Work and Days

Hostage-taking redux

A Depressing Spectacle

I listened carefully to the Democratic Senators denouncing the effort in Iraq. All were supposed repositories of deep wisdom. Most of them voted for the war, once gave alarmist speeches on the threats of WMD, and now demonize the Iraqi reformers of all people as ingrates who weren’t worth our sacrifices. For each face that came to the podium, I remembered a past quotation: the now shrill Sen. Harry Reid once demanded that we go to war on the basis that Saddam had broken the 1991 armistice accords (a fact no one has contested); the kinetic Sen. Durbin once compared our soldiers to Nazis and Pol Pot; the therapeutic Sen. Patti Murray once praised bin Laden’s social welfare efforts in Afghanistan while castigating the supposed lack of our own. The list goes on. Even more embarrassing pronouncements could be produced for Sens. Kerry (we are a “pariah” nation), Kennedy (we opened up Abu Ghraib under new management, no different from Saddam’s); Biden (we need a troop surge), and so on.

Apparently the American people, if polls and the emboldened nature of the Democratic-controlled Congress are any fair indication, have expressed a desire to return to the past, to withdraw from Iraq, to put Afghanistan out of sight, out of mind—and hope for the best. Yet these are not unilateral decisions, but involve the enemy as well, who may think today Iraq, tomorrow the Gulf, soon the Mediterranean.

Some other tired talking points:

“There is no military solution.” Who denies that? But such reductionism means nothing when no Iraqi politician can craft any meaningful compromise until Anbar province is first secure.

“It’s time the Iraqis step up.” Of course, they should. But it’s difficult for 25 million to do so when under daily assault by a few thousand killers in their midst who kidnap, behead, and now employ poison gas. How odd that liberals are the most vehement illiberal critics of liberal Iraqis.

“George Bush did …” Of course, as President he is responsible for the war. But he went to war only after seeking approval from Congress, and not only got it, but also as dessert impassioned speeches from the Democratic Congress on why he should. His policy was approved in two national elections, and when it wasn’t in the third, he changed personnel and tactics.

“We are in the middle of a civil war.” It would be wise, then, to cite a civil war akin to Iraq. We are in the middle of gang fighting, sectarian violence, the killing by a few against the many, but not two antithetical and organized factions and forces that offer different futures for Iraq, not when Sunnis are in the government, some Sunni tribes are fighting al Qaida, who in turn is fighting against Shiite militias, who themselves are at odds with each other. Better to call it a modern Corycra, a bellum omnium contra omnes. The latest poll showed that Iraqis who are dying did not think they are in a civil war. It is not the Civil War of Lee versus Grant, but something more akin to the Kansas bloodletting, as modern-day bushwackers do their dirty business.

“We took our eye off the real war in Afghanistan.” Would some Democrat explain exactly how to invade nuclear Islamic Pakistan and kill the al Qaeda leadership responsible for 9/11? Anything less is more of the same hot air. And we seem to think that a country of 300 million cannot fight in Afghanistan and Iraq simultaneously, when just 60 years ago, a country not much more than a third of our size defeated Germany, Japan, and Italy all at once, and then mobilized to face off its former ally, the Soviet Union.

And then there was the timing. Democrats the last two years called for Rumsfeld’s head, for more troops to be deployed, for a change of military leadership in Iraq—and now got all three. But no sooner has Dr. Petraeus arrived and inaugurated his radically different way of doing things, than the Democrats wish to cut off his funds before the verdict is in.

The Sewnami as metaphor

A small village is Gaza was flooded by a burst sewage reservoir. Four Palestinians were drowned, 20 injured, numerous homes buried.

And the reaction? As predictable as it was swift: the international community was to blame for cutting off funds and thus did not upgrade the overworked system for the Palestinians. That such funds were not part of those ended after the terrorist organization Hamas’s election, or that the repairs might have begun had not the Palestinians kept up their terrorism that scared workers off meant little.

All that meant little because we see the ‘beyond the absurd’ now on the West Bank and Gaza. There are $500 billion in excess petrodollar profits floating around the Middle East after the climb to $65 a barrel for oil. None seems to find their way to the Arab brethren on the West Bank. And why would it, when most Gulf sheikdoms know that most of the money would be siphoned off by gangs, warlords, and terrorists?

There is a pervasive ‘the man did it’. Fill in the blanks: the UN, the Jews, the Americans, the West, etc. Never cited is what Thucydides called the unspoken aitia, the “truest cause”, that of an endemic failure of Palestinians to take responsibilities for their own destiny, to accept that the existence of Israel is permanent, that for right now there is plenty of land to build a thriving lawful society, but a dearth of reasonable people who prefer the hard work of peace to the lazy sport of gratuitous killing.

Take away Middle East oil, terrorism, and anti-Semitism from the equation, and the Palestinians would garner almost no attention, surely not as much as the genuine needs of those now neglected in Dafur or Zimbabwe.

The Ripples of 1979

Jimmy Carter established the Western precedent, amplified by Ronald Reagan in the arms-for-hostages deals, that there is almost nothing a Western government won’t do to retrieve its kidnapped citizens. Now we see his ripples, as Iran promises to release the female soldier. If there are any minorities among the 15, expect them to follow as in 1979. Iran has “issues” with plenty of other governments. Why not kidnap a Russian diplomat in protest of cessation of fissionable material? The cynic answers that Russian assassination squads and worse might be turned loose.

Iran is betting that that a guilt-ridden and exhausted British public—scolded for decades over its past in Persia, furious at the Iraq war of “Blair-Bush,” having gutted the British military for social programs that bring demands for more rather than gratitude—won’t or can’t do anything. The EU, Iran’s biggest trading partner, won’t want to give up such profits and so will shrug, ‘Why were you Brits there in the first place?’ NATO is, well, NATO, a Potemkin alliance that exists to the degree the United States acts.

If I were a European sea captain, I would not venture forth from port unless accompanied by US ships, knowing that I could be attacked without repercussions at any time, and could do little about it. How odd the more the European public wants distance from the United States, the more its ships on the high seas will seek our companionship.

This is different from the USS Cole incident, since there is no deniability of culpability: the Iranian government itself is the admitted hostage-taker. Yemen fobbed responsibility off on “terrorists.” We still should have acted after the attack, but targeting the culprits was said to be more difficult.

The China downing was likewise different in that China is a billion-person nuclear power, but one that also made it clear pretty early on that the personnel would eventually be released.

What to do? Europe should cease all trade immediately with Teheran, and enforce a global financial boycott of its commerce. The UN should return to session to expand its watered-down sanctions. And the US fleet should review its rules of engagement to ensure that we shoot at even the close approach of Iranian vessels.

Hostage-taking works

In the medieval ages, hostage-taking was a lucrative business. The Ottomans in the 16th century made it a national money-maker by sweeping over the Mediterranean to intercept any Italian or Spanish galley they could. 1970s South America and Mexico saw serial hostage-taking. It is predicated on two principles: the victim’s kin or country have the money and willingness to meet the demands, valuing life more than honor, and the kidnapper keeps the prize alive and lets it go after concessions or money, are granted, hoping to perpetuate the industry as long as possible.

But Iran is weakening

Still, this crisis is a sign of Iranian weakening, a rabid dog gnashing at any blur that comes into the field of its declining eyesight. Money spent getting nukes and spreading terrorism is not spent at home, and so one of the world’s largest oil producers imports gasoline and must bribe consumers with subsidies. Iran has few friends, only wary customers. Its people despise the government, not yet enough to risk life to overthrow it— but enough to spread enough cynicism to result in rioting when food or fuel grow scarce.

Outtake # 9—No Man A Slave

The Spartans are trapped at Leuktra, their king Kleombrotos dead. But just as the Thebans are to crush the final circle and carry off Kleombrotos, Lichas charges through the enemy to save his the body of his king, and nearly kills Chion, Melon, and Epaminondas as he finds a path out.

Lichas and his son cared nothing for the collapse of the Spartan ranks, much less the truth that the day of his parochial state was over. No worry that its dwindling manhood would never again march far to the north as it had for a 100 seasons and more.

No, it was enough that they were Spartans. Now in the joy of battle, now with their grip on shield and spear, whether that was here in the north or far to the east. His son was with him. Good men still lived. Life was sweet, the best when in the hammer and tongs of battle.

Spearing Persians or Thebans, it mattered little. Whether in the heyday of Spartan power or now amid its twilight also countered for nothing. Lichas was Spartan and in his armor, the gear of no less than Lysander himself. So he was stalking proudly and upright despite his age. If the Spartans were to lose, they would lose the way of Leonidas and Lichas, killing as they protected their king with all blows to their front.

The stabbing now grew fiercer still, and Lichas smiled as he heard the dying around him in vain begging the Keres to pass them by, the vultures of death now back above Melon, but who kept their wide distance from Lichas lest such a man strike even them a lethal blow.

Then without missing a step, Lichas stepped on the downed Chion’s chest and tried to stomp the slave to death. The slave rolled away, and Lichas moved on to finish off others less dangerous.

But the slave stumbled somehow to his feet, bellowing, “Chion lives! Kill the king! Where is Kleombrotos?” Then Chion crashed to the ground again, still muttering as the battle raged past him.

Lichas next slammed his freed shaft with an upward flat stroke against the helmet of the onrushing Epaminondas himself. Before Epaminondas could recover from the slap and with his men swarm such a killer, old Lichas stooped down, and with one fluid motion, more a god now than human, picked up his bleeding king, slung him over his back, and used his body as a shield to batter himself a way out back through what was left of the guard. Antikrates backpedaled behind his father, screaming for all those still alive to follow the path of the old man.

They were aiming at an escape route, perhaps back through the shattered circle and on right through the Sacred Band to the open country—slashing and shouting as their leader went ahead, “Turn Spartans. Turn back. Draw back from these stinking pigs. Apostrepesthe tôn suôn. They will not have our Kleombrotos. They will not have a Spartan king for their slop. Not today, not ever.”

There were perhaps only 100 Spartans still alive in the circle who broke out with Lichas, the bald hoplite god, roaring to all, “Not today, not ever, not today, not ever—ou sêmera, oupote, ou sêmera, oupote.

These were desperate and defeated men, abandoned by their allies, surrounded by the Boiotians. But such killers were now buoyed by this late appearance of their bloody Ares, their god Lichas who had always found a path out for them.

With Lichas they were determined to fight their way out with their Kleombrotos rather than surrender. With Lichas by rote they returned to all their training and as if awoken from their trance backpedaled in column.

With Lichas, almost magically they wheeled around and plunged ahead through Pelopidas’s men to their rear who thought the battle was long over. With Lichas in the armor of Lysander they could do anything! One man, a single man like Lichas was worth a lochos, maybe two.