Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year!

Just wanted to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year. Look for regular posting to resume next week.

Final Thoughts for 2004

First of all, please allow me to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this blog. When I started in June, I had no idea that anyone would actually care about what I have to say. Thanks to all of you who have visited.

2004 will be remembered as one of the most important years in the history of the 21st century. The War on Islamist Terror continued in full force. While the tide has turned decisively in our favor in Afghanistan, affairs remain in the balance in Iraq. The jihadist adversary showed its true colors, with the massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan, Russia, and the videotaped beheadings of western hostages in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Here in the US, we held what in my view was the most important presidential election since 1864. Sadly, an already tumultuous year ended on a horrific note, with the earthquake/tsunami tragedy in Southeast Asia.

Living in such times is not easy. It is little wonder that many Americans would prefer to go back to the "holiday from history" that we enjoyed during the late 1990's. Unfortunately, there are no holidays from history. For better or worse, it is the periods of chaos and conflict that define the course of human development. The present war is no exception. Either democracy, pluralism, and human rights will continue to grow and spread, or the forces of Islamist barbarism will succeed in establishing theocratic totalitarian despotisms throughout much of the Islamic world, with catastrophic consequences for all of us.

David Brooks Explains my Blog Title

For librarians, who must like Faulknerian, sprawling paragraphs, the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1.

Laura Bush has a lot of work to do in shoring up her base.

David Brooks, "Ruling Class War", The New York Times, September 11, 2004

While I certainly plead guilty to liking "Faulknerian, sprawling paragraphs", as my regular readers can attest, I am very much in the minority in terms of my political preferences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

"No band will tell me what to do."

"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal."

Alice Cooper, quoted in the Edmonton Sun, August 20, 2004.

The Coop, telling it like it is. Further confirmation is provided by this hilarious post from Instapundit, chronicling the Bush-hating antics of the poster boys for 90's faux punk mediocrity, Greenday. As Mr. Reynolds so aptly puts it:

Johnny Ramone crapped bigger than these guys, and everybody knows it.

Tragedy in Southeast Asia

I offer my thoughts and prayers to the victims of the horrifying earthquake/tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. The dimensions of the tragedy are mind-boggling, with the estimated death toll now over 50,000. See the Command Post and the US Agency for International Development web site for breaking news and information on how to help.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Holiday Hiatus

Today I embark on the joy that is holiday travel, so please don't look for any new posts until after Christmas. Thanks again to all of you who have taken the time to visit and read what I have to say.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Terrible Day

Today in Iraq, over 20 US and coalition soldiers and civilians were killed in a horrific attack on a mess hall near the city of Mosul.

Today's incident offers a stark and terrible reminder of the costs of war. Our task in Iraq remains exceedingly difficult and dangerous. As someone who believes in the rightness of our cause in that country, it is painful to confront the price of those efforts. I do so because I believe the alternative means paying an even more terrible cost elsewhere.

Our enemies taunt us by saying that they love death while we love life. They take this as a sign of their courage and of our decadence. They are wrong. Who has more courage? Brainwashed fanatics who want to die because they believe they will go to paradise; or patriotic citizens who want to live, yet who willingly risk their lives anyway out of devotion to their country? True courage comes from surmounting fear, not from worshipping death.

I offer my thoughts and prayers to the families of those killed today, to the wounded and their families, and to all of our men and women defending freedom in Iraq and elsewhere.

Update: Instapundit links to this first-hand account of the Mosul attack from an Army chaplain. It is a powerful and sobering read.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Iraq: The Silent Majority

The newest member of the international democratic leaders club, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, recently had some words of encouragement and advice for the Iraqi people on their hard road to a better future: "They must go to polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, and have a government of their own, and have peace. . . . The major lesson in Afghanistan was that the Afghan people wanted change, from the tyranny of terrorism. The Iraqi people also will gain nothing if they allow these people to come from outside and destroy their lives."

We will know soon enough to what extent the Iraqis as a whole have listened to this advice, but as of six weeks before the vote, the indications are that the "silent majority" is keen for the election to mark a clean break from the past and a beginning of a new Iraq. It's not just in the political sphere that Iraqis, with the assistance of coalition forces, governments and organizations, are trying to make progress. In the economy, reconstruction, infrastructure, health and education, cultural life, and security, work continues every day, often under dangerous and difficult circumstances and just as often considered not newsworthy enough to compete with the insurgency and the growing pains of a country just starting to lift itself up after three decades under the boot of a bloodthirsty megalomaniac.

So Arthur Chrenkoff begins his latest biweekly roundup of the underreported progress in reconstructing Iraq. This installment contains a wealth of information on preparations for the Iraqi elections, as well as news on the economic, social, education, and security fronts. Please give it a read:

The Silent Majority (also available via Chrenkoff)

Why the Terrorists Won't Win

The so-called "Iraqi resistance" added yet another item to its long list of atrocities this past weekend, murdering over 60 Iraqis in a pair of bombings in the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. The terrorists seek to fulfill two goals by such actions: to prevent January's provisional assembly elections, and to spark a sectarian war between Sunnis and Shia. If the Shia quoted in this Washington Post article are at all typical, the terrorists are destined to fail on both counts:

"These attacks aim to destroy the country and the holy sites. This is terrorism against Shiites," said Fadhil Salman, 41, the owner of the Ghufran Hotel in Najaf. "They want to foil the elections, but this won't deter us."


"I swear to God, even if they burn all the elections centers, we will still go and vote," said Ali Waili, 29, a taxi driver reached by telephone in Karbala. "We have been mistreated for a long time, we have been tortured for a long time."

(link courtesy of Oxblog)

Remember these statements the next time someone says that Iraqis don't want democracy. A recent poll of 5,000 people in the Baghdad area suggests that such attitudes are very much the norm. 80% of respondents were against postponing the January elections, and 83% believe the elections will take place as scheduled.

The terrorists can murder innocents and inflict carnage, but they cannot prevent the Iraqi people from pursuing the path to democracy.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

"The Man Who Wanted Too Much"

I blogged several times last month about the disastrous life and legacy of Yasser Arafat. For anyone who's still interested, here's one more excellent article on the father of modern terrorism, from Dr. Harvey Sicherman of the Foreign Policy Research Institute:

Yasser Arafat was the man who wanted too much. He equipped his people with a sense of victimhood, a rhetoric of hate, and a cult of violence that ultimately put his objectives beyond reach. Often a master of maneuver to international acclaim, Arafat’s doing, and his undoing, proved to be his penchant for terrorism. Embattled to the end, he had hoped to duplicate Saladin’s triumphal recovery of Jerusalem. But Allah had other plans and he died in the bosom of the French.

Arafat, the Man Who Wanted Too Much

Person of the Year

Who is Time's 2004 Person of the Year? No real surprise:

George W. Bush

The following two paragraphs from Time explain exactly why I support the President:

Yet even halfway through his presidency, Bush says, he already sees his historic gamble paying off. He watched in satisfaction the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "I'm not suggesting you're looking at the final chapter in Afghanistan, but the elections were amazing. And if you go back and look at the prognosis about Afghanistan—whether it be the decision [for the U.S. to invade] in the first place, the 'quagmire,' whether or not the people can even vote—it's a remarkable experience." Bush views his decision to press for the transformation of Afghanistan and then Iraq—as opposed to "managing calm in the hopes that there won't be another September 11th, that the Salafist [radical Islamist] movement will somehow wither on the vine, that somehow these killers won't get a weapon of mass destruction"—as the heart of not just his foreign policy but his victory. "The election was about the use of American influence," he says. "I can remember people trying to shift the debate. I wanted the debate to be on a lot of issues, but I also wanted everybody to clearly understand exactly what my thinking was. The debates and all the noise and all the rhetoric were aimed at making very clear the stakes in this election when it comes to foreign policy."

In that respect and throughout the 2004 campaign, Bush was guided by his own definition of a winning formula. "People think during elections, 'What's in it for me?'" says communications director Dan Bartlett, and expanding democracy in Iraq, a place voters were watching smolder on the nightly news, was not high on their list. Yet "every time we'd have a speech and attempt to scale back the liberty section, he would get mad at us," Bartlett says. Sometimes the President would simply take his black Sharpie and write the word freedom between two paragraphs to prompt himself to go into his extended argument for America's efforts to plant the seeds of liberty in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.

(emphasis added-DD)

A Story From Iraq

Blackfive, a blogger and veteran, recently posted this e-mail from a Marine in Iraq:

Just wanted to write to you and tell you another story about an experience we had over here.

As you know, I asked for toys for the Iraqi children over here and several people (Americans that support us) sent them over by the box. On each patrol we take through the city, we take as many toys as will fit in our pockets and hand them out as we can. The kids take the toys and run to show them off as if they were worth a million bucks. We are as friendly as we can be to everyone we see, but especially so with the kids. Most of them don't have any idea what is going on and are completely innocent in all of this.

On one such patrol, our lead security vehicle stopped in the middle of the street. This is not normal and is very unsafe, so the following vehicles began to inquire over the radio. The lead vehicle reported a little girl sitting in the road and said she just would not budge. The command vehicle told the lead to simply go around her and to be kind as they did. The street was wide enough to allow this maneuver and so they waved to her as they drove around.

As the vehicles went around her, I soon saw her sitting there and in her arms she was clutching a little bear that we had handed her a few patrols back. Feeling an immediate connection to the girl, I radioed that we were going to stop. The rest of the convoy paused and I got out the make sure she was OK. The little girl looked scared and concerned, but there was a warmth in her eyes toward me. As I knelt down to talk to her, she moved over and pointed to a mine in the road.

Please read the whole piece for yourself:

The Heart of America

(link courtesy of Little Green Footballs)

A Tale of Two Articles

In the December 16th Christian Science Monitor, Brad Knickerbocker writes about "The pattern of discontent in US ranks". The article discusses "what appears to be growing resistance from the troops" regarding the campaign in Iraq. Among the evidence Knickerbocker cites is "numbers of deserters (reportedly in the thousands)".

On the very next day, UPI published an article by Pamela Hess on the same topic. The one difference being that she actually bothered to do some research before coming to her conclusions. She found that:

The number of annual military desertions is down to the lowest level since before 2001, according to the Pentagon.

The Army said the number of new deserters in 2004 -- 2,376 -- was just half the number of those who deserted prior to Sept. 11, 2001. That number was 4,597.

The numbers of deserters has dropped annually since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington. The fiscal year 2004 total number of Army deserters is the lowest since before 1998, according to Army data.

According to Hess's article, the Marines reported 1,297 desertions in Fiscal Year 2004, a slight increase from 2003 but much less than the 1,603 recorded in FY 2001. In other words, the rate of desertion in the two armed services bearing the brunt of operations in Iraq is substantially lower now than it was prior to 9/11. Yet according to Knickerbocker, the number of desertions is evidence of "growing resistance from the troops".

No, there's no such thing as media bias.

(Links courtesy of Stranded On Blue Islands)

Libraries and the Web

On Tuesday, December 14th, Google issued the following press release:

As part of its effort to make offline information searchable online, Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) today announced that it is working with the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oxford as well as The New York Public Library to digitally scan books from their collections so that users worldwide can search them in Google.

"Even before we started Google, we dreamed of making the incredible breadth of information that librarians so lovingly organize searchable online," said Larry Page, Google co-founder and president of Products. "Today we're pleased to announce this program to digitize the collections of these amazing libraries so that every Google user can search them instantly.

"Our work with libraries further enhances the existing Google Print program, which enables users to find matches within the full text of books, while publishers and authors monetize that information," Page added. "Google's mission is to organize the world's information, and we're excited to be working with libraries to help make this mission a reality."

For more details, see this article from the December 14th New York Times. This is, of course, an extremely positive development. Anything that makes libraries and library collections more visible and accessible is to be welcomed. But, it is important not to overstate the implications of this project.

First of all, this does not mean that every book held by each of these libraries will be available to read online. Several of the libraries are only having portions of their collections digitized. The main obstacle, however, is copyright law. Only those books published before 1923 will be available in full text. The others will only have bibliographic information and sample pages, similar to what you find at

Secondly, this does not mean that the paper book is coming to an end. Daniel Akst, writing in the December 17th Wall Street Journal, states that "Google's plan drives a giant nail in the coffin of paper books. Right now, it is true, e-book sales remain negligible. But just as electronic payments are gradually superseding paper checks, electronic publication will gradually replace paper books--especially in a future of portable, easy-to-read electronic tablets and near-ubiquitous wireless Internet access."

With all due respect, this is nonsense. Making books available online is a tremendous development and greatly aids the research process. However, it remains far easier to read large amounts of text from a paper book than from a computer screen. The era of "easy-to-read electronic tablets" is still a long way off. As mentioned above, copyright law is another potential obstacle to this brave new world. While I can see technologies such as print-on-demand growing enormously, the simple, reliable, user-friendly paper book will still be with us for a while.

Third, this agreement represents not so much a revolution as simply a continuation of pre-existing trends. There are already sites such as Project Gutenberg and Bibliomania that offer free online access to the full text of non-copyrighted works. Nearly 2/3 of new US government documents are published online through resources such as GPO Access and Thomas. Libraries themselves have begun to digitize certain parts of their collections, the Library of Congress' Making of America project being the foremost example among many. The Google initiative will greatly expand and accelerate these trends, and this is to be applauded. But the agreement is taking libraries in a direction that they were already headed.

Libraries are no longer the dry, dusty places of stereotypical lore. Librarians have been grappling for the last decade with the implications of the World Wide Web. Electronic article databases and online catalogs have revolutionized the way that library research is done. Patrons can now do research using the library web site, without having to set foot inside the building itself. Libraries are in the process of transitioning from being storehouses of physical collections to becoming virtual gateways to electronic information resources.

This agreement, however, does not mean that libraries no longer matter, far from it. One pernicious side effect of the World Wide Web has been the belief that "everything is available online". I can assure you that this is far from the case, especially in regards to scholarly and research resources. The Google initiative will help to remedy this situation, but it won't solve the problem. There is a great deal of useful content on the web, and sadly an enormous amount of junk as well. Sorting out the former from the latter can be a difficult task. While the web is a tremendously empowering tool, it can also be bewildering and overwhelming. Libraries and librarians are ideally suited to serve as guides to this virtual flea market of information.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Today's Real Top Story

The process of bringing one of the worst mass murderers of the late 20th Century to justice has begun. Ali Hassan al-Majid, AKA "Chemical Ali", was brought before Iraq's special tribunal today to answer questions about his crimes. As one of Saddam's top henchmen, al-Majid was intimately involved in numerous atrocities. He is best known as the architect of the poison gas attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in 1988, in which 5,000 people died. Sometime in 1987-88, al-Majid said the following at a meeting of Baath Party officials:

Jalal Talabani asked me to open a special channel of communication with him. That evening I went to Suleimaniyeh and hit them with the special ammunition. That was my answer. We continued the deportations. I told the mustashars that they might say that they like their villages and that they won't leave. I said I cannot let your village stay because I will attack it with chemical weapons. Then you and your family will die. You must leave right now. Because I cannot tell you the same day that I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them! The international community and those who listen to them.

(emphasis added-DD)

Source: Human Rights Watch

Al-Majid's record of barbarism is far too long for me to go over in any detail, but both Human Rights Watch and Indict provide useful summaries.

Justice for those murdered in Halabja, and for the rest of "Chemical Ali's" victims, cannot come soon enough.

Today's Top Story

War Unwinnable In Face Of Renewed German Offensive

December 17th, 1944

PARIS (Routers) Long-time critics of the Roosevelt administration declared themselves vindicated today, as the Germans began a renewed offensive yesterday in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, opening a huge hole in the "Allied" lines and throwing back troops for miles, with previously unimaginable US casualties.

Early yesterday morning, eight German armored divisions and thirteen German infantry divisions launched an all-out attack on five divisions of the United States 1st Army. Hundreds of heavy guns, howitzers and multiple-rocket launchers were fired on American positions.

The 5th and 6th Panzer armies, consisting of some eleven divisions, broke through the Loshein Gap against the American divisions protecting the region. The 6th Panzer Army then headed north while the Fifth Panzer Army went south. The latter army attacked the U. S. VIII Corps some 100 miles to the south, which was quickly surrounded, resulting in mass surrenders of unprepared American soldiers. By any reasonable and objective standard, it was an utter military disaster for the "Allied" forces.

It all came as a complete shock to the Roosevelt administration who, rumor has it, had been informed by the head of OSS that the imminent collapse of the German army was a "lead-pipe cinch." This only confirmed reasonable pre-election suspicions that the administration and General Eisenhower were operating on flawed intelligence, and led the nation into an invasion of Europe on clearly false pretenses.

Yes, Rand Simberg channels how today's media would have covered the Battle of the Bulge. Read it, and keep it in mind the next time you peruse the New York Times or Washington Post.

(link courtesy of Instapundit)

Friday, December 17, 2004

Global Jihad Watch

The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies offers an excellent weekly roundup of news from the War on Islamist Terror. I strongly recommend giving it a look:

Global Jihad Watch

The most recent report is from December 15. Click here for the December 8th and December 2nd updates.

The King Returns (Again)

Warning: High Geek Content

I eagerly await the arrival of my Return of the King extended edition DVD from While I enjoyed the film, as well as the first two installments, I did have a few problems with the theatrical version. Everything after the battle of Pelennor Fields feels badly rushed and compressed. Also, the more I think about the way Peter Jackson uses the Army of the Dead, the more it bothers me. If all Aragorn had to do was bring this indestructible green horde to Minas Tirith, then why did the Rohirrim even bother showing up. Upon further reflection, having the Dead save the day by showing up at Pelennor Fields in my view cheapened the battle. In just a few minutes, Return goes from being a gripping, dramatic portrayal of a battle against overwhelming odds to a George Lucas movie. Besides, what was the point of dealing with the Corsairs when the Dead didn't need ships to get to Minas Tirith.

Anyway, my hope is that the extended version of ROTK will fill in some of these gaps. The omens so far are positive. Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard was far less enamored of the theatrical edition of Return than I was, yet his review of the extended version is both entertaining and positive:

Return of Return of the King

(Warning: minor spoilers)

I'll post my own thoughts on the extended edition of Return after viewing.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Can We Win in Iraq?

In the November 29 Washington Post, Brian Gifford argues that "The Costs of Staying the Course" in Iraq are too high to bear for much longer. His key argument is as follows:

The focus on how "light" casualties have been so far rather than on what those casualties signify serves to rationalize the continued conduct of the war and prevents us as a nation from confronting the realities of conditions in Iraq. Even more troubling, daily casualties have almost tripled since before the first attack on Fallujah in April. Conditions are getting worse, not improving. To be sure, American forces are winning the body count. That the insurgency is nonetheless growing more effective in the face of heavier losses makes it difficult to imagine an exit strategy that any reasonable person would recognize as a "victory."

Gifford's essay is a thinly veiled call to cut and run, as that is the only logical conclusion to draw from his argument. The perception that Iraq is a quagmire, that the insurgency cannot be defeated, that the idea of a pluralist, democratic Iraq is a hopeless fantasy spun by out of touch "neoconservative" intellectuals, has become increasingly widespread. Even noted conservative icon William F. Buckley has written that "the insurrectionists can’t be defeated by any means we would consent to use." (Thanks to Simon X for the link)

I have previously made the case as to why abandoning Iraq would be a monumentally bad idea. But what if staying in Iraq is an even worse option? Wouldn't it be better to cut our losses now? The answer to this question depends upon whether or not Gifford is correct in implying that Iraq is an unwinnable quagmire. A close analysis of the situation suggests that he is wrong: we are in fact well on the way to defeating the Baathists and jihadists.

For one thing, the recent liberation of Fallujah was a major blow to the enemy. Max Boot puts the battle in perspective:

Coalition troops killed 1,200 to 1,600 guerrillas and captured more than 1,000. They uncovered 26 bomb factories, 350 arms caches (containing thousands of weapons), several chemical weapons laboratories and eight houses where hostages were held and probably tortured and killed. And they accomplished all this with less than half the number of casualties suffered in Hue, Vietnam, in 1968, the last major urban assault mounted by the Marine Corps.

This victory did not come without a cost, as Boot correctly points out. 71 American Marines and Soldiers perished in the battle, along with a number of our Iraqi allies. I mourn their sacrifice and humbly offer my thoughts and prayers to their families, and to those wounded in the battle. Through their heroism, they achieved an important victory by depriving the jihadists and Baathists of their major safehaven and base of operations.

The terrorists had successfully turned Fallujah into a Taliban-style city state, brutally enforcing Islamic law and exercising a reign of terror against its inhabitants. The extent to which Fallujah had become a major operational and logistical base for the insurgents is illustrated by this November 24th report from ABC News:

Eleven IED factories were uncovered, with cell phones for detonators and hand-held radios and receivers.

There was a weapons cache found on one out of every five blocks, the U.S. assessment says, and in 60 of the city's 100 mosques, U.S. Marines found weapons or fighters inside.

Military officers say there were enough weapons uncovered in Fallujah to fuel a nationwide rebellion.

By denying the terrorists Fallujah, we have dealt a major blow to the logistics of the insurgency. As Mackubin Thomas Owens wrote in the December 6th issue of the Weekly Standard:

All wars hinge on logistics. No force, conventional or guerrilla, can continue to fight if it is not resupplied. Storming Falluja was absolutely essential to the destruction of the rebel logistics infrastructure. The city was the terminus of what the Belmont Club calls "the conveyor belt of destruction that flow[s] from the Syrian border toward Baghdad." Just as the capture of Caen and St. Lô by the Allies in 1944 was a necessary prelude to the breakout from the bocage and the use of Cherbourg and Le Havre to support the drive across France, so the takedown of Falluja is necessary to the security of Baghdad.

The capture of Fallujah has provided US and Iraqi forces with other advantages. According to the December 3rd New York Times, the city has yielded "a treasure-trove of intelligence that is giving commanders insights into the next phase of the insurgency, and helping them reshape the American counterinsurgency campaign, senior Pentagon and military officials say." More specifically, the Times says that:

Documents and computers found in Falluja are providing clues to the identity of home-grown opponents of the new Iraqi government, mostly former Baathists. The intelligence is being used to hunt those leaders and their channels of financing, as well as to detect cracks, even feuds, within the insurgency that can be exploited to weaken its base.

Reuters also noted the gains made by coalition forces in this December 9th dispatch:

The assault by more than 10,000 U.S. troops backed by Iraqi units and begun on Nov. 8 killed, by U.S. estimates, some 1,600 rebels, including foreign Islamists and Iraqi Sunni Arab nationalists, and deprived survivors of their main stronghold.

"They have been pushed backwards in the development of an insurgency from conventional operations to small attacks.

"So large-scale operations like the liberation of Falluja are not expected as long as insurgents cannot establish a major supply and operations hub," West said. "Therefore, the current pursuit operations are extremely important."

The best overall assessment of the post-Fallujah state of affairs in Iraq is provided in a December 6th piece from the Washington Post. It describes the belief of senior US commanders that the Fallujah battle has turned the momentum against the insurgency, though the fight is far from over. The Post article notes two especially important points: that the vast majority of insurgent activity is confined to the Sunni Triangle; and that the number of attacks has declined by over 50% since the capture of Fallujah:

The officers said they have been heartened by evidence of greater security and stability in Iraq's southern, Shiite-populated provinces since the assault in Najaf in August against the militia of radical cleric Moqtada Sadr. They also described moves toward next month's elections as generally on track, with more than 200 political entities certified and voter registration proceeding in most of the country. The notable exceptions are the Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar, which includes Fallujah and Ramadi, and Nineveh, which includes Mosul.

"This is a fight, and in fights you have good days and bad days," Casey said in an interview. "But you don't measure success a day at a time. It's a constant process of going forward and, at the same time, keeping a lookout for what's going wrong."

As a sign of the damage done to the insurgency by the Fallujah operation, U.S. officers point to a sharp decline in the number of attacks nationwide, from a high of more than 130 a day at the start of the offensive in early November to about 60 now. But U.S. military intelligence officers expect the number to rise again before the national elections set for Jan. 30.

The fact that most of the violence is confined to a relatively small part of Iraq is an important one to keep in mind. Iraq's Shia and Kurds, who together make up 75-80% of the population, are firmly in favor of the transition to democracy and against the insurgency. With US forces having decisively defeated Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in August, the Shia heartland of south-central Iraq is once again stable. Iraqi security forces have taken control of the city of Najaf, and even the Baghdad troublespot of Sadr City "is now embracing peace and reconstruction." While the terrorists are desperately seeking to ignite a civil war, their efforts have so far met with failure.

Finally, there's one other person who believes the insurgency is losing in Iraq, and his name is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

An audiotape purportedly made by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and posted on a Web site Wednesday lashed out at Muslim scholars for not speaking out against U.S. actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying they have “let us down in the darkest circumstances.”


“You have let us down in the darkest circumstances and handed us over to the enemy. ... You have quit supporting the mujahedeen,” al-Zarqawi purportedly said on the tape. “Hundreds of thousands of the nation’s sons are being slaughtered at the hands of the infidels because of your silence.”

The tape, released on Wednesday, November 24, is apparently a re-edited version of an older speech. Still, it indicates that Zarqawi is less than happy with the current state of affairs.

A message from a jihadist Web site, reported on November 23rd by ABC News, confirms that the loss of Fallujah has hurt the insurgency:

The new message opens with a plea for advice from Palestinian and Chechen militants as well as Osama bin Laden supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "We face many problems," it reads in Arabic, "and need your military guidance since you have more experience."

The problems, the message says, are the result of losing the insurgent safe haven of Fallujah to U.S. troops. It says the insurgency was hampered as checkpoints and raids spread "to every city and road." Communications broke down as insurgents were forced to spread out through the country.

The arrest of some of their military experts, more "spies willing to help the enemy," and a dwindling supply of arms also added to the organizational breakdown, it reads.

Contrary to the assertions of Mr. Gifford, Iraq is not an unwinnable quagmire. There is plenty of evidence that we are defeating the Baathists and jihadists. In the last month we have deprived them of their major operational and logistical base, inflicted heavy casualties, and substantially reduced their ability to mount large-scale operations. The overall number of insurgent attacks has declined by over half. Most of the country is stable, and the vast majority of Iraq's people support the transition to democracy and pluralism.

This does not mean that Iraq is on the verge of peace and prosperity. The terrorists have been all too successful at sowing chaos and slowing the pace of progress, and retain the capability to stage further atrocities. Their attacks will only intensify in the runup to January's elections. For all their efforts, however, the Baathists and jihadists cannot stop the process of building a free Iraq. Make no mistake, the costs of staying the course will be painful. If we are willing to pay that price, we can succeed in creating a pluralist, democratic Iraq, and inflict a major defeat on the forces of Islamist extremism. It won't be easy, but America, Iraq, and the world will all benefit.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Van Gogh on America

Courtesy of The Corner, comes this paragraph written by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh concerning America:

“The dead poor sheep farmers on Sicily at the turn of the century argued that America must be heaven on earth as emigrated family members relayed messages of having meat for dinner everyday. That was a mouthwatering experience for people who could enjoy that privilege maybe once in a lifetime. You can argue that particular instinct to be ‘ordinary’ or ‘superficial’ like so many do here, but it is way beyond me to look down on it. America is hated because it embodies the hope of people that yearn for a better life, to have meat everyday, but also to believe in the God they choose, or not. To say what you want without being persecuted. To be a woman without a veil, with the right to vote, free expression and adultery, without being stoned."

Van Gogh, of course, was murdered last month in Amsterdam by an Islamist fanatic for daring to condemn the treatment of women in much of the Muslim world. As The Corner's Andrew Stuttaford writes:

It is impossible to read those words, and others that you can see up on the site, without being proufoundly moved - and remembering that Theo van Gogh was murdered for his opinions. Slaughtered for speaking his mind. In Europe. In 2004.

Revolution @t Your Library

The New York Public Library gift shop, among its other offerings, is selling Che Guevara watches:

Revolution is a permanent state with this clever watch, featuring the classic romantic image of Ché Guevara, around which the word "revolution" -- revolves.

As the New York Sun reports, the Cuban-American community is less than enthusiastic about this item:

Maria Werlau, president of the Free Society Project - a nonprofit human rights organization documenting the victims of Cuba's communist revolution - denounced sales of the watch as "outrageous." After not having calls to the library returned, she wrote a letter of protest to the institution's president, Paul LeClerc.

(Link via NRO's Corner)

Unfortunately, this is just one example of the cult of Che that has infected our popular culture. Few seem to know or care that the "classic romantic image" they celebrate is that of a fanatical thug who helped create a brutal totalitarian despotism. In a September 24 piece for Slate, Paul Berman demolished the moral and political obtuseness that sustains the Che obsession:

The cult of Ernesto Che Guevara is an episode in the moral callousness of our time. Che was a totalitarian. He achieved nothing but disaster. Many of the early leaders of the Cuban Revolution favored a democratic or democratic-socialist direction for the new Cuba. But Che was a mainstay of the hardline pro-Soviet faction, and his faction won. Che presided over the Cuban Revolution's first firing squads. He founded Cuba's "labor camp" system—the system that was eventually employed to incarcerate gays, dissidents, and AIDS victims. To get himself killed, and to get a lot of other people killed, was central to Che's imagination. In the famous essay in which he issued his ringing call for "two, three, many Vietnams," he also spoke about martyrdom and managed to compose a number of chilling phrases: "Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become …"— and so on. He was killed in Bolivia in 1967, leading a guerrilla movement that had failed to enlist a single Bolivian peasant. And yet he succeeded in inspiring tens of thousands of middle class Latin-Americans to exit the universities and organize guerrilla insurgencies of their own. And these insurgencies likewise accomplished nothing, except to bring about the death of hundreds of thousands, and to set back the cause of Latin-American democracy—a tragedy on the hugest scale.

As Berman also points out, Che helped found, and remains a symbol of, a regime that burns books and crushes intellectual freedom. That NYPL would choose to market the image of someone who was an avowed enemy of everything our profession is supposed to stand for is a disgrace, but sadly not surprising.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Saddam's Legacy

Links Updated: 04-17-05

With Monday marking the first anniversary of the capture of Saddam Hussein, this is an excellent time to reflect on the dictator's legacy:

-Mass Graves containing an estimated 300,000 victims.

-The gassing to death of 5,000 Kurdish civilians at Halabja in 1988.

-The genocidal Anfal Campaign of 1987-88, in which over 100,000 Kurds were murdered.

-The massacre of tens of thousands of Shia and Kurds in the wake of the failed 1991 uprisings.

-The systematic destruction of Iraq's southern marshes, and brutal deportation of their Marsh Arab inhabitants.

-The barbarous totalitarian repression of any opposition, by means of torture, rape, mutilation, and murder.

Saddam was not just another dictator. He was a genocidal mass murderer, the Arab world's answer to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. As UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Max Van der Stoel told the National Press Club on March 26, 1992, Saddam's record of atrocities against his own people is "one of the worst since World War Two -- comparable in gravity to crimes of the Khmer Rouge (in Cambodia) or Idi Amin (in Uganda)". Read Van der Stoel's February 26, 1999 report (PDF) for details of Saddam's later crimes.

There is no question but that Iraq and the world are better off with this monster in prison than in power.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Afghanistan Update

Last week saw history made in Afghanistan, as Hamid Karzai was inaugurated as that country's first ever freely-elected president. This event was a positive development not just for Afghanistan, but for the entire Muslim world, putting the lie to the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible.

It is frankly shameful how the Karzai inauguration was all but ignored by the major American media. As Stephen Hayes wrote in the Weekly Standard:

Gratitude, it seems, is not terribly newsworthy. Neither is democracy. The Washington Post played Karzai's inauguration on page A-13, a placement that suggested it was relatively less important than Eliot Spitzer's decision to run for governor of New York or the decision of the U.S. government to import flu vaccine from Germany.

Unfortunately, it seems that good news is no news, as far as the media is concerned. Thankfully, Arthur Chrenkoff has again sought to rectify the situation, with another of his monthly updates on progress in Afghanistan:

The irony of the situation, if irony is indeed the correct word, is that the country that only three years ago was still ruled by the most dictatorial and backward of regimes can now claim to have one of the few democratically elected leaders in the whole region. Electing a president, of course, is only a start; a great many challenges remain for this impoverished and war-scarred country. How much still remains to be done to improve security, eradicate the scourge of drugs, and rebuild the physical and human infrastructure should not blind us to how much has already been achieved in the three years since the overthrow of the Taliban regime--indeed, how much continues to be achieved every day throughout Afghanistan, for most part out of the media spotlight. Below is a snapshot of the past month's unsung efforts to face and meet the challenges.

Freedom Blooms (Also available via Chrenkoff)

Why Realism isn't a Realistic Option

Courtesy of Across the Bay, comes this article by Michael Young from the libertarian magazine Reason. As Young points out, the "realists" have been at the forefront of opposition to the invasion of Iraq, and the Bush doctrine of fostering the growth of democracy in the Middle East. The most prominent "realist" critic is Brent Scowcroft, National Security Advisor for President George H.W. Bush:

As a reporter from the New York Observer put it after interviewing Scowcroft last summer: "Most of all, Mr. Scowcroft reiterated his skepticism about the prospects for gunship democracy in the Middle East—outlining the kind of realism for which George W. Bush's father was known around the world."

In a phrase abounding with Hobbesian skepticism, Scowcroft said: "It's not that I don't believe Iraq is capable of democracy. But the notion that within every human being beats this primeval instinct for democracy has not ever been demonstrated to me."

As Young notes, Scowcroft and company advocate an immediate restart of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process", "engaging" with the Iranian regime, looking for the first available exit from Iraq, and abandoning the neocon silliness about fostering free societies in the Middle East. The realist program, in short, is to return as far as possible to the pre-9/11 state of affairs.

For realists such as Scowcroft, the main goal of foreign policy is to preserve international stability. Threats are to be managed and contained, not eliminated. The realist prescription for the Middle East is to do everything possible to maintain the status quo. Dramatic change is to be avoided. Seeking to transform the political culture of the Arab world, as the Bush administration has done, is a fool's errand that will only bring instability that threatens America's interests. This quest for stability was the driving principle behind American foreign policy in the Middle East until 9/11.

In light of the current situation in Iraq, where we have lost over 1100 lives in a messy, difficult counterinsurgency war, it is tempting to believe that returning to the realist approach is the best option. However, when you look at the actual record of the realists concerning the Middle East during the 1980's and 1990's, the desire for nostalgia wanes substantially.

It was the realists who led the United States to assist Saddam Hussein during his war with Khomeini's Iran during the 1980's. Contrary to leftist assertions, such assistance was a drop in the bucket compared to what the Iraqi dictator received from the USSR and France. More problematic were the attitudes behind this assistance. For realists such as Scowcroft, Saddam was an "Arab DeGaulle", someone we could do business with, a force for regional stability. As a result, America shamefully turned a blind eye to Saddam's horrific atrocities, such as the gassing of the Kurds, and failed to take seriously his threats against Kuwait.

Unfortunately, the First Gulf War had no effect on the realists. At the end of that conflict, in one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of American foreign policy, the first President Bush called for the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam, then stood by and did nothing while the Iraqi tyrant massacred tens of thousands of Shia and Kurds. For Scowcroft and the other realists in the Bush 41 White House, the last thing they wanted was a popular uprising against the Baathist regime. Instead, they hoped for a nice, neat coup in which a somewhat more respectable Sunni strongman would take power and preserve Iraq as a force for "stability" in the region. Failing such an event, Saddam would be left alone, "contained" by economic sanctions and the threat of American force.

It was this decision, more than any other, that started America down the road to 9/11. In order to contain Saddam, American forces had to be stationed in Saudi Arabia on an indefinite basis, thus providing Osama bin Laden with his primary justification for declaring war on the US in August 1996. The suffering of Iraqis under sanctions, which were both exaggerated and exacerbated by the Baathist regime, also helped fuel anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world. The same Arab regimes that Washington protected in the name of stability allowed their media to produce a ceaseless flow of vile anti-American propaganda. As a result of these developments, according to the 9/11 Commission Report as many as 20,000 jihadists were motivated to attend al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan from 1996-2001. Planning for the 9/11 operation itself began in 1999. It should be noted that most of this period was one of relative calm between Israel and the Palestinians.

At the same time, Saddam soon turned containment to his own advantage. Just by surviving the Gulf War, Saddam was able to claim victory over the US. His regime became one of the major sources of anti-American incitement in the region, even broadcasting Wahhabi sermons at the behest of Osama bin Laden. By exploiting the UN Oil-for-Food program, the Iraqi regime was able to rake in over $21 billion in illegal revenues. It is safe to say that little if any of this money went to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. Charles Duelfer recently testified before Congress that the budget of Iraq's Military Industrial Commission increased from $7.8 million in 1998 to $500 million in 2003. Some of this money was also used to fund Palestinian suicide terrorism against Israel. Despite not having stockpiles of WMD, Saddam remained a destabilizing force in the Middle East.

During the 1991-2003 period, Baathist Iraq ceased to be the bastion of secularism it is so often portrayed as, and became an open sponsor and promoter of Sunni Islamism, both within Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Saddam's number two man, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, is himself a committed Islamist and played a prominent role in the regime's "Islamization" campaign. Thanks to the impact of sanctions and this indoctrination, as Thomas Friedman has noted, the Iraq we found in 2003 was a far different place than it was in 1991:

You know all those masked Iraqi youth you see in the Al Jazeera videos, brandishing weapons and standing over some foreigner whose head they are about saw off? They are the product of the last decade of Saddamism and sanctions. Those youth were 10 years old when the U.N. sanctions began. They are the mushrooms that Saddam and the sanctions were growing in the dark. The Bush team had no clue they were there.

These deracinated, unemployed, humiliated Sunni Iraqi youth are our biggest problem today. Some clearly have become suicide bombers. We can't say what percentage, because, unlike the Palestinians, the Iraqi suicide bombers don't even bother to tell us their names or do a farewell video for mom. They not only are ready to commit suicide on demand, but they are ready to do it anonymously. That bespeaks a very high level of commitment or psychosis, or both.

We are currently dealing with the consequences of the creeping Wahhabization of Sunni Iraq, in the form of the Baathist/Islamist insurgency. Had we not invaded, we would have been confronted with those consequences under even more dangerous circumstances in the future.

9/11 was the price of realism. All of the major problems we currently face in the Middle East were allowed to fester and grow during the period when realists such as Scowcroft ran American foreign policy. While the Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton Administrations pursued the chimera of stability, jihadist terrorism, Islamist fanaticism, and deep seated anti-Americanism all developed into the dangerous challenges we face today. Decisions made in the interests of preserving regional stability, such as not overthrowing Saddam in 1991, only added to the growing undercurrent of instability.

The old order in the Middle East, with its brutal dictatorships and corrupt autocracies, cannot last. If we do nothing, the forces of fanaticism that produced 9/11 will continue to grow. Only by transforming the political culture of the region towards democracy and pluralism can we end the underlying conditions that fuel the jihadists. As the realists correctly point out, this will be neither cheap nor easy. If we do not change the politics of the Middle East, however, bin Laden and Zarqawi certainly will. Realism is simply no longer a realistic option.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

What the Hell is Going on?

First there was Dodgeball. Then, televised Poker. Now, ladies and gentlemen, meet the latest entry in America's newest sorry ass excuse for a sport craze:

First things first. Dynamite is banned. Verboten. Does paper snuff wick? Or does it burn? Too ambiguous. Make a hitchhiker fist during a serious game of Rock Paper Scissors, and you'll be laughed out of the room.

Which brings us to the second point: There are, in fact, serious games of Rock Paper Scissors.

Yes, you read that correctly. Of course no "sport' would be complete without its champions:

Mr. Simmons speaks from experience. A 33-year-old body piercer from the District, he is better known as Master Roshambollah, perhaps the most feared Rock Paper Scissors player in the world. Fear being a relative term.

"(M)ost feared Rock Paper Scissors player in the world"? Dear God, I thought my life was pathetic.

Long regarded as the civilized way of settling life's thorniest conundrums — such as who pays for the next round — Rock Paper Scissors is evolving into something else entirely: a genuine, bona fide, almost legitimate sport, sans the towel doffing, fan pummeling and steroid injecting common to its more celebrated peers.

The World Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) Society — yep, there's one of those, too — boasts 2,200 members. The winner of this year's world championship was honored with a parade at Disney World. Simon & Schuster recently published an official strategy guide.

A strategy guide? For Rock, Paper, Scissors? If it's gotten this bad, I'm afraid we all know what's coming next:

"We're talking to studios about an RPS movie, like 'Dodgeball' but better," said Matti Leshem, a Los Angeles-based producer who oversaw the Fox Sports Net segment. "There are all kind of things that appear to be boring on TV at first blush, like blackjack or poker. This is much more interesting."

"(M)uch more interesting." Oookay. Sure it is, whatever you say...

The article in question is from the December 10 Washington Times. I highly recommend reading it in its entirety, if you dare.

(Link courtesy of Captain's Quarters)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The State of American Soccer

Those few of you who regularly read this site will be aware by now of my soccer obsession. I first became hooked on the world's sport during the "soccer boom" of the late 1970's. Between playing (not very well) in youth leagues and watching the Detroit Express ply their trade in the Pontiac Silverdome, I soon found soccer just as enjoyable as any of the "American" sports. Alas, I soon burned out on youth soccer, and the Express disappeared after just three seasons. Still, my interest remained, kept alive by watching the 82 and 86 World Cups on Canadian TV, and the occasional US national team match on ESPN. As I look back, it is amazing how far soccer has come in the US since then.

For an excellent overview of this process, read this piece from the British Web site The article is quite fair, and refreshingly free of the condescension that so often permeates UK writing on American soccer:

November was the 15th anniversary of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”. Not familiar with this? This was what U.S. international Paul Caligiuri’s goal against Trinidad and Tobago in a 1990 World Cup qualifier was termed. The goal, a 25-yard rocket, enabled the U.S. to defeat T&T and qualify for the country’s first World Cup in 40 years. This may have been the turning point of professional “soccer” in the U.S. While big moments in the country’s football history preceded that goal (most notably, the U.S 1-0 shock defeat of England in the 1950 World Cup) and followed it (hosting the World Cup in 1994), it was 15 years ago that football in the U.S. began experiencing a sort of Renaissance or perhaps more accurately, an awakening. That goal and subsequent World Cup qualification provided the impetus for serious growth in the American game.

What has followed since is nothing short of remarkable, a fact lost upon many observers and fans who would like to see an even quicker growth maybe because of America’s insistence on instant gratification. The National team has qualified for four consecutive World Cups probably en route to a fifth. The U.S. has twice made it to the knockout rounds of the World Cup and has also successfully hosted a World Cup finals. A viable, domestic league has also been formed in the country. Major League Soccer (MLS) has just completed its 9th season and has carved out a niche in order to sustain itself. The league continues to grow and next year will add two more clubs, bringing the total number of teams to 12. Youth participation in the game is also at an all-time high and now youngsters have the ability to watch their idols play week in and week out and emulate them. Indeed, it’s a good time to be a fan of the game in the U.S. That said, though the picture might be rosy, there are still problems that afflict the game.

Read the whole thing, as Instapundit says. (Link courtesy of

Required Reading on the Left and Anti-Americanism

The Anne Applebaum piece I blogged about this weekend reminded me of a seminal article by Michael Walzer written in the wake of 9/11. Entitled "Can There Be a Decent Left?", the essay remains the best overall analysis of the Anti-American left. Walzer, himself a leftist and patriot, takes an incisive look at the Chomskyites and others who argued that America essentially got what it deserved on 9/11, and had no right to act against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The article was published in the Spring 2002 issue of Dissent, and is still available on their Web site. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't already done so to read it. Meanwhile, the following two paragraphs are at the heart of Walzer's argument:

Blaming America first: Not everything that goes badly in the world goes badly because of us. The United States is not omnipotent, and its leaders should not be taken as co-conspirators in every human disaster. The left has little difficulty understanding the need for distributive justice with regard to resources, but we have been practically clueless about the just distribution of praise and blame. To take the obvious example: in the second half of the twentieth century, the United States fought both just and unjust wars, undertook both just and unjust interventions. It would be a useful exercise to work through the lists and test our capacity to make distinctions-to recognize, say, that the United States was wrong in Guatemala in 1954 and right in Kosovo in 1999. Why can't we accept an ambivalent relation to American power, acknowledging that it has had good and bad effects in the world? But shouldn't an internationalist left demand a more egalitarian distribution of power? Well, yes, in principle; but any actual redistribution will have to be judged by the quality of the states that would be empowered by it. Faced with states like, say, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, I don't think we have to support a global redistribution of political power.

Not blaming anyone else: The world (and this includes the third world) is too full of hatred, cruelty, and corruption for any left, even the American left, to suspend its judgment about what's going on. It's not the case that because we are privileged we should turn inward and focus our criticism only on ourselves. In fact, inwardness is one of our privileges; it is often a form of political self-indulgence. Yes, we are entitled to blame the others whenever they are blameworthy; in fact, it is only when we do that, when we denounce, say, the authoritarianism of third world governments, that we will find our true comrades-the local opponents of the maximal leaders and military juntas, who are often waiting for our recognition and support. If we value democracy, we have to be prepared to defend it, at home, of course, but not only there.

(Link courtesy of the comments section at Little Green Footballs)

Intriguing News

A Tuesday dispatch from Reuters states the following:

U.S. troops captured a number of key figures involved in what they described as "transnational terrorism" in Baghdad, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

Describing a raid on a sports complex in the east of the capital Monday, the military said in a statement that "several suspected senior level transnational terrorists, including key leaders, operatives, and financiers" had been detained.

It gave no further details beyond saying the complex was "the base of operations for transnational terrorist members."

"This operation put a serious dent in the transnational terrorism in Baghdad," Colonel Robert Abrams of the 1st Cavalry Division was quoted as saying in the statement.

Hmmm. Looking forward to hearing some details, once it's safe to release them. Could this guy possibly be among those captured? I for one hope so.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Iraq: The Rest of the Story

The past two weeks' worth of positive developments, courtesy of Arthur Chrenkoff:

The Frustrated Archbishop

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Islam is not the Enemy

Courtesy of Arthur Chrenkoff, comes an interesting news item from the Detroit Free Press: An Albanian immigrant who died while serving with the Marines in Fallujah has been declared a "national martyr" by the Albanian government.

Albania is a Muslim country, but it practices a mild, tolerant form of Islam (link also via Chrenkoff). In particular, the Albanians are deeply grateful to America for intervening on behalf of their brethren in Kosovo. Albania has been a true friend to the USA in the War on Terror, sending contingents to both Afghanistan and Iraq, and it is not alone. Tens of thousands of Muslims have fought on our side in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

It is easy to hear the religious rhetoric of our jihadist enemies, the deranged hate-filled sermons emanating from many mosques, and believe that we are at war with Islam as a whole. As the example of Albania shows, this is not the case. We are at war with Wahhabi Islamism, the Saudi-inspired reinterpretation of Islam as a totalitarian political ideology. This movement is, of course, inspired by more extreme interpretations of Islam that date back centuries, and it has arisen as a reaction to the crisis that the Islamic world has fallen into. It is not, however, synonymous with Islam, despite the Islamists's claims to the contrary. Our goal in fighting the Islamists is twofold: one, the military defeat of the jihadist terror movement and destruction of its ability to threaten America; two, to create the conditions in the Islamic world for forward-looking moderate Muslims to emerge. As the Albanians, Iraqi Kurds, Afghans, and others show, such Muslims do exist.

Is Iraq headed for Civil War?

The New York Times, as usual, is in full defeatist mode regarding Iraq. Today's "Week in Review" section contains an analysis by Edward Wong titled simply "Mayhem in Iraq Is Starting to Look Like a Civil War". Wong's argument is as follows:

Common wisdom holds that if American troops withdraw anytime soon, Iraq will descend into civil war, as Lebanon did in the late 1970's. But that ignores a question posed by events of recent weeks:

Has a civil war already begun?

Iraq is no Lebanon yet. But evidence is building that it is at least in the early stages of ethnic and sectarian warfare.

Mr. Wong bases this on the breathless observation that:

The Americans have handed the bulk of authority to the Shiites, who represent a majority of Iraqis, and a lesser share to the Kurds, who are about a fifth of the population. This has increased the influence of the two major groups that were brutally suppressed by Mr. Hussein, and raised Sunni fears about sharing power with them as a minority.

At the risk of sounding flippant, so what? America did not go to Iraq in order merely to deal with Saddam and then leave the country in the hands of yet another dictator. We are there now to foster the creation of a democratic, pluralist Iraq that will hopefully help to transform the political culture of the Arab world. Yes, this involves empowering the majority of Iraq's people, as well as securing rights for a viciously oppressed minority. It also means that the Sunnis, who provided the bulk of Saddam's torturers, murderers, and thugs, will have to get used to accepting a political role proportionate with their population. This represents a sea change in the politics of the Middle East, and change is usually painful and messy. Had we simply installed another Sunni dictator, Mr Wong would no doubt be writing an analysis of our shameful betrayal of the Shia and Kurds, and justifiably so.

In further support of his thesis, Mr. Wong notes the following:

The Americans have added to the alienation of the Sunnis by relying heavily on Shiite and Kurdish military recruits to put down the Sunni insurgency in some of the most volatile areas. The guerrillas, in turn, reinforce sectarian animosities when they attack police recruits or interim government officials as collaborators. Many of these recruits are Shiites or Kurds, and the loss of life reverberates through their families and communities.

How is this surprising? The Shia and Kurds form about 75% of Iraq's population. Why wouldn't they form the overwhelming majority of Iraq's new security forces? Should only predominantly Sunni Arab forces be used in the Sunni Triangle? If so, then why not only Kurdish forces in the north, or only Shia troops in the south? The new Iraqi state needs national armed forces that reflect the country's makeup, not regional militias, and must have the right to use those forces anywhere.

There are elements of truth in Wong's analysis. The Iraqi insurgency is a primarily Sunni phenomenon. There are of course many among the Sunnis who are unhappy at the prospect of losing their traditional stranglehold on power. The insurgency also contains elements such as criminal gangs, tribal elements, and individual Iraqis with grievances against the US presence. Overall, however, the Sunni insurgency consists of three elements: former Baathists seeking a return to power, a homegrown Sunni Islamist Taliban-like movement, and foreign jihadists led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the Iraqi wing of al-Qaeda.

It is especially true that large parts of the insurgency seem to be deliberately pursuing a strategy of sparking ethnic and sectarian strife. Zarqawi wrote in January 2004 to the al-Qaeda leadership of his intentions to attack the Shia and provoke them into all out war, in a letter intercepted by coalition forces:

These in our opinion are the key to change. I mean that targeting and hitting them in [their] religious, political, and military depth will provoke them to show the Sunnis their rabies … and bare the teeth of the hidden rancor working in their breasts. If we succeed in dragging them into the arena of sectarian war, it will become possible to awaken the inattentive Sunnis as they feel imminent danger and annihilating death at the hands of these Sabeans.

(emphasis added-DD)

Zarqawi's goal of sparking an ethnic and sectarian war has been evident in many of the terrorist attacks of the last month. In Mosul, the AP reported on November 19 that the insurgents "have been trying to drag the Kurdish minority into their fight and set off a sectarian war". On the same day, the AP also noted that Sunni terrorists in the so-called "Triangle of Death" south of Baghdad were being paid $1,000 for every Shia they murder.

Wong is thus correct in arguing that the Baathists and Wahhabists are trying to create a civil war. Is he also correct in assuming that they are succeeding? In my view, no. There have been tensions and a few violent incidents between Sunni Arabs and Kurds, and between Sunnis and Shia. Overall, though, there has been remarkably little ethnic and sectarian violence in post-Saddam Iraq, considering that country's long and troubled history. Almost all the examples of violent incidents Wong cites in his article are attacks by the insurgents. In fact, the only sign that Wong can point to of Shia-instigated violence, beyond the role of Shia and Kurds in fighting on behalf of the new Iraqi government, is the formation of a group called "the Anger Brigades", created to "kill extremist Sunni Arabs in the north Babil area". Wong presents no evidence that they've actually gotten started on this task.

The main problem with Wong's piece, then, lies in its tone and conclusions. This has been the problem with much of the reporting and analysis from Iraq. Events are described in overly dramatic, almost apocalyptic tones, while the conclusions drawn from them go well beyond what the evidence supports. The same New York Times that warns us that civil war has already begun proclaimed just as breathlessly back in April that Sunni and Shia were on the verge of joining forces to drive us from Iraq. This obviously did not happen, and it is unlikely that all-out civil war will occur either. As Greg Djerejian writes in one of his typically superb analyses:

Yes, many Shi'a would love to engage in some score-settling with Sunnis. Yes, Zarqawi will do his damnedest to kill peshmerga and Shi'a to help set off a civil war. But our presence on the ground, likely needed for a minimum of four or so more years, maintained in concert with the creation of federalist governance structures and relatively robust national instutions (per Pollack's recommendations above and others)--could set the conditions for a viable polity that doesn't descend into Yugoslavian style carnage. Put simply, civil war can't simply be treated as a present-day reality or foregone conclusion.

More Video Blogging

Warning: Readers seeking insights on the important issues of the day are advised to scroll past this post.

VH1 Classic begins its hour of 80's videos. I watch hoping for clasic alternative and New Wave, or at least decent rock and pop. What do I get instead?

-Tiffany!!! The Proto-Britney. She had one song, and it was a cover of a Tommy James tune. Think I'll watch football for a few minutes...

-Alright, Crowded House followed by early REM, much better but not quite there..

-At last, the waiting pays off with Bob Mould, "See a Little Light". Thank you!!

-History is made, as at long last I finally see the video for one of the coolest songs ever, the Plimsouls' "A Million Miles Away"!

-After the commercial break, we go a little more mainstream with "Addicted to Love". RIP Robert Palmer. A great singer who shouldn't have needed videos using a "backup band" of hot babes in short skirts to attain major success and notoriety. Then again, I'm not exactly changing the channel.

Alright, I have now satisfied the need to video blog. Will return to more serious topics in the PM.

Music Video Blogging

Why? Because the mood strikes me...

Warning, this post is completely trivial in nature.

Random reactions while watching VH1 Classic:

-Was there ever a Rod Stewart video in which he didn't make out with a hot chic?

-Watching the video for "Boogie Wonderland", and I never realized until now just how many people were in Earth, Wind & Fire. It looks like about 20 or so on stage. "Boogie Wonderland", of course, was used in the movie Caddyshack, back in an age when Hollywood made comedies that were actually funny (RIP Rodney Dangerfield).

-Donna Summer has just assured me that it's my "last chance to dance". Oh, well.

-Footage of Melissa Manchester from 1985 stating that "music videos are here to stay. Wow, MTV, Miami Vice, etc. were only completely huge then. That's like saying in 1998 that this Internet thing's gonna be here a while. Way to have gone out on a limb, Melissa.

-Dear God! It's the legendary Michael Sembello gracing the Flashdance soundtrack with "Maniac". Not even the gratuitous Jennifer Beals footage can save this one.

More video blogging during the "We Are the 80's" hour starting at 2:00 AM. Be forewarned.

Looking Back on the Last Three Years

We live in the age of the 24 hour news cycle, in which daily events are hyped and elevated in importance without any sense of perspective. Add to that a news media with a built-in bias and a pronounced ignorance of military history, and it can be very difficult indeed to get an accurate picture of how the War on Terror is going. For example, the elite media repeatedly discussed how Afghanistan was falling into chaos, and the Taliban on the way back, only for October's enormously successful election to put the lie to those memes.

This is one of many reasons why I am a huge fan of military historian Dr. Victor Davis Hanson. His ability to put events in Iraq and Afghanistan into historical context is invaluable. His latest column for National Review Online is especially insightful in reminding us "How Far We’ve Come":

Do we now remember the impassable peaks, the snowy haunts of the Taliban that were too high for us, or Kabul, the dreaded graveyard of all imperial expeditions? It was just a few months ago, it seems now, that we were admonished about the fury of retaliation to come for daring to fight during Ramadan, the impossibility of working with a nuclear and Islamic Pakistan, and the Wild West nature of Afghanistan's tribes so impossible to forge into the stuff of consensual government. And it was worse still than all that: the cries on the hard left of millions of refugees to come; the European warning about thousands of dead from indiscriminate American bombing; the need to adjudicate 9/11 by jurisprudence rather than arms; and the crazy conspiracy theories of pipelines, neo-cons, 'Jews,' Likuds, and CIA plots.

Have we also already forgotten the controversies, the buzz, and the insider conventional wisdom that consumed us during the days of uncertainty over Mullah Omar's televised rants; Osama's promises of an American graveyard in the Hindu Kush; the diplomats' trial balloon of a proposed coalition government with the wretched Taliban; the panacea of an all-Islamic peace-keeping force; Johnny Walker Lindh's conflicted high-school years; and a thousand other crises of the hour that sent our statesmen into all-night emergency sessions, our generals into desperate improvisations, and, yes, Americans into battle and on occasion to their deaths?

Do we remember all this and more when we talk nonchalantly now of elections in Afghanistan or the decency of the Karzai government? Is there a Frenchman or a German to be had at least to say in retrospect, "Yes, you were not the cowboys we slurred you as, but brought something good where there was only evil before"? Do we ponder if but for a second how improbable — indeed, how absolutely preposterous — it was at the time to even suggest that the Afghan people would soon stand in line hours to vote, freed from those who had so sorely oppressed them?

Have we forgotten what foul and cowardly folk the Taliban were — thugs who lynched women, shot homosexuals, blew up civilization's icons, destroyed a century of culture in Afghanistan, promised us death and worse, and then ran out of town in the clothes of women with what plunder they could carry? Do any of us recall the brave Afghans and Americans, both the planners in Washington who were libeled and the soldiers in the field who routed these butcherers?

As Dr. Hanson notes, many of the lessons of Afghanistan also apply to Iraq:

There may well be even more terrible things to come in Iraq than what we have seen already, but there will also be far better things than were there before. And there will come a time, when all those who slandered the efforts — the Germans, the French, the American radical Left, the vicious Michael "Minutemen" Moore, the pampered and coddled Hollywood elite, the Arab League, and the U.N. will assume that Iraq is a "good thing" like Afghanistan, and that democracy there really was preferable — after they had so bravely weighed in with their requisite "ifs" and "buts" — to the mass murders of Saddam Hussein. Yes, they will say all this, but it will be for the rest of us to remember how it all came about and what those forgotten soldiers and people of Iraq went through to get it — lest we forget, lest we forget....

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Opposing America, Regardless

I have been negligent in not previously noting the historic events taking place in Ukraine. Hopefully the Ukrainian people will succeed in ridding their country of the final vestiges of Soviet-style politics and enjoy genuine democracy. For an overview of the ruling party's ham-fisted attempt to rig the recent presidential election, see this interview with Stephen Sestanovich of the Council on Foreign Relations.

While most in America and Europe stand squarely behind the right of the Ukrainian people to be allowed to freely determine their political future, part of the Western Left has taken a somewhat different view of events in that country. Anne Applebaum, in a piece from the December 1 Washington Post, explains:

Just in case anyone actually thought that all of those people waving flags on the streets of Kiev represent authentic Ukrainian sentiments, the London Guardian informed its readers otherwise last week. In an article titled "US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev," the newspaper described the events of the past 10 days as "an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing." In a separate article, the same paper described the whole episode as a "postmodern coup d'etat" and a "CIA-sponsored third world uprising of cold war days, adapted to post-Soviet conditions."

Neither author was a fringe journalist, and the Guardian is not a fringe newspaper. Nor have their views been ignored: In the international echo chamber that the Internet has become, these ideas have resonance. Both articles were liberally quoted, for example, in a Web log written by the editor of the Nation, who, while writing that she admired "citizens fighting corrupt regimes," just as in the United States, she also noted darkly that the wife of the Ukrainian opposition leader, a U.S. citizen of Ukrainian descent, "worked in the Reagan White House."

Such is the twisted worldview of much of the left, including a sizable minority in this country. It's far better to have been a Soviet apparatchik, part of one of the twentieth century's most monstrous totalitarian tyrannies, than to have "worked in the Reagan White House." It's far more important to engage in paranoid electoral necrophilia over alleged "irregularities" in Ohio and Florida, than to stand with people who really did have an election stolen from them. Of course, that's when they're not dismissing the Ukrainian demonstrators as tools of the evil "neocons" and all-powerful CIA. Applebaum ably debunks these notions:

This phenomenon is interesting on a number of accounts. The first is that it rather dramatically overrates the influence that American money, or American "democracy-promoters," can have in a place such as Ukraine. After all, about the same, relatively small amount of U.S. money has been spent on promoting democracy in Belarus, to no great effect. More to the point, rather larger amounts of money were spent in Ukraine by Russia, whose president visited the country twice to campaign for "his" candidate. If the ideas that Americans and Europeans promoted had greater traction in Ukraine than those of President Putin, that says more about Ukraine than about the United States. To believe otherwise is, if you think about it, deeply offensive to Ukrainians.

Applebaum's conclusion is dead-on:

The larger point, though, is that the "it's-all-an-American-plot" arguments circulating in cyberspace again demonstrate something that the writer Christopher Hitchens, himself a former Trotskyite, has been talking about for a long time: At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States. Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine. Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States. I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere "hates freedom." That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do.

There are, of course, many decent leftists who stand on genuine principle, such as Norm Geras and the folks at Harry's Place. Far too many on the left, however, are seemingly guided by no other belief than the necessity of taking a position in direct opposition to that of the US, regardless of the actual circumstances of an issue. If being in de facto agreement with former communist thugs in Ukraine, a genocidal regime in Sudan, or jihadi terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan bothers such people, they haven't shown it so far.

ALA Responds

ALA has now officially weighed in on the idiotic proposal by an Alabama state lawmaker to ban all books mentioning gays from public and state university libraries:

It is alarming and discouraging that Alabama state Representative Gerald Allen is proposing to ban books about lesbian and gay people from public libraries, schools and universities. Not only is the bill unworkable, it is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

"Libraries are for everyone - of all backgrounds and viewpoints - and provide a broad spectrum of materials from which to choose. This is what makes libraries the most democratic of institutions in this country.

The full statement is available on the ALA Web site. This is one case where I agree with ALA's position entirely.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Idiotic Censorship Watch

It looks like ALA will have some new fodder for Banned Books Week next year, and legitimately so in this case:

An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda."

Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.

Birmingham News, December 1, 2004. (Link via Captain's Quarters)

What is there to say about such a mind-boggling display of reactionary stupidity? Let's hope this bill dies the quick death it deserves. While I've been strongly critical of ALA for its selective indignation regarding censorship, this is one case where all who believe in intellectual freedom need to stand united and make sure nothing comes of this idiotic proposal.