October 31, 2004

The Struggle of Ideas - Armed Liberal

The Winds of Change site is having technical difficulties and Marc Danziger (aka Armed Liberal) wrote something he wants to make sure gets out into the world before the election. I've agreed to let him guest blog it here.


Richard Clarke and the other experts in Middle East policy have set out an excellent case - for not letting their expertise guide our Middle East policy.

Their new work is sponsored by the Century Foundation, and is called 'Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action'. Let's take a look.
The international jihadist network of radical Islamic terrorist groups is far more extensive than just al Qaeda, and it has conducted twice as many attacks in the three years since September 11, 2001 as it did in the three years prior to that date. Defeating the Jihadists: A Blueprint for Action (Century Foundation Press, 2004), assesses the nation's successes and failures on homeland security and calls for a stronger, more effective strategy for dealing with jihadists, including al Qaeda. The forthcoming report offers a detailed action plan for neutralizing the international movement at the core of worldwide terrorism. The report also describes the nature of the jihadist threat; provides comprehensive profiles of the various jihadist groups; and offers a rationale for the effort and money that would be needed to make the plan a success. The plan presented in the report builds on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and serves as a road map for winning the war against the jihadists.

The report's authors are Richard A. Clarke, Glenn P. Aga, Roger W. Cressey, Stephen E. Flynn, Blake W. Mobley, Eric Rosenbach, Steven Simon, William F. Wechsler, and Lee S. Wolosky—all experts on various aspects of national security, intelligence, counterterrorism, military operations.

They divide the problem into segments:

1. Focus on Winning the Struggle of Ideas.
2. Invest in Education and Development in Islamic Nations.
3. Implement Tailored Strategies for Key Countries.
4. Defuse Sources of Islamic Hatred for the United States.
5. Improve U.S. Intelligence and Law Enforcement Organization.
6. Reinvigorate Efforts to Combat Terrorist Financing.
7. Bolster Special Forces and Improve Their Coordination with Intelligence Community.
8. Accelerate Security Investments for Ports, Trains, and Chemical Plants.
9. Strengthen and Improve Oversight of Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Efforts.
10. Improve U.S. Energy Security by Reducing Reliance on Middle East Oil.

Looking at their point, one by one, we begin to see a very different strategy than the one pursued by President Bush, and one that is likely to be close to the center of what a Kerry Administration might do.

I don't have time to go through these point by point, but let's touch on the areas where I have significant problems.

They open with "Winning the Struggle of Ideas."

I've said for quite a while that we will ultimately win this war when we win the battle of ideas. Their idea of how to do it and mine are quite different, though. The summary of their proposal looks like this:
The U.S. must erode support for the jihadists in the Islamic world through what the 9/11 Commission called the "struggle of ideas," but we cannot do it alone. Traditional propaganda mechanisms...international broadcasting, for example...are a small part of the solution. U.S. activities in Iraq, as portrayed by the Islamic news media, make it difficult for the United States government to successfully promote its values and ideas among the world’s Muslims. The messenger is as important as the message...and right now any message delivered from the United States is greeted with suspicion in the Islamic world.

Therefore, other countries, respected non-governmental organizations, and individual Islamic leaders must take the lead in appealing to Muslims to denounce intolerance and terrorist violence committed in the name of Islam. These efforts need to celebrate our common values in order to overcome misunderstandings and neutralize terrorist propaganda. The role of the U.S. government should be to stimulate these groups and then wait backstage.

As part of this struggle of ideas, the United States and Europe must demonstrably welcome Islam as a part of their cultures. On this front, the European Union should have two priorities: fighting anti-Islamic discrimination in its member countries and initiating discussions on Turkey’s accession to the European Union.

Their argument is simple: the US government can't fund or otherwise encourage radio or televison networks that will have any significant impact on public opinion, because being associated with the U.S. is deadly. So let's go their own detailed discussion of the impact of U.S.-funded media. Talking about al-Iraqiya, Al-Hurra, and Radio Sawa, they say:
...all three of these outlets have quickly achieved significant market share and at least a modicum of credibility among their listeners and viewers (see Figures 5.1 and 5.2, page 96). Polling data show that 74 percent of Iraqis watch al-Iraqiya on at least a weekly basis and 21 percent of those consider it “objective.”9 Al-Hurra, though not boasting ratings as high as al-Iraqiya’s, still claims a respectable average adult viewership of 29 percent in a dozen urban areas surveyed in North Africa, the Levant, and the Gulf region. Just over half of its viewers rate its news coverage as “very reliable” or “somewhat reliable.” Finally, Radio Sawa has staked out a weekly following of 38 percent of listeners polled in six Arab countries, including a high of 73 percent in Morocco. Remarkably, four of five listeners feel its news meets the same reliability criteria. Thus, on the basis of both market penetration and trust, these initiatives certainly appear successful at first glance.
While they next explain away these statistics as due to 'novelty' or limited by the limited availability of satellite TV in Iraq, the facts are the facts; with a very limited effort, we've got a substatial amunt of attention from the Arab world - and it's certainly not the case that there will be fewer satellite dishes in Iraq next year than this.

Back to their key point; they say: "Therefore, other countries, respected non-governmental organizations, and individual Islamic leaders must take the lead in appealing to Muslims to denounce intolerance and terrorist violence committed in the name of Islam." How, exactly, is this supposed to happen?

Well, they touch upon it in this section - a big part of the obstacle to mainstream Islamists combating terrorism is the assumed fact that disdain for the West comes about in part because we don't do a good enough job of accepting Islam.

As someone who lives a mile and a half from an Islamic Center, I'm puzzled by this. How, exactly, is the U.S. and Europe not doing a good job of accepting Islam and it's practitioners? And - more important - do they see any concern in setting the bar at we accept them - but they are free to, as they do in Saudi Arabia - freely discriminate?

The real answer - in their case - is in their point #4 - "Defuse Sources of Islamic Hatred for the United States."

They dance heavily in this part of the document; here's the key step (from the summary):
Large majorities of those living in the Middle East and North Africa evaluate U.S. foreign policy as out of step with their own world-view. On no issue is the divide greater than with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not surprisingly, the Pew Center recently found that 96 percent of Palestinians, 94 percent of Moroccans, 77 percent of Kuwaitis, 99 percent of Jordanians, and 90 percent of Lebanese believe that U.S. policies in the Middle East "favor Israel too much." Given the importance of this issue in the Arab world, there is little doubt that these sentiments fuel much of the animosity felt by Arabs toward the U.S. While our foreign policy should never be dictated by foreign publics, the effect on public opinion of specific policies..remember the importance of the third and fourth concentric circles...should be a consideration in the formulation and implementation of policy. To that end, the United States should not alter its support of Israel, but should seek to revive the Israel-Palestinian Peace Process. The United States should not withdraw from Iraq before indigenous security forces are in place, but should cease U.S. military operations against urban areas, transfer rebuilding activities to Iraqi entities, and reduce U.S. goals in Iraq so that a withdrawal can be achieved at an early date.
(emphasis added)
So, by reformulating our policies to sit better with the Arab publics - publics that have been whipped into rage by a generation of anti-American and anti-Israeli government propaganda - we have a chance of 'defusing' the sources of Arab hatred.

Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Kennedy surely took the feelings of the Southern sheriffs into account when they mobilized Federal resources to combat Jim Crow. But I don't think they are honored today for ultimately bending their policies to make them more palatable to the most intransigent opponents of integration.

Not only do I find the approach offensive and immoral, but I don't believe it will work.

It is my habit to simply believe what people say; and what the Islamist terrorists have said - and what the works at the core of their ideology support - is the notion that this is a war against the modern West for the creation of a totalitarian religious state.

This isn't a view that's somehow historically unique to Islam. The various Christian sects spent a few hundred years trying to bring the world to God through the sword. But they had this largely beaten out of them by the 18th Century - that was one the key events that made the Enlightenment possible.

Read the whole thing.

For me, it solidifies my discomfort with Kerry and his advisers, and further secures my vote for Bush. If this becomes Kerry's policy toward the Middle East, we're in trouble.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:38 AM | Comments (63)

October 30, 2004

The Professor Returns

Glenn Reynolds is back from vacation and posting again on Instapundit.

Thanks, Glenn, for letting the three of us kids play on the Insta-lawn while you were out. And thanks for letting us stick around through the election.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:58 AM | Comments (54)

October 29, 2004

Programming Note

Glenn Reynolds just emailed and asked Ann, Megan, and me if we want to stay on at Instapundit until the election. Of course I said yes.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:35 AM | Comments (34)

October 27, 2004

Being Instapundit

Cows have four stomachs. Glenn Reynolds has six brains.

One reads the Internet. (Yes, the entire Internet.) A second brain thinks about what the first brain reads. A third answers his email. (I have access to his inbox. It gives a whole new meaning to the word “Instalanche.”) A fourth brain composes posts on Instapundit. A fifth writes columns for Tech Central Station, MSNBC, and The Guardian. A sixth teaches law.

So when Glenn goes on vacation he has to enlist at least three people (who only have one brain apiece, I might add) to fill in for him.

You know how it is when you click on over to Instapundit. He’s got links to seemingly everything over there. You’ll get a decent idea what’s going on in the country, in the world, and in his six brains just by scanning his list of links. If you click on over today and see what Ann Althouse, Megan McArdle, and I have posted you won’t get that. Sorry. We can’t cover everything. We need three more brains to do that.

Before I became one-third of Instapundit I didn’t know how he does it. Now I really don’t know how he does it. I’m kidding about the six brains. He doesn’t really have that many – I don’t think. He’s just a very talented person. It’s a good thing he makes decent money from blogads. Instapundit is a job.

Ann Althouse wrote about what it's like for her to be another third of Instapundit. You and me both, Ann!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:01 PM | Comments (76)

Open Thread

I'll be back shortly, probably later on in the day. In the meantime, feel free to discuss whatever you feel like talking about in the comments.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:32 AM | Comments (105)

October 25, 2004

The Joy of Sailing

I was going to post photos from my sailing trip to Gig Harbor this weekend, but I can’t find the cable that connects my digital camera to the computer. It’s around somewhere.

The weather was beautiful, as it turned out – a nice surprise for the Puget Sound in late October.

I don’t know much about sailing. My friends Adam and Christina took me out on their boat. They have the sailing bug, big time. I can see why. It’s one of the best ways to travel. It’s slow, to be sure. Taking seven hours to go 25 miles isn’t exactly efficient. But you aren’t strapped in your seat like you are in an airplane, a bus, or a car. You can get up and move around like you can on a train. It’s better than train travel, too, though, because you’re in control. Assuming the boat isn’t tiny, you have more room to sprawl out in than even in a first class sleeper car.

Arriving by boat isn’t like arriving any other way. You get to skip the ugly suburban sprawl and pull up right in the heart of the city. The harbor closes around you like embracing, welcoming arms. And after spending all day on the water, lashed by freezing wind, a cheeseburger and beer tastes like manna from heaven.

We saw ducks, dolphins, and seals. A rainbow over the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Olympics. Fall foliage on the deciduous trees among the evergreens.

Recommended if you’re in the area.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:01 PM | Comments (49)

Instapundit Posts

It sure feels weird posting on Instapundit. The number of readers over there is about 100 times the number here. Good thing for me Glenn doesn't have a comments section!

But I don't want to hide from y'all. If you feel the need to yell at me for my posts over there (see here and here) this would be the place to do it.

Don't forget to be nice to each other while you're at it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:11 PM | Comments (75)

October 24, 2004

New Column

My latest Tech Central Station column is up. It's about Turkey's dicey relationship with the European Union: Turkey and the Problem of History.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:08 PM | Comments (52)

October 22, 2004

Programming Note

This coming week starting Monday I will be guest blogging at Instapundit. Jane Galt and Ann Althouse will join me.

Glenn Reynolds will be out of the country for a while. Somebody has to hold down the fort during the runup to the election. Thanks for inviting me, Glenn. I’ll try real hard not to break yer blog.

I’ll probably post here, too, but the main event will be there.

In the meantime, I’m sailing to Gig Harbor first thing Saturday morning. The weather is going to be awful. It sure won't be boring...

Have a great weekend. And see you on Instapundit.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:25 PM | Comments (50)

Another Liberal for Bush

Marc Danziger, aka Armed Liberal, endorses the re-election of the president.

UPDATE: Jeff in the comments asks if I can recommend the work of any conservatives who oppose Bush for the sake of balance. Absolutely. Read Andrew Sullivan. Read him every day. I have not, I repeat not, joined the "I hate Andrew" club.

On the right sidebar of this blog I have permanently linked an essay in the New York Observer by Ron Rosenbaum called The Men Who Would be Orwell. It's about Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens. What Rosenbaum said about Sullivan a few years ago is more true today than it was when he wrote it. That's why some on the right won't read him anymore. It's also why I continue to read.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 01:41 PM | Comments (48)

Once More Into the Breach

Christopher Hitchens returns to The Nation to write one last column.

One of the editors of this magazine asked me if I would also say something about my personal evolution. I took him to mean: How do you like your new right-wing friends? In the space I have, I can only return the question. I prefer them to Pat Buchanan and Vladimir Putin and the cretinized British Conservative Party, or to the degraded, mendacious populism of Michael Moore, who compares the psychopathic murderers of Iraqis to the Minutemen. I am glad to have seen the day when a British Tory leader is repudiated by the White House. An irony of history, in the positive sense, is when Republicans are willing to risk a dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo.
I can say, and have said, much the same thing.

There’s a flip side to this, too. I may not vote for John Kerry, but I would stand shoulder to shoulder with him against Pat Robertson, Trent Lott, Tom DeLay, James Dobson, Rick Santorum, Alan Keyes, and – gosh – I don’t know how many other Republicans. That’s why, despite the fact that I’ve been pushed toward to the right, I haven’t joined the right.

No one ever asks me, Hitchens, or anyone else who left the left what we think of our center-wing friends. You can’t ask that question sarcastically. So it doesn’t get asked. How do you like being independent and free? The question answers itself.

(Hat tip: Marc Cooper.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:46 AM | Comments (67)

October 21, 2004

Stolen Honor

I have not seen Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, the controversial anti-Kerry documentary that Sinclair Broadcast Group wants to show all over the country. I've had no desire to see it. I’m a lot more interested in the war we’re engaged in now than the one that ended before I was old enough to read.

But my interest is piqued by the review it received in The New York Times.
“Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," the highly contested anti-Kerry documentary, should not be shown by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. It should be shown in its entirety on all the networks, cable stations and on public television.

This histrionic, often specious and deeply sad film does not do much more damage to Senator John Kerry's reputation than have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's negative ads, which have flooded television markets in almost every swing state. But it does help viewers better understand the rage fueling the unhappy band of brothers who oppose Mr. Kerry's candidacy and his claim to heroism.

Sinclair, the nation's largest television station group, reaching about a quarter of United States television households, backed down this week and announced that it would use only excerpts from the 42-minute film as part of an hourlong news program about political use of the media, "A P.O.W. Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media.'' That's too bad: what is most enlightening about this film is not the depiction of Mr. Kerry as a traitor; it is the testimony of the former P.O.W.'s describing the torture they endured in captivity and the shock they felt when celebrities like Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden visited their prisons in North Vietnam and sided with the enemy.
I wish I didn’t take a person’s political leanings into account when I read stuff like this. The article ought to stand on its own. And to an extent, it does. But this review is a bit more credible (at least for me) because it looks like it was written by a liberal.

I had never heard of Alessandra Stanley, the reviewer, before. So I punched her name into Google. The first search engine hit is a page devoted to her at Timeswatch.org, a conservative Web site that monitors “liberal bias” at The New York Times.

It wasn’t at all predictable that she would find this movie important. At least it wouldn’t have been predicted by people who watch her career. She is not “the converted.” At least she wasn’t until after she watched it.

I don’t need “permission” from a liberal to watch an anti-Kerry movie. I’m not voting for him. And I’m not about to become defensive about his history or his record – at least not overly defensive. But this film has at least some bipartisan appeal. If it were nothing but election-year hack work the liberal reviewer at the Times would surely have said so.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:59 PM | Comments (115)

Fidel Gets a Boo-boo

See this picture?


That's Fidel Castro falling at a graduation ceremony yesterday in Havana. Broken knee. Fractured arm. Thought I'd share.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 01:10 PM | Comments (57)

October 20, 2004

Moving Backwards

Brazilian journalist Nelson Ascher says the 911 attacks show history has been moving in the wrong direction.

I remember when a friend of mine came to visit me, maybe 15 years ago, with the newest issue of “Veja”, the Brazilian equivalent of Time magazine. He was outraged. That had to do with a teenage girl who lived in one of Sao Paulo’s most exclusive residential closed suburb had been gang-raped and killed. No, it wasn’t the crime that outraged my friend, but the fact that the magazine gave the story its cover-page. You see, he told me, had it been a poor black girl from the slums, she wouldn’t have made it even to the magazine’s most hidden page. I told him: of course not, but it’s not the slum-dwellers who subscribe to “Veja” and if such a thing can happen in the town’s wealthiest place, that’s a sign things are getting really bad and that’s news. I also told him: if you happen to find a roach at night in your kitchen, that means there’s at least one roach in your house. But if you find one at high noon in your living-room you can be sure your house’s roach-infested.

That’s one of the meanings of 9/11. That you cannot be safe in Darfur or Beirut, in the Phillipines or Indonesia, that’s a problem. But if you can be murdered by Islamic terrorists while you’re on the top floor of the WTC, then that’s not a problem anymore. That’s much bigger. The progressive idea was to turn, for instance, Beirut into NY. If that’s not being accomplished, this is bad enough. But when people start turning NY into Beirut, we’re definitely moving backwards. And fast.

Indeed. We need to push the other way for a change. This is no time for a conservative holding-pattern.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 07:30 PM | Comments (50)

October 19, 2004

America - Fuck Yeah!

My new Tech Central Station column is up. It's my review of Trey Parker and Matt Stone's Team America: World Police.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 07:05 PM | Comments (124)

For and Against Bush

Here is yet another endorsement of George W. Bush from a lifelong British lefty who now lives in New York: Sarah Baxter in the Times of London, a Democrat for Bush.

I don't know if there are enough of us to become a movement, but I think we're at least a stastistic.

Meanwhile, Chris Johnson at Mayflower Hill writes a cogent rebuttal of my own Liberal Case for Bush. He doesn't quite convince me, but he makes a reasonable case that I understand. I'm glad some Kerry-supporters think as he does.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:46 PM | Comments (157)

October 18, 2004

Talented Air Heads

When I was a young 20-something I wanted to spend the rest of my life in college towns. That way I would always be surrounded by smart people - like me!

Well. I guess when I was nine years old I thought I was pretty smart, too. I was certainly smarter than when I was eight. And I was a lot smarter at nine than I was at five.

Someday I hope to be old enough to think people my age (34) fell off the lettuce truck, like, yesterday. That, apparently, is just how life goes.

In the meantime, I'd just like to thank fate and (apparently) my own good sense for getting the heck out of the alternate-universe bubble city where I was schooled. Dr. Frank reminds me yet again why this is so by pointing to this silly piece by Traci E. Carpenter at MSNBC. She just won an essay contest for college journalists all across the country.

Can I make a humble suggestion to j-school deans? Please make your students study history or some other subject that teaches them something. No journalist should ever write something as empty-headed as this:
Sometimes I feel that no matter how I vote, there will still be war, crime and poverty.
Or this:
I don't know the difference between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry because they don't take time out from kissing babies and the behinds of corporate executives to tell me.
Um, did she watch the debates? Check out their Web sites? Look at the news, ever, over the past four years? She’s a journalism student, supposedly the best in the country, and she doesn’t read the paper?

I don’t mean to pick on the youngster. I wasn’t half as smart as I thought when I was her age. I’m still probably not.

But, come on. Is this really the best our j-schools can produce? Talented air heads? A freshman in History would laugh at the first sentence I quoted. And a freshman in Political Science would scoff at the second.

Look. Journalism isn’t that hard. I’ve never taken a single class in the subject. I’ve received no training, and only a little advice. Yet I get assignments. It can be done. You don’t need a certificate, and you don’t need to have your hand held for four years.

However. If you want to write about something, you first have to know something about it. Want to cover politics? Study Political Science. Want to cover foreign policy? Study Military History. Want to write about globalization? Study Economics. But for all our sakes, don’t study Journalism. At least don’t study Journalism alone. I see little evidence that it does much good. Dumb sentences, cleanly written, are still dumb sentences.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:02 PM | Comments (52)

October 17, 2004

The Price of Politicization

I don't want to suggest that the opposition party ought to shut up about foreign policy. But the opposition, whether Democrat or Republican, ought to be careful. We used to say partisanship stopped at the water's edge. There were reasons for that. Here's one of them.

The commander of the UN peacekeepers in Haiti has linked a recent upsurge in violence there to comments made by the US presidential candidate, John Kerry.

Earlier this year Mr Kerry said that as president he would have sent American troops to protect Jean-Bertrand Aristide who was ousted from power in February.

The Brazilian UN general, Augusto Heleno, said Mr Kerry's comments had offered "hope" to Aristide supporters. Much of the recent unrest has centred on areas loyal to Mr Aristide.

More than 50 people have died over the past fortnight.
The Brazilian UN general could be full of it. I don't see any evidence that what he says is true. In any case, John Kerry ought to say he won't send US troops now to help out Aristide or his supporters.

I'm willing to bet the only reason he said what he did in the first place was because he felt he had to be "different" from George W. Bush. Even if I'm wrong about that, what harm can come from one more flip-flop? Just be yourself, John. Do it for Haiti.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:58 PM | Comments (61)

Overheard At the Coffeeshop

Yesterday I went to a coffeeshop in my neighborhood to do a little homework in Totalitarian Studies. I’ve traveled to unfree countries before, but never to a full-bore totalitarian police state. And since I’ll be doing just that in five weeks I’m reading about the experiences of other writers in these kinds of places to get an idea of what I should expect and how I ought to behave.

I ordered my coffee and sat in a chair at a small row of outdoor tables. There were four of us sitting there, all strangers. An older black man sat next to me reading a book about the Buddha. Another guy, about my age with long hair and a goatee, stared at nothing in particular while chain-smoking Camels. A rumpled-looking third fellow, a few years younger than me, quietly read the paper.

I brought with me The Pillars of Hercules: A Grand Tour of the Mediterranean by Paul Theroux, a travel book I’ve been reading on-and-off for a couple of months. I opened to the chapter on Syria. He’s at the Turkey/Syria border and chatting with a young Turk named Yusof who had been sitting next to him on the bus.
“Best thing, mister, is be very careful,” he said. And he pointed cautiously and became conspiratorial. “Over there is Syria. That is another country. You hear what I’m saying? Another country.”
The young man reading the paper decided to share the news. He mumbled something about the election. I ignored him because I was reading.
A small number of people jostled for attention at a desk, where a bored and rather indifferent soldier ignored them. I thrust my passport over their heads and, as though amused by my insolence, he snatched it and said, “American!” and laughed. I did not see my passport again for over an hour.
The chain-smoker piped up. Something about the Patriot Act. I kept reading.
In the meantime, I found Yusof lurking. He said he wanted to buy me a drink. We had coffee, while he held a chattering conversation with some Syrians. I noticed that there were large portraits of President Assad all over the frontier. He was a man with an odd profile – beaky nose, big chin, surmounted by the squarest head I had ever seen. His portrait at its most accurate was like a cartoon parody: misshapen and villainous, his combed-over hairdo varied from portrait to portrait. His suit was too tight, his neck too thin, his tie ridiculous, his smile insipid. As for his politics (to quote 1 Kings 11), “He was an adversary to Israel…and he abhorred Israel, and reigned over Syria.”
I took a sip of my coffee, which was beginning to cool down. So far this was the most interesting part of the book. I’ve already been to Spain, France, and Italy, so reading about those places is less educational. I won’t be going to Syria soon - at least not in the immediate future - but I’ll be going someplace a lot like it.
But there was another portrait – a younger man, with a slim stubbly face and sunglasses and army fatigues.

“Who’s that, Yusof?”

“No,” he said, meaning, Don’t ask. He paddled with one hand in a cautioning gesture.

The delay at the border today was caused by a group of Syrians smuggling shirts and pants in large suitcases. The absurdity of it was that while these smugglers opened their cases, revealing stacks of shirts in plastic bags, huge trucks rumbled past. They were German, and they were loaded with crates of German machinery, from a firm called Mannesmann. The crates were stamped For the Ministry of Technology, Baghdad, Iraq. Six of these vast flatbed trucks. They were headed toward Iraq, though Syria – and they were waved through by Syrian soldiers. It seemed to make little difference to anyone that Iraq was subject to U.N. sanctions and such a shipment of German machine parts was illegal. In the meantime the shirt smugglers were bullied and denounced.

Yusof took me aside. He put his hand over his mouth and muttered, “That is Assad’s son. He died. Don’t talk.”

We were summoned to the office and handed our passports. And then we were on our way. Those men wearing dark glasses and sipping tea, Yusof said. They were not travelers. They were members of the mukhabarat – Syria’s secret police. All this in a whisper, Yusof’s hand over his mouth.

“Here I like,” Yusof said. We were in a rocky landscape, with wide strips of green. “Aleppo is good. I drink. I eat. I disco. I fuck. But - ” He leaned over. “I don’t talk.”
“It’s a police state,” the young man with the newspaper said. He had my attention now. And he had the attention of others. “Ashcroft and Bush have turned it into a police state.”

“Man, this is a real scary time,” said the old Buddhist.

“Hey,” said the chain-smoker. (None of these guys seemed to know each other.) “Do you think America has too many freedoms? Think the government should take all our rights away? Then vote for George W. Bush!”

I sighed and considered telling them who I am voting for and what I am reading. Why not? I wouldn’t be intruding on a private conversation. This one was public, among strangers who assumed everyone in the neighborhood agreed with them. And why wouldn’t they? There are no Bush/Cheney lawn signs around. Right across the street was the local Impeach Bush headquarters. A poster hung in the window that showed a portrait of the president. Underneath his photo, in big blocky letters, the word “Terrorist.”

But I didn’t want to get into it. I would rather read about Syria than argue with people who know nothing of places like Syria, Libya, Iraq, and North Korea. They wouldn’t listen to me anyway.
I had been anxious about my trip to the coast until I walked to the railway station – a funny little Frenchified station with the usual Assad hagiography in any number of ridiculous murals – and saw that there were three trains a day to Latakia. At the station I engaged three young men – medical students – in a conversation about the murals. They immediately clammed up and made eye signals and hand gestures and all sorts of nonverbal suggestions to change the subject. This was what Albania had been like under “Friend” Hoxha. It was not fidgeting caution but real fear – of, I supposed, the mukhabarat.
“Criticize the government and you get silenced,” said the kid with the newspaper as he folded it in disgust. And he said it quite loudly. “It’s only gonna get worse.”

You guys are lucky, I thought. You’re so lucky this isn’t Syria. You’re lucky there is no Portland mukhabarat. Because I could be a member for all you would know.

I leave for Libya in five weeks. I doubt I’ll have this experience there.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:48 PM | Comments (73)

October 15, 2004

Deconstructing Deconstructionism

Chomsky is right! Hey, it happens once in a while.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:22 PM | Comments (62)

Pro Labor, Pro Bush

The liberal case for Bush, again. This time by Britain's Oliver Kamm.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 04:53 PM | Comments (62)

October 14, 2004

Libertarian Socialism

Yeah, I know. That title contradicts itself. But what else can I say when a libertarian magazine like Tech Central Station advocates something like this?

As vicious as the struggle for power in Iraq is, the new government has a war-winning weapon that could, at a stroke, undercut the insurgency, enrich the Iraqi people and create a powerful, long-term force for democracy, national unity and economic development. That weapon is oil.

To deploy it, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's government should announce that as of a date certain, a new national investment fund -- call it The Iraqi People's Freedom Trust -- will be credited with a major share of all future Iraqi oil earnings. Revenues directed to the Trust would be invested in government bonds, with a small cash reserve to cover withdrawals by individual Iraqis.

All 27 million Iraqis -- men, women and children -- would to eligible to claim an equal, personal investment account in the Freedom Trust. All they need do is prove Iraqi birth and pledge allegiance to the government. Registration for shares in the Trust could go hand in hand with voter registration for the upcoming national elections. Adult citizens should be free, at any time, to ask for a calculation of their account's value and withdraw up to their full balance -- no questions asked.

The mere announcement would be electric. For starters, it would dispel the fantasy that this war was waged by the U.S. to somehow steal Iraqi oil. What's more, the Trust's financial -- and political -- power would compound over time. For the first time in the history of Iraq, indeed, of oil nations generally -- the new government would be offering every citizen an ownership stake in Iraq's vast oil wealth. This is an asset long-since nationalized -- allegedly on behalf of the people -- but routinely looted in practice by the former dictator and his cronies. Creation of the Freedom Trust would instantly redefine the current war as a struggle between a young democracy seeking to share wealth with its people -- and an old elite fighting to get back the power to steal from the people.
Brilliant, I say. And right, too. I recall Glenn Reynolds, also a small-l libertarian, floating something similar a while back.

Come on, lefties. This is right up your alley. Let’s see if we all can agree on what might be good for Iraq for a change.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:55 PM | Comments (78)

Zotting the Moderator

Mary at Exit Zero has a great idea. Let's see if we can get something like this in place for the presidential debates in 2008.

[W]hat was with that stupid ‘strong woman’ question? As Dr. Frank said, the only proper response would be "what are you, high?"

I think there should be new rules for the debates – if a both candidates agree that a question is too dumb for words, they should have the right to strike it. Three strikes and the moderator is out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:53 PM | Comments (31)

Way Outside the Box

I love outside-the-box political thinking whether I agree with it or not. It's interesting at the very least. Listening to James Carville and Sean Hannity doesn't exactly broaden my thinking or sharpen my mind.

In that spirit I just have to link to this post on Winds of Change by Cicero. He's quoting Gonzalo Rodriguez from the comments section. Gonzalo hopes John Kerry wins the election. And yet he's voting for George W. Bush. Read the whole piece to find out why. It is not even remotely related to anything I wrote in my hawkish case for John Kerry.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 02:02 PM | Comments (52)

October 13, 2004

The Third Debate

Stephen Green:

This thing is, mercifully, two-thirds over. Kerry is doing what Bush did in the first debate. He's smirking "off" camera, he's droning, he's dull. Bush, no matter how boring I find the material, at least sounds passionate. Problem is, other than intoxicated political junkies like me, who the hell is still watching?
Not me. Not anymore. I watched the first few minutes and was instantly put off by John Kerry once again accusing George Bush of “pushing our allies away” in the very first question. And I find Bush excruciating to listen to, whether I agree with him or not, unless he’s giving a prepared speech written by somebody else. I couldn’t handle yet another hour and a half of sitting there and listening to Bush mangle his English and Kerry drone on about whatever it is he droned on about tonight.

I’m not the target audience for these things. I learn nothing by watching them. If I actually liked either of these mooks or found even one of them a compelling speaker that might make up for it. It also might matter if I were still undecided.

As it is, I would rather watch a re-run of The X-Files. So that’s what I did. I may be a political junkie, but tonight Mulder and Scully beat Kerry and Bush.

Feel free to argue amongst yourselves in the comments about who "won" (ie, who sucked less).

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:41 PM | Comments (116)

October 12, 2004

Meeting in the Middle (Updated)

I enjoy reading Andrew Sullivan in part because he teaches me new things, and also because I have something in common with him. He and I, at least for a while, were both undecided voters.

James Lileks thinks we’re strange creatures.
…the undecided voter, a creature whose existence I accept on condition that I am provided with photographic evidence, spoor from the wild and plaster casts of their footprints. But how can you be undecided? It's not as if we're dealing with two mysterious figures who suddenly burst onto the national stage with no preamble. Whoa, who's this Bush guy? What's he all about?
Ah, Lileks. Funny even when he’s making fun of moi.

Yeah, I felt pretty silly being an undecided voter and I’m happy to have moved on. (Doesn’t mean I’m happy with my options all of a sudden.)

Lileks gets it, though. At least he gets me and Sullivan.
Sorry; don't mean to insult the undecideds. But really. Please. There cannot be more than 3,482 voters in this country who will stroll into the voting booth and flip a coin. Some of the undecideds are no doubt people who don't like the guy who should be their guy, or like the guy who shouldn't be their guy, and they're really arm wrestling with themselves.
Yep. That’s pretty much it. Kerry should have been my guy, at least if the fact that I’ve never voted for a Republican president means anything.

Sullivan has always been a little more flexible and independent. But he was one of Bush’s biggest fans until recently when he decided (for reasons that make sense to me, if not to others) that he just couldn’t do it anymore.

I was alienated from my side. He was alienated from his. We have different backgrounds, but we meet in the middle. And because (at least partly because) we meet in the middle we see some of the same ironies.

Yesterday he wrote the following:
Kerry's is clearly the more conservative position here. Conservatives have traditionally been doubters with regard to the transmission of Western values easily onto non-Western societies. They certainly don't believe it can happen overnight. Bush is therefore running as a Gladstonian liberal in foreign affairs, which is why it's strange to hear some conservatives writing as if Kerry's candidacy is the equivalent of Armageddon.
He even used a similar title for his post that I used for mine when I made exactly the same point two days before he did.

The only difference here is that Sullivan thinks conservatives shouldn’t get bent out of shape by John Kerry’s conservatism while I think liberals should be happy with George W. Bush’s liberalism.

Left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. None of these labels mean the same things to me anymore. It’s no wonder I’m homeless. It’s no wonder the number of Independents keeps growing.

UPDATE: Via Sullivan (naturally) I found this interesting post by Cicero at Winds of Change. He says he's voting for Bush and rooting for Kerry. Why might he root for Kerry?
If there's solace to be taken from a Kerry victory, it will be the possibility that liberalism will be truly taken to task by historical forces, like conservativism has been.
Yes! So very few on the left have noticed or can even understand when I point this out. Conservatism has really been hammered by history - and it came out the other side better than it was. That's what my hawkish case for Kerry was really about - hoping the same would happen to liberalism if he wins.

I wonder how many conservatives have noticed their own sea change between Bosnia and Iraq since their president shifted along with them? Well, Pat Buchanan has certainly noticed. And boy is he unhappy about it. I disagree with Pat Buchanan about practically everything, but I will give him credit for being alert.

Cicero has more, and you should read the whole thing.
President Bush, who ran on a near-isolationist platform in 2000, redefined conservatism in 2001 because the world changed. That's why he's got my vote. Mr. Kerry, so far, seems reluctant to redefine liberalism in the context of the modern world. His heels are firmly planted on a mountain floating on magma. As president, liberalism, as we know it, will either be redefined or it will perish.

UPDATE: Patrick Lasswell argues with me without quite realizing that I agree with him. Yes, Patrick. That's why I'm voting for Bush and not for Kerry.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:44 PM | Comments (181)

October 11, 2004

To the Shores of Tripoli

I finally got my visa. I’m going to Libya at the end of next month.

While you are at home eating Thanksgiving turkey, I will be here eating couscous and being led around by one of Ghaddafi's official government babysitters:









(Photos from Michael Palin, Africatravelling.net, Komm.at, Safari Tourism Services, and Rediscover.co.uk.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:21 PM | Comments (39)

October 10, 2004

Yard Signs and Vandalism

My wife asked if it would be okay with me if she put up a John Kerry For President sign in front of our house. Of course, I said. Why should I have a problem with that? She lives here and she’s voting for Kerry.

I told her we ought to put up two yard signs, one for Bush and one for Kerry. It would have been the only way to reflect my position on the presidential race, let alone hers. (This was when I was still undecided.) It’s still kinda sorta true even now that I’ve settled on Bush. I plan to vote a split ticket this year. The Republicans get my White House vote and the Democrats get the rest.

Then she said something that didn’t surprise me one bit: “Whatever we do, we should not put a Bush/Cheney sign out there by itself.”

I didn’t have to ask her why she thought that. We both live in the same neighborhood and we both have eyes. There are no Bush/Cheney signs on anyone’s lawn. Every single last sign is for Kerry. And there is plenty of vandalism and graffitti around. Our corner grocery store had an American flag spray-painted on it. The 50 stars were replaced with a Nazi swastika. The New York Times newspaper box on the corner has “Lies” spray-painted across the front of it. Handbills from the neo-Stalinist International ANSWER have been stapled to telephone polls for years. I saw a poster a few hours ago accusing the United States of genocide. Someone set up an “Impeach Bush” headquarters just down the street. They hung a poster in the window that declares the president is a terrorist. Someone threw a molotov cocktail at a Starbucks.

Don’t get the wrong idea. There is only one neighborhood in the entire city where I would rather live. (That would be NW 23rd, for those of you who know Portland.) My own neighborhood is great. It has everything I want: new and used bookstores, coffeehouses, nice restaurants, microbrew pubs, movie theaters, corner groceries, the whole urban works. Our neighbors are friendly decent people. The staff at the local hangouts know my name and what my “usual” is. But there are just enough jerks around (anarchists, mostly) who think this is Berkeley.

We made the right call when we decided putting a Bush/Cheney sign in the yard would only be asking for trouble. Just now I turned on the local news and saw that the more-conservative neighborhood next to mine (we’re talking a distance of six blocks away) was vandalized last night. Those who put a Bush/Cheney sign in their yard woke up and saw “Fuck Bush” spray-painted in huge white letters on the sides of their cars.

Portland isn't the only place where this sort of thing is happening. Someone in Madison, Wisconsin had an 8-foot by 8-foot swastika burned into his lawn next to his Bush/Cheney sign. Someone fired shots at a Bush campaign office in Tennessee.

Roger L. Simon has been writing recently about “secret” Bush supporters. Moxie wrote about her experience coming out of the conservative “closet” in Los Angeles.

What a contemptible election season this is. People who live in a democracy aren’t supposed to be afraid of announcing who they will vote for. Radical leftists aren't the only jerks in the country. Maybe the same sort of thing happens to liberals in conservative cities like Dallas. I don’t know. If so, I haven’t heard about it.

UPDATE: I figured this was going on somewhere. A Democratic Party office in Louisiana was vandalized and torched - twice. Also, an anti-Bush protestor was kicked by a delegate at the Republican National Convention. Nice election we got here.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:02 PM | Comments (218)

John Kerry's Conservatism

I'm not the only one who thinks George W. Bush is the real liberal in this election and that John Kerry is the real conservative. And when I say Kerry is a conservative I do not mean that as a compliment. Neither does Roger L. Simon.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:43 PM | Comments (116)

October 08, 2004

The Second Debate

I only watched part of the debate tonight. I taped the whole thing and may sit down to absorb it this weekend. (Then again, I may not.) I found this one far more irritating than the first.

I did see a few small pieces. And instead of reacting to the debate as a whole (I can’t, sorry) let me react to two things I did see.

George W. Bush still can't explain who we are fighting and why even after all this time. Yes, weapons of mass destruction are a problem. But, you know what? England has weapons of mass destruction and we aren't worried about those. I don't lose any sleep over the French Force de Frappe. Bush continues to reduce our enemies in the Terror War down to abstract nouns; terrorism and weapons. Wrong answer. Paul Berman, an anti-Bush leftist, knows who and what the enemy is better than the president does. Berman more or less agrees with the neoconservatives here. Yet not one of those in his administration is willing to talk about this or explain it to anybody who doesn't read the same geeky magazines I read. That needs to change. And it probably never will.

As for John Kerry, I am tired of his alternate universe where Bush "pushed our allies away." I can't stand to listen to it anymore. One of two things is happening here. He is unseriously playing “politics” and hoping to fool everyone to score points. (If so, he is not fooling me and I don’t care to have my intelligence insulted on a regular basis.) Or he desperately needs to catch up – fast - on what has changed in the trans-Atlantic alliance since the end of the Cold War. Robert Kagan, one of the smartest thinkers around, can fill him in on the details. This ought to be old news by now, senator. Do your homework. If you are elected president, there will be a test.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:14 PM | Comments (101)

Where I Stand

I'd like to clarify something for regular readers since there has been a bit of a misunderstanding.

I have decided to vote for Bush (and a Democratic Congress) in the election. A few days ago I said I'm 51 percent for Bush and 49 percent for Kerry. I didn't mean to suggest I'm still undecided. What I meant was that I slightly prefer Bush to Kerry. It's not a slam dunk. My hawkish case for Kerry wasn't enough to convince me to vote for him, but it was enough to convince me that a Kerry presidency, though ultimately not what I prefer, will be okay and have real advantages. There will be other advantages that I didn't mention in the article, but that's because the scope of the piece was limited only to foreign policy.

I went undecided for a while. Probably for too long, but I did it on purpose. I wanted to make really sure I wasn't overreacting to John Kerry and conflating him with Dennis Kucinich. So I tried to talk myself into voting for him as best I could. And I tried to talk myself into it on my terms and my terms only. This is the first election where I have done this. If I'm going to declare myself Independent, I need to think like one instead of just hopping onto a different bandwagon because I no longer care for my old one.

Because I am only a moderate Bush-supporter, I can understand very well why someone who isn't me might prefer John Kerry instead. I can argue with myself about this, so I'm perfectly comfortable disagreeing with others and understanding how they might see things differently. It also helps that more than half my friends are voting for Kerry, and so is my wife. It is not possible for me to believe that a vote for Kerry is a vote for terrorism. None of my friends or family are voting for terrorism.

This leads me to something else, something I really wish I did not have to address.

Yesterday I got into an argument with some people on a blog (which shall remain unnamed) that is centrist on the surface but has a monolithically right-wing readership in the comments. I used to contribute to that comments section regularly, but I now mostly abstain. Anyone with opinions contrary to the pack has been driven out, not by the gracious blog host but by the readers. I am too “left-wing” for them to handle. My own wife was insulted in lurid terms. (No one will ever get away with that here.)

The reason I mention this is because I want to say right now that I will not permit my comments section to degenerate that way. Contrary opinions are both welcome and encouraged here. Just because I’ve come “out” for Bush does not mean I am uninterested in conversation and dialogue or that I’m willing to let my comments section become an intolerant right-wing echo chamber. I will shut down the comments if it happens because I can’t take it.

UPDATE: Please, no one ask me to identify the blog I mentioned above. I am not going to do it. It makes no difference at all. I'm sorry I was even as "specific" as I was. This phenomenon affects the entire blogosphere and has been an ongoing problem for some time now. I am not going to pick on anyone in particular because of an anecdote, especially since it is not in any way whatsoever the fault of the person who owns the blog. Babysitting the comments isn't easy, and it becomes exponentially more difficult as the readership grows and the threads get longer. That's just the way it is. It is no one's fault.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:17 AM | Comments (158)

October 07, 2004

Kerry-Haters for Kerry

These guys need a link.

Are you going to vote for John Kerry even though you find him unpleasant, annoying, arrogant, waffling, misguided, or just generally unappealing in some profound way? Then you've come to the right place! We're Kerry Haters for Kerry -- perhaps his largest constituency! No need to hide in the Kerryhating closet anymore while you pretend to everyone that he'll be a great president. Here you are among friends.
I'm almost a Kerry-hater for Kerry. I tried talking myself into being a Kerry-hater for Kerry. But I couldn't quite do it.

They have some great bumper stickers over there for those of you who understand where I'm coming from but plan to vote for him anyway.

(Hat tip: Instapundit.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:17 PM | Comments (59)

Documents: Saddam Bribed France, Russia, and China

John Kerry rather undiplomatically described the allies of the United States as a “coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought, and the extorted.”

As it turns out there really was a coalition of the bribed and the bought. And lo and behold, Britain, Australia, and Poland aren’t it.
SADDAM HUSSEIN believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.

Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war.

But the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which returned its full report last night, said Saddam was telling the truth when he denied on the eve of war that he had any weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He had not built any since 1992.

The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.

Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."

Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions - which stopped him acquiring weapons - were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.

To keep America at bay, he focusing on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.

Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
John Kerry should have taken this into account a long time ago. I doubt a single person in the Bush camp is surprised by this. A lot of us have been wondering all along what on earth Kerry is talking about when he complains about Bush’s supposed lack of diplomacy. If Kerry were president he would have to deal with the exact same international shenanigans.

How would he handle it? I’d like to know, but he will never tell us because he would have to yank one of his planks before he could do so.

(Hat tip: David Batlle via email.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:37 PM | Comments (63)

October 06, 2004

The Liberal Case for Bush

Here it is, the piece I promised a long time ago, published at Tech Central Station: The Liberal Case for Bush.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:45 PM | Comments (137)

A Liberal Muslim Manifesto

“We are of Muslim culture. We oppose misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and the political use of Islam. We reassert a living secularism."

That’s from A Muslim Manifesto From France published in this summer’s issue of Dissent Magazine.

It was written by Tewfik Allal, a French Muslim who showed up at a demonstration in Paris to protest the banning of headscarves. He was shocked by what he saw at that rally. So he went home and wrote his manifesto with help from his feminist wife. Good on 'em. More where this came from, please.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 05:00 PM | Comments (36)

Republican Celebrities

For those interested in mixing gossip and politics (generally a bad idea, I'd say) here's a list of conservative celebrities I found via Roger L. Simon's comments section. I don't know how accurate this is, but it's on Wikipedia which I've generally found pretty reliable.

Among those listed:

Stephen Baldwin - One of 'em was bound to join the Dark Side. Suck it up, Alec.

Bo Derek - This surprises me for some reason.

Dr. Phil - This doesn't surprise me a bit.

Gary Sinise - But he seems so sensitive. (Well, he is just acting. -Ed.)

Yaphet Kotto - Cool, in a stereotype-busting sort of way. (He's black.)

Denzel Washington. - Cool again. (See above.)

Leslie Nielson - He's not supposed to be a Republican. He's from Canada!

Alice Cooper - Guys like him seriously freaked out the Christian Right back in the day. Now he's the man. Heh.

Shirley Temple - She's still alive?

David Lynch - Proving that Republicans can be weird too. And I mean that in a good way. His movies rock. Except for Eraserhead. What the hell was that all about, anyway?

Yeah, I know. This is trivial and irrelevant. But it's fun to bust up stereotypes once in a while.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 04:58 PM | Comments (59)

October 05, 2004

The Edwards And Cheney Debate

Let me begin with a caveat. I only watched the first half of the vice presidential debate, the portion that focused on foreign policy.

I have no idea who “won” or who will be perceived to have won. And I don’t really care.

Both were confident, articulate, knowledgeable, and presidential. Both had some command of the facts, and both were sometimes right. When they were wrong they weren’t offensively or freakishly wrong. There were no Howard Dean moments, in other words. (Although I'm liking Dean more these days. He's out of his radical phase now.)

When John Edwards said we lost more soldiers in September than in August, and more soldiers in August than in July, and more soldiers in July than in June, he proved he isn’t stuck in denial about the fact that Iraq has taken a turn for the worse. I worry about Bush and Cheney sometimes. Are they even aware that Iraq is on fire? I don’t know. Probably. But I don’t know. They talk about Iraq as though everything is rainbows and sunshine. You don’t have to buy into hysterical doom-mongering to see that Iraq is whacked. And you can’t solve a problem if you can’t even admit a problem exists.

But Edwards seemed to be in denial about something else. He said the United States is taking 90 percent of the casualties in Iraq. Well, senator, welcome to the unipolar world of the American superpower. Our European allies do not have the military capacity to project power as we do. They cannot match us on the battlefield no matter how much they might want to. (And let us not forget that they do not want to.) That’s because they deliberately reduced their military power down to token “me too” levels. They knew – rightly – that we would pick up the slack. So we will pick up the slack. You and John Kerry will never get Europe to pick up your slack. It isn’t politically possible. Nor is it physically possible.

Edwards and Cheney went back and forth like this. Sometimes Cheney was right. Other times Edwards was right. I can imagine that if these two men were working together they could cobble together a plan for success in Iraq that isn’t hampered by Republican chauvinism or left-wing defeatism.

I don’t trust Kerry and Edwards, mostly because of John Kerry. Kerry is the boss, not Edwards. And Kerry has ran a wobbly campaign following a shaky record where he has been consistently on the weak side of national security.

But I don’t trust Bush as much as I used to, in part because he really does appear to be in denial. Also because he has practically no political capital to carry out a foreign policy I basically agree with, and because he is such a polarizing figure he has become an enormous liability.

I would put more trust in a Cheney/Edwards or an Edwards/Cheney ticket than the two options we currently have. Too bad it’s not an option.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 08:02 PM | Comments (135)

Saddam and Zarqawi

This is supposedly news, but it actually doesn’t say much of anything.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A CIA report has found no conclusive evidence that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which the Bush administration asserted before the invasion of Iraq.

"There's no conclusive evidence the Saddam Hussein regime had harbored Zarqawi," a U.S. official said on Tuesday about the CIA findings.

But the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stressed that the report, which was a mix of new information and a look at some older information, did not make any final judgments or come to any definitive conclusions.


The CIA report concludes Zarqawi was in and out of Baghdad, but cast doubt on reports that Zarqawi had been given official approval for medical treatment there as President Bush said this summer, ABC said.
I don’t know what the report actually says. It isn’t available. In any case, it supposedly doesn’t arrive at any conclusions one way or another about Zarqawi’s alleged alliance with Saddam Hussein. But let’s take out Occam’s Razor.

As Christopher Hitchens once put it, Baghdad under Saddam Hussein was a place that was as difficult to enter as it was to leave. You couldn’t exactly waltz in there as a foreigner and check yourself into a hospital as if you were showing up to buy smokes at a corner grocery in Brooklyn.

And if Zarqawi wasn't welcome in Iraq, why did he choose Baghdad as a place to see a doctor? There are plenty of Arab countries that were not under sanctions that deprived them of medical supplies. There were plenty of Arab countries that are not totalitarian police states (Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait,) that he could have chosen instead. So, why Iraq?

If Zarqawi really was connected to Saddam Hussein, these sentences near the article’s conclusion should follow logically.
Before last year's invasion to topple Saddam, the Bush administration portrayed Zarqawi as al Qaeda's link to Baghdad. Following Saddam's capture in December and waves of suicide attacks on U.S. and Iraqi security forces which followed, Zarqawi quickly became America's top enemy in Iraq.
None of this makes a lot of difference in any case. We did not invade Iraq because of Zarqawi. We invaded Iraq to kick off a slum-clearance program in Araby.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 07:19 PM | Comments (16)

John Kerry is No Tony Blair

Joe Katzman, in a roundabout sort of way, argues with my "hawkish case for John Kerry" approach. He makes good points, as always. In a nutshell: John Kerry is no Tony Blair.

Is he right? To an extent, absolutely. But ultimately, I don't know. We have to guess at what a John Kerry foreign policy would actually look like. His campaign has been all over the place, so it isn't a good predictor. His record is a poor predictor, too. Presidents can't act like senators. They are leaders. They can't just say yay or nay to someone else's proposals.

And let's be honest. We have to guess at what a second round of George W. Bush's foreign policy would look like, too. Will Bush fix Iraq? I wish I knew. I wish I knew a lot of things that I don't actually know.

If I had a crystal ball and could take a good hard look at two alternate futures I would know without a doubt which of our two candidates I would vote for.

Today I'm leaning 51 percent Bush and 49 percent Kerry. When I wrote my hawkish endorsement for Kerry I was leaning slightly his way. Now that I've written my "liberal case for Bush" (forthcoming at Tech Central Station.) I'm leaning a bit toward Bush again. Partly this is because I found my own endorsement for Bush slightly more persuasive than my own endorsement for Kerry. But it's also, in part, because of what Joe Katzman says at Winds of Change.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:46 PM | Comments (25)

October 04, 2004

The Plot Against America

One of our best journalists, Paul Berman, reviews the new novel by one of our best fiction writers, Philip Roth.


The Plot Against America is an alternate history. What if the United States joined the Fascist Axis in the 1930s? Berman insists this novel is not a cheap political allegory, that Roth is not in any way trying to compare the current political climate to the fictional one that takes place in his book. But he does say this:
Still, after you have had a chance to inhabit his landscape for a while and overhear the arguments about war and fascism and the Jews, ''The Plot Against America'' begins to rock almost violently in your lap — as if a second novel, something from our own time, had been locked inside and was banging furiously on the walls, trying to get out.

(Post-script: I don't want anyone to misunderstand why I posted this. I do not think the United States is on the road to fascism. Not in any way whatsoever.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:50 PM | Comments (68)

Heinz-Kerry: No Blood for Oil!

I can see why those on John Kerry’s campaign staff cringe when his wife Teresa pops off in public. She is no Hillary Clinton. And I don't mean that as a compliment. (I like Hillary now more than I did before. She isn’t on my short list of top choices for president – that honor goes to John McCain, Harold Ford, Rudy Giuliani, and Barak Obama. But I would vote for her over either Kerry or Bush.)

Here are a few quotes from Teresa Heinz-Kerry today.
On 9/12 every single newspaper in the world said ‘We are all Americans.’ Today it is not the case.
She’s quoting Le Monde. The French daily said we are all Americans now. But Le Monde is not “every single newspaper in the world.”

I don’t have a copy or an image of a newspaper from Iraq on September 11, 2001. But I do have an image of one of Saddam’s newspapers commemorating the first anniversary of September 11, 2001.

The Arabic script does not say “We Are All Americans Now,” and it especially doesn’t say “We Are Still All Americans.”
The Taliban is back running Afghanistan
The Taliban does not run Afghanistan. I’m real sorry the Taliban aren’t yet discussed in the past tense, but today’s Afghan government - such as it is - is run by a guy named Hamid Karzai. An election is scheduled this coming Saturday.
No American boy or girl should lose their lives for oil.
Now that I can agree with. Good thing we aren’t fighting for oil.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 06:13 PM | Comments (74)

John Kerry, Neoconservative

William Safire at the New York Times says John Kerry transformed himself into a "hard-line, right-wing, unilateral" neoconservative. I wouldn't go that far, but he makes some good points. Whatever Kerry's faults, he is not the second coming of George McGovern. Really, he isn't.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:42 AM | Comments (67)

October 03, 2004

Did Kerry Cheat?

Drudge is accusing John Kerry of cheating in his first debate against George W. Bush.

He has video showing that Kerry took something out of his jacket pocket and placed it on the podium.

Why is this a problem?
Section 5, pages 4-5 of the binding "Memorandum of Understanding" that was negotiated and agreed upon by both political campaigns states:

"No props, notes, charts, diagrams, or other writings or other tangible things may be brought into the debate by either candidate.... Each candidate must submit to the staff of the Commission prior to the debate all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate, and the staff or commission will place such paper, pens and pencils on the podium..."

Hmm. I dunno. It's so...high school. If Kerry were to actually be busted cheating in the debates he would be in far worse trouble than if he had lost the debate. And why should he worry about losing a debate in the first place? Bush is awful in public and he always has been. Kerry is well-known as one of Yale’s top debaters. This looks bad for him, though.
A top Kerry campaign source explained to the DRUDGE REPORT late Sunday how Bush supporters were once again trying to distract.

"Kerry did not cheat," said the Kerry insider. "This is more lies from Republicans, who are hoping for a quick change of subject away from the president's performance, and the new polls."

When pressed on the fact that even brandishing a pen from his jacket would have violated debate rules, the Kerry staffer laughed, adding, "See you at the inauguration, Drudge".
That’s it? The Kerry campaign doesn’t have anything to say except this is a Republican lie? Look at the video. It’s not a lie. He may not have pulled a hidden note card out of his pocket, but he pulled something out of his pocket. I watched him do it, and I watched in slow motion.

That lame defense only makes Kerry look guilty. And I’m inclined to think he isn’t guilty, not because I’m a fan but because it would be just too damn stupid. Maybe he pulled a piece of gum out of his pocket. I’ve no idea, but his campaign is going to have to come up with something more convincing than “that TV camera is a lying GOP operative.”

UPDATE: Bush cheated, too! Well, no. Actually, he probably didn't. And like I said, Kerry probably didn't cheat, either. The odds that one of them cheated are miniscule enough. The odds that both of them cheated are vanishingly close to zero.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:49 PM | Comments (143)

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary Rendition. That’s a euphemism for torture.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert wants to legalize it – sort of. He proposed a bill that would allow the United States to ship people off to totalitarian dungeons like Syria where torture is “legal” since we can’t do it ourselves on our own soil.

It’s a disgrace. Abu Ghraib sullied our reputation enough, as if it weren’t already dangerously bad to begin with. I was impressed by the fact that the vast majority of Americans choked when they found out what happened in the now-notorious Iraqi prison. And Dennis Hastert wants to crank this up even further?

The media is mostly ignoring this story, which is odd. I would think they would plaster this one all over the papers if they’re as liberal and partisan as they often appear. But we’re hardly hearing much about this. We should be, not because the story makes Dennis Hastert look bad in an election season but because Dennis Hastert is being bad period.

Please see Hilzoy and Katherine at Obsidian Wings for more.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 09:45 PM | Comments (64)

October 01, 2004

Nevermind, They Do Both Suck

I've revised my opinion of the debates.

On style and delivery, John Kerry buffed the floor with George W. Bush's ass. He just did. I know a lot of you out there really like George W., but come on. I can argue with Kerry better than he can, and I'm just a guy in his jammies. You think this only matters to intellectuals? Wrong. Most of the world doesn't think Bush is a cowboy, they think he's an oil-rustler. Who's the enemy in the Terror War? Islamofascists. What percentage of the world do you think understands this? One percent? Two?

George W. Bush gets an F-, that's an F minus, on clarity. When we're three and a half years into World War IV and the president of the most powerful country on earth, the 900 pound gorilla on the good guy side, has never been able, not once, to explain who the enemy is and what on earth we're doing, well, let me just quote Joe Katzman.

It's an important part of the war, a critical part. You can't outsource this to the damn blogosphere.
Amen, my Canadian brother. I am not the president's spokesman. Nor is Joe or Glenn Reynolds or Charles Johnson or Roger L. Simon. It is not our job to do his job - especially since none of the people I just listed, including myself, even voted for George W. Bush in 2000.

But. But.

That doesn't mean John Kerry has it together. Oh my, no. He may have been more articulate than usual at Thursday's debate (thank you, Allah) but that can only take him so far. Now I want you to click this link. It will take you over to James Lileks' latest Bleat. (And, boy, is this one a bleat.) He'll tell you exactly, precisely, why when I think about voting for Kerry (and I have been trying to talk myself into it) I flinch.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:05 PM | Comments (136)