July 31, 2005

Returned to Sender

Many years ago I wanted to move to Canada. It wasn’t because I wanted to flee the United States or become an expat per se. I just wanted to live in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world, and it has been ever since I first saw it. It’s also only a five hour drive from my home town of Portland. I liked the idea that I could live in another country without really leaving the “neighborhood.”

I looked into the requirements for getting a residency permit. Two things on the list I would need to be able prove:

1) I had no criminal record. (Check.)

2) My presence in Canada would benefit Canadian society, even if only by an iota, rather than harm it.

Seemed reasonable enough to me. Why should they want me if I was only going to cause trouble? They have enough problems of their own without needing to import any brand new ones.

I never did move to Canada. But if I had moved there and declared my own personal war against the country and its people I’d expect to be railroaded straight back to the U.S. “Whoops,” an immigration officer surely would tell me. “Looks like both of us made a mistake. You apparently don’t want to be here any more than we want you to be here.”

So color me unsurprised that France decided to deport 12 radical imams for inciting jihad.

France is well within its rights. Inciting holy war – and in this context we’re talking about civil war – isn’t something to shrug at after New York, London, and Madrid. This isn’t a free speech issue.

Clearly France made a mistake when they granted residency status to those who want to destroy them. And clearly those immigrant imams made a mistake when they decided to settle in France. If Canada demands that I, a law abiding American citizen, should have to prove I will help rather than harm their country if they let me in... then slapping “Return to Sender” on their butts is the very least France ought to do.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:38 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 30, 2005

Is Hillary Clinton Electable?

I never cared much for Hillary Clinton, and I’m somewhat persuaded by Christopher Hitchens’ polemic against both Hill and Bill in No One Left To Lie To. At the same time I’ve always been both amused and put off by Hillary Derangement Syndrome. (I still remember the “Impeach Hillary” slogan on the right in the early 90s. If she is elected president, will “Re-Impeach Bill” be the new rallying cry?)

Very few politicians make the short list of those I actually admire and appreciate on some level. Hillary isn’t one of them. Those who do make the list: Barack Obama, Harold Ford Jr., Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain.

A huge fight has been raging inside the Democratic Party for many years about whether they should tack left and pump up the base or move to the center and win the hearts and minds of the swing voters. Moveon.org wants to go left. The Democratic Leadership Council wants to squat in the center. The fight gets truly nasty at times, and the Democrats lose voters to both the Republicans and the Green Party because of it.

It isn't necessarily an either/or proposition, though. What the Democrats need to do to be popular again is occupy both the left and the center at the same time. They need to find someone both Atrios and I will be willing to vote for. John Kerry tried to be that person, and it just wasn't possible. It hurt me watching him try.

Hillary is interesting, though. (You just know someone is a celebrity in our culture when we can refer to them by their first name only.) She does manage to occupy both the left and the center at the same time.

Here is Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate.

An unhedged supporter of the war in Iraq, Sen. Clinton stands at the hawkish, interventionist extreme of her party on foreign policy. Despite her pandering vote against CAFTA, she's a confirmed free-trader and deficit hawk. On the cultural issues that often undermine Democrats, she seeks common ground, sometimes with flat-earth conservatives like Rick Santorum, and has been nattering about the "tragedy" of abortion. Even Hillary's notorious government takeover of health care was misconstrued as an ultra-lib stance. In opting for a mixed, private-public managed-competition plan, the then-first lady was repudiating the single-payer model long favored by paleo-liberals. Her plan was flawed in many ways, but it wasn't what Ted Kennedy wanted.

In fact, Sen. Clinton's political positioning couldn't be better for 2008. Despite being a shrewdly triangulating centrist on the model of her husband, she remains wildly popular with the party's liberal core: It seems to share the right's erroneous view of her as a closet lefty and draws closer to her with every inane conservative attack. There's no other possible candidate in either party so well poised to claim the center without losing the base.

She does have a serious problem, though, and it’s one I noticed from the very beginning.
Yet Hillary does face a genuine electability issue, one that has little to do with ideology, woman-hating, or her choice of life partner. Plainly put, it's her personality. In her four years in the Senate, Hillary has proven herself to be capable, diligent, formidable, effective, and shrewd. She can make Republican colleagues sound like star-struck teenagers. But she still lacks a key quality that a politician can't achieve through hard work: likability. As hard as she tries, Hillary has little facility for connecting with ordinary folk, for making them feel that she understands, identifies, and is at some level one of them. You may admire and respect her. But it's hard not to find Hillary a bit inhuman. Whatever she may be like in private, her public persona is calculating, clenched, relentless—and a little robotic.

With the American electorate so closely divided, it would be foolish to say that Hillary, or any other potential nominee, couldn't win. And a case can be made that the first woman who gets elected president will need to, as Hillary does, radiate more toughness than warmth. But in American elections, affection matters. Democrats lost in 2000 and 2004 with candidates Main Street regarded as elitist and aloof, to a candidate voters related to personally. Hillary isn't as obnoxious as Gore or as off-putting as Kerry. But she's got the same damn problem, and it can't be fixed.

Swing voters will never love Hillary Clinton. But swing voters don’t have to like who they vote for. They just need to dislike their candidate less than they dislike the other party’s candidate.

Last month I had beer with another local blogger who voted for Bush. He said he couldn’t think of a single Republican politician who stands a chance in the 2008 primary that he would be willing to vote for. “I think I may have to vote for Hillary Clinton,” he said.

“I’m surprised to hear you say that,” I said.

“Oh, I can’t stand the bitch,” he said. “But I might not have any choice.”

Spoken like a true swing voter.

The center will never go ga-ga over Hillary Clinton. She'll do, though, perhaps, if the Republicans also pick someone unlikable.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:29 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 29, 2005

Technical Hell

Sorry about the site being down for the past 36 hours. The hard drive on the server crashed and I wasn't able to post even a "having technical difficulties" notice until now.

Looks like the last ten days worth of posts were lost. I was able to restore the most recent one, though, which you can see below.

Thanks for your patience.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

War Against Tourism

When I first arrived in Beirut in April I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake. For the first time in my life I went to sleep wondering if my hotel would explode in the night. Obviously it did not. And I only worried about it once. After spending a day walking around the city I realized I was probably 1,000 times more likely to be struck by a moving car than a car bomb. (Lebanon is one of those places where stop signs are suggestions and urban speed limits are dictated by physics rather than laws.)

At first I was amazed at how rapidly I adjusted to new dangers in my environment. I was only consciously bothered by the vague new (to me) threat of car bombs for less than 24 hours. But thinking about it in hindsight I shouldn’t have been bothered at all, nor should I have been surprised that I was. I wasn’t afraid of car bombs per se. I was afraid of the Middle East. The fact is, though, that the Middle East looks a lot scarier from a distance than it does up close. The fear I felt during the first 24 hours was the baggage I brought with me from the United States. The reality of Lebanon (which is overwhelmingly friendly and peaceful) went to work on me and put me as ease very quickly.

Far more people were killed in London by terrorists on one single day (July 7) than were killed by terrorists in Lebanon every day for the past 15 years put together. When it comes to terrorist violence only Baghdad can compare to New York City. But I’m not at all afraid to go to New York as a tourist. It wouldn’t even occur to me that I shouldn’t go to London or Madrid. The reason I’m not afraid of those places is because they are Western, not because they are objectively safer. Lebanon is much safer than Britain right now.

Terrorism in the Middle East sure does have its effects, though. Because of the region’s reputation in the West, it takes precious little. My hotel in Beirut was almost completely empty. My four-star hotel room was discounted by 75 percent in a desperate attempt to lure tourists back to the country. I don’t know how much money Lebanon’s tourism industry has lost since Rafik Hariri was killed, but it must be incredible. Empty hotels that charge only 25 percent of their usual rate are just hemorrhaging money.

Targeting a Middle Eastern country’s tourism industry, then, really pays off. The bastards get one hell of a bang for their buck. (Pardon the expression.)

Austin Bay writes about the Islamist war against tourism in Egypt at Tech Central Station:

Call it the terrorists' War on Tourism -- a war waged by jihadists that long predates 9-11, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last week's terror attacks on Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resorts left nearly 90 dead. The attacks also sent an economic and political shockwave throughout the rest of Egypt.

Jihadist terrorists wage a war to create and maintain poverty. In Egypt, damaging the tourist industry does just that. Tourists climbing the Pyramids, sailing on the Nile and sipping coffee in Cairo are a source of very good jobs.

In 1992, the jihadists launched an "insurrection" against the Egyptian government, and the tourist industry was an immediate target. Since 1992, there have been at least 15 major attacks on tourists -- an advertising campaign of high explosive and bullets designed to undermine the Egyptian economy.

For example, in 1993, jihadists targeted Cairo's Tahrir Square, killing a Swede, a Turk and an Egyptian. Eighteen were injured. In 1997, six terrorists massacred 58 foreign tourists (many of them Germans) and four Egyptians in an attack at Luxor's Temple of Hatshepsut. Islamist extremists argue that "pagan" temples desecrate Muslim lands, so if the jihadists ever take power in Egypt, Luxor might be razed. Don't laugh -- the Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.

Here's a sketch of the terrorists' counter-tourism strategy: Attacks on foreign visitors guarantee instant international headlines, especially in the visitors' home nations. All terrorist attacks are designed to sow doubt in the local government's ability to protect lives, property and businesses, but the tourist industry is a very international industry and attacking it is an easy way to discourage international investment.

These attacks also isolate and impoverish individuals who work in tourist industries -- people who tend to be multilingual and aware that "foreigners aren't devils."

After 9/11 we all told ourselves over and over and over again that we’ll hand the terrorists a victory of we let them dictate our behavior. Hundreds of people in my city of Portland all traveled to New York City together to do what little they could to give New York’s economy a shot in the arm. They did it deliberately in defiance of the terrorists. The trip was planned for this reason and this reason only. They would not have gone to New York at all when they did if jets had not first been flown into the towers.

That’s the right way to handle it. I know many of you think will think I’m crazy if I suggest choosing the Middle East as a tourist destination in defiance of terrorism. But that’s exactly what I’m doing. It isn’t really any more dangerous there than it is here. (Well, Iraq is more dangerous, but I’m not suggesting Baghdad for your holiday.) Go to Cairo. Go to Beirut. Don’t go to Europe instead because you think you’ll be safer. You won’t be. You just won’t be. But Al Qaeda would like you to think that you would be.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 18, 2005

Conservative Heretics

Yesterday I highlighted hysterical reactions to centrism on the left but didn't mention any on the right. That's because I was focusing on responses around the blogosphere to the new centrist blog Donklephant. I didn't see any hysterical reactions to that blog on the right so there was nothing there to highlight.

It seems to me that conservatives in general are more comfortable with centrists than are liberals in general. And I'm not just talking about myself here. I write far more about foreign policy (where my views are hawkish and "conservative”) than domestic policy (where my views are usually liberal) so I'm not an ideal test case. It’s not just me, though. I see a lot more denunciations of the center-left New Republic magazine on the left than I see on the right – and I don’t know what else could explain it except for a loathing of heretics.

Anyway, I don't want to give the impression that I naively believe conservatives take kindly to those who buck their own party line. They don't. John Cole - who blogs at Balloon Juice - has been having a rough time of things lately since he started taking on right-wing partisan hacks. He's a good object lesson for any disaffected former liberal who is tempted to move beyond the middle and actually join the conservatives. His experience with the right isn't much different than mine has been with the left. Formerly liberal centrists may be acceptable to conservatives. But formerly conservative centrists aren't so much.

Perhaps the reason conservatives in general are more tolerant of centrists in general is because - for right now anyway - there are more former liberals around than there are former conservatives. It might not be any more complicated than that.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:18 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Left, Right, and Center

It’s interesting to see some of the reactions around the blogosphere to the new centrist blog Donklephant I’m contributing to.

Tbogg says we’re all “yoostabee Democrats” even though some of us are, in fact, actual Democrats. Callimachus is the only Republican, and he calls himself a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Tbogg also says the site

lays claim to centrism but comes across more like a gay bar for guys who haven't come out yet (nervous glances, forced smiles, frantic lip licking..."It's my first time here since the party left me. Can I buy you a Zima?")
Roy Edroso over at Alicublog takes things a step further:
[I]t is generally accepted on the site that liberals should be allowed to live. I'll try back in a few months when it goes totally right-wing.
Well, Justin Gardner – the site editor – is a Democrat. Not only did he vote for John Kerry, he originally supported Howard Dean. But whoops! Here’s his crime: He says he doesn’t “agree with either side on everything” and is “turned off by the unquestioning partisan nature of many leading blogs today.” How right-wing of him!

Roy’s comments thread is considerably worse. It’s a perfect example of how the liberal core or “base” has devolved into an exclusive bitchy little high school clique. As Andrew Sullivan put it, “today's right looks for converts whereas today's left looks for heretics.”

Here is what a centrist blog looks like to Roy’s readers:

- the same-old same-old rightwing fucknuttery

- Whoa, flashbacks. Anybody remember 2001, when the Perfesser (and many of his ilk) styled himself as a non-partisan "anti-idiotarian"? This seems like the same sort of "centrism" - 95% bashing the left/liberals/democrats, 5% tepid swipes at the least defensible components of the right (that Fred Phelps just goes too far!), all covered with a thick glaze of self-congratulation about how independent and free-thinking they all are.

- [W]e've seen your type pop up far, far too often in the past decade. You guys aren't actually centrist, and I give y'all three months (probably less) before you start publishing columns by David Horowitz, telling everyone that Rev. Moon ain't that bad, and offering to hold pizza parties for anyone who'll kill non-Bush-worshipping congressmen/columnists/private citizens.

- I suspect (and this probably isn't a new thought) that "centrists" are really just old school conservatives who are too embarrassed to accept they're in the same "big tent" as the neo-cons, evangelists and other post-Reagan freakazoids

Look, kids, the center by definition isn’t right-wing. That’s why it’s the center. How many times do we have to go over this? Do I need to draw you a picture?


You’ll notice that the center isn’t left, either. There are, generally speaking, at least two kinds of people who argue with the left. Both right-wingers and centrists do it. Not only is that allowed, it’s part of the whole point of being in the middle instead of on the left.

You can’t even stick one little pinky toe outside the left-wing perimeter without being denounced as a right-wing death beast by some people. That exclusive bitchy little high school clique really does subscribe to the whole “you’re either with us or you're against us” mentality. How unnuanced and simplisme.

I will give Roy’s readers credit for unintentional humor.

Robert McClelland sez:

You really have to hand it to the right. They've almost got the entire political spectrum covered with people like Michael "the not-conservative but Libertarian" Totten and Jeff "I really, really, really, really am a liberal" Jarvis. All they need now is for one of them to start up a Marxist blog that spouts conservative rhetoric and they'll have it all sewn up.
Then Smelmoth (lovely name) comes along and breaks the bad news to Robert:
marxist blog that spouts conservative rhetoric anyone? uh, that would be drink soaked Trotskyite Popinjays for War. i wish i could say i was kidding... but i'm not. seriously. no, seriously.
It must really suck being a liberal these days. They’re surrounded by right-wing boogeymen on all sides.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:53 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 15, 2005

Saddam and Osama in 1999

I haven’t written much at all – ever – about the links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The linkage always seemed pretty limited or stretched, and it had little or nothing to do with why I supported Iraqi regime-change. Saddam’s links to other terrorists – Abu Nidal, Hamas – have never been in doubt, but again that didn’t factor in all that much for me. I would have been in favor of removing him even if he hated all terrorists. I've been in favor of removing him for at least ten years now already, since before Al Qaeda even existed.

But listen to this audio clip. (Hat tip: Roger L. Simon.)

ABC News reported in 1999 that Osama bin Laden had a “long relationship” with his “friend” Saddam Hussein, that he was “welcome in Baghdad,” that he tried to get enriched uranium from Saddam, and that he also asked for political asylum in Iraq. They even have a clip of Osama himself admitting he hoped to get enriched uranium from Saddam.

That was in 1999. So, what changed in the meantime? Why did this ABC News report go down the memory hole all of a sudden?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 14, 2005

New Blogging Gig

I joined a brand-new politically centrist group blog that just launched yesterday called Donklephant. A donklephant, you see, is a hybrid animal: half Democratic donkey and half Republican elephant. It has big teeth, a huge ass, and is surprisingly reasonable.

I won’t be contributing daily (at least not at first) but I do have a debut essay right out the starting gate called The West Has Never Been One. I’m not cross-posting, so you’ll have to go over there and read it.

Donklephant is the newest title in Duncan Riley’s Weblog Empire. My fellow contributers include Marcus Cicero, Callimachus, Justin Gardner, J. Thomas Duffy, and Montag.

I don't want anyone to miss this excellent essay by Callimachus called "Josey Wales and Me." I have a feeling that a lot of people who aren't partisan hacks, but who still lean somewhat one way or the other, are going to read this and understand themselves a bit better than they did before they took a look at it.

Also see Marcus Cicero's first essay called Driving.

I was the one who asked the site editor, Justin Gardner, to bring Callimachus and Marcus Cicero on board. I'm glad I did, I'm glad Justin agreed that they're worth having, and I'm glad they both signed on. I think you'll see why when you read what they have to say. They are both among the very best the blogosphere has to offer, and it's an honor to work on a project with them. I’m looking forward to discovering the other new (to me) bloggers as well.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:21 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

July 13, 2005

The Priceless Professor

Juan Cole doesn’t just poke around for facts to fit his opinions. (We all do that to an extent at least on occasion.) Instead he hallucinates - or simply invents – his own “facts” to suit his agenda which, in this case, is blaming the September 11 attacks on the US and Israel.

According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.
Anyone could have fact-checked this work of fiction, but Martin Kramer was the one who actually did it.
Did Cole read the same 9/11 report as the rest of us? There's not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon's (or Israel's) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report's narrative definitively contradicts him.


The 9/11 operation could hardly have been "conceived" as a response to U.S. support for Sharon's "iron fist policies." It was conceived, its operatives were selected, and it was put in motion, long before Sharon took the helm.

And what of Cole's claim that Bin Laden wanted to launch the attacks "in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless"? The Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11.

Cole just figures that must have been the reason for 911, in utter defiance of all widely available evidence. What kind of person picks one of his pet causes and just assumes Al Qaeda attacked us for that particular reason?

Not only does he get his chronology (and hence his cause and effect) completely and utterly backwards, he just makes up out of thin air some of the glue that holds it together. I mean, look at this sentence:

Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.
How on earth could Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argue after the Jenin battle that the 911 attacks were not ready if the attacks had already taken place? He couldn’t, obviously. Every single sentence in that paragraph is a hallucination or a lie, even the final most innocuous one.

And that’s just the beginning. You really must read Kramer’s entire post from beginning to end to get an idea of just exactly how shameless and dishonest Juan Cole really is, in general and not just in this one particular post. It frankly boggles the mind.

And don’t miss Tony Badran’s fisking of Cole’s response (here and here) to the London attacks. Naturally Cole completely botched his analysis. Tony has been impaling Cole’s “analysis” on actual facts every single day for a week now. That may seem a bit obsessive, but as Tony himself says: “I'm sorry but the Professor is just priceless.”

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:58 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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