April 29, 2004

A Good Anti-war Blog

If you’re a hawk like me you may have a tough time finding contrary points of view that don’t make you cringe. I know I do. It isn’t easy to find smart people with substantive criticisms of American foreign policy who don’t get under my skin.

But they are out there, and they’re worth seeking out and listening to.

So I’d like to turn you on to Marc Cooper, if you don’t already know who he is. He’s a columnist for The Nation (probably the sharpest of the bunch) and also the LA Weekly. Recently he decided to start up a blog. He must be doing something right because he already has a diverse and civil community in his comments section.

Here’s his take on Iraq in a nutshell (I am quoting him from his own comments section):

I opposed the war per se because I thought that on balance it would be counter-productive (but not immoral). I'm afraid that is being borne out by the current fix we are in. I also opposed the "peace movement" by the way as I found most of their arguments feckless. I still oppose any sort of immediate withdrawal as I guess I’m sympathetic to the Pottery Barn argument. This administration now "owns" Iraq and cannot abandon it.

If you can work with that, and I certainly can, head on over to his site. If you want to argue with him, be cool about it. Don’t be like the resident far-left bomb-throwing troll in his comments section.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:27 PM

An Unlikely Friendship

Roger L. Simon told me to read Imshin because it would be good for me. And he is right.

An Israeli woman meets a young Palestinian man at a wedding in France. Friendship of a sort soon follows. Find out how and why.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:25 PM

April 28, 2004

Discombobulated

Wow. ‘Twas the first day of the rest of my life and I’m feeling strange. It’s weird not having a day job. I took a look around the house and realized damn I’m behind on domestic crap. I can’t believe there’s so much around here that needs to be done that hasn’t been done. When I only have so much time for chores and whatnot I can only “see” so much.

I don’t feel normal. I have vestigial work stress hanging over me, like I have to get up and go to work tomorrow, or at least on Monday. I have free time to do lots of stuff that needs to be done, but it feels like that free time will end any minute. It won’t. I’ve been working seventy hours a week counting my multiple jobs and projects (including this blog) and now I’m way down. I won’t get back to that schedule for a long time because I don’t need to. That doesn’t seem real. It hasn’t sunk in yet.

I dreamed about my now-former job, which I held for four and a half years, for the first time ever last night. In my dream I went to work like it was a normal day. It was a boring dream of a boring day, and I woke from that dream feeling like I was in another dimension.

I have no idea what happened in the world today because I’ve been inside my own head. I don’t have any opinions today. It’s kinda nice for a change.

I’ll be back when I get sorted out. Could be any minute…

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:18 PM

April 27, 2004

So Much For My Day Job

It finally happened. I got downsized. The entire department at my day job was axed at 9:00 Tuesday morning.

I saw it coming years ago when the high tech economy imploded. I’m surprised I lasted as long as I did. It was, I think, the seventh round of layoffs that finally got me. That’s not so bad. There’s no reason for me to take it personally.

There’s also no reason for me to get bent out of shape about it.

A few years ago I finally grew up enough that I could start saving money. So when the recession began I opened another bank account and started rat-holing the stuff. I didn’t get rich in high tech (I never made a penny from stock options, even though I had thousands of them), but the job was a cash cow all the same. The bank account that began as my own private unemployment insurance has transformed itself into a career-change paycheck-generator. The money was nice, but that job was in my way. Now it isn't. I won’t have much money to buy anything, but I will be able to live a long time without another day job.

It’s a little bit freaky, though. I feel like a fish that spent his whole life in an acquarium who’s been suddenly released into the sea.

I’ve been making money writing on the side, and I have a few other tricks up my sleeve. When I called my wife at work to tell her what happened I thought she might freak out. Instead she said “Woo hoo!” She is an angel. And she knows what this means. This is great news for me. Really, it is.

I am happy.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:36 PM

April 26, 2004

Free Advice for John Kerry

John Kerry is among the legion of politicians who still don't know the First Rule of Holes: When you’re in one, stop digging. He’s been jumping down into the same deep hole, shovel in hand, for more than three decades.

In 1971 he angrily threw someone’s war medals over the White House gate. Were they his own or someone else’s? Were all the medals from the Vietnam War? Or did he rudely toss World War II medals onto the lawn along with them?

As is typical for John Kerry, on Friday he says he tossed his own medals then denied it on Sunday. (See Kaus for the details.)

Most people don’t really care if John Kerry did and said dumb things in ‘71. I certainly don’t. I was only one year old at the time. I do expect him to act like an adult and be honest about it, however. He is, after all, auditioning for president of the United States.

I don’t care for John Kerry, but I’ll throw him a rope all the same. Here you go, senator. Say this on the TV: “Today’s more strident anti-war activists remind me of my own immature self back in 1971.” It will kill two proverbial birds with a single figurative stone. It will play well among people who matter. And you’ll feel a lot better.

This is just some simple free advice for the John Kerry campaign by someone who is not, at this time, a supporter. You’re welcome.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:49 PM

April 25, 2004

Europe Gets Jihad

Europeans are having serious problems with some of their immigrants.

LUTON, England, April 24 — The call to jihad is rising in the streets of Europe, and is being answered, counterterrorism officials say.

In this former industrial town north of London, a small group of young Britons whose parents emigrated from Pakistan after World War II have turned against their families' new home. They say they would like to see Prime Minister Tony Blair dead or deposed and an Islamic flag hanging outside No. 10 Downing Street.

They swear allegiance to Osama bin Laden and his goal of toppling Western democracies to establish an Islamic superstate under Shariah law, like Afghanistan under the Taliban. They call the Sept. 11 hijackers the "Magnificent 19" and regard the Madrid train bombings as a clever way to drive a wedge into Europe.

These people are not at all like the Basque ETA or the Irish Republican Army. Those groups could be appeased or even surrendered to. The IRA does not wish to conquer London. The ETA has no desire to fly its flag over Madrid. You can't appease people who want to conquer you, especially when they don't have the power to pull it off if you'd let them.

So far to my knowledge, the only politicians in Europe who are even willing to talk about this are far-right nutjobs like France’s Jean Marie Le Pen (a Vichy nostalgist) and Austria’s Jorge Haider (a Nazi enthusiast). This can’t go on.

Either the mainstream liberals and/or conservatives need to figure out what to do about this (and they can start by pitching political correctness over the side and admitting they have a problem) or the ghosts of Europe’s past will walk again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:03 PM

April 24, 2004

Our Saudi "Allies"

I'd like to see the corrupt and reactionary House of Saud strung up on lamposts as long as they aren't replaced with an Al Qaeda regime. The Bush Administration's coziness with the princes is and has been troubling, but this is as good an explanation as any I've seen.

WASHINGTON - During the Iraq war, Saudi Arabia secretly helped the United States far more than has been acknowledged, allowing operations from at least three air bases, permitting special forces to stage attacks from Saudi soil and providing cheap fuel, U.S. and Saudi officials say.

The American air campaign against Iraq was essentially managed from inside Saudi borders, where military commanders operated an air command center and launched refueling tankers, F-16 fighter jets, and sophisticated intelligence gathering flights, according to the officials.

Much of the assistance has been kept quiet for more than a year by both countries for fear it would add to instability inside the kingdom. Many Saudis oppose the war and U.S. presence on Saudi soil has been used by Osama bin Laden to build his terror movement.

The best that can be said about them is that they are temporarily useful enemies.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:04 PM

April 22, 2004

A New Iranian Blog

Mohammad Ali Abtahi is the Vice President of Iran. And he has a blog.

Here is one of his entries.

I believe that America, close to the presidential elections, needs Iraq situation to be convulsed more than ever. It is because the best reason for America’s stability is these convulsions. Bush needs to announce the public in America that there is an unfinished project in Iraq that no one else other than him can make it to the last point and if doesn’t finish, the Middle East will be in war and fire and America will be injured and damaged more than any other country.

If my analysis be the right one, Moghtadi Sadr attitudes and actions in Convulsion making in Iraq and unifying Shiite and Sunnis together against America, is just exactly what America needs in such a situation.

The out of tradition attitude by America which is being shown against the convulsions in Iraq, like the blockade of Falluja or killing the innocent Iraqi citizens who are extremely tired of killings and wars, or closing some newspapers in Iraq by America, which are all opposite of the principles that America used to talk about. These are all in concern with how much do the Americans need a convincing reason for their stability in these days close to their elections and also how much would these manners be effective for Bush’s stabilization.

I hope that those who are influential in political areas of Iraq, including Shiite and Sunni parties, pay attention to this reality and do not prepare grounds for the longer stability of occupational regime and let Iraqis to be able to decide on their destiny as soon as possible.

He's writing in English so he's talking to us, not to Iranians.

What to make of that? Well, here's a snip from another post that gives us an idea of his character.

Reporting is a beautiful world. I love the world in which the person should think about an event each second. Even once, Ebrahim Nabavi asked me in an interview “what is the best profession of the world?” I answered: reporting and being a correspondent.”
Sure. If he believes that, I'm a mullah.

(Hat tip: Who Knew?)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:05 PM

Bush’s Ironic Bounce

President Bush is up in the polls.

WASHINGTON — As worries about the Iraq war and terrorism have pushed ahead of the economy among the public's priorities, President Bush has edged ahead of Democratic challenger John Kerry, national polls suggest.
Bush is ahead of Kerry by five points in the latest CNN poll, and he’s up by six points in the latest Gallup.

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post tries to figure out how this is possible after a month of bad news.

In the past month or so, everything has gone wrong for George W. Bush. He has been criticized at hearings of the Sept. 11 commission for being lackadaisical about terrorism. Richard Clarke accused him of being weirdly obsessed with Iraq. More than 100 Americans have been killed there in the past 30 days, and Bush was so inarticulate in his recent news conference that you could say he violated the standards of his own "No Child Left Behind" policy. Still, if this keeps up, he'll win reelection in a landslide.
I am one who would just barely answer “Bush” if a pollster called my house. For me it’s real simple.

I don’t like Bush. Didn’t vote for him. Used to hate him. Slowly grew to be neutral. (There, I just channeled his father.)

Kerry just doesn’t have it together. He’s a cipher. I have no idea how he would perform on foreign policy. And neither does anyone else. He might do a fine job. Really, he might. But “Take a chance with John Kerry” isn’t a compelling slogan unless you're a Bush hater.

Since Al Gore received slightly more votes nationwide than Bush did, a small but significant percentage of people who didn’t vote for Bush last time around would vote for him today. Some of those people are converts. Others probably prefer the devil they know to the one that they don’t.

If I had to grade Bush I’d give him a C. The only reason I give him that high a grade is because of who he’s compared with. He gets a Gentleman’s C, and only because I’m grading on a curve. (On foreign policy, though, I would give him a B. He earned that from me.)

John Kerry does have my sympathy. He could give a “Sister Souljah” speech and distance himself from the more feral anti-war activists. Some moderates and centrists would think that was fine. The trouble is he would also give Ralph Nader a bounce at his own expense. Bad news in Iraq doesn't help him, and he probably expected it would. He’s trapped in his own box.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:22 PM

April 21, 2004

Frum Spins Woodward

Other people can read Bob Woodward’s book Plan of Attack so I don’t have to. I can only read so many books in my life, and this one doesn't make the cut.

Still, other people’s reactions to it are interesting.

Here’s something David Frum learned from its pages:

George Bush told Saudi ambassador Bandar of his intention to go to war in Iraq before he told Colin Powell. Personally, I wonder whether this revelation is quite true. The source of this story is most likely Bandar himself – and his claims should always be swallowed with a good portion of the annual output of an especially productive salt mine.
That seems about right. Of course it might be true. Who knows? Let’s say it is and see what Frum thinks.
But if it were true, it would suggest several important and disturbing conclusions.

(1) It would rather give the lie to the claim that the Iraq war was masterminded by Israel, wouldn’t it?

I don’t see how. One thing has nothing to do with the other. Besides, anyone who thinks the United States is a Jewish sock puppet lives in a phantasmagorical mental universe. Weighing evidence is beyond them.
(2) It would suggest that by the end of 2002, the president no longer trusted Powell to do the basic work of diplomacy for him.
Eh. I don’t know.
(3) Again if true, the story would suggest that the breakdown of relations between Powell and the president did severe damage to the national security of the United States – by placing the president in a position where he had to inform doubtfully friendly states of major decisions before he told them to his own secretary of state!
Come again? Bush had to tell the Saudis what was up before he told Colin Powell? Why would he have to? Who on earth could have made him?

I’ll give Frum some slack for describing an enemy state as “doubtfully friendly.” His NR colleagues have done a fine job exposing the perfidy in that kingdom. He knows what I know.

And that’s what makes his blame-it-on Powell spin so ridiculous. Either Frum thinks Colin Powell is less trustworthy than the Saudis or he believes Bush thinks so. Either way…ptth.

I rather doubt the story Woodward is telling is true. If it is true, that’s a problem. And it's a problem because of what George W. Bush did, not because of what Colin Powell might have done to deserve it.

It's probably best not to blame Powell for being stabbed in the back. And it’s also probably best not to accuse him of endangering national security in the process. Let’s try to remember who supposedly did what to whom here. It’s pretty straightforward.

(Hat tip: Matt Welch)


UPDATE: On a slightly related note, it looks like the Bush campaign likes Woodward's book. Moe Freedman has the details.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:43 PM

April 20, 2004

Happy Anniversary to us

Today (Tuesday) is Shelly's and my second wedding anniversary. So you get nothin'!

Enjoy the fine blogs to your left. See you again shortly.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:59 PM

Another Kind of Terror

Damn this is creepy.

MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The body of a Spanish police officer who was killed in a raid on suspected Islamic terrorists was removed from its tomb Sunday night, dragged across a cemetery, doused with gasoline and burned, a Spanish police official told CNN.
I don't believe in evil, at least not in the religious sense of the word. But this makes me think of gothic horror novels, not politics.


UPDATE: CNN completely changed that story. If you follow the link now there is no mention of what I excerpted. Here's a cached version at Google where you can read the original before they purged it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:45 AM

April 19, 2004

Duelling Opinions

Oxblog found what looks to be an interesting Web site called Opinion Duel.

It's a collaboration project between The New Republic and National Review. If you're interested in serious debate between smart and reasonable people, check it out. A flame war forum it definitely is not. At the time of this posting, Jonathan Chait and Ramesh Ponnuru are going at it. If they can be faulted for anything, they're too polite.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:55 PM

Paranoid Blowhard

So Rush Limbaugh thinks Hillary Clinton might murder John Kerry and dump his body in a park. That's what happens when you spend your entire life in a dittohead partisan echo chamber.

Gary Farber explains.

I'm sure plenty of people will defend him by saying he's joking. Well, that's what Michael Moore says about his crackpot theories, too. I'm a comedian, he says. Yeah, whatever. Then again, maybe Al Franken can joke around about assassinating George W. Bush and conservatives will finally think he's funny.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:21 PM

None of the Above

I watched John Kerry for a few minutes on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press and all I could do was sigh. Why did the Democrats have to pick this guy? No one really likes him much whatever they think of George W. Bush.

I don’t like John Kerry, but I don’t hate the man either. I'm one of the very few people who feels exactly the same way about President Bush.

I agree with Roger L. Simon about almost everything, and I agree with Andrew Sullivan slightly more often than not. Today is no exception.

Roger said “I am not in a panic over the election the way some are.” The same goes for me for mostly the same reason. He quotes from a piece in the LA Times by Moisés Naím, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, about how history makes a president more than the other way around.

All recent U.S. presidents have learned that despite their immense power, they remain at the mercy of uncontrollable global forces, which can render their personal views and campaign promises largely irrelevant. The Clinton campaign's famous dictum, "It's the economy, stupid," proved a better election-year slogan than a predictor of how often international turmoil would distract his administration from domestic issues. Bush reneged nearly as quickly on his campaign promise to adopt a "humble" foreign policy, wary of active foreign engagements and nation-building efforts.
That’s basically right. George Bush has certainly done a 180 on foreign policy since the election. He started out as a paleoconservative Buchananite and morphed into an aggressive Wilsonian hawk. He began as a shrugging isolationiast and ended up in the same place I was led to by Bosnia.

Andrew Sullivan is likewise soft in his opposition to Kerry.

Here he is in an interview with Timothy Perry.

I'm encouraged by some of the things Kerry has been saying recently…In general I trust Bush more than Kerry in this war - far more. But I'm open to persuasion and don't think of myself as blindly in support of a person. If another person can better achieve our goals, the beauty of a democracy, unlike a dictatorship, is that we can change leaders quite easily.
I’d like to warm up to Kerry if for no other reason than that he might be our next president. If I don’t vote for him and he wins anyway, I’m not going to be one of those people who are sure to freak out and say it’s the end of us. In fact, I’ll swing around to being one of his defenders by default. I learned something by starting out as a Bush-hater and later deciding I was wasting both my energy and my time. Kerry may govern well, or at least passably. Clinton wasn’t half as bad as his worst detractors said he was, and neither is Bush. Kerry probably wouldn’t be either.

Still, I find myself more or less back to where I was during the last election when I voted for Ralph Nader. I was a paleoliberal then who was mad at the neolibs in the Democratic Party. Now I’m a neoliberal centrist annoyed with the paleos. I guess I’m just hard to please.

I don’t care for Ralph Nader as much as I used to (to say the least), but there’s one thing I really do (still) like about him. He wants an option on the ballot for “None of the Above.” I know it’s not likely to ever happen, at least not at the presidential level. But I like the fact that he brings it up anyway. I want to call do-overs. I’d like to see a Republican like John McCain run against a Democrat like Harold Ford. I would remain a centrist if we could have such a contest, but a happy one.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:22 AM

April 17, 2004

Mistah Rantisi, He Dead (Updated)

Got another one of the bastards.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israel assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in a missile strike on his car Saturday, part of its declared campaign to wipe out the Islamic militant group's leadership ahead of a planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Two of Rantisi's bodyguards were also killed.

He didn't fill the also-assasinated Sheik Saruman's shoes very long. Good luck filling the job opening this time, creeps.


UPDATE: John Kerry isn't sorry to see him go, either. He might even be willing to take our Yasser Arafat. Here he is on Meet the Press with Tim Russert.

MR. RUSSERT: Israel assassinated Hamas leader Rantisi. Do you support that assassination?

SEN. KERRY: I believe Israel has every right in the world to respond to any act of terror against it. Hamas is a terrorist, brutal organization. It has had years to make up its mind to take part in a peaceful process. They refuse to. Arafat refuses to. And I support Israel's efforts to try to separate itself and to try to be secure. The moment Hamas says, "We've given up violence, we're prepared to negotiate," I am absolutely confident they will find an Israel that is thirsty to have that negotiation.

(Hat tip: Roger L. Simon)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:30 PM

The First Egyptian Blog?

Glenn Reynolds found this blog from a Egyptian who calls himself GM. As far as I know, it's the first and only Egyptian blog in English. (There may be some in Arabic, I don't know.) He is just getting started, but it looks to be pretty interesting. Good stuff.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:24 AM

April 16, 2004

Directing Traffic

I understand why so many people still don’t know what a blog is, and I understand why they wouldn’t care if they did. Most of my friends are only vaguely aware I even have a Web site in the first place, and they certainly don’t read it. (A few read it, but only a few.) And that’s fine with me. While it’s fun to talk shop, so to speak, it’s also nice to be able to chill out with my friends and not yammer on about politics and the media all the time. Not to mention the fact that if I write something dumb or off the wall they won’t even know about it, let alone care about it. Nor will they hold it against me personally if I don’t vote for the same presidential candidate they do.

It does surprise me, though, how many people in “old media” are still out to lunch on this subject. They’re opinionated news junkies just like the rest of us. Maybe they just feel threatened and would rather not think about it.

Here is Jeff Jarvis on his blog today:

Many of us have seen it: A mention of a blog in a paper or a magazine or even on TV doesn't bring in nearly the traffic of a big blog link. I get much more traffic from a mention by Glenn Reynolds than from a mention in Time magazine or the New York Times.

I remember the business head of MSNBC.com telling me sometime ago that Glenn Reynolds' column there gets more traffic from external blogs than from the internal promotional power of the meganewssite.

See Media Drop's comments (and links to Terry Heaton and Bill Hobbs) on a panel discussion that brought gasps to the lungs of flacks when they heard this phenom: Blogs cause more links than big, old media.

Gasps to the lungs of flacks! I’ll bet.

The truth is that big old media hardly directs any Internet traffic at all.

Howard Kurtz linked to me in the Washington Post. There was a time when I would have thought such a link would be huge. But no. Not at all. I got a grand total of 25 hits from him.

Whenever I publish a piece in Tech Central Station, a link to my blog is posted at the end. I usually get about 100 hits from that.

A few days ago Roger L. Simon linked me and gave me 500 hits.

When Glenn Reynolds links me, I get 10,000.

It’s tempting for people in the blogosphere to pat themselves on the back and say ha! to old media. Sometimes it’s a bit much, but only sometimes. I wonder if the folks at the Washington Post know just how much more traffic a blog can direct than the online version of their newspaper can.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:38 PM

April 15, 2004

Will the Opposition Lead?

Tonight is one of those nights I don't have time to write. But I don't want to leave you with nothing.

This piece in the New York Times by Paul Berman, one of the best writers and smartest thinkers around, is your required reading for Friday. Will the Opposition Lead?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:42 PM

April 14, 2004

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: The New Neutrality.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:26 PM

Loser

Well, so much for this guy.

The fiery radical at the heart of Iraq's Shia revolt sued for peace yesterday, buckling under the twin pressures of a massive build-up of American forces near his base and demands for moderation from the country's ayatollahs.

Moqtada al-Sadr, who raised the standard of anti-American revolt 12 days ago, sent out envoys from the holy city of Najaf carrying his peace terms.


Iraq is not Vietnam, okay?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:57 PM

April 13, 2004

More Trouble for Kos? (Updated)

I decided to take a pass on the Daily Kos “scandal” where Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who is perhaps the most famous liberal blogger in the world, wrote a particularly nasty hate screed against the Americans massacred in Fallujah. Markos was de-linked by the official John Kerry blog, and he lost a lot of advertisers on his site. I figured he was punished enough and there was little point in piling on. Besides, I didn’t have anything original to say.

It seems our formerly esteemed blogger hasn’t yet learned that toning down the rhetoric and asininity might be wise.

There’s a new post up that deserves a little scrutiny.

Before I wade into it, I should point out that Markos himself didn’t write it. One of his contributers named Soj wrote it, but Markos seems to think it’s a worthy post. He did let it stand.

There are two serious problems.

First this choice little bit:

The only "crime" Sadr has committed is protesting the closing of his newspaper by Bremer, an American, despite the fact Powell says we're there to bring the Iraqi people "a better life".
Puh-leeze. As if Moqtada al-Sadr is Howard Stern’s counterpart in Iraq. Al-Sadr is a theocratic totalitarian, a terrorist, a killer of both Iraqis and Americans, an ally of Hezbollah and Hamas, and an Iranian tool. I really don’t know what else to say except that I’m amazed some people have the damnest time recognizing an enemy, even when he announces his intentions in blood and fire.

Anyway, there’s another problem with the post in question, a problem that goes well beyond an asinine throw-away line. Repeated throughout the entire piece (which is really quite long) is the assertion that Colin Powell is an “Uncle Tom” who stumps for “Massah Bush.”

This racist claptrap has got to stop. Yeah, it’s racist. It isn’t just rude and obnoxious.

It’s not racist because it implicitly says a black man can’t be successful. If Colin Powell were a Democrat working for a John Kerry administration, there is no chance an accusation of Uncle Tommery (for lack of a better phrase) would appear anywhere near a liberal blog.

Colin Powell is an “Uncle Tom” because he’s a Republican. And here’s what’s racist about it.

I don’t know of anyone who thinks a white person can’t choose his or her political party. It’s fine if you’re a white Republican. And it’s fine if you’re a white Democrat. But a certain kind of person thinks a black man can only belong to one political party. White people can choose. Black people cannot. White people can have a range of opinions. Black people need to have their opinions and associations dictated to them by someone else.

Markos Zúniga is himself an ethnic minority. He, of all people, ought to know better than to peddle this condescending, anti-democratic, illiberal crap.

I’ve lost the desire to read his blog. Ryan Boots deserves credit for bringing this post to my attention.


UPDATE: In my comments section Mithras posted the following:

The idiot who posted that did not do so as "[o]ne of [Kos's] contributers"; it was a diary entry. Anyone can create a diary at Kos. Kos exercises no editorial control over diary posts, as is his right. So how is this indicative of anything related to Kos?
If that is the case, I made a mistake bringing Markos Zúniga into this. I'm not as familiar with the mechanics of the blog as Mithras is. Markos does have contributers other than himself who post on the main page. I thought this was one of those posts. My commentary stands, but Markos is exempted. Sorry for goofing it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:33 PM

Tripoli and Fallujah

In three months my wife and I are going to Italy to visit some friends in Milan. While we’re in the neighborhood we figure we’ll hop on over the Mediterranean and bum around Tunisia for a week. (Why Tunisia? Read this.)

It will be my first trip to an Arab country. But it won’t be my wife’s. She went to Morocco with her parents when she was a teenager. My brother got mugged there a few years ago, but she loved the place. A man offered her father a dozen camels for permission to marry her. He was probably joking, but who knows?

Look at an atlas. Tunisia is right next to Libya. Tripoli isn’t all that far from Tunisia’s capital Tunis. A person could probably get from one city to the other in a long cab ride. Since Gaddafi recently decided to be a nice little dictator, the US lifted the travel ban.

So we’ve decided to go to Libya, too. I’ve never been to a country run by a lunatic. Neither has Shelly. Posters of the leader are all over town. Supposedly the hotel rooms are bugged. Plainclothes police follow tourists around. Should be an interesting experience. (If, that is, we can get visas. I haven’t yet figured out how we’re supposed to do that. The State Department’s consular sheet is not helpful. If anyone has any advice, please advise.)

My mother thinks we’re crazy. Some of our friends think we’re brave. But you know what? It isn’t brave to visit Libya. It won’t be comfortable, but it isn’t dangerous. Libya has friendly people, low crime, no terrorism, and a nutjob boss.

You want brave? Mark Steyn is brave. He went to Fallujah. By himself.

Eleven months ago I was in Fallujah. What a dump -- no disrespect to any Fallujans reading this. I had a late lunch in a seedy cafe full of Sunni men. Not a gal in the joint. And no Westerners except me. As in the movies, everyone stopped talking when I walked through the door, and every pair of eyes followed me as I made my way to a table.

I strongly dislike that veteran-foreign-correspondent look where you wander around like you've been sleeping round the back of the souk for a week. So I was wearing the same suit I'd wear in Washington or New York, from the Western Imperialist Aggressor line at Brooks Brothers. I had a sharp necktie I'd bought in London the week before. My cuff links were the most stylish in the room, and also the only ones in the room. I'm not a Sunni Triangulator, so there's no point pretending to be one. If you're an infidel and agent of colonialist decadence, you might as well dress the part.

I ordered the mixed grill, which turned out to be not that mixed. Just a tough old, stringy chicken. My tie would have been easier to chew. The locals watched me -- a few obviously surly and resentful, the rest wary and suspicious. But I've had worse welcomes in Berkeley, so I chewed on, and, washed down with a pitcher of coliform bacteria, it wasn't bad.

Why didn't they kill me? Because, as Osama gloated after 9/11, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they go with the strong horse. And in May 2003, four weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the coalition forces were indisputably the strong horse. And so, even when a dainty little trotting gelding of a newspaper columnist comes in through the door, they figure he's with the strong horse crowd and act accordingly.

Would they have liked to kill me? Well, I'll bet one or two would have enjoyed giving it a go. And, if they had, I'll bet three or four more would have beaten my corpse with their shoes. And five or six would have had no particular feelings about me one way or the other but would have been generally supportive of the decision to kill me after the fact. And the rest might have had a few qualms but they would have kept quiet.

The man is no chicken. There’s a part of me, maybe 30 percent or so, that would love to visit Fallujah. But the other 70 percent says no effing way.

There’s actually a point to Steyn’s article. It isn’t just a travel essay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Read the rest and find out what he’s getting at.

And wish me luck with my visa. I think I’m going to need it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:06 AM

April 12, 2004

Comic Relief

Not everything in Iraq is stressful and scary. Head on over to Marc Cooper's place for some laughs at Ayatollah Sistani's expense.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:51 PM

April 10, 2004

Fear

I should confess that what's happening in Iraq is a bit scarier to me than I've let on the past few days. I have a good reason, though, for resisting the temptation to wring my hands in public. We need to keep in mind, always, the objective of terrorism. It is to terrorize. It's an overblown cliche to say giving in to fear means the terrorists win. Sometimes, however, it's true.

It's helps to keep some perspective. Let's say we are totally routed in Iraq. That would be a disaster. But we also need to remember that it wouldn't be a disaster for all of us personally. I'll still have my wife, my house, and my job. My neighborhood, my city, and my country will endure. I won't be frog-marched into an Iraqi dungeon. And, unless you're an Iraqi, neither will you.

The steel nerves of some people impress me. It's relatively easy for me not to give in to fear. I live in Portland, not Baghdad. So who am I, really, to lecture anyone about keeping their cool about this?

Let me quote at length instead from Alaa, who does live in Iraq and whose life and limb depend on the endgame of the current violence sweeping across his country.

I hope you all realize that a major objective of the enemy is to produce defeatism in the U.S. and allied nations home front, counting on the democratic process to force the hand of policy makers. The War in fact never stopped from the first day of the fall of the Icon. All the events you have witnessed are part of a sustained and escalating campaign by all the forces opposed to the “Project”. I don’t presume to be able to give a knowledgeable critique about U.S. and Allied strategy, like everybody seems to be fond of doing nowadays (and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of Gurus of the subject). Firmness would have been much easier to apply at a much earlier stage. When I say “Firmness”, it must not be construed to mean brutality. Nevertheless, and undeniably, the use of force is part of the thing, but it must be precise, measured and proportionate. This, of course, is almost stating the obvious.

One thing is fundamental though: Once you start exercising firmness it will be disastrous if you falter and show weakness again. Diplomacy and politics are essential of course, but the arguments of the strong are always much more convincing.

In any case I ask all our friends not to be too emotional and weak stomached, and above all not to help the enemy in what he is desperate to achieve, i.e. defeatism and despair.

For those of you following what's happening in Iraq, Alaa should be on your daily reading list. He lives there, he knows what's happening, he knows why it's happening, and he has a far better idea how any given action or lack thereof will effect the so-called Iraqi "street."


UPDATE: See also David Brooks in the New York Times.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:05 PM

April 9, 2004

Iranian Proxy War

It looks like Iran might be in a hot proxy war with the United States.

Via Roger L. Simon comes this report at Project Free Iran by Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting and Fox News analyst.

For months, Iran has been building a secret underground network of military and intelligence cells that has put it in a position not only to challenge the U.S. and others, but also to gradually gain control the reigns of power after the June 30th handover.

By allocating vast resources, including tens of millions of dollars, to the task of building and spreading an overt network of mosques, local organizations, charity groups, medical and cultural centers, Tehran has also covertly created a number of new Iraqi surrogate groups, including the Hezbollah especially in the south. (This entity is separate from Iraqi Hezbollah, which operates openly). The group has been casing U.S. forces, gathering intelligence and building its military structure. It is headquartered in Al-Amarah, but is also active in a number of other cities including Al-Kut. Several Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents held extensive talks with Hezbollah officials in Al-Kut on February 15th to coordinate their actions.

In addition, Iran has formed the Nasiriyah-based 15th Shaban and the Basrah-based Seyyed ol-Shohada groups. At least a half a dozen other Iranian sponsored groups are now operating in Baghdad and other places.

Iranian agents have been commuting back and forth to and from Iraq regularly, using different border crossings along the 900-mile frontier with that country. Tehran has, for instance, used the Mandali-Monthariya border in February to send into Iraq a significant number of intelligence agents, who specialize in operations and roadside bombings against the coalition forces.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) has more:
A source in the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard revealed to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat(4) information relating to the construction of three camps and training centers on the Iranian-Iraqi borders to train elements of the "Mehdi Army" founded by Muqtada Al-Sadr. The source estimated that about 800-1,200 young supporters of Al-Sadr have received military training including guerilla warfare, the production of bombs and explosives, the use of small arms, reconnoitering and espionage. The three camps were located in Qasr Shireen, 'Ilam, and Hamid, bordering southern Iraq which is inhabited largely by Shi'a Muslims.
Also, Winds of Change reports that Radio Farda says Iran is giving 70 million dollars per month to organizations in Iraq, including al-Sadr's militias, with the objective of violently expelling the coalition forces.

I really don't know how credible this stuff is. But I will say this.

If true, this is a declaration of war by Iran. If Iran is going to send men into Iraq to kill our soldiers and subvert the nascent democracy we are within our rights to respond with force inside their territory.

That is not to say it would be wise for us to do so at this time. Maybe we should and maybe we shouldn't. At this moment, today, I would suggest we wait and see if we can get Iran to back down through diplomacy. But if this fighting in Iraq escalates and Iran refuses to let up, we may not have another viable option. We'll be at war with Iran either way. And if they are willing to cross the border and we are not, they will have the upper hand. That cannot stand. We didn't go all the way to Iraq to let Iran turn it into their fundamentalist sock puppet.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:54 PM

April 8, 2004

The Iraqi Insurgency

Alaa, an Iraqi Shi’ite blogging from (where else?) Iraq, makes a lot more sense to me than most Western media analysts when trying to figure out what, exactly, is to be done about the insurgency in Iraq.

Here are some excerpts from two longs posts. Do visit his blog and read more.

If you check my fellow bloggers you will get more or less the feeling of the decent, helpless (or should I say hapless) majority. I can tell you without any hesitation that you get a much better insight by reading us than all the media reports. Please don’t believe what they are telling you about us. Some of the bloggers are Shiaa like myself, and some are Sunni like Ziad, and about this you will find our feelings are quite similar both regarding the zombies of Fallujah or the thieves of the Mehdi Army. My family is hiding in the house with doors locked and bracing for trouble.

I don’t know if it has been wise to open this front at this particular time. But sooner or later it just had to come. I hope that you all realize that this is the true battle for Iraq, and that the fight against Saddam was easy compared with this. Because now all the demons of peasant thievery and savagery have been let loose, and it will be a hell of a job trying to put them back in the bottle. But if you study history you will find that it is doable, with a bit of firmness.

And from another post, later in the day.
What has been demonstrated now is the almost certain scenario to be expected if the U.S. decided to suddenly withdraw and leave the matter to local hands. The Country will be divided to three regions in no time. Those who will be in control in two of these regions will be precisely those against whom the Coalition is battling at the moment, the third will be under the control of the Kurds of course. Civil war between these groups will inevitably ensue very quickly. It is now clearly demonstrated that there are no viable local forces to stand against these elements. In addition, terrible pogroms and atrocities will be perpetrated against all the democratic movements and individuals and ordinary people.

However, you will be astonished that the solution is not as hard as you might imagine. Aggressive commitment and firmness by the Coalition coupled with a political approach to be simultaneously launched to form a government that is more convincing than the present set up, and one that can be capable of exercising real authority. The impetus of military action should be immediately and urgently used to press for the political end.

This strikes me as exactly right. It also seems like it’s exactly what we are doing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:42 PM

"Quagmire" Watch (Updated)

With the fighting heating up in Iraq again, this is a good time to take a fresh look at how often in the past two-and-a-half years the media have shown up as hysterical Chicken Littles.

Unless you enjoy listening to NPR and thinking we're doomed, we're doomed, you really do need to read Mark Steyn's Quagmire Watch.


UPDATE: While we're at it, let's get a little perspective about how nasty a place Iraq could have been had we not showed up in the first place. Here is Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal.

There must be a temptation, when confronted with the Dantesque scenes from Fallujah, to surrender to something like existential despair. The mob could have cooked and eaten its victims without making things very much worse. One especially appreciated the detail of the heroes who menaced the nurses, when they came to try and remove the charred trophies.

But this "Heart of Darkness" element is part of the case for regime-change to begin with. A few more years of Saddam Hussein, or perhaps the succession of his charming sons Uday and Qusay, and whole swathes of Iraq would have looked like Fallujah. The Baathists, by playing off tribe against tribe, Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shiite, were preparing the conditions for a Hobbesian state of affairs. Their looting and beggaring of the state and the society--something about which we now possess even more painfully exact information--was having the same effect. A broken and maimed and traumatized Iraq was in our future no matter what.

Obviously, this prospect could never have been faced with equanimity. Iraq is a regional keystone state with vast resources and many common borders. Its implosion would have created a black hole, sucking in rival and neighboring powers, tempting them with opportunist interventions and encouraging them to find ethnic and confessional proxies. And who knows what the death-throes of the regime would have been like? We are entitled, on past experience, to guess. There could have been deliberate conflagrations started in the oilfields. There might have been suicidal lunges into adjacent countries. The place would certainly have become a playground for every kind of nihilist and fundamentalist. The intellectual and professional classes, already gravely attenuated, would have been liquidated entirely.

All of this was, only just, averted. And it would be a Pangloss who said that the dangers have receded even now. But at least the international intervention came before the whole evil script of Saddam's crime family had been allowed to play out. A subsequent international intervention would have been too little and too late, and we would now being holding an inquest into who let this happen--who in other words permitted in Iraq what Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright and Kofi Annan permitted in Rwanda, encouraged by the Elysée.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:00 PM

April 7, 2004

Fighting Dirty

US Marines were attacked by insurgents hiding in a mosque in Fallujah. So they called in an airstrike and took out the mosque’s outer wall. (I don’t know what “outer wall” means. Did the bombs penetrate the mosque? Or did they explode outside it?) The Washington Post reports up to 40 people were killed.

I’d really like to say we shouldn’t be blowing up mosques, “outer wall” or not. But using a mosque as a fox hole is a war crime. Taking the mosque out is not.

Most Christians, if not nearly all of them, would shudder at using a church in this way. I’m not a Christian anymore, but I know if I were I would think it a desecration.

The insurgents thought they could hide in a mosque and fire at us with impunity because we’re too “nice” to shoot back. They were wrong. It’s about time they learned that.

They may continue to use mosques as shields, even so. What a great propaganda coup for them. Look at the Americans. They are the enemies of Islam. They kill innocent people while they pray.

We may have to make a decision. Is it worth the loss of PR points to deny terrorists and insurgents their safe house?

Will mainstream Iraqis blame the thugs who desecrate the mosque in the first place? Or will they believe the worst about us and think we’re out to get innocent people? I don’t know enough about Iraqi culture to say. If this goes down badly for us, whether it’s right and fair or not (I’d say not), we may have to respect the mosques more than their congregates do.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:23 PM

April 6, 2004

The Id of the Right

The insurgency in Iraq is getting nasty.

Baathists killed 12 US Marines in Ramadi. And Shi’ite fanatics took over Najaf.

These people are idiots. They are minority factions disliked by the majority. Now they’re going to get themselves killed and conveniently remove themselves from the scene. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, if they want to be martyrs, we’re here to help.

That said, thank heaven John O’Sullivan at National Review is not in charge. According to him, one way of dealing with this problem is

…to establish order by bringing in massive numbers of U.S. and allied troops, imposing a regime of surveillance and supervision that is widespread and almost totalitarian but not brutal, using both human and technical intelligence to track down and remove the terrorists from society, and settling down to stay in Iraq for at least 30 years. In that way terrorist resistance might be administratively smothered over time. But since the U.S. has decided to reduce troop levels and hand over power to Iraqis in three months, this option has been foreclosed. [Emphasis added.]
Mr. O’Sullivan is the id of the right. I’m surprised to see that mainstream conservatives still think totalitarianism in other countries, so long as it serves our own ends, is something to be patted on the back. But apparently it is so.

Look. If the US is going to go around setting up totalitarian systems in other people’s countries, (“not brutal” or otherwise) you can count me out right now. I’ll have nothing whatever to do with it. I’ll go back to the left because the left would be right.

I don’t believe for a minute that O’Sullivan was being sloppy when he wrote “totalitarian.” When he saw the word on his screen he must have paused. I mean, come on, is there any more loaded word in our political lexicon? He meant it very deliberately. Someone once said a political gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. The same goes for pundits.

O’Sullivan just can’t seem to help himself. He looks at the same nasty insurgency in Iraq that I’m seeing. I think to myself: They’re a threat to democracy. O’Sullivan thinks: Impose totalitarianism. A hundred bucks says he thinks General Augusto Pinochet, who promised to strangle even the memory of democracy in Chile, is a hero.

It’s one thing to do business with a dictatorship that is already in place. We worked with Stalin against Hitler and with Uzbekistan's Karimov against the Taliban. But you don’t have to be an Allendista or a cheerleader for Islamofascist nutjobs to see that imposing a totalitarian regime on foreigners at gunpoint is not only profoundly immoral but a stain on our flag.

If O'Sullivan is the id of the right, Wretchard at The Belmont Club is its ego. He gets it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:11 PM

April 5, 2004

The Trouble with Fallujah

What happened in Fallujah was a barbaric horror show. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down explains in the Wall Street Journal (free registration required) why it needs to be answered with force.

It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.

The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message--which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu--is back down. By most indications, Aidid's supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.

Bowden is right, but this is tricky.

The reason many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are lashing out at the coalition is because their Baath Party gravy train is over forever. The Baathists were nothing if not a minority Sunni tribal outfit that lorded it over the non-Sunni majority. Now they fear they’re at the mercy of those they oppressed for so long. They rightly blame us for their predicament.

They have only experienced politics as brute force. They don’t know any other kind. It’s as hard for them to imagine how a liberal democracy works as it is for us to imagine what it’s actually like to live in a totalitarian state.

These people need to be made to understand two things.

One, if they fight the US they are going to bring a hammer down on their heads.

Two, the US will protect them from the majority if and when they lose the first election. The Shi’ites and the Kurds will not be allowed to elect an anti-Sunni dictatorship. What makes a democracy a liberal democracy is that the rights of the minority are protected from the majority. It’s safe to lose an election. You might not like the results, but you won’t be jailed, beaten, or killed.

How so we strike back at the Sunni mobs while also sending the message that we are ultimately their protectors? I don’t know. This could be our greatest test yet. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was easy. This won’t be.


UPDATE: See Steven Den Beste if you want the optimist's view.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:04 PM

April 4, 2004

Weekend Photo Gallery

I don’t know what’s going on in the news right now because I spent all weekend poking around with the cowboys in Oregon’s back country. So you get a photo gallery instead.

Here’s where I’ve been.

Mt_Hood.jpg

Mt. Hood, Oregon’s premier volcano


Wallowa_Barn.jpg

Mt. Joseph, Wallowa Mountain Range


Joseph_Cafe.jpg

The charming little town of Joseph, Oregon


Imnaha_Canyon.jpg

Imnaha Canyon


Imnaha_House.jpg

Ghost House, Imnaha Canyon


Wallowa_Farm.jpg

The Wallowa Mountain Range


Wallowa_Forest.jpg

The trail to Mt. Joseph


Wallowa_Lake.jpg

Wallowa Lake


Wallowa_Reflection.jpg

Reflection on the Water

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:51 PM

April 1, 2004

Who Are We At War With?

Keith Berry emailed me and 18 other bloggers and asked what should be a simple question. Who are we at war with?

He wanted a one-sentence answer. Before 9/11 such a question would more easily yield a one-sentence, even a one-word, answer.

During the Cold War: The Soviet Union. During World War II: The Axis. During the Civil War: The Confederacy (or the Union.) During the American Revolution: The Crown.

But today? Who are we at war with? That’s an essay question. And because it’s an essay question, it’s no wonder we’re having such a polarized debate about what to do with our foreign policy.

Go take a look at the answers Keith received.

I can group them into three categories. One group (only two leftist bloggers answered this way) have a smartass definition of the enemy that isn’t worth addressing seriously. A second group says we’re at war with Al Qaeda. And the third group, which my answer belongs to, expands the definition of the enemy to include terror-supporting states and terrorist groups that are not Al Qaeda.

My answer to Keith’s question. Who are we at war with? Islamic fascists, both religious and secular.

It makes little sense to me to declare war on Al Qaeda, but not declare war against Al Qaeda’s Islamist allies in terror like Hezbollah and Hamas. And it makes little sense to me to declare war against Hezbollah and Hamas, but not against the Baathist states (Syria and Iraq) and the Islamist states (Saudi Arabia and Iran) who provide them with financial aid, material aid, military aid, and real estate. They are all networked together, sometimes loosely, other time less so. Not every group is linked to every other group, so sometimes their connections to each other are slight and indirect (as seems to be the case with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein). They all have a few things in common, even so. They’re all Islamic, they’re all fascist, and they’re all involved with anti-Western terorrism of one kind or another.

If Al Qaeda ceases utterly to exist tomorrow, and if everything else in the Middle East is preserved exactly as it is right now, would it really be time to declare victory? I do not think so.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:55 AM