Date ►►► September 28, 2007
Dough Boys and Girls
Pandering among presidential candidates is a time-honored (and shopworn) tradition in this grand country of ours; and, although both parties participate, offering a benefit to every special-interest group that can raise a yowl is one of the Democrats' best things. Another specialty of theirs is social engineering: using government power to induce large scale change in people's social behavior (think of Prohibition, pushed by liberal do-gooders in the 1920s, or the 1980s attempt by NOW to feminize young boys, making them more like the preferred girls).
But it's rare that any Democrat is so brazen, so in-your-face about combining the two as Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 90%) was today:
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday that every child born in the United States should get a $5,000 "baby bond" from the government to help pay for future costs of college or buying a home.
Clinton, her party's front-runner in the 2008 race, made the suggestion during a forum hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus.
"I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so that when that young person turns 18 if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to make that downpayment on their first home," she said.
The New York senator did not offer any estimate of the total cost of such a program or how she would pay for it. Approximately 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.
A quick trip to the calculator (for those boggled by exponents) will reveal that this little scheme would cost $20 billion per year for the bonds alone, plus likely an additional $20 billion for "overhead" -- on top of everything else Sen. Clinton plans to slip into her budget... such as a down-payment on socialized medicine.
But the real insanity of this suggestion is that it's nothing less than a plot to redistribute income from taxpayers to new parents. Presumably, those who had the misfortune to have their babies before HIllary becomes president won't get a dime; but I'm sure those parents of one year olds -- who also must consider the future cost of college and buying a home -- will be overjoyed to donate to their next-door neighbor, whose kids are one year younger.
In fact, it's even worse. Since I'm sure the Democrats would balk at forcing poor people with older children to fork over 5 Gs to Bill and Melinda Gates the time they spawn, the savings bond will doubtless be "means-tested." The payment will thus betoken the first half of the liberal dream: cradle to grave welfare.
In effect, Hillary is proposing a vast, new welfare entitlement to go along with her socialized-medicine entitlement. I wonder how long before John Edwards and Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) up the ante to $7,500, $10,000, $15,000?
Other Democrats "get it":
"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, an Ohio Democrat who attended the event and has already endorsed Clinton. "Every child born in the United States today owes $27,000 on the national debt, why not let them come get $5,000 to grow until their [sic] 18?"
Why indeed not? Or why not $50,000? I'm certain the parents can be trusted to save it for their kids' college. And if not, perhaps the good senator from the carpetbag will be happy to propose significant government regulation and control to ensure it's spent entirely for the children... perhaps an annual complete government audit of every recipient's finances to make sure the government's money isn't used to buy a motorcycle, after the president was kind enough to lend it to us -- until they get it back as school tuition at a state university.
Heck, may as well audit everyone's finances, so the moochers who got the dough won't feel singled out.
But think of the doors opened by this sort of policy:
- $2,500 paid to smokers who agree to quit -- each time they quit;
- A $3,750 savings bond to NASCAR addicts who agree to forgo that macho, polluting, Republican pastime;
- A new Prius to any family that undergoes racial sensitivity training;
- A $250 gift certificate at a local boutique for each elbow patch installed on a tweed jacket;
- $4,600 in cash for each $4,600 donated to Hillary's presidential campaign (sorry, Asians only);
- $10,000 plus an all expenses paid trip to Sweden for each abortion a woman gets ($15,000 if the woman is an under-18 high school student);
- $1,000 a head for each person you sign up to Emily's List or the League of Women Voters;
- $6,000 to stop attending services at the church of your choice;
- ...plus $3,000 additional to begin attending services at the local Saudi-financed mosque;
I think the Democrats are really onto something here. In today's material world (full of material girls and boys), the most convincing principle of all is the principle that draws 4% - 5% interest.
Date ►►► September 27, 2007
This term, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case turning on whether it's constitutional to demand that voters present a picture ID card before voting:
With the 2008 presidential and Congressional elections on the horizon, the Supreme Court agreed today to consider whether voter-identification laws unfairly keep poor people and members of minority groups from going to the polls.
The justices will hear arguments from an Indiana case, in which a federal district judge and a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in January upheld a state law requiring, with certain exceptions, that someone wanting to vote in person in a primary or general election present a government-issued photo identification. Presumably, the court would rule on the case by June.
Before the law was enacted in 2005, an Indiana voter was required only to sign a book at the polling place, where a photocopy of the voter’s signature was kept on file.
This issue fascinates me because it touches on a critical philosophical difference: Is it unconstitutional to require voters to undertake a series of steps before they can exercise the franchise, merely because the people most likely to be too lazy to undertake them also tend to vote for one major party more than the other? For that is the real issue here:
Writing for the majority, Judge [Richard A.] Posner acknowledged that the Indiana law favors one party. “No doubt most people who don’t have photo ID are low on the economic ladder and thus, if they do vote, are more likely to vote for Democratic than Republican candidates,” he wrote.
But the purpose of the law is to reduce voting fraud, “and voting fraud impairs the right of legitimate voters to vote by diluting their votes — dilution being recognized to be an impairment of the right to vote,” Judge Posner said. And assertions that many people will be disenfranchised, or that there is no significant voter-fraud problem in Indiana, are based on unreliable data and “may reflect nothing more than the vagaries of journalists’ and other investigators’ choice of scandals to investigate,” the judge held.
In dissent, Judge Evans wrote that the Indiana law imposed an unconstitutional burden on some eligible voters. “Let’s not beat around the bush,” he wrote. “The Indiana voter photo ID law is a not-too-thinly-veiled attempt to discourage election-day turnout by certain folks believed to skew Democratic.”
Of course, we already require such steps: Registering, for example -- though many activists now demand that this requirement too be done away with, allowing into the ballot booth anyone who shows up with the ability to sign his name (or someone's). But it's hard to believe that the Court would strike down an election law that includes the mere requirement that you pre-register. But that means they (and most people) accept in theory the strategy of requiring a certain degree of hoop-jumping before voting; we're only arguing about how many hoops and how high they can be mounted.
The judges on the 7th Circus split (surprise!) along partisan fault lines: Posner and Diane S. Sykes, in the majority, were appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, respectively; while the dissenter, Terence T. Evans, was a Bill Clinton appointee. And as the New York Times hastens to point out...
In general, Republicans argue that identification laws reduce voter fraud, while Democrats oppose them on grounds that they lower the turnout among people who tend to vote Democratic.
Yes: convicts, illegal aliens, folks from neighboring states, and people who already voted six times that day. The mainstay of the Democratic electorate, without whom they would be a minority party today.
I confess I have little sympathy -- well, none, actually -- for the Democratic argument: If your party is going to derive at least some of its support by pandering to the scum of the earth, then you've no right to kick and scream when the scum fails to climb out of the gutter and vote.
The Times piece seems to be fairly even-handed, so let's turn to the real issue. Democrats argue that anything that makes it more difficult to vote will necessarily reduce voter turnout; in addition, it will reduce it more among the "poor," who tend to vote more Democratic; therefore (Democrats conclude) the law is unconstitutional.
But this argument is disingenuous, because it quietly assumes that the reason fewer poor people vote is that their grinding poverty physically prevents them from doing so: They cannot get to the polls because they have no cars, or because their Simon Legree-like bosses won't allow them to leave, or because the Gaza-like hellholes where they live contain death squads that will shoot them if they try to vote.
But this is nonsense on stilts. Nothing stops the poor from voting; most live within walking distance of their polling places; they can vote in the evening; we have no poll taxes anymore; and I have never heard of gang-bangers in the Bronx or East L.A. warning residents not to vote on penalty of a drive-by.
In fact, I am utterly convinced that older, married poor people have a significantly better voting turnout than teenaged and early-twenties middle- and upper-middle-income unmarried kids, simply because the latter group has an appalling record of not voting, no matter what their income. (Which I think is actually good, because the fewer people who vote, the better: I prefer that only those who really care about the issues vote, which disincludes that lot.)
"The poor" is an inadequate term, because there are really two classes of poor: A minority of the poor worked hard all their lives; but through a series of misfortunes or nasty government policies, they lost much of what they earned and now fall under the poverty line -- widows and orphans, workers whose employer went bankrupt, taking their entire pension with them, and so forth. These used to be called the "deserving poor," meaning they deserved to be helped by the more fortunate.
But then we have the large majority, who are poor precisely because they are lazy slobs, drug addicts, psychotic, or any combination of these. This group is the "undeserving poor."
It is the undeserving poor who skew the voting statistics for "the poor" as a lump: Fewer undeserving poor vote because the same sort of person who is too drunk, crazy, or lazy to work is equally uninterested in voting. In polls, if you ask them, they would certainly be far more Democratic and liberal (even Socialist) than the average population; but it's a canard to say they support the Democratic candidate, because they never remember to get to the polls, or else they think about it but decide to drink another bottle of Thunderbird instead.
If Indiana requires a picture ID to vote, the deserving poor will happily get one, if they don't have one already (which I suspect virtually all of them do). The undeserving poor -- who may very well not have drivers licenses, since that requires taking classes and passing a test -- will use the requirement as another excuse for not voting... and good riddance. That the Democrats want to cater to this group of ne'er-do-wells, brigands, scoundrels, bounders, pimps and ho's, drunks and the wasted, is a contemptible national disgrace.
The alternative view (of, e.g., Judge Evans) is that it's always better when more people vote, no matter whence you dredge up those extra warm bodies. I suspect they would prefer a law that sent poll workers into Skid Row (or as Friend Lee puts it, "Bums R Us") and had them shake awake the passed-out hobos and ask who they want for president. But do we really want people voting who literally don't even know that presidents are elected, let alone who is running and what their platforms say?
I surely hope that the Court takes this golden opportunity to reaffirm that voting is a right -- but one that entails a duty to show at least enough commitment to get some picture ID, so we're sure it's not one of those "mainstays" above whose maxim is "vote early, vote often," or who is voting while on weekend furlough from the Indiana State Prison.
But with Justice Anthony Kennedy, you never know; it could turn into a disaster if he sides with the Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, Souter quadrumvirate.
Date ►►► September 25, 2007
Military Tribunals Finally Listening to Big Lizards' Advice
Last June, a pair of judges on U.S. military tribunals issued a ruling that may be the most boneheaded technicality in American judicial history. (They were not ruling on the same case, but they used the exact same excuse in two different cases to dismiss all charges against enemy combatants, holding that the military tribunals themselves had no jurisdiction.) We wrote about it at the time:
In what AP calls "a stunning reversal for the Bush administration's attempts to try Guantanamo detainees in military court" -- but which rational observers would call "a shockingly thin example of dismissal by technicality" -- a military judge has dismissed murder charges against a detainee at Guantánamo Bay... because the military's combat status review tribunal only classified him as an "enemy combatant," rather than as an "unlawful enemy combatant"...
The law says that only those persons who are qualified to be designated as unlawful enemy combatants can be tried; the clear intent and substance of the law is not affected by whether the earlier tribunal used the same words as the later-enacted law, but by whether they used the same standards... and Judge [Army Col. Peter] Brownback should jolly well understand that.
All he needed to do was check that the criteria used by the earlier tribunals to declare someone an "enemy combatant" are the same as those that used today to declare someone an "unlawful enemy combatant." Maybe this is the non-lawyer in me; but it was utterly clear to everyone, including the detainees, that the entire purpose of the status-review tribunal was to determine whether they were bad enough to warrant trial by a military tribunal.
The detainees knew exactly what that meant: They knew that if they were found to be "enemy combatants," they would be tried by a military court. Now the defense argues -- and the judge, Army Col. Peter Brownback, seems to have independently argued himself into believing -- that the trivial difference in words violates the rights of the detainees, because they didn't know they were in jeopardy of trial if found to be enemy combatants... which was the very term used at the time to designate those detainees eligible for trial!
The two judges -- Brownback and Navy Capt. Keith Allred -- ruled not only that they could not preside over the cases against the two enemy combatants (one of which was the infamous Salim Ahmed Hamdan of the even more infamous Hamdan Supreme-Court decision), they could not even hear evidence about whether the two were, in fact, "unlawful enemy combatants," as opposed to mere "enemy combatants." They decided they (or any other tribunal judge) lacked any jurisdiction whatsoever, and all the cases against all the detainees should be dismissed.
It was like a Barry Sheck dream come true.
Fortunately, a three-judge panel of the Military Tribunal Appellate Court reads Big Lizards. At least, I can only conclude that, as they used virtually the same argument today in overturning the decision of Judge Brownback as we argued in the previous post last June. (They did not specifically consider Allred's decision; but since it was identical with that of Judge Brownback, one presumes the same ruling will reverse that of Allred as well; I wonder if he will mulishly force the court to do so explicitly?) According to the New York Times:
The three appeals judges said yesterday that Judge Brownback had “abused his discretion in deciding this critical jurisdictional matter without first fully considering” the government’s evidence. The appeals court sent the case back to Judge Brownback for further consideration....
The military appeals court said in its ruling yesterday that Judge Brownback was wrong in concluding that he did not have the authority to decide whether a detainee was an “unlawful” enemy combatant, which would give his court the power to hear a war-crimes case.
The court said the trial judge could hear the government’s evidence that a detainee was an unlawful combatant. An unlawful combatant, for example, could be a fighter who does not wear a uniform and conceals his weapons.
It's hard to fathom just how stupid were the original decisions. I took a stab at in the June post; but reading it over, I don't think I succeeded. Let's see if I can do better in my second time at bat:
- Congress originally passed a law setting up a system of military tribunals. The basic procedure was that the president first had to evaluate every detainee's case and determine whether each was or was not an "enemy combatant." Those determined to be enemy combatants would then be tried by the tribunals, while the rest would have to be released.
- They went through the process; the Pentagon held hearings and determined that 80 of the 300+ detainees qualified as enemy combatants. They put them on trial. (The classification hearings determined that a number of detainees used to be enemy combatants but were no longer; in several well-known cases, it became clear the Pentagon was punked.)
- But before the trials, Hamdan went to the Supreme Court and successfully argued that the procedures at the trial itself were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court did not hold that there was anything wrong with the process that classified Hamdan and the other 79 as "enemy combatants," nor that there was anything wrong with the label itself.
- But when Congress enacted a new law, responding to the Hamdan decision, they used a slightly different label: They said that only "unlawful enemy combatants" could be tried. However, they used the exact, same criteria to determine status as an unlawful enemy combatant as had been used under the previous law to determine status as an enemy combatant. The two terms were de-facto identical, and even de-jure -- if one dug so deep as to consider the definition, not merely the label.
- Yet when the first two cases came to trial, Allred and Brownback both ruled that they lacked jurisdiction to hear the trials, because Hamdan and Omar Ahmed Khadr had only been designated "enemy combatants," per the first law, not "unlawful enemy combatants," per the second.
- This might have been all right... except that they also ruled that they lacked jurisdiction even to hear any evidence that the two defendants were, in fact, unlawful enemy combatants under the new designation; or that, in fact, the two terms had identical definitions.
This is the ultimate in technicalities, exactly the sort of thing that confusticates ordinary people about the American judicial system: Horrific murderers and terrorists should be turned loose -- because the administration used a slightly different label for them (based on earlier legislation) than was picked by a later Congress in writing subsequent legislation, even though the two labels were defined by identical language in each act.
That last point (6) is the dumbass ruling that was struck down today; the appellate court held that the two previous judges did indeed have jurisdiction to hear evidence that the "enemy combatants" (old label) were also "unlawful enemy combatants" (new label):
In the ruling Monday, the military appeals judges, the United States Court of Military Commission Review, agreed that the law written by Congress did say that finding by a military panel that a detainee was an “unlawful” enemy combatant was a prerequisite for prosecution. But the judges said Congress intended the Guantánamo courts to apply usual procedures of military courts.
“This would include the common procedures used before general courts-martial permitting military judges to hear evidence and decide factual and legal matters concerning the court’s own jurisdiction over the accused appearing before it,” the appeals judges wrote. [One can almost "hear" the annoyance and exasperation in the appellate judges' decision.]
Again, since there is no difference between the criteria for each label, it should be easy to prove... unless Brownback and Allred decide to dig in their heels and declare that Congress was wrong to define unlawful enemy combatant as it did; the judges could tack on one impossible criterion after another until they can achieve their goal: making it impossible to prosecute anyone for anything before a military tribunal.
Dennis Edney, Mr. Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, said the defense was considering whether to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. If there is an appeal, it could delay the resumption of Guantánamo cases yet again.
Mr. Edney said he was disappointed by the military panel’s ruling but not surprised. “Omar Khadr still faces a process that is tainted, and designed to make a finding of guilt,” he said.
Well, yeah; and Mr. Edney is doing everything in his powe to prevent the court ruling, thus put-off any finding of guilt. I believe he has fallen for the great temptation of defense attorneys, where getting the client off becomes the overriding goal, rather than ensure he has a fair trial. (This is the snare into which Lynne Stewart fell, finally winding up convicted of passing messages from Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman to his terrorist cell.)
The real underlying problem here should be obvious: There is an amazing amount of resistance among the military's Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps to the very idea of trying terrorist detainees in military tribunals, notwithstanding both statutory law and military tradition. Most lawyers are liberals, and this evidently applies even when the lawyer works for the military.
I believe most of them desperately want all detainees to be charged and tried in civilian courts, with the full panoply of criminal-defendant rights to counsel of their choice, open and public trial, the ability to subpoena all evidence (including heavily classified evidence) they claim will help their defense, and the power to subpoena all individuals involved in their capture -- from the soldiers trying to fight a war in the field to the Secretary of Defense and even the Commander in Chief who ordered the war fought in the first place -- and haul them all into court to testify for as many weeks as the judge orders.
We see this same tendency in politicians who are too closely allied with the JAG Corps: I believe that is what drives Sens. John McCain (R-AZ, 65%) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC, 83%), for example. Among this crowd, no military tribunal process will ever be fair or sufficient: They reject the very idea of treating terrorists any differently than we treat carjackers and pickpockets. Despite the decidedly uncertain record of attempting to try terrorists in civilian courts, "Jaggers" believe that we'll forfeit the "moral high ground" if we don't sacrifice national security on the altar of judicial purity.
There is a controversial Latin saying: fiat justicia ruat coelum; "let justice be done, though heaven should fall." I happen to believe this, but it critically depends on how one defines "justice." But what these Jaggers have in mind is something far more radical -- and utterly indefensible: "Let procedure be followed, though America should fall."
Even as a libertarian-conservative-ish political non-Euclidean, I consider this a foolish and unnecessary self-immolation; I agree rather with the last sentence of the dissent of Justice Robert H. Jackson in the case Terminiello v. Chicago:
There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.
This certainly applies in the Case of the Footdragging Military Judges. Let us move past the surreal technicalities, get on with the cases, and finally see the backs of these infamous detainees.
Date ►►► September 24, 2007
Jobbed by the Watchman!
I've never seen this before, but there was a tie in the Nouncil voting this time... and the Watcher in the Weirds broke the tie by giving his extra point to the one he liked best. Which would be perfectly fine, if it happened to someone else (with my narcissism, I probably wouldn't even have noticed). But it happened to me. Me!
Well, I mean it happened to the Nouncil nominee I nominated... and I'm still smarting. Ouch. Stupid voters; if just one more Council member had voted correctly, even as a second-place vote, there wouldn't have been a tie; and the Watcher's awesome powers would have been stymied.
The winner in the Council vote is... ah, who cares? I'm still steaming about the Nouncil vote.
All right, all right; contractual obligations and all that. The winner in the Council category was:
- Is War With Iran Now Just a Matter of Time?, by Right Wing Nut House.
Since I voted for this piece (not being allowed to vote for myself, which otherwise I would do every week, whether my post was good, bad, or ugly), I really can't kick about it winning. Still, I can't escape the feeling that the Watcher is somehow mocking me.
The piece is about -- exactly what its title proclaims. Therefore, I'll take the opportunity to blow my own harp instead. In an e-mail I sent to my very good friend and drinking buddy Scott Johnson, I quote from my very good friend and drinking buddy J.R.R. Tolkien:
In your post Tehran Calling, you quote Robert Trackinski:
The coming of the war with Iran has very little to do with our intentions and has everything to do with the enemy's intentions. Our only choice is how we will respond. Will we continue to evade the need to confront this threat--or will we finally begin to fight back?
I thought suddenly of a quotation from the Lord of the Rings. Theoden King, king of the Riders of Rohan, is worried about confronting the evil wizard Saruman. He speaks to Gandalf the Grey, the good wizard:
Theoden: I will not risk open war.
Gandalf: Open war is upon you whether you risk it or no.
We can sit here and say we'll not risk open war with Iran... but open war is upon us, whether we recognize it or not. It's a fine line; we're such a powerful country that we barely notice the pinpricks Iran inflicts upon us. But they are growing more desperate to gain our attention; and eventually, their "pinpricks" may turn to something much more serious. We daren't wait until that point (Bush's comment about the first indication being a mushroom cloud applies); but we cannot strike too soon, or we may lose critical allies in the war against global jihad.
But open war is upon us; and sooner or later, we shall have to strike. And when we do, then we must make it a death blow. As Machiavelli wrote, if you strike at the king you must slay him... which also applies to the clown, if the clown has a nuclear hand grenade. (50-foot throwing range, 5-mile blast radius -- why bother throwing it? Just stand nearby and pull the pin.)
So you see, it all ties together. "It's part of the lattice of coincidence that lies on top of everything." Scott's jocular response -- "who exactly are you, anyway, and where did you get this e-mail address?" -- only points out how much he appreciates my point.
Since we already spilled the beans about how we cast our number-one vote, you're probably equally fascinated to know who got number two:
- (See above)
- LA Times: "No Blood For Oil" Lackey, by Cheat Seeking Missiles.
The last discusses the L.A. Dog Trainer's interview with former Federal Reserve Board Chairman and Erstwhile Randroid Alan Greenspan... but you know all about it if you read Mr. Greenspan Regrets He's Unable to Bash Today. And if you didn't, then don't hold me accountable for lacunae in your education.
Here is where the real action occurred. This is the piece that required our esteemed leader to take the iron glove off the velvet hand and directly force its victory:
- Dead Eyes, by Acute Politics.
Here is what Mr. Watcher wrote about why he chose to intervene:
There was actually a tie in the non-council category this week... there were two very good posts about Iraq but Teflon Don's post about the weariness of war ultimately won me over.
Gaak. That was precisely the reason I did not vote for Dead Eyes: Its premise appears to be that everything is hopeless in Iraq, it's all a waste, so what's the use?
Here, our number-one vote, is the Iraq piece that should have won:
- Iraq the Model, by Hugh Hewitt (actually by Dean Barnett writing on Hugh Hewitt);
- "al Qaidastan" Rising, by ZenPundit.
The Barnett post -- named in homage of the best blog out of Iraq -- takes a look at the rapidly declining homicide rate in Iraq and sees therein proof of the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency strategy.
The ZenPundit post is a technical post about "Fourth Generation Warfare" that I found interesting and thought to bring to your attention. Consider yourself alerted.
The usual plug...
Read all about it here.
Cindy Sheehan's Day of Out-of-Tunement Manifesto
I rarely do this, as you know: I rarely link to some piece and say simply "read this." (I'm too in love with the sound of my own fingers typing on a keyboard.)
But here's an exception. Read Cindy Sheehan's Yom Kippur "sermon," delivered at Michael Lerner's Beyt Tikkun "synogogue;" you will be -- if not exactly glad, then at least agape. (Rabbi Lerner is Hillary Clinton's mentor, author of the Politics of Meaning and other works of Socialist agit-prop masquerading as theology.)
My response (I love this) is entirely contained in the list of categories I had to attach to this post.
(Well, one more thing. It has always been my understanding that Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, is a day for each person to atone for what he, personally, has done wrong -- not "atone" for his enemies failing to live up to his own lofty standards, apologize for all the times America hasn't followed his lead, or wallow in self-righteous indignation that nobody listens to him. 'Nuff said; read the list of categories above.)
Date ►►► September 23, 2007
The Human Touch
This post began life as a comment on Patterico's Pontifications; but as it grew and grew, it hatched into a full-blown post for Big Lizards instead. (Sorry, Patterico!) I was reading a post by PP guest poster DRJ about Colin Powell privileging "diversity" over national security in visa applications:
The State Department under Secretary of State Colin Powell refused to implement a 2003 anti-terror recommendation that would have barred aliens from states that support terrorism from obtaining diversity visas....
America must show compassion for people in need of asylum but, after 9/11, I hoped the American government would show compassion for the home folks, too.
One commenter named Steve took issue with the tone of the post, which seemed to favor a blanket restriction on visa applications under the "diversity" category for immigrants from countries that sponsor terrorism. He wrote:
I work next to one of those 3,100 Iranians, M-F.
Should I tell her something for you?
We also let in many thousands more during the Shah’s regime, and probably didn’t check their politics in any meaningful way.
The argument boiled down to a procedural difference: Should immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring countries be barred from "diversity" visas, forcing them to tread the more heavily restricted route of "asylum" applications? (Cf., some months ago, during the great immigration-reform debate, Hughitt opined that illegal immigrants from terrorist-supporting countries be banned from obtaining the so-called "parole cards" that would prevent them being deported while they attempted to legalize. Reading over my response, I see that I made essentially the same suggestion in that case as in this... so it turns out I'm consistent. Go figure.)
But the particular policy itself is not the issue, says I; it really doesn't matter which category we admit or reject them under, or even how many such immigrants we allow into the country. As with virtually everything else in the world, what matters is not so much the policy but how it's applied: We should admit all those applicants, no matter where from, who will benefit the United States... and keep out all those who will hurt us.
The question, then, is how to discriminate between the two. Humanitarians make a good point that immigrants fleeing from terrorist-sponsoring states -- think of Jews escaping from Lebanon and Christians fleeing Sudan -- are often exactly the sort of assimilable immigrant to whom we should grant asylum, and that many -- those who fled Communism in the past -- have made some of the best Americans.
In addition, I would note that they make excellent intelligence and linguistic sources, since few native-born Americans have native-level facility with Farsi, Urdu, Pashtun, Turkish, or even Arabic. (We have many more who can speak Korean, of course.) And not many of us know what it's like to live in countries like Indonesia, Yemen, or Somalia... what the mood of the people is, how they might respond to clandestine American operations, and how close to revolution they might be.
But conservatives also have a strong argument: Immigrants from terrorist-sponsoring nations are a potential threat; I can easily imagine Ahmadinejad mocking up a refugee background for a Qods Force operative who then "flees" to America to escape "persecution," preparing to attack us instead.
But perhaps the problem is that, as usual, we're looking for a one-size-fits-all policy for a multifaceted situation. We're trying to set up the perfect set of procedures, from airline security to visa applications, that will keep us safe.
But it's a fool's errand; our strength is not in our procedures but our people... and today, I think it unquestionable that America has the most experienced military and civilian-defense workers in the world. Those who have actually worked on the ground in the hell-holes of the world are particularly asute at distinguishing between someone who is sincere about wanting to help and a terrorist trying to infiltrate the ranks. It's a tremendous national resource, and we're letting it lie fallow.
For a long time now, Israel has urged us to follow their lead on interdicting terrorism. Rather than rely upon "foolproof" procedures, like x-raying everyone's shoes at the airport, Israel relies instead upon her own people. The government has trained a huge bunch of human agents to be extraordinarily good at two tasks:
- Recognizing any one of some number of faces they have memorized, the faces of known or suspected terrorists;
- Spotting suspicious behavior, demeanor, or conversation, even among people not on the watch list.
These agents roam around anywhere that terrorists are likely to congregate: airports, bus stations, malls, theaters, government buildings, and so forth. They look like ordinary people... but like cops, they're very, very good at noticing either weird behavior or spotting someone on a watch or wanted list.
The Israelis say that real, live, well-trained human beings do a better job of preventing terrorism than any number of passive procedures. Of course, they don't have to worry so much about, e.g., allegations of racial profiling; even so, American police officers rely heavily on their own and other officers' intuition... which is one-word shorthand for a cop's ability to notice aberrant situations and investigate more thoroughly, calling in backup as necessary.
I think we should evaluate each visa application, whether under the "asylum" or "diversity" category, on an individual basis; and that the evaluation be performed not by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) alone, but by a group within the wider Department of Homeland Security, each of whose members has personal experience both recruiting agents within terrorist-sponsoring countries and spotting terrorists trying to weasel their way into local or American projects.
By personal experience, I mean people who have confronted terrorists on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere. Both soldiers and civilians, government and private, operating in such terrorist killing fields either quickly develop the ability to accurately evaluate the intentions of those with whom they interact... or else they quickly die.
I suggest that each of the thousands of members of this "visa evaluation group," male or female, be a "boots on the ground" military or civilian veteran of counterterrorism or counterinsurgency operations. I would include not only government employees but former private security employees, oil riggers, truck drivers, bankers, and even journalists -- if they actually moved out of the Green Zone and embedded with a military unit.
Hire enough of them to do a thorough job with every applicant; it's expensive, but it's an urgent national-security issue. Pay them enough to lure them away from their previous employment, if necessary. Give them enough authority to make their decisions stick, at least until the president or a federal court overrules them. And give them enough oversight that they don't become petty tyrants: Make it a prestige, career-enhancing assignment from which you can get bounced for acts of neglect, partisanship, or stupidity... more like the "Special Forces" than the heavily politicized CIA.
I agree with the Israeli approach, and I think this would resolve our conundrum: We should welcome immigrants from terror-sponsoring countries with open arms -- and stretched ears. We should rely for our security on investigatory interviews and background checks by men and women whose very lives, in the past, have depended upon their ability to make accurate judgments about people's real motivations.
Sheer Heart Attack in Mackinac
Although Mitt Romney has seen much of his early lead evaporate in New Hampshire, he still leads the pack by an average of 4.7%, according to Real Clear Politics. He's ahead in Iowa by a whopping 16.4%. And he's the "favorite son" in Michigan, where Romney's father, George W. Romney, was governor in the 1960s; Mitt Romney leads the polls there by 7.6%.
As Hughitt has said, if Romney wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan at the very beginning of the caucus/primary parade, it will be mighty hard for any Republican candidate to dethrone him for the nomination.
This weekend, Michigan held a straw poll at what was advertised as "the biggest gathering of Michigan Republicans before their January 15th primary." So how did Romney do, exactly? According to Real Clear Politics, he beat the field by 12% -- more than half again as much as his lead in the polls:
The results, which come close to mirroring recent polls (Romney leads by 7.6% in the latest RCP Michigan Average) again show that [Fred] Thompson's rise to the top will not be easy. [Sen. John] McCain's second-place finish, despite a blow he suffered when Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox left his camp last week, may mean he still has some fight left in him, though he places fourth in the RCP Average. And [Rep. Ron] Paul, who beat out both Thompson and [Rudy] Giuliani, continues to show surprising grassroots-level support. Whether he can translate that into votes remains, however, to be seen....
Here are the official results:
- Romney 39% (383 votes)
- McCain 27% (260)
- Paul 11% (106)
- Giulaini 11% (104)
- Thompson 7% (70)
- Huckabee 3% (25)
- Hunter 1% (12)
- Brownback <1% (3)
- Tancredo 0% (0)
- Uncommitted 2% (16)
But according to another source -- Real Clear Politics -- Romney did poorly, was ill-received, and cannot generate any enthusiasm in Michigan:
Jonathan Martin reports on Mitt Romney's speech yesterday at the Mackinac Leadership conference this weekend:
In a lunchtime speech to over a thousand Michigan Republicans gathered here for a retreat, Romney cast himself as a "Republican for change" and told the faithful in a marked denunciation of his own party that the Washington branch of the GOP has lost its way....
Romney was reading from a teleprompter and punctuated his statement with emphasis -- clearly indicating that it was meant for applause. But there was none.
A bit later Martin says there was "an awkward moment when one person began to clap but nobody else in the crowd joined."
That doesn't sound like a very impressive showing, especially for a candidate who is the state's favorite son.
Oh fudge. We appear to have a tale of two Mackinacs. Will the Real Clear Politics please stand up?
Date ►►► September 21, 2007
Now that General Petraeus' Counter Insurgency (COIN) plan is working, the obvious question is "why didn't we do this sooner?" Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes agreed with each other last week on the Beltway Boys that "we should have done this back in 2005." But I now believe we could not have done it then or anytime earlier than we did. (This may exonerate Gens. George Casey and John Abizaid.)
This afternoon, I was listening to Hugh Hewitt read from Michael Totton's report from Ramadi. The report was extremely upbeat: After many years of abuse by al-Qaeda, the Sunni tribes are sick and tired of the horrible lives the terrorists forced upon them. When the Americans approached them early this year to join forces against AQI, they were more than ready... they were eager.
With the cooperation of local Sunni tribes, American and Iraqi troops were able to kick al-Qaeda out of Ramadi, completely transforming a once hellish place into, not a Garden of Eden, but at least a place where troops and journalists feel safe without body armor and a helmet. People are now friendly and trustworthy. I heard an identical story from Falluja, and similar ones from the notorious Haifa Street in Bagdhad.
These three observations jibe with what Lt.Col. Dave Kilcullen -- senior COIN advisor to Gen. Petraeus -- wrote in his post at Small Wars Journal describing the development of the "Anbar awakening". Kilcullen paints a portrait of tribal leaders driven to the end of their tether by the rabid authoritarianism and bloodthirst of al-Qaeda, finally snapping and hurling themselves into battle against their erstwhile allies.
The mechanism is clear: Sunnis (and Shia) became so disgusted by and enraged at the high-handed dictatorship of al-Qaeda (or the Shiia militias, depending) that they could not tolerate another minute under the leash. But the operative point that must be understood is that the disgust and anger comes not from the abstract contemplation of rights denied but the palpable experience in thrall to fanatic extremists.
Now to the theory. One vital element of COIN is getting the cooperation of local citizens; a "counterinsurgency" does not work when the whole countryside is against us. The citizens of Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin, and the Sunni areas of Baghdad must become the eyes and ears of our troops; and they must not betray us to the evil-doers. If the Sunnis sympathize with the insurgents more than they trust us, COIN does not work.
In 2005, neiher Sunni nor Shia trusted Americans; they believed we would side with one or the other faction, try to install an American puppet, or just get tired and leave. They thought of us as conquerors and occupiers. They thought we went to Iraq to steal their oil and their women. When al-Qaeda (or some Shiite Militia) promised to kick out the infidels and bring power to the Iraqis, the people simply believed them.
This was before al-Qaeda forced people to obey Taliban-like rules, and before the leadership began to rape the women and kill the sons of the communities. In other words, when ordinary Iraqis still thought they could coexist with the terrorists.
So how did we go about gaining their trust and their alliance against the insurgency?
I do not believe the Iraqis would ever have been convinced by us simply telling them how evil the terrorists were. I believe the Iraqis needed to experience for themselves the inhuman hatred and violence of al-Qaeda. They needed to come to the conclusion themselves that terrorists are not their friends; in fact, they are the invaders, not Americans. They had to learn what life was like when their rulers considered them inferior beings.
People in Iraq also needed to know that Americans do not give up when going gets tough. They needed to know they could trust us to stay for as long as it took. Iraqis had to overcome anti-Western prejudice and start trusting Americans. They needed the past four years of experience.
I initially supported Secretary Rumsfeld's "small footprint" operation, with MNF-I commander Gen. Casey and CENTCOM commander John Abizaid. Many people now think that was a failure, and I too thought so for a while. But today, I don't think it was either a mistake or failure. The Iraqi people needed to learn just how totalitarian and vicious were al-Qaeda and the Shiite militias.
But if, as Mort and Fred suggested, we had tried this strategy in 2006 of 2005, it would have been an abject failure. The grand military theorist Edward Luttwak believes that if a region is begging to have a war (think of Xugoslavia just after the breakup), you cannot impose a peace upon them until they fight themselves to collapse; then and only then are the combatants willing to look at negotiation with favor. By the same reasoning, then, until the insurgent enablers among the larger population experience the horrors of a one-party sharia state, they cannot know how awful it will be.
Therefore, by luck or by careful planning, we held our ground -- yet allowed the flowering of sharia, so long as it did not directly threaten us. As anyone could anticipate (though few of us did), familiarity bred a great deal of contempt.
But take the personal experience out of the equation, and it would have been darn-near impossible to end up with an "Anbar awakening" -- or a Diyala, Baghdad, or even Basra awakening. Thus, the answer to the question, "why didn't we do this back in 2005?" is that it would not only have fallen apart, it would have increased the distrust and mutual animosity between America and the Iraqis.
Had we done what so many now claim they told us (in retrospect, without witnesses) we should have done, we would still have an insurgency; but we would already have discredited our own COIN operation. In that sense, therefore, it's actually a good thing that we did not decide to try a counterinsurgency until now... so that the unanticipated miracle of the "awakenings" could sweep through Iraq.
Date ►►► September 20, 2007
Democrats -- or Dhimmicrats?
And while we're on the subject of roll-call votes, how about this one?
For several days now, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX, 96%) has been pushing an amendment to condemn the MoveOn.org ad that asked "General Petraeus -- or General Betray Us?" He also demanded the Senate support our troops and the man the Senate unanimously confirmed as their leader. The text was as follows:
To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces.
But the Democrats were reluctant to vote for such an amendment; in fact, they ducked it the first time, a couple of days ago. Then today, in an effort to undercut support for the Cornyn amendment, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 95%) introduced her own version of the amendment:
To reaffirm strong support for all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces and to strongly condemn attacks on the honor, integrity, and patriotism of any individual who is serving or has served honorably in the United States Armed Forces, by any person or organization.
Note the changes: "Full support" has shrunk to "strong support;" the condemnation of "personal attacks" has become a condemnation merely of "attacks" (I suppose calling someone a liar, a stooge, and someone for whom one must suspend disbelief isn't necessarily personal).
But the most important change: Gen. Petraeus -- the actual victim of Democratic hate speech -- has been erased from our memory. He has become an "un-person." Under the Boxer version, all one need do is assert that Petraeus is not honorably serving (all that lying and stooging), and the hate speech can spew forth without condemnation.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%) insisted that, notwithstanding the timeline, the Boxer amendment would be voted on first. But Republicans refused to go along with the trick; they refused to agree to the vote and filibustered... and the Democrats were unable to overcome it, losing the vote by 51 to 46 in favor (60 needed)... and that's including Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT, 75%D), who voted in favor of the Boxer amendment.
We fast forward 38 minutes. At long last, the Cornyn amendment came up for a vote. Mind, by this time, there was no alternative to the Cornyn amendment; if it went down, then the Senate would have chosen not to condemn the MoveOn ad and not to support Petraeus and the troops.
Fortunately, it passed... but by only 72 to 25, with 3 not voting. Shockingly enough, not a single vote against the amendment came from a Republican. Nor did any Republican fail to vote. Rather, all 49 Senate Republicans voted "To express the sense of the Senate that General David H. Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq, deserves the full support of the Senate and strongly condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces."
24 out of 49 Democrats -- 50% of the caucus -- voted against condemning the ad calling Petraeus a traitor, against supporting the troops, and against supporting the man every, last one of them voted to confirm less than eight months ago... during which time, he turned around the war effort, which now is headed towards victory. Among those voting against condemning the "General Betray Us" ad are presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%) and Chris Dodd (D-CT, 95%).
The other two senators running for the Democratic nomination for president -- Joe Biden (D-DE, 100%) and Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) -- were too cowardly to cast a vote. Biden also ducked the vote on Barbara "the Underminer" Boxer's amendment, but Obama managed to crawl out of his hole long enough to vote for the weak-tea Boxer version.
Independent Socialist Bernie Sanders (I-VT, not yet rated) voted for the Boxer version but against the Cornyn version; Independent Joe Lieberman voted for both versions.
So there you have it: One party wholeheartedly supports the troops, supports Gen. Petraeus, and condemns the vicious, personal attack by MoveOn.org which questions Petraeus' patriotism.
In the other party, half of the members do not support the troops, do not support their commander, and applaud and join in the attacks on Petraeus' character and patriotism.
Be sure to let your friends know... especially those on the center-left. Perhaps they should consider the depth of hatred this betokens when they step into the little booth in November 2008.
A New Definition of Lockstep of Which We Were Previously Unaware
On the amendment by Sen. James Webb (D-VA, not yet rated) to require troops to spend as much time in the United States, in between deployments, as they spend abroad during deployments -- an amendment which Webb himself cheerfully admitted was in fact intended to make our current, successful counterinsurgency strategy impossible -- I was struck by the angry, petulant complaint by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY, 100%) when the Senate failed to invoke cloture:
“The Republican leadership and the White House is [sic] getting them all to march in line,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who ranks third in the party leadership. “But it [sic] is marching further and further away from where America is. We just keep at it. It’s all we can do.”
That is, Schumer is bitter that the Republicans are marching in lockstep with the White House.
Hm. I toddled over and took a look at the roll-call vote on the Webb amendment, which failed to break the filibuster by 56 to 44 (60 were needed). As the Times notes:
There were 56 votes in favor, including 6 Republicans -- one fewer than the 7 Republicans who joined the Democrats in July, when the measure, by Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, also fell 4 votes short.
Six Republicans voted in favor of the amendment -- therefore against the White House:
- Norm Coleman (MN, 68%);
- Susan Collins (ME, 48%);
- Chuck Hagel (NE, 75%);
- Gordon Smith (OR, 72%);
- Olympia Snowe (ME, 36%);
- John Sununu (NH, 88%).
So 43 out of 49 Republicans voting with the president (a rate of 87.8%) constitutes "march[ing] in line" with the White House.
And now, for comparison, here are all the Democrats who voted against the Webb amendment:
[Insert sound-effect of chirping crickets.]
The Democrats voted 49 out of 49 against the White House, for a rate of -- furiously tapping on my calculator -- approximately 100% lockstep with Harry Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%), Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%), Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%), Chuck Schumer, Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA, 95%).
Whew, thank goodness for the open-minded, independent, free-thinking Democratic Party!
There is a terrible tale of racism and racial hysteria unfolding in a tiny town called Jena in Louisiana:
Traffic jammed the two-lane road leading into the tiny town of Jena early Thursday as thousands of demonstrators gathered in support of six black teens initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate. [The victim, Justin Barker, was selected randomly and beaten, in broad daylight, just outside his high school, by six black youths, five of them of majority age; Barker was chosen for this honor because he was white.]
The Rev. Al Sharpton said it could be the beginning of the 21st century's civil rights movement, one that would challenge disparities in the justice system.
"You cannot have justice meted out based on who you are rather than what you did," [the Rev.] Sharpton told CBS's "The Early Show" Thursday.... [Justin Barker was beaten by the black youths for who he was rather than what he did (he didn't do anything).]
"This is the most blatant example of disparity in the justice system that we've seen," [the Rev.] Sharpton said Thursday. "You can't have two standards of justice. We didn't bring race in it, those that hung the nooses brought the race into it...." [Justin Barker did not hang any nooses, and he did not bring "the race" into it.]
Thursday's protest had been planned to coincide with [defendant Mychal] Bell's sentencing, but organizers decided to press ahead even after the conviction was thrown out. Bell remains in jail while prosecutors prepare an appeal. He has been unable to meet the $90,000 bond.
"We all have family members about the age of these guys. We said it could have been one of them [any "one of them" could have beaten some random white kid because he was angry at other white kids]. We wanted to try to do something," said Angela Merrick, 36, of Atlanta, who drove with three friends from Atlanta to protest the treatment of the "Jena Six". [Nobody rallied to protest the beating of Justin Barker.]
The rally was heavily promoted on black Web sites, blogs, radio and publications.
Students came from schools across the region, including historically black colleges like Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Hampton University and Southern University. [But the Rev. Al Sharpton assures us that the protesters didn't inject "the race" into the beating of Justin Barker.]
Tina Cheatham missed the civil rights marches at Selma, Montgomery and Little Rock, but she had no intention of missing another brush with history. The 24-year-old Georgia Southern University graduate drove all night to reach tiny Jena in central Louisiana.
"It was a good chance to be part of something historic since I wasn't around for the civil rights movement. This is kind of the 21st century version of it," she said.... [The 21st century version of the civil rights movement seems strangely silent about Justin Barker's right not to be beaten for "walking home while white".]
[The Rev.] Sharpton, who helped organize the protest, met Bell at the courthouse Wednesday morning. He said Bell is heartened by the show of support and wants to make sure it stays peaceful. [Nobody showed any support for Justin Barker, lying peacefully in the street unconscious after his beating.]
"He doesn't want anything done that would disparage his name - no violence, not even a negative word," [the Rev.] Sharpton said. [Let's not disparage the name of the victim -- Mychal Bell -- forced to endure a trial merely for beating a random white boy. Where's the justice for poor Mychal Bell?]
Justin Barker was attacked from behind without warning; he never even saw who hit him first. He was jumped by six black youths because he was the nearest white boy around when their "black rage" overwhelmed them. This is what news agencies across the world refer to as a "school fight;" and the rallies for the defendants were populated by "veterans of the civil rights movements," as reported in the caption to this photograph:
Big Lizards caption: The Blalocks prepare for joyous rally supporting racism in Jena, LA
Andrea Blalock, left, checks out a shirt for her husband Thomas Blalock, both from Stockbridge, Ga. as they prepare for a march in support of the Jena 6 in Jena, La., Thursday, Sept. 20, 2007. Hundreds of people dressed in black, from college students to veterans of the civil rights movements, boarded buses bound for Jena and a rally Thursday in support of six black teenagers who were initially charged with attempted murder in the beating of a white classmate.
"Enough is enough," says Mr. Blalock's t-shirt. Enough what -- enough white people? Enough prosecutions for black kids who violently assault random whites? I suppose Mrs. Blalock believes that's exactly the message that Jesus taught.
It appears that the core demand of the "21st century's civil rights movement" is that, if "Whitey" offends some blacks, then all other blacks have the civil right to retaliate against "Whitey;" and any old Whitey who comes along will do. Just as in one of the cases that first brought the Rev. Al Sharpton to prominence, the Crown Heights riot, where he argued that if Mr. Jew loses control of his car and accidentally kills a black girl, then Mr. Jew should be beaten to death. Of course, any "Mr. Jew" will do: Jews -- and Whites -- are fungible. We exist only as representatives of our race.
And across the nation -- across the world -- there are rallies in support of six black youths who beat a random white teenager until he had a concussion, was bleeding from his ears, and was blind in one eye for weeks. His crime was racial guilt: Other people who were also white -- just like Justin Barker! -- hung nooses from a tree to scare some black students.
There is a terrible tale of racism and racial hysteria unfolding in a tiny town called Jena in Louisiana, and in Europe, and in Asia: Flip the races around; say that six white youths beat a black teenager because some other black teenager Mau-Maued them.
How many around the globe would rally for the "civil rights" of the assaulters?
Date ►►► September 19, 2007
Israel Finally Listening to Big Lizards' Advice
A long time ago (in blog years -- June 2005), I wrote a piece on Patterico's Pontifications called "Words of Wall," which I later reposted here on Big Lizards. As I wrote in the introduction to the repost:
This is the post where I first laid out the Lizard Doctrine: Israel should withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank, not because it will pacify the Palestinians (which I correctly predicted it would not), but because it would allow Israel at last to "give war a chance."
The Doctrine requires two steps; without both steps being undertaken, it is not the Lizard Doctrine, and I disclaim all accountability for problems that result from implementing only one or the other step: "Not responsible for advice not taken," as Larry Niven likes to say at the drop of a space helmet. The stages are:
- That Israel fully withdraw all soldiers and settlers from Gaza and the West Bank;
- That Israel subsequently treat Gaza and the West Bank as if they were separate, independent countries -- and respond accordingly to any future military aggression.
Step 2 is just as important as step 1, and it boils down to this: If Syria fired missiles from Syrian territory at Israel, or even if it allowed Hezbollah or Hamas to shoot missiles from Syrian territory, how would Israel respond? I think it would brush aside any considerations of how thoroughly Bashar Assad controls the Syrian frontier... and it would simply bomb the Baathist state in retaliation. And the bombing would cause far more damage to Syria than Syria had caused to Israel, as a deterrant (which may or may not deter).
Thus, under the Lizard Doctrine step 2, when the government of Gaza or the West Bank fires rockets or missiles or launches any other attack against Israel, or allows any other group to do so, from Gazan or West Bankian territory, Israel must respond by bombing them or taking some equivalently harsh military action against them: tit for tat, with the response being much more severe than the provocation.
Alas, this is the part where Israel, in the person of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his cronies, has fallen asleep at the switch: The only military action they launched in response to literally hundreds of rockets and missiles fired into Israel by Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Fatah-controlled al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, and from Palestinian-controlled territory (without the least attempt by the Palestinian Authority to punish the attackers, thus proving complicity), was a feckless and ultimately stalemated invasion that destroyed a lot of the terrorist groups' weaponry -- but ultimately did nothing to punish the PA itself for giving the terrorists safe haven.
And of course, ever since the last elections in the PA, the government itself has been controlled by a known terrorist organization, Hamas. Again, as the rocketry continued during and after the war, Israel has made no move to punish the PA as it would Syria, Egypt, or Jordan, were the shoe on that hand.
Rather, Israel has carried out "airstrike assassinations" only against specific individuals. While I think they're a great idea -- keep it up! -- this, too, fails to punish Gaza and the West Bank as if they were enemy states, which is what the Lizard Doctrine requires.
But today, for the first time, I have hope that Israel is finally getting around to implementing step 2:
Israel declared the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip an "enemy entity" on Wednesday and said it would cut utilities to the territory, complicating the U.S. plan to relaunch peace talks aimed at establishing a separate Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel made the provocative decision hours before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived for talks setting up what President Bush hopes will be a pivotal international Mideast peace conference this fall. Rice neither endorsed nor criticized Israel's move.
First of all, it's outrageous that evidently, all this time, Israel has been supplying electricity, water, and other utilities to a geographic entity that has been at open war with Israel. What imbecile made that decision? For that matter, even were the PA at peace with Israel, why would it be Israel's duty to give them free electricity and water, build roads for them, give them cash money, or perform any other infrastructure improvements? Do we give free electrical power and drinking water to Mexico and Canada?
But it's absurdity on a bagel that they continue doing so while Gaza busily gnaws away at the hand that's feeding it. It's no wonder that the Olmert government polls about as low as the Democrat-controlled Congress in America!
Still, better late than not at all; and I welcome Israel's sudden awakening to its own idiocy... "light dawns on marblehead," and all that. Thank goodness Ehud Olmert is finally listening to the Lizard's advice:
The Israeli designation covers all of Gaza, not just Hamas militants who took control of the territory in June. The United States and Israel regard Hamas as a terrorist organization and refuse to deal with it.
[Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi] Livni said Israel was not obliged to deliver anything to Gaza beyond humanitarian aid.
"When it comes to the humanitarian needs, we have our own responsibilities," Livni said. "All the needs which are more than humanitarian needs will not be supplied by Israel to Gaza Strip."
Perhaps I'm a bit cold-hearted and harsh; I've been called that plenty of times before. But I dispute that Israel has even the most minimal humanitarian obligations to a country or other geopolitical entity with which it is at war. This changes if Israel, or any other nation, occupies a territory; when you take over, you assume certain duties... and this was the major reason the Lizard Doctrine called for Israel to divest itself of the occupied territories: so that any such moral obligation would cease, and the PA could be let alone to sink or swim as it will.
I'm irked and distressed that even this minimal bit of common sense eludes the Israeli leadership. Israel no longer occupies Gaza by even the most expansive definition; and even the West Bank is by and large independent; why was Israel still paying money to keep either entity afloat? Surely that is the responsibility of the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians.
And until they are forced, life or death, to shoulder those responsibilities, they will remain in the infantile stage that allows them to consider the cessation of welfare a violation of their human rights:
Israel did not announce a date for cutoff of services. The decision is likely to reinforce perceptions among Palestinians and their Arab backers that Israel will do as it sees fit regardless of the cost to civilians, and that the U.S. will not block Israel's hand....
Livni said the decision is legal, but international aid groups called it unacceptable to blame civilians for the actions of rogue militants.
Gisha, a human rights group that works for greater freedom of movement in Gaza, called the action "immoral and illegal, constituting prohibited collective punishment of civilians."
Sorry, Gisha; "punishment," as used in the legal phrase "collective punishment," means violent assault or the seizure of property; it does not include the decision not to continue giving gifts to the enemy. See, for example, this vigorously anti-Israel article in Counterpunch, objecting to last year's invasion of Gaza:
Attacks on a civilian population as a form of collective punishment violate article 50 of the Hague Regulations, which provides: "No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible."
The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits collective punishment. Article 33 says: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed." The Convention requires all states party to it to search for and ensure the prosecution of perpetrators of the war crime of "causing extensive destruction ... not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly." Amnesty International called the deliberate attacks by Israeli forces against civilian property and infrastructure war crimes.
Collective punishment is likewise forbidden by Article 75 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. As four US Supreme Court justices agreed in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld last week, Article 75 is "indisputably part of the customary international law."
Protocol I (which Israel, the United States, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have never ratified), Article 75 does not explicitly define "collective punishments;" but the examples it cites of prohibited actions are all obvious violent assaults or the theft of property.
Again, "prohibited collective punishment of civilians" has never, in all of human history, been defined so expansively as to include the refusal to give humanitarian aid to an enemy entity that is attacking you.
My hopes are still low for the current administration, and I hope that some parliamentary maneuver can be carried out to force elections soon. Such elections would certainly spell the doom of the Kadima Party of Olmert and, most likely, the election of Likud (possibly even a pure Likud majority), making Binyamin Netanyahu the prime minister once more.
But until then, at least Ehud Olmert is shaking himself partially awake and beginning, just beginning, to assume the most basic responsibility of any government leader: to preserve, protect, and defend from violent attack the very country he leads, whether from other countries or even external quasi-governmental entities.
Date ►►► September 18, 2007
Condensed Cream of Watcher
This will be, as the title suggests, a very brief version of the post we usually make, owing to the fact that we were AWOL from our normal bloggistic duties, frittering away our time (and time well wasted it was) on some tomfool cruise ship in the Alaskan waters, where, alas, we were unable to strike it rich in the gold fields and had to make do with $3,214 worth of pyrite, plus of course this excellent run-on sentence, which was a steal at a scant $3,215.
Since we neither nominated nor voted, we can only report on the posts that won -- which we haven't read yet but will in the next few minutes, as we write.
So there you have it, whatever the referrant of "it" is.
And the winner was...
- 2001 -- Our Own Odyssey Began On 9/11, by ‘Okie’ on the Lam
I'm guessing this has something to do with the attacks on that day, but let me read it and find out...
Yep, as I thought... but I thought it a beautiful touch that Okie wove the tapistry of memory not only from the threads of 9/11 but also those of the hopeful, exuberant movie 2001: a Space Odyssey -- the best or second best movie Kubrick ever made and possibly the best science-fiction movie ever made as well.
(Other possible contenders for the title: Rollerball, the original version, screenplay by William Harrison from his short story "Rollerball Murder;" Dr. Strangelove; or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the other greatest Stanley Kubrick movie; Gattica -- does anyone detect a thematic pattern here?; and possibly Zardoz, though it's a debit that the film doesn't begin to reveal its multifaceted brilliance until the third or fourth viewing.)
Again, since we didn't vote (or even read the other entries), that's about all we can say about the matter. Oh, except that it appears the vote was exceptionally close this time; in fact, as close as possible without it begin a tie: The winner took 1 2/3 votes, after which no fewer than four other posts tied for second place with 1 1/3 votes... certainly the closest Watcher's Council vote I've ever seen. Take it and be off with you!
In this section, looking at the Watcher's list, it appears that the winner was --
- When the Left Cares, and When It Doesn't, by American Thinker
This victory was not quite as tight as the Council vote, but still only 2/3 separating 1 and 2.
Briefly, Denis Keohane's thesis is that the Left has lost interest in Iraqi civilians because they are no longer merely props in the Left's eternal morality play about the wickedness of the Right. They have begun to act on their own -- and they have had the effrontery of allying with the United States:
It has also become obvious in place after place, beginning perhaps with Tal Afar and repeating in Al Anbar and Diyala Provinces, that when the insurgents are forcefully engaged, the local populace, the Iraqi military and the Coalition forces all appear to be something like one team with shared goals. More and more Iraqis themselves seem to be behaving as allies of the Coalition.
And that's the problem for the left, and why they no longer care about them. They only ‘seemed' to care for the Iraqis when they could be made out to be our victims. As our allies, they have betrayed the left and forfeited the left's concern. [Boldface added; italics in original.]
To see what you can see
Here lies the complete results of the vote.
Newsflash: Clinton Judge Finds Limit to Judicial Power
It's a bit sad that I consider it newsworthy that a federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, Martin Jenkins, has actually thrown out an activist, leftist lawsuit, filed by the state of California against automakers, alleging they have damaged the state by making cars that contribute to global warming. (Actually, the lawsuit was filed by former governor, former mayor, now Attorney General and perpetual nutjob Jerry Brown "on behalf of" the state of California; I didn't get to vote on it.) The judge held that setting such policy was rightly the task of the legislative branch of the federal government, not the judiciary:
A U.S. federal judge tossed out a lawsuit by California's attorney general on Monday seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from six automakers for damaging the state with climate-changing greenhouse gases.
Martin Jenkins, a federal judge in the Northern District of California, said the issue of global warming should be decided in the political rather than legal arena.
"The Court finds that injecting itself into the global warming thicket at this juncture would require an initial policy determination of the type reserved for the political branches of government," Jenkins wrote in approving the automakers' motion to dismiss the case.
(It's unclear from the article, but I think Judge Jenkins held that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction.)
I am stunned. I thought this would be a slam-dunk before a liberal judge in blue-state California. Evidently the Office of the Attorney General was likewise stunned, because its spokesman just made what is simultaneously the most fatuous and the most legally incompetent argument I've ever seen from that body:
The suit was the first seeking to hold manufacturers liable for global warming damages caused by greenhouse emissions. It said cars made by the six automakers account for more than 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions in California, the most populous U.S. state.
"We understand why a district federal judge may not want to jump into a global warming thicket with both feet," Ken Alex, California's supervising deputy attorney general, said in an interview. "Having said that, the basic tenet of law is that where you describe a harm then there needs to be a remedy for it."
"Right now because the political branches -- the federal government, Congress and the executive branch -- have not acted, the state of California is left without a remedy."
Now I must again caution that I am not a real lawyer; I will cop to being a "Philadelphia lawyer" or a "sea lawyer," to playing one on this blog sometimes, and to thinking of myself as more informed on the law than 95% of laymen (and so much more modest, too!) So maybe I've misunderstood this point all these years.
But I remember both my lawyer father and a friend of mine who attended law school but chose not to become an attorney separately telling me the exact opposite. They said that the idea that "every harm has a legal remedy" is discussed as a false belief that many people have about the law. In other words, both these two lawyers told me that Counselor Alex is 180 degrees off course: Not every harm has a legal remedy; sometimes, bad things happen, and there is nobody you can collect from.
For example, suppose you're hiking in Yosemite, admiring the beautiful scenery. Too much so; you fail to note that the trail turns north, and you continue walking west... right into a creek, where you stumble, fall, and crack your kneecap on a rock.
Ow. Nobody can tell me that's not a "harm." You're in agony; you can't walk; you're stuck four miles from the nearest help. And you know what? There is not a single person in the world you can successfully sue. You have no legal remedy whatsoever. A bad thing happened to you -- because you were a dumbass.
Even overt actions that harm people in ways obviously known to the actor don't necessarily mean the victim has a valid lawsuit. For example, suppose the government condemns somebody's house under eminent domain (in order to build a public emergency trauma center), and suppose further they pay the owner market price plus 5%. But suppose the owner was born in that house, as were his family for the previous three generations, as well as his daughter; and suppose he would never have sold it for any amount of money at all. Hasn't he suffered a grievous harm?
Well, yes he has; but no, he has no real case against the government, because they paid him "just compensation." He has no legal remedy for the harm he suffered.
In the global-warming case, I'm certain that Jerry Brown will appeal to the 9th Circus Court, which could overturn the judge's ruling on the motion to dismiss. No matter, the loser will appeal to the Supreme Court; once there, I believe the majority will use Judge Jenkins' decision as the basis for confirming that there really, truly are limitations on legislating from the bench.
Thus it may turn out that Jerry Brown's most enduring legacy will be striking a mighty blow -- albeit inadvertently -- for judicial restraint. Exciting, isn't it?
Date ►►► September 17, 2007
Mr. Greenspan Regrets He's Unable to Bash Today
And so, as the Democratic euphoria and media hyperventilation of yesterday about Alan Greenspan's remark that "the Iraq war is largely about oil" dies, not with a bang but with a clarification, an awful lot of liberals are busy wiping large ovum deposits off of their faces:
Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, said in an interview that the removal of Saddam Hussein had been "essential" to secure world oil supplies, a point he emphasized to the White House in private conversations before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Greenspan, who was the country's top voice on monetary policy at the time Bush decided to go to war in Iraq, has refrained from extensive public comment on it until now, but he made the striking comment in a new memoir out today that "the Iraq War is largely about oil." In the interview, he clarified that sentence in his 531-page book, saying that while securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.
"I was not saying that that's the administration's motive," Greenspan said in an interview Saturday, "I'm just saying that if somebody asked me, 'Are we fortunate in taking out Saddam?' I would say it was essential."
Ouch. And if that isn't clear enough:
Greenspan said he had backed Hussein's ouster, either through war or covert action. "I wasn't arguing for war per se," he said. But "to take [Hussein] out, in my judgment, it was something important for the West to do and essential, but I never saw Plan B" -- an alternative to war.
The Washington Post demonstrates the difference between its own rational skepticism about the war and the MoveOn-inspired hysteria of its northern rival, the New York Times:
Critics of the administration have often argued that while Bush cited Hussein's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and despotic rule as reasons for the invasion, he was also motivated by a desire to gain access to Iraq's vast oil reserves. Publicly, little evidence has emerged to support that view, although a top-secret National Security Presidential Directive, titled "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy" and signed by Bush in August 2002 -- seven months before the invasion -- listed as one of many objectives "to minimize disruption in international oil markets."
"Gain[ing] access," of course, amounts to stealing, which is what the Left incessantly accuses Bush of doing (they toss around charges of corruption as if they were routine politicking, akin to Republicans complaining that the Democrats want to raise taxes; this is another legacy of Bill Clinton -- and a preview of what a Hillary-Clinton presidency would be like). But a desire to "minimize disruption in international oil markets" is not remotely like theft, unless we're to believe that stopping a terrorist from bombing an oil pipeline is the same as stealing the oil; the concepts are worlds apart, as rational liberals (there are some) appear to realize.
I know this post has largely been quotation, but I cannot resist the closing paragraphs:
Given [Hussein's evident intent to seize the Strait of Hormuz], "I'm saying taking Saddam out was essential," he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.
"No, no, no," he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of "making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will."
I wish I had time to surf around and see how many leftie bloggers used the Greenspan quotation yesterday to buttress their insane allegations; but, you know, life is short.
What Would Have Been?
One of the most difficult kinds of science fiction to write well is the alternative history... which, by a genre convention I'll follow, will henceforth be called "alternate history," or simply alt-hist.
It's not acceptable simply to fantasize wildly about what could have happened had the Spartan 300 been given Star-Trek phasers or had George Washington been born a girl ("She would have led a Womyn's revolution and become the first female president of the United Feminist States of America!") The proper name for that activity is not alternate history but day dreaming.
Rather, one must begin from at least a reasonably good grasp of history (without knowing so much that one simply cannot imagine it going any differently) and proceed by logical extrapolation from a strict and appropriate ruleset of inference. Thus, had President William McKinley survived his assassination attempt (a very plausible scenario, as he lingered for eight days before sucumbing to gangrene), that might have had significant ramifications, as Theodore Roosevelt might never have become president. But if Andrew Johnson had been impeached, it likely wouldn't have changed anything significant: He was nearly powerless to stop the abuses of Reconstruction anyway; it would have made little difference whether he was president or not.
However, the cardinal sin is to consider only the bad or good effects of your alt-hist -- and not the other side of the ledger. Alas, that is precisely the solecism committed by Bob Herbert in his New York Times column Saturday, "the Nightmare Is Here"... and he wasn't even aware he was writing alt-hist! (The column is hidden behind the "TimeSelect" iron curtain; the link is to TruthOut's reposting.)
Herbert can only see the bad things that have arisen from the invasion of Iraq and deposing of Saddam Hussein; he cannot, for the life of him, imagine what would have been, had we not intervened. In this, he replicates the failing of the vast majority of anti-war agit-prop churned out, not only by the drive-by media (in particular, the New York Times), but also by activists, Democratic elected officials, and even limp-wristed RINOs looking for way to ingratiate themselves to their liberal constituents while not infuriating their conservative ones. Herbert cannot seem to visualize the horrific things that might have, probably would have happened, had Powell won out over Cheney in 2003:
When the U.S. launched its "shock and awe" invasion in March 2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The flaming horror unleashed by the invasion has since forced 2.2 million of those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the country. Many of those who left were professionals marked for death - doctors, lawyers, academics, the very people with the skills necessary to build a viable society....
While more than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries, another two million have been displaced internally.
All right; let's suppose that's true. But how many had to flee under Hussein? How many were arrested, tortured, maimed, or sent into internal exile, such as the Marsh Arabs who used to live around the Great Salt Marsh until Hussein drained the wetlands and expelled them to make room for his Palestinian imports?
And those "professionals marked for death"... were any, by chance, Baathist oppressors and war-crimes collaborators? Must we weep for the forced flight of those who, were it within their power, would still be living as lords among slaves?
The worst aspect of the nightmare, of course, is the rain of death that has descended on Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Controversy has surrounded virtually all attempts to estimate the number of civilian casualties, but no one disputes that the toll is staggering.
The U.S. government has behaved as though these dead Iraqis were not even worth counting. In December 2005, President Bush casually mentioned "30,000, more or less" as the number of Iraqis killed in the war. The White House later said there were no official estimates of Iraqi deaths.
Herbert believes the correct number is somewhere north of 100,000. But how many were murdered by Saddam Hussein during his tenure? Most estimate at least one million over ten years, or 100,000 per year -- or an Iraq "nightmare" every year for a decade. How many would have been killed if Hussein's thirst for blood had not been stifled? By now, about 450,000, more than four times even the expansive, unsourced guesstimate Herbert offers for the number who have been killed by terrorist attack or sectarian strife since March 2003.
But this is only a naive, first cut at the alt-hist of us not invading Iraq, thus allowing Saddam Hussein to continue wielding the iron fist inside the iron glove. Herbert must suppose, in his own alternative, that Hussein's close shave will cause him to turn over a new leaf, to reform, to become a democrat (it would be snarky to suggest he was already a Democrat). To count every killing against President Bush in the cosmic ledger book while not counting any saved lives to his credit can only mean that Herbert believes that there would have been no more massacres, no more war crimes, no more crimes against Humanity committed by Hussein, his venomous offspring, or the Baath Party he led -- if only we hadn't invaded.
Let's look instead at another alternate history, one with, I think, the greater plausibility that results from assuming no 180-degree character evolution. Assuming the principals more or less act as they have in the past, what is the most likely sequence of events if, in the end, Bush could not pull the trigger? Consider the following and ask which sounds more plausible... the implied "good ship Lollipop" plot of Herbert's alternate history, or this:
- Saddam Hussein continues his murderous ways, committing several more massacres on the scale of those he carried out against Kurds and Shia before; thus, more hundreds of thousands, or even millions, are slaughtered;
- The Europeans continue their cheating on the Oil for Food program, continue accepting bribes from Hussein, and ultimately (as was the trajectory in 2003) eliminate the sanctions entirely -- either de jure, by forcing America to accept the "new way," or at least de facto, by refusing to abide by them; so Hussein gets billions upon billions of petrodollars poured into his pockets, to use as pleases him;
- Contacts between Hussein and al-Qaeda continue, accelerate, and eventually ripen into fully funded, well-planned and trained, and heavily armed attacks upon their joint enemies: the United States and Israel;
- At last, unwilling to wait longer for his patrimony, either Uday or Qusay Hussein (or both) assassinate the over-long-lived father. The brothers fall short of brotherly love and fall out with each other, throwing Iraq into a real civil war -- not the ersatz variety of gangland slayings that we saw with some regularity in 2005 and 2006. As in a real civil war, both sides field armies. The slaughter is extreme -- even for Arabs.
- Growing restive at the loss (a scant thousand years ago) of the Persian empire, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sees his opportunity: Iran invades southern Iraq.
- Growing tired of being brutalized, the Kurds see their opportunity and declare independence; immediately, the Kurds in Iran and Turkey follow suit, declaring the independent nation of Kurdistan.
- Reacting to the foregoing -- both the Iranian invasion and the Kurish separatism -- Turkey invades northern Iraq.
- We now have a five-way gang bang in the heart of the Middle East: Uday vs. Qusay vs. Iran vs. the Kurds vs. Turkey, with al-Qaeda circling above like vultures, waiting to build a perch of blood to hatch their nefarious schemes.
- Can Saudi Arabia, Syria, Israel, France, the United States, the UAE, Qatar, Libya, and Sudan be far behind?
I say that my "mega-mare" is at least as plausible as the "lark's on the wing, snail's on the thorn" alternate history of Bob Herbert. And mine would be so catastrophic that it dwarfs the paltry problems we've had in Iraq.
I don't know about you guys, but the more I think about what would (likely) have been, the gladder I am that we took the plunge. And all because of a scant 537 votes in Florida. Say... now there's nightmarish alternate history for you!
Date ►►► September 15, 2007
The Times, They Are a-Shamin'
The New York Times has become the leading voice for surrender in Iraq. More even than most of the Democrats (or any of the Democratic presidential candidates except, perhaps, Bill Richardson), the Times editors' demand for defeat has become almost hysterical, as if someone had taken their families hostage: "If dat President, whatsisname, Bush don't get outa Iraq, you'll never see yer kids again!"
Unlike most of the Democrats, the Times follows the complete Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY, 95%) line:
- Bush lied us into the war in the first place;
- Al-Qaeda was never in Iraq before 2003, and probably isn't there today;
- Victory is unachievable;
- The "surge" is a miserable failure that has actually made things worse militarily;
- Notwithstanding (4), the amazing success in Anbar, Diyala, Salahuddin, and Baghdad provinces -- where Sunni tribes have risen up in angry defiance of al-Qaeda, have fought alongside American forces against al-Qaeda, and have more or less driven al-Qaeda out of those provinces -- were not caused by anything America did, and particularly anything President Bush did: They happened "in spite of" the counterinsurgency strategy, not because of it;
- All troops should be withdrawn immediately and precipitously, in as ragged a mob and as humiliating a retreat as possible, in order to punish America and teach us a good, hard lesson about electing Republicans;
- Any and all resultant damage to the American military, American prestige, American hegemony in the region, stability in the region, the containment of Iran and Syria, and to any American ally in the region (cough-cough the Jews cough-cough) is entirely and exclusively the fault of George W. Bush and the Republicans... even though the GOP has argued consistently against the policy advocated by the Times.
At the moment, they're beavering away at convincing everyone of (4), and they have focused upon two -- only two -- specific complaints they have: that the Iraqi national parliament has been unable so far to pass a bill establishing the rules by which foreign oil leases can be signed by provinces, and that a particular tribal sheikh who was friendly to us, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, was slain, presumably by al-Qaeda.
This seems a remarkably thin reed on which to base a conclusion of utter despair, hopelessness, and belly-crawling to our enemies. Let's take the last first...
Although it's a tragedy that Abu Risha was assassinated, it's sheer lunacy to imagine that the Sunni response to such an affront will be to meekly return to life under the leash. For heaven's sake, it was precisely this sort of high-handed butchery and depostism that drove the Sunni tribes away from al-Qaeda and into alliance with the Coalition to fight them, as Lt.Col. Dave Kilcullen so ably recounts in an article he wrote for Small Wars Journal, "Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt." The more likely result will be a redoubling of the anti-terrorist combat effort by Sunni Iraqis... which is already an oversimplification, as is virtually everything in the Times' argumentum, as the tribes in question include both Sunni and Shiite members.
That is, if slaughtering tribal sheikhs led to the tribes turning against al-Qaeda in the first place, how can the chowderheaded editors at the New York Times argue that a couple more assassinations will put the djinn back in the bottle?
And as for their triumphant crowing that the oil-revenue-sharing law "seems to be collapsing," the editors should stop sucking up to MoveOn.org and start reading Big Lizards. As I noted some time ago, all of these issues in Iraq will be settled, not by a top-down, authoritarian, nationalist parliament... but by the opposite process: Individuals will settle with individuals, tribe with tribe, province with province, region with region. Once all that is accomplished, then parliament may step in and ratify the "facts on the ground."
As far as the instant case, provinces will simply start negotiating oil leases with various companies... as Kurdistan is now doing:
The legislation has already been presented to the Iraqi Parliament, which has been unable to take virtually any action on it for months. Contributing to the dispute is the decision by the Kurds to begin signing contracts with international oil companies before the federal law is passed. The most recent instance, announced last week on a Kurdish government Web site, was an oil exploration contract with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas.
The Sunni Arabs who removed their support for the deal did so, in part, because of a contract the Kurdish government signed earlier with a company based in the United Arab Emirates, Dana Gas, to develop gas reserves.
Leave aside the obvious double standard... the Democrat-controlled American Congress has yet to ratify a single one of the major budget bills for next fiscal year, which starts October 1st, I believe; they have languished in joint reconciliation committees for months now. Instead, let's cut to the heart of the Chuck Schumer-New York Times position: What the Times sees as "contributing to the dispute" is actually the beginning of the solution. The next step is for the Sunnis to start negotiating their own blasted agreements with Hunt and Dana Gas and Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon, agreements not only to develop the small amount of proven reserves in areas held by mostly Sunni tribes, but also to explore in the untapped and potentially vast reserves of oil and especially natural gas that are just now being reported in those same "Sunni" areas.
Once Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish provinces are signing oil leases like mad, then and only then will the Iraqi parliament move to ratify the system that will, by then, have evolved. Unlike (alas) the court system, the legislature is typically a lagging indicator -- not a leading indicator; they await strident demands from their constituents before they will act... as I would put it, they only work when threatened.
It's the same here as in Iraq... easily shown by the recently enacted (hah) comprehensive immigration reform bill, the privatization of Social Security and Medicare bill, the litigation-reform bill, and the defense-of-marriage constitutional amendment. Or for that matter, those budget bills, which are far less controversial but appear every bit as contentious.
The only available metric right now for how the counterinsurgency strategy is working -- is that contained within the strategy itself: It can only be evaluated by how well it protects the Iraqi population and reduces the violence from al-Qaeda and from Shiite militias, not by proxy measurements: whether the Iraqi parliament has passed a particular bill, how many American troops have been killed recently, or how well it satisfies the deep, defeatist desires of the elite media. And on the only valid metrics, the so-called "surge" has succeeded much better than expected.
All else is dicta.
Date ►►► September 14, 2007
Things Are Looking Grim...
...For my prediction that Hillary Clinton would never be the Democratic nominee. I was sure that as Edwards and Obama faltered, and Hillary started to pull away, the dynamic would induce this loony to throw his own head into the ring:
Am I re-elected yet?
It seems that Rantin' Al Gore is resisting the siren call, at least so far. But I still don't understand why; this seems the perfect opening:
- Gore has the biggest personal grievance of anyone in the race, since by now he has convinced himself (and about a quarter of the country) that he actually won the presidency in 2000 in a "landslide;"
- Edwards seems tired and worn out, like yesterday's ambulance chaser;
- Obama turns out to have feet of dullness;
- Hillary is skating, nobody asking her any tough questions at all -- just as in the 2000 Senate race, where Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY, 95%) simply rolled over and ushered her in; or as in 2006, when the Clintonistas and the elite media formed a protective cordon around her to prevent anyone from poking around where he shouldn't be.
But the openings are there: Norman Hsu reopens all those questions about greenbacks from Red China -- though of course, Gore has his own problems in going there. Still, she has never really clarified what she plans to do in Iraq... withdraw -- but how many? How fast? Leaving how many in country? With what mission? And it was her husand (and herself, as "co-president") who signed the welfare-reform act that I suspect the new Al Gore despises. And what hand did she play in the 11th-hour pardons? (Oh, wait, another one that Gore must stay far away from.)
Anyway, consider this an open thread on the question: Why hasn't Albert Gore entered the presidential sweepstakes yet? Is the entire Democratic field so afraid of Hillary that she will slide by without serious competition yet again?
I'm resigned to losing this prediction; but by all the saints, I'll find out why I lost. Post your answers in the comments: Funny answers, sure, by all means; but also some serious explanations, please... inquiring minds want to know -- and so do I.
Date ►►► September 13, 2007
Chuck and Pat and Hill and Ted
For some time prior to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, I argued with many Gonzales-hating conservatives that it would be a huge mistake to force his resignation -- even as I agreed with them that he was a lousy AG.
My argument (which I think few of them ever understood) was with the second half of their clarion call: "Dump Gonzales," they cried, "and replace him with a real conservative!" The problem is that anyone who is better than Gonzales from our standpoint is therefore anathema to the Democrats, who now run the Senate.
This should be clear; we believe a nominee would be better if he would work more effectively to implement the more conservative policies of President George W. Bush... but implementing those policies is the exact opposite of what is desired by liberal senators such as Pat Leahy (D-VT, 95%), Chuck Schumer (D-NY, 100%), Hillary Clinton (D-NY, 95%), and of course Majority Leader Harry "Pinky" Reid (D-Caesar's Palace, 90%). In particular, consider the Democratic contingent of the Judiciary Committee, which must first debate any nominee, then decide whether to send the nomination to the full Senate:
- Chairman Pat Leahy
- Ted Kennedy (MA, 100%)
- Joe Biden (DE, 100%)
- Herb Kohl (WI, 90%)
- Dianne Feinstein (CA, 90%)
- Russell Feingold (WI, 100%)
- Chuck Schumer
- Dick Durbin (IL, 100%)
- Ben Cardin (MD, not yet rated)
- Sheldon Whitehouse (RI, not yet rated)
Note... not a single moderate in that entire bunch. By contrast, the Republican contingent in the Senate J-Com includes Arlen Specter (PA, 43%), Orrin Hatch (UT, 84%), and Lindsey Graham (SC, 83%)... the last two being much more liberal about judges than they are about other issues.
All the Democrats need do is hold firm and vote against a nominee like, say, Soliciter General Ted Olson, and he will be rejected in committee; at that point, it would take an exceptionally clever parliamentary maneuver to bring it up in the full Senate. Even if Republicans managed to do so, the rejection by the J-Com would give ample cover to more moderate Democrats... who, truth be told, are not particularly fond of the very conservative Olson themselves, and will be looking for just such an excuse to reject him without incurring the wrath of voters.
If conservatives believe that the American people will be outraged enough by the committee rejection of a Ted Olson (or equivalent) to rise up and smite the Democrats in 2008, I suggest they have allowed their own justifiable and principled passion make a fool of their political horse sense.
The American people might be angered by an outrageous tactic like a filibuster against a Judge Alito or Judge Roberts... precisely because of the implied admission that the nominee had majority support, requiring a filthy, back-room deal to derail him. But why would Americans be any more angered by a 9-10 party-line vote rejecting Olson in the committee than they would be by a 10-9 vote confirming him? It's simply democracy in action, and real Americans accept that.
Of course, the option of forcing resignation was snatched from conservatives' hands when Gonzales abruptly resigned by himself (probably because he was simply tired of fighting, the cowardly wimp). Now we shall see whether my analysis is accurate.
As a harbinger of what is to come, here is a New York Times editorial, urging the Democrats (in the name of the People) to reject Ted Olson if Bush nominates him:
The Justice Department is a disaster zone. It should be the embodiment of America’s commitment to the rule of law, but it has been contaminated by partisan politics. The nation’s top lawyers may have broken the law, and even may have sent innocent people to jail, to advance the interests of the Republican Party. To replace Alberto Gonzales, President Bush must appoint an attorney general who is above politics, and the Senate should only confirm a nonpolitical lawyer of unquestioned integrity. The names that have surfaced so far as potential nominees do not meet this standard.
The next attorney general will have an enormous amount of damage to undo. There is considerable evidence that United States attorneys have been coerced into using their offices to help Republicans win elections. The orders may have come directly from the White House. Top officials of the Justice Department have admitted that they evaluated lawyers for nonpolitical jobs based on their politics. And Congress is investigating whether Georgia Thompson, a Wisconsin civil servant, and Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, were sent to jail to help Republicans win governorships in those states.
Well, against such a litany of charges, who could possibly fail to see the danger? Crimes may have been committed! Congress is investigating! There is considerable evidence!
Then the Times gets personal:
Unfortunately, President Bush does not appear to be considering a nominee who would do these things. The first name on his list is reportedly Theodore Olson, who may be best remembered for representing Mr. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court case that stopped the vote recount in Florida after the 2000 election. He was also on the board of the American Spectator magazine, which conducted the “Arkansas Project,” a well-funded campaign to dig up dirt on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Mr. Olson figures, at least indirectly, in the United States attorneys scandal. His law firm represented Jerry Lewis, a Republican congressman, who was investigated by the United States attorney in Los Angeles, Debra Wong Yang. While the investigation was pending, the firm hired Ms. Yang as co-chair of its crisis management group with Mr. Olson. The move raised questions, still unanswered, about whether Ms. Yang was lured away to disrupt the investigation. [Of course, the investigation was not disrupted and continued as normal... as everyone involved knew it would. Some conspiracy.]
It should be obvious that, notwithstanding the paucity of a real case against Olson, the Times and its proxies are anxious to have this fight and confident that Democrats will stand firm; and that's all it will take. If they do, Olson will be rejected in committee and Reid will be very unlikely to be forced into holding a vote of the full Senate on him. Emboldened by this victory, Democrats will continue to stand firm, whining to the sympathetic elite media that "the president keeps nominating people who are 'contaminated by partisan politics,' as even the moderate New York Times says." And I suspect we will end up having no Attorney General at all for the next fifteen months.
President Bush may appoint an acting AG, or he may make a recess appointment. Either way, the man or woman sitting in the big chair at the Justice Department will be weakened by the knowledge that he's a temporary figurehead who could never be confirmed. As the main power of the Attorney General is to run the department, which requires what Communist Antonio Gramsci called "hegemony" -- or perceived fitness to rule, as I define it; the ability to get other people to obey your orders -- such an interim appointee would be crippled and probably less powerful even than Alberto Gonzales himself.
In which case, Gonzales' resignation will have hurt the president severely. "Thank you, mask-man."
I don't always enjoy being right; I would be overjoyed to be proved wrong this time, seeing Ted Olson nominated and battling his way to confirmation. But I doubt it.
Two Left Iraq
It is, one presumes, just a coincidence; but two familiar Iraqi bloggers both left Iraq within the last few days. Although they lived thousands of miles away, we've come to know them very well... one as a respected thinker and member of the most well-known families of Iraqi bloggers in the dextrosphere; the other as an anti-American hack who bemoans the fall of Saddam Hussein, and is very likely the daughter of a former high-ranking Baathist.
Let's take the last first...
A blogger who has been known to us only as "Riverbend," but whom we Lizards disaffectionately refer to "Rubberband," decided to high-tail it out of Iraq back in April. However, after announcing her intention, she exprienced a series of delays due to curfews and the untimely death of her driver's brother. But a few days ago, Rubberband and her parents and a couple of other familiy members finally found their chance to leave Iraq, and good riddance. Surprise, surprise, their destination was Syria, where they are now ex-pats (along with many and many another Baathist exile).
It was a tearful farewell as we left the house. One of my other aunts and an uncle came to say goodbye the morning of the trip. It was a solemn morning and I’d been preparing myself for the last two days not to cry. You won’t cry, I kept saying, because you’re coming back. You won’t cry because it’s just a little trip like the ones you used to take to Mosul or Basrah before the war. In spite of my assurances to myself of a safe and happy return, I spent several hours before leaving with a huge lump lodged firmly in my throat. My eyes burned and my nose ran in spite of me. I told myself it was an allergy.
The day Rubberband and her family were packing the car, another Iraqi left Iraq. His name is Omar, and he is one of the three brothers who started a blog called Iraq the Model. Rather than congenial Syria, Omar's destination was New York City, where he is now a student. In fact his brother Ali -- who left Iraq the Model couple of years ago to start his own blog -- was already in the US, also going to college:
Just two days ago I arrived in New York City and for the coming two years I will be studying international affairs at Columbia University [Isaac Asimov's old alma mater -- DaH], hopefully by the end of that I will get the master's degree I want!
So far I'm still in the process of settling in and figuring out what I need to do in order to actually start my studies. However posting on this blog will continue and a new post will be coming tomorrow if not tonight.
And by the way, in case some of Ali's old readers are wondering where he is and like to contact him, he's going to college at Stony Brooks [sic] in Long Island [Omar means Ali is at the State University of New York at Stony Brook].
Omar talked about coming to America a few weeks ago. He told us about a horrible traveling experience he had when he went to Jordan to obtain an American visa. According to Omar, Jordan is treating Iraqis really badly.
This is hardly surprising, as the last thing in the world Jordan wants or needs is a flood of Iraqi refugees... particularly given that Saddam Hussein transplanted a number of terrorist-supporting Palestinians into Iraq (displacing the Marsh Arabs on land that used to be, and is slowly being reclaimed by, the Great Salt Marsh) -- and I suspect most Jordanians believe there are already more than enough Palestinians in Jordan. But back to Omar's tale:
[R]ecently our Jordanian brothers came up with a truly outrageous practice of discrimination against Iraqis. All disembarking Iraqi passengers now are taken to special passport counters in a hall separated from the rest of airport facilities regardless of the origin of their flights or the airlines they came aboard. Attached to this hall is what Iraqis call “the prison”.
In case you haven’t heard, Iraqi refugees stopped going to Jordan long time ago now because they know they would be turned away...
The most painful scene was of families of four being torn apart; half of the family would be allowed to enter Jordan while the other half would be rejected and ordered to go back. Many preferred to go home together over being separated like this.
One scene like this nearly turned to a tragedy when an old lady suddenly collapsed on the floor from a case of heart attack from all the stress she suffered that day. If not for the good Iraqi doctor among us, she would have died waiting for the medics to arrive.
Miss Rubberband's family knew of the Jordanian situation; that's one of the reasons they decided to go to Syria. (Another reason, of course, is the willingness of Syria to enroll former Baathists in the only other Baathist regime in the world.)
As far as I know, Rubberband and Omar's family both lived in Baghdad. Both are Sunnis... but what a difference between them! Look at the lives they are leading: When I read Iraq the Model, I always feel optimistic even in the hardest time. But Rubberband makes me feel only bitterness and depression. It is hard to believe they both live in the same city (but then, so do Charles Krauthammer and Chuck Schumer).
But of course, the former represents the Sunnis who did not believe themselves superior to the Shia and Kurds and who were not the elect of Saddam; while the latter is of the class that lorded it over everyone else. It's not suprising that Rubberband would be so bitter against America and the Iraqi Shia; she had such a cushy life until that terrible day.
I wish both families good luck. I hope Omar and Ali will be able to come back soon, armed with the knowledge that will help lead their country into the Functioning Core. And I hope Rubberband sees what is happening in Syria and comes to her senses.
I'm pretty sure I'll bat .500 on those two well-wishes.
Date ►►► September 12, 2007
"Surge a Failure, Democrats Tell General"
The title -- the headline of a Breitbart story on Gen. David Petraeus' and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's testimony before Congress -- says it all, doesn't it? "Surge a failure, Democrats tell General." I'm sure Petraeus was properly grateful for being instructed.
This is our first post from the Noordam, a Holland-America cruise ship. It turns out to be a bigger pain than expected to post from here: The connection fee is horrendous -- we just dropped $100 for 250 minutes (of which 180 remain); so we must go online, save a bunch of web pages we intend to use, then logout. Then we read the material we downloaded offline and write the post (I'm writing in Netscape Mail). At the end, when the post is finished, I will log on again, paste this text into Movable Type, edit it and check the links, and then post. Yeesh!
Here's the fuller quotation from the story:
Anti-war Senate Democrats bluntly told Iraq commander General David Petraeus Tuesday his troop surge strategy was an abject failure in its prime objective -- forging an Iraqi political settlement. [Or rather, giving Congress a playable reason to surrender.]
Several Senate Republicans [read: RINOs] also expressed unease with US war policy, as the general and US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker endured a roasting on a second day of high-stakes testimony to Congress.
Resorting to the last refuge of a cowardly scoundrel, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE, 100%) asked Petraeus two direct questions about the efficacy of the "surge"... then he proceeded to answer them himself, without inviting the commanding general to confuse matters by participating in the interrogation.
Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT, 95%) went Biden one better, furiously asking a rhetorical question that tortured the English language until it begged for mercy: "What makes you possibly think that anything further like this is going to produce the results that anybody else has failed to do?" (Senate aides are still trying to pick up the broken pieces of syntax and semantic content Dodd left strewn on the Rotunda floor.) Sen. Lieberman (I-CT, 75%D) must have slid further down in his seat, hoping folks wouldn't think he was with the other fellow at his table.
But that's not what I came to write about (now he tells us!) I actually derived more amusement from the New York Times editorial... which was spoonfed to us on the ship as part of a little digest of the thoughts of the Times, "all the news we see fit to print." In typically condescending fashion, it begins thus:
For months, President Bush has been promising an honest accounting of the situation in Iraq, a fresh look at the war strategy and a new plan for how to extricate the United States from the death spiral of the Iraqi civil war. [Excuse me; perhaps it's my trick memory again, but I sure don't remember that last "promise" from President Bush.] The nation got none of that yesterday from the Congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. It got more excuses for delaying serious decisions for many more months, keeping the war going into 2008 and probably well beyond.
It was just another of the broken promises and false claims of success that we’ve heard from Mr. Bush for years, from shock and awe, to bouquets of roses, to mission accomplished and, most recently, to a major escalation that was supposed to buy Iraqi leaders time to unify their nation. We hope Congress is not fooled by the silver stars, charts and rhetoric of yesterday’s hearing. Even if the so-called surge has created breathing room, Iraq’s sectarian leaders show neither the ability nor the intent to take advantage of it.
Wait... wasn't "shock and awe," which referred to the initial combat phase of Iraq, fulfilled when American forces routed the strongest Arab army in the Middle East in just three weeks? That's less than time than it took the Nazi blitzkrieg ("lightning war") to overrun France.
And there were roses, though I suppose the Democrats have a point that the ousted Baathists, the Democrats' natural constituency, were unhappy. And of course, I'm sure the Times editorialists are at least intelligent enough to understand that the "mission accomplished" banner referred to the mission of that particular carrier, and perhaps secondarily to the successful conclusion of the first phase of major combat operations... not to the entire Iraq war (especially as Bush explained as much in his speech).
Finally, it's astonishing how a prediction of failure by the editors can morph into another example of failure, without ever having to pass through the tedious process of actually coming to pass. "I say it'll never get off the ground... and my prognostication proves the Wright Brothers are a couple of lunatics!"
It's full of boners such as this: "The military does not have the troops to sustain these high levels without further weakening the overstretched Army and denying soldiers their 15 months of home leave before going back to war." Fifteen months of home leave? My, the military certainly has changed; perhaps the soldiers can just spend a year and a quarter lying on the beach and soaking up some rays! This must be similar to the assertion that every moment the president spends away from the White House, no matter what he is doing or how much he works, is to be considered "going on vacation."
The end was so predictable, they probably wrote it in advance of the testimony:
General Petraeus admitted success in Iraq would be neither quick nor easy. Mr. Crocker claimed that success is attainable, but made no guarantee. With that much wiggle room in the prognosis, one would think American leaders would start looking at serious alternative strategies -- like the early, prudent withdrawal of troops that we favor. [And God help the troops that they don't favor!] The American people deserve more than what the general and the diplomat offered them yesterday. [They also deserve more than a "prudent" surrender in the midst of an impressive victory.
For that matter, they deserve more than what was offered by Representative Ike Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. When protesters interrupted the hearing, Mr. Skelton ordered them removed from the room, which is understandable. But then he said that they would be prosecuted. That seemed like an unnecessarily authoritarian response to people who just wanted to be heard.
"[P]eople who just wanted to be heard..." but who did not wish to extend that courtesy to the commanding general, the ambassador, or any Republicans over whose questioning they chose to chant. I definitely want to see prosecution of such serial abusers of other people's First Amendment rights (I refer to my right to hear what Petraeus, Crocker, and everyone else has to say).
Well! Two once-great American institutions have certainly distinguished themselves this week. (Three, if you count the American protester; though I'd only go so far as to say that they need to be institutionalized.)
We had an inkling that this would be the Democrats' "response" to the testimony (where "response" here means "scripted verbal sneering that resembles the choreographed strutting of a professional wrestler"). It's nice to see that they continue to live down to our low expectations of them.
Kagen On Jones
Hugh Hewitt had a little snippet about this Fred Kagan article Thursday, but I decided it needed a more thorough discussion. And besides, it's a good excuse to schedule another post to automagically appear while we're drilling for oil in Alaska, one of the original fourteen colonies that became the United States.
Military analyst Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute -- one of the creators, along with Gen. Jack Keane, of the counterinsurgency strategy currently in use by Gen. David Petraeus -- is rather steamed about the way the media has spun (twisted is the better word) the Iraq report by Retired Marine General Jim Jones. In fact, let's start with Kagan's final sentence:
Presenting the Jones Report as a condemnation of the Iraqi Security Forces, proof of their hopelessness, or support for a rapid withdrawal of American forces or a "change of mission" goes beyond spin. It is simple dishonesty.
There; now the entire rest of this post is officially a flashback.
Who is Gen. Jones? I presume they're talking about Ret. Marine General and 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps (1999-2003) James L. Jones. After leaving that position, Jones was made Commander of U.S. European Command, and the next day, Supreme Allied Commander of Europe (the two commands have resided in the same general since Matthew Ridgeway in 1952). The latter position, SACEUR, is the top officer at NATO, and descends in spirit from the first "Supreme Allied Commander," Dwight D. Eisenhower, during World War II.
Gen. Jones appears to have no special expertise in counterinsurgency warfare; but he has a lot of combat command experience and appears, from the report, to have thrown himself into the job with vigor, determination, and honesty.
Thus, it is doubly despicable that the Democrats are trying to "recruit" him, without his knowledge or consent, onto their "surrender-now" team.
Back to Kagan:
Some in the media have been remarkably quick to report on leaked copies of reports about Iraq before the average person has a chance to read them. There is a reason, apart from the usual journalistic desire to be first with a story. The reports often don't say what the reporters want them to. First leaks about the National Intelligence Estimate and the report of the Government Accountability Office turned out to have painted them darker -- and in the case of the NIE much darker -- than they actually were. That is even more true of the report of Retired Marine General Jim Jones about the state of the Iraqi Security Forces.
Kagan quotes from the New York Times and the Washington Post, the two newspapers read most often on Capitol Hill (members of Congress are the only important consumers of such scare-stories in the drive-by media) after the Congressional Record, which is typically only read by members ego-scanning for their own names in print. And both newspapers spin the Jones report as if it were some dire condemnation of the war, Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Gates, David Petraeus, and of course, George W. Bush:
The Washington Post made it sound even worse: the report "estimates that '[the Iraqi army] will not be ready to independently fulfill their security role within the next 12 to 18 months' without a substantial U.S. military presence. Logistical self-sufficiency, which it describes as key to independent Iraqi operations, is at least two years away, the report says." Worse still, "the report, which emphasizes the failure of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government to achieve key political benchmarks, says that violence will not end without political reconciliation."
But the reality is that, while Jones pulls no punches on areas of operation that simply aren't working well -- notably the Iraqi National Police, though Jones finds they are improving, and the Iraqi parliament, which Jones finds annoying -- in general, he finds much significant enhancement and an impressive stand-alone ability among Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), particularly the Iraqi Special Forces but the rest of the Iraqi Army as well. Those areas where they are deficient are precisely those that nearly all Arab armies have difficulty with:
- Logistics, "the procurement, distribution, maintenance, and replacement of materiel and personnel," including the supply and transportation of food, water, fuel, ammunition, armor, arms, and actual soldiers;
- Fire support, especially close air support -- which of course requires attack aircraft, both fixed and rotary, and coordination with ground units (wouldn't be prudent to strafe your own forces). This is a very, very advanced skill (despite being decades old) that few non-Western nations have ever effectively demonstrated; and it's hardly surprising that the new Iraqi Army is not yet able to accomplish what eluded Saddam Hussein for decades;
- Intelligence, especially including "SigInt" -- which used to be called signals intelligence to distinguish it from HumInt, human intelligence: Any electromagnetnic means of gathering data. Since this usually means satellite photography, EM transmission monitoring, and unmanned aerial vehicles, and since very few third-world nations have launched military satellites or Predators (actually, I think that the precise number is "none"), again, it's hardly a black mark against the Iraqi Army that they don't have the intelligence-gathering mechanisms and analytic skill that we consider vital to modern warfare;
- Equipment -- does anybody really expect Iraqis to be building MRAPs, Strykers, and MOABs? Secure communications nets? Cruise missiles?
- Transportation -- or taking over from KBR, or conducting air assaults across scores of miles?
There are some areas where it's disappointing that the Iraqis haven't stepped up better; but even here, they are improving with every month:
- Command and control -- everybody knows what this is and why it's so hard in a tribal world;
- Advanced strategies that require a fully functional national government, such as "clear, hold, build" -- "to clear areas from insurgent control, to hold them securely, and to build durable, national Iraqi institutions," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote.
But Gen. Jones concludes, writes Kagan, that most components of the Iraq end of the Iraq war are moving in the right direction; and they are already very well advanced along the road to complete independence:
In other words, the Iraqi Army has made tremendous strides, is fighting hard and skillfully, and is now a critical component of the counter-terrorism campaign in Iraq, but it cannot continue that campaign without continued Coalition combat and logistics support over the coming months (for more on this, see a new report from the American Enterprise Institute released today, "No Middle Way"). Almost all of the trendlines for the Iraqi Army and for security in Iraq noted in the report are positive.
Kagan acknowledges that not every Iraqi institution has put on its manly gown, girded its loins, and pulled up its socks; the Iraqi National Police is still riddled with militia infiltrations, is corrupt, and does not yet think of itself as "Iraqi" so much as the "muscle" for powerful members of parliament.
When the media quotes Jones as concluding that the Iraqi National Police should be disbanded and reconstructed from scratch, they rather give the impression they're talking about all law-enforcement agencies in country. But that is not so: The "locally recruited" police are doing a very good job. Our focus on a "national police" (like the FBI) is, in my opinion, a misplaced construct of our own culture of nationalism... we imagine everyone more or less thinks like us and wants to solve most problems from the head down, rather than from the ground up.
We have both the uniformity and expanded jurisdiction of a Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies, and also the flexibility and attention to local needs supplied by a city police department or a county sheriff's office; and so too do the Iraqis:
The National Police, the report rightly notes, are broken, and the media has made much of this. But the National Police consist of around 25,000 members, compared to perhaps 300,000 members of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. The Iraqi Security Forces can hardly be judged a failure on such grounds.
I have argued before that in a tribal society, reforms must come from the grassroots (or in this case, from the desert sands); the society is simply not set up for top down rule by any means but brutal tyranny and dictatorship. The correspondence here is to focus first on improving the local constabularies in each city, then the provincial cops, and only then the National Police: The first brings immediate security; the second yields communication and widespread order; and the last generates uniformity, predictability, and nationalist sentiment... the last three all vital facets of a finished democracy, but endgames, not opening gambits.
All of which brings us back, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, to the beginning, which was the end:
The issue of [the ISF's] "independent" operations is and always has been a red herring. For Americans concerned about how long their sons and daughters will have to be in harm's way in Iraq, which is everyone, the point isn't how long it will take the Iraqis to operate independently, but how long it will take before they can carry more of the burden of fighting the enemy. The Jones Report makes it clear that they are already carrying a significant part of that burden, and that their ability to do so will increase steadily and rapidly in the coming months--as long as we maintain our presence and our current strategy, which the report clearly judges to be working.
The real question is how many Republicans on the Hill will read the actual report or listen to what Gen. Jones said during his testimony, thus understanding that Jones is in fact far more praising than damning the Iraqis' effort -- and how many will simply skim the fabricated "leak" in the Times and Post and conclude that it's all a waste, and that it's time to pull the plug. That vital unknown, the vision factor, will determine whether we finish the job or abort the mission.
But to paraphrase Anne Frank, I keep my optimism, because in spite of everything I still believe that most congressmen, at heart, actually do care about the country.
Date ►►► September 11, 2007
Give a Yell for Aerogel!
Aerogel is one of the weirdest man-made substances on the planet. First, it's the lightest stuff in the world -- literally: An evacuated form of aerogel is a solid, but is actually less dense than air (meaning it would "float" on air).
But it's also an amazing insulator against both cold and heat; it's an excellent dessicant, or drying agent; it can mimic a biological cell, absorb oil, lead, and mercury pollutants... and aerogel armor can even protect against impact from bullet or bomb... or maybe even a car crash.
Scientists produce aerogel by taking a silica gel that is mostly water and slowly replacing all the water with air; the process is called "supercritical drying." The result has been dubbed "frozen smoke" (not to be confused with liquid smoke, which lazy cooks squirt on food to simulate barbecue flavor). Aerogel is mostly harmless, though you should wear gloves to handle it, as it can dry and crack your skin by absorbing all the water from it.
But for me, the most interesting potential use for aerogel is in military armor, both for individual soldiers and for vehicles. For some odd chemical reason, it's extraordinarily resistant to impact. From the Fox News piece above:
Aerogel is also being tested for future bombproof housing and armor for military vehicles. In the laboratory, a metal plate coated in 6 mm (a quarter of an inch) of aerogel was left almost unscathed by a direct dynamite blast.
The quarter-inch of aerogel would mass only a fraction of what a similar volume of current armor masses, allowing equivalent (or even superior) protection with a fraction the weight. Already, soldiers and Marines complain about the sheer weight of the body armor they must wear; it's not uncommon for our fighting men not to wear the "best" armor because it renders them virtually immobile. Anything that decreases the weight will increase the number of soldiers who consent to wear it.
For a graphic demonstration of the difference, let's look at two very short videos (less than ten seconds each). In the first, a high-speed test projectile strikes impact-resistant acrylic glass (PMMA -- Polymethyl methacrylate):
Notice that the glass simply shatters under this impact. But now, let's see a much thinner pane of aerogel under an identical impact:
In this video, the aerogel stretches but does not break, and the projectile does not penetrate.
The same principle applies to vehicles, of course: Combining the light-weight, high-impact-resistant aerogel with the V-shaped bottom of an MRAP vehicle could make devastating IEDs a fading memory.
But another use not generally mentioned is to create a thermal-insulating blanket that can wrap around hot parts of a helicopter or tank -- thus obscuring the target from infrared sensors mounted on missiles:
In particular, their aerogel blanket can be used to radically cut infrared emissions from helicopters, making it much harder for heat-seeking missiles to lock on to them. As reported by Aircraft Survivability magazine [page 38 in the pdf]:...This program focused on the use and optimization of aerogels as a high performance insulation material, encapsulated in innovative, lightweight packaging. The aerogel blanket insulation system, with a weight of only 5 pounds, demonstrated a 40 percent reduction in aircraft IR signature during flight demonstrations on an Army OH–58D Kiowa.
This is spectacular stuff, all part of a revolution in chemical engineering dating back at least to the 1930s (when aerogel and Bakelite were invented). As I have argued many times, while it's true that our enemies -- al-Qaeda, Iran, the Communists -- adapt to our techniques, we adapt so much more rapidly to theirs, and invent new strategies and tactics out of whole cloth so effortlessly, that I have no fear that we will be overwhelmed by a technology duel... bring it on!
Nobody converts basic science into real-world engineering better than the United States of America; we are a nation of hip nerds.
Date ►►► September 10, 2007
The Surge That Never Was - the Setback That Was Never Set
The scare headline in the New York Times: Afghan Police Suffer Setbacks as Taliban Adapt.
Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that American and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs, Afghan officials say.
Curious about this bizarre claim -- everyone else says the Taliban have been thwarted in their attempt to "surge" this summer -- I pored over the story; and I was not shocked to discover it to be one of those articles where good news is disguised as bad. Within the maze of meandering maundering, I dug out some very hopeful news indeed...
The setback is part of a bloody stalemate that has occurred between NATO troops and Taliban fighters across southern Afghanistan this summer. NATO and Afghan Army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than they did last summer.
The Panjwai and Zhare districts, in particular, highlight the changing nature of the fight in the south. The military operation there in September 2006 was the largest conventional battle in the country since 2002. But this year, the Taliban are avoiding set battles with NATO and instead are attacking the police and stepping up their use of roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices or I.E.D.’s.
“It’s very seldom that we have direct engagement with the Taliban,” said Brig. Gen. Guy Laroche, the commander of Canadian forces leading the NATO effort in Kandahar. “What they’re going to use is I.E.D.’s.”
Three main points may be extracted from these few paragraphs. First, the shrinking scope of the Taliban "resistance":
- They're no longer able to seize cities where NATO and Afghan forces operate; instead, they must resort to attacking poorly manned, remote police depots.
- Nor can they any longer engage in large scale military assaults; they're forced to ape al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.
Second, the shrinking number of forces they can field for any purpose, which is masked by that disinformational phrase "bloody stalemate." By "bloody stalemate" (at least they didn't say "quagmire!"), the Times means a series of engagements that resulted in 646 Taliban deaths and 83 captures this summer, including such big names as Mullah Dadullah, Mullah Berader, and Mullar Akhatar Usamani, according to a number of articles on the Fourth Rail.
And third, the Taliban's loss of focus. Once a fighting movement that fielded an army (and actually ran the country), they have steadily defined their modus operandi downward, adopting the kind of intimidation tactics against ordinary Afghans that al-Qaeda famously began applying to Sunni in Anbar province... and which gave rise to the Anbar Salvation Council and led directly to AQ being driven out of Anbar, Salahuddin, and Baghdad like Jesus beating the money-changers out of the Temple:
Reported security incidents, a broad category that includes bombings, firefights and intimidation, are up from roughly 500 a month last year to 600 a month this year, a 20 percent increase, according to the United Nations.
This is another uninformative paragraph from the Times; just what does "intimidation" mean? It appears to be criminal thuggishness -- not as the Taliban used to practice, when it controlled most of Afghanistan, but more like the tactics of the Yakuza in Japan, the Mafia in Italy and the United States, or gangs of teenagers and "youths" around the world. And about this "20 percent increase"... How much of the increase is from more bombings (bombing attacks are down, says the Times above), firefights (also down since 2006, per paragraphs above)... and how much is attributable solely to more "intimidation?"
In other words, what was once an actual military has degenerated into a low-rent protection racket and kidnapping scheme.
The Times continues the "bad news": The Taliban have managed to kill more civilians and NATO and Afghan forces than last year:
The rising attacks are taking a heavy toll. At least 2,500 to 3,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence so far this year, a quarter of them civilians, according to the United Nations tally, a 20 percent increase over 2006. [Note the neutral term "people;" keep reading for a breakdown, using the Times' own figures.]
NATO and American fatality rates are up by about 20 percent this year, to 161, according to Iraq Casualty Count, a Web site that tracks deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan [Mathematically, that means there were 134 at this point last year, so it's an increase of 27 NATO and Afghan fatalities combined]. The Afghan police continue to be devastated by Taliban bombings and guerrilla strikes, with 379 killed so far this year, compared with 257 for all of last year.
But notice the missing statistic: How many Taliban were killed?
Using the Times' own stats and a little mathemagical manipulation, we find that among the 3,000 dead "people":
- 750 (25%) were civilians;
- 161 were NATO or Afghan troops;
- And 379 were policemen.
- That leaves 1,710 unaccounted deaths... I wonder who they could be?
But even this number of enemy dead is too low, according to the Associated Press:
More than 4,200 people -- most of them insurgents -- have been killed so far this year, according to an Associated Press count. [There's that word "people" again.]
Remember, last year, NATO forces killed over 3,000 Taliban, an average monthly rate of 250. If AP's number is correct, and the percent of true "civilian" vs. Taliban casualty rate is accurate, and if icasualty's number for NATO troops and Afghan police deaths are all correct... then the number of Taliban killed or captured this year is 2,460, an expanded rate of 307 bad guys per month. That's 23% higher than last year, for the math-impaired. More bad news!
If this keeps up, by the end of the year, we will have removed nearly 3,700 Taliban from the fight. How long do we suppose they can keep this up? As they are seen more and more as the "weak horse" (or the kind of dog that Michael Vick would... well, you know), will it become easier or harder for the Taliban to recruit?
It's true that the Taliban now resorts more to intimidation and terrorist tactics; but that's because they can no longer attack us with a conventional military force. This is the exactly the falling trajectory one would expect an ousted "movement" to follow: from rulers to an insurgency to terrorists; the next step down is a simple criminal gang -- and that's the level where we can leave the policing to the Afghans, once we've trained them at least up to the level of an American police force.
As I wrote in February in the Big Lizards post linked above:
When the Taliban actually stand and fight (which they do often), they are humiliatingly routed; this happens time and again. I heard the Taliban are now considering an al-Qaeda type of "insurgency" against the NATO forces. I'm sure they'll try anything; but if 2006 is any indication, they will fail.
And they have... "big time," as a certain quail hunter said about a certain newsman.
Date ►►► September 9, 2007
The Divine Watchermaker
This will be a little briefer than usual, because I'm off tomorrow. (Yeah, yeah, I've been "off" for years now!)
Nope, didn't pull off the hat trick; but almost as good: In the Council category, our first-place vote won first place, and our second-place vote came in second...
We loved "Contemptible," and we were overjoyed that it won the vote this week:
- Contemptible, by Done With Mirrors.
Callimachus finds it "contemptible" that Brian De Palma has made a film about the rape and murder of an innocent, 14 year old Iraqi girl (and the murder of her family) by a couple of renegade soldiers... deliberately implying that this is the norm for American military behavior in that country.
Callimachus probably finds it even more contemptible that De Palma actually won the "best director" award for that film today. But the victory certainly tells us what side Hollywood is on in this war... even when "Hollywood" equals Venice, Italy.
Our second place vote came in second place, funnily enough:
- The War To Remember 9/11, by Right Wing Nut House.
Rick Moran frets about what will happen as direct memory of 9/11 fades; I enjoyed the piece, but I think memory has not faded... only sunk a bit deeper into the subconscious.
We voted this weeks winner in first place -- and so did nearly everybody else! It got five votes, which I don't think I've ever seen happen before. At the least, it means eight members voted for it (seven first places plus one second place would equal 5); all other combinations require even more members voting for it in either first or second place:
- Anatomy of a Tribal Revolt, by Small Wars Journal
This was a fascinating piece by that Australian Lt.Col. who used to be (or perhaps still is) the senior counterinsurgency advisor to MNF-I -- that is, to Gen. David Petraeus himself. But it's also long, and I admit I didn't read the entire thing. But what I did read blew everything else this week out of the water. The part I actually got around to reading described in some detail just how the revolt of the Sunni tribes against al-Qaeda actually got started and how it grew to the point where AQI was actually slung out of Anbar and Diala provinces, and mostly out of Baghdad and Salahuddin provinces. Great stuff!
Our only misfire was our second-place vote, which only one other member voted for (also in second place):
- Video: Let's Get Retarded, by The Jawa Report
Well I thought it was hysterically funny. Feh. It's a post and a delicious video explaining to the "reality-based community" the difference between a bullet -- and a cartridge. I don't know why we two were the only ones who liked it enough to vote for it even in second place.
As always, find the rest of the nominations that received at least one vote here.
Date ►►► September 8, 2007
Where Are All the BDS RINOs Going?
First Sen. John Warner (R-VA, 64%) announces that he is not running for reelection in 2008; today, it was the turn of Sen. Chuck Hagel's (R-NE, 75%):
Hagel plans to announce that "he will not run for re-election and that he does not intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008," said one person, who asked not to be named.
Hagel has scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Monday at the Omaha Press Club.
The rest of the article is more or less a Hagelography; but they sidestep the most interesting question: Are the stridently anti-war GOP senators leaving the body to avoid facing their Republican colleagues, after the counterinsurgency stategy proves effective, and we end up with what any fair-minded person would call a "W" in Iraq? Do they not want to have to face the electoral music, running as the senators who tried so desperately to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory?
The Omaha World Herald put it bluntly, if a bit too enthusiastically:
The North Platte native earned national recognition as perhaps the most vocal, at times angry, GOP critic of the Bush administration's Iraq policies. [I think "bitter and vile" is a better descriptor.]
His outspokenness on Iraq and other key issues, including Social Security and foreign policy, fueled national interest in Hagel as he flirted with a possible presidential bid.
With Warner, one may assume that he's just a tired, old man, he's served in the Senate for approximately 478 years, and he simply doesn't want to go on. But Hagel? Hagel is only 60 years old (61 in October), and this is only his second term. As the article breathlessly notes, many supporters even thought he was going to throw his head into the presidential ring earlier this year; but he fooled them.
Abruptly, without any warning or even a hint, he is departing public life. I haven't heard of any looming scandal involving Chuck Hagel, nor any hint of a severe family crisis, like someone getting cancer, thank goodness. So what does that leave?
The World Herald appears excited that this might mean the return of Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey; but I really don't think a growing state like Nebraska wants to turn back the clock to 1994, the last time Kerrey was elected to anything. If a Democrat is going to take the seat, he will have to be someone new; and since this case does not fit the pattern that Michael Barone noted in his Almanac of American Politics, I don't see a Democrat winning.
(The pattern is that a Republican governor raises taxes; he is defeated by a Democrat in the next election; and then the Democratic governor moves on to the Senate. As Barone notes, this describes the rise of Jim Exon, Bob Kerrey, and Ben Nelson (35%) -- which, not coincidentally, are the only three Democratic senators from Nebraska first elected in the last thirty years. You have to go back to Edward Zorinsky in 1976 to find a Democrat who doesn't fit the pattern... and Zorinsky was a Republican until he lost the Republican primary, then switched parties to run for the Senate seat anyway.)
I think the odds are pretty high that Hagel will be replaced by another Republican, just as Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID, 88%) will be. Warner is another story for another time.
The next senator to keep an eye on is, of course, Lindsey Graham (R-SC, 83%); he too is up for reelection in 2008. And while he's been all over the map on the Iraq war (for the war and the counterinsurgency, but also for restricting all interrogrations to asking the prisoners nicely if they'd like to rat out their buddies), he was a very prominent member of the "Gang of 14," which most conservatives see as having cost them a number of conservative judicial appointments. And Graham was also on the "wrong side" (that is, my side) on the comprehensive immigration-reform bill this year... and that, too, makes him persona non grata among much of the mainstream of the Republican Party.
So far as I know, John McCain (R-AZ, 65%) -- also muddled on the WAGH, and in exactly the same way as Graham -- has no plans to "go for broke," to retire from his Senate seat to devote himself full-time to his presidential run. I suspect he realizes he's a long-shot for the latter, so he clings to the former.
However, it is an interesting coincidence (if that's all it is) that Warner and Hagel should announce their retirements within a week of each other.
Date ►►► September 6, 2007
Heading for the Yukon
As internet advertising has dried up considerably since the glory days of the 2006 election (for everyone, just just us), we at Big Lizards have decided to implement Plan B (not the pregnancy thing).
In order to raise the vast funds it takes to continue bringing your this blog, without which your lives would sink back into the drab, lifeless, despairing existence you had before we came along to brighten your otherwise wretched days and your nights riddled with restless leg syndrome, we have decided to head to the Alaskan gold fields and make some serious money.
We figure this will take about a week. Thus, posting may be light (as opposed to light-headed, our usual state) from Sunday until a week from Monday: Curiously, it's not the problems of an internet connection; few people realize that the Yukon gold fields are now fully wired for wireless connection. Rather, we're just not sure we'll have as much time as normal to surf the internet, what with assaying all the gold nuggets that we're reliably informed simply tumble from the rivers and streams in our 57th state.
(Even fewer realize, as those same sources inform us, that Alaska, all by itself, has more land area than the entire Earth.)
Ever mindful of our responsibilities, we've scheduled several posts to automatically publish in our absence (allowing us to maintain our drab, lifeless, despairing, wretched excuse for restless blog syndrome). We shall supplement these with on-the-spot reports on important events; and I'll bet Sachi will eventually write another travelogue... and let's hope we can get her to write it in English as well, this time!
Just thought we'd let you know. In our absence, our crack team of guest bloggers would surely have taken up the slack; but they were all tapped to run Fred Thompson's campaign. What luck for the rest of us!
Let's Play "Guess the President!"
A federal judge has just thrown out one part of the revised Patriot Act as unconstitutional:
A federal judge struck down parts of the revised USA Patriot Act on Thursday, saying investigators must have a court's approval before they can order Internet providers to turn over records without telling customers.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero said the government orders must be subject to meaningful judicial review and that the recently rewritten Patriot Act ''offends the fundamental constitutional principles of checks and balances and separation of powers.''
The suit was brought by the ACLU, and the judge's ruling would rip to shreds one of the most critical elements of our intelligence war against al-Qaeda -- in order to protect the putative "right" of terrorist suspects to privately plot attacks over the internet.
Now, here's the game: Without looking him up, can anyone guess which American president nominated Judge Marrero to the bench in 1999?
(Hint: There is a clue cleverly concealed in the sentence directly above.)
Date ►►► September 5, 2007
Bush Moves Goal Post in Iraq from Security - to Security
Stanley Kubrick's brilliant comedy-noir Dr. Strangelove depicts a tense nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. In a scene set in the war room of the Pentagon, Soviet Ambassador Alexi de Sadesky (Peter Bull) -- admitted to the sanctum sanctorum to talk to Soviet Premier Kissoff on the hotline -- begins surreptitiously snapping pictures with a tiny camera he has smuggled in. Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) spots him, and they start tussling.
President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) breaks up the kafuffle: "Gentlemen," he snaps, "you can't fight in here... this is the war room!"
Whereupon Ambassador de Sadesky, without waiting to be accused, immediately points to Gen. Turgidson (now holding the spy cam) and says, "this clumsy fool tried to plant that ridiculous camera on me!"
I can think of no more apt metaphor for this New York Times story, which brays that "Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in Iraq" -- because the president (Bush, not Muffley) insists on sticking to the original metric for the success of the counterinsurgency: Whether it's providing a security buffer in Baghdad to allow the Iraqi national parliament, in time, to make the hard political choices.
In reality, as it has become quite apparent that the new strategy is successfully doing exactly that, as well as unexpectedly routing al-Qaeda from Anbar, Diyala, Baghdad, and other former strongholds, it is the Democrats who have "shift[ed] terms for measuring progress," from their original demand that the the "surge" secure Baghdad to a new demand that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki actually enact a series of political goals dictated by the American Congress:
With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government’s failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.
That shift in emphasis was implicit in Mr. Bush’s decision to bypass Baghdad on his eight-hour trip to Iraq, stopping instead in Anbar Province, once the heart of an anti-American Sunni insurgency. By meeting with tribal leaders who just a year ago were considered the enemy, and who now are fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a president who has unveiled four or five strategies for winning over Iraqis -- depending on how one counts -- may now be on the cusp of yet another. [Say, wasn't the rap against Bush that he stubbornly insisted on "staying the course" and was mulishly unwilling to try new strategies?]
It is not clear whether the Democrats who control Congress will be in any mood to accept the changing measures. On Tuesday, there were contentious hearings over a Government Accountability Office report that, like last month’s National Intelligence Estimate, painted a bleak picture of Iraq’s future.
Demanding a particular parliamentary result before they will accept that Iraq is headed towards democracy is like saying that America is only a democracy when the Democrat is elected; that if people freely elect a Republican, that means we have a fascist regime. Oh, wait...
"This clumsy fool tried to plant that ridiculous metric on me!"
The author of this "analysis," David E. Sanger, makes an almost unanswerable argument that it's the president, not Congress, that is shifting ground. He writes:
It was the White House and the Iraqi government, not Congress, that first proposed the benchmarks for Iraq that are now producing failing grades, a provenance that raises questions about why the administration is declaring now that the government’s performance is not the best measure of change.
Well! Who can argue with that? Now that it's in black and white, those of us who remember differently have been refuted, stifled, and sacked.
Sanger -- who, as the Times' Tokyo bureau chief, was a longtime proponent of the Japanese "bubble" economy that burst in the 1990s, plunging Japan into its worst financial crisis in decades -- rode that economic experience into becoming the Times' chief economic correspondent. He appears to be applying the same level of perspicacity to his military analysis.
Curiously, ultra-liberal Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY, 100%), a relentless critic of the war, today made exactly the same arguments in the Senate, while announcing that the "surge" has failed. He also made the bizarre claim that the success in Anbar province occurred "despite the surge, not because of the surge." Did the senator read the "analysis," or did the analyst get his ideas from the senator?
Next, Sanger quotes approvingly from the unbiased former Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith:
But some of Mr. Bush’s critics regard the change as something far more significant, saying they believe it amounts to a grudging acknowledgment by the White House of something these critics themselves have long asserted -- that Iraq will never become the kind of cohesive, unified state that could be a democratic beacon for the Middle East.
“They have come around to the inevitable,” said Peter W. Galbraith, a former American diplomat whose 2006 book, “The End of Iraq,” argued that Mr. Bush was trying to rebuild a nation that never really existed, because Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds had never adopted a common Iraqi identity. “He has finally recognized that fact, and is now trying to work with it,” Mr. Galbraith said Tuesday.
Perhaps Sanger could have mentioned that Galbraith was appointed Ambassador to Croatia by President Bill Clinton -- and has worked for years for the independence of Kurdistan from Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. It's just barely possible that a Clinton ambassador who wants to see Iraq broken up might not be the most reliable lodestone for a discussion of whether Iraq is breaking up.
Oh, and he's also the son of socialist economist John Kenneth Galbraith. I'm sure Sanger would stress that this is guilt by association and entirely irrelevant... as is the fact that the complete title of Peter Galbraith's book mentioned above is the End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. But I'm certain he can rise above his radical liberal sentiments and history to give us a fair and impartial take on the Iraq war... and so can Chuck Schumer.
Sanger finishes with a flourishing denouement that is an absolute treasure of archness, decadence, and snideness -- suitable for framing or wrapping fish, as Mad Magazine used to say about itself:
For now, however, the White House is arguing that the ground-up relationships they are building in places like Anbar are more important than keeping a scorecard of legislation passed or stalled in Baghdad. Whether that argument is enough to keep a few wavering Republicans on board may determine whether Mr. Bush gets a bit more time to try his latest strategy.
One must marvel at Sanger's self restraint for not saying, "his latest scheme."
This is a classic hit-piece of the kind honed to a fine edge by such luminaries as Robert "I seem to have become a verb" Fisk and Molly "Shrub" Ivins, though Sanger is perhaps a bit more obvious than those two. There is little of interest here... except for a window into the next phase of the ongoing Democratic campaign to surrender Iraq to al-Qaeda, dismantle all of our defenses against terrorism (intelligence, police, and military), and cut a deal with Iran for us to apologize and pay reparations... perhaps in exchange for Iran promising not to pollute our "precious bodily fluids."
Date ►►► September 4, 2007
The Watcher Lurks Behind My Sleeping Back
In a bizarre, almost Clintonian concatenation of coincidence, we once again forgot to submit nominations last week for the Watcher's thingie; this forced the Watcher to pore through Big Lizards (a chore that likely unmanned him for the rest of the day) and pick our nominee himself.
I was just saying to Sachi that it sure would be funny if...
The winner of the Council vote last week was:
- NYT: Analogies Are Meaningless (Unless They Favor the Left), by Big Lizards.
From now on, our plan will be to have anyone other that Dafydd pick our nominations. We will randomly call strangers and ask them to pick a post; we will spin the huge wheel of fortune in our living room with post titles in place of the numbers; we will make frequent and servile use of our Magic 8-Ball... it all seems to work better than Dafydd pondering all the posts that week and making his "informed" nomination.
(To that end, this week, RealClearPolitics put one of our posts on its front page; therefore, since this satisfies the new criterion of allowing someone else to select our nomination, we'll send that one off to the Watcher this week!)
Our post noted that the Times first argued that analogies between the Iraq war and other wars are impossible (in order to denounce the idea that withdrawing from the former would have the same terrible effects as withdrawing from the latter did) -- and then went on to draw analogies between the Iraq war and other wars that better suited the Times' taste.
As always, we are disallowed from voting for our own nominee (else we would routinely send off two votes for ourselves each week); therefore, we voted for two other excellent posts:
- Victor Davis Hanson -- Why We Must Study War, by ‘Okie’ on the Lam;
- The New Conspiracy Theorists, by Bookworm Room.
The first comes, as its title suggests, from the Victor Davis Hanson piece "Why Study War?", which is required reading. Oddly enough, Okie suggests that it is required reading; and since I liked both pieces, I was happy to vote for the only one available to me in this category.
The second piece looks at the new "paranoid style," which is now associated with the Left, not the Right. Sadly, neither of these worthy pieces did all that well in the voting; but they should have.
We batted .500 in the Nouncil vote; the winner was our first-place vote:
- Like a Suppository, Only a Bit Stronger, by the Dissident Frogman.
This is a very droll post and "mime" video from a combined English-French-language blogger instructing journalists on the distinction between (a) a bullet, and (b) a cartridge.
Our second-place vote was for...
- This Is What Sadness Looks Like, by Logosphilia.
This aptly named post -- alas, I was the only one to vote for it, and Logosphilia probably feels a bit sad about that... and indeed, it deserved a lot more attention than it got! -- simply comments on the sad state of most journalism, brought to the sad end of actually rooting for their own country's defeat. (Of course, one counterargument is that America is not most "American" journalists' country: They consider themselves "citizens of the world" instead.)
It was a great post; I wish more people agreed with me.
If you really must read all the other vote-garnering posts (the most important ones are linked right here!), you can do so here.
NYT Unearths - Then Refutes - Another Stunning Bush Contradiction
In yet another blow to the Bush regime, about which criticism continues to mount, the New York Times reports that, contrary to reported claims by President George W. Bush, Iraq envoy L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer did, in fact, inform Bush of Bremer's plan to disband the Iraqi Army and build a new one.
In the same article, the Times also reports that, contrary to their own reported claims, Bush actually never said he wasn't informed, and is not, in fact, in any disagreement with Bremer. But the important thing to bear in mind is that there's a good Bush bashing in there somewhere, if only we can ferret it out.
In addition, while the Times is unable to actually report any specific criticisms of Bremer by various former administration members, the newspaper is prepared to divulge the fact that such ex-officials are reported to have made such attacks. You follow?
First things first: We open with the proof that Bush was reportedly lying when he didn't quite say that he knew nothing about the plan to sack the Iraqi army and build a new one:
A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.
Mr. Bremer provided the letters to The New York Times on Monday after reading that Mr. Bush was quoted in a new book as saying that American policy had been “to keep the army intact” but that it “didn’t happen.”
(Technically, for all legal purposes, we at the Times are not exactly saying that Bush said that, you understand; but the implication is the important thing... and by implication, Bush is a liar! If you forget everything else -- please, we ask you just to remember that much. Just one "two-minutes hate" per day, that's all we ask!)
The cleanup: Technically speaking, Bush meant no such thing: The supposed contradiction is a misunderstanding of a brief oral exchange with the author of a book:
In an interview with Robert Draper, author of the new book, “Dead Certain,” Mr. Bush sounded as if he had been taken aback by the decision, or at least by the need to abandon the original plan to keep the army together. [Where here, "sounded as if" means "can be read that way, if one is determined and sufficiently creative."]
“The policy had been to keep the army intact; didn’t happen,” Mr. Bush told the interviewer. When Mr. Draper asked the president how he had reacted when he learned that the policy was being reversed, Mr. Bush replied, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, “This is the policy, what happened?’ ”....
A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House is not commenting on Mr. Draper’s book, said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order and was acknowledging in the interview with Mr. Draper that the original plan had proved unworkable.
“The plan was to keep the Iraqi Army intact, and that’s accurate,” the official said. “But by the time Jerry Bremer announced the order, it was fairly clear that the Iraqi Army could not be reconstituted, and the president understood that. He was acknowledging that that was something that did not go as planned.”
But the letters, combined with Mr. Bush’s comments, suggest confusion within the administration about what quickly proved to be a decision with explosive repercussions. [Where here, "suggest confusion" means "our editors here at the Times cannot follow this exchange... therefore, Bush is confused."]
That last point is simply a corollary to the well-known axiom among movie reviewers that if a reviewer cannot follow the plot of a movie, the movie is "confused." If it turns out that the review is the only one who cannot follow the plot, that point is deemed out of order.
On a related note, the decision to disband the Iraqi army is another terrible blow to the Bush administration, against whom criticism continues to mount even higher than it mounted in the first paragraph:
The dismantling of the Iraqi Army in the aftermath of the American invasion is now widely regarded as a mistake that stoked rebellion among hundreds of thousands of former Iraqi soldiers and made it more difficult to reduce sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. [Please don't be boorish and demand to know who, exactly, widely regards it as a mistake.]
On an unrelated note, it's now widely regarded that it was impossible to keep the Iraqi army intact, and therefore there was no decision to be made... Fate had intervened, according to Bremer -- who is, I might add, the Times' trusted source at the beginning of the article:
“I might add that it was not a controversial decision,” Mr. Bremer said. “The Iraqi Army had disappeared and the only question was whether you were going to recall the army. Recalling the army would have had very practical difficulties, and it would have political consequences. The army had been the main instrument of repression under Saddam Hussein. I would go on to argue that it was the right decision. I’m not second-guessing it.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times has evidently been reading a number of reports and indications:
Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for months as other administration officials had distanced themselves from his order....
Some senior administration officials, including the secretary of state at the time, Colin L. Powell, have reportedly said subsequently that they did not know about the decision ahead of time....
General McKiernan reportedly felt unhappy with Mr. Bremer’s plan to slowly build a new Iraqi Army from scratch, as were other American officers. In his farewell meeting with Mr. Bremer in June 2003, he urged him to “go bigger and faster” in fielding a new military.
Thus, as should now be clear, Bush lied and people died. We here at the Times are not exactly sure what he lied about or how those lies caused death and destruction; but there's an opportunity in here somewhere for anti-Bush sentiment to continue to mount ever higher... and by golly, we're pledged to bring such vital reported, potential contradictions to your attention, Mr. Reader!
Date ►►► September 3, 2007
Civilian Deaths in Iraq Are Up, But They're Really Down
I have a difficult argument to make. Your natural impulse may be to roll your eyes and accuse me of special pleading... but one's first impulse is often naive.
AP reports, with much fanfare and not a little gloating, that "civilian deaths rose" from 1,760 in July to 1,809 in August. AP's explicit conclusion is that this is a terrible setback for the counterinsurgency:
Civilian deaths rose in August to their second-highest monthly level this year, according to figures compiled Saturday by The Associated Press. That raises questions about whether U.S. strategy is working days before Congress receives landmark reports that will decide the course of the war.
But they embargo a critical fact until later in the article, a point that makes all the difference to their central thesis: The August total includes the huge triple-bombing on August 14th that killed 520 Yazidis (AP's count). The attack occurred far away from the counterinsurgency forces, up in Kurdistan on the Syrian border.
Were it not for that single incident, the civilian death toll would have dropped to 1,289, by far the lowest level this year. So what looks to the naive eye like bad news is, in fact, very good news; the situation is complex and you cannot use a simplistic metric.
Here is where Democrats would doubtless scream foul; but you cannot logically expect that U.S. forces in one part of the country will be able to stop suicide bombings in a completely different part of the country two hundred miles away. When the counterinsurgency expands into Mosul, then will be the time to ask whether we're decreasing the violence there. Until then, the question is not what's happening outside the counterinsurgency but what is happening inside it.
And it was an anomalous attack: Nothing like it had been done before, and it's not likely to be repeated anytime soon. By analogy, suppose you decide you must decrease your monthly expenses. In January, you took home $4,000 and you spend $3,900; in February you spent $3,700; in March it was $3,500. By July, your expenses are down to $3,000.
But then in August, your car's transmission seizes up, and it costs $1,200 to replace it. Your total expenses that month are $3,700; should you wail and moan because you're right back up to where you were in February? No, just the opposite: You should revel in the fact that, were it not for the unexpected car-repairs, you would have spent only $2,500 in August -- a big decrease from July and a huge drop from January.
The $1,200 in car repairs was not a regular expense... it was a one-shot that more than likely will not recur in September and later months. It's absurd to treat it as if it were a harbinger for a massively higher spending in subsequent months.
Getting back to the Iraq death toll, even the 1,809 figure is well below the deaths in November (1,967) and December (2,172), as is the worst month this year, May (1,901). Alas, I cannot find a link to AP's casualty count; but looking at Iraq Coalition Casualties' count of civilian deaths, August (1,598) is only the fifth deadliest month this year, behind (in decreasing order of death toll) February (2,864), March (2,762), May (1,782), and January (1,711): Different counts yield different numbers.
Taking the freakish Yazidi attack out of the equation, the August figure of 1,098 would be the lowest death toll since July 2006, more than a year ago.
To get almost offensively pedantic, considering that we're talking about human lives, the mean average for the first three months of 2007 was 2,445.67. August -- even with the Yazidi bombings -- was 35% below the early average; without the anomalous bombings, it's 55% below the early average.
This is hardly the picture of a "U.S. strategy" that has failed, is in disarray, or is even questionable; rather, it's exactly what a successful counterinsurgency strategy looks like: continued decreasing violence overall (the month to month may fluctuate, especially in response to individual acts of terrorism) -- with the worst violence being pushed outside the area in which we are fighting.
Then, as we succeed in pacifying more areas (such as Anbar and Baghdad), we will expand the counterinsurgency into areas like northwestern Mosul, where the Yazidis were hit.
There are several other nuggets of good news sprinkled through this article ("interred" would be more accurate). First, the Mahdi Militia -- called Jaish al-Mahdi, or JAM -- is losing some of its charm:
Many Shiites see the militia as their best protection against Sunni extremists, including al-Qaida, which have carried out similar attacks on Shiites.
However, Mahdi's credibility has been shaken by allegations of extortion, murder, robbery and other crimes committed by members who appear to be beyond the control of the youthful [Muqtada] al-Sadr, who said he would use the six-month hiatus to restructure the force "in a way that helps honor the principles for which it was formed."
Second, we appear to finally have a clue about the value of wartime propaganda, in this case directed against the "special groups" of the JAM; that is, those elements that are sucking from the Iranian udder:
Leaflets scattered around Sadr City urged people to report on Shiite militants who are cooperating with the Iranians, providing a cell phone number and an e-mail address for people to make anonymous tips.
"The criminal Iraqis who work with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are toys under Persian control," read one of the leaflets, which pictured a puppet dancing on strings. "Iranian Revolutionary Guards are interfering in Iraq's affairs while Iraqis are dying."
An excellent start; coupled with our stunning and continuing ascendency over al-Qaeda in Iraq, I'd have to say the war is going better than we have been told even by the White House. President Bush appears to be underselling our achievements there, perhaps giving the Democrats enough rope to tie themselves into a Gordian knot by November 2008.
Good news can be found most anywhere, if you're willing to spelunk for it.
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