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Monthly Archives: May 2007

May 29th, 2007 - 3:35 am

Greece

I’ve been in Greece co-leading a tour of 60 Americans around the antiquities, and incommunicado for some days, hence the hiatus. I had not been to Perachora and the so-called Blue Lake in 25 years. It is as stunning as ever (and as I recall was an on-set landscape for the 1962 “300 Spartans.”)

After more than forty years of post-1967 coup/Cyrus virulent anti-Americanism, heightened by the NATO bombing of Milosevic and the Iraq war, I sense a subtle weariness on the part of Greeks with their usual pro forma denunciations.

Instead, there seems to be a quiet, almost reflective (mostly in private conversations) admission that the Islamism in Turkey is eerily reminiscent of a sad history with the East, that the EU’s shunning of Turkey, while probably wise, will put Greece in a frontline adversarial position without much confidence in the EU rapid deployment force (better the enemy inside rather than outside the group tent), and that the neighborhood of Albanian Islamists, North African lunacracies, Al Qaeda freelancers, and Middle Eastern jihadism (cf. the historically tragic position of Cyprus) isn’t entirely safe for an increasingly affluent Western, Christian outpost with demographic sclerosis, relatively open borders, a tiny population, unsustainable entitlements, and a convenient pacifism.

I have been an unapologetic Philhellene since I first started coming here in 1973, and even in the darkest times of our bilateral relations have never wavered in support of the Greeks. Like Israel and the Kurds, they are a small nation of spirited brave people, with a tragic history, who have more than won the right to American support in times of peril.

Deconstructing the News

It is always enjoyable to read the International Herald Tribune, at least to see how the news is presented to the English-speaking world outside of the United States. Here is a good slice from its May 29th issue (my comments in parentheses):

The effort to go “green” in Europe with bio-fuels (of course, along with our even greater efforts) now threatens world grain markets (as if there should always be good and bad choices, rather than bad and worse ones—with nothing about the present price of enriching the House of Saud, the Iranian mullahs, and Mr. Chavez, Putin, Morales, etc.)

A series of stories on the “new” Russia—as in strong-arming British Petroleum to give up its Russian gas concessions, wishing to rewrite the old Nato arms reduction agreement with the former Soviet Union to threaten rearming, and the Russian internet war against tiny Estonia to ruin its economy—followed by accounts of unrelated mirabile dictu observations that suddenly Spain, France, and Europe in general seem to be reexamining, in the positive sense, their relations with the once demonic US (no expressed connection, of course, between Europe’s dangerous neighbors and the enormous military deterrence of a friendly America);

A surreal human interest about a Muslim conference to end the negative Western image of Islam in the West (with no mention of suicide vests, IEDs, lunacy on the West Bank, in Iran, or Iraq, Sharia Law, polygamy etc.);

Barbra Streisand cancels her concert in Rome due to the Italian outrage over her robber-baron ticket prices (no mention of the dichotomy over her egalitarian sermonizing and her pursuit of lucre);

A nice quote from a story how the Vatican is renewing its efforts to embrace Islam: “Catholic-Muslim dialogue is still feeling the negative effects of Benedict’s speech last September in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence.” (italics added);

A German socialist’s lecture on the wrong-headedness of the US anti-missile shield, calling instead for global disarmament (but why not let Germany lead the way—ending all together what’s left of its military? Somehow only seven years into the 21st century, a German politician’s lecture about the need for disarming while pontificating about US about military expenditure is, well, tragicomedy. When Iran goes nuclear, we shall see what the German government chooses to do. I suggest, despite all the rhetoric, it won’t be disarmament.);

An op-ed contrasting favorably communist China’s education system with our own (not much about reverence for Mao in the classroom, the greatest mass murderer in civilization’s history);

An op-ed about the writer’s ancestors, one fighting for the Red Army, the other for America, against Hitler (without a note of tragic irony, that the courageous soldiers in the Russian military were forced to fight a necessary war on behalf of a genocidal regime [Stalin fresh from killing 20 million, and making somehow even Hitler look almost like a piker]);

A sweet story on American citizenship arguing for a return to no numerical limits on US citizenship (without any problematic context of the present mess, but ending with “Immigrants will cherish citizenship more if it is easier to get”);

A story about Iraqi expatriate/refugee prostitution in Syria, with the apparently non-controversial throw-away line: “In the club’s parking lot, nearly half of the cars had Saudi license plates” (I’ve often wondered why, if the kingdom is governed by Sharia law’s precepts about theft, why there were not amputees among the Royal family);

A bit about the hot Hamptons’ summer mansion market, where the rich go (no irony here that means egalitarians like George Soros, Richard Gere, and Steven Spielberg—“If you’re buying a house over $5 million in the Hamptons, you don’t even know what the ‘M’ word means.”—‘M’ of course meaning mortgage.)

A sort of the news item, of the type now known ad nauseam, about how South Korea’s commercial engagement with North Korea is the preferable way of the future. Still, it includes interesting tidbits: South Korea’s economy is 33 times larger than North Korea’s (why are we spending billions to defend this country?); the utopian South Korean businessman who opened up shop in the North is paying his communist workers $68 a month; a fillip that North Korea does not pass on those great wages to its helot labor force, but instead pays them in “local currency” and ration tickets.)

I’ll stop with that. But you get the impression of why the world may not particularly like the United States, and why it’s really uncertain whether we shall win this war against radical Islamic jihadism.

The Democratic Alternative

Watching Sen. Biden on CNN the other evening pontificate about the “legitimate” war against al Qaeda in Pakistan was beneath a sometimes reasoned and experienced pro. After scoring points that Bush has not spelled out our aims and plans in Iraq, he in turn talked only in banalities about the sanctuaries in Pakistan—the need for more Nato forces (try that), or for more pressure on Musharref (good luck), etc.

I would have had more respect for Sen. Biden had he said: “We must get al Qaeda in Pakistan—so here’s what I propose: either cut-off all funding for Pakistan and live with the results; start bombing al Qaeda strongholds; or send teams into Pakistan to hunt bin Laden et al down. And here are the risks of all three options.”

And as loquacious as Biden is, then his usual afterthought should follow on Iraq: “And by the way, I was for this war when it was waged brilliantly by those I approved of and were eager to tap my wisdom, and then I withdrew my support when its sequel was managed foolishly by those who didn’t listen to me.” That is, I suppose, a legitimate, though self-serving (at least in wartime) position, but still quite rational.

But instead, for even the most sober of the Democrats we get the usual Clintonesque rhetoric: no mention about why the war they voted for they now claim they were never for, or at least bailed on; no explanation for why we haven’t been attacked here at home since 9/11; no explanation of why fighting al Qaeda in Iraq or trying to foster reform there won’t help our own security. The notion that a Democratic Senator would “pressure” nuclear Pakistan is not credible, nor is the idea that after deprecating democratization in Iraq and elsewhere, anyone would insist on it in Pakistan.

Time Moves On

About two miles from my house, on the interchange of state freeway 99 and Mt. View Avenue, is proposed some mega-regional shopping center. The ensuing rumors of development, and annexation of our environs into the nearby city of Selma are rampant, as well as wild talk of more development and get-rich sales. It reminds me of the 1920s descriptions of land-mania in the rural south in a Thomas Wolfe novel.

Time moves on no doubt. And the commercially-zoned land in question (a rural interchange where a swap meet, recycling center, two gas stations, and labor camp intersect) hasn’t been really agricultural since I use to ride the bus there on the way home in 1960.

But the ripples will destroy more agricultural land. At some point someone should note that after losing the LA Basin, Orange County and Santa Clara County to development, there are not all that many ideal acreages—rich soil, dry hot climate, good aquifers—left in California.

I noted in Fields Without Dreams and The Land Was Everything a decade ago the irony: the best and most well-watered soils in the Central Valley are within 35 miles or so of the Sierra Nevada. They also happen to be the most desirable aesthetically, as well as the most conveniently located—and are thus the most rapidly disappearing to homes.

You don’t have to join the Sierra Club to see that paving over those areas in Fresno County bordering on once sleepy agricultural towns is a sort of madness. Once land is within two miles of a development, then the spillover effects make it nearly impossible to farm anyway.

Far better to develop the I-5 corridor on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley: the land is closer to the coast and Bay Area and in the future could be connected by rapid trains; the agricultural land is far worse, and dependent entirely on costly imported water from Northern California (which could be diverted for residential use); and the area is in desperate need of capital investment (cf. the nearby towns of Mendota, Tranquility, or San Joaquin.)

For what little it’s worth, I will never sell—and advised my son of my hopes that someday he can live on a forty acre vineyard in the middle of a megapolis, akin to those pictures of small houses next to skyscrapers in China.

Stupid, silly? Of course. But no more so than another megamall in the midst of orchards and vineyards.

Cut America Some Slack

May 21st, 2007 - 5:12 pm

On a Lighter Note than Last Posting—Not

For five years we have been lectured that George Bush ruined the trans-Atlantic relationship. But now we see pro-American governments in both France and Germany, and a radical change in attitudes from Denmark to Holland to Italy. The truth is that the Europeans neither hated nor loved Bill Clinton, whom they on occasion privately seethed at for not exercising leadership, or George Bush who swaggered and talked tough to them during the lead-up to Iraq and seemed to them to be rudely unilateral. Instead, after getting their teen-age anger out, they are starting to see that the United States did not fabricate Islamic radicalism nor order them to let in and then not assimilate millions of now angry Muslims.

For all the cheap shots, the European public is worried about importing half their natural gas from Vladimir Putin, who now bullies Eastern Europeans, former Soviet republics, and dissidents well beyond his borders on the premise that his oil wealth and nukes ensure Europe can’t and won’t do anything.

Europeans know they won’t or can’t stop the Iranians from getting a nuke, but hope someone—that is, the United States—will. And from the Spanish flight from Iraq after the Madrid bombing, the spectacle of the British naval personnel in Iranian hands, and the continental paralysis after the Danish cartoons and other serial Islamic affronts to free expression, Europe knows that radical Islam is both dangerous and has little respect for either European moral authority or force of arms.

European Sobriety?

So it is they, not us, that are returning to sobriety in matters of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and they are doing this not because of affection for George Bush, but despite their anxiety about him. And that is good news, since it suggests the warming exists apart from personalities, and reminds us that if the so-called and much deprecated “West” were ever to act in unison (the former British commonwealth, Japan, the US, and continental Europe), then radical Islam would simply have no chance against 8-900 million of the planet’s most productive, ingenious and democratic peoples.

At some point, European statesmen are going to bump into a great truth: that they spend almost nothing on defense, but intrinsically have access to the United States military, both by shared values, or at least the memory of shared values, and the allegiance of the American people to this now ridiculed, now archaic notion known as the “West.” All they have do is to occasionally show some warmth to the United States, and we crazy American people whether in World War I, II, the Cold War, or the war on terror, give our all to them—at no cost. We sense that Merkle and Sarkozy and the majorities that elected them, finally fear that they were reaching the point of American exasperation at which the old ties were broken for good, adn Europe was truly to be on its own, and thus pulled back–in time?

The Danger is Isolationism, not Preemption

If I were a European, Taiwanese, Saudi, or almost anyone else who habitually complains about American presumptuousness, I would worry that the American public is reverting to its (natural?) 1930s sort of isolationism. Tired of cheap anti-Americanism, the burden of global defense obligations, and the continual erosion of the dollar, they wish to pull in their horns and let others in multilateral fashion pick up the slack.

Perhaps the European rapid reaction force could respond to Estonia’s plight should Putin send in a punititive brigade. Maybe the UN could provide the necessary deterrence to protect Taiwanese autonomy should the island provoke mainland China to the point of invading.

No doubt the EU3—Britain, France, Germany—could warn Iran not to nuke Israel—or else. These are not longer just parlor-game musings, but the look of the world if the exhaustion of the American people is reflected in retrenchment, best summed up by “These people are not really worth it, so let them handle their own affairs.” It would be a very dangerous attitude to adopt, but one psychologically understandable.

Revolutionary America

Globalization is mostly driven by the United States, whether defined by the spread of the English language, crass advertising, the Internet, American pop culture of rap, jeans and I-pods or worldwide businesses like Starbucks and MacDonald’s. A global sameness seems to trample traditional cultures and appeal to the masses worldwide despite lectures from their elites about the dangers of such American-induced contamination.

This influence of the United States is not attributable to strategic location like that enjoyed by a Germany or Iran. We don’t have vast oil reserves like a Saudi Arabia, or an enormous population such as India or China.

Instead, it’s what we do rather than what we have that attracts others. Our radical Democratic culture of informality and inclusiveness results in an unusually tolerant and secure society, in which participation is open to all. Being an American can be like playing at a cut-throat, madcap poker table, but it invites any to play who are willing to ante up and risk their all.

We can see this dynamism not just by the flood of immigrants—America takes more of them than all industrialized countries combined—but by the nature of some of them. Those who are sometimes most publicly critical of the United States, privately seem to like us a great deal. Why else would the dictator of Pakistan, an Amal militia leader in Lebanon, or a Turkish Islamist Prime Minister entrust their families either to live in the United States or to go to school here? Only in America can a Palestinian criticize the Hamas leadership, a Turkish woman wear a scarf, or a female Saudi student date.

In terms of foreign policy, many of our troubles result not, as charged, from imperialism, but from this very democratic fervor. Of all the critiques of our experience in Iraq, few have pinpointed our chief challenge: we extended one-man, one-vote and thereby empowered the traditionally downtrodden, and denigrated Shiite population, to the chagrin of Sunni elites in and outside of Iraq. It mattered little that few of the Shiia were educated, or had any experience in governance: in the naïve American sense, as free people born into the world as equal as any others, they had a right to run or ruin their own country.

By the same token, radical American egalitarianism is what terrifies our Islamist enemies. Bin Laden—many of the terrorist’s family were living in the United States on September 11—knows the insidious dangers of Americanization, both from his own wealthy youth spent enjoying the high life, and the failure of his Sharia law to compete with Spiderman for the attention of most of his flock.

China, Wave of the Future?

Other superpowers like India and China pose as third-world revolutionary powers. But both are plagued by caste and rigid political or class obstacles to full participation in their societies. A Chinese can become a fully-accepted American citizen. A non-Chinese American black, white, or Hispanic would never fully be accepted as Chinese—even with mastery of the language and the formal acquisition of Chinese citizenship.

Abroad China does not care from whom it buys or to whom it sells, and hardly cares about promoting democracy abroad. In short, it is still America that is the most radical, revolutionary, and destabilizing nation of all—and thereby disliked for precisely the opposite reasons that the Left proclaims.

What’s Being Left Have to Do With It?

What, then, is the radical Left good for? Mostly psychological cover. It is our version of the Athenian elite demagogue’s dung on his boots or Medieval indulgences or the Bible in the hand of the philandering fundamentalist. Its rhetoric alone allows Edwards to enjoy his mansion, Gore his jet, the Kennedys’ their drink and drugs, Bill Clinton his sex, and Soros his billions—and China its cutthroat acquisitions abroad and its suppression at home. Proclaiming to be a man of the people these days can cover almost anything from living like 18th-century royalty to making the foreign policy of the United States look downright saintly.

Postscript on last posting:

I am afraid that I got a lot of email about my rants about the brave new world of multicultural, yuppie international business people, and the pretensions that this new class of financial enterprenuer embraces to hide his zest for profit. And I am afraid that I feel my thoughts were too kind, rather than cruel. I don’t mind graduate schools of business. They do a lot of good in ensuring American competiveness. But like John’s Edward’s haircuts and paid $50,000 dollar sermons on poverty to gullible middle-class university students, we should not take their claims seriously—of promoting either liberal education (which I heard) or international brotherhood. And when they pontificate, as I was lectured, that the “nation state is through”, one wonders which nation state protects their entire system of global security, freedom of trade, and the rights of ships and planes to navigate without fear of piracy or attack. Or is it the UN? World Court? EU?

Not With a Bang

May 19th, 2007 - 5:36 am

How Will the War End?

There is only one of two ways that America’s role in the Iraq war will come to an end. Either Lt. Colonels and Full Colonels in Iraq—who best feel the daily pulse of the battlefield—will report through their superiors to Gen. Petraeus that they cannot stabilize the country, or at least cannot do so at a price in lives and treasure worth the effort. Petraeus, being intellectually honest, would then report that to the President and Congress.

Or, enough moderate Republicans at roughly the same time would fear running on a platform in fall 2008 perceived as supporting the Iraq war, and thus a year in advance (i.e., this fall) would join an anti-war Democratic Party to provide a veto- and filibuster-proof Congress. That coalescence would shut down the funding in the manner of 1974-5. I don’t see the former happening, but am not sure about the latter.

Moral Equivalence to the Nth

I gave a lecture and moderated a panel at a prominent graduate school of business yesterday. It was a reunion of MBA execs now in their 50s and 60s at the pinnacle of their globalized success. I add this experience as well to recent talks with quite wealthy international bankers, insurance people, and general CEOs of all nationalities.

Impressions?

After exchanges with some of the most successful on the panel and some in small talks later on, I was reminded that the ultimate logic of globalized business is simply profit, period—but with a postmodern twist.

From that notion all politically-correct logic follows. Thus came criticism of Israel for having the bomb while Iran didn’t. Criticism for America’s preeminent role in the world as haughty. No sense that perhaps China and others might play hardball in foreign affairs as well. No admission of European culpability in selling Iran and anyone else anything they wished. No worry that the UN’s human rights committees are inhuman. But plenty of worry that we had demonized Islamists.

And the most disturbing thing about all this was that such business realpolitik was cloaked under the therapeutic veneer of “the world is flat” thinking: A disappearance of borders; a new “paradigm” brought on by the radically unifying Internet; a necessary increase in the power of the UN.

Nowhere in these recent encounters with execs, both formal and informal, was there any appreciation of the exceptionalism of the United States Constitution, the inability of the UN or the EU to stand up to real evil in the world, the notion that the greatest violator of international accords were China (patents, copyright, etc), the fumes of the Soviet Union (attacks on dissidents at home and worldwide), Mexico (a policy of sending millions across the border of its neighbor in violation of sovereignty), the Middle East petro-nexus, etc. Instead, I heard Kerryisms ad nauseam: we are arrogant, we are not liked abroad, we must listen to (fill in the large blank), we are doing everything wrong, China will soon pass us (make the necessary adjustments therefore)…

The Rant Goes On…

I could go on–and will. One does not have to embrace Buchananism, to see that a growing challenge in this century will be the smiley international corporation, not in the sense of a handle-bar moustache and black-hat villain stealing third-world resources, but with the face of Birkenstocks, polo shirts, and an I-pod, run by the man who believes in no affiliation other than as an alumnus donor to his business school, has no moral principle, has no knowledge or sense of history, much less the tragedy of history, no real anger, no real enthusiasm other than for a new angle globalized to the nth degree—and who is pledged to nothing other than the notion of profit and the dangers to globalized profit that are posed by those who stand for ideas and values which get in the way of Kumbaya hedge funds and tranbordered consortia.

So the old rapacious Kurtz who sought to exploit the resources of the Heart of Darkness is now to be replaced by the hip, aging yuppie, who sees the gym in a Shanghai luxury hotel, the spa in Barcelona, the veranda on Mykonos, and the board room in London as essentially the same new world culture.

Right-wing, illiberal, and dangerous Kassandras supposedly threaten to overturn this mega-profit world by shrilling warning that Iran would nuke Israel, that Russia might blackmail energy-hungry Europe, that Mexico should not cynically export human capital, that the United States should keep insisting that others follow international agreements. How messy, how untidy, how mean are those who rain on my global parade.

A Pleas for CEOs to Read History

Give these new globe-trotting capitalist hipsters a new more efficient pump and they claim they have reinvented water itself. What comes out of the ground, thanks to their genius, at 1000 gallons a minute surely cannot be the same that used to come out at 10.

I support globalization, and see that at its essence it is Westernization, and that bright people make the world better by allowing an exhange of ideas and life-saving appurtenances. But I want no part of the necessary globalized CEO, who believes in nothing, says nothing, knows nothing other than a sort of adolescent watered-down Gorism. Every MBA program should have one, just one introductory class in Western Civ to introduce to these historically illiterate that the basis for their present globalized system was the West, so that they might not so often preen that it was cobbled together from the Middle East, the Orient, Africa, in some sort of alaphabet soup concoction. And if global warming is a ‘must’ concern, then please, a commensurate class on the carbon footprints of Citations and Gulfstreams.

The Left rails about Enron and Halliburton and Blackwater; but their sins are at least identifiable and thus monitored and correctable. These new avatars of ‘can’t we all get along while I get fabulously rich’ are more insidious and ultimately the real amoralists of this new century. Global warming and not overreacting to somebody with a suicide vest are their Mark and Luke.

With a Whimper

The world as I knew it in southern Fresno County will end not with a bang, but with a smile and a blackberry.

The Moral Left

May 11th, 2007 - 9:50 am

A World Away From Laurie David, Sheryl Crow, and Al Gore

Those Good, High Gas Prices? Makes us conserve? Ushers in the age of alternate fuels?

There are some foolish things being written about the positives of the very real possibility that gas might reach $4 a gallon by mid-summer—or at least in some high-demand states like here in California (that suffers the double whammy of expensive refinery requirements, and opposes most material investment (reactors, refineries, pipelines, coastal drilling, new highways, new damns, etc) that contributes to preservation of the state’s elite yuppie lifestyle.)

I was reading two such columns that were happy about the increased prices the other day—right before filling up in rural California. I collated the eight cars in the service station. There were four large 1980s pickups,—Dodge Rams, Fords, and one Toyota—two old Crown Vic-type gas guzzlers, and two used vans.

All except me and one very poor looking white blue-collar painter in one of the pickups (I gathered that from the sprayer that seemed to have splattered his truck as much as what he works on), were Mexican aliens (no English) or Mexican-Americans. I would imagine (I talked to only two) other than the one housewife with four kids they were carpenters and landscape people filling up early (6 AM) on their way to work in Fresno.

Shame on you, esay, for not driving a Prius!

None of these vehicles could have gotten much more than 10 or 15 miles per gallon, given their size and age. Most of these commuters live in rural Selma or Sanger and must drive 50-60 miles to work and back each day.

None of their gear I think would fit into a smaller truck. Or at least they had made the decision to buy a used clunker with size ($2-5000) rather than a newer, fuel efficient light truck ($20-25,000). The result is that at an extra buck-fifty, they might possibly pay as much as an extra $10 per day or $50 per week. I am not convinced in the short term that extra wages or payments will cover their additional expenses.

I say all this for three simple reasons: (1) there are, of course, some benefits from high gas prices if it discourages consumption. But it would be far better to “achieve” (if that is what some want) $4 a gallon through taxes, rather than paying unstable regimes petrol bounties.

(2) The carbon footprint and energy consumption of those that I saw at the gas station are far less than those of an Al Gore, Laurie David, or Sheryl Crow—or most who preach about the benefits of high gas. I would wager that none of the eight drivers lives in a house much more than 1200 square feet. None has ever been on a corporate jet (400 gallons an hour), or fly transcontinentally.

(3) I grant that such elites mean well and that their activism may pressure some corporate bogeyman to insist on new technologies and more efficient engines. But in the meantime, I think the carbon-footprint movement and the alternate energy group are largely out of touch with most Americans, who unlike Europeans live in a large, wide-open country that in other respects is far more industrious and efficient than Europe.

These workers belong to no European-style union, operate under no 35-hour work week protocols, enjoy no lifetime employment. They are the world’s most industrious laborers and we should be upset that high gas falls upon them inordinately.

As Americans we should all take a pledge: that we promise to use one toilet paper square, to turn up the thermostat to 75 degrees this summer, and to borrow to buy a Prius, when Al Gore and John Edwards move back down to, say, 3,000 square feet, when Sheryl Crow vows never to ride in a private jet, and when Ms. David promises to stay away from energy-burning commercial jets to Europe.

Right now I worry more about how Hector Rosales is going to pay the extra cost for his 1983 Ford 150 to get to north Fresno to mow lawns than Laurie David Gulfstreaming to her Martha Vineyard’s second home, while on break from her LA enclave.

I, President-elect Hillary!

When inaugurated as your 44th President, I will usher in a new era in American foreign policy, where I listen and work with our allies. Therefore, I will urge the Europeans to increase their support for Nato operations in Afghanistan, as part of our new multilateral alliance. It’s time we quit telling them no, when they want to help. As part of this new attitude of compromise, I also look forward for European and United Nations initiatives about the stubborn problem of Iran’s possible nuclear proliferation. It is a moment not to lose, and we must allow the Europeans to become full-fledged partners with the United States; the days of shunning and discouraging their efforts to show us the way in Afghanistan and with Iran are over.

After we withdraw from the quagmire of Iraq, we look forward to working again with the governments in Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra that will emerge to manage their own affairs. The demonization of Iran and Syria is over, and it is critical that we enter into a serious dialogue with both, without either preconditions or prejudices, to hear their novel and constructive ideas about regional stability.

I have said often that it was intolerable that George Bush took his eye off al Qaeda in Afghanistan when he went into Iraq; therefore, after seven years of a free pass, it is time to redirect our attention back to bin Laden and bring him to justice. Now with all our resources properly devoted to Afghanistan, I will apprise President Musharref that either his government delivers al Qaeda kingpins to US forces in Afghanistan or we will begin hot pursuit into nuclear Pakistan, by land and air, to apprehend him.

It is time to repeal the Patriot Act, shut down Guantanamo, stop the intercepts of phone calls, and cease making the war on terrorists more dangerous to our lives than the terrorists themselves.

In addition, for too long we have pressured our allies in Europe and our former friends in Russia with unilateral efforts at missile defense, a system that is unproven and provocative. Let’s stop this billion-dollar fiasco, get back on track with our partners, and quit making enemies out of former friends.

Finally, American foreign policy has always been bipartisan and disagreements about it should stop at our shores. We are tired of the opposition party always by rote blocking an administration’s initiatives’ simply for the sake of gaining political power and leverage. The notion of proposed cut-offs, filibusters, private freelancing diplomacy with foreign heads of state—all that only divides us as a nation. I didn’t like it in the past, and won’t tolerate it in the future. We need to speak as one nation, and the President must remain that one decider in the conduct of our external relations.

(more…)

The Crazy Middle East

May 2nd, 2007 - 8:48 am

All Eyes on Baghdad

All the pros and cons on the war have been aired. We’ve read all the tell-all books by Woodward, Ricks, Gordon, Trainor and the rest that now contradict the arguments and theses of what they wrote about the 1991 war—that then we should have done what we are doing now, which in turn should now be what we had done then.

All the once insider geniuses like Clark, Scheuer, O’Neil and Tenet have sold their tell-all accounts in which they were brilliant and all else obtuse. Feith has been called a dumb _____ by almost everyone in DC. Libby is facing jail for something or other, but most certainly not what the Special Prosecutor was supposed to be looking for; Wolfowitz faces an ouster: so much for bringing up to your board that you might have a conflict of interest down the road.

We’ve suffered through the distortions of Michael Moore and know that Cindy Sheehan once thanked President Bush for meeting with her. We’ve heard that the US military is akin to Saddam, Nazis, Pol Pot, or Stalin from the likes of Sens. Durbin and Kennedy, that America is a pariah from Sen. Kerry, that the war is lost from Sen. Reid and Howard Dean, and about everything imaginable from poor Sen. Biden.

We know that the Clintons once tried to restore their fides on national security by railing about Saddam’s WMD program, both before and after September 11. There has been a revolt of the generals and CIA operatives, that in addition to demonstrating opposition to the war, showed just how angry top brass are at our restructuring the military and /or intelligence agencies.

The Celebs have weighed in, and now we know that the Dixie Chicks, Sean Penn, Barbra Streisand, Rosie, the Donald, and Alec Baldwin are as ignorant as they are vehement and vicious in their pronouncements.

We’ve seen all the supposed landmark stories come and go: Dick Cheney’s shotgun, the supposed flushed Koran, the forged memos about Bush’s National Guard service, the doctored photos from Beirut, the slips from CNN brass about bias, the implosion of Dan Rather, the blood lust for Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Gonzalez, et. al. None of them did anything illegal; all of them were hounded by the press to resign—all of whom Republicans thought if these just go, the Left will stop, when in fact its appetite was only fed.

All that has come and gone, and we are left in the end with the verdict of the battlefield. The war will be won or lost, like it or not, fairly or unjustly, in the next six months in Baghdad. Either Gen. Petraeus quells the violence to a level that even the media cannot exaggerate, or the enterprise fails, and we withdraw. For all the acrimony and hysteria at home, that in the end is what we face—the verdict of all wars that ultimately are decided by the soldiers, and then either supported or opposed by the majority at home with no views or ideology other than its desire to conform to the narrative from the front: support our winners, oppose our losers. In the end, that is what this entire hysterical four years are about.

Win Iraq in the sense of a government stabilizing analogous to Kurdistan or Turkey, and even at this late hour, pundits and politicians will scramble around to dig up their 2002-3 quotes supporting the war, while Hollywood goes quiet and turns to more sermons on Darfur.

Sad, but true.

And the Palestinians wonder?

Polls show about 20% of Americans favor the Palestinians in their war against Israel, while about half the US population now expresses an unease with Muslims in general. Meanwhile a large minority of Muslims, according to polls, condones terrorist attacks on civilians, while a vast majority is vehemently anti-American. Their prejudice apparently is chalked up to our omnipresence—like saving Kuwait, feeding Somalia, stopping Muslims dying en masse in the Balkans, ridding Afghanistan of the Soviets, paying astronomical prices for their oil, and giving nearly $100 billion over the years to the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Palestinians.

Our prejudice surely could not be due to 19 Muslims slaughtering— to the delight of millions—3,000 Americans, nor to the news almost every hour of Christian-Muslim violence, Hindu-Muslim violence, Buddhist-Muslim violence, or secular-Muslim violence. And now the much circulated quote from Sheik Ahmad Bahr, acting Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council:

“You will be victorious” on the face of this planet. You are the masters of the world on the face of this planet. Yes, [the Koran says that] “you will be victorious,” but only “if you are believers.” Allah willing, “you will be victorious,” while America and Israel will be annihilated. I guarantee you that the power of belief and faith is greater than the power of America and Israel. They are cowards, who are eager for life, while we are eager for death for the sake of Allah. That is why America’s nose was rubbed in the mud in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia, and everywhere… Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one. Oh Allah, show them a day of darkness. Oh Allah, who sent down His Book, the mover of the clouds, who defeated the enemies of the Prophet defeat the Jews and the Americans, and bring us victory over them.”

And wait till these people get the bomb. So much for the war against Islamism being “over.”

What is it about the Palestinians?

Occupied Land? Are we speaking of Tibet? And why not worry about territorial disputes between Argentina and its neighbors, or Russia and Japan over the Kuriles, or a divided and Turkish-occupied Cyprus, or for that matter, Germany that lost historic homelands to postwar Poland? Or let us stop the earth’s rotation for Kashmir, which at least involves two large nuclear adversaries. Do the millions of Kurds in Turkey qualify as homeless or refugees or voiceless?

Refugees?

Are we talking of the 600,000 plus Jews that were expelled from the major Arab capitals following the 1967 war?

Or are we drawn to the millions in the Congo and Nigeria that have lost their homes?

If we are speaking of Palestinians, do we refer to the quarter-million plus expelled from Kuwait following the 1991 Gulf War?

Violence?

Surely the world mourns the million lost in Rwanda? Or the tens of thousands now killed in Darfur? Or the million plus starved the last decade in North Korea?

So why just the Palestinians?

The truth is that the international media has created the entire Palestinian crisis, at least in terms of elevating it beyond all others of far worse magnitude.

Why?

Fear of international terrorists, going way back to the plane hijackings and Olympian killings of the 1970s.

Fear of oil price hikes, as if the Saudis might once again turn off the spigots in solidarity with Palestinians.

Demography? There are tens of millions of pro-Palestinian angry Muslims with a propensity toward supporting violent acts, and very few Jews who are busy writing scientific articles and discovering new products. So whom to fear?

And then there is the old anti-Semitism, old in the sense of both generated in Europe and as old as the Koran itself in the Middle East.

What to Do?

We should give not a cent to any government in Palestine. Americans might wish the people there well, but explain due to their vehement anti-American prejudices, we cannot accept any into this country, revoke the visas of those who are here, and politely ask them to settle their own differences with Israel.

Perhaps with Gulf oil money, they can one day forget Israel, create a just society, foster a vibrant, non-corrupt economy, and then with confidence negotiate with Israel about borders. But until then, there is no reason to have relations with this government or its populace.

Its mother’s milk is envy and jealousy that a displaced decimated people was placed down beside them in rock and scrub, and sixty years later built a humane, prosperous society that is a daily reminder to them that what they do—statism, gender apartheid, tribalism, feuding, religious intolerance, corruption, autocracy, polygamy, honor killings, etc.—lead to the very opposite sort of society in which nothing is invented, no discovery is found, no security or prosperity is achieved, and hand-outs are demanded but never appreciated.

But why discuss self-inflicted misery when the Jews are a few hundred yards away to blame, and guilt-ridden wealthy Westerners are easy marks for shake-downs, themselves anti-Semitic and fearful of hooded men with shaking fists and blood-curdling chants?

Don’t forget Syria.

Nancy Pelosi et al. gave sermons on the need to include Syria in regional discussions and to open a dialogue with this “key player.” Here’s what that olive branch won in reply, a boast from dictator Assad that Syria is essential to the killing of Americans in Iraq:

“To the east there is the resistance in Iraq, to the west there is the resistance in Lebanon and to the south there is the resistance of the Palestinian people…We, in Syria, are at the heart of all these events. Syria, the Arab region and the Middle East are going through a dangerous period. Destructive colonial projects are seeking to divide and reshape our region…Every Syrian citizen supports the Iraqi people who are resisting the American occupation.”

“Destructive colonial projects” means offering someone the right to vote and have some freedom of expression, in other words to say no to thugs like Assad, Ahmadinejad, or Khadafy.

Be careful what you wish for.

For years Arab intellectuals demanded from the West some concern for human rights, and a cessation of business as usual with their dictatorial strongmen. But post 2003 we are learning that such posturing was, well, posturing, and most of these hothouse plants are more angry at the democratization efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq than they are at their own autocrats. An unspoken truth in the post 9/11 climate is that Arab reformers have zero credibility. Most live in Europe and the United States (including members of the families of the Pakistani, Syrian, Lebanese, and Saudi autocrats and extremists). Most are far more critical of western governments that gave them refuge and a new life than they are of the illiberal regimes that drove them out.

Oil, father of us all

In the end, all reasoning and calculation comes down to oil, not energy independence just a lessening of our need to import by about 5 million barrels or so on the world market. Let Brazil export duty-free ethanol; drill in Anwar and off our coasts; build 20 or so nuclear reactors to replace natural gas and power batteries at night of small commuter cars; up the fleet average gas mileage; develop oil tar and oil shale; use alternative energies—and do all that inclusively rather than in an either/or strategy, and we can collapse the world price, and with it the strategic importance of this dangerous, dysfunctional, and ultimately irrelevant part of the world.

Without oil and nukes, the Arab and Iranian Middle East has no hold on the world, no more than does Paraguay or the Ivory Coast or Bulgaria or Laos. We wish them well, but find Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, the House of Saud, Hamas, Khadafy, and all the rest, well, all too retro-7th-century for our tastes.