August 30, 2003

The Graphic Left (Updated)

Long-time readers of this Web site know that I used to think of myself sometimes as a liberal, sometimes as a leftist.

These days I think of myself sometimes as a liberal and increasingly as a centrist.

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. I don't know how you will react to these images from anti-war.us, but I find them viscerally repulsive. I just don't think of my country in this way, and I feel no solidarity whatsoever with people who do.

righteous.jpg

hitler.jpg

liberty.jpg

imperialism.jpg

usrael.jpg

UPDATE: I wonder what would happen if Andrew Sullivan wrote a little post where he said he felt no solidarity whatsoever with the Ku Klux Klan. Would conservatives give him a hard time? Somehow I doubt it. So why must certain liberals give me a hard time now?

Oliver Willis says in the comments:

What I can't understand is why liberals like Michael tend to do the dirty work of the right for them.
This sort of thing just alienates me from the left even more. I'm a "Bush Tool" now because I won't stand with those who think America is a nation of bloodthirsty psychotic imperialists? Give me a break.

As to Oliver's next question:

why are there more liberals bashing fellow liberals while the right-wingers sit back and laugh at us?
First of all, I don't think the pictures above are from "fellow liberals." They are from anti-war leftists. But either way, the reason I do this is because any liberal movement that I will belong to must draw a clear line in the sand between itself and the hateful bigots at the core of anti-war activism. Or I will walk. There is no tent big enough for us all.

The Republican tent isn't big enough for me, either. These days I keep asking myself if I need to belong to either group. The reactions to these posts of mine are helping me make my decision.

Independence is looking awfully enticing these days.

The bottom line is this: I need to feel there is some daylight between myself and the radicals. And if I have to move all the way to the center to make it happen, then that's what I'll do. There needs to be a clean break somewhere, either between the liberals and the radicals, or between me and the liberals.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:44 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

August 29, 2003

Hate

Michelle at A Small Victory has posted a collection of violently anti-Semitic and anti-American cartoons that keep appearing on Indymedia.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:02 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

The New Ace of Spades?

My wife bought me a deck of Baath Party playing cards. You know, the ones with Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti as the Ace of Spades. The deck sits on our coffee table in the living room, and I like to flip through it every now and then. It's a satisfying experience, rather like seeing Slobodan Milosovic in chains in the Hague, or seeing Manuel Noriega's Florida prison mug shot.

So perhaps you'll understand why I think this is pathetic.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:38 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Notes on the “Resistance”

Mark Steyn on why Iraq is not the West Bank:

For purposes of comparison, consider two suicide bombings within hours of each other: the Canal Hotel attack in Baghdad, the bus bomb in Jerusalem. The latter was greeted with the traditional Palestinian festivities: proud relatives, neighbours handing out candy, ululating women, dancing in the street, happy days are here again, grey skies are gonna clear up, strap on a happy bomb, etc.

When I was in the West Bank in May, I was struck by how almost every humdrum transaction of daily life takes place in the context of overwhelming social acceptance of terrorism: the posters of ‘martyrs’ in the grocery stores, the streets named after them, the competitions about them in the elementary schools. There’s none of that in Iraq. When a suicide bomber blows up the UN, no one passes out candy, there’s no dancing in the street. The dead-enders behind the attacks have no significant public support to draw on.

Iraq isn't Vietnam, either. By the way.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:15 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

August 27, 2003

Terrorism and Activism

This guy helped build a bomb that was used to blow up a nightclub in Bali. Almost 200 people, mostly Australians, were killed.

He has some special words of thanks for the anti-war movement. (Hat tip: Tim Blair.)

I want to thank the Australian people who supported our cause when they demonstrated against the policies of George Bush. Say thank you to all of them. [Emphasis added.]
First, let’s dispense with the obvious.

This man is evil and insane. His perception of reality is, shall we say, a bit off.

I won’t be a jerk and say the folks in the anti-war movement support the terrorist’s cause. Because they don’t. The anti-war crowd consists largely of the same people who supported the liberation of East Timor from Indonesia, which is on the short list of grievances that put Australia on the terrorist hit list in the first place. Western leftists and human rights activists are singularly responsible for one of the “root causes” of terrorism. They antagonized the enemy. They “created more terrorists,” to borrow their terminology.

However. The creep goes on.

Be careful about making friends with America because actually America wants to control the world . . . all of us will be colonised so we have to be careful about making friends with the USA.
This is the Australian leftist position. It’s also the European leftist position and, to a lesser extent, the radical leftist American one.

So there is an ideological overlap between terrorists and leftists. It may be secondary, and it might even be accidental. But it’s there.

I have some advice for the anti-war activists who find this uncomfortable.

You need to stand unflinchingly against terrorism everywhere, always, forever. This “of course we are against terrorism” line doesn’t cut it. At least one terrorist thinks he’s your buddy. He said it, not me.

When you reserve most of your judgement, criticism, and wrath for Western governments while speaking barely a word against Islamofascist death squads, it sends funny signals to our enemies. I know you don’t support terrorists and fascists. Well, when the victims are Jews it looks like some of you do.

But the rest of you don’t, and your message is not getting across. Louder, please. Draw a line in the sand.

Your domestic political opponents are not your enemies. Hamstringing America and defeating the Republican Party is not more important than defeating terrorism.

Your enemies are those who are trying to kill you. Make the proper distinctions. Get your priorities straight. Trust me, you don’t want to hear Osama bin Laden, or whoever is making those audio tapes, say he’s your pal. It could happen if you don't watch it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:24 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Howard Dean Surprises

Interesting article in the Washington Post about Howard Dean.

The challenge for Dean now is to transition from champion of the antiwar, anti-Bush left to electable Democrat without losing his steam and solid liberal base, according to Democratic strategists.
That will be a challenge, since he's already alienated me and a whole lot of other Democrats. And making the right noises isn't enough. He needs to be genuine. I'll see right through him if he is not.
This transition is no easy task for the most outspoken critic of the Iraqi war...
No kidding.

However.

Dean insisted he is tougher than Bush on national defense, even if he opposed the war in Iraq. He said he supported the Persian Gulf War, the attack on Afghanistan and, unlike Bush, wants to confront Saudi Arabia over its ties to terrorist groups. "Our oil money goes to the Saudis, where it is recycled and some of it is recycled to Hamas and two fundamentalist schools which teach small children to hate Americans, Christians and Jews," Dean said. "This president will not confront the Saudis."
Okay.

I can give Bush some slack on the Saudis. For a while.

We were stuck with troops and a base on their soil. We needed to move the base and get the troops out. And Saddam Hussein's ongoing threat to the Saudi Arabia's oil fields made that impossible.

Now we can move. And we are moving.

Howard Dean needs to acknowledge this. Moving our troops from Saudi to Iraq is what makes Dean's sought for confrontation possible.

President Bush must acknowledge this, too. He can only put this off for so long. Bush may have a plan. If so he'd better start talking.

Also, I want to hear what Dean would actually do about Saudi Arabia. Bad-mouthing the House of Saud isn't good enough.

If his answer is a good one, and if Bush keeps playing the role of their lawyer, Howard Dean will keep me on my toes.

Come on, Howard. I'm listening. Wow me. Show me what you got.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:14 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

August 25, 2003

The Argentine’s Ice Box

A work of fiction.

(Note: This is the longest piece I have ever published on this site. If you want a printable version, I think the best option is to copy and paste the text into word processing software and print it from there.)

The Argentine's Ice Box

A short story by Michael J. Totten

If you walk into a restaurant named Henry’s and find a man sitting alone at a table who is from anywhere outside the Patagonian desert, you’ll spot him as an outsider even if you’re an outsider yourself. It’s in the eyes, the posture, and the set of the mouth.

So when I opened the door and saw Andre in the corner with his rumpled button-up shirt, scribbling in a notebook under a pair of reading glasses, I knew I had found my companion for the evening. The bartender and other patrons flicked their eyes at me, just long enough to peg me as a foreigner, but quickly enough to show indifference. A man throwing darts by himself sized me up as he threw a bulls eye. But Andre looked at me over his glasses and raised his eyebrows. It was almost like a plea.

“Puedo sentir?” I asked? May I sit?

“Sure,” Andre said.

“Oh, you do speak English,” I said. “I thought you might.”

“I knew you would,” he said. “Your accent is terrible.”

“I’m used to Cuban Spanish,” I said. “I spent three months in Cienfuegos writing a book. I finally got used to the garbled accent, and now I’m ruined everywhere else.”

“Everywhere else, huh? Sounds like you get around. Sit down. Please. The bartender will come over.”

I sat. The chair was made of hard wood but was oddly comfortable, as if it were so old and so used it was polished perfectly to fit the human form. Everything seemed old in this country. I could hardly believe it was Argentina. It looked and felt like a wandering outpost of Europe.

“I’m Neal,” I said, and put out my hand.

“Andre,” he said, and shook my hand limply.

“Quite a place,” I said. “I must admit I’m surprised to find another American here.”

“Everyone here is American,” he said. “This is South America.”

“You know what I mean,” I said. “I’m supposed to say United Statesean? Estoy de los Estados Unidos, I tell the locals. They’re funny that way. They insist they’re Americans, and they insist they’re Europeans. They can’t be both, and I’m not sure they can be either.”

“They’re both,” he said. “I’ve been to every Latin American country except Mexico, and Argentina is by far the most European. Buenos Aires is more European than London.”

“Every country except Mexico?” I said. “Seriously?”

“Yeah,” Andre said, and fidgeted. Then he relaxed and leaned back in his chair, as if to apologize without speaking. “It’s been done to death.”

“More tourists visit Mexico than any other country in the world,” I said.

“Egg-zactly,” he said.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who travels as much as you. Except for me. I’m a travel writer. I go everywhere.”

The dart-thrower looked at me over his shoulder. His hair was golden, his eyes blue as submerged ice. He gave me that look I so often get in Eastern Europe, the Balkan Stare that says You aren’t from here, who the hell are you? The quickest way to dispel it is to bellow out loud and ask if anyone speaks English. No one ever answers, but at least they stop staring.

“Hello there,” I said to the dart-thrower. He ignored me and squinted at the board.

Andre wiped his face with his napkin and folded it neatly in his lap.

“Travel writer,” he finally said. “That supposed to be funny?”

“Why would it be funny? It’s my job. I visit remote places in the world, places no one else goes, and write stories and essays about them.”

He twisted up his face. “You’re making fun of me,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I said, and laughed nervously.

He stared at me as the dart-thrower stared, just like the xenophobic Serbs outside of Belgrade.

Then I got it. It clicked.

“You’re a travel writer, too,” I said. “No shit. What are the odds?”

“I was here first,” he said. “You saw me. I was sitting here when you came in.”

“So what?” I said.

“So we can’t both write about it. Only one of us can do this town. Go to Tierra del Fuego.”

“Tierra del Fuego has been done already,” I said. “Lots of people have written about it.”

“Go to Punta Arenas,” he said. “Go to Jujuy. I don’t care. But, you can’t do Esquel.”

Surely he was an amateur. He didn’t understand how the market worked, who the readership was.

“Look,” I said. “No one will know we both wrote about this place. Not until after the stories come out. Even then hardly anyone will read both of them. And if they do, they won’t care. We just divvy up the markets. You send to one half, I send to the other.”

“Now you look,” he said. “I only write about places that no one else has written about. It’s my gig, my angle, my selling point.”

“Well, I do the same damn thing,” I said. “Shit. I’m surprised I haven’t run into you yet. There are only so many places left in the world.”

“What’s your last name?” he said. I told him mine, and he told me his. Neither one of us had ever heard of the other.

“Liar,” he said. “How could you possibly write about a bunch of remote places and I’ve never heard of you?”

The dart-thrower blew out his breath. Everyone in the room could hear us, but I could tell the dart-thrower understood English. He had that look about him. He was attentive but he pretended he was ignoring us.

“Look,” I said. “I read the travel stuff. But I don’t read all of it. It’s not possible. Honestly, I usually just assume no one has written about some place I want to go. You can’t read everything. Let’s just admit that we’re both behind on our homework. For all we know, Paul Theroux already wrote about this place.”

Andre put his head in his hands and moaned.

“What’s the last place you did?” I said. “Before you came here?”

He eyed me like a rat.

“Come on,” I said. “You tell me yours, and I’ll tell you mine.”

The room was cool, even cold, but his forehead glistened with sweat. He wiped his face with his napkin again and then slapped it down on his thigh.

“Northern Iceland,” he said. “I went to Grimsey. I finished the piece last night in my room.”

“I did that one last year,” I said. “Granta runs it next issue.”

Andre banged the table with his fist and flipped his spoon on the floor. Everyone stared. The bartender stopped wiping a glass with a cloth.

“All right, goddamnit,” he said. “Where was the last place you went?”

I wanted to lie to him. Make up some place I was sure he’d already been, just to drive him crazier. I was enjoying this, but I had no idea where he’d been.

“Magadan,” I said. “The old Soviet gulag town.”

He snickered. “I wrote about Magadan three years ago. It was published two years ago.”

Was he lying? He didn’t tell me who published it.

A shadow fell on the table, and I turned and saw the dart-thrower.

“I lived in Antarctica,” the dart-thrower said.

Andre turned his chair and screeched the feet on the floor. “You lived in Antarctica?” he said.

“Yes,” the dart-thrower said. “For three years. I worked at the New Zealand station as a mechanic.”

“My name is Neal,” I said. “This here is Andre.”

Andre gave me a look that smoldered. “We’re not friends,” he said. “We just met.”

“John” the dart-thrower said. “I call myself John.”

His name was John? Or was it Juan?

“Your conversation amuses me,” John said.

“This conversation seems to amuse our friend here, too,” Andre said.

“You Americans are all the same,” John said. “Exactly the same.” I waited for Andre to correct John about his non-inclusive use of the word “Americans.”

“I think that’s what’s got Andre here in a huff,” I said. “He and I are exactly the same.”

Andre wadded up his napkin and threw it at me. He pushed himself away from the table, screeching his chair across the floor again. The bartender gave him the eye. He stormed over to the dart board and pulled out the darts, one angry dart at a time.

“What is huff?” John said. “I do not know that word.”

“He means I’m pissed!” Andre said, and threw his first dart. He missed the board completely, and the dart bounced off the wall. Everyone in the bar laughed.

“You’re drunk?” John said.

“It means I’m angry,” Andre said, and glowered at me some more.

“This is what I mean,” John said. “You are loud. And you have no respect for other people’s countries. That is why you want to go where other Americans don’t go. You hate each other. You meet in my town, and you fight.”

Andre looked at John, then at the darts in his hand. He sat back down quietly and laid the darts on the table in front of him.

“I have lived here most of my life,” John said. “But, I have been many other places, and like I said, I lived in Antarctica.”

“I didn’t think anyone lived in Antarctica,” Andre said. It was his humblest statement of the evening.

“I lived there for three years,” John said. “It is my second home.”

I picked up one of the darts and fiddled with it. The end was surprisingly sharp. I imagined stabbing Andre’s hand with it.

“I made a lot of money,” John said. “I used it to see the world. I went all over America. To Santiago, Rio, Caracas, and New York. I visited London for a week, but I did not like London. So I went to Paris. I like Paris. It looks like Buenos Aires.”

“Actually,” Andre said. “Buenos Aires looks like Paris.”

“That’s what I said,” John said.

“No,” Andre said. “You said Paris looks like Buenos Aires.”

“What is the difference?” John said.

“Paris is older,” Andre said. “It was there first.”

I snickered. Andre was predictable already.

“But I saw Buenos Aires first,” John said.

Andre rolled his eyes.

“What was Antarctica like?” I said.

“It is very beautiful,” John said. “Like other world. The viento, the wind, it is angry and always blows. The mountains move.”

“What do you mean, the mountains move?” Andre said. I wanted to smack him.

“The mountains over the horizon sometimes reflect like a mirror off the ice crystals in the sky. One day you see the reflection of a mountain range a thousand kilometers away. The next day the wind blows the frozen air away and the mountains are gone. It was confusing to old mapmakers.”

I had never heard anything like that, and wondered if John was making it up.

“I went to the South Pole,” John said. “Everyone at the research station goes in February when the sun always shines and it is not so cold.”

“Really,” Andre said. “What was that like?” It was the first time Andre showed actual curiosity about anything.

I, too, was curious. I had never met anyone who had been to the South Pole. And though there were many books written about the place by all the great explorers, I never read them.

“It is very high,” John said. “Many kilometers above the level of the sea. It is on a high plain, and when you fly to the pole, the ground rises up to meet you, and the plane does not need to descend in order to land.”

I didn’t know about this either, but I liked it. May the road rise up to meet you, as the Irish like to say. And the pole was high, which made it even farther away from every other place in the world.

“It is colder than the North Pole because it is so high,” John said.

I decided to plan a trip there. I had no idea how I would go, but I liked the idea of the challenge.

“Hey, Andre,” I said. “Wanna go the pole with me?”

He flicked his eyes at me and didn’t say a word. I wondered if he would have been as interested if I had gone instead of John.

“We did not stay long at the pole,” John said. “It was too cold. We were there for maybe one hour. We wore vacuum-sealed boots to keep our feet from freezing.”

“It must have been something,” I said, and felt lame for not thinking of anything better to say.

“The New Zealanders took pictures of themselves in front of the flag as…how do you say…souvenirs,” John said. “I took a piece of ice with me instead.”

“How long did the ice last?” Andre said.

“Oh, I still have the ice,” John said.

“Really!” Andre said, and stood up. I saw what looked like a ketchup stain on his shirt.

“That must have been hard,” I said. “Bringing it back and keeping it from melting.”

“It is in my kitchen, in the ice box,” John said.

“Wow!” Andre said, and started pacing around the table. He walked up behind John. “John, my man,” he said and started rubbing John’s shoulders. “How old is that ice?”

I could see where this was going and I refused to let him beat me.

“Hey, John,” I said. “Any way we could take a look at that ice?” Andre may have beaten me to Esquel, but I wasn’t going to let him beat me to the pole ice.

“No one has seen the ice but me,” John said. “I never told anyone about it before. I brought it back for myself, not to show off.”

“Excellent,” Andre said. “We can be the first to see it. You don’t have to be embarrassed about showing it off in front of us.”

John flinched. “No,” he said. “I’m sorry. I should not have told you about it.”

“John,” I said. “Thank you for telling us. It is a gift to share travel stories.”

“I did not travel there,” John said. “I just went. I worked there and lived there. I was not a tourist.”

Andre read my mind. “We’re not tourists, either,” he said. “We’re travelers.”

“It is the same thing,” John said.

“No, it’s not,” Andre said.

“Don’t go there, Andre,” I said. “You know how stupid people sound when they go on about that. And right now it will sound twice as stupid as it usually does.”

“When Americans travel, they always take pictures,” John said. “The Japanese are even worse.”

“I don’t take pictures,” Andre said.

“You take different kinds of pictures,” John said. “Pictures with words. Those stories you write.”

Great, I thought. John here is a book-hater.

“I’m a writer,” Andre said. “What do you expect?”

“There are Indians in Brazil,” John said, “in the Amazon rainforest. They will not let you take their picture. They believe pictures steal their souls.”

“That’s stupid,” Andre said.

“But, John,” I said. “What about your ice? How is that any different?”

“It is not the same,” John said.

“Why not?” Andre said.

“Look,” John said. “When I went to Antarctica, I brought an Argentine plant with me, a plant from Patagonia. I brought it to remind me of home. And after a while, Antarctica became more familiar to me than Argentina. The ice became the world. Argentina became a strange warm place where things grow. So, when I left for Argentina, I brought the ice to remind me, the same way I brought the plant with me to Antarctica remind me of my home in Esquel. The ice in my freezer is my Antarctic plant.”

“Let me see it,” Andre said. “I’ll pay you. I’ll pay you more if you let me lick it.”

“I am going home,” John said. “I should not have told you about my ice. Please, I am asking you, do not put me in one of your stories.”

He collected his darts, placed them neatly into a black leather case, paid the bartender, and left.

Andre and I were left to ourselves, to each other. Hell, Sartre said, is other people. He looked at me, tapped his fingers on the tabletop, and said nothing. I could hear him breathing. I wanted him to wipe the ketchup stain off his shirt. The evening was impossible now.

He got up, cleared his mug and his plate from the table, and banged them down on the bar. He fished into his pockets and gave the bartender a wad of pesos. He went out and slammed the wooden door behind him. I felt goose bumps on my arms from the whoosh of cold air outside.

I wanted to throw darts, but John had taken his and I didn’t want to ask the bartender for the house darts. The bartender never asked me if I wanted a drink, never acknowledged my existence, and so I figured to hell with it.

I walked outside into the night. The air smelled of snow and juniper berries. Esquel was a small town, and no one lived far from anyone else. I saw John turn into a house two blocks up a side street in front of the bar. I looked up, and above John’s house I saw the Southern Cross in a sky full of unfamiliar stars.

*

I checked into the hotel next to Henry’s and asked for a room facing the street. When I got to the room, I pulled open the curtains and peered out the window. I could see John’s house. It was right there up the street in front of me. The front door was obscured by two trees in the yard, but I could clearly see the roof and the driveway. He wouldn’t be able to leave without me seeing him as long as I staked out his house in the morning.

I went downstairs and bought cigarettes from the clerk. Back upstairs, I lit one and laid on the bed to stare at the ceiling. The white paint was cracked. Argentine spiders huddled in the corners.

I had never broken into a house before. I wasn’t proud of everything I did in other people’s countries. I paid a panhandler to take off her burka in Pakistan, sneaked into a derelict air force base in Russia, and once begged a woman in Thailand. But this was different. And it had nothing to do with digging around for story material. I could never write about creeping a local’s house.

If I wanted to write about the ice, all I had to do was lie. But I knew if I were to write about the Argentine’s ice box, I would have to hide the truth, not embellish it. I was about to cross a line. A dangerous moral and ethical line. It had something to do with Andre. And it had everything to do with me.

I moved to the window, lit another cigarette, and watched.

*

I woke with light on my face. I had no idea what time it was, but I was sure I has slept too long. I ran to the sink, splashed cold water on my face, and went to the window.

I would have assaulted a local for French Toast and hash browns. But I had a house to watch, and food was a luxury. So I lit a cigarette to curb my breakfast cravings. The cigarette was awful, but the nicotine rush washed over me and calmed down my stomach.

Then he came out. I saw him between the trees. He climbed in his car, some two-door Euro model, and backed it out of the driveway. He turned the car toward the hotel. I hid my face behind the curtains, though I knew he couldn’t see me. He drove past and headed out of the city. I went out, toward the house, and hoped he lived alone. It was only two blocks away.

The house was simple, but welcoming. It was an ordinary square house, like a plastic Monopoly board piece. The roof was cherry red, the walls blue, the trim bright yellow. It reminded me of Iceland. I liked that the houses at the bottom of the world were much like those at the top. It almost made me feel good. I looked both ways down the street and saw that no one was coming. I went to the door and knocked.

If anyone answered, all I had to do was act surprised. Lo siento, I’d say. I’m sorry. I thought Fulgencio lived here.

There was no answer, and I heard no sound. So I turned the knob and the door opened. There probably wasn’t a locked door in town. What could the crime rate be in a place like this, in a lonely Spanish outpost at the ends of the earth?

The kitchen was at the back of the house, and I could see the sink from the doorway. Dishes were piled up, and the floor glistened with water. John was surely a bachelor. But he had a Victorian couch in the living room, and an old-world coffee table with a swirled marble top. I couldn’t tell which country the table came from, but it was surely from somewhere in Europe. A woman lived there once, if she doesn’t still live there today.

“Hola,” I said to be safe. The house was quiet and still.

I went into the kitchen and looked for a way around the puddle on the floor. I had no choice but to walk through it. The water covered the floor all the way to the icebox.

The ice box was unplugged, and the cord was coiled in water. The door was wide open, and water dripped onto the floor.

Somewhere, I suppose, in the back of my thoughts, I expected this. I knew that Andre and I ruined the ice. And somehow I knew, I just knew, that John was going to do this.

Did I break into his kitchen so that I could see his ice, so I could run my finger along its side, so I could lick it and taste the water from the bottom of the world? Or did I go to ensure that he’d finished it? So I'd know it would always be his. So I could live with myself.

I wasn’t sure at that moment why I was there. But I can honestly say I knew precisely what would happen in the next second.

The front door swung open. Andre’s hunched form filled the doorway. He wasn’t surprised to see me.

“Did you find it?” he said. “How big is it?”

He came forward, not glancing once at the handsome couch or the marble table which I was at that moment quite sure came from France.

I hated Andre and his rude, barging ways. But he was just like me, and I knew that, too. I knew it better than Andre, who hated me, but for all the wrong reasons.

Andre couldn’t stand the competition. He saw in me what he liked about himself. What I saw in Andre I despised.

“Yeah,” I said. “I found it. It’s yours now.”

I walked past him toward the door, which he'd left standing open.

“Well?” he said, surprised to see me leaving so soon.

“Well, what?” I said. “See for yourself. And shut the door on your way out.”

I closed the door gently behind me, and could only imagine the look on his face.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:16 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Taking Responsibility

I don’t know if we can reconstruct Iraq. I am optimistic, I am hopeful, but I won’t make a fool of myself and say it's inevitable.

When the US decided after so many decades of feet-dragging that it was in the same trench as the anti-Saddam resistance, I knew it was the proper side to be on. The Baath Party is on the wrong side of history. Everyone knows it. And I am constitutionally incapable of striking a pose of neutrality between genocidal monsters and their victims, especially when we have the power to do something about it.

But the morally right side of history isn’t always the winning side. The Ayatollah Khomenei was on the wrong side in ’79 in Iran, but he won anyway.

If nation-building fails, most in the world will blame us. They would be partly right to do so. No one forced us to take responsibility for Iraq. The burden is ours if we fail.

But that burden is not ours alone. We are not puppet masters or God. Iraq is not clay in our hands, and there are battles of wills going on in that country. Battles between Baathists and Islamo-fascists and liberal Iraqi democrats. Iraqis are responsible, too. Most of the heavy lifting will really be theirs.

Much of the world doesn’t see it this way, but some in Iraq do. Here is Salam Pax, blogging from Baghdad.

Maybe we Iraqis did expect too much from the American invasion, we did hope there is going to be an easy way. Get rid of Saddam and have the Americans help us rebuild. I don't think like that anymore. I am starting to believe that the chaos we will go thru the next 5 or 10 years is part of the price we will have to pay to have our freedom. This Beirut-ification is the way to learn how we should live as a free country and respect each other; it is just too painful to admit. It is too painful to have to admit that the [burn it down to build it up] process is what we will have to go thru. There is an Arabic poet who wrote a line which my friend Raed had burned into my memory:
This nation needs to learn lessons in destruction.
Salam, remember. And hope. Your nation may have learned that lesson already.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias has a post on the same theme and with the same title.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:32 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

Greatest Figures in American History

John Hawkins at Right Wing News asked several left-of-center bloggers, including yours truly, to send him a list of who we think are the 20 greatest figures in American history.

Rather than invent objective criteria I decided to just cite my favorites. My list doesn’t include 20. It only includes 16. That’s how many I came up with in one sitting and I didn’t want to force four more.

Here they are in no particular order and for no particular reason. Feel free to use the comments and offer suggestions for those I left out.

1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

2. Theodore Roosevelt

3. Eleanor Roosevelt

4. Abraham Lincoln

5. George Washington

6. Rosa Parks

7. Thomas Jefferson

8. John Muir

9. Mark Twain

10. Harry S Truman

11. Martin Luther King Jr.

12. Susan B. Anthony

13. John Steinbeck

14. Frederick Douglass

15. Harriet Tubman

16. Carl Sagan

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:29 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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