March 31, 2005

Back Shortly

Sorry for the limited blogging. I’m preparing for a big project and will have an announcement shortly. Feel free to guess what it is in the comments!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:12 PM

March 29, 2005

Contagious Democracy - The Second Breakup of the Soviet Union

The liberal revolutions that swept through Eastern Europe toppled communist dictatorships like dominoes in a chain. But most of the Central Asian republics remain authoritarian - and in some cases, totalitarian. Some, like Chechnya, weren't able to throw off the yoke of the Soviet Empire at all, and are still officially parts of Russia.

But it looks like that process might not have stopped. It was just put on hold. Parts of the old Russian empire are convulsing again. And revolution may be just as contagious this time as it was last time. The Christian Science Monitor explains.
BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN – The shock waves from Kyrgyzstan's lightning revolution are spreading around the former Soviet Union - and into the heart of Russia - leading analysts to wonder which regimes might be next to face the peoples' wrath.

Recent days have seen a spate of copycat protests launched by opposition groups that were perhaps hoping their own local authorities might fold and flee under pressure, as did Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev when demonstrators stormed his Bishkek complex last week.

About 1,000 people rallied last Friday in the capital of Belarus, where President Alexander Lukashenko runs the last Soviet-style dictatorship in Europe, to demand his resignation. Police quickly dispersed the crowd and dispatched the ringleaders to prison.

Two Russian ethnic republics, Ingushetia and Bashkortostan, have seen mass street demonstrations this week directed against Kremlin-installed leaders. Even in remote Mongolia, the former USSR's Asian satellite, hundreds of protesters gathered last week to “congratulate our Kyrgyz brothers” and demand a rerun of last June's disputed parliamentary polls.

Some experts see a common thread among these upheavals that began 17 months ago when Georgians overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in a peaceful revolt and continued with Ukraine's “Orange Revolution” late last year.

“Every situation is different, but a single process is unfolding,” says Valentin Bogatyrov, a former Akayev adviser and director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Bishkek. “Kyrgyzstan is a kind of trigger that will spread this unrest to our neighbors, and beyond. We are witnessing the second breakup of the Soviet Union.”
Bashkortostan is an absurdly complicated ethnic hodgepodge that makes Lebanon look like Japan by comparison. If it breaks away from Russia it, too, could fracture.

Ingushetia, like Chechnya, is mostly Muslim. The Islamic tradition there is, again as in Chechnya, a liberal/moderate one. If the people want out of the Russian Federation we had better loudly support them. Because if we don't, the Islamist jihadis certainly will. Nothing good can possibly come of that, not for Ingushetia, not for Russia, and not for us. Look no further than - yes, once again - Chechnya for that object lesson.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:38 PM

Hitler in His Bunker

I need to see this movie, Downfall, on the day it's released. Check out that trailer!

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:31 PM

March 28, 2005

Baathism, Racism, and Terror

There’s a new article by Kurdish writer Shirko Mula Qadir up on the Friends of Democracy site about the Baath Party’s connections to terrorism in the Middle East and fascism in Europe. He also has some hard-to-argue-with suggestions about what we (meaning the rest of the world) ought to do about that.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:26 PM

March 27, 2005

How About Howard Dean?

Glenn Reynolds nominates Vaclav Havel to replace Kofi Annan. I second that nomination. I can’t think of a single person in the world I’d rather see take Kofi's post.

Austin Bay wants more nominations. Okay, how about Howard Dean? I kid, but only by half. He might be more likely than Havel to take the job if he could get it. And he’d be a lot more likely to get the job in the first place if he were nominated (by somebody other than me.)

Standing up to the Bush Administration earned him plenty of street cred all over the world. UN fetishists and apparatchiks go for that sort of thing. He’s also earning some street cred with me because he at least partly understands what’s wrong with the so-called “international community.”

Dean may have opposed the Iraq war, but he’s not a foreign policy limp noodle like Kerry. He just thought that one war in particular was dumb. Say what you will about him, but he doesn’t shrink from a fight. He’s the kind of man who likes to roll up his sleeves and get scrappy.

I already published this quote from an article he wrote last summer, and I’ll happily run it again.
Europeans cannot criticize the United States for waging war in Iraq if they are unwilling to exhibit the moral fiber to stop genocide by acting collectively and with decisiveness. President Bush was wrong to go into Iraq unilaterally when Iraq posed no danger to the United States, but we were right to demand accountability from Saddam. We are also right to demand accountability in Sudan. Every day that goes by without meaningful sanctions and even military intervention in Sudan by African, European and if necessary U.N. forces is a day where hundreds of innocent civilians die and thousands are displaced from their land. Every day that goes by without action to stop the Sudan genocide is a day that the anti-Iraq war position so widely held in the rest of the world appears to be based less on principle and more on politics. And every day that goes by is a day in which George Bush's contempt for the international community, which I have denounced every day for two years, becomes more difficult to criticize.
Kofi Annan would never, ever, think or say anything like that. And I seriously doubt his replacement will ever think or say anything like that. Howard Dean might not be ideal, as Vaclav Havel would be. But he’d be such an improvement over Kofi Annan I’d pop a champagne cork if somehow, miraculously, he got the job.

He'd be at least slightly more likely to get Europeans to listen and work with us. He’d also be willing to kick some ass when it needs some kicking. As far as domestic politics go, he might help bridge one gap between American liberals and conservatives. He could make conservatives happy because he’d do a much better job than Kofi Annan. And because he’s such a hero to activist liberals, he could help them see that the UN really is broken. They won’t listen to Bush, but they will listen to him.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:21 PM

March 26, 2005


Tim Blair is “it” in the book game, thanks to me, and he posted his answers to the questions just as Guido was rummaging around in the closet for his baseball bat. Because it's Tim Blair we're talking about here, there are plenty of laughs to go around.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:56 AM

March 24, 2005

The Conservative Crack-Up

The “conservative majority” sure didn’t last very long.

Eric Deamer volunteered for a get-out-the-vote campaign to re-elect President Bush in New Hampshire. He even had a gun pointed at his head for his efforts. But now he regrets that decision and pens his own essay in the emerging “buyer’s remorse” genre among intellectuals of the center and center-right.

Read it. Then read his follow-up. Then come on back.

Now, personally, I’m not experiencing buyer’s remorse – at least not yet. I voted for Democrats in Congress precisely so someone will be there in Washington to fend off whatever the right-wing of the GOP decides to throw at us. I have less to regret than Eric and other remorseful souls (like Michelle Catalano) have.

I expected a bunch of crap from the Bush Administration that I wouldn’t agree with or like. What else is new? I was never happy about voting for Bush in the first place, and I’m not happy about it now either. But I’m not wistfully longing for a coulda-been Kerry Administration. The very idea makes me shudder, especially while we’re in the midst of a showdown in the Middle East with the Syrian Baath regime.

Unlike Eric and Michelle, I never joined the Republican Party. I factored in the wholly predictable Republican arrogance and obnoxiousness into my decision well in advance. So I’m not at all shocked that the party is behaving badly and that moderates are taking a walk. I know how they feel because I went through the same thing with the Democrats. If you’re on the center-left or the center-right both of our two parties will eventually steamroll right over the top of you.

If the Republicans want my vote again they are going to have to earn it. They only got part of my vote last time because I needed a port during the storm that blew the old left coalition to pieces. The Democrats could easily play the same role next time if they get their act together while the Republicans lose it. Absolutely nothing is permanent in politics - including the current shake-up. All the talk I hear (even often in my own comments section) about how the Democratic Party is supposedly dead is a laugh riot. The party that wins elections is whichever party is in less ridiculous shape than the other.

Free advice for Republicans! Purge Tom DeLay. You pitched Newt Gingrich over the side, and he was far less worth the bother than the former vermin exterminator from Texas. (Good God, is it really that hard to find respectable normal people for the top roles in Congress?) Give James Dobson the Sister Souljah treatment. Give him the Energizer Bunny of Sister Souljah treatments until he bitterly hates your guts. (I know, I know, that’s about as likely as Nancy Pelosi kicking Michael Moore in the balls on national TV while wearing her heels.) If you think Dobson and his ilk can keep you in power while you’re pissing off the left, the center, and the center-right moderates you’re proving Jane’s Law all over again.
Jane's Law: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.
But hey, don’t listen to me. What the hell do I know? I don’t even know who I'm going to vote for in ’08. (Hint!)

Elections are won in the center. If you can’t remember that most obvious of political factoids and the Democratic Party nominates someone – anyone – who isn’t a foreign policy limp noodle, the only place you’re going in 2008 is the political boondocks.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:54 PM

March 23, 2005

Because Im It

Nancy Rommelmann tagged me and said I’m “it.” So now I have to answer a bunch of questions or a goon named Guido will show up on my porch with a baseball bat. So here goes.

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

Fahrenheit 451, of course. That way I might stand a chance.

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Yeah, Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings.

The last book you bought is:

Stainless by Todd Grimson. I bought it in part because according to James Ellroy (author of LA Confidential) Grimson is the hippest writer in America. But the real reasons are because he’s a fellow Portlander, he’s been a regular in my comments section for two years, and I just now found out (after all this time) that he’s this famous writer type person.

The last book you read:

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland is the last book I finished. I read it a few weeks ago in one sitting. I haven't done that since I graduated from college 13 years ago. (It helps that the book is a short one.)

What's the book about? Tough question to answer. Let's just say that it opens with a Columbine-style shooting at a high school and follows four characters through ten years of the aftermath. It would be unfair to Coupland’s surprising story if I said anything more. I put the book down weeks ago and I still can't get it out of my mind.

What are you currently reading?

One for the Road by Tony Horwitz. It’s a travel book about his hitchhiking adventures Back O’ Bourke (the Australian Outback). I picked it up because his Baghdad Without a Map is the best travel book I’ve read yet about the Middle East. He makes trips to Libya and Yemen into laugh riots. On the one hand, Libya is about as funny as Romania under Ceausescu. But it’s also a wickedly surreal place, and Horwitz captures it all perfectly.

Five books you would take to a deserted island.

  • The Collected Works of William Shakespeare – for reasons that ought to be obvious, and I don’t care if that’s cheating.
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – because what the hell else am I supposed to relate to?
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding – to remind myself that things could always be worse.
  • Stock Investing for Dummies - because you just never know.
  • My own Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece. (The one I haven’t written yet.)

Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?

  • Sheila O’Malley – because she’s always book-blogging anyway, so I doubt she’ll get mad.
  • Tim Blair – because I just know whatever he reads is funny and smart.
  • Dr. Frank – because I’ll bet what he reads is cool. And I want to know what it is.

Sheila. Tim. Dr Frank. You’re it. Answer the questions, or answer to Guido.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:41 PM

March 22, 2005


I don’t have time to write anything exciting tonight, but I don’t want to leave you with nothing. So here’s some linkage.

Ace of Spades says his intitial reaction to September 11 was wrong. So was mine for the first week or so, until I found my way out of the freaky Chomskyite hole I briefly crawled into. Ace and I erred in exactly opposite ways. It’s a good thing he and I didn’t battle anything out in person at the time. We both would have been wrong, and we both would have been jerks about it.

Nelson Ascher wonders why Erwin Rommell, a Nazi, is frequently praised as a brilliant general while Ariel Sharon is not.

Dean Esmay starts a worthwhile argument with his libertarian and conservative friends.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:19 PM

March 21, 2005

I'm Shutting Up Now

I tried to write another long post about the Terri Schiavo case and decided half-way through that I need to delete it. It’s time to move on to something that’s either more important, more fun, or at least less gruesomely voyeuristic. Eric Deamer is right. Everyone needs to shut up - especially that id of reptilian conservatism otherwise known as Tom DeLay.

UPDATE: I would like to say one more thing in the “keep your mouth shut” department. Tom DeLay might find himself slapped with a libel suit if he doesn't watch it.
He followed with a torrent of invective against her “estranged” husband, Michael Schiavo, now living with another woman, a man with whom he had been trading insults since Thursday.

“No care for 15 years. No therapy. No nothing,” DeLay said, his voice awash in scorn. “What kind of man is that?”

I'm no expert in this case, and I really don't know what's true and what isn't. But I have seen plenty of references to pieces of information that suggest what DeLay is saying from the bully pulpit of Congress about Schiavo - a private citizen - isn't true. You don't have to prove malice to win a libel suit. Reckless disregard for the truth is enough.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:56 PM

March 20, 2005

To Save or Not to Save

Almost everyone knows about the Terri Schiavo case by now, so I won’t get bogged down in the details. But here’s a quick summary for those who are out of the loop: She’s been in some sort of vegetative state for fifteen years, her husband has fought to take her off life-support, and her parents have fought to keep her on it. A Florida court recently ordered her feeding tube removed, and now the Republicans in the White House and Congress want the issue decided in federal courts. George W. Bush is even mucking around with his schedule in order to sign legislation as quickly as possible.

It’s easy to see both sides of this one. Peggy Noonan does the best job summing up the “conservative” side: “There is a passionate, highly motivated and sincere group of voters and activists who care deeply about whether Terri Schiavo is allowed to live. Their reasoning, ultimately, is this: Be on the side of life.”

“Be on the side of life.” It sounds right and feels good. “Pull the plug” sounds wrong and feels horrible. I truly hate to say this, but I think I’m just barely on the “pull the plug” side in this particular case. I’m not proudly or happily on that side. Nor am I completely on that side. If the details were slightly different I wouldn’t be on that side at all. Just thinking about it is painful, and it isn’t my problem.

In any case, it’s none of my business. I wouldn’t tell somebody else what I think they should do in a dilemma like this unless they asked me to do so. I can only say what I would probably do if the decision were mine. Still, when you really get down to it, I’m not 100 percent sure I could order another human being’s plug to be pulled. I had to euthanize two of the koi in my backyard pond last summer. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do under the circumstances I still felt like an evil despicable bastard for doing it. I was shocked by how guilty that made me feel. And they were just fish. They were beautiful fish, but they still were just fish.

The only reason I’m thinking about Terri Schiavo at all is because her story has become a media and political circus. An excruciating philosophical and moral conundrum, one for which there are no easy or even right answers, has been turned into yet another partisan “culture war” bitch-fest. It’s all so degrading and corrosive.

I’m not at all impressed with either the White House or Congress right now. This is so obviously not the federal government’s business that I’m embarrassed to even point it out. Whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies is of supreme maximum importance to her friends and family. It’s only important in a symbolic and voyeuristic way to anyone else - and that’s only because the media refuse to let go of it and political activists refuse to stay out of it.

George W. Bush isn’t intervening to save one person’s life. I really truly hate to say this, but it’s true: he has more important things that he needs to tend to. For him this is all about politics.

Here’s how the White House or Congress can score some genuine points with me: do something about people who are taken off life-support because their families ran out of money. (See Mark Kleiman for some details about that gruesome business.) Now there’s a real national problem. And doing something about it requires a lot more than grandstanding. Where's the “right to life” crowd on that?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:40 PM

March 17, 2005

Right-Wing Idiotarianism Redux

Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left. - Clint Eastwood to Time magazine. (Hat tip: Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, who now has his own blog.)
I’ve been vaguely aware of who Michael Scheuer is for a while, but I didn’t realize until now just how much of a whackjob the man really is. Andrew Apostolou read his book Imperial Hubris so I don’t have to. And he takes Scheuer’s latest outbursts apart in his newest Tech Central Station column.
Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris lambasts US strategy in the war against al Qaeda, has attracted attention for recent public statements on Israel. The former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, Scheuer claimed at the Council on Foreign Relations in February that Israel controls the debate on US foreign policy. As important as Scheuer's hostility to Israel is his underlying message: that to keep Israel happy, the US must kill innocent Muslims.

While Scheuer's views on the Middle East are unpleasant, they are not far from the orthodoxy among retired diplomats. The view of the superannuated foreign service mainstream is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core issue in the Middle East and that the stumbling block to a settlement is Israeli policy rather than Palestinian terrorism. No wonder that Scheuer went largely unchallenged at the Middle East Policy Council, which is headed by a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, with his remark in January that when the US deals with Israel it becomes “the dog that's led around by the tail.”

Still, Scheuer has gone beyond the cocktail party consensus with coarser claims that Israeli diplomacy, and by implication its domestic and often American Jewish support base, is “probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man.”

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Scheuer cited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as evidence of the alleged Israeli “covert action” program. According to Scheuer, the museum is designed to make Americans feel guilty about the Holocaust, thereby preventing any questioning of US policy towards Israel. The ignorance of Scheuer's statement is nearly equal to its chauvinism. Anybody who has visited the Holocaust Museum will know that its entrance is bedecked with the standards of American army units that liberated concentration camps, which the museum is currently celebrating with a special exhibition.

The obvious inconsistencies of Scheuer's views are entirely lost on him. Replying to a like-minded questioner who called Israel “the spoiled child of Western civilization”, Scheuer said in February that “I certainly, as an American, find it unbearable to think there's something in this country you can't talk about. That's really my spiel I guess on that, sir.” Scheuer's use of the word “spiel” was an unintended irony on his part. Similarly, the most convincing refutation of Scheuer's notion that US-Israel relations cannot be talked about is the frequency with which Scheuer talks about them, in every public appearance and in a best-selling, widely circulated book.

Scheuer's views on Israel are not surprising given his politics. He is an old-fashioned Republican who scorns promoting democracy overseas. Speaking at the CFR, Scheuer called President Bush's State of the Union address “warmed-up Wilsonianism”, which is not a compliment as he described Woodrow Wilson in Imperial Hubris as a “bloody-handed fantasist.” Responding to a questioner at the same event who asked if killing terrorist enemies would not simply create more enemies, Scheuer replied that “My books are pretty nationalist, ma'am. I don't much care.” Indeed, Scheuer is so “nationalist” that he has recently written for, a neoconfederate, isolationist website that vilifies President Abraham Lincoln.

So far, so far to the right of Pat Buchanan, but Scheuer is more than a new eruption of a mildly irritating cyst on the extremity of the American body politic. The truly dangerous and inflammatory aspect of Scheuer is that, in essence, he blames the mayhem and bloodshed caused by Islamist terrorism not on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but on those who built the Holocaust Museum.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and it only gets worse. Scheuer advocates a savage war against the civilian population of the Middle East because, in his crackpot mental universe, those pesky Zionists leave us no other option. He goes so far over the top I can't help but wonder if he's looking for an excuse to indulge atrocity fantasies. He doesn't seem to be bothered much by that sort of thing. After all, we're talking about a man who looks at the Holocaust Museum and, instead of thinking never again, weaves conspiracy theories.

He defensively says such “bloody-mindedness” is “neither admirable nor desirable.” But he’s the only “important” person I know of who advocates it, so…feh. And yet, at the same time, he wants the US to adjust its foreign policy in order to placate the supposedly legitimate grievances of Osama bin Laden.

He’s a man who somehow, incredibly, managed to cobble together an ideology that incorporates talking points from the far-left goon squad at International ANSWER and the darkest fantasies of the right-wing lunatic fringe. All this while heading up the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. He's the ne plus ultra of idiotarians, and has no business working anywhere near government ever again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:28 PM

March 16, 2005

Friends of Democracy is Back

Many of you already know that I edited the Friends of Democracy site before, during, and after the Iraqi election in January. The job was a temporary one, or so I thought then. But we decided to keep going and re-tool the site so we can continue publishing news and views from Iraq indefinitely.

We’re finished with the transition now, and the new-and-improved site is ready to go.

The articles we choose to publish are English translations from Iraq’s new and expanding Arabic-language blogosphere. If you don’t understand Arabic you won’t be able to read regularly-updated authentic Arabic-language blogging anywhere else on the Internet. We’ll be adding new articles almost every day. So please be sure to bookmark the site, tell your friends and family if they’re interested in this sort of thing, and – if you have your own blog – help spread the word.

In my opinion, the site is better now than it was. That’s partly because I’m doing more work on it. I’m not only selecting the stories we publish. I’m also thoroughly line-editing the translated pieces so that reading our site will be easier and more enjoyable.

Please give it a look. And don’t miss Al-Witwiti’s excellent Letter to the Next Iraqi President.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:43 PM

March 15, 2005

The Arab Street Revolution

Jonah Goldberg recently wrote:

I love the CBS News forged-document story. To paraphrase the abominable snowman from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, I want to hug it and squeeze it and name it George. Okay, I don't want to name it George, but you get my drift. If this story were hot fudge, I would smear it all over my body and then roll around in nougat.
That's how I feel about the revolution in Lebanon.

On that note, my new Tech Central Station column is up: Our Friend, the Arab Street.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:38 PM

Dueling Photo Galleries

Glenn Reynolds likes to post photos of protestors in Lebanon, both for and against Syria’s military and intelligence personnel, and asks “who would you rather hang out with”? It’s a compelling question when you take a good hard look at who goes to each kind of rally.

I went surfing around Yahoo’s vast collection of images looking for more. (See here and here, for example.) It’s incredible, really, how uniformly pleasant the anti-Syrian demonstrators look compared with the nastiness of the pro-Syrians. If anyone thinks Glenn has been cherry-picking photos they haven’t sifted through the reams of those that are out there. I can look through the galleries and instantly guess with very nearly 100 percent accuracy whether a given image was from a pro- or anti-Syrian rally.

Check these out. They really do speak for themselves.

Those Who Want Syria Out








Those Who Want Syria In











Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:12 PM

The Return of Anne

Anne Cunningham vanished from the blogosphere for a while, but I expected her to come back and I was right. Some of you may remember her as one of the infamous liberal hawks, and I guess she still is. She's a bit more moderate about it than I am, though, and a lot less obsessive. Seems she would rather write about books and personal stories, for the most part, and that's a good thing. There is a lot more to life than politics, obviously.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:12 PM

March 14, 2005

A Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Below is a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posted by the author in my comments section. I’m promoting it, so to speak, to the main page because it’s way too much fun to leave languishing in obscurity at the tail end of a thread. Don’t miss Rep. Pelosi’s response at the end. (The following has been slightly edited for spelling and punctuation.)

Fri, 11 Mar 2005 23:12:15 -0800 (PST) From: “Warren Windrem”
Subject: Re: Join Me in Welcoming Howard Dean to the DNC!
To: “Rep. Nancy Pelosi”

Dear Rep Pelosi,

If I had to pick one guy who was most responsible for driving me out of the Democratic Party and into the arms of the Republicans, it would be Howard Dean. Welcome him to the DNC? I'd just as soon welcome Noam Chomsky, the late Edward Said, or Ward Churchill, or Juan “Israel is always wrong” Cole, or Leroi What's His Name, former “Poet Laureate of New Jersey” (“The Jews didn't show up for work on 9/11, 'cause they were in on the secret – the CIA/Mossad did it!), or the Middle Eastern Studies Department of Columbia University, or the Chairwoman of the Duke University Middle Eastern Studies Department (“Let's boycott the International Gay Pride Celebration in Tel Aviv – we don't want to give any encouragement to the International Zionist Conspiracy!), or Representative Cynthia McKinney, or her Jew bashing (not just Israeli bashing, but in-your-face Jew bashing) daddy.

Hey, normally, my being a Democrat would be a lead pipe cinch. Pro choice? Check! Pro Gay Marriage? Check! Pro women's rights, whatever that is these days? Check! Do I have a pro-Democratic voting record? Check! (Voted for Jimmy Carter twice, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton twice, and even, God help me, Al Gore.)

But the promiscuous, intellectually and morally slutty Anti-War Movement (“We don't care how bloodthirsty the Palestinian Extremist anti-war speaker is, he's a bastard, but he's our bastard” attitude) has driven me out. Now, Howard Dean probably doesn't share all of the above views, but he certainly has legitimized them, and that makes him totally unacceptable to me.

I turn 57 day after tomorrow. Back in the 50's and 60's I rejected Bull Connor, Orville Faubus, George Wallace, the White Citizen's Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and all the other people who murdered Condi Rice's childhood friend in the Birmingham church bombing of nineteen sixty something or other. The Civil Rights Movement more than anything else drew me out of my Goldwater Conservative family into the Democratic Party for a generation (at least 35 years, anyway). Too bad the No-Enemies-on-the-Left anti-war crazies are driving me right back to the Republican Party, isn't it?

You want me back? It will take a Sister Soulja speech straight to the black heart of the anti-war left. I suppose Hillary Clinton looks promising that way. She seems to have lowered the shouting on the abortion debate. (Interestingly enough, I personally would have been okay with a take-no-prisoners pro-choice position, but pragmatic compromise there is okay by me.) I do feel sorry for you. As a San Francisco politician you have to take the Neo-Stalinist idiots down at 24th & Mission (A.N.S.W.E.R.), and the disgraceful Medea Benjamin, and that Israel Bashing lady that runs a women's shelter on city funding somewhere in S.F. (no coverage of THAT story in the Comical, I had to read that story in the Baltimore Sun – maybe your dad can send you a clipping) and makes life miserable for Jewish employees and clients…you have to take them seriously. Fortunately, I don't, and I'm free to associate with people who, however much they might disagree with me on Social Security “reform”, or taxation policy, or Supreme Court appointments, or reproductive rights, or bankruptcy legislation, at least they share my abhorrence of racism and Israel bashing and Jew bashing.

Yeah, yeah, don't tell me, I know, I know, Dean’s wife and teenaged kids are Jewish, so I shouldn't worry. Do you remember the question some network guy (Tom Brokaw?) asked Michael Dukakis in 1988? “Governor, if some man raped/murdered (I forget which, it was 17 years ago) your wife, what would your reaction be?”

Okay, here's my question for Howard Dean, and all you people who think he's okay: Governor Dean, speaking as the husband of a Jewish spouse and the father of Jewish children, what is your emotional reaction when you see some old line neo-Stalinist geek or some don't-know-any-better young protester carrying a sign that says, “Zionism is Racism”, or “Smash the State of Israel”?

When I hear the Democratic party addressing my concerns in that area, we can talk about contributing money, and not one nano-second earlier.

Warren S. Windrem
Oakland, California

P.S. I am ethnically Scotch-Irish/WASP, from a Presbyterian family background, raised in at-that-time predominately liberal Protestant Olympia, Washington (yes, sigh, the home of “Let's burn the Israeli flag” Corrie What's Her Name). I don't belong to ADL, I don't dynamite abortion clinics, if I should ever be so lucky as to be invited to the wedding of a gay or lesbian friend I would be honored to attend (I've lived in the Bay Area since 1976, almost 30 years, and I hold the typical gay tolerant attitudes). I didn't grow up in Brooklyn, Queens, or North Jersey. I'd be happy to see the Israelis abandon most, if not all, the West Bank Settlements (BUT NOT THE WALL – a perfectly legitimate defensive measure against inexcusable murder). If you guys want to insult would-be liberals like me by endorsing Howard Dean, go ahead. Even here in the Bay Area there are more pro-war liberals than you think, even if the Comical, and Medea Benjamin, and Tom Meyer would never admit it.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi wrote:

Dear Warren,

On Saturday we elected a great Democrat as the chairman of our Party — Howard Dean. Governor Dean has used the power of technology, the force of his personality, and the depth of his ideals to energize the grassroots, and bring more people into the political process.

I have seen Howard Dean's campaign strengths firsthand as he traveled across the country for House Democrats — organizing voters and raising money. I have seen people who have stood in driving rain for hours to hear his message. We all thank Governor Dean for his enthusiasm and support for our candidates.

This is a critical time for our Party.

Governor Dean joins the DCCC's new Chairman Rahm Emanuel as a pair of visionaries who are already working quickly to reform our party and refine our message.

Our new Chairmen need you on board. The 2006 elections have already begun. We need the support of loyal Democrats like you to continue in our fight.

Please renew your support in the DCCC today.

Democrats are shaking up the status quo, reaching outside the Beltway for ideas and direction, and striving to strengthen the bonds with the great citizens of this country. We will restore a government that protects the interests of the people against the massive special interests that would use government to gouge them - rather than the other way around. You want real reform, and we will bring it to you. But we can only do it with your help.

We will fight together, and together we will prevail!


Nancy Pelosi
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:53 PM

March 13, 2005

Pacific Northwest Fireball

I went sailing on the Columbia River this weekend with my friends Jeremy and Megan. After we tied up the boat and headed back toward the car I saw what first looked like a typical shooting star streaking across the early night sky. Then it got bigger. A lot bigger. And brighter. A lot brighter.


(Image captured from home video)

“Hey,” I said to Jeremy, “it’s a shooting st…HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!”

“Whoa!” Jeremy said as he looked up.

It didn’t burn out, as shooting stars almost always do. It just kept going, both across and down the sky.

“Where?” Megan said. She was standing far off to our right and couldn’t see anything through the trees.

It finally vanished, either because it passed over the horizon or was about to impact on the ground.

Jeremy and I looked at each other, our heads slightly cocked. We were listening for the explosion. Nothing.

“Do you think it was a meteor?” Jeremy said.

“Oh yeah. What else would it be? It was way too big and bright and fast to be an airplane.”

We went home and checked the news. Sure enough, it was a meteor. It startled people all over the Pacific Northwest in a radius that stretched from Northern California to Canada. Portland was in the exact center of that radius. It was literally right over our heads.

Just a few days ago Mt. St. Helens had its biggest eruption since I was a child. Then a huge flaming rock fell out of the sky. Both happened during the same week within eye-shot of Portland. Forest fires are next. We’ve had almost no rain at all for two months. Our rainy season just vanished. A few days ago Washington declared a state of emergency. Feels like disaster blogging (with photos, of course) might be on the agenda this summer. We're a tinderbox here, and we're supposed to be soggy and dripping.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:56 PM

March 11, 2005

Meeting Bloggers

It's late, I got nothin', and I need to get some sleep. But I met this guy - Asher Abrams - for coffee today and he wrote a post about it for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing.

Asher isn't the most stereotypical person around. He joined the Marines, fought in the 1991 Gulf War, came home, moved to San Francisco, joined and actually volunteered for the Green Party, voted for Ralph Nader twice, moved to Portland, then voted for Bush in 2004. He has long hair, glasses, and a beard, and he likes to wear Bush/Cheney buttons while shopping at Whole Foods. 9-11 made him a more complicated person than he already was, and naturally we got along great.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:13 AM

March 10, 2005

The Rise of White Arabism

Chibli Mallat writes in Lebanon’s Daily Star about an important new liberal movement on the rise in the Middle East, which he calls White Arabism, to counter the fascist (his characterization) “Black Arabism.” He even mentions, at the end, that White Arabism should not limit itself merely to Arabs. It should be expansive enough to include neighboring Jews and Kurds, too.

For the past 20 years, so-called Arab civil society has been slowly denting the status quo. Initially, questions were defensive and focused on human rights, while participants in human rights gatherings were incapable of mustering the courage needed to name those leaders responsible for all kinds of violations, even the more egregious ones like Saddam Hussein. In part this was understandable, and the level of repression meted out against dissidents was uniquely high: Scores of dissenters were brutally assassinated, thrown in jail and tortured, while the usual “higher national interest” argument was put forward whereby Arab liberals saw their reform efforts condemned as giving sustenance to Israel. This trend was reinforced by the brutality of Israeli repression of Palestinian dissent and the inexorable shrinking of Palestinian land.

As time passed, however, the connection between brutality at home and the inability to stand up to anti-Israel rhetoric became increasingly apparent: From the condemnation of the Arab record in general, typified by the United Nations Development Program reports since 2002, particulars of repression were linked to people at the helm of power in every single Arab country. Local Arab democrats are still hesitant to accuse the emirs and kings in the Gulf, but the taboos have fallen in the Levant and North Africa: Tunisia's Zein al-Abidin bin Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Lebanon's Emile Lahoud and Syria's Bashar Assad are being openly challenged, and the perceived weakness of the hard-liners in Israel, leading to the withdrawal from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, will accelerate the trend of decoupling Arab domestic reform from the fig leaf of a united front against Israel.

The Arab nationalism that has prevailed since the Nasser revolution is increasingly being dubbed “black Arabism” by those of us who do not want to abandon a yearning for closer integration between societies separated by arguably artificial colonial borders. Black Arabism, in this perception, is characteristically fascist, and is epitomized by the former Baath system in Iraq and the present one in Syria. Against it we propose “White Arabism,” which harks back to such figures as Saad Zaghlul in Egypt, Kamel Chadirchi in Iraq and Kamal Jumblatt in Lebanon. At the core of the message is the need for democratic, non-violent change at the top in the Middle East, with Arabism read as a liberal call that unifies people irrespective of their religion or sect: in Egypt Copts and Muslims; in Lebanon the various communities that form the country; in Iraq Shiites, Sunnis and non-Muslim sects.

The example of Iraq, where Arabism is not capable of giving Kurds their due of equal citizenship, is particularly telling of the more advanced thought needed to accommodate all citizens - hence the surge of the concept of federalism as a further trait of White Arabism. Only federalism can allow forms of Arab identity to be preserved while Kurds are treated as equal both on the individual level and as a collective community.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of White Arabism will be to review the Palestine-Israeli conflict in the light of new parameters, guided mostly by visions of federalism and where human rights are no longer regarded passively, but are, instead, seen as an offshoot of democracy. While the establishment of a Palestinian state appears inevitable in the short to medium term, White Arabism may have far more to offer both Jews and Arabs in Palestine and Israel.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:24 AM

March 9, 2005


Here's what happened to Mt. St. Helens last night, an hour's drive from my house.


It looks like someone detonated a nuclear weapon just sixty or so miles away. The photo you see here was taken from suburban Portland. Amazing that I had no idea this happened until this morning. If I had looked to the northeast I would have seen it myself.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:23 PM

The Hezbollah Rally

The bad news for the liberals in Lebanon is that Hezbollah staged an enormous rally in support of Syria’s military occupation and intelligence agencies.


Here’s the good news. Hezbollah and Syria already lost this fight. Before the rally even began Syria had already agreed to withdraw its troops to the border. And it’s under increasing pressure to withdraw to the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is scrambling to keep up with world opinion, which is almost unanimously united against it and the Syrian regime.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah emphatically backed Monday's decision by the Syrian and Lebanese presidents to withdraw troops according to the 1989 Taif Accord, not U.N. Resolution 1559.
So Hezbollah is actually contradicting what the people at its own rally are shouting. It, too, supports a Syrian troop withdrawal. The only difference is in the details. Granted the details are key. But if the leaders of Hezbollah felt as confident as they’d like us to think from the size of that rally, they wouldn’t agree to any withdrawal at all. The dissidents set the terms of debate. The pro-Syrian rally was an attempt at damage control.

The best part of the whole deal is that hundreds of thousands of Lebanese are having a loud, public, and so-far peaceful political argument. Middle Eastern politics is notoriously ruthless, illiberal, violent, and closed. Lebanon has been one of the more progressive Middle Eastern countries for some time, but it has been decades since anything like this has happened.

The whole point of democratizing the Middle East is to tame the jihad into a mainstream religious-right political party. If Hezbollah wants to shout at people at big scary rallies, it’s fine by me as long as they keep away from the semtex.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:55 AM

March 7, 2005

Winds of Change at Home and Abroad

This image of today's left-wing Independent is just too much fun not to steal from LGF.


These headlines are becoming more and more common these days.

Rupert Cornell, who wrote the cover story, says “As Syria pulls out of Lebanon, and the winds of change blow through the Middle East, this is the difficult question that opponents of the Iraq war are having to face.”

Sorry, I don't mean to gloat, and I shouldn't. It's still possible that the whole thing will blow up in our faces and I'll be the one who has to eat crow. I don't think it will turn out that way, but I don't know that it won't. Nobody does.

What I find interesting here is that this shows the foresight of historians like Victor Davis Hanson. He has long argued that we should stop worrying about anti-American and anti-war jackassery and just win the damn war. If things work out in Iraq and the Middle East, he's been saying, opposition to the U.S. and the war will largely evaporate. I have had my doubts about that since the opposition is often so reactionary and toxic. But this definitely belongs in his evidence column.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 6:46 PM

Trackback Disabled

Due to the ridiculous amount of spam I have been getting in the trackback box and the fact that I don't know of a single reasonable countermeasure, the trackback feature has been disabled. Lately I've been getting at least ten times more spam than real pings from other Web logs, and it just isn't worth it. Get stuffed, spammers. Then get a life, for God's sake.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:44 PM

March 6, 2005

Syria Shudders

I have high hopes for post-occupation Lebanon, despite – and certainly not because of – Lebanon’s history of violent ethnic conflict. Lebanon’s politics are notoriously ruthless, but there also exists a dynamic, sophisticated, and partially liberalized civil society in that country that counters some of the darker strains in the system.

Things are different in Syria. Unlike the relatively freewheeling Lebanon (in some ways akin to Hong Kong under Chinese authoritarian rule) Syria’s political system is full-bore totalitarian. If the Baath regime were to crack or disintegrate all of a sudden, I wouldn’t be as optimistic about the prospects for a quick transition into democracy without a bit of luck or help from people outside the country. Syria isn’t Iran in 2005 or Poland in 1989, in other words. It’s more like Albania in 1989. Syria might do just fine on its own in an immediate post-Baathist environment, but the people there have been severely traumatized and damaged by the regime. It is impossible to say how things would turn out, and that goes for everyone inside and outside the country.

Marc Cooper found an outstanding blog by Ammar Abdulamid, a Syrian liberal who says the upheaval in Lebanon is reverberating inside Syria in powerful and terrifying ways. Reading his blog is like asking for an emotional punch in the stomach. But Ammar is so intelligent, so knowledgeable of his country, and such a painfully honest writer I can’t turn away.
The City’s air is rife with all sorts of untoward rumors, everything is now possible: there is talk of arrests, purges, coup d’états, assassinations, sanctions, invasions, anything and everything, except, of course, freedom. Everything is possible except freedom. Freedom is never mentioned. Freedom never comes to mind. Freedom remains a distant dream.

The world is changing around us, but we, Damascenes, Syrians, Sunnis, ‘Alawis, Muslims, Christians, Arabs, Kurds, Circassians, or however we define ourselves these days, including perhaps heretics, can’t feel any hope in that. Nothing has touched us so far. Nothing seems to loom in the air, except for rumors and hearsays, none of which particularly inspired or inspiring. The face of an ugly and malevolent god still stares down upon any possibility of hope within us.

A reported wave of arrests has already swept a variety of “low-key” dissidents, that is, those whose arrest is not likely to generate much notice abroad, or even here, no matter how terrible this may sound. But then, everything sounds terrible these days. Despairingly terrible. There is hope all around us, but somehow there always needs to be some pit of despair somewhere meant to serve as a continuous reminder of how things were or could again be. But those whose fate is to live in such a pit have themselves to blame as well. If history teaches anything it’s that such punishment is always earned somehow. We earned it with our long and studious silence.

Being a potentially high-profile case, not to mention, of course, a heretic, my punishment is doubled, tripled and quadrupled: I have to watch others arrested while I am spared, I have to live in the anticipation of a potentially worse fate when the “right” time finally comes, I have to face the look of sickly blame on my sullen wife’s face, and I have to come back home at the end of another long day feeling numb and defeated, regardless of any achievements made.

Khawla and I have indeed reconciled ourselves to the fact that things seem to be like a race against time now: our decision is not simply about leaving the country, but about leaving it before it’s too late, that is, before events catch up with us and prevent us from traveling, together, or at all…

All these years I spent abroad without ever trying to obtain if not another citizenship then simply another residency seem increasingly wasted to me now. All this misplaced love for and belonging to the homeland is coming back to haunt me.

But then, idealists never prosper, do they? Do they?

On the positive side though, I feel like I have enough materials for a quite a few bestselling novels. One day this should make us all rich. One day.
I want to say something encouraging, but it’s hard. These are dangerous days in Syria. Nothing good will happen there while the Baath regime is in charge. It’s an obstacle that absolutely must be cleared out of the way. So the fact that Ammar detects the odor of fear coming off the regime is at least some reason to hope. There are always reasons to hope. And there are some that Ammar seems to forget about.

Totalitarian regimes almost always disintegrate rapidly and seemingly out of the blue. I’m a bit surprised to find myself writing about the possible implosion of the Middle East’s other Baath Party state at all. I knew it would happen at some point, but in early February there was no way to say it would happen in early March.

If it really is the beginning of the end of the Assad regime (do keep in mind that it might not be) events on the ground one month from now will be just as astonishing and hard to predict. Ammar Abdulamid may have little hope at this moment, but history is swinging on its hinges again. In a few weeks he may find that he lives in a different and barely recognizable country.

The reason people in Syria aren’t talking about freedom may be because they don’t quite yet feel like they can. That is so often the story in these kinds of places. But a tipping point may be coming. It is too soon to tell, but soon Ammar and millions of others may find themselves - all of a sudden - saying in genuine astonishment to the people who live all around them: Gosh, it isn’t just me? You feel the same way that I do?

I hate to say it, but this also is true: The implosion of the Baath regime could turn Syria into an emergency-room case. The US, the EU, the UN, and NATO damn well better start thinking about what they will do if that happens.

UPDATE: I just had a thought. If no one in Syria is brave enough to talk about freedom just yet, maybe the U.S. and the E.U. should give it a shot. Give the the people of Syria an excuse to start talking about it.

UPDATE: As it turns out, Bill Clinton has his own blog. In his latest post he floats the idea of regime-change in Syria. (Hat tip: Marc Cantor in the comments.)

Does anyone know if the Clinton blog is a hoax? I poked around Technorati and only found one blogger who thinks it's not real. But it's hard to say for sure one way or the other.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Okay. Andrew Apostolou found some pretty convincing evidence that the Clinton blog is a fake. Funny! Check it out.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:13 PM

March 3, 2005

Sink McCain/Feingold

All right then. At last I am convinced. John McCain and Russ Feingold’s “campaign finance reform” is a threat to free speech. At the very least, the way some people interpret it is a threat to free speech.

Matt Welch put the seed of doubt in my mind in an interview with Norman Geras.
I used to think that enacting campaign finance reform legislation was the most important political issue in the United States, and that most people who worried about its effects on free speech were disingenuous. I no longer do.
Hmm, I thought when I saw that. Matt is a smart guy. Whether I agree with him or not (and very often I do) he knows how to make me think. I knew he must have a good point, that he must have learned something important, even though he didn’t hint at what it might be. I filed the thought and knew some day I would see or read or hear about something and it would click whether I changed my mind about it or not.

That day has arrived. The FEC may soon regulate blogging.

It’s shady when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to political parties and candidates. It’s even shadier when gigantic corporations cut fat checks to both parties at once. (This is otherwise known as “covering your bases.”) Don’t tell me it’s charity. Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott really don’t need anyone’s charity money.

But what on earth could possibly be shady about little old me linking to Barack Obama’s or Rudy Giuliani’s Web site? Not a damn thing, unless they pay me to do it and I don’t disclose that payment. But then we’re talking about ethics, not law.

Not according to McCain/Feingold as it’s being interpreted now by the feds. They seem to think if I link to a politician’s Web site it’s the equivalent of giving them money. I could be fined if I go over my limit. (Sigh.)

So Matt Welch (along with plenty of others) was right. It really is a threat to free speech, whether it was intended that way or not.

This has united the blogosphere. Everyone from Atrios and Daily Kos to Charles Johnson and Ace of Spades is rightly bitching about it.

Say what you will. Oh, now you’re against it when it threatens you personally. Well, yeah. I don’t give tens of thousands of dollars to senators so I can buy access and the expectation of getting my phone calls returned. I’m just a guy with a modem and an opinion.

I suppose the CEOs of multinational corporations are just guys (and gals) with opinions (and interests) as well. And I suppose they’re more “important” than me because they make stuff we want and provide jobs in the community. Maybe they should get their phone calls returned before I do. But I’ll bet ten to one that those who donate scads of money get more access and returned calls than those who don’t. I mean, come on, why be naïve about this?

So I don’t know. I still kinda like the idea of campaign finance reform. But that doesn’t change the fact that McCain/Feingold needs to be sunk. It goes way too far, and I’ll be damned if the federal government tells me what I can and can’t write on this blog. This is not Iran, and this is not Syria.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:53 PM

Catastrophe Theory and War

Those who claim the invasion and election in Iraq didn’t cause the upheaval in Lebanon are absolutely correct. One did not cause the other. Those of us who have been advocating the destabilization of tyrannical order in the Middle East mustn’t mistake cause for correlation.

When you press your foot on a car’s accelerator you cause the car to speed up. The proof is that it’s predictable. If the car is in good working order, if the engine is running and it’s in gear, you know well in advance that pressing the accelerator will make it move forward – or backward if it’s in reverse. You can conduct this experiment over and over again and always get the same predictable result as long as the car is working correctly and has gas in the tank.

No one was able to predict the Arab street revolution in Beirut at the time of the invasion or the election in Iraq. The events are related, but their relationship is not a cause-and-effect one.

It’s more nuanced and slippery and unpredictable than that. The fact that some upheaval would erupt somewhere in the Middle East was predicted by lots of people. This wasn’t like predicting “it is going to be warm somewhere in the world at some point in the future.” Any idiot can do that. Rather, it was like predicting a general warming trend in the face of skepticism. There hasn’t been any successful new revolutionary turmoil in the Middle East since the 1970s, and that was in Iran. The Arab Middle East has been revolution-free for longer than that. Yet all of a sudden – bang - right after the Iraqi election, almost on schedule, revolutionary street-level fury toppled a government.

Fellow blogger TmjUtah succinctly summed up the indirect connection between these events in my comments section.
The weapon that will kill the mentality that has generated transnational terrorists/jihadis is not one that we can use. We can carve out a bloody breathing space, but the final act of victory will not be by our hand. I have never doubted this. The ultimate weapon is hope. In the end, victory will be bought ONLY with the sacrifices and efforts of the people who live in those countries.
I’m not saying we don’t deserve some of the credit. We do. The demolition of Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime and the free election that followed sent a powerful shock wave through the region that changed the emotions, the politics, and the psychology of its people. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we control the chaos that we have unleashed. (Remember that the Sunni Baathist insurgency is also something that wasn’t caused, but was made possible, by our actions.) In the Washington Post David Ignatius explains the dynamic.
There's an obscure branch of mathematics known as “catastrophe theory,” which looks at how a small perturbation in a previously stable system can suddenly produce dramatic change. A classic example of the theory is the way a bridge, after bearing immense weight for many years, can suddenly collapse because of a new stress.

We are now watching a glorious catastrophe take place in the Middle East. The old system that had looked so stable is ripping apart, with each beam pulling another down as it falls. The sudden stress that produced the catastrophe was the American invasion of Iraq two years ago. But this Arab power structure has been rotting at the joints for a generation. The real force that's bringing it down is public anger.

Glenn Reynolds made a different but related point three years ago in Tech Central Station.
This illustrates, in a mild way, the reason why totalitarian regimes collapse so suddenly…Such regimes have little legitimacy, but they spend a lot of effort making sure that citizens don't realize the extent to which their fellow-citizens dislike the regime. If the secret police and the censors are doing their job, 99% of the populace can hate the regime and be ready to revolt against it - but no revolt will occur because no one realizes that everyone else feels the same way.

This works until something breaks the spell, and the discontented realize that their feelings are widely shared, at which point the collapse of the regime may seem very sudden to outside observers - or even to the citizens themselves. Claims after the fact that many people who seemed like loyal apparatchiks really loathed the regime are often self-serving, of course. But they're also often true: Even if one loathes the regime, few people have the force of will to stage one-man revolutions, and when preferences are sufficiently falsified, each dissident may feel that he or she is the only one, or at least part of a minority too small to make any difference.

One interesting question is whether a lot of the hardline Arab states are like this. Places like Iraq, Syria, or Saudi Arabia spend a lot of time telling their citizens that everyone feels a particular way, and punishing those who dare to differ, which has the effect of encouraging people to falsify their preferences. But who knows? Given the right trigger, those brittle authoritarian regimes might collapse overnight, with most of the population swearing - with all apparent sincerity - that it had never supported them, or their anti-Western policies, at all.
A blogger who calls herself Neo-neocon is a professional therapist who addresses this phenomenon from yet another angle.
If you happen to have read my earlier post on intrapersonal change and how it occurs, I want to add that this knowledge about the desire for liberty has comes to us through images that affect us on both the cognitive and the emotional level, through observation. We view the photos and are moved; at the same time, we are processing them cognitively for what they mean, and we (even the NY Times) are changed as a result.

I believe that one of the reasons this “purple finger revolution” has been able to move with such rapidity is that the worldwide media are able to spread those images quickly and effectively to people who in years past would never have had access to them. These people see those images, do the same sort of processing, and come to their own changed conclusions: it's possible; we can do this, too. And, for those people who actually participate in the demonstrations or the elections, and directly experience their own newfound power, further personal change occurs not just through observation but through action. The whole thing is a feedback loop in which the observations and the attendent feelings and cognitions lead to action, and that action leads to other feelings and cognitions, which can in turn lead to changed beliefs and even further action.

Interesting times ahead. Fasten your seat belts.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:08 AM

March 1, 2005

While I Was Out

It looks like while I was out of town and bumming around the Caribbean all sorts of big stuff went down.

When Shelly and I first arrived in San Juan I turned on the news for the first and only time. (Like I said a few days ago, it takes me a while to get out of my habits and feel like I’m on vacation.) Because this is the age of the Terror War, sure enough someone had blown something up somewhere in the world. But this wasn’t just another terrorist bomb. The former prime minister of Lebanon was assassinated. “Ten to one Syria did it,” I said to Shelly.

Then we went out and explored the fine old Spanish colonial city and I forgot all about it. The only other event I was aware of was the sad news that Hunter S. Thompson - who once lived in San Juan - had killed himself.

Now that I’m home and have had time to get back into the news cycle all I can say is wow. It looks like some Arabs had their own 911.



I’ve been wanting to say something about this for the past couple of days, but I’ve been playing catch-up at the same time and haven’t come up with anything particularly original. So instead I’ll link to Mark Steyn who does a fine job explaining what’s going on in the new Middle East.
Consider just the past couple of days' news: not the ever more desperate depravity of the floundering “insurgency”, but the real popular Arab resistance the car-bombers and the head-hackers are flailing against: the Saudi foreign minister, who by remarkable coincidence goes by the name of Prince Saud, told Newsweek that women would be voting in the next Saudi election. “That is going to be good for the election,” he said, “because I think women are more sensible voters than men.”

Four-time Egyptian election winner - and with 90 per cent of the vote! - President Mubarak announced that next polling day he wouldn't mind an opponent. Ordering his stenographer to change the constitution to permit the first multi-choice presidential elections in Egyptian history, His Excellency said the country would benefit from “more freedom and democracy”. The state-run TV network hailed the president's speech as a “historical decision in the nation's 7,000-year-old march toward democracy”. After 7,000 years on the march, they're barely out of the parking lot, so Mubarak's move is, as they say, a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile in Damascus, Boy Assad, having badly overplayed his hand in Lebanon and after months of denying that he was harbouring any refugee Saddamites, suddenly discovered that - wouldja believe it? - Saddam's brother and 29 other bigshot Baghdad Baathists were holed up in north-eastern Syria, and promptly handed them over to the Iraqi government.

And, for perhaps the most remarkable development, consider this report from Mohammed Ballas of Associated Press: “Palestinians expressed anger on Saturday at an overnight suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce, a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes.”

No disrespect to Associated Press, but I was disinclined to take their word for it. However, Charles Johnson, whose Little Green Footballs website has done an invaluable job these past three years presenting the ugly truth about Palestinian death-cultism, reported that he went hunting around the internet for the usual photographs of deliriously happy Gazans dancing in the street and handing out sweets to celebrate the latest addition to the pile of Jew corpses - and, to his surprise, couldn't find any.

Why is all this happening? Answer: January 30. Don't take my word for it, listen to Walid Jumblatt, big-time Lebanese Druze leader and a man of impeccable anti-American credentials: “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, eight million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Berlin Wall has fallen.”
I wouldn’t say the Berlin Wall has fallen. I won’t say that until it looks like the Terror War has come to an end. But perhaps this is the end of the beginning. At least it’s the beginning of a new and interesting chapter. The Brett Scowcrofts and Henry Kissingers of the world think it’s a lousy idea to destabilize tyrannical parts of the globe. This week reminds me – in spades – why I just can’t subscribe to their worldview.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:24 PM