April 05, 2006

An Open Letter to Hezbollah

Dear Hussein Naboulsi,

I know you’re still monitoring my Web site. At least you kept monitoring me long after the two of us stopped talking – if "talking" is the right word. One of my colleagues said you told him I’m blacklisted because of what I wrote about you in the LA Weekly. You won’t give me quotes anymore. You won’t give him quotes anymore either because he’s tainted by his association with me.

What do you people expect? It’s one thing when you trot out your impotent Death to America slogans. It’s another thing altogether when you threaten and bully us personally. I’m not a wire agency reporter. When you talk to me you’re on the record. When you say “We know who you are, we read everything you write, and we know where you live,” you’re on the record. Of course I’m going to quote you. If you don’t want to look like an asshole in print, don’t act like an asshole in life.

Some journalists may cave under that kind of pressure. I almost did myself until my Lebanese friends – who know you much better than I ever will – reminded me that you guys like to puff up your chests to make yourselves look bigger and scarier than you actually are.

It kills me how the job title printed on the business card you gave me says “Media Relations.” Whoever says Hezbollah has no sense of humor doesn’t know you like I do. You’re a real card, Hussein. A regular bucket o’ laughs.

I’ll admit it feels a bit slimy knowing that I’m under Internet surveillance by a group listed by the United States government as a terrorist organization. It’s nothing, though, compared to the palpable paranoia on the streets of Hezbollah-occupied Lebanon. You guys really need to calm down. Breathe. Take up yoga or Pilates or something. The CIA, the Mossad, and the Lebanese army pretty much know what you’re up to all the time as it is. Learn to accept the things you cannot change. Don’t stir up too much trouble at any one time and you should be fine, anyway.

Let me give you some personal advice, Hussein. Maybe we can be on the same page for a change. Get out of the “suburbs” and go hang out in Beirut once in a while. Don’t tell people who you work for. Just strike up conversations in restaurants, coffeeshops, and bars. Lebanese are friendly, so that’s easy. Ask Sunni, Christians, and Druze what they think of Hezbollah. Listen to what they have to say. Remember that you have to live with these people. I suppose you could turn your guns on them. We all know you can beat the Lebanese military in a one-on-one fight. Who knows, though? There's always a chance the Israeli Defense Forces might intervene against you on Lebanon’s behalf. How much would that suck?

You’re not doing so well in the PR department these days. And you can’t entirely blame people like me who work for the “Zionist” media. The fact that you take orders from a hostile foreign dictatorship, the very same regime that assassinates Lebanon’s elected officials and journalists, makes you look, well, a bit on the treasonous side.

Anyhoo, I don’t live in Lebanon anymore. I'm back at my house in the United States now. You won’t see my face, my camera, or my notepad down in Haret Hreik any time soon. It’s time to remove me from your daily routine. There are other journalists who need to be hassled.

You’re a one-man bad press generator, Hussein. If I were your boss, I would fire you.

Michael J. Totten
United States of America

Posted by Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2006 07:04 PM
Comments

Michael, I have only starting reading your blog in the last month. Just for reference, do you have a blog posting regarding Hezbollah that would shed some light on this post?
I find your writing very informative and unbiased, I hope you keep at it and look forward to your next post.
I really enjoyed "The Head of The Snake". Your descriptive reporting makes the reader feel that he or she is right there with you. It's like Garth Turner (garth.ca) tours the Middle East!

Posted by: Paul MacPhail at April 5, 2006 08:28 PM

Paul,

I linked to the relevant LA Weekly article in the main body of the post. That's what you're looking for.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 5, 2006 08:48 PM

Michael, I damn near cheered out loud upon reading this. You are the man. Now that you're back, please run for office or something.

Posted by: Grant McEntire at April 5, 2006 10:02 PM

Totten, I really enjoyed your posts from the M.E. Your trip along with Yon's are the best examples of what a "blog" could add to the discourse. BTW, it's funny that you mention Hezbollah, because I have heard a bunch of chatter about them in the last few days.(I assume it's nothing, unless you know something...)

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 5, 2006 10:05 PM

Pulling back the curtain on the little sh*t pushing the buttons of a servile, acquiescent world press was long overdue.

Mighty good of you.

Mighty indeed

Posted by: Pamela at April 5, 2006 10:57 PM
You guys really need to calm down. Breathe. Take up yoga or Pilates or something.
Ah, Pacific Northwest snark. (Well aimed, I should add). It must feel good to be home.

Welcome back, Michael.

I suppose you could turn your guns on them. We all know you can beat the Lebanese military in a one-on-one fight. Who knows, though? There's always a chance the Israeli Defense Forces might intervene against you on Lebanon’s behalf. How much would that suck?
I'm betting that's a briar patch they'd sign up to be thrown into. The first N moves of this opening gambit are known to all sides. Iran is working other pieces on other boards at the moment. Posted by: lewy14 at April 5, 2006 11:07 PM

musta been a shock to find out these people arenot your friends..its a wonder the didnt nick berg ya.....anywho least ya made it home in one piece

Posted by: r f blasco at April 5, 2006 11:41 PM

Deat Michael,
I have been reading your blog for a while, and I would like to say thank you for portraying Lebanon in an honest manner. Despite this post, you have really helped, in your own little way, to change the imagine that many in the West and around the world have had for so long about Lebanon.

I hope you enjoyed your stay in Lebanon, and know that you are always welcome back.

Just a sidenote, you are right, Hezbollah likes to make a lot of noise, but believe me, they would never have touched you. They like to keep up the bad boy image, however, they are indeed very sensetive to their image, although it may not seem so because of the stupid mistakes that they make.

Have a good day.

Posted by: Omega80 at April 5, 2006 11:42 PM

Prolonged applause, cheering and yelling.
Fine, fine piece of prose.
Welcome home!

Posted by: Hootsbuddy at April 6, 2006 12:06 AM

Michael:

Great post. We're always told that our friends in the Middle East have superhuman patience, always take the long view, are dedicated to their causes far beyond our ability to comphrehend, etc., etc., but they also seem to have very short memories, they tend to believe their own bluster, and they always sell their arch-enemies--the U.S. and Israel--short.

I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of very surprised people over in that part of the world, and in fairly short order.

Posted by: Tom W. at April 6, 2006 12:39 AM

Excellent!

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 6, 2006 01:27 AM

Michael, aren't you concerned that your friend is still "guilty by association"? Won't this taunting make things worse for him over there? And if we strike Iranian nuclear sites, "fund-raisers" in the US will no doubt be given operational authorizations they don't have now. Not that you'd be a particularly high value target, but I think you're underestimating their reach. Have you read "Lightning out of Lebanon"?

I think you're cool as hell and I love your reporting, but I wonder if you're taking this seriously enough. There's a reason we designate them a terrorist group.

Posted by: The Apologist at April 6, 2006 02:27 AM

Very strange, I met Hussein in a coffee shop in Beirut, not in the suburbs that you imply he holes up in. We were a goup of Muslims and Christians of many different sects, from many different countries. He was perfectly polite and kind, almost meek - not this monster that you love to make him out as. I wonder if your pre-conceptions of Hizbullah/Lebanon/... cause your perceptions to be unintentionally skewed, or are you just too judgemental and stubborn and, basically, clueless (I am very tempted to generalize and say : like many Americans are)? It's a pity - you may be misleading so many readers who have no chance to live here. By the way - I notice you have a LOT of generalizations in your writing, like saying in one post that Beirut is "glamorous, modern ...". Maybe you are talking about the Beirut that you visited and knew, Gemayze, Downtown, Achrafieh, Hamra - obviously you never did reach many other areas of Beirut - basically a bunch of shitholes. Kind of makes your "travel journalism" lose a whole lot of credibility. A pity, really.

But, for what it's worth, it is commendable what you do. And the blog is pretty interesting.

Jas

Posted by: Jas at April 6, 2006 04:57 AM

And if we strike Iranian nuclear sites, "fund-raisers" in the US will no doubt be given operational authorizations they don't have now.

Are they that ignorant?

Right now, Bush barely has the political support for airstrikes, imposing a regieme change in Iran isn't an option. Iranian-sponsored terrorism inside the US would change that.

Posted by: rosignol at April 6, 2006 05:14 AM

Excellent Michael,

The amount of pandering that goes on in that neck of the woods, by journalists and their news stations towards non-democratic Islamist neanderthals is staggering. Well said!
KGS

http://tundratabloid.blogspot.com/2006/04/broke.html

Posted by: KGS59 at April 6, 2006 05:35 AM

It's remarkable that your request for balance is to suggest that the PR person for Hezbollah leave a poverty-stricken neighborhood to go hang out with the "real people" in Central Beirut, in their cafes and bars. It's amazing that you never figured out that sadly, most Lebanese don't spend their time in such places largely because they cannot afford them. I spend plenty of time in those places myself, but who do I meet there? Not regular ordinary people, but only upper class Lebanese (disproportionately Christian)... and male Western journalists.

I don't feel that you probably ever took the time to understand what is is about Hezbollah that DOES appeal to many Lebanese. Like it or not, many Lebanese do support Hezbollah, and it's not because they are stupid or don't get it or don't go posh cafes often enough.

"Monitoring you" by reading your PUBLIC website? I read it too, as nauseous as it makes me. Big deal. "Internet surveillance"? Don't flatter yourself.

By the way, I'm no Hezbollah fan, but I can't not comment about how off-base you are, not to mention arrogant. The comment by Jas is among the most astute I've seen you receive.

Posted by: amy at April 6, 2006 05:44 AM

Great you're back, especially that you're safe; fine letter, but

I'm really glad to hear from Jas and Amy about their complaints -- that you don't write enough about the bad places in Beirut, or don't understand why some Lebanese support Hezbollah. Too bad they complain so much about the limited truths you do write about, and don't elaborate a bit more on what they think the truth really is.

For instance, why are terrible places in Beirut so bad? Why do so many support Hezbollah? (I think neo-neocon had good words on some of that, and Dr. Sanity is up on Muslim fear of female sexuality.)

Similarly, I wish you had added a paragraph, or even sentence, on what you think Hezbollah should be doing more of (not just "listening" more). If you were Hussein, what one or two things would you be telling top Hezbollah leaders to do MORE of? (Not the bad stuff they should do less of, like threaten folk.)

[This is similar to my biggest complaint about Dems who complain about Bush -- what's the alternative positive action that should be taken?]

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at April 6, 2006 06:06 AM

Michael, enjoyed the LA Times piece. It is an intersting contrast to see what happens when men who started off as little more than common thugs rise to power. And find themselves having to deal with the media.

I agree with Hezbollah trying to keep their head low right now, last thing they need is us giving the Israelies the freedom to go after them. Or maybe their just waiting for the Iranians to finish up a couple of warheads.

Posted by: Aaron at April 6, 2006 06:38 AM

Wow, an impressive number of apologists here for an organization that is half terrorist group, half mafia. Did you guys bother to read the LA Times article before spouting off about how unfairly Michael is treating these poor thugs? Much like the American mafia, some of these guys can be charming and reasonable when they want to be. Until you say or do something they dont like. Read the article to find out what happens then. I dont believe Totten is under any obligation to whitewash individuals that physically threatened his safety for excersizing free speech.

Posted by: Mark Buehner at April 6, 2006 07:05 AM

I find it interesting that people like Amy miss the fact that limiting one's self to a segment of a society leads to an incomplete and erronous view of that society. Lebanon has poor and rich. America has poor and rich. All societies have poor and rich. Concentrating your attention on one aspect can only lead to error.

When this obsessive attention guides government policy and/or personal ideology, it leads to policies and behaviors that can only make matters worse. For if all you're interested in is the poor, then you will be willing to take measures to alleviate poverty that end up damaging the rest of society and lead to the poor becoming greater in number rather than less.

The only real way to end poverty is hope. Hope for a better future, if not for one's self, then for one's children and grandchildren. But for hope to be instilled in the poor they need to know that they can get out of poverty. That they can, through diligence and hard work, rise above their current circumstances. But by focusing on only their current situation, by concentrating on the inherent injustice, one robs the poor of their hope.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at April 6, 2006 07:18 AM

Michael, fun piece, but I hope you aren't expecting Hussein to actually learn anything. Anyone whose idea of good governance involves applying the boot to the neck of the opposition simply will not be able to internalize what you're talkig about.

And Amy, my guess is the people who really are "fans" of Hezbollah are simply the ones who feel they should be wearing the boot. History is full of expamples of whole societies becoming enthralled by the idea. That doesn't make it legitimate, let alone good.

Posted by: Mark Poling at April 6, 2006 07:19 AM

Alan,

The only way to end poverty is secure Property.

Posted by: M. Simon at April 6, 2006 09:04 AM

pretty brave there, mr totten!

Posted by: jonathan riley at April 6, 2006 09:30 AM

Have Gun. Will Travel.

I'll stand beside you. Give me a call if you need me.

Posted by: Peter Boston at April 6, 2006 10:21 AM

Jas: He was perfectly polite and kind, almost meek - not this monster that you love to make him out as.

He was perfectly polite and kind to me too when I first met him. Then he threatened me with violence. If he threatened you with violence you wouldn't like him much either. What else can I say, Jas?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2006 10:29 AM

Amy: I don't feel that you probably ever took the time to understand what is is about Hezbollah that DOES appeal to many Lebanese.

Get over yourself, arrogant girl. I lived in Lebanon and know very well why some people still support Hezbollah. That information did not belong in this post.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2006 10:36 AM

What I find facinating is Michael Totten's approach to reporting on Hezbollah which depicts them as the totalitarian thugs they really are . . .

http://www.laweekly.com/news/42/guess-whos-coming-to-iftar/

http://www.michaeltotten.com/archives/001116.html

compared to Michael Ware's approach to reporting on Iraqi insurgents which glorifies known ex-tolalitarian thugs as "dishonered" and "[Iraq's] West Pointers, who are fighting what they see as a war of liberation " . . .

http://www.radioblogger.com/archives/march06.html#001505

Posted by: thugofware at April 6, 2006 11:07 AM

Michael, please never consider running for public office as someone said up above. We must have members of the fourth estate such as yourself who report in a straight forward honest way. I am a conservative who loves to read liberals like yourself and Christopher Hitchens. You both are able to espose liberal beliefs without falling into a trap of hating the people who may be opposed to your viewpoints. I do enjoy this site, I make a point to read it daily, as a dose of news from the other side of the globe. Welcome back to Oregon, and the crisp clean air we have here.

Posted by: Joel Taylor at April 6, 2006 11:11 AM

Bold stance and excellent analysis. I just spoke with a European Americskeptic who spent an inordinate amount of discourse explaining/justifying how said group (and others) fill the social vaccum abdicated by inept/impotent governance. That means always justify ends is where we parted. Case and point here.
Cheers --

Posted by: KOnaman at April 6, 2006 11:49 AM

Haha! This is too funny! But Hezbollah's reaction was to be expected. I mean, that's Hezbollah we're talking about.

Posted by: Montreal at April 6, 2006 11:58 AM

Michael, I wonder which part of "asshole" he does not understand?

Posted by: Apostolou at April 6, 2006 12:21 PM

What's that I smell? Smoke? I recognise it now, it's the unmistakeable smell of burning bridges. :)

Implied threats aside, you should be glad their media relations skills are so poor- all the better to get a true feel for what they really represent. All too often we hear the message of peace and tolerance being delivered to Western audiences, but the completely opposite message from the same speaker with a Middle-Eastern audience.

Posted by: Dave B. at April 6, 2006 01:28 PM

"If you don’t want to look like an asshole in print, don’t act like an asshole in life."

LOL.

Well that pithy comment really cuts to the chase. While this is undoubtedly excellent advice, I don't think anyone will be holding their breath waiting for anyone in Hezbollah to take it to heart. Essentially these breeds of Islamists are all Tony Soprano without the 'class'.

Assholes-r-us. A one size fits all Islamist Mission Statement/ Electoral Appeal.

ps---- A belated welcome back. Been missing the usual wit and wisdom which runs fairly rampant at this site.

Posted by: dougf at April 6, 2006 02:51 PM

Welcome back, Michael. We at Winds of Change have enjoyed your dispatches - good job.

And jas and amy - I've been in the Middle East too. Just saying.

Posted by: Robin Burk at April 6, 2006 03:39 PM

Michael,

amy writes:

I spend plenty of time in those places ["posh" cafes] myself, but who do I meet there? Not regular ordinary people, but only upper class Lebanese (disproportionately Christian)... and male Western journalists.

Ah, yes. People who are (G_d forbid!) disproportionately Christian or (still worse!) male! "Western" male, moreover!

It is extremely important that we imprison our thought using such categories. Some might call it "racist," or bigoted, or even sexist. But it's OK if the objects of scorn are Christian, or male, or "Western." (If all three, they are undoubtedly "cowboys." And we all know about them.)

Anyway, Michael, I am most impressed by this post.

I just sent you a substantial contribution through PayPal, which I hope will help your efforts.

Jamie Irons

Posted by: Jamie Irons at April 6, 2006 03:40 PM

I’ll admit it feels a bit slimy knowing that I’m under Internet surveillance by a group listed by the United States government as a terrorist organization.

Interesting. I could see how you would find this quite disturbing.

But I wonder...how do you feel about your own government doing this sort of thing to its citizens (possibly you), without the benefit of a warrant?

Posted by: carla at April 6, 2006 04:00 PM

I applaud Michael for his efforts, but I have to say Amy has a point. I've noted before that Michael strikes me as fairly naive. He doesn't speak Arabic as far as I know, doesn't really know the local culture. Everything he learns is through a filter of the cosmopolitan Westernized elite. America learned in Iran in '79, Russia in the '90s, and Iraq today that unfortunately the cosmopolitan Westernized elites are often fairly atypical of their nations. This tirade against Hussein strikes me as a case in point - Michael's advice to Hussein is ridiculously condescending, and the tone is frankly juvenile. Why is Michael taking Hussein's behavior so personally? If you stir up a rats' nest, of course the rats are going to get angry at you. Did Michael think he was going to somehow convince Hezbollah that they're wrong? He's shocked that thugs would threaten him? Threatening people is what Hezbollah and other mafia like structures do, they can't exist without the fear of violence, they're hardly going to change now because Michael is scolding them. Imagine the reaction of a Brooklyn crime boss if you tell him that people on the upper West Side of Manhattan don't like his methods. Now you know what Hezbollah probably thinks of Michael's advice to frequent the tony cafes of Beirut.
I hope that Michael's worries are misplaced in any case. Maybe Hezbollah really has nothing better to do than worry about obscure American bloggers, Lebanon is a pretty small provincial place so I suppose that's possible, but I suspect Michael is safe for now.

Posted by: vanya at April 6, 2006 04:10 PM

"But I wonder...how do you feel about your own government doing this sort of thing to its citizens (possibly you), without the benefit of a warrant?"--Carla

Sigh !

On the one hand an implicit if perhaps merely 'mouthy' threat by a recognized TERROR GROUP, and on the other a quite probably LEGAL Program run by the legitimate Government of a Democratic State.

One designed to intimidate the unbelievers; the other to protect the unbelievers from another assault from the outer darkness.

All the same in Carla World.

Pathetic. Just pathetic. And this passes for 'thought' in about a third of the population.

I blame an increasingly shallow gene pool.

Posted by: dougf at April 6, 2006 04:15 PM

dougf - Been missing the usual wit and wisdom which runs fairly rampant at this site.

Whatchoo taking about, doug? I've been here all along.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at April 6, 2006 04:41 PM

"Get over yourself, arrogant girl. I lived in Lebanon and know very well why some people still support Hezbollah. That information did not belong in this post."

It apparently didn't belong in Totten's piece for the LA Weekly either. I read the article twice and I now know more than I'll ever need to know about how MJT's feelings were hurt when you were treated rudely by Hezbollah. Not so much about Hezbollah itself.

Which is too bad, because I live (present tense) in Lebanon but I didn't get the "Understanding Everything About Hezbollah (and Lebanon in General)" guidebook MJT apparently did when he rented an apartment here for 6 months. I'll have to talk to my landlord. On the contrary, I find nearly all of MJT's writing about the place doesn't speak to my experience at all. Maybe I need to spend more time in bars.

And finally:
LA Weekly article, 16 Dec 2005
"Open Letter to Hezbollah", 5 apr 2006

Nearly 4 months. Interesting.

Posted by: Ethan at April 6, 2006 05:07 PM

dougf - Been missing the usual wit and wisdom which runs fairly rampant at this site.

Whatchoo taking about, doug? I've been here all along.---DPU

My bad, DPU. No offense intended. But I have been celebrating the New Conservative Oligarchy recently installed in Ottawa, and have not been visiting here much while MJT was annoying the fanatic in far-off-places.

Everyone(well glaring exceptions applied) who contributes here is of course filled with 'wit and wisdom'. Nice to hear from you.

Posted by: dougf at April 6, 2006 05:12 PM

Dougf - But I have been celebrating the New Conservative Oligarchy recently installed in Ottawa, and have not been visiting here much while MJT was annoying the fanatic in far-off-places.

But you're still living under the crushing socialist jackboots of the Manitoba NDP, right? Don't tell me they legalized celebration of federal Tory wins?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at April 6, 2006 05:27 PM

Sadly, Hussein and his like act more like pre-pubescent school children. Thing is, that's a normal mindset for an undeveloped youthful mind and not that of grown adults who are the supposed leaders and saviors of the oppressed people they supposedly intend to serve.

Is this level of emotional maturity the cultural norm in these male dominated societies? Unjust, in-your-face, misplaced, emotional battery?

And isn't it a widely held belief by men in the Muslim world that WOMEN are just too emotional to hold positions of power, like lawyers and judgeships, security chief or gasp Media Relations PR bufoon?

Posted by: Natasha at April 6, 2006 06:28 PM

Vanya: MJT doesn't really know the local culture

Fill me in then. Tell me what I don't know if you're so certain of what's in my head and what isn't.

Amy thinks she knows something I don't know because I didn't download my entire brain into one blog post. My knowledge of Lebanon is a little too broad for that to be possible.

What don't I know about the local culture? I'd like to learn more, and if you are able to fill in the gaps (the real gaps, not the gaps you think I have) that would be terrific.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2006 06:58 PM

Ethan: It apparently didn't belong in Totten's piece for the LA Weekly either.

Have you ever heard of word limits? I went over my limit as it is.

I find nearly all of MJT's writing about the place doesn't speak to my experience at all.

Fine. You're a different person. Plenty of Lebanese people think I have a pretty decent understanding of the situation. And NO I'm not only talking about the damn Christians.

LA Weekly article, 16 Dec 2005
"Open Letter to Hezbollah", 5 apr 2006

Nearly 4 months. Interesting.

What's interesting about it? This is my "leave me alone I'm out of Lebanon" post. Four months ago I was still inside Lebanon.

If you're implicitly accusing me of being afraid of criticizing Hezbollah while living in Lebanon, ask yourself why I published the LA Weekly piece while I still had four months to go.

Also, if you have a hard time with my strident opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon, understand that the bastards murdered a friend of mine with a car bomb.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2006 07:09 PM

"He was perfectly polite and kind to me too when I first met him. Then he threatened me with violence. If he threatened you with violence you wouldn't like him much either. What else can I say, Jas?"

You can't say much else, Michael (in fact, I don't recommend that you say much else, except to repeat; see below). But you could try thinking.

Hussein sounds like two different people, as you portray him in different conversations. I'm not surprised. This is a classic hallmark of behavior under totalitarian rule. Hussein is in the uncomfortable position of being a bridge -- a guy who can chat up a foreign correspondent from America in one breath, and kowtow to theocrats in the next. One thing he cannot do, however, is do both at the same time. Though I'll give him credit for trying.

Note that he said that IF he did threaten you with "we know where you live", it was because he was "stressed out." Note that American colloquialism especially: "stressed out". I think he was trying to say something personally to you, with a nuance that his monitoring handlers might not catch. I suspect he has it worse, in a way, than most Lebanese chafing under Hizbollah: he may have Hizbollah sympathies, and sympathies with Lebanese who don't like Hizbollah, and a desire to just get the hell out of his beloved homeland to some place where he can at least breathe more freely, even if he can't feel at home. And I think he welcomed you so warmly because you were a breath of some of that fresh air that's so hard for a man in his position to get. And is now ruing having yielded to the temptation to open up to you.

"Stressed out," he said. Stressed out by whom? YOU know, Michael. How can you NOT know, by now? And how can you not know that his phone calls must be monitored?

My guess:

(1) He was sharply upbraided for casually letting you into scenes where others deemed you had no business.

(2) Some thugmeister was appointed to clean up after his media-relations mess.

(3) Some irony-impaired zealot with poor English reading skills was tasked by Mr. Thugmeister to check up on your blog and Mr. Zealot didn't get your joke, even though Hussein himself (and maybe even thugmeister too) is very likely to be more than sufficiently well-equipped linguistically to figure it out.

(4) And they leaned on Hussein. Hard. They had him call you. They listened in on his calls to you, until they considered him to be fully repentant and loyal. Or repentant and loyal enough. They are probably still watching him.

That's my theory: you weren't hearing a Hussein speaking his mind, you were hearing a Hussein forced to be a mouthpiece. And why should that surprise anyone, under the circumstances?

Perhaps you'll meet Hussein again in more comfortable circumstances. In the meantime, I commend you on your pissy response to this "threat" (even if both Hussein's retraction and the apology were necessarily veiled in the ambiguity of "I was stressed out" because of his being monitored.) The pissing match is good. It gives Hussein cover. Who knows what kinds of beatings he'd have to take otherwise? Does he have a wife? Kids? Think of that. Keep the pissing match going, if you can.

Also consider that this might be your first real Loss of Innocence experience vis a vis dealing with tyranny. It can be much worse. Think of certain doctors who dutifully attended torture sessions in Latin America, jockeying for that position, pretending to be junta loyalists to the hilt, because that was the only way they could be a back-channel conduit for information about that state of victims for the families of the tortured. In that perspective, Hussein may have it relatively easy. But only relatively.

In a funny way, dictatorship is bad because it creates an overpopulation problem: suddenly, almost everyone with a brain has to be of two minds. Only the True Believers on the one hand and the insurgent martyrs-to-be on the other can get by with one mind. Live amid those with this personality split for long enough as a journalist, and it'll get you into some pretty interesting situations, I bet. Just make sure you don't end up endangering anyone's life out of mere journalistic curiosity.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 6, 2006 07:28 PM

The Apologist writes: "Won't this taunting make things worse for [Hussein] over there?"

As I argue immediately above, it probably takes a load off him, if anything.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 6, 2006 07:39 PM

So, this unfortunate friend: is he the same guy that you wrote on October 3 that you had only met three times, and of whom you wrote on June 4 "I can't say I knew him well, but I did know him"?

And did you really mean to assert that your feelings toward Syria were neutral, or at least mild, until he was killed, only after which they became "strident"?

Just want to make sure I understand.

Posted by: J.B.S. at April 6, 2006 08:25 PM

This is the dumbest argument I've had in a long time. It is intellectually retarded. It is about nothing of substance whatsoever.

Y'all find something more productive and grown-up to do.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 6, 2006 09:18 PM

"This is a classic hallmark of behavior under totalitarian rule. Hussein is in the uncomfortable position of being a bridge -- a guy who can chat up a foreign correspondent from America in one breath, and kowtow to theocrats in the next"

I think something has been lost in translation. When you say bridge are you actually saying dog.

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 6, 2006 09:46 PM

Some people here would benefit immensely from reading '1984'.

And then reading it again.

In a totalitarian thugocracy, double-think enhances your chance of survival, very little is said plainly and openly, and a lot of the time, you're doing things not because you want to do them, but because bad things will happen to you (or people you care about) if you don't.

Things to keep in mind.

ps: Vanya's right, Michael, you are a bit naive. ;-)

Posted by: rosignol at April 6, 2006 11:00 PM

rosignol, instead of reading 1984 wouldn't it be a better idea to take control of your own fate?

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 6, 2006 11:06 PM

Yes, I agree with your insights....of course Hussein has his minders and the working (cultural)? conditions are optimized for this.

Buh, ho, boy, here is where you leave me perplexed, really:

Just make sure you don't end up endangering anyone's life out of mere journalistic curiosity.

How could you consider for even a moment that it is Michael, not the thugocracy, who is responsible for endangering anyone's life? I applaud his efforts to shed some light on the dark forces at work there. Given your keen awareness of the situation, I would think you would too.

Or would you rather prefer the status quo?

Posted by: Natasha at April 6, 2006 11:32 PM

"You’re a one-man bad press generator, Hussein. If I were your boss, I would fire you."

This is the only part I disagree with, you only need to read your own blog to see why. Unfortunatly he is doing his job exceedingly well. Most of us have enough sense to see what's going on but for those that do not he gets them. He convinces enough to have protests and non-support in nations that might act against him. Those of us who actually look at what they do, not thier rhetoric, aren't going to be swayed by anything less than them becoming normal valuable people.

It reminds me of a song by Henry Rollins (the only song he has done I actually like) called "Liar". He screws a girls over, brags about it, and then goes all nice and she forgives him and doesn't believe what he did was bad. Repeat this over and over through the whole song.

You know, when a group that is known to kill political dissidents threatens to kill you because you are a political dissident it probably not really a backhanded way of saying "You go guy - I love your dissing of us!", it more than likely means exactly what they said "You are causing us headaches and we are going to remove you if you keep doing so" (especially considering that is normal operations for them). Yea, I bet he is stressing, but not because he really likes MJT, democracy, and freedoms but just can not get his angst up enough to leave his position of media relations for a totalitarian terroist organisation (and didn't really mean that whole "death threat" thing - we are good, right?).

I usually wonder what it would take for some of these people to even come close to seeing what is going on. I can not fathom being that blind nor the thought process to rationalise what they do.

Anyway, great post. My only real complaint is that I had to re-install windows making me read this post a little late :)

Posted by: strcpy at April 6, 2006 11:50 PM

Michael, I'm really surprised you think this argument is so dumb.
How bad Hussein really is, personally, is a separate issue from how bad Hezbollah is (maybe Hussein can go to Harvard? and Yale will be upset they missed another one?).

I liked whatistruth's note that your dissing Hussein, in some ways, provides him personal cover -- even if you're doing it because he's a jerk.

And Jas & Amy & Ethan are more saying you're telling the whole story, than that your story is false (w/o telling any of the story as they see it). The calling you naive is so silly it shouldn't bother you; though of course it does. I guess that part's retarded.

Natasha almost brings up a significant point I call the Moral Hazard of a Free Press. Telling the honest truth in a situation can be partly responsible for murderous actions by those whose stories are being honestly told, but who don't want those stories told.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at April 7, 2006 01:42 AM

Michael, the most "retarded" thing about this discourse is that your supporters appear to know absolutely zero about what Hezbollah actually is. Maybe you should've used more of your word limit on that and less of your word limit on "they wouldn't let me sit where I wanted to so I pouted because I don't like taking orders" you'd be happier with the resultant discussion. Maybe then you wouldn't hear stuff that puts the "moron" in "oxymoron" like "totalitarian terrorist."

Also, in rebuffing your detractors you assume that since they disgree with you, they fit some neat little model. And then further accuse them of making assumptions about you.

I've been reading--sorry--I've been keeping your site under internet surveillance since before you came to Lebanon. I read your "mission statement" and thought that maybe, just maybe, you would actually be true to it in coming here to give an objective accounting (though to be honest, your pompous writing style didn't give me much hope). To my simultaneous disappointment and sometimes guilty delight, you just disappeared further and further into your own biases and agenda. Once you apparently learned that you could turn your "fair and balanced tough-guy adventurer/journalist on the ground" schtick into $$$, it only got worse (but at least you stopped your former practice of periodically turning off the comments when the criticisms grew too unabated).

Now I'm going to go get my hair cut or something similarly adult. Hopefully I don't run into any Syrian ninjas or whatever on my way.

PS: I'm sure I'm not the only one still waiting with baited breath to see where you went on your secret trip to some forbidden locale.

Posted by: Ethan at April 7, 2006 02:53 AM

Note to strcpy: I'm sorry if I disrespectfully singled out something from your post as an example, but I don't think an organization can be simultaneously deemed terrorist and totalitarian. But I was a little insulting, so I'm sorry.

Posted by: Ethan at April 7, 2006 03:09 AM

"but I don't think an organization can be simultaneously deemed terrorist and totalitarian."

Why not?

Posted by: Andrew Brehm at April 7, 2006 03:32 AM

Yeah, what Andrew said. Why not?

Terrorism is a means that can be used to persue many ends, securing the position of totalitarians is only one of them.

In a lot of places, the main difference between terrorists and secret police is who signs their paycheck.

-----

rosignol, instead of reading 1984 wouldn't it be a better idea to take control of your own fate?
-Mike#3or4

In order to do that effectively, you have to recognize and understand (at least partly) what you're dealing with. Reading 1984 is one way of getting information that will aid you in doing that. Animal Farm is even better.

Posted by: rosignol at April 7, 2006 04:21 AM

Ethan,
where are your stories of any other truth about Hezbollah, or Lebanon? If you think Michael or his readers (like me) know nothing about Hezbollah, why don't you tell us something we don't know?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Libertay Dad at April 7, 2006 06:01 AM

Threatening people is what Hezbollah and other mafia like structures do, they can't exist without the fear of violence, they're hardly going to change now because Michael is scolding them. Imagine the reaction of a Brooklyn crime boss if you tell him that people on the upper West Side of Manhattan don't like his methods. Now you know what Hezbollah probably thinks of Michael's advice to frequent the tony cafes of Beirut.

Yes, threatening people is what "Brooklyn crime bosses" do, and when people like Rudy Giuliani in Manhattan didn't like their methods, they tossed the Brooklyn crime bosses in jail. That's the right way to deal with these folks.

Of course, no one has any plans to do anything about Hezbollah, and they know it. Still, treating these creeps with respect is the wrong way to deal with them. They thrive on respect. Respect is the last thing Hezbollah deserves..

What I find facinating is Michael Totten's approach to reporting on Hezbollah which depicts them as the totalitarian thugs they really are . .

There are so few writers/journalists out there doing the same thing. Thanks again, Michael.

Posted by: mary at April 7, 2006 06:40 AM

Really the "who understands Lebanon better" argument is pointless. There are a myriad of Lebanons, everyone's experience is going to be different. Just look at how many Americans disagree about America after spending their whole lives here. The idea that Michael or Amy or Ethan or anyone who lives in Lebanon for four, six, eight months, or even 5 years "gets it" is probably silly. Michael's opinions are valuable because he brings an informed and well-written perspective, but it will never be the only perspective. And Michael, if you don't speak Arabic fluently there is no way in hell you really know the local culture. I'm sorry, that's reality. Have you ever learned a foreign language? It's interesting - the more fluent you become, the more you realize how much you're actually missing. If you spend more time in Lebanon I'm sure you'll find it's the same for you.

I've also seen cultural barriers from the opposite side - I'm friends with a lot of Russian and Serbian immigrants to the US. Most of them even speak English, but after 3,5 even 10 years living and working in the US there is still a lot about the US and American ways they really don't understand. These are smart people but they bring their cultural baggage and their preconceived notions with them. I would be surprised if Americans travelling to foreign countries do that much better.

Posted by: vanya at April 7, 2006 07:22 AM

"what one or two things would you be telling top Hezbollah leaders to do MORE of?"

I think they should be organising training in employable skills such as electrical installation or computer network maintenance for their men, so that they can get jobs when Hezbollah disbands. One of the main reasons militias persist is that they provide income for the otherwise unemployable.

Not that it is remotely likely that the organisation would actually do anything at all to help its members.

Posted by: Don Cox at April 7, 2006 08:56 AM

Ethan, you're a troll. You come in here slinging insults, but you can't (or at least won't) make any kind of factual argument whatsoever. You must be even more fun in person.

You're out of here. Bye. Further comments will be deleted.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 10:24 AM

Commenters as diffrent as Tom Grey and vanya seem to agree that Michael's characterization of the arguments here as "dumb" and immature might be off the mark. Let's hope he tunes into what some are saying here.

To clarify a couple points: Natasha, any violence that Hizbollah perpetrates is their responsibility. I agree with you, but it's not that simple.

I think Michael should be careful to guard the survival of his sources for a couple other reasons. One is coldly and amorally professional: you don't burn potential future sources for stories, especially if you burn them in a way that could get them killed. Death is very final. Ouija boards and seance tables are not exactly high bandwidth, noise-free connections to the deceased. The second reason is, not to embarrass you all or anything, simply compassionate: nobody should be absolutely certain that Hussein is an irredeemable human being. He is a product of his own choices to a great degree, but also of circumstances. He may have responded willingly to the seductions of power, but he might also be under that totalitarian/mob-boss/terrorist thumb in certain ways, even when he is sojourning in a place as free and as far away as America, as he apparently did.

In response to someone else's "lost in translation" gibe: yes, Hussein is a bridge. Not a "dog". The more we characterize those under totalitarian rule as sub-human, the easier it is to rationalize doing sub-human things to them ourselves. The tentacles of totalitarianism worm their ways into the minds of those associated with it, especially in more clan-oriented societies, to an extent that we here in America may have a hard time understanding. Hussein's "we know where you live" may have been an echo not only of the American mobster-movie cliche, but also of a very real and harsh reality that he lives with daily: Hizbollah knows where Hussein lives, and the locations of Hussein's parents, brothers, sisters, first cousins, second cousins .....

And finally, if compassion just won't stir in your soul, there is a cold and amoral professional military strategist's reason for not forgetting the humanity of the enemy: the sooner you start thinking of your enemy as a "dog", the sooner you start forgetting that your enemy is a member of the human race, the most dangerous species evolution has yet to come up with. Machiavelli counsels that it is always an advantage to be underestimated by your opponents. Let's not start underestimating these people.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 7, 2006 10:48 AM

I can't help but point out the delicious irony: by posting my theory that Hussein may have spoken the way he did under pressure from his thugmeister, Totten now has an idea to work with, one that may have infected discourse here with just the kind of ambiguity that communication about politics so often suffers under totalitarianism. If Totten gets it, he can see that the wisest course is to sound dismissive of it in any public forum, and declare them void of any intellectual content. If he doesn't, then he doesn't -- in which case he will be reflexively dismissive. So when he calls these arguments "dumb", and chastises us for our immaturity, which is it? Is he playing dumb and immature, or simply being dumb and immature? Only his closest confidants can possibly know. I am not one of them, so don't ask me. (Of course, if I were one of them, that's exactly what I would say, isn't it? Welcome to the Totalitarian Communication Infection. ;-)

Posted by: whatistruth at April 7, 2006 11:07 AM

Michael,

Go and get some rest. And welcome back to Stumptown.

Posted by: malm at April 7, 2006 11:10 AM

whatistruth,

I wasn't dismissing you as dumb. I was referring to Ethan and others who only show up to sling insults and act like punks.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 11:33 AM

In reference to Hussein's NYC experience in the 80's, I was in Beirut in the 80's. Anyone who wants to know more:

http://www.beirut-memorial.org/index.html

I wish the Lebanese people peace. They've lived through enough madness from within.

Posted by: Greg at April 7, 2006 11:42 AM

Good stuff, Michael T! Wonderful!

Posted by: Curtis at April 7, 2006 11:43 AM

Michael,

Welcome back. Echo the warm sentiments expressed here - you have a wide web of support, should you need it.

"Y'all find something more productive and grown-up to do."

Alas, grown-ups who should know better have been doing the same thing for a long time. If we hadn't already been through this with the KKK, et. al., you'd have some excuse. Takes some kind of chutzpah for those who continue to rationalize oppression to lecture Michael on being "simple".

What is truth? I guess the cowardly Pilates will be ever with us.

Posted by: Bezuhov at April 7, 2006 11:48 AM

Excellent. Bloody excellent.

Posted by: Rick Vaill at April 7, 2006 11:54 AM

Wow. Reading this post just made my day. Could you be convinced to take the job of revamping our State Department?

Posted by: rej at April 7, 2006 11:55 AM

Ethan: what were the Nazis running Germany's war machine before they became . That's right - brown shirt terrorists and thugs. Who were the Communists who crippled Russia and enslaved Eastern Europe before they were totalitarian. Well, how about Bolshivik 'terrorists'. Ok, so you might bring up Likud and the bombings under the British Mandate and you might even this of your namesake, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain boys - I don't think they killed innocent people though. So what, you said that terrorists can't also be totalitarian. That's stupid. Smart people say stupid things and stupid people say stupid things. Which are you?

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 12:30 PM

And if you bring up my spelling, you're avoiding my last question.

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 12:31 PM

Dear Mr Totten,
Could you expound more on the world press and wire services. I want to know what our free press is feeding me on a daily basis. I just want un biased reporting. I don't think that is asking for much. If we need to get in bed with thugs so we can stay in the field then we are better of having a reporter sitting at home like yourself then be a mouth piece for Hezbollah and report their propaganda. Did we have reporters in the Third Reich or Imperial Japan during the war. I don;t want to hear their side anymore because terrorist under anyname needs to be not quoted but locked up or killed.

Posted by: James Kaplin at April 7, 2006 12:33 PM

vanya (Uncle?) asks if Michael speaks fluent Arabic, and then points out the obvious benefits.

So what is the answer? It is a key question, one that I have assumed the answer to for over two years reading MJT blogs. Maybe I was wrong.

MJT, do you speak fluent Arabic? How long have you spoken Arabic fluently? How long have you lived in an Arabic speaking culture?

Posted by: Harry at April 7, 2006 12:39 PM

La etkellem Arabie katir.

I do not speak fluent Arabic. It takes years of immersion to be able to do that, and Beirut is one of the hardest places to learn it. Almost everyone speaks English there. The best places to learn Arabic are Damascus and Cairo.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 12:43 PM

I'm amazed by the fellow, above, trying to invent reasons to excuse the thuggish behavior of the spokesman for a terrorist organization. Occam's Razor: when the spokesman for a terrorist organization behaves thuggishly, it's because he's a thug.

Should the thuggishness of a Hezbollard be a surprise to anybody? What's amazing is that they actually got somebody with enough of a sheen of civilization on him that it took so long to rub off.

But, just as the dog returns to its vomit, the Hezbollard returns to his threats . . .

Posted by: Joel Rosenberg at April 7, 2006 12:55 PM

dougf--
"On the one hand an implicit if perhaps merely 'mouthy' threat by a recognized TERROR GROUP, and on the other a quite probably LEGAL Program run by the legitimate Government of a Democratic State."

quite probably legal? In which universe? Not only is it clearly NOT legal, given the clarity of the law broken, but the administration admitted as much by seeking to change the law so as to legalize what they were already doing illegally.

There's nothing legal about tapping domestic calls without a warrant. That's so basic as to make one wonder what cereal box some people's concept of constitutional law comes from.

Posted by: torridjoe at April 7, 2006 12:57 PM

Welcome back. Great letter.

Like James, I too was intrigued by your reference to the wire services. I second his request for more info on the mechanisms of infromation gathering and distribution. All the better to truly contectualize what we read.

Posted by: Tim NJ at April 7, 2006 01:07 PM

dougf--
"On the one hand an implicit if perhaps merely 'mouthy' threat by a recognized TERROR GROUP, and on the other a quite probably LEGAL Program run by the legitimate Government of a Democratic State."

Not only is it likely NOT legal, its likely to be used for political purposes.

If the POTUS is willing to declassify information on a CIA operative for political purposes, wiretapping citizens is nothing. Especially if he has an excuse like he would with Michael: contact with a known terrorist group.

Posted by: carla at April 7, 2006 01:14 PM

Michael,

I reread all the comments Ethan made, and it should be pointed out that you are the one who started this row referring to one of your readers as an "arrogant girl."

Maybe Ethan could have had more tact, but who really cares? Some of his points are pretty solid, too, particularly when it comes to the occasionally self-indulgent, self-important, and arrogant tone of your writing. I had some pretty high hopes for your trip, myself, but I - like Ethan, I guess - was disapointed by what I felt was a certain amount of pandering to your base in a very sensational way. The letter to Hezbollah - your parting shot - is just silly. As far as your readers go, its like throwing red meat to the lions. As far as Hezbollah actually caring about you... who do you think you're kidding? Even Hezbollah has interns, and even those interns are sometimes bored enough to "monitor" your website.

You also seem to have become even more defensive, evidenced by your being dismissive of Ethan as a "troll" and threatening to delete all of his future posts. I know this is your site so you can do as you please, but don't lecture us on the bullies of the Middle East when you're not even willing to let people disagree with you on this meassage board.

You could probably just delete this post and ban me from ever posting again, but that would only enforce my point. There is a lot of hubris and arrogance on this website, and I hope you'll do your best to keep that in mind. Take this with a grain of salt, if you want, but its just my effort at a little bit of constructive criticism.

Posted by: Christopher at April 7, 2006 01:15 PM

I'm with Joel. The "he was probably just following orders" line of argument is too clever by half. You have:
- A smart guy
- Well spoken
- Well traveled
- Chooses to flak for fascist thugs

Sorry, it seems to me Hussein has had chances to make moral choices. He chose Hezbollah instead.

He may not be a dog, but he sure isn't a good guy.

Posted by: Mark Poling at April 7, 2006 01:23 PM

Christopher: Go over there, stay a while, come back and report. Then get all huffy.

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 01:27 PM

Michael, you can tell you are doing good stuff by the number of little chihuahuas nipping at your heels with no teeth to draw blood with.

Great post by the bye.

GM

Posted by: GM Roper at April 7, 2006 01:29 PM

Carla - you misspoke out of ignorance or worse. The Presidehe did NOT release ANY information about Valerie Palme. The parts of the National Intelligence Estimate mentioned NO individuals. And if you think that capturing calls to and from know Al Queda operatives is a 'political' use of intelligence gathering, there's not much anyone can do you reach you.

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 01:42 PM

Carla - you misspoke out of ignorance or worse. The Presidehe did NOT release ANY information about Valerie Palme. The parts of the National Intelligence Estimate mentioned NO individuals. And if you think that capturing calls to and from know Al Queda operatives is a 'political' use of intelligence gathering, there's not much anyone can do you reach you.

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 01:42 PM

ECS,

I've spent more time than Michael in both Cyprus and Egypt (where some of his most obnoxious writing took place), and my passport is pretty well stamped up. Believe it or not, Michael is not the only one to have ever been on an airplane or lived outside the United States.

Posted by: Christopher at April 7, 2006 01:44 PM

um... what part of “We know who you are, we read everything you write, and we know where you live,” do some of these posters have a hard time understanding?

Maybe I'm just an arrogant reactionary, but if someone told me that, I wouldn't give them the benefit of the doubt. Call me crazy.

Posted by: Guy at April 7, 2006 01:48 PM

Christopher,

The problem with Ethan is that he doesn't actually argue with anything I say. He just insults me. If I'm wrong about something, my all means correct me. Tell me where I'm wrong and why. Give me an alternate set of facts, a counterargument. He can't do that. He won't even try. So he's out. I have better things to do than stand here and be pissed on.

Same goes for his pal Amy. If she's so sure I'm ignorant, she damn well better be able to tell me something I don't already know.

I don't ban people just for arguing with me. There are several people who posted on this thread who have been arguing with me for years. I have never banned them and never threatened to do so.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 01:50 PM

Carla, you are misrepresenting events. Libby is said to have told the grand jury that the President authorized the leak of the NIE, not the name of Valerie Plame.

Posted by: SPQR at April 7, 2006 01:52 PM

Hmm, Damascus is one the best places to learn Arabic? That wouldn't have crossed my mind since it is not a place Westerners commonly visit (I would have thought Amman). Michael, why did you say Damascus? Have you just dropped a hint about your secret trip?

Posted by: vanya at April 7, 2006 01:53 PM

Michael--

I don't know what you did to deserve all this. I thought you were merely pointing out that a tool for a major terrorist organization, enemy of the United States, Israel and large portions of the Western World was, in fact, a bullying coward. The jury is already in. You presented the evidence and won your case. Now you are being presented with a bunch of ad hominem circumstantials from the people who couldn't make the 8th Grade Debate Team.

Whether you know Lebanon as well as some of these commenters is irrelevant. And I think it took a lot of guts for you to go there, do real reporting, and publish it while you were still in-country.

Thanks for what you've done and are doing. It's a refreshing breeze compared with these stale terrorist apologias that clowns like Amy and Ethan spew forth.

Posted by: Fresh Air at April 7, 2006 02:10 PM

there's nothing legal about tapping domestic calls without a warrant

Umm, the program has been monitoring calls that originate internationally with suspected terrorists and terminate here. This isn't Granny calling Sis with a new twist on the green bean casserole recipe. It is international surveillance. "Domestic wiretapping" is the term used in Dem/lib talking points.

"if the POTUS is willing to declassify information on a CIA operative"

The NIE had nothing to do with Valerie Plame. Read something besides headlines before you spout off.

Disregard the trolls, Michael. You are providing those of us who are stuck here dependent on what we are fed by the media with a perspective of someone who is there, risking life and livelihood to get at the deeper story. Many thanks for what you do and for your writing.

Posted by: inmypajamas at April 7, 2006 02:18 PM

I would just like to say, Michael, that my dad could totally beat up your dad. Your mother wears army boots, and you have cooties.

Just thought I'd keep the discourse nice and elevated.

In all seriousness, though, welcome back.

Posted by: Timothy at April 7, 2006 02:43 PM

inmypjs--
I'm sorry, you don't have your facts straight. Where the call originates is immaterial. But the White House has admitted that they wiretap US citizens WHILE in the US, without a warrant. It takes an inordinate amount of spin to classify a phone call where one of the parties is domestic, as anything other than a domestic call. Your declaration that the wiretapping only involves suspected terrorists is similarly fallacious; for one thing, you have no idea WHO they're tapping, and for another, there is no requirement that BOTH parties be suspected of terror activities. Furthermore, the government has shown empirically that the net they case around "suspected terrorists" is much, much wider than the number of actual suspected terrorists.

In any case, not only is there apparently hard evidence that the government has used the program to tap calls when BOTH ends are in the US (see the lawsuit filed in Portland OR last month, based on FBI documents), but AG Gonzo has said this week that the President reserves the right to do just that, as well.

Posted by: torridjoe at April 7, 2006 02:44 PM

There's an interesting parallel here between Ethan/Amy's behavior in the thread and Hizbollah's behavior in Lenanon.

Hibollah does in fact provide lots of social services, as does Hamas. For this reason, many Lebanese/Palestinians support these two organizations.

But make no mistake, they're also terrorists. And they're no noble freedom fighters either; they're just as happy to kill journalists and dissenting Lebanese/Palestinians as Israelis.

Throwing bombs around indiscriminately forfeits your political legitimacy, and the same goes for insults in comment threads.

Posted by: TallDave at April 7, 2006 02:45 PM

Bravo!

Posted by: April at April 7, 2006 02:46 PM

Torrid-

I'm not sure why you got sidetracked into this discussion, and I'm probably just feeding a troll here, but I'll point out what anyone who spends ten seconds researching the issue knows: the courts have always ruled the President has inherent authority to wiretap anywhere when it's pursuant to international threats and/or the use of military force. No court has ever held otherwise. It's fairly ridiculous to think Al Qaeda would get to dodge monitoring by moving to the U.S.

Posted by: TallDave at April 7, 2006 02:51 PM

Vanya,

The reason Damascus is a good place to learn Arabic is because there isn't a lot of English spoken there. You have to learn Arabic if you want to live anything like a normal life there.

It's hard to learn Arabic in Beirut. Most Beirutis speak English and have no desire to put up with bad Arabic when they can easily switch to English and have a normal conversation. It's all about expediency.

I know Westerners who have lived there for a decade and still don't speak Arabic. A Lebanese-American friend of mine who lives there says his Arabic gets worse the longer he stays because the locals just don't want to speak that language with him.

It's different in the more remote parts of the country, but I only visited those places.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 02:55 PM

not without a warrant, Tall Dave, sorry--and certainly not since 1978. The law is the law, and it can't be more clear: you may NOT wiretap US citizens without a warrant.

Posted by: torridjoe at April 7, 2006 02:58 PM

Very good, Christopher. So why don't you share some of your first-hand experiences in the Middle East like Michael has? We might have benefited more for your insights than from such ad hominums as:

"the occasionally self-indulgent, self-important, and arrogant tone of your writing".

"pandering to your base in a very sensational way... like throwing red meat to the lions"

"even those interns are sometimes bored enough to "monitor" your website".

"don't lecture us on the bullies of the Middle East"

Christopher: If you find Michael's site so 'boring' what ARE you doing here?

(Funny, until I posted, you never mentioned any extensive travel over there.)

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 03:02 PM

Michael,

You're point about how hard it is to learn Arabic in Beirut is a good one, I completely agree. I understand your logic in picking Damascus, but since the same logic would probably be true of Amman, Tripoli or Yemen, I was just trolling to see if you had an ulterior motive in selecting Damascus, but I see you're still keeping your cards close to the vest. Fair enough.

Posted by: vanya at April 7, 2006 03:10 PM

Setting aside for the moment the Article II/Article III discussion regarding the scope or Constitutionality of FISA, it takes many days -not to get a decision on a warrant - but merely to prepare the paperwork for one. In this period of national peril when a go-ahead strike signal can be transmitted at the speed of light, I think we need to balence interests here. I occasionally walk to work over the Brooklyn Bridge. Its a well documented fact that if some of you had your way, my body could have ended up floating past the site of the last successful piece of work by Islamofascism in my city.

Posted by: ecs at April 7, 2006 03:25 PM

An article by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker mag dated 10-14-2002 where Hussein acted as translator gives us both a tiny glimpse into what exactly our bridge boy Hussein and Hizballah are really all about...it's a long and fascinating read, please take the moment.

Here's what Jeffrey had to say about Hussein...

was introduced to Ezzeddin by Hussain Naboulsi, and he translated our conversation. Naboulsi is in charge of Hezbollah's Web site. He spent some time in America, and incorporates American slang unself-consciously into his speech. He is young and gregarious, but he grew evasive when the subject of his background came up. "We lived in Brooklyn, and I was going to go to the University of Texas, but then we moved to Canada. . . ." He trailed off.

Sound familiar, Michael??

and here's a taste of what Hussein translated for Jeffrey...

Ezzeddin seemed to concede that the Hezbollah campaign to rid Shebaa of Israeli troops is a pretext for something larger. "If they go from Shebaa, we will not stop fighting them," he told me. "Our goal is to liberate the 1948 borders of Palestine," he added, referring to the year of Israel's founding. The Jews who survive this war of liberation, Ezzeddin said, "can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from." He added, however, that the Jews who lived in Palestine before 1948 will be "allowed to live as a minority and they will be cared for by the Muslim majority." Sayyid Nasrallah himself told a conference held in Tehran last year that "we all have an extraordinary historic opportunity to finish off the entire cancerous Zionist project."

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?021014fa_fact4

Posted by: Natasha at April 7, 2006 03:28 PM

ecs, the debate about balancing interests is valid (although I think heeding Franklin's words about sacrificing liberty for temporary safety is the smart move here), but it's irrelevant to the discussion of the President's actions. He was certainly within his abilities to declare FISA unworkable post 9/11, and seek to enable greater capability under the law. That's not what he did, of course. Rather than acknowledging that federal law hamstrung him and openly seeking to rework that law, he simply ignored it, knowingly. That's the problem here.

And my recollection is that the Brooklyn Bomber was nowhere NEAR reaching his goal, so I think you're being a little melodramatic there. And of course, no one has said he shouldn't have had his phones tapped; only that the law be followed, and a (very easy to get) warrant obtained.

Posted by: torridjoe at April 7, 2006 03:42 PM


Carla, you are misrepresenting events. Libby is said to have told the grand jury that the President authorized the leak of the NIE, not the name of Valerie Plame

I apologize for the technical error. The leak of the NIE was politically motivated in an effort to selectively leak classified information for political gain. There is no proof demonstrated (yet) that there was a direct connect from the President to leak Plame's name. The pattern is now being established.

But my main point still stands. If this Administration is willing to leak classified information for political gain..spying on American citizens for political gain is nothing to them.

---------

Setting aside for the moment the Article II/Article III discussion regarding the scope or Constitutionality of FISA, it takes many days -not to get a decision on a warrant - but merely to prepare the paperwork for one. In this period of national peril when a go-ahead strike signal can be transmitted at the speed of light, I think we need to balence interests here. I occasionally walk to work over the Brooklyn Bridge. Its a well documented fact that if some of you had your way, my body could have ended up floating past the site of the last successful piece of work by Islamofascism in my city.

This point is a strawman. Warrants for surveillance can be obtained "after the fact" through FISA and this does not inhibit the use of surveillance for appropriate targets. That's one of the main reasons FISA was enacted.

I'm sorry if this seems like a hijacking of this comment thread. Its not meant to be at all. I just find it odd that individuals would be twitterpated about surveillance by Hamas..and not be at least as concerned when their government is doing it without a warrant.

Posted by: carla at April 7, 2006 03:47 PM

torrid:

Yes, without a warrant, and yes since 1978. FISA is an act of Congress and cannot change the Constitution. FISA would be unconstitutional if it infringed on Article II powers, which again is obvious even to nonlegal people.

Carla, your point simply isn't true in the real world.

Warrants for surveillance can be obtained "after the fact" through FISA and this does not inhibit the use of surveillance for appropriate targets

Yes, in fact it does inhibit it, because you can't engage in the surveillance in first place unless you have an expectation of eventual FISA approval, which requires a mountain of evidence and forms. This concern prevented officials from searching Moussaoui's computer, among other things.

If a known terrorist calls a dozen phone numbers, and those dozen numbers place a dozen calls, under FISA it would be impossible to tap the resulting 144 conversations. Besides the evidentiary standards, there just isn't enough manpower to do all that paperwork for the 144 warrants. It's impractical, it's a barrier to effective action, and it could get Americans killed.

Posted by: TallDave at April 7, 2006 03:59 PM

I just find it odd that individuals would be twitterpated about surveillance by Hamas..and not be at least as concerned when their government is doing it without a warrant.

The same reason we wouldn't want Hamas/Hizbollah to have nuclear ICBMs, but don't worry so much about gov't having them.

Posted by: TallDave at April 7, 2006 04:08 PM

tall Dave--
certainly you understand that laws are presumed constitutional until found otherwise, correct? FISA has never been tested in such a way. Furthermore, you speak as if the Constitution is abundantly clear on the subject, which it is not. The 4th Amendment validates FISA as much as you claim Article II prohibits it--a search done without any information regarding suspicion that the person has committed a crime is flatly disallowed, and that's what's being done.

The size of the legal community that believes the President has not violated clearly written law, could fit in the back of my old Tercel. You continue to avoid the circumstances of the situation, which are that the President chose to ignore what he knew to be standing, valid law. If he thought it was unconstitutional, he knows how to go about having that finding validated. He decided instead to violate it. I'm sure you're aware there are legal arguments to be made that the federal income tax is unconstitutional as well. Go to tax court after not filing for a few years, and see how far that argument takes you.

Posted by: torridjoe at April 7, 2006 04:11 PM

Spot on Michael! I've enjoyed reading your posts and wish you continued success.

Posted by: skeneogden at April 7, 2006 04:28 PM

"In response to someone else's "lost in translation" gibe: yes, Hussein is a bridge. Not a "dog". The more we characterize those under totalitarian rule as sub-human, the easier it is to rationalize doing sub-human things to them ourselves."
Jesus fucking christ. He acts like a dog, I don't think he is a dog. His job is to promote the agenda of god's army by making nice with foreign press. Fuck him and his imaginary friend.

"especially in more clan-oriented societies, to an extent that we here in America may have a hard time understanding."
I see you're not from the South.

"And finally, if compassion just won't stir in your soul, there is a cold and amoral professional military strategist's reason for not forgetting the humanity of the enemy: the sooner you start thinking of your enemy as a "dog", the sooner you start forgetting that your enemy is a member of the human race, the most dangerous species evolution has yet to come up with"
First, no compassion won't stir my soul, compassion is a cultural luxury. Second, I have not forgotten that my enemy is a member of the human race. He isn't even my enemy to begin with (not yet anyway). Thrid, humans are not the most dangerous species evolution has yet to come up with.

The sub-human arguement is cookie cutter at best. Did you read "War Without Mercy" in class last semester?

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 7, 2006 05:07 PM

Advocates of the NSA program would gain a lot more traction by speaking to the concerns of the critics, in addition to correcting them. I'd add a vice versa, but I've found that hope futile.

Posted by: Bezuhov at April 7, 2006 05:38 PM

Michael

Thanks! I appreciate the clarity and the honesty of your reporting. I hope that it will continue.

Don't sweat the small stuff!

Posted by: mark at April 7, 2006 06:15 PM

"... compassion is a cultural luxury."

Oh, and here I was thinking it was a precondition of having any culture at all. Silly me. Thanks for the correction. From now on, when I hear the word 'compassion,' I'll reach for my revolver.

I don't know how Hussein got roped into flacking for Hizbollah. Youthful idealism has made monsters of many. Hussein may not be a monster yet (assuming he wasn't to begin with), he may simply be trapped inside one now after having made some overly committing moves. It's not like he's going to be strolling around free in Times Square any time soon, much as he might wish he could. What real sympathies he might have for Hizbollah might be a combination of respect for their very real social support services in southern Lebanon (fascists can be good with the carrot, not just the stick) and a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. As I've said, we don't know what leverage they have over him. But it may be a lot.

When I read between the lines, I think I hear a guy who tried to apologize to Totten as well as he could under close scrutiny by his masters. If that's true, and he can be pried loose from their clutches at some point, who better to tell his story than Totten? And what a great story it would be.

So I'll keep calling Hussein a bridge under the assumption that it's not necessarily burned yet. Or maybe I'll elaborate on the metaphor: he may be the guy in the middle of the bridge, currently blocked from exiting in either direction, not trusted enough on either side even as one side makes use of him, and with people he loves held hostage on the bad side for all practical purposes. By the nature of the totalitarian beast, we just can't know.

One thing we can know: calling Hussein a dog, and presuming that he's a thug, when he may have just spoken some scripted thug lines, doesn't help matters at all. (Except insofar as it provides a possibly-redeemable Hussein with temporary cover, as I suggest above.) Actually, it only helps Hizbollah, I think: the more that anyone associated with them is demonized outside their realm, the more propaganda ammo Hizbollah has against the Great Satan of America, for its own social control purposes. Dictators love having external enemies on which to focus their subjects' wrath and resentment, not least because it keeps some of the heat off themselves. (This is a major reason why dictatorial Arab regimes haven't driven Israelis into the Mediterranean -- they would be robbing themselves of a perpetually useful propaganda whipping boy.)

We shouldn't assume that Hizbollah wants to look good to us, when there are so many uses within their domain for appearing very bad outside their domain. After all, they control what their subjects hear and see. They can restrict themselves to one side of the story. (They couldn't possibly be that smart, you say? You're a poor student of the history of totalitarianism. They don't even have to be that smart. They just have to do what they do: run things their way, all day, every day, learning from the experience. The rest of us have regular jobs and diverting hobbies, and thus can hardly manage to become as expert as they are in the science of dictatorial control, even if they are only half as bright as we are. But they are probably more than half as bright, however much wishful thinking might lead some of us to believe otherwise.)

Posted by: whatistruth at April 7, 2006 06:45 PM

Well, maybe some posters missed a few points and the in betweens.

Why would Michael feel compelled to write this response after four months from the original article? And then mention something about Hezballah no longer needing to monitor this site? After he writes about the "threat"?

Some folks are pretty obtuse. Or maybe they just think Michael has been sitting in his apartment dwelling on his treatment by Hezballah?

As for those of us (which apparently includes Michael) who don't know anything about Hezballah, please enlighten. Is there somethine important we are missing? something more than:

1) Hezballah = Party of God
2) Political party begun by and in Iran
3) Supported materially and monetarily by Iran (a theocratic, autocratic, Shia Islamist state that has a human rights track record like the dodo bird, extinct/non-existant)
4) A shia Islamist group
5) Has participated in directly or through material or monetary support, terrorist activities both in Lebanon and surrounding countries.
6) Has a political office in Syria (another autocratic, oppressive state) and has political and monetary affiliation with Syria
7) Some terrorist activities involved killing Americans.
8) Vows to destroy Israel
9) Continues to lob missiles into Israel whenever it thinks it can get away with it
10) Vows to destroy America
11) Maintains a well armed, large militia with which it enforces its rule over the Shia south of Lebanon and uses it to attack Israel, basically practicing its own "foreign policy" against the wishes of the Lebanese government threatening Lebanon's internal security as well as its national security and interests.
12) Operates charitable institutions including schools, medical clinics and assistance to the poor. Of which, the schools teach the language of hate, the children participate in "summer camps" where they dress up like suicide bombers and little insurgents with headbands, chanting death to America and Israel and learning to be little oppressors and killers. As for their assistance to the poor, they have no economic plan beyond this, handing out money buys loyalty, keeping people poor and stupid keeps them dumb and loyal. They run a highly organized propaganda machine and censor any reporting coming out of their area. Whatever they cannot directly control, they try to control through intimidation or control the content by limiting access. they most likely have minders following around those reporters they do let in. They most likely monitor print and video journalism to see what reporters appear "sympathetic" to their cause and grant them access. Michael's blog went unnoticed probably until they saw his by-line with a note about the blog.

13) Did I mention they were oppressive? Their political agenda includes establishing and enforcing sharia law. While they have a state within a state in Lebanon, they wouldn't mind having complete control and forcing everyone to live by their rules.

14) They are a "political party" that represents a large portion of Shia in Lebanon, particularly in the south, which is full of Palestinian refugees or at least their descendents who believe they have the right of return to "Palestine" even after 50 years. A reason they have so many supporters. Most of which still dream the impossible dream of grabbing Israel and ousting all the other "zionists"

Anything we're missing? Unless somebody would like to tell us how they are a benevolent society on par with the Shriners?

Posted by: kat-missouri at April 7, 2006 07:13 PM

I only read about 1/2 the comments, so I may have missed something, but look. If someone threatens you, or your family, it is in your best interest to take them seriously. This is even more true when said threatener works for a terrorist organization.

I don't care if he is trying to "tell you something else", or "say something in a way his handlers won't catch". You'd best behave as if he means exactly what he is saying. The consequences if you think he is threatening you and he isn't are "ohh, you weren't threatening me? Sorry about the misunderstanding". The consequences if he is threatening you and you think he isn't could be that your head is cut off with a rusty knife.

Posted by: vancomycin at April 7, 2006 07:15 PM

"Oh, and here I was thinking it was a precondition of having any culture at all. Silly me. Thanks for the correction. From now on, when I hear the word 'compassion,' I'll reach for my revolver." Do want me to list various culture's that didn't/don't care about compassion? Somalia has culture, it's just really shitty right now because they are starving. Anyway, it's 2006, you might want to upgrade from the revolver.

"Hussein may not be a monster yet (assuming he wasn't to begin with), he may simply be trapped inside one now after having made some overly committing moves" Shame on you, calling people monsters. Are you trying to de-humanize someone!?!

"When I read between the lines..." Fucking brilliant, I love when people speculate.

"They couldn't possibly be that smart, you say? You're a poor student of the history of totalitarianism." Your not a prof. by any chance are you? Asking yourself a stupid question and then answering it with equally pointless response is usually a red flag.

You have no idea what you are talking about, it's all speculation and it's pointless. Now I will add something pointless to the conversation to waste your time.

The next time you are preparing for a boxing match, do not blow your nose. If it's stuffy your eye's will not swell up as much.

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 7, 2006 07:47 PM

This is good enough to go into my "Keeper" file.

Posted by: Fred Sinclair, Heirborn Ranger at April 7, 2006 07:50 PM

Mike#3or4 You know; in a peeing contest, you'd have to get your hips at a strange angle to pee over the doghouse. You know, like a man would. You'd never get the necessary height, you know, with nothing there between your legs.

Posted by: Fred Sinclair, Heirborn Ranger at April 7, 2006 07:59 PM

vancomycin, I would love to face off with you over a chessboard. Why? Because I'm not a very good chessplayer, but I do at least appreciate a basic principle of almost any game of strategy: all other things being equal, you should make the move that serves the most different purposes. I'd cream you, I'm almost sure of it.

To be more specific: I certainly do not propose that Michael Totten renew contact with Hussein and arrange for them to kiss, make up, and drop Ecstacy together while surrounded by AK-47-bearing Hizbollah militants in a basement apartment with soundproof walls and newspaper taped up over the windows. If Michael chooses to experiment with my theory, he can almost certainly pursue those experiments in ways that pose little or no added risk to himself, and only as much risk to the problematic and ambiguous Hussein as Hussein himself is willing to take on. If he's smart enough, Totten can come up with some move in this game that serves more than one strategic purpose, and get at least another interesting article out of it, if Hussein turns out to be a mere heartless thug apologist after all, but maybe a big-time career-making story if he can get Hussein to tell something like the truth as I've theorized it might be in this case.

At any rate, if you think it's idiotic to ignore the possible dire consequences of responding to a verbal assailant as if you were sure he couldn't harm you, you should be upbraiding Totten, not me. Read the damn post. Totten has drawn a line in the sand. In a very real sense, he drew it in the sands of the Middle East while he was there, so the argument that he's thumbing his nose at Hizbollah from a position of safety in Portland doesn't really hold water, or not much water, anyway. If they want to "saw his head off with a rusty knife", and if they want it bad enough, they can butcher him in Portland almost as easily as in southern Lebanon. (Would they? I think not. So far, that seems to be a propaganda-of-the-deed tactic of Zarqawi's supposed branch of Al Qaeda. If we haven't heard much about that kind of thing recently, it may be in part because there's less fresh meat on the streets of Iraq these days, but also because even as ruthless a thug as Zarqawi might be receptive to the argument -- if it came from other terrorist zealots, like Zawahiri -- that he's taken things way too far.)

In any case, it's Totten's risk to take. And for all we know, this public dissing of Hussein by Totten is precisely because Totten actually likes Hussein, came to appreciate the quandaries of his man-in-the-middle position while in Lebanon, and supplied ass-coverage both there (with his LA Weekly article), and here (with this blog posting we're now commenting on.) It's highly unlikely, but it is possible. And if it is the case, any denial from Totten would be part of his source-protection cover, making any such denial meaningless.

Do I know? I do not. Would I tell you if I did? I would not. Lives may be at stake. So might be the truth, wherever it lives -- the dead don't talk.

As for any added risk to Hussein himself from my own postings here, I suspect there is none, even if this comment section is being closely scrutinized by Hizbollah intelligence analysts who are thoroughly familiar with English and its nuances. If Hussein is of two (or three) minds, his minders are probably well aware of it already anyway. The kinds of MPD induced by totalitarian thinking are glaringly manifest under the spotlight, and Hussein lives under the spotlight. If he is not, i.e., if he really is a Hizbollah True Believer, his minders can easily dismiss what I say here. Of course, maybe they are all crazed, hash-addled lunatics, and I'm leaving enough of a signature to pose a risk to myself as well. Maybe they will send their orcs out to Seattle (I hang out a lot at the Panama Hotel Cafe, you hunky sexy Hizbollah guys, drop on by!) and track me to some quiet secluded location where they can saw my head off with impunity. C'est la guerre. In this environment, I worry more about some tweaker slashing me for the contents of my wallet, so he can buy his next vial of crystal meth.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 7, 2006 08:18 PM

Excellent post, Michael. Too bad you can't fit that 400 page cultural analysis some require of you into a 500 word post. "Die infidel scum" probably doesn't suffer too much loss in the translation from Arabic to English, or vice versa.

Carla,
Nice try. What President Bush declassified was not information on a CIA "operative" (though it's certainly within his power to do so), but rather he declassified information contained in the NIE threat assessment regarding dangers posed by foreign agencies. And how can this be a White House "leak" when it was disseminated in such a manner with the full knowledge of the controlling authority? What, Bush is a "Leaker-in-Chief"? I guess when President Bush gave his State of the Union address he was "leaking" then, too, eh? And shame on the liberal news media for their endless rant about this particular White House “leak”.

We can only guess at people's motives, but more than one White House source has made it clear some NIE material was declassified so that White House spokespeople could put the information in the public domain in hopes of counter-acting the serial lies of Joe Wilson. Google "Top Ten Lies of Joe Wilson."

It wasn't into the Senate Select Intelligence Committee publicized their report that truly informed Americans found out that Mr. Wilson had done very "shoddy work" in Niger concerning the yellowcake issue and was so ambiguous in his report that it neither proved or disproved what the British intelligence was saying - Saddam's regime had SOUGHT Niger yellowcake back in 1998. Yet Wilson insisted it disproved what the President has claimed in his State of the Union address and then the mantra of "Bush lied" was born. How convenient.

What is most interesting is Joe Wilson's continued canard that Saddam's regime never BOUGHT yellowcake from Niger. Well, duh! President Bush and his administration never said Saddam's regime BOUGHT but rather his regime had inquired or SOUGHT Niger yellowcake.

It truly is breathtaking how kneejerk Bush-haters and the anti-war crowd typically see everything in life in shades of gray and nuance, yet when it comes to the war on terrorism they become absolute truth fundamentalists and even bequeath themselves powers to warp and twist the words of their political enemies! Real peace and understanding can never be built on peacemongers engaging in their own brand of lies and misinformation. Is this not so?

And it’s even more fascinating when this same group of know-it-alls convene its kangaroo courts and immediately declare that warrantless searches by the NSA are illegal when there is a whole raft of very smart constitutional lawyers and judges who have already testified before Congress that this is a penumbral right of the presidency during wartime. People demanded our government "connect-the-dots" and when attempts to monitor known terrorist phone numbers where one end of the conversation takes place outside American borders, there is an automatic assumption on the part of those who are already politically vested in opposing President Bush that this is somehow "illegal". So much for connecting-the-dots when not even God can maneuver through such political minefields.

While you're at it, why don't you try Googling "Echelon". I sure don't remember all these self-appointed civil rights experts complaining about that program under the Clinton Administration.

Posted by: Hankmeister at April 7, 2006 08:24 PM

Fred, why would I be peeing over a doghouse? Have you ever had a contest with people where the goal is to pee over a doghouse? I am going to add your comment to my "keeper" file.

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 7, 2006 08:24 PM

Michael,

First things first: welcome home! One of the greatest things about traveling is the feeling of landing back in the United States. As most Americans can not internalize the idea of coming face to face with any of their rights being taken away, the very idea that a threat can be so casually tossed out is something that would take most aback. This attempt to rationalize Hussein's behavior within the context of a split humanity and accomodation with mere party affiliation is distrubing in its ingorance.

Recently, I have been arguing with a friend about Iran's negative influence in the region and their goals. He things that a counterbalance to Israel in Iran is a positive step, even one with atomic weapons as it aids their "security" in the region.

I attempted to enlighten him by referencing the numerous terrorists organizations and operations that Iran is funding now and that would certainly not be curtailed should atomic weapons become part of the mullah arsenal. Logic is not likely to remove his hysterical bias against Israel's right to exist thus I have little doubt he will continue to support an enemy of man, freedom and the US.

My question to you is having seen the face of the enemy and being quite aware of their funding, what is your sense of the future conflict or resolution between the U.S. and Iran?

Posted by: Roman at April 7, 2006 08:56 PM

I am frankly sickened by the number of Hizbullah apologists posting. We learn that a man's life was threatened, yet there is a chorus braying over the tribulations of totalitarianism. I suppose some people choose a worldview in which indviduals carry their reputation with them in everything they do, and others are willing to pin misdeeds down to circumstance or duress. Some think that you need to learn Arabic fluently to know when an Arabic speaker has treated you badly. Others seem to think you need qualifications to know when a society is latching onto hatred rather than methods and ideals which might help elevate that society from poverty, irresponsible government and fear. Some believe that you can't malign a group for wanton murder (Syria...) unless you know their victims sufficiently well. People who believe these things cannot hope to provide rational merit for such metaphysical claims. Debate is a waste, as it merely reflects a tossing about of idle prejudice.

Totten, I like the cut of your jib. It's too bad so many of your readers are such goddamn morons.

Posted by: derzornhistology at April 7, 2006 09:39 PM

NIce to be in the US when you're under internet surveillence, welcome home.

Posted by: Jane at April 7, 2006 10:43 PM

Jane,

Unless you're an Israeli soldier on the border, Hezbollah is all scream and no action. I wouldn't have written what I wrote, otherwise.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 7, 2006 10:47 PM

and finally, one thing not considered (surprisingly) is that Michael wrote this letter, in fact, with the intention not to burn his bridge with Hussain but to provide him with the necessary cover and keep it in tact....just a thought.

See you on the other side, Hussain! God Willing.

Not.

Posted by: Natasha at April 8, 2006 12:02 AM

ECS,

I didn’t mention extensive travel in the ME or elsewhere because I it wasn’t material to the point of my comment, nor do I go around introducing myself by saying, “Hello, I’m Christopher and I’ve traveled here, here, here here and here.”

The point of my comment, which you nicely illustrated by selecting some of my greatest hits, was to point out some of the deficiencies I see in Michael’s writing – both with content and tone. I’ve been reading this site a for a while, and have been upset to see the quality slowly decline. Related or not, that decline has coincided with some of his more material achievements… getting published, getting “prestigious” guest blogging gigs, etc. The tone and content of the writing has become hubristic, arrogant and myopic. There is increasingly an unwillingness to consider or to present alternative points of view, and even more than that a willingness to view everything through a sort of conformist prism. That is Michael’s prerogative, of course, but I still thought I’d point it out as a means of constructive criticism.

There are comments he made in the thread on the more recent post that perfectly show what I’m talking about:

“I don't expect my readers to be surprised. My readers are more sophisticated than average Americans.”

“I'm not talking about hicks in Arkansas here. I'm talking about people in upscale well-educated Portland, Oregon.”

Okay? That is obnoxious, elitist, arrogant… you name it. And that kind of hubris is seeping in more and more to his main pieces. And, as I read it, that is all that Ethan was pointing out (before he was banned for doing so), though perhaps in a more coarse way.

Posted by: Christopher at April 8, 2006 06:25 AM

whatistruth:

I do play chess. I'm pretty good at it actually (note, not master or grandmaster level).

The missing point here is that in chess, the worst that happens is you lose a game. In this situation the worst that happens is, well, you get killed. The stakes are different.

I want to make clear my position, as I'm pretty sure that it's easy to misunderstand where I'm coming from. I think Mr. Totten has done a good thing. I believe that more people should stand up. I was replying to those who said, "but you (Mr. Totten) didn't understand what he was trying to tell you.".

My comments about believing a threat don't come from my chess, or game playing, but instead come from 6 years of martial arts training, and experience (granted nothing this serious). By the way, you can believe a threat, and still react to it in any way you want. You can chose to brush it off. You can chose to hide, or run away, or you can chose to take precautions, but still go on to be yourself. It's really up to each individual.

Posted by: vancomycin at April 8, 2006 07:07 AM

Oh, and sorry if my first post wasn't clear.
whatistruth, by the way, I'm pretty sure that you wouldn't cream me in chess.

I think we're saying the same thing actually, from different perspectives.

Posted by: vancomycin at April 8, 2006 07:11 AM

Michael, I linked to you from Instapundit and this is the first time I have read you. All I can say is keep up the good work, you are right on the money. I live in "fly over country" (middle America) and it is refreshing to have a journalist actually speak honestly. Thank you and good for you!

Posted by: Dennis Collins at April 8, 2006 07:30 AM

"The missing point here is that in chess, the worst that happens is you lose a game. In this situation the worst that happens is, well, you get killed. The stakes are different."

Duh. vancomycin, if you haven't me mentioning more than once that lives might be at stake, you haven't been reading me well enough to respond intelligently.

My point is that there may be more lives at stake than Totten's. I've read Hussein described here as a "dog", when in fact he might only have done what most of us might do at gunpoint. I don't know. I don't know how he got into his situation or exactly how he feels about it -- I'm only going on clues. "If I said that ['we know where you live'], I was stressed out." Was that some terrorists' PR flak doing media damage control, or a hint that he was facing a more dire threat than loss of face in an organization that isn't the paragon of purity he was duped into thinking it was? (Or both?) We can't know. And we shouldn't assume. Hizbollah is a dangerous and devious organization, and it's not safe to assume that the people running it are stupid.

Is Hussein facing a complex, dangerous situation, trying to handle it strategically? Is Totten? If so, are they handling it well? Poorly? We can't know. The first casualty of war is truth, and even those trying to promote the truth must at least stifle it sometimes, if not kill it outright.

In the meantime, those of us here who prefer to take statements at face value when those statements support their precious world view, and derisively dismiss statements as lies when they don't, will continue to be mere pawns on the media chessboard. For most of us here, getting knocked off the chessboard of media manipulation will amount to little more than having our precious opinions proven wrong.

But yes, as you say, there's more at stake for certain others. It's the nature of the beast. But not necessarily the nature of specific individuals, who may only be doing the best they can after making regrettable choices. "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out"? That must be a comforting rationalization if you believe in a just and fair afterlife. I don't know if there is one, though. I do believe our only certain immortality is in the example we set for those who survive us. Does cutting Hussein some slack, on a shaky hypothesis like mine, involve some risk? Maybe so. But nobody ever commissions a stonecutter to carve their epitaph as, "Here lies someone who was chiefly concerned with saving his own hide, no matter what." There must be a reason for that.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 8, 2006 10:18 AM

All the apologists will be the first beheaded when they allow islam to take over the world. "Hey mr freedom fighter, we supported you." "STFU infidel"

Posted by: Reality at April 8, 2006 10:29 AM

Whatistruth: Is Hussein facing a complex, dangerous situation, trying to handle it strategically?

I don't know.

Is Totten?

No on dangerous, yes on complex.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 8, 2006 10:46 AM

W.I.T. said, "I've read Hussein described here as a "dog","

When Blair was described as a poodle did you snap into philosophy 101 mode?

Posted by: Mike#3or4 at April 8, 2006 10:58 AM

After 30 Years being sent around the World,I've had contact with just about every Race in the World..The only ones that scared the Hell out of me were Arabs..Just looking into their eyes let you see the hatred that exists in them..I wonder if they ever have pleasant thoughts..If you want chills up your spine,just be in earshot of their women doing that Wild Ass Tongue Wobble Yell...
You can't tell whether they are doing it in Joy or getting ready to rain hell down on you..
The Western World had best get independent from their Oil..When that happens,Westerners should get the Hell out of their Territories..There is NEVER going to be a peaceful co-existence between Arabs and any other RACE in the World.

Posted by: jacgar at April 8, 2006 12:02 PM

Ethan:

"Now I'm going to go get my hair cut or something similarly adult. Hopefully I don't run into any Syrian ninjas or whatever on my way."

Hahaha, that's funny! I'm sure you were equally amused when Hariri ran into those Syrian "ninjas".

Posted by: Gary Rosen at April 8, 2006 12:49 PM

jacgar: The only ones that scared the Hell out of me were Arabs. Just looking into their eyes let you see the hatred that exists in them.

What Arab country did you go to? I never experienced anything remotely like this except while being berated by Hezbollah goons. That experience was far outside the norm, and I went out of my way to put myself in that situatin.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 8, 2006 01:00 PM

This whole Fisa argument not only doesn't belong in these comments to the open letter, but seems off in the parallels made. Yes, the methods used by the US gov. can be viewed by a segment of the population as invasive and quite possibly illegal. What does that have to do with Totten's post? What does pointing out the imperfections in our goverment as you see them have to do with the massively worse imperfections in Lebanon? Like Hezbolla, there are a number of better ways to promote your argument than harassing journalists. You need to start convincing more of the liberal conservatives or conservative liberals on your side. Jumping on a journalist that has come back from a dangerous assignment and saying that FISA is more important than the current discussion on Hezbolla is not the way to do it (IMHO) of course I could be wrong. Of course then that would presuppose that those democrats calling Bush Hitler didn't have any effect on the more liberal conservatives.

I guess my comment is MJT, good reporting.

Posted by: Scott T at April 8, 2006 03:32 PM

Wankmeister writes:

"What President Bush declassified was not information on a CIA "operative" (though it's certainly within his power to do so), but rather he declassified information contained in the NIE threat assessment regarding dangers posed by foreign agencies."

Oh really?

"[McLellan] announced back on July 18, 2003, that information from the intelligence report had been declassified. But when making that announcement almost three years ago McClellan said: "It was officially declassified today." That was 10 days after Libby had shared the Iraq information with Times reporter Judith Miller."

He now says he meant something different. Yeah, right. And what was the upshot? The outing of Plame. Could this have been avoided? Yes, by not "declassifying" (leaking) her CIA operative status.

http://www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=1819106&page=1

Wankmeister: "and how can this be a White House "leak" when it was disseminated in such a manner with the full knowledge of the controlling authority?

IF it was "disseminated in such a manner". Sounds like the formal declassification was at best an afterthought.

Anway, a leak is a leak. Some leaks are done with full authority, for strategic media manipulation reasons. Not that this was the motive in this case. Oh, no no no. Of course not.

"We can only guess at people's motives, but more than one White House source has made it clear some NIE material was declassified so that White House spokespeople could put the information in the public domain in hopes of counter-acting the serial lies of Joe Wilson."

They didn't put it in the public domain. They gave it to reporters on background. If you want to formally declassify something, you publish it, and you say on whose authority it was published.

"Google "Top Ten Lies of Joe Wilson.""

Fairly useless. I ran a contest for several months, "$200 for proof that Joe Wilson lied". Nobody won. One of the better referee-nominees commented, a fairly astringent commenter on Wilson, admits that he didn't lie. Most public figures don't have to lie, he said. They have better ways to deceive, if that's their intent.

Wankmeister: "It wasn't [until] the Senate Select Intelligence Committee publicized their report that truly informed Americans found out that Mr. Wilson had done very "shoddy work" in Niger concerning the yellowcake issue"

Can you point where in the report (rather than in the comments by, say, Hatch, Roberts and Bond) the words "shoddy work" appear? If not (I know already that you can't), why do you have "shoddy work" in quotes, attributed to the report. (Don't tell me it's out of need to be a serial liar.) Those words don't even appear in the comments by Hatch, Roberts and Bond. The CIA apparently gave Wilson a good grade for this Niger assignment.

"... and was so ambiguous in his report that it neither proved or disproved what the British intelligence was saying - Saddam's regime had SOUGHT Niger yellowcake back in 1998."

Yes, but that's not the issue. The issue is a drumbeat for war based on Saddam supposedly moving toward nuclear capability as the 16 words were spoken. Shat about all the direct quotes from upper administration figures here?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&contentId=A31496-2003Aug7&notFound=true

We've got Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice:

Rice, 20 Jan 2003, NYT op-ed: Iraq's 7 Dec 2002 declaration "... fails to account for or explain Iraq's efforts to get uranium from abroad." Yeah, maybe because there hadn't been any such efforts for years? And because Iraq already had tons of yellowcake on its territory that the U.N. inspectors had accounted for, and left, since it's useless without enrichment equipment that Iraq didn't have?

3 days later, Powell, Davos: "Why is Iraq still trying [note the present tense] to procure uranium and the special equipment needed to transform it into material for nuclear weapons?" Gee, I don't know, Colin. Why have you not stopped beating your wife?

Rumsfeld, after the State of the Union address: "[Saddam] ....was working on several different methods of enriching uranium [yeah, Rummy, but when exactly?], and recently [1998 was 'recently' in 2003?] was discovered [actually, never proven] seeking significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

What did the administration actually have in hand at that point?

---
Tenet, in a statement July 11, described the CIA as having only "fragmentary intelligence" related to what he termed "allegations" of Hussein's efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa.
---

Allegations. To this day, they don't have more.

Wankmeister: "Yet Wilson insisted it disproved what the President has claimed in his State of the Union address and then the mantra of "Bush lied" was born. How convenient."

That was his judgment call, and if it was wrong, how do you explain why the administration is farther out on a limb today than Wilson ever got? Libby's out there, but there's a safety net under him as a saws on the trunkward side. Bush and Rumsfeld can only hope they get so lucky, because they are WAY out there.

Wankmeister: "What is most interesting is Joe Wilson's continued canard that Saddam's regime never BOUGHT yellowcake from Niger."

Actually, he said that Saddam could NOT have bought Niger yellowcake no matter what because its mines were flooded and in disrepair, making it Niger a very unlikely place to bother seeking uranium in the first place. (Let's not forget that Iraq already had plenty of yellowcake already, on sites signed off by the U.N. weapons inspectors. Give me many tons of yellowcake, and I still have to spend many billions to refine it into bomb grade material.)

Wankmeister: "Well, duh! President Bush and his administration never said Saddam's regime BOUGHT but rather his regime had inquired or SOUGHT Niger yellowcake."

Well, Wankmeister, this just shows how abysmally ignorant you are of the whole issue. When it became clear that Iraq would have been stupid to try to get yellowcake from Iraq, the administration defended itself by pointing out that Bush had only said "Africa." Of course, there's no evidence beyond yet more "allegations" that Iraq "sought" yellowcake in Congo or Somalia either. The British files (derived from very suspect Italian intelligence, ultimately) remain closed.

Wankmeister: "It truly is breathtaking how kneejerk Bush-haters and the anti-war crowd typically see everything in life in shades of gray and nuance, yet when it comes to the war on terrorism they become absolute truth fundamentalists and even bequeath themselves powers to warp and twist the words of their political enemies!"

It's truly breathtaking to watch the pot call the kettle black in the above paragraph, with such verve. Or maybe I mean nerve.

Wankmeister: "Real peace and understanding can never be built on peacemongers engaging in their own brand of lies and misinformation. Is this not so?"

Perhaps so, Wankmeister, but likewise, real peace and understanding can never be built on the piles of crap you have here. A case for war, yes -- that's self-evident.

[Another whole debate, deleted]

Wankmeister: "While you're at it, why don't you try Googling "Echelon". I sure don't remember all these self-appointed civil rights experts complaining about that program under the Clinton Administration."

Just because Echelon might be bad doesn't make a president handing himself extrajudicial wiretapping power a good thing, especially when he already effectively had those powers, except that under the law, he had to eventually report his wiretapping decisions to a judicial panel after the fact. Only possible conclusion: he wanted to do wiretaps that the judicial branch wouldn't see. And the only possible conclusion from that: he wanted to get away with illegal wiretapping, even if it was illegal only by some accident or error. I don't care if it he was motivated to do it for our own good. That kind of shit is constitutionally suspect for a reason. It's not a partisan issue -- there are coservative legal scholars who are very unhappy about all this.

Posted by: whatistruth at April 8, 2006 04:21 PM

Typo alert
"Shat about" -> "What about" (but I rather like "shat about," come to think of it.)

And "coservative" -> "conservative" (but is the GOP "coservative" with this administration? Maybe another good one.)

Posted by: whatistruth at April 8, 2006 04:26 PM

Some people here need to get their own blogs, it seems.

Amusing letter. Great article in the LATimes. Wish I'd caught it back when it came out. Your writing is thoughtful, even-handed and gripping. Too bad most people who read it respond with their partisan blinders snugly in place. The important thing is to have reporters like you writing what they experience, considering we're on the verge of a war with Iran and it would do well for Americans to learn all they can about that part of the world and its politics (if, as you say, that's the word).

- NotDeskmerc

Posted by: NotDeskmerc at April 8, 2006 06:06 PM

MJT;I've been told that my experience doesn't necessarily apply to all Arabs..But the Actions of late by them,backs me up..Humans don't treat other Humans the way they do..How can you trust them when they massacree Babies,Children and other Innocents on purpose just to make a point..
Folk Lore says they are fierce fighters..Maybe they are when fighting Women and having ten to one odds...

Posted by: jacgar at April 8, 2006 07:05 PM

Just wanted to say thanks. Loved your letter to to Hezb ebola.

Posted by: jackcass at April 8, 2006 08:20 PM

Christopher is right, this is inexcusable:

“I don't expect my readers to be surprised. My readers are more sophisticated than average Americans.”

“I'm not talking about hicks in Arkansas here. I'm talking about people in upscale well-educated Portland, Oregon.”

Posted by: ECS at April 8, 2006 09:47 PM

"I’ll admit it feels a bit slimy knowing that I’m under Internet surveillance"

What does that mean? He reads your website?

Posted by: Shira at April 8, 2006 10:00 PM

Hey,

Fight the good fight, but keep your powder dry, you're playing for keeps.

Jim

Posted by: reprobate at April 9, 2006 01:44 AM

Oh, and don't sweat the Arkansas thing. While you could easily substitute more or less some region in any state in the union, its a viable shorthand and anyone who has a problem with it can have my old Natural State license plate.

Posted by: reprobate at April 9, 2006 01:50 AM

Found your blog through the Sandmonkey's blog. Good stuff! I'll be sure to check it out again!

Posted by: BornIn1965 at April 9, 2006 06:40 AM

Shira: What does that mean? He reads your website?

It's his job to monitor me and keep a file on me. And also to threaten me when what I write pisses him off, apparently.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 9, 2006 10:20 AM

Why are half of the comments on this board more skillfully written than the article itself?

From someone who has dismissed most of his own inaccuracies as "retarded," Michael simply does not make very well-rounded/interesting points in flipping the bird to Hezbollah.

I respect anyone who is willing to put themselves in harm's way to get to the truth but I wonder how much of a reputation you can build for being an unbiased journalist when your piece literally rots of lover's spit.

Congratulations, though, we all now know that Hussein is a rude person. That is such a high-brow topic of discussion that I might just have to pee in my panties.

Looking forward to your next entry about how bad the odor is around the mullahs of Iran and Bashar Assad's unfortunate flatulation problems.

Thanks for keeping us enlightened!

Posted by: Nathan Frailing at April 17, 2006 01:33 PM

No it actually doesn't suck to to have the IDF fight us because we kicked their ass like we can kick your ass Michael. Be careful how you talk because you know were watching you.

Posted by: Hussein Naboulsi at August 18, 2006 10:29 AM

Is it all a joke?

Posted by: A muslim at August 20, 2006 04:56 AM

wow gold

Posted by: wowgold at January 24, 2007 04:29 AM
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