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Monthly Archives: October 2006

War and Immigration

October 30th, 2006 - 1:43 pm

That Was Then, This is Now…

I have been reading various columnists today, going over the weekly angry mail about essays I wrote in support of our efforts in Iraq, and listening to Democratic candidates pontificate on the war. I hope this collective national furor at George Bush comes from the 25% who initially opposed the war, or the minority of politicians of both parties who voted against authorizing it in October 2002. Or barring that, can the angriest critics explain precisely why they switched positions—the cost, human and material? Iraqi ineptness? Our failure to deal with the Shiite militias under Sadr? The looting? Any such pleading is legitimate; but what is not is the overblown rhetoric of “fiasco”, “quagmire” or “disaster” by those who once called for Saddam’s ouster, have now jumped ship even as thousands of soldiers are fighting daily, and cannot explain the reasons for their conversion. Again, I am sure there are reasons why so many have changed their opinion about the war to remove Saddam and replace him with democratic government, but what is striking is that there has been so little honest discussion when and why that transformation has happened to former and often zealous supporters of the enterprise.

I’ve been rereading The Generals’ War by Wood and Trainor, the authors of Cobra II. Given their conclusions in this account of the first Gulf War, you’d think they would have been persistent supporters of the present conflict. In the initial volume, Paul Wolfowitz is a laudable idealist who almost alone worries over the fate of the abandoned Shiites, who rise up on the call of George Bush, Sr. only to be mowed down on the second-thought reflections of State Department realists beholden to the Wahhabists in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf oil-exporting states. By the same token, the military must be watched for exaggerating the lethality of their enemies in order to get far too many troops than were really necessary. Colin Powell simply did not understand the nature of Saddam’s evil, nor the disastrous decision to leave him in power in 1991 when we were almost near Baghdad. Coalition warfare is problematic, as the misguided effort to get allies of any sort hampered both tactical operations and strategic choices. Realism is a sort of amorality, epitomized by removing Saddam from Kuwait but not from Iraq, for geopolitical reasons that had nothing to do with the welfare of the Iraqi people.

After rereading it, I would have concluded something like the following: we need to go to war in the Middle East next time with quicker, lighter forces, fewer and more dependable allies, led by politicians who will demand strategic resolution from their superior military forces, and with a moral imperative that takes into consideration the lot of Arabs who must live under dictators we have coddled.

So at least in some cases, Gulf War II was predicated on correcting the perceived failures of Gulf War I. And just as the victory in Afghanistan took 7 weeks and led to some sort of coalition democratic government in about a year, that calculus was deemed believable for (the supposedly more secular and easily governed) Iraq as well. So a three-week victory in Iraq would no doubt lead to a stable government in six months. I offer this not as criticism, but as an example again of how past experience has guided the present.

Without being too reductionist, I would also offer the sad conclusion that the pulse of the battlefield postfacto determines wisdom and ideology. Had Iraq a stable democracy up and running in three months, then Cobra II would have had a triumphalist tone, and Bob Woodward’s third volume would have been laudatory like the prior praise of Bush after the three-week victory. So it was with Lincoln, demonized in 1864, and canonized in 1865, or poor Harry Truman in 1953 and tough, principled old Harry by 1960. Likewise supposed nut-case Ronald Reagan ranting about commies in 1980 was wise and sober Sir Ronald in 1990 after communism collapsed. Clemenceau was a fiery maverick before the war, a sober wartime “Tiger” by 1918, and blamed for a rising Germany when he died in 1929—and still being reassessed in 2006.

The point again is not the mundane one that perceptions change, but rather IF victory is achieved or at least something akin to victory, then the wartime hysteria ceases, and upon reflection the demonized leader is praised for enduring rather than caving under the pressure. No one today praises the wartime leadership of LBJ or Nixon, but they might have—had we not cut off aid to South Vietnam in 1974-5–and, without the boat people and the Cambodian holocaust, the South had looked a lot today like South Korea without the postwar brutality of the late 1970s.

All Trees and No Forest

Maybe the rise of specialization in the university causes us to stress the exception rather than the rule. Or perhaps the rise of personal anecdote in lieu of analysis, common in our therapeutic society, explains why we shy away from generalization.

It is certainly true that the emergence of minority rights and grievances has chastised Americans from making generalizations that are valid in the majority of cases, but ridiculed because there are occasional exceptions. If one were to conclude that Swedes were dour, prone to drink, large, and sometimes moody, based on what I have seen of my family, I would tend to agree as a rule—with the qualifier I have met many who were sunny, tiny, and abstainers. But nevertheless that stereotyped portrait remains a good enough truism.

I raise this with exasperation since lately we are told that various radical Islamic groups—Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, or the Muslim Brotherhood—are not all alike. But who is? And what does it matter if their generic hatred of the West and the United States in particular is predicated on the West Bank, Lebanon, Afghanistan, or our failure, according to Dr. Zawhiri, to sign the Kyoto accords? I’m sure our grandfathers did not resent the insensitive lumping together of Mussolini with Hitler and Tojo because there were undeniable differences between Bushido, National Socialism, and Fascism.

Indeed, this fear to generalize has gotten so bad that we cannot speak of “Arabs” as generic people, even though they themselves, in perfect Pan-Arabic fashion, do so, and, of course, speak of Americans as a predictable cadre. I have visited Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait Libya, Palestine, and Tunisia and most there I met seem to entertain real antipathy for Israel, express a strange simultaneous attraction for, and anger with, the United States, share certain ideas about the role of women, religious tolerance, Islam, Western culture, and the role of family patriarchs. And while there are obviously many who resent such a characterization, it is all the same a valid generalization.


Rightward ho?

The debate over immigration keeps drifting to the right: what seemed once unimaginable (such as a 700-mile fence) now seems timid (e.g. , why not fortify the entire border?). Whereas I used to get hate mail from the Left for writing Mexifornia with its calls for assimilation and integration, more often criticism now comes from the right over the book’s suggestion of earned citizenship for most illegals on the understanding that there will be an end to bilingual documents, and linguistic and ethnic tribalism.

Why the Shift?

What caused this shift? The steady influx of a million a year that has resulted in illegal aliens appearing in places far distant from the American Southwest—like parking lots in Kansas or emergency rooms in Alabama or school districts in North Dakota.

Those May Day marches didn’t impress Americans; waving Mexican flags and placards of Che seemed more like a demonstration in Bolivia and Venezuela than a 4th of July celebration in the United States.

Mexico isn’t helping things by publishing comic books advising its own how to evade American law. Mexico City’s cynical suppositions in publishing such pamphlets apparently are that those who leave Mexico should—and also can’t read.

Over the last five years, the issue is no longer demonized as a white America showing its xenophobia against a downtrodden Hispanic population, but rather poor whites, African-Americans, Asians, and Mexican-Americans worried about employers hiring cheaper-paid aliens, or the inequality of asking some to follow immigration laws and not others.

Finally, Oaxaca, the source of a great many illegal newcomers, seems to be in open revolt. Put all these considerations together, and suddenly the problem of illegal immigration is discussed as a crisis in a fashion it wasn’t just four years ago. While it is true that President Bush has alienated many by waiting six years to enforce our borders, at least there is the perception that the Republicans will ultimately do more to restore American sovereignty, while the Democrats are too indebted to radical fringe groups like the La Razistas, ACLU, and others who oppose any reasonable steps to restore border control.

I can imagine a Republican like Giuliani or Romney, who combines toughness in calling for an end to open borders, outlines specific measures how to do that, and appears sympathetic to the plight of the alien, will resonate in a way a Democratic candidate who would like to do that can not. The Wall Street Journal libertarian right is much less influential on Republicans than is the Leftwing therapeutic pressure on Democrats.

War, Punditry, and Farming

October 25th, 2006 - 2:56 pm

Will the Center Hold?

Depression apparently abounds these days. In the latest Time, Robert Galluci, the present Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, pleads with us to talk to North Korea (“Let’s Make a Deal…”)—as if their present plutonium stockpiles did not originate during the Big Talk of the 1990s under the Carter/Clinton shuttles, or that a regime that has recently starved to death over 1 million of its own cares much about either talking or honoring anything that might come out of such discussions.

And why should Pyongyang concede anything, when its past talking, dissimulation, and nuclear enrichment earned it both a bomb and billions in food and fuel? All the communists need to do is update the discussions: instead of promising not to build a bomb, they can now promise not to test another bomb in exchange for more largess. Then after they let off accidentally, kinda of a second blast, they will promise not to launch a three-stage missile—for more cash, and on and on, all in the Rhineland/Anschluss/Sudenland/Poland manner.

Short a horrific war, about the only thing that will make Kim Jong Il cease is Chinese pressure—and about the only thing that might prompt the Chinese to pressure North Korea is the specter of successful, rich, and angry democracies, such as Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan pointing their newly acquired nuclear missiles at Beijing. All things considered, the thought of such states making nukes like Toyotas is a far scary nightmare for China that North Korea’s Taepodong missile is for us.

On the same pages, Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council of Foreign Relations, writes an essay “Would Defeat in Iraq Be So Bad?” in which he harkens back to Vietnam circa 1975, concluding that after we were defeated and fled ignominiously, the dominos did not fall in Southeast Asia and thus things were not all that “bad”. He is apparently forgetting the 1.5 million who were the boat people, and those sent to reeducation camps or executed, and the millions who lived since under communist totalitarianism rather than something like South Korea, and the holocaust in Cambodia that a chastised United States did not dare address, and the other late 1970s’ ripples like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Central American mess, the Iranian hostage crisis, and a nearly ruined and disheartened American military that followed from the perception of a defeated and demoralized United States.

The Metrosexual Mob

Watching and reading the recent Washington punditry, whether in print or on television, is a depressing spectacle. Almost all—Charles Krauthammer is the most notable exception—have somehow triangulated on the war, not mentioning why and how in the B.C. days they sort of, kinda, not really called for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For some the Road to Damascus was the looting or Abu Ghraib, for others the increasing violence. Still more now say the absence of WMD did the trick.

But almost none of the firebrands of 2003 speaks the truth behind the facade: They supported the war when it looked like few casualties and a quick reconstruction and thus confirmation of their own muscular humanitarianism—and then bailed along the way when they realized that wasn’t going to happen and the unpopular war might instead brand them as “war mongers”, “chicken-hawks” or just fools.

Instead of that honest admission, we get instead either cardboard cut-out villains of the “my perfect three-week war, your screwed-up three-year occupation” type—a Douglas Feith, Gen. Sanchez, or Paul Bremmer—or all sorts of unappreciated and untapped brilliance: from trisecting the country to “redeploying” to Kurdistan, or Kuwait, or Okinawa?

Apparently pundits think that the entire country has gone crazy and lost its memory that almost every cable news talking head, Time magazine pundit, Washington Post insider, and syndicated columnist—other than those at the Nation and the American Conservative—at the beginning supported the present war.

I have no problem with the notion that the perceived pulse of the battlefield governs ongoing attitudes toward the wisdom of conducting war—only with the denial of that truth. Pericles, after all, was fined after both the plague and Spartans roaming the fields of Attica disabused once zealot supporters that “his” war was going to be short. And a motion for censure of Churchill in July 1942 was discussed when the British were depressed after the fall of France, Singapore, and Tobruk, and knowledge that neither Bomber Command nor British forces in North Africa had done much to check Hitler. In contrast, had the United States had a republic secure and up and running in Baghdad 3 months after the end of the three-week war, at a cost of say, 400, fatalities, missing Weapons of Mass Destruction and all other the other complaints would not have been real issues, as supporters would have pointed to the other 22 writs of war in the October 2002 Congressional resolutions that are as valid now as they were then.

Wisdom and Idiocy in Farming

I can recall, comparing great things to small, the same changing wisdom in farming: pick grapes early for a safe drying period for raisins; or pick late to ensure a sweet ripening grape for a better raisin. If September was dry and hot, then the late guys who saved their heavy sweet raisins were geniuses; but if it rained, the early pickers who at least salvaged their crops when no one else could were considered brilliant.

But some September mornings it would cloud up and threaten; then the neighbors almost hourly would praise the early pickers as visionaries. But by afternoon when the clouds blew away and the sun appeared, the same critics would blast those who had their grapes prematurely on the ground as idiots who panicked and would have “wheaties” not raisins due to their sour grapes on the tray.

I wrote about the daily changing wisdom in Fields Without Dreams, and how fickle human nature is, rather than looking at things in a tragic sense that there are no great choices, but often just bad and worse, and that wisdom is predicated mostly on the perception of success. In 1982 I picked early and thereby avoided a horrendous tropical storm that ruined the industry, saving thereby 200 tons of raisins that sold for over $1400 a ton; in 1983 I picked early again, the clouds blew away, and in weeks of perfect weather I produced lousy, sour, and light raisins, selling scarcely 140 tons for $400 and lost far more than I had made the year before. I was neither a genius the year before, nor a fool the next, but rather did the best I could in both years, recognizing that we are still subject to fate, despite our vaunted technology and knowledge. I am not advising helplessness, simply some recognition that the verdict is out on Iraq, and what looks bad today, might look far better very soon—and that erstwhile supporters turned vehement critics might well reinvent themselves a third time.

Presidential hopefuls

The Hoover Institution has been hosting Presidential hopefuls. The latest visitor was Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who spoke to, and received questions from, the Senior Fellows yesterday. For about one hour, he heard some tough inquiries, answered without notes, kept his cool, and talked analytically rather than in platitudes. I was impressed, and came away thinking that being a conservative governor in Massachusetts must have sharpened his debating skills and given him insights about dealing with the therapeutic mindset. I don’t know what he thought of us, but most of us thought him quite impressive.


Middle East Madness

October 22nd, 2006 - 6:15 pm

More Rubble, Less Trouble?

There is a new narrative—compare the recent essay in the New York Times Magazine on the supposed resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan—namely that the United States is failing not only in Iraq to win hearts and minds, but also in Afghanistan. People there are purportedly tired of the violence, the inability of the Western coalitions to suppress it, and thus prefer to return to their former status of secure and indigenous authoritarianism.

I don’t know whether such pessimism is true or not, but I am interested in the frequent analysis that it is somehow the fault of the United States or its allies, not the Islamists themselves.

Consider Kurdistan that is still thriving. Its population, devoutly Muslim, apparently understands the advantages of Western commerce and tolerance in a manner not true of the Iraqi Shiia and Sunni communities, or the Afghans. Yet the West has poured more aid money into the latter than the former. The difference seems to be that in Kurdistan when someone picks up a Westernized cell phone, drives an imported car, or turns on a computer, they seek to use such appurtenances to bring greater security and commerce to their own.

In contrast, in tribal Afghanistan and the Sunni Triangle the Islamists are entirely parasitical on the West: they want our material products, but only to use them for destructive purposes. And if they employ televisions and videos to further the spread of Islam, they never pause for a second of self-critical analysis. It is not just that the world of the 7th century does produce what a Mullah Omar or Dr. Zawhri prefers to use, but that the Islamic Dark Ages ensure that such appurtenances could never be discovered or improved by fundamentalist cultures that adjudicate scientific research by Koranic purity, subjugate half the population, invest in scapegoating rather than in confident self-reliance, and predicate merit on blood ties and religious zeal.

Such a strange war

While we argue over various mathematical formulas to determine how many have died in the Iraq war, note that the passive is the voice of choice—as in “50,000 have been killed”, or “100,000 have died.”

Culpability is ignored. And so we have the following Orwellian situation: the aggregate number must include everybody who dies violently in Iraq: an “insurgent” in jeans who blows himself up in an IED mishap, a terrorist killed by a Marine, a child murdered in a school by Islamists, Shiites blown up by Sunnis and vice versa—all these are lumped together as collateral civilian deaths.

And how can it be otherwise, when the enemy wears no uniforms, counts on killing civilians to ruin the country, and most journalists will blame all deaths of any sort on the American presence in Iraq?

Stung by the dishonesty of “body counts” in Vietnam, and worried that in postmodern warfare, Westerners are not only not supposed to die, but also should not kill, our own forces release no figures on how many enemy terrorists they have killed. The result is that the narrative of almost all the mayhem coming out of Iraq is bifurcated into either how many Americans were killed, or how many “Iraqis” perished—a sure method to convince the reader that the entire enterprise is a complete disaster in which we are mere sitting ducks, whose presence alone leads to Iraqis dropping dead like flies.

Where does all this lead? Not where most expect. The Left thinks that the “fiasco” in Iraq will bring a repudiation of George Bush, and lead to its return to power. Perhaps. But more likely it will bring a return of realpolitik to American foreign policy, in which no action abroad is allowable (so much for the liberals’ project of saving Darfur), and our diplomacy is predicated only on stability abroad. The idealism of trying to birth consensual government will be discredited; but with its demise also ends any attention to Arab moderates, who whined for years about our support for the House of Saud, Pakistani generals, Gulf autocrats, or our neglect of the mayhem wrought by Islamists in Afghanistan. We know now that when the United States tries to spend blood and treasure in Afghanistan and Iraq that it will be slandered as naïve or imperialistic.

Lessons since 9/11

It is difficult in history to find any civilization that asks as much of others as does the contemporary Middle East—and yet so little of itself. If I were to sum up the collective mentality of the current Arab Middle East—predicated almost entirely on the patriarchal sense of lost “honor” and the rational calculation to murder appeasing liberals and appease murdering authoritarians— it would run something like the following:

(1) We will pump oil at $3 and must sell it over $50— and still blame you for stealing our natural treasure
(2) We will damn your culture and politics, but expect our own to immigrate in the thousands to your shores; upon arrival any attempt to integrate Muslim immigrants into Western pluralistic society will be seen as Islamaphobic
(3) Send us your material goods, whether machine tools, I-pods, or antibiotics. We desperately want them, but will neither make the necessary changes in our own statist, authoritarian, religiously intolerant, tribal, and patriarchal culture to allow us to produce them ourselves, nor will show any appreciation for the genius of others who can do what we cannot
(4) We ostensibly wish you to stop the killing of Muslims by ourselves and others—Milosevic murdering Kosovars, Saddam destroying Kuwaitis, Kurds, and Shiites, Russians killing Afghans and Chechnyans—but should you concretely attempt to do so, we will immediately consider your intervention far worse than the mayhem caused by others or ourselves.
(5) Any indigenous failure in the Arab Middle East will eventually be blamed on the United States or Israel
(6) Your own sense of multiculturalism must serve as an apology for our own violent pathologies, that can only be seen as different from, never worse than, your own culture.
(7) We must at all times talk of anti-Americanism and why we want you out of the Middle East; you must never become anti-Arab or anti-Muslim, much less close your borders to our immigrants and students.
(8) We will tolerate and often defend those who burn churches, ethnically cleanse Jews from our cities, behead priests, kill nuns, and shoot infidels as the necessary, if sometimes regrettable, efforts of our more zealous to defend Islam. But if any free spirit in the West satirizes Islam, we will immediately demand that Western governments condemn such blasphemy—or else!
(9) Material aid—billions to Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, or the Palestinians—is our entitlement. Any attempt to curtail it is seen as an assault on the Arab nation
(10) We are deathly afraid of nuclear Russia, China, and India who have little tolerance for either Islamism or terrorism, and so will ignore their felonies, while killing you for your misdemeanors.

Darfur—the Good Iraq

October 18th, 2006 - 3:35 pm


I am as outraged as the next American about the genocide in Darfur. Both the Khartoum government and its henchmen Arab janjawid militias are conducting a systematic, village-by-village destruction of civilian African blacks and non-Muslims.

Nothing since the Rwanda mass murdering highlights more the amoral UN’s impotence than the failure of that world body to act in the Sudan, even as it introduces more legislation to damn democratic Israel and is held hostage by veto threats from oil-hungry China. A multilateral UN force of 30,000 to 40,000 could easily supplement pan-African troops and bring some respite to the area.

After reading recent ads in our nation’s major newspapers calling on President Bush to act, and hearing cries of anguish from concerned humanitarians, I am also sure that a single aircraft carrier could enforce a no-fly zone over the country, while a brigade of American troops could shatter the poorly-led and poorly-trained bullies who are killing the innocent.

Why We Will Probably Stay Out

BUT, and it is a big BUT, I am also just as equally convinced that George Bush would be attacked the minute he put a soldier on the ground by the very humanitarians who are calling him to now act on the implicit premise that since there are no American economic or security interests in Darfur, we therefore should intervene. If Americans were on the ground, then Dr. Zawhri would announce a new jihad, hoping to draw in the normal suicide crowd to knock off some Americans as they fed and rebuilt. And that subsequent bloodletting, not the good we did, would be reason enough for a new outbreak of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

With Americans dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the United States being ankle-bitten by the Europeans to close Guantanamo (but not send any of its detainees back to their countries of origin in Europe), and crises escalating with North Korea and Iran, we are busy enough. Again, far more importantly, we all suspect of the Sudan that should Americans get ambushed, should a plane go down and its pilot be beheaded on Sudanese television, should a bomb go wide and kill some civilians on CNN, both the world at large, and the American Left in particular, would be the first to turn on the United States for not being perfect when we were still doing a great deal of good.

So if there is any American intervention, it will have to wait for a Democratic President, who then, Bill Clinton/Kosovo-style, can bomb Khartoum from 30,000 feet for a few weeks to force the Islamists to desist, assured that either his leftist credentials or the absence of American casualties would quiet opposition.

We are developing in America a new reactionary aversion to force, that may soon surprise the UN, the Europeans, and our own left anti-war crowd that clamors for humanism in our foreign policy, even to the point of using arms to stop evil. But given the invective against our efforts first in Afghanistan, and then—and especially—in Iraq, such critics have almost destroyed entirely neo-conservative muscular support for democratic reformers.

Full Circle

That is, by caricaturing the American idealistic effort in Iraq as ‘no blood for oil’ when petroleum prices skyrocketed after our removal of Saddam, and other assorted slurs, the opposition on the left, along with the failure to stabilize Iraq, helped to bring back the old Scowcroft/Baker realpolitik, and, soon to follow, the “more rubble, less trouble” school of diplomacy.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the return of James Baker (“jobs, jobs, jobs” / “F— the Jews”) last seen on the slopes of Kurdistan promising help for all the slaughtered Kurds and Shiites who took us at our word to “rise up” when we kept back from Baghdad in 1991, and allowed Saddam to retain much of his airpower after his defeat, in hopes we would not offend the Sunni Gulf states, and a defanged Saddam would provide a “stabilizing” role in the region and a “balance” to Iran. Now he advocates talking to Syria as in the good old days that worked so well, and, of course, as before thinks Israeli intrangence causes terrorism—thus its decline after they left Gaza and Lebanon.

A Note on The Kennedy School of Government—Professional and Courteous

Last Thursday I debated Lawrence Korb on “Iraq: Accomplish Mission or Withdraw”, taking the position that we must keep some troops there until a stabilized Iraq government can handle its own security needs. My adversary Dr. Korb, the moderator Gen. Ted Oelstrom, the Kennedy School, and the several hundred students in attendance were as polite and professional as could be, and it turned out to be the most hospitable and enjoyable group imaginable. And that says a lot now in this era of political hysteria.


October 14th, 2006 - 2:20 pm

Why do they hate us?

Here it is from the horses’ mouths: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, East Timor, Iraq, Kosovo, Lebanon, the Philippines, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Spain (Andalusia). Also listed as casus belli by the terrorists are our shady election campaign finances and practices, and, of course, failure to sign the Kyoto accords, along with environmental desecration. And lest you think W. caused the fury, they also cite as causes of their grief the Queen of England, George Bush, Sr., and Bill Clinton.

I’ve been reading the new The Al-Qaeda Reader forthcoming from Doubleday, a collection of writings and rantings from Osama bin Laden and Dr. Zawhri, and translated by Raymond Ibrahim.

These whines are what the historian Thucydides called prophases, or “pretexts”—or what we should consider simply as fill-in-the-blanks lists for the larger problems of lost honor. Lost honor? (In this regard, read a brilliant recent essay by Jonathan Rauch in the National Journal

Yes, how sad, in their view, that despite all those Muslims, all that oil, all that religious purity, still remains this enormous, this overriding sense of failure and impotence: No nuclear weapons, no Arab-designed internet, no Muslim cell phones or I-pods, no Hamas designed “Apaches and F-16s”. And for the all the brag about the “Hezbollah drone” it still looked pretty pathetic compared to a Predator.

For us in the all-too-rational West, the response is simplistic: get all those furious Hamas militants who chew their Israeli cud for hours on end in the coffee houses of Gaza out at 5AM in the fields to rebuild green houses and begin re-exporting flowers and vegetables to Europe. Mobilize all those Hezbollah Katyusha-carriers to start, India-style, learning English to do outsourcing, or, Chinese-style, to begin putting together Mattel Toys, or, Irish-style, recalling all the PhDs from the Muslim world now at Texas A&M or Florida State to return to Beirut to create an Arabic-speaking dot.com antithesis. After all, there is a reason that the Chinese talk of Adidas and Forbes these days rather than the old “running-dog capitalists”.

But, of course, that is quite impossible. It would require giving up, at least somewhat, the Jewish and American bogeymen, an end to memorizing the catchy Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky sound bites, and shedding of some of that “honor” by allowing your son to work where he wants, and your daughter to dress and marry as she likes, and your neighbor to put a cross around his neck if he pleases.

Yet there is one, one small thing we can do to in the West to help out those in the Middle East: quit blaming ourselves and fantasizing what we might do to be liked. Leaving Iraq won’t solve the problem—no more than did saving the Kuwaitis, the Bosnians, the Kosovars, the Afghans from the Russians, or the Somali Muslims from hunger. Giving the Egyptians $50 billion or the Jordanians and Palestinians billions as well didn’t do much either. Indeed, Hamas now considers widening their war by attacking Americans for withholding our largess. You see, we have no right not to give Islamists our millions just because they won’t promise not to destroy our ally Israel.

But what would help is simply this: every time a victimized talking head from the Middle East started in on Israel, Bush, Blair, etc. someone could interrupt and politely said, “Sorry, that’s old. No mas. We are tired of the whining. Go get a life.”

Tough love like that eventually would be worth more to the Arab World than this year’s $500 billion in Middle East’s excess petro-profits alone. As long as foreign money is thrown at the Middle East, and Palestinians are allowed to drone about “honor” and “pride” without objection, rather than how, on their own, to craft an economy, there will never be peace, or happiness—or “honor.”


October 11th, 2006 - 7:09 pm

There are some things to remember about North Korea’s nuclear acquisition in the context of this wider war against Islamism. This week an Al-Qaeda operative boasted that he would take the war to the White House, with nuclear weapons if he could. And where would they come from?

Either North Korea or Iran most likely— the latter watching closely the international consequences, if any, that will follow from the supposed Korean detonation. The extremely low yield of the purported explosion is some ways is even more worrisome, if it indicates ongoing research toward a small (and miniaturized) weapon that would be terrorist-portable.

What can we do in this lose/lose mess?

Surely not what the Democrats advocate—a return to direct Clintonian/Cartesian one-on-one negotiations, when we gave billions in food, oil, and reactors. That only led to the present mess by rewarding in the 1990s North Korean nuclear roguery with subsidies and status to the thuggish Kim Jong-il. It is typical of Jimmy Carter’s shamelessness or dotage that, after the failure of his Nobel-Prize-driven intervention into the Korean morass during the Clinton administration, he now pontificates how George Bush has broken his fine porcelain Korean policy.

And even if Bush were to hold direct talks—so reminiscent of World War II appeasers’ sigh that a chance to have talked to Hitler could have been prevented the war—the contrarians like Sens. Kerry, Biden, Kennedy, Boxer, Durbin et al. would then be screaming about the need for “multilateral” six-party talks with China and other regional partners. How odd this political season that all the failures of the past—Cyrus Vance, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Warren Christopher, and Madeline Albright who variously presided over the Iranian hostage mess, the failed Oslo accords, and the al Qaeda serial provocations of the 1990s that led to 9/11—are now evoked as sober and judicious exemplars.

In fact, China seems to enjoy seeing Japan and the U.S. squirming, while denying it has much leverage on it wayward client, which, of course, it does. I doubt that Beijing is all that worried about refugees, a North Korean state collapse, and all the other supposed reasons that, Western pundits insist, make it necessary for the ascending Chinese economy to cooperate in corralling Korea. They won’t cooperate—and why should they when there is at present little downside?

A better approach would be first to recognize reality:

(1) Nuclear brinkmanship pays: North Korea has earned billions through atomic blackmail, and humiliated humane and liberal governments in Tokyo and Seoul that don’t want to endanger their good life by descending into the gutter to duke it out with a nothing-to-lose brawler.

(2) We need to continue to expand missile defense. The politics of this are bizarre. Surely this is a Republican bonanza, whose political implications are for some reason nearly ignored as the election nears. After Bill Clinton and the Democrats in Congress cut back missile defense, George Bush rescued it—just in time to get a rudimentary system up that might just stop an obsolete missile or two from hitting the West Coast.

(3) We need to inform the Chinese that they broke the understood rules of the game, those that obligated patrons to ensure their clients did not go nuclear. Unfortunately for them, their sole client is a failed lunatic state, and ours—Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea—are full-fledged regional partners, prosperous and democratic. All could make bombs like Accords and Camrys.

Unless China disarms North Korea, a new non-proliferation doctrine should replace the failed one. The new doctrine should state that the United States opposes the acquisition of nuclear arms by any non-democratic state, and will stop such nuclearization, but if democratic societies choose to go nuclear in response to the stealthily arming of nearby failed states, then we have no objection to such democratically-reached decisions. If Japan had a 1,000 or nukes right now, China would be scrambling to stop Pyongyang from shooting test rockets even near Tokyo.

(4) To work with South Korea, we need to start withdrawing troops to Pusan—and well beyond. Much of the present mess arose from the appeasement of the Sunshine policy—in part, fueled by the revisionism of Korean ingrate leftists who rewrote the Korean War in populist terms of American imperialism and their own victimization. This was, in part, due to Korean nationalism that envisioned an eventual pan-Korea state birthed by slow and insidious osmosis from the south; and, in part, a result of strategic complacence of a half-century made possible by American subsidies and deployments. It made sense to garrison Americans on the DMZ when Seoul was weak and nascent, but not now when its population and economy dwarf the North’s. Getting America off the DMZ would give us more strategic options through air power, and wake up the South Koreans, reminding them that cheap triangulation with the United States has real costs. They can either play Churchill or Chamberlain—but it’s their call, not ours, since we have wider worries protecting Japan and Taiwan that transcend South Korea’s Sunshine nonsense.

(5) Over two years ago I wrote a brief essay called “Another 9/11?” This argued that in advance we should reestablish deterrence, by warning any suspect states that should terrorists hit the United States with strategic weapons, we would respond state-to-state to any country that armed or otherwise subsidized or sheltered such mass killers. That needs to be reiterated in the case of North Korea and Iran. Deniability of culpability was a big Pakistani and Saudi stratagem in the 1990s, but is fading, once the United States warned both about the consequences of another al Qaeda attack. We should revisit that posture, and inform now a Syria, Iran, and North Korea that if they either house terrorists or proliferate nuclear material, fine—BUT their cities, industries, and militaries will become immediate strategic targets in the hours after a terrorist attack on the U.S. Lunacy is an advantage in nuclear poker, but so far they have had a monopoly on supposed craziness. It is time—to prevent a nuclear 9/11—to remind them that the United States, if hit, will not merely be angry, but become the berserker as well.

So much for the ‘End of History.

From Foley to Footnotes

October 8th, 2006 - 11:02 pm

Holy Foley

North Korea may well have let off a 20-kiloton nuke. Last week Iran’s Ahmadinejad ridiculed efforts to corral his own nuclear ambitions. The stock market was nearing an all-time high. The deficit is suddenly falling in near record fashion. Falling gas prices might hit $2 a gallon. In Iraq, the U.S. military was taking on the Shiite militias.

And what was Washington in response talking about?

A pederastic flirtatious Congressman who wrote soft porn emails to his targeted virtual sex victims. Yes, “Mark Foley” now warrants about 23,000,000 Google matches—or about four million more Google hits than for the founder of Western philosophy, the Platonically pederastic “Socrates.” Perhaps when one of Foley’s former pages–one now claims at 21 to have had relations with his mentor– pens a Republic or Laws we will duly appreciate this better known genius who earned more attention from our contemporary electronic world in a week’s worth of IM messages than poor Socrates had after some 2400 years. And after the Dick Cheney shotgun hysteria, the flushed Koran, and all the other nonstories, it is legitimate to ask whether the New York and Washington media are simply unhinged.

Or is the problem the nature of the 24-hour news itself, when lurid sex or violence is needed to pad the hours away. Imagine the following: ‘North Korea’s bomb deliberately phallic-shaped”; or, “Ahmadinejad still in love 26 years later with one of the American hostages”; or “Americans shoot it out with a gay platoon of Mahdists.’

Could both Republicans and Democrats then forget the gross Congressman Foley? Or could he only have been forgotten, had he introduced landmark legislation on health, security, or education? Perhaps that was the better way out than resignation—simply draft an important bill on the future of America and thereby put the nation to sleep.

Or is the nuttiness because most Americans below 30 are now so poorly educated that they don’t know, or care to know, the difference between Pyongyang and poontang? Or, given that these periodic fits of insanity about Dick Cheney’s shotgun or George Bush’s flight suit usually serve to denigrate some conservative, are these present pathetic efforts to hype a pervert to the level of a national crisis, just the frustrations of a liberal news media, angry that bright sassy minds like theirs have not been able to translate that self-proclaimed intellectual and moral superiority into political power?

This entire non-story could come right out of one of Dr. Zawahri’s nutty sermons about American perversity and our puerile attention span. In fact, I’m sure we will be reading about Foley in the next al Qaeda infomercial, just as bin Laden paraphrased Michael Moore’s invectives about President Bush reading a goat story to a little girl on the morning of September 11.

The Sierra

I spent the weekend at Huntington Lake, some 7200 feet above the San Joaquin Valley floor. It was around 70 degrees, clear—and not a soul in sight or a boat on the lake. The Sierra empties out at Labor Day, more as a habit or convention than anything else. The weather is still fine up here in September and most of October. When hiking around the lake today, it struck me that it is little more than an hour away from much of Fresno County. That is, for about $25 in gas, almost any of the 1 million plus of the greater Fresno area could be here in clean air, natural beauty, and grand vistas within minutes.

But none were. For all the worry of the Sierra Club over an endangered wildness, even the areas contiguous to the lake were deserted—never mind the great emptiness in the thousands of square miles above Huntington in the higher Sierra. The problem, it seems to me, is not that there are too many hoi polloi despoiling the wilderness, but far too few enjoying it. Somehow tens of thousands have not been educated about or encouraged to visit the Sierra, whose serenity would give them a much needed few hours break on a Sunday afternoon from the madhouse below.

Mega Pseudo-footnotes

I’ve been reading State of Denial. And while last time I noted that in both Cobra II and Fiasco the authors used the pseudo-footnote, that referred the reader to anonymous and unidentified sources, neither of those books has the audacity of Woodward’s.

Turn to the endnotes. At each chapter section here at the rear of the book you read, “The information in his chapter comes primarily from background interviews with 10 [sometimes Woodward says “7” or “12, etc.] knowledgeable sources…” But what does that mean other than it is Woodward’s own opinion that they are “knowledgeable” and that because they are anonymous they are usually hostile, and because they are hostile they are most useful to Woodward?

Perhaps some Ivy-League historians can write an open letter apprising us of the dangers when journalists decide to include footnotes to achieve the veneer of scholarship, but then offer therein no means to verify their sources of information. Are there tapes left to posterity of the “knowledgeable” sources that one day can attest that what they said was accurately reported, or offer some chance to ascertain the motive and accuracy of their disclosures? And wasn’t this sort of thing in the Nixon White House—having exclusive tapes of what others said, without disclosing such sources to the public—precisely in part what made Woodward’s initial revelations of unseemliness so convincing? But at least Nixon did not publish the tapes and then claim the transcripts came from “background sources.” Indeed, one of the many Watergate scandals involved the White House’s exclusive editing of sources, without the public’s right to ascertain whether they accurately represented the real conversation–and these at least were named people.

We know the rules of this new in medio bello genre about Iraq: (1) give your version to the journalist in hopes it becomes the privileged narrative, while attacking enemies who have no chance to get back at you. And if you don’t talk, the likelihood is that someone else will anyway—without attribution and against you; (2) the anonymous source is almost always hostile to the war, but sympathetic to the views of the author. But we are never told whether the disgruntled general’s or former official’s views are typical or unusual among his peers; (3) write a military history in the middle of a war, not merely to offer lessons about the past, but to affect the ongoing course of events themselves—without much worry that usually the entire story of what really went on only emerges with time; (4) don’t use the word “anonymous” or “unidentified” but rather try out “on background,” as in antithesis to “on the record”—as if not naming someone who has terrible things to say about something else in the middle of a war is a normal journalistic practice without ethical implications.

A history does not always require footnotes, only—unlike autobiography, the memoir, or the journalistic report—the agreed-on presumption that others can check key sources to determine whether they are real or used properly. In the case of the Iraqi muckrakers, that is apparently impossible.

Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The War and Its Critics

October 3rd, 2006 - 5:27 pm


Most genres don’t require footnotes—the memoir, the essay, the journalistic dispatch. I’ve written histories that had too many footnotes—The Other Greeks had citations to ancient sources in the text, explanations with asterisks at the bottom of the page, and formal endnotes at the back of the book—and memoirs like %%AMAZON=0684835703 Fields Without Dreams%% and %%AMAZON=1594030561 Mexifornia%% with no citations.

But when you write history, and especially history of a contentious nature about Iraq, in which so much is at stake, it is incumbent to identify primary sources. The last three books about the supposed mess in Iraq—Cobra II, Fiasco, and now State of Denial—violate every canon of intellectual courtesy. Check who said what in Cobra II and you find the following: “Interview, former senior military officer”, “Interview, former senior officer”, “Interview, former Centcom planner,” Interview, Pentagon Officials,” “Interview, U.S. State Department Official,” or “notes of a participant.”

When the readers encounter the most controversial and damning of verbatim quotes in Fiasco, they are presented with “said a Bush administration official” or “recalled one officer.” Woodward is ever more derelict, in imagining not just the conversations, but even the thoughts of characters. And lest one think I am unduly critical in questioning the veracity of these unnamed sources—whose authenticity can never be checked by anyone other than the journalists who now write out popular histories—examine the recent record of journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post, and more recent stories such as the Koran flushing at Guantanamo or the photshopped pictures from Lebanon. But even more specifically, Ricks himself in the course of promoting Fiasco, repeated rumors from unidentified (“some”) sources that the Israelis deliberately exposed their civilians to rocket attacks from Lebanon to gain sympathy from the world community: “According to some U.S. military analysts … Israel purposely has left pockets of Hezbollah rockets in Lebanon, because as long as they’re being rocketed, they can continue to have a sort of moral equivalency in their operations in Lebanon.” He was immediately called to substantiate those unproven charges. After considerable damage done to the reputation of the Israeli Dense Force had been done, Ricks backed down and apologized for his unsupported allegations with a weak mea culpa about his revelations “Ugh. I wish I hadn’t.”

Every source in Cobra II, Fiasco, or State of Denial, may be accurate, but we will never know that, because for a variety of reasons the authors who claim they worked from notes and recordings, chose not to identify the most inflammatory sources by name. It would be as if I wrote a history of the Peloponnesian War and, to support my most controversial points, added footnotes that stated “A manuscript in the Vatican,” or “Private letter to author from anonymous Greek shepherd attesting a stone altar in his field”

Finally, note the silence from the numerous critics of the “Path to 9/11” who objected to the film’s adaptation of the 9/11 report. But that docu-drama clearly identified itself as a fictionalized rendition of a document, and made no claims as history. In contrast, this new genre of journalistic exposé purports to give us the real story of Iraq, but denies us the very tools of determining whether what we are reading is true, half-true, or simply made up.


Everything that needs to be said about Iraq has. Long gone is any surprise that most current critics of the war were its one-time boosters, much less that it matters much.

Still, a book will be written about the public fickleness of prominent columnists, pundits, politicians, and TV talking heads and hosts, who now damn our efforts, but once were gung-ho in their support of removing Saddam—and crowed as much when the statue fell.

My rule of thumb is that almost every current, know-it-all critic, whether a Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Chris Matthews (“we are all neo-cons now”), Francis Fukuyama, etc., at one time or another voiced support for removing Saddam and bringing war to Iraq.

One constant in their various escape hatches is that a particular lapse, a certain mistake alone explains their abandonment of earlier zeal—too few troops, disbanding the Iraqi army, not trisecting the country, the tenure of Donald Rumsfeld, etc.

In contrast, the simple truth is too bitter to confess: their support follows the pulse of the battlefield. When the statue fell and approval for the war hovered near 80%, few wanted to be on the wrong side of history. But fast forward three years plus: after well over 2,000 battle deaths, and chaos in Iraq, most not only don’t wish to be associated with the stasis, but contort to assure that they never supported the war in the beginning (hard to do with footprints on the internet), or were supposedly betrayed by the incompetence of others.

I admit to being somewhat jaded: 80% of most people have no ideology or widely-held views, but simply reflect perceptions of failure or success. Those who praised Lincoln to the skies when Sherman reached Savannah in December 1864, just months earlier had hated him during the awful prior summer. Those who later sang Churchill’s praises after El Alamein and Normandy Beach surely did not earlier after the string of disasters at Dunkirk, Singapore, and Tobruk. Those who wrote in praise of massive B-17 raids deep into Germany in early 1945, escorted by hundreds of lethal P-51 Mustangs, had written off daylight unescorted bombing in 1942 as an aerial holocaust. The point, again, is that in the middle of a war, savvy is apparently defined as changing positions and views to keep pace with the upside-downside battlefield, rather than looking at the long-term conduct of the war.

My own views remain the same. While I didn’t support removing Saddam prior to September 11, I am glad we did afterwards. While there were plenty of errors committed—no American should ever have appeared on Iraqi television; Tommy Franks should not have abruptly abandoned the theater; instant ad-hoc solutions were preferable to long-term utopian efforts at perfection—none of these lapses were as serious as those in the past in the hedgerows, in the skies above Germany in 1942, on Iwo Jima, or during the days before the Bulge, and none cannot be corrected and learned from.

Iraq is 7,000 miles away, in the heart of the ancient caliphate, surrounded by a hostile Sunni Saudi Arabia, Shiite Iran, and treacherous Jordan and Syria. The war was conducted through three national elections, and became the focus of a hostile global media — much of it predisposed to be critical of the US government and military.

Nevertheless, that we now have a consensual government fighting for its life against terrorists is nothing short of remarkable. Everything and everyone now hinge on the outcome.

The safety of millions of brave Iraqi reformers, the prestige of the United States and its military, the policy of fostering democratic reform in the Middle East, the end to the nexus between failed autocracies and scapegoating the West through terrorists; success of the Bush Administration; the effectiveness of the Democratic opposition; the divide between Europe and America; the attitude toward the United States of the Middle East autocracies; the reputation of the Islamic terrorists — all that will be adjudicated by the verdict in Iraq. Rarely have so many ideologies, so much politics, so many reputations been predicated on just a few thousand American combat soldiers and their Iraq allies.

I also confess, at this point I have a very reductionist, very Jacksonian view now of Americans in Iraq: America went in for the right purposes, conducted itself with honor and humanity, was still good when it was not perfect; and can leave something far better than what it found—if it will make the necessary adjustments, as in all of its past wars, and persevere. 130,000 took us at our word and are in harm’s way as a result. So I don’t care much to refight the argument over who was smart and who stupid—only how best to support out troops and ensure they win at the least possible cost.

A final note. At some point all these retired generals need to simply quiet down and think. In World War II, Nimitz or Eisenhower never blamed the Secretary of War or FDR for the mistakes on Iwo Jima or the Kasserine Pass. Instead, they called in their top brass, drew up a plan, followed it, and then presented a successful fait accompli to their civilian overseers. In other words, our four-stars need to summon their colonels and majors in the field, draw up a military strategy that ensures our political aims of seeing a stable consensual Iraq, and then win. Blaming Bush, or faulting Rumsfeld is a waste of time; figuring out as military officers how to achieve victory over a canny enemy is all that matters.

Congressional Pederasty

Pedophilia (“love of children”) is different from pederasty (“desire for boys”); each term uses the Greek prefix pais/paidion differently, since the Greek word can refer both to the generic “children” and the gender-specific “boy.” In addition, “—philia” is the more abstract “love” and covers any and all type of contacts, while the “-erast- root came to mean sexual union largely in a male context.

Why the distinction? It seems that Congressman Foley in not a pedophile as accused, but rather a classical pederast—that is, he is an active male homosexual interested mostly in adolescent boys rather than men his own age. Given his proclivities, I doubt there is much controversy over what he was intending in his emails, or his aims with Congressional pages. What is strange, however, is why some of the Republicans have hesitated to damn his behavior, which reminds me of something right out of Aristophanes.

Were Foley a military officer, and wrote such things to an enlisted man, he would immediately have been court-martialed. And those now sort of, kind of, almost defending him on grounds that there is no acutal, concrete, proof that he consummated his desires, had he written such graphic and sickening things to their own teen-boys, would have had him jailed—or worse.

How odd, this controversy: traditional moralists like some of the Republicans are defending a predatory pederast who seems to be infatuated with teen-age Congressional pages who are entrusted as near children to his care, while Democrats, who have made it a point not to criticize one’s “life-style” choices (remember the Barney Frank case) are suddenly outraged over the overly-liberal parameters in which Foley was allowed to operate.

Still Republicans need to wise up: this is a losing issue since the public doesn’t really care whether the Democrats are hypocritical, using scandal for partisan advantage, or hysterical in seeking headlines: the facts determine the case: a US Congressman wrote sexually suggestive messages designed to entice an underage subordinate employee. End of story. All this is left to doubt now, is how much the Republicans will hurt themselves if they persist in whining about partianship rather than condemning pederastic flirting.