29 March, 2006

Twenty Two Modern Propaganda Techniques

Required reading. (H/T: Anchoress) Systematically nailing the MSM for these techniques would make the blogosphere even more effective. Come to think of it, the same stuff applies to us. :)

Cultural Imerialism, Foundations and Tolerance of the Intolerant

Mark Steyn in the Chicago Sun Times last Sunday:

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

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

India today is better off without suttee. If we shrink from the logic of that, then in Afghanistan and many places far closer to home the implications are, as the Prince of Wales would say, "ghastly."
H/T: Jim Geraghty at NRO, the rest of which is also worth reading. Synopsis: Abdul Rahman's prosecution may be a tipping point in the long-running debate about whether Islam is mostly benign - recently perverted by a radical fringe but otherwise able to coexist with other faiths and cultures - or whether the few 'moderate' Muslims brave enough to speak up are in fact a tiny, non-representative apostate that the majority would sooner see killed. It's a question that Chester addressed earlier this month, nicely fleshing out the logical (if frightening) implications of the latter answer.

Re. Steyn and his reference to Napier: Brilliant. Flippin' brilliant. And no, the point is not about the death penalty. It is about our timidity in standing up for our own culture and values and legal frameworks and even religious heritage. In the rush to uncritical political correctness, what's often overlooked is that, in order to be consistent and meaningful respect and tolerance must encompass the culture that gave birth to those ideas. If all other cultures but mine are exempt from criticism and any effort to change them then the very foundation of respect and tolerance falls apart.

I'm reminded of an artist neighbor who decided about eight years ago that he'd like the look of his house a lot better if it rested on glass blocks rather than poured concrete. (True story.) Over a period of months he painstakingly removed his foundation, temporarily supporting the structure on jacks. Then he discovered that glass blocks wouldn't actually support the weight of the house after all, which didn't really matter anyway because he'd run out of money - this ill-advised venture having become his total obsession.

The family lived in the house for a time... until the soil started eroding back down into what had been the basement, threatening the integrity of the neighbor's house a few feet away. (Thankfully not mine.) Lawyers got involved and the building inspector came, condemning the house and forcing the family to leave in a hurry. For months, I walked by on my way to the train. Furniture, kids toys, paintings - all of it was still in there. You could see it through the windows. As far as I know, they were never allowed to retrieve any of it. Sympathy reserved solely for the poor kids who had this nut as a parent.

Then one day - the legal issues apparently resolved - I walked by and found... a pile of rubble. The house had been torn down after the bank had foreclosed. The foolish former owner - the artist with the "better" (read: new! creative! different! unprecedented!) idea for a foundation - had literally destroyed what had supported his comfortable and presumably happy life. A new house went up within weeks. Sane, responsible people moved in. Planting flowers seems to be their primary means of self-expression. No do-it-yourself ideas of architectural grandeur.

I never knew the man's political leanings. In this neighborhood however, it's a 10:1 bet that he'd have been a conservative, thus illustrating what conservatives are for. Conservatives are for not tampering with culture and legal structures until it can be shown with near absolute certainty that they are not foundational - that they will not (gradually, then rapidly) destroy everything else that sits upon them, including the clever people who think that new means 'better', change means 'good' and 'progressive' has any meaning at all without a clear destination in mind.

Rich metaphor. And really - a true story. To bring it back around, we seem terribly quick in assuming - as a society, and even as American policy - that the Muslim world is benign and that its foundations are made up of moral and legal material that's as strong, durable and carefully constructed as our own (or at least not so different as to warrant wholesale replacement). Meanwhile the liberal fringe seems bent on finding every last pebble out of place in our own concrete foundation, picking them out piece by piece, taking a pick-axe to some and jack-hammering others where they can get away with it.

The replacement? An untested melange of glass brick and new ideas that may or may not support... anything. When the knowledge of why the foundation is constructed as it is - or why it is even there - is finally lost or dismissed, the singular determination of radical Islam will prevail. It is only a matter of time.

28 March, 2006

Total Solar Eclipse

Eclipse tomorrow, as we were saying.
No seventh seal... yet.

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty has related thoughts at NRO:

Well, March is nearly over, and there hasn't been much sign that Israel is preparing a strike. Either the Israelis are keeping a planned strike very quiet, or this report from December overstated the likelihood of military action against Iran. Olmert and Kadima are forming a coalition government; would that complicate matters?

Immigration and Persecution - The Missing Link

Flipping between my three favorite talk radio channels yesterday while running an errand, I was disappointed to find all of them going on about illegal immigration. And on. And on. And on.

I haven't blogged on this much before, mostly because it seems like it ought to be a lot simpler than it's being made out to be. I've also been uncomfortable with the pridefulness that seems to animate some of those out front on the issue. I'm a huge fan of this country but I also recognize that my American passport does not exempt me from sin and death and foolishness or give any of us a permanent franchise on energy or good ideas.

Let's be clear: We have laws. They should be enforced. They need not be hyper-criminalized for political effect. Perhaps they should be amended. Lots of people in the streets (especially if they're illegals for goodness sakes) shouldn't influence that one way or the other. However...

Putting a mile-high fence with dogs and motion sensors and laser beams and a no-man's land peppered with mines and razor wire along every inch of both terrestrial borders will not solve the terrorist threat we face. All of the 9-11 hijackers were here on visas - legal until they overstayed them. And as with illegal drugs, hypocrisy abounds. Some economies (e.g., Texas, California) would collapse in a week without a ready supply of cheap manual and domestic labor. A sudden crackdown that did not acknowledge that fact would also lead to a daily drumbeat of Elian Gonzales stories with a dollop of Sophie's Choice for flavoring.

And without robust and flexible legal immigration, we will die a slow death from creeping xenophobia and a lack of entrepreneurial vigor. If anything, the draconian, inflexible restrictions on it have already choked industries such as IT. Few reading this blog (the Americans at least) are not descended from immigrants. So let's stash the high horse and talk about an opportunity and maybe the beginnings of a moral obligation in all this.

Here's where it gets interesting. To us anyway.

America's immigration laws have always placed quotas on the number of people allowed to enter the United States from other countries. For example, in 1939 the quota allowed for 27,370 German citizens to immigrate to the United States. In 1938, more than 300,000 Germans--mostly Jewish refugees--had applied for U.S. visas (entry permits). A little over 20,000 applications were approved. Beyond the strict national quotas, the United States openly denied visas to any immigrant "likely to become a public charge." This ruling proved to be a serious problem for many Jewish refugees who had lost everything when the Nazis took power and might be in need of government assistance after they immigrated to the United States.
Knowing what we know now, who would not have altered that policy in the late '30's? Why are we not connecting the illegal immigration issue to the war on terror in a positive way? And why, as Abdur Rahman seeks asylum in a foreign country in order to escape being ripped apart by an angry mob of 9th-century throwbacks, are we being all mealy-mouthed about whether he'd be welcome here?

OK, I can immediately think of about a dozen reasons. Any bureaucracy worthy of its bureaucratic self would oppose the symbolic gesture of flying him straight here on Air Force One and handing him an American passport on the grounds of precedent and the perception of religious favoritism and the risk of false immitators using the same route to do us harm. But imagine for a moment the massive positives.

Solving Abdur Rahman's problem in such a demonstrably public way would do more to communicate what we stand for (and what we've largely failed to communicate effectively so far) in a critical war of ideologies. America: freedom of conscience; freedom of speech; freedom, straight up. Watch as Mr. Rahman arrives as Pease or Andrews to a cheering throng, bends down, kisses the tarmac and weeps tears of gratitude and joy.

Once that's done and the president has soaked the images for all they're worth, we could do a lot worse than to examine the mistakes of rigid immigration policies of the late '30's that didn't take into account what the forces of evil abroad were about to do. Illegal immigration from Latin America is a problem I'll leave to others in warmer climes. (It's easy to pontificate from here in New England.) What should get more attention is what might be achieved by an ammendment to legal immigration policy that played not on our fear but on our benevolence: rescuing "conscience criminals" such as Abdur Rahman, caught in up in an Islamofascist bad dream.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution has an interesting take on immigration, commenting on a Krugman piece. Net/net: Mexican immigration has helped stabilize Mexico.

27 March, 2006

Fundamental Assumptions: Democracy vs. Terrorism

We'd apologize for the dearth of blogging over the weekend except that we were having too much fun to notice: attending a school play and a talent show (the former great fodder for an upcoming post on Dr. Seuss), helping one child prepare for an overseas mountain climbing expedition by hiking together in the hills, helping another to prepare for softball tryouts, catching up on sleep and exercise, and generally not thinking too hard about the woes of the world. Spring has come to New England - finally. Whether Spring (in the metaphorical sense) can be said to be coming to the Middle East however, is another story that Francis Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle take up today in this troubling op-ed at OpinionJournal. They question how the promotion of democracy in the Middle East is supposed to lead to a decline in terrorism.

Administration principals speak of creating public space for dissent and debate lest it all be driven into the mosque, with the risk that this "might" bring illiberal groups into power. The tide of public opinion today is not running in favor of pro-Western secular liberals, however, but rather the Islamists. In many Arab countries this means that premature democratic elections will most definitely and predictably bring the mosque into the public square while driving out all other forms of expression. The tolerant are making democratic way for the intolerant, who in turn are very likely to block the possibility of any reverse flow of authority. How such dynamics promote liberal democracy in the longer run is hard to see. More likely, U.S. policies that foster pro-Islamist outcomes will delay political liberalization, help the wrong parties in the great debates ongoing in Muslim societies and, quite possibly therefore, make our terrorist problem worse.
Valid points all. With Hamas as the aberration, we were able to largely dismiss the concern. A society (the Palestinians) suckled at the teat of Yassir Arafat's violent, whining, Marxist sociopathy for forty years was not likely to vault itself in one election into a coherent nation full of wise, peace-loving Hamiltons and Jeffersons (not that they weren't without their flaws, but they got a few big things very right).

Yet with the 'sudden' revelation last week that the Afghan constitution is based on precisely the sharia law that galvanized both liberals and conservatives here in America, the concern is much harder to dismiss. For those who missed it, the case that sparked the belated scrutiny was one of Abdur Rahman, a professed Christian sentenced to death for... professing Christianity. The fact that he is expected to be absolved of the 'crime' does nothing to change the fact that the radical clerics are still in charge there - a sad, sad coda to our involvement that has to be doubly wrenching to the families of soldiers who died there. When the heaviest of heavy international diplomatic artillery must be pulled out in order to free one man, the system is not working - at least not according to liberal Western ideals. Joe Carter calls it 'Taliban Lite'.

So what to do? Are the premises of administration policy therefore completely bankrupt or just running low on credibility for the moment? Is political freedom for Middle Eastern peoples not the most direct (or from the West's perspective, the wisest) road to achieving the broad set of freedoms and legal frameworks we take for granted here? Fukayama and Garfinkle (not to be confused with that other duo), sound a cautionary note that begins to sound like the old and truly bankrupt idea of stability uber alles (aka, shut one's eyes and 'kick the can' to one's successor while hoping for the best):
We need to change tactics in the way we go about supporting Middle Eastern democracy. The administration's highly visible embrace of democracy promotion as a component of its national security strategy (as outlined in last week's official document on the subject), and its telegraphing ahead of time of intentions to bring about regime change in places like Iran, only hurt the cause of real democrats in the region. The effort to push countries toward early national elections, given the rising Islamist tide today, will invariably force us into the appearance of further hypocrisy when they produce results we don't like.
The authors seem to be taking the Foggy Bottom line: supporting democracy in the abstract, eventually, in very small doses, as long as we don't get too carried away with it. It is an instinctively appealing line of reasoning in a confusing, rapidly changing world. Like the protocol for treating a frostbite victim, the thinking goes that doing too much too quickly can have dire consequences.

Those people over there aren't ready, you see. They are backwards and uncivilized and unprepared by their culture. They are unlikely to make good choices so we must protect them from themselves for a time until they are ready.

Who decides when that time comes? Never stated. Unfortunately, the same line of reasoning - as appealing to the know-better left as to the xenophobic far right - is the same one used by some of the world's most famous dictators and thugs: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler. In one form or another, each created a smokescreen (too easily eaten up by an MSM trained at the feet of Walter Duranty and CNN's Iraq bureau) that they were there for a people's democracy... once the people had matured sufficiently, in their view.

All of which turned out to be complete crap.

Sensing the presence of such dangerously ill-precedented cohorts, the authors retreat:
We should not even think about wanting to roll back recent election results; rather, the emphasis should be on pressuring newly empowered groups to govern responsibly. Islamist parties in Egypt and Palestine have gained popularity in large measure not because of their foreign policy views, but because of their stress on domestic social welfare issues like education, health, and jobs, and their stand against corruption. Fine, let them deliver; and if they don't or turn out to be corrupt themselves, they will face vulnerabilities of their own not far down the road.
Which actually makes sense but for what it leaves out: a clear, hard line on the behavior of any regime regardless of its provenance. A democratically elected Palestinian authority or Afghan parliament that opposes our national interests should not get a 'bye' simply because they were democratically elected. Or to put it another way, elections do not absolve foreign governments from our ire based on what they do once elected. They do not get five gold stars for taking the first step. They merely graduate from needing remedial help to being mainstreamed with other nations and held to higher expectations.

Governing comes with domestic responsibilities (as Fukayama and Garfinkle point out), but it also comes with international ones. Oppose our efforts to eradicate terrorism (or in fact, oppose us by using and sponsoring terrorism and you are our enemy, even if - and perhaps most especially if, you were elected in a popular landslide). And in this sense, Fukayama and Garfinkle's instinct is correct: some people will make dumb choices.

Where we differ is in how to make the dumbness of those choices clear and to ensure that they are made more responsibly in the future. As is true with parenting, glossing over the choice and making it for the child is not likely to teach the child to make any better choices the next time. Where that analogy breaks down of course is that nations are not children and should not be treated as such. Choices should not be withheld based on an arrogant assumption that Afghanistan is like a 5-year old and Iraq is like a 7-year-old and only Britain is like an adult. All are adults and need to be treated as such - including the consequences of antisocial behavior.

The authors conclude with a conundrum that should be familiar from countless other nations: how tight a link ought there to be between democracy and progress in other areas?
Democracy promotion should remain an integral part of American foreign policy, but it should not be seen as a principal means of fighting terrorism. We should stigmatize and fight radical Islamism as if the social and political dysfunction of the Arab world did not exist, and we should shrewdly, quietly, patiently and with as many allies as possible promote the amelioration of that dysfunction as if the terrorist problem did not exist. It is when we mix these two issues together that we muddle our understanding of both, with the result that we neither defeat terrorism nor promote democracy but rather the reverse.
In China, the same issue manifests itself as democracy vs. economic growth. Is the former necessary to the latter? Clearly not. What about democracy vs. human rights? Well, probably. We would argue definitively. Is democracy essential to (or at least the best long-term solution for) terrorism? We shall see. Before the Hamas election we would have said yes without hesitation. Before the case of Abdur Rahman we would have said yes with qualification. Now we're left with an appeal to a longer-term vision.

We take comfort in several things. First is a fundamental, unprovable belief that the long-term vision of this president is likely to trump the practical, fragmented tactical concerns of those who would chain it down with asterisks, footnotes and exceptions. It has been so with all visionary presidents. And while some have been forced to compromise, it has often been the case that the compromises and not the vision turned out to be the undoing of the policy.

Second is the idea that individuals, created in God's image, are a better (read: more likely) route to an enlightened, peaceful society than any other system ever created. Fukayama and Garfinkle can rail at democracy all day without coming up with a proven superior alternative not subject to co-option by authoritarian impulses. Democracy is imperfect, but it provides better odds than the alternatives. Perhaps not in round one, but without back-sliding into non-democracy (a real danger that does likely require some longer-term nursemaiding by the West), democracy is the only route to liberal pluralism.

Third is the principle that the undiluted censure (or reward) of all regimes - democratic or not - needs to be based objectively on their behavior in line with our national interests. We need not apologize for this, nor confess to 'hypocrisy' as Fukayama and Garfinkle suggest. An elected Hamas that chooses to remain unrepentant sponsors of terror is no different in this respect, than an unelected despot-led Hamas pursuing the same policy. Nor must we bite our tongue and sit by while a man is executed for a crime of conscience in Afghanistan. That the majority of a nation chooses leaders that choose war with us only makes it easier for us to reply in kind.

We hold these truths to be self evident... endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. These are not truths for us alone or for us to parse out slowly as we see fit. That in itself - the kind of policy Fukayama and Garfinkle espouse - is a kind of second-order tyranny all by itself. You over there must wait because we don't think you're ready. You must suffer another generation until we in the West decide you can make good decisions.

No. Making decisions (and failing, and trying again), is the best way for an individual or a nation to learn, improve and mature. We do them no favors by holding back God-given rights as if they were privileges bestowed by a paternalistic United States.

Holding an election merely graduates a nation to the school of higher expectations. Welcome to the club, we should say. We're glad you're here. The rules for behavior are higher in this club. We're confident you can meet them, but it's entirely possible that you might fail - or choose to retreat from such excellence. The grading (unlike what one might observe in our esteem-driven politically correct schools) will not, repeat not be on the curve.

UPDATE: Captain Ed has more with "The Fukayama Two-Step"
Fukuyama has every right to change his mind, as well as be stunningly and laughably wrong, such as when he insisted that we had come to the "end of history" fifteen years ago. What he lacks is an honest rendition of why he changed his mind...

23 March, 2006

Military Deaths, Then and Now

Interesting data set. H/T Say Anything, who notes:

Active duty deaths during Clinton's first four years (1993 - 1996): 4302
Active duty deaths during Bush's first four years (2001 - 2004): 5187

...Of course, during Bush's first four years in office we liberated both Afghanistan and Iraq. What did we accomplish, in terms of military victories, during Clinton's first four years in office? I can't think of a thing.
Interestingly, accidental deaths are way way down since the '80s, while a sudden sharp drop in suicides from 1995 to 1996 invites all kinds of speculation. Here's one wild guess.

22 March, 2006

A Real Theocracy; A Real Christian

[New updates and links below (3/23).] Wow... Just wow.

...an Afghan man, Abdur Rahman, could face the death penalty in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity from Islam... two other Afghan Christians, whose names were not released, were arrested in recent days elsewhere in the country apparently on similar charges. In addition one young Afghan convert to Christianity was allegedly beaten over the weekend outside his home by a group of six men, who finally knocked him unconscious... Rahman, a father of two, reportedly told a court he would not give up his faith in Jesus Christ.
Several reactions:

This is real Christianity. This is how it's done. This is first/second century going-to-the-lions knowing that everlasting life awaits kind of stuff. We're not used to seeing it anymore in our prim, ordered, comfortable little view of religion in the West. We forget what it took to establish Christianity globally and the powerful faith of so many who have gone to their deaths for it. Mr. Rahman needs our prayers, but we should consider how much we need his. How many of us would have such courage in the face of death - especially with children at home.

We freed a country for this? WTF? It's yet more evidence that modernization is not the same as Westernization. The former can happen almost overnight. The latter takes much longer. How much longer is the question on which the success or failure of our foreign engagements depends.

This is yet another reason why we're against the death penalty. As with abortion and euthanasia, boundaries that may at first sound like they can be carefully delineated by human wisdom seldom stay that way. What the left and libertarians fear in the NSA flap (the state getting hold of monitoring powers that it ultimately misuses) is a pale imitation of what can happen when the power of death gets into the hands of the state disguised as social justice.

For those on the left misguided about what a real theocracy looks like - attempting vainly to find one here - they need look no harder than this head-pounding Taliban hangover of a story.

For those concerned about the mistreatment of Muslims in the West after 9-11 - a non-event so scattered and minor as to shame the MSM (if it were capable of it), this is what real religious persecution looks like. Look long and hard. Yes, there are ugly incidents in the West based on race, religion and a host of other things. What the West does not have is wholesale legal over-the-top persecution of an entire religion.

This story highlights in big bold letters the difference between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam. As individuals and private institutions, we invite faith. We encourage faith. We occasionally cajole and pester people about their faith (ridden the NYC subway lately?) What we do not do is provide one faith and kill anyone who does not believe it. That is medieval. That is in our past. To win this war, we must somehow bring a brutal culture up through five hundred years of development in a fraction of the time it took us. For all the nicey-nice rhetoric that the diplomats like to coat it with, this is and always has been a clash of civilizations.

UPDATE I: News out of Egypt via MEMRI underscoring the point.

UPDATE II: Ace of Spades HQ has a few choice observations, starting with the fact that Afghanistan is officially 99% Muslim:
Well, yeah, I guess a death penalty for apostasy can get you that kind of dominance.
In sharp contrast to the U.S., where the 2000 Census counted at least 148 major denominations and that's without thousands of smaller ones it didn't even bother to count. Plurality. A beautiful thing that's very much alive and well on these shores. Can the domestic theocracy-fearing moonbats please shut up now? Ace continues:
His family members informed on him to police. His family.
Exactly as it was laid out in the gospel: "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death." Ace concludes:
Literal Islam -- and I'm not sure how else Islam can be interpreted... is simply not compatible with democracy or, for that matter, freedom and human autonomy. You exist to serve Allah. And, in fact, everyone exists to serve Allah, and if they don't, you force them to serve Allah, you kill them, or your simply make them subordinate dhimmis. And furthermore, this commandment shall be enforced by the state.
I'll say it again: we should not be surprised that freedom and human autonomy are not seen as universal values. As expressed in Western constitutional government at least, they spring directly from the Torah, amplified enormously by this carpenter guy who lived 2000 years ago.

UPDATE III: Hyscience has a comprehensive roundup with more here, including actions you can take and the news that in order to save face, Afghanistan may declare Rahman to crazy to be executed... which would be a bit of a slap to what we do here (fine with us). Michelle Malkin has links to the video. LaShawn Barber brings her usual in-depth perspective, as does ChristWeb. Joe Carter at Evangelical Outpost is not surprised, having predicted what the new Afghan constitution (he calls it "Taliban Lite") and its grounding in the Koran and Sharia law would do to our victory there.

UPDATE IV: In a related vein, this is interesting.
I was born in a wealthy Muslim family in Pakistan, but when I was a few months old, I was carried to Saudi Arabia by my father... I have been studying the Quran since I was around 12.... [I] had been seeing [an] image of Jesus Christ often when I used to go in the Mosque to pray. One day I was walking toward a market using a short cut. It's a bit lonely area. Not many people cross through there. I was walking and had been thinking and asking God if what I was doing was right and should I be Christian or Muslim? I heard a voice behind me saying "My son, you are on the right path." I was again amazed. I had never had experienced these kinds of things.
Reading the whole thing, it strikes us as rather more thoughtful and compelling than the story of Johnny Walker Lindh - with an AK-47 (and a big angry chip) on his shoulder.

Brave New World: Why the Left Wishes North Korea Would Just Go Away

As we noted just over a year ago, the horrors of North Korea aren't going away. One day the veil will be lifted and the West forced to contend (as it did with the Nazi death camps) with its delay and vacillation. A flood of stomach-turning revelations will someday come pouring out. Until then, the dribs and drabs of defectors (this one breaking today) are sickening enough.

Ri Kwang-chol, who fled to the South last year, told a forum of rights activists that the practice of killing newborns was widespread... "There are no people with physical defects in North Korea,"... He said babies born with physical disabilities were killed in infancy in hospitals or in homes and were quickly buried. The practice is encouraged by the state, Ri said, as a way of purifying the masses and eliminating people who might be considered "different."
...Mun Hyon-ok [another defector] said "...there are women who are selling themselves for a handful of rice.".
As we noted earlier this morning, this kind of news puts the left in a particularly difficult dilemma. Stand up for human rights in North Korea and one inevitably starts thinking more deeply about abortion and euthanasia. Seeing those things run amok - utterly divorced from nice words like 'choice' and 'control' and 'freedom' - one can't help but confront the question of whether the clean, bright well-controlled face that 'progressives' like to put on those things can ever hide from our deepest soul a recognition of what they truly are. When abortion and euthanasia become the requirements of an evil "peoples paradise" state, run by a narcissistic nut-job, they look different. Very different. Death stinks, even with lipstick and PR.

Start getting outraged at what is happening to women and children in foreign lands and one suddenly finds oneself standing with the neocons who argue that the U.S. has a wider mission in the world and that a hard moral line and the pro-active threat of military force are essential to bringing about the "social justice" they claim to crave.

If only liberals tasted as good with spicy mustard as a Philadelphia soft pretzel. ;-)

Marxist Pretzels and Wolves in Western Clothing

Employing the same sound historical lessons of which Victor Davis Hanson regularly reminds us, Mike Austin comments on the UAE ports deal, baiting his hook with the troll-catcher headline "Rush is Wrong".

Rush is wrong. He confuses 'modernization' with 'westernization.' These are not the same things at all. This was the main point of Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. Simply stated, modernization is the acquisition of modern gadgetry: electronics, cars, fashions, weaponry, TV and so on. Westernization is the acquisition of western ideas: democracy, capitalism, a free press and speech, bills of rights, the equality of the sexes and so on. One can have the first and still be your enemy unto death. As a matter of fact, one can have both and still be your enemy, but such conflicts between westernized nations are waged in the realm of diplomacy rather than upon the field of battle. [KM: recently anyway]

It is not clothing and parliaments but mutual interests that push nations to act in common. As I have written before, it is entirely irrelevant what the UAE thinks about Americans. And it is entirely irrelevant that they might dress in Brooks Brothers, have satellite dishes and welcome Rush Limbaugh to their shores. What matters is that they fear Iran. And so they need us. Right now America and the UAE have common interests. [emphasis added]
Austin's point carries broad implications for Western strategy in fighting the war that radical Islam declared (in the 9th century, 1979 or 2001 - take your pick). Promotion of, and reliance upon modernization (aka, economic liberalization, globalization, free markets, general material prosperity, etc.) and only that is at the heart of many arguments for how radical Islamists should be dealt with. Help them be rich like us (so the argument goes) and they'll inevitably begin to think like us, grow distracted by their toys and lose interest in trying to kill us.

It is this misguided view ("economy is destiny") that naturally appeals to the liberal Western mind, predisposed to feel guilt and find victims. What's often overlooked is that the message (we're poor, therefore we must be righteous) has been deliberately tuned and twisted to do precisely that, amplified by a sycophantic liberal media. As we've pointed out before, it's extremely difficult once a victim class has been established, for the left to hold the members of that class to the same standards as everyone else - the dreadful hangover from a century of Marxist thinking that never quite goes away. All manner of under-achievement and criminality become tacitly if not explicitly excusable once historical suffering has been selectively brought to light and enshrined.

The Palestinians are poor while the Israelis are rich and comfortable (they point out)... therefore we must make the Palestinians rich and they'll stop the terror.

This non-sequitor fails to explain why 19 well-off, well-educated Saudis crashed big airplanes into prominent buildings killing thousands, why relatively well-off Iran and its economically comfortable leaders are leading the charge to finish the evil task that Hitler started, why Kim Jong Il is one of Mercedes Benz's and Chateau Rothschild's best customers and at the same time one of the most deranged mass murderers on the planet and why many other dirt-poor and foreign-occupied societies have lifted themselves peacefully into prosperity.

What's also important about the argument that Austin, Bernard Lewis and Victor Davis Hanson (among others) put forward is that it carries implications for how we ought to think about China and Russia. If, the economic 'connection' of these societies to the West, and the economic growth that results are enough to lead to Westernization and peace (as Tom Barnett, Tom Friedman and others eloquently argue) then the only thing we must avoid is a failure to engage vigorously in befriending and trading with them. Economy is destiny.

What this leaves out of course, is the 'squishier' value pillar of Western civilization that's been five millennia in the making. Often described (inadequately and imprecisely) as the "Judeo-Christian ethic" it rests on the sanctity of individual human life cast in the image of God. From that springs the critical importance of democracy, rule of law, freedom to pursue happiness and the notion that enslavement of any individual or group (e.g., women in Afghanistan, Africans in the 19th century South, Jews in pre-Mosaic Egypt, etc.) is not to be tolerated.

In ignoring this essential pillar (motivated by a host of things we don't have the time to go into at the moment), the left has bound itself to a Marxist ideal that leads to the degradation of all they claim to hold dear. Without the firm foundation of God-given individual sanctity, what inevitably follows is an acceptance of non-democracy (see the 'down-spinning' of Iraqi elections in the MSM and by liberal politicians), a preference for stability and national sovereignty at the expense of individual freedom (no invasion! of nation! ever! for any reason!) and rule of law (see Kelo vs. City of New London) and complete denial of the plight of women and children under sharia law (see the deafening silence of N.O.W. in defending their sisters overseas).

No wonder the left is increasingly apoplectic these days. They're angry at themselves for the contradictory knots in which their system of moral philosophy has bound them. Projecting that anger (e.g., on the president, on a mythical theocracy, on a corporate conspiracy to spoil the planet and on a vast right-wing conspiracy that's really just a simple and temporary majority) has become essential to preserving any sense of personal integrity. A sad day indeed for the loyal opposition who can no longer be heard above a din of psychological contradictions impersonating political rhetoric.

21 March, 2006

Baby Conservatives at Berkeley

In the purefied liberal air of Berkeley, an ongoing study that began by tracking 95 nursey school kids in the '80s is concluding that childhood personality is partly predictive of adults' political leanings.

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative... The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals...
In other words, those who have an advanced sense of right and wrong at age three or four... have it when they grow up. Those who expect authority to actually respond when boundaries are crossed in the pre-school classroom (he stole my blocks!)... have similar expectations when boundaries are crossed in the real world (he's building nuclear weapons and threatening to destroy Israel!) "Little conservatives" believe in rule of law - holding high expectations for a systematic, fair and unambiguous response to law-breaking behavior at multiple levels. They appear 'insecure' only because that label has been placed on them by a liberal educational establishment unable to see how the moral vacillation of a feckless teacher might in fact be contributing to it.

Just like "big" conservatives, little ones grow frustrated at bland, meaningless talk and rules that in practice are routinely bent based on personal whim, group identity, individual favoritism or the fad of the moment. In other words, neither little nor big conservatives have anything to apologize for. The fact that one grows into another isn't really a surprise at all. What's most irksome is not the findings of the study but the blindly self-referential way in which the conclusions are framed.

It used to be that schools sought to inculcate precisely those qualities into their small charges that the study implicitly objects to: civic responsibility, community, respect for authority, rule of law and the existence of absolute moral codes. It is only since the 60's and 70's that thousands of years of such wisdom have been thrown aside in favor of recent, relativistic, deconstructed notions of right and wrong (if it feels good, do it), while atomistic ideals of personal satisfaction have trumped larger concerns for preserving a social fabric.

The irony is that liberals used to stand (and still claim to stand) for civic and social virtue. What they've effectively created however, is a Balkanized society rooted in the dual non-virtues of personal satisfaction and group victimhood. Confidence, personal resilience and self-reliance are great, but they don't stand up terribly well in the face of true bad-luck hardship without either a strongly knit community (e.g., one's neighborhood, family or faith congregation) or a big anonymous government sugar-daddy.

Deep down in the article, almost as an afterthought, the shakiness of the findings are finally mentioned.
The results do raise some obvious questions. Are nursery school teachers in the conservative heartland cursed with classes filled with little proto-conservative whiners? Or does an insecure little boy raised in Idaho or Alberta surrounded by conservatives turn instead to liberalism? Or do the whiny kids grow up conservative along with the majority of their more confident peers, while only the kids with poor impulse control turn liberal?

Part of the answer is that personality is not the only factor that determines political leanings... self-reliance predicts statistically about 7 per cent of the variance between kids who became liberal and those who became conservative...

Even if they really did tend to be insecure complainers as kids, they might simply have recognized that the world is a scary, unfair place. Their grown-up conclusion that the safest thing is to stick to tradition could well be the right one. As for their "rigidity," maybe that's just moral certainty. The grown-up liberal men, on the other hand, with their introspection and recognition of complexity in the world, could be seen as self-indulgent and ineffectual. [emphasis added]
Hmm... Self-indulgent and ineffectual? Yep.

UPDATE: ShrinkWrapped offers this thorough take-down, rooted in his experience reading thousands of such studies and observing their mis-interpretations by the media.

20 March, 2006

Alternative History: Rewinding the Tape on Iraq

Dr. Sanity has a great find with this Chris Hitchen piece published this afternoon in Slate.


Let us start with President Bush's speech to the United Nations on Sept. 12, 2002, which I recommend that you read. Contrary to innumerable sneers, he did not speak only about WMD and terrorism, important though those considerations were. He presented an argument for regime change and democracy in Iraq and said, in effect, that the international community had tolerated Saddam's deadly system for far too long. Who could disagree with that? Here's what should have happened... I shall go on keeping score about this until the last phony pacifist has been strangled with the entrails of the last suicide-murderer.
Dr. Sanity:
...you can only "prove" that prevention would have worked if you don't use it. The ready-made fall guy is created by the infallible logic. If the terrible even occurs and was preventable, and you did nothing--YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR ALLOWING IT TO HAPPEN. If you prevent the terrible thing from occurring, but you cannot prove that it would have occurred if you hadn't prevented it--THEN YOU LIED, PEOPLE DIED FOR NOTHING, ETC ETC.. In short, you will be damned if you do prevent the terrible thing from happening; and damned if you don't.

"The Communists Killed My Family"

As regular readers already know, we attended the Intelligence Summit last month. (See here, here, here and here for a recap of what went on inside.) This post is about something just outside that never made the news. It should have.

As we exited the Hyatt in Crystal City on an exceedingly cold and blustery February afternoon, waiting for our rental car to be delivered, we struck up a conversation with one of the valets - a short Asian man who appeared to be in his 30's - maybe 40's.

"Come over here under the heat lamp and get warm"
, he said, and we did, thanking him for the suggestion. He beamed broadly and stomped his feet to stay warm. His humanity and friendliness were clearly not of the forced, plastic "they trained me to do this so I'm doing it" variety that too often passes for customer service these days.

Not being able to place his accent, I asked where he was from.

"Cambodia", he said.

"I'll bet you hate this cold weather", I said, making a poor effort at small talk, craning my neck to see if my car was coming out of the garage.

"Oh, it's alright," he said. "I have a job. I'm safe. I have food and a home. I'm happy."

He smiled broadly. I could see that his sentiment was genuine.

"I'm glad you're here", I said, really meaning it. "Welcome. How did you come to be in the States?"

"The Communists killed my family."

Just like that. I was stunned. His smile diminished a little as his thoughts turned in for a moment. I could sense him reviewing painful if familiar images coming back for what must have been the umpteenth time.

"My brother and my sister and my other brother and my parents. The Communists killed them all. I spent four years in the refugee camps. Now I'm here."

That was it. No complaint. No bitterness. No hate. Just the the echo of long-dried tears.

"I lost my brother too", I said. "Just a few months ago. I can scarcely imagine... your whole family."

He took off a glove, holding out his hand.

"I'm sorry", he said.

I don't think they teach that in valet school. I know they don't teach it in business school. I took off my glove and shook his hand - completely outside the frame of any social convention I knew about. An hour earlier I'd been standing up in front of an "important" audience giving an "important" presentation on big, "important" geopolitical issues. And yet here, in one gentle man was the entirety of what all of them - and all of us - really needed to know.

"The Communist killed my family."

And yet...

"I'm happy. I'm glad to be here."

I had no precedent for a warm, human handshake with a valet. I've shaken the hands of people I've known for years and not felt so much connection, so much empathy - in both directions. God present for a moment. In one handshake, one encounter, one humble man, was everything anyone ever needed to know about foreign policy, hope, faith, optimism and humanity.

He could have given the keynote inside the summit.

My car arrived. I said goodbye and got in. Pulling out, I glanced through the passenger window and there he was: beaming and waving - as warmly and enthusiastically as my grandmother ever did. I waved back... and smiled. I was warm for the rest of the day.

We have no idea how blessed we are to live in this country. No idea. It is by the decisions and actions of just a handful (or failure to engage in either decision or action) that the lives of people like my valet friend are permanently altered - or ended. What I still can't fathom is how the no-invasion crowd cannot see this - cannot see that the life of a real human being stands at the end of every pessimistic timidity and narcissistic, isolationist conceit, just as it does when bold vision and moral clarity send soldiers to die. There are no completely bloodless trade-offs this side of heaven. Brutal oppressors know nothing of the freedoms we take for granted. They fear nothing but the words of a U.S. president and the bootsteps of a few brave U.S. soldiers.

The abundant light and love of God, channeled through one terribly lucky valet are testament to their sacrifice. One warm and happy man - smiling even knowing that the skulls of his family are stacked anonymously, somewhere in a remote Cambodian jungle.

Alas... I knew him well, Horatio...

Pluralism, Data, Faith and the Death of Conventional Wisdom

Having spent the last few hours crunching U.S. Census data on religious participation for an exercise at our church, we thought others might be interested in what we discovered. It's funny how hard data can burst the balloons of conventional wisdom. You won't be seeing many of these items featured in the MSM any time soon. If they wanted to get under the skin of true partisans however there's plenty there for everyone. Unless otherwise indicated all of the following are based on comparing 2000 to 1990 at a national (U.S.) level.

  • The proportion of the U.S. population made up of 'adhering' Christians of all denominations (leaving out Unitarians Universalists) dropped below majority for the first time between 1990 and 2000 (from 51.2% to 45.9%)

  • Participation in Evangelical denominations shrank by almost 13% even as the number of Evangelical congregations increased by 8%.

  • Evangelical denominations shrank roughly twice as fast as Mainline Protestant denominations.

  • The Catholic Church showed robust growth in participation (16.2%) against overall population growth of 13.1%, even as the number of Catholic congregations shrank.

  • At 60%, Christian faith participation is higher as a proportion of population in the tiny blue state state we call home (as do John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Barney Frank) than it is nationally (51%). Similar trends hold for other (i.e., non-Christian) faiths. None of the data speak to intensity or quality of faith which are open to a good deal more debate.

  • Mormons account for more than 4X as many U.S. congregations as all Eastern religions combined (e.g., Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Taoists, etc.). [Editorial aside: If a Buddhist like Richard Gere can exert influence in Hollywood, it makes a Mormon (Mitt Romney) running for president in 2008 seem just a little less far fetched.]

  • Overall participation in organized religion in the U.S. did not keep pace with population growth (50% participation in 2000 vs. 55% in 1990) EXCEPT among Catholics, 'miscellaneous other' Christian denominations (i.e., not Orthodox, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant or Catholic), and non-Christian faiths (including Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, etc.) The size of the latter two categories is diminishingly small in comparison to the first.
While that last broad trend may have slowed or reversed over the last six years, what one takes away from studying this data closely is a sense of how gradually faith participation changes as compared to the average secular fad. Nonetheless, religious participation waned in America during the 1990's (unless one considers the dot.com money-hunt a kind of secular religion.)

That fact gives the lie to two impressions the media has tended to like to create.

First is that religion is enjoying a massive revival. It may be true subjectively. It may be true more recently. It is certainly true overseas and for the author of this blog. The Census data ends in 2000 and obviously (thankfully) doesn't measure the truth or spuriousness of any particular creed. Revival - numerically, spiritually and otherwise - is hard to ignore in some denominations. (The Census data contains breakdowns by over 100 denominations.)

We find it fascinating however, that a casual read of the press or popular literature (e.g., Dan Brown) would have Catholicism in bitter retreat whereas the exact opposite seems to be true. By contrast, the slow, sad decades-long slide of some other denominations (e.g., the UCC) has seldom made any headlines at all.

Second is the secularist-MSM impression that religious zealots are taking over the country and the culture. If that were true, the numbers don't say so. And it would have been achieved with the votes and acquiescence of an increasingly irreligious (bordering on majority) public.

So why would a narrow secular majority vote as they did? George Bush's honest faith was never a secret, even as John Kerry's was thin, recent and self-serving. I.e., it's the candidate. This data would suggest that Mr. Bush was not elected because of some secret Christian (much less Evangelical) plot (Methodists are Mainline Protestants), but because of the tolerance, admiration and maybe even aspirations of many non-faithful or marginally faithful voters.

17 March, 2006

Negotiations With Iran

Strange as it may seem amidst an escalating 27-year war of words and weapons, it looks like Iran and the U.S. will sit down to talks on Iraq. Putting our hawk hat on for a moment, we can't escape a hinky feeling of deja vu with the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam in the '70s. So very much is different here that we'll put that concern in the closet for now. But it's there. Knocking. Loudly.

Chester has a rant on how the AP and MSM are twisting the news - wanting desperately to see an Iraqi civil war that isn't there while painting Iran as the wise, aloof, peace-loving Swiss. Which is ludicrous of course.

The talks will be limited to Iraq, with nukes specifically off the table at the U.S.'s request. We're not sure how that's possible - unless there are other nuke talks already going on that aren't public. Stratfor is opining (sorry, no deep links available to non-subscribers) that talks with Iran were probably already going on through back channels and that Iraq was the only issue Iran was ever really concerned with all along - their shell-game nuclear weapons program and apocalyptic rhetoric being simply bargaining chips. Even if the nukes-as-bargaining chip idea were true (which we doubt), it doesn't address the little wiping Israel off the map thing, nor counter concerns that Iran is in control of the timing. Nor put a stop to their nuke development.

Stratfor further observes that negotiations with Iran will likely center on the shape of a future Iraqi military - one small enough to prevent menace to Iran yet large enough to defend itself from attack and keep insurgencies in check. Not easy. Operation Swarmer helps immensely in convincing us (and hopefully the Iranians) that the U.S. is in the driver's seat here.

Talk is cheap. We do not trust the current Iranian leadership - on anything. We question why the U.S. is agreeing so readily to one-on-one talks in an apparent departure from its stance on North Korea. The answer lies, we suspect in effectively sharing a border with Iran via what's now a semi-owned client state (Iraq) and having no other good options on Iran that don't lead to Armageddon.

The talks could buy time in which internal opposition could organize within Iran. Unfortunately, it also buys time for the nukes program. Western intelligence on Iran's state of nuclear readiness (ranging from now to ten years out) is beyond ridiculous. It's worse than guessing. Not even as good as intelligence on Saddam's Iraqi WMD programs, which was better than many give credit for after a decade of UN inspections. We just don't know... and that gives Iran the advantage.

Blog-Signing Today, 1-3PM

Fun cartoon in today's WSJ. Couldn't resist. Shades of Lucy Van Pelt: "The Blogger is... IN".

The National Security Strategy of the United States

In our day job, we help large organizations articulate vision and formulate strategy. Many (including some well-known blue-chip brand names and public institutions) do not understand either one. That's fortunate for us. It's how we stay in peanut butter and spaghetti.

Vision is about seeing a future that others do not. Strategy is about making choices. Linking the two can make vision real and positively effect human lives. Simple? Hardly. As much as business schools preach the opposite, neither is formulaic. When one is dominant enough to alter the very environment and rules in which one 'plays' (as the U.S. is today), purely analytical means of developing vision and strategy fall apart completely. For such players, good strategy is inseparable from art.

It is with this critical if admittedly subjective eye that we read - and are deeply impressed by - the much talked-about National Security Strategy of the United States (pdf) released yesterday and talked about by the president. More digestion will be required, but it bears another mark of good strategy: good writing. Lots of smart people have thought about this. Hard. And through whatever mechanisms, the death-stench of committee work is light on it. This helps us put our kids to bed with a lighter heart. While courageous men and women take risks to make us safe, intelligent, clear-eyed souls are giving shape and purpose to their actions. We expect to blog more on this in coming days. Here are a few hightlights:

First sentence: America is at war.

Need we say more? Without this cornerstone idea, not of our making, all other assumptions dissolve. The opposition knows this and directs its energies at removing this fundamental idea. Lull us to sleep - convince us that all is light and safe and easy - and the rest of it is unnecessary. We can punch the snooze button and pretend it's 1998 - while the house burns down.

This administration has chosen the path of confidence.
Dang! Were we really expressing doubts just yesterday morning? That seems like a long time ago. Is Peggy Noonan moonlighting? (Uh, maybe not...)
...the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world... Achieving this goal is the work of generations.
Ambitious much? So were America's founders. People wanted to kill them too. We're deeply grateful for their vision and courage. We expect others will be for this generation's as well - if we don't fail in the difficult task before us.
Tyranny is the combination of brutality, poverty, instability, corruption, and suffering, forged under the rule of despots and despotic systems. People living in nations such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe know firsthand the meaning of tyranny; it is the bleak reality they endure every day. And the nations they border know the consequences of tyranny as well, for the misrule of tyrants at home leads to instability abroad.
Choices. Some states are tyrannical. Some are not. Some things when taken together constitute tyranny. Not like the many shades of grey - all grey - that the UN likes to see in order to keep things nicey-nice and not risk offending anyone or forcing them to change their behavior. Paint is useless when mixed all together with no discernment of color. So is food. So is "salt that loses its saltiness". Why should the ideals of countries be any different?

By identifying and defining tyranny, other things - like being a successful, middle-aged, church-going WASP Republican businessman who goes into politics, wins the presidency in a squeeker, makes difficult judgment calls and doesn't pay attention to polls - are not... no matter how much the moonbats would like to say they are. Repetition does not make truth out of thin air. Evil is described and its actors singled out - the opposite of this. We're encouraged. There's much more in there. Easy and informative reading. Highly recommended.

16 March, 2006

Finally, Some Well-Directed Campus Activism

This is deeply refreshing to see - particularly in a little blue corner of this little blue state:

This Saturday, March 18, Harvard campus groups - including an unusual alliance between the Democrats and the Republicans - will kick off the campaign with the Iran Freedom Concert. SOS Iran will be broadcasting the event into Iran... The concert raises awareness of the Iranian government's human rights abuses and expresses solidarity with Iranian students seeking to end these violations. The coalition is non-partisan and does not take a stance on policy issues like foreign intervention. Our message is simple: civil rights must be respected by any Iranian government, and freedom must become a reality for all Iranians.
My brother would have smiled and might have gone. He loved music. Saturday would have been his 40th birthday.

The American Ideal

An interesting if unintended confluence of ideas this week from two big thinkers...

Listening to the Dennis Prager Show on the way back from lunch with a fellow blogger this afternoon ('J', featured in a post last week) it was interesting to him describe an interaction with a Canadian doctor he'd had on a recent South American cruise:

"What does Canada really stand for?", Prager had inquired.

"Nothing", replied the doctor, without a hint of irony. "Why does a country have to stand for something? We just want to live our lives."
Which is all fine and well and good. Some of our best friends are Canadian. Very European. All of our in-laws are European. We understand that mindset.

Prager's observation: America is one of the few countries (arguably the only country aside from Britain) that's based on an ideal. Certainly far more that than on arbitrary geography. And its the existence of a powerful America that allows Europeans and Canadians to take such a post-modernist view. History may not be at an end, but we've got the Americans to buffer the expense and gore of keeping it at bay.

Which made us sit up and take notice when we found this recent piece by Tom Barnett, making a point about how border security paranoia risks turning into xenophobia:
I don't have a homeland because I don't live in a place - I live an ideal. I live in the only country in the world that's not named for a location or a tribe but a concept. Officially, we're known as the United States.

And where are those united states? Wherever there are states united. You join and you're in, and theoretically everyone's got an open invitation.
That's a little on the moonbat side for our tastes but he has a point. The fact that he and Prager agree on the larger concept is frankly, remarkable - and encouraging. Yes border security is important. Yes, the law (i.e., legal immigration) is the law and ought to be enforced as such, however... We only lose if we allow the world to disengage - or if we do it ourselves. There's the passive disengagement of Europe and Canada. There's the active disengagement of the Islamofascists. And there's the internal disengagement of the retreatists in our midst. We cannot afford to let any of those happen on a broad scale if we are to prevail.

America is and always will be a set of ideals seeking new homes. As 'J' remarked over lunch: We should not be talking about disengagement from Iraq. We should be there fifty years. That's what worked in Germany.

Majority Does Not Equal Morality

It's a simple concept but one that bears repeating. Democracies made up of individuals voting their own consciences are laudable. Each person is formed in the image of God - endowed by their creator and nobody else with inalienable rights, and liable to the influence of the Holy Spirit. By contrast, bodies made up of narcissistic rogues, fools, dictators, kleptomaniacs, tyrants and elected, semi-elected and militarily captured governments that happen to take votes on issues from time to time are not. The process is the same. The moral authority could not be more different.

...three loyal U.S. allies -- Israel and the two tiny Pacific Island nations of Palau and the Marshall Islands -- were the only member states to stand in unison with the United States when it rejected a [UN] resolution calling for the creation of a new [UN] Human Rights Council... which has been criticized for accommodating "habitual human rights abusers" as some of its members.
Ooh. Sounds like the U.S. is baaaad. Running against the tide. Not playing nice. Not being genteel and accommodating. They're in cahoots with those darned Israelis again. Must be a Jewish-neocon plot to take over the world! Who let Richard Perle into the White House? They all must be up to no good! Read on.
The membership in the new Council shall be based on equitable geographic distribution... U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said that too many countries sought membership in the outgoing Commission primarily "to protect themselves against criticism, or to criticize others... The United States had also proposed exclusive criteria to keep gross human rights abusers off the Council, to exclude the worst violators.".
Read that again. Equitable geographic distribution. Meaning what, exactly? Equitable to whom? To the victims of torture in some third world hell-hole prison? Where's Amnesty International when we need 'em? (On the fence, that's where.) One gets the sense that the goal here is simply to make the UNHRC look pretty when we plot it on a map.

This is the most putrid form of PC classroom 'diversity' run amok. Never mind what goes on in each continent. Perish the thought that some geographic areas of the globe may be, ahem, a little more advanced than others - morally, socially, economically and politically. No. Let's have geographic distribution. For it's own sake.
Sadly, Bolton said, those suggestions had not been included in the text. The resolution merely required member states "to take into account" a country's human rights record when voting. "And suspension of a member required a two-thirds vote, a standard higher than that required when electing new members," he added. [emphasis added]
Now that's a big deterrent: taking into account. Y'know, next time I think about voting for a country to serve on the UNHRC, I'm going to re-read that text to be sure I get it right and take things into account. That's pretty strong language. Or, as say Libya might say - stealing a line from the old Irish Spring television commercials: "Aye laddie, a might tooooo strong!"

Is that a big stick, or has your base truly deserted you?

In his e-mailed Geopolitical Intelligence Brief earlier this week, George Friedman of Stratfor (sorry, no deep links available) brilliantly outlines how recent, as well as longer-brewing events such as staff fatigue, have combined to weaken the Bush presidency, raising the possibility that key foreign leaders (both adversaries and allies) will question his personal authority to make and keep promises and to dole out consequences (economic, military and otherwise).

...the cartoon controversy should have strengthened Bush politically, by strengthening his support base among national-security conservatives. But Bush did not reach out with an effort to draw those who were offended by the Muslim response into his coalition. Instead of defending the right to free speech regardless of who is offended, Bush tried to reach out to Muslims... rather than capitalizing on the event to broaden his political base, he left his own supporters wondering what he was talking about. [emphasis added]
Following close on this misstep (something we cannot imagine Reagan having stumbled over), the president's quasi-Napoleonic handling of the UAE ports deal amounted to a one-two punch:
Democrats, like Sen. Charles Schumer, saw an opening and went for it. That's to be expected, it's what the opposition does. But the response among Republican national-security conservatives was visceral and explosive. Even if Republican senators and congressman did not agree with the views held by their constituents, the pressure they were under still would have been enormous. Thus, they broke with Bush in the face of his early threat to veto any legislation blocking the ports deal. By the end, the president was in retreat, very publicly unable to get his way.
Friedman notes that absent a major political shoring-up at home - something he believes may be difficult to achieve - Mr. Bush is setting up to join the sad, sorry list of 'failed' presidencies.
Wilson collapsed over the League of Nations, Truman over Korea. Johnson collapsed over Vietnam, and Nixon had Watergate with a touch of Vietnam. Carter was done in by the Iranian hostage situation. But there is one difference between these and the current president: Bush is only one year into his second term. He has just reached a critical low in approval ratings and Republicans have begun distancing themselves. If he doesn't recover, it will be one of the longest failed presidencies in history. There would be three years in which foreign powers would operate with diminished concern for U.S. wishes and responses. Three years is a very long time.
Love him or hate him, that's dangerous - for the entire republic. Which is all a long way round to saying what we believe a commenter here was attempting to get at over the weekend - and something we'll reluctantly concede. Despite all that he has done, recent tactical errors may (and we emphasize may) have cost Mr. Bush the effectiveness that the international situation demands at the moment if we're to remain secure - much less achieve the laudable goals of his Mideast vision.

It would be easy to blame unhinged radical Democrats (and we do) for finally landing a shot. The fact that they've been taking them - randomly, regularly and with little responsibility - since shortly before the WTC pit stopped smoking leaves some of them beyond contempt. That ample fodder has been chewed so long we won't waste space on another mouthful of it.

What truly stings however - at least for this ardent Bush supporter - is that there were really two shots. One was aimed cleverly if opportunistically at splitting the Republican base and, uncharacteristically for the Democrats who aimed it, less directly at Mr. Bush himself. The second was a veritable volley - aimed and fired by different species of one-time Bush supporters at one another and the president, all in the interest of gaining in 2006. Which makes us want to plead (knowing full well the reasons why it may be impossible): can't we all just get along?

As candidates start to jockey for 2006 and 2008, it's important to avoid pining for a constitutional provision we thankfully do not have: the vote of no confidence. That, we'll argue, is even more volatile and dangerous in dealing with foreign powers, especially when one is the Leviathan. After all, foreign leaders too must contemplate their own strategies over 34 months.

It's not hard to imagine recent and upcoming events further strengthening NatSec hard-liners in both parties and the president along with them. Iran will boil over soon, if only because the Israelis understandably lose faith in fundamentally flawed talky-talk with the two-faced Russians and Chinese. North Korea will continue to remind the world that it too has nuclear weapons and is led by a narcissistic psychopath. And bird flu will continue to make headlines, possibly big ones as the year rolls on. Add to that the fact that when Mr. Bush has been underestimated he has, more often than not, drawn strength from the adversity and come out swinging and landing punches e.g., as this news would seem to suggest.

Given the dearth of credible Democratic hawks after having tacked well left of the socialists for too long, that would mean a veritable Republican tsunami in 2006 and the fatal evisceration of radical fringe Democrats. The principled Liebermans, and completely unprincipled Hillaries (lacking substance but still mouthing the words) would be the only ones left standing outside of a few delusional states such as our own.

Where does that leave us late this year? The scenario could evolve in any number of ways, but we see the strong possibility that any foreign leader looking in at the U.S. and assessing the president's bargaining leverage and war-making authority in December will be delighted to deal with him now rather than face a less restrained butt-kicker winning in 2008. Possibly worse from the perspective of Iran, China, Syria, and others would be a Democrat with a chip on the shoulder, eager to play against expectations by quickly and unambiguously demonstrating his or her street cred on the world stage (think FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson or Wilson).

Either way, we have enemies that eagerly await our destroying ourselves. Either way, we cannot afford to fail. Fair or not (and whether they like to acknowledge it or not) the rest of the world is once again depending on us and not the UN to save them from the Hobbesian jungle.

UPDATE I: Welcome Roger Simon readers! Breaking news as of 11AM is that a big stick - a very big stick - is being wielded against insurgents in Iraq: Operation Swarmer.
The United States on Thursday launched what was termed the largest air assault since the U.S.-led invasion, targeting insurgent strongholds... Iraqi troops also were involved in the operation aimed at clearing a "suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra. More than 1,500 Iraqi and Coalition troops, over 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation," the military statement said. Samarra is 60 miles north of Baghdad... the operation was expected to continue over several days...
Mr. Ahmadinejad, are you watching? More (but not a lot more) detail at FOX.

UPDATE II (11:05AM): We're betting that the timing of this operation is no accident - just a few hours after the new Iraqi Parliament was sworn in.

UPDATE III (11:21AM): Dread Pundit Bluto links to the CENTCOM press release and notes:
Samarra is the site of the al-Askariya shrine. The bombing of the shrine touched off a mix of sectarian violence and terrorist activity designed to promote sectarian strife.
And quoting FOX, 'Stop the ACLU' notes:
...initial reports indicate that a number of enemy weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, IED-making materials, and military uniforms.
UPDATE IV: Indepundit is hearing broad hints that one target of Operation Swarmer may be Zarqawi himself. Gateway Pundit has a number of links regarding a recent spike in Al Qaeda 'chatter'. Taken together with messages like this, that would shed more light on the timing of the operation.

UPDATE V: New visitors should check out the archives, including three new posts today: Majority Does Not Equal Morality, The American Ideal and Finally, Some Well-Directed Campus Activism

UPDATE VI: Re. Operation Swarmer... Uh... Never mind.
...the operation was by no means the largest use of airpower since the start of the war. ("Air Assault" is a military term that refers specifically to transporting troops into an area.) In fact,there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed in an operation that some skeptical military analysts described as little more than a photo op. What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders. The operation, which doubled the population of the flat farmland in one single airlift, was initiated by intelligence from Iraq security forces...

15 March, 2006

People Who Live in Glass Houses: The CIA in an Internet Age

This exclusive story in Sunday's ChiTrib ("Internet blow CIA cover: It's easy to track America's covert operatives. All you need to know is how to navigate the Internet.") is a mind-blower in several respects (free registration required):

When the Tribune searched a commercial online data service, the result was a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency telephone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States...

Not all of the 2,653 employees whose names were produced by the Tribune search are supposed to be working under cover... But an undisclosed number of those on the list--the CIA would not say how many--are covert employees, and some are known to hold jobs that could make them terrorist targets. [emphasis added]

Other potential targets include at least some of the two dozen CIA facilities uncovered by the Tribune search... Some are heavily guarded. Others appear to be unguarded private residences that bear no outward indication of any affiliation with the CIA.
These are ordinary newspaper reporters doing nothing terribly difficult. The only obstacle to their uncovering - wholesale(!) - the identities of CIA covert operatives was paying for a commercial data service and being clever enough and motivated enough to use it. This is not rocket science. It is not beyond the ken of Al Qaeda. And by the CIA's own admission elsewhere in the article, it is laughably easy for pretty much any foreign government. (The CIA officer quoted in the article mentions the Chinese as an example.)

To the extent that L'affaire de la Plame was not already a partisan joke, this set of revelations makes it a particularly bad and stupid partisan joke. If a major newspaper can turn up a few thousand truly covert Valerie Plames by applying a little cash, a few days' work and no illegal tactics, then the very notion of public disclosure is rendered meaningless. How can an administration official engage in the disclosure of what has already effectively been disclosed?

The article also points out other 'holes' in how the CIA handles covert identities generally, raising the spectre of the Keystone Cops. As we have noted before, the CIA is dangerously myopic and biased in its viewpoints on matters critical to national security. If we must add to that list the fault of incompetence - specifically of not adapting to the public web twelve full years after its inception - then it's not clear what we're paying for.

At least two other outlets (that do not require registration) picked up on the story that the ChiTrib initially developed: The Register ('Biting the hand that feeds IT') and the UK Telegraph (the latter being mostly a rehash). The Register notes:
LexisNexis, one of the US's largest data aggregators, maintains that it only does business with established organisations that can show why they need access to the data such as government agencies, employers, telemarketers, bill collectors, private investigators. Only special classes of clients (such as health insurance firms) get access to the most sensitive information... smaller agencies are prepared to hand out sensitive data to anyone prepared to flash the plastic. The Chicago Tribune notes that going to smaller operators is more time consuming than purchasing a comprehensive profile from a single source. However it's possible to obtain a comprehensive profile on targets using these more unconventional sources... [emphasis added]
Which doesn't exactly make us rest any easier. Qualifying oneself as an "empoyer, telemarketer, bill collector [or] private investigator" isn't exactly a high hurdle, nor is having to scurry around to multiple sources - as the robustness of the blogosphere has shown. It's often forgotten that the Iranian radicals who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 painstakingly reconstructed sensitive documents that had been shredded conventionally. Patience and the clever use of information have long been the strong suits of our enemies. Sadly, it seems, they have ceased to be ours. H/T: Bruce Schneier.

UPDATE: JustOneMinute has a long and broadly sourced piece chronicling the blast wave that the ChiTrib piece created and tying it in nicely to the Valerie Plame kerfuffle.

14 March, 2006

Late to the Party: France's Tough Talk on Iran

Buried deep in this WaPo article on Iran's latest defiance is the now-he-tells-us remark from French President Jacques Chirac:

...that Europe cannot make "the slightest concession" to Tehran on preventing proliferation of nuclear arms.
Which is all very nice if one believes that Iran is an isolated piece of the puzzle to Mideast peace, democracy and freedom and that the overthrow of Saddam was completely immaterial and/or likely to happen anyway. As others have noted, nations don't have friends, they have interests. Thank goodness that France's interests (for once, for now... just for now) happen to align with our own.

Every Unclean and Detestable Bird

Predicting human behavior and the fate of nations (e.g., what will happen next in the Middle East) is exceedingly difficult - as is proven, for example, by this JPost piece on American efforts to anticipate Israli attack scenarios on Iran.

Casually looking into Avian Flu (aka 'A/H5N1') however, has convinced us that anticipating the course of a pandemic outbreak goes beyond complex and uncertain, entering into the realm of speculation. Despite sophisticated models, our ability (that is, anyone's ability) to predict the course of such a poorly understood disease enters into the realm of palm-reading and the divination of tea leaves and chicken parts. Collective human behavior is just one element in an impossibly complex set of interdependent and chaotic equations...

None of which has deterred us from doing the simple, stupid and terribly tempting thing - crunching numbers in Excel - in vain efforts to wrap our arms around the issue. The chart above should be taken with a massive truckload of salt - something the news media sometimes forgets when - as with global warming - the warnings are coming from the government and the models are harder to understand. In the chart above, the past data is real. The last three columns have been invented solely by the uncredentialed medical officer of this blog.

The '2006 LP' figures are a linear projection of A/H5N1 cases so far this year as reported to the World Health Organization (raw data here) as if the rate of flu in the first 72 days of this year simply continued. The '2006E1' figures represent an extrapolation off the ridiculously low figures (3 cases, 3 deaths) reported to WHO for 2003. The '2006E2' figures are an extrapolation based on the rate of increase from 2004 to 2005.

None of which bears the slightest relation to how communicable diseases actually spread - or fail to. As we said: it's crude. Yet we couldn't resist attempting the exercise to get a rough handle on the hype and highlight how little skepticism the MSM tends to place on figures released by expert government agencies with mixed track records for prescience. Hundreds of Ph.D. scientists armed with supercomputers are no doubt breathing a sigh of relief knowing their jobs are safe against a blogger with a spreadsheet, however we should not be so complacent in taking what they say (and what the media reports that they say) at face value.

In dwelling on the worst case scenario (as ratings-hungry, advertising-dependent media tend to do), what's glossed over is the perfectly reasonable case for the best-case scenario: a giant, anticlimactic fizzle: Some chickens are killed. Some people get sick. A few of them die - maybe a few thousand. Maybe even a few tens of thousands. (For reference, flu on average kills 30,000 Americans annually.) Everyone worries. Nothing else happens. Which is just as speculative as the worst case scenario making the headlines - and our inconclusive spreadsheet above that isn't even close to that order of magnitude.

The hype has been getting especially thick recently, originating most notably from ABC News' saturation coverage (e.g., here, here and here.) They're not alone in squeezing the Wyoming Pandemic Flu Summit for all it's worth, however they're at risk of becoming the story as much as shedding light on it. (Side note: Why Wyoming? Must be Cheney. And Halliburton. In cahoots. Again.)

ABC is surfing the wave of media panic sparked by Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt, speaking there last Friday:

"When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed. When you go to the store to buy milk, buy powdered milk and put that under the bed."
In light of the Duct Tape scare a few years back, others are understandably expressing deep skepticism. We especially liked this light-hearted and sensible take by Tammy Bruce:
Hopefully you already know that you can stave off the (insert random animal name here) flu by taking care of yourself, and boosting your immune system. Of course, with a federal government that's behaving more and more like a Sugar Daddy with all the answers, all the money, and all the programs you would ever need to get through the day, suggesting that you take care of yourself might inject some of that pesky "personal responsibility" nonsense back into our heads, or remind us that our health is really in our hands.

Forget that the human strain of the Avian Flu doesn't exist. Yes, the flu in birds could mutate into the human variety but that hasn't happened yet. And yet, the MSM and the federal government are behaving, as one Tammy Radio caller put it, as though it were Y2K all over again.

Let's be reasonable here--the "bird flu" isn't some freakish strain brought by Martians which will vaporize you. The flu is the flu, and is indeed something that the very young and very old are concerned about each flu season. But the bottom line is, even if the Avian strain of the flu mutates, it means some people will, uh, catch the flu.
What exactly will a little extra powdered milk and tuna fish do in a worst case scenario (~100 million Americans stricken this fall with water and electricity potentially shut off for weeks)? Darned little. But if Leavitt told everyone to do everything that would be necessary to prepare for a month-long national quarantine the economic distortions would be immense: bank runs, spot shortages of key items, panic spurred by said shortages, etc. Absolute chaos... not to mention unintended consequences: the part that government always forgets.

We like our tuna with mayonnaise, which some will probably conclude is necessary to go with the tuna fish which will lead to many more dying from salmonella poisoning when the electricity goes off than ever might have died from the flu. A few years later, when all this is behind us, the government will no doubt be sued by some clever class action attorney who's figured out that thousands of people were negatively impacted by the extra mercury load they incurred by taking Secretary Leavitt's recommendations literally. It's always someone else's fault.

While the possibility of a pandemic must be taken seriously (infected birds from Asia are likely to make it to Alaska in a few weeks, mixing with North American populations and almost inevitably spreading back southwards), our special perch for close-in analysis of other recent catastrophes has led us to conclude that most systems (especially in a free market economy filled with free, entrepreneurially-minded people) are far more resilient than the scaremongers and hand-wringers would have us believe... except when the government is involved, as onerous liability burdens on vaccine makers finally come home to roost.

Yes, a 1918-style outbreak could be truly nasty. We're not going to panic just yet... even though some might conclude that from the case of Ramen noodles we purchased yesterday. :)

UPDATE I: Obligatory wild-eyed End Times reference here.

UPDATE II: We're still bothered by the sole-source, total-zone coverage by ABC News on this story, but nonetheless find it hard to ignore a scientist who makes 50/50 predictions publicly while taking extraordinary steps to protect himself and his family.
Robert G. Webster is one of the few bird flu experts confident enough to answer the key question: Will the avian flu switch from posing a terrible hazard to birds to becoming a real threat to humans? There are "about even odds at this time for the virus to learn how to transmit human to human," he told ABC's "World News Tonight." Webster, the Rosemary Thomas Chair at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., is credited with being the first scientist to find the link between human flu and bird flu... "I personally believe it will happen and make personal preparations," said Webster, who has stored a three-month supply of food and water at his home in case of an outbreak.
More on Webster here with some of his bird flu research papers here.