The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Monday, April 24, 2006


On April 20, 2006 (following the suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on April 17) the Islamic Thinkers Society demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in Manhattan. Their chant:

“Israeli Zionists, you shall pay!
The Wrath of Allah is on its way!
The mushroom cloud is on its way!
The real Holocaust is on its way!”

See the NEFA foundation for a video.

I googled this despicable group of “thinkers” and got over 1.5 million hits, many from blogs and obscure media outlets reporting the demonstration. Remarkably, when I visited the CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC Web sites, as well as The New York Times Web site, I didn’t find any mention of the demonstration. Recall that the NYT is IN Manhattan.


There’s no doubt that the “thinkers” is a fringe group. But their message resonates with a non-trivial percentage of the Islamic world. For God’s sake, the president of Iran espouses the identical message.

So why is the story not reported in the MSM?

I think it's because the story could cause some viewers/readers to begin to question the "religion of peace" mime. And that is simply unexceptable in the politically correct world of the MSM.

Many within the MSM argue that we must try to understand Islam and appreciate its grievances. I agree. Why not start with this group of "thinkers."

Monday, April 17, 2006


On the Sunday TV news shows, I listened to a parade of senators—both Democrat and Republican— suggest that it was time for the USA to enter into direct talks with Iran. After all, the Islamofascists in that country are making very unpleasant noises that are hard for even the most ardent isolationists to ignore.

The Democrats have seemed to abandon their continuous calls for multilateralism and their reliance on the Europeans more subtle techniques of negotiation, and now demand that we become directly involved with the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad [the Holocaust denying President of Iran]. The Republicans, looking like deer caught in headlights, are unwilling to suggest that talks will yield nothing, will strengthen, not erode, Iran’s position, and will buy Iran's rouge regime valuable time. In essence, our political leadership is perfectly willing to kick the can down the road hoping that something will happen to make it all go away.

A number of senators and commentators alluded to the growing unrest among Iran’s young people and to the possibility of an internal overthrow of the Islamofascists. For a time, I believed that this might be possible, but I’m now convinced it's a pipe dream. To help you understand why the “young people” in Iran cannot be relied upon to change the toxic dynamic that is Iranian Islamist politics, its worth considering a bit of fairly recent history. In an article in The New Republic, Matthias Küntzel recounts a terrifying bit of history from the early 1980s:

During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ayatollah Khomeini imported 500,000 small plastic keys from Taiwan. The trinkets were meant to be inspirational. After Iraq invaded in September 1980, it had quickly become clear that Iran's forces were no match for Saddam Hussein's professional, well-armed military. To compensate for their disadvantage, Khomeini sent Iranian children, some as young as twelve years old, to the front lines. There, they marched in formation across minefields toward the enemy, clearing a path with their bodies. Before every mission, one of the Taiwanese keys would be hung around each child's neck. It was supposed to open the gates to paradise for them.

At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. "In the past," wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, "we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone." Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. "Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves."

These children who rolled to their deaths were part of the Basiji, a mass movement created by Khomeini in 1979 and militarized after the war started in order to supplement his beleaguered army.The Basij Mostazafan--or "mobilization of the oppressed"--was essentially a volunteer militia, most of whose members were not yet 18. They went enthusiastically, and by the thousands, to their own destruction. "The young men cleared the mines with their own bodies," one veteran of the Iran-Iraq War recalled in 2002 to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. "It was sometimes like a race. Even without the commander's orders, everyone wanted to be first."

The sacrifice of the Basiji was ghastly. And yet, today, it is a source not of national shame, but of growing pride. Since the end of hostilities against Iraq in 1988, the Basiji have grown both in numbers and influence. They have been deployed, above all, as a vice squad to enforce religious law in Iran, and their elite "special units" have been used as shock troops against anti-government forces. In both 1999 and 2003, for instance, the Basiji were used to suppress student unrest. And, last year, they formed the potent core of the political base that propelled Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--a man who reportedly served as a Basij instructor during the Iran-Iraq War--to the presidency.

For every college educated, liberal-minded Iranian who might disagree with the Mullahs, there are likely five young Iranians who are Basij. In addition, consider this (from Küntzel):

Ahmadinejad revels in his alliance with the Basiji. He regularly appears in public wearing a black-and-white Basij scarf, and, in his speeches, he routinely praises "Basij culture" and "Basij power," with which he says "Iran today makes its presence felt on the international and diplomatic stage." Ahmadinejad's ascendance on the shoulders of the Basiji means that the Iranian Revolution, launched almost three decades ago, has entered a new and disturbing phase. A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power, wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders.

I’ve always believed that when you negotiate you need to know as much about your negotiating partner as possible. You look for common ground, for mutual interests, for a “win-win.” But if your negotiating partner is irrational, you walk away, and look for another approach to resolving the problem that confronts you.

Our senators are suggesting that we begin negotiations with Basij, the same people who encouraged hundreds of thousands of children to kill themselves in the name of Allah. Maybe our senators should wear a small plastic key made in Taiwan as a good luck charm as they send our negotiators off to do their work.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

27 Years

My life experience indicates that when you have a really bad feeling about someone or something, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to it. More importantly, it’s almost never a good idea to shrug your shoulders and hope it will go away. It almost never does.

I’ve had a really bad feeling about Iran for 27 years, and I’m ashamed to admit I was perfectly willing to shrug my shoulders and hope it would go away. Over the three decades since this feeling crept into my consciousness, Iran has not changed, and the feeling remains. In an excellent article in City Journal Mark Steyn summarizes my concerns with specifics:

Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things [illustrated in detail in his article]:

1 contempt for the most basic international conventions;
2 long-reach extraterritoriality;
3 effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
4 a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
5 an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.

Yet the Europeans remain in denial. Iran was supposedly the Middle Eastern state they could work with. And the chancellors and foreign ministers jetted in to court the mullahs so assiduously that they’re reluctant to give up on the strategy just because a relatively peripheral figure like the, er, head of state is sounding off about Armageddon.

Back in 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeinii’s Islamic thugs took over the American embassy in Teheran, and President Carter did nothing, I wrote to him – the only letter I’ve ever written to a President. I’ve lost the letter, but in essence, I suggested that we were at a cusp in history and that the USA would be perceived as weak and ineffective if we didn’t act decisively to end the Embassy take over -- even if it meant the loss of hostages’ lives. Carter, of course, thought otherwise, and tried to negotiate with the predessors of today’s Islamofascists. He failed, and radical Islam began its ascendancy.

Today, we’re at another cusp in history. In a year, or three, or five, Iran will go nuclear. Those who hope that things will resolve themselves, argue that negotiation is the key to containment. They simply want to kick the can down the road, hoping the the problem will disappear. It won’t.

Again from Mark Steyn on modern-day Iran:

By way of illustration, consider the country’s last presidential election. The final round offered a choice between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an alumnus of the U.S. Embassy siege a quarter-century ago, and Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, which sounds like an EU foreign policy agency but is, in fact, the body that arbitrates between Iran’s political and religious leaderships. Ahmadinejad is a notorious shoot-from-the-lip apocalyptic hothead who believes in the return of the Twelfth (hidden) Imam and quite possibly that he personally is his designated deputy, and he’s also claimed that when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year a mystical halo appeared and bathed him in its aura. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, on the other hand, is one of those famous “moderates.”

What’s the difference between a hothead and a moderate? Well, the extremist Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while the moderate Rafsanjani has declared that Israel is “the most hideous occurrence in history,” which the Muslim world “will vomit out from its midst” in one blast, because “a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.” Evidently wiping Israel off the map seems to be one of those rare points of bipartisan consensus in Tehran, the Iranian equivalent of a prescription drug plan for seniors: we’re just arguing over the details.

So the question is: Will they do it?

And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the “proliferation,” but we wouldn’t have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness—the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge.

Conversely, a key reason to stop Iran is to demonstrate that we can still muster the will to do so. Instead, the striking characteristic of the long diplomatic dance that brought us to this moment is how September 10th it’s all been. The free world’s delegated negotiators (the European Union) and transnational institutions (the IAEA) have continually given the impression that they’d be content just to boot it down the road to next year or the year after or find some arrangement—this decade’s Oil-for-Food or North Korean deal—that would get them off the hook. If you talk to EU foreign ministers, they’ve already psychologically accepted a nuclear Iran. Indeed, the chief characteristic of the West’s reaction to Iran’s nuclearization has been an enervated fatalism.

Our problem, I think, is that we want to believe that every geopolitical decision has one good and one bad outcome. In the case or Iran, that is simply not the case. Any decision that we now make will have a dual outcome – one bad, and the other even worse. The question is: Do we avoid making a decision because we can’t face the “bad” and don’t want to even contemplate the “worse.” I think that’s exactly what we (and the rest of the West) are doing, and as a consequence, Iran acts with impunity.

Soon, it will be time to act – even if the outcome is bad. Why? Because inaction will lead to an outcome that is far, far worse.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Time Traveler

Over the past two days, I’ve experienced two short stories that project us into the future. The first, the Movie V for Vendetta is an entertaining parable about the evils of totalitarian government, the loss of civil liberties, and most important, the idea that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Set in the future, V for Vendetta will undoubtedly be interpreted differently by each viewer. Those on the Left will see the Bush government as the totalitarian regime depicted in the movie (in fact, the movie helps one come to that conclusion with back references to “America’s illegal war.”) Those on the Right, will see Iran as the model for the religious, faith-based dictatorship that subjugates its people. The terrorist, V, is hard not to like – a thoughtful man driven to vengeance for atrocities committed by the regime he dispises. Like all Hollywood fair, the treatment is a bit heavy handed, but better than most. Worth a ticket.

But another story I’ve come across is far more important and considerably more unsettling. Written by Dan Simmons, a writer “whose work spans the genres of fantasy, science fiction, horror, suspense, historical fiction, noir crime fiction, and mainstream literary fiction,” it is a short story about a time traveler who engages the writer on New Year’s Eve, 2005.

I am not familiar with Dan Simmons' other work. However, this short story is well-worth a read. Take a half hour and enjoy (if that's the right word) April 2006 Message from Dan.
I must admit that I had an eerie sense of foreboding upon finishing the story – not a good feeling at all.

In the story, written in the first person, Simmons is confronted in his study by a time traveler who has returned from the future to discuss a soon-to-be-encountered world that is both frightening and all too possible. Many people (including yours truly) have discussed the clash between the West and Islam. Few have integrated history with commentary with fiction in a more effective way. Here’s a tease excerpt as the short story begins:

I tried to relax. “What do you want to talk about?” I said.

“The Century War,” said the Time Traveler.

I blinked and tried to remember some history. “You mean the Hundred Year War? Fifteenth Century? Fourteenth? Sometime around there. Between . . . France and England? Henry V? Kenneth Branagh? Or was it . . .”

“I mean the Century War with Islam,” interrupted the Time Traveler. “Your future. Everyone’s.” He was no longer smiling. Without asking, or offering to pour me any, he stood, refilled his Scotch glass, and sat again. He said, “It was important to me to come back to this time early on in the struggle. Even if only to remind myself of how unspeakably blind you all were.”

“You mean the War on Terrorism,” I said.

“I mean the Long War with Islam,” he said. “The Century War. And it’s not over yet where I come from. Not close to being over.”

“You can’t have a war with Islam,” I said. “You can’t go to war against a religion. Radical Islam, maybe. Jihadism. Some extremists. But not a . . . the . . . religion itself. The vast majority of Muslims in the world are peaceloving people who wish us no harm. I mean . . . I mean . . . the very word ‘Islam’ means ‘Peace.’”

“So you kept telling yourselves,” said the Time Traveler. His voice was very low but there was a strange and almost frightening edge to it. “But the ‘peace’ in ‘Islam’ means ‘Submission.’ You’ll find that out soon enough”

Great, I was thinking. Of all the time travelers in all the gin joints in all the world, I get this racist, xenophobic, right-wing asshole.

“After Nine-eleven, we’re fighting terrorism,” I began, “not . . .”

He waved me into silence.

“You were a philosophy major or minor at that podunk little college you went to long ago,” said the Time Traveler. “Do you remember what Category Error is?”

It rang a bell. But I was too irritated at hearing my alma mater being called a “podunk little college” to be able to concentrate fully.

“I’ll tell you what it is,” said the Time Traveler. “In philosophy and formal logic, and it has its equivalents in science and business management, Category Error is the term for having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means.”

I waited. Finally I said firmly, “You can’t go to war with a religion. Or, I mean . . . sure, you could . . . the Crusades and all that . . . but it would be wrong.”

Read it … as if the time traveler was sitting in your study talking to you.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


In a commentary criticizing Israel’s “incidental killing of civilians” during strikes at terrorist targets within Gaza and the West Bank, one Bradley Burston in Lebanon’s Daily Star (Hat tip: James Taranto of the OnLine Journal) makes a pathetic attempt at balance when, after being harshly critical of Israel, he writes:

True, the Palestinian suicide bombers and drive-by submachine gunners and ambush snipers did target non-combatants by design, killing infants, pregnant women, and the elderly. And true, some Palestinians celebrated the intentional killings and many if not most justified them, not least by telling themselves and the world that there were no Israeli non-combatants. The elderly and the pregnant, after all, had once been in the army, and the infant would, one day, go.

One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The next time you listen to the MSM claim that Hamas is making overtures for a peaceful settlement with Israel, just conjure up Hamas' actions and mindset in Bradley Burston's own words.


In a response to the The Belmont Club’s outstanding analysis of the current political situation in Irag, an insightful comment by “2164th” is worth considering. In his comment, 2164th argues that the Iraq situation can no longer be solved militarily. Instead he suggests that there are fundamental political problems that are not easily solved:

1. The Problem of Timing. The US public has a difficult time supporting a long military process it does not understand. Iraq has a difficult time supporting anything that has not proved itself with a lot of time. There is not enough time to keep America engaged and not enough time to convince Iraq that America will stay.

In addition, it’s reasonable to argue that the MSM never takes the long view, demanding instantaneous results, and worse, ignoring facts and events that don’t fit into their collective view of the rightness or wrongness of OIF. For this reason, the vast majority of the American populace has a warped view of the situation in Iraq and (as polls show) want to be done with it.

2. Credibility. The US public supported the defeat of the Nazis. It supported the Cold War for over forty years. It did so because Churchill and Roosevelt were articulate and ruthless in the definition of the enemy. There was no nonsense about Nazism being a "hijacked peaceful political system." Bush had been a catastrophic failure at defining the enemy and the objective in a credible and honest fashion. Does anyone in the Belmont Club believe " Islam is a peaceful religion?" Neither do the American people. They know it is BS and they wonder what else is. Listen to the speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt. They believed what they said and could articulate what they thought. Bush has not served his own cause.

I’ve always believed that the majority of American people like straight talk. If our foes are fascist barbarians, say so. More importantly, connect the dots … for starters, tell the American people how Islamofascists came to power, what mistakes we made along the way, why they stay in power, who supports them, why “moderate” Islam is so weak and ineffective in “saving” their religion, what might happen to our children and grandchildren if we don’t succeed in changing the political dynamic in the ME and defeating Islamofascism.

3. Value of The Mission. If the Iraqis will not stand up and fight their own fight, one has to ask what do they believe in? Should Americans be more willing to fight and die and pay for something that the Iraqis will not? The majority of Americans have come to the conclusion that the fight and even a win are not worth it. Is the mission understandable and is it worth it? The majority thinks not.

Although I understand 2164th’s position, I do believe that Iraqis are fighting for their country. The problem, I think, is that there are multiple factions, multiple agendas within each faction, and a culture that would prefer to negotiate endlessly, rather than establish solid agreements and move forward. That’s the curse of doing business in the ME.

4. Changing Events and Priorities. Many Americans have become convinced there are other countries and threats to US interest as important or more so than Iraq. They include:

a. A nuclear Iran.
b. Out of control illegal immigration.
c. Chinese expansion.
d. Putin and a resurgent Russian Empire.
e. Pakistan and unrest in the western tribal areas.
f. Afghanistan and problems with narco-terrorism
and a resurgent Taliban.
g. The failure to catch OBL.
h. A nuclear North Korea.
i. US dependence on foreign oil.

Items (a) through (i) are all legitimate concerns, but in many ways, they are all part of a web that includes Iraq.

There’s little doubt that we’ve made serious tactical mistakes during the initial phases of the war, in fighting the “insurgency,” and in managing the nascent Iraqi political process. But an even greater mistake would be to lose our political will. The message that that would deliver to Iran, the Taliban, Pakistan, the Russians, the Chinese, and the North Koreans would be catastrophic.