Tuesday, December 21, 2004


today's wls editorial makes a point I have made myself on a number of occasions: the thing we are fighting in Iraq is the former regime. The reason we are having such trouble defeating it is that it is more like a mafia than a state.

This is something I think can't be overemphasized. The mistake that humans are prone to make is to put themselves in the opponent's shoes. That is a mistake in the case of a regime like the one we are fighting. More specifically, I think we have made a sort of category error in the case of Iraq. We have assumed that since they have a seat in UN and exist within lines on a map that it is a state. But the Baath party never governed through the organs of the state. It governed through a kinship based mafia. Taking over the government buildings and organs of state are only a slight impediment to its power. It is like the FBI thinking it has taken down the Soprano family by running them out of Satrialla's butcher shop.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

the problem

why didn't we anticipate the insurgency? because when you are figuring out how a war will go you think what you would do in the enemy's situation. In the formal war we could ask what would we do against the tank army that we sent into Iraq. Well it turns out that we think a lot like Iraqi tank commaders but we have better tanks. on that basis we out thought as well as out fought the enemy. But the next stage of the war was something that we couldn't anticipate for the simple reason that no American could put himself in the shoes of the insurgents. the situation that the iraqi insurgents are in is not one that American commanders would ever be in. American commanders can imagine facing a superior force. American commanders cannot imagine trying to impose a dictatorship on thier own country. they cannot imagine a strategy of trying to create deaths in order to frustraite the democratic will of their own people. they cannot imagine simple killing for the sake of the nightly news. even when they put themselves in the shoes of the enemy they mistakenly import some unstated and in the case of the Iraqi insurgents an incorrect assumption. they assume that their enemies are, like them, men.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

John Le Carre

just finished the latest John Le Carre novel. Lost two days of my life to it. Couldn't put it down. The thing that is so odd is that I found myself in almost complete agreement with all of his observations on politics until practically the last 10 pages when everything turns out to be an American plot. It is kind of disturbing when someone that you agree with on so much about life and politics has one point on which you just drop your jaw and say "What?" The plot by the Americans involves elaborate deception and plenty of cold-blooded murder to manipulate European and especially German public opinion. Compared to what Le Carre has the Americans doing planting a few WMD in Iraq would have been child's play.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Peace in the Middle East

All the people that are saying there is no chance for democracy in Iraq are always ready to give the Palestinians another chance. I feel just the opposite. I am quite ready to believe that the Iraqis can pull it off but really see no evidence the Palestinians are ready to do anything but give temporary cease fires on the road to destoying Israel. Of course both sides are obliged to say why they are optimists about democracy for one people and not for the other.
I can't say I have an answer that I find completely satisfying myself. The starting point must be that Democracy is only as good as the will that it reflects. Ultimately, the only thing that the bulk of Iraqis want is to have a normal country within recognized borders. Democracy can only decide things after you have drawn a line around the polity, after you have made the decision that makes it possible to answer the question, "a majority of what?" The problem with the Palestinians is that they want their country within someone else's recognized borders. The basic issue, majority of what, has not been agreed upon. And democracy offers no way to decide it.


It is quite amazing to listen to this kurfluffle about Kerrick. People seem to have agreed that he would be great for the job and that he should have told Bush earlier before his name was even put in nomination.
Now how important is it that we have homeowners checking the IDs of people that work for them? What about all the people that were willing to defend Clinton on the basis of the argument that the nation's interests are more important than some silly rule? If the nanny problem is so severe that he should not be offerred the job would it not be grounds for taking the job away from if he already had it? And if we are going to fire people on that basis from government why not from the private sector? And aren't the same people demanding the head of anyone that has employed someone who subsequently turns out to have been illegal also blocking an ID card that would make it practicable to verify someone's status?
Of course we have no intention of holding people to this standard, it is just something we do for people in really important jobs.

Rumsfeld vs. Bush

Everyone is praising how Bush answered the armor question in contrast to the "cold and callous" way it was handled by Rumsfeld. I have to say I disagree. I think that Rumsfeld is once again in trouble for being honest.
It reminds me of the Dukaukis debate debacle where in response to a hypothetical question about the death penalty involving the rape and murder of his wife the governor didn't miss a beat and went straight into his standard, "I don't believe the death penalty is a deterent" answer. He was faulted for not showing enough emotion, as if a professional politician is supposed to get choked up everytime he has one of the million and two variants of the "what if it was one of yours?" question thrown at him.
I was reminded of the interview with Tom Wolfe on Cspan the other night where he recounted his first meeting with Chuck Yeager. Yeager was late for the meeting because he was investigating a fatal crash that had taken place that morning in his command. Wolfe solemly made his condolences, to which Yeager replied, "Aww, you give these boys these planes and they will crack them up." That is the way a professional military man reacts to death.
I am glad that one of the people in the Bush administration is able to strut is emotions for the TV babies, but I am even more happy that the people making the real decisions (one hopes) have enough self-respect not to bother.

Sinn Fein

So Sinn Fein is balking at having its disarmerment photographed, cliaming it would be humiliating. Well, I thought that democratic parties are proud to not be paramilitary organizations? Indeed, insulted at the suggestion they have a stockpile of arms at ready for when the electoral process yeilds an outcome they don't like?

But the real sticking point is the public decommissioning of their weapons. The reason they don't want to do that is the same reason that Sadaam wouldn't, the value is the uncertainty. As long as people do not know for a fact that they don't have them then they can threaten thier opponents with them and have the benefit of having them. The free world must learn that the burden of proof must be on the terroists, not the other way around. Uncertainty favors the violent. The public demonstration of the fact is more important than the fact itself.

Libertarians' reading habits

Instapundit's reading list is out. It reminds me why I am not a libertarian. They all seem like highschool boys to me. It is all science fiction and alternative history. It is a way to structure the fantasy lives of middle-aged men. The writing is so thin, all movie script direction. That seems to me a good description of most of what passes for libertarian political thought as well. Free love, low taxes and good drugs. Aging teenage male fantasy.

real power

real power is the power to ignore. Big media used to have it, now they don't. Two terrific stories from real clear politics roundup:

How Daschle Got Blogged - John Fund, Wall St. Journal
All the News That Fits Their Spin - Chris Weinkopf, The American Enterprise

The point of the two is that media no longer is the gate keeper. They can no longer decide what is a story and what isn't. This is why all of those studies of media bias kept coming up empty. They looked for things that were said. They would count up the adjectives that came along with the names of conservatives and compared them to the ones that were paired with liberals and would hyperventilate about who was called "hard-line" and who was called a "committed activist" as if anyone out there cared who Dan Rather was telling them to like. The real power of the media was to be able to decide that Bush maybe missing a physical was news while Kerry's words coming in handy for the tortures of American POWs--the brothers that were not invited to report for duty at Kerrython--was not news. The most effective point at which to deal with political conflict is before it starts, as E. E. Shattschneider reminds us. The most effective way to bias the news it to decide that it isn't news.


I mean, really, saying something will be a turning point one way or the other is saying little more than that is will be important. Now it is one thing to say that something is important when no one else is paying attention to it is one thing, but standing out there in front of the huddle masses of the international press core and say, "I argue, that this event is important," is a little redundent.


Can't blow up those nukes, no, no. Isolate us in the world.
If the choice is between 3 billion unemployed European students accross Europe spending their weekends burning Bush in effigy and 3 guys in Teheran having a nuclear weapon I think we should, without hesitation, choose the former.


Big risk taking pundit watch, "In November, as the attack on Fallujah began, I argued that it would be a turning point, one way or another." Or, after this happens, something else will happen. Thanks, Fareed, that was very brave of you. A true disciple of Yogi, never make predictions, especially about the future, Bera. Fareed's corrallary: unless you confine yourself to the prediction that there will be a future. After all, if you are wrong, who is going to call you on it?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004


I have very firm principles, it is just hard to specify them in advance.

Saturday, December 04, 2004


Gid Powers, talking about the FBI, mentions that child porn is so addictive that the agents monitoring have to be examined every 6 weeks to see that they aren't becoming dependent on it themselves. What does this tell us. I think that kiddy porn is one of those things that I, at least, just don't get. It is one of those moral wrongs that seems so abberant that we are inclined not to think of it as a moral wrong since to have the desire to see it in the first place is prima facia evidence of a disorder. But if people like the kind of people that the FBI has in the job can be susceptable to this then what can the regular exposure to pornography to average people lead to?

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

There is a simple solution and its wrong

People think that it is odd that the proposed solution to the problem of group think is to put people in a bigger group. That is true but the real worry about the 9/11 commission report is the people that it leaves out of the big box it is trying to draw around intelligence collection. The people that didn’t communicate are the ones that are left out of the reorganization. The FBI.

This is no accident. The reorganization fails for the same reason that the reorganization was necessary in the first place. The structure is mean to ignore problems, to make them go away. The whole set up of our bureaucracy is an instance of what James March would have called solution of a problem by flight, by not solving the problem.

What he meant by that was that there are some trade-offs that we don’t want to face. The trade-off between security and personal privacy is one of them. The trade-off is avoided by putting the two goals in two different organizations. The FBI pursues security with maximum solicitude for personal privacy and without worrying about the effects on privacy, the CIA pursues security without worrying about privacy. The organizations are meant to not cooperate. They have different goals. We don’t think of it this way. When something goes wrong because of the trade-off we have institutionalized in the form of our bureaucracies we blame the bureaucrats for not doing their jobs when in fact the whole problem is that they have been doing their jobs, as those jobs have been defined by policy makers, all too well.

The reorganization ploy is one of a family of political arguments that come under the rubric of arguments that we use to avoid facing up to problems. To solve them by flight. Blaming things on government waste, foreign aid. The idea is to find some problem that everyone can agree upon that does not force us to face up to a trade-off we don’t want to make. Deficit politics are the most obvious example. Making unpleasant trade-offs, explicitly saying how many of one thing are you willing to give up for a given number of the other, is exactly what budgets make you do and exactly what people do not want to do. That is the reason for the perennial appeal of cutting foreign aid and government waste. It does nothing to solve the problem but it provides an excuse for ignoring it. I wouldn’t have to think about this thing if you would just stop doing X. Remember that the trade-off is being made whether people are admitting to it or not. In the end we have a fixed number of dollars and the things we spend them on are not the things we don’t spend them on. Behaviorally we make the trade-off and don’t mind making the trade-off as long as nothing forces us to make it mentally.

The whole pitch of the 9/11 commission is to find a non-partisan solution to what went wrong. This is a virtual guarantee that we will not address, let alone fix, what went wrong on 9/11. The non-partisan parts of the problem are the purely technical parts of the problem, the parts of the problem that don’t call for making a choice between fundamental goals, that don’t ask us to specify how much of one goal are we willing to give up for a given amount of the other. Those questions, the value trade-off questions, are the political questions.

That accounts for much of the mendacious tone of the hearings. Everyone talks about the way the partisans attacked the members of the other party in the televised portions of the hearings, but what was really hard to take was the way bureaucrats were attacked. The people that were attacked on competence grounds. The commission didn’t have a lot of complaints about competence of the bureaucrats because that was a leading cause of 9/11. They, as members of the political class, had an incentive to make it a competence question. If it had been a value trade-off question then it would have been a political class question and they would have been the ones at fault. The political class as a class has an incentive to avoid these value conflicts in the face of disaster (though at other times they may have an incentive to play them up as mobilizing tools).

Michael Barone

Points out that the democrats were the ones that relied on paid workers to get out the vote. When I was in Texas it was always the republicans that used paid people, we used union members, real people, unemployed people that were pissed off and passionate. The democrats and the billionaire friends outspent the party of the rich but the rich were the ones that could produce people to work the phones. It is a new day.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Human Conflict

Never have so many, fought so nobly against such evil only to be repaid with such ingratitude.

Uncle Mickey

I saw Uncle Mickey. He was standing in a slightly peculiar posture and before the fact had really registered with me I noticed his arm moving with an unnatural slowness. He was saluting Uncle Bob in his casket.

I always hate going home. I find that I feel somehow inadequate. I am among real men. I get these degrees or what not from school and even when I think finally I can hold my head up, I got into a great University, I finally finished my Ph.D. or I finally got a real professor job, something happens to make it all seem small again. I figured it out watching Uncle Mickey that always makes me feel inadequate when I get back to Dayton. These are real men. All of their lives are defined by duty, by what they have done for other people. I go back to the funeral and everything I see is what they have done, what they have made possible. The children and the families that are filling that room are all because of men like Uncle Mickey and Uncle Bob denying themselves, never doing what they wanted to do but always what they had to do, what they had to do for other people. All my artist type friends, we do what we want to do, we have some great project we are trying to complete or some book we are trying to write but it is all for ourselves.


Odd, isn’t it, that the fact that so few foreign fighters were found in Falluja somehow is taken to legitimate the enemy? The fact that the people we are fighting are from the Sunnis in Sadamn’s tribe and are therefore best seen as remnants of the old regime ought to strengthen our resolve and make us more confident in its rightness, not less.

The marine

The defenses of the marine are the worst thing. His defenders are using the exculpatory arguments that validate the wrong premises. The fundamental thing wrong is the unit of analysis. The unit of analysis is not the individual but the side.

The Americans fighting the Japanese had a problem with fake surrenders. The solution was to machine gun the wounded. There was no outcry at the time. And you don’t hear the Japanese whining about it either. The reason is that the object of justice in this case, the like which should be treated as like, is the group. The group that uses the other side’s willingness to care for enemy wounded as a way to kill has no claim on that willingness. At the individual level it might be very unjust—there were plenty of Japanese that wanted to surrender as much as their American counterparts but were never given a chance—but that is irrelevant. War is about justice between groups, not individuals. The individual soldier has nothing against his individual enemy. It is a relationship between two groups, not a individuals. The Japanese side was not extending the rights of soldiers to our side and was abusing the privilege on theirs and therefore had no claim on the right themselves. To their credit the Japanese have seen it largely that way (or at least I haven’t heard otherwise if they don’t).

By defending the individual marine on the basis of these individually exculpatory factors like how tired he was or how he had been wounded are in fact reinforcing the very premise that will damn him.

What is the real problem is that the other side are not seen as moral agents. What they do is not something they are responsible for and therefore they are not help liable for the clear consequences of their actions. They are allowed to breach the rules of warfare all they way with not consequences. The world that is so quick to judge us has no interest in the torture chambers that were uncovered, the dismembered female bodies that were found in the lair of the scum. Only the actions of Americans are liable to moral condemnation because only they are moral agents. They rest of the world is just a passive victim and any atrocity committed by them is merely evidence of past or current American mistreatment.

Attempting to extend the rights accorded civilized combatants to a side that is systematically exploiting these rights for military advantage is going to result in dead Americans. The only question is how many dead Americans you think the rights of a side to surrender to kill soldiers are worth. In the eyes of the world the answer is apparently quite a few. In mine it is none. The only crime committed there was that they didn’t machine gun those bastards the moment they walked into the place, like they used to in WWII. But of course in that conflict the freedom of Europe was at stake. Now it is only the freedom of Iraqis and the lives of Americans, two commodities which Europe is willing to spend freely.

It is wrong to extend the protections of civilization to combatants who don’t respect them in return. Not just morally but practically. The incentive to follow the rules is lost if you get the benefit of the rules whether you follow them or not.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Gelerntner on Truman and Bush

Great paragraph from David Gelerntner in the Weekly standard:

“We underestimate the extent of Truman's Christian, Bible-centered piety--in part because historians underestimate it. But if you listen to Truman, the Bible is there on the soundtrack. (He ended his first talk to Congress: "I humbly pray God in the words of King Solomon, 'Give therefore Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people, that I may discern good and bad: for who is able to judge this Thy so great a people?'" He concluded his opening message to the brand new United Nations: "May He lead our steps in His own righteous path of peace.") Bush's piety will always be remembered in terms of Al Gore's disgraceful description of the president's faith: "the American version of the same fundamentalist impulse that we see in Saudi Arabia, in Kashmir, and in many religions around the world." But for Truman and Bush both, faith counted heavily when the storm broke and they had to steer straight in mountainous seas.”

The culture war is not about the right rising up by about the left leaving the center. The Bible centered morality of the Republicans is not there invention, it was just common sense before the 1970s. The fundamentalism that Gore derides was the common language of the US up until the candidacy of the George McGovern.

And talk about bigotry? Nuance? Bush=Komehni because they are both religious? How about Kerry=Stalin because they are both secular?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thanks to James Taranto for that quote I have been trying to find all week:

"I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won," the late film critic Pauline Kael is said to have observed after the 1972 election. "I don't know anybody who voted for him."


Who was divisive? Who would be dumb enough to bring up an issue that alienates your own swing voters? Only lawyers could be stupid enough, be so utterly lacking in political acumen as to make gay marriage the issue of the day. But that is what the Massachusetts Supreme Court did. The intelligentsia had tried their engineering game one too many times. “Of course we won’t force it on any state, just because we have stated it is clearly a fundamental human right there is no need to worry about us imposing it on anyone.” The crusading spirit that animates the bench caught up with them as people caught on. They have noticed that the bench is quite uncompromising in its crusading politics. Minor limitations on the right to have the brains sucked out of a child’s cranium? No, any protections of the, what, mass of cells that temporary inhabit the womb of an expectant mother would be an admission that there could be another interest at stake, a rights bearing entity that might throw the legitimacy of the whole engineering project into question. Out with its head! Find that a bit brutal? Well, serves you right for insisting on thinking about things your betters have already gently informed you are outside your areas of competence.

Gay marriage? The triumph of ideology over any kind of practical politics. Where is the flood of gay marriage applicants now that it has been legalizes by Judicial fiat in Mass.? Nowhere. The issue is about ideology. One ideology wants the subject of human society dis-gendered. A fundamentally gendered relationship, a plan imposed by a higher authority than the individual’s hormones, an institution that puts society’s claims over the individual’s needs however the individual defines them, an institutions that defines our obligations as being something more than just handing over money. It is an affront on a ideological level.

And notice who is coming to the other side of the net. Kerry actually used the words almost plaintively: “The President’s position and mine on gay marriage are the same, the same, we have the same position.” Meet the me-to Democrats. The moral issues are at the center of politics because the Democrats in the 70s lead where no one, or at least not a Presidential election winning majority, would follow. Now they are stuck there trying to sidle back into the mainstream of the electorate. Problem is the legal wing of the party hasn’t gotten the memo. They keep yanking their electoral brethren back out to the left wing of the stage just when they had gotten the voters to think of something else. No sooner has their pleading to not think of an elephant receded in memory enough so that people actually stop thinking of the elephant than the elephant shows up flapping its ears and asking if anyone has any peanuts.

Broder ends his column: “a nation still deeply divided, one where most women, city dwellers and minorities voted against the president.” Now needless to say if the Democrats had won with a minority of men, rural people and whites among their voters we wouldn’t have to listen to this solemn lecture about divisiveness. Their voters are the morally entitled, ours are the people who should be reflexively ashamed of themselves. This is what is meant by being divisive. What they really mean is that we are behaving like we won the election.

That's the spirit

Peter Beinart in the new republic on what the democrats should do about the gay marriage issue:

"The fact that it is widely unpopular cannot obscure the fact that it is morally momentous and morally right."

I see a long string of Republican victories ahead.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Spokesmen for their own victims

Root cause of terrorism: in fact the left and right both agree about the root cause of terrorism—oppression. They just disagree about the identity of the oppressor. The left thinks it is the West/Israel/Capitalism. The right thinks is the regimes themselves.

But the real culprit is the UN. The UN and its system is what gives these thugs whatever legitimacy they have. The system that insists on treating all regimes as morally equal is what keeps the people of the Arab and Muslim countries in the totalitarian prisons we insist on calling nationstates.

That is why working with the UN to gain legitimacy is a mistake in the long run. In the long run it just gives more legitimacy to a corrupt world order of incompetent Third world thugs and their creditors, all in the name of human equality. If colonial powers ran such brutal and extractive governments we would all be appalled and ready to fight to free these people. But dress them in nice suits and seat them around that nice UN emblem at a big, important looking table and suddenly they are spokesmen for their own victims.

Howard Dean

A concerned reader writes:

"Michael -

Do you mean JOHN DEAN, the snitch who turned in Richard Nixon? Or do you

mean HOWARD DEAN, the Democratic presidential candidate?

I liked Howard Dean, but I like John Kerry too, as well as John Edwards.

Of course, the Democrats didn't need to field a strong candidate in this

year's election, since George W. Bush is the worst President since Lyndon

Johnson. With regard to your electoral analysis I have one word: Ha!

Bush will win only if the Republicans steal the election again."

Howard Dean?, no wonder he seemed a little testy.


Here we are engaged in a struggle with utterly savage people who used to rule Iraq and the utterly depraved people that used to rule Afghanistan and the world’s excuse for sitting it out is that we hurt their feelings.

The hegemonic power of the intellectual world, the liberals, are like ruling classes in all times. They always get to define the boundaries of debate. The get to decide which of the many ways a remark or statement can be interpreted is the right one.

Thomas Freedman writes that if the elections turn out decently then maybe the middle ground of Europe can be pulled back in and enticed to help. Now think about that. If we defeat the Nazis then the great and good of the world might consider helping us out but if we don’t then it proves that we should have left the Nazi’s in power in the first place. That is the European morality. Join a fight after it is already won. Ask them to join in when victory is anything less than certain is to force them to take a risk for their principles, to hurt their feelings.

The truly strange thing is how they get it turned around so that if they bug out of a fight it is our fault because we must have hurt their feelings. This is the trick the hegemon can always seem to pull off. Point to their pique as evidence, no proof, of your insensitivity. It was the same with Howard Dean last night. He talks about how divisive the Republicans are and them compares him to Hitler. Of course, he doesn’t exactly compare him to Hitler. “It is not enough to have military power, Hitler had military power, Stalin had military power, you have to have moral power.” Now of course the liberals that interpret this give it the most benign interpretation possible. He is merely making the perfectly sound argument that While Bush’s policy has military strength it is somehow deficient in moral standing in the eyes of the world. An example of this would be Hitler.

Well logically you can put him on a continuum with Hitler, but do you want to? Isn’t that a rather divisive way to make your point? Isn’t there a slightly less pejorative example of an historical figure that could be used as an example of alienating allies or gaining military strength at the expense of moral standing in the world?

And do you really want to make that analogy when our troops are dying in Iraq? As a man that claims we have to stay there and finish the job no matter what happens does it really help to compare the war as somehow being on a moral continuum with Hitler’s actions?

What is harder to understand is the position of someone like Freedman. If he believes that Sadaam was as bad as he appears to believe then why does he make excuses for Russia and France, nations that profited from his regime and maneuvered to protect it? who have since shown more interest in collecting their outstanding loans for weapons and palaces than they have been in helping the people of Iraq. And what, besides the Kyoto treaty, do they have as evidence that the Bush administration is at fault in our relations with the petulant powers? To make this argument it seems to me that you have to have be saying that the bush administration could have pursued the policy of removing Sadaam without alienating these so-called moderate powers. But what if it is not the way in which the policy was implemented but the very fact of the policy itself that is the problem? What if, aside from leaving Sadaam Hussein in power in Iraq, there is nothing they could have done to keep the Europeans sweet? Did they not go through all the motions the liberals said would add legitimacy to the enterprise? Go to the UN, hear everyone out respectfully? Except for not going into Iraq what could have been done to not make us “radio active”?

I hear the litany, something about Kyoto treaty, the apparently all important treaty that no one besides Romania had ratified, that our own Senate voted 97 to nothing not to ratify while Clinton was negotiating it, that Clinton himself never bothered to submit to the Senate? Our stand on global warming is so shocking to the moral sensibilities of the world that they take the side of these terrorists against us and the 90% of the people in Iraq that want the elections? Oh, the old Europe comment? Well, the intelligentsia wants Europe defined as France and Germany and Belgium to wield as a rhetorical weapon against the administration but I don’t see why the Administration should cooperate. And I think it was fair to point out that the nations that had recently been living under dictatorship were the ones that were willing to step up. And how does the Rumsfeld comment compare to the comment made a week later by the moderate soul that we are guilty of offending? Can you imagine Rumsfeld saying the Europeans had ‘missed a good opportunity to shut up?’

It is really quite fascinating. Freedman goes through a whole article making the argument that the administration’s boorish behavior has caused a rift with our allies, but every example of boorish behavior he gives is of the anti-Americans saying something vile. And yet, amazingly, this is offered as evidence of the Bush administration’s lack of tact.

“Europe, for its part, has gone so crazy over the Bush administration that the normally thoughtful Guardian newspaper completely lost its mind last week and published a column that openly hoped for the assassination of President Bush, saying: "John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. - where are you now that we need you?"

Now remember, that is being offered as evidence of how bad Bush is. Shouldn’t an essay that purports to show how the Bush administration’s behavior has caused something be filled with examples of the Bush administration’s behavior? Don’t examples of European’s “loosing their minds” support an argument about, I don’t know, the mental instability of Europeans? Of course, this difficulty is dealt with by the slick appositive “the normally thoughtful Guardian newspaper.” Well, yes, if we start with the presumption that the Europeans are thoughtful and sensible then the cause of anything they do unworthy of those adjectives must be found outside of them. Usually this is America, though sometimes for variety we can use Israel. Too bad the normally valiant Europeans are prevented from confronting Arab terrorism by the morally questionable policies of the Israelis. It is the liberal worldview in a nutshell. The actor actually doing the bad behavior is naturally good and so the ‘root cause’ must be found somewhere else, unless, of course, the actor is America.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


So Howard Dean came to Gettysburg and I worked up the nerve to ask him a challenging question.

First thing to say is that the guy is really smart. You forget how smart and quick on his feet he is. When I was listening to him talk at first I remembered how sad it was the night he lost and both he and Kerry were interviewed on TV. The contrast between Kerry’s ponderous prevaricating and Dean’s crisp and intellectually hones answers was painful.

But anyway, I am listening and he first starts out about how Bust promised to be a uniter and he turns out to be a horrible divider. Then he goes on and a little later says: He is divisive, that is not what we do, that is was Milosovich did, that is wrong.

So I couldn’t take it (I haven’t ‘come out’ to the faculty yet, though I think they are starting to get suspicious). I say, “Didn’t you just compare the President to a mass murderer? Isn’t that divisive?”

And here he turns full body to me and I am expecting him to say something like, “well, maybe that was a poor choice of analogy but I think the point stands,” or something but no. He says “No, I didn’t”

That is what you have to admire. He gives his answer and waits for my reply, actually willing to engage in an intellectual discussion. It is then that I feel really nervous. It is just the strange sensation that everyone is listening and you suddenly feel really self conscious and worried about how much time you should take.

So I say, “well, you’re saying he is using the same tactics and the thing is that Milosovich’s tactics are mass murder, and surely if your are saying that they are using the same tactics you are making the parallel (at least that is what I think I said)”

Dean: I did not say that he was like Milosovich, I said he was using the same tactic of heightening ethnic tensions (he referred earlier to Bush’s use of the word ‘quotas’ do describe the Michigan decision, which is a well know racial code word according to Dean). And that is the same thing the Milosovich did.

I was kind of intimidated I hate to say. I replied by saying “well, you could say that Hitler kind of heightened ethnic divisions, so you could on that basis compare anyone to Hitler (the point I was trying to make was that on Dean’s argument he could just as validly have said that Bush was doing the same thing as Hitler was doing, substituting Hitler’s name for Milosovich’s name and then surely he would admit that the comparison whether valid or not would have been excessively divisive, but I am not sure I made the point clearly). At that point Dean graciously accepted victory and frankly I have to admit he had won the argument.

Afterwards he came by and shook my hand and was very nice. Someone got a picture I think.

Anyway, afterwards he is making a speech to a larger crowd and he does the same thing again, only worse. He says: We have a president whose only foreign policy is to be strong militarily. Stalin and Hitler were strong militarily. It is not enough to be strong militarily, you have to have moral leadership.

Now that is really breath-taking. Imagine if a Republican said in a debate about health care: You have to be about more than universal access. Mao and Stalin had universal access to health care, you also have to research and development.

Do you think that Dean himself wouldn’t be howling about the ‘code-words,’ the McCarthism, the Divisiveness? Even though the point is logically unassailable.

Still, I have to say that he was altogether impressive and intellectually engaging and I think it is a real shame that the democrats went with the cipher Kerry instead of the real guy Dean.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


E.J. Dionne tries to justify the hateful campaign of the democrats by pointing out that many moderate republicans—who remain nameless apparently—are worried about the prospect of a bush second term.

“But it's worth considering why so many moderates in particular are alarmed at the prospect of a second Bush term.
They are, of course, affected by many specific issues. There is the fiscal mess created by Bush's oversized tax cuts and the president's insistence that we push on with the same approach. There is the prospect of a Supreme Court dominated not even by moderate conservatives but by a judicial approach rooted in right-leaning judicial activism. Add in Bush's permissive approach to environmental regulation, his anti-union approach to labor regulation, his dismissal of even the mildest civil libertarian criticisms of the Patriot Act. Most important, there is the question of the administration's incompetence in Iraq. Even among the war's supporters, many now doubt the president's capacity to deliver a successful outcome.
For those who favor moderation in governing, two questions predominate. The first is the president's conscious choice to divide a country that had been so united after the attacks of Sept. 11. He signaled the course for the rest of his term when, in a September 2002 speech aimed at electing Republicans to Congress, he said that the U.S. Senate -- meaning its then-Democratic majority -- was "not interested in the security of the American people." If you say your opponents don't care about the nation's security, aren't you accusing them of being traitors?”

Well well. So it is all issues driving this inordinate hatred of Bush. Issues, like tax cuts. Well, tax cuts drive personal hatred? If it weren’t for those deficits we would be civil? And the then the truly gratin sentence: the insistence that we push on with the same approach? From the party that still believe socialism will work if we just try it on a broad enough scale?
I think they do feel this hatred and they are trying justify it to themselves.
Supreme court. Yes, you can see why liberals would be quite angry about that. An ‘activist conservative court’ means that voters will actually have a say on things that used to be settled by the intelligentsia. Things like gay marriage will no longer be shoved down the throat of the country because the arguments against it are not heard at the right dinner parties. That ‘all important image’, i.e., what the kind of people that attend dinner parties with Sandra Day O’Connor and go to the right graduate schools will no longer be able to over rule the people in whose name their beneficences rewrite our constitution. Having to make your case in front of real live voters would indeed be a daunting prospect for the social engineers who hitherto have found it sufficient to gain the approval of the smart dinner party set. Still, can the prospect of democracy be that terrifying to liberals. After-all, on some battles like gay marriage they appear to be winning. The actual policy consequences of having voter input into abortion policy are likely to be rather modest. What is really galling is the questioning of their legitimacy. The idea that their place in society and their learning does not entitle them to a disproportionate share of power in social policy. That is the key thing to remember when anyone complains about conservative judicial activism—the most it can do is put things in the hands of democratic institutions. (that was not true in the early 20th century when conservatives used the constitution to create new laws the same way liberals have done since the 1950s).
The other policy disagreements that drive otherwise peaceable and loving democrats to such levels of hatred—excuse me—intensity—are rather pedestrian. Bush's permissive approach to environmental regulation—some regulations that bureaucrats wanted will not go in as fast as they had hoped; his anti-union approach to labor regulation—I’m sorry, did I miss something? There were goons breaking up strikes somewhere? Has Bush done something that ever so slightly increases the death-tailspin of the American labor movement? Isn’t that a bit 1930ish?; his dismissal of even the mildest civil libertarian criticisms of the Patriot Act—what ‘mild’ criticism has there been of the patriot act? Can a liberal put together two sentences on the subject before lapsing into concentration camp blather? The main provisions simply give those fighting terrorism the same powers those fighting the mob have had for decades apparently without bringing about a police state. The act does give to the US government the right to pretty much decide to keep people out of this country at will, something which offends the sensibility of people who are one-world governmenters at heart. Their idea is that every person in the world has an equal right to come here and it is up to the government to prove that they are a danger, preferably by having a tape-recorded meeting of a plan to blow up the Washington monument which the terrorists have foolishly talked about in one of those rooms that we kindly informed them that we have bugged (no sneak and peak now—not cricket).
But where ever you stand on these things it has to be admitted that these are no more than the standard disagreements that have separated the parties since these issues were issues. Bush’s positions are as close or closer to the center on any of these issues than any republican president would be. And yet he is come in for a level of criticism that we never saw with them. What is the explanation?
I have done enough on Iraq lately.

The last paragraph gets to the real issue. That Bush has accused the democrats of being traitors. He has never done any such thing. But I will.

Dionne’s argument is that Bush has said that the democrats have put their political interests above the security of the country. That, argues Dionne, is tantamount to calling them traitors. The democrats were kind enough to go along with Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 and then he turns on them, impugns their patriotism (in code of course, only democrats actually use the word unpatriotic, since they only do it answer the coded attacks of the right) and actually has the gall to add republican seats during an off year election.

The causus belli in this is the senate seat of Max Cleland. He went along with his fellow democrats in trying to hold up the homeland security bill in order to get more union protections in. The problem was that the typical American didn’t see having to huddle with a union shop steward every time you had to ask the people charged with fighting a war to work overtime was a good idea. As the American people saw it, that was putting the interests of unions above the interests of security. Thus, when President Bush said that their position on the issue amounted to not being interested in the security of the American people, the American people agreed. The Democrats had a real point of course. Maybe Union protections would have made the homeland security department more efficient in the long run. I doubt it, but who knows. The point is they lost the argument and instead of changing their deeply unpopular position they tried to tough it out by plying the McCarthism card, saying you can’t criticize us on this or you are challenging our patriotism. They pushed an unpopular position and paid for it at the polls. Grow up.

Now of course left out of this is the Democratic attacks on the president early on when they opposed the government take over of the TSA. The Republicans thought that private businesses with the freedom to hire and fire would do a better job at managing people in what was essentially a boring task. But the democrats accused them of caring more about their fat-cat security company running friends than they did about the security of the American people. Did the Republicans whine about how their patriotism was being challenged? No, they just changed their position. The Democrats always complain that Bush gets credit for backing things he originally opposed—TSA, homeland security department, going to the UN for backing, creation of the 9/11 commission—all the while they complain about him never changing his mind, never admitting he is wrong. You can’t have it both ways. In reality it is just the opposite. He changes his mind all the time, whenever he realizes his position is a loser. The Democrats haven’t and that is whey they are angry. What they are doing when complaining about Bush is projecting their anger at their own lack of acumen on to Bush. In reality it is they who have been unwilling to change.


A bunch of butt scratching idiots!!
I can’t believe it. I knew this would happen when I left civilization. Pennsylvania. Jeez, no wonder they had to be fed by the Indians. (MA?) They won’t let me vote. I just found out that you have to register 30 days before the election!! What do they do? Check the roles before the vote? No wonder election night is no fun here.

The thing that galls me is that I went down there over a month ago. No one told me about a deadline then. They told me to go to another office. This was the Bush reelection campaign that sent me to another office! In Chicago if you mentioned you wanted to register in causally conversation in the checkout line three people would turn around and try to claim that they saw you first. Now that is a machine. That is what politics is like for professionals, people who realize they are just one vote away from having to find a real job. Now, after I call to complain they tell me, well I can still vote by absentee ballot in Illinois!! Oh good, I can still do my civic duty. I can still have the satisfaction of participating in the democratic process. I can once again be part of the 10% of Chicago that doesn’t have a blood relative on the payroll and that lodges his protest against one party government. Oh yeah, and this year I have the extra satisfaction of being able to vote for Alan—repent now—Keyes, who is, by the way, black. I wonder if Republicans are really serious about being the governing party of this country.

Monday, October 25, 2004

I told you so

On the charge that the conduct of the war has been incompetent because we did not bring in enough troops: it is true that we don’t have enough to hold what we take after we take it. That is a strong point in favor of those who say we should have gone in stronger. But is can hardly be used by those that say we shouldn’t have gone in the first place. The reason we don’t have enough to hold is that the people we are fighting are terrorists. We have plenty to hold against conventional forces. We only are short handed when we try to hold against people that target civilians, i.e., terrorists. The reason we have to have more on the ground is not to take cities in the first place but to protect people from assassinations after we take something. The big problem for the interim government is that the insurgents kill anyone that cooperates, including people that just keep the water running.

And this is why the anti-war forces have no right to say I told you so. They didn’t say, “See, the people we would be fighting are terrorists and you can’t protect people from terrorists. Their argument is that the forces we would be fighting would be the legitimate rulers of the country, that they would be strong because they in some sense had the support of the population. They can hardly turn around and use as an argument for their position the murderous contempt the insurgents have for the lives of the people of Iraq as an argument for leaving Iraq under their control.

This is the great paradox of fighting insurgents. The competition is for legitimacy. The left and international opinion somehow confers legitimacy on the side that displays the most contempt for the lives of the people in a country. Unlike the old Geneva Convention type rules that penalized those who fought unconventionally, the new ‘international law’ (really the twisted interpretations of it from the international lawyerocracy) confers legitimacy on the side that creates chaos and kills civilians through Guerilla war.

It is true that a good plan for removing the insurgency should have been developed before going in. But what makes this insurgency strong is not its popular support but its utter contempt for the populace. The observations that we don’t have enough people to stay behind to protect the people from murders and kidnappings after we win is a tacit admission of this. The international community that opposed the invasion didn’t say don’t invade because the you won’t be able to protect the people of Iraq from the terrorists you throw out of power, they said that we shouldn’t invade because we would be violating the rights of the Iraqis. They didn’t say don’t invade because you won’t be able to protect their rights afterward, that would have been an admission that the then government of Iraq was not legitimate. If you are arguing that the invading force has to have enough to protect the people from the murder squads of the deposed government after the invasion what are you saying about the nature of the pre-invasion government? The people that say we should have foreseen this didn’t foresee it themselves. If they had they could never have made the argument that the invasion of Iraq was immoral on the grounds that it violated the rights of the people of Iraq. Can you call a government legitimate whose threat against a potential invader is, “don’t topple my government because if you do I will make it ungovernable by murdering school kids and anyone else that tries to keep the lights on?”

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Was it Something I Said?
The ambush and murder of 50 Iraqi recruits is said to reinforce suspicions that Iraqi security forces have been penetrated. Now of the many whinges that the fair weather hawks have put out is that we should kept the Iraqi army in tact.
Suppose that we had kept them intact and this had happened, wouldn't the same people be saying that we should have disbanded them and started fresh to make sure that we had troops loyal to the new government? Does anyone imagine that the problem of infiltration would actually be less if we had kept Sadaam's army on the job?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Worth Dying For

Was it Something I Said?
Think about this. What defines your loyalty in the end is what you are willing to die for. John Kerry answering a question about whether troops should be in Bosinia (from today's Washington Post):

'In 1994, discussing the possibility of U.S. troops being killed in Bosnia, he said, "If you mean dying in the course of the United Nations effort, yes, it is worth that. If you mean dying American troops unilaterally going in with some false presumption that we can affect the outcome, the answer is unequivocally no."'

Same war, only thing different is whether or not we have UN backing. So it is worth dying for is whether we have the approval of the UN? The people that put Sudan at the head of thier human rights commission (to replace Libiya!) are now the standard of what is worth dying for.

This is a question of loyalty. What is patriotism but the institution, the group, that you are going to place your final faith in? Your highest authority? For Kerry it really is the UN. And what is even stranger is that the liberals listening probably agreed. I don't think the challenges to liberals' patriotism are off base after all.

Bad News

Was it Something I Said?
I think that things look a lot worse for Bush that polls might suggest. Everyone (among Republicans) is happy becuase he is ahead in all of these polls. But if you look at these polls he is almost never over 50%. That is bad news for an incumbent. People look at an election with an incumbent as a referndum on him. People either want to keep him or not. The 'or nots' may not be ready to go for the other guy but if they aren't ready to pull the lever for Bush now there is little that could happen in the next two weeks that could move them in Bush's direction. The Nader/undecideds at this point are just waiting to see if they can stomach Kerry. After the debates it seems to me that Kerry looks reasonably presidential. Indeed, the whole flip-flop tactic may have backfired. He seemed very consistent in the debates. The real criticism that could have been leveled against him was being consistently liberal, but that would have required a degree of mental agility beyond what the incumbent could manage.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

How much is it worth?

Was it Something I Said?

The next time someone asks how many American lives is this Iraq war worth ask them how many the good opinion of the international community is. For to believe that we should have waited to go into Iraq, you have to believe that looking good at the UN is worth at least some solders’ lives.

If you believe the report just out now that there were no stockpiles of WMD then you have to also believe the rest of the report: that 1) Hussein intentionally deceived the world and his own generals that he did still have them and that 2) he had every intention of getting them again as soon as he could get out from under the sanctions. How does one argue against the war if those two things are true?

If we had walked away in spite of everyone—and this includes the two democratic challengers from their own statements on the Senate floor—thinking that he still had them then what do we do with the next dictator that tries to acquire them? Having in effect said to Sadaam that “I got rid of them but I can’t tell you there because I forgot where,” what is to stop any dictator from building such an arsenal? Imagine how our negotiations with the North Koreans would go. “Oh, we got rid of them somewhere, don’t worry.” These rules, to have any meaning, must require the burden of proof to be on the rogue state to prove that it doesn’t have them in a publicly observable way. It is no good to say that that isn’t fair. There is no way to be sure they don’t have them but by full compliance with obtrusive measures. Indeed, even after he was the nominee Kerry was still keeping his options open when on Meet the Press he felt it necessary to add that we may still find WMD, and this over a year after the war is over. To say that going two months and ‘a dog ate my homework’ excuse is enough to give a dictator a clean slate on WMD is to say that there will never be any meaningful sanctions ever.

But the really important thing is the second thing the report has proven. That Hussein fully intended to go back into the WMD business as soon as he was out from under the sanctions. If that is true—and have you heard anyone deny it?—then what really would have been gained by waiting? Would it be preferable to have waited till he actually had some to use on us or his own people? Why isn’t it good news that we finally acted before he could really do us harm?

The real strength of the anti-war party is that they don’t have to say what they would have done otherwise. The ‘last resort’ argument covers everything. Maybe he would have became a nicer person, maybe he would have had them but have been deterred, maybe he would have been deposed. The ‘war as a last resort’ seems to give license to avoid thinking about what the world would have looked like had we not gone to war.

But if those who want to use the report to damn Bush are honest they owe us an answer to the question of what would you have done two years down the road? Presumably Kerry would say that if Hussein really did have WMD he would lead the US to go to war, so all the report really tells us is that with Kerry we could have put the war off two years—till he actually had weapons. Of course under that scenario we would have been a lot better off in world public opinion, who knows, maybe a few Americans dead of Mustard gas would have rekindled that precious international pity that Kerry feels we squandered after 9/11. Personally, the good opinion of Sadaam’s arms dealers and creditors is not worth a single American service man.

Comments on Comments

Was it Something I Said?

Finally a comment! Thanks so much whoever you are.

I have been away defending my thesis. I am now a real Doctor. Don't worry, I won't change. I will continue to be the same pontificating ass I was before I was officially smarter than everyone else.

I recieved this interesting comment on my posting on the French:

"how do you define terrorism? I can say bombing a hospital or a wedding is also terrorism. oh, but those were done by mistake. sure, but no bombing whatsoever would have resulted in no mistakes. collateral damage terrorism is no less terrorism than an intended one. after all it is the number of graves and crying mothers in the end that counts.

also I thought democracy is about representing all people in a country not only the ones that someone from outside picks as representable. who is usa anyway to decide who is terrorist and who is not in iraq? i don't call that democracy."

Two things:
Bombing a wedding party unintentionally is terrorism the same way that hitting someone with a car accidentally is murder. It may not make a difference to the greiving family whether thier loved one was killed intentionally or not but it certainly makes a big differnce to a country if thier leaders kill people as a way of maintaining power or, in Sadaam's case, as a way of making home entertainment movies. In any case, the number of graves for mothers to weep besides is placed somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000--the EU won't help with the investigation because Iraq has the death penalty: they will sell him weapons to murder people with and bill his victims but they won't dirty thier hands by helping his victims gather evidence.
As far as representing all the people I think we are confused. The terrorists in Falluja, etc., aren't fighting so that the people in those cities can participate in the elections, the terrorists are fighting so the people in those cities can't participate in the elections. And by the way, our 'puppet' in Afganastan appears to have just won the first elections in that nation's history by a landslide. Can we pick'em or what?

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Great article from 'larval liberal' turned conservative Bill Whittle. Among the many great quotes:

"There are people who are determined to kill us for who we are and what we believe. They can not be deterred.

But they can be defeated. And the people they depend on for survival can be deterred."

Long essay that repays reading.


The failure to anticipate the enemy's tactics in Iraq is a big failure. We should foreseen that they would start going around to the homes of anyone that cooperated in keeping the lights on or the country running and kill their famlies. We should have foreseen that our standard practice of handing out candy to children would be used by our enemies as an opportunity to kill chidren. We should have foreseen that allowing people to have boxcutters on airplanes would give our enemies the chance to cut the throats of the stewardess's and pilots to take over airplanes and crash them into buildings.

We should have but we didn't. We are handicapped by being civilized men and so have trouble anticipating what our enemies will do in novel circumstances. But the fact that in confronting our enemies we have been met with horrors that no civilized human being would have imagined should not be used as an argument for not confronting them. It is because we cannot anticipate what monsters will do that we must not wait, we must not sit back and wait for the next attack, because they will find a way. Their depravity gives them a source of innovation that we cannot and should not hope to match. The fact that the enemy comes up with new ways to hurt us that we can never anticipate is not a reason to wait, it is reason that we should aggressively seek them out and kill them first.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Dred Scott

Well, I am glad that has been cleared up. Hear that, everybody, we are against slavery. So if you bring your slave over here and he decides not to go back to the Sudan with you (curious that the nation chairing the UN human rights commission is one of the few left in the world that can still be said to have actual human slavery) don't expect us to catch him and send him back.

Now you see? You complain about all these focus grouped tested, canned answers but when you actually get to see the guy think on his feet what do you get? I mean as inane as the specticle of a US President denouncing slavery in answer to the question of how he would pick future judges (shouldn't we be complaining about litmus tests here?) you can't accuse him of not thinking for himself. This is what he thinks. "What do I think about judges? Well, I certainly don't want any of that Dred Scott sort of nonsense."

There is a serious point about this decision. It is an example of judges using a general principle that is present in the background but not made specific in the Constitution--the idea of property rights--and applying that principle in a novel way to in effect make a new law. This is of course exactly what liberal judges have done in the post-war era to strike down abortion and expand criminal legal protections. As such, bringing up Dred Scott is a sensible thing to do, but Bush just wasn't firm enough in his grasp of the argument to make the connection explicit. So he ends up saying something insipid like, "and people aren't property, so that is just wrong," as if there was someone proposing that they were. Remember this the next time you hear a complaint about politicians having set answers to everything and answering the question they wished they had been asked instead of the one they were asked.

Which brings me to my main impression about this debate. I had the feeling that they really did try to ansswer the questions they were asked. That is why Bush, at least, ends up saying some slightly goofy things. I think part of this is that people justed asked really good questions for the most part. They asked about things that mattered to them and they posed them in a way that really forced the guy to address the nub of the problem. Who needs these journalists, anyway?


I got this from a former student:

"Also I cannot wait for the debates! I am so excited to see what is going to happen tonite. I think Bush will get his act together, especially since it is going to be a open community forum
I doubt the questions will be as probing, unfortunately, this is not the rest of the world, where indepth political coverage is front page, news headlines (rather we care more about who got fired on the Apprentice 2). Did you see that ridiculous JibJab second internet cartoon parody? I read that the site got more hits then the Bush or Kerry campaign sites combined! How pathetic!!"

Well, having seen the two candidate websites I can only say that anyone who prefers them to JibJab has a serious judgment problem. Gee, Swati, I hope this isn't due to anything I taught you. I think the analysis on JibJab is as accurate an anlysis of American politics as anything that has appeared on the candidates' websites, let alone a European paper.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Was it Something I Said?

Was it Something I Said?

The interesting thing about the failure to find stockpiles is that there is no one out there in a responsible position that can say I told you so. There are a lot of people saying we shouldn't have done it but almost no one out there saying you aren't going to find WMD. One could always say that the President mislead the public, but the protagonists in the debate were on the Senate Select Intellegence Committee and are hardly in a position to say the President knew something they didn't have access to. Moreover, as I recall, both Kerry and Edwards are in the difficult position of having missed most of the meetings (quite understandably given that they were running for President) and never, apparently, took advantage of thier priviledge to view documents in the Classified Document Room.

Monday, October 04, 2004

The last man

How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? You don’t, you ask someone from the international community to do it. And they will say yes, because “I know and understand foreign leaders and can work with them and…"

How will he bring these new allies along? We can assume that Kerry has ruled out coercion and bribery since these resources were presumably tapped out used by the current administration to get those international whores the Australians, the Poles and, of course, the great rent-a-thugs of the British Royal Marines. So, how does he get new allies?—by sticking it to the old allies. He has already done the hard part—dismissing allies like the British and the Australians entails a bit of political risk. Compared to that feeding the Kurds to the Wahabbis and Baathists will be a political gimme.

Some are worried that Kerry’s promises of an international conference to get more support for the Iraq effort will not pan out. I have the opposite worry. It will be all too successful. I am afraid that Kerry can make it work for precisely the reasons he states, that he does understand foreign leaders and agrees with them about the main problem facing the world: American power. And I am afraid he will be more than willing to pay the price the international community will demand: the humiliation and neutering of American power.

Of course it won’t be stated like that. The ostensible aim will be to bring Iraq back into the community of nations under the auspices of legitimate international bodies like the UN human rights commission and the Arab league—in other words, back under the control of Sunni thugs. It will not be because the international community is less than enthusiastic about democracy, just that the Iraqis aren’t ready for it. The Sunni thugs that are blowing up any groups of children gathered in a public place are proof of that? And who better to get these Sunni thugs under control than the Sunni thugs that ran such a tight ship under Sadaam? And if both groups of Sunni thugs seem to have an undecorously high degree of dual membership, well, that will only make them that much more efficient. Who can control a group of criminals better than another group of criminals? The same group of criminals!

It is so simple, why didn’t we see it before? There is really no excuse for missing such a simple solution, particularly when we see such fine examples of the process at work right in New York at the UN. Notice how subtle and nuanced way the UN is going about getting a handle on things in Dafur. Some dim-witted unilateralist like Bush might be tempted to barge in, but not the trained minds of the UN. They had the foresight to make the Sudanese the chair of the human rights commission. Now, when the human rights commission’s indignation boils over to a strongly worded rebuke all the tricky questions of implementation can be done away with. If only they had had the foresight to put Rwanda in the chair of the human rights commission before Rwanda decided to divest itself of its ethnic overachievers. The Rwandan government could have done a much better job of disarming itself (though the UN peacekeepers were not totally impotent, managing to disarm the victims that had taken the UN up on its invitation to take up residence in UN protective camps just in time to avoid some nasty gun battles).

That is the great thing about making the international test the loadstone of your foreign policy. Honor and principle and simple self-preservation are likely to oblige one to have to undertake some unpleasant tasks form time to time. With the international test you can always go with the flow. Bunch of Africans slaughtering unarmed civilians? A sternly worded resolution and some third world peacekeepers will keep the cameras away. A bunch of Arabs slaughtering African Christians? Elect the Arabs to the human rights commission, problem goes away and big multicultural brownie points in the bargain. The UN allows you to appease the powerful under the respectable banner of multilateralism. And if you get into real trouble we can always call on America…oh wait...

And there is the rub. We are the last man. If anyone takes this 'international law' business--I mean international law in its current meaning, not of treaties that are written down and signed by sovereign nations but of supra-national authorites with discretionary authority--seriously owes it to himself to really take a look at what the 'international community' is. The world is full of the graves of those who had no choice but to rely on the UN's decisions to protect them from genocidal governments whose representatives were seated at the UN. Other nations can afford to pretend to take the UN seriously in the knowlege at some level that the US is there to not take it seriously should the need arise. But who is our US?


The real problem with the debate is that Kerry is not a flip-flopper. He is a political opportunist but who cares? What Senator isn't to some degree. What is really troubling is that he does have sincere convictions. The global test he talked about in the debate is the real Kerry. Indeed, there is a core set of convictions that guides his voting record: appeasement. How else to explain his love for multilateralism on all occassions except for the case of North Korea? The Bush campaign makes a real mistake when they focus on vacilation. The really frightening thing about Kerry is his consistency. Of course, the Bush campaign doesn't like to take on someone's ideas directly; that would require too much abstract thought on W's part.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

I suppose

I suppose we should have forseen that the regime in Iraq would defend itself by hiding behind its own civilian population. I suppose we might even have forseen that they would attack their own civilians to make the country ungovernable. I guess we should even have figured that since the enemy would count dead children, thier own dead children, as a propaganda victory that we should have modified our longstanding custom passing out candy to the children of countries our army is in. And, given the decades of propaganda and infantile facist fantansy that the people of Iraq have lived under for so long, we might even have forseen that the Iraqi people themselves would blame us when thier own former rulers kill Iraqi children. But I really don't see how we could have been expected to forsee that there would be people in our own society who, on seeing that our enemies murder scores of children gathered for free candy, would count this as evidence that we should have left Iraq in the hands of those same murderers.

The long Holiday

The long holiday from history is coming to an end. Those days when we could imagine that all our problems could be solved if we just were a little nicer, a little more tolerant. We have an enemy that doesn't want to cut a deal, doesn't want to live side by side, that we are going to have to fight and defeat or be conquered by. In Europe it is slowly sinking in that they are being eaten away from within by a minority that doesn't want to assimilate, that doesn't want to become Europeans, that wants Western power without Western values. Here we are momentarily flirting with the idea that maybe the we could protect ourselves through the UN, through patching things up with the French. But does anyone really believe that?

The French

The French foreign Minister has just said that he would not attend a conference on Iraq unless elements of "La Resistance" are invited. Now someone should ask Kerry, if this conference is going to be the centerpiece of his new approach on Iraq, if he is going to invite Zarqawi to sit down at the table with him. Is he going to ask the fellows that took Americans passing out candy the other day as a opportunity to 'resist' the occupation by blowing up thier own children what they want? Are we going to let people that are committing terrorism to prevent the people of Iraq from letting thier voice be heard in an election have a voice at the negotiating table? Look for the 'resistance' to develop a 'political' wing. After all, no American President would sit down with a terrorist organization till they had at least had the decency to set up an internal division of labor. Why even the mafia has the decency to offer local merchants have a way to pretend that they are not paying protection money by setting up inflated price service vendors. When there is a political wing of Zarkawi's organization we will know the terrorists have won.

Told you so

The consensus seems to be now that the war was mismanaged even if it was a reasonable decision. The big mistake the Bush administration is supposed to have made is that they didn’t have enough troops to stabilize the situation after winning.

Two things that must be said to the 'I told you so' crowd.

1) You only get to say I told you so if you give the right reasons. The people saying I told you so have to have said it was because of the aftermath that more troops would be needed. All I remember is that people were saying we would have house to house fighting against the Iraqi army like in Europe in WWII. That never happened. What is happening now is not, to my knowledge, what people that wanted more troops were warning about. They were warning about protecting supply lines and the drive to take over Baghdad. Since none of that was a problem the administration made the right decision from among the options they were presented with. What is happening now is random terrorism. It is not clear that having more troops on the ground would decrease random terrorism or not. It might prevent some incidents but it would offer targets for more. It would also offer more opportunities to incur resentment. If 500,000 troops had been sent the same people would be arguing that the huge amount of American troops is what is causing the problem.
2) Random terrorism. The people that are giving us trouble in the Sunni triangle are Sunni’s that want to bring back a Sunni regime and are willing to kill children to do it. They are trying to prevent an election because they know they have no chance to win it. It is true the Administration underestimated how vile were the means that the enemy was willing to employ, but the anti-war people can hardly take an ‘I told you so,’ here. The people protesting war with Iraq weren’t saying, “leave them in the hands of the terrorists because if you try to free them the old regime will just start randomly murdering civilians till we are forced to leave.” All of the horror in Iraq is being caused by people that want to go back to a Sunni military dictatorship. Can the monstrous things those people who want the old regime back really be used as an argument for having left the old regime in place?

Disaster? Americans have a really low threshold for using this word. We have lost 1,000 troops. That slow day in WWII. We have taken over the seat of the Caliphate and are about to set up a democracy, the first ever, in the Arab world. A man that people describe as an American puppet has a 67% approval rating—and that is with bus loads of kids getting blown up in the streets. Imagine what it could be if we can get the terrorists. A prosperous, pro-American democracy in the middle-east? That is worth almost anything.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

too nice

The problem is that we have forgotten some lessons from early on. We have had the good fortune of living in a democracy for so long that we have forgotten that democracy can't be established democratically. You have to be willing to abide by the majority's decision to have the right to take part in majority rule. People that aren't willing to do that, like the minorities that are attacking the provisional government in Iraq don't have the right to vote and have to be paid out in thier own coin--force.

We have also had the good fortune to live in a civilized society that can afford elaborate protections for the accused. These are luxury that only comes with a high degree of consensus and safety. The specific arrangements we have for protecting the rights of the accused are not moral absolutes to be abided by at all times and all places but arrangements specific to a particular time and place. In another time and place they may make no sense and make a society worse off. Our system of criminal law is predicated on the notion that it is better to let a hundred guilty go free rather than to punish one innocent. That may make sense when you are worried about the occassional highway man or thief. It may not when the guilty you are letting go are mass murderers intent on destroying democracy itself.

The whole idea of judging the intentions of people in a war by the methods they use to fight the war is unreliable. For the most part there was little to recommend our methods in WWII over those of the Nazi's when it came to fighting. In the civil war I think most would judge that the South behaved better--did that make their cause any less unjust?

30 countries

And what about Kerry's comment that there were 30 countries that had greater capacity WMD than Iraq? That can't be right unless he is counting countries like France or Israel. Does he mean we should have invaded them first?

Of course what he means is that the problem is the WMD themselves rather than the regimes that have them. Here is the sharpest difference between the two world views. In one, the problem that we have enemies, in the other it is that some nations break a rules. The conservatives want to use violations of rules to offer an excuse to destroy our enemies. The rule is really secondary. In liberals want to make the rules stronger. Making the rules stronger means being as ready or even more ready to enforce those rules against our freinds as against our enemies.

This is a real philosophical difference with reasonable arguments on either side. The problem is that neither side in the debate is really willing to make its case forthrightly. The reason is that the American public believes that both are right--that it is better to be feared than to be loved and that we can bring about peace through rule-enforcing international organizations--and doesn't want the contradictions between the two views forced into thier consciousness.

And here is the problem. The President really was distorting the truth about his reasons for going into Iraq. He had made the judgment that Iraq was an enemy that would one way or another do us great harm. It was his judgment about the regimes nature and intentions that drove the decision. the WMD (or at least the stockpiles) and the United Nations were just means to eliminating an enemy. Of course the WMD mattered, but not the stockpiles--one or two in the hands of the Al Qaeda agents Iraqi intellegence officers were meeting with were more than enough to make 9/11 look like a picnic. If you believe that the world is a place where you have enemies and that ultimately you are on your own then his decision was the right one. But giving his real reasons for the decision would require him to challenge a belief that the median American voters still rather likes having, thank you, that international institutions mean something.

Kerry's problem is the mirror image of Bush's. If you believe as Kerry does that international institutions and a legals system so administered is the real key to security then you really can't take the law into your own hands. You have to wait till the crime is committed and then wait till an impartial body, one that your enemy has as much right to be a part of as you do, rules that you can do something. You really do need a permission slip.

Of course there are circumstances under which Kerry would act without international sanction, just as there are plenty of international bodies that Bush is just fine with cooperating with. But ultimately you have to make a choice between the two worldviews. And that is a choice the American public does not want to directly confront.

Iraqis blame US


Breath taking story in the paper of how Iraqi’s blame US for the attack on Iraqi children. The really striking thing is that there is no dispute about the facts. One person did say that the US wanted intentionally invited the children there to use them as human shields but in the main they were in agreement. They don’t seem to dispute that the Americans did invite the kids to come around just to give them candy. Their complaint is that they should have known better.

Now there is something familiar here. When we have a horrific crime—say a slaying that takes place in a dark alley that should perhaps have been lighted—we complain about the officials that should have protected us from it and focus on things the authorities should have done to prevent it. This doesn’t mean that anyone thinks the officials wanted the crime to happen or that they somehow planned it. They know it is the criminals that are ultimately at fault, but we complain about the authorities because they are the ones that can be made to do something.

Still there is something a bit perverse here. It goes beyond the regular desire to complain to people that will listen. Saying “the killers are the first terrorist and the Americans are the second” is setting up a moral equivalence that is just hard to fathom.

I think part of what is happening is that people there are in a state of denial. They don’t want to think about how depraved their own civilization has become and so want to focus some of their horror at what they have in some sense become on powerful outsiders. This is a central trope of fascism throughout time.

But it is hard to ignore that focusing on how Americans should change their tactics leads us away from a central problem: how utterly depraved the society that we are trying to turn into a democracy has become. We didn’t have to worry about passing out candy in occupied Germany or Japan because the people that were fighting us—and we forget that there was a lot of fighting in occupied Germany against us even years later—were not depraved. Loathsome as the Nazis were it never occurred to them to kill their own children to show the people that the Americans can’t govern. And if they had the people of Germany would hardly have taken it as a sign that the Americans may not be as nice as they thought. We have a very sick enemy, but that is not all. For such tactics to even be conceivable it requires a sick society as well.

The conclusion that some people draw from this is that we shouldn’t try bringing democracy to these people in the first place. There are two lines of reasoning it seems to me.

One comes predominantly form the left. The argument (more like an assumption) is that the only way to explain such irrational hatred—and I think most would agree that blaming Americans for passing out candy to children rather than the people that see children gathered as an opportunity to kill a lot of children—is that the people with such a hatred have been the victims of injustice at the hands of Americans historically. Even if the judgment holding the Americans responsible may, in the immediate instance, be a bit irrational, in historical terms the existence of such terrorists in the first place and the depth of suspicion of America’s motives is rational. We have done so many wrong things to these people that now, even when we try to do the right thing, we will get the blame. Given that history there is nothing to do but leave and give the job to an organization that has historically clean hands, maybe the UN, maybe the Arab league. The specifics of what to do in light of the left’s analysis are unclear but ultimately besides the point. We have done so much wrong that it is too late to start trying to do right.

The other criticism comes from the right. George Will has put the view most forcefully. If the people of Iraq are ready blame people that give out free candy rather than the people that use children gathered as to get free candy as an opportunity to kill them then it is evidence that they are not ready for democracy. The conservative viewpoint would be more inclined to dismiss the hatred of the populace for America as a feature of a primitive political culture rather than as the effect of some specific US actions in the past. These people have always blamed their problems on someone, it happens now to be the US. But the point it is that they deal with their problems not by dealing with them but by blaming someone else for them. That inability to face the real causes of your problems is something that an outside power can’t fix and is the ultimate reason that Bush’s Wilsonian project of democratizing the Middle-East is doomed to failure.

What is common to both views is the idea that hatred for America is deep and an insurmountable obstacle to our progress there. I think that this is a mistake.

First of all we overestimate the hatred for America because of the tacit assumption that widespread violence means widespread support for violence and widespread hatred for the objects of that violence. In fact the number of violent attacks against Americans does not require a large number of people. In absolute numbers the combatants in this conflict really doesn’t have to be, and does not appear to be, that large. The crowds gathered round protesting America and reveling in the burning wreckage of American armored vehicles are made to seem larger than they are because they are constantly replayed and because we assume they are completely spontaneous. But even in Falluja where support for the insurgency seems to be centered there was at most a couple of hundred people in the pictures of crowds celebrating the mutilated corpses of American security guards. The anti-American demonstrations that are whipped up even in the American no-go zones for Al Jazera (spelling?) are surprisingly small. For a country where hatred for American occupiers is so intense that people are driven to spontaneously take up arms and blow up scores of school children for the chance to kill a couple of Americans the inability to get crowds out of the three digit range is quite striking.

The people blaming the Americans for the deaths of their children are being amazingly irresponsible in one way, childish, if you will. But in another way, it is quite heartening. They don’t actually have any doubt about who set off the bombs. Even the outrageous suggestion that the Americans wanted children there for their own protection is predicated on the assumption that Americans don’t do things like this. Even this guy knows that the people who kill Arab children are other Arabs. What the people in this story are angry about is the American failure to realize how utterly evil their enemies—other Arabs—are.

And this is what is heartening. People are angry at Americans for not being ruthless enough. Their criticism is from the right if you will. We have the power to crush armies, why not the terrorists. Part of their anger serves the purpose of deflecting the thought that the terrorists are their fellow Arabs. The argument from the left assumes that the widespread attacks and the widespread criticism after the attacks are from a widespread hatred of Americans. The attacks are from a fringe group that in its Baathist and Shia fundamentalist variants combined commands the support of no more than 20% of the population. The criticism after the attacks is that we aren’t tough enough on the minority that is trying to derail democracy. These attacks are from a fringe that fears democracy precisely because they know how unpopular they are.

The argument from the right assumes that the state of mind of the people of Iraq can’t be changed. It assumes that since democracy took centuries to build here it will take centuries to build there. This is wrong in my opinion but there is a problem with refuting it: there are few counter examples in the Muslim—and none in the Arab—world. That is why I am sort of glad sometimes when Bush gives these simplistic answers, that we will succeed in Iraq because all people in their hearts yearn to be free. If one looked at the social science evidence there would be little to make one optimistic.