July 29, 2005
Sincere apologies to any B.D. regulars out there (those of you who don't just land here after an Insta or Sully or RCP link etc. etc.). I've always strived to keep this site 'fresh', not least because the blog medium seems to demand a certain frequency and topicality of posting. This has often meant rather hurried (and tired...) post 10-11PM blogging-- but even that has simply proven impossible of late. I'm still alive and kicking--and I'm keeping a (somewhat listless, truth be told!) eye on the blogosphere when I can--while nevertheless hoping to get back in the saddle in relatively short order. Still, even writing this short note is barely possible given timing constraints--so don't expect some magnum opus in these pages soon. So, message is: sorry I've been AWOL, yes I'll be back, perhaps as soon as this weekend with any luck.
P.S. I've been getting a good deal of 'write about this when you get back' kinda E-mail. Drop a comment below for topics you think I should broach when I get back online (or just view it as an, er, civil thread...). And thanks again for your patience as B.D. has been forced into this somewhat protracted week to two week hiatus.
July 20, 2005
Excellent, excellent pick. More soon.
Update: The day job consumes all...no blog for you! Back later, probably next week. Apologies.
July 17, 2005
On the Road
Last minute business travel cutting the Sunday blogging short. Back as and when able, perhaps late tomorrow evening (East Coast time).
Of French Leaks and Home-Grown Terror
Britain's era of good will with Europe lasted 48 hours - all because of the French.
It's infuriating on a variety of levels. First off, and as B.D. had then written, the fact that the explosives used on 7/7 did not appear to be military grade bolstered the thesis that al-Qaeda's operational capabilities had been weakened. The French leak led to a slew of stories that the explosives were of sophisticated, military quality; which was erroneous, but which led to an important misperception about the attacks. For god's sake people, if you are going to leak, well then you better have your damn information straight. At least give us that much.
Second, and worse, is Chaboud's hugely reprehensible statement drawing a direct cause and effect between the Leeds/Luton bombers and Iraq. Look, it is beyond doubt that the Iraq war has made jihadist recruitment easier than before it. But this is a long term conflict, and those advocates of the war always realized that there could well be a short to mid-term uptick in jihadist activity given the destabilization and emotions that would inevitably be triggered by the Iraq war. The goal was and is to slog it out and see emerge a viable, unitary democratic polity in Iraq that would serve as an example to the Arab world of how a complex, multi-sectarian country can enshrine minority rights, the rule of law, and other tenets of political liberalism so as to help pull the region towards modernity. This, in turn, could well lead towards a long-term diminishment in radical Islamist activity. But Chaboud ignores all this in favor of a dishonest 'I told you so' moment. Dishonest because he ignores the 3/11 attacks in Madrid that were being planned before the Iraq war. Because he ignores 9/11 which was of course planned before the Iraq war. Because he doesn't deign to consider that certain jihadists will blow themselves up in Western cities, come what may, until foreigners (even, perhaps, foreign influence) are not present in the perceived caliphate spanning southern Spain to Indonesia. He also neglects to mention that Afghanistan alone is viewed as a legitimate casus belli by many fanatics. Or even the French ban on head scarves that has led to threats of violence on French streets. And what of Theo van Gogh's slaughter on the streets of that icon of libertinism, Amsterdam? Iraq the cause too, doubtless? How dare Chaboud politicize in such a nakedly self-serving fashion the 7/7 attacks? How dare he leak erroneous information so irresponsibly? How dare he be so breath-takingly self-serving and duplicitous so soon after the death of so many innocent Britons? It's really bloody low, even by the deathly low standards of the Chirac government. And to think this lack of class was what was getting me hot under the collar a couple days back. How much worse it gets, eh? I'm naive, it seems, when it comes to the potential for perfidious going-ons from points Paris.
Another word on all this. From today's Times, this interesting quote from Jessica Stern in a Week in Review piece on suicide bombers:
At least one of the young men from Leeds was from an affluent family, and none were particularly poor or unhappy, according to press reports. At least two had become devout. At least two had traveled to Pakistan. At least some of their parents clearly opposed such violence. A breakthrough for the police came when the mother of one, fearing her son was a victim of the bombings, informed police he was missing.
Am I alone in thinking along similar lines? When I see the face of the young Jamaican Lindsey Germaine who blew himself up in London--playfully smiling back at us with his wife in the picture we've now seen around the globe--I see an impressionable young 'laddie' quick to jump on the latest fad. In an era of tremendous violence in movies, in video games, in the streets of large urban centers--coupled with perceived humiliations (and real ones too, of course, like Abu Ghraib) of the Muslim nation--how easy to come under the sway of a slightly older man like Mohammad Sidique Khan (another London bomber, 30, who had even worked as a primary school counseler before). Born of boredom, of anomie, of a culture of violence and anything goes--well, why not play jihadi? And go full out and kill your own fellow citizens. This too stems, at least in part, from the too relativist, faux protest-ridden post-60's era, which is why a Jessica Stern will point out in another era they might have been Marxists. It is the too simplistic reasoning and empty protestation that if they are killing us there; we will kill them here. Jihadism, I am concerned, is becoming something 'cool' in the London satellite cities like Luton, or the banlieu of Paris, or Muslim sections of Amsterdam. And with the Internet providing access to radical websites where the young, impressionable adolescents can pair up with radicalist networks only too eager to use them as so much cannon fodder as foot-soldiers in their jihad--one must be concerned that this phenomenon looks set to be with us for a while yet.
We live now in an era of warnings and look-out and fear when it comes to suicide bombings. In Iraq, as John Burns writes:
American commanders say spotting the suicide bombers after they set out on their missions is almost impossible. Still, American and Iraqi troops have been told to watch out for telltale signs that include vehicles with suspensions splayed from unusual weighting in the rear; male drivers in their late teens and 20's who are alone; and certain makes of vehicle, usually aging Opels, Kias and Daewoos that can be bought used for as little as $1,000 and appear to be favored by attackers. Drivers who lurk at expressway on-ramps, in parking areas near military installations and government buildings, or who sit waiting in stationary vehicles for no apparent reason, are also high on the watch list.
And now, in London, in Milan, in Madrid, and yes, in Paris--people will be on the look-out too. For the middle class Muslim kid who might have popped over to Peshawar for a week or two a summer or so ago. And came back, perhaps not with a big flowing beard, but more serious, more sober, more religious. No big deal, to each his own religious orientation and right to worship and degree of fervor thereto, yes? But as these young men (and women) increasingly divorce themselves from their adopted country and then commit mass murder against their fellow citizens they break a basic compact. As has been said in other contexts, the constitution is not a suicide pact. People will feel this way more and more in the UK and Italy and France if such carnage continues.
So, what to do? Well, like many of us doubtless, I am very uncomfortable with the smell of neighborhood watch groups and the like. It smells gestapo-ish, and we recoil from it. Still, read this Mansoor Ijaz piece (via the indispensable uber-collaters of RCP). In it, he asks that Muslims living in Western societies start stepping up to bat more so as to better confront and combat the small minority of fanatics that hide and dwell within the large Islamist community. He writes:
The trust that binds citizens of free societies together was violated last week when suspected Islamist terrorists set off a wave of bombs at the height of London's morning rush hour, killing more than 50 people and injuring 700.
Shorter Mansoor: We need moderate Muslims (the vast majority of adherents to Islam, one of the world's three great monotheistic religions, are indeed moderates) to help us reclaim Islam from the fanatics, not only in far-away Saudi Arabia; but also in nearby Luton and Leeds. We need them--not only to help 'out' fanatics hiding in their and our midst--but also to help spur on the conditions whereby a reformation of radical Islamist thought can take root. Violence-infused, radical Islamist thought must not be allowed to even flirt with the mainstream. It must be portrayed as evil and fascistic, and very firmly denounced and forsaken. Repeately, loudly, often--by Muslim community leaders throughout Europe and the Middle East and the United States in places like Detroit.
The currents of modernization via technological improvements, satellite television and the Internet are not necessarily of particular comfort in all this, by the way. While they expose the Arab and Muslim world to outside ideas (kill the mullah's with connectivity, as some opine and hope), they also provide cyber-havens and meeting points for those weened on a diet of violence, of alienation, of humiliation, of the tempting comforts of radical religiosity--thus facilitating images such as these.
Four Westernized kids, really, sporting Patagonia looking gear with bulky backpacks at the ready, off in the early morning to kill dozens in one of the world's great cities, and in a country they are all citizens of themselves. There are those, even now, who seek to 'understand' their actions and who get airtime in the predictable places like the pages of the Guardian. This time is past. The call must be to ferret out such killers before they strike again. Too much is at stake. This does not mean that our foreign policy must not grapple with certain realities. As long as we are in Afghanistan and Iraq, as long at the majority of the West Bank is occupied territory, as long as there is chronic violence in places like Chechnya and Kashmir--it is undeniable that the quantum of those willing to die for jihadist causes will be higher in number than just those absolutists who will never rest unless the infidel-free-grand-Caliphate had gloriously risen again. This is not to argue for precipitous withdrawals from any of these places, however. If we were to leave Iraq tomorrow, the country would plunge into utter chaos. If Israel were to leave the West Bank, even with the security wall in place, the lack of a politically negotiated deal enshrined before the world and guaranteed by all the great powers of the international community would all but guarantee continued massacres in places like Haifa and Tel Aviv by irredentists like Jihad Islami. Russia too, has legitimate national interests in Chechnya--though its conduct of the war there has been ghoulish and brutish in the extreme. And a precipitous exit from Afghanistan would likely mean Karzai's days would be numbered, and that the chances of large swaths of the country again becoming dominated by neo-Talibs and al-Qaeada and its symphatizers would increase dramatically. The point here is that we cannot forget that conflict resolution, whether in Palestine or Kashmir or Chechnya, remains a critical element in our strategy in the GWOT. So does, as mentioned above, helping move the Middle East towards democratic open spaces where less frustration lies festering under the repressive boot of autocratic regimes. But important too, of course, is defending our nations against a peril growing within its very borders. The time has come for less blah-blah about root causes from the Muslim community and more active denunciation of those who will use violence to kill innocents. Whether borne out of fanaticism, boredom, faddishness, alienation--or some combination of all these factors. Basta.
Just stepped out to the corner deli to get today's Sunday Times. I expected that the story that 58 people were blown to death yesterday in Iraq--more even than in the London attacks of 7/7--would get front page coverage. Instead, the NYT places it on page A5--and then on the bottom half below the continuation of a front-pager about U.S. counter-insurgency tactics in the town of Qabr Abed. I have to say, this is quite a stunning statement, isn't it? The bombings, I guess, have become so routine that the death of nearly 60 individuals in a single attack doesn't even warrant front page treatment? One can derive many conclusions from this, I guess, but none of them are particularly flattering...
UPDATE: Death toll now 90 and counting...people in D.C., did this make the front page of the WaPo? Just curious.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: A fix in the late edition. Good. 'Their' lives matter too, yes?
Marshall's Not Shooting Straight
"When the loudest critics start changing the subject back to their old discredited talking points, well..."
Indeedy. Witness Exhibit A, from TPM:
As Ivo mentioned yesterday evening, whatever the British 'Butler Report' or the Senate (SSCI) report said about the quality of reporting that Iraq had tried to sell uranium Niger, the Iraq Survey Group -- which basically owned Iraq for more than a year -- found that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from anywhere after 1991, let alone from Niger. And for the reasons just stated, the ISG clearly trumps the two earlier reports.
Josh approvingly links to Ivo Daalder who writes:
In attempting to counter the obvious, Rove's supporters (like the Post editorial page and David Brooks on Lehrer tonite) argue that the reports by Lord Butler and the Senate Intelligence Committee supported earlier intelligence assessments that Iraqi attempts to acquire uranium from Niger were well founded. But this ignores the definitive judgement on the matter by the Iraqi Survey Group, which concluded as follows last September:
It's one thing to state the obvious, which is that the state of U.S. intelligence regarding Iraq was abysmally wrong on many scores indeed. But Ivo Daalder's post is quite disingenuous, of course. The whole Niger/Africa/uranium hullabaloo had at its very core the hysterical leftist shrieks (Bush lied, People died!) that the '16 Words' of the SOTU were purposeful lies pronounced by POTUS so as to help drag the so gullible, Murdoch-fed ranks of the jingo-fied public into Mesopotamia. So whether the Iraq Survey Group turned up no uranium or such once in Iraq is wholly besides the point vis-a-vis establishing the bona fides of the President's honesty or lack thereof in relation to the contents of the SOTU. It's a total straw man really. But look, we are all capable of Daalder's rather breezy moving of the goal posts to score a partisan point now and again. It happens to the best of us. What really bothers me, however, more than anything Daalder writes, is Josh Marshall's treatment of this matter. He totally impugns the integrity of both the SSCI and the Butler reports ("This is but one example of how the Butler Report and the Senate intel report are political documents. From start to finish.") That's quite a statement, and it well showcases Josh's abject hackery on this issue. No, it's worse. I simply can't avoid the conclusion that Josh Marshall is, very probably, being flat-out dishonest on this issue. He's ignoring so much evidence that disproves his treatment of the matter, and he is too smart to just innocently be 'missing' it, that I must reluctantly conclude he is likely purposefully lying.
First, let us recall that both the Butler Report and the SSCI report were independent, non-partisan investigations (the former led by an independent jurist, the latter a bipartisan effort by the Senate Intelligence Committee). As even that conservative rag (the WaPo!) puts it:
One year after that, reports by two official investigations -- Britain's Butler Commission and the Senate intelligence committee -- demonstrated that Mr. Wilson's portrayal of himself as a whistle-blower was unwarranted. It turned out his report to the CIA had not altered, and may even have strengthened, the agency's conclusion that Iraq had explored uranium purchases from Niger. Moreover, his account had not reached Vice President Cheney or any other senior official. According to the Butler Commission, led by an independent jurist, the assertion about African uranium included in Mr. Bush's State of the Union speech was "well-founded."
So, first off, keep that background in mind when Josh says these are politically biased documents from "start to finish". That arguably the brightest blogger on the left can so easily get away with such comments makes one pause and wonder about the quality of the entire blogosphere, frankly. Again, this was not James Schlesinger investigating Abu Ghraib. You had Jay Rockefeller and all the Democrats on the Senate Intel side. What would have been their motivation to white-wash the record? If anything, guys like Rockefeller were in full-blown gotcha mode trying to establish that Bush had purposefully ignored contrary intelligence and/or lied.
Regardless, Josh has pretty much been forced to piss all over the SSCI and Butler reports because they simply don't support the narrative he peddled assiduously for months last year. The Marshall storyline went that the entire universe of intelligence indicating that Iraq may have been pursuing uranium from Niger/Africa was based on forged documents and so totally compromised. But as I extensively detailed in this blog last year (go here and here) the facts simply didn't (and still don't) support Josh's hyperbolic treatment of the story. Josh then tried to argue that, even if there was alternate intelligence supporting the claim that Iraq tried to get uranium from Africa--evidence that was unrelated to the forgeries--said evidence was still inexorably tainted by linkage to the forgeries (the 'fruit of the poisonous tree' argument). That argument too, proved a red herring. Finally, left with neither the support of the SSCI nor the Butler Report reports, nor the FOPT argument, Josh was forced to resort to a previous British parliamentary report chaired by UK MP Ann Taylor in September 2003. His argument went that this report was drafted before Bush's so infamous SOTU, and so treats the whole Africa and uranium story more head-on and honestly--in other words it's not a political, spin-infused document meant to protect Bush or Blair (recalling that Butler and SSCI were both non-partisan investigations, I need to stress again). Josh writes:
But the key point is that the authors of the earlier report felt free to be candid about what the Butler Report chose to keep hidden -- namely, that most of the British judgment about 'uranium from Africa' was based on the phony documents the Butler Report claims had nothing to do with their judgment.
But even this desperate final argument is simply untrue. As I had written almost a year ago to the day:
For instance, how can Josh say "most of the British judgement about uranium from Africa was based on the phony documents"? Take the September '03 UK Parliamentary Report Marshall is so enthused about. TPM likes it so because it ostensibly makes plainer, as compared to the Butler report, that one of the British intel sources (assorted documentary evidence) was based on the forgeries. But that very same report states unequivocally:
Josh's credibility would be bolstered significantly if he accepted that he never struck gold on this story. He tried, tooth and nail, to score a grand slam. He never did. That's OK, and he may have opportunities in the future on other stories. But in life, when you get something wrong, it's good to admit it, hang up your gloves, and move on to the next thing. Instead, Josh appears to prefer to repeat lies to his overly credulous readers. That's really too bad.
July 15, 2005
What Drives Suicide Terrorism? The Pape Take
Robert Pape of U. Chicago, interviewed over in Paleo-ville:
The American Conservative: Your new book, Dying to Win, has a subtitle: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Can you just tell us generally on what the book is based, what kind of research went into it, and what your findings were?
TAC: If you were to break down causal factors, how much weight would you put on a cultural rejection of the West and how much weight on the presence of American troops on Muslim territory?
Discuss the pros and cons of the validity of Pape's quite interesting interview below. My analysis will follow, but I'd appreciate reasoned feedback.
I have to say--coming so soon on the heels of the recent carnage in London-- this is astoundingly petty and cheap behavior even by the standards of Jacques Chirac.
President Jacques Chirac of France, raising the stakes in a verbal jousting match with Britain, said Thursday that the French were better than the British in many domains: they have more children, they spend more on research and they live longer.
But these are tough times in France. Things have gotten so bad that whether the Olympic Games went to Paris or London took on the trappings of a signal moment for the morale of the nation writ large. While New York yawned when the Olympic Games went to London (OK, Dan Doctoroff aside); Paris went from perpetually Gallic moroseness (like the perpetual 10% unemployment) to near full-blown melt-down, it almost seemed.
If Chirac had anything near the backbone and character of his presumed role model Charles de Gaulle he would have promptly stepped down after the crushing blow to the EU Constitution, as de Gaulle did in roughly similar circumstances. Instead Chirac carps on about the superiority of the French "social model" (recall this excellent quip from Patrick Devedjian re: this last: "The French social model isn't a model, because no one wants to emulate it. It's not social, because its caused record unemployment") while belittling the much more successful British one. But even banging the ancient drum of anti-British prejudice (or its more recent American cousin) in a wounded France won't help his abysmally poor poll numbers. Not anymore, anyway. He's deep in the cellar, has no way out, and should step off stage if he had a shred of dignity. Perhaps, however, he's concerned about the cold realities of life in a post presidential immunity world...
July 14, 2005
Iraq: The View From the Green Zone
From a reliable source I hear the tea-leaves from a senior, seasoned diplomat at our Embassy in Baghdad are thus: 1) the strategy of us standing down as they stand up (translation: train and equip) is making real progress (if often hard and tortuous progress); 2) the Sunnis are getting increasingly involved in the political process so that there is some optimism the insurgency will see some life sucked out of it; and 3) there are fears federalist demands from the Kurds could be a sleeper issue that imperils progress on 1 and 2. There are other nuances, but this is the story from the Green Zone at present. If you are on the ground, of course, and this is your life and blood and daily chore--you have the right to be a cautious optimist. My source tells me too that the thinking there is that we will 'make it', if only we do not lose our 'will'. I think all this is pretty much right. Assuming we have the resources in theater if things take nasty, unpredictable turns, however, I'd like to caveat too.
Update: The Conscience Caucus
I've not yet read the Schmidt report, but if this account is a fair representation, let me just say that the style of the report fits well the pattern of the Fay, and Jacoby, and Taguba, and Schlesinger, and all the other preceding reports. The somewhat sanitized narrative(s): some bad shit happened, mostly perpetrated by low-level people not typically acting within the rubric of authorized interrogation tactics, but nevertheless with some of the egregious felony abuse and torture at least partly caused by general lack of oversight, or conflicting signals on authorized tactics, or lack of resources, or other systemic failures from on high. All this said, the reports are always careful to avoid really damning the major players (though Sanchez and even Rummy, the latter if always in a veiled and soft-knuckled way, get a comeuppance or two here and there), but if you wade through all the material you start smelling quite interesting patterns that, er, merit some more attention. It takes a long time, because it involves literally thousands of pages of material, so I appreciate your patience. I hope to post, in significant detail, my take on the legal memoranda, the different reports and what they mean, whether there was something of a whitewash, if so who needs to be reprimanded more sternly, what we still don't know, what we do know that (still) needs to change, and what it means to be part of a nascent blogospheric 'conscience caucus' on this issue.
Another irony? Yes, Gitmo is the kinder, gentler detention center as compared to Bagram, to Abu Ghraib, to other centers whose names are less well known. So some prominent right wing bloggers can easily jest to their hearts content about all the delic Curries-on-the-Caribbean. But, if you dig into the detail, what you see are that the tactics initially authorized at Gitmo 'migrated' perniciously, to places where the guard to detainee ratio was not, alas, close to 1:1, but more like 1:75; to war zones where mortar attacks occurred often, where tremendous pressure for intelligence extraction existed always, where highly emotionally charged environments prevailed where people were dying and feelings of revenge were ever present. Thus what worked in the hyper-controlled environs of Gitmo (though abuse occurred there too), floundered into major debacle and moral stain in places like Abu Ghraib (which, again, was not just about panties on the head--this is clear for those who take the trouble to read the reports--though I doubt many of the cheap, Rummy-cheerleaders have). So, you might say, the fish rots from the head. And Gitmo, in many ways, was the head. Also critical? The decision to junk Geneva for some murky standard of humane treatement (with the "military necessity" caveat, of course). Many government lawyers, by the way (and not just at striped-pants State), thought this very purposeful setting aside of Geneva for certain categories of combatants unnecessary either on efficacy of intelligence gathering grounds or other ones besides. This is another important and under-reported side of this entire story. Also, of course, there was the FUBAR aspect of the total lack of training and the piss-poor way the detention centers were manned (this too, I guess, was Lyndie England's fault?) More, much more, on all this I hope towards the end of this coming weekend.
A B.D. Poll!
UPDATE (in italics): Stripping out four of the highest and lowest scores (two 8s, the risible .424, and a 3), and averaging out respondent's numbers when they gave more than one--we come out to 5.515 (just shy of a full point below B.D.'s ranking). That's not quite a lame duck, but it ain't too far. Thanks for the feedback.
On a scale of 1 to 10--with 1 being a duck so lame it's crippled on the side of the highway and left for dead; and 10 a hyper-sprightly Duckie-in-Chief ready for Big 'N Noble Things ahead--where does George Bush rank just now? With Social Security reform not going too swimmingly, the Rove thingie, Iraq-hard-as-hell--it all looks a bit grim. On the other hand, the economy is proving quite resilient (when o' when will the market tank, many of my professional contacts wonder as they look on bemused!?!), Iraq could yet prove a success, and he has a chance to shape the direction of the Supreme Court for decades to come (with at least one if not three or more Justices vacating during the rest of the term). Meantime, his poll numbers are holding up, all told, pretty OK if not gangbusters.
I say, while there is an inexorable systemic aspect to the creeping lame-duckdum too, of course, what a shame if the next three years are increasingly impotent ones, no? On the international stage--there is still much to accomplish--soldiering on to achieve our objectives in Iraq and also a chance to resucitate the peace process after Sharon's Gaza withdrawal. (Also, alas, there are potential crises looming with each of NoKo and Iran). Presidents often end up focusing on the overseas during their second terms--not least because they are increasingly lame ducks--and conserve more of their power in the Commander-in-Chief role in the realm of foreign policy. Still, if Rove goes overboard, Bush would be profoundly wounded. Ditto protracted bitter fights a la Bork sucking his energies. Put differently, major domestic crises will inevitably impact (negatively) his ability to achieve meaningful ends on the world stage.
So here's hoping the duck doesn't get too lame. B.D.'s current rating? A 6.5 (that drops south of 5 immediately if Fitzerald fingers Rove for some legally afoul malfeasance--which I currently rate a low probability, all told, but who the hell knows, really?).
What say you? A number please...we'll crunch the blended average later. And remember, as Wolf says, this is an unscientific poll....
Al Greenspan Spotted in Leeds!
TCR goes a bit tin-hatty....but we still think he's great...
But not too many self-described conservatives-even those with a "strong independent streak"--have gotten quite this hot under the collar over Karlie just yet.
It's too early to say he is officially guilty of anything. But what we know at this point is more than a little ugly, and has extremely serious implications. The outing of a CIA agent would be bad enough. But the possibility of the most powerful unelected---and thus unaccountable---White House official trafficking in national secrets as part of an effort to subvert and short-circuit the public debate over the need to go to war? It would certainly be on a par with Watergate, and arguably far more serious. Until we get some clarity on all this, Rove must step aside to salvage what integrity remains for this administration. He certainly cannot be effective if he stays, unless his job is solely to make speeches about Dick Durbin and "the motives of liberals." And he wouldn't even be able to do that well right now. By the way, we now know the genesis of and motive behind that speech: a "get one last shot in while I still can" blast from a man who knew what was about to go down.
Whoah cowboy, slow down a lil' second! It's one thing to float the idea of suspending Rove's security clearance pending Fitzerald's conclusions; it's quite another to recommend Rove simply "step aside" before the investigation is complete. Hyperbolic too to suggest at this stage that this is some Watergate redux (or even, "far more serious"!). And Rove saw this all coming, thus the "genesis and motive" for comments about shrinks and liberals and therapy? C'mon! What next, UBL nabbed in Waziristan the day after Fitzerald serves up charges on the Porcine Perjurer? I mean, it's not even October yet...
Facetious notes aside, let's all take a deep breath and count to ten, shall we?
Lede of the Week...
...no, it's not Rove-related. It's this Iran related gem:
Iran will resume uranium enrichment if the European Union does not recognize its right to do so, two Iranian nuclear negotiators said in an interview published Tuesday.
Got that? It's a tad, er, circular....but jaw-jaw better, right?
July 13, 2005
...former B.D. guest blogger Joseph Britt who has an op-ed in today's Washington Post. Go check it out without delay, and join me in congratulating Joe!
P.S. FYI, rumor has it that Joe will be participating in an on-line WaPo chat-room to discuss the op-ed tomorrow.
Harvard International Digest
A group of Harvard undergrads have started an international affairs blog. One of them, Alan Rozenshtein, has some good questions about the media's handling of the 10th anniversary of Srebrenica.
L'Affaire Rove--Very Prelim Analysis
(ADMIN NOTE: SOMEHOW THIS POST DROPPED OFF MY FRONT PAGE AT SOME POINT TODAY. IT WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN (TOO) LATE LAST NIGHT AND I'M JUST FINDING THIS OUT AFTER WORK. APOLOGIES FOR ANYONE WHO SAW IT IN EUROPE OVERNIGHT ONLY TO SEE IT DISAPPEAR LATER IN THEIR DAY).
The law sez:
Whoever, having or having had authorized access to classified
This will be a tough one to prove (did Rove actually have the requisite formal authorized access to the classified information in question? Did he know that the U.S. was taking "affirmative measures" to conceal Plame's identity?), and unless Rove is found to have violated the letter of the law it is hard to see Bush casting him overboard. This is because Bush will rationalize that he is not being overly Clintonian but honoring his original representations on the matter. How so? Read on, via David Sanger!
But until this week, it was Mr. Wilson's word against the White House's insistence that Mr. Rove was not involved. That is what has changed. An e-mail message that Time magazine turned over to the prosecutor investigating the naming of Ms. Wilson asserts that Mr. Rove discussed Ms. Wilson's role, though apparently without naming her or suggesting she was a covert officer. If that version is correct, it is not clear that anything Mr. Rove said could be considered a crime.
As David Gergen is making the rounds saying, Rove is Bush's "right arm". If he is not found to have actually violated the law, it is unlikely Bush will ditch him--he will take the heat and vitriole--and hope that the O'Connor battles move the subject to, say, buddy Alberto a few weeks hence. Indeed, expect in the coming days that Ken Melhman will rush the ramparts to furiously fight back the Democrat onslaught on Rove and hope the O'Connor Replacement Fight will end up overshadowing l'affaire Rove. Meantime, Rove attorney Luskin will work the PR/legal angles and sometimes move the goalposts somewhat (after all, just because the call started out about welfare and the Time reporter called Rove rather than vice versa, it doesn't make a difference in terms of the legal issues as far as I can tell--though Luskin will doubtless argue it has a bearing on the "intent" requirement).
Still, this is terrible P.R. for an administration that is said to pride itself on straight-shooting and honesty (though for the greater public this may just look like another Beltway maelstrom that ends up impacting support, either way, for POTUS insignificantly). Karl may very well survive, but this White House looks less and less above the Clintonian parsing it and its admirers (B.D. included) so derided (Plame, "last throes"). That said, this is a very complex story indeed, and it is too early to draw any definitive conclusions. It's also very late just now, and I'm piggy-backing on a scratchy Wifi connection on the Tribeca block I just moved to (alas, the apartment is still Road-Runner-less), so I'm going to pack it up for tonight. I hope to have more on l'affaire Rove soon, however. I'll leave you with this pretty fair appraisal from Joe Hagan of the WSJ:
The unmasking of Mr. Rove marks an important milestone in the case. On the one hand, the details of Mr. Rove's discussion with Mr. Cooper -- especially if he didn't name Ms. Plame -- may exculpate him of the intentional, illegal disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA operative. Much will depend on whether Mr. Rove truthfully described any conversations in testimony before the grand jury. If he did, that would clear him of even a perjury charge and any criminal liability.
That's about right, but as I said, let's see how all this plays out over the coming days before drawing any definitive conclusions--whilst keeping in mind that outing covert agents is hugely reprehensible and anyone charged with doing so knowingly should be prosecuted to the full extent the law provides and fired without delay.
It's going to be an interesting few weeks, isn't it?
P.S. I suppose it's no secret I'm no fan of Joe Wilson's (just plug in his name in the search function to the right for all the gory details). I view him as something of a charlatan, frankly, and his credibility is very low indeed--but this certainly doesn't, in any way of course, mean that others can prattle on willy-nilly about the covert status of his spouse (yes, yes--even if Aldrich had outed before!).
July 12, 2005
Is Our Military Too Small For Its Mission?
And there is no question that American forces are stretched thin. Having rejected any idea of significantly expanding the size of American ground forces, the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon is on the verge of breaking the backs of the National Guard and the active duty Army. Moreover, there is no question that the U.S. is ill prepared for another serious crisis that might require the use of American military forces.
I'm afraid this is all pretty much spot on. And as Rumsfeld continues to imperil the policy goals enunciated by this Administration--expect a wider schism between the Defense Secretary and smart neo-con hawks like Eliot Cohen and Bill Kristol who realize this all too well.
Meantime, what do Pete Beinart, Ivo Daalder, Jim Woolsey, Robert Kagan, Max Boot (and more!) have in common? Go here for the bipartisan fiesta!...
P.S. Yes, yes--I know, I know. A 'smaller footprint' is needed now in Iraq. Even Jafari is telling us to vacate the cities, haven't you heard B.D.? Regardless, the Quadrennials of the 90's are to blame, if anything. You go to war with the Army you have (true, though you can also change course and plan better for the future; rather than stubbornly insist our military and reserves enjoy roughly the requisite manpower). Oh, and really, the Generals haven't asked for more troops. How dare you call them cowards and insinuate they would be silent if they only really felt more troops were needed? They would have asked Rumsfeld, even loudly and publically and repeatedly, even if it imperiled their careers, see? And, anyway, didn't you know insurgencies are not defeated on the battlefield, but politically? And on and on. But, above all else, don't dare criticize the Donald. Message discipline demands it, after all. And, to boot, for he can do no wrong this matinee idol who sweeps from Chris to Tim to George to Wolf so seamlessly, who is feted and applauded by the Nascar set even, and who leads us valiantly (always standing up 8 hours a day!) through challenges lesser mortals would recoil from so daunting the tasks. Let us at least have the strength and fortitude and, above all else, the gratitude to appreciate his noble service and follow him to sweet victory.
But I digress. More seriously, I know more troops are no panacea. But we must be prepared for nettlesome contingencies (Shi'a rebellion, greater sectarian conflict, political crises and stalemate (say, over the Constitution-drafting) infusing the insurgency with more strength). And, of course, there are other potential flash-points around the globe that might merit attention. So why hasn't the letter sent to Congress this past January that I've linked above--one signed by very serious people like Walt Slocombe or Frederick Kagan who aren't in this for the limelight or because they crave cheap pissing matches--why hasn't it gotten more attention?
There is abundant evidence that the demands of the ongoing missions in the greater Middle East, along with our continuing defense and alliance commitments elsewhere in the world, are close to exhausting current U.S. ground forces. For example, just late last month, Lieutenant General James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, reported that "overuse" in Iraq and Afghanistan could be leading to a "broken force." Yet after almost two years in Iraq and almost three years in Afghanistan, it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly, in Condoleezza Rice's term, a "generational commitment." The only way to fulfill the military aspect of this commitment is by increasing the size of the force available to our civilian leadership.
I don't know why. Because people are gambling and hoping that we will win? Or because people believe we already have? Or because people think History will conveniently stop as we slog along haphazardly through the rest of the Iraq involvement? Or because no one was serious that this was a generational commitment to begin with? Wretchard writes well:
One route to victory, the ugly route, is to match the entropy within Islamic societies with a corresponding entropy within the West. The rising resentment against Islamic immigrants in Europe and the growing willingness in the West to see Islam and even Muslims as the enemy, are all early signs of the transformation of war into a corresponding blood feud. One of the constant themes of the Belmont Club is how this development is undesirable because it will, at the limit, result in the destruction of Islamic society and make us all murderers. The alternative route chosen by President Bush, but only half-heartedly pursued by mainstream politicians, is to decrease entropy within the Islamic world by making those countries functional, modern and free so that the "blood feud" concept becomes as anachronistic in Riyadh as it is in Cleveland.
To decrease entropy within the Islamic world and make Wahabists into Cleveland-like post-moderns will take a generation, at least, and it requires the marshalling of the entire gamut of hard and soft power the U.S. can muster (whilst also handling the rise of China and India in the East). Are we up to the many tasks ahead? Have our leaders sketched out adequately the nature and quantum of this difficult generational duty? I'm unsure. One reason why I am doubtful--and perhaps I am too antiquated in my view--is because I still believe there is no substitute for boots on the ground--especially in this new era of the three-block war. And, despite all the rote calls for sacrifice, I fear no one currently in positions of real power seems to be convincingly sketching a path forward--in terms of assuring that the requisite resources necessary for the national defense will be available in the future. Alarmist? Perhaps. But I prefer to be safe than sorry, and I do think 'overwhelming force' is better doctrine than 'just enough troops to lose'.
Ten years ago, approximately 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces (with the assistance of personnel from Serbia proper). I was living in Zagreb at the time, working with the International Rescue Committee, and remember well watching CNN report the story in my too hot and muggy apartment. I felt helpless, of course, as I saw that Ratko Mladic would have his will and the Dutch peacekeepers would prove, finally, utterly useless. But aside from helplessness, I also felt hugely disgusted and deeply angered by the impotence of the United Nations, and the Member States that made up its Security Council, and the fecklessness of world leaders like Bill Clinton and John Major. After all, they offered nothing, really--at least before the shock of Srebrenica finally shamed them into some action--nothing in the face of the abject horrors that still manifestly stalked the fin de siecle European continent.
Time has done little to reduce my repulsion at the impotence of the international community during this so sad chapter, and certainly before 9/11 came along, it is fair to say Srebrenica played the primary role in shaping my political worldview. It was and is one where, of course, force matters, and where so often international resolutions and proclamations are barely worth the breathless air-time devoted to them, or the reams of paper they consume. What the Bosnians needed, of course, were not empty declarations from Kofi and Akashi and Clinton and Christopher--but a lifting of the arms embargo unjustly placed on them and robust NATO airstrikes to assist them against genocidaire Bosnian Serb gunners and their fellow travelers. Too little, too late, however, ruled the day through the mid-90s. There was much intellectual dishonesty, much amateurism, much lack of character, much avoidance of the deadly serious issues at play. Such abdications of responsibility happened too, of course, in places like Somalia and Rwanda and Haiti. Meanwhile, enemies of ours like Osama bin Laden took note. They saw how the empty American hegemon would turn and run when 18 servicemen were felled in Mogadishu--lest the footage unnerve too many around the television and the dinner tables--so that domestic political agendas might suffer from declining support. Polling drove policy, image too often trumped substance, inattention displaced resoluteness, and moral seriousness was cast aside in favor of empty bromides. Meantime, the happy equity-owning masses were following stocks like hysterical sports games, taking in all the Kramer-esque antics on CNBC, POTUS was busy trying to avoid legal headaches from the wilds of Arkansas, and a dirty decade finally pettered out ingloriously.
9/11, of course, Changed Everything, the thinking goes. But in the lazy disconnection from the continuing carnage in Iraq one espies increasingly daily amidst large swaths of the general public (and our media, ahem, "elites"), in the too breezy nostrums and cheerleading of so many who emptily proclaim victory but for the party-pooping naysayers who dare to ask difficult questions and criticize manifest missteps--one sees that the vanities and provincialism and myopia are still with us, alas, if just in different guises. For instance, and we'll have much more on flypaper soon (an explication of its ultimate bogusness, in the main), why have so few even deigned to ponder this excellent question (click through and read the whole thing)?
But has anyone thought about why we're justified in using another nation as flypaper in the first place, even if it was a viable, effective strategy? What gives us the right to use a sovereign nation as a catch basin for carnage so we can go on blissfully consuming and merrily flipping real estate here? Instead of flypaper, this should be called the "Night of the Living Dead Nation" strategy---using the undead, zombie-like carcass of a failed state for our own benefit. Beyond the sheer selfish immorality of it, has anyone thought about the potential for blowback? How would you feel if we were invaded by the Chinese on a false pretense, and they stated openly that their strategy was to attract and fight the scum of the earth in the streets of New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago so they did not have to fight in Beijing?
This hypothetical formulation leaves aside, of course, that one of the worst murderers of the 20th Century was unseated by the American invasion. This remains a feat of notable proportions. It is a laudable, historic achievement by any standard. But to replace brutish order with rampant anarchy is not fair either. And to say we are in Iraq to fight the bad guys over there, in their backyard and not ours, this cannot be morally serious or a viable long-term strategy. We went in to, ostensibly, rid Saddam of his WMD capability and create a sustainable democracy in Iraq. A 'playground' in which to fight the jihadis, after all, was not one of our early enunciated goals. This was a narrative that came later, one that positively reeked of spin to explain that, oh hell, it's OK that's the going has gotten a bit rougher than the predicted cakewalk and the George Bush statues crowding Baghdad. Flytraps working, see! Save in Madrid, and Bali, and London, and Casablanca, and Tel Aviv and Haifa and Istanbul and Tunisia and doubtless the U.S. again soon. But, as I said, I'll leave flypaper for another day. It merits its own stand-alone post, I'm afraid.
Finally, for tonight, I'd say too that it is a a true shame that mass murdering swine like Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic and, yes, Osama bin Laden--that they still walk the planet free. Why haven't we done better? Why has it now been over a full decade and we still have not been able to apprehend a rank coward like Karadzic? Is it because we have been more cowardly even than he? Or are we so inept that we cannot pinpoint the whereabouts of a man whose location must be ascertainable in either of Montenegro, or Srpska Republika, or Serbia proper? Really, why? The time has come. No more excuses. No more B.S. No more empty talk (After all, if you have an "excellent idea" of where Osama is, and while I can see some psy-ops reasons to publically so state, perhaps, you nevertheless reduce your credibility when weeks and months go by and the "excellent idea" seems to bear little to no fruit). As the saying does (and at the risk of sounding a tad flip)--just do it. Put differently, celebrate the victories once they occur, and not before. Look, I believe that Bush has made great strides in tearing apart al-Qaeda's leadership and putting that organization under truly immense pressure. But Osama bin Laden is ultimately responsible for the biggest terrorist outrage in the history of this country. And his continued freedom serves as inspiration to jihadis the world over. Yes, some are worried he would be more powerful and dangerous in martydom than in life. But we must take this risk. Justice demands it. And also we must take the risk of discomforting some in the Pakistani ISI or of making Musharraf's political situation more tenuous for a spell. For the time has come to flush this odious man out from his hiding-hole whatever it takes. Ditto Mladic and Karadzic too--even if it means riots and dislocations in Republika Srpska. Dare I say, faster; please--and not mean Iran?
The State of Sarkozy
Marc Perelman ably writes up what might be the first comprehensive profile of Nicolas Sarkozy for a U.S. publication in Foreign Policy. Having just recently returned from France, I can report that Sarkozy's visage is plastered on just about every periodical in the country--and that the French appear significantly more interested in the soi disant 100 days he has to save his marriage and win back wife Cecilia than, say, Dominique de Villepin's 100 days to, you know, improve the rather dismal employment picture plaguing France for so long now. Hey, it's the long summer, and the French love domestic intrigues, no? (Some conspiracy minded folks, by the way, speculate the presumed marital discords are but a piece de teatre to 'humanize' Sarko--watch him win back his wife by September!).
This is not to say that Sarkozy isn't a serious figure. His robust political skills are certainly very much in evidence of late. I am tempted to say he has engaged in something akin to reverse triangulation. But unlike Clinton and Blair, men of the Left, Sarkozy's natural home is on the Right. Indeed, as Interior Minister both at present and in a previous tour, Sarkozy has shown himself very good indeed at convincing rightist constituencies in France that he pays serious attention to bread and butter issues that concern them like crime and immigration. At the same time, however, he has shown a willingness to reach out to minorities, to allow for affirmative action programs, to have government intervene in pricing schemes despite his fundamentally free market orientation. Indeed, not least because of such adept triangulation leftwards--butressed by smart, common-sensical pragmatism, tremendous amounts of energy, and core droitiste convictions--Sarko must be considered the presumptive lead player to assume the Presidency in 2007 (Chirac may run again, or more likely push de Villepin to the fore, but it is likely Sarko's to lose all told). More on all this soon, but for now be sure to read Perelman's informative piece.
Money quote, at least for those on this side of the Atlantic:
Although he is careful to stress that he does not see eye-to-eye with President Bush on many issues, he is unabashedly pro-American. “I like America and the Americans a lot and I say it. Do I need help, doctor?” he quips, raising his eyebrows. “Some of my friends tell me not to talk about it so [loudly]. Why? I don’t get it.”
July 11, 2005
A Neo-Con Speaks Out
Eliot Cohen speaks very openly to the WaPo in a short Q&A. It has become increasingly rare to find bright (neo)conservatives willing to buck party orthodoxy and the approved talking points ("last throes"!)--who have the requisite integrity to be honest and forthright about some of the missteps that have rendered so difficult the Iraq effort.
But a pundit should not recommend a policy without adequate regard for the ability of those in charge to execute it, and here I stumbled. I could not imagine, for example, that the civilian and military high command would treat "Phase IV" -- the post-combat period that has killed far more Americans than the "real" war -- as of secondary importance to the planning of Gen. Tommy Franks's blitzkrieg. I never dreamed that Ambassador Paul Bremer and Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the two top civilian and military leaders early in the occupation of Iraq -- brave, honorable and committed though they were -- would be so unsuited for their tasks, and that they would serve their full length of duty nonetheless. I did not expect that we would begin the occupation with cockamamie schemes of creating an immobile Iraqi army to defend the country's borders rather than maintain internal order, or that the under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority would seek to rebuild Iraq with big construction contracts awarded under federal acquisition regulations, rather than with small grants aimed at getting angry, bewildered young Iraqi men off the streets and into jobs.
Question: Your son is an infantry officer, shipping out soon for Iraq. How do you feel about that?
Pride, of course -- great pride. And fear. And an occasional burning in the gut, a flare of anger at empty pieties and lame excuses, at flip answers and a lack of urgency, at a failure to hold those at the top to the standards of accountability that the military system rightly imposes on subalterns.
Amen, Dr. Cohen. Amen.
P.S. Don't miss Cohen's thoughts on the Iraqi insurgency and its prospects either. He is not overly sanguine, and sees the insurgency lasting several years yet likely, but he still nevertheless believes that the U.S. will prevail. If our leaders do their part, that is.
Don't Underestimate Bashar...
July 10, 2005
The State of Tony
After the most dramatic week of his eight year PM-ship--whipsawing from the jubilation surrounding the 2012 Olympic Games venue decision to the horrific terror attacks of 7/7 in London--Tony Blair remains ascendant. Here are some of the reasons why. Excerpt:
In May, in spite of winning a third election victory, Mr Blair seemed to be in the evening of his premiership. His Commons majority had been slashed. He had been vilified over the Iraq war in the election campaign. He was under mounting pressure to fulfil his pledge to stand down before Britain next went to the polls.
Blair may well be the most compelling leader on the world stage today. Capable of rock-ribbed conviction like Bush on critical matters like the war on terror, he is also more eloquent and intellectually nimble than his American counterpart. There are extremely few world leaders on the international scene today that might merit the moniker of statesman. Blair, all told, probably comes closest.
UPDATE: Some Britons beg to disagree: "Tosh. I'm amazed how Americans keep falling for this phony. Blair's a puffed-up toad riding on Mrs Thatcher's hard work and Major's success in securing Thatcher's work. Statesman my arse."
July 08, 2005
Cowell in the NYT
These kinds of New York Times pieces (they don't ever bother to advertise this one as a "news analysis" as is the custom!) really are unfortunate:
Perhaps the crudest lesson to be drawn was that, in adopting the stance he took after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Blair had finally reaped the bitter harvest of the war on terrorism - so often forecast but never quite seeming real until the explosions boomed across London.
Alan Cowell should re-read the al-Qaeda (or al-Qaeda affiliate) statement about the attack:
Community of Islam: rejoice at the good news! Community of Arabism: rejoice at the good news! The time of revenge has come for the crusader, Zionist British government.[translation via Juan Cole, with my emphasis]
Even George Galloway, in his "true to type" statement, mentions the role of Afghanistan in stoking some of the jihadist fervor. Put differently, it is irresponsible of Cowell to feed Blair's many vociferous Iraq critics by suggesting--but for that ill-fated Iraq adventure--all would have gone swimmingly on the Tube yesterday. Cowell couldn't quite come out and say the "Iraq war" in the sentence in question because he is aware of the inconsistency between his analysis and even the statement issued by the perpetrators themseleves (with the prominent dual mentions of Afghanistan). So he cleverly engages in semantic games by saying that Blair's "adopting the stance he took after the Sept. 11 attacks" was to blame for putting London in the line of attack. If he had left it at that, that might have been a fairer statement--though jihadist terror, most notably in New York City on 9/11 of course--occurred pre-Afghanistan and pre-Iraq, as we are all so painfully aware. After all, restoration of a massive Islamic caliphate from Andalusia to Jakarta--without any infidel interlopers sullying the utopic fun--such an agenda goes well beyond any of the latest crises whether in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Occupied Territories, Afghanistan, Iraq, the S. Philippines and so on and on.
Some people who have closely followed the [Madrid 3/11 bombing] investigations suggest that the bombings were not specifically timed for the election.
Not only were the 3/11 attacks well in motion before the Spanish elections--but they were also well in motion well before the Iraq war. When will people stand up and take better notice that the specter of jihadist terror is caused by variables well beyond Iraq, or Afghanistan or Chechyna or whatever crisis du jour prevails? Perhaps it would be a helpful start if pieces like Cowell's weren't so prevalent in leading newspapers of elite opinion. Yes, it is quite possible additional jihadists were rallied to the cause as a result of interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But put aside Iraq, for a moment, as it has become so hugely politicized and sober analysis is near impossible these days. Were we not to go into Afghanistan either in the aftermath of 9/11 for fear of increasing the chances of jihadist terror in a Madrid or London? And, all this aside, why should innocent Britons be slaughtered because their Prime Minister had the temerity to join a multilateral, NATO action in a country, Afghanistan, whose ruling regime provided a too safe, state sanctuary to nihilistic mass murderers? This is not to say, of course, that the ranks of the jihadists woudn't be thinned if Chechnya had some deep autonomy, or if an independent Palestinian state existed, or if U.S. troops had never been in Saudi Arabia, or if things were going a bit more easily in Iraq. But to lay the brutal London killings solely at the feet of Blair's Iraq involvement strikes me as unfair, inaccurate, and quite irresponsible. But we've come to expect this with much of the New York Times news "analysis", alas, not that they even care to label it as such anymore...
A final point. You might argue, why then have attacks occured in London and Madrid, say, but not Berlin and Paris? Partly because al-Qaeda realizes the propaganda value of spurring on exactly the type of analyses like Cowell's--so that people will say: the Poodle's acquiesence to the Toxic Texan's Iraq plans did us in!, or still: Aznar's kow-towing to Cowboy Bush is to blame!; and so on. So there is a strategic reason to hit London earlier than Berlin, say, or Milan or Rome next, for instance, before Lyon or Marseilles. But aren't we well aware that a French decision to, say, ban head scarves in its schools is enough of a jihadist casus belli to allow for mass slaughter in the streets of Nice or Tolouse? Or German troops being in Afghanistan to allow for killings in Cologne or Munich? Or that a Dutch filmaker can be massacred on the streets of Amsterdam, not because of the Iraq war, but because he dares to engage in documentary film-making critical of Islam. Such attacks, very unfortunately, may occur too. What will the NYT-narrative be then?
UPDATE: Elizabeth Tulis spots some additional information of interest that B.D., in haste, missed. Yes, the verbal skullduggery was worse than I initially realized. Thanks for the catch Liz.
July 07, 2005
Are al-Qaeda's Operational Capabilities Eroding?
If you had polled 100 guys on the Street yesterday along the lines that there will be a major series of coordinated terror bombings in London tomorrow, dozens of people will perish and hundreds will be wounded--so as to constitute the bloodiest day in London since WWII--how many of these Wall Street pros would have predicted the Dow would actually have gone up?
Not many, I'd wager. Maybe zero. Yes, part of the reason stocks rallied through the day (futures were relatively dismal pre-market open) was doubtless because of factors like those Mario Gabelli points out in the linked Bloomberg article (the underlying resilience of the earnings picture, for instance). But does one sense that the market might also, just maybe, be reacting to al-Qaeda's diminished capability to exact mass casualty terrorism on the scale of a 9/11 (at least, fingers crossed, to date)? Madrid was quite deadly, of course (193 fatalities if memory serves) but no 9/11. Ditto Bali. Now London, it appears, might turn out to have caused fewer than 50 dead (again, fingers crossed as we await final figures)--roughly on par with the Istanbul attacks.
This is still a tragedy of major proportions by any standard--dozens of civilian lives brutally snuffed out in a horrific mass murder in one of the world's great cities. But is it just me, or does one feel that the explosives used by al-Qaeda couldn't have been of the strength of those employed in Madrid? (Or perhaps today's attacks were the work of some less sophisticated spin-off, copy-cat outfit posing as the real al-Q? Which, if true, might go some way to debunking my thesis as a commenter points out, though I respond here). As anyone who has ridden in the London tube well knows, people are stuffed into the cars like sardines. Yet despite this, thank god, it appears there were many survivors indeed. How powerful could these explosives have been? There may also have been a lack of sophistication in this attack. Witness the double-decker bus. I am reading only two died, probably at least in part because the detonation was on the upper level of the bus--seemingly an error on the part of the terrorist--as one would surmise blowing up the bottom part of the bus would likely result in more killed (still, the toll may rise and the exact circumstances of the bus attack are yet to be determined). Regardless, don't you think that, for a Big Bang style attack in London--a major world and financial capital and home to the so hated Bush Poodle Tony--don't you think al-Qaeda would have put to use the very best explosives it had at its disposal? Given all the logistical effort involved in setting up a series of well sequenced attacks like this--wouldn't al-Qaeda have done, if it could, its very evil best to make sure the most potent explosives were available so as to kill hundreds, not dozens? I'm not a munitions or explosives expert, and I really put this out for comment rather than as anything close to some dispositive statement. And news reports are, of course, still quite sketchy. So consider this a speculative thought raised for debate.
But still, and these caveats aside, might not the markets' muted reaction be born at least partly of a sense that al-Qaeda, while not suffering due to the risible flypaper argument, might nevertheless be under immense pressure born of denial of a safe state sanctuary in Afghanistan (residual neo-Talibs and al-Qaeda there must constantly confront Seals and such, after all, rather than the occasional pin-prick cruise missile), better coordination of intelligence services and money flows between and among actors like the U.S. and, yes, Saudi and France, and even its greater isolation in the Arab world due to the nihilistic grotesqueries its Zarqawi affiliate visits daily on myriad Iraqis? What do commenters think?
P.S.: This is not to sound any triumphalist notes. Not even close. These attacks today were deadly, and sobering, and deeply tragic. And I fear that, in the future, an event that exceeds the horrific toll of 9/11 might just be inevitable (the reportedly narrowly avoided Amman chemical attacks, for instance, give me real fear on this score). But I do think it is silly to avoid analyzing whether al-Qaeda might not be a much weaker organization than it was on September 11th, 2001. It's at least a fair question. And if the evidence does suggest they are weaker (which it likely, all told, does)--this is due to the policies and strong action on the part of, er, certain governments--not just dumb sheer luck.
UPDATE: Fourteen updates (and counting)! Is that a record? More seriously, I think the concern expressed in said fourteenth update is arguably legitimate and worthy of some consideration. But I don't think "multiple smaller attacks" would be viewed by the UBL's of the world as more effective than massive 'spectaculars', all told, so that I would see a move towards more frequent and smaller attacks being born more out of necessity than volitional, freely exercised, strategic decision.
MORE: I certainly didn't mean to evoke a Brit Hume moment here. Apologies if it came off that way Dan.
...comment below. Such an attack was all but bound to happen, alas, despite the valiant efforts these past years of Scotland Yard/Metropolitan Police, as well as so many others in Britain's security and intelligence apparatus. London is simply too vast a metropolis, too tempting a target etc etc. Our thoughts are, of course, with the victims of these horrible attacks. One can only hope that the death toll will not rise too much higher. And one can't help wonder, now with London joining Madrid, if more intrusive airport style security checks might not someday become part of more routine ground transport commutes like subways and buses. It just seems impossible given the sheer volume of traffic--the millions who get on the NY subway or Underground daily. Still, who knows if such attacks continue--might it be deemed advisable to institute measures beyond assorted spot checks and heavier police presences on subways in major cities? As someone who will be on the 4,5,6 train every morning in New York City--it's a question that does come to mind...today, however, our thoughts are with the city and people of London. How tragic, of course, that the euphoric scenes from yesterday's Olympic Games decision in Trafalgar Sq are now cruelly overshadowed by these odious attacks. We face an evil and resilient enemy indeed. Today was a horrible reminder of this, in case anyone needed one.
July 06, 2005
Some Good News...
In what might be a sign of a new political landscape, a major Sunni umbrella group called on its members on Monday to register for the next round of elections and take part "despite our reservations."
Syrian security forces clashed early Monday in the hills overlooking Damascus with men believed to be militants connected to Iraq's insurgency, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported.
Here is the best case scenario. Sunni nationalist extremists, Baathist restorationists, and assorted fundamentalists/jihadists become increasingly marginalized as a) Sunni leaders begin to veer in a more participatory direction vis-a-vis both constitution drafting and going forward elections; b) the Syrians get more serious about stemming insurgent infiltration into Iraq; c) negotiations with insurgent groups and various local sheikh buy-offs reap fruit in terms of varied elements of the 'resistance' laying down arms; and d) trends "a" and "c" above continue to be spurred on by sheer disgust at the horrifically nihilistic tactics of the foreign jihadis. And this is just the Sunni side of the equation. Meantime, we must hope the Shi'a don't become overly resentful that we are becoming too pro-Sunni in an effort to beat-back the insurgency via too many concessions (the nightmare scenario here being a resurrection of Sadrite rebellion that spreads to other segments of the Shi'a community), whilst complex sectarian/ethnic brews like Kirkuk remain, relatively of course, stable.
All this is still possible, which is why I remain cautiously optimistic we will prevail in Iraq. But the chances of all these positive events (or positive non-events) occuring simultaneously in lockstep are, in my view, rather de minimis . So, put simply, while I remain optimistic all told--I nevertheless fear there will be many ups and downs ahead--not least a still concerted guerrilla movement that will go on for several years yet. And, always looming, the threat (if often overstated) of sectarian ruptures and violence leading to dissolution of a viable, unitary Iraqi state. My point? Yes, there have been some real positive developments of late. And I can only imagine how feverishly the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is working negotiations with the Sunni so as to take more air out of the insurgency. But the dynamics and variables at play in theater are very complex, and it would be irresponsible for war planners to assume some of the variables I've sketched above will all move in lockstep in the 'right' direction. All this, not to mention the difficult 'train and equip' effort, point to an effort that will last a good while yet--likely through the end of Bush's second term.
Bush in West Virginia...
"On July 4, 1776, more than five years of the Revolutionary War still lay ahead."
Bush isn't really saying it directly--and some will find the direct analogizing to the American War of Independence disingenuous--but it is clear that he is continuing (if indirectly) to walk-back Cheney's absurdist "last throes" statement. The subtext of the above quote was clear: Iraq may take years yet.
July 04, 2005
...and apologies for the light posting these past several days. I've had a couple urgent family matters to attend to, and I'm now airport-blogging (at Heathrow) in some haste as we're boarding soon. Perhaps appropriately, given that it's July 4th, today is my move back date to New York City. I touch down in the late afternoon local time, and am very excited to be coming back 'home.' I'm moving into my apartment tomorrow, and have a good deal of post-vacation catching up at the day job right out of the gates too--but you should nevertheless expect a healthy amount of blogging next week regardless (late evenings, as usual, but now evening is New York time!). On the agenda, particularly as I've spent a good deal of time just now in Europe, perhaps a few observations on the current political climate on the continent which some of you Euro-watchers may find of interest. In addition, I spent a decent amount of time on vacation wading and re-wading through the Fay, Jacoby, Schlesinger, Taguba, Church etc etc reports. So expect more on the "conscience caucus" soon too. Still, it will be a very hectic week, so go easy on me if productivity seems a bit light here and there!
Two final queries: 1) people seem to be having issues with posting comments so that they apparently need to re-post and then 'double' (really triple, as people then apologize for the double posting!) posts result. What is the issue? Perhaps I can have my software guy fix if people tell me what the specific issue is? Finally, and at the risk of mixing up the thread, you FT-subscribers out there should check out Amity Shlaes' piece today on the varied difficulties surrounding the rebuilding of Ground Zero.
The intro snippet:
One of the low moments in the history of New York came last week. That was when David Childs of the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm of architects unveiled yet another disappointing revision of plans for the Freedom Tower. George Pataki, the state’s governor, struggled for a comment that would convey official approval of the structure to replace the Twin Towers at Ground Zero. Finally he came up with one: “I think it will be very safe.”
As someone who will be living about half a dozen blocks north of Ground Zero, a query or two. Are we turning Freedom Tower into a Freedom Bunker? And how do we feel about the name Freedom Tower anyway? It strikes me as a bit lame, as does the 1776 feet requirement. This might not be the day to raise such awkward queries, but I wonder if we are provincializing somewhat the rebirth of lower Manhattan through displays of faux patriotism.
Shlaes also points out that the Empire State Building was built within 13 months in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash. She ends her piece, thus:
Ground Zero structures are now scheduled for completion in 2010 [ed. note: Is it just me, or do most of us think it the re-building effort will go well beyond that?]--a timetable eight times longer than that for the Empire State Building. If New York is to sustain its grandeur, let alone honour its dead, it needs to find a way to proceed more forcefully. As Mies [Mies van der Rohe who, among other buildings, designed the Seagram Building] said: "Build. Don't talk."
Well, some talk is still needed, of course. But we need to get moving more swiftly, and I think we can do better than anything I've seen tabled to date. What do commenters think? When I moved away from New York in 2002, and not least probably because I was in the city on 9/11, I very much hoped I would be back in New York by the time construction began of whatever structure replaced the WTC. I had no idea if my job would take me back to the city by then, and am immensely gratified and lucky it has. But we have to do it right--and we only have one shot. Have we done the best we can in term of balancing architectural planning with security? Is the design ambitious enough? Has the base of the proposed building become too bunker like? And what of the name? After all, for instance, what is "world trade" if not an emblem of freedom itself--of the vast energy born of hard fought commerce and movement of capital? Why not call it what it was, no? World Trade Center. That really encapsulates the core of New York City--the so far indomitable financial powerhouse--and no one can take it away from us. Except, perhaps, governmental commissars peddling patriotic nostrums that ring too saccharine for the boisterous Big Apple.
P.S. Just FYI...I am going to keep the name Belgravia Dispatch, despite the move away from London, for a variety of reasons, not least to save people from having to re-enter the url on blog-rolls and the like. In addition, Belgravia is London's embassy district, and I do think it gives off a pretty good sense of a blog specializing in foreign affairs. You will note, however, that amidst some site improvements (enhancements to the comments feature, underlining of hyper-links when you roll-over, and more) we've removed the 'from Belgrave Square' portion to reflect that this blog is now based out of Manhattan. I'll update the bio soon too...
July 01, 2005
You Go To War With the Army You Have...
The Quadrennial Defense Reviews of 1993 and 1997 set us on the course to placing over 50% of our combat arms in the Reserves and Natl Guard. To understand why this happened, you need look no further than the collapse of Communism and the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the entire American military began a reduction in force to allow us to scale back the massive defense budgets we had used to crush Communism under the weight of its own sloth. George H.W. Bush began this reduction to an expected reasonable level, yet with an absence of knowledge on exactly where the Soviets would be, and who else would arise to challenge us. William J. Clinton's administration collapsed the size further because there was no visible serious threat in 1993 after Saddam's defeat in Gulf War I and he rightly had other priorities he could spend the money on. We weren't ignoring the threats. They just were no where near the size and danger levels of the Soviets.
I get mail from one of my favorite academic correspondents re: this post:
...On the whole though, I'm with your detractors in the comments. 1) Philosophy is worthwhile 2) You aren't in a position, apparently, to judge whether it's worthwhile 3) While I think Leiter is wrong that anything like a 'brain drain' is underway, it certainly would be a bad thing if there were and 4) You might recall that political attitudes don't correspond to academic ability or accomplishment, and so you can't conclude that these characters are no loss to the U.S. just because their politics are extreme. (For what it's worth, I can attest that they are a loss, at least the names I recognize, even if the losses aren't in numbers should cause worry). 5) Because of assumptions like this, that someone's politics is a good indication of their academic accomplishment or value, your post and its less enlightened commenters do in fact make life more difficult for beleaguered conservative academics. As if we didn't have enough trouble. If all the various right-wing movements to regulate professor's political statements (cf, the horrific Academic Bill of Rights) and to abolish tenure win out, I won't have a job worth protecting from left-wing political bias.
I think people read a bit too much into my critique. I was really just poking some fun at Leiter and Co. for insinuating hyperbolically that the ranks of certain segments of U.S.-based academia were dangerously at risk of thinning out because of the horrors inflicted on the polity by the Bush 'regime'. Still, I take some of my correspondent's points. Just for the record, and truth be told, I consider philosophy tremendously important. Indeed Nietzsche, for instance, had a profound effect on my worldview. It was really the amazing self-contentness of Leiter's echo chamber-- linked to their so comme il faut anti-Americanism ("After Bush was reelected several of my UK colleagues as well as non-academic friends expressed amazement at the stupidity of Americans. I could not offer any defense!)--and finally coupled with the financial, er, motivations for some of the moving about 'cross the sea...well, it all served to smell quite heavily of "faux dissident" to me...
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