Monday, January 31, 2005

The Truth is Out There

Doug links to a  Seymour Hersh interview by Amy Goodman, whose contents are so self-expressive they need no comment. Here are some of the things Hersh says:

We took Baghdad easily. It wasn't because be won. We took Baghdad because they pulled back and let us take it and decided to fight a war that had been pre-planned that they're very actively fighting. The frightening thing about it is, we have no intelligence. Maybe it's -- it's -- it is frightening, we have no intelligence about what they're doing. A year-and-a-half ago, we're up against two and three-man teams. We estimated the cells operating against us were two and three people, that we could not penetrate. As of now, we still don't know what's coming next. There are 10, 15-man groups. They have terrific communications. Somebody told me, it's -- somebody in the system, an officer -- and by the way, the good part of it is, more and more people are available to somebody like me.

... the amazing thing is we are been taken over basically by a cult, eight or nine neo-conservatives have somehow grabbed the government. Just how and why and how they did it so efficiently, will have to wait for much later historians and better documentation than we have now, but they managed to overcome the bureaucracy and the Congress, and the press, with the greatest of ease. It does say something about how fragile our Democracy is. You do have to wonder what a Democracy is when it comes down to a few men in the Pentagon and a few men in the White House having their way. What they have done is neutralize the C.I.A. because there were people there inside

I have a friend in the Air Force, a Colonel, who had the awful task of being an urban bombing planner, planning urban bombing, to make urban bombing be as unobtrusive as possible. I think it was three weeks ago today, three weeks ago Sunday after Fallujah I called him at home. I'm one of the people -- I don't call people at work. I call them at home, and he has one of those caller I.D.’s, and he picked up the phone and he said, “Welcome to Stalingrad.”

This amazing interview closes with a flourish.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh. This news just in: 31 Marines have died in a helicopter crash in Iraq. To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, click here for our new online ordering or call 1 (800) 881-2359.

Time was that when you read about 'black helicopters',  'ghostly white trains' and motherships it was in the context of a laughing academy. Now you can listen to a Pulitzer-prize winner seriously describe how less than a dozen changelings have taken over the entire US Government by ordering a transcript on a toll-free number. Major credit cards accepted. Better yet, if you know the home phone of a certain Air Force officer, he will tell you how to unobtrusively bomb urban targets, so no one notices. Maybe it's like the silencers they have for guns, only it works for 2,000 lb bombs.

Legitimacy Versus Informed Comment

Oxblog asks whether Juan Cole's latest post on Iraq counts as informed comment. Cole said:

I'm just appalled by the cheerleading tone of US news coverage of the so-called elections in Iraq on Sunday. I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq. It is an event of the utmost importance, for Iraq, the Middle East, and the world. All the boosterism has a kernel of truth to it, of course. Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

How's that again?

Juan Cole as quoted by himself Juan Cole as quoted in Reuters
I said on television last week that this event is a "political earthquake" and "a historical first step" for Iraq.  "These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan. "The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.

Then he tells this story.

Moreover, as Swopa rightly reminds us all, the Bush administration opposed one-person, one-vote elections of this sort. First they were going to turn Iraq over to Chalabi within six months. Then Bremer was going to be MacArthur in Baghdad for years. Then on November 15, 2003, Bremer announced a plan to have council-based elections in May of 2004. The US and the UK had somehow massaged into being provincial and municipal governing councils, the members of which were pro-American. Bremer was going to restrict the electorate to this small, elite group.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani immediately gave a fatwa denouncing this plan and demanding free elections mandated by a UN Security Council resolution. Bush was reportedly "extremely offended" at these two demands and opposed Sistani. Bremer got his appointed Interim Governing Council to go along in fighting Sistani. Sistani then brought thousands of protesters into the streets in January of 2004, demanding free elections. Soon thereafter, Bush caved and gave the ayatollah everything he demanded. Except that he was apparently afraid that open, non-manipulated elections in Iraq might become a factor in the US presidential campaign, so he got the elections postponed to January 2005. This enormous delay allowed the country to fall into much worse chaos, and Sistani is still bitter that the Americans didn't hold the elections last May. The US objected that they couldn't use UN food ration cards for registration, as Sistani suggested. But in the end that is exactly what they did.

Salim Lone, the director of communications for Sergio Viera de Mello has another version of events, which he tells in the Guardian. In Lone's version, the Interim Governing Council (full title Iraq Interim Governing Council), which in Cole's narrative was unleashed by Bremer on Sistani, was actually the brainstorm of "the late Sergio Vieira de Mello".

In its search for greater legitimacy for its preferred Iraqi leadership, the US has avoided the UN security council, since most of its members abhor what is being done to Iraq. The US has instead chosen to work with individual representatives. The first such UN involvement, when the late Sergio Vieira de Mello headed the UN mission in Iraq, was the most effective. He was able to persuade the then US proconsul, Paul Bremer, that he should appoint an Iraqi Governing Council rather than an advisory body. Even then, the anger about the individuals and groups on this council, and for UN support for it, was palpable in Iraq.

Nearly a year later, in another bid for UN support, Bush assured the world that the interim government would be picked by Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan's special representative. Brahimi spent weeks in Iraq consulting domestic groups about who they felt should lead the country. But on the day the interim government was to be appointed, a deal was struck by the Americans behind Brahimi's back, to make the CIA-linked Ayad Allawi prime minister.

Lone's main beef is that America reneged on the arrangement that "the interim government would be picked by Lakhdar Brahimi, Kofi Annan's special representative". And who was sent to do the picking? Was it someone the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who Cole says possessed the power to make or break the White House would likely respect? Annan had sent Lakhdar Brahimi, who PBS describes as "a Sunni Muslim, Brahimi ... with decades of experience as an Algerian diplomat." Not to put too fine a point on it, according to a contemporaneous New York Times article by Edward Wong,  Brahimi was there to "pick a secular Sunni politician to be president of the interim government ..."

So the helpless President George Bush, in the Cole version, submitted to Sistani's fatwa with the mansuetude he should have displayed from the first. Only this submission, according to Salim Lone's perspective, was a mistake, because by allying themselves with Sistani, America had yoked itself to a sectarian enterprise that will only deepen the hatred most Arabs and Muslims feel for America.

The millions of Iraqis, as well as the UN electoral team and the Iraqi election commission staff, who did participate in the process despite the grave risk, deserve our respect. But it was a risk taken in vain. The election was illegitimate, and cannot resolve the rampant insecurity resulting from the occupation. The only way to stop the destruction of Iraq is to end the occupation and enfranchise the Sunnis, who are leading the resistance because they see the US as systematically excluding them from the role they deserve to play in Iraq. ...

The US has little popular support in the country. It has, however, won the support of the extremely influential Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who tolerates an occupation most of his followers hate, with the single-minded sectarian goal of having the majority Shia at the helm of power in Iraq. The occupation has destroyed Iraq and is destabilising the world by exacerbating the deep animosity that most Arabs and Muslims feel for the US. The Bush administration is now provoking the Muslim world by threats against Iran. The rest of the world looks on, mostly helplessly.

I'm feeling better already.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Did We Win?

Juan Cole puts up this post.

Guerrillas launched mortar and suicide bomb attacks at polling stations throughout Iraq on Sunday as thousands of Iraqis headed to the polls. As many as 27 were dead by 1 pm Iraqi time, with several times that wounded.

Explosions rocked West, South and East Baghdad, as well as many cities throughout the Sunni heartland--Baqubah, Mosul, Balad, and in Salahuddin Province (7 attacks by noon). There was also an attack in the Turkmen north at Talafar, and in the Shiite deep south at Basra. In Basra, Coalition troops raided the al-Hamra Mosque. Four were killed and seven wounded in an attack in Sadr City. These kinds of statistics were common in the election-poll attacks.

Turnout seems extremely light in the Sunni Arab areas, where some polling stations did not even open. It was heavier in the Shiite south and in the Kurdish north.

Cole earlier characterized the Iraqi electoral process as a "joke" in a Reuters article.

"These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan. "The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.

The Boston Globe reports that a lot of Iraqi voters have a lively sense of humor.

Baghdad, Iraq (AP) Iraqis danced and clapped with joy Sunday as they voted in their country's first free election in a half-century, defying insurgents who launched eight deadly suicide bombings and mortar strikes at polling stations. The attacks killed at least 31 people. After a slow start, men and women in flowing black abayas often holding babies formed long lines, although there were pockets of Iraq where the streets and polling stations were deserted. Iraqis prohibited from using private cars walked streets crowded in a few places nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with voters, hitched rides on military buses and trucks, and some even carried the elderly in their arms.

''This is democracy,'' said Karfia Abbasi, holding up a thumb stained with purple ink to prove she had voted.

The BBC reporter's notebook gives area-by-area impressions of the voting.

Area BBC Correspondent Impressions
Basra "People have been literally streaming towards polling stations. I have never witnessed this huge turnout for long time."
Mosul "In places with a Kurdish majority such as the Noor and Masarif districts, there is a huge turnout."
Fallujah "The turnout to all these stations is very low."
Baghdad "We have seen voting here in the capital, and in the streets close to the BBC office the atmosphere was almost euphoric."
Arbil "We're not looking at vast crowds of people but this particular polling station has been allocated 3,000 registered voters and I would say we've probably seen the bulk of them passing through already."
Al Amarah "From Basra to Al Amarah, to the northern most sections of the British zone, thousands of people are lined up on the streets. Even in the smaller provincial towns 400 kilometres from Basra, towns like Ali al-Ghabi and Komait, where there are only a handful of polling stations, the queues are several hundred deep."
Najaf "A lot of women turned out and their numbers dwarf those of the men. I have seen very old people unable to walk, I have seen blind people being led to the polling stations."

Turnout out has been low in Fallujah and higher in Basra and Mosul; in a very narrow sense Cole's post has been accurate. But in a larger sense, his appreciation was totally wrong. Think of what it means for anyone to dare vote in Fallujah at all, despite the penalties prescribed by terrorists, some of whom are certain to be kinsmen. And when was the time, at any Faculty meeting, that the halt and the blind tramped in to vote (cars are banned from approaching the polling precincts for security reasons) at the risk of death? If the electoral process was a charade, it was one in which too many participated too willingly.

None of this means that the insurgency in Iraq has finally been beaten down or that only plain sailing lies ahead. But the voter turnouts certainly suggests that the electoral results will stick. It will be very hard to de-legitimize the whole process or cast aside the ballots as if the elections had never happened; not after the sacrifice that the Shi'ites, Kurds and the Sunnis (the risk was all the greater for them) have endured simply to exercise their choice. Commentators have pointed out that elected candidates may subsequently express views which may be regarded as anti-American; but if the US, which is the occupying power, is to be bound by the result, as is consistent with the concept of the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people, why should 'insurgents' or the Left be able to say 'I won't accept the elections as legitimate'? While that will not prevent them from dismissing the elections or making disparaging noises, all but the most obtuse will understand that they can't be undone and will move on instead to the next point of criticism. Which means the elections weren't a joke after all, except on Cole. And did we win? Who knows? But many Iraqis think they did.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Ministry of Truth

The Obsidian Order is applying the commonsense test to photos taken by Ali Jasim of Reuters, Ali Al-Saadi of AFP and Khalid Mohammed of AP purporting to show a car exploding in front of a high school scheduled to be a voting center. These provide powerful visual proof of how 'insurgents' are winning in Iraq. The Obsidian Order observes that for openers, the car in the photos is not experiencing any kind of high-order explosion; it is simply burning. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds)

What do you see? A car on fire, apparently not close to anything flammable. We are told this is in front of a school, but we do not see the school. The fire looks like petrol, probably in cans in the back of the vehicle, set off with an incendiary WP shell (White Phosphorus - the white smoke and sparks). ... The key and blindingly obvious point: there are at least three photojournalists from different outfits there exactly at the time it goes off! Interpretation: ... this was staged

Staged? Staged? The Obsidian Order forgets that coincidences of this type are normal in Iraq. An AP photographer also happened to be around when Iraqi election workers were murdered on Haifa street. Some French journalists just happened to be present when 'insurgents' attempted to shoot down a DHL cargo plane. So why shouldn't three wire service photographers happen to stroll by when a car 'explodes' in front of an obscure high school building in Baghdad? But Chester is not to be persuaded that everything is on the up-and-up. He observes that the three wire service accounts differ from that provided by the Iraqi police.

One of the comments on the site says:

Fox news had the sequence on the TV tonight. FNC said the Iraq police had shot up the car and stopped it -- the car caught fire -- then apparently a bomb inside went off. When the camera pulled back, the police with their guns raised were in the near filed framing -- as if they had been shooting at the car.

So I am not sure what your point is. Looked to me like the Iraqi police got their man before he could reach the school. FNC said a school was the target, not that it was hit by the explosion.

Ah ha! There we have it! The reason the pictures look funny is because the Iraqi security forces killed the attacker before he could properly position his vehicle and the vehicle then sympathetically detonated. But wait! This is good news right? Iraqi security forces disrupted an attack. Then why does the Reuters caption under each photo read thus:

An Iraqi boy runs past a car just as it explodes in front of al-Nahdha High School which was scheduled to be used as a voting centre in Baghdad, January 28, 2005. Hours earlier in the same area in southern Baghdad, a car bomb exploded next to a police station, killing four Iraqi civilians, police said. REUTERS/Ali Jasim

Not only does Reuters refuse to acknowledge the success of Iraqi security forces in every single caption, but they instead mention a completely different bombing that was successful in killing innocents.

So what? The wire services have reported it and it must be true. The last posts have coincidentally dealt with Orwell's description of how totalitarianisms manufacture a media-generated alternative reality to suit their ends. In 1984 real events are never reported by the Ministry of Truth; false events are manufactured out of whole cloth. The Party knows that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past". Thankfully, these falsifications happen only in fiction. The car really exploded as three photojournalists were strolling by, even though the pictures show it is just burning. Honest it did.

Friday, January 28, 2005

A Trip Down Memory Hole Lane

Mary Madigan at Michael Totten's site adds another nuance to our understanding of George Orwell's 'memory hole' concept. She reminds us that the practice of obliterating the past in order to leave the field clear for the seeds of new thought is an ancient practice. Her example is the Wahabi destruction of history.

Militias from the Islamic courts set up in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are destroying a colonial Italian cemetery. They are digging up the graves and dumping human remains near the airport.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan says he was horrified to see a large number of abandoned human skulls. Young boys were playing with one as a toy. According to Sunni scholar Stephen Schwartz, grave desecration is a Wahhabi tradition:

Saudi agents uprooted graveyards in Kosovo even before the war began there in the late 1990s, and Wahhabi missionaries have sought to demolish Sufi tombs in Kurdistan. Late in 2002, the Saudi government tore down the historic Ottoman fortress of Ajyad in Mecca, causing outrage in many Muslim countries.

The grave desecrations are an obvious illustration of Orwell's dictum that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Like the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan, their effect is remove any recollection of a creed or way of life that may have preceded Wahabism. Yet  it is one of Madigan's quotes that shows how it affects the present.

Somali journalist Bashir Goth wrote about the influence of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam in Somalia:

"Nowadays, it is sad to see… that the ideal harmony between Islam and Somali culture is swept aside by a new brand of Islam that is being pushed down the throat of our people - Wahhabism. Anywhere one looks, one finds that alien, perverted version of Islam that depends on punctilious manners more than it depends on deep-rooted faith. A strange uniformity… has crept into the social manners of our people. The unique fashion and identity of our people has changed forever. We have become a people without fashion, without culture, and without identity…

An ongoing campaign to impoverish culture and thought was a pillar of the totalitarian 1984; something which was achieved largely through the censorship of language resulting in a bowdlerized dialect called Newspeak. We would recognize it instantly as modern 'political correctness'; and it is not surprising that the Wahabis would use the technique as well to create 'a people without fashion, without culture, without identity'. Orwell defined Newspeak in this way:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

The chief ward against the temptation of 'thought crime' was doublethink, here described by Orwell.

But it is also necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to rearrange one's memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak it is called, quite frankly, 'reality control'. In Newspeak it is called doublethink, though doublethink comprises much else as well.

Orwell's works themselves were not immune from this process of redaction. The Newspeak Dictionary drily observes that "Michael Moore Ends Fahrenheit 911 with a quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four! - I was certainly pleased to see that M&M used the words of Orwell to sum up his film. But unfortunately, it appears that the quote really wasn't the actual words of Orwell!"

Orwell Michael Moore
"In accordance with the principles of doubthink it does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. The essential act of modern warfare is the destruction of the produce of human labour. A hierarchical society is only possible and the basis of poverty and ignorance. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society of the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects. And its object is not victory over Eurasia or Eastasia, but to keep the very structure of society intact."  "It does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or Eastasia but to keep the very structure of society intact"

Finally, Mary Madigan's piece on Wahabism mentions how the Saudi Arabian ambassador called for the removal of an elected legislator in the country to which he was accredited -- a case of a person protected by newspeak attempting to shove someone down the 'memory hole'.

According to the German publication, Der Spiegel, the killer’s actual target was Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant. She and other legislators were so unable to ensure their security against extremist death threats, they had to leave the Netherlands to hide in the United States. In short, a Western nation couldn't defend its own legislators against an occupying paramilitary group. Fortunately, Hirsi Ali has returned. According to Spiegel’s report:

Hirsi Ali made championing the cause of Muslim women her career and eventually got elected to parliament. When the ambassador of Saudi Arabia called for her to be removed from office because of her polemics against Islam she just scored even more points with Dutch voters. In a survey of the most-popular Dutch people in 2003, she landed in second place.

The Saudi ambassador felt he had the right to call for an elected legislator to be removed from office. Who does he think he is?

Madigan should have patience. She will eventually understand that resistance is futile. Orwell closed his classic novel with these words.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

The Wave of the Future

Joshua Micah Marshall thinks Simon Rosenberg should be the next DNC Chair.

As most all of you know, there's a heated race going on for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, something that hasn't happened since before the Clinton era. The race will be decided in about two weeks; but so far I've only done a handful of posts about it. ... If I were one of the four-hundred-odd people who have a vote in this race, I'd be voting for Simon Rosenberg. And I'd feel very strongly about the vote and cast it without reservation.

Mr. Rosenberg's political ideas are on display in two of his speeches: "Where We Are", "Some Thoughts on Internet, Politics and Participation" and an NYT article called "Wiring the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy" all of which are linked to his site. The NYT article describes the core of Rosenberg's thinking at length. It begins through the eyes of a venture capitalist, Andy Rapaport, who thinks he knows how to fix the Democratic Party.

Rappaport was surprisingly downcast about the party's prospects, which, he said, would not be improved simply by winning back the White House. ... ''There is a growing realization among people who take very seriously the importance of progressive politics that the Democratic Party has kind of failed to create a vision for the country that is strongly resonant,'' he said. ''And our numbers'' -- meaning Democrats as a whole -- ''are decreasing. Our political power has been diminishing, and it's become common knowledge that the conservative movement has established a very strong, long-term foundation, whereas we've basically allowed our foundation, if not to crumble, to at least fall into a state of disrepair. So there are a lot of people thinking, What can we do about this?'' ...

Actually, Rappaport says he may be on to an answer. Last summer, he got a call from Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, a fund-raising and advocacy group in Washington. Would Rappaport mind sitting down for a confidential meeting with a veteran Democratic operative named Rob Stein? Sure, Rappaport replied. What Stein showed him when they met was a PowerPoint presentation that laid out step by step, in a series of diagrams a ninth-grader could understand, how conservatives, over a period of 30 years, had managed to build a ''message machine'' that today spends more than $300 million annually to promote its agenda. Rappaport was blown away by the half-hour-long presentation. ''Man,'' he said, ''that's all it took to buy the country?''

There were two elements to the Roseberg-Stein Powerpoint presentation. The first was the idea that it was possible to offer up parts of the liberal policy agenda direct to ideological 'investors' and then sell that agenda to the country via a powerful 'message machine'. The Republicans had done it! What remained was for the Democrats to harness the same mechanism to a higher purpose.

Stein and Rosenberg weren't asking Rappaport for money -- at least not yet. They wanted Democrats to know what they were up against, and they wanted them to stop thinking about politics only as a succession of elections. ... In March of this year, Rappaport convened a meeting of wealthy Democrats at a Silicon Valley hotel so that they, too, could see Stein's presentation. Similar gatherings were already under way in Washington and New York, where the meetings included two of the most generous billionaires in the Democratic universe -- the financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, an Ohio insurance tycoon -- as well as Soros's son and Lewis's son. ... The plan is to gather investors from each city -- perhaps in one big meeting early next year -- and create a kind of venture-capital pipeline that would funnel money into a new political movement, working independently of the existing Democratic establishment. ...

Into this vacuum rushes money -- and already it is creating an entirely new kind of independent force in American politics. Led by Soros and Lewis, Democratic donors will, by November, have contributed as much as $150 million to a handful of outside groups -- America Coming Together, the Media Fund, -- that are going online, door to door and on the airways in an effort to defeat Bush. These groups aren't loyal to any one candidate, and they don't plan to disband after the election; instead, they expect to yield immense influence over the party's future, at the very moment when the power of some traditional Democratic interest groups, like the once mighty manufacturing unions, is clearly on the wane.

The key to defeating the 'Right Wing conspiracy' was freeing ideological spenders from the constraints of the institutional Democratic Party. The New Democratic Network aimed to duplicate Ronald Reagan's rebuilding of the Republican Party. The way to go was to learn from the enemy.

Stein spent much of the spring of 2003 consumed with connecting the dots of what Hillary Clinton famously called the ''vast right-wing conspiracy'' and then translating it into flow charts and bullet points. The presentation itself, a collection of about 40 slides titled ''The Conservative Message Machine's Money Matrix,'' essentially makes the case that a handful of families -- Scaife, Bradley, Olin, Coors and others -- laid the foundation for a $300 million network of policy centers, advocacy groups and media outlets that now wield great influence over the national agenda. The network, as Stein diagrams it, includes scores of powerful organizations -- most of them with bland names like the State Policy Network and the Leadership Institute -- that he says train young leaders and lawmakers and promote policy ideas on the national and local level. These groups are, in turn, linked to a massive message apparatus, into which Stein lumps everything from Fox News and the Wall Street Journal op-ed page to Pat Robertson's ''700 Club.'' And all of this, he contends, is underwritten by some 200 ''anchor donors.'' ''This is perhaps the most potent, independent institutionalized apparatus ever assembled in a democracy to promote one belief system,'' he said.

There was optimism, at least in the beginning, that this process would could drive George W. Bush from the White House in 2004 and create a Kerry presidency; others were not so sure; nor did they care.

But if Kerry does not ascend to the presidency, and Democrats fail to make significant gains in Congress, then the party and its various factions will be as close to debilitating disunity and outright irrelevance as they have been in almost a century. Leftist investors will see their opening -- a chance, at last, to swoop in and save the party from empty centrism. The struggle for control in 2008 will begin almost immediately.

In a memorandum distributed by the New Democractic Network, Rosenberg summarized what he thought to be the salient components of the conservative revolution. The Democratic Party had in its way, suffered a private and political 9/11 -- an asymmetrical assault from the right -- due Rosenberg believed, to four reasons.

  1. The Republican/conservative alliance has built a superior information-age political machine.
  2. As an intellectually-based movement born when the Republicans were a true minority Party, their infrastructure is built on a foundation on the need to persuade.
  3. 9/11 gave the Republicans an opening that they have adroitly exploited.
  4. Bush’s brand of conservatism has had a particularly big impact in the South.
  5. The new Republican momentum with Hispanics is a grave threat.

From a superficial point of view, Rosenberg's analysis fits all the facts he cares to acknowledge. But it begs the question of whether conservative ideas have succeeded, at least in part, because they were more consonant with reality than the 'progressive' ideas of the Left. It is not my intention to prove the superiority of one ideology over the other; simply to point out that the very possibility is excluded from Rosenberg's analysis; and by excluding the possibility that Conservative ascendance might be due to a careful selection of 'correct' positions into their portfolio, the NDN is really assuming what must be proved.

The book Reagan's Revolution : The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds) points out that Reagan rebuilt the conservative movement, not by putting the message machine on steroids, but by changing the message. One book reviewer observed.

What is remarkable about Shirley's stirring account of the start of the revolution is his description of the state of the GOP in 1976. The party establishment had been practicing a move to the left strategy for years, unhappy conservatives were beginning to talk about forming a third party, and open talk about a "brain dead" Republican party devoid of ideas was commonplace. As I read his book, I felt I was reading the description of the Democratic Party of today.

Yet it was not simply changing the message, nor even improving its dissemination that was the key to Reagan's success. Their real power came from the fact that the ideas embodied in the message worked. It's possible, however, that Simon Rosenberg is not Ronald Reagan. That observation at least, would probably flatter both.

Colors to the Mast

The one unarguable virtue of Ted Kennedy's speech at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies is that it nails his colors to the mast. He wants America to begin pulling immediately out of Iraq after the elections. Going in the first place was in his view a mistake, a strategic dead end in which the Janaury 30 election is a compounded error; another step on the road to another Vietnam. (Hat tip: the Command Post)

President Bush has left us with few good choices. There are costs to staying, and costs to leaving. There may well be violence as we disengage militarily from Iraq and Iraq disengages politically from us, but there will be much more violence if we continue our present dangerous and destabilizing course. It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin. ... 

We all hope for the best from Sunday's election. The Iraqis have a right to determine their own future. But Sunday's elections are not a cure for the violence and instability. Unless the Sunni and all the communities in Iraq believe they have a stake in the outcome and a genuine role in drafting the new Iraqi constitution, the election could lead to greater alienation, greater escalation, greater death - for us and for the Iraqis. ...

A new Iraq policy must begin with acceptance of hard truths. Most of the violence in Iraq is not being perpetrated - as President Bush has claimed - by "a handful of folks that fear freedom" and people who want to try to impose their will on people…just like Osama bin Laden." The insurgency is largely home-grown. By our own government's count, the ranks of the guerillas are large and growing larger. ...

The first point in a new plan would be for the United Nations, not the United States, to provide assistance and advice on establishing a system of government and drafting a Constitution. An international meeting - led by the United Nations and the new Iraqi Government -- should be convened immediately in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East to begin that process.

A less famous personage, Chaldean Bishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, asserted the contrary in an interview which garnered only scant attention.

Q: Will elections on January 30 be meaningful despite the constraints of ongoing violence?

Bishop Sako: Yes, because the current government is provisional but, after the elections, it will be the result of popular vote. Iraqis have the opportunity to choose their leaders, those they prefer. The elections are something immense and new. Nothing of the kind has happened in the past 50 years: first because of clashes and revolts, then due to 35 years of dictatorship. There has never been freedom of expression. But now, anything is possible: If there are people and parties arguing and clashing, that is because they are free to do so. Now, Iraqis must learn to discuss in a civil manner. But the people of Iraq have never been trained for coexistence; they have always lived in the midst of violence: three wars, a dictatorship, 13 years of embargo. This is why freedom is not used in a responsible way and problems arise.

Q: How many people will turn out to vote next Sunday?

Bishop Sako: The televisions news is saying 80%. There are, of course, people who are frightened by threats, but I say that achieving normality has its condition, and this condition is the election process. I can say that many people will cast their vote on Sunday.

Q: The Iraqi elections don't seem to be very popular in the West, with Western media. How do you account for this skepticism?

Bishop Sako: Just yesterday the Pope asked the media to help people understand the reality of things. The media is a big problem in Iraq: a lot of lies and provocations are being written and broadcast. It's enough to think of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya that are misinforming a great deal, in what amounts to utter fanaticism, which even Iraqi Muslim leaders themselves have condemned. These television broadcasters are continuously trying to spark violence against the Americans and even against Iraqis. They are throwing terrorism and resistance into the same pot, but to me there is a clear difference. Resistance is something noble; but two days ago a car bomb exploded at a wedding -- 20 people died. Now I ask: Is that resistance? Those 20 victims were Iraqis, innocent men and women: Was that an act of resistance? Is attacking a church or a mosque an act of resistance?

Q: Archbishop Casmoussa of Mosul was kidnapped last week and, upon his liberation, asked that the Americans withdraw. What do you make of that?

Bishop Sako: I think Archbishop Casmoussa said what he did because he's thinking of his situation in Mosul: With a very large Sunni majority, the city is almost entirely against the American presence. But if the Americans leave Iraq today, there will be civil war between Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis, Shiites, Muslims, Christians. This is clear. For this reason, it is better that Americans not leave now. There will soon be a new national government; an army and police force is taking shape. Step by step a revival plan is going forward, but it is not the result of some kind of magic. The U.S. must stay on until Iraqis can take command of the nation. For the moment, they can't do this, the necessary structures are not yet in place.

It is probably fair to point out that Bishop Sako is also nailing his colors to the mast, a fact more impressive because he will have to live with the consequences of his analysis. This is not the place to comment on Kennedy's speech, merely to observe that his words should not be forgotten. They should be memorialized, and if, as is expected, a large percentage of the Iraqi people go down the path he has declared a cul de sac despite his dire warnings; and participate in a 'joke' as Juan Cole put it, he should be reminded of it, not out of spite, but out of justice, the same whose consequences will overtake George Bush if the contrary happens; whose tide will overtake Bishop Sako and his parishioners should he prove wrong.

And perhaps for the first time in history, Ted Kennedy's words will not be forgotten. The emergence of the Internet has closed down the "memory hole" within which the former apologists of Joseph Stalin, Kim Il Sung, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein could hide their bad advice and from which they could emerge at whiles to offer new sage advice. The term 'memory hole' itself was coined by George Orwell who used it to describe the mechanism through which the media manipulated historical memory. One of the tenets of the Party in Orwell's 1984 was that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past", and the key to achieving mastery over history was the liberal use of the 'memory hole'.

The book's hero, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth rewriting and falsifying history. The Ministry writes people out of history -- they go "down the memory hole" as though they never existed. The Ministry also creates people as historical figures who never existed. ... O'Brien, a member of the inner Party, pretends to Smith that he is part of the Goldstein conspiracy against Big Brother. He asks Smith what he would most like to drink a toast to. Smith chooses to drink a toast, not to the death of Big Brother, the confusion of the Thought Police, or Humanity, but "to the past." ...

Because of his experience in the Spanish civil war that media reports of the conflict bore no relation to what was happening, Orwell developed a great skepticism about the ability of even a well intentioned and honest writer to get to the truth. He was generally skeptical of atrocity stories. ... It should be noted that Orwell worked for the BBC for a time, and the Ministry of Truth is modeled to some extent on the BBC. Orwell noted that the BBC put out false hate propaganda during World War II, and controlled history by censoring news about the genocidal Allied policy of leveling German cities by saturation bombing. Orwell's beliefs about the control of the past, including the recent past, also derived from his experiences in the Spanish civil war, where he found that "no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain for the first time I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts."

Unfortunately for someone, whether it be Senator Kennedy, Bishop Sako or George Bush, a monolithic media no longer controls collective memory. Recently Max Boot reminded Seymour Hersh of his past writing and what little resemblance it bore to events. If Iraqis, in defiance of present-day O'Briens, can drink a toast to the future, it is due in part to the new-found power to stand once again upon the past. To all the custodians of the memory hole one can say, 'Who acts in the present controls the future. Who manufactures fantasy becomes the past.'

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Religious War: East and West

The underground diplomats at the New Sisyphus make an eloquent case for listening to those who want to kill us, something which the Munich generation neglected to do to Adolph Hitler.

One of the most common observations about World War II was that if only Western leaders had heeded what the National Socialist Worker's Party and its leader Adolf Hitler were saying, they would have known of the grave danger facing the world. After all, it's not as if the Nazi Party or its frenzied Fuhrer tried to hide what they were about.  On the contrary, in speech after speech, newspaper after newspaper and book after book, Hitler and other senior Nazis laid out in some detail their plans for European domination, the destruction of parliamentary democracy and the elimination of the Jewish people.

But when we ourselves have supplied the rationale for our own condemnation then listening to the indictments of the enemy is a waste of time. To the question 'why does Bin Laden hate us', there are those who unhelpfully suggest that we ask Bin Laden. Besides being unacceptable it is also unnecessary because some already know why we should be hated. There is no need to listen further. The New Sisyphus observes that while there are two competing explanations for Islamic extremism, only one explanation is provided by the Islamic extremists themselves.

The first group, the "Muslim Rage School," believes that the source of Islamic Terrorism is the wide-spread anger in the Muslim world directed at the West and at Israel. For partisans of this school, US policy towards Israel and the Palestinians, US support for despotic Middle Eastern regimes, Western economic outperformance of the Muslim world and anger towards US responses to the 9/11 Attacks, all add up to one thing: a seething mass of justifiable rage that presents itself, though a minority of those affected, as radical Islamic Terrorism.  ... As a rule, this school's policy preference for defeating Islamic Terrorism is to reduce the generators of the anger. Thus, the US must bring and end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, atone for past actions against the Muslim world, and generally radically change its long-standing foreign policy towards the Middle East. Only then will there be peace. ...

The second school of thought, the Clash of Civilizations School, argues that the source of Islamic Terrorism is the Muslim world's seething hatred of the fundamental values of the West, and, since the U.S. is the standard-bearer for the West at the moment, especially those of the United States. Adherents of this school, like Victor Hanson and most neo-conservative thinkers, argue that the value system of modern Islam produces a culture that is violently at odds with Western values and, because of this, it wages asymmetric war against the West when and where it can.

What is surprising is that Abu Musab Zarqawi categorically belongs to the second school, which holds that America is to be destroyed for what it is. In an audiotape released on January 23, 2005, Zarqawi puts forth a view which he has repeated many times in the past, but which, like Mein Kampf, some are determined never to hear. In the audio Zarqawi cursed democracy because it promoted such un-Islamic behavior as freedom of religion, rule of the people, freedom of expression, separation of religion and state, forming political parties and majority rule. Freedom of speech was particularly evil because it allowed "even cursing God. This means that there is nothing sacred in democracy."

While these are not the only reasons for extremist Islamic hatred, clearly if the fundamental characteristics of American society are sufficient to mark it for destruction, then nothing will deflect the hatred of the enemy. But Joe Katzman at Winds of Change argues that to some extent, the facts don't matter, because the public debate over the War on Terror within the West is in many respects as twisted as Zarqawi's. The debate, Katzman says, is dominated by activists who are incapable of seeing anything outside the prism of their own fantasies.

Al Qaeda may not be the only ones out there with a fantasy ideology ... If you see activism as the default mode of politics, goes this thesis, you shouldn't be surprised when it leads to anti-intellectualism, tolerance of extremists, retreat into fantasy, and a self-defeating kind of partisanship designed to make people feel better about themselves rather than produce meaningful change. ... There's a strongly religious quality to a lot of supposedly secular activism, in part due to the baby boomers' cultivated sense of grandiosity.

Katzman uses Lee Harris to illustrate how people saw what they wanted in the September 11 attacks, as if it were a giant Rorschach test. Harris knew it would never be regarded as anything so simple as widebodied airliners killing thousands of people.

I would like to pursue a line suggested by a remark by the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in reference to 9-11: his much-quoted comment that it was “the greatest work of art of all time.” ... Stockhausen did grasp one big truth: 9-11 was the enactment of a fantasy -- not an artistic fantasy, to be sure, but a fantasy nonetheless.

Visions like Stockhausen's arose from a particular form of secular religious exaltation, one that had nothing to do with practical politics. In striving to explain it, Harris recalled an argument with a friend during his Vietnam protest days over whether it made sense for demonstrators to block a commuter bridge and alienate the public.

My friend did not disagree with me as to the likely counterproductive effects of such a demonstration. Instead, he argued that this simply did not matter. His answer was that even if it was counterproductive, even if it turned people against war protesters, indeed even if it made them more likely to support the continuation of the war, he would still participate in the demonstration and he would do so for one simple reason -- because it was, in his words, good for his soul. What I saw as a political act was not, for my friend, any such thing. It was not aimed at altering the minds of other people or persuading them to act differently. Its whole point was what it did for him.

And what it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy -- a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view -- for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy.

Katzman shrewdly points out that "The Right is not immune to this kind of 'activism as ritual worship'", though he suggests that what we are really worshipping is ourselves.

it seems that my generation is an extraordinary mixture of greatness and narcissism, and that strange amalgam has affected almost everything we do. We don't seem content to simply have a fine new idea, we must have the new paradigm that will herald one of the greatest transformations in the history of the world. We don;t really want to just recycle bottles and paper; we need to see ourrselves dramatically saving the planet and saving Gaia and resurrecting the Goddess that previous generations had brutally repressed but we will finally liberate.... We need to see ourselves as the vanguard of something unprecedented in all history: the extraordinarywonder of being us.

Bin Laden's vision of  a Global Caliphate and the Left's Worker's Paradise have found a worthy foe in President Bush's campaign to bring freedom to the world. Perhaps we should have expected that the new century would resurrect the eternal questions. Fyodor Dostoevsky wound have understood the Boomers.

"Answer: why have we met here? To talk of my love for Katerina Ivanovna, of the old man and Dmitri? of foreign travel? of the fatal position of Russia? of the Emperor Napoleon? Is that it?"


"Then you know what for. It's different for other people; but we in our green youth have to settle the eternal questions first of all. That's what we care about. Young Russia is talking about nothing but the eternal questions now; just when the old folks are all taken up with practical questions. ... Of the eternal questions, of the existence of God and immortality. And those who do not believe in God talk of socialism or anarchism, of the transformation of all humanity on a new pattern, so that it all comes to the same, they're the same questions turned inside out. And masses, masses of the most original Russian boys do nothing but talk of the eternal questions! Isn't it so?"

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Kissinger-Schultz Article 2

The consequences of having to include the base of the Sunni insurgency in the political process yet get on with the process of building a unitary Iraq were highlighted in this PBS Online Newshour transcript (hat tip: Glenn Reynolds). On opposite sides of the discussion were Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institute and Brett McGurk, late of the CPA and one of the men who helped draft the legal framework under which the elections are taking place.

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, Ray, I think Jeffrey Gettleman had it very well analyzed when he said that we'll probably see a very high turnout in most of the Kurdish constituencies and the Shiite constituencies in the South and probably a very low turnout in most of the Sunni constituencies and in al-Anbar Province and Salahadeen Province and elsewhere. And this is going to create an enormous imbalance in representation among groups in Iraq. And then the question will be: How do you correct, after the election, for a system in which the Sunnis may represent 15 to 20 percent of the population but may have only been able to elect perhaps 3 to 5 percent of the seats in parliament.

BRETT McGURK: I think it's fair to assume that there will be a lower turnout in some of those Sunni-dominated provinces because of the violence and intimidation tactics. But I do think it's important to stress and the report earlier said that the administration is starting to stress the process - but it's not just the administration. ... And what I tried to explain in an op-ed in the Washington Post about a week ago is that there are ample institutional mechanisms in place for inclusion of Sunni groups post election the way the three-member presidency council will be formed, each member must receive super majority votes from within the national assembly.

LARRY DIAMOND: I think the fixes that Brett is talking about will be important but inadequate. ... One of the concerns I think of many Sunni political forces -- some of them which are clearly democratic and civic-minded forces -- is that the Sunnis who are now being disenfranchised potentially in this election be able to choose their own representatives.

McGurk went on to explain that the current electoral process was agreed to by the UN. But Diamond was not persuaded that the elections would constitute an adequate framework within which to select representatives who would build the national framework for Iraq. He plumped for an extra-electoral process, or at least a supplementary one:

I think there will need to be a national conference or dialogue, Ray, in which they bring in the wide range of Sunni groups that met in Tikrit late in December and have formed a coalition and elected a leadership and think about amending the constitution to provide for supplementary election of some number of seats either indirectly or directly from the provinces if their proportion of the turnout is much, much less than in other sections of the country.

But if the fear of a 'Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean' and the policy need to maintain a unitary Iraq by accommodating the minority Sunnis is allowed to repeatedly veto the efforts of those who, after all, have agreed to participate in the American-sponsored process, then the precise thing that Kissinger and Schultz fear may emerge from the frustrations of the opposite quarter. The only thing worse than Sunni disaffection is a Shi'ite and Kurdish belief that they have been betrayed. The storm petrels are already flying. Reuters reports:

An Iraqi Arab party based in Kirkuk said on Monday it was boycotting Jan. 30 polls because thousands of Kurdish refugees would be allowed to vote, reigniting a row over the election in the northern city. The United Arab Front said it would not participate in the national polls and Kirkuk provincial elections scheduled on the same day because around 70,000 Iraqi Kurds who have returned to the area in recent months were being allowed to vote in Kirkuk. ...

The question of who should be allowed to vote in Kirkuk, a strategic oil city with an uneasy ethnic mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, has caused bitter arguments ahead of the polls. Many Kurds regard the city as part of their territory in northern Iraq. But during his rule Saddam Hussein pursued an "Arabisation" policy in the city, displacing Kurds and moving thousands of Arabs there from other parts of Iraq. Kurdish parties had initially threatened to boycott the polls unless returning Kurdish refugees were allowed to vote in Kirkuk. They later said they would take part in the elections after receiving assurances that Kurds could vote there, but that has angered the city's large Arab and Turkmen communities.

The Kissinger-Schultz Article

An article jointly authored by Henry Kissinger and George Schultz in the Washington Post entitled Results, Not Timetables, Matter in Iraq argues that a definite timetable for an American withdrawal in Iraq is not as important as the attainment of a definite goal which represents success. They argue that it is the achievement of the goal which is vital.

A precipitate American withdrawal would be almost certain to cause a civil war that would dwarf Yugoslavia's, and it would be compounded as neighbors escalated their current involvement into full-scale intervention. ... We owe it to ourselves to become clear about what post-election outcome is compatible with our values and global security.

Much of the article focuses on the what they believe to be the desirable endpoint of the political process, of which the elections on January 30 are but a part. Their recommendations implicitly assume that Iraq must be preserved as a multiethnic, unitary state. Kissinger and Schultz believe that the minimum outcome should be:

The Constituent Assembly emerging from the elections will be sovereign to some extent. But the United States' continuing leverage should be focused on four key objectives:

(1) to prevent any group from using the political process to establish the kind of dominance previously enjoyed by the Sunnis;
(2) to prevent any areas from slipping into Taliban conditions as havens and recruitment centers for terrorists;
(3) to keep Shiite government from turning into a theocracy, Iranian or indigenous;
(4) to leave scope for regional autonomy within the Iraqi democratic process.

The article repeatedly warns against letting the almost foregone Shi'ite majority ride roughshod over the Sunnis, however bitter their memories; however brutal the campaign by "insurgents" against them has been. The one thing that must never be permitted, in Kissinger and Schultz's view is "a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean"

The reaction to intransigent Sunni brutality and the relative Shiite quiet must not tempt us into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shiite rule. The American experience with Shiite theocracy in Iran since 1979 does not inspire confidence in our ability to forecast Shiite evolution or the prospects of a Shiite-dominated bloc extending to the Mediterranean. A thoughtful American policy will not mortgage itself to one side in a religious conflict fervently conducted for 1,000 years.

This proposition should be read in conjunction with Gerecht's The Islamic Paradox, who observed that a Shi'ite dominated Iraq is not necessarily the same as a clerically dominated Iraq, which must certainly be Kissinger and Schultz's meaning for their injunction to make any sense at all, for Iraq by ethnic composition will be Shi'ite dominated by definition. Gerecht wrote:

So, is there a Sunni parallel to the political evolution among the Shiites? Inside Iraq, it is easy to find Arab Sunnis who want to see democracy triumph. If for no other reason, fear of a Shiite dictatorship appears to inspire a certain Sunni willingness to embrace some kind of a democratic order. ... Given the widespread Sunni-led violence in Iraq, particularly among the hard-core takfiri fundamentalists, we can lose sight of the fact that the Sunnis will still likely follow the Shiite lead, however reluctantly. ... Arab Sunnis today realize they are vastly outnumbered by “the other side.” ... Even if Sistani dies, the Hawza will remain a more influential force than any association of Sunni clerics. And both Arab Sunnis and Shiites regularly remark about the lack of revenge killing since the fall of Saddam Hussein even though the pursuit of revenge (intiqam) for perceived wrongs is a leitmotif of Iraqi Arab culture. ...

The Kissinger-Schultz requirement to keep the Sunnis in play, no matter how they may subject themselves to old Ba'athist influences creates a problem for the counterinsurgency strategy, especially if has to be addressed within the requirement of preserving a unitary Iraq. Kissinger and Schultz say:

It is axiomatic that guerrillas win if they do not lose. And in Iraq the guerrillas are not losing, at least not in the Sunni region, at least not visibly. A successful strategy needs to answer these questions: Are we waging "one war" in which military and political efforts are mutually reinforcing? ... Do we have a policy for eliminating the sanctuaries in Syria and Iran from which the enemy can be instructed, supplied, and given refuge and time to regroup?

Here lies the core of the problem. The policy of keeping the Sunnis within Iraq at all costs in conjunction with the Kissingerian imperative that the insurgency be 'defeated', not merely contained,  sets up a potential contradiction, one that Gerecht has already foreseen. Unless the Ba'athists and their backers in Syria are to be implictly given veto power over the birth of a democratic Iraq, either the risk of widening the war, or decisive closure, even if it means partition, must be accepted.

But democracy in the Middle East obviously does not rise or fall on the participation of Iraqi Sunnis. The principal question is then whether Sunni Islam writ large is able to embrace a democratic ethic? Democracy could triumph in Iraq because the Iraqi Shiite community wills it, but if representative government does not spread to the Sunni nation-states, where 85 to 90 percent of all Muslims live, then the nexus between dictatorship and Islamic extremism is little changed.

Yet despite these remaining questions, the Kissinger-Schultz article indicates that the post-Saddam regime is already fait accompli. That is already a sign of strategic success. It is far from clear the proposition that "guerrillas win if they do not lose" is a valid axiom. There are hundreds of guerilla groups throughout the world that will never 'lose' yet we never hear of them, perhaps in part because the press does not care about them. Yet  Kissinger and Schultz are undoubtedly correct in maintaining that the only way forward is through success and not via some arbitrarily selected date on the calendar.

Monday, January 24, 2005

A Leap in the Dark

Ruel Marc Gerecht's book The Islamic Paradox (hat tip: reader DL) argues that America must nerve itself to spreading democracy in the Islamic world even though it will probably result in the emergence of anti-American governments largely hostile to Israel.

... the march of democracy in the Middle East is likely to be very anti-American. Decades of American support to Middle Eastern dictators helped create bin Ladenism. Popular anger at Washington’s past actions may not fade quickly, even if the United States were to switch sides and defend openly all the parties calling for representative government. Nationalism and fundamentalism, two complementary forces throughout most of the Middle East, will likely pump up popular patriotism. Such feelings always have a sharp anti-Western edge to them. That is what Professor Lewis called “the clash of civilizations.”64 Fourteen hundred years of tense, competitive history is not easily overcome, but this antagonism can diminish.

Gerecht's book is a fascinating look at the evolution of American political policy in Iraq, centering on the CPA's slow discovery that Westernized intellectuals -- the sort policymakers and the press love -- represented nothing in the way of popular sentiment. He recounts how attempts to create a new Iraqi democratic framework based on caucuses foundered on the rock of Islamic structures, which -- and this is the crux of his argument -- had been slowly becoming democratic themselves in reaction to Middle Eastern dictatorships. Nothing short of elections at which the various Islamic structures could run as political parties would do. The result was that the while the January 30 Iraqi elections became the genuine goal of the majority of the people of Iraq, the form of government which it is likely to produce may bear little resemblance to previous conceptions of democracy.

Gerecht relentlessly points out how Khomeini's Iran eventually became the most pro-American country in the region, free of the anti-Americanism of Cairo simply because the Iranians were left to discover for themselves that the 'Koran did not hold all the answers'; at least, not to fixing potholes or delivering electricity. He constrasts it to the elder Bush's decision to support the military junta in Algeria against fundamentalist Islamists, who would by now be discredited or just another party had they been allowed to take over the reins of government. "Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Edward Djerejian’s famous defense of the first Bush administration’s fear of Islamic extremism -- 'one man, one vote, one time'-- defined clearly Washington’s discomfort with the possibility that free elections could empower Muslim fundamentalists, who could be zealously anti-American and ultimately antidemocratic." That was a mistake, he believes, which George W. Bush is unlikely to repeat. Written before the November elections, the book's main concern was that a Kerry victory would result in a 'quick withdrawal strategy'; a return to the traditional preference for short-term 'stability' over a long-term commitment to democracy.

Only a quick-withdrawal policy advanced by a determined Kerry administration, admittedly a possibility given Senator Kerry’s deep-rooted Vietnam-era sensibilities, could shatter American perseverance. But Kerry would run against the 9/11 understanding widely held, if not publicly confessed to, by many of the Clintonites who would staff his administration. They know that running from Iraq—by declaring a victory over Saddam Hussein and getting out—would be seen throughout the Muslim Middle East as an enormous defeat for the United States. Bin Ladenism, which psychologically kicked into high gear after President Clinton’s “Black Hawk Down” retreat from Somalia, could be supercharged by a rapid American departure.

Although Gerecht doesn't say directly, the key factor which enables America to confidently face democratic regimes of all sorts, even the kinds that are anti-American, is the availablity of raw power, the kind which permits it to deal with skeptical and even hostile Shi'ite clerics in Iraq today. The kind of power that became available once the Soviet Union had rotted away, plus the will in Washington to exercise it. That power, plus the natural divisions in the Islamic world, has made America simply too big not to deal with.

"We need the Americans, but the Americans need us. Democracy in the Middle East will not be possible without us," quietly intoned Sayyid Ali al-Wa’iz, a senior Shiite cleric of Baghdad’s Kadhimayn shrine, one of the holiest in Iraq. Dressed in white, weak, if not dying, from twenty-three years of detention, the son and grandson of grand ayatollahs, al-Wa’iz smiled softly as he tried to sit up in his bed. "We don’t want to repeat the revolution of 1920 [when Shiite clerics rose against the British occupation]. We want democracy this time and we want the coalition troops to go home safely."

This kind of commitment to the outcomes of  the democratic process, even if they are unwelcome, represents a very considerable risk. Unnoticed in Peggy Noonan's critique of President George W. Bush's Second Inaugural Speech as having 'too much God' was the fact that it invoked a wholly different paradigm from Ronald Reagan's City on a Hill. Bush's peroration did not come from Winthrop, but from the Declaration of Independence. Reagan had asked:

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

But as the shining city stood, so too would the outer dark continue to enfold it. In Winthrop's original formulation, America was condemned to be a City on a Hill; forced to keep the fires lit against the night. "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses . . ." On the day the light failed, other, dark spirits would alight beneath the extinguished torch. But the Declaration of Independence contained a new element; the suggestion that the flame could not be contained, because all men could be kindled by it. Logically it was the flame, not the torch of liberty, that was invincible; that once released could not be restrained. The light would go to the nations, until the darkness was no more. It was an altogether more dangerous proposition. There were hints in Bush's Second Inaugural Speech that he understood or at least had thought about the sheer hazard of it.

Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way. ...

... Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it.

... We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the author of Liberty.

When the Declaration of Independence was first read in public and the Liberty Bell was sounded in celebration, a witness said, "It rang as if it meant something." In our time it means something still. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof. Renewed in our strength tested, but not weary we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.

Actual foreign policy is unlikely to be formed in such absolutist terms. The usual considerations of national security and commercial gain will probably play a large part in concrete decision making. But unless the 'proclamation of liberty throughout all the world' is wholly rhetorical, it undoubtedly represents a step into uncharted paths.


Interested readers may want to read this closely related piece by Victor Davis Hanson in Commentary Magazine entitled Has Iraq Weakened Us?  Hanson argues that Iraq has opened up new strategic opportunities. (Hat tip: Powerline)

There are lessons here for those who claim that American flexibility has become increasingly constricted and American choices all but foreclosed. In fact, as Iraq comes slowly under control, the opposite prognosis is at least as likely to be the case. Precisely because of proven American resolve in Iraq, the United States now commands both military and diplomatic options -- well short of another Iraq-style invasion -- that were not at its disposal previously. ...

The U.S. might, to begin with, pressure the UN Security Council to go beyond its recent call for Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon by demanding internationally supervised elections, to follow immediately upon the departure of the Baathists. ... Other equally bold diplomatic initiatives could be undertaken, their credibility similarly enhanced by the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. For example, the present Middle-East-aid policy of the United States is a relic both of the cold war (pump oil and keep out Communists) and the 1979 Camp David agreements (subsidize Egypt). Such short-term measures, carrying the odor of entreaty if not of bribery, hardly reflect our current aim of promoting consensual government. With both Saddam and the Soviets gone, granting weapons and money to the regime in Cairo—nearly $50 billion since 1979—is becoming counterproductive. What advantages the United States receives in “moderation” is overshadowed by the venomous anti-Americanism that is the daily fare of millions of Egyptians, whipped up and manipulated by state-sponsored clerics and media.

One may argue that VDH is making a virtue out of a necessity, that however one slices it, a commitment in Iraq soaks up troops that prevent deployments elsewhere. Chester explores this issue at length in a comprehensive review of Mark Helprin's growing criticism that the Bush Administration has not fully mobilized America's military resources to provide it with the margin of strength necessary to pursue its strategic goals. Chester calls it a 'conservative critique of the war'. An excerpt from Helprin says:

From the beginning, the scale of the war was based on the fundamental strategic misconception that the primary objective was Iraq rather than the imagination of the Arab World, which, if sufficiently stunned, would tip itself back into the heretofore easily induced fatalism that makes it hesitate to war against the West. After the true shock and awe of a campaign of massive surplus, as in the Gulf War, no regime would have risked its survival by failing to go after the terrorists within its purview. But a campaign of bare sufficiency, that had trouble punching through even ragtag irregulars, taught the Arabs that we could be effectively opposed.

But Helprin's accusation that the Bush strategy suffers from the "fundamental strategic misconception that the primary objective was Iraq rather than the imagination of the Arab World" is immediately denied -- I will not say refuted -- by Gerecht, who sees the emergence of an Arab and democratic Shi'ite-dominated state as a fundamental shift in the political foundations of the entire region, if not to very currents of Islam itself. While Helprin may well be right about US defense being underfunded, it is at least worth considering whether the approach of establishing a democratic process in Iraq is not at least as strategically imaginative as the implied alternative of serially conquering of Syria and Iran; or at least threatening to.

It seems clear at least, that Abu Musab "Z-Man" Zarqawi considers the elections an existential threat, which he would not have done had they been an irrelevancy and a dead end. Austin Bay writes:

Z-Man’s been suckered. Z-Man is the troops’ nickname for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s jefe in Iraq. Z-Man has declared a “fierce war” on democracy. Z’s taken Bush’s bait -- except the President's “bait” of promoting democracy and declaring war on tyranny and 0ppression isn’t mere bait, it’s essential American values. ...

The media and blogosphere have been focusing on the philosophical and theoretical elements of Bush’s speech and America’s “democracy on the offensive” strategy. But the strategy seeks to address a very concrete issue: “technological compression.” Technological compression is a fact of 21st century existence–and it is the superglue bonding American foreign policy idealism and foreign policy pragmatism. I think my Weekly Standard article of January 3, 2005 frames it accurately: “Technology has compressed the planet, with positive effects in communication, trade, and transportation; with horrifyingly negative effects in weaponry. Decades ago, radio, phone cables on the seabed, long-range aircraft, and then nuclear weapons shrunk the oceans. September 11 demonstrated that religious killers could turn domestic jumbo jets into strategic bombers -- and the oceans were no obstacles. “Technological compression” is a fact; it cannot be reversed. To deny it or ignore it has deadly consequences.”

And it is because technology has compressed the planet that events in Iraq escape the bounds of locality and have a bearing on the entire region. Clearly, the debate over the grand strategy in Iraq is far from settled, but there are no arrogant ignoramuses on either side.

(Trivia. The word "Z-Man" is a relic from a 1960s movie entitled Beyond the Valley of the Dolls written by none other than the Roger Ebert. The age of the movie is given away by the fact that Z-Man is terrifyingly revealed to be a transvestite before the final scene, a development which would have earned Ebert condemnation from the European Union or some such today.)


Neil Prakash, AKA blogger Armor Geddon and a 1ID Armor Officer, won the Silver Star for his actions in Baquba, Iraq. These are extracts from his profile on Blogger.

Liverpool H.S. '98
Johns Hopkins '02 Neuroscience
Armor OBC Grad '03
Ranger School Grad '03
Currently enrolled in School of Hard Knocks

An account of the action from an obviously proud Indian community may be found in The Times of India. In part it reads:

Although unable to rotate the turret, Prakash continued in the lead, navigating with a map and manoeuvring his tank in order to continue engaging the enemy with the main weapon system and his .50 calibre machine-gun. He watched as men on rooftops sprayed down at his tank with machine-guns and small arms. "I just remember thinking, 'I hope these bullets don't go in this one inch of space,'" said Prakash. "Looking out the hatch, I'm spraying guys and they're just falling. They would just drop - no blood, no nothing. We just kept rolling, getting shot at from everywhere."

By battle's end, the platoon was responsible for 25 confirmed destroyed enemy and an estimated 50 to 60 additional destroyed enemy personnel, the US Army said. Prakash was personally credited with the destruction of eight enemy strong-points, one enemy re-supply vehicle, and multiple enemy dismounts. ...

Prakash, who comes from a family of doctors (his mother, father and older brother are all physicians) was set to follow in their footsteps at Johns Hopkins when he attended an orientation course for reserves. He was awed by a stylish colonel in a Stetson and spurs and resolved to join the forces. Although born in India and maintaining strong ties to the Indian community, he was raised in Syracuse, New York, in what he says is a very patriotic American household.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Demon in the Dark

The Buzz Machine is posting live from a conference on blogging at Harvard. I've left the typos in and excerpted a few lines. One eye catching exchange goes as follows:

: Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says that a few years ago, nobody could have predicted that a bunch of unpaid citizens could replace the Encyclopedia Brittanica with its budget of $350 million but it happened. He said that the business model of The New York Times is not sustainable. Abramson shudders, of course. Kaplan said Wales doesn't know what he's talking about; he has not been in a place like Baghdad and does not know the dififculty of getting information there and does not know how the existing system can be replaced.

:Hinderaker goes back to Bill Mitchell's question from his presentation, in which he asked what tool we need to help build trust. Hinderaker says it would help to show us the material behind the story. The attitude bloggers have is -- via the link: "See for yourself. Don't take our word for it."

Then somewhat later.

: Jill Abramson, an editor at the NY Times, and Dave Winer, get kerfluffling together and I can't summarize it well. But I entered in when she went on about the expense of keeping journalists in Iraq -- which is true and for which we are grateful. But I started telling the story of Zeyad taking his camera to cover an antiterrorism demonstration last December that The Times didn't cover. As soon as I mention it, Abramson starts shaking her head and looking away.

: Abramson said that it is "completely contrary" to the histyry and standards of The Times to run content that they do not vet.

I would have given anything to have asked whether Abramson of the Times preferred an unidentified AP stringer taking pictures of Iraqi election workers being executed on Haifa Street over Zeyad, and why. But that would have been churlish, and I must admit, intellectually shallow. The really interesting question was posed by Jimbo Wales. The engine that enabled Wikipedia to overtake Brittanica at the encyclopedia game was self-evidently a powerful one; a phenomenon, which I am tempted to surmise may structurally resemble asymmetrical warfare. Abramson shuddered and well she should. But at what? What was out there in the dark about which these conference participants are talking? It is a something that has already swallowed Brittanica. No one is quite sure what it is, but everyone should be quite certain that it will strike again.

The Lost Elections 3

The Washington Post report on Iraqi elections is unlikely to convince those who regard it as 'illegitimate' otherwise because the polling results on which the story is based were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

BAGHDAD, Jan. 20 -- An overwhelming majority of Iraqis continue to say they intend to vote on Jan. 30 even as insurgents press attacks aimed at rendering the elections a failure, according to a new public opinion survey. The poll, conducted in late December and early January for the International Republican Institute, found 80 percent of respondents saying they were likely to vote, a rate that has held roughly steady for months.

"Despite the efforts of the terrorists, Iraqis remain committed to casting their vote on election day," IRI President Lorne Craner said in a statement. The organization, which is funded by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Agency for International Development, commissioned the poll, which surveyed 1,900 Iraqis in all but two of the country's 18 provinces. Poor security made two in the far north, Nineveh and Dohuk, inaccessible. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wouldn't the only way of verifying the poll predictions be to hold the elections? That would assume the existence of compelling objective arguments which still persuade both sides of the current debate over the War on Terror. Peggy Noonan is afraid that the time of argument is over; positions have become an article of religious faith. In an article entitled Too Much God, Noonan says:

The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.

The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. This president, who has been accused of giving too much attention to religious imagery and religious thought, has not let the criticism enter him. God was invoked relentlessly. "The Author of Liberty." "God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind . . . the longing of the soul." It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission.

The Left has been on a mission for a long time; what alarms them and even some conservatives is that they may have conjured up their own mirror image on the Right. This is less an intellectual development than an emotional one. Wars do not alter the underlying causes of conflict, but they fundamentally sharpen the attitudes of those who fight them to the point where the ultimate goal of the struggle becomes victory itself. The armies of the First World War could not bring themselves to retreat from strategically insignificant ground simply because they had paid so much in blood for it. They had to keep or declare it was not worth the price. You could not break the faith on Flanders Fields. The intractability of modern Leftism is the understandable result of the defeat they have endured in recent years. But until recently large parts of Conservatism exuded the easy air of the Reagan years, and answered in the part-humorous, part-taunt of P. J. O'Rourke. But the grim struggle with domestic Liberalism and foreign terror has left its mark. "Man, I look old" President Bush was reported to have said when he saw his photo on the cover of Time Magazine.

Whatever the War on Terror is, it is a duel to the death. A glance at Juan Cole's website -- which is a reliable thermometer of Leftist temper -- is a case in point. It should be the website of a respectable academic but it's a shrine to half-forgotten causes and a casket of exorcisms against half-apprehended devils. To illustrate the right of peaceful assembly he has a photo of flag-draped military caskets being shipped home. To illustrate the the 8th Amendment he has an Abu Ghraib photo. Noonan worries about religion. So do I, coming upon a room of stubbed out and smoked ideas. As for the elections, Cole says they are a joke, and it is doubtful if any poll would persuade him otherwise.

"These elections are a joke," said Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan. "The Bush administration has created the worst possible advertisement for democracy because the perception across the Middle East is that democracy means you get a country where everything is out of control," he said.

If so, he is the only one laughing, though maybe we all did once, and I forget whether that's a promise or a threat.