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

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Drip, Drip, Drip

In your mind’s eye, picture a enormous dam holding back a large reservoir. Built many years earlier, the dam has withstood storms and floods and done a fine job of holding the water at bay. But times have changed. There are those, we’ll call them the "new breed," who now believe that the dam’s builders were eco-destroyers, bent on raping the environment for their own purposes. The benefits of the dam are called into question.

“We need a new way of looking at the dam,” the new breed argues, “not as something beneficial, but as something malevolent.”

“But the truth is,” a few people respond, “the dam has served us well. It provides power and water, recreation and a beautiful lake. If the dam falls, it will be replaced by flooding and chaos.”

“No matter about the truth,” respond the new breed, “we say that the damn is bad and that anyone who works to destroy it, is, well, justified in their actions. Well, maybe not justified, but we understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”

One day, a small leak appears at the bottom of the dam. “No worries,” state the new breed with a smile, after all, it’s not a ‘leak,’ it's a water freedom flow and from now on everyone should call it that. It’s good thing."

Over time, many small leaks (oops, sorry, water freedom flows) appear and always, the argument is the same: (1) the water freedom flows really won’t matter and (2) they should be viewed positively because they are freeing the waters.

Time passes and the small leaks (oops, sorry, water freedom flows) grow into major erosion, but still, few seem willing to confront those who are sanguine about the leaks. In time, the erosion grows and the dam itself is threatened.

Mark Steyn , himelf a victim of a different kind of new breed in Canada, writes about an unrelated matter:
My favorite headline of the year so far comes from the Daily Mail in Britain:

"Government Renames Islamic Terrorism As ‘anti-Islamic Activity' To Woo Muslims."

Her Majesty's government is not alone in feeling it's not always helpful to link Islam and the, ah, various unpleasantnesses with suicide bombers and whatnot. Even in his cowboy Crusader heyday, President Bush liked to cool down the crowd with a lot of religion-of-peace stuff. But the British have now decided that kind of mealy-mouthed "respect" is no longer sufficient.

So, henceforth, any terrorism perpetrated by persons of an Islamic persuasion will be designated "anti-Islamic activity." Britain's Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, unveiled the new brand name in a speech a few days ago. "There is nothing Islamic about the wish to terrorize, nothing Islamic about plotting murder, pain and grief," she told her audience. "Indeed, if anything, these actions are anti-Islamic."

Well, yes, one sort of sees what she means. Killing thousands of people in Manhattan skyscrapers in the name of Islam does, among a certain narrow-minded type of person, give Islam a bad name, and thus could be said to be "anti-Islamic" – in the same way that the Luftwaffe raining down death and destruction on Londoners during the Blitz was an "anti-German activity."

But I don't recall even Neville Chamberlain explaining, as if to a 5-year-old, that there is nothing German about the wish to terrorize and invade, and that this is entirely at odds with the core German values of sitting around eating huge sausages in beer gardens while wearing lederhosen.

Mighty dams fall because small leaks grow into larger ones. That only happens when no one cares. And by the way, calling a leak something else won’t change its menace.

Drip, drip, drip.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Extreme Methods

The New York Times reports that Canada, a strong opponent of any kind of “torture,” has modified its treatment of prisoners captured in Afghanistan:
The Canadian military secretly stopped transferring prisoners to Afghanistan’s government in November after Canadian monitors found evidence that they were being abused and tortured.

The suspension, which began Nov. 5, was disclosed in a fax sent by government lawyers to Amnesty International and the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which are seeking to block the prisoner transfers.

The government’s internal concerns about detainees is also at odds with Canadian officials’ repeated public statements that the Afghan government does not engage in systematic torture.

“The denials and political posturing and name-calling that have gone on over this at various points is very disheartening when all along there’s been this information,” said Alex Neve, the head of Amnesty International’s Canadian branch.

Despite the suspension, Mr. Neve and Jason Gretl, president of the British Columbia association, said their lawyers would appear at the Federal Court of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday to seek an injunction blocking more transfers.

It’s reasonable to assume that if torture is being conducted by the Afghans, it’s the real thing, resulting in permanent physical harm, disfigurement or worse. It is not the “torture” (e.g., blindfolding, nudity, loud music, and yes, even waterboarding) perpetrated by the US.

If Canada conscientiously objects to the Afghan’s treatment of Taliban prisoners (by the way, that’s the same Taliban that cuts off the hands of small children who accept medical treatment from Western doctors), their policy is completely appropriate.

However, it does lead to an interesting ethical dilemma (hat tip: The Belmont Club).

Should Canada, or any other country that objects to the use of extreme measures to extract information that may help avert terrorist attacks, refuse to accept information elicited by these measures?

For example, let’s assume that a foreign intelligence service uses torture to learn of an impeding catastrophic attack planned for Toronto. The foreign service contacts the Canadians, who are well aware that this intelligence service uses torture as a method, and tells them that they have pertinent information about an impending attack. Should the Canadians refuse to discuss the information with them, citing their conscientious objection to the use of extreme methods of intelligence gathering?

If they refuse the information, they put their own citizens at extreme risk, a scenario so implausible, it’s difficult to believe that any government would do it. But if they take the information, they’re really saying that they’re perfectly willing to accept the fruits of extreme methods but are unwilling to sanction them. They argue that the extreme methods that will save them should never have been carried out in the first place.

Life is never simple.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Iceberg

One of the core narratives of those who are opposed to our aggressive strategy in the WoT is that any belligerence on our part only leads to the radicalization of more and more Islamic youth who then proceed to make the transition from Islamist to Jihadi to suicide bombers. If only we in the west would act more sympathetically and less belligerently, goes the meme, there would be no catalyst for such behavior on the part of Jihadis. The narrative suggests that the fault, naturally, is ours.

I have argued on many occasions that this narrative is both factually and logically flawed. Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post reports on a recent West Point study that supports my argument.The study does a detailed sociological analysis of "606 foreign fighters who entered Iraq between August 2006 and August 2007."

Based on the study, Jihadis who originate from Islamic countries (e.g., Libya or Saudi Arabia) in which radical Islamic teaching is the norm are far more likely make the transition to become Jihadist fighters. Wretchard of the Belmont Club comments on this phenomenon:
And it turns out that most combat Jihadis didn't spring up spontaneously, radicalized and outraged by the "idea" of Israel or some television broadcast about Iraq. They came from ground long tilled and fertilized by extremism. "The West Point center's analysis notes that the home towns and regions listed by many fighters correlate with areas of high insurgent activity in the Arab world. More than half the Libyans came from in or around the coastal cities of Darnah and Benghazi. Both are long associated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which in November officially affiliated itself with the global al-Qaeda network headed by Osama bin Laden." This suggests a vital synergy between the effects of Jihadi propaganda and the efforts of extremist agitators. The suicide bomber, it's not surprising to learn, is the end product of long preparation and cultivation.

Perhaps one reason why the West has proved so helpless in the face of threats like al-Qaeda is that it is culturally unable to resist, or even to condemn, extremist Islamic agitation in its pre-militant phase. By fighting only those who have crossed the sharp legal border between religious hate-mongering (which is tolerated as a multicultural right) and actual belligerency it is permanently restricted to chipping away at the tip of the iceberg, while nine-tenths of it is allowed to grow unchecked beneath the surface.

The “iceberg” will not melt until we feel free to address the 90 percent that lies below the surface. Yet we cannot. Organizations like CAIR in the US immediately condemn any criticism of radical teaching in mosques throughout the Western world as “islamophobic.” Supporting them in this ridiculous contention are the very same people who suggest that we are already to blame for Islamofascist actions. These very same people support organizations like the Canadian Human Rights Commission in its persecution of “mind crimes” among legitimate writers who condemn the part of the iceberg below the surface.

So … it appears that the entire iceberg is off-limits, and the frightening thing is that someday it just might sink us.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Groundhog Day

You remember the old movie starring Bill Murray. The past keeps repeating itself with only minor variations. Each time, the protagonist (Murray) tries to get it right, but each time he fails.

In a news release today, Reuters notes the latest of a continuing stream of stories highlighting Palestinian victimization theater:
Gaza's main power plant began shutting down on Sunday due to a fuel shortage caused by Israel's closure of the Hamas-controlled territory's borders, a move taken in response to Palestinian rocket attacks …

Kanaan Abeid, deputy chairman of the Palestinian Energy Authority in the Gaza Strip, said the power plant turned off one of its two turbines and the second would stop in the evening.

"There is no fuel coming in and we have no reserves," Abeid said. He estimated as many as one million Gaza residents would be affected by the full shutdown.

Palestinian militants have been firing rockets daily into Israel from the Gaza Strip, which Hamas Islamists seized in June after routing President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction.

Israel has responded to the rockets with stepped up air strikes and ground incursions that have killed 39 Gazans, 18 of them Hamas militants, in the last week.

Sound vaguely familiar? The reporter, one Nidal al-Mughrabi, mentions the Hamas rocket attacks, an on-going act of war, as an afterthought, sort of an “oh, by the way” comment that hardly deserves to be mentioned.

And of course, the EU, the State Department and the standard collection of usual suspects with follow with condemnations suggesting that Israel’s “fuel reductions amount to illegal ‘collective punishment’ against largely aid-dependent Gaza.”

The subtext, of course, is that Israel must be measured in its response (Could you imagine our “measured” response in the US if hundreds of rockets were launched across the Mexican border every month?). Israel must find a way to mollify the Palestinians while the Palestinians act the victim, aided and abetted by Left-leaning MSM around the globe.

But, of course, there’s only one way to mollify the Arab nation—Israel must cease to exist. In a comment at the Belmont Club , Peter Grynch notes:
Land cannot possibly be the contentious issue as the Arab and Muslim states in the region already have 800 times as much territory as Israel. The Arabs have 50 times the population of Israel. The Arabs have all of the oil reserves of the region. They have 21 states of their own, all varying shades of police states. It's difficult to imagine how one more will bring peace to a region that has known some of the most devastating and costly wars of the last century.

No one talks about the staggering number of Arab Jewish refugees, as many as 1 million, who fled the Muslim world with little more than the clothes on their backs to reach the safety and security of the Jewish state in the last 50 years.

When they vote with their feet, Arabs seem to love Israel. They continue to choose it as a place to live over life in their native countries as they have for the last half-century.

But it’s Groundhog Day, and that means it’s all on the Israelis. Always has been, always will be. Condi’s latest peace initiative, same ol’ same ol’ — think: Venice, Madrid, Oslo, Camp David I, Camp David II, Taba, the Rogers plan, the Annan plan, the Reagan plan, the Tenet plan, the Saudi plan, the Mitchell report, the Geneva accord and the Road Map.

But by all means, let’s wring our hands for the poor Palestinians who latest attempt at victim’s theater will be widely reported with only a post script that mentions their continuing rocket attacks. After all, there's unquestionable equivalence between a lack of lighting and a rain of rockets, isn’t there?

Postscript: No posts for the next few days. Have to have microsurgery on my back. Be back (no pun intended) soon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Guilt by Association

Guilt by association. It’s a subject that fascinates the MSM at every turn. For example, Rudy Giuliani was justifiably criticized because of his association with former NYC police commissioner Bernard Karik, who has been indicted on “alleged conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and lying to the IRS.” (Wikipedia) But at the same time, is it fair? Is it reasonable to tar a political candidate with the negative attributes, opinions, and actions of those people he has associated with? The answer, like or not, is yes.

A politician must choose friends, associates, donors, and advisors carefully. Whom a politician associates with provides insight into his character. Whom he or she chooses as advisors provides considerable insight into the direction is his or her policies as time passes. Whom he or she accepts money from provides an indication of how far the politician is willing to go to stay liquid.

I think it’s fair to state that everyone has some associations that are less than pure. We all know shady characters and might even associate with them for their benefit or ours. But when the list of shady associates begins to grow long, our own character and intentions come into question, and that’s when guilt by association is no longer an unfair indictment but rather a reasonable topic for very thorough investigation.

In a scathing article that dissects Barack Obama’s friends, associates, donors, and advisors, Ed Lasky (hat tip: The Belmont Club) provides an extremely detailed examination of people who are close to Obama. Undoubtedly, some will characterize Lasky’s article as a diatribe that uses guilt by association to tar the “candidate of hope.” But as Lasky points out, Obama’s associations tend to be with people who are far from ecumenical, far from bi-partisan, and far from even-handed in their treatment of foreign policy issues. In effect, Obama has created a community whose world view should be very troubling for those of us in the center. As Laskey notes:
But Obama has on his own volition assembled his networks of friends, mentors, financial supporters and foreign policy advisers. In his judgment -- a judgment that he regularly trumpets as being superior to others - these people are worthy of advising him.

Among those “worthy of advising” Barack Obama are Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., an ardent supporter of Louis Farrakan; George Soros, a far-left billionaire who funds a variety of groups that believe that all the world’s ills are caused by a hegemonic, imperialist America; Zbigniew Bzrezinski and Anthony Lake (past advisors to the same Jimmy Carter whose naïve policies precipitated the fall of a friendly Iran and the rise of Islamofascism), and many other questionable choices. Not one of them can be characterized as bi-partisan. Every one of them ascribes to an ideology that would not dovetail with the world view of the vast majority of Americans.

The MSM in the US has finally begun to explore some of Obama’s associates, but gently and without the enthusiasm that is typically reserved for guilt-by-association stories. Let’s hope the MSM does its job and takes a hard, penetrating look at the people that Barack Obama has around him.

After all, you don’t just elect a president, you select an administration. And as any Left-leaning partisan would argue, we didn’t just elect George W. Bush, we also selected (indirectly) the neo-cons who formulated his policies. Do we want to make the same mistake by electing Barack Obama, only to learn that his administration will be populated by people who make a lie out his claims of bi-partisan change and hope?

Guilt by association? Read the entire article and you decide.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sign of the Times

The New York Times has convinced itself and many of its readers (I’m a reader who hasn’t been receptive to their claim) that it is a paragon of journalistic excellence, hiring only the very best journalists who report all the news that’s fit to print in an objective and thorough fashion. Over the past few decades, however, the NYT has transformed itself into an agenda-driven broadsheet that allows the bias of left-leaning editors and reporters to sully its fine tradition.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking a liberal position on the editorial pages. But when news on the front page is misreported, when context is purposely ignored, when the US government is assumed guilty until proven innocent, when national secrets are published without concern about the harm that publication might do … well, you gotta begin to wonder.

A case in point provides only the most recent example of the Time’s pathetic attempts to force its news reporting to fit it's the personal ideology of its staff. In this case, let’s state the ideological narrative first: War, when it is conducted by the United States, is inherently wrong regardless of the circumstances, and those who participate in it (US military personnel) are psychologically damaged and have become dangerous brutes as a consequence.

Of course, this narrative is never stated explicitly—that would be too honest. Rather it is implied in this case by front page reporting. Ralph Peters describes a front page story that appeared in last Sunday’s NYT:
The New York Times is trashing our troops again. With no new "atrocities" to report from Iraq for many a month, the limping Gray Lady turned to the home front. Front and center, above the fold, on the front page of Sunday's Times, the week's feature story sought to convince Americans that combat experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan are turning troops into murderers when they come home.

Heart-wringing tales of madness and murder not only made the front page, but filled two entire centerfold pages and spilled onto a fourth.

The Times did get one basic fact right: Returning vets committed or are charged with 121 murders in the United States since our current wars began.

Had the Times' "journalists" and editors bothered to put those figures in context - which they carefully avoided doing - they would've found that the murder rate that leaves them so aghast means that our vets are five times less likely to commit a murder than their demographic peers.

It only would have taken a quick check of DoJ statistics to recognize that US military personnel are less violent than the general US population for people in their age group. But heck, that kills the whole story and destroys the implied narrative, doesn’t it?

Peters provides a sarcastic comment on the real statistics:
Know what else you'll learn? In 2005 alone, 8,718 young Americans from the same age group were murdered in this country. That's well over twice as many as the number of troops killed in all our foreign missions since 2001. Maybe military service not only prevents you from committing crimes, but also keeps you alive?

Where are the Time’s editors? AWOL—to use a term from the democraphic they wrongly criticize. Where was the necessary context? Where … oh, what’s the point.

Thankfully, the era of the NYT is coming to a close. Today there are too many news sources and too many bloggers who spent the 10 minutes it takes to check the facts. What they find is blatant bias. At some level, I feel sorrow for this once great newspaper. I suppose it’s just a sign of the Times.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Ideological Paralysis

When Democratic leaders criticize George W. Bush, one of their major complaints is his inability to adapt his actions to ever changing events. They argue that he is doctrinaire and that his “pig-headed” approach to the war on terror and the war in Iraq has put our country in dire straits. There is little debate that the President is slow to adapt. Three years of flailing in Iraq prior to the surge indicate that his administration is not fast on its feet. But ideological paralysis and lack of adaptation is not unique to Bush.

Democratic leaders (and every Democratic presidential contender) also appear to suffer from ideological paralysis when it comes to Iraq. Bill Kristol (a neo-con who has been a consistent hawk on the Iraq war and is no friend of the Democrats) makes a few good points in today’s NYT:
When President Bush announced the surge of troops in support of a new counterinsurgency strategy a year ago, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Democratic Congressional leaders predicted failure. Obama, for example, told Larry King that he didn’t believe additional U.S. troops would “make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” Then in April, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, asserted that “this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything.” In September, Clinton told Gen. David Petraeus that his claims of progress in Iraq required a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

The Democrats were wrong in their assessments of the surge. Attacks per week on American troops are now down about 60 percent from June. Civilian deaths are down approximately 75 percent from a year ago. December 2007 saw the second-lowest number of U.S. troops killed in action since March 2003. And according to Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, last month’s overall number of deaths, which includes Iraqi security forces and civilian casualties as well as U.S. and coalition losses, may well have been the lowest since the war began.

Do Obama and Clinton and Reid now acknowledge that they were wrong? Are they willing to say the surge worked?

No. It’s apparently impermissible for leading Democrats to acknowledge — let alone celebrate — progress in Iraq. When asked recently whether she stood behind her “willing suspension of disbelief” insult to General Petraeus, Clinton said, “That’s right.”

I hate to say this, but it appears that despite both meaningful military and political progress (e.g., the recent passage of a de-Baathification law by Iraq’s parliament), the Dems themselves are now suffering from ideological paralysis. Their chances of capturing the Presidency would be greatly improved if they were to demonstrate to those of us in the Center that they are more concerned with our forward progress in Iraq than they are with shoring up a now obsolete mime.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


With Hillary Clinton now resurgent and John McCain labeled by the MSM as the "comeback kid," it’s worth taking still another breath, and asking just a few simple questions about positions—remember those, the things that really matter once you filter out the platitudes. Robert Samuelson comments on one of many the “big lies” that are voiced by both GOP and Democrat candidates:
The big lie of campaign 2008 -- so far -- is that the presidential candidates, Democratic and Republican, will take care of our children. Listening to these politicians, you might think they will. Doing well by children has now passed Motherhood and Apple Pie as an idol that all candidates must worship.

"We will do whatever it takes to make America a better country, to give our kids a better future," says Mike Huckabee, winner of the Republican Iowa caucuses.

"We will deliver for our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren," claims Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic winner.

"We're going to reclaim the future for our children," says Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Yet it appears that as government entitlements grow, we’ll have a future in which there will be fewer and fewer dollars available to improve public services and national infrastructure. In fact, the young will be required to transfer their wealth (via taxes) to the old. And for those of you who are class warriors a la John Edwards, there simply aren’t enough “rich” people and "big corporations" to tax to make up the difference.

Samuelson gets to the core of the issue when he states:
Spending for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- three programs that go overwhelmingly to older Americans -- already represents more than 40 percent of federal spending. A new report from the Congressional Budget Office projects these programs could equal about 70 percent of the present budget by 2030. Without implausibly large budget deficits, the only way to preserve most other government programs would be huge tax increases (about 40 percent from today's levels). Avoiding the tax increases would require draconian cuts in other programs (about 60 percent). Workers and young families, not retirees, would bear the brunt of either higher taxes or degraded public services.

Similar pressures, though less ferocious, exist at the state and local levels. Schools, police, libraries and parks will be squeezed by the need to pay benefits for retired government workers. A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that states have promised retired workers $2.7 trillion in pension, health care and other benefits during the next three decades. Only about $2 trillion has been set aside; the rest would come from annual budgets.

Medicaid, a joint federal-state program with states paying about 40 percent of the costs, represents another drain; about two-thirds of its spending stems from the aged and disabled. Roads, water and mass transit might also be shortchanged. States and localities pay about three-quarters of their costs.

And now, Democrat candidates are suggesting a new "health care system" that will invariably cost the taxpayers trillions more.

But the candidates and many members of their parties look like the proverbial three monkeys—hearing, speaking and seeing no evil. It’s amusing that most Democrats accept 100-year climate change projections that are based largely on weak science and weaker mathematical models, but are perfectly willing to reject 20-year projections like Samuelson’s that are based on solid demographic numbers, strong economic fundamentals, and stronger real data.

Why? Because this is one of the very difficult problems that cannot be solved with platitudes. There. Will. Be. Pain. And that’s something that politicians avoid at all cost.

So the next time you hear Barack or Rudy or Hillary or John promise a bright future for our children, spend a moment thinking about our collective aversion to pain. Solutions are out there, but only if we find a leader who has the courage to tell us that they come with some pain.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Vaporware is a phrase that been used in the IT world for decades. It refers to a software company’s promises about spectacular features and functions that will “soon” be delivered by a new software product. Problem is, vaporware isn’t the software, it’s just words. It's nothing more than vapor, existing only in marketing copy and in empty promises of the company’s salespeople. Any customer who commits to buy vaporware will be sorely disappointed.

In watching the implosion of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency (it’s important to note that it’s not over just yet, but it’s undeniable that her campaign is in deep trouble) and the rocket-like ascendancy of Barack Obama, I can’t help thinking about vaporware.

Obama’s speeches energize democratic and independent audiences with their promises of “change” and a new bipartisan era. A new Washington—these speeches implicitly claim—is in the offing.

Just like customers who want to believe the features and functions that are hyped for vaporware, the voters who are now flocking to Obama in large numbers want to believe what he says. In fact, they readily fill in the blanks so that any ambiguity (and there is significant ambiguity), any lack of specifics (there is an almost complete lack of specifics), any waffling on positions (there are few stated positions to address) all become a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. The Obama voters simply fill in the blanks and hear what they want to hear. Amazingly, it works very well.

Leadership is about making hard decisions, taking concrete positions, recognizing that some problems can only be managed, but cannot be easily solved. Leadership is about adaptation, recognizing when a policy is not working and making changes, even if those changes conflict with your personal ideology. Leadership is about experience, something that despite the current political discourse, is not a dirty word. Being charismatic and articulate are certainly important attributes that will serve a leader well, but they are not enough.

Does Barack Obama exhibit “leadership” qualities or is he just vaporware? I suppose time will tell.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Fanaticism of Reason

In Sunday’s NYT book review, Ayaan Hirsi Ali discusses Lee Harris’s new book, The Suicide of Reason. In his book, Harris argues that Islam, when it is driven by Islamist elements, is inherently imperialist and that history indicates that wherever it makes headway (think: Pakistan or Indonesia or Europe) “there has occurred a total and revolutionary transformation in the culture of those conquered or converted.”

Ali summarizes one element of Harris’ argument:
In describing the imperialist nature of Islam, Harris suggests that it is distinct from the Roman, British and French empires. He views Islamic imperialism as a single-minded expansion of the religion itself; the empire that it envisions is governed by Allah. In this sense, the idea of jihad is less about the inner struggle for peace and justice and more about a grand mission of conversion. It should be said, however, that Harris’s argument is incomplete, since he does not address the spread of Christianity in the Roman, British and French empires.

Those who argue that books like Harris’s engender unjustified fear and that “the spread of Christianity in the Roman, British and French empires” had it’s own concomitant horrors miss a key point. Again from Ali:
The Romans, the British and the French went about annexing large parts of the world more for earthly or material gain than for spiritual dominance. Under these empires, the clergy was allowed to propagate its faith as long as it did not jeopardize imperial interests.

But under Islamist imperialism, things are quite different. The primary goal of Islamists is to preserve the faith as it was a millennium ago and at the same time, to convert those who they encounter to the faith and subjugate those who refuse to convert.

If Islamic fundamentalism was the only problem faced by the West, it would not be an existential threat. Disruptive—certainly. Deadly—undoubtedly. But potentially triumphant—never!

Harris identifies a second fanaticism that, when coupled with Islamist fanaticism, could lead to Islam’s triumph over the next century. It’s important to note that the timelines here are long. If we fall prey to the second fanaticism, our culture and freedoms will erode in tiny increments that will become larger and more profound as time passes. Hersi Ali describes this second fanaticism:
The second fanaticism that Harris identifies is one he views as infecting Western societies; he calls it a “fanaticism of reason.” Reason, he says, contains within itself a potential fatality because it blinds Western leaders to the true nature of Islamic-influenced cultures. Westerners see these cultures merely as different versions of the world they know, with dominant values similar to those espoused in their own culture. But this, Harris argues, is a fatal mistake. It implies that the West fails to appreciate both its history and the true nature of its opposition.

Today we hear potential leaders of our country (Barack Obama comes to mind) fall prey to a fanaticism of reason. He argues (and he is far from alone in this argument) that we need to talk with leaders of Islamofascist regimes. But about what? Andrew Sullivan once noted (paraphrasing) that “you can never reason someone out of an extreme position that they never reasoned themselves into in the first place.” But many in the West simply cannot accept this.

Hersi Alli comments:
The West has variously tried to convert, to assimilate and to seduce Muslims into modernity, but, Harris says, none of these approaches have succeeded. Meanwhile, our worship of reason is making us easy prey for a ruthless, unscrupulous and extremely aggressive predator and may be contributing to a slow cultural “suicide.”

I have often noted that tolerance in the face of intolerance is a prescription for the demise of those who are tolerant. I have also noted that appeasement of those who desire your downfall leads not to peace or calm or prosperity, but rather to chaos and death.

Hersi Alli disagrees with Harris, arguing that our problem “is not too much reason but too little.”

I would argue that many in the West are so concerned about tolerance (even when it flows only one way) and about moral relativism in all of its multicultural aspects, that they view their adversaries through a distorted filter. With hubris that is uniquely western, they self-flagellate, arguing that it must have been something we did, and if we’d change, the behavior of our adversary would change. But past and recent history indicate that Islamists have no intention or desire to change, regardless of the actions of the infidels.

Those on the Left who argue that “war is not the answer” are right, but not in the way they think. Even if we succeed militarily in places far removed from our shores, the real conflict will be waged considerably closer to home. And if, through our own misguided view of our moral position, our uncritical application of tolerance, and our blind acceptance of multiculturalism, we allow incremental changes that slowly erode our freedoms, we may slowly change.

And for those who think that such change would be cleansing, keep in mind that it would, over time, eradicate everything you and the generations that follow hold dear.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


As the NH primary vote nears, we’ve heard a lot about “change” and the wonderful new world that such “change” will foster. Barack Obama has ridden the change train to a spectacular victory in Iowa (if victories in IA mean anything objectively) and the other candidates, like the producers of copy-cat TV shows, have decided to use his meme in their own campaign approach.

But Barack Obama complements his argument for change by suggesting that we must bring together the red and blue states, accomplishing “change” with a “new” bipartisan consensus.

All of this sounds very appealing, even to me. But it’s important to take a breath and think a bit about “change” and about the probability that a bipartisan (i.e., moderate or centrist) approach is in the offing should Obama become the democratic nominee and eventual President.

Robert Caldwell characterizes Obama’s approach as “trans-ideological,” but Obama's record (there really isn’t very much of one) seems to belie his words. Caldwell comments:
Obama is running, quite effectively, as both a change agent and an unconventional politician. That fits his campaign motif, a fresh-faced, idealistic outsider running against the Washington establishment voters so distrust. That, in turn, also suggests that Obama is a different kind of Democrat; one perhaps less reflexively partisan and divisive than, say, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards. Certainly that was an implicit message sent in his eloquent Iowa victory speech.

What's troubling, however, is that Obama's record doesn't match his reassuring persona.

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action rates Obama's voting record in the Senate at 97.5 percent, near perfection for liberal Democrats. The American Conservative Union, the ADA's ideological opposite, rates Obama's voting record at a rock-bottom 8 percent. Both ratings leave no doubt that Obama's actual votes mark him as a traditionally liberal Democrat, not a moderate.

Where in these votes is the evidence of trans-ideological change that Obama is selling so successfully on the campaign trail? Where in this record is the evidence that Obama is the unifier he claims to be?

On domestic, economic, foreign policy and national security issues, Obama's actual record is consistently liberal and consistently orthodox in Democratic Party terms. Obama typically talks like a centrist but votes like a liberal.

Obama's record also raises another disturbing matter – his penchant for ducking tough issues. In the Illinois Legislature, Obama compiled a record of voting “present” on controversial and politically explosive bills. However politically convenient, this isn't leadership. Obama's three years in the U.S. Senate are similarly devoid of any leadership examples on legislation of consequence.

This doesn't necessarily indict Obama's claimed leadership skills as fraudulent. It does demonstrate that those skills have not yet been in evidence in his legislative work. That's a curious, and worrying, fact.

Barack Obama is enormously charismatic (in the JFK-style, for those old enough to remember), making him very popular among the young and idealistic. After all, change and bipartisanship are a compelling mix.

But those of us who have been around awhile have heard all of this before. Excuse some of us for being just a little cynical and more than a little reserved in our enthusiasm. What we need are specifics, and right now, at least, there are none.

How would Obama effect change to address the oncoming crisis in social security and medicare funding? How would he achieve bipartisanship in dealing with medical coverage? Taxes? Bigger/smaller government? The Patriot Act? How would he reform homeland security? How would he “talk” with fascist regimes that are inimical to our country’s interests? How would he deal with the problems of the Middle-East? Lots of questions that are as yet unanswered, unless you think that charisma and well-worn political platitudes provide solutions for the many challenges facing our country.

Friday, January 04, 2008


I’m guilty of repeatedly noting the outright bias in the MSM when it comes to accurate reporting on the Iraq war and all other information relative to the Middle East. The MSM’s narrative is that the invasion of Iraq was wrong (and that Arab countries in general are unjustly oppressed). All information the MSM reports must continuously support that narrative. Whether it’s information or images, the story they tell moves further and further from the truth on the ground.

Why is it, for example, that we never see images like the ones contained in this video montage? There’s no doubt that this video strives to depict our “occupation” in a favorable light, but it is information that should be seen by the same viewers who are regularly served images that paint our presence in Iraq in an unfavorable light.

Today, the MSM grudgingly admits that our recent actions in Iraq has lead to some success, but Left-leaning talking heads and much of the Democratic leadership continue to insist that we should leave asap, regardless of the progress that is being made. Why? They argue that Iraqi “political progress” is lacking. Heck, if political progress were a criterion in the US, we’d disband the Congress and start over.

Bill Whittle’s comments intersect both topics:
When Michael Moore makes a hugely successful film praising Saddam’s paradise and calling these people who bomb women and children in marketplaces “freedom fighters,” and when an election turns and places into Congressional power a political party dedicated to reproducing that helicopter tableau as soon as possible... what would you do? Because if you guess wrong and the Americans leave, you will be taken out into the street in front of your family and have your head sawed off.

I think the Surge has had spectacular success not because of the additional troops so much as for the fact that when the media and the Democrats demanded we cut and run… we did not cut and run. We doubled down. When the calls for defeat and dishonor were at their loudest – sad to say a not unwarranted street rep we had made for ourselves – somehow, somehow we simply just hung on and gave them not a retreat but a charge.

Jesus Christ, but that must have gotten someone’s attention. Yes, the Surge is working. But I believe it is not a surge of boots that is doing the work so much as it is a surge of hope.

And hope… well, hope is a dangerous thing. For every day that Iraq returns not only to normal but to free normal is a day remembered. It is a day to which other, darker days may be compared.

Every day of success, every newly opened shop, every school and soccer game free of secret police and each and every night devoid of the terror of arbitrary arrest and execution is something to lose. It is something the murdering bastards of al Qaeda cannot give but can only take away. We have taken their sword from them. They wield it now only against themselves. They will do it, too: more pain and more death are coming, for that is all they know how to do. But hope walks the streets of Baghdad now, hope in the form of decent and brave young men and women who have held a line against all odds and perhaps bought with their courage and their blood the time we need for that hope to spread.

Whether you agree with Whittle’s assessment or not, you’ve got to admit that under Saddam and his murderous sons, Iraqis had very little reason to hope. Under the al Qaida “insurgency,” with suicide bombers and public beheadings, hope was a rare commodity indeed. But now that we’ve made profound sacrifices and achieved important progress on the ground, hope has germinated in Iraq.

There are those who insist that our actions in Iraq have ruined our international image and that only through retreat and a more humble and pacific policy will the world once again look to the USA as a beacon of hope. Ironically, they have somehow lost sight of the fact that intentional or not, that’s exactly what our sometimes bumbling actions in Iraq have precipitated. Hope.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

It Begins

After all of the handshakes, all the spinning, all the talking heads, and all the polls, the presidential nomination process begins tonight in Iowa. It is, to be charitable, a joke. The primary process as it is currently structured has outlived its usefulness. In a 21st century, media-driven information sphere, it does disservice to the country and could lead to presidential candidates that are, shall we say, suboptimal.

Ronald Cass comments:
The nominating system starts in Iowa, not just with an unrepresentative state but with unrepresentative voters as well. On the Democrat side in particular, this is coupled with deeply flawed voting methods that resemble a political game of musical chairs. And for both sides, the game is played in small venues replete with public pressure, both from those who have intense interests in particular issues and from those who profit directly from the process. Iowa's caucus system empowers the most insular of special interests, political junkies, and folks with little better to do on a cold night in winter. Iowans are wedded to their caucus system, but no political scientist trying to design a representative voting method reflecting national consensus would have thought up this peculiar arrangement.

But the MSM mentions none of this, treating the IA results as if they were handed down from the mount, breathlessly talking about momentum and new “front-runners.” As a consequence, too many primary voters in major states all too often listen uncritically, and as a consequence, are swayed toward candidates that, to be blunt, don’t deserve their votes. The flow of campaign contributions changes, sapping the strength of those who might benefit the country.

But it doesn’t stop with IA. As if the pols have decided to prolong a very bad joke, the next stop is another scarcely populated, rural, ethnically unrepresentative, economically distorted New England state. Again, Cass comments:
The next stop is New Hampshire, with about 4/10th of one percent of the nation's population. The New Hampshire primary plays by ordinary primary rules, but it has its share of quirky ideas and preferences. Over the years, New Hampshire has voted for more than a few candidates who've gone on to victory, but its primary voters also endorsed Harold Stassen, Ed Muskie, Henry Cabot Lodge, Paul Tsongas, and Gary Hart, a collection of local favorites, neighbors, and soon-to-implode wannabes.

Of course, it’s reasonable to argue that IA and NH deserve to participate. But do they deserve to have their tiny primaries magnified by a MSM who never put the resulting into a national perspective and rarely offer a critical comment on the existing system? Again from Cass:
Iowa and New Hampshire are, to be sure, part of America, but they aren't all of America or a microcosm of America by any stretch of the imagination. The conceit among a group of cognoscenti over the years - and, in truth, not over very many years by historical standards (1968 for New Hampshire and 1972 for Iowa, really) - is that the rest of the nation can pretty well take the leaders selected by these states on faith, trusting that they've done the hard work of looking the candidates over and selecting the best. But "best" for one isn't best for all, and there is plenty of evidence that Iowans and New Hampshirites can favor people the rest of us might not like nearly so much.

The big, representative states will have their say, but only after weeks of media commentary on the “importance” of the primaries in IA and NH.

Is this any way to pick presidential candidates in the 21st century? I think not.

Update: (1/4/08)

Every once in while the editorial writers for the New York Times get it exactly right. This morning, they note:
We don’t question the enthusiasm or the commitment of the people of Iowa and New Hampshire. But Iowa, where a huge turnout amounts to less than 10 percent of the population, is about 92 percent white, more rural and older than the rest of the nation. New Hampshire has a non-Hispanic white population of about 95 percent. Iowa’s Democrats are more liberal and more protectionist than the nation’s Democrats. Its Republicans are more conservative, and religiously driven, than the nation’s Republicans. And yet, The Boston Globe reported that Mr. Romney spent $7 million on ads in Iowa. That’s nearly $4 per registered voter.

We believe the time has long passed for both parties to not only break the Iowa-New Hampshire habit but also end the damaging race to be third, with states pushing their primaries closer and closer to New Year’s Day.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Net Assessment

Stratfor, probably the best Internet source for non-partisan evaluation of domestic and geopolitical trends, has completed a comprehensibe year end “net assessment.” Their analysis gives us important insight into the current political climate in the US and puts the comments of those from both the Left and Right into perspective. Stratfor (a subscription service) begins:
There are those who say that perception is reality. Geopolitics teaches the exact opposite: There is a fundamental reality to national power, and the passing passions of the public have only a transitory effect on things. In order to see the permanent things, it is important to tune out the noise and focus on the reality. That is always hard, but nowhere more so than in the United States, where the noise is incredibly loud, quite insistent, and profoundly contradictory and changeable. Long dissertations can and should be written on the dynamics of public opinion in the United States. For Stratfor, the root of these contradictions is in the dynamism of the United States. You can look at the United States and be awed by its dynamic power, and terrified by it at the same time.

All nations have complex psyches, but the American is particularly complex, contradictory and divisive. It is torn between two poles: dread and hubris. They alternate and compete and tear at each other. Neither dominates. They are both just there, tied to each other. The dread comes from a feeling of impending doom, the hubris from constantly overcoming it.

The “dread” is generally espoused by those on the Left, who are convinced beyond argument that our global image is in peril, that as a nation we are in decline, that our actions are self-defeating, and our future (if left uncorrected) is bleak. The “hubris” is exemplified by the neo-con Right, who are convinced that the US can and should imposed democracy in cultures ill-prepared to accommodate it, that a deep understanding of foreign cultures is unnecessary to accomplish our strategic goals, that a forward-leaning application of kinetic force is often the best strategy. Both dread and hubris co-exist and cause the divisive political climate that, at times, appears irreconcilable.

It’s also true that the Left and Right sometimes reverse polarity. The Right can be consumed by “dread” of the Islamofascist ideology without recognizing that it is only one of a number of challenges that face the United States. The Left often suffers form moral “hubris” viewing any application of force as a moral failing, thinking that ideological fanatics can be reasoned into more rational and non-threatening behavior.

This yin and yang leads to polarization. Again from Starfor:
This fault line consistently polarizes American politics, dividing it between those who overestimate American power and those who underestimate it. In domestic politics, every boom brings claims that the United States has created a New Economy that has abolished the business cycle. Every shift in the business cycle brings out the faction that believes the collapse of the American economy is just over the horizon. Sometimes, the same people say both things within months of each other.

Stratfor’s detailed analysis of the strategic objectives of the US and the actions that are taken to achieve those objectives is beyond the scope of this humble blog. Their summary is worth considering:
The operative term for the United States is “huge.” The size of its economy and the control of the world’s oceans are the two pillars of American power, and they are intimately connected. So long as the United States has more than 25 percent of the world’s GDP and dominates the oceans, what the world thinks of it, or what it thinks of itself, is of little consequence. Power is power and those two simple, obvious facts trump all sophisticated theorizing.

Nothing that has happened in the Middle East, or in Vietnam a generation ago or in Korea a generation before that, can change the objective foundations of American power. Indeed, on close examination, what appears to be irrational behavior by the United States makes a great deal of sense in this context. A nation this powerful can take extreme risks, suffer substantial failures, engage in irrational activity and get away with it. But, in fact, regardless of perception, American risks are calculated, the failures are more apparent than real and the irrational activity is more rational than it might appear. Presidents and pundits might not fully understand what they are doing or thinking, but in a nation of more than 300 million people, policy is shaped by impersonal forces more than by leaders or public opinion. Explaining how that works is for another time.

The magnitude of American power can only be seen by stepping back. Then the weaknesses are placed into context and diminish in significance. A net assessment is designed to do that. It is designed to consider the United States “on the whole.” And in considering the United States on the whole, we are struck by two facts: massive power and cultural bipolar disorder. But the essence of geopolitics is that culture follows power; as the United States matures, its cultural bipolarity will subside.

It’s hard to believe that our “cultural bipolarity will subside.” Maybe that’s because few can step back and look at geopolitics dispassionately. Few subscribe to the saying that “nations don’t have morals, they have interests.” Few can separate their personal ideology from an objective assessment of what is in the best interest of our country,

Maybe instead of fluoridating our water, we ought to put a little Lithium in it.