31 May, 2006

Liberal Boomers Clinging to a Fantasy of Their Youth

Check out a spectacularly insightful, tightly crafted two-parter, "Preserving a Vision", by Thomas Sowell on why liberal boomers find it next to impossible to change their views in light of reality:

Part I (May 30th)
Part II (today)

Short summary: liberals are faced with the daunting prospect of digging out the very foundations under the story of how they've found meaning in their lives. (Sometimes that's a figurative process. At least once - in our own neighborhood, it became quite literal.) Sowell's pair of columns is (as usual) chock full of facts useful in cocktail-party banter with boomer liberals ignorant (or insistent on a halcyon re-write) of history - especially of the '60s and '70s.

For those liberals who lived through the 1960s, that was often also the springtime of their youth, increasingly treasured as a memory, as the grim realities of old age settle down upon them today. It is expecting an awful lot to expect them to consider any alternative vision of the world, especially one that shatters the beautiful picture of themselves as wise and compassionate saviors of society. But what are the facts?

...Both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had a higher percentage of Congressional Republicans voting for their enactment than the percentage of Congressional Democrats. You can check it out in The Congressional Record. [Rumor has it that Lincoln was a Republican too. - KM]

...For decades, the liberal media and the intelligentsia have had to struggle mightily against good economic news. Their whole vision of the world -- and of themselves -- is at stake...What can the liberal-left do? They can keep pointing out how the bottom 20 percent's share of the national income is declining... Of course people don't live on percentage shares, they live on real income... How do most people get income? They work for it. What happens when pay for work goes up? The gap between those who are working and those who are not widens. Most of the people in the bottom 20 percent are not full-time, year-around workers... Three-quarters of the people in the bottom 20 percent in 1975 were also in the top 40 percent at some point over the next two decades... people earning the minimum wage... have declined from 7.8 million to just over 2 million [since 1980], even though the population as a whole has been growing.

Interview or Recruitment Ad? Ahmadinejad's Hidden Agenda

Well, duh... It must be the steady diet of ibuprofen we're on for this wretched thrown back that's dulled our senses to the obvious connection between suicide bomber recruitment and Ahmadinejad's Spiegel "interview". Fortunately Captain Ed picks up the slack:

Apparently Ahmadinejad's attempts to provoke German fringe-dwellers have a ready audience, as Der Spiegel reports that three German women had to be tracked down and arrested after proclaiming their readiness to act as suicide bombers in Iraq...
The interview, in other words, does not exist on a plane of neat intellectual debate without immediate real-world consequences. And SPIEGEL bears responsibility for letting it happen. The more we reflect on it in fact, the more we see it as a case of the media being used like a two-bit hooker. Big personality. Big headlines. Big sales. Next story... just doing our job...

Ahmadinejad meanwhile, is pursuing a strategy of splitting European opinion (assuming he can't co-opt it altogether, which remains a distinct possibility). More importantly, he is influencing European voters in such a way as to put pressure on their leaders to avoid getting too chummy with any emerging U.S.-led coalition of the willing. This is war, folks. SPIEGEL just became an instrument in it.

Lest that thought seem extreme (c'mon KM, nobody is really buying Ahmadinejad's arguments, are they?), try this post from an apparently German blogger.
Rather then [sic] an unintelligent maniac [Ahmadinejad] answers the questions that he is given thoughtful[ly. He] has [a] point in half of them and he defuses lots of his earlier misrepresented statement[s]. His ideas do make sense - I just which [wish?] he would leave the Holocaust out of the game as this just draws the masses against him... [emphasis added]
"[Ahmadinejad's] ideas do make sense"... Ponder that for a moment.

That post didn't take any trouble to find. There are plenty of others just like it. Try this one for example - again, easy to find after a single Technorati search and perusal of half a dozen blogs:
Personally, I think Ahmadinejad highlights the big elephant in the living room, as it were. Right or wrong, that's the issue.
He's referring it seems, to the justification for the existence of Israel. Yes folks, this is 2006. "Right or wrong"... Whatever. It's just the blue team and the red team and there's really no difference between them. No history. No judgment. No question about why Iran has become a fair-weather friend to the Palestinians to the point of steering most of the interview to that topic.

Neither site is on the neo-Nazi fringe. They are both - to all outward appearances anyway - just run-of-the-mill personal blogs out of Europe. The writers fail to comprehend that Holocaust denial and Ahmadinejad's desire to eradicate Israel are of a piece. One does not get Mussolini's trains running on time without Mussolini cracking heads in order to get them that way. Blogger #1 continues, unable to string together two sentences without incorporating Ahmadinejad's talking points almost verbatim:
Yes Iran is cooperating with the IAEA [not true] - they do not seem to have an A-Bomb yet... [are we waiting for the mushroom cloud before we'll believe it?] and yes Palistine [sic for both spelling and fact - Palestine is not a country, but an authority] has a democratic[ally] elected government... But when an Iranian president makes such remarks - especially when he is in the spotlight of American agression he [is] accused of the worst crimes, he is blackmailed and put on mock trial - yet as he states Iran has NEVER attacked a country and probably never will [emphasis added]
"Spotlight of American agression"... always our fault until proven otherwise, and sometimes not even then. Anybody deserves to be listened to if they're against those bad, bad Americans.

This dipstick into European opinion leaves us with the sad realization that many if not most there (and here) believe that the Iran crisis - even perhaps the entire Islamofascist terror nightmare - would all go quietly away if we just toned down the rhetoric and tried to get along better with folks like Ahmadinejad. It's a theme that ShrinkWrapped sounded yesterday in this post ("The War on Terror Paradoxes") in which he notes that the longer we go without an attack, the more people will conclude that the war is a foolish endeavor and we're best going back to business as usual. Kick the can down the road. Hey, it worked in the '90s.

We thought of doing a thorough fisk of the SPIEGEL interview yesterday but stopped short when we realized that virtually everything out of Ahmadinejad's mouth was either an outright lie, a cleverly framed narrowly-true statement that hid a larger falsehood, or grossly misleading in what it left out. In other words: shooting fish in a barrel. Those who like to pin the 'liar' moniker on President Bush would do well to study Ahmadinejad's world-class example.

It's absolutely frightening that many appear to be swallowing this. The statement that Iran has never attacked another country for example, is patently untrue (never mind how blogger #1 can be so sure that it will not do so in the future). OK, it is technically true... if one doesn't count the Iran-Iraq war, or Iran's invasion of U.S. sovereign territory in the form of our embassy in Tehran in 1979, or the many terrorist groups it supports all over the world today, or the aide and comfort it has provided to Al Q'aeda members (documented in the 9-11 Commission report). And never mind the Persian empire, which was a ravenously aggressive opponent of democratic Greece (among others) for centuries. Never mind all that. We assert that we are as peaceful as Switzerland and laugh at your attempts to correct us.

With a ratio of three questions by Ahmadinejad for every two that Spiegel posed - it could be deemed an interview, just not the one that was advertised. Who wants to hear three obscure reporters meekly attempting to defend the principles of Western Civilization with ignorant crowd-pleasing quips such as, "The United States has suffered a de facto defeat in Iraq."?

And what defeat would that be? Perhaps it was the celebration party given by Saddam and his Ba'athists when American deaths exceeded those in Vietnam after harsh chemical attacks? Or maybe it was the purple thumbs and free elections that never happened? Or the WMD that didn't turn up... oh, except after being moved to Iranian client state Syria with Russia's help. Or the continued torture of tens of thousands of women, children and political dissidents in Iraq? Or maybe he's refering to the unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops under president Kerry? Those "defeats"?

Maybe it's a translation 'thing' but we don't think so. The fact that a wild, deeply anti-Semitic liar who will soon have nuclear weapons at his disposal can so easily win over European opinion makes our head hurt as much as our back.

UPDATE: The U.S. is calling Iran's bluff, or rather its insistence that the country is IAEA compliant. Looks like it's time for the old Reagan adage, cleverly borrowed from a Russian proverb: "Доверя́й, но проверя́й", aka "Doveryay, no proveryay", aka "Trust, but verify."

Pouring Money Down the Drain

Op-Ed columnist Eugene Robinson writes in yesterday's Washington Post on the recently issued report by the "Independent Levee Investigation Team, a blue-ribbon panel led by experts from the University of California at Berkeley and funded by the National Science Foundation". They were tasked with finding the root causes of the New Orleans flooding disaster.

We do not call it the Katrina disaster. That storm (a mere category three when it hit the Louisiana coast, lest we forget) was merely the proverbial straw on the camel, as the report amply notes.

Some of the flood barriers were built using inadequate materials, the report says. Others were designed so poorly that they provided weak spots for the waters to exploit. Still others were left unfinished for lack of funds. The Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for building the levees that failed, has not yet issued its own final report on the flood and likely will dispute some of the independent team's conclusions. But Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff remarked last week that "had it not been for what appear to be structural problems in the building of the levees, Katrina would have been a bad hurricane" but not an unparalleled catastrophe.

Earthen levees stretching east from the city were built with "highly erodible sand" and other "lightweight" materials, the reports says. "When the storm surge arrived, massive portions of these levees eroded catastrophically." Floodwalls lining the east side of the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal were not engineered to keep water from seeping beneath and undermining them. "The result was two massive breaches that devastated the adjacent Ninth Ward neighborhood, and then pushed east to meet with the floodwaters already rapidly approaching from the east from St. Bernard Parish."

Surging water pushed by the hurricane's winds from Lake Pontchartrain into the 17th Street and London Avenue drainage canals remained "well below the design levels, and well below the tops of the floodwalls." Nonetheless, the floodwalls suffered "catastrophic" failures. So even though little if any lapped over the walls, sudden breaches inundated central New Orleans...
And not to make this even more political, but the NSF and UC Berkeley are, in our professional experience, at best centrist and more often deeply left-leaning institutions. (Yes, science is often political.) If there had been a Republican to skewer or a bone to throw to Al Gore, they surely would have done so.

Despite what Al Gore and Ray Nagin would like us to believe, global warming and cold-blooded Republicans are not to blame - at least no more than (and probably a good deal less than) anyone else. Bottom line: New Orleans needn't have flooded. The disaster that unfolded did so - quietly and invisibly - over decades... decades of Democratic government at the local and state levels and (if it's possible to remember back that far) in Congress and the White House as well. Yes, the Army Corps of Engineers is a federal institution, but it hardly exists in a vacuum. Local politics always has an impact, or at least the opportunity to have one. Close observation and protest are always options if things are not going as they should. Remote management from Washington can never do that no matter who's in charge.

No, Democrats don't have a monopoly on corruption but uncontested one-party rule is certainly a breeding ground for it - the primary reason we wish that the Democratic party would return to its Truman/Kennedy roots and provide a realistic alternative that doesn't require dancing with Lenin, Mao and Michael Moore.

Sitting here in Massachusetts we can offer this additional perspective: $15B of your tax dollars has gone to one of the most spectacular boondoggles in highway engineering history - the Big Dig. It's a project that only came about because Teddy Kennedy, John Kerry and former House Speaker Tip O'Neill were once able to bring home pork by the truckload.

We're not holding that project up as an example of how things should be done. It has been plagued by it's own issues of incompetence, overspending, corruption and mismanagement. What is clear from holding the two projects up next to one another however, is that nothing catastrophic was going to happen to Boston if the Big Dig had not been embarked upon. Now that it's nearing completion, we can attest that nothing spectacularly beneficial has happened either. Oh sure, our trek to the airport has been cut from 20 minutes to less than 15, but was that worth fifteen billion dollars of other peoples' money? Money that taxpayers could have spent as they saw fit (now there's a concept for both parties to ponder), or at least used for something more urgent on the national stage? And no, we don't mean the NEA...

The report boils down to this: more often than not, unaccountable people in unaccountable institutions don't do what they say they're going to do, and/or don't do it in the way they are supposed to do it it. The levees were designed poorly and - even when designed responsibly - were often built shoddily. In a highly interdependent system, even one flaw is enough (weakest link theory). The WSJ runs the Robinson piece in its Europe and Asia editions under the headline "Drowned by Human Incompetence". We couldn't agree more. Free markets, rule of law and a robust two-party system with free elections won't cure human nature, but they've proven better at reining it in than any of the alternatives.

What's hilariously ironic is the ad next to the Robinson piece: an ad for Al Gore's "Inconvenient Truth", featuring a satellite image of a hurricane swirl emerging from a (big, bad, corporate) smokestack. That's rich. Unfortunately the independent report is unlikely to change the causality shorthand that many have already adopted for what transpired last August:
Corporate greed leads to CO2 leads to global warming leads to hurricanes leads to poor (black) people being displaced from their homes.
We're not making this up. We heard it regularly around here last fall. Alas, reality is a little more complicated. As we (and other notables) have said before, the only thing we have to truly fear is fear itself. And, we should add, incompetence and lack of accountability.

UPDATE: Weren't we just saying that science has become political?
Hundreds of concerned citizens and leaders from across the nation will join Hurricane Katrina survivors Wednesday to call for the resignation of the heads of the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at the NOAA Headquarters... advocates will demand that NOAA stop covering up the growing scientific link between severe hurricanes and global warming while insisting on real solutions to the problem of global warming.
Come up with the right answer now! Yeah, that's how Galileo, Newton and Einstein worked...

30 May, 2006

More Crafty Than the Secular West

We were hoping not to blog further on Iran today. Besides taking on new business obligations that will impinge on recreational blogging much of the summer, we're nursing the mother of all stiff backs, acquired this weekend doing yard work, putting us in a generally foul and distracted mood. Besides, readers should have plenty to chew on with this interview with Ryan Mauro and a comparison of the audition processes for American Idol and the Islamic Martyrs Brigade.

So on a fine spring day when the air is sweet and the flowers fragrant, we'd like nothing more than to sip a second cup of coffee on the porch, take the dog for a slow walk and forget about the troubles of the world. Instead, one of Satan's chief minions has to go and give an interview with Der Spiegel that has (appropriately) drawn splash headlines already on Drudge.

What's immediately clear is that Ahmadinejad did this particular interview with this particular news outlet at this particular time for specific and highly strategic reasons. Regardless of Iran's current credibility in the West, Ahmadinejad at least has far more PR savvy than we do. That's a problem. A big problem. The trajectory of public opinion is what can win wars... or lose them. And when half the population doesn't like to even think that we're in a war, the game is already slanted in the enemy's favor. However horrific and specious Ahmadinejad's arguments may seem to most (and they certainly do to us!), they will probably win him some silent converts at the margins.

Here's why.

The three Spiegel interviewers - because of the eroded, morally relativistic, PC-secular cultural context in which they swim - are ill-equipped to parry Satan's (err, Ahmadinejad's) pointed agenda. Only five questions into it (most of those related to soccer), the tables are turned. Ahmadinejad asks a question he knows will dredge up latent feelings of guilt in the German interviewers and their audience and draw out a careful, defensive, indirect answer:

SPIEGEL: Denying the Holocaust is punishable in Germany. Are you indifferent when confronted with so much outrage?

Ahmadinejad: I know that DER SPIEGEL is a respected magazine. But I don't know whether it is possible for you to publish the truth about the Holocaust. Are you permitted to write everything about it [the Holocaust]?

SPIEGEL: Of course we are entitled to write about the findings of the past 60 years' historical research. In our view there is no doubt that the Germans -- unfortunately -- bear the guilt for the murder of 6 million Jews.
In all, Ahmadinejad asks thirty-two questions in the course of the interview. The SPIEGEL initerviewers ask only twenty! (Five others might generously be classified as follow-ups.) And frankly, most of Ahmadinejad's are better in the sense of being the rhetorical kind that go bouncing around in peoples' minds long after the interview is over. Abhorrent, but better. He is on offense; the interviewers on defense. One does not score points on defense.

Ahmadinejad's is a time-worn tactic - very time-worn: accuse in the course of asking a niggling question that can't be answered cleanly. In Genesis 3:1, we find the serpent asking Eve: "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" Really? Ah, c'mon. Did he really say you'd die? (Implying physical death on the spot.) Really? Gimme a break. You're being deceived. Give me a hearing. After all, you wouldn't want to be unfair or unbalanced or intolerant... would you?

Satan (aka, 'the accuser') uses the fundamental inadequacy of human words in conveying the deep truth of The Word (wordless and eternal) to pull up the edge of the Scotch tape on our feeble faith and understanding of right and wrong. Hmm... come to think of it, Mr. Ahmadinejad, sir, you may have a point... we Germans are guilty... I guess... which makes you... maybe worth listening to after all, even if we remain a little wary.

OK, that doesn't give the interviewers quite enough credit. They tried. It's just that this was not a fair exchange from the beginning. Ahmadinejad is quick to leap on the inevitable small slips in the way the questions are framed:
SPIEGEL: Even though no Western scholars harbor any doubt about the Holocaust?

Ahmadinejad: But there are two opinions on this in Europe. One group of scholars or persons, most of them politically motivated, say the Holocaust occurred. Then there is the group of scholars who represent the opposite position and have therefore been imprisoned for the most part. Hence, an impartial group has to come together to investigate and to render an opinion on this very important subject, because the clarification of this issue will contribute to the solution of global problems. Under the pretext of the Holocaust, a very strong polarization has taken place in the world and fronts have been formed. It would therefore be very good if an international and impartial group looked into the matter in order to clarify it once and for all. Normally, governments promote and support the work of researchers on historical events and do not put them in prison.
The Spiegel interviewers are of course correct that no Western scholars deny the Holocaust. Yet Ahmadinejad knows - far better than they do - that the core of the modern secular, left-wing European belief system has grown too weak to form a compelling counter-argument to his idea that maybe it wasn't so bad. There are limits on absolutely free speech. The nations of the West have done wrong at various points in our histories. Israel does use violence to defend itself. There have been other holocausts (Cambodia, China, Stalinist Russia, Bosnia, Rwanda, etc.) that warrant comparison in sheer numbers if nothing else.

Yet pointing out those sins - some comparable and others laughably off-base - does not give the individual pointing them out a free pass. It does not exclude Iran and Ahmadinejad from scrutiny and comparison to Nazi Germany. Only we can do that to ourselves. Paralysis by guilt is the unique plight of the self-flagellating liberal elite who can never see wrong except in the West... and Ahmadinejad knows it!

A deconstructionism that worships tolerance over judgment, peace over justice and pleasant illusion over truth is ill-equipped to say: "No. You are wrong. In fact, you're absolutely f$%^&g crazy-wrong - dangerous and evil. There is overwhelming fact and then there are a few cranks, whack-jobs and jihadi warriors living on the dole plotting to blow things up. The two do not compare. The two do not deserve equal 'respect'. Averaging out their opinions in the interest of 'fairness' is ignorant and foolish."

We in the West don't like to hear ourselves talk like that anymore. Now that history has ended (so we were told), we think we shouldn't have to speak so harshly and judge so absolutely. It's so... stress-inducing. Get me my yoga. Get me my Evian. I want my MTV!

Ahmadinejad of course, uses all this to his advantage. Scholars? Well who's to say who's a scholar and who's not? Why not make half of them radical Islamic 'scholars' and see what the answer turns out to be? That would be fair, no?

This is not a new tactic on Iran's part. They have been using the same approach in obscure procedural maneuverings in subsidiary UN bodies for years in an effort to supplant the UN's 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and erode free, unfettered debate, replacing them with censorship of 'blasphemy' (against Islam) and the recognition of Sharia law as separate but equal to the UDHR. Detailed official UN accounts of these moves can be found in Robert Spencer's excellent compilation, "The Myth of Islamic Tolerance" which we're still making our way through.

The frightening part is that Europe may be closer than it imagines to the day when its institutions of scholarship have exchanged their plentiful secular Marxists for Islamists and the popularly accepted judgment on the Holocaust mysteriously changes. Given the far-left slant of U.S. colleges and universities, we're close to that day here as well, as Bernard Lewis has opined.

Read the Spiegel piece. Read it carefully. Read it critically. This is what we're up against. It is the sickly-sweet smell of a world view that seems almost reasonable on its surface - words like fairness, tolerance and respect and concepts like scholarly inquiry and freedom of speech used to induce guilt in the listener over minor sins while distracting attention from the wholesale abrogation of those principles in places like Iran.

Ahmadinejad's is a voice that has learned from history. It is a belief system that never really went away - just retreated to polish its game. We will lose only by allowing our own secular worship of victimhood - our perverted sense of guilt and fairness to give it room to grow. Judgment. It's muscle we've grown reluctant to exercise. We need to get back to the gym.

UPDATE: Welcome Zenpundit readers! We're blogging further Wednesday on the interview and Europe's frighteningly uncritical reaction to it.

27 May, 2006

Interview: Ryan Mauro on Iran

Last February we had the privilege of sharing the speakers' roster at the International Intelligence Summit with wunderkind geopolitical analyst and author Ryan Mauro. (For background, see our IIS posts: I - The Saddam Tapes, II - Notes and Impressions, III - Generals and Fathers Never Die, and IV - WMD to Syria With Russia's Help - in which we linked to a must-read interview Mauro did with FrontPage magazine).

Mauro is the 19-year old author of Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq and founder of WorldThreats.com. He was originally hired at age 16 as a geopolitical analyst for Tactical Defense Concepts. A volunteer analyst and researcher for the Northeast Intelligence Network and the Reform Party of Syria, he is said to be the youngest hired geopolitical analyst in the country. Some kids hang out at the mall and play videogames; others find their niche in the reality-based community and take a running start at life.

We were delighted when Mauro agreed to a ten-question interview with KMaru earlier this week on the topic of Iran. We hope you'll find it as enlightening as we did.

KMaru: There's been a lot of discussion the last six months or so about whether [Iranian President] Ahmadinejad is 'crazy' or 'insane' that seems to want to impose a Western template on a guy who may not be 'Western' at all. Others see him as incredibly rational but with very different priorities in mind (e.g., realization of the prophecy of the 12th Imam). Still others see him as thoroughly versed in Western thinking but utterly sociopathic. None of these seem to do him justice. How would you characterize Ahmadinejad's strategic thinking process? His world view? What are his key assumptions? What are his key blind spots?

Mauro: Ahmadinejad, in my opinion, isn't necessarily crazy, but is part of a crazy ideology that would be viewed as crazy by most Iranians. It is understood by most experts that he does seek to spark a confrontation to hasten the return of the 12th Imam, but he needs to be seen as the victim, not the aggressor, that sparks this confrontation. Any idea that he could lose a war with the so-called "infidels" is thrown out of his decision-making process, because such a war is to be interrupted by the re-emergence of the 12th Imam whose power could easily outmatch the infidels.

This is why, in my opinion, you see him increasing the support to insurgents in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, besides the obvious fact that pro-democratic developments in the region threaten his regime. Either the US will have to withdraw or confront Iran, making Ahmadinejad look like the victim. His favored scenario, I believe based on my analysis (rather than top-secret memos), would be a limited Israeli strike that fails to decapitate the regime or destroy his WMD programs. That would justify the use by Iran of all the tools at their disposal, and possibly undermine the popular resistance to the mullahs inside of Iran.

However, it is important to note that while there are power struggles and policy debates among evil men who run Iran, that doesn't mean some are "less evil" and can be trusted to divide the regime. Even the so-called reformers or moderates, like Khatami and Rafsanjani, are radically anti-American with the same objectives. And no amount of moderates in the government take away from the fact that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, and his Council of Guardians, ultimately makes the calls.
KMaru: One school of thought seems to see current Iranian politics as the consistent and logical flowering of what was seeded with the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Another sees Iran as an essentially modern nation with strong secular-liberal tendencies that's been 'hijacked' only very recently by a few 'mad mullahs' that the vast majority of the population absolutely despises. I.e., there's a huge potential for a moderate middle to seize an opportunity to overthrow the regime. What do you see as true about each of these viewpoints? Where does each one depart most from the reality you observe? How do you assess the potential for regime change before the nukes are completed?
Mauro: I believe that if, immediately after 9/11, we had aggressively supported democratic Iranian institutions with hundreds of millions of dollars just like Reagan did with Solidarity in Poland, there is a very strong possibility this regime would have fallen.

I don't believe Iran will use nuclear weapons until an arsenal is established. According to Western intelligence estimates that I trust, we have a 1-3 year gap before Iran actually puts together nuclear weapons, although being able to make a warhead to fit on a ballistic missile is another story. However, if Iran has a sophisticated and large enough parallel uranium enrichment program, allowing them to utilize thousands of centrifuges, it is theoretically possible they the materials for nukes already. However, regime change can happen very quickly, so we do have time to stop this if we move quickly.
KMaru: What could we be doing to drive regime change in Iran that we aren't doing (or at least aren't saying we're doing) today? Which individuals or groups we should be looking to as the best 'levers' for such regime change? What do you see as the best and most-likely outcomes of a change in regime? (given that those are probably different!) What are the key risks we should watch out for? (E.g., a PR-driven 'regime change' that leaves most of the bad actors in place, one that gives bad actors the validation of a supposedly free popular election, or change to a regime that does less international boasting but that nonetheless continues pursuing its nuclear weapons program).
Mauro: There are lots of Iranian organizations we can support. We can support moderate Shiites in Iraq who have a following in Iran, use the Kurds in northern Iraq to reach out the Kurdish minority there, and we can support the trade and labor unions, student and womens' rights organizations. The State Department can name dissidents being held in Iranian prisons and the President can tell their stories during his speeches, giving hope to the Iranians and bringing international attention to the human rights issues. The number of people and organizations we can support is enormous.

At this time, I do not support backing the Mujahideen-e-Khalq resistance group, currently listed as a terrorist organization. I know there are good people in the organization, and understand they don't want to leave the MEK to join an umbrella alliance to topple the regime. However, from my research, I am convinced that the MEK is widely hated in Iran for a variety of reasons. Yes, they represent an "easy" way out as they have the means to militarily fight the regime if we give them weapons, and they have good intelligence sources. But supporting them will betray the trust of the Iranian people.

Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah, is working to form an organization to bring together anti-mullah groups and topple them. He opposes military force against the mullahs and has called for targeted sanctions. Sanctions on military items and against specific companies helping the Iranian government and military, and specific individuals in the regime are the way to go. Sanctions that target the country as a whole, like we did to Iraq in the 1990s, are immoral and will work against us.
KMaru: If you could emphasize just three facts about Iran's preparations so far (e.g., military, social, etc.) for confrontation with the West that would galvanize U.S. public opinion if they were featured on the front page of the New York Times, what would they be?
Mauro: I would emphasize all of Ahmadinejad's statements about the United States as being evil, predicting the destruction of the U.S. and Israel, and denying the Holocaust. Second, I'd give proof that Iran is harboring Al-Qaeda members and emphasize Iran's role in killing our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Third, I'd have an article about the dispersal of the nuclear sites and the creation of command and control sites to make a Western aerial campaign a failure.
KMaru: How do you respond to the view that says Iran's angry, despotic nuclear bluster is no different from that of another regime we've somehow managed to contain over many years: North Korea? What is it that Iran wishes to gain from this confrontation? How do they think about the potential for downside risk?
Mauro: Here's the difference. Most dictators crave power above anything else, and as we saw in Libya, can be forced to choose between certain actions and holding onto their current level of power. However, the mullahs of Iran love power, but follow an ideology that cannot be bargained with. Ahmadinejad simply does not believe Iran will lose such a confrontation. The only way to change his view would be to somehow convince him that his beliefs about the hidden 12th Imam and the end times are false, which will never happen because opponents of his beliefs are labeled as evil infidels. That's the big difference. Other differences involve Iran's active support for radical Islamic terrorists and how the decision-making of the mullahs can't be rationalized without taking into context the extremist religious beliefs.

Here in the West, many can't fathom a leader who would want to provoke a great war resulting in possibly millions dying, including the leader himself. We can't fathom a leader being serious in his predictions about the destruction of Israel. Some observers try to rationalize it by theorizing it's all part of a diplomatic game, with a diplomatic solution.
KMaru: Another comparison: Hitler. Many [including us] have sought to draw parallels between Iran and late 1930's Nazi Germany. What do you see as the places where those analogies stand up best? Where are they less useful in helping us to understand the current situation?
Mauro: The ideology of the mullahs of Iran is very similar to the Nazis. From aspirations of world conquest, to putting the political focus on foreign and domestic enemies to build support, to sheer anti-Semitism, it's virtually the same. Even the American political situation is the same. Americans are growing more isolationist due to the Iraq War, and would rather appease than confront.

The difference is that Iran has nukes, and that the West has the historical experience to know when and how to defeat future Hitlers. We know from the Cold War era how to help people overthrow tyrants. The consequences of inaction are much higher than during Hitler's reign, due to WMD, but the tools at our disposal are also much greater.
KMaru: Some would characterize Russia and China as our last best hopes for dealing peacefully with Iran. Others see them as unlikely to ever be broadly helpful but characterize them as parties we can use to pursue narrow political objectives (even if we have to hold our noses and make unpleasant compromises in order to do so). Still others wouldn't trust them as far as they can spit - especially after Russia's back-door financial interests in preserving Saddam's regime came to light. That school of thought might even characterize Russia and China as sharing Iran's interest in seeing us taken down a peg if not destroyed. How do you see Russia's and China's interests vis a vis Iran? How/where can they be useful in de-escalating or containing Iran's nuclear and expansionist ambitions (if at all)? Where should we steer clear of them altogether? How do you assess the potential for a U.S. strike on Iran escalating into a broader war with Russia or China?
Mauro: Russia and China are not our allies. They have too much at stake in Iran. People often characterize it down to money. Sure, Russia and China are worried about their investments in Iran. However, there's also a geopolitical game going on. Russia and China are seeing their rogue state allies become isolated, or even removed (like Saddam). The main pillars of their power outside of their countries are under attack. I do not see Russia and China ever backing action against Iran. It'd be similar to America backing action against Saudi Arabia, for example, who, while the nation does terrible things, is an important partner for our geopolitical strategy. However, the difference is that the US will hopefully do as much as we can to limit the evils of the Saudis, without threatening our own national security.

The collapse of the mullahs doesn't threaten China or Russia, except in the minds of the many figures in their governments who are paranoid about the growth of democracy and American power. Their assistance to rogue states is based sheerly on power and ambition, not national security.

If the US goes to war with Iran, I don't expect an overt war with Russia or China. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see "corrupt individuals" from either nation help Iran buy advanced weapons, shred documents that incriminate Russia and China, and perhaps even the presence of "former communist" military and intelligence advisors in Iran. In my book and in other interviews I've done, it is clear Russia was helping Saddam covertly, even as Operation Iraqi Freedom progressed. I see no reason not to expect them to try this in Iran.
KMaru: A lot of attention has been paid to Iran's mixed success in developing long-range ballistic missiles, yet very little has been paid to highly successful efforts, sponsored by an Iranian government ministry to recruit suicide bombers (e.g., 55,000 just this spring in the wake of the Danish cartoon flap) or to the threat of container ships, 'fake' commercial airliners, speedboats and the like. If we assume that at some point Iran will have operational nuclear weapons, how do you think they will deliver them? What do you see as some of the targeting scenarios they might pursue? (E.g. Israel first, then several U.S. cities over many months; one massive, global, multi-point strike; a few big public venues; European capitals because they're easier to get to, a 'warning shot' test by Iran in the Iranian desert, etc.)
Mauro: Iran's training in terms of nuclear weapons is currently focused on EMP detonation. A missile is shot into the air with a nuke and creates an electromagnetic pulse which, if done correctly, can knock out all the electricity over most of the North American continent. Power grids and computers knocked down. Economy destroyed. Command and control with military assets overseas end. Most of our technological advantages become obsolete. It's really a nightmare scenario and is much more effective than detonating a single nuclear weapon inside a city.
[This has been a hotly debated topic on various blogs and at the IIS. For one thing, it's more difficult to achieve the desired effect than some might imagine. A 1.4 megaton test blast 400 kilometers up over the South Pacific in July, 1962 impacted a wide area, but turned off only some of the lights in Hawaii, 1,300 kilometers away. It seems unlikely that the Iranians would achieve that much blast yield or altitude on their first go. The fact that it can be launched from a ship offshore however makes it a very serious threat. Whether it is stylistically consistent with Islamofascist terror patterns to date is another open question - a point that may be moot as the conflict escalates. More on EMP here; much more here. -KMaru]

KMaru: As you know, the range of 'intelligence' estimates on Iran's nuclear weapons production capability ranges from "they have several operational warheads already" to "they won't have anything useful for 5-10 years at least". There does not seem to be even a plurality of opinion around any particular timeframe. What do we really know about Iran's state of nuclear warhead production capability? When might they have one ready?
Mauro: US intelligence on Iran is extremely poor. Some experts feel they have the bomb-grade material already. Most feel that all the necessary materials and components for a nuke should be assembled within 1-3 years. However, keep in mind that in recent history, the CIA has only overestimated an adversary's WMD, specifically nuclear, capabilities once--in Iraq (and the case is still open on that given the evidence that WMD went to Syria with Russian assistance).

Estimates saying up to a decade or more are based on Iran's overt declarations, but mostly everyone knows there are hidden sites and there is hidden enrichment going on. I think the intelligence community is also being overly careful due to the intelligence failures in Iraq. Now, instead of looking at things with the worst possible outcome and preparing for it, the enemy's activities are being given the benefit of the doubt. Things are more likely to be overlooked, and warnings about an enemy's advancement will require an even greater standard of proof--which is impossible to do when your intelligence operations are not being effective.
KMaru: Other than late-night orders for Dominoes Pizza from outlets near the Pentagon, what early warning signs would you look for in advance of a U.S. and/or Israeli strike on Iran? What form should such a strike take? What would be its objectives? Timeframe? Follow-through actions?
Mauro: There are so many variables involved in predicting such a strike, I prefer not to guess. Some sources are saying late 2006/early 2007 is the "deadline" the US is pushing. Some say the Israelis are only willing to wait less than a year, perhaps even less than six months. Others say that the U.S. feels we have a 3-year time period to work with before using military force. I believe there's a big debate going on and there's no firm answer.

I do not believe Israel should participate in an air strike. The first step to prepare for a war is to isolate Iran via diplomacy and sanctions, and to support the democratic revolution. Revolution may be the quickest and safest way to topple the regime. However, we should never rule out force. If force is used, we need to topple the regime as quickly as possible because they will be expecting us, and will be prepared to use the first explosion as a trigger to unleash every weapon they've bought, and every terrorist at their disposal. It will be the confrontation with the infidels that Ahmadinejad has prepared for, and eagerly waited for. Regarding the specifics of a war, General Tom McInerney [USAF retired, 1994] has written on this and is an expert. I suggest looking to his writings for a very respected opinion on how a war would be carried out.
[E.g., see this article by McInerney in the Weekly Standard last month. We attended and reported on McInerney's talk at the IIS. While he is most definitely an expert on how to conduct an air campaign, he seemed woefully underprepared - at the time anyway - to address serious "what next" questions, contingencies or interdependencies with other branches of the military or political groups on the ground. As the saying goes: the military is great for breaking things and killing people (something that may be required in this case). They are not as good at "everything else".]

UPDATE: On a related note, the NYT reported yesterday that the U.S. is considering opening direct talks with Iran - all except for Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice, that is - raising the question of what the NYT means when it says "administration". European "allies" (oxymoron, much?) and murky, unnamed State Department sources (even further left than the CIA) are once again using the Fourth Estate to signal to the Iranians exactly what they've suspected all along: that over the last 40 years or so, we've grown far too eager to roll over and have our collective belly scratched rather than face harsh reality and follow through on what we've said all along - no nukes in the hands of the mullahs.

26 May, 2006

American Idol vs. Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement

Yesterday's long piece ("Watering Down Ahmadinejad...") pulled together several threads on Iranian preparations for war. In doing so, we may have given insufficient emphasis to one of them. This post seeks to correct that. Our focus today is the so-called "Headquarters to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement" which, if Monty Python were running it might be called "The Ministry of Blowing Yourself to Smithereens and Taking as Many People With You as Possible". And it might as well be that fantastical for all the general public is likely to know about it.

A search of the NY Times since 1981 for any mention of the group turns up... zilch (including alternate phrasings). Same with the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times. The Times of London does a little better but chooses to feature sources dismissing the agency and its function as "symbolic". Tell that to the victims of suicide attacks in Israel and elsewhere. While you're at it, click on the Religion of Peace ticker at left (or here). It's showing that the number of Islamic terror attacks (not dead bodies, but attacks - i.e., a lower number) have passed the 5,000 threshold as of this week.

By all accounts, the group was set up by the Iranian government in 2004. An English translation and image of the original application in Farsi are here. It's not terribly complicated: name, birth date, contact information (no e-mail; only phone and street address), preferred target, statement of intent and signature.

No need to know where you went to school. No essay questions about why you want to 'work' for jihad. No criminal background checks. No drug testing. No long legal waiver or privacy disclosure. As of this March, one can even apply on-line. The actual website gives a '403 Forbidden' error. Have we gotten smart and shut off access from U.S. web servers? We sure hope so. Where's the ACLU on this brazen repression of free speech when you need 'em!?)

Some perspective on the numbers: As of this week, a spokesman for the agency, one Mohammad-Ali Samadi reports that 55,000 "volunteers for martyrdom-seeking operations" have signed up. As of late March, Jihad Watch links to an article reporting 53,900. For comparison, it's been reported that 7,000 people auditioned for American Idol this year in San Francisco alone. Until recently, auditions used to be held in only 6 or 7 cities.

Do the math. It's pretty close. Fifty thousand people, plus or minus.

Imagine all of the first-round American Idol wannabes standing in line for a thirty-second shot at fame. Then imagine the same number standing in line in Iran for an entirely different "shot" at fame that will last as long as the blast impulse of whatever explosives the Iranian ministry happens to be featuring this month.

As with American Idol, 90% of the Iranian applicants for 'martyrdom operations' can be unsuitable crazies and losers and the system will still yield a few hundred truly determined, truly 'talented' finalists. (Cue tape of Iranian version of Simon Cowell berating the suicide contestants in Farsi or Arabic...)

We'll leave you with that thought.

Have a good Memorial Day Weekend, everyone. Remember to take a few minutes some time before Tuesday to silently thank those brave Americans who really didn't want to die or take anyone with them while defending the freedom of millions of Europeans, Bosnians, Haitians, Somalis, Vietnamese, Koreans, Iraqis, and other peoples regardless of religion or skin color.

We've said it before but we'll say it again: the U.S. remains the only nation on earth that has consistently sought to liberate rather than dominate. Remember the gift that those veterans gave to the world. Millions in other countries do. It is a gift freely given in love - not in some sad, sick effort to kill as many 'infidels' as possible while committing the ultimate nihilism.

UPDATE: Fortunately there are others in Iran who think this is simply nuts. Keep them in your prayers that they can turn a few skirmishes into regime change before the stakes get much much higher.

25 May, 2006

Watering Down Ahmadinejad: Historic "Slap"... or "Zap"?

Yesterday Iranian President Ahmadinejad was widely reported as having said that the West would "receive an historic slap" if we so much as waved an unloaded BB gun in the direction of Iran. (In the American media it was "a historic slap". We prefer the British: "an historic".)

According to Google News, 56 stories contained that phrase, while a total of 1074 were 'related' to it. By contrast, the rest of Ahmadinejad's remarks - and, we would argue, the most relevant part that sets "historic slap" in its proper context - appeared in only seven, with a total of 619 'related' to it. What is the context of those remarks?

"Today, Iran has mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from start to finish, thanks to young Iranian scientists. The enemies are looking to plot and want to create differences among Iranians to stop us getting our rights. But if they do the slightest damage to the Iranian people, if they commit the slightest aggression, they will receive an historic slap." [emphasis added]
A little different, no? Mastery of "the entire nuclear fuel cycle" and "historic slap" are clearly linked ideas... the fuel cycle that's going to be used entirely for generating electricity...

But let's not be too quick to judge. With Ahmadinejad's straight-faced assurance that Iran's nuclear capability is only for peaceful purposes, we can all relax. (Never mind that Iran could have done the nuclear-generated electricity thing sans all the sturm and drang had it simply abided by the obligations it signed onto under the NPT and remained open to IAEA inspections. Never mind that an investment in petroleum refining capacity could have generated far more energy at far less cost than a nuclear program.)

Never mind all that. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt - again.

Perhaps "slap" is really a typo. What Ahmadinejad probably really meant to say was "zap". Of course. That's it. How could we have been so bellicose and arrogant in our interpretation of the nuance of their unique language, culture and customs? When the nuclear power grid goes on-line and Tehran's Sharia-compatible toasters and state-censored televisions get all the domestically generated, CO2-free, Kyoto-compliant juice they need, it will be a metaphorical 'zap' to the ego of insensitive, planet-stomping, war-mongering theocrats like Bush.

Back to reality for a second. Let's go deeper. Another version of the remarks, over at Iran Focus raises even more pointed questions that most of the MSM have chosen to ignore:
"Today we can proudly announce that Iran has at its disposal the nuclear cycle from zero to 100... Any thought of aggression against the rights of the Iranian nation will be met with a lasting and historic slap from the people of Iran. The enemies of Iran know that they are not capable of harming the Iranian nation in the slightest bit from the outside. The enemies failed to prevent the Iranian nation from obtaining [nuclear capabilities] through political pressure, plots, and use of international organisations and today are plotting and trying to create [ethnic] divisions and despair to prevent the realisation of all of the Iranian nation’s rights." [emphasis added]
What's interesting about this longer excerpt is the introduction of a third concept: the West (aka, 'the enemies') have failed - past tense. This is important in that it implies either facts on the ground (nukes already built and maybe already loaded onto missiles on container ships en route to Western capitals) or perceived empowerment - we'd guess both. Unfortunately we can't find a transcript of the full remarks. It would appear however, that the sequencing of the key sound bytes is consistent across many media outlets, as is the gist of the translations.

The idea that Iran believes the West to have already failed in stopping their nuclear ambitions is reinforced by the recent actions (or rather, non-actions) of pretty much everyone in the international community, including the U.S. Although Iran has not rolled its armies across any borders recently (a technical, though hardly meaningful, point of departure from literal Hitlerian analogies in light of Iran's outsized influence in Syria and elsewhere), the state of mind that Ahmadinejad appears to be in is the same that possesses any leader when his aggressive actions have gone unopposed. If they didn't stop us from doing 'x', he thinks (and quite logically) then why would they stop us from doing 'y'? And if that's true, then why should we believe them when they say that 'z' is really truly their bottom line and it "will not stand"?

In short, they are on a roll and they know it.

It is the state of mind that many on the left assume the U.S. president to be in and which they seek to check with their anti-Bush rhetoric. That's an unfair comparison. The U.S. remains the only nation on the planet that routinely intervenes in world conflicts or acts as global cop... and then leaves. Ironically we get criticized for doing that in the same breath that we're accused of imperialist ambitions. The two notions are irreconcilable, of course - something that hasn't stopped the antiwar movement from ascribing motives that don't make sense on their face. Back to Iran...

Imagine further that instead of having to cut deals for college money, career training and plumb assignments in order to meet military recruiting quotas, the only guarantee you had to offer to those interested in serving their country was certain death. Tell your mom she can rest easy. She won't have to worry about paying for college! As Iran Focus reports:
Mohammad-Ali Samadi, spokesman for the Headquarters to Commemorate the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, a government-orchestrated campaign to recruit suicide bombers, told the state-run news agency Mehr on Tuesday that the group planned to officially announce the existence of the new [suicide bombers'] garrison in a ceremony in Tehran’s largest cemetery on Thursday afternoon... more that 55,000 “volunteers for martyrdom-seeking operations” had been registered so far... In February, the group launched a new recruitment drive for suicide bombers in Tehran to fight against “Global Blasphemy”. [emphasis added]
Not surprisingly, we haven't heard about this in the MSM. (Three, count 'em three articles are referenced on Google News this morning.) Too dangerous. The public might overreact. It might spawn anti-Islamic incidents (whatever that means - ignoring the fact that there are anti-Christian incidents all over the Islamic world almost daily). It might add momentum to Bush's casus belli. We don't want to be on that side. Let's not report it. (Interestingly, this article by the BBC on Ahmadinejad's remarks contained the "mastered the entire nuclear fuel cycle" phrase as of last night but does not contain it this morning. Same article. Interesting. Are we being educated or led by the nose?)

There's something else even more interesting about the suicide bomber recruitment article though, and we didn't notice it until we'd pondered it a few times: February. What happened in February? "Global Blasphemy" - what does that mean? Why would the state of Iran launch a suicide bomber recruitment campaign in February, confident that it would be wildly successful? The Danish cartoons. Note the dateline: February 1st. The utterly un-spontaneous Danish cartoons that actually ran last year. Many are under the mistaken impression that peace-loving Danish Muslims opened their newspapers, saw the original cartoons, choked on their pastry and ran out into the streets in their bathrobes shaking their fists and shouting slogans. They did not. As Bernard Lewis noted in his remarks at the Pew Forum last month:
The news story, as it broke, was that a Danish newspaper had published a series of cartoons offensive to the Prophet, and that this had led to spontaneous outbursts of indignation all over the Muslim world. Now, there are several problems in this. One of them was that the spontaneous outbursts of indignation didn't occur until slightly more than four months after the publication of the cartoons. It's a little difficult to follow, I think you'll agree. The second problem was that when the spontaneous outbreaks of indignation did occur all over the Muslim world, in the remotest parts of northern Nigeria, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and elsewhere they had an ample supply of Danish flags of suitable size and texture for trampling or burning, as required. Obviously, this was something carefully prepared over a period of time. [emphasis added]
Carefully prepared by Iran (a point that others have made elsewhere). What's the larger point? Just this: Iran is preparing - intelligently and relentlessly - for all-out war with the West utilizing nuclear weapons and clandestine suicide bombers. Simple as that.

That's not exactly a surprise to those who've been following this, but also not easy to learn by reading the New York Times. What caused them to get to this place is not even worth pondering any more. Their emboldened state of mind, investment in weapons delivery vehicles (the 55,000 being far more important in our view, than the semi-functional long-range missiles) and the nuclear warheads to go with them is not something that can be de-escalated by showering Iran with economic incentives or showcasing our deep empathy with Palestinian grievances, Persian culture or CIA misdeeds vis a vis the Shah in the 1970's.

We recently watched PBS' American Experience show entitled "The Man Behind Hitler", with Kenneth Branaugh narrating the recently released diary of Joseph Goebbels. Chilling stuff. Full of lessons for today. Unfortunately some are drawing the wrong lessons (comparing Joseph Goebbels to Karl Rove), but that's another story we won't waste pixels in fisking.

What is clear from the show is that as early as 1921, Goebbels (age 24) was ranting privately (and soon publicly) about ridding Germany of "dirty Jews" of Hitler being "a god", about a German reich that would one day conquer Europe, and a reichstag that needed to be dissolved because it did not represent the will of the people (a little different from Republicans who are trying to instantiate discipline in voter registration procedures and get more issues voted straight up in Congress and out of the hands of fillibusterers, elite judges and sclerotic committees... but we digress - again.) One needn't even be fully aware of what we know came next in Germany in order to think: this guy is whacked; this guy has a major chip on his shoulder; this guy is determined; this guy means what he says; this guy cannot be negotiated with.

By 1939 of course, all of this became obvious to the world. Had we taken Hitler and Goebbels at their word (rather than attempting to explain their words away in order to comfort ourselves, or attempting to snow them with appeasement), the world would have been much better off.

One can see Joseph Goebbels in Karl Rove or say, the Ayatollah Khomeni - but not both. One can see Adolf Hitler in Bush or Ahmadinejad - but not both. We've made our choice. We urge you to make yours. Those watching PBS specials 67 years from now will sit in judgment.

UPDATE: More on the suicide brigades here in Friday's post.

24 May, 2006

Marxists, 9-11 and Sovereignty - Maintaining the City on a Hill

Wretchard has a must-read post over at Belmont Club on how the War Against Islamofascism (can we start calling it that, please?) is pushing to light several long-simmering home front battles left over from the Cold War:

Until [9-11] it was possible to treat many ideologies respectable since the 1960s as harmless forms of iconoclasm, posing "provocative" but fundamentally hypothetical views. But when attacks on the US homeland made it categorically necessary to answer the question: 'are you willing to fight our assailants', many sincere ideologues paused, shook their heads and said: 'No. In fact I am morally obligated to help our assailants'. When Noam Chomsky went out of his way to support Hezbollah it wasn't inexplicable, it was logical. His long articulated hypotheticals have simply become actuals... [emphasis added]

From the Marxist perspective at least, the Cold War ended not in defeat, but in a negotiated armistice; with surrender on the economic front offset by a capitulation to it by the West on cultural matters. People might have to work in private companies, it's true, but all the accompanying baggage of traditional culture like religion, sexual mores, notions of objectivity, etc were forfeit; and that was more than compensation. That was the tacit 'deal' and the EU, UN and cultural institutions were going to carry it out. By slow degrees the Western world was going to be politically corrected, multiculturalized and transnationalized.
Such an ideal is not very far, he notes, from that which John Lennon put forward in the innocuously titled, 'Imagine'. The song is a juicy if belated target into which others have also shot flaming arrows - a fantastical world in which borders and bullies are banned and we're not supposed to ask too many hard questions about how or why that happens.

'Imagine' is also a world without ideals - without a shining city on a hill to show how things can be. It is a world where rather than turning on other lights on other hills, many would seek to terrascape the hill (no gated communities), dim the light (so as not to offend anyone who wants to look at stars) and push everyone to live in equal muddy squalor on the plain.

America (and Americans) can get arrogant, yes. So can Belgians, Cambodians and Tanzanians. That's human nature. But at its best, American Exceptionalism simply says: look, we tried this thing and it seems to work for us and yeah it has it's flaws but if it's so terrible why does everyone keep wanting to get in so badly and why do those who hate and resist the tenets of our system tend to be tyrants - petty (think European elitists), powerful (think Stalin) and otherwise (think Castro, Chavez, Arafat, etc.)?

We wax lyrical, but with purpose.

We've been thinking lately about sovereignty - about how the War Against Islamofascism is connected to the global warming kerfuffle, the Clintons, and illegal infiltration - among other things. (As Mark Steyn notes, 'illegal immigration' is an oxymoron - meaningless without respect for the laws, language and traditions of the nation into which one seeks to immigrate. When Americans go abroad, host countries expect nothing less and call us boorish and worse when we do not do exactly what we're asking Hispanic 'visitors' to do.)

This is an incomplete thought, but a common thread seems to be conflict between those who believe that all countries are created equal (or if not, should be treated as such anyway) and those who believe that all people are - and that that trumps everything. The former view makes the UN a great idea, and world government a fairly small step from there - bound to be benevolent because with national laws and borders effectively eradicated there wouldn't be any conflict (a nonsensically fantastical leap based on nothing). In that world view, individual human beings are secondary to the great sweep of nations and their deals. In such a world it is perfectly logical to throw treats to a misbehaving Iran without a thought as to what that might say to the people of Iran.

Which brings us back to the simmering Marxism that Wretchard has identified. One commenter put it beautifully with this personal story:
My family hails from Europe, and I am an artist who has worked in Entertainment and Media most of my life. Consequently, I have always had friends and family who were anti-American. To me this seemed natural and appropriate. I agreed that America needed chastisement for its myriad sins. I thought this would help bring about a better America on the ashes of the old racist, war-mongering America.

But, on 9/11, I realized that these people didn't want to philosophically destroy America, in order to bring about a better America. No, instead, they REALLY wanted to destroy America. That was a real shock to me.

My wife is a first-generation immigrant... Her family grew up Christian on the island of Mindanao [Muslim-dominated part of the Philippines]

On 9/11, my wife said the following words to me,

"If they destroy America, people in the Phillipines [sic], and other third-world nations, will have nothing to hope for."

That broke my heart.

We need to make sure America sticks around. Wasn't it Lincoln who said, America is the last, best hope of mankind.
He did. And so, in effect, did Ronald Reagan. That does not mean that we must let all mankind in. Some misunderstand that conclusion. We do not block the gates out of greed or even fear (at our best we don't, anyway). We block the gates so as not to see the fragile model we hold up for the world destroyed by those who don't see the value in it. Which brings us back to Mr. Chomsky.

We'd happily trade him for a few hundred hard-working Mexicans who want to learn English, build the hill a little higher and proudly display our light for all to see. On second thought, he's probably not worth that much. Chavez or Castro might go for it though...

23 May, 2006

Rewarding Bad Behavior - More Wishful Thinking on Iran

Michael Ledeen's scintillatingly logical (and funny) mock letter to Ahmadinejad yesterday - written, he says, by a Reagan administration official - is set off by a fuzzy-headed piece in this morning's Boston Globe. It betrays itself in the frighteningly ignorant headline: "US could benefit from a give-and-take strategy with Iran". Where to start...

Although it is customary in Washington's corridors of power to caustically dismiss the reformers, they do play a role in the nuclear deliberations.
In what sense is the alleged dismissal 'caustic'? (We'll speculate that one of the authors had a run-in with Donald Rumsfeld once and has forevermore concluded that the man is worthless because he is truthful, blunt, and doesn't vacillate on decisions once made.)

Is it not possible instead that these alleged reformers are being dismissed precisely because it has been empirically demonstrated that they in fact have no power to influence the nuclear program - at least none that they have chosen or been able to wield? In such a climate, 'dismissal' is only 'caustic' in the sense that it is logical. As in, "he caustically corrected the child who insisted he could fly by jumping from a 10th story window"... because the child was not only wrong but dangerously so.

The very term 'reformer' also begs the question: what is it that these individuals have done that leads us to believe they're able or willing to 'reform' anything? Without power, the idea of 'reform' is speculative potential. The idea of a car... without an engine or gas to run it. By that definition everyone reading this is an Iranian reformer. It's just that we don't live in Iran... or speak the language... or hold any office... but we'd be on that side if we were! It is a designation devoid of meaning. Good-feel cocktail talk.

What is a 'reformer'? We have at least one recent example: Maurice the token Jewish Iranian legislator whose mind we cannot know but whose actions (under duress) we can. When pressed, he publicly defended measures his government is taking that - without a whole lot of imagination or historical perspective it's easy to see leading to his watching a few million of his fellow faithful killed en masse. That kind of 'reform' potential is buried so deep as to be meaningless. With all due respect to Maurice and the untenable position he finds himself in (and if he doesn't find it untenable, we question his religious loyalty... and his sanity), there's not a whole lot of influence he's going to wield in a Muslim nation that's declared it will wipe Israel off the map at the earliest opportunity and in the most spectacular fashion possible.

Furthermore, having given these mysterious moderates 27 years to show themselves and flex their muscles, is it not simply rational to dismiss them - or to be more precise, to dismiss their ability to do anything substantive right now? It is akin to Europeans who would wish to bring American Democrats back to power. Good luck. Easy to say. Hard to do at a distance. Likely to backfire - especially if one throws carrots to their opposition.

If it were possible for the Iranian 'refomers' to do something, now would be the time. Which gets to the question the authors set out to address: what can we do about that? That's a decent question, but let's start with what history tells us we shouldn't do.

In 1930's Germany, there were 'reformers' or 'moderates' or non-Nazi factions or whatever one wishes to call them. Historians have speculated that had a hard line been drawn earlier, Hitler's populist groundswell would have been slowed and those critics given room to oppose him. In other words, precisely the opposite of what happened. Precisely the opposite of what the Globe article's authors propose on Iran. This is not an unprecedented problem in world history. Why then, is the same misguided Chamberlainian formula still up for debate?

And if that isn't enough, we have the example of North Korea - a nation (or rather, a man) grown bolder in action with each appeasement, but bolder in words with each firm line in the sand (something we've seen precious little of lately). That can be confusing to minds trained to see all sides of an issue even when one is patently wrong. As is true in basketball so it is in foreign policy: watch the body, not the head.

The Globe's editors and writers have been head-faked by Ahmadinejad (not that that's a surprise). Anything to get him to stop talking tough! It scares us!

No. Sorry. What scares us is not his rhetoric but the resolve we cannot see: those hundreds of centrifuges whirling away 24/7, several hundred feet underground, all in the interest of... cheap electricity.

Yeah, right.

Let's be plain: no amount of coaxing and pandering and appeasing on our part is going to strengthen the 'reformers'. It will make their position substantially worse. We know this from talking to the anti-Ba'athists in Iraq, from former Soviet dissidents, from Chinese and Vietnamese and Camobian refugees who share our values. Watching the most powerful nation on earth suck up to their oppressors does them no good. As 444 days of American captivity showed in 1979/80, it was only when the threat of force became credible (with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan) that the Iranian radicals finally backed down.

The Globe draws a different conclusion:
The critical question then becomes how can Washington exploit such fissures [in Iranian politics] and keep Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold and actually assembling a weapon. It is important to stress that a relentless policy of pressure is only strengthening the hard-liners who insist that the only manner the encroaching American threat can be disarmed is through the possession of the strategic weapon.
By that logic, we have been strengthening the hard-liners since January, 1981. Which gives us a whole lot more credit as a nation - across multiple administrations of both parties - than we deserve. What they don't put a name to is the opposite of "relentless policy of pressure": appeasement, backing down, saying we didn't really mean what we said and that we are fearful of the implications if we did. Which not only would be stupid in light of history, but uncharacteristic of this president - something for which we deeply admire him.

"Iran must not have nuclear weapon" means... Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. Whatever that takes. (Why that is so is another post - the gist of which is this: the values of the people wielding the weapon matter. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.)

Gambling on the crackpot theory that appeasing Ahmadinejad will somehow - this time, for the first time ever - throw the game to a hazy and unproven group of 'reformers' is simply delusional. In light of history. In light of common sense.

It may be possible to empower them. Demonstrating our weakness - when Ahmadinejad's entire theory of the conflict rests on an assumption that we are weak - is not the way to do it. That is not going to weaken him. It will prove him right and empower him even more.

We will credit the Globe with some modicum of reality:
Nor are the existing attempts to mobilize the Security Council likely to work as divisions among the great powers is only buttressing Iranian resolve and demystifying the once-impressive threat of UN sanctions.
But they don't dally long in the light of truth:
In the end, as distasteful as it maybe, Washington has no option but to engage in a direct give and take with the Iranian regime. A generous American offer of economic concessions and security dialogue may just tip the scales in favor of pragmatists inclined to arrest Iran's drive toward nuclear arms. Should this approach fail, the United States can return to its allies and coalitions of the willing with a credible claim that it has exhausted all diplomatic options and it is time for a viable, multilateral policy of pressure.
"No option?" "generous... offer... dialogue?" Uh, hello? We have the option we are taking right now: letting the regime (and everyone else inside Iran) know that we will not let them develop nuclear weapons and will not be showering them with candy in the meantime, wagging our tails and hoping they like us after all of the contempt they've heaped on us since the Islamic Revolution began.

We have the option of readying special forces and tactical nukes and a fleet of long-range bombers and letting these sponsors of terror and declared enemies of Israel and the rest of Western Civilization know in no uncertain terms that they will not be allowed under any circumstances to wield a power that they will surely put in the hands of their terrorist minions. That is not a threat we take lightly. It will unleash chaos - as we have said before. The chaos that would be unleashed otherwise is worse.

This is not and never has been about economic growth or security. Why? Because Ahmadinejad has said otherwise and why should we second-guess him? It is about crushing the West and putting in its place an expansive and deeply repressive Islamic empire. We shudder to think that some of those writing such articles for the Globe would have been presidential foreign policy advisors had the 2004 election turned out differently...

22 May, 2006

Hoisted on His Own Petard - An Imagined Bush Response to Ahmadinejad's Letter

Michael Ledeen has an inspired contributor over at NRO:

Thank you for your invitation to accept Islam. As you know, I am a Christian. Throughout your letter you accuse me of being a bad Christian, which leaves me puzzled as to why you think I might make a good Muslim. However, before you proselytize outside your own country, you might want to address the condition of the Islamic faith in Iran.

I am genuinely sorry to hear that so many Iranians, especially the young, have lost their faith because of their profound disillusionment with theocratic clerical rule. Apparently, there is no way for them to distinguish between their religion and your rule. That is understandable since you claim there is none, that your authority comes directly from God and you are ruling in his name. It is no wonder you disdain “liberalism and Western style democracy.” Under it, you would be answerable not only to God, but to the Iranian people, to whom God gave certain “unalienable Rights” that you and the mullahs have chosen to ignore. How ironic that, in the name of God, you deny your people’s God-given rights.
It gets even better.

Madonna and Bold Expression

Another good one from Roger Simon today:

...if she had any real guts, Madonna would dance around on stage as Mohammed in drag.
As a Church of England representative put it: "Why would someone with so much talent seem to feel the need to promote herself by offending so many people?" (For the record, he did not call for burning down the Warner Music studios or killing its executives.)

UPDATE: This concert review is absolutely priceless.
Madonna seemed determined to Leave People With A Message. Thus, words of cod wisdom such as: "There's light even in the darkest places" flashed up on screen - which was nice enough, even if it sat oddly with her previously stated message to "turn the world into one big dance floor".

But Didactic Madonna wasn't finished-Up she went, suspended on a large crucifix, as images of child poverty flickered on the screens. The tour, incidentally, is estimated to gross $200million...

She exhorted us to sing along. But few did. A visibly irked Madonna screamed: "Come on you lazy mother******s! Sing!"

The show ended - rather abruptly - with no encore and with the lights immediately going on, leaving us all looking at one another in a slightly embarrassed fashion, as though we'd just been caught doing something we shouldn't have been.

Maurice - The Token Jew in the Iranian Legislature

During the Iranian dress code kerfuffle late last week, an odd fact emerged in the form of a seemingly oxymoronic person - Maurice Motammed, a Jewish representative in the Iranian legislature. He was widely quoted, explicitly bursting the myth that the new law required religious minorities to identify themselves - yet. (For the record, we're still deeply concerned, but the original story turns out to have been at best misleading.)

Neoneocon has done her homework on that lonely man.

...the 1907 law... ordered that there be representatives of each religious minority: one for each major religion. In fact, the way it worked was that Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians could participate by voting in the election of their respective single representatives, but not in the selection of any other members of the legislature. It was a strictly segregated vote for a very limited representation (Jews were to vote only for the single Jew, Christians for the single Christian, and Zoroastrians for the single Zoroastrian), but it was a slight advance over what had gone before... At present, the old 1907 rule is in force, allowing one representative each from the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian populations of Iran.
H/T: Roger Simon, who writes of attempts to make the story a partisan tar baby:
Let's leave aside for the moment that Sen. Chuck Schumer was the first politician to howl in protest and that the liberal-conservative dichotomy is so tedious it's in danger of replacing Ambien as the world's most popular sleeping pill... Ahmadinejad has already declared his support for wiping Israel off the map. Dress codes are small change by comparison.
Indeed. Seen in that (proper) perspective, the question turns to whether one would prefer a choice of clothing... in which to be incinerated in a giant atomic fireball.

Reflecting on All Things Clinton

Not that it really matters, but... we were just thinking...

Once Bill (and old buddy Al) are done working the base into a feeding frenzy over global warming, what is Hillary going to do about it on the '08 stump? The answer will either put her in a bind vis a vis her recently acquired hawk credentials, have her working to implement government-driven solutions that will dwarf any of the socialist health care schemes she attempted 10 years ago, or showcase her forked-tongue... which won't be so hard given the MSM's near-instant amnesia for anything that makes Democrats look bad.

Case in point #1: Drudge is reporting this morning that "Gore & entourage took 5 cars to travel the 500 yards from hotel to screening of global warming pic in Cannes..." Couldn't he perhaps do with the little extra exercise?

Case in point #2: Most of the news outlets covering the Clinton remarks (that global warming is a "more profound threat" than terrorism) chose the headline "We Must Get Off Our Butts"... which sounds pro-active and earnest and forward-looking, and well... good. (Why he did not tell Al to get off his butt is an amusing side-thought.) By contrast, the explicit comparison to terrorism makes him look, well... deranged. Grasping. Out of touch. Which would not be in keeping with a guy who feels our pain... which of course he never really did. The latest reminds us of this oldie-but-goody where he called the Iranian leadership 'progressive'.

Our high-schooler is working on a paper on Clinton's second term. We know her history teacher to be a flaming commie zealot of the first-order. The question she needs to answer: were Clinton's second-term policies effective or ineffective? She has an open, critical mind but... we know what will earn her a good grade and it's certainly not using that open, critical mind. Analyzing missed opportunities to nail OBL, researching Jamie Gorelick's infamous FBI 'wall', or challenging the framework within which one ought to evaluate "effectiveness" are not going to help get her into college. Such is the state of the 'liberal' (narrow meaning) academy today.

In other news, a friend and loyal reader reports this recently-overheard conversation in the supermarket checkout line between two teens (thankfully not of voting age... yet):

Bagger: Yeah, Clinton was rated one of the best Presidents ever.
Cashier: It's a shame he died in that plane crash.
Bagger: Yeah, that's too bad.
Cashier: Otherwise he could run again.
Bagger: I think his wife is still alive though.
Oh, the irony. Perhaps they know something we don't...