April 30, 2004

Hey Joe, where yah gun with that goin' in a yo' han'?

Smokin' Joe Wilson is, incredibly, changing his tune about Iraq's quest for WMD goodies from Niger. (Hat tip: Command Post) Say.... what? Say, this:

It was Saddam Hussein’s information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, often referred to in the Western press as “Baghdad Bob,” who approached an official of the African nation of Niger in 1999 to discuss trade — an overture the official saw as a possible effort to buy uranium.

That’s according to a new book [by] Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq had been trying to buy enriched “yellowcake” uranium. Wilson wrote that he did not learn the identity of the Iraqi official until this January, when he talked again with his Niger source.

And with Bush now backing out of Iraq like someone smacked his public, perhaps there's some sort of metaphysical reversal going on. Stranger things....

Well, I always knew what the real liberal position was on this war.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:19 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


I've been slaving away at my day job for a good solid 20 hours on a project deadline, and tuned in the internet to find this. I wish I knew what sort of strategy we're involved in, in Iraq. I suppose our troops might be feeling a little like they've been sitting on the head of a pin, what with the entire Middle East and most of the Western populations decrying their, rather minimalist, actions. But is this a command decision, or a political one? Add to this the fact that Bush has turned over the whole "sovereignty thayng" to Brahimi (who shamelessly says that there's never a reason for violence). The Algerian UN Envoy (or whatever the heck he is) seems busy brokering a consitutional implementation that will not work. Is it stupidity, or cupidity?

Are we being sold out? Have Bush & Co. taken that store of moral courage Americans have been seving them, and tossed it? What the deuce is going on? Anyone have an idea?


Well, if Wretchard is a little shakey on what's happening in Fallujah I don't feel so left out. Money quote:

But although the 82nd Airborne had been training the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps around Fallujah for months, the provenance of the Fallujah Protection Army is still unexplained. One of the most difficult operations of war is relieving a unit in contact with the enemy. It first of all requires the existence of the relief force. News accounts which suggest that this-still-to-be formed Fallujah Protection Army (FPA) will take over from the Marines, said to be evacuating "front line positions" within a few days, are only slightly less incredible than a report that Batman, the Hulk and Wolverine have joined the Navy to see the world.
Posted by Demosophist at 01:02 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 28, 2004

More Iraq/Qaeda

Dan Darling, at Regnum Crucis, has an excellent analysis of an article in the NYT detailing the extraordinary intelligence work accomplished by the DIA team set up by Douglas Feith. A key passage:

Ignoring the fact that "murky" [the term used by the CIA in a report on the Iraq-Qaeda "relationship"] is a very different thing from "non-existent" or "emnity" as some have alleged, I suspect that Zarqawi's little trip to Baghdad in the spring of 2002 served as a catalyst to start up revisiting some of Feith's research on Iraq and al-Qaeda.
The main dispute was over whether the reports of contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda meant that Iraq had been sponsoring the group's terrorist operations.

"We believed in contact, offers of safe haven, but no operational activity," the intelligence official said.

By way of background the reader might also want to check out threse two Weekly Standard articles by Steven Hayes:

Case Closed, and
Newsweek's "Case", as well as the following Slate article by Jay Epstein:

Prague Revisited

I think the "The Fourth Estate" is beginning to get the theme that they're increasingly irrelevant unless they start taking their own carefully tended memes a little less seriously. We may actually end up with a halfway decent press, somewhere down the road.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 26, 2004

Has the UN Sold Out Liberal Democracy in Iraq?

I have been extremely skeptical of allowing a non-democratic governmental body, such as the UN, to mediate or control the transition to democracy in Iraq on the thin justification that it "lends legitimacy to the process." In point of fact it does nothing of the sort, except in the extremely narrow sense that the UN representas a broader group of nations than the "coalition." But it doesn't "represent" them in anything more than a purely symbolic sense. But I was willing to go along with this current consensus view only because it seemed that the President had endorsed it. But if Michael Rubin at TNR is correct, and we allow the UN a determinative roll here, we may just have wasted our treasure and lives by entrusting the critical constitutional role to a bunch of weasels, with no more legitimacy than... a bunch of weasels.

And if that's the case, I'm gonna be really disappointed. I'll be angry enough that Bush threw this away, that I'd consider voting against him in the next election. Yeah I realize that Kerry's position is even worse, but there's something to be said for at least advocating frequent changes in the seat of power, just to send the message that foolishness won't be tolerated long term.

Rubin's thesis is that a national party-based system of voting, with proportional representation, will lead to the dominance of Islamists. The alternative is a constituency-based system of elections, that preserves the essental balance of the primary ethnic interest groups in the nation by reference to a geography-based system of representation. The US has such a constituency-based system of congressional representation, as do most federalist systems, where people run for election based on a local reputation. Such a system can be organized as "winner-take-all" (like the US), or proportionately (as was italy until recently). Proportional systems that are constituency-based tend to over-represent minorities, and often result in unstable politics, but that isn't necessarily the case. "Winner-take-all" systems tend to under-represent minorities, but they also tend to be more stable.

A system that is party-based, with no constituency-based limits, would have fewer checks on the aquisition of power, by effecting a disconnect between local political representation and national politics. Either a minority or majority with broad support could dominate anyone that happens to be focussed more on local political representation. Moreover, since legitimacy for a system is generally built from the ground up, a national-slate electoral system would tend to have legitimacy progrems from the outset..., something a new democracy hardly needs.

Think about how a coalition of eastern liberals would represent the interests of "the heartland" and you get the idea. Tip O'Niell's admonishment that "all politics is local" suggests that a system that eschews local constituency-base representation is both apolitical, and ultimately illiberal, since a national winner could only maintain power by installing anti-liberal systems of coercion and control.

The details are important, but I for one would not support expendinng American lives and treasure to establish a system in Iraq that has been brokered solely by the UN. As far as I'm concerned, the UN has zero legitimacy in such matters. And when I say zero, I mean none.

It seems to me that if this is really going to become the center of gravity in the War on Terror, and if we're really serious that we need "multi-lateral" support, then we ought to convene some sort of council composed exclusively of democratic states to broker a liberal constitutional government in Iraq. I'm afraid that I can see very little substancial use or role for the UN. As the UNSCAM "Oil for Food" controversy demonstrates, in is fatally corrupt; and it also has very little stomach for any sort of genuine conflict or challenge. The phrase "tits on a boar" comes to mind.

Posted by Demosophist at 04:27 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Ribbons, Medals and the "Gray Lady"

Captain Ed has a post about the NYT coverage of the Kerry Medal Flap that says something rather profound about the state of American politics. Anyway, one expects a certain amount of exaggeration in politics because, well... it's not science. And I say that even though I'm a "Political Scientist." Let's just say that the scientific aspect of the dispiline is what attempts to measure or account for the "magnitude and direction of the exaggerations," and what they mean.

After reading the accounts in Ed's post it seems to me that there's a good deal of confusion about the distinction between "ribbons" and "medals". In fact, I'm not very clear about the distinction, myself, although I think ribbons tend to be awarded with medals while the reverse may not be true. That is, there are some lesser military awards that are "ribbon only." Clearly Kerry exploited that ambiguity during the incident in 1971 when he, essentially, dramatized a demonstration that deliberately blurred the line between his own "ribbons" and the "medals" of some colleagues, but that sort of dramaturge really seems well within the range of acceptable political behavior. (I'm not condoning it, mind you. I'm just saying it's the sort of thing that characterizes dissent. Whether or not we want to elect someone with this past, as President, is another matter. It may even be the realissue.) And just as clearly, it's an exaggeration to blame the current flap about tossing his ribbons/medals over the fence on a "right wing cabal." But, to be fair, from a perspective as far left as Kerry's anyone to the right of Arlan Specter belongs to a "right wing cabal." It's not a "lie" so much as a distortion, and I don't know which is more frightening: that it's unwitting or deliberate.

More thoughts, later.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2004

Mel Gibson Brings the Light of Irony to Arabia

The reaction to the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion, has been passionate, diverse, and on occasion downright strange in the Ummah. It ranges from wild approval for revealing the Jews as murderers of God's Prophets (in spite of the fact that the Quo'ran holds that Jesus wasn't crucified) to an allegory about the sufferings of Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians, to this rather encouraging bit of self reflection, from the Saudi family mag:

Hani Naqshabandi, editor in chief of the Saudi family magazine Sayyidaty, criticized the notion of the Jews' extraordinary powers: "The real irritation in the film is that it revealed a lie that we, the Arabs, tell ourselves everyday.

This lie is that we are hated in the world because the Jews control Hollywood, the film industry, and the entertainment industry in America. We say that this control has distorted the Arabs' image everywhere, causing us to be hated by everyone. However, 'The Passion of the Christ' has revealed the exact opposite: It revealed that we are hated in the world because we hate each other and we don't know how to conduct our business… The Jews have nothing to do with it at all. They are innocent of the accusation of harming our image in the world… If the Jews had ultimate control over Hollywood and what happens there, as our fathers, grandfathers, writers, and books say, a film against them would not be produced by the hub of the world's film industry…"

"I am not saying that they [the Jews] have no impact or influence. They do indeed, but not as we think or claim, and not as we imagined when we accused the Jews, Hollywood, and the Zionist lobby here and there for our failure to communicate with others. This is not a defense of the Jews or a promotion for the film, but an attempt to reveal that we must stop accusing others for our mistakes… We shouldn't make Hollywood and the Jews the excuse for our backwardness. It goes deeper than that…" (from MEMRI)

This is good, isn't it? Well, sort of?

Posted by Demosophist at 02:38 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 23, 2004

Modified Autarchy and the Race With Time

Armed Liberal is currently fisking a proposal made by Jim Henley to resolve the conflict between the Ummah and the House of War through a mix of isolation, cultural exchange and limited trade. There are actually a few things that are appealing about Henley's argument, which makes it a useful thought exercise. But being the limited person that I am, I need some sort of guidelines to help me think through the problem. And to that end I began to recall a discussion that occurred when I was sitting in the back of one of Jim Buchanan's classes that he co-taught with Viktor Vanberg. The discussion was about the concept of "twoism," as exemplified in Daniel Defoe's classic adventure tale: Robinson Crusoe

As long as Crusoe and Friday had not met Crusoe's entire game was "man vs. nature." The fact that they both existed, but were unaware of one another, meant that, for all practical purposes only one person existed. Once they met, any action that Crusoe took in his man vs. nature game had to, in some way, accommodate the possibility of crossing purposes with Friday, and visa versa. All problems of human social, cultural and economic interaction grow out of this basic twoism that changes the character of the man vs. nature conflict.

The two protagonists might have been able to minimize the accommodation and the possibility of coming to cross purposes by limiting contact, but both sides would have had to agree to such terms, and be willing to keep those terms without any external coercion, relying only on mutual threat and natural boundaries and limits. But the agreement would, of necessity, be unstable because if one or the other party became substantially more successful in the man vs. nature game the less successful party would have increasing incentive to steal the goods of the more successful party, who would then have to defend his property. Either that, or the success of one would involve the monopoly of resources necessary for the other to survive, which would precipitate a confrontation. So, once "twoism" exists some sort of contract is required to avoid conflict.

The two might decide to cooperate (which, in fact, they did) and that would create a somewhat more stable situation, but the terms might still be contentious.

In a sense, nature acts as the motivation for a stable relationship, in the absence of a coercive authority to uphold a contract, because neither wants to be defeated by this third party, their mutual enemy: nature.

If there were a physical boundary making interaction difficult, and creating a kind of geographic isolation, an agreement might be worked out to remain separate, and perhaps even engage in minimal trade. Again, nature plays the critical role in the absence of a coercive authority, by creating a barrier to contact and minimizing the need for extensive enforceable contracts.

Geography once kept the Community of the Faithful and the House of War separate. They carried on exchange and trade, but contact was relatively infrequent so contracts could be minimal. The situation that probably best represents a scenario close to the idea of the "truce" suggested by Henley, concerns how the British dealt with the Al-Qawasim pirates of the lower Persian Gulf, and the arrangement they reached with the successors to the Al-Qawasim, the Banu Yas. Note that the freewheeling truce arranged with the Banu Yas which gave the name "Trucial States" to the region, only came about after the Qasimi forces had been militarily defeated. The history of the Trucial States suggests that there was significant competition within the Islamic World for favorable contracts with the British which provided the leverage needed by the various factions to wrest control from competing tribal factions. The UAE, or the Trucial States, played a key role. But they were, and are, something of a special case. And it was the British that had to provide many of the institutions that organized and managed trade, because the arrangements within Arab society were gauged to tribal interactions. The separation of trade and involvement was never really possible, but I mention the history of the Trucial states because the involvement of the outside powers was probably kept to a minimum.

The Trucial States eventually evolved into the UAE (although Qatr broke away and Oman was never part of the new entity, so the boundaries aren't coterminous), and the UAE is without a doubt the most successful of all Arab societies so far. Per capita income dwarfs all other Arab nations, and it dwarfs all other Middle Eastern nations, save one. There is a great deal of interaction between the UAE and the West, and unlike most other petrochemical-rich states the energy industry accounts for less than half of its annual revenue. But the reason for the success of the UAE lies partly in its long pre-colonial history as a refuge for apostate Islam, its maritime history (which includes both piracy and the pearl trade), and finally its willingness to incorporate the lessons learned from the mutually beneficial arrangements with a colonial power.

I find it hard to believe that the conditions that exist in the UAE can carry over to the rest of the Middle East if we disengage as Henley suggests. It seems a very idiosyncratic society. Even now, citizens of the UAE, the "native Arab" population, are only a minority of those living in the Emirates. It is a little like Singapore, a successful "city state," and therefore by definition an exception. It may ultimately play a critical role in the region.

But look beyond the Emirates and the prospects are pretty bleak. Economic success really demands the footprint of the Western Powers for investment, which is attracted by oil. And it demands democratic institutions to cultivate the innovation and diversification that will not come from autocracies and an oil mono-economy. Most importantly, the primary problem in the twentieth century involves a western import: counter-enlightenment philosophy. The basic assumption that Henley makes, that the culprit lies in some sort of western exploitation that insults and alienates the peoples of the region, itself comes from that same counter-enlightenment. The problem is not really Islam, but the marriage of a status-starved population, an unreformed religion, and an Hegelian-derived perspective on institutions and society. It is a toxic mix. We have already seen something similar in 1930s Germany and the USSR, 1940s China, and in now N. Korea. But in none of those places was the potential quite as explosive as it is in the Arab Middle East, for nowhere do the keys provided by the ideologies of hate fit so perfectly into the locks of political paranoia and the institutions and history that support them.

What would happen if we simply disengaged in the form of aid and support, and waited? Are nature and time on our side, as Henley suggests? We would be able to see the collapse of social institutions and the takeover of the angry generation that now dominates political discourse. The autocracies that have been standing in their way would be gone, quickly. And behind that angry generation stands another whose prospects are even grimmer. The percent of GDP from trade has been falling in most of these countries for a couple of decades, and the distribution of the one product that the West wants and needs is uneven. A struggle between Islamist warlords with spheres of influence and broad followings would ensue.

Ultimately there'd be a winner who controlled the entire region, and the odds are that it would be either Iran or Saudi Arabia. Their power would come from the sales of the product that Henley says we ought to buy from them, and they'd be free to use those resources to both expand their religious totalitarian belief systems and their weapons capability. With our isolationism and determination to keep hands off, would we intervene? Who would tell us if and when the Iranians crossed the nuclear threshold? Would UN inspections continue? Can UN inspectors be bribed? And while this new feudal struggle in the Middle East is playing itself out what would really prevent the metastasizing of the WMD capability among the factions? We, remember, have only our eye in the sky. No feet on the ground. Even if we found a likely proliferation point, would we strike unilaterally based on the kind of imperfect intelligence that Powell presented to the UN? Can you imagine the demonstrations?

To be sure, absent the intervention of human technology the role of nature would tend to stabilize the feudal struggle within the Middle East, and between the Middle East and the West. The Ummah and the House of War could arrange some sort of truce, even if it weren't quite as pristine as the one that Henley envisions. The natural boundaries would lower the frequency of interaction to the point that it could be managed by a modest set of contracts, and cultural evolution could catch up to the recursive loop of the feud. But nature doesn't mediate any longer, and time is therefore not on our side. There are so many routes to Trent's scenario, or to Wretchard's Three Conjectures, all developing simultaneously and with great speed, that the probability that one of those routes would be traveled within a decade approaches 1. Even if time were on our side in the long run (which it probably is not) the urgent would still bar the way to the important.

The essence of nearly all human tragedy is the feud, where a reaction to one perceived wrong must be answered, and in turn demands a response. Were it possible to de-synchronize action and reaction so that populations did not perceive them as linked, the effect of a perceived wrong would diminish over time, as Henley contends. Humans could therefore easily avoid the escalation of the feud, and we would never have needed the institutions that eventually put an end to feudalism: the rule of law and the nation state. The fact is that the feud is part of human nature, and were it possible for us to transcend that human nature, without the human institutionalization of coercive force, we'd have done so.

The circumstances have only been getting worse since Crusoe met Friday, because we increasingly dominate the third player in the game, the player that has mediated between the two of us to diminishing degrees throughout history: nonhuman nature. It is our very success against this foe that has ripened the fruit that threatens us.

The demand for the institutionalization of coercive control in order to quell feuds has only been growing, and as it grows so also does the need for the institutionalization of limits to that control, which are the rule of law and democratic self government. In the absence of answers to the question of limits on coercive control, the demand for control does not subside. Those willing to step into the breach by assuming control themselves don't take a vacation. They will grasp for the levers, precipitating a host of scenarios where, eventually, we will have no options and no discretion . We will have relinquished all control. Time will have leapt beyond us.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2004

Bob Woodward and the Hermeneutic Loop (Update)

I've just finished listening to the Charlie Rose interview of Bob Woodward on PBS, and have the impression that I've just heard a political reporter give an inspired impression of a pair of Siamese twins. Woodward says the President made an executive decision that was reversible. So, OK... I guess. Anyway he feels it's a big disappointment, and rather obviously dishonest (in a non-obvious sort of way) for the President (and Colin Powell, et al) to characterize this reversible whatchamajigger as anything other than a decision. Because that's what it was. A decision. Well, how could one argue with that sort of impeccable logic? I'd sooner shove currants up my nose.

Woodward insists, on the basis of his unerring reporter's insight that a meeting in January of 2003 was "momentous," that the President made a decision to go to war with Iraq way before the rest of us were even aware we were on the turnip truck! I broke my foot in the fall though, so I remember distinctly that I sort of had an inkling that we might be seeing soldiers in sandstorms before too much time had passed. Yet, even after most people in that crazy-but-sincere administration, and especially Andrew Card and Colin Powell, knew that the die had been cast, they continued to act as though there might be a contingency or two to consider. In fact they thought the direction might even be reversible, depending on the results of diverse diplomatic efforts and initiatives. Indeed, this reversibility is not just a naive and foolish illusion of Card and Powell. Woodward concurs.


Now I've completely lost the thread of what we were talking about. We were forging a road through the wilderness, but could forge another road if the geography changed. Yeah I know, we're talking about decisions, not roads. But the road analogy helps me clear my head a little. Was this a decision about a goal, or a means? Aren't all decisions about means sort of contingent on the best way to achieve the goal? What was the goal, by the way? That's the decision I want to know about. Are we still heading toward it? Somebody tell Bob.

I've been listening to the Peace Activists, and the opponents of this Administration for some time, and it's my impression that they're going to be somewhat disappointed about Woodward's definition of a "decision." I get the sense that when they get down to savaging George W. for not leveling with us in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, what they mean is that George Bush crossed into Mesopotamia while the rest of us were still contemplating a nice vacation in the Greek Islands. What they mean is that George made an irreversible, ironclad, cast in concrete, um, er... whatchamacallit.

Well, Bob doesn't totally let them down. The Pres made a decision, alright. Well, it's what Bob's calling a decision, and he apparently has "the goods." (WaPo is supposed to release some transcripts of that "momentous meeting in January" tomorrow, which will settle what it was that Secretary Rumsfeld actually told Prince Bandar (known to his friends as "Snowball") in that meeting that he could "take to the bank." I'm curious about that myself. I'll bet the WaPo revelation isn't all that clear though.

Some time after the momentous meeting the people "in the loop" tell Secretary out-of-the-loop Powell to take the package "to the bank," and he agrees wholeheartedly. But he still drops off a hunk-a-junk at the United Nations, that Tenet apparently left lying around when he slam dunked it. Well, it's all a ruse and only one package is really going to the bank. (Bob is letting us in on a BIG SECRET here. That's what he does, you know.) But if the hunk-a-junk bears fruit they'll still, apparently, deep six the invasion. You know, if Saddam just folds and gives up the secret recipe for the falafels he's apparently hiding in his marvelous underpants. Who'da thunk they fooled him about those falafels? It does explain why he looked like he had something funny in his underpants though, doesn't it? Slam. Dunk.

I don't know about you, but by this point in the saga I had pretty much made up my mind that we were going to war in Iraq. That was my, er... whatchamacallit. DECISION. I'd have been perfectly willing, nonetheless, to just sit and watch the treasure emerge from the tyrants undies, but wasn't really holding out much hope. I was just cynical, I guess. Not enough faith in humanity.

Just in case there are any doubts that the President's whatchamacallit was one of those whatchamacallits (referred to by some people as decisions) rather than just plain old cynicism, Bob reads his impressions and thoughts about the state of the Executive Prerogative back to the President to see if Bob has it right. And wouldn't you know, the President tells him, unambiguously, that he has it right. Well, actually George says "You have it about right, Bob." But let's not quibble. Interpreting four out of five words is close enough for government work.

And in case you were wondering about that underhanded agreement with Prince Bandar, apparently "Snowball" said in no uncertain terms that he'd keep oil prices below $30 a barrel to accommodate the President's reelection bid in 2004. Man, that's really disappointing. Well, actually he said he'd "try to keep oil prices below $30 a barrel," which makes it eight out of nine words Bob got more or less right. That certainly justifies calling the agreement "a pledge," doesn't it? Because that's what Bob calls it. A... whatchamajigger (as distinct from a whatchamacallit).

Except that oil prices haven't looked up at $30 a barrel in quite awhile, and aren't likely to any time soon.

So this was a "PLEDGE" in about the same sense that the course set by that "momentous" meeting in January was a "DECISION." It was a more or less inevitable, but at the same time reversible and contingent...


Well, Bob Woodward calls it a decision... but you can call it whatever you like.

[Update: In an interview on PBS's Newshour program Gwen Ifel asks Mr. Woodward whether there is "any evidence at all of a Saddam/Qaeda connection" to which he responds with conviction: "None whatsoever!" And he then adds, as if to emphasize the foolishness of such a proposal that it was Tenet himself who observed that there was "no evidence of authority or command/control" of Al Qaeda coming from Hussein. He says, as though an afterthought of no particular import, "There was evidence of connections, but no 'authority or command/control'."

I'm puzzled. Why is command/control important, but "connections" unimportant, when what we're concerned about is the sharing and proliferation of WMD? What in the world is the standard here, and how did Woodward arrive at that estimation?

As he delivers his observations in such a low-key monotone that he seems literally on the verge of dropping off to sleep, he makes other somewhat extraordinary judgments. For instance, in both the Rose and Ifel interviews he feigns alarm at the thought that George W. Bush did not, apparently, confer with George the Elder about his views on invading Iraq. Yet he doesn't seem to use this incredible ability to peer past the superficial to speculate on the possibility that George the Younger might be rather familiar with his father's thoughts on the matter, since he not only lived with him for the decade following the First Gulf War, but actually served in his father's administration. Why would he consult with someone whose views and thoughts he no doubt knows as well as his own?

Bob Woodward is one of the real heavyweights in the media establishment, and people tend to pay attention to him, even when what he says only has the appearance of making sense. But I honestly can't make much sense out of a DECISION that isn't decisive, a PLEDGE that isn't binding, and a CONNECTION that is dismissed because there's no evidence of a hierarchy of mutual command. I mean, I find it worse than useless. It's as misleading as the assumption that a queen-sized bed sheet could double as a parachute. Has Woodward always been this foolish, and I just never noticed?]

Posted by Demosophist at 02:21 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 19, 2004

Al Qaeda Revokes Its Endorsement of Bush

I know this will come as quite a shock to those who thought Al Qaeda's endorsement of Bush, and expressed trepidation about the wiley John Kerry, was sincere. But it appears that, at the very least, they may be considering an endorsement of Kerry after all:

As for President Bush, the leaders who are revolving in his orbit, the leading media companies and the United Nations, which makes laws for relations between the masters of veto and the slaves of the General Assembly, these are only some of the tools used to deceive and exploit peoples.

All these pose a fatal threat to the whole world. -- UBL

So apparently the Marxisant/Left have won him over. (Hat tip: Dan Darling

Posted by Demosophist at 02:07 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 18, 2004

Coalition Combat Deaths


[Took me awhile to figure out how to post this graph, but finally had to convert it to a gif image. The graph basically demonstrates that there were peaks of deaths in Iraq in March '03, November '03 and April '04 that are very similar, indicating essentially that we are in an intermittent war.]

It may be a little hard to see the legend, but the bottom scale runs from March '03 to April '04 and is the total number of coalition deaths.

So far the largest number of coalition combat deaths is still back in November of 2003, but it's very likely that April will surpass it. Even with that, the rate of combat deaths is only a miniscule fraction of those in the Vietnam War. The other thing is that the current upsurge was launched from the lowest rate of combat deaths since the operation began, back in February. That decline from November '03 to February '04 tells an interesting, if incomplete, story. It reflects or mirrors the reason for the note of urgency in Farqawi's strategy communique. (Source
Lunaville Summary of Casualties)

[Update: After looking at the detailed data on the source site it appears that the stats are for all deaths in theater, not merely combat deaths. For instance, a young 23 year-old soldier who lived about five miles from me died recently of a heart attack.]

Posted by Demosophist at 12:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 16, 2004

The Shroud of the Christ

Wishful thinking is always an enemy of truth. So I'm not sure what to think about this recent discovery involving the Shroud of Turin (Hat tip: Captain Ed). But it does, at least, give me an opportunity to discuss my much-delayed viewing of The Passion. I really had high hopes for the movie, given its social impact and buzz, and I think religious Christians have been given short shrift in our insincere and insecure society. Sorry to say I found the movie not only singularly unimpressive, but a reinforcement of the values of that insincere society that religious people decry.

I don't think I've ever seen a movie that was so over-acted, and that includes some elementary school plays where the actors were still too young to have relaxed vocal chords. I know a lot of people are insulted by the portrayal of violence but I felt that the histrionics of the beatings and violence actually reminded me of the kind of dramas I and my grade school pals used to engage in during our private reenactments of WWII movies, where we'd ham up being shot on the battlefield and writhe around in feigned agony as a prepubescent attempt to defeat summer boredom. It wasn't insulting so much as funny. "You have to be kidding?" was my first thought.

The portrayals of the high priests were caricatures without humanity or realism. Totally insincere puppetry. Heck, they weren't even good caricatures. The same goes for the ahistorical portrayal of Pilate, whose motivations were not only incomprehensible but completely inconsistent with his actions. Why would not the self-reflection cause him to doubt whether or not he could really "wash his hands" of the decision to crucify, simply because the crowds demanded it? Isn't this just drivel?

I got no sense whatsoever that this movie actually provides any insight into the meaning and import of "the Passion of the Christ," which would, to me, require underplaying the drama in order to allow the real significance to shine through. The Shroud is really the epitome of this underplay. It's literally an ephemeral after-image of such extraordinary subtlety that the very fact of it's existence is more dramatic than any dramatization could possibly be.

I thought Mel Gibson's film was on par with a cartoon, or a "B" movie. On second thought that's too generous. It was a rip off. I forgot it almost as soon as I had exited the theater, and had the news about the Shroud investigation not jogged my memory, I probably wouldn't have even brought it up.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:05 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Paul Berman's Challenge

Although Paul Berman has taken considerable heat from the "New Left" about his views on the "War on Terrorism" his leftist creditials are intact, and his stand on issues relating to Islamo/Fascism are principled. Check out his recent Op Ed in the NY Times: "Will the Opposition Lead?". It is a challenge to Kerry that is genuinely substancial, in a way that the Kerry handlers have not been. A few key paras:

American foreign policy acted on that impression [that the "coming utopia" was seen by some in a secular and by others in a theocratic light, and that this represented an exploitable division between extremist movements], and tried to play the movements against one another, and backed every non-apocalyptic dictator who promised to keep the extremists under control. The American policy was cynical and cruel. It did nothing to prevent those sundry movements and dictators from committing murders on a gigantic scale. Nor did the policy produce anything good for America, in the long run. For the sundry movements did share a common outlook, which ought to have been obvious all along — the paranoid and apocalyptic outlook of European fascism from long ago, draped in Muslim robes. These movements added up to a new kind of modern totalitarianism. And, in time, the new totalitarianism found its common point, on which everyone could agree. This was the shared project of building the human bomb. The Shiite theocrats of Iran pioneered the notion of suicide terror. And everyone else took it up: Sunni theocrats, Baathist anti-theocrats of Iraq and Syria, the more radical Palestinian nationalists, and others, too. The Sept. 11 attacks came from a relatively small organization. But Al Qaeda was a kind of foam thrown up by the larger extremist wave. The police and special forces were never going to be able to stamp out the Qaeda cells so long as millions of people around the world accepted the paranoid and apocalyptic views and revered suicide terror. The only long-term hope for tamping down the terrorist impulse was to turn America's traditional policies upside down, and come out for once in favor of the liberal democrats of the Muslim world. This would mean promoting a counter-wave of liberal and rational ideas to combat the allure of paranoia and apocalypse.
If you'd like to help, beyond maintaining your own blog to "set the record straight" wherever you can, here's a good way.
Posted by Demosophist at 11:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 14, 2004

A Test for the President, or the Media?

Tonight the nation waited for the media to see itself in the mirror. As the President delivered a sombre and clear message about the doctrinal shift that has taken place in the nation and the world since 9/11 the citizens of the nation waited to see whether or not that fact had sunk in with talking heads and pundits who normally manage to turn a decent cut of meat into a rotten urine soaked piece of garbage by the time most Americans have switched off their TVs in disgust. Do they even comprehend the massive error they've made about the state of civilization, or the depth and nature of the threat to it? Are they willing to accept the fact that they made mistakes about our reasons for going to war, or will they continue to insist (against the record) that it was always and only about WMD? Will they demand cosmetic apologies and acknowledgments of a President preoccupied with doing his job? Will they, for once, be relevant? Or will some foolish reporter, rather than listening to what was said, ask if the President has made "mistakes in communication?"

Alas, no sooner had the scene shifted from the White House to the news studio than the so-called "experts" began the littany of complaint and mesmeric imprecision that passes, in that dull world, for comprehension. "Change the world?" Why, we can't even keep the French on our side! "A free and democratic Iraq?" We don't even know to whom we'll turn over sovereignty! Where, Mr. President, are all the grubs and critters under every rock?

Why can't you acknowledge that you failed the test of omniscience? Why can you not abet our need to maintain the nation in its cocoon-like quiescence indefinitely? We know there must be a fox upon whom we can set the hounds. It is our due! You owe us the story we expect. We want the appearance of action, not the action itself! Why do you not, like us, second-guess yourself into paralysis and the stultified indifference that passes for objectivity?

Yada yada yada. Yes, the totalitarians know our vulnerabilities all too well...

Posted by Demosophist at 12:40 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 13, 2004

Elvis Lives! Millennium Plot Foiled by Dick Clarke!

The Elvis statement is a lot more likely headline than the Clarke statement, but neither has an edge in plausibility. Armed Liberal, on Winds of Change, devastates the argument that Richard Clarke's animation of the department heads to "shake the trees" had the slightest thing to do with foiling the Millennium Plot to bomb LAX. As the Seattle Times account makes clear, the plot was foiled by some alert customs officers in Port Angeles, WA.

One could probably mount a vague case that the heightened sense of alert at the time contributed to the wariness of the customs officers, but the primary contribution to that sense of urgency wasn't some "rattling of the bureaus" under Clarke's able direction, but the simple fact that the date 01/01/2000 has a great deal more innate significance than 09/11/2001.

Basically, very little in the Clarke argument is based on fact or logic, save this "shaking the trees" comparison. Rather, his case is a simple, though somewhat devious, appeal to authority, on several levels. First, he assumes that principle authorities can, with due diligence, effectively plug most or all operational gaps in human institutions. Second, the primary appeal of the Clarke testimony itself is that it comes from an "insider," who is presumed to have detailed, specific and privileged knowledge of all events and actions taken by three administrations to combat terrorism, and that this professionally detached perspective allows him to render an unbiased and knowledgeable judgment.

But on careful inspection the Clarke case is really about as devoid of facts as the case that Elvis is alive.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:56 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 11, 2004

The Fogs of War

Both Wretchard and Den Beste have highly illuminating posts on the "fog of war."

A key graf from Wretchard:

The deliberate penetration of the press by Jihadists, a process long perfected in Lebanon and the West Bank, inevitably means counter-penetration by antiterrorist forces. Intelligence and counterintelligence go together like Heckel and Jeckel, and one is inconceivable without the other. The Press, which holds that it is loftily above the fray, may soon become a murky sewer of intrigue.

And from Steven:

We won't be able to really learn what is happening there for quite a while, by watching long term trends. The press is doing its damndest to turn this into a rerun of the Tet Offensive, and as strange as it may seem, that's the biggest danger we now face. Recently, Victor sent me the following email:
Do you think it is possible that the US can lose the war that were are now engaged in, with the Islamic fanatics? If so, how?

Sure we can lose, and by far the most likely way for us to lose is for us to give up. In the last 30 years we are perceived to have done a lot of that, and our enemies have watched carefully. They know they have no hope of defeating us militarily but they don't think they have to.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 10, 2004

Why Iraq?

Anticipatory Retaliation has an excellent new post up in their new digs, about why Iraq was anything but a mistake in the War on Totalitarianism. Strategically it was a master stroke. A few key grafs:

Where, then, does Iraq fit into all of this? Those of you who have followed military actions closely may be familiar with the notion of a 'center of gravity' and once you hit that center hard enough, the system gets damaged and we start heading to a 'tipping point' after which failure cascades through the other guy's system and he falls apart.

To be fair to some of the war's critics, there are a lot of very clear and present threats a good deal spookier than Iraq ever was. What those critics may not apprehend is that Iraq was the most important center of gravity we could hit given political constraints. Think about this - look at the map. When Iraq goes, Syria and Iran are now surrounded by US troops and US allies in all directions (think about the value of economic sanctions now that Syria is cut off from the sea). The threat of armed force against Saudi Arabia is mooted and allows troops to be pulled out and placed on the flanks of American enemies. The swatting of Hussein for WMD did affect Libya, but more significantly it lead directly to the uncovering of a huge amount of information about the Iranian program. Both of these in concert allowed the proliferation black market to be dealt a grevious wound. You could also argue that the flypaper strategy on this has been effective, but more significantly, it takes some of the political heat of off Israel, because now they are not the only people being screamed at.

So, a better analysis is not that we went to war for any one reason - but rather that we were striking at a center of gravity in a larger, much older conflict, in an effort to disrupt our opponent's systems.

So then, how does Fallujah play into this? Well, the bad guys still operate under the assumption that the US is terribly casualty intolerant. On this, only the historians will be able to tell. The fact of the matter is however, that they could increased their survivability by going to ground, but they have, instead come to the surface, expsoing themselves in an effort to Black Hawk Down us. By way of analogy, think of a ballistic missile sub hiding under the surface. Once she launches a missile, then everyone will know where she's at. It's bad insofar as the missile has been launched, but great insofar as you now know exactly where the other 23 missiles are. Live with the launch, but sink the damned boat.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:29 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Days of Vanishing Infamy

I am struggling yet again to understand the perspective of the Copperhead opposition, not in terms of a policy orientation, but in terms of a psychological predisposition. The latest round of inquisitions aimed at Condi Rice seem couched not to get at the truth of whatever was happening in the days leading up to 9\11, but rather to sew the vague impression that the Bush Administration was exceptionally lax, and somehow missed the opportunity to keep us all safely and securely in our passenger seats.

Now, why the fixation on the notion that the attack was avoidable? Surely we've foiled some attacks in the past, many of which we've never even heard of, and some of which never materialized because of actions we took, but the primary failing of everyone prior to 9/11 was that we weren't on a war footing. And nothing short of a successful attack, on the scale of 9/11, was going to put us on such a footing. Had we, somehow, succeeded in stopping the attack we'd have drawn no more urgency from experience than we drew from the previous attack on the WTC, and probably less. While it's true that a heightened sense of alarm may have contributed to foiling the Y2K plot, that heightened sense wasn't the result of any special measures taken by the Clinton Administration. It was built into the whole Y2K hype. Just who are these hearings supposed to fool, and why?

Moveon.org is currently going for a record, by producing the most irritatingly whiney political commercial in history, and then buying time so that it plays more often than most of us breathe. These are the same folks who claimed all along that the level of threat in the wake of 9/11 has been vastly exaggerated by the Bush Administration. Yet we're supposed be impressed by their argument that Bush failed as a leader before 9/11 because he didn't take the threat of al Qaeda seriously enough? Could this possibly be more ironic?

And then it hit me. As I watched Nina Totenberg on CBS's Inside Washington desperately attempt to keep alive the hope that 9/11 could have been avoided, raising her voice, as she pleaded with Evan Thomas, so that her final words could only be heard by dogs, it occurred to me that this was simply another manifestation of the old wishful thinking that has consistently disinformed these folks. I guess I've come to understand the expectation that government ought to solve all our problems for us, before we're even aware of them, but this current fixation amounts to a wish that government solve all our problems before they even happen. And Bush is to blame because, well, this one got through the veil of verisimilitude that stands between us and the "real world." Damn him!

Ultimately it isn't that I object to the notion that we made mistakes, or that we oughtn't devote considerable energies to fixing institutional problems. But blaming this President, or any US President, for the events 9/11/2001, or 12/07/1941, amounts to a kind of wistful fantasy that's akin to the expectation that one can fly if one simply wishes on a star with enough sincerity and conviction. It's entirely in line with the fantasy among the Left that Bush somehow hoodwinked us into paying more attention to BIG DEMOCRACY, and to the War on Terror (Totalitarianism), than to their small democracy grievances. And taken to its logical extension it explains the conviction among many of those Moveon folks, that Bush actually engineered 9/11 precisely to divert us from the real agenda.

I have to believe, and this might be my own wishful thinking weakness, that Americans are too practical to fall for this nonsense, and that the preposterous nature of what they're being asked to swallow will slowly dawn on them, to the detriment of the Democratic Party. But now we're apparently going to be treated to Act II of this absurd scenario, as Sony Pictures considers turning Richard Clarke's book, Against All Common Sense, into a motion picture.

Hasn't the make-believe gone far enough? What's the next fantasy in the series, a Sci-Fi film where Dick Clarke travels back in time to Jan. 1, 2001, and renders his own book moot? Maybe we could go back to the 1940s and have a heart to heart with Sayyid Qutb so that the book he produces in Nassir's prison is/was/will be the Arab version of The Second Treatise of Civil Government. I'm sorry, but this stuff is beginning to give me the creeps...

Posted by Demosophist at 09:16 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 09, 2004

A Comprehensible Euro-Perspective

provided by a British friend of mine on the Rice testimony, who is typically brief and to the point:

I saw a bit of that on the BBC, & I thought she put up a pretty good defence.

So what's the deal......Dubya had bin Laden's war plan in front of him & just went off to eat a few steaks in Texas, instead of getting down to evacuating every skyscraper in America, & stripsearching all airline passengers, just in case?

Wasn't Richard Clarke the man who gave the bin Laden relatives free passage back to Saudi on 10/11 [I think he means 9/12]?

I don't really understand your politics.....that's "your" as in American......but this kind of thing freaks me out.

You people crap out of this now, & the whole world is f#@ked.

Demosophia's taking a big hit here, folks.

The problem with this sort of thing is that what "they" do, that ends up being successful, is always something we didn't predict, because they keep probing until they find a blind spot or weakness. So the result is determined by their strategy.

Seriously, why don't the Democrats on the 9/11 Commission understand this? Had we not been vulnerable to this particular form of attack the enemy'd have kept probing until they found a different blind spot, and we'd now be arguing about how we ought to have foreseen that. Isn't it obvious how inadequate this approach is? At least now we're on a full war footing, whereas before the inevitable sucker punch no one was prepared for a real fight, least of all Clinton/Gore.

Which is, of course, all entirely beside the point. Unless we destroy totalitarianism in its leftward, rightward, and religious formulations the problem with terrorism will just keep escalating. Appeasement was never an option. And the current battles in Iraq are just that: battles in a much larger war.

Here's what happens to drivers fixated on the rear-view mirror (image courtesy of COINTELPRO Tool):


Posted by Demosophist at 06:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 07, 2004

Armed Liberalism

Not much to say here, on my own. I just want to recommend a post by Armed Liberal about the Daily Kos/LGF controversy. I have lots of friends who probably have visceral reactions not entirely out of synch with those of Kos, who believe themselves to be adopting a moral position. My take, however, is that their position is really the attitude of prey, and A.L. has an erudite treatise on that topic. A few key grafs:

Many on the left reject it [patriotism], as Schaar pointed out:
Opponents of patriotism might agree that if the two could be separated then patriotism would look fairly attractive. But the opinion is widespread, almost atmospheric, that the separation is impossible, that with the triumph of the nation-state nation. Nationalism has indelibly stained patriotism: the two are warp and woof. The argument against patriotism goes on to say that, psychologically considered, patriot and nationalist are the same: both are characterized by exaggerated love for one's own collectivity combined with more or less contempt and hostility toward outsiders. In addition, advanced political opinion holds that positive, new ideas and forces--e.g., internationalism, universalism; humanism, economic interdependence, socialist solidarity--are healthier bonds of unity, and more to be encouraged than the ties of patriotism. These are genuine objections, and they are held by many thoughtful people.

And those thoughtful people, by virtue of their attachment to the wider world, cannot take sides; they can't view the tragedy of an American soldier's death as deeply different than the tragedy of an Iraqi soldier's death. They are one and the same; and so are paralyzed. They can't make a decision because all deaths weigh the same.

They don't weigh the same to me.

I value ours more than I do theirs; I value them most of all because they are fighting for me and the values which have created me and given me the life I enjoy. Yes, I value them because they are 'like me' as well, but the Pakistani troops who die fighting Al Quieda are, in the context of their own politics, fighting for me and my values as well. I don't see the sides as morally equivalent, and even if I had opposed the invasion of Iraq - which I almost did - I wouldn't see them as morally equivalent.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:41 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 06, 2004

Clarke's Imaginary Friends

Captain Ed notes that the Clinton administration published a report on national security in 2000 that failed to even mention Al Qaeda, demonstrating that Clarke utilizes an even more powerful tool than selective memory when it comes to personal views. He employs imagination. Imagination is good, but not when you're recounting matters of fact. Imagination in that context suggests mental imbalance. As I've noted elsewhere it is probably too late to correct the public perception on this issue, given what we know about the cognitive processes of voters, but it's still important to correct the record in case the public ever decides to seriously revisit the issue. Far more important, though, is to use the opportunity this presents to make a strong and coherent case that the Iraq strategy is an enormous net benefit in the "war on terror" [War on Totalitarianism 3.x].

Posted by Demosophist at 03:48 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

April 05, 2004

"Forward Strategy for Freedom"

Reuel Marc Gerecht has written a biting essay in the Weekly Standard that Fisks the compound meme that the Iraq War was a distraction. He points out that on every single count, from the contention that it destracted us from Afghanistan and Al Qaeda to the contention that it has swelled the ranks of the jihadis, the Iraq War has had precisely the opposite effect. One, of many, reassuringly precise grafs:

We should be skeptical of those voices who tell us that success in Iraq won't have serious repercussions for the rest of the Middle East (the same voices that are usually quick to point out the adverse effects of failure). The trial of Saddam Hussein, in whom many Muslims of the Middle East will see the image of their own rulers, will make gripping television, even on the anti-American Al Jazeera satellite channel. Iraq's coming great debates, for all the country's enormous problems and attendant violence, will echo through the region on television and radio. The Sunni Arabs of the region will watch Shiite Arabs, long cursed creatures, moving forward, however fitfully and slowly, toward more democracy than they themselves have ever imagined. The shame could be unbearably provocative. The now famous letter to al Qaeda from Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian holy warrior operating in Iraq, tells, we can hope, the future of the entire region. Jihadism cannot survive people power. When the common Muslim man is responsible for his own fate, human decency and civility will win out.

Yes, I know there are rumors of a coup in the Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad, stirred up by the followers of Sadr. It's about time we took note of him, and an arrest warrant has been duly issued by the Iraqi criminal justice system. As (I think) Dan Darling observed some time ago, Sadr was given too much head in advancing his pogrom of the Sunni, and he's an excellent example of the folly of allowing an evil flower to bloom simply because it crowds out a few weeds.

Update: Steven Den Beste sees a silver lining in recent events in Iraq. Key graf:

The most important thing that happened in the last few days is that many of the most dangerous people in Iraq gave us an excuse to destroy them. CENTCOM won't throw this opportunity away.
Posted by Demosophist at 11:58 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack