June 29, 2004

A Marine's Promise

My first impression of this Marine's letter to al Qaeda about the kidnap of Marine Corporal Hassoun was that it was intended to frighten the kidnappers. And my first thought about that was that the kidnappers would be unlikely to be frightened by mere death, and the Marines would be unlikely to do more, being rather decent guys. So, much as I admired the sentiment and sympathized with the emotion I saw the letter as rather futile.. at first.

But thinking about it a little more deeply it occured to me that it wasn't about frightening the kidnappers with physical injury or death, but about destroying their reason for being, their "great love." It, essentially, said: "The best (worst) you can do will just inspire us to destroy that which your heart is bound to more quickly, and to wipe the primary object of your love and devotion from the face of the earth." Because totalitarians are in love. They are enraptured with an ideal of perfection, and with the closest earthly manifestation of that perfection: mass murder, death, enslavement, torture, the control of all thought and action under the influence of "the beloved" (whether in the form of a blood cult, a "pure collective," or a seventh century caliphate souped up on interpretive western philosophy). And these particular totalitarians don't actually intend to be around for the inauguration of their beautific vision, because they see themselves only as the vanguards. That's what can be taken from them.

What they fear isn't death, it's rational life, human freedom and precisely the sort of society that the Marines are helping to create in Iraq through their military excellence, and programs like the Spirit of America. What the al Qaedists (and also the Ba'athists) fear is that their vision will, like chattel slavery at the end of the 19th Century, be tossed carelessly on the ash heap of history before their eyes, and that nothing will remain of their great love, valued beyond family or life itself, but regret...

And so David C's letter was a fitting promise: "You will be vanguards of nothing."

Posted by Demosophist at 02:48 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 28, 2004

Impending Avalanche?

I'm not sure yet, but I think I see a subtle but profound shift in the debate with the left, that reminds me of the first few rocks tumbling down a steep slope just before an avalanche.

1, Instead of being able to claim, pretty much without any factual challenge, that Bush lied about the Saddam/Qaeda relationship they've had to retreat behind a "collaborative relationship" barricade.

2. Now that we've found (by accident) a binary chemical weapon that had to have been manufactured after the sanctions began, they've been reduced to the somewhat implausible theory that this partaker WMD was somehow imported into Iraq, after the fall of the regime.

3 Now that it begins to appear that Niger may really have traded in Uranium with Iraq, Josh Marshall is reduced to making vague and ominous intimations about deep counterplots involving mysterious "bad actor individuals and groups" in an attempt to explain new evidence.

4. And now that we have, in fact, transferred sovereignty to Iraq according to a formula and timetable worked out at the UN they've been reduced to making the implausible claim that we somehow managed to hang on to some invisible threads of Iraqi sovereignty, apparently pulling the wool over Chirac and Schroeder's eyes.

I'll have to consider this a bit more, but off the top of my head I think the tables have turned. Their arguments have been placed under some much heavier burdens than they've been used to bearing, and if much more is added to that burden the whole mountainside may break loose.

Posted by Demosophist at 11:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 26, 2004

How Fast Can You Ride a Bicycle Across the US?

The annual "Race Across America" ends tonight. Currently the 4-men of the HPV Team (sponsored by Lightning Cycle Dynamics) are far in the lead, and should finish in New Jersey some time after midnight tonight. The main website for following RAAM is here. It looks like the average speed of the Lightning team is going to be around 23 mph, for a 3,000 mile race! Elapsed time will be less than 5 1/2 days.

Posted by Demosophist at 10:16 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Michael Moore is a Neocon Conspiracy

I mean, isn't it obvious? They needed some clear way to completely discredit the left, and chose to do it by raising a characature of the left to iconic status, a cartoon image that manages to make all the most foolish and ideologically lumpenheaded arguments without the slightest redeeming or nuanced quality, and that even employs the filmic tricks of Leni Riefenstahl, for a note of self-irony. The diabolic cleverness of it ought to make your liver shiver:

By the way, on a more practical note: If you've happened to notice gradually worsening headaches chances are it's because the invisible helmet the aliens placed on your head when you were a kid, to monitor your thoughts, has gradually become too tight as you achieved adult dimensions. You can loosen the helmet by twisting the adjustment screws just behind your ears. Be very careful not to inadvertently tighten the adjustment though! It's always best to make small adjustments at first, making note of whether the headaches worsen or improve, so you can determine the "sense" of the adjustment that's required for relief. "They" manufactured the devices in several models and those on the heads of most boomers screw to the left, while those of gen X-ers and Y-ers screw to the right.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:37 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Transcript of CNN Review of Michael Moore

The original transcript the Jeff Greenfield/Jeff Jarvis review of the Michael Moore film is here. And Jarvis has his own blog review here. The CNN review is embedded within a larger transcipt, so I've lifted the relevant portion for the sake of convenience. I think Jarvis' comments, both on his blog and on CNN, are particularly relevent to the notion of Demosophia, in effect making the point that Moore's film is more likely to generate Demoso-idiocy. (Actually, according to the Online English-Greek Dictionary the appropriate term would be Demosagnoia, meaning "foolishness or ignorance of the people") Anyway, here's the transcript:

BROWN: In the news business, it's often said if all sides in the story accuse you of favoring the others you probably got it just about right. Michael Moore, however, is not a reporter.

He makes movies that have a point of view in capital letters, usually pretty clear which side he is on. Well, OK, you'd be blind not to notice which side he is on. His latest movie opened nationwide today.

Here's our Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friends and I decided to pose as a TV crew from Toledo to sneak inside the factory.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Fifteen years ago, filmmaker Michael Moore released "Roger & Me." It portrayed the devastating impact on his hometown of Flint, Michigan from General Motors plant closings.

Moore's comic thread, his fruitless pursuit of GM Chief Roger Smith, helped make it a hugely successful film in spite of some critics who charged that Moore had played fast and loose with the time sequence of events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, here's my first question. Do you think it's a little dangerous handing out guns in a bank?

GREENFIELD: In 2002, Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" took on gun violence in America in the wake of the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado. It won the Academy Award for Best Documentary and became the highest grossing non-music documentary in history in spite of some critics who charged that Moore had played fast and loose with some of the facts.

For example, Moore suggested that a military missile plant in Littleton may have helped create the atmosphere for the school shootings. In fact, that Lockheed Martin plant made launch vehicles for TV satellites.

But those controversies were blips compared to the furor triggered by Moore's latest offering, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this spring and which just opened in the United States to rapturous praise and searing condemnation.

(on camera): Michael Moore makes no pretense of balance or fairness here. This film is a brief against the president. It portrays Bush as a lazy, empty-headed child of privilege who came to power in a stolen election and who used the attacks of September 11 as a pretext to wage a war against a country that posed no threat and did us no harm.

(voice-over): There are some standard Michael Moore devices, for instance the confrontation with authority. Here, Moore attempts to persuade some members of Congress to offer up their children for enlistment in the military.

Here, Moore attempts to persuade some members of Congress to offer up their children for enlistment in the military. And a series of clips try to turn Bush's own words against him, for instance, this sound bite from a golf course on the war on terror.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you.

Now watch this drive.


GREENFIELD: Or this quip at a white-tie dinner.


BUSH: Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.



GREENFIELD: But many of the controversies surround clips that were not provided to us for screening, such as a series of greetings between Bush, father and son, with a variety of Saudis.

Moore argues that a long-standing cozy financial relationship is why Saudis were permitted to fly out of the country just after 9/11. No less a Bush critic than onetime terrorism chief Richard Clarke says it was his decision and he would do it again.

Moore's response, that does not explain why the Saudis were put in the head of the line.


GREENFIELD: Now, other disputes have to deal with the meaning of the images Moore offers. He shows us, for instance, scenes of a peaceful, tranquil Iraq on the eve of the war, barber shops, weddings, kids flying kites, the same kind of images we could have seen from Tokyo just before Pearl Harbor.

Moore told me he wasn't trying to minimize Saddam's evil, just to show the inevitable innocent victims of U.S. bombing that he says is much less precise than advertised. He shows us a parade of administration officials being made up for television appearances, shots that would make just about any one of us look silly. No, Moore, told me, it was a metaphor, the actors about to appear to recite their fictions.

And the film's most powerful moments come as we watch the grief of a proud mother of a soldier after she learns of her son's death in Iraq, grief that of course cannot tell us whether that death was in pursuit of a worthy cause or folly.

I asked Moore whether he thought this polemic would change any minds. No, he said, not the undecided, but, he added, it might get more young people to the polls this fall. And that's one point about which there is no dispute, Aaron. The whole point of this movie is to help defeat President Bush in November.

BROWN: Jeff.

And we introduce another Jeff. Jeff Jarvis is with us. He's a former TV critic for "TV Guide" and for "People" magazine, Mr. Jarvis also the editor and creator of "Entertainment Weekly" magazine. He writes a blog called BuzzMachine.com. And, most importantly to us, he reviewed the movie, "Fahrenheit 9/11."

It's nice to see you.

You hated it.

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: I did, and I shouldn't have.

I'm not a Bush voter, but it is so unfair. It is such a two-by- four polemic that it makes even me want to defend Bush against it. It just -- it also insults our intelligence. Rather than trying to be funny, which is what Moore used to do to make points, it just bashes us. It seethes. And when someone seethes in your face, it makes you uncomfortable. You want to back off. And that's the way he is in this. It's uncomfortable.

BROWN: Jeff?

GREENFIELD: I think this is -- there's no pretense that this is a fair movie.

To me, it's like a Rush Limbaugh rant. Rush Limbaugh takes facts and shapes them around his point of view. I also think that how you see this movie to a great extent depends on how you see the war. Jeff's blog, which a lot of us read, has been relatively looking for positive news, I think. You remind us that the media can sometimes be negative.

People who look at this war and think it was a mistake from the beginning, or worse, are going to love this movie. But he doesn't pretend that it's fair.

JARVIS: But the problem is that, if you were going to do that, the more useful thing to do for the democracy and for discussion would be to give you both sides and then beat down the other side. But he even doesn't bother trying to give you the other side.

BROWN: Isn't this, just to get to my favorite issue, I suppose, isn't this exactly what American politics has become anyway? I mean, you know, there is this -- there is a kind of nasty undercurrent in the movie. There is a nastiness in American politics every day. The vice president yesterday goes off on a senator in language you would wash your kid's...

JARVIS: That the FCC would now charge him $3 million a day for.

BROWN: And you'd wash your kid's mouth out with soap if he used. That's where we are.

JARVIS: I would argue that that's our fault, to a great extent.


BROWN: That's our fault?

JARVIS: It's our fault.

We present America as if we're a nation divided. I really think we're a nation undecided. I think, if you look at the primaries, people were trying to decide whom to vote for. I don't think they live politics every day the way we think they do. And I think that we're not as divided as it seems. And something like this comes along, and that's exactly the damage it does.

The us vs. them in them, the them is not bin Laden. The them is not Saddam Hussein. The them is George Bush. And there are people attacking us as a nation right now. I was at 9/11 at the World Trade Center. It's very serious to me. I watched this movie blocks from there. And I resent the anger really at the wrong people. I'm not a Bush fan, but it's still one country.

GREENFIELD: I do agree that this is -- you can -- must put this into the pile, the best-selling books that split left and right. We are actually back to a kind of rhetoric that we had at the very beginning of the republic, where Thomas Jefferson was called an atheist and a supporter of forced prostitution for women and children, where John Quincy Adams was accused of pimping while he was envoy to the czar of Russia.

You can deplore it. You can try to argue where it started, but, to me, I can tell you this. The people who love this movie are people on the left who said, the liberals wimped out on the war in Iraq. The right is tougher than we are. They accused Clinton of everything, including murder. And now it's our turn to take this guy and...


JARVIS: There's just the problem. It's the same as Air America.

Why take Rush and say let's have our Rush? Why take Rush and say let's have our movie? Why not try to be more intelligent than that?

BROWN: Because I think what they're saying -- I'm not sure I agree with this -- but I think what they're saying is, look, if they're going to fight with knives, we're going to fight with knives, too.

GREENFIELD: Don't bring a knife to a gunfight, is an old line.

And, look, I like to think that shows like this and anchors like Aaron and even sometimes senior analysts try to do exactly what you're talking about. And, as I say, I don't think Michael Moore is trying to persuade here. He is trying to arouse. He's trying to, if you will, rally the base.

General Zinni isn't in this movie. Richard Clarke is only in it in a passing glance.


JARVIS: ...does no wrong here.

GREENFIELD: And those pictures, I think that Michael Moore's explanation of what those pictures of a peaceful, tranquil Iraq are doing in that picture, it's a little disingenuous.

JARVIS: It goes beyond.

He exploits a mother who lost her son in Iraq. And when she pleads I think to God saying, why did you have to take him, Moore's answer to that is a picture of Bush. That's the you. When the husband says, what are they dying for? Halliburton. It's so two-by- four. It's so unfair.

BROWN: I'm going to stop you both, but I'm going to do it gently because I never scream at anybody.

Thank you for coming in. It's nice to meet you.

JARVIS: Thank you.

BROWN: Nice job tonight. Thank you.

Talk to you next week, too. Thank you.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 25, 2004

I'm Getting A Divorce

from my beloved patch of poison ivy (or possibly poison oak) contamination. I have to descend into the creek bed to take my twice weekly 5-mile run up toward Quantico, and I think that's where I picked it up. I've finally managed to stop scratching it, although indulgence is just short of orgasmic. I'll miss it, to be sure, but sometimes one just needs to make a solid break.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:22 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 24, 2004

So, I Ordered SAT-TV.

It's something of an extravagance for me, since I'm still not quite "fully employed," but I'll be damned if I'm gonna miss Lance Armstrong's attempt at a sixth Tour de France win. There's a reason why no one has been able to do it yet, but if anyone can it's the taciturn Texan. We get a really cruddy version of Cable TV here, that doesn't have OLN... and OLN is really about the only thing I've got to have.

OK, so it's not entirely rational.

It'd be nice to get some Arab TV after I get up to speed on the language, though. I wonder if, with Dubai's intense focus on sport, there's a followng in the UAE for the TdF?

Posted by Demosophist at 06:26 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

So, why are terrorists distributing Fahrenheit 911?

From Roger L. Simon:

Daniel Ledeen, the 17-year old son of a certain enemy o' terrismo, and himself a budding journalist with a summer internship at the Washington bureau of The New York Sun, wangled an admission to the Washington event of the day... the Michael Moore press conference. Young Ledeen then asked the toughest question to the muckraking (or muckslinging) filmmaker, depending on your POV. To wit, he asked the budding mogul what he thought of Hezbollah being involved in the distribution of Fahrenheit 911. "Shockingly," Moore shined him on with some comment about some people believing there were Martians on Earth (or the equivalent). But Ledeen came armed with a follow-up, having phoned Moore's distributor who had already affirmed the rumor. Then the "courageous documentarian" simply stonewalled and changed the subject. So it goes. Moore and Nixon -- together again. Kind of has a ring to it, doesn't it... like Gable and Lombard... Tracy and Hepburn.

After all the hoopla about Disney giving him the cold shoulder about distribution, and his various misrepresentatiions of that relationship, all for the sake of a little extra publicity, Moore ought to be really gratified at the wild publicity this is bound to grab. Well, yah'd think....

Posted by Demosophist at 06:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 20, 2004

Update on 9-11 "Staff Report"

At the moment it appears that neither side is giving the recent 9-11 Commission report much credence, and both are now emphasizing that it was merely an "interim" and not the "final" report, a fact which Lee Hamilton, the vice-chair of the commission, also emphasized this morning on ABC's This Week. In fact, Hamilton calls it "merely a staff report." In addition, under intense grilling from George Stephanopoulos which revealed strategic omissions in his recent film Fahrenheit 9$$, and during which Michael Moore also acknowledged the "propaganda nature of the film," the film maker took refuge in the "interim" nature of the report, implying that the final report would vindicate his position. Given the trend, however, this may prove to be more of a reprieve than a vindication.

But to listen to the media for the past week you'd have thought the report was the Ten Commandments. And Stephen Hayes' Weekly Standard rebuttal notes that the conclusions reached in the "staff report" aren't nearly as categorical as the press (especially WaPo and the NYT) have implied.

The silver lining in all of this is perhaps that those of us actually interested in doing so will be able to enlighten the public about precisely what is known and not known about these ties... and hopefully give some inkling of what appropriate method actually looks like. And believe me, an inkling is all I really hope for: a modest-but-real increment to the "wisdom of the people."

Posted by Demosophist at 01:51 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 19, 2004

Putin Scoop

Earlier today Russian President Vladimir Putin made a statement that seemed a godsend to the Whitehouse:

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services, the intelligence service, received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," (MyWay by way of Instapundit)

I have to admit that I was a bit puzzled, not by the news about the intelligence information, but about why Putin would be disseminating it now. It seemed one of those things that was just too good to be true, in light of the 9-11 Commission Report that has been fueling "the gloat" among certain members of the Marxisant intelligentsia, and the press, not to mention the "honorable opposition." Well, a friend of mine who, by virtue of fortune and the winds of change, landed in the very heart of the "neocon cabal," just beamed me a breathtakingly coherent explanation.

First, the intelligence info that Putin's talking about is real. Under normal circumstances he'd probably not be inclined to "share" it simply to help out his buddy George, unless he could net some sort of "quid pro quo." But it appears that the occupation of Iraq has netted us something of a windfall, in the form of documents hoarded by Saddam's Mukhabarat. These documents are, apparently, epic in both magnitude and scope, and they include, among other things, compromising information about certain members of the Russian elite, including some of Putin's supporters (and possibly some enemies as well). The information comes, in part, from documents maintained by the Mukhabarat during the period when Iraq was a Soviet client state, as well as during the "Oil-for-Food" shenanigans in the '90s. At the recent G-8 conference it was made clear to President Putin that it would be "in his interest" to take a public stand that was of some benefit to the Bush administration. The arrangement concerning the release of this information about a possible terrorist attack on the US, by the Saddam regime, was made at that time.

Of course, the Bush folks could have released the information themselves, but it's far more politically expedient to have Putin do it. I've also heard that this is but the tip of the iceberg. There's more from the same epic source. A lot more.

At some point between now and the election in November I would not be suprised if large parts of the 9-11 Commission Report became something of an object of mirth, or simply end up as an incomprehensible memento. The Bush administration and the neoconservatives don't seem particularly uncomfortable, let alone panic striken, in spite of the spate of recent "bad news." The Putin announcement may be winking at us.

Update: Daniel Drezner asks a good question of Putin: "why didn't the information change your mind about the war?" I think the answer may be, at least in part, that the Russians were worried precisely about what we would find in the Mukhabarat's files.

Update 2: Some folks, mostly from the "opposition," have observed that the administration's actions in regard to this incident could be construed as "blackmail." I just feel I ought to point out that using information to compel someone to tell the truth is generally not considered criminal even within what is euphemistically called "international law." But I should probably let Eugene Velokh make the authoritative determination on that.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:31 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

June 18, 2004

What's Still Funny? USA Today Reviews Michael Moore

From Walter Shapiro. Excerpt:

Despite all the hype and Moore's undeniable comedic talents, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a profoundly disturbing movie that struck me as far closer to heavy-handed propaganda than to art. Does anyone seriously believe, as Moore suggests, that the United States invaded Afghanistan primarily to pave the way for a natural-gas pipeline? Or that the war in Iraq was a single-minded effort to win new contracting business for Halliburton?" (Hat tip: Instapundit)

I haven't been able to quite figure out why the most vocal critics of the Bush Administration seem to be some admittedly excellent humorists: Franken, Stewart, Moore, et al. Then it occurred to me: there simply isn't much humor in the way things are, so gleaning what little honey is left in the rock requires some innovation. The political reality is a job threat to a humorist. But it may be time to reach a bit for a new kind of humor, that's slightly less gratuitous.

Moore may be a reminder of adolescence, but it's definitely time to start acknowledging the voice change.

Posted by Demosophist at 03:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Virgnia Sky

Virginia Sky

I love this picture. It was taken at Nick Kotz's farm in the Piedmont. The reason for the strange cloud formations is that a front was rolling in. It was really quite dramatic. Note the cloud shadows on the ground.

Posted by Demosophist at 02:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The 9-11 Commission Report Is Less Than It Seems

My assessment of the 9-11 Commission Report inverts Mark Twain's statement about the music of the celebrated German composer, Richard Wagner. It's worse than it sounds. I haven't seen much in the report that wasn't known before, or that wasn't included either in the Feith memo or discussed in Stephen Hayes' original Weekly Standard article or followup, or that wasn't referenced either by Jay Epstein's original Slate article, or by Laurie Mylroie. Unless I'm mistaken this Commission Report is simply another in a series of unremarkable, and methodologically flawed, interpretations.

If the commission claims that there was 'no credible evidence' that the meeting between Atta and the IIS agent took place in Prague, it seems a matter of semantics involving what one means by "credible evidence." There was, at the very least, an eyewitness placing someone who looked like Atta in the company of someone who looked like the IIS agent. In addition, Epstein holds that Czech Intelligence had an entry from the IIS agent's calendar indicating a meeting with "the Hamburg student" on that day. I'm also fairly sure, from Epstein's account, that there was at least some evidence placing Atta in Prague on the day in question, though I'm not certain about that. The evidence is open to more than one interpretation, which means it's not "conclusive," as I've already pointed out. But it at least seems credible, doesn't it?

credible 1: offering reasonable grounds for being believed as in witnesses offer reasonable grounds for believing the account of an accident 2: of sufficient capability to be militarily effective, as in the capability of forces make a deterrent militarily effective. (Merriam-Webster)

The only reason this is now not considered "credible evidence," as far as I can tell, is the following:

In its report on the Sept. 11 plot, the commission staff disclosed for the first time F.B.I. evidence that strongly suggested that Mr. Atta was in the United States at the time of the supposed Prague meeting.

The report cited a photograph taken by a bank surveillance camera in Virginia showing Mr. Atta withdrawing money on April 4, 2001, a few days before the supposed Prague meeting on April 9, and records showing his cellphone was used on April 6, 9, 10 and 11 in Florida. (James Risen, NYT, "No Evidence of Meeting")

I have to confess, I really thought they had more than this. You can simply discount the cell phone evidence, if there's no triangulation (for instance talking to witnesses who received his calls and can verify that it was Atta they were talking to). That isn't "credible evidence" any more than an ID without your picture is credible evidence of your identity for any sort of official business. And clearly Atta would have had more than enough time, if he were in Virginia on April 4, to go to Dulles or Reagan, or BWI, or Richmond airport and board a flight to Europe in plenty of time to meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague.

So is this all they have? You'll note that even the Commission Report doesn't make the claim that the evidence proves Atta wasn't in Prague. They merely say it "strongly suggests." But if ones intent were to deceive, then surely the evidence that one intends to be deceptive would "strongly suggest" the deceptive inference, wouldn't it? Either you can place Atta in Florida or Virginia or anywhere other than Prague on the date and time in question or you can't. And if you can't then you ain't got nuttin', honey.

This is one of the reasons I don't trust commission reports. They are political statements, not statements of scientific findings. In many cases (as in the case of the Coleman Commission, for instance) they directly contradict the scientific findings. It isn't so much that they're biased, as that they're non-rigorous. And, of course, a lack of rigor certainly facilitates bias.

And there's another issue that comes into play for those who insist that this demonstrates that "Bush lied." Apart from the possibility that Bush may not have had access to the above evidence "strongly suggesting" Atta's whereabouts, there is this clincher: The decision rule while the threat exists is different from the decision rule that comes into play once the threat has been removed. In other words, now that Saddam is no longer in power in Iraq, and therefore the threat of a Saddam/Qaeda link involving WMD is no longer capable of causing harm, we don't have to... and indeed we shouldn't presume the meeting took place. Before the removal of the threat, in other words, our operational hypothesis is that the meeting took place in spite of the fact that we have only inconclusive evidence that it did. We do have evidence, that is open to some other interpretation, but it's still "credible." Once the threat has been removed the null hypothesis becomes "no meeting." At that point we must find sufficient evidence to reject the "no meeting" assumption. As I've explained elsewhere that has to take advantage of some physical principle, such as the fact that a person can't be in two places at once.

The decision rule you use is related to the consequence of error. Naturally, you adopt the assumption that's associated with the least harmful consequences, should that assumption prove erroneous. And that's the way you handle things in an uncertain world.

Plus, of course, the likelihood of the Iraq/Qaeda connection was not the only consideration involved in the decision to invade Iraq, and may not even have been the most important national security consideration.

What really bothers me, as one who'd just as soon not vote for Bush, is why the heck do his opponents insist he was lying when it's clear that there's no real evidence that he did? I suspect the answer is simply that "Bush lied" is their operational hypothesis.

Posted by Demosophist at 01:57 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A Paradigm That's Half Dead, Is Dead

Bear with me. Although the following involves a discussion with, and about, Don Rumsfeld, my point is larger than a defense of the Bush administration. From a Feb., 2003 article in The New Yorker by Jeff Goldstein:

I asked Hayden [the Director of the National Security Agency] whether he thought Pearl Harbor or September 11th had been the greater surprise. "Pearl Harbor was, essentially, not a surprise," he said. "It was that one could not divine the meaningful signals from the thousands that were out there." He thought about the question a little longer and added, "I'm going to say, and I might change my mind, perhaps it was more a failure of imagination this time than last. We failed to see how absolute their"—Al Qaeda's—"world view is. A signals-intelligence agency gets inside the head of an adversary, if you're doing your job at all. You get to know the inside of a target. But I don't think we properly appreciated how capable and how different, how evil, that mind-set is."

Hayden also suggested that September 11th was the greater surprise, because the United States was, in effect, already at war with bin Laden. "Al Qaeda had attacked us before," he pointed out, "and we had a broad effort against the group." He noted that, after the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa, Tenet had told the intelligence community that he was "declaring war" on Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, Hayden said, America was surprised....

Somewhat further along in the article, Jeff references Donald Rumsfeld, whose views are similar to Hayden's:

Rumsfeld is especially drawn to Schelling's theory of surprise; he believes that surprise is often the by-product of analytical timidity. "The poverty of expectations—the failure of imagination—I found this just so interesting," Rumsfeld said. "We tend to hear what we expect to hear, whether it's bad or good. Human nature is that way. Unless something is jarring, you tend to stay on your track and get it reinforced rather than recalibrated. If I as a policymaker fail to make a conscious decision that you want to go around three hundred and sixty degrees and test things, you're likely to stay in a rut. And we've seen our country do that."

Rumsfeld believes that one long-held belief among Middle East analysts is overdue for reconsideration: the idea that doctrinal differences prevent Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and religious and secular Muslims, from pursuing common projects in anti-American terrorism. This is a subject of great relevance today, because the Bush Administration contends that Baghdad is a sponsor of Al Qaeda; critics of the Administration's foreign policy argue that bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are natural enemies. "The argument is that Al Qaeda has got a religious motivation, somehow or other, and the Iraqi regime is considered to be a secular regime," Rumsfeld said. "The answer to that is, so what? The Iraqi regime will use anything it can to its advantage. Why wouldn't they use any implement at hand?"

Now, the point I'd like to make here is a simple one. It is that no matter which side you happen to be on with regard to the 9-11 Commission's findings about the Al Qaeda/Saddam relationship, we now know that the assumption that Sunni or Shia Muslim terrorists would not consider a collaboration with secular totalitarians is completely false. That one has "taken the dirt nap." What remains, as the "wall" that separates secular Totalitarianism 2.x from religious Totalitarianism 3.x, is a pragmatic consideration on the part of the former about the consequences of "sharing" a tactical advantage with the latter, for fear of diluting its usefulness. In other words, Saddam had no doctrinal reason to rebuff Bin Laden (assuming he did so). At most, he had a strategic reason, and possibly only a tactical reason for doing so.

To put it even more simply, there was one and only one reason for disbelieving in a pragmatic collaboration between religious terrorists/totalitarians and non-religious terrorists/totalitarians, and that was the constraint imposed by "religious purity." That's gone. Therefore there is one and only one reason why such a collaboration might not happen, and that's the same reason that any collaboration might not happen: it may not be to the practical advantage of both parties.

And, again, no matter which side of the issue you happen to be on... that isn't encouraging news, because both Totalitarianism 2.x and Totalitarianism 3.x are still extant, and we know that at least the former has nuclear weapons. If strategic or tactical considerations that meet the practical criteria for collaboration it will occur.

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June 17, 2004

A Cautionary Note About 9-11 Commission Report

I've been saying for some time that the evidence that Atta met with IIS on the day in question was far from conclusive, and essentially not strong enough to reject the null hypothesis that no meeting took place. But a word of caution about the recently touted conclusions of the 9-11 Commission is probably in order:

First, the claim that Atta was in Florida, if based on cell phone records and ATM withdrawals, doesn't seem conclusive either. Now, bear in mind that I haven't read the report, and I'm only going on what I've heard on CNN, etc... but I can certainly loan my cell phone to someone, and unless the ATM withdrawal had a photo record, I can also give someone my PIN number and tell them to make a withdrawal.

Bottom line, unless there's a photo record that Atta was in Florida, or something equivalent to a photo record, we don't yet have conclusive evidence that he was here and not in Prague.

That does not mean that we can reject the null. We still assume that the meeting in Praque did not take place... because the consequences flowing from that assumption being in error are minimal.

Look, I really don't give a damn what the 9-11 Commission concludes. That's just an argument from authority, and I can make up my own mind looking at the evidence. Commission conclusions are notorious for being dominated by political considerations that don't flow from the evidence or from unbiased analysis. For instance, the conclusion of the Coleman Commission in summary was that resources available to black and white schools led to a disparate impact. However, the conclusion in the actual study was exactly the opposite, as anyone familiar with the history of education in America knows. The Commission deliberately misstated (actually reversed) the conclusion, because it was politically expedient to do so.

To this day no one has been able to disprove the Coleman conclusion that there is little evidence for a disparate impact based on the availability of school resources to predominantly black schools, and we've been researching this question for 40 years.

I suppose it's impossible to prevail upon the left to recognize the essential difference between an absence of evidence and evidence of absence, but the 9-11 commission statement below amounts to the former, and not the latter:

"We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States."

And note that they do NOT claim that there's any evidence whatsoever that, Saddam rebuffed the request for weapons and training-camp space. Here's the unvarnished status of what we currently know about a Saddam/Qaeda link:

We currently have insufficient evidence to falsify the null hypothesis that no operational link existed.

And that's it. It's not very sexy, is it?

What does the statement mean, and what doesn't it mean?

1. It does not mean that we know conclusively that no operational link existed, which is clearly what the left woud like it to mean. And they're apparently not above selling it as communicating such a meaning.

Nor, as far as I can tell from the coverage, has the 9-11 Commission made any statements about the Zarqawi/Saddam connection being invalid, nor has it made any statements about the training camps at Salmon Pak, or the VX connections in the Sudan leading to a production facility that Clinton bombed. (There is evidence of VX precursors in the soil.) It also says nothing about why Atta was in Prague on a number of occasions prior to the alledged meeting with IIS.

2. As I said above we have no proof, of any nature, that the request made by Al Qaeda for assistance was rebuffed. We can make that inference, because it's a component of the null hypothesis that has not been falsified... but that's vastly different from a claim that the null hypothesis has been proved.

Note that at least one of the pillars in the "incompatibility" argument has fallen. It has now been officially acknowledged that, at least from the perspective of al Qaeda, a collaboration between Totalitarianism 2.x and Totalitarianism 3.x was acceptable. This is compatible with statements Bin Laden made in his 1996 Declaration of War, that I've pointed to before on this blog.

I'm going to repeat this one more time, just in case anyone has missed it:

We currently have insufficient evidence to falsify the null hypothesis that no operational link existed between Al Qaeda and Saddam.

And that statement means exactly what it says, and nothing else.

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June 15, 2004

The Opponents of Neoconservatism Coagulate

They've established the new "blood clot" inside the beltway, according to Lawrence Kaplan. As entrenched in the Bush Whitehouse as they are in the Kerry campaign, in spite of the President's rhetoric, what they favor is a return to the same "stability politics" that not only allowed Saddam to come to power, but supported him after he had. The "New Realism" isn't really different from the "Old Realism," except that it's even less tuned to the era we actually live in, or the threats we really face. These guys would install a new Saddam, spit on their hands, and seal the deal. And even though the President still says the right words, the conviction is sounding a little hollow.


The absence of civil society, the weakness of independent media outlets, the weakness of secular opposition parties--all these things underpin the truth that, as Bush said in a recent speech to the National Endowment for Democracy, "as long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready to export."

This is more than conjecture. A recent study by Princeton's Alan Krueger and Czech scholar Jitka Maleckova analyzed data on terrorist attacks and measured it against the characteristics of the terrorists' countries of origin. The study found that "the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists."

So, as voters are we being denied a real choice? Have we been sidelined by the so-called "experts," and if so what's to be done? There are battles inside the beltway, it seems, that will determine our fate and the fate of Iraq... and they have little to do even with the rather illusory conflict between left and right. I have always maintained that party is irrelevant, and have chosen to support Bush based on his public stance. But that also means that if the strategy of democratization is no longer really supported by this Administration then I have absolutely no allegience to them.

It appears that we all may have been hoodwinked, and that the only viable strategy for building a counter-wave to Totalitarianism 3.0 has been abandoned by those who only saw that option as temorarily expedient anyway. Of course, it could be just the opposite. It could be the case that "realism" is seen as temporarily expedient, and things will change after the election. But if that's actually not the case, and realism really is the new orthodoxy, then I think I might be inclined to join a third party movement, and wait until the time is ripe to supplant the current Whigs of both obsolete parties, who simply can't acquire the moral clarity to perceive Totalitarianism (the modern manifestation of slavery) as the essential problem.

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June 14, 2004

Torture: A Taboo Subject?

The London Telegraph recently published an article by Julian Coman entitled
"Interrogation abuses were 'approved at highest levels'" that has been represented as casting aspersion on the Bush Administration, (Article may require registration.) I'm probably too dense to understand what they're driving at, but it seems to me that this is simply bringing a taboo topic into the open. The subtext of the article is that the Bush Administration challenged the taboo, and they ought to be punished for doing so. From a practical standpoint, that's probably a not as solid a postition for Democrats in the US to take as they might be inclined to think.

I've pulled a few excerpts from the article, with what I think are some obvious responses. You be the judge.

A string of leaked government memos over the past few days has revealed that President George W Bush was advised by Justice Department officials and the White House lawyer, Alberto Gonzalez, that Geneva Conventions on torture did not apply to "unlawful combatants", captured during the war on terror.

Which is, of course, true. I'm sorry, but I just find this totally unremarkable. The issue for me is whether the application of interrogation techniques are appropriate and specific, and whether anyone was accountable for the decision.

Members of Congress are now demanding access to all White House memos on interrogation techniques, a request so far refused by the United States attorney-general, John Ashcroft.

And I hope he continues to refuse this silly fishing expedition.

"It's now clear to everyone that there was a debate in the administration about how far interrogators could go," said a legal adviser to the Pentagon. "And the answer they came up with was 'pretty far'. Now that it's in the open, the administration is having to change that answer somewhat."

So what's the position? That there shouldn't have been a debate? Or that "pretty far" was unjustified? Fine, let's talk about that.

In the latest revelation, yesterday's Washington Post published leaked documents revealing that Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the senior US officer in Iraq, approved the use of dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns and sensory deprivation for prisoners whenever senior officials at the Abu Ghraib jail wished. A memo dated October 9, 2003 on "Interrogation Rules of Engagement", which each military intelligence officer was obliged to sign, set out in detail the wide range of pressure tactics they could use - including stress positions and solitary confinement for more than 30 days.

And there really is no problem with using any of these techniques provided the circumstances warrant it. The problem, and the only problem, comes about in issuing a general ruling allowing individuals to use their own discretion. And I think most of those in the military will agree that that's the only thing that's really dysfunctional here... other than the blatant posturing that's being done by bloviating Democratic senators. It's hard to see that they're going to reap any political rewards from holding this picture too close to the public's face. I'd venture to guess that the majority will not object to the logic involved in these memos, but they would have a problem with having it shoved in their faces too much. Of course I'm just guessing, but I should think there's a risk in being too screechingly self-righteous in the long run. Most people will recognize that it's probably reasonable to use some fairly drastic measures to extract information from someone with knowledge of a mass terrorism plot.

The Pentagon has also announced an investigation into the condition of inmates at Guantanamo Bay, where more than 600 prisoners suspected of links with al-Qaeda are being held. The inquiry will be led by Vice-Adml Albert Church, who has been ordered to investigate reports that extreme interrogation techniques "migrated" from Guantanamo to Iraq. "This is not going to be a whitewash," said the Pentagon adviser. "The administration is finally realizing how damaging this scandal could become."

Notice here that the Pentagon has launched an investigation. Not CBS News, or even a Senate Committee. The Pentagon.

A new investigator has also been appointed to lead the inquiry into abuse at Abu Ghraib. Gen George Fay, a two-star general, will be replaced by a more senior officer. Gen Fay, according to US military convention, did not have the authority to question his superiors. His replacement indicates that the Abu Ghraib inquiry will now go far beyond the activities of the seven military police personnel accused of mistreating Iraqi detainees.

As it probably ought.

Legal and constitutional experts have expressed astonishment at the judgments made by administration lawyers on interrogation techniques. In one memo, written in January 2002, Mr Gonzalez told President Bush that the nature of the war on terror "renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions".

Why someone would be "astonished" at the obvious is beyond me. Of course it renders the Geneva Conventions obsolete. And as I've said, and others have also observed, we've never fought an enemy that adhered to the Geneva Conventions anyway. (In fact, I don't think the US is a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, though I could be wrong about that.)

A separate memo, written by Pentagon lawyers in March 2003, stated that "the infliction of pain or suffering per se, whether it is physical or mental is insufficient to amount to torture. [The pain] must be of such a high level of intensity that it is difficult for the subject to endure".

Well that's sort of common sense isn't it? If the pain is easy to endure how is it torture? Of course, the only sort of easy-to-endure-pain that would have any efficacy in interrogation would involve making the subject uncomfortable in some way. I fail to see how that, alone, would consitute torture or even unethical practice in most cases. We are talking about warfare, not membership in a sports club... though I daresay that even in the latter situation not everyone would demand total comfort or absence of pain.

The bottom line for me is that I just see an enormous amount of posturing. Some of these proposed practices are certainly extreme, and one can disagree about whether, or when, they ought to be used. But I should think that the mere fact that a debate existed within the DoJ or within the Administration is not cause to indict. Rather, I think it's precisely what they ought to have done.

Again, the dysfunction seems to be that discretion on where and when to employ such techniques seems to have been left to local officers, or even civilians. This is a serious problem, but in general it is not the problem that critics of this administration are pointing to. And I do not think the war effort is well served by a general taboo, either on techniques and methods or on debate and discussion. That seems like the opposite of what we ought to be doing.

[Update: I'm not sure that the position I'm staking out here is necessarily in direct conflict with that of Andrew Sullivan, but I would like to know what, specifically, he would stop. All efforts to intimidate and discomfit terrorist suspects? Everything that looks unseemly, based on the appearance alone? Or is it simply the lack of accountability and specificity? The general application of torture and torture-like methods from hands length? If the latter then we don't disagree, but I wish he were less vague.]

Posted by Demosophist at 03:46 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 12, 2004

This Isn't Funny

I check in with Protein Wisdom for a little humor, and find this:

The United Nations has determined that Saddam Hussein shipped weapons of mass destruction components as well as medium-range ballistic missiles before, during and after the U.S.-led war against Iraq in 2003.

The UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission briefed the Security Council on new findings that could help trace the whereabouts of Saddam's missile and WMD program.

The briefing contained satellite photographs that demonstrated the speed with which Saddam dismantled his missile and WMD sites before and during the war. Council members were shown photographs of a ballistic missile site outside Baghdad in May 2003, and then saw a satellite image of the same location in February 2004, in which facilities had disappeared.

[...] In April, International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Mohammed El Baradei said material from Iraqi nuclear facilities were being smuggled out of the country.

Jeff has more links and updates. Note, however, that he says Drudge has the story, but I don't see it on his page. I wonder if they've pulled it?

Posted by Demosophist at 09:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

June 11, 2004

In the Passion of the Lord

I have to admit that I shed a tear or two during the singing of In the Passion of the Lord. It wasn't just the pomp that got to me, but the contrast between that and the story about his holding a miniature of the White House in his hand, and when Nancy asked him if he knew what it was he said: "I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with me." Here were all these dignitaries, and George Bush, Sr. actually weeping during his eulogy, and he would not have known a single person there or what it was all about. The totality of the arc of that life just got to me. He began as the hardship son of an alcoholic, became a well-known film star, eventually not only the most powerful man on earth but probably one of a handful of genuinely great Presidents... all done with astounding humility (his son said the hardest thing about having him for a dad was that he treated everyone the same)... and he completes the arc as less than the lowest of us. Time enough to talk about his mistakes (Iran-Contra, the evacuation of Lebanon), but that story is, without a doubt, a passion.

You know, it's one of those things that's so broad and deep that it could bless even his worst enemies, had they but the wisdom to receive it in a spirit momentarily clear of ancient bitterness.

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June 10, 2004

Iraq Briefing on WoC

My Iraq briefing is up on Winds of Change. (I'm honored to make a contribution to such a fine group blog, by the way.)

What think you?

I think the one thing I probably ought to have included, but didn't, concerns the role of Iran in all of this. But there weren't many handholds in terms of overtly new manifestations of their meddling this week. Roger Simon has some thoughts on the Mullahcracy's pursuit of nukes which not only raises the obvious concerns, but also implies that if we allow this proliferation to spiral out of control it could jeopardize everything else we're doing, including the fulfillment of Iraq's promise as a free society at the "balance point." We simply can't allow them to gain the sort of blackmail leverage that N. Korea has.

At some point one has to expect the focus to shift directly to Iran, especially if Iranian traction in Iraq keeps slipping. It's clear that the Mullahcracy intends to hold onto power, but are they implementing a sustainable long term policy? As Dan Darling points out (and I don't have a cite, so perhaps he could comment himself) the Iranian government is supported by about 30% of the population, but it happens to be the 30% that has coercive power.

Let's assume that's true. If John Keegan's major thesis is true, that one need not be all that concerned about a "spirited defense of the realm" except in the case of the Western nation-states (Vietnam being a somewhat special case), then what justifies Iran's belligerence other than a certain desperation along with a conviction that "Old Yerp" can be adequately distanced from the US, and that the Security Council can be stalemated? They've lost enormous prestige in Iraq with the virtual checkmate of Sadr, and (if Dan is correct) they've got the heart of Al Qaeda in their hot little hands. It's like having a gold Rolex on your wrist in the heart of East LA. Any sense of security they might derive from it has to be almost entirely illusory. Yet, like the false sense of security that Saddam enjoyed prior to the 2003 invasion, it persists.

There is a lesson to be learnt here about totalitarianism. We seem to systematically overestimate its shrewdness and competence.

Posted by Demosophist at 07:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 09, 2004

The Bold and the Beautiful

Placing a finger up inside of his nose, boldly he rose. Oddly, it didn't seem to turn Gerhard off.

(Hat tip: Allahpundit)

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June 05, 2004

Ron: A Legacy

I never voted for Ronald Reagan in my life. In fact, I've never voted Republican in any Presidential race, so far. The only time I've ever voted Republican in my life was for Mark Hatfield, whom I admired even though he was dead wrong about Vietnam and never gained the courage to come out of the closet. It's tough to be an anti-war/Mennonite gay Republican. The career was noteworthy. What can I say?

But I'm also one who may never again vote Democrat, for any office, because of the influence the anti-war crowd has had an my party. It has been corrosive. I thought the reforms of the Reaganites were awful, except that they transformed an ailing economy into a healthy one. And I opposed all of his Cold War measures, yet I recognize that he was right and I was wrong. So it's with bittersweet irony that I bid this warrior adieu.

There have been a half dozen great presidents in US history and he was undoubtedly one. That's a pretty damn good legacy. I'd consider Washington and Jefferson, Lincoln (probably our greatest), the two Roosevelts, and Kennedy along with Reagan, in that club. Well, that's seven. But I'm not that sure about Kennedy any longer. He presided over the first stirrings of the Civil Rights movement, and ultimately went the right way... but many of his other instincts were wrong. And there were two tragic figures in the office as well: LBJ and Nixon, who were "great," but maybe in a different sense. So I guess it depends on what you believe "great" means.

But because of the fact that he presided over the end of the Cold War, and correctly "called the Home Run," no matter how you parse the list Reagan has to be on it. Sorry, fellow Ds, but that's a fact. And he deserves to have an airport named for him too.

And his emblematic position as a poster child for Alzheimers is no small contribution to his legacy either, because it raises that tragic disease to it's full stature in public perception. He was born before my father, and outlasted him by 11 years. Even my uncle Reg, who died this year and to whom a chapter of Ernie Pyle's Brave Men was devoted, didn't last as long as Ron. And let me also mention my Uncle Marty, who was wrong about a lot... but whose service was a legacy that can't be diminished. And to my uncle Marion, who died in the skies over Germany as a young man, leaving a son and wife who like the family of Sullivan Ballou got lost. And to all the other countless men who would have been undeniably better than me had they not had the grace to make me part of their immortal legacy: That generation, to whom I must humbly say, "I'm sorry" is almost gone now. You weren't perfect, but you were very very good. I miss you. You changed America and, thereby, changed the world. If I'm still sentient at 93 perhaps I'll have a legacy to point to. If so, it'll partly be because of your example.

Posted by Demosophist at 08:31 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

June 02, 2004

Gay Marriage All Over

I realize that people can have principled opinions about gay marriage on both sides of the issue, but I'm getting a little tired of Andrew Sullivan's ambiguity on the principle. On the one hand he supports the principle of federalism, or at least says he does; while on the other he seems to hold that gay marriage is a civil right on par with inter-racial marriage. Well, it is or it isn't. If it's a civil right then federalism is an unprincipled position. End of story. If federalism is appropriate, and we can trust it to provide us with the "laboratory of democracy," then let's stop talking about it as a civil right... because doing so undermines the federalism argument. Those willing to support federalism, but who have reservations about gay marriage writ large have reason to accuse Andrew of duplicity.

Sorry Andrew, but you can't have it all ways at once.

Posted by Demosophist at 12:45 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

June 01, 2004

Hors Categorie: The Climb to Victory. Nation-Building in Iraq.

I've been thinking quite a lot about the sort of problem the US faces in Iraq. The Belmont Club has posted several provocative essays on the topic that have helped me conceptualize what the US may be doing, and perhaps should do in Iraq. Wretchard grasps the details of the military operations far better than I, so his insights have been critical. The primary issue for the US in Iraq is that we're involved in doing something far more difficult and nuanced than winning a military campaign. In fact, it requires such a high level of nuance that it really makes the machinations of diplomacy at the UN theater of the absurd leading up to the war breathtakingly simple, by comparison. We're building nations as part of a strategy toward winning what has to be the strangest war in history. And if the strategy of nation-building isn't successful it's very unlikely that the overall war will be either.

The rather unique problem we confront in Iraq has to do with what political sociologists call "legitimacy," or in another formulation "the right to rule." Max Weber, one of the founders of the field of sociology, conceived of three different types of legitimacy that could confer the right to rule on a government. These were tradition, charisma, and legal/rational authority. And, as Seymour Martin Lipset observed, the problem for any "new nation" is acute:

Old states possess traditional legitimacy, and this need not concern us further, beyond suggesting that new nations may sometimes be in a position to enhance their own legitimacy by incorporating the already existing legitimacy of subordinate centers or persons of authority. Thus, new nations that retain local rulers--for example dukes, counts, chiefs, clan heads, etc--and create a larger national system of authority based on them, may be more stable than those which seek to destroy such local centers of authority. It can be argued that the case of Europe's most stable republican government, Switzerland, is to be explained as a consequence of the preservation of cantonal government and power, i.e. as an extension of cantonal legitimacy. [Reference the adoption of the Loya Jirga in Afghanistan as the basis of a republic dominated by a predominantly mountainous cantonal structure. The similarities with Switzerland are suggestive.] Contemporary Malaya is a recent example of an effort to foster national legitimacy by retaining traditional symbols of local rule.

But where traditional authority is absent, as it was in post-revolutionary America or France, and much of contemporary Asia and Africa, it can be developed only through reliance on legal and/or charismatic authority. [emphasis added] -- (Seymour Martin Lipset, The First New Nation, p. 17.)

Lipset footnotes the above with:

A crisis of legitimacy may occur even when the traditional forms of rule are maintained, if authority figures are subordinated to alien rulers. Beaumont noted this problem among Indian tribes during his visit to America with Tocqueville in the early 1830s. Gustave de Beaumont, Marie, or Slavery in the United States (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1958), especially p. 241.

This fairly brackets the problem we face in Iraq, and may encounter in other areas of the world if we attempt similar projects, as the neocon cabal advises. In my own estimation one way to look at legitimacy is as the seasoning in a dish that makes it palatable to the client. If we are unable to season the offering so that it's attractive to relevant Iraqi factions, we're wasting our time. And this problem of the legitimacy of a new regime, or government, is the central problem we will face for the next quarter-century.

For imperial powers interested in establishing only a puppet regime the problem of legitimacy isn't acute, because the polity isn't self governing. It may be largely self administered, as was India, but ultimately it was the colonial power that actually governed. In such situations it will therefore suffice to install someone with nominal traditional legitimacy, like Herod in the case of Roman Judea, or Faisal I in the case of British Mandate in Iraq. The weakness of such an arrangement is, of course, that it invariably leads to Maccabaean uprisings that must be controlled through some form of repression, which is approximately the opposite of what ought to be our goal in Iraq. Establishing a self-sufficient and self-governing state is a project only slightly less daunting than finding the philosopher's stone. And the basic problem of legitimacy, or ultimately "sovereignty," is that it's a quality that must ultimately arise from within. Even so, the alchemy has been accomplished successfully in the past, so we know it's possible. The issue at present is how to accomplish it not only successfully, but with minimal expenditure of time, lives and resources. It's a tall order, to say the least.

In the case of the United States itself, legitimacy grew out of the revolution.[1] Specifically it grew out of the embodiment of the revolution in the charismatic person of George Washington, and to a lesser extent the other Founders, as well as the difficulty of struggle and ultimate victory. But even if the makers of the Revolution conferred legitimacy on, or transferred legitimacy to, the institutions of the fledgling state, the project was only sealed and finalized "four score and seven" years later, in the bloodiest war in US history. And for Australia it may well have taken the horrendous losses at Gallipoli to finalize a sense of national legitimacy. The component of great sacrifice leading to unity, although not specifically referenced by Weber, is no small part of the process (and in the cases of both Australia and the US the actual military victory which followed was, in this sense at least, anticlimactic).[1]

Which brings us to Iraq, and more specifically to Fallujah and Najaf/Kut. The Belmont Club's coverage of these events begins with a post on Fallujah that might have been prophetic, had we decided that our highest priority was military victory.

"...once the Marines get the momentum of processing going, the tribal leaders will lose control and the whole structure will start to crumble. The Marines can exploit their physical domination by offering clemency or even rewards to those who rat out on other perps. The inner bastion of Fallujah will collapse like a termite-eaten post as each man looks out for himself. "

Subsequently, the marines began not only to employ tactics of co-option and negotiation, but also to begin integrating Iraqi units into the fight. And according to some first person accounts they performed well:

I could tell you stories of individual heroics of Iraqi soldiers. One specific example is of an Iraqi SgtMaj who came into our lines during the first days of fighting in Falluja. He made his way through the mujahadeen and risked being killed by us to tell us that he was concerned about the ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defense Corps) armory in town. He knew it was only a matter of time until the muj went for the armory to take the weapons. Honestly, I would have thought that they had already done it as the police stations and every other good piece of ground seemed to be occupied by the muj by that time. In short, he wanted to let us know that he was going back into the town to get the weapons. The Marines asked him if he wanted us to help. No. He only wanted us to take the weapons from him when he came back through. This guy took a couple young Iraqi soldiers with a truck and drove back through our lines into the hornets nest of Falluja. He went to the armory, emptied the weapons and ammo stored there and brought it back out through the fighting to us. We expected him to want to stay with us or to move on to Baghdad or some other safe area. He refused and stated that he was going back into the city as that was where his duty was. Not a coward by even the most cynical standard.

At any rate I've been trying to think of an analogy for this strategy that makes sense to me, and I borrowed a term from bicycle racing. I have a friend who is an ex-racer, who regularly beats the socks off the rest of us even though he's nearly 50 (which really isn't over-the-hill in spite of the hype), and he described his career in bicycle racing thusly: "I was just 'pack fill.'" If you've ever seen TV coverage of a major bike race, like the Tour de France, you know what a "pack," or what cycling fans call a "peleton," (etymologically related to the word "platoon") looks like. Actually, in most lesser races such packs are much smaller than those in the Tour de France, or other major European stage races like the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana . The term "pack fill," at least as my friend used it, refers to those racers who are good enough to ride with the pack by taking advantage of the aerodynamics of paceline riding, but who probably aren't strong enough to be competitive for the lead on a consistent basis. In the big stage races these are often the people Phil Ligget calls "domestiques." They do the fetch and carry during the race, and are sometimes called upon to protect, defend, and give respite to a team leader. They may also be younger riders learning the ropes, and one way to cultivate a future champion is to place such a promising rider within the pack where they get intimate with racing proforma and can develop endurance and tactics/strategy through the direct inspiration of those around them, and of course by sharing the experience of the most challenging major endurance sport in the world.

In addition to the training value of pack riding there is also a component of inherent strategy because the rules set the time for a stage equal to the time of the first rider in a group or "pack" that crosses the finish. So riding within the main pack is one way that a champion rider may rest without losing time to his closer rivals, as he prepares for the stages where his fate will usually be decided (the mountains, and the time trials).

But the main insight I'd like to offer about paceline and pack riding is that it's a means of competitive cooperation that is, in many ways, directly analogous to competitive cooperation in other realms. For instance, it is analogous to the cooperation between management and workers within the larger market structure, because unless a company produces products at a completive price and quality neither management nor labor obtain benefits. And in an even larger sense competitive cooperation is the very essence of a democratic political culture. In his seminal analysis of the US, Democracy in America, Tocqueville notes this quality of cooperation in competition, which differentiated the US from Europe, and which was one of the characteristics that he thought made America "exceptional." And in the Federalist Papers James Madison specifically references an intentional strategy to "establish crosscutting alliances" between members of different political and ideological factions, competition between which had doomed earlier experiments in representative government in Europe. The most devastating consequences had only recently been observed in the catastrophe of the French Revolution, where political factions had become aligned with traditional social and economic cleavages in society to produce the Reign of Terror under Maximilien Robespierre.

So how does this analogy apply to Iraq, or to the general problem of establishing a state with enough legitimacy to govern? Madison's argument was simple. Provide competing factions with an economic stake that gives them an incentive to cooperate across the traditional warring social cleavages: economic and social class, race, religion, etc. And it is the alignment of these kinds of factional groups with dominant social cleavages that are precisely the forces at work in Iraq that challenge the establishment of a democratic political culture. It is an old problem, requiring a combination of old and new solutions. Add to the traditional social cleavages that concerned Madison, the unique push and pull of clan and tribe that are part of the defining culture of the Middle East, and the challenge must be daunting indeed.

But the same principles that knit the competing factions in the early US, or at least kept them from explosively breaking apart as happened around the same time in France, and that bound out of the "many, one" national identity with common purpose can, theoretically, mend or heal the ideological, ethnic, political, religious, and tribal/clan cleavages in Iraq. For Americans, the success of the early nation, as well as it's long term ascendancy, were based on the healing insights of the Madisonian vision, as well as the common purpose provided by a shared ideology.

What we are engaged in, in Fallujah and the Shi'ite enclaves, on one level, is a process of heaping disincentives on factionalization, by beating the tar out of divisive factions like those of Sadr, the Fedayeen "insurgents," and the radical Islamists and Salafists. And this is going on as we simultaneously bribe elements of these factions to a common economic purpose and future. But on another, and perhaps ultimately deeper, level we are instructing in the basic tenets of the "American Ideology," or what Lipset and others have called, simply: Americanism. The essentials of this doctrine are, again according to Lipset: equality (of opportunity), religious sectarianism, and individualism/anti-statism. The first and second values probably hold greater promise for Iraq than does the third, which in many societies is considered an incentive to disunity. But in the particular case of the US it actually became a founding value (much to the chagrin of socialists like Friedrich Engel, who correctly perceived that because many of the objectives sought by socialism were already part of the American experience, the actual implementation of socialism faced an uphill battle). The primary role of this third value for Iraqis, at this point in their history, is that it may serve as something of a tonic for the more corrosive effects of Ba'athism. But realistically it is not likely to undo the clans, nor should it. Where possible we may play off of some of the fears that Salafists like Zarqawi expressed in a recent letter, using those very clan structures against the insurgents. Dan Darling fisks a few relevant passages from the Zarqawi letter:

America, however, has no intention of leaving, no matter how many wounded nor how bloody it becomes. It is looking to a near future, when it will remain safe in its bases, while handing over control of Iraq to a bastard government with an army and police force that will bring back the time of (saddam) Husayn and his cohorts. (headquarters comment: it is not clear to whom "it" is referring, but it appears to mean the united states.)

Herein lies the failure by al-Qaeda's leadership to understand that, contrary to media reports and the (wishful?) thinking of some in the West, today's America is not the same America that pulled out of Vietnam and left the South Vietnamese and Cambodians to rot under their progressive conquerers that our earlier domestic anti-war movement idolized in the 1960s. Certainly I haven't seen any college protesters touting bin Laden's declaration of war the way they used to Mao's Red Book ...

Their basic fear seems to be that the US is going to do in Iraq what we've done in Afghanistan - set up a series of reinforced bases in-country and then set up a friendly government. Given that al-Qaeda is highly unlikely to buy into US claims of spreading democracy in the Middle East, he likely assumes that the US is going to create a "benign autocracy" inside Iraq that he fears will become something resembling the current Egyptian government, which is reliably pro-Western (abeit in an anti-Semitic sort of way) but every bit a totalitarian state. The reference to bringing back the time of Saddam Hussein refers to the re-establishment of a police state in Iraq. The Egyptian secret police and military establishment have waged a protracted war against Gamaa al-Islamiyyah and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad ever since the Sadat assassination that has all but crippled both organizations' ability to operate inside of Egypt proper (this is why so many Egyptian extremists have taken their cause abroad) and Zarqawi clearly fears that the same will occur in Iraq.

There is no doubt that our field of movement is shrinking and the grip around the throat of the Mujahidin has begun to tighten. With the spread of the army and police, our future is becoming frightening.

This is good news, it means that not only is he having trouble recruiting but that the organization that he does have is under intense pressure from US and Iraqi authorities. This is extremely good, it means that he's still got his core network but is unable to expand upon it. The key thing to do now is to locate and destroy his remaining bases and kill or capture his lieutenants to cripple the al-Qaeda element of the insurgency.

While it's true that Zarqawi is not directly concerned about the establishment of democracy in Iraq, the fact remains that the clan structure may be working to the advantage of the US rather than the insurgents.

I have somewhat conflated three issues that are often regarded separately by students and theorists of political culture. Strictly speaking most people in the field tend to treat the problems of legitimacy (more often called "legitimation" to differentiate it from the parenthood issue), factionalism (the remedy for which is Madisonian "cross-cutting alliances"), and national unity (which may be either common ethnicity, or common ideology). The US is not founded on the basis of a common ethnic identity, and a common ideology substitutes for this. The issue of ethnic divisions is also acute for Iraq, so one solution to the problem of national unity may be a perceived common ancient history (which was somewhat contrived, but still holds potential) and a common recent history since the establishment of Sykes-Picot. But I still believe that inculcation in the tenets of Americanism may be of value for Iraq. And the critical issue is how to infuse these values into a society that may well be resistant.

On the ground this infusion takes place both formally, as part of the military training that recruits in the Civil Defense Force receive, but probably far more importantly through the kind of informal intimate contact that only those who share positions in battle can have. The way I conceive it is that you have your crack troops begin an operation so that they take the brunt of what the enemy resistance has to offer, which is roughly the way we began the Fallujah and Najaf/Kut campaigns. Then you gradually bring your novice troops into the fray so that they end up fighting along side the more experienced people, as part of their "internship training." One Marine officer, a "Captain B" describes the early stages of this tactic in Fallujah:

Subject: Reorienting and Driving Forward

As you all probably know by now, we are turning Fallujah over to the Iraqis.

This will give us an opportunity to focus on other areas, and hopefully to build a new Iraqi Army with some of the folks that are feeling alienated right now. We're all painfully aware of the various issues associated with this move, but there's no point in discussing them. We'll make this work, just like we make everything else work to the best of our ability.

And another Marine officer describes the strategy in its implementation:

We had a group that showed up shortly thereafter. You have probably heard about them as they came out of Baghdad and on the way were ambushed a couple of times. By the time they made it here only 200 of 700 were in their ranks. I know that the public story is that they folded after a couple of days of fighting and disintegrated. They actually made it through three days of fighting. Not just taking a few rounds, they held through accurate machine gun fire, mortars and multiple assaults. They also moved forward and occupied positions on the Marines' flanks. After three days, we pulled them out. The Marines will tell you that they did a hell of a job.

What these Marine officers are describing is really the model that we'll use to perform the alchemy of giving birth to a liberal state at the balance point of the Arab Middle East. And ultimately it's a model that will launch Iraqis, rather than Americans, as victors in a war against insurgents and terrorists from all over the Muslim world. The difficulty of the implementation of such a strategy can't be overemphasized. As Wretchard observes, relieving a unit in contact with the enemy is one of the most difficult and dangerous military operations there is. And even though US units will not be in intimate contact with the enemy in most instances throughout the country as the transition occurs, the operations in Fallujah and in the Shia areas are the models for the most critical stage of the alchemy that we must produce. We have done something like this before, in the Philippines, as the Belmont club has already noted.

The President has recently appointed Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus as the commander in charge of training and equipping all Iraqi security and military forces. He is regarded by many military experts, including General Zinni, as "the best we have." But it would be inaccurate to conclude that this is merely a training mission rather than a nation building mission, because there will come a time when the Iraqi forces will take the lead and our forces will recede into the background. That must happen, and how this delicate move is handled could well determine the future of the country, and the course of the War on Totalitarianism 3.x.

To illustrate the problem we return to our bicycle racing model. During the 2002 Tour de France two modern legends of bicycle racing, Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantini, both of whom had previously won the race, met on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, a final climb so overwhelming that it's considered beyond categorizing (HC for hors categorie, a term also used in mountain climbing). As they neared the top of the ascent, and the finish line, Armstrong led, followed closely by Pantini "on his wheel." In bike racing, because of the role of aerodynamics, it is actually considered an advantage to be in second position nearing the finish because the lead rider then has to take the brunt of the aerodynamic drag allowing the follower to draft until the very last instant, although on a very steeply graded finish such as Ventoux this advantage is diminished. Nonetheless because of the power of these cyclists the advantage still exists. But as the two finally drew close to the finish it was apparent that Marco did not have enough stamina left for a final sprint, in spite of having been in Armstrong's wake. And at the last instant, in an apparently magnanimous gesture, Armstrong backed off the pace allowing Pantini the victory as a "gift."

From a strategic standpoint the gesture cost Armstrong little, because his goal was an overall victory. Coming in second in a middle stage (over a period of three weeks), well ahead of the "pack," served his purposes as much as a win. But the gift did not gratify Pantini, who saw it as an insult. It is hard to say what Armstrong intended, but when he described the reasons for his actions he said that he had taken the lead to give Pantini a rest "because small riders have to work harder on a steep slope," which isn't strictly the case and does sound suspiciously like a slight. I can't think of a reason why a steep climb would be tougher for a smaller rider, as long as his power-to-weight ratio is favorable. Nor is the smaller rider at an aerodynamic disadvantage, since with less surface area such a rider will, almost by definition, create less drag.

But whatever the reason for the American's gesture on Ventoux, we can't afford to follow a similar example, offering a new Iraqi Civil Defense Force such an empty victory. We will have to fade from the scene much further down the slope, so that we're nowhere in sight or even in mind when the finish line finally looms. And that really represents the ultimate victory for the US in Iraq. In a sense it's a victory over our own shortsighted need and desire to win every contest, and dominate every foe. Thus, when Richard Holbrooke complained in a CNN interview recently that the US has been defeated in Fallujah and Najaf because we negotiated a withdrawal, we can rest assured that, as General Myers said about Fallujah: "If that was a defeat, we need more of them." We need more of them because our current task, part of a much longer war, is the most challenging form of alchemy: building an open civil society.

[1] Although the beneficiaries of US nation-building in the wake of WWII did not have the legitimacy-producing advantage of having won a war, the emergence into a modern and peaceful economic life after the crushing defeat at the hands of the allies was, relatively speaking, regarded as a victory. And the fact that it happened in such a short span added to the sense of prestige. It might also be argued that the shift from WWII to the Cold War, with its shift of allegience of Germany and Japan to the winning side of the War on Totalitarianism 2.x, further enhanced the legitimacy of the democratic regimes. In addition, of course, Japan kept its Emperor as a source of traditional legitimacy, while for Germany the institution of a parliamentary form of government with elections could be seen as a return to the pre-Nazi "mainstream," after the years of deviation. And the creation of an effective middle class in both "West" Germany and Japan were stunning achievements in their own right.

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