

UPDATE: Great reminder from Sigmund, Carl & Alfred about the 1967 (aka 'Six Day') war that Israel fought against Egypt:
There is no single example of a leader, anywhere, that threatened Jews or Israel, that did not go out and attempt to implement that evil when given the chance. Further, responsible nations and leaders cannot fall back and claim 'bluster' every time they are called on uttering racist, bigoted and hateful remarks. When leaders and nations espouse views that are clearly out of the norm, when they use their own government controlled media to propagate hate and other outrages, they must be marginalized. There are consequences for inappropriate behavior, not the least of which is the forfeiture of a seat at the table of civilized nations.

23 January, 2006

Hamas vs. Fatah - Missing the Main Issue

I've already gotten myself into trouble today making references to Hitler and failing to do all my research. But having not made any comparisons with Mussolini, this one is too good to pass up. Time Magazine posts this article reporting on how much more efficient local Hamas officials have been in providing basic services to the Palestinians than was Yasser Arafat's Fatah party.

In towns like al-Bireh, Hamas has built popular support by providing a disciplined alternative to Fatah, which is seen by many Palestinians as corrupt, inefficient and unable to run a garbage collection service, let alone negotiate with Israel. Hamas has long run its own medical clinics, schools and soup kitchens for the poor—mostly in the Gaza Strip, its stronghold. In last year's local elections, Palestinian voters gravitated toward Hamas because of its reputation for having "members with a clean record," as Mayor Hamayel puts it, in a reference to Fatah's many corruption-tainted officials. Residents of towns where Hamas won control say they are now better run than they were under Fatah. In Qalqiliya, a West Bank town that Hamas won in elections last June, the Hamas council has paid off the town's debt, balanced its budget, raised salaries and begun rebuilding roads. Even in al-Bireh, which Hamas has governed for less than a month, there are signs of improvement: the streets are being cleaned and teams of men last week were installing stoplights in the rain hours after the end of the workday. The locals are impressed. "Fatah has not achieved anything for me," says Haytham Hammad, 22, a corporal in the Palestinian security forces, over a cup of coffee and a cigarette in an al-Bireh cafe. "Hamas is capable of taking back the rights of the Palestinian people—daily rights like a good job, clean water."
Which is all very nice. We're happy that the Palestinians seem to be waking up to the basics of self government now that Mr. Arafat is dead. It's only been what, 58 years since the founding of Israel? No analogy is exact of course, but one looks at places like Singapore, Thailand, South Korea or even Tibet and wonders why the Palestinians are somehow excused by the world for two generations from producing little more than a bunch of thugs with expertise in taking hostages, hijacking airplanes and killing innocent civilians in ever more spectacular fashion while getting awards for making movies about them ...when they're not getting other awards for making promises they never intend to keep.

Just to pick one example, the South Koreans were decimated (and then some) by the Japanese in WWII, systematically raped, deported and pillaged. A few years later they were nearly pushed to the sea by their ruthless fellow countrymen, egged on by Communist China. They had their infrastructure utterly destroyed, their population again decimated by war, and endured decades of abject poverty with little complaint while their northern neighbor made nuisance raids, constantly threatening to invade with massive force. Singapore has virtually no natural resources at its disposal on an eentsy weentsy dot of land nearby to practically nothing. Less than 25 years ago its people were making cheap goods in dirt floored factories for pennies a day. Yet both have become gems of economic progress and peace.

Each beleaguered nation has had to endure unbelievable hardship in the last 65 years, all the while making far far less trouble for the world in several decades than the Palestinians make in a week or two of routine operations. Each has done rather well for itself in far less time than it's taken the Palestinians to start cleaning their own streets and picking up their own garbage. And we're supposed to applaud? To say: Good for you. Good boys and girls. Next we're going to learn how to use a pencil and flush the toilet.

Give me a break. To do so would be to descend into the worst kind of racism and expectation lowering imaginable and I'm not going there. As they say about excuses and certain parts of one's posterior anatomy: everyone has one... and they all stink.

And where did Time get the idea that efficient local government is in any way correlated with morality? That clean streets mean peace? That clean water means fewer suicide bombers? That slightly more reliable electricity and merely mediocre schools means that we're poised to see the Palestinian Stock Exchange brimming with hot IPOs any day now... any day now.

Tehran, Havana, Pyongyang and Baghdad are all reasonably clean and efficient as well (free and modern are a different story). Iran's President Ahmadinejad was a civil engineer. He got his doctorate in traffic transportation planning. By all accounts he did an OK job running Tehran. Do we conclude from that that he's our friend? Uh, no.

It may be a myth that Mussolini made the trains run on time, but it hardly follows that doing so makes for a state whose values we can embrace. Not even close.

UPDATE: How do you say "Sinn Fein" in Arabic? (including the duplicity, pig-lipsticking and long-term hope that that admittedly incomplete comparison implies)
...the new mayor of Nablus embodies a cadre of Hamas "spinoffs." Gone are the full beards and fiery religious rhetoric. Absent are assertions that all Israel is a "Zionist entity" that Muslims must destroy.

They Really Mean It

I was struck over the weekend by two things: deep fatigue on the Iranian crisis and an equally deep, ominous sense that this is really going down. The two are not unrelated. Neither I suspect, are they unique. The headlines this morning are light on fresh news about Iran. Nobody really wants to hurry along what is going to be an ugly period in history. Nobody on our comfortable side anyway. That's totally understandable. The mullahs understand it only too well. In fact, they're counting on it.

As the stock market tanked, Bin Laden's message came out and Ahmadinejad visited Syria late last week, the whole scene moved in my mind from one that could merely be written about indignantly and commented upon from afar to one that will impact my life in significant ways. None of this is bluff. Something bad is going to happen. Soon. (My best guess: March.)

Ahmadinejad arrived in Damascus on Thursday upon the official invitation of his Syrian counterpart -- President Bashar al-Assad. He spoke of the importance of the Palestinian cause and stressed the cause will not come be materialized if occupiers continue to occupy even a tiny part of Palestine's territories. [sic; emphasis added]
As Bush 41 would say: this will not stand. Israel will not be moving to Germany or Alaska. Sorry. Not negotiable. A showdown seems increasingly inevitable. As I've written before, it almost doesn't matter who fires the first shot or whether it goes nuclear. (OK, it does matter - a lot - but since I can't see this not involving nukes, the only strategic impact is in the timing and sequencing, not the ultimate sweep of what happens over the next few years.)

Even with the utmost in goodwill and skilled diplomacy on our side (and I'll give credit where credit is due: the talkers do have a limited role at this juncture if only to be able to say to our grandchildren: we tried; we really did), Iran's mullahs and their radical Islamic brethren seem bent on rolling the dice.

They're betting - no doubt based on reading and listening to our left-leaning, relentlessly anti-war, Bush-bashing media - that domestic political divisions will stay our hand. They're betting that we'll effectively hand over Israel in exchange for what a set of myopic, radicalized, narcissistic left-wing Baby Boomers in Congress seem to want most: ten more years of the 1990's. Just ten more years. Keep it low level and don't make it too public and we'll make whatever concessions you want until then.

Ten more years for the 401Ks of their Upper West Side, Nob Hill and Beacon Hill constituents to plump up and their retirement benefits to kick in and 9-11 to fade in memory. Ten more years to retreat to their vacation homes in Vail and Martha's Vineyard, West Palm and Key West and then... who cares? Go ahead, they say in effect. Obliterate Israel. Wipe out the embarrassment in Iraq (and snub Bush in the eye while you're at it.) Bring back the Taliban and stone a few more widows in Afghanistan. The AP won't rub your face in it - we've already established that.

Go ahead. Roll slowly across Europe. (Dateline Paris, 2025: Notre Dame dismantled by French-Islamic government.) See if we care. Just don't make us actually do anything drastic like monitoring phone calls. Don't you understand? The end of history already happened. We're past that nasty stuff of moral choices and guns and things we'd rather legislate out of existence. Didn't you get the memo? Didn't you read about it in the New Yorker? Didn't you see Live8 or memorize the words to that old Coke jingle?


As the 21st century unfolds, I'll admit that all of this is hard to face. It is sickening to be reminded that evil is ever present - that it didn't die with a shot to the head in a Berlin bunker in 1945. It's sickening to contemplate that a handful of demagogues and their death-loving followers can be practically begging (as every bomber does) for a kind of twisted evil righteousness in homicidal 'martyrdom'. Only this time the car bombs are nukes. This time millions may go with them. They know it... and they don't care.

What Iran is bringing on is effectively 'suicide by cop' - on the scale of nations. Comparatively impotent for centuries, they're begging to be immortalized in the headlines. And if somehow we blink and give in, they vastly increase their street cred and their power anyway. Nothing to lose! It all works beautifully. The logic of all truly effective (read: evil) dictators is the same as that of those running Enron or the S&L's in the 1980's: gamble with other peoples' money. Gamble with other peoples' lives. Leverage is great when people go along.

UPDATE I: Let's get this straight... Ahmadinejad visits Syria to express his unqualified support for Hamas and its goal of wiping out Israel (big surprise) while Israel contemplates the possibility that Hamas may win Palestinian elections in two days? Some might call it a contradiction that the U.S. supports democratically elected leaders only when we agree with those who are elected. Not so. We support democracy... and encourage nations to use it responsibly. It is a much much bigger responsiblity than many may imagine. The fact that someone is elected doesn't mean that we must acquiesce to all of their policies and actions. Let's not forget: Hitler ran for election was elected too*.

UPDATE II: Random thought: with Kim Jong-il and Ahmadinejad both traveling abroad in the last few weeks couldn't we have arranged for a plausibly deniable assassination... or two? Just asking...

UPDATE III: *D'oh. I stand corrected. Hitler was not elected, though he did garner 36.8% of the national vote in 1932 for a relatively distant second place out of three. All of which proves...

WSJ Ed Page Roundup

The Wall Street Journal carries several excellent pieces on its editorial pages this morning. Jonathan Stevenson, Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College writes about the Bin Laden tape (subscription required):

...it is tempting to dismiss bin Laden's offer as a haughty act of desperation, or an effort to buy time, as terrorist cease-fire proposals often are. A more nuanced extension of this logic would be that he is explicitly dialing back his ambition of a global caliphate and would now settle for a limited U.S. stand-down, which could help render his demands moderate enough to become subject to at least tacit accommodation. Such thinking would be wishful, and not much more. Even if he really wanted to work toward coexistence, he wouldn't be able to deliver his end of the bargain precisely because he no longer enjoys close operational control over most of those he inspires. His word could be countermanded by Zarqawi, by a Moroccan in Spain, or by a British Pakistani. Quite simply, bin Laden's ideology and résumé have become bigger than the man himself. [emphasis added]
As we wrote last week, the goal is and always has been the return of the 9th century Caliphate. What Bin Laden thinks doesn't matter so much as the fact that radical movements only tend to get more radical over time. (Witness for example, the Democratic party which, as Bill Bennett is pointing on his show right now, honestly believes that it has not been shrill enough in its opposition to the president. Guess I'll be going long on tin foil for some time to come...) And speaking of dangerous nut cases, Melanie Kirkpatrick writes about Kim Jong-il's trip to China (subscription required):
...every indication that North Korea is liberalizing is countered by evidence of precisely the opposite. Last fall, the government banned the private farmers' markets that fed much of the urban population. Shortly before Kim's journey, Pyongyang announced the end of international food aid that had been feeding up to a third of the people. It evicted the World Food Program and told European aid groups to get out by spring. Now, Pyongyang will have to find other sources to avoid shortages. Two million died in the famine of the late 1990s. And that's where China and, especially, South Korea come in. Pyongyang blithely takes their food aid, which has few or no conditions attached. The U.N., by contrast, requires in-country monitors to confirm that aid was delivered to the starving civilians for whom it was intended. [emphasis added]
Score that as a rare piece of positive news on the First Street Mafia (aka, the UN).

Shelby Steele positively sparkles in this must-read piece (free at OpinionJournal) demolishing Hillary's plantation remark and highlighting a fundamental strategic problem Democrats face:
[Her remark] came from a corruption in post-'60s liberalism and Democratic politics that profoundly insults blacks. Mrs. Clinton came to Al Sharpton's MLK celebration looking for an easy harvest of black votes... Mrs. Clinton's real insult to blacks--one far uglier than her plantation metaphor--is to value them only for their sense of grievance... Once black grievance is morphed into liberal power, it need never be honored... It is hard to fully respect one's suckers...

Precisely because Republicans cannot easily pander to black grievance, they have no need to value blacks only for their sense of grievance. Unlike Democrats, they can celebrate what is positive and constructive in minority life without losing power. The dilemma for Democrats, liberals and the civil rights establishment is that they become redundant and lose power the instant blacks move beyond grievance and begin to succeed by dint of their own hard work...

No other potential Republican candidate could--to borrow an old Marxist phrase--better "heighten the contradictions" of modern liberalism and Democratic power than [Condi] Rice. The more ugly her persecution by the civil rights establishment and the left, the more she would give liberalism the look of communism in its last days--an ideology long since hollowed of its idealism and left with nothing save its meanness and repressiveness. Who can say what Ms. Rice will do. But history is calling her, or someone like her. She is the object of a deep longing in America for race to be finally handled, not by political idealisms, but by the classic principles of freedom and fairness.
[emphasis added]
Those are just a few of the insightful gems that are making me a bigger Steele fan with every new piece of his I read. Take a look.

Finally, for those who (like me) tend to fall into a complete stupor at most analysis of Supreme Court goings-on, there is this insightful piece by James Taranto (free at OpinionJournal) on the unanimous Planned Parenthood vs. Ayotte non-decision decision last week. Taranto notes that it was necessary to insulate the court (and the country) from the scorched-earth politics that would be likely once either Stevens or Ginsburg retires if a split decision had been rendered in this case. At least somebody is thinking ahead...

20 January, 2006

VDH on Ahmadinejad: Studied on the Western Left

Excellent piece by Victor Davis Hanson in today's Chicago Tribune:

[Iranian President Ahmadinejad] has studied the recent Western postmodern mind, nursed on its holy trinity of multiculturalism, moral equivalence and relativism. As a third-world populist, Ahmadinejad expects that his own fascism will escape scrutiny if he just recites enough the past sins of the West. He also understands victimology. So he also knows that to destroy the Israelis, he--not they--must become the victim, and the Europeans the ones who forced his hand. Ahmadinejad also grasps that there are millions of highly educated but cynical Westerners who see nothing much exceptional about their own culture. So if democratic America has nuclear weapons, why not theocratic Iran? Moreover, he knows how Western relativism works. So who is to say what are "facts" or what is "true"--given the tendency of the powerful to "construct" their own narratives and call the result "history." Was not the Holocaust exaggerated, or perhaps even fabricated, as mere jails became "death camps" through a trick of language to take over Palestinian land? [emphasis added]
(H/T: Pocket Full of Mumbles)

When a Truce Isn't Really a Truce

On the way to a breakfast meeting today, I happened upon part of a great interview on Bill Bennett's 'Morning in America' show with terror uber-expert Walid Phares, author of Future Jihad (Nov., 2005). It's worth checking out before it goes into the premium archive.

Phares points out that, "it is almost a certainty among experts" that the timing of the release of such tapes is at Al Jazeera's discretion. I.e., they break the 'story' on their own terms, for maximum impact in furthering their own political Islamofascist agendas. Sort of like the New York Times might do say, with potentially treasonous leaks it might have solicited from the NSA in order to say, promote a book by one of its reporters. Sort of like that. In the fine tradition of how other "news stories" were "broken" during WWII.

Phares also performs a line-by-line translation and interpretation of the Arabic transcript of the tape on The Counterterrorism Blog. Unfortunately, the web audio of Bennett's interview does not include an extra segment with Phares after a commercial break. In it, he clears up something he didn't fully address on the blog: Our English translation of Bin Laden's Arabic into the word 'truce' does not mean what we think it means. This has already become (no doubt intentionally on Al Qaeda's part) a widespread misinterpretation in the West.

The term 'truce' seems reasonable. Peaceful. Honorable. Modest.

It is anything but.

Instead, Phares noted, the term we read as 'truce' would be better interpreted as temporary cease fire pending total withdrawal of all U.S. and Western interests (not just military, but economic, religious, etc.) from "all Muslim lands". That's just a wee bit different, no? That would include Iraq of course. And Saudi Arabia. And Israel. And Spain. And Turkey. And parts of Southern France. To start...

[Having learned from Hitler, Bin Laden and his ilk are leading with the propaganda offensive. Properly executed, it will enable the jihadists to minimize the military piece that became Hitler's undoing. Letting the enemy's own internal bickering and weakness and fear prompt it to cede the territory you want is much much easier than fighting for it with Panzer divisions.]

In essence, 'truce' as Bin Laden is using it in Arabic means what he's said all along: return to the 9th century Caliphate - its borders, its values and its power - or else. If liberals truly understood what that meant (i.e., the complete dismantling of everything that liberalism - in the broader sense - has ever stood for), they would not be so quick to think it reasonable.

Last I checked, liberals stood against things like male domination of all the institutions of society, like autocracy and the lack of suffrage (male or female), like state-mandated religious practice, like institutionalized gay-bashing, like restrictions on dress and movement, like child labor, like draconian restrictions on the use of money, like the death penalty, like rape, like domestic abuse and state-sanctioned spousal murder. Little things like that.

Heck, even American conservatives oppose most of those things! ;)

With the Bin Laden tape, it's become clear that in their hatred of George Bush and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Democrats and jihadists share much. That may sound harsh and unfair. I wish it were. I really do. I wish we had a Democratic party that had not run off the rails while shooting itself in the foot. A Democratic party that knew evil when it was on the march. Go read a transcript of the tape and compare it to anything that Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry or any of those folks have been yammering on about for the last several years. Then go read anything on foreign policy by Truman or FDR or JFK. That was a two party system. Frankly, it was healthier.

Like Pravda at the height of Soviet power, its become apparent that Bin Laden is paying very close attention to the arguments of the American left and playing them back to divide us. "Useful idiots" was the term Lenin coined in reference to those whose knee-jerk sympathy for all things Soviet and a hopelessly naive Communist ideal that never could work led them to scorn everything about their own country. We hear that knee-jerk reaction today in the left's sympathy for all things Palestinian, ignoring the fact that dozens of other displaced, downtrodden, even decimated cultures and peoples have managed to do miraculously constructive and positive things with themselves in the 60+ years since the end of WWII.

Sadly, "useful idiots" are as alive and well today as ever. Only the 'users' have changed.