» 2007 » September

Works and Days

Monthly Archives: September 2007

War, then and now

September 25th, 2007 - 8:55 pm

The War

I’ve been watching the Ken Burns’ film each night, and generally think, as a sociological exploration of race, class, and gender issues during wartime, it is excellent. But given the vast expanse of World War II, there is almost nothing here about questions strategic or even tactical. So the viewer will not learn so much about American plans of winning the war, or our generals, good and bad, or the grand strategy of our war-planners, or the relative efficacy of our weaponry.

The film is perhaps wrongly named; perhaps more informative would have been something like “The Other War” or “Behind the Scenes”, since one could watch multiple hours of this documentary and learn very little of the evil of the imperial Japanese army and its larger aims, or the nature of the Wehrmacht. The sharp moral difference between what the Axis and allies wanted is not really discussed in depth. In some sense, the film lacks the wonderful music of the Civil War series, as well as historians like Shelby Foote to ground the narrative. So wonderful sociology and American contradictions about race/class/gender—but not really a military history in the traditional sense. I still think in contrast the 1973 British classic and 23-episode “The World at War” remains unrivaled.

Ahmadinejad in New York

What was strange about Ahmadinejad’s rants this week in New York was how dependent they were on leftwing talking points—Katrina, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, missing WMD, the 1953 Iranian coup, etc. But such a paradox, when the Iranian fascist turned to homosexuals— suddenly he was jeered and laughed at. So fascism is ok when it attacks the common American enemy, but intolerable when it veers into questions of gender?

Kidney Stones versus Ruptured Appendix?

Currently trying to pass, in serial fashion, 6 or so b-b-sized kidney stones (according to the CAT scan), and wondering what is worse—a ruptured appendix or constant stones? Pain-wise, in comparison to last year’s appendix operation, I vote for the stones.

Iraqi Questions

Iraq versus Afghanistan

The presence of Nato in Afghanistan and the far fewer American casualties (441 combat dead versus 3115 in Iraq) has made it the “good” war against those who were directly responsible for 9/11.

In contrast, a “preemptive” and “unilateral” Iraqi war was orphaned once it proved, unexpectedly so, the far tougher occupation.

But after reading either Peter Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know or Raymond Ibrahim’s The al Qaeda Reader, one is struck how our enemies do not differentiate, at least in formal communiqués, between the two theaters. Both are infidel crusades aimed at gratuitously killing Muslims—period. In the present context, the distinction between a necessary well fought war and an optional disaster exists in our minds, not our enemies, who, to be candid, increasingly sound shrill as if they are losing both theaters.

Whether foreseen or not, Iraq has turned into a touchstone of the entire Middle East—the thawing in Libya, the impending crisis in Pakistan, the Hamas/Fatah rivalry, the Gulf galvanization against Iran, the Syrian/Iranian nexus, and the Iranian nuclear program. All these challenges and more either directly or indirectly will be altered by the outcome in Iraq.

We should accept that the Iraq war to remove Saddam was won and won brilliantly. The second more difficult challenge, both to secure a democratic government and to direct the Middle East away from jihadism to something other than authoritarianism, is a much different war still very much in the balance.


Throughout both war we have official and popular tallies of American casualties—and Iraqi civilians. No one, in any serious manner, however, has tried to count the number of jihadists and insurgents that we have killed in either country—or to calibrate to what degree such fatalities are simply lumped into the “civilian” total on the theory that any enemy without a uniform (i.e., all of them) is de facto a “civilian.”

Much less do we even speculate that reduced Taliban or Iraqi insurgent activity may be due to the sheer number of those killed and wounded. We often forget how many al Qaeda kingpins who were active on 9/11 are now either dead, jailed, or in hiding, from Khalid Sheik Mohammed to Abu-Zarqawi.

So this is a strange war in which we must not only lose our own, but not talk about killing the enemy. Perhaps it is the stink of Vietnam-era “body counts”, both the past fraud and amoral calculus involved, that prevents us from seeing progress by taking out the enemy. No matter, the result is the same: this is the first large war the United States has fought in which we have no idea how many enemy we have killed—or if we did know, whether we should even broadcast such success or to what degree it contributes to our success.

What we do accept is that the war is now defined by American losses above all other considerations. It is sustainable to the degree we don’t lose soldiers, and not so, to the degree we do. The Balkan War—Milosevic was not a threat comparable to Saddam; there was neither congressional nor UN approval, but plenty of angry allies like the Greeks and furious neutrals like the Russians; and frequent collateral damage (so far we haven’t bombed the Chinese in Iraq)—is instructive of how an intervention becomes politically sustainable by the simple absence of American dead.


All wars see mistakes. But what is strange about Iraq is that almost all of our lapses only became evident as such in hindsight. In World War II, the accidental bombing by B-17s of our own troops in the hedgerows was seen immediately as a fiasco. So soon were larger lapses like daylight unescorted bombing in 1942-3, or the clear inferiority of the commanders and equipment sent to North Africa. None paralyzed our progress.

But in Iraq almost every mistake had a plausible countervailing argument. Shoot looters, of course, to restore order—but why do so after liberating a people suffering from thirty years of oppression? Why would one shoot a poor man live on CNN for scurrying across the street with a television?

More troops were needed? But if we strain under 160,000, what would we have done with an occupation force of 300,000—as if numbers per se and not tactics and strategy were our sole problems?

Privileging WMD over the Congress’s 22 other writs to go to war was a flaw once they did not turn up inside Iraq. True, but such fixation is perhaps understandable, especially since we are still not quite sure that they were not in part sent into Syria—especially given recent stories about that regime’s recent accident with chemical weapons, and its bombed nuclear depot.

In any case, the Iranian/Syrian efforts in the 2000s reminds us why the Clinton administration was so worried about the corresponding Iraqi efforts in the 1990s. No one invented out of nothing the idea that illiberal regimes are trying desperately to turn windfall petro-profits into regional strategic supremacy through deadly weapons.

The surge is inspired and working, but its often innovative tactics have been overshadowed by the discussion of sheer numbers. A better term would have been the “adaptation”. Nonetheless there was also a logic to the Casey/Abezaid thinking: emphasize force protection to ensure the U.S. has the political capital to maintain the reconstruction, assuming that eventually the Iraqis would burn themselves out in sectarian violence, tire of the militias and al Qaeda, then re-seek American support. At that time we would reemerge with less casualties. That rope-a-dope seems flawed now, but at the time it was a reasonable consideration.

The Debate

Well before Vietnam, many wars have strong domestic opposition—Congressional repulsion at the Mexican War, the Civil War draft riots, the isolationist movements of 1916 and 1939-41, and the McArthur celebratory parades of 1951. But what is unusual about the present opposition, at least as it is spearheaded by Congressional Democrats, is the broad support of invading Iraq in 2003 followed by the broad opposition to it by 2005, followed by the lack of any serious explanation for the turn-out.

Being “fooled” by intelligence reports is unacceptable inasmuch as the Congressional leaders were given the same reports that the administration got, themselves consistent with those produced during the Clinton administration.

The only acceptable explanation for such an about face was the one never offered, something like the following:

“I thought removing Saddam could be accomplished at far less cost than transpired. But due both to the difficulty of establishing reform in postwar Iraq, and our own flawed assumptions about reconstruction, I now don’t think the ultimate goal of a stable constitutional Iraq is attainable—or at least not attainable at a price in American blood and treasure I am willing to pay.”

Not a single Democrat has been candid enough to admit the above.

That would be an intellectually honest and defensible position, but that would require more character than in simply reciting the old mantra of “Bush lied” or “my successful war was ruined by your flawed occupation.”

Middle East and Midwest

September 18th, 2007 - 6:24 pm

Something is going on in the Middle East

What are we to make of these reoccurring stories of various weapons of mass destruction incidents in Syria, whether the accident in July of Iranians and Syrians arming Scud missiles with mustard (or sarin?) gas, or recent Syrian nuclear depositories being bombed by Israelis.

A number of issues arise: are the Gulf monarchies, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan essentially staying mum, with the quiet understanding that Israel is too be given a green light, if it acts stealthily, to contain these threats?

Is there a link to Saddam’s former arsenal and fugitive technicians—the now taboo missing WMD? Other clerical statements from once Sunni radicals, and recent polls of the Arab Street reveal a Sunni reaction to al Qaedism, as if the Anbar syndrome is spreading at the nation state level.

I know the anti-war talking points are that Iran is in “the driver’s seat” after our “catastrophe” in Iraq. But that pessimism is premature, and in fact probably flat wrong. Our lining up of concerned anti-Iranian allies in the Middle East, Europe, and inside Iraq, Iran’s own suicidal economic policies, and ethnic tensions, and the position of American troops near the border, have in fact weakened Iran. If we can turn Shiite militias, arrest even more Iranians inside Iraq, and get the Europeans on board for stiff sanctions, the regime will be isolated as never before. Ditto Syria.

When one looks at recent events in Lebanon with the crushing of the terrorist camp, the new generation in Libya, and the isolation of Hamas, the entire region is now in flux. And that is not necessarily bad, given its history the last quarter-century.

If I were the Democrats, I would keep silent and watch, and taper off from the “Bush’s Middle East is a disaster” line, especially if Afghanistan and Iraq settle down. Why not brag and try to take credit for the surge—claiming their criticism resulted in more troops and changes at the Pentagon?

The Moveon.org ad was a political disaster, akin to the Chicago convention of 1968. That the candidates now have a deer-in-the-headlights look to questions about it shows how invested they are in the Cindy Sheehan/Michael Moore/Hollywood wing that gives them very little wiggle room, but apparently lots of money and threats. The Republicans faced the same challenge in the 1950s with the McCarthyites, anti-Semites, John Birch Society sympathizers, and neo-Confederates, and finally shed them, and the Republicans, despite minority party status, went on to take the White House for 36 years of the 56 between 1953 and 2008.

We have well over a year until the election, and many things can happen that we scarcely expect.

From Middle East to Midwest

I am finishing up my yearly month-long teach stint at Hillsdale College during annual vacation from the Hoover Institution—the fourth visit in a row. It is wrong to think that the college is exclusively doctrinaire conservative. True, many students tend to be center/right, but they have all sorts of different positions—conservative Democrats, Neocons, libertarians, mainstream Republicans, paleo-cons, and about as many liberals as there are conservative students on most other campuses.

The college is in the midst of a renaissance. A massive building program is reconfiguring the entire campus with a new quad of tasteful brick buildings and a student center. There are lots of new faculty, and visiting professors constantly. I have lectured at a number of campuses; but by any fair standard the Hillsdale history faculty seems one of the most interesting, well-rounded, and accomplished around.

The college is completing a massive fund-raising campaign; even more buildings and programs are planned. Some intellectual or cultural events are scheduled each week. One example: a recent Vietnam conference for the students and visitors had Mark Moyar, HR McMaster, Lewis Sorley, Michael Lind, Makubin Owens, and Michael Medved who went over all the controversies—how we got in, the nature of the fighting, how we got out—and the domestic political reaction to it all. These symposia are characteristic, not unusual.

The college president, Larry Arnn, is literally remaking the infrastructure and faculty profile. I think within a few years, Hillsdale will clearly be one of the top five or six private liberal undergraduate colleges in the country by almost any measure one uses, and the president acknowledged as the nation’s best.

For a Californian, the real adjustment is the larger culture of the rural, small-town Midwest. It is rare in California to see families say grace at meals; here common. I was thought to be an anomaly at a California campus for having three children; here faculty with five and six (even eight or more) kids is not uncommon. Parking lots in California are mostly full of Japanese models; here they’re rare. Life is much slower and methodical; you don’t see the Bay-Area yuppie model filtering down as it does elsewhere in the West: the nest of hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite counters, in which each evening the power couple tosses a salad and pasta, and grills shish-kebab, with lightly cooked vegetables to jazz or classical music.

Food, of course, is radically different. My impressions after eating out for four yearly visits here is that most dishes are Germanic—sausages, muffins, mush, grits, eggs for breakfast; heavy, well-done meat dishes and potatoes for lunch and dinner; salads with far too much dressing, milk even served as beverage.

The recession in rural Michigan is striking—homes for sale everywhere, everything (except gas) about 20% cheaper than in California. Rural southern Fresno County, ground zero of illegal immigration, seems in comparison far wealthier, more new cars, houses, and far more shopping centers and frenzied activity. Whole factories and plants are shut down here. At local food markets I see family after family with food stamps. The state as a whole seems in big trouble and listless, something like California around 2000 during the financial meltdown and the bleak Gray Davis years.

Bipartisan consensus?

One thing both parties should consent to is some sort of energy policy (more drilling off the coasts and in Anwar, more nuclear power, no tariffs on imported ethanol, more alternate fuels, more coal, more conservation) that cuts our daily imported appetite by about 5 million barrels and helps to collapse the world price of petroleum. If we could get it down to $30 a barrel. Putin, Chavez, Morales, Ahmadinejad, the House of Saud—all would start floundering since these countries can’t make anything anyone wants.

By the same token, let us pray that we will start restoring fiscal sanity and balanced budgets, trimming the debt, and trying to reduce trade deficits to whittle down the $1.5 trillion held by Japanese and Chinese banks.

I know the arguments well of the advantages of debts, deficits, and a weak dollar, but lost in the discussion is the psychological element: Americans simply don’t like being the weak financial player on the world scene, and are not convinced that borrowing and weak currency explain our high growth, low employment, and low inflation economy.

Another Tet?

September 13th, 2007 - 7:12 pm


Here we are nearly 40 years after Tet—and from the Left instead of Gen. Waste-more-land we have Gen. Betray Us. For the Wise Men under Dean Acheson reporting to LBJ, we have the Iraq Study Group. And in the midst of a surge, a President with low polls watches presendential candidates left and right taking shots at him, and many backing away from the war they almost all once supported.

By April 1968 it was impossible to explain that Tet had proven a horrendous enemy military defeat, as the North Vietnamese limped away after losing over 40,000 dead, and committing horrific atrocities in Hue. I say impossible—in light of the serial Herblock cartoons, the Cronkite CBS special announcing the impossibility of victory, the Eddie Adams photograph, the evocation of Khe sanh as the new Dien Bien Phu, and everyone from Art Buchwald to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., declaring that the Tet was either Custer at Little Big Horn or the surrounded French. In the same manner, the good news of the surge matters little. So we are back to 1968, and soon to 1973-4.


All they had to do was copy John McCain: trash the previous policy, take credit for more troops, a new general, changes at the Pentagon, and then haggle over withdrawal dates. But by investing in US defeat and the need to evacuate now when surge signs are good, Democrats simply became indistinguishable from Moveon.org—and so have no control over a lunatic fringe defaming, in McCarthesque style, the most popular American general in years.

And this comes on top of bin Laden’s tape chastising Democrats (while taking up their talking points about corporate greed, global warming, and the mortgage crisis), for not doing more to help him out by calling off Bush.

Then there were the eerie Univision debates, where poor Bill Richards wanted them to be held in Spanish and pandered shamelessly to ethnic chauvinism. Apparently no one looked at the polls surrounding the recent immigration debate, or gauged the reaction of millions of Americans who watched such candidates fall all over each other to promote linguistic separatism and a backing away from the melting pot. Despite the scandals of Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Jack Abramoff et al. the Democrats may still find a way to lose.

The perfect storm

Five things accounted for the rise of al Qaeda

1. Afghanistan. The Afghans, with Western weapons and Gulf money, defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan. Of nearly 800,000 resistance fighters, there were rarely over 2,000 Arabs fighting at one time. But because of the Russian collapse, and Mullah Omar’s coddling of the multimillionaire loud bin Laden, al Qaeda was able to pose to Muslim youth as the saviors of Islam that had destroyed the Soviet Union. That Arabs had little to do with the Afghan victory, much less the collapse of the Soviet Union mattered little. From 1989 on bin Laden was enshrined as some mythical Saladin.

2. Islam and globalization. There were in the last 1400 years always wannabe Great Mahdis and zealots who declared jihad. But in this period of globalization and Western-inspired modernism, Islam, autocratic tyrannies in the Middle East, and the languishing Arab Street have all come together to recreate another Islamic wave of jihadism. Bin Laden’s ever expanding list of grievances, from Kyoto to mortgages, reveals that his hatred, born out inferiority, envy, and pride, is existential and elemental.

3. American appeasement. That sad tale from the Iranian hostage taking of 1979 to the attack on the USS Cole is now well known. But in the words of the terrorists themselves, the image of a static, impotent America was fixed, and with it the invitation to hit our assets at will without fear of retribution.

4. The Wall. Richard Clark, George Tenet, and Michael Scheuer may be loud critics, but prior to 9/11 no Americans had more opportunity to save us from known terrorists in the United States. Yet petty jealousies and turf battles ensured that the NSA, CIA, and FBI stayed on parallel, quite separate tracks, as these egomaniacs refused to share information that would have empowered all three agencies. Those walls are now hopefully, down, and with their fall, and the absence of the three above, we have been making good progress rounding up the terrorists among us.

5. Petroleum. Without petrodollars, there are no madrassas, no House of Saud cousins freelancing by pouring money to jihadists, no bought and paid for mullahs mouthing anti-Western drivel, and no chance to get weapons of mass destruction to kill us all.

Vietnam—circa 1973-4

I wrote the following for National Review Online following the President’s speech.

Everyone expected a September do/or die showdown over our presence in Iraq; but the good news from the surge and the absolutely insane, suicidal Democratic attacks against the best in our military have given the President another six months. He knows that the reprieve is limited—given the military’s manpower exhaustion and the public weariness over the human and material costs of staying.

So he wants to act fast of the heels of the successful statesmanship of Petraeus and Crocker, and take advantage of their window of opportunity.

He didn’t even mention Saddam by name; that war is over and won. What faces the United States now is a new war against radical Islam that continues to foment sectarian strife to destroy the young democracy and recreate another Afghan-like haven.

In response, the President offers a new American security commitment, like that once extended to Korea, that promises both Iraq and us long-term strategic stability arising from the tactical successes of the surge—and sweetened by future periodic American military withdrawals.

The policy sounds like Vietnamization, but this time backed by permanent American guarantees—supposedly by bipartisan consent—to evolve into something like South Korea rather than abandonment with helicopters on the Saigon embassy roof, and hundreds of thousands butchered and exiled.

Critics will say the speech is unnecessary given the stellar testimony of Petraeus and Crocker. They would have liked instead some explanation of what went wrong the last four years, and how those perceived mistakes were corrected to allow the present success. And by now most will be against whatever George Bush is for.

Perhaps. But all that matters now is whether critics have a better plan—get out now and downsize in the region? The answer is no.

Senator Reid’s response—training Iraqis, more diplomacy, steady withdrawals—didn’t sound much different from Bush’s plan. And that’s the opposition’s problem; there really is no alternative to the present course other than simple defeat and flight, one or other. The public may come to that defeatist position in time, but it is not there yet, and so neither for all their talk apparently are the Democrats.

Where are we? A frantic half-year race lies ahead to stabilize the country and curtail radically American losses. Soon the election cycle kicks in and there will have to be more accomplished than the present improvement to keep Republicans from bailing. We are on the cusp of 1973-4—a chance, after a long ordeal, to win at precisely the time the public is weary and the opposition most shrill.

So the country looks to Iraq and our maverick General Sherman outside Atlanta, where the battlefield, as it always does, will sort out the politics.

Surge Politics, Analogies, and bin Laden

September 6th, 2007 - 11:50 am

Positions on the Surge

Democratic Factions

1. Mainstream Congressional leaders: While the surge may have temporary success, it cannot equate to strategic stability. The Iraqis have failed to create political reform sufficient to result in a viable reform government: slowly get out now.

2. Liberal Congressional leaders: Even if the surge works, and even if stability follows, 3700 lives and $600 billion weren’t worth it. Support the troops, but not a single Marine was worth all of Iraq: get out now!

3. A few mavericks: Finally, the administration, wallowing in repeated error, listened to our cries in the wilderness. Thus after taking our recommendations to remove Sec. Rumsfeld, change the generals in Iraq and Centcom, and send in more troops, they have seen the light. The last four years were squandered, but thanks to us, Iraq is not yet lost: stabilize the country, and only then withdraw.

4. The Hard Left: This was always a cooked-up war for oil, Halliburton, a savage military, and the Neocons. An American defeat serves as a timely lesson for our hubris. Get out now!

Republican factions

1. Mainstream Republicans: despite all the errors, unfortunately not rare in war, Iraq is on the path to becoming a viable state that will not translate its natural wealth into wars against its neighbors, and now fights rather than subsidizes terrorists. The war can be won and will be, and in retrospect with far more positive than negative consequences: keep the amount of troops in Iraq that the military feels is necessary to allow the government there to quell violence and perform its duties—the only safe way to disengage.

2. Hard Neocon: taking out Saddam went smoothly. Letting the State Department in on the occupation was a terrible mistake, as was letting Syria and Iran off the hook. We won’t have peace until Iraq’s neighbors are tamed. Iran must be addressed: stay on and hit terrorist enclaves along the borders, with all options open.

3. Realist: None of these countries are reliable. We should accept their authoritarianism as innate, and their governments as they are—and thus make sure no single one becomes more powerful than any other. We can always use stand-off bombing in a purely punishing manner should they send terrorists after our interests, but under no circumstances fight on the ground inside a Muslim country: Get out now, at best under UN auspices or with regional partners’ peacekeeping forces—or by trisecting the country into friends and enemies.

4 Paleo-con/Libertarian: : This was always a cooked-up war for oil, big government, Israel, and its apologist Neocons. An American defeat serves as a timely lesson for the evils of foreign involvement, the garrison state, and big government: Get out now!

All these positions of course shift and overlap, and their adherents (with the exception of the hard left and right) often show no consistency, but rather adapt views to the 24-hour news cycle emanating out of Iraq. Which position prevails upon the public, depends on the next 60 days and the news from Iraq. Should Iraq blow up, and get worse, opponents will gravitate to the Hard Left and Paleo-con/Libertarian view; should it show signs of improvement, moderate and mainstream Democrats will gravitate to mainstream Republican; should it suddenly become absolutely quiet and no longer a war, the hard neo-con position will want to expand on the victory.

My own position? About the same as always: mainstream Republican, a Jacksonian one of support for the war that is ongoing, confidence that it addresses the root cause of the events that we saw six years ago.


One of the favorite analogies of Iraq is the evocation of the Athenian invasion of Sicily (415-13 B.C.) and the democracy’s defeat there by democratic Syracuse (40,000 Athenians and their allies lost). It was certainly a catastrophic mistake to attack Sicily at a time of an uneasy respite with Sparta.

But for some strange reason, the historian Thucydides, after chronicling the lapses, still believed the Athenians might have won (and indeed they almost did), had they not been torn apart by bickering at home—usually thought to be a reference to the recall of Alcibiades. It is difficult to know exactly how Thucydides thought the operation might have worked—a different commander than Nicias?; had Lamachus not perished?; had the armada brought more horses?; etc.).

But an analogy to Iraq makes no sense. Sicily was, by some accounts, the largest city-state in the Greek-speaking world. And it was democratic as well—at a time that Athens was trying to wage a war of ideology that pitted democratic allies and subject states against Sparta’s oligarchy and its sympathetic partners and friends. A better modern parallel might have been made had the United States attacked larger, democratic India right in the middle of the Afghan war. Apparently, because democratic Athens lost the Peloponnesian war, and did not ever fully recover from Sicily, so too it is simply claimed that the United States has lost in Iraq, a precursor of general American decline.

Ron Paul’s complaint

I watched Ron Paul last night make the argument that something the United States had done—like deploy troops in the Gulf—had earned the jihadists’ attacks. True, bin Laden at one time listed three casus belli: U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the UN boycott of Iraq, and support for Israel.

Two points: first, yes, U.S. troops were in Saudi–on the invitation of the terrified Saudi government to stop Saddam Hussein from swallowing it as he did Kuwait, and were sequestered far out in the desert, distant from shrines, mosques—and most Saudis. Careful reading will show all that infuriated bin Laden primarily because he had begged the House of Saud in 1990 to let his jihadists fight Saddam in some sort of terrorist campaign. That request was turned down since there were 500,000 Iraqis, with sophisticated arms, ready to pounce, but it created a level of outrage in bin Laden at the infidel who instead won the day.

Second, the UN boycott orchestrated by Bill Clinton was designed to preclude war, and to ensure that Saddam did not purchase with oil money more sophisticated weapons to attack his Muslim neighbors and kill more of his own Muslims.

Third, as far as Israel goes, since the Camp David accords, the U.S. has tried to match Israeli aid with generous monies given Egypt (over $50 billion by now, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.) And often friends supposedly asked bin Laden why after 1988, he did not locate to the West Bank or Gaza to wage his war against the hated Israelis, whom he had identified as the real enemies. The unspoken answer, of course, is that he thought it safer to attack the U.S. in the 1990s than to strike head-on Israel from next-door, something perceived tantamount to a death sentence.

Moreover, two of these writs are no longer valid, and yet the jihadists continue manufacturing new ones, since their anger is existential and their grievances bogus.

But more importantly, even a brief scan of Peter Bergen’s The Osama bin Laden I Know will reveal dozens of various reasons why al Qaeda (in bin Laden’s own words) chose to attack—Jewish women walking around in Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, a general Western decadence, supposed massacres of Muslims in Burma, Kashmir, Somalia, and the Philippines; the arrests and detentions of Muslim “scholars;” attacks on Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan; theft of petroleum; support for the Saudi and Egyptian governments. In Raymond Ibrahim’s recent The al Qaeda Reader we even learn of furor over our financing of elections, and failure to sign Kyoto.

Finally, the discussion omits the US salvation of Muslim Kuwait, the effort to feed Muslims in Somalia, our criticism leveled against Russia for Chechnya, the bombing of Milosevic to save Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia; and billions given to a number of Arab countries, as well as generous immigration policies that have allowed many millions to emigrate to Europe and the United States to practice their religion freely and express themselves openly in a fashion unimaginable for Westerners in most of their own countries of origin.

As far as what tipped the scale and made these talking points translate into action in the 1990s, I think there were two reasons. The “Afghan Arabs” were able to exaggerate their own role in the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, and play down both the efforts of Massoud and the Northern Alliance, and the critical use by the warlords of American missiles and weaponry. To bin Laden, the biggest slur was that the resistance had benefited from US aid.

That sense of triumphalism was matched by a policy of not retaliating against terrorists, to any significant degree, for most of the 1990s. The World Trade Center, slain individuals abroad, barracks, embassies, and war-ships were all targets. Rightly or wrongly, especially after Mogadishu, bin Laden decided that he was unstoppable after Afghanistan and had little to fear from the United States. Once he “broke up” the United States, the same level of honor and status would accrue to him that he was claiming after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Health and the General Welfare

September 1st, 2007 - 3:19 pm

Illegal immigration—let the law adjudicate?

Everyone disagrees on the effects of closing the borders. But if we were to—and we may be beginning to—the results would adjudicate the issue. Would Mexico go broke and face chaos, or begin reforms to feed and house its own? Would there be less crime or more here at home in the American southwest? More savings in entitlements or offset by great losses in unclaimed Social Security contributions? Too few laborers and industries shut down, or rising wages for citizen employees? More assimilation and English language unity or less? And so on.

So let us try at last enforcing the law and see what happens and then let facts settle the old arguments.

One final thought here. Why would deported illegal alien and activist Elvira Arellano, who according to the LA Times, “symbolized inhumane treatment of migrants to some,” wish to return to the US?

News reports suggested she does in petitioning the Mexican government for a diplomatic visa. Surely she might prefer either to bring her children to Mexico, or file citizenship papers to become an American. My sense is that she desperately wants to stay in the US and not Mexico and the reasons are more than just economics.

In my own observations, why do Mexicans come to El Norte? Not as said just for the money. Much of it is dignity. Despite the slurs, the US, especially its popular culture, treats aliens far better than does the Mexican government its own.

How? At our own government offices, clerks are respectful regardless of status. The average American doesn’t much care about class or diction. There is a meritocracy here absent in Mexico. But most importantly things work. In Mexico, the conditions of daily power, water, sewer, etc make life hard, and the future bleak. Police here often can’t ask the immigration status of those detained, in Mexico the arrested must pay bribes or face worse. So there is a sort of Orwellian doublespeak here, reminiscent of the Middle East: a desire to be a part of America, and when that proves impossible or difficult, then abstract furor or tantrums at the idea and policy of the United States—suggesting the root cause is desire for an alien culture, heightened by feelings of want, envy, jealousy, rejections, and feelings of inadequacy, all masked by chauvinism and ethnic triumphalism.

September 10th mentality in the post-9/11 world

This weekend I watched ads for new Hollywood movies detailing American evil, not jihadist killing. On C-Span there was a panel in Las Vegas for a libertarian conference; the speakers proudly praised isolationism and the “trumped” up war against jihadism. It was followed by a performance by a Glenn Greenwald at the Cato Institution, assuring us that we are all suffering the loss of our civil liberties (no examples how we are now unfree in our daily lives), due to a fake war against on terror.

I could go on. But I remember instead all the foiled plots since 9/11, the single-individual killings and attacks by radicals in Seattle, San Francisco, North Carolina, LAX airport and so on, and the number of al Qaeda kingpins who were trained or schooled or were living here. Or have we forgotten the careers of José Padilla (aka Abdullah al-Muhajir), Silicon Valley Al Qaeda recruiter Khalid Abu-al-Dahab, “Sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Rahman Yasin, and loudmouth Adam Gadahn?

Add in Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the Egyptian-American and U.S. army veteran Ali Mohamed, or the “20th-hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui attended flight school in Oklahoma.

So here we have the ingredients for the looming other side of the present eye of the storm: we are doing too little to stop the jihadists among us while being accused for doing far too much. That’s a prescription for disaster. Perhaps the best example is Guantanamo where, despite Korans, Mediterranean food, and clean conditions, we are told it is a Nazi/Stalinist like Stalig/Gulag. The only mystery will be when we get hit big again—and what will these critics of the present war say?

American health care

I have two health care plans (HMOs), and have had excellent private doctors. The other day I had to go to emergency room while teaching on my vacation here in Michigan in connection with complications arising from past major operations for a torn kidney and ruptured appendix. Went in at 9:30 AM and left at 2:30 PM. Doctor time: 5 minutes, and a quick written prescription. No scan, or much worry over source of pain, fever, bleeding, etc. Two blood samples: since the first taken was either lost or destroyed. On the way home, I noticed they even forgot to take out the IV needle and tube out of my arm. At that point, I thought of going back to Libya for surgery.

I write this not to whine, but confused after resting on a bed for these hours listening to about five staff members a few feet away. Almost all the topics were small talk, complaints about the job, and worries over paperwork. The point is that our health care system seems to be geared toward a bureaucratic defense against lawsuits rather than a genuine care for the patient. Or at least that was my impression—about the same as last time three years ago for treatment of a broken arm in a California emergency room.

Al Qaeda

Teaching a short class at Hillsdale on post 9/11 terrorism, and just did a Fox interview for an upcoming documentary to be aired on the network. In reviewing the leaders, it is amazing how many of the pre- 9/11 kingpins are either arrested, dead, or in hiding. Almost every single one. (Almost as interesting is the enormous number, as said above, who were visitors or students in the United States, or indeed citizens—and how that paradox is not discussed). A good start is to collate all the names in Peter Bergen’s The Osama Bin Laden I Know, and then ask ‘where are they now?’.

As a footnote, watching the articulant and learned Peter Hitchens in an old pre-Bush adminstraton clip from 2000 explaining the phenomenon of anti-Americanism to Brian Lamb–all this before George Bush or the 2000 elections. My memory of the pre-9/11 Britain was one of deep anti-Americanism on issues like Ireland, Israel, and the Middle East in general. Polly Toynbee’s hysterical hatred of the U.S. in the days after 9/11 seemed to me to be expected. An odd complaint from Hitchens in his interview of 7 years ago was worry about growing US isolationism and withdrawal after the Cold War.