July 19, 2004

Bush's Record on Terror: As Gloomy as Drum Portrays?

Kevin Drum's point about "silly rhetorical jousting" is fair enough.

So let's turn straight to the substance of his post.

Here's Kevin's synopsis of Bush's record (his language in italics):

"By dedicating too few troops to Afghanistan in 2002, he [Bush] allowed Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda to escape. They are still on the run, and al-Qaeda is by all accounts larger and more dangerous now than they were on 9/11."

That's one way to look at it--but I fear it's not a judicious view.

Put differently, it is at least debatable whether al-Qaeda's operational capabilities are stronger today than they were on 9/11.

Here's one take from Jason Burke, author of Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror:

The military component of the war on terrorism has had some significant success. A high proportion of those who associated with bin Laden between 1996 and 2001 are now either dead or in prison. Bin Laden's own ability to commission and instigate terror attacks has been severely curtailed. Enhanced cooperation between intelligence organizations around the world and increased security budgets have made it much harder for terrorists to move their funds across borders or to successfully organize and execute attacks.

And, of course, al-Q has been denied their state-sanctioned home-base in Afghanistan.

Now, of course, there was the IISS report that indicated Iraq had contributed to al-Q potentially being able to recruit more easily.

Until American-backed forces toppled the government in Afghanistan, a few months after the September 11th attacks, the country’s Islamist regime, the Taliban, had played host to al-Qaeda and its terrorist training camps. The regime change in Afghanistan, and the capture or killing of around half of al-Qaeda’s 30 most senior figures, severely constrained the group’s operations. However, the IISS’s annual Strategic Survey reckons that al-Qaeda still has more than 18,000 “graduates” of the terror camps it can call on—and its recruitment has accelerated as a result of the invasion of Iraq. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has apparently continued to evade America’s attempts to catch him. He and his henchmen are currently believed to be hiding on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border or in Pakistani cities.

But really, what empirical evidence do we have that legions of the previously uncommitted have joined the al-Qaeda network specifically as a result of our intervention in Iraq?

Little, finally.

Regardless, the number of such persons has probably already peaked. And, especially now with the sovereignty handover accomplished, is now likely diminishing.

And how can we be so sure, say, that a Gore administration would have nabbed and/or killed half of al-Qs senior figures by now?

Smart money, I'd wager, would have the Bush Adminstration likely more successful on this front (fewer limitations on military and other covert actions based on relative perceptions of the legal constraints and/or concerns of allies).

All told, here is probably one of the fairest appraisals I've seen to date re: whether al-Q is stronger or weaker of late:

Ultimately, the debate about Al Qaeda’s current status centers on the important question of whether it is growing or declining in strength. In the wake of the Afghanistan and Iraq military campaigns, when the predicted terrorist attacks on the United States and its interests did not materialize, what is the current level of threat to the United States? Most believe that the denial of safe havens and arrests of senior leaders have seriously crippled the organization when judged by its earlier form. However, it may be evolving into something new.

For terrorist groups, periods of evolution can be particularly dangerous. Organizations in transition can be especially vulnerable to disruption and destruction, but they can also be less predictable and prone to lash out in order to cause additional damage, rally flagging supporters, and/or prove their continuing viability. With respect to Al Qaeda, evidence of new sophisticated operations, a possible succession plan in action, central coordination of attacks, and growing international ties, all increasingly converging on a common international agenda hostile to the United States and its allies, may give U.S. officials new reason for concern. In the short term at least, even successes in counterterrorist operations against a more decentralized organization can lead to greater difficulty in collecting reliable intelligence, as the paths of communication are increasingly unfamiliar, the personalities are changing,and the locations of operatives are more diffuse. While the long term trajectory is very difficult to assess, for the time being it seems that Al Qaeda (or its successors) has emerged from a period of inactivity and remains a very serious threat, requiring concentrated attention and vigorous countermeasures on the part of its prospective targets.

So yes, with much of its senior leadership decapitated--al-Q is, much like a cornered animal--likelier to lash out in more unpredictable fashion.

And, of course, without their relatively safe homebase --al-Qaeda will become increasingly decentralized--so harder to detect sometimes.

New leaders, heretofore unknown, are emerging.

But can one fairly hold this against Bush?

It was, of course, a no-brainer to go into Afghanistan--despite the very real risk that some al-Qaeda fighters would escape and scatter. And that al-Qaeda would, post any Afghanistan campaign, begin to morph into something more decentralized and 'affiliate' like.

It should be noted too, Kevin exaggerates that "much of al-Qaeda" (I presume he means the leaders) have escaped.

As the passages quoted above showcase--UBL and his No. 2 notwithstanding--at least half of these high value al-Q terrorists are dead or in custody (including KSM, the mastermind of 9/11).

Drum and his readers will cry--Tora Bora! How did buffoonish Bush let him get away!

But, deep down, I wonder if they believe an Al Gore military operation in Afghanistan would have been more robust in terms of boots on the ground and chasing the enemy through the hinterlands of southeastern Afghanistan.

The answer, very probably, is no.

Bottom line: Bush's record on al-Q is significantly better than Kevin portrays.

Kevin: "In the past three years he has done nothing to reform an intelligence community that is widely agreed to be fatally broken."

Mostly true.

But better late than never?

Realize too, amidst all the heated talk about "intelligence reform" (as if one just waves a wand and, voila, it's done)--that it's a pretty complicated affair to systematically reform the way we conduct our intelligence.

Here's more worth reading if you're curious.

All told however, given our dismal intel failures, some serious heavy lifting has to be accomplished in this area.

And soon.

But Kevin, what would Kerry, very specifically, do in this area that you are so excited about?

Appoint a 'czar' or such?

Kevin: "Postwar planning for Iraq was criminally negligent. The result has been chaos, troop overstretch, a violent and growing insurgency, and an increasingly safe haven for terrorist camps."

This is where I agree the most with Kevin--the postwar planning and assumptions were disgracefully poor and/or overly optimistic.

And it wasn't just a case of hindsight being 20-20.

Drawing down the entire Iraqi Army was real dumb. Jacobin style calls for total de-Baathification were too fervent. Too few troops. Abu Ghraib. And so on.

But we have made significant headway of late containing the Sadr insurgency and the insurgency in the Sunni Triangle.

So I'm not as sure as Kevin is that the insurgency is "growing".

And is Iraq really an "increasingly safe haven for terrorist camps"?

Ask Zarqawi his views....I bet he feels like he's under some pretty significant pressure right now. Certainly he doesn't feel like he dwells in a "safe haven", no?

Regardless, the jury is still out on that Q.

Kevin: "He has refused to negotiate with North Korea, despite their clear desire to do a deal. As a result, North Korea is close to being able to mass produce atomic weapons".

Their "clear desire to do a deal"!?!


Pray tell more about all this 'let's make a deal' bonhomie emanating from Pyongyang?

This is a classic example of why I fear a Democratic foreign policy team in power.

Like Drum, they are often too generous about our adversaries real intentions.

And so are more likely to get bamboozled.

Remember, it's the Clinton administration that got snookered on the whole NoKo issue with the 1994 Agreed Framework deal.

There was much excitement, recall, about the Agreed Framework.

But there was a little problem with all the relief in the air--the North Koreans most likely never intended to honor the Agreement--as former Ambassador to South Korea James Laney argues here.

It was classically feckless Clintonian (Kerryesque?) foreign policy making.

Kick the problem down the road some.

Someone else will pick up the pieces.

Bonus: Poll numbers will go up because it looks like you solved a foreign policy crisis.

Note too that Washington's policy towards NoKo has often been more conciliatory than many like Drum claim...

Kevin: "Domestic security is a joke. Bush has shown little interest in funding serious port security, hardening of chemical and nuclear plants, or improving local police and fire response."

Hmmm. There is, to be sure, still much to do.

But if domestic security is such an out and out "joke"--why has there been not a single attack on the American homeland for almost three years now?

Just plain good luck? Of course not.

Many attacks have been averted due to this Administration's hard work.

Here's more.

More broadly, it is clear that America has become better at combating terror since September 11th. Intelligence agencies are communicating better with policymakers; new checks have been put in place at borders; and the country now has an almost single-minded focus on stopping attacks. So far it has worked: since September 11th, no large-scale terror attack has occurred on American soil. Many diplomatic dealings these days also revolve around terror. This week, America and Britain introduced a draft United Nations resolution that would compel member states to disrupt efforts by any group to transfer weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. And on Thursday March 25th, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, flew to Tripoli for a brief meeting with Muammar Qaddafi, in recognition of the Libyan dictator’s apparent renunciation of banned weapons and terrorism.

To be sure, I'll be picking up (like everyone else) my copy of Steve Flynn's America the Vulnerable...

There is much to do yet. But calling domestic security an out and out "joke" is just not fair.

So Bush's record is a bit better, isn't it, than Drum portrays?

More on the specific shortcomings of a prospective Kerry foreign policy soon.

UPDATE: Drezner has two excellent posts up well worth reading that are each somewhat related to the above post.

Posted by Gregory at July 19, 2004 06:55 PM

Re: Bush and Al-Q:

Have we taken proper revenge for 9-11, and are now simply seeking to prevent future murders, or

Has proper vengeance for 9-11 not been had?

Posted by: martin at July 19, 2004 07:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guess not. Look for another war if Bush wins in Nov.


Have no idea where we are going to get the troops unless we reinstate the draft.

Posted by: dennv at July 19, 2004 07:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Most informed analysts seem to believe that the war in Iraq has helped Al-Q gain legitimacy and support among muslims. Remember that we are talking about a miniscule number of individuals here - but by exploiting resentment and allying with local groups Al-Q was able to reinvent itself after the Afghanistan campaign.


See Also

This week Chris Reason spoke to Dr Rohan Gunaratna the head of Terrorism Research at Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies and the author of 'Inside al-Qaeda'. Dr Gunaratna was speaking at this week's Terrorism and National Security Conference in Sydney.

Chris Reason: We've been promised by the Bush government and the Howard government that the world would be a safer place, after the war on Iraq. Do you think that's the case?

Dr Rohan Gunaratna: The threat of terrorism has increased several folds after US invasion of Iraq. It is because the Muslim communities are angry and there's tremendous resentment and as a result of that we have seen the terrorist groups and extremist groups have been able to recruit and engineer support from the Muslim communities and in turn existing terrorist groups have grown bigger and several new groups are emerging in the post-Iraq environment.

Chris Reason: You raise an important point there because while some western leaders have talked about cutting the head off al-Qaeda and we know that many of the leaders have either been killed or captured in these last two years and yet it seems that the number of operatives, for example in somewhere like Spain, are huge… al-Qaeda is still very active and very organised.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna: Al-Qaeda which was a small group of 4000 members have know graduated and become umbrella organisation the post 9-11 al-Qaeda is working with about 40 different Islamist groups in Asia, Africa, Middle East and the Caucuses and al-Qaeda has become a force multi-player. Al-Qaeda is working with Jemaah Islamiah, al-Qaeda is working with al-Sirat al-Mustaqim in Morocco, al-Qaeda is working with al-ansae Mujaheddin in Chechnya, al-Qaeda is working with al-Ansar al-Islam in Iraq, so as a result of that al-Qaeda's power has grown significantly in the past two years. And today many of the local Islamic groups they are following al-Qaeda's mission and vision. For example in south-east Asia, the terrorist groups never did mass casualty attacks, never did suicide attacks never wanted to take a plane and crash it into a strategic target. But as a result of the JI-al-Qaeda link, today JI members are behaving like al-Qaeda members doing suicide attacks doing mass casualty attacks. So in many ways al-Qaeda has been able to infect these local groups with its ideology in the past two years.

Posted by: amoeba at July 19, 2004 08:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let's contrast the standards Greg is using for his judgments here.

For judging Bush's policies:

"But really, what empirical evidence do we have that legions of the previously uncommitted have joined the al-Qaeda network specifically as a result of our intervention in Iraq?"

For judging Kerry's or Gore's policies:

"But, deep down, I wonder if they believe an Al Gore military operation in Afghanistan would have been more robust in terms of boots on the ground and chasing the enemy through the hinterlands of southeastern Afghanistan.

The answer, very probably, is no."

Gosh, if you let me raise the bar to the highest legal standards of proof on one side of an argument, and simply accept my own "deep down" hunches on the other side, I could win just about any debate in the world.

Strikes me as kind of intellectually unserious, though.

Posted by: Swopa at July 19, 2004 08:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Picking up on amoeba's post, I think the very real danger is that we are reducing the space between the radical Islamists and the general Muslim population.

It's amazing to think, by the way, how much our success in Afghanistan was actually a blow to political Islam, as the worldwide call to jihad was met with stony silence. Then, we invaded Iraq with naive assumptions and a sorry plan. And so good policy badly executed has become bad policy.


Posted by: praktike at July 19, 2004 08:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Setting aside the alternate history of a Gore Presidency for a moment, I strongly suspect that no matter how many troops we sent into Afghanistan, UBL would have found a way to escape to the Northwestern Frontier States.

Critics of Bush on this point are simply talking out of their hindquarters. The Soviets sent in an invasion force of 110,000 Mechanized Rifle, Airborne, and Naval Infantry troops and they were never able to get a handle on Afghanistan. The entire U.S. Army in being wouldn't have been able to seal the Durand Line, not to mention watch the Iranian-Afghan frontier.

The entire front from the Khyber Pass to the Hindu Kush is a maze of thousands of smuggling trails that go back thousands of years. Each trail is dotted with small hamlets, villiages, towns, and of course, caves and river canyons. Bin Laden was always going to be able to escape. But that didn't stop Drum from posting this fatuous nonsense:

"By dedicating too few troops to Afghanistan in 2002, he allowed Osama bin Laden and much of al-Qaeda to escape. They are still on the run, and al-Qaeda is by all accounts larger and more dangerous now than they were on 9/11."

Drum is simply peddling bullshit, and he is doing so because he knows far more about the workings of the Democratic Party in Washington than he does about the movement of AQ in Afghanistan. Let us examine why Drum shouldn't have written what he wrote here.

There was a reason we went into Afghanistan "light". We intended to use the Northern Alliance troops to take most of the country. We did not go in heavy like the Red Army did because that would arouse enmity among the local Pathans, Uzbeks, Dari, and Punjabis. The last thing we wanted was for Afghanistan to become a hotbed of anti-American tribalism. So, we went in light, paid off everybody in sight (except Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), and rented an army for the campaign. We provided air support, the NA provided the bulk of the troops.

Drum doesn't understand; it was their country. And we have always kept a light footprint on the ground there for one reason; to assure the Afghans that we have no ambitions on their territory. We know what happened to the Brits and the Soviets, and we didn't want to make the same mistake. It does us no good to hunt for bin Laden in a country whose population has become hostile to us. The Afghans tolerate us there because we make it clear that we are chasing the Arabs, not them, and that when the bin Ladenists have been destroyed, we will go.

Drum is on firmer ground in his criticisms of the Iraqi reconstruction. Getting rid of the army was stupid, and I think that Bremer should get most of the blame for that. OTOH, Bremer did not have much of a choice. The Army hadn't been paid by Saddam for some time; many of the enlisted guys had vanished into the ether. He did much good in the time he was there, but I would have preferred that the Americans buy the Generals and the RG types. If they knew that they would have prominent, well paying positions in the new regime a lot of them would have thrown in with the GC.

Zarqawi would still have come, however.

The fact is; all too many of the president's critics engage in the polemics they do not out of a principled position, but out of partisanship. Unlike Gregory, I actually believe that Gore would have made just as robust a campaign against the Taliban as did Bush. Why? Gore is a politician, that's why. He would not have let the candy-ass wing of his party turn him into Jimmy Carter, not with the Republicans breathing down his neck. I have every reason to believe that he would have done Iraq, as well.

And I have every reason to believe that every one from Josh Marshall to Matthew Yglesias would be as pro-war as the day is long. There is nothing so craven as a liberal Democrat whose party is in power.

Posted by: section9 at July 19, 2004 08:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The fact is; all too many of the president's critics engage in the polemics they do not out of a principled position, but out of partisanship. . . ."

Followed at the end of the next paragraph by:

. . . There is nothing so craven as a liberal Democrat whose party is in power."

LOL. Thank heaven you're not tainted by that evil poison of partisanship. ;-)

Posted by: Swopa at July 19, 2004 09:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kevin said AQ was able to escape from AFG because we didn't have enough troops on the ground. While I think there is some truth to that, there were other factors.
As one poster above said the terrain was so cavernous that persuit was difficult because AQ was familiar with it and we were not. Because of this our troops had no choice but to use locals to guide them.
There were many times when our troops would be engaging the enemy and there would be pleas to negotiate a surrender. And our commanders would agree to it! These negotiations would sometimes last several days allowing their AQ guests to scram. This is the only complaint I had with the way the AFG war was handled. Other than that I think Bush and Rummy did fine. After all, our military did in three months and with less troops what the Soviets couldn't do in ten years with more troops.

Posted by: Mike N at July 19, 2004 10:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zarqawi Sunni friends are way outnumbered by his Kurdish & Shiite enemies. And btw, if Gore was prez, we'd still be negotiating with the Taliban; Madeleine Albright would be escalating to harsh language.

Posted by: jeff at July 19, 2004 11:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In 2000 I voted for the candidate who proposed the greatest increase in U.S. military spending: Al Gore.

In the summer of 2001 Senator Joseph Leiberman warned that the Bush administration's tax cuts could threaten future U.S. military spending. Neoconservative columnist Robert Kagan also complained about the inadequate defense budget in the Washington Post.

I haven't yet decided whether to vote for Mr. Kerry (though as a Democrat, I will either vote for Mr. Kerry or not at all), but do the Bush administration defenders commenting here really believe that, given al Qaeda's war against us, the Bush administration is spending enough money on homeland security and on the U.S. military?

Posted by: Arjun at July 20, 2004 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Did Dick Cheney's connections with Iran help prevent us taking action against them?



Does ANYONE else find it disturbing that the two nations most directly involved in 9/11 (beside Afganistan) have been given a pass? Saudia Arabia and Iran are closely connected to 9/11 and yet, we do nothing to them and go after Iraq instead. Why?

I'm not saying we should of attacked Iran or Saudia Arabia but why haven't we focused our efforts (including intelligence/Special Ops) on them? Surely the war in Iraq has diverted important resources away from focusing on Iran ...

Posted by: questevery at July 20, 2004 02:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why did we go into Iraq?
Thanks to the UN resolutions we had a legal entry into Iraq. We’d had ten years of enforcing the no-fly zone and were able to use the knowledge gained to suppress Saddam’s air defenses before the attack.

We had no legal entry to either Saudi Arabia or Iran.
Arabia will always be difficult for western countries to attack because of Mecca and Medina – move near those and Muslims throughout the world will rise up in righteous anger. Besides, there’s no indication that anybody in Arabia would help. We’ll just have to wait until the Hashemites are ready to move that way.
There had been the hope that Iran would tip through internal pressure, although the likelihood has diminished. Iran is the greatest danger in the Middle East today because of its active weapons development and its stated intention of using nukes against Israel.

Today the US could put forces on the Iraq-Iran border, the Iraq-Afghanistan border, and in the Persian Gulf. We can add external pressure to the internal pressure should we so choose.

We could do something similar with Syria, but Iran is the more immediate threat. There is the thought that pressuring Syria would pressure Iran, but time appears to be of the essence and a detour through Lebanon’s Beka Valley would be productive but time-consuming. Finally, Old Europe is not quite ready for joint, overt US, Israeli, Jordanian operations and might put up a snit.

Posted by: The Kid at July 20, 2004 04:06 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There’s an important issue with Pakistan – spin-up time. It took almost two years for President Pervez Musharraf to consolidate control of his security and defense forces, but it was probably the discovery of Dr. Kahn’s role in nuclear proliferation that gave him the political cover to move units to start controlling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Throughout 2002 and 2003 Taliban and al Qaeda remnants had sanctuary in the border area. As soon as US forces got too close, the bad guys would scamper across the border. That began to change early this year, and there are even reports that US forces cross back and forth, although every reported instance is a “mistake.”

This is not intended to be partisan, even though I don’t like him, but I think that Gore’s response to Afghanistan would have taken longer and involved a huge footprint. With Shinseki as the Army COS, the plan would have been to move several divisions into whatever central Asian countries would have us, and mass for attack. I say this because Gore would not have had a SecDef as knowledgeable or forceful as Rumsfeld; the military would have continued its mistrust of special forces and insistence on enough US ground forces to guarantee a win. It may not have been as large as Gulf War I, but it would have limited special forces to reconnaissance, much in the same manner that Stormin’ Norman did.

This is not a criticism of Gore – the whole thing would have been out of his hands.

Posted by: The Kid at July 20, 2004 04:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'll just comment on one or two things before I go to bed, which I need to do soon, because I really can't be completely dead at work.

"But really, what empirical evidence do we have that legions of the previously uncommitted have joined the al-Qaeda network specifically as a result of our intervention in Iraq?

Little, finally."

Well, perhaps you're right. But I am not exactly sure what you are looking for, what would satisfy you. There seems to be an accepted belief that even if a lot of these guys are dead or captured, there will be other people to take their places. And in more than one place, I've read that there have been new recruits to AQ. So the administration can rightly take credit for killing some of these people, but it can't ignore the fact that the problem isn't over and could very well get worse over time. Besides, surely you have seen the reports that a lot of the Arab world is angry that we did what we did. Basically, I can't see how it's a great stretch of the imagination to consider the fact that this could propel more people in these dangerous areas of the world to join AQ.

I'm also not sure how you can conclude that the membership has peaked. I assume you are talking about the membership of AQ, not specially the insurgency in Iraq, by the way.

I will try to come back tomorrow and comment again, for it seems like the main author on the site is bizarrely anti-Kerry. I hate to use questions as replies a lot of the time, but you really think Kerry is unable to handle the war on terror and its various problems? He's not Kucinich or Sharpton, for Christ's sake. You can disagree with his methods on a substantive level, but to pepper your comments with the implication that he would practically bend over for terrorists is absurd. But at least he seems to be serious. I can't say the same for some of the people in the comments section, hoewver. Calling Kerry and Edwards "pussies" and things of that nature doesn't reveal anything except an absence of deep thought, something seen in people like Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by: Brian at July 20, 2004 08:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, this is definitely an example of why you need to quickly read over what you write. I think the first and second sentences of my last pagagraph were slightly unclear. What I meant to say was that even though some of the things here don't seem right, at least you appear to be willing to engage in serious discussion.

Posted by: Brian at July 20, 2004 08:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

To Arjun - anent "Do you believe the Bush Administration is really doing enough on homeland security?"

You have to appreciate that is a bottomless pit, and there is no limit to what could be spent. Suppose terrorists decide to torch U.S. filling stations? Or maybe just bomb a different interstate highway bridge every day. There is no way you could spend "enough" to defend the U.S. That is precisely why we are in Afghanistan and Iraq... If we are successful on the battlefronts we have chosen--as it appears we are--it will never be necessary to protect every bridge and skyscraper at home. ..... Some straws in the wind which haven't had enought attention: The Saudis are now killing al-Quaeda for us. Reports from Iraq today and yesterday say "foreigners" are leaving, since Iraqis do not like the carnage they have had visited upon their civilians, and are reporting them to the interim government. Iran, now restless with talk in the NY Times they will be next, after Bush wins, are demonstrating the arrest and deportation of al-Quaedas. ..... The wall in Israel has stopped something like 106 of the latest 109 suicide bombers. Karsai and Allawi enjoy 60% and 80% support of their own people for their present governments. Dr. Khan is out of business, as is Khaddafi. The kleptomania on the East River has been outed. Etc., etc. We are looking at a fantastic success for the Bush foreign policy, generally not yet perceived in all quarters, (though beginning to be perceived with horror by the Democrats), and a policy which will likely see several additional dominos fall as well. The map has been redrawn. Clearly, those 850 have not died in vain. Seldom have so many owed so much to so few.

Posted by: exguru at July 20, 2004 08:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Now that I've read more of your posts I think you may well be a budding Tom Clancy. A little bit given to riding out on the thinner end-branches of the event-tree, but definitely entertaining and certainly not worthy of the slam I gave you a few days ago.

It's hard not to listen closely when a Singaporean official talks. The world's only Platonic-style benign dictatorship, the most hyper-security-conscious nation outside of Israel (patterned after Israel as it happens), these people know what's going on. They don't pander to their Muslim neighbors unless their water supply is threatened. What's more, they know their bread is partially buttered by the US Navy, which they allow to dock in their ports, and so have every reason not to rile the current C-in-C. Especially as, judging by Valerie Plame, the current C-in-C and friends are vindictive to degrees that may well constitute felonies.

Posted by: djangone at July 20, 2004 08:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Today's Washington Post column by Senators Kyl and Leiberman is reassuring and makes me feel more willing to vote for Mr. Kerry. The anti-war left may be as strong as it's been in a long time, but the opposite view will also have a voice, in the form of a third Committee on the Present Danger. However, the Committee doesn't seem to actually exist -- there's no website.

Posted by: Arjun at July 20, 2004 08:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It is shallow to simply say that the disolution of the Iraqi army was a mistake. How would you have proposed reimposing discipline on hundreds of thousands of Shia conscripts who had deserted and gone back to their homes? Would they have accepted the Sunni, Baathist officer corp? Would the majority of the Shia population have accepted the American presence if the same instruments of their oppression were left intact?

Reconstituting the army could easily have sparked a civil war.

Their were obvious consequences to the disolution of the army but to pretend that it was done for no good reason or that trying to immediately reconstitute it would have been a certainly better course is intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: William at July 21, 2004 12:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Cute "limbaugh" reference...typical of the idiots that have never listened, yet think that they can opine...

As it happens, I've been mulling this curious fact for quite a while now. A month or two ago, I read a little personal essay in Salon magazine by a woman who was mortified to learn that her psychiatrist was a Limbaugh listener. Her friends told her to get a new therapist immediately. Her own reaction was bafflement and confrontation. She couldn't believe that this woman who had understood her, helped her, and led her to better decisions in her life could possibly see Limbaugh as anything but a detestable idiot. She revealed to the psychiatrist that she knew this dirty secret about her. She was further confounded when the psychiatrist admitted the truth of the charge and remained calmly unapologetic about her vice. Ultimately, the writer of the essay acknowledged that she was still seeing the same therapist but felt profoundly mystified by this flaw in her being.

I suspect that we were supposed to share the woman's mystification. Yet I found in her words the beginning of an unraveling of mystery. I realized that the hysterical character of the writer would never have allowed her to listen to Limbaugh, such was her horror of this Evil Eye of the Radio (oxymoron intended). She would have felt herself violated and traumatized by the experience. Her knowledge of Limbaugh was a vicarious phenomenon. She loathes Limbaugh because of what other right-thinking liberals have told her about him.

Those of us who have listened to him at some length generally find it hard to reconcile the standard description of Limbaugh with the reality. He is accused of being rude, mean, arrogant, hateful, racist, deliberately dishonest, and wild-eyed in manner. His audience is supposed to consist of automaton followers, who are so obedient to his every whim that they call themselves ditto-heads, so ignorant that they aren't even aware of their status as mindless rubber stamps.

The only problem with all this is that it's not true. Limbaugh's fabled ego is in large part a manufactured persona, one that cleverly counterpoints his confident and often satirical monologues about politics. Every time he returns to his standard self-congratulating refrains -- "I, in my infinite wisdom, have figured out more than the amateurs in the audience can do by themselves," "I, who can discover the truth, making zero mistakes, with half my brain tied behind my back" -- he is winking through the airwaves at his ditto-heads, reminding them that they are hearing personal opinions inflated with sarcasm and a profound sense of fun. He is sharing his most important message of all, not to take it all too seriously, because in that direction lies misery.

That's why one of the most enduring, and sometimes infuriating, aspects of Limbaugh's radio persona is his insistence on a Reagan-like optimism. Many of the ditto-heads, far from echoing his pronouncements, try to penetrate that optimism with anecdotal evidence from the heartland of the myriad ways that American liberty and culture are in decline. He is unfazed by such sermons and seeks to reassure them that all is not lost. (The term ditto-head by the way arose from the amount of time wasted in the early years of his show by callers who couldn't make their point without first telling him how grateful they were that a conservative was finally on the air after generations of the liberal media monopoly. He asked them to stop this practice and simply say "ditto" instead.)

Nor is he mean. He is courteous to callers, and even when it becomes obvious that the angry person at the other end of the phone has lied to the screener in order to vilify him, he allows them to make their principal point, and he attempts to respond with reason or humor rather than hostility. He may hit the kill switch after an exchange or two, but usually he does so only after a caller has begun repeating himself -- the equivalent, on radio, of the dreaded 'dead air.'

Yes, he uses inflammatory terms and nicknames -- feminazis, the French-looking senator Kerry, etc -- but he conspicuously does not call even the most truculent callers names, and unlike many talk radio hosts he frequently returns good for ill, offering advice to those he believes misguided in their hostility. I recall an instance when, shortly after his revelations about drug abuse, a doctor called in to insist that Limbaugh's hearing loss was definitely caused by drug abuse and, further, that the cochlear implant would cease working, in fact had already begun to deteriorate, according to the doctor's diagnosis. It was an astonishingly vindictive performance, and Limbaugh did no more than mildly respond that the doctor's assertions were not true. It was not that he wasn't wounded; it was that he wasn't going to respond in kind.

All this may seem overlong, but it's a necessary foundation for what it is that the liberals really hate about Limbaugh. For it cannot be the case that none of them has ever listened to him. The secondhand convictions of those who don't listen are nevertheless important. These are the things liberals wish were true about him. And the extraordinary depth of their hatred arises from the fact that they're not true. They hate him for all the things he is not.

He is not a racist or race-baiter, which is not to say that he does not make fun of "The Reverend Jesse Jackson," but that his political terminology is not code for a return to segregation and white supremacy. When a man talks for three hours a day, five days a week, for a dozen years, it doesn't take a mindreader to determine whether he favors a law that is truly color-blind or a law that seeks to restore priivilege to the prejudiced. Limbaugh truly believes in the power of individuals of both sexes and all races and faiths to succeed by dint of hard work and ceaseless aspiration.

Limbaugh is not most of the things he is accused of being. He is not a ranter, but a talker. He takes remarkably few calls. It would be physically impossible for anyone to rant for three hours a day without relying on callers as targets of opportunity. The show's format simply doesn't allow for that. He is not particularly religious, either, as his more than occasional salty references make clear. He does not hate women. Men who keep marrying women may not have figured them out entirely, but they still seem to regard the opposite sex as worth the effort. He is not irrational. The general course of his show is a fairly spontaneously developed line of argumentation about the point at hand, interrupted by digressions but rarely derailed by them. He likes thinking. He likes hearing himself think out loud. And 20 million listeners like to hear him do it.

He is also not a coward. He is routinely dismissed as a chickenhawk, but there are many kinds of courage, and all of them are admirable. This is a man who endured what has to have been an inconceivable nightmare. Having worked his way to the top of his profession, the number one radio host in all the land, he continued to perform while the one sense most important to a career in radio, hearing, fled catastrophically away from him, leaving him at last in utter silence. Yes, he had the wherewithal for the expensive last resort that was available, but no one should kid himself that Limbaugh's cochlear implant is not a very imperfect and difficult prosthesis. He persevered through the deafness, through the operation that can restore voices but never music as you and I know it, and he never whined or even mentioned the irony of this particular loss to a man of his vocation. All that takes guts, even for a millionaire.

In sum, Limbaugh is not the vile kneejerk reactionary bigot that liberals would want a man with his following to be. Like the woman puzzling over her ditto-head psychiatrist, they cannot comprehend that the millions who listen to Limbaugh are not hateful ignorant fools. For the liberal vision of right and wrong to hold, the dittoheads must be troglodytes. And so must he. That it ain't so is the bitterest pill of all. With their usual convenient and solipsistic logic, liberals leap to the conclusion that they need populist troglodytes of their own to counter the imagined ogre they have created in Rush Limbaugh.

---From Instanpunk'd 25 Jun


Posted by: Tommy G at July 21, 2004 11:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

2656 http://www.online-poker-big.com check out this online poker site!

Posted by: online poker at September 28, 2004 02:10 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

3872 http://www.texas-holdem-now.com play texas holdem here!

Posted by: texas holdem at September 30, 2004 02:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

729 http://www.casino-online-i.com the best online casinos on the web.

Posted by: online casinos at September 30, 2004 11:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

608 http://www.play-poker-i.com cool place to play poker online

Posted by: http://www.play-poker-i.com at October 1, 2004 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

5017 http://www.caribbean-poker-web.com very fun

Posted by: caribbean poker at October 5, 2004 09:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

6051 Play poker here poker

Posted by: http://www.888-texas-holdem.com at October 5, 2004 09:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

8305 Very well said in the first place! http://www.online-poker-net.com

Posted by: online poker at October 6, 2004 08:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

7220 How can this all be as nice? Check out my site http://www.pai-gow-keno.com

Posted by: pai gow at October 8, 2004 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

4830 http://www.e-texas-holdem.info

texas holdem

Posted by: texas holdem at October 13, 2004 10:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Always Thoughtful"
--Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
Think Tanks
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by