December 30, 2003

Really Important Column

Dave Barry asks a series of penetrating questions for which there are no answers. My favorite:

Can young people wear their pants any lower? Their waistbands are now at approximately knee level. Where will this trend end? The shins? The feet? Will young people eventually detach themselves from their pants altogether and just drag them along behind, connected to their ankles by a belt?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:59 PM

The Incumbent's Advantage

I've never cared much for Dick Morris, but I have to give him credit. This piece in the New York Post makes a lot of sense.

An incumbent president tends to catalyze opposite reactions among the moderates and the extremists in the opposition party. Because he is adopting policies which help the nation and echo the demands of the broad center, he attracts moderates in the other party. But as he pursues the core policies of his own party, he generally triggers greater hostility from the true believers on the other side.

Thus, President Bill Clinton's policies of reforming welfare and balancing the budget attracted moderates among Independents and Republicans. But his position on core Democratic issues like gun control and abortion drove the right-wing extremists crazy.

Characters like Dick Morris are master manipulators. The Democrats, the wingnuts I should say, like the Clinton-haters before them, are letting themselves be played like flutes.
In the Clinton White House, we consciously used this theory to help the right dominate the Republican Party so that the centrists throughout America would vote to re-elect the Democratic president.
Karl Rove is a smart man. I'm sure he consciously uses this, too.

It only works because the leftists (like the right-wingers in the 1990s) go along with it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:59 PM

Help Gary Farber

I don't generally link to blogging fundraisers, but I'm going to make an exception today.

Gary Farber is in danger of being evicted. If you're a fan of his blog, as I am, give him a hand. It's still (sort of) Christmas.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:54 PM

December 29, 2003

Playing Dumb

Howard Dean is pretending to be stupid.

Here he is on the capture of Saddam Hussein:

"If we are safer, how come we lost 10 more troops and raised the safety alert" to the orange level, Dean said Sunday night in Ankeny, Iowa.
I don’t really think he’s that dumb. I could be wrong, perhaps I’m overestimating him. But he’s a successful governor and a doctor. You don’t get that far in life without smarts. What I really think is that Howard Dean thinks his supporters are stupid.

No one could possibly believe the capture of Saddam Hussein would make every single Baathist thug in Iraq lay down his arms and go home. No one could possibly believe that yanking Saddam out of a hole in the ground would make Al Qaeda quit the jihad.

I doubt there’s a single anti-war activist who thinks the hawks believe the Terror War is over all of a sudden. But Howard Dean thinks so and hopes his supporters will find his latest pop-off witty and clever. I think he’s mistaken. “Safer” doesn’t mean “safe,” and everyone knows it.

If George W. Bush said "We got Saddam, the War on Terror is over," then Howard Dean would have a point.

POST-SCRIPT: If, like me, you can't get enough of Howard Dean, check out Jonathan Chait's Diary of a Dean-o-phobe blog at The New Republic. Chait is a Bush-hating liberal who would rather plug away at Howard Dean on a regular basis. Dean just does that to people.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:08 PM

Notes on Iraq

So how goes the quagmire?

In the Washington Times Andrew Apostolou says the Iraqi insurgency is made up almost entirely of Sunni Arab Baathists, and that they most likely will fight to the finish.

It will be a tough slog, but they aren’t likely to win.

[T]he insurgents are probably a minority within a minority. The U.S. military estimates their numbers at around 5,000 men. There are more Sunni Arabs fighting with the coalition in the new Iraqi police force.
Once the insurgents are defeated, and they almost certainly will be, the prospects for a decent future look pretty good.
Asked to choose the form of government Iraq needed now, 90% of those interviewed - in their own homes - said an Iraqi democracy, and overwhelmingly rejected the idea that democracy was only for Westerners and would not work in Iraq.

[W]hen asked to suggest the best thing that could happen in the next year, fewer than 1% said an Islamic government.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:03 PM

Dean Goofs, Clarifies

In an interview with the Concorde Monitor, Howard Dean says a bunch of stuff that later has to be “clarified” on his blog. (Via Daniel Drezner.)

Dean said there was no evidence to suggest the Bush administration's use of force against Iraq had anything to do with Libya's move [to shut down its weapons of mass destruction programs].

"I have no way of knowing whether we could or could not have done it" before the Iraq war, Dean said.

Let me just repeat this quote, since it obviously hasn’t gotten across.

Gaddafi himself said:

I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.
Case closed.

Back to Howard Dean.

We've had six or eight justifications of why [Bush] went to war in Iraq
Reminding everyone that there is a long list of reasons for going to war in Iraq is a poor strategy for an anti-war campaign.

Here are six or eight justifications, the existence of which do not boost Howard Dean’s position.

1. Saddam Hussein was in violation of the cease-fire agreements that put the 1991 Gulf War on hold by firing at British and American airplanes in the no-fly zones.

2. Saddam Hussein was in violation of more than a dozen UN Security Council resolutions, including one that threatened the use of force if he did not immediatly surrender all relevant documentation to Hans Blix regarding the production of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

3. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator guilty of genocide and other crimes against humanity.

4. Saddam Hussein publicly threatened to finish Hitler’s job by destroying the state of Israel.

5. Saddam Hussein was an obstacle to long-overdue political liberalization and democratization in the Arab Middle East.

6. Saddam Hussein’s support for Palestinian terrorists made a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict impossible.

7. Saddam Hussein was an ongoing threat to Saudi Arabia, and due to Saudi support for Al Qaeda and Islamic fascism generally, the United States was not able to continue protecting the House of Saud indefinitely, nor could the world afford to have Saddam Hussein in control of Saudi oil and the holy cities of Mecca and Medina if we abandoned the Saudis to their fate.

8. In the post-911 era of apocalyptic terrorism, mass-murdering anti-American dictators who align themselves with terrorists and who have produced and deployed the weapons of genocide are too dangerous to be allowed to remain in power.

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.
Howard Dean needs a whole team of high-priced lawyers to tell him that the mass-murderer of Americans ought to be put on trial in America instead of in France or Saudi Arabia or Micronesia. This reminds me of the time when the first president Bush, while running for re-election, had no idea how much a gallon of milk costs. A president has to be at least slightly in tune with how normal people think and live, and must be able to demonstrate that he doesn’t live on a rarified plane in another dimension.
But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said.

Osama bin Laden admitted to planning the September 11 attacks, then laughed about it on camera.
I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials.
Dean issued a clarifying statement on his blog.
I share the outrage of all Americans.
Then why the need to clarify? Bush, Gephardt, and Lieberman never have to issue statements like this.
Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world.
Then let’s not worry about prejudging jury trials. K?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:10 AM

Our Friends the French

At the request of the United States, France arrested seven men and then released them.

French authorities found nothing to suggest the men had terrorist links.
All seven were on a US terrorist watch list and were scheduled to fly on the same Air France flight from Paris to Los Angeles. An intercepted Al Qaeda email even singled out the flight number.

This isn’t evidence? It’s one heck of a coincidence then. We have their names. The French damn well better hope these guys don’t terrorize someone later.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:04 AM

Jeff Jarvis Profiled

Norman Geras profiles Jeff Jarvis:

I called myself a pacifist early in the age of Vietnam and did not change my mind until September 11. There's an old joke that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. A hawk is a pacifist in the foxhole.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:03 AM

The Emerging Mainstream

Young people may be more conservative than their elders in some ways, but not in every way.

A new poll has found that 79 percent of all Americans believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

In the 18-29 year age range, 91 percent said that gays should be allowed to serve openly. Those aged 30-49, 50-64, and 65 and over were 81, 74, and 68 percent respectively.

Full equality for gay citizens is going to happen.

The anti-gay position is simply disintegrating. Those who don't like it best get used to it. Because when my generation runs the country, equality won't be left-wing, it will be mainstream. (Via Kevin Drum.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:02 AM

December 28, 2003

Friedman Discovers Poland

Andrew Apostolou makes fun of Thomas Friedman for being six months behind the news. Poland is pro-American. Who knew?

Friedman is sometimes silly, but I confess to being a fan. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem is sadly out of date (he's a little too optimistic about the Oslo peace process), but it's nevertheless a fantastic piece of Middle East reporting that reads like a suspenseful historical novel.

And maybe Friedman is a bit slow on Poland, but I enjoyed the piece anyway.

After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the Middle East, Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me. Get this: people here actually tell you they like America — without whispering. What has gotten into these people? Have all their subscriptions to Le Monde Diplomatique expired? Haven't they gotten the word from Berlin and Paris? No, they haven't. In fact, Poland is the antidote to European anti-Americanism. Poland is to France what Advil is to a pain in the neck. Or as Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs specialist, remarked after visiting Poland: "Poland is the most pro-American country in the world — including the United States."
I detected no anti-Americanism when I visited France. But I can't read French newspapers, and I hung around waiters and cab drivers, not Chirac and de Villepin. I'd still like to visit Poland, though. It's a beautiful country, and it's always nice to be welcomed.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:09 AM

December 27, 2003

A Drive Through Western Oregon

Some days I just have to get out of the city.

My Italian friend Giorgio inspired me. He visited us for Christmas (in Boise) and desperately wanted to drive in the countryside. “I need to see the American West,” he said. “This is all so exotic to me.”

Venice, Rome, and little Italian hill towns are old hat to him. 300-foot tall Evergreen spires are like trees on another world.

So we drove through the high desert and up into the mountains. “It looks like Lord of the Rings here” he said. I could see what he meant. The region around Boise looks a lot like Rohan.

Today I took a drive from my own city of Portland to the Pacific. I left the lush Willamette Valley behind, climbed into snow in the Coast Range mountains, and hit the beach as the sun came out. I tried to see my countryside through the eyes of a foreigner. I’ve lived in Western Oregon for almost 30 years, so it’s hard. But the beauty of this place still astonishes all the same.






Haystack Rock.jpg

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:47 PM

Tragedy in Iran

The AP says the death toll in the Iran earthquake could be as high as 40,000. That's two thirds the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

The Bam fortress, the world's largest mud-brick structure, is gone.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:58 AM

December 25, 2003

Back from the Big B

Just got back from a festive get-together of far-flung friends in Boise, Idaho (the Big B! as our friend Ezra from Manhatten calls it.) Our pal Giorgio flew in from Milan, Italy and wanted to drive to the mountains to see cowboys and Indians. The Indians pulled a no-show, but he did get to see some big hats.

We did the Christmas thing early with the parents this year, so Shelly and I have all day at home to ourselves in peace and quiet. So it’s time for me to get off the blog. (And what are you doing surfing the blogosphere today?)

Here’s hoping your Christmas is a Merry one. Cheers.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:06 PM

December 23, 2003

Talk is Cheap

The editors at the Guardian think Libya’s decision to relinquish its weapons of mass destruction is a victory of talk over force.

Patient diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, clearly enunciated principles and red lines, respect, mutual trust, and attractive incentives - these are the civil tools that helped bring, at the weekend, perhaps the most significant, tangible breakthrough in arms control since the strategic weapons pacts of the later cold war era. Libya has gone from 1986 target of Ronald Reagan's bombs, from "rogue" sponsor of non-state, anti-western terrorism and, as it now admits, from active pursuer of nuclear and chemical arms to, if all sides honour the bargain, a prospectively valuable friend and partner.
I wouldn’t say Libya will be a valuable friend and partner any time soon. Not with Gaddafi in charge. The Guardian once again is too quick to make friends with dictators.

Even more dubious is the assertion that patient diplomacy explains Libya’s capitulation. Because capitulation is exactly what it was.

Andrew Apostolou says the French and Germans, if they happened to be involved, would only have mucked it all up.

The fact that France, Germany, and Russia were not directly involved in the contacts with Libya was also a key element in their success. We can only imagine the diplomatic fiasco that would have resulted from the French, German, or Russian foreign ministers landing in Tripoli to invite themselves into the negotiations as intermediaries. These supposed friends of the U.S. would have sent muddled signals to Khaddafi. Instead of facing a firm, but fair, Anglo-American position, the Libyan dictator would have ended up deluding himself — something that he does not find difficult — into believing that was an alternative to full compliance with his international obligations. Perhaps now is the time for that other victim of an overly active imagination, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, to confine himself to literature.
If anyone doubts this is a victory for the hawks, they need only listen to Gaddafi himself:
I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.
And that, I think, settles that.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:59 AM

December 21, 2003

Carrying Water for Saddam

According to the Telegraph, the BBC has banned the use of the word “dictator” to describe Saddam Hussein. He was “endorsed” in a “referendum” where he received 100 percent of the “vote.” Therefore, the BBC says Saddam Hussein was “elected” and was not a dictator.

A BCC spokesman explains:

We wanted to remind journalists whose work is seen and heard internationally of the need to use neutral language.

Saying Saddam was elected is not neutral. It is naked Baath Party propaganda.

No one receives 100 percent of the vote in a democratic election. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was modelled after Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The people at the BBC know this and don’t care. They are liars. They lie when they say Saddam was elected, and they lie when they say they are neutral.

All media institutions are biased. Fox News is conservative and everyone knows it, despite Fox’s denial. NPR is liberal and everyone knows it, despite NPR’s denial. The BBC is staunchly anti-British, staunchly anti-American, moderately pro-terrorist, and moderately pro-Baathist. Neutral? Please. Only Indymedia is less neutral in the West.

There is nothing wrong with liberal or conservative bias. It’s to be expected in a free country with a free press. There is no excuse for pro-Baathist bias outside a one-party police state.

If editors and journalists admitted their biases and filters, their credibility would be bolstered not undermined. You can compensate for conscious bias. Bias denied only festers and drifts into extremes.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:22 PM


In a few short paragraphs, Patrick Lasswell writes a creepy and highly original defense of the use of the word evil.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:21 PM

December 18, 2003

The Decline of France

I enjoy taking a poke at France as much as the next person, but I should say that Shelly and I went to Paris and Cassis on our honeymoon two years ago and we had a wonderful time. I liked France a great deal, and I do feel some affection for it. The French people were much nicer to us than I expected, given their reputation, and I haven't seen a city anywhere that can rival Paris in either beauty or culture.

Roger L. Simon just got back from a trip to France where he did some research for a novel. He filed this report, and I'm sorry to say that it isn't looking good for them.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:51 PM

Do Intentions Matter?

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that no one in the Bush Administration cares a fig about the Iraqi people or the democratization of Iraq, and that the war was conducted for nefarious reasons. Yet good has come from the war nevertheless.

Does it matter? It's a tough question if it's taken seriously, and Norman Geras has a pretty good answer.

UPDATE: Tom Perry (aka Dipnut at Isntapundit) has a thoughtful answer, too. Go read.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:43 PM

December 17, 2003

Seeing an Empty Glass

Roger Normand in The Nation magazine laments the global assault on human rights.

Who is leading the assault? Not the scattered bands of terrorists, who rely on fear and chaos to magnify their threat and disguise their essential weakness.
Who might it be then? Kim Jong Il who runs a repulsive gulag state in North Korea? Perhaps it’s the Baath Party dictatorship in Syria. Or maybe the Iranian mullahcracy that sends its goons into the streets to attack protesters with sticks, chains, knives, and guns.
It is the world's sole superpower
Oh. I forgot. I was reading The Nation
--the primary architect of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration--that is now shaking off all legal constraints to unleash the most destructive military machine in history.
The most destructive military machine in history! Worse than Nazi Germany! Worse than Stalinist Russia! Worse than the Khmer Rouge! Worse than Sauron’s Dark Army of Mordor!

(Gasp.) Let's catch our breath.

The Bush Administration seeks nothing less than the open establishment of empire--termed "full-spectrum dominance" in the new Pentagon papers.
I think not.

1. a. A political unit having an extensive territory or comprising a number of territories or nations and ruled by a single supreme authority.
b. The territory included in such a unit.
2. An extensive enterprise under a unified authority: a publishing empire.
3. Imperial or imperialistic sovereignty, domination, or control: “There is a growing sense that the course of empire is shifting toward the... Asians” (James Traub).

Disagree with the expansion of liberal democracy if you hate it so much. But don’t go calling it “empire.”

Since open empire is incompatible with a post-imperialist world order based on human rights and the rule of law, the law must go. This means bypassing the "useless debating society" formerly known as the Security Council, when it refuses to rubber-stamp the unlawful invasion of Iraq.
The organization that puts the Libyan police state in charge of human rights is not part of a “world order based on human rights.” Sorry, it just isn’t.
With dangerous extremists on all sides planning for global war, we should remember that the modern idea of human rights law emerged from the slaughterhouse of World War II.
We are the only “dangerous extremists” he mentions by name in the entire article.
Faced with the public outcry "never again!", the victorious powers had no choice but to recognize the full range of human rights--not only civil, political and religious freedoms, but also rights to health, education, housing, work, social security and adequate livelihood. If taken seriously, this revolutionary idea had the potential to overturn, through peaceful legal means, the established distribution of political and economic power.
“Never again” meant that no genocidal dictatorship would ever again be allowed to stand, which in practical terms means overthrowing it by force. Social security, while important, had nothing to do with it.
The Bush Administration now seeks to kill the human rights idea in its infancy and return the world to the law of naked power.
How is it that literate people can write sentences like this at a time when naked power has been overthrown and human rights are being codified into law in Iraq partly at the behest of the Bush Administration?
But the funeral may be premature.
Freed from the worst double standards of state power and invigorated by new forms of activism and solidarity, a broader and more inclusive human rights movement can join forces with the world's second superpower: mass opposition to war and occupation, corporate-controlled global trade and the ongoing destruction of our environment.
I know it’s popular among a certain set of people to say that war is always bad and nothing good ever comes of it. But we need to get one thing straight right now. Mass opposition to democratic nation-building in tyrannical dictatorships will not yield a single accomplishment for human rights. Ever.

The title of Mr. Normand’s article is Facing the Human Rights Abyss. Not once does he mention the good news of late, that 20 million people were liberated from a regime modeled after Stalin and the Nazis. He’s the type of guy who sees a glass half full of water and hallucinates a hole in the bottom that drained the thing dry.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:06 PM

Not Just the Fringe

According to this Anti-Defamation League poll, 43 percent of Americans believe Israel is a threat to world peace. And 37 percent of Americans believe America is the greatest threat to world peace.

UPDATE: Moe Lane (who blogs at Obsidian Wings) in the comments points out that there must be a mistake. 37 percent can't think America is the greatest threat because 77 percent think North Korea is the greatest threat. It must be that 37 percent think America is a threat to world peace.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll shows 37 percent (the exact same number as above) say they would vote for Howard Dean if the election were held today, while 60 percent would vote for Bush.

Democrats have a very serious problem, but they still refuse to accept it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:03 PM

Clear-Eyed Marxists

There are some leftists (Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens among them) that I still like more than I like some liberals. And this post (you might have to scroll down) about the UN on the British Marxist group blog Socialism in an Age of Waiting makes me smile.

The General Assembly is, of course, an assemblage of bourgeois governments, many of them dictatorships, all of them cynical to greater or lesser degrees. Its composition compels its members to horse-trade, obscenely, this people's rights and freedoms against that people's if it is to get through its business at all. The notorious elections of states such as Cuba and Libya to the Human Rights Commission have been among the wholly predictable results. The recent failure even to take seriously a proposal that referred to the right of Israeli children not to get blown up by fundamentalist fanatics, let alone pass it (as recounted, and rightly criticised, by Norm Geras, linked to in sidebar -->), was just one more case. The horse-trading is less robotically routine than it was during the Cold War, but it still goes on, making a mockery of the ideals that gullible bourgeois liberals still insist on praising the UN for upholding.
Anyone out there want to lump this Marxist blog into the vast right-wing conspiracy? Come on. I know there’s someone out there who wants to.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:02 PM

December 16, 2003

Operation Photo Shop

Saddam had himself sculpted and painted all over Iraq in various guises. We saw Saddam the Bedouin, Saddam the General, Saddam the Gangster, Saddam the Camel Shit Shoveler.

Here’s an homage to all that from flip GenX artists all over the Internet. (Click photos for sources.)









Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:33 PM

Boo Hoo

The prisoner Saddam Hussein is being treated more humanely than he treated a single one of his countrymen. But that's not good enough for some people.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A top Vatican official said Tuesday he felt pity and compassion for Saddam Hussein and criticized the U.S. military for showing video footage of him being treated "like a cow."
Mean Americans. Treating a prisoner like a prisoner.

What did he expect? That we'd put Saddam up in one of his palaces and respect his privacy?

We are Americans. We will treat Saddam humanely even though he doesn't deserve it at all.

Iraqis needed to see his ugly mug on the tv. You're not the target audience, Cardinal. And history is not a sunday school lesson.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:13 PM

Iraq: UN Failed Us

The US isn’t the only country in the world unhappy with the UN.

Iraq's foreign minister [Hoshyar Zebari] accused the United Nations on Tuesday of failing his country by leaving Saddam Hussein in power for decades and appealed to the world body to assume a leading role in Baghdad immediately.

Zebari said the United Nations had failed to help rescue Iraq from "a murderous tyranny" that lasted more than 35 years and "today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure."

"The United Nations must not fail the Iraqi people again," Zebari said.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:48 AM

December 15, 2003

Oddly Enough


Palsetinian terrorists in Gaza support Saddam Hussein.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:16 PM

Defending Saddam

Via Jeremy Brown at Who Knew comes this little tidbit.

A French lawyer [Jacques Verges] known for his notorious clients said on Monday he would be ready to defend Saddam Hussein and that the former Iraqi leader must be presumed innocent at any trial.
I understand we’re supposed to presume innocence at trials. But some things are better left unsaid. I’d wonder if Mr. Verges feels embarrassed to say it, but he did defend Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon.

He added:

If [Saddam] is judged and treated like a pariah, clearly his defence counsel would have to say 'but this pariah was the friend of all the Western heads of state. He was not only their friend but their ally.’
This is true, and it’s an excellent reason to let Iraqis try him themselves. Long ago Saddam Hussein was an ally of the United States, as well as an ally of the rest of the Western countries. The French government stuck by his side even after the Gulf War, and even after September 11. Make your case, Mr. Verges. Baghdad needs to know what Paris has been up to.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:02 PM

Hitchens Weighs In

Lovely stuff from the Hitch, as usual.

He had all his visitors body-searched and all his food tasted in advance. He was obsessed with hygiene and stray infections.

He wore a different uniform every day and built himself a vulgar palace in every city of his miserable country. Nice, then, to see him found like a rat in a hole, covered with grime, sprouting a dirty grey mane, and being shaven and combed for lice.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:01 PM

December 14, 2003

Busted Dictator Photo Gallery

Photos found on Yahoo!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:01 PM

Coalition of the Pissy

T-bogg says he hates to join the Coalition of the Pissy. But he joins on his own free will.

Is Iraq better off now than it was before? At the moment, yes. Will it be better off after the US Corporations finish acquiring all the Iraqi assets and have their own little colonial empire to bleed dry under the protection of a puppet military and private "security forces"? Nope. History and time don't stop with this moment, much as the warbloggers would like to believe.

The exploitation of the Iraqi people is over. Let the new exploitation begin...

Hey, T-bogg. I know you hate me because I left the left. But you're part of the reason I left the left. I used to miss it, but comments like yours make me feel a whole lot better about my decision.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:18 PM

An Early Christmas Present

Okay, so most Iraqis don't celebrate Christmas, but they are celebrating today because Saddam Hussein has been captured alive. Woo hoo!


Alaa blogs from Baghdad:

This, surely, is the mother of all days for us. The heroes of our valiant Pesh Mergas, and the heroes of the U.S. Fourth division have done it. Now is the time to unleash the Iraqi Counter Terror; now is the time to go for the kill. Let us go after them. Don’t lose this moment. They want to recant and live in equality with the people? they have a chance - otherwise they will have to go. I am too overwhelmed with emotion to write coherently; please excuse me. The foul mouths of the enemies of our people everywhere and the neighboring vultures and hyenas be stuffed with dirt; we will come after you; your time will come.

Long live the great alliance of Mesopotamia and the United States of America and her allies. Now is the time, now is the time; Do not delay; unleash the Counter Terror.

God Bless Iraq; God Bless America; God bless the Allies.

And above all Praise be to Allah the Almighty the Avenger.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:08 AM

December 13, 2003

A Defense of Norman Geras

Some of my conservative readers emailed me in exasperation that I linked approvingly to the blog by Professor Norman Geras, who is a Marxist.

I can understand (a little) if someone is surprised. But I think anyone who has read my stuff with any regularity ought to know by now that I do not provide links to totalitarian communists unless I am going to open up both barrels on 'em.

I am not a Marxist, but Norman Geras shares my value system and we have many opinions in common. He and I arrived at the same place by different roads. We both hail from different left-wing traditions, but we’re both old lefties all the same.

I also provide approving links to conservatives, as does the good professor. One of the many things he and I have in common is that we know very well that we can learn from smart and decent people with different backgrounds and ideas than ourselves. A lot of people who read my site, including the conservatives who expressed dismay at my linkage, must surely agree with this too. Otherwise they wouldn’t care what a guy who voted twice for Ralph Nader has to say about anything in the first place.

Oliver Kamm sticks up for Norman Geras, too:

I'm not a Marxist, but a militant liberal. I believe that capitalism may be cyclically unstable, but capitalism with the operation of automatic stabilisers (fiscal and monetary policy) and a welfare state (at least of the type that provides benefits in cash rather than in kind, that discourages dependency and that promotes autonomy) is a powerful vehicle of social advance and an essential part of a free society. But there is no more important political question than the defence of the values of an open society against those in every age - secular totalitarians, theocratic terrorists, Baathist tyrants - who subvert and threaten them. An ethically grounded Marxism ought to be a natural part of the coalition that mounts that campaign, and that's why I'm less surprised than others that Norman Geras stands where he does.
We all need diversity of opinion. I link to Normblog for a reason. Give him a chance and, even if you’re a conservative, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:54 PM


Via Tim Blair comes this tidbit from England:

A church has been told that it cannot publicise its Christmas services on a community notice board to avoid offending other religions.
I'm trying to imagine myself in this kind of situation. Let's say I take a job in, oh, Istanbul. I see a community notice board that mentions Ramadan service at a mosque and, not being a Muslim, I yell at a bunch of people and say I'm offended and I want it taken down.

Wouldn't that make me a complete and total jerk (not to mention an ugly American)? I mean, in this hypothetical, I'm in Turkey complaining about Ramadan. Methinks the Turks would (rightly) tell me to go eff myself.

When in Rome... When in Istanbul... When in England...

My wife and I are both atheists. We celebrate Christmas and always will. Don't like it? Lump it, grinches.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:42 AM

December 12, 2003

Terror Supporters in Germany

Harry Hatchett got his hands on a report to be published this Saturday in Britain. According to Harry, one in four Germans supports the Baathist and Islamist terrorists in Iraq, and some activists there are even raising money for them. If they were Americans, or if German forces were on the ground in Iraq, those activists would be guilty of treason.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:32 AM


Mike Silverman's big effing rant contains profanity and will not be one bit appreciated by bigots or ideologues.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:16 AM

December 11, 2003

Not Even Remotely Romantic

Twice-divorced congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich went on a date this morning (yes, this morning) while reporters stood by.

The two met Thursday morning in the lobby of a downtown hotel and later discussed health care, medical malpractice and prescription drugs over oatmeal at a restaurant.
Prescription drugs? Oatmeal? Dennis! If you can't take her out to a nice restaurant for dinner, can't you at least order French toast or strawberry waffles or something?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:21 PM

Pathetic and Sad

Mainstream journalists are shockingly uninformed about what is happening in the world.

Tim Blair writes about the huge anti-terrorism demonstrations in Iraq and notes that the Washington Post’s Middle East editor - editor! - said:

I'm not sure what the demonstration was about.

I just got back from a trip to Central America. I was in the highlands of Guatemala and on a tiny primitive island off the coast of Belize that doesn’t even have any cars on it.

Over a sixteen-day period I spent less than one hour (combined) surfing the Web and following the news. And I knew about the upcoming anti-terror demonstrations in Iraq before I got home. I knew very well what they were about.

If full-time professional journalists don’t know the first thing about something so significant, how on earth can they justify their salaries?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:43 AM

Pre-Marital Bickering?

Sean LaFreniere wants the US to annex Europe. The idea is crazy, but in a few short paragraphs he made me go hmm.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:56 AM

December 10, 2003

Normblog's New Digs

Norman Geras (you know Norm, he’s the hawkish British Marxist professor) has a shiny new blog home.

Norm - May I suggest you provide a link to your new site on your old site? Some of your readers might wonder what happened to you.

(My own traffic is down by half since I got back from my vacation, so if anyone feels like letting the blog world know I’m back, I’ll be grateful.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:00 PM

View from the Radical Center

Christopher Hitchens is interviewed by Jamie Glazov in Front Page Magazine, and he goes after both the right and the left with brass knuckles. These are long exerpts, but the interview itself is quite long, and as usual with the Hitch, it’s worth it to read the whole thing.

First, the left:

As to the “Left” I’ll say briefly why this was the finish for me. Here is American society, attacked under open skies in broad daylight by the most reactionary and vicious force in the contemporary world, a force which treats Afghans and Algerians and Egyptians far worse than it has yet been able to treat us. The vaunted CIA and FBI are asleep, at best. The working-class heroes move, without orders and at risk to their lives, to fill the moral and political vacuum. The moral idiots, meanwhile, like Falwell and Robertson and Rabbi Lapin, announce that this clerical aggression is a punishment for our secularism. And the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, hitherto considered allies on our “national security” calculus, prove to be the most friendly to the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Here was a time for the Left to demand a top-to-bottom house-cleaning of the state and of our covert alliances, a full inquiry into the origins of the defeat, and a resolute declaration in favor of a fight to the end for secular and humanist values: a fight which would make friends of the democratic and secular forces in the Muslim world. And instead, the near-majority of “Left” intellectuals started sounding like Falwell, and bleating that the main problem was Bush’s legitimacy. So I don’t even muster a hollow laugh when this pathetic faction says that I, and not they, are in bed with the forces of reaction.

Then the right:
FP: You took many anti-American positions during the Cold War. Do you regret any of them? Now that you look back, were you wrong in any way? And if you do not think you were wrong, how is that reconcilable with your pro-American positions today in the War on Terror, Iraq, etc? Why is it right to defend freedom in the face of Saddam and Osama, but not in the face of Soviet totalitarianism?

Hitchens: Again, I don’t quite share the grammar of your question, and I dispute the right of conservatives to be automatically complacent on these points. My own Marxist group took a consistently anti-Moscow line throughout the “Cold War”, and was firm in its belief that that Soviet Union and its European empire could not last. Very few people believed that this was the case: the best known anti-Communist to advance the proposition was the great Robert Conquest, but he himself insists that part of the credit for such prescience goes to Orwell. More recently, a very exact prefiguration of the collapse of the USSR was offered by two German Marxists, one of them from the West (Hans Magnus Enzensberger) and one from the East (Rudolf Bahro, the accuracy of whose prediction was almost uncanny). I have never met an American conservative who has even heard of, let alone read, either of these authors.

Reasonably certain in the view that the official enemy was being over-estimated (as it famously was by the CIA, for example, until at least 1990) and that it would be eclipsed, I also believed that the conflict was never worth even the risk of a nuclear war. I was right about that. And I detested the way that “Cold War” rhetoric was used to justify things, like the salvage of French colonialism in Indochina or the prolonging of white rule in Southern Africa, which were deservedly doomed in the first place and which in their origins predated the Bolshevik Revolution. I was right about that, too.

[T]here is no doubt that the United States imposed a dictatorship, with a fascist ideology, on Greece (a NATO member and member of the Council of Europe) in 1967. This was done simply in order that the wrong party not win the upcoming elections. The result was a disastrous war in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as the stifling of liberty in Greece. One could go on - I have never seen anyone argue that the mass murder in East Timor, for example, helped to bring down the Berlin Wall. You might want to took at my little book on Henry Kissinger, which shows what much more conservative historians have elsewhere established - that during the Nixon years the USA was a rogue state.

So don’t be so goddam cocky about who was, or was not “pro-American”. Having changed my own mind after the end of the first “Gulf War”, I had at least as many arguments to conduct with Washington’s right wing as I did with the soft or the dogmatic left, and would not wish this any other way.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:58 PM

Iraqi Scoops the Times

Iraqi blogger Zeyad writes from Baghdad about today’s massive anti-terrorism demonstrations.

The rallies today proved to be a major success. I didn't expect anything even close to this. It was probably the largest demonstration in Baghdad for months. It wasn't just against terrorism. It was against Arab media, against the interference of neighbouring countries, against dictatorships, against Wahhabism, against oppression, and of course against the Ba'ath and Saddam.
I haven’t seen anything (yet?) in the mainstream media about this, so go read Zeyad. He has one of the best scoops in the world right now, including photos, and he’s doing it from Iraq for free.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:55 PM

December 9, 2003

Central America Photo Album


Parque Central Cathedral, Guatemala City


Antigua, Guatemala


Antigua, Guatemala


Cathedral at night, Antigua, Guatemala


Volcan Agua


Lake Atitlán before a thunderstorm


Me at Tikal




Above the Petén jungle, Guatemala


Dock, Caye Caulker, Belize


Caye Caulker beach


Islands off the coast of Belize


Beach cabana, Belize

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten 2003

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:05 PM

Blog Awards

Much to my surprise, it looks like I won two blog awards while I was out of the country. I’d like to say I’m thrilled, but I don’t think I really deserve either of them.

The first is for Favorite Left-of-Center blog from Right-Wing News, a dubious honor if ever there was one. (No offense to site owner John Hawkins, but it is a bit awkward, you know?)

I also won the Best Liberal Blog over at Wizbang.

I appreciate the nominations and the votes. How could I not? But look. I’m not really left-wing anymore. I suppose I’m still slightly left-of-center; I’m going to vote for a Democratic Congress next year and I’d rather vote for a hawkish Democrat than for George W. Bush. But when you really get down to it, I’ve left the left. Not for the right, but for the middle. I’m an independent, a moderate, a centrist, an apostate, whatever.

During the 1990s my hawkish foreign policy views were a nice fit on the left. Isolationists were at home on the right. But the two sides flipped after September 11. Since the Democrats ran away from their prior convictions and I stayed right where I was, it seems to me ridiculous to say I’m the one who’s a heretic. But whatever. Ultimately it doesn’t matter who changed and who didn’t. The point is that I’ve parted ways with the left on the biggest question of our time.

I think I would have a much harder time winning a Best Centrist Blog competition. Roger L. Simon and Matt Welch would almost certainly cream me. But if anyone does feel like nominating me for something else in the future (and I profusely thank those who supported me this time), please bear this in mind.

Thanks, folks!

UPDATE: Oops. Looks like the Wizbang voting isn't finished yet, so I may not actually win that one. Sorry! I didn't pay close enough attention. I'm still a bit out of it and trying to catch up...

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:21 PM

December 8, 2003

We're Back

We’re back! And it’s cold and dark here.

Yesterday we were on Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize. To get home we flew to Belize City, then to San Salvador, then on to Guatemala City. We stayed in a Five Star hotel in Zone 10 for 90 dollars and were waited on hand and foot while people lived in shacks a mile away. We felt like jerks, but were also amazed at what 90 dollars can buy in the third world. Today we flew to Houston and then to Portland. For two days my world was airport lines, custom forms, baggage checks, and cramped seating. It’s been some time now since our house has felt so cozy.

I didn’t write about Belize because there is a lot less to say about it than Guatemala. And also because once we got there I no longer felt like writing. We stayed for a week on a tiny island with no cars. The roads were made of sand. We snorkled the reef, rode rented bikes around and basically sat on our asses in the sun. It was grand. Belize is an extremely pleasant place to be still for a while and not do a whole lot. Guatemala isn’t at all relaxing, but it certainly isn’t boring. I heartily recommend both countries for completely opposite reasons.

I’m sure there is some news out there that I’m supposed to have opinions about, and I’ll be sure to let you know what I think of everything when I figure out what’s going on in the world. I’ll also post some photos when I get my camera unpacked.

Thanks for keeping an eye on America for me while we’ve been gone. I’m glad to see it didn’t burn down.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:22 PM