:: Saturday, November 16, 2002 ::
Two parts of the same problem
Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins explains that there's no need to justify toppling Saddam by establishing any direct links with al-Qaeda because they both fuel the Arab radicalism that threatens the modern world:
It is the hallmark of unsettled societies to believe in the man on horseback, in millennial and sudden redemption, in the pretender who would transform and empower a broken world, but without labor and effort and empirical work. For all the outward differences, Saddam and the leaders of al Qaeda offered the masses that flocked to their banners an absolution from responsibility, and a dream of revenge. In both cases, the crowd worked itself into a frenzy, and then fell into despondency when the Pied Piper was unable to deliver.
There was a wave of genuine despair, it should be recalled, when Saddam's armies were shattered in 1991. In the same vein, the satisfaction with bin Laden and the terrible deeds of al Qaeda soon gave way to the old bitter sense of Arab disappointment that the new redeemer, too, had left his world unchanged, and that the base he had secured in Afghanistan was undone.
If and when America ventures into Iraq, it should cast aside the distinction between secular and Islamist enemies. The rule of reason and practicality, the delivery of the Arabs from a culture of victimology and abdication, the need to take on the sources of the anti-Americanism that brought terror to America's shores, all entail a reckoning with the same malignancies.
It was the sparing of Saddam in 1991 that nourished al Qaeda, and gave its masterminds and foot-soldiers ammunition, and an ideological pretext, for targeting America. Saddam had been through war and had been let off the hook; that had been part of the emboldening of the new purveyors of terror. America's enemies in that region are full of cunning. They should be read right; the banners they unfurl--secular or religious--are of no great significance. It is the drive that animates them that matters. What they bring forth, be they dictators in bunkers or jihadists on the run, is a determination to extirpate American influence from their world, and a view of history that the deep sorrows and failings of the Arab world can be laid at the doorsteps of the distant American power.
What's this? The President pays attention to polls? And Al Gore likes oceanography?
:: Friday, November 15, 2002 ::
The Washington Post has an article up about Bob Woodward's new book "Bush at War," which details the decision-making in the administration since 9/11. There's a shocking--shocking, I tell you!--revelation that Bush actually looked at polls to determine the political landscape of the war on terror:
The president is shown to be preoccupied by public perceptions of the war, looking at polling data from [Karl] Rove, now his senior adviser, even after pretending to have no interest.
That sounds like what another President might have done in the same situation...do I dare utter the C-word? I don't have any problem at all with Bush consulting his political team on the war, but it's worth remembering whenever anyone beatifies the pure-as-snow motivations of Bush while excoriating the Satan-spawned obsession with polls of our previous President.
Roger E. Ailes, a media coach for Bush's father and now chairman of the Fox News Channel, sent a confidential communication to the White House in the weeks after the terrorist attacks. Rove took the Ailes communication to the president. "His back-channel message: The American public would tolerate waiting and would be patient, but only as long as they were convinced that Bush was using the harshest measures possible," Woodward wrote. He added that Ailes, who has angrily challenged reports that his news channel has a conservative bias, added a warning: "Support would dissipate if the public did not see Bush acting harshly."
Woodward also claims that the conventional wisdom about Colin Powell's irrelevance in the face of a hawkish Cheney/Rumsfeld team is...well, completely accurate, despite constant administration spin to the contrary:
In detailing tensions within Bush's war cabinet, the book describes Secretary of State Colin L. Powell as frequently at odds with Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and struggling to establish a relationship with Bush. But it depicts Powell as determined to make his case that military action against Iraq without the help of allies could have disastrous consequences, a chance he finally got at a dinner with Bush last Aug. 5.
It's nice to know that after more than a year and a half into his presidency, Bush decided that he should start considering the advice of the most high-profile Secretary of State since George Marshall. Good thing he had room to work Powell in for dinner after months of pointless blathering about how evil Saddam is.
While the dinner has been previously reported, the book describes in detail the case Powell made -- reading from an outline on loose-leaf paper -- that the United States has to have international support against Iraq. "It's nice to say we can do it unilaterally," Powell told the president bluntly, "except you can't."
The dinner persuaded Bush to seek a resolution from the United Nations over the objections of Cheney and Rumsfeld.
The Post also has a vaguely sympathetic article about Al Gore and how he dealt with the aftermath of the 2000 election. His taste in movies as described in this passage strikes me as odd:
"I think we'll never know the true inner process, the healing process, that he went through," says Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, who with her partner, Hilary Rosen, is close to both Al Gore and his wife, Tipper. Like a number of intimate friends, they had a quiet dinner with the Gores not long after the contest was over. "I went there prepared to treat him as though he was on tenterhooks, I felt so protective of him. I tend to be overdramatic about these things, and I have to tell you, he was smart and jovial. We stayed up and watched oceanography movies. He wasn't a wreck; I was."
Not a chance
:: Thursday, November 14, 2002 ::
Ha'aretz is reporting on its news ticker that Israel's UN ambassador is demanding that the UN denounce the massive terror attack in Hebron today that killed 12 settlers and soldiers. That's about as likely as a meaningful condemnation from Arafat's ranks, who sincerely regretted killing Jews on the wrong side of the '67 line a few days ago. Surely we can't expect them to distance themselves from this heroic act of "liberation."
I meant to post this last week
:: Wednesday, November 13, 2002 ::
An opinion piece from our favorite satirical news source, The Onion: Just Wait 'Til I Get These F%^&ing Rubber Bands Off by Freddie the Lobster.
Are you threatening me? I need TP for my...
:: Tuesday, November 12, 2002 ::
Lynn B.'s fisking of a recent Arafat speech references the Rais' strangely incoherent outbursts of anger at those challenging him in interviews, like Christiane Amanpour earlier this year on CNN. Reading that reminded me of something I thought a while back about those Arafat interviews, that they reminded me of someone, a certain prominent cartoon character...yes, it's that spastic superhero, everyone's favorite character from Beavis and Butthead (well, at least among those who ever watched it): Cornholio!
Let's never let this happen again
:: Monday, November 11, 2002 ::
David Halberstam on how the architects of the Vietnam War, "The Best and the Brightest," led America into a disaster:
They, leaders of a democracy, [had not] bothered to involve the people of their country in the course they had chosen: they knew the right path and they knew how much could be revealed, step by step along the way. They had manipulated the public, the Congress and the press from the start, told half truths, about why we were going in, how deeply we were going in, how much we were spending, and how long we were in for. When their predictions turned out to be hopelessly inaccurate, and when the public and the Congress, annoyed at being manipulated, soured on the war, then the architects had been aggrieved. They had turned on those very symbols of the democratic society they had once manipulated, criticizing them for their lack of fiber, stamina and lack of belief. Why weren't the journalists more supportive? How could you make public policy with television cameras everywhere?... What was singularly missing from all the memoirs of the period--save from a brief interview with [Secretary of State] Dean Rusk after the publication of the Pentagon Papers--was an iota of public admission that they had miscalculated. The faults, it seemed, were not theirs, the fault was with this country which was not worthy of them.
Remember, it's the "religion of peace"
Yet more evidence that many of Islam's most prominent practitioners aren't as tolerant as some have been fooled into believing. The New Republic has a story about Khaled Abou El Fadl, a UCLA professor of Islamic jurisprudence who wrote an op-ed just after 9/11 accusing Muslim scholars of producing "a culture that eschews self-critical and introspective insight and embraces projection of blame and a fantasy-like level of confidence and arrogance." In response, he received anonymous death threats and a ban from a Muslim magazine that he had been contributing to for 20 years. But that's only the tip of the iceberg. Guess who's paying off potential Western academic critics of Islamic extremism and potentially even trying to kidnap people like Abou El Fadl--that's right, our "friends," the Saudis:
Last month, Abou El Fadl had been scheduled to lecture at the University of Kuwait on the subject of Islam and democracy. He'd been looking forward to the talk, a rare opportunity to address Islamic intellectuals in the Middle East. But, a week before the lecture, he caught wind of a disturbing rumor. A dissident within the Saudi government told a friend of his that the Saudis planned to pick him up and make him disappear. "The Kuwaitis would say, `We don't know what happened,'" he explains. "Everyone would be interested for a while; then, it would be forgotten like everyone else." Abou El Fadl canceled the trip.
Even within the confines of Western academia, the Saudis have attempted to impose their Wahhabist interpretation of Islam... There's no better way to gauge the Saudi effort than by reading off the names of prominent Middle Eastern studies departments and the gifts they have received from the Saudi royal family. Five years ago, King Fahd gave Oxford University more than $30 million to its Islamic Studies Center. In 1994, the University of Arkansas received a $20 million grant to begin the King Fahd Program for Middle East Studies. Thanks to a $5 million gift, U.C. Berkeley now houses the Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz Program in Arab Studies. Even Harvard has a chair, currently occupied by legal scholar Frank Vogel, called the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Adjunct Professor of Islamic Legal Studies--and subsidized by at least $5 million from the Saudis.
Ever since Abou El Fadl's days as a graduate student at Princeton, the Saudis have plied him with similar offers of wealth. In 1991, before he'd finished his dissertation, the Muslim World League offered him $100,000 to write a book on Islam; in return, however, it demanded "final editorial control." Abou El Fadl rejected the offer. Seven years later, the Saudis offered to nominate him for the $200,000 King Faisal award. After a preliminary phone call, Abou El Fadl stopped returning the Saudis' messages; they'd made him uncomfortable with too many leading questions about the "enemies of Islam." But, despite his past rejections, the Saudis have kept trying. Last year, they offered Abou El Fadl and his "guests" an all-expenses-paid "VIP" trip to Mecca for Hajj.
Our "freedom fighters" just need geography lessons
:: Sunday, November 10, 2002 ::
Officials from Arafat's Fatah organization condemned the location of the recent terror attack in the strongest possible terms, in private:
In private talks, Fatah officials condemned the attack. According to the officials, the Fatah organization has clear political guidelines that oppose terror attacks inside the Green Line. "There is no doubt it was a mistake," one of the officials said.
You're supposed to WIN THE GAME first, guys
Leave it my own Kentucky Wildcats to pull off one of the stupidest defeats in football history. Up by 3 with LSU on its own 25 yard line, the Cats had already dumped a celebratory cooler of Gatorade on coach Guy Morriss' head, the fans were about to storm the field, and some fireworks had already been set off--but then LSU completed a 75 yard desperation touchdown pass to win on the last play. Oops.
The potential costs of diplomatic dithering
Rachel Bronson of the Council on Foreign Relations argues that although the new UN resolution on Iraq is a major achievement for the Bush administration, the months and months of pointless demagogy that never went beyond "he's gassed his own people!" could lead to a big problem:
Because it took the administration so long to realize the importance of the United Nations in disarming Iraq, Washington is facing an extremely rigid timeline for war that leaves no room for unanticipated complications. Yet the history of this conflict suggests that such complications always arise. Rather than building this reality into its plans, the administration is betting that everything will go according to script. It is a risky gamble and an unnecessary one.
I'm not sure that the situation will be that black and white with only those two options available, and I'm also wary about her conclusion that we can afford to wait until next fall to improve the political conditions before going to war, but there's no doubt that the diplomatic process should have started months ago to avert this very issue.
The United States is now constrained by the timetable of inspections. According to the resolution, the inspectors have until Dec. 23 to begin inspecting. They then have until Feb. 21 to present their findings to the Security Council, which will then discuss their implications.
Any military action, then, would be highly unlikely before March. March, however, is an inauspicious time to begin fighting. In the early 1990's, American military equipment broke down in the desert due to the Middle East's searing heat. Experts are fairly confident that the technical problems of the past have been ironed out. But a new obstacle has been added to the mix. Because there is a chance that Saddam Hussein will unleash chemical or biological weapons against our troops, they will have to be outfitted in bulky suits that can protect against such weapons. In combat, heat exhaustion and associated problems are expected to severely challenge American forces.
The administration will thus have to choose between two unattractive options: either to begin military action against Iraq prematurely, before the United Nations process has run its course; or to initiate a military invasion in the spring, a time of rising temperatures and increasingly harsh conditions. The first option will eliminate most, if not all, international support for military action. The second is militarily irresponsible.
A weblog manifesto for our time
I added the button for the Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto below. There are a couple of minor parts that I disagree with, certainly the bit about having expected more from libertarians (oh, but I kid the libertarians), but overall it's a good summary of what the war on terror is all about and I'm glad to support it. Plus, being on the closest thing to the official anti-idiotarian list kind of obligates me anyway!