January 29, 2004

Retiring Deanophobia (Updated)

A few days ago I said Howard Dean is probably toast. Then I felt foolish. Who says? Me? The heck do I know? I donít think anyone predicted the primary race so far. The silent majority of the Democratic Party gave the media and the blogosphere the middle finger in Iowa.

However. If thereís anyone in America who worried more about Howard Dean than Jonathan Chait, I donít know who it is. Today he shut down his Diary of a Dean-o-phobe blog at The New Republic. That should tell us something.

My work here is done.
And good work it was.

UPDATE: William Swann at the Centrist Coalition reports that some of Dean's biggest supporters in the blogosphere are done with him, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:02 AM

Ideology and Denial

Philosophy Professor Keith Burgess-Jackson has a smart piece in Tech Central Station about his escape from ideology.

His was an ideology of the left, and there are, of course, ideologies of the right. The pitfalls are the same.

Iíve said before that partisan politics is intellectually corrupting. Hereís why.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:00 AM

January 28, 2004


Paul Berman is a thoughtful left-wing intellectual who isn't known for his rants. At least not in print.

But he's ranting now in Dissent Magazine. Ranting about those who are traitors to the left. And no, he's not talking about hawks like me.

This "traitor" business gets old really fast, and I don't have any patience for it. But Berman here is talking about people who betray left-wing principles rather than those like me who, because of those same principles, would rather walk away than accept the new party line. Take a look.

(Via Roger L. Simon.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:04 PM

My Guy in Third

Iím disappointed in New Hampshire. John Kerry and Howard Dean over John Edwards? Sigh.

I suppose itís better than Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton clobbering Howard Dean.

I still have a little bit of hope that Edwards will do well in the South and at least take Dean off the board. But maybe Iím the guy Gerard Van der Leun is talking about.

Watching these sad captains who were sane enough a few months back to say "goodbye to all that" warming to this, that, or the other Bozo bobbing to the surface of the tank is depressing. It's like watching a drunk who has finally wised up to the dangers of drink; who's gone on the wagon, gone to the meeting, suddenly start sniffing damp wine corks in the Boom-Boom Room while clutching a club soda.
I do think Edwards is better than that. A Bozo bobbing to the surface of the tank? Then again, he isnít up at the surface. The cream isnít rising.

A nationwide showdown between Kerry and Dean will be a disaster. Roger L. Simon says why.

[A] two-man race of this sort will push the Democratic Party to the left, particularly on the war. With Dean surging like this, and pushing on Kerry, the contest will become about which candidate more despises the War in Iraq. Intelligent discussion of the most important subject of our day will be minimized.
Andrew Sullivan says Bush is in trouble. And that is probably true. Heís earned every bit of that trouble. But the Democrats arenít gearing up to replace him. They winding themselves up to flail.

I know two people who say they might vote for themselves as write-in candidates for president. They have my sympathy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:10 AM

January 27, 2004

I am Tom Paine

I thought I might be Thomas Jefferson, but I guess Iím not!

Which Founding Father Are You?

(Thanks to Natham Hamm for the link.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:13 AM

A Threat

Iraq war opponents of the Bush lied! variety like to cite weapons detective David Kay to bolster their case. His post-invasion report doesnít ratify what the Bush Administration said before the war.

Here he is in an interview with Tom Brokaw:

TB: Intelligence report says ... "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with range in excess of U.N. restrictions. If left unchecked it probably will have a nuclear weapon within this decade."

DK: Well, I think itís got elements that we have certainly seen are true. The area that itís probably more seriously wrong in is in the nuclear area.

TB: But as you know, the vice president and, to a lesser degree, the president of the United States, raised the nuclear threat as a reason that the United States had to go to war against Iraq.

DK: I think the weight of the evidence ó was not great.

But the anti-warriors might not want to make him their poster child just yet.
TB: David, as you know, a lot of the presidentís political critics are going to say, ďThis is clear evidence that he lied to the American people.Ē

DK: Well, Tom, if we do that, I think weíre really hurting ourselves. Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong. We need to understand why that was. I think if anyone was abused by the intelligence it was the president of the United States rather than the other way around.

TB: The president described Iraq as a gathering threat ó a gathering danger. Was that an accurate description?

DK: I think thatís a very accurate description.

TB: But an imminent threat to the United States?

DK: Tom, an imminent threat is a political judgment. Itís not a technical judgment. I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized. Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq well could have been that supplier if the war had not intervened.

Thereís more.
TB: But as you know, the administration and its supporters, not just suggest, but insist that there was a real connection between Saddam Hussein and terrorist organizations that would be a threat to the United States.

DK: Look, I found no real connection between WMD and terrorists. What we did find, and as others are investigating it, we found a lot of terrorist groups and individuals that passed through Iraq.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:15 AM


Islamist thugs are murdering Buddhist monks in Thailand.

Itís not because Buddhist monks are ďcolonialist oppressors,Ē nor is it because Buddhists drive the engine of corporate globalization. And itís not because Thailand is a superpower that deserves to be brought to heel. Thai Buddhists donít need to ask ďwhy do they hate us?Ē Itís because Buddhists are ďinfidels.Ē And thatís that.

As Omer Bartov put it this week in The New Republic:

[W]e still do not seem to have learned a simple crucial lesson that Hitler taught us more definitively than anyone else in history: some people, some regimes, some ideologies, some political programs, and, yes, some religious groups, must be taken at their word. Some people mean what they say, and say what they will do, and do what they said.

(Via Exit Zero.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:14 AM

European Anti-Semitism Watch

The Guardian and Haíaretz published polls which gauge the level of anti-Semitism in some European countries.

One in seven people in Britain think the scale of the Nazi Holocaust is overblown.

22 percent of Italians says Jews are ďnot real Italians,Ē and 17 percent say Israel has no right to exist.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:13 AM

January 26, 2004

Martian Crater

NASAís Mars rover Opportunity sends photos from the inside of an impact crater at Meridiani Planum.



Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:57 PM

Edwards or Bush

All Democrats All the Time is the new nightly news fixation. (Iíll take it over All Michael Jackson any day.) Iíve spent more time watching Democratic candidates for president on television in the past few days than in the previous two months combined.

John Edwards impresses me. Heís Bill Clinton without the sleaze. (At one point Bill Clinton was also Bill Clinton without the sleaze, but I see no reason to believe Edwards will follow him down.) Heís smart, articulate, decent, and convincing. It helps that my own views line up with his rather nicely. But I also actually like him. I rarely like politicians as people even when I like what they say and do.

Itís also nice that Edwards is the only one, aside from Joe Lieberman, who doesnít come across like a hectoring leftist. He doesnít wallow in Bush-hatred, nor does he attack the other candidates. He is optimistic, cheery, and focused on the future instead of the past.

He hardly utters a peep about foreign policy. And I think I know why. His authentic hawkishness is a liability in the primary. Maybe this will change if Joe Lieberman drops out and he can run as the only real liberal hawk in the bunch. But for now he sticks to other subjects. That is probably wise.

Heís not a cipher on foreign policy, though. In September 2002 he wrote an op-ed piece in the Washington Post about the problem of Saddam Hussein. All hawks should read this and know where he stands. A year and a half later, heíll still earn my vote for this as long as he doesnít backpedal.

As for the rest of them:

I donít particularly like Joe Lieberman. His sanctimonious moralizing is just too much. Iíd take him over Bush even so. Not that it matters. He has little chance of winning the primary. Heís a protest vote.

John Kerry, for the most part, is a decent and reasonable man. I donít loathe him and I doubt I ever could or will. He would be preferable to Bush in many ways. (The fact that heís a so-called ďMassachusetts liberalĒ is not a big deal for me.) Still, the only foreign policy ideas Iíve heard from his mouth can be boiled down to Bush lied and Bush was rude to France. Iím not getting behind anyone who thinks thatís a defense policy.

Kerry will earn credibility if he can address this problem seriously. But he needs to convince me in my gut that he can overthrow a tyrant while Europe screams. I donít think he can do that, but heís more than welcome to try.

Wesley Clark is just bizarre. He seems to be trying to prove he is a Democrat, but he comes across as a man who is conforming to a caricature because he doesnít know how to be a real one.

Howard Dean is probably toast. Iíve moved on.

Dennis Kucinich is the Pat Buchanan of the Democrats. He doesnít help the partyís image. But heís out of the mainstream and canít do any real damage. I do like the fact that a goofball like him can run for president.

Al Sharpton doesnít deserve a response.

And so. While subject to change and revision, at this point in time I tentatively support John Edwards for president. Failing an Edwards win the primary, this blog in all likelihood will plug its nose and endorse George W. Bush - for reasons of national security.

Strong arguments for others will be considered. And I reserve the right to flip-flop as needed.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:06 AM

January 22, 2004

I Live in a Red State Now

Tim Blair found an interesting Web site that projects the 2004 election using the most up-to-date polls. Looks like a total blowout for Bush.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:01 PM

Why I Live in a Red State Now

Sean LaFreniere ably demonstrates just how out of touch George W. Bush is with Americans. He gets foreign policy right but on the rest of it, wow. His agenda is not popular. Yet he still slams every Democrat in the polls.

I think Dick Morris is right. Bush is Churchill. Heís ahead because of the war. (But unlike Churchill, Bush is not going to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.)

The Democrats should be able to defeat Bush. But they have to get their act together. They have to be credible. They need to be Tony Blair. They canít be the British Labor Party in the 30s and 40s.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon comments.

[N]one of the leading candidates had the slightest interest in dealing with the issue that confronts civilization on an adult level. They didn't even exhibit the capability.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:00 PM

January 21, 2004


Jeff Jarvis explains whatís up with me, Roger L. Simon, and himself becoming more politically independent.

It makes us all biparty.
It makes us all flexible.
We are metropolitical.
Iíll tell you what I like best about being unattached to either political party. Democracy has more value to me now than it did before. I donít actually know who I am going to support for president in November. In every previous election, that was unthinkable. I was always against the Republicans, period.

Now I donít know. In some ways I like the Democrats, and in other ways I like the Republicans. This time around Iíll actually get to decide. Iíll actually make a choice. It isnít predetermined by anybody, not even myself. Democracy is all about choice, and those who are rigid party supporters donít get to know what that feels like. I feel more powerful having a choice, like what I say and think actually counts. I can think for myself in ways I only thought I could before. No one feeds me opinions with a spoon. No one I care about insists that since I believe X I must also believe Y. It was lonely for a while, but now itís nice. I like it. Iím free.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan writes:

Well, I've never tried to please everyone with this blog but the torrent of abuse and mockery yesterday because of my criticisms of the SOTU caused me a little grief. According to many Republicans, I'm selling out to the "hard left." According to some Democrats, I've finally seen the light, ha, ha, ha. How about applying principles to changing events and circumstances? It says something about what has happened to the Republican party that supporting fiscal responsibility is now the position of the "hard left." And it says something about some Democrats that you either have to hate this president or love him unconditionally. Why can't a grown-up have a complicated position?
You can, Andrew. Grown-ups don't give you a hard time for it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:39 PM

The New PC

A few years ago I would have been absolutely certain that an article titled "The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism" would appear in a right-wing magazine. No left-wing magazine would dare touch that.

But The Nation just published it.

Roger L. Simon does a fine job tackling it, and I only want to add one thing.

The Nation is suffused with political correctness. Thatís annoying, but I'll take it any day of the week over the deliberate whitewashing of racism on the rise. Jews just arenít protected by political correctness anymore. Who would have thought, before September 11, that this would happen? Certainly not me.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:37 PM

January 20, 2004

Liberals in Iowa

Iíve been awfully hard on the Democrats lately, and the Iowa caucus (or the Iowa Carcass as Tim Blair calls it) has restored a bit of my formerly warm feelings for them.

Those who fear and loathe the left, but who also know they could be a little more understanding, would do themselves a favor by reading the new column by David Brooks in the New York Times.

It takes a great deal of integrity to write about the opposing political party the way David Brooks does it. My hat is off to him. This is great work.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:02 PM

A Friend Makes the Big Time

David Hogberg, an Iowa political blogger who writes Cornfield Commentary, is an old friend of mine. He must have been born conservative. I donít think Iíve once heard a liberal peep from him. But, hey, heís a good guy all the same, and he published his first National Review Online piece yesterday. Itís about (who else?) Howard Dean. Congratulations, David!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:01 PM

Remixed Dean

This is just precious.

James Lileks remixes Howard Dean on mp3.

I'll be impressed, I mean really impressed, if Howard Dean has the cojones to play this song at a rally in New Hampshire and dance to it.

(Via Jeff Jarvis.)

UPDATE: Dean's Screech as interpreted by Lileks made MTV.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:04 PM

January 19, 2004

Upset in Iowa

I am very surprised.

Six months ago, I wouldnít have been. But today I really am.

John Kerry took Iowa. And John Edwards took second place.

Dean trailed a distant third. He earned that.

Iím not a fan of John Kerryís. I wouldnít say heís Dean-lite, but on the most important question of our time, heís a fish. He flip-flops all over foreign policy. Heís incoherent, indecisive, and I flat-out donít trust him. Would he stand down a ruthless dictator? I doubt it. And I donít like that. At all.

John Edwards, though. He came in second. And he isnít a foreign policy goof. If all the energy spent in the last year on anti-war fervor were spent instead on promoting John Edwards, my entire blog output would have been radically different than it is.

I am not going to try to predict who will ultimately win the Democratic primary. I figured all along it would be Dean, and recently thought it might be Clark.

If it turns out to be Edwards, I will significantly revise my recently revised opinion of the Democratic Party. And if it turns out to be Kerry, Iíll revise it by half.

(My view of radical leftists, however, wonít budge an iota.)

The only thing (at this point) that worries me about an Edwards victory was spelled out last week by Mickey Kaus:

As a non-Bush-hating centrist, I'm suddenly worried that a candidate I like, John Edwards, will win Iowa and the nomination. Why worry? Because Edwards will probably still lose the election, which will enable the hating left-wingers to say "See, you ran another Clinton and he lost." If the Democrats are going to lose anyway, they might as well run a paleolib hater and let that wing of the party have nobody to blame.
(But you didn't say if you would vote for John Edwards - ed.) Well, lately I've assumed I would have no choice but to split my ticket and vote for Bush and a Democratic Congress. But if it turns out to be Edwards, let's just say I'll have to rethink that.

UPDATE: James at Outside the Beltway says, in response to my considering a vote for Edwards:

I wouldn't go quite that far
Well, I am a registered Democrat. I didn't vote for Bush last time, and I haven't exactly been jazzed about voting for him this time either. I've defended him against asinine charges, but I'm not his cheerleader.

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm feels more or less the same way I do about this.

UPDATE: Anne Cunningham says me too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:32 PM

January 18, 2004

Hate Pundits

Thereís an awfully big market these days for cheap political hack screeds. Michael Moore, Michael Savage, and Ann Coulter have all cranked out polarizing polemics against the Bad People.

It looks like Sean Hannity decided to try his hand at the genre.

I hate to review a book by its cover, but look at that title. Deliver us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, andÖLiberalism?

Iím sure itís fun to lump dictators, terrorists, and librulsô together into one happy and convenient evil ball. Itís got to be even more satisfying to ask the Lord to come down and deliver us from such a horror. My far-left friends know all about it. You know - Republicans hate black people, adore Hitler, throw Muslims into concentration camps, and kill Arabs for oil.

From the looks of these books you might think weíre gearing up for our own American version of the Spanish Civil War. Itís the commie-loving Democrats against the jackbooted GOP.

Millions of people buy into this line of thinking. These books are best-sellers.

I admit to not having read Hannityís book, and perhaps he ďclarifiesĒ his position on the evil of liberalism in its pages. He does sit there every weekday for an hour on his Fox News show with his liberal counterpart Alan Colmes. They seem to get along well enough, better than if his co-host were Charles Manson. But he is playing the evil card to get people to buy his book. Right-wing hate works as a sales pitch whether or not thatís what the book is really about.

We are not going to have a civil war. Yet at risk of seeming to undermine that sentence, I do want to say something about this mentality.

Writing off your political opponents as evil isnít just stupid and rude - itís only a step away from yearning for tyranny.

Sean Hannity, at least on his cover, equates liberals with dictators and terrorists. And hereís the problem: If you ask me whatís the best way to deal with terrorists and dictators, Iíll tell you straight up to put them in a cage or put them in the ground. Sometimes dictatorships reform themselves under pressure: witness Chile and South Africa. Other times you have to wait them out: See Soviet Union. For the most part, though, as far as Iím concerned, the answer is revolution or invasion. Dictators have no right to exist.

Terrorists? Jail íem or shoot íem. Thatís it. Negotiating, cutting deals, appeasing, or feeling their pain only enables them.

So if liberals belong in that same nexus of evilÖwhatís to be done about liberals?

The answer, of course, is nothing. Liberals arenít evil. They arenít guilty of treason. Unless Hannity reverses himself in the text, the premise of his book is bogus on its face. He doesnít mind using hate as a marketing tool either way.

It isnít nearly good enough to acknowledge that the other political party isnít evil. In a liberal democracy (thereís that word again) with two major parties, each party, each overall governing philosophy, brings something to the table and gets some things right. They balance. Liberals are the gas, and conservatives are the brakes. (Or is it the other way around this year?) Yin, yang, Venus, Mars, and all that. And each party gets some things flat out wrong. Itís just not possible to split a reasonably healthy political culture into halves and end up with one side completely right and the other side utterly wrong.

If youíre a partisan for one side and you truly believe in your bones that the other side is evil or wrong on all counts, it really does logically follow that youíd prefer a one-party state. If the other party has no merit and causes nothing but trouble, everything would be solved if everyone became a Republican. Or a Democrat. Or whatever. And so democracy, from this point of view, is pointless and even dangerous.

If our hate pundits followed their logic to its conclusion, they would demand that we cancel elections.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:39 PM

Liberal Hawk Watch

Here is a new blog by a fellow left-to-center traveler like myself. And hey, he lives in Portland too. Welcome to the blogosphere, Peter.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:37 PM

January 16, 2004

Jerks (Updated)


ATLANTA - Hundreds of people pushed past Secret Service barricades Thursday to protest President Bushís visit to the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been the civil rights leader's 75th birthday.


"When I heard Bush was coming here I couldn't believe it. I was outraged and disgusted, and I just think it's a photo op. It's so transparent," said Kathy Nicholas, a flight attendant from Atlanta.


The left won this argument. Martin Luther King Jr. won this argument.

A white Republican from Texas paid his respects on Dr. Kingís birthday. Okay?

It's progress. Got it? Comprende?

It's not that hard.

UPDATE: Perhaps it's a mistake to assume that because something is obvious to me that it's also obvious to most other people. After reading the comments, I can see that some people don't understand my point here.

So. To clarify: It would not be an improvement if only Democrats paid respects to Martin Luther King Jr. I don't want to live in a country where that's how it is, and I'm glad I don't.

UPDATE: If those of you reading the comments section wonder what's up with today's mob, they came from Troll Headquarters.

Troll Headquarters doesn't have a comments section, and I can see why. It does, however, have this self-description:

This blog is for bad thoughts, cruel putdowns, and nasty hit-and-run attacks...
I'd say that's about right.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:37 AM

Liberal Reconsideration

Two days ago I quoted Thomas Friedman in Slateís mini-series Liberal Hawks Reconsider the Iraq War.

British liberal Oliver Kamm joins the discussion on his own web log.

I am a liberal; I have reconsidered my support for the war in Iraq; and I have to tell my readers that I was right in every respect.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:32 AM

January 15, 2004

Quote of the Day

Dennis Miller:

I've always been a pragmatist. If two gay guys want to get married, it's none of my business. I could care less. More power to them. I'm happy when people fall in love. But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it, instead of having him do it and punishing him after the fact. If that makes me a right-wing fanatic, I will bask in that assignation.
Via Glenn Reynolds.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:30 AM

The Wrong Stuff

I made a mistake.

Several months ago I signed a Draft Wesley Clark petition on the Internet. When asked to submit a comment along with my signature, I wrote ďPlease help save the Democratic Party from itself.Ē I really thought he could do it.

Iím still on the mailing list, but I can no longer bring myself to open the emails.

Chris Suellentrop at Slate compiled some oddball quotes from the generalís campaign in New Hampshire. I must say he misrepresents the first, and the second is no big deal. But here are the rest.

The president was not and has not been held accountable yet for misleading the American people. He is continuing to associate Saddam, Iraq, and the problem of terrorism. Yet the only terrorists that are in Iraq are the people that have come there to attack us.
As if the only reason Iraqi Baathists are in their own country is to attack us. As if Abu Nidal only moved to Baghdad for the rent and the cheap eats. As if Saddamís brazen financial support to Hamas and Islamic Jihad didnít qualify him as a state supporter of international terrorists.
Now, there's one party in America that's made the United Nations the enemy. And I don't know how many of you have ever read that series of books that's published by the Christian right that's called the "Left Behind" series? Probably nobody's read it up here. But don't feel bad, I'm not recommending it to you. I'm just telling you that according to the book cover that I saw in the airport, 55 million copies have been printed. And in it, the Antichrist is the United Nations. And so there's this huge, ill-informed body of sentiment out there that's just grinding away against the United Nations.
As if the Christian Right even has 55 million members in the first place. As if the only criticism of the United Nations is that itís Satanic. As if I and plenty of other people didnít learn all about the perfidy of the United Nations from liberals in the 1990s when the UN sat back and watched Bosnians and Kosovars get massacred by Slobo. Surely the general knows something about that.
Young men in an Islamic culture cannot get married until they can support a family. No job, no marriage. No marriage, unhappy young men. They get real angry, they feel real frustrated, they feel real powerless. And a certain number of them are being exploited in the mosques by this recruiting network.
Actually, itís the well-educated people who are most likely to join terror networks. Not the unemployed who canít get a date. But donít take my word for it. Read all about it yourself in The Guardian.
Newsweek magazine says he's [Osama bin Laden] in the mountains of western Pakistan. And I guess if Newsweek could find him there, we could, too, if we wanted to.
Ah, my favorite. Bush doesnít want to catch Osama bin Laden. Itís just like in Jim Treacherís Moveon fantasy ad:
And instead of a rubber duck in the hot tub, he has an Osama Bin Laden doll which he hugs and kisses like a little girl hugging a baby doll.

"I wuv woo, 'Sahmmy!"

The Osama Doll is dressed like Mrs. Beasley.

Iím of the opinion that Osama bin Laden is DNA on rocks. But who knows? I could be wrong.

What Iím not wrong about is that Wesley Clark is nuts if he thinks Bush canít see the upshot of nabbing bin Laden in an election year.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon reminds me of the reasons I liked Clark in the first place, and shows that Clark's current campaign has all the integrity of lime jello.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:15 AM

ABC Smear Piece

Andrew Sullivan links to an article at ABC News that he calls a vile little smear story about Howard Dean.

A state trooper named Dennis Madore is apparently a domestic abuse case. He was also in charge of Howard Deanís security.

I read the entire piece very carefully. And I canít for the life of me find any evidence that Dean did a single thing wrong.

Just below the headline, in typical Watergate fashion:

What Did He Know About Abuse Allegations; When Did He Know It?
According the article, Dean didnít know anything. Itís guilt by association.

Vile little smear piece indeed.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:11 AM

January 13, 2004

Why We Went to Iraq

Some say we went to Iraq to get Saddam Husseinís weapons. Others say weíre there to establish a foothold of democracy in the Middle East. A smaller number say it was our exit strategy from Saudi Arabia.

All those reasons are valid. A good decision is rarely right for one reason alone. Good decisions can be justified on all manner of different grounds.

Still, there is one over-riding reason we went to war in Iraq, and itís the one reason hardly anyone wants to talk about. It isnít even remotely politically correct or nice or diplomatic. But thatís just too bad. Life isnít a game of Model UN.

The real reason can be explained in two ways. First, here is Banagor (via Winds of Change).

The reason we are fighting this war is not because nineteen hijackers crashed into a burning building and a handful of others cheered, but because the entire Muslim world not only cheered, but then turned around, pointed at "The Jews" and said that it was their fault, denied they ever did it, denied that it ever could be them, screamed that they hated us anyway, danced in the streets, printed up posters about the heroes who did the deed all while denying they ever really did, and then increased their threats to tell us that if they didn't get more capitulations that it would happen yet again.
And here is Thomas Friedman in Slate.
The real reason for this warówhich was never statedówas to burst what I would call the "terrorism bubble," which had built up during the 1990s.

This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as "martyrs," and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash somethingóto let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it's not very diplomaticóit's not in the rule bookóbut everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we couldóperiod. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

Yeah, I know. This is dangerous bloodthirsty warmonger stuff penned by everyoneís favorite New York Times punching bag. That doesnít make it not so. Some things are true even if Thomas Friedman believes them.

We have Gaddafi capitulating over weapons of mass destruction. The Iranian mullahs and the nutcase in North Korea are backing down (at least in public) on their own weapons procurement. And now via Roger L. Simon we learn that Syria's Bashar Assad splits with Hezbollah and offers to negotiate with Israel without preconditions.

It isnít at all likely that Boy Assad would suddenly cave if Saddam Hussein had successfully stood down America.

Fighting a war in Iraq may very well prevent us from fighting other wars someplace else. Getting tough gets results.

And as Dennis Miller recently said on CNN:

I feel more politically engaged than I've ever felt in my life because I do think we live in dangerous times, and anybody who looks at the world and says this is the time to be a wussóI can't buy that anymore.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:27 PM

January 12, 2004

Tilting At Blandsville

When I was a teenager in sleepy Salem, Oregon my friends and I (who are still my friends today) stirred up trouble to break the ennui.

We rigged up complicated traps for cars in our residential neighborhood. They involving fishing line, beer cans, and a lawn sprinkler. (Donít ask.) We dismantled street signs (I know, I know) and tore up the rival schoolís football field with the parentsí Thunderbird.

I canít do stuff like that anymore. Well, I can, but Iím married, have a professional job, and live in a house with a yard and two cats. So I try to act like an adult whenever thatís possible.

Sometimes I miss the days when I could get away with being a prankster. We were busted by cops for every above infraction and more, but not much ever happened to us. I wouldnít go back, but still.

Christopher Hitchens likes to go back. In his own way.

Is Fun City turning into Blandsville? So says rumpled Vanity Fair scribe Christopher Hitchens, who laments the mayor's quality-of-life initiatives as the product of "the tiny Bloombergian mind."

Hitchens, a British-born gadfly and barfly who once penned a takedown biography of Mother Teresa, spent a recent afternoon trashing all sorts of city and state laws, an account of which appears in the issue available Wednesday.

Wearing a disheveled suit and shades, Hitchens squatted on a milk crate in the subway, rode a bike without his feet touching the pedals, fed Central Park pigeons and puffed his way across the city in wheezy protest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's smoking ban.

For all this lawbreaking, he received nary a warning.

Bloomberg's staff shot back that most of the laws Hitchens ridiculed were passed before the mayor took office in 2002.

"This current Niagara of pettiness and random victimization may well be Bloomberg's attempt at a wannabe reputation as heroic crime-fighter and disciplinarian," writes Hitchens. "One of the world's most broad-minded and open cities is now in the hands of a picknose control freak.Ē

Some people will probably look at this and think Hitch is just getting attention. I think he does it because itís fun.

UPDATE: Michele Catalano has more on the Bloombergian mind.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:25 PM

January 11, 2004

Mainstreaming the Fringe

Wesley Clark is supposed to be the alternative to Howard Dean. He's the man with a military uniform who projects an image - an image - of credibility on national security.

Here is Jay Nordlinger:

In a recent column, I attributed the following comment to [Wesley Clark]: that President Bush "is more concerned about the success of Halliburton than having a success strategy in Iraq." The Associated Press reported that Clark had said it; Reuters reported that his spokesman, Chris Lehane, had said it. It seems that it was Lehane.

Either way, the remark is in perfect harmony with current Clarkian rhetoric.

The general has told us, "I'm one of those people who doesn't believe in occupying countries to extract their natural resources. I think you buy them on the world market."

I agree with Wesley Clark. We should never occupy countries to extract their natural resources. I mean, for crying out loud, what kind of person could support such a policy? Thank goodness I've never heard a single person say they do, never read a single column by any writer supporting anything like it.

The problem, of course, is that Wesley Clark is obviously implying that some people do think we ought to invade other countries to steal their resources. And we all know who that is. Iraq was all about ooooooil. According to Wesley Clark.

But let's not photoshop a tin-foil hat onto the general just yet.

I don't believe for a minute that Wesley Clark has bought what he's selling. This is a cynical Say-Anything-To-Get-Elected moment. He's trying to siphon votes from Howard Dean.

That's what politicians do. But he's mainstreaming the fringe while he's at it.
Try to imagine mainstream Republican candidates ranting about Satanic Darwinists on school boards and black helicopters in Montana. The moderate middle would scramble to the left as fast as you can say boo!

The 1992 Republican National Convention in Houston was really something. This was where Pat Robertson and Pat Buchanan declared a fundamentalist Culture War on America. Blame Ross Perot on Bill Clinton's '92 victory if you want to. But that turkey show in Houston kept me and a lot of other people out of the GOP for a decade.

Wesley Clark and his rival Howard Dean are doing what the Republicans did twelve years ago - stirring up the fringe for votes and attention. They are letting loose forces that will not soon vanish, that cannot be accomodated, that will be their own undoing.

I know of so many people who have never supported Republicans who are shaken and disillusioned by what is happening to the Democrats. I don't know of a single person, anywhere, who is moving the other direction.

The damage will last a long time.

UPDATE: Mithras says I took Clark's quote out of context. Here is the full context. Okay, so Clark was referring to the occupation rather than the invasion. Still, saying we are occupying Iraq to extract resources is hardly less batty than saying we invaded Iraq to extract resources. Either way, I still don't think Clark believes what he's saying. He's pandering. And he's pandering to the fringe.

Oliver Willis thinks that because I found Clark's quote from Jay Nordlinger my entire argument is invalid.

Michael Totten masters alchemy in the act of extracting the idea from stone that Democrats are becoming extremists - get this - from a National Review story...Newsmax says Tom Daschle eats baby's brains. It must be true.
The same quote can be found at clark04.com. Oliver, you may not like National Review but they aren't in the habit of making up quotes from scratch.

UPDATE: Nathan Hamm and Randal Robinson comment.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:43 PM

Unilateralism to the Rescue

Here is Victor Davis Hanson on the fruits of American unilateralism in 1973.

Thirty years ago, during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, most of the Europeans of the NATO alliance refused over-flight rights to the United States. We had only hours in which to aid Israel from a multifaceted surprise attack and were desperately ferrying tons of supplies to save it from literal extinction. In contrast, many of these same allies allowed the Soviet Union ó the supposed common enemy from which thousands of Americans were based in Europe to protect Europeans ó to fly over NATO airspace to ensure the Syrians sufficient material to launch and sustain their surprise attack on the Golan.

American "unilateralism" in those days meant acting alone not to let Israel perish. Had we gone "multilateral" and listened to our NATO allies ó Germany, France, Greece, and Turkey all prohibited American planes from flying supplies in their space in transit to Tel-Aviv ó there would be no Israel today at all.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:37 PM

January 10, 2004


Via Dr. Frank and Mary at Exit Zero comes this "story" in the Washington Post.

AP Kills Limbaugh Painkillers Story

The Associated Press
Saturday, January 3, 2004; 5:06 PM

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Please kill the story Limbaugh-Painkillers, V9991.

Rush Limbaugh has not been charged with doctor shopping.

A kill is mandatory.

Make certain the story is not used.

This is posted at the Washington Post as a news article. Who knows how long it will be there? But it's there at the time of this posting.

Mistakes like this can happen even at the best newspapers. What's really downright strange about this is that the "story" has a dateline, and a copy-editor actually put a headline on it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:47 PM

January 8, 2004

History and Total War

When I was a teenager and first learned about the Holocaust, something precious and small, not hope but perhaps faith, slipped away and was lost to me forever.

I have read about it in books. I have seen it in movies by Polanski and Spielberg and Benigni. My maternal grandfather was shot (but not killed) by the Nazis. My mother went to grade school on an American base in Germany during de-Nazification. Still, almost everything I know is third-hand. Iíve never met a Holocaust survivor, at least not knowingly. It was not so long ago, but it was before my time. It feels remote, though it is not.

Our country is still embroiled in the moral arguments of war. For some of us, the Holocaust hangs around out back. The Islamofascist jihad has already killed millions (not thousands) in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Algeria, and Sudan. Most of us didnít notice so long as far-away foreigners were the ones doing the dying. But when it arrived with apocalyptic fury in the heart of our own cities, we had neither cause nor the right to remain neutral or passive.

Weíre still arguing about Iraq after the fact. And sometimes this discussion seems so petty. Compared to other people and ourselves in other times, we are spoiled. The Holocaust informs my view, but what we have suffered is nothing - nothing - nearly as bad as that.

Even if you opposed intervening in Iraq, surely you realize that some moral good has come out of it; a tyrant is gone. And we didn't need to nuke Baghdad to get him out.

The perceived immorality of our action may weigh heavily on your soul. But itís nothing compared to what we might have to face if our goal of limited war for democracy fails.

Do you want to know what a truly terrible moral dilemma looks like? Read this interview with left-wing Israeli historian Benny Morris in the liberal Israeli daily Haíaretz. (Via Allison Kaplan Sommer and Roger L. Simon.)

ďBen-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist."

I don't hear you condemning him.

"Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."

Benny Morris, for decades you have been researching the dark side of Zionism. You are an expert on the atrocities of 1948. In the end, do you in effect justify all this? Are you an advocate of the transfer of 1948?

"There is no justification for acts of rape. There is no justification for acts of massacre. Those are war crimes. But in certain conditions, expulsion is not a war crime. I don't think that the expulsions of 1948 were war crimes. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You have to dirty your hands."

We are talking about the killing of thousands of people, the destruction of an entire society.

"A society that aims to kill you forces you to destroy it. When the choice is between destroying or being destroyed, it's better to destroy."

There is something chilling about the quiet way in which you say that.

"If you expected me to burst into tears, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I will not do that."

So when the commanders of Operation Dani are standing there and observing the long and terrible column of the 50,000 people expelled from Lod walking eastward, you stand there with them? You justify them?

"I definitely understand them. I understand their motives. I don't think they felt any pangs of conscience, and in their place I wouldn't have felt pangs of conscience. Without that act, they would not have won the war and the state would not have come into being."

You do not condemn them morally?


They perpetrated ethnic cleansing.

"There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing. I know that this term is completely negative in the discourse of the 21st century, but when the choice is between ethnic cleansing and genocide - the annihilation of your people - I prefer ethnic cleansing."

And that was the situation in 1948?

"That was the situation. That is what Zionism faced.Ē

That is what total war against a jihad looks like. That is the terrible moral equation we Americans might one day have to face if our morally attractive liberation strategy doesnít work.

We in the West have not seen total war since the defeat of the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. We have not had to explode nuclear weapons. We have not had to firebomb large urban centers to make a ferocious enemy capitulate.

But war is part of the world, and total war may be in our future again. Total war is being waged as we speak by Palestinians against the Israelis. Donít be so sure we are finished with it forever.

Some Americans and many more Europeans have convinced themselves that total war is a thing of the past, that we in the modern world have moved beyond such nasty necessities. But human nature is eternal. History does not stop. As Robert Kaplan put it in the opening of a recent book: There is no modern world.

UPDATE: Benny Morris visited Berkeley recently to give a lecture. The Berkeley crowd has swooned over Morris in the past, but they were not very happy with him this time. Judith Weiss has the details.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:41 PM

January 7, 2004

Dean Hate

Over-the-top Bush-hatred is matched by over-the-top Dean-hatred.

In the new Club for Growth ad, a farmer says, "Howard Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ...," as his wife finishes, "... Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs!"

Last year I voted (kicking and screaming) for a local tax increase for schools that lost money due to the recession. (Oregon got hit hardest of all 50 states.) I drink at least one latte a day. I eat sushi once in a while. I like Volvos and I read the New York Times. I also think Hollywood makes some of the best movies ever (along with some of the worst). Iíve never been to Vermont, but it is often compared to my own state of Oregon which I truly and dearly love.

So count the number of ways people just like me were screamed at in the new anti-Dean ad. Count the number of ways the rightís new bigoted ad disgusts me.

From the same article:

As to the shocking latte-drinking charge, it should be noted that Vermont has just two Starbucks stores. Iowa has eight. Texas, the home state of President Bush, has 395.
Downtown Portland alone has 395 Starbucks, which is not quite enough as far as Iím concerned. Free advice to GOP strategists: Donít play that ad in my state.

(Via Jeff Jarvis, who just keeps getting linked around here.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:32 PM

Homage to Catalonia

In the next post down is a mention of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. You can read the entire book online here if you have that much patience.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:30 AM

January 6, 2004

Purging as Damage Control

Ideological lockdown is a symptom of a movement in decline.


Jeff Jarvis mentions in passing that he is a Democrat, and out came the witch-hunters saying he isn't actually a liberal at all.

Oliver Willis says in the comments

Seriously, stop presenting yourself as a "liberal" by any stretch of the imagination Jeff.
Jeff answers him further down.
Who the hell made you the holder of the definition of liberal?

And how dare you put yourself above to decree who and who isn't liberal? That's really quite haughty. Very unliberal, I'd say.

Want to hear what I say about health insurance... abortion... gun control... welfare... and, most importantly, human rights (even the rights of Iraqis).

Hell, I'll bet on many scales I'm more liberal than Howard Dean.

You don't know what you're talking about because what you're talking about is me. So don't presume to label me, mister. I find that insulting and offensive.

Jeffís detractors are annoyed that he isn't a party-line team player. But you know, folks, politics isn't a game of football, nor is it war. It is okay if you think the other side is right once in a while (most people do, after all), and it's also okay for a writer, any writer, to focus on whichever topics he or she chooses. Just because Jeff would rather write about new media and foreign policy instead of conventional liberal domestic issues doesn't mean he doesn't hold liberal views on those questions he puts in second or third place.

Regular readers of this site know that I can relate to Jeffís experience and frustration. And the end result of all this has been for me to finally agree and say to heck with it, I'm not one of you after all. I'm an Independent now. And despite the fact that I still hold several liberal opinions, I no longer feel any sense of loyalty or affection for the Democratic Party.

Purging non-conformists might make you feel good, but it doesn't help your side an iota.

I canít help but think the intended audience for public heretic-banishing isnít the target him or herself. Itís the heretic-banisherís comrades. People on the losing side of political arguments know their support is bleeding away, so dissidents are furiously denounced as an object lesson for anyone else who might waver. Itís a form of damage control, which is why they donít care if the tactic doesnít make them any new friends.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has more here, and he's not very happy about it.

UPDATE: Armed Liberal jumps in, too. He asks the heretic-banishers to read George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, one of the best books ever written about the left by a leftist. What does Orwell's book have to do with this political scrap? (Hint: It's about left-wing anti-fascists, the Spanish Civil War, and the purge of dissident leftists by Josef Stalin.)

UPDATE: Photodude (who takes and posts better pictures than I probably ever will) joins the fray as well. He once invited me to join his Fence Party, and I accepted because the people in the middle make the most sense to me. At least for now.

UPDATE: Jeff at Caerdroia also prefers the middle. Unlike me, he was driven to the center by the excesses of the right.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:22 PM

Martian Ground

One of the sharpest images ever taken on the surface of Mars, via the Washington Post.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:31 PM

January 5, 2004

Editors Wanted

2003 was a great year for writing. I fired up my blog in the second week of January and it took off far beyond what I expected. One of my articles was published in the Wall Street Journalís online Opinion Journal, and Nick Shulz was kind enough to let me write a series of pieces for him at Tech Central Station.

I am tremendously grateful to all the other bloggers who link to my site, to the editors who took a chance and published my work, and most of all to everyone who shows up to read what I have to say.

This year Iíd like to ramp it up. I have plenty of time to write. Who says I need to clean the house? (Um, your wife Ė ed.) And Iíd like more of my work to appear in print and in other online publications.

Make no mistake. I still plan to write for Tech Central Station as long as Nick Shulz will have me. He is a terrific editor and Iím not looking to replace my working relationship with him for one with somebody else. What I want to do is expand.

So if youíre an editor who is looking for new writing talent and think my work might be a nice fit, please, by all means, write me a letter and letís talk. Most of what I write is political commentary from a centrist perspective, and like I said, I have plenty of time to write. After a great 2003, 2004 is no time to sit back and stagnate.

And to my readers (bless you all), Iím not shutting down the blog any time soon. There is nothing like push-button publishing with instant feedback. Besides, Iím having way too much fun to quit now.

(Sincere thanks to Glenn Reynolds, Roger L. Simon, and Jeff Jarvis for their advice and support.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:12 PM

January 4, 2004

Liberals and Leftists

Several times in this space Iíve said that liberals are not leftists. Each time I received at least one email from a reader asking me to explain myself. And each time I promised to answer online.

So here it is, the explanation Iíve put off for too long.

First of all, I want to get the traditional definition of liberal out of the way.

Broadly defined, a liberal is a person who believes in social, political, and economic freedom. In the United States, both major parties are liberal. Most members of both support democracy, civil and human rights, and a market economy.

Each party is more liberal than the other in certain ways. Today the Republicans are more likely to defend the rights of individuals to make stupid bigoted comments otherwise known as "hate speech," customers to smoke cigarettes in restaurants, citizens to carry hand guns, and proprietors to operate businesses with minimal regulation. Democrats are more likely to champion the right of gays to marry, individuals to grow marijuana, criminals not to be executed, consenting adults to do as they please in their homes, and suspected terrorists to have an attorney.

Not all these positions are popular. Some arenít popular at all. But that isnít the point. Both parties champion freedom in different ways, and they do it on principle. Both parties have different liberal priorities, but theyíre both generally liberal.

In conventional political terminology, liberal is often used as a stand-in for Democrat, just as conservative is often used as a stand-in for Republican. But liberal still has that traditional meaning so, as Steven Den Beste likes to point out, it is possible to be both a liberal and a conservative at the same time.

To be sure, there are liberal Republicans like Arnold Schwarznegger and there are conservative Democrats like Zell Miller. But for the most part, in the conventional sense, liberal means Democrat. And these are the liberals I have in mind when I say that liberals are not leftists.

The liberal agenda, or the platform of the Democratic Party, changes over time, as does the character of people we refer to as leftists. But the line which divides liberals from leftists remains mostly unchanged. And it is this:

A liberal (substitute with Democrat if you want to) believes in reform. And a leftist supports revolution. Liberals (Democrats) are the left-wing of the Establishment. Leftists are radicals who seek to overthrow the Establishment (either through violence or the ballot box) and replace it with something else.

Winston Churchill once outlined some differences between liberalism and socialism, socialism being leftist. Though his words date back to the early part of the 20th Century, theyíre as true today as they were then.

Liberalism is not Socialism, and never will be. There is a great gulf fixed. It is not a gulf of method, it is a gulf of principle. [Ö] Socialism seeks to pull down wealth. Liberalism seeks to raise up poverty. Socialism would destroy private interests; Liberalism would preserve private interests in the only way in which they can be safely and justly preserved, namely by reconciling them with public right. Socialism would kill enterprise; Liberalism would rescue enterprise from the trammels of privilege and preference [Ö] Socialism exalts the rule; Liberalism exalts the man. Socialism attacks capital; Liberalism attacks monopoly.
Liberals and leftists are still, as ever, broadly separated as reformers versus revolutionaries and radicals. In todayís American political landscape, liberals and leftists differ in more specific and easier-to-recognize ways.

Liberals fly the American flag. Leftists burn it.

Liberals see America as the land of opportunity and freedom. Leftists see America as the bastion of Imperialism, Racism, and Oppression.

Liberals want higher taxes on the rich because itís fairer to the middle and working classes. Leftists want to soak the rich out of class hatred.

Liberals want universal access to health care while leaving the system as market-driven as possible. Leftists would destroy the health care industry altogether and replace it with a state-run monopoly.

Liberals want to ban clear-cutting. Leftists want to ban the logging industry.

Liberals support globalization and trade and see it as an opportunity for economic growth and also as an opportunity to boost labor and environmental standards in the Third World. Leftists hate trade because they think itís all about the West raping the rest.

Liberals blame the September 11 attacks on religious and political extremism in the Middle East. Leftists blame the September 11 attacks on America.

Liberals root for success in Iraq whether they supported the invasion or not. Leftists hope (either publicly or secretly) that America will lose and ďlearn a lesson.Ē

Liberals support the right of Israel to defend itself. Leftists support the Palestinian intifada.

Liberals support the troops. Leftists support the Iraqi Baathist resistance and put ďterrorismĒ in sneer quotes.

Liberals support mainstream Democratic Party candidates in primary elections. Leftists support fringe candidates or a third party (Communists, Socialists, or Greens) to the left of the Democrats.

Liberals who marched against the Iraq war are disturbed by the Stalinism of the rally organizers in International ANSWER. Leftists view ANSWER as comrades or are unmoved by its agenda.

Some of todayís prominent leftists include Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Ted Rall, and Gore Vidal. The range of prominent leftist publications includes Z Magazine, Counterpunch, Adbusters, and The Nation.

Some of todayís prominent liberals include Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, Al Franken, and Salman Rushdie. The range of prominent liberal publications includes The American Prospect, Mother Jones, The New Yorker, Salon, and The New Republic.

Whenever Iíve mentioned that liberals are not leftists, I did so in one of two contexts. I was either criticizing leftists at the exclusion of liberals, or I was defending liberals against attacks by conservatives who lumped them in with leftists.

Iím sure plenty of people will disagree with me about specifics. I donít think this ought to be the last word on the subject. But even a polemicist like Ann Coulter must know, on some level, that the views of Noam Chomsky and Tom Daschle don't differ in degree, but in kind. The interesting argument is about where, not whether, to draw the line.

UPDATE: Matthew Stinson has more on this theme.

UPDATE: Donald Sensing comments, too.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:45 PM

January 2, 2004

Ego Link

Tim Blairís feisty new piece in the Australian Daily Telegraph begins with a breakfast cereal theme and moves on to the sane and the insane left.

Oh, and he mentions me, too.

(A side note to Tim: Iím not really a part of the sane left anymore. Iím either an independent, a moderate, a centrist, or an objectively pro-Bush yeehaw flag-waving nationalistic warmonger, depending on where you sit.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:27 PM

France is Cleared

Last week I harped on the French police for letting seven possible terrorists go. The FBI matched their names on Air France flight manifests to those on a US terrorist watch list.

Forget I mentioned it. France did nothing wrong.

As it turned out, those who were detained were caught up in mistaken identity.

Their names were coincidentally the same or only similar to those on the terrorist watch list. One of them was only seven years old.

It looks like incompetence. But itís also to be expected when officials need to act quickly on imperfect and murky intelligence.

ĒA check was carried out in each case and in each case it turned out to be negative," a [French] ministry spokesman told AFP.

"The FBI worked with family names and some family names sound alike," the spokesman said, noting that some of the names had been transliterated from Arabic, which uses a different alphabet from French and English.

"The difficulty is compounded when you have no first name or date of birth," he said.

If it hadnít taken a week for all the details to emerge, this would have been a non-story.

UPDATE: The first story I linked to said seven people on terrorist watch lists were found to have purchased tickets on Air France flights. And the second story said six were released. I wondered what happened to the seventh person, but chalked it up to sloppy reporting.

Turns out, the seventh person ran away and no one knows where he is.

One passenger who did not show up for the flight has fled and cannot be found, a U.S. intelligence official said. He was described as a male of Middle Eastern descent who is a pilot, according to another U.S. intelligence official.
(Via Jeff Jarvis.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:25 PM

January 1, 2004

Flailing at Dean

Ever since September 11 Iíve found myself in the awkward position of defending George W. Bush, a man I didnít vote for and even hated, from scurillous attacks.

I wonít vote for Howard Dean either. But I can tell already that if he does win the presidency Iíll spend a great deal of time defending him, too. Iíll even get pulled into his camp (happily, I might add) if he does a good job.

Dean opens himself up to a great deal of criticism with his crazy pop-off remarks. His opponents donít do themselves any favors, though, if they canít figure out what his actual problems are.

Here is Cal Thomas, Fox News regular, in the Washington Times.

Mr. Dean is from a Congregationalist background, a liberal denomination that does not believe in ministerial authority or church hierarchy. Each Congregationalist believes he is in direct contact with God and is entitled to sort out truth for himself.
Perhaps I misunderstand Mr. Thomas, but it seems to me that heís sneering. Itís the use of that word ďentitled,Ē and that he says itís someone else (of the dreaded l-word persuasion) who thinks this way.

Maybe he doesnít believe heís entitled to sort out the truth for himself, that both he and Howard Dean (as well as the rest of us) are supposed to take dogma from feeding spoons. But thatís not the way most Americans think, and no one who canít think for himself is qualified to be president.

Mr. Deanīs wife is Jewish and his two children are being raised Jewish, which is strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus.
Whatís strange at best is that Cal Thomas even mentions this in the first place.

Iíd like to know what wouldnít be ďstrange,Ē considering the makeup of Howard Deanís family. Are Christians automatically entitled to come out ahead of Jews in religious disputes? Are part-Jewish children supposed to ignore half their heritage? Iíll be charitable and assume thatís what heís getting at, although that in itself means he has some explaining to do. Christian supremacy isnít the endearing quality that it used to be. The only other explanation is that Mr. Thomas thinks Howard Dean shouldnít have married a Jew in the first place.

What exactly does Mr. Dean believe about Jesus, and how is it relevant to his presidential candidacy? "Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised," he told the Globe, "people who were left behind." Mr. Dean makes it sound as if He might have been a Democrat.
Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago. In the Middle East. He was not a Republican, and neither is God.

Iíd like to pause a moment and quote from a letter to the Weekly Standard back in January 2003.

The "culture war" isn't driven by unbelievers, who are wrongly given first and second billing in the "secularist" credits. It's a religious clash, and the big player in the game is Christianity--America's majority religion. The Democratic party is not the "Party of Unbelievers." It's the Other Party of Christianity.

Speaking as a Republican agnostic, I object to being drawn into this dispute, much less having the entire dispute blamed on our miniscule percentage of the population. Non-believers have to deal with a 54 percent unfavorable rating and the fact that George W. Bush will never appoint us to the federal bench. Isn't that enough? We'll continue fighting the occasional Supreme Court case and sulk, marginalized, on the sidelines. Let us know what happens when y'all are done arguing about which party God belongs to.

And thatís enough about that.

(Back to Cal Thomas.)

"He [Jesus] fought against self-righteousness of people who had everything," the candidate continued. "He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it."

Not really.

Not really? Jesus didnít fight self-righteousness? He didnít say it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God? (Matthew 19:24) He didnít set an inspiring example that lasted 2,000 years? What, exactly, did Jesus ďnot reallyĒ do?
If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlettīs "Familiar Quotations," to be read or not, according to oneīs inspirational need.
When did Dean say that is ďallĒ Jesus was? He didnít. I know ďstrawmanĒ is an overused buzzword, but itís completely appropriate here. Cal Thomas is attacking a strawman. It might be fun, but it doesnít fly.
C.S. Lewis brilliantly dealt with this watered-down view of Jesus and what He did in the book "Mere Christianity." Said Lewis, who thought about such things at a far deeper level than Howard Dean, "Iīm trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'Iīm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I canīt accept His claim to be God.ī That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God or else a madman or something worse."
I see the logic here, but there is a problem.

I used to be a Christian. I left the religion more than a decade ago. For a couple of years I hated Christianity and looked at Christians with contempt. I forced myself to get over it. Bigotry doesnít suit me. Besides, most Americans are Christians, and Iím not about to go through life despising almost everyone in my country.

But Cal Thomas and C.S. Lewis would make my position impossible. I left the faith. So according to these characters I must condemn Jesus as a madman or demon. Iím not allowed to admire the man or even say anything nice about him. In order to be logically consistent (or whatever) Iím supposed to be an offensive religious bigot. Thanks, guys!

One hopes that the next journalist who gets a chance to ask Mr. Dean about this will inquire as to which Jesus he is talking about, if for no other reason than to gauge whether Mr. Dean is being sincere or a political opportunist who seeks to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats.
Maybe Dean is trying to bamboozle Southern religious Democrats. Heís a politician, after all. But something tells me Mr. Thomas doesnít care a whit about the sensibilities of Democrats unless they defect and vote Republican. If Dean wins the nomination I might do just that. It certainly wonít be to join Mr. Thomas. Heíll be no comrade of mine.
That reporter might also survey Christians in New England (there are more than Mr. Dean thinks) as to whether they are as offended by his reference to their region as Southerners were to his characterization of their symbols and driving choices.
So Mr. Thomas doesnít care for regional bigotry. Fine, neither do I, but he destroys his own point with his conclusion.
I canīt wait to see how Mr. Dean panders to Californians. Fruits and nuts, anyone?
Way to go, Cal. The biggest state in the union is full of a bunch of fruits and nuts. I guess thatís why they elected Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarznegger as governors.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:23 PM


Happy New Year everybody.

Since so many people like to tout their New Year resolutions on the Internet, let me tell you about the last time I made one.

I resolved never again to have a New Year resolution. Itís the only one Iíve lived up to.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:09 PM