:: Saturday, March 20, 2004 ::
Iraq war and the al-Qaeda response
:: Wednesday, March 17, 2004 ::
I don't feel like finding some links for this (not that it would take very long), but a common refrain in a few right-leaning circles this past week was "how can you simultaneously say that al-Qaeda was opposed to Saddam's regime, and now say that they've attacked Spain and/or gained recruits because of the Iraq war?" Without much difficulty at all, actually. The 7th-century style Islamic fantasy of al-Qaeda rests partly on the belief that all Arab/Islamic lands have been usurped by infidels and traitors to the true faith, whether it's the Zionists in Israel, the secular governments in Egypt and Jordan, etc. Saddam was certainly one of those treacherous infidel rulers. And once the US-led coalition toppled him and occupied the country, they became the new conquerors/wrongful rulers of Iraq. As far as al-Qaeda is concerned, Saddam and the US (plus its partners in the country right now, like Spain) are just two more steps in a long succession of wicked plunderers of the rightfully Islamic land in Iraq, a pattern which stretches back for centuries. It doesn't matter, according to that viewpoint, that Saddam and the US were/are fighting directly against each other.
But agents for Saddam and al-Qaeda did have some meetings in the '90s, didn't they? Apparently, yes, but that's far less of an apparent "contradiction" than what we know about the Saudis. As he's stated publicly many times, bin Laden wants to overthrow the corrupt, infidel, pro-Western/anti-Muslim regime in Saudi Arabia. But we also know that the Saudis are far from our best friends when it comes to al-Qaeda, and in fact have been paying them off for years, with some elements of the Saudi royal family probably continuing to have paid al-Qaeda millions of dollars even after 9/11. That's far more support than anyone ever directly accused Saddam of giving to al-Qaeda, and it's pretty well known that bin Laden was/is more focused on the Saudi regime than on Saddam or any other Middle Eastern rulers, yet nobody's pretending there's a contradiction in there somewhere.
I protest! I'm not "somewhat schizophrenic."
I finally took one of those dumb "who/what are you" quizzes, courtesy of here, and guess what:
Though a victim in the past, you've learned very little from this and have encouraged a cycle of violence in your life and the life of many you know. You're a little paranoid and somewhat schizophrenic, causing you to promote both hatred and hope in cycling intervals. Some of the paranoia is justified, as a lot of people don't like you, but more people are helping you than you'd ever really admit to. At this point, you live on some valuable property and would benefit greatly from just giving peace a chance.
Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid
The last question it asked me was whether I identified more with Catholicism or Judaism. Did that automatically get me Israel? Was it because I said I don't like spicy food? Who knows.
Actually, I just tried it again but said Catholic instead of Jewish for the last question (each successive question you get depends on the previous answers, it's not the same ones every time), and got Vatican City. What's up with "do you like wrestling?" (I emphatically don't like wrestling.) Oh well, whatever.
Israel and the military
:: Monday, March 15, 2004 ::
My dad tells me that he didn't quite mean that Israel is like a "military dictatorship" these days, as I said in a post from a week ago (though I definitely remember him using the word "junta"). His point is that since the military is the primary springboard to high-level political leadership, more so now than ever before in the country's history, the military perspective has more weight now than it did back when Israel's problems really were more of a military nature. Back when all of the neighboring countries where threatening to invade Israel and destroy it, the problems were more purely military than the much more political problems of the conflict nowadays, but there's more of a military perspective because that's where the leaders are coming from.
It seems, though, that more of the military-to-politics development has happened within Labor than within Likud. Since the Likud was founded about thirty years ago, I can't think of more than a handful of high-level political figures who had previously been generals in the military. Aside from the obvious example of Sharon, there was Ezer Weizman, one of the founding fathers of the Air Force, who served as Begin's Defense Minister. Yitzhak Mordechai was a general who served as Netanyahu's Defense Minister before leaving the Likud to form his own (short-lived) Center Party, before his political career was de-railed by a sexual harassment scandal. And Shaul Mofaz parachuted straight from the Chief of Staff last year into the Defense Ministry. Maybe I'm missing a few others, but they're all I can think of. There's also extreme-right-wing wacko Effi Eitam, a former general, and the late wacko Rehavam Ze'evi, a distinguished military contemporary of Rabin's since the founding of Israel. And although Moshe Dayan's last high-level political position was Foreign Minister under Begin, he never joined the Likud.
But within Labor, starting with Rabin and going through Barak and Mitzna, many of the high-level figures are former generals (since the mid '70s, only Peres has been a Labor candidate for PM without having been a general). At the next couple of levels of Labor leaders, there's Fuad Ben-Eliezer, Ephraim Sneh, Matan Vilnai, all of those guys were generals. Former chief-of-staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak joined Mordechai's Center Party when he left the military, but I think he's a member of Labor now. There certainly are, and have been, some non-career-military Labor figures in recent times, like Haim Ramon and Avraham Burg, but it seems like there are more generals than not, and definitely more than in the Likud.
Part of this is also likely due to how relatively young Israel is. The founding fathers, so to speak, had been officials in the Yishuv before there was statehood, and thus before there was a military. Once the country was founded and everyone grew up serving in the military, it was probably natural that it would become more of a springboard to political leadership. Now that most of the people in their 50s or 60s, the natural age range for high-level political leadership, were born right around the time that the country was founded, they've all been in the military, and thus more likely to have remained in it after completing their mandatory service, eventually rising to the highest levels within it.
Elections in Spain
I like most of the columns that Robert Lane Greene of The Economist writes for The New Republic, but I definitely have some issues with this one:
[O]ne could argue about whether it was the Al Qaeda attack or the government's botched response that opened the door for the Socialists. But it's an irrelevant debate because, whatever the truth, Al Qaeda itself will perceive that it influenced the outcome of the election--and the group's perception will determine how it acts in the future. Believing that it has influenced the results in Spain, Al Qaeda may be tempted to play politics in other countries where governments supported the war. Will the group move on to Britain or Italy? Or America's allies in Eastern Europe? What about America itself?You mean al-Qaeda might launch attacks in America now? Somehow I remember that happening already. And 9/11/2001 wasn't around the time of an election, either.
The broader point is that al-Qaeda, or whatever other (maybe loosely affiliated) group it was that pulled off the Madrid bombings, are a bunch of nihilistic bloodthirsty murderers who don't need any motivation from Spain, the US, or anybody else to want to murder us in large numbers. We don't really understand these people's motivations, because they're psychotic killers. All we can do is go after them and try to protect ourselves. Now, if one feels that this election result is bad news because the Spanish Socialists are less likely to fight terrorism than the Popular Party, that's one thing (which I don't see any real reason to believe), but that's different from saying that the terrorists themselves will somehow be more motivated by this. More motivated to do what? Launch murderous attacks in public places against innocent civilians? Lest one forgets, that's already what defines them as a threat to the entire world.
Greene goes on to the Iraq question:
The Socialists had pledged to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq by the summer if the United Nations did not give them a stronger mandate. But a withdrawal of the troops would be an unmitigated disaster, proving to the bombers that Westerners' nerves are easily broken, and that terrorists can dictate policy outcomes in democratic countries. Zapatero has promised that his first priority in office will be to "combat all forms of terrorism." But pronouncements are not enough. Al Qaeda wants Western troops out of Iraq; Spain must not appear to be delivering what Al Qaeda wants.A hasty withdrawal from Iraq would be bad news on the terrorism front because an unstable, chaotic Iraq could become a haven for terrorist groups to train, organize, etc. I'm against that because I think it would enhance al-Qaeda's capabilities. But to say that it's "what al-Qaeda wants"--that it would somehow enhance their motivations--is a pointless argument. Al-Qaeda also wanted US troops out of Saudi Arabia--bin Laden certainly didn't make that a secret--but it'll be a good thing for the US to remove its troops from there, because it was more de-stabilizing and troublesome than it was worth. Who cares that bin Laden wanted it to happen? It's good for us, that's all that counts.
As I said, I don't think that withdrawing in haste from Iraq would be good for us, or for Europe, but the reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with "what the terrorists want." We can't read these guys' minds, aside from the undeniable fact that they want to kill us, so it's silly for anybody to say that we shouldn't do this or that because "that's what al-Qaeda wants." Keeping troops in Iraq for that specific reason would be just as much of an example of allowing al-Qaeda to dictate Western policy as removing them would be.
Let the Madness begin
At the beginning of this season, I definitely wouldn't have expected to go into the NCAA tournament as the #1 overall seed, but it happened again. The bracket always looks good when you're #1.
Major shout-out to Maryland for upsetting Duke in a classic ACC final. My love for Kentucky basketball is almost matched by my intense dislike of Duke basketball. I sort of doubt that most Duke fans hate Kentucky, as I doubt they give us all that much thought, not compared to great ACC rivals like Maryland and North Carolina. But many--perhaps most--of us Wildcat faithful really, really can't stand the Blue Devils.