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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Clinton gambit 

I've read worse suggestions...1

CWCID: Ezra Klein.

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1. And, yes, I appreciate that he might screw it up. But Hillary has a stake in Iraq working out, and if her husband pulled it off it might solve a lot of problems all around. Partisan Republicans wouldn't be happy, but success would mean that both Democrats and Republicans were committed to a forward-leaning policy.


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Annals of medicine: The "G-shot" 

"It took the work out of having an orgasm," explains adult model and sex columnist Rita Granberry - "Rita G" professionally - who had the shot two months ago....

That this practice originated in Beverly Hills is hardly surprising, considering the popularity of so many other cosmetic surgeries among those in the entertainment industry.

Though Matlock says he gets customers from all walks of life - "doctors, lawyers" - he admits there are certainly some celebrities mixed in there.

After all, they're the ones who can afford the 90210-size price tag: $1,800.

"Some people may say that's a lot," says Matlock, "but we say it's a small price to pay for such a bundle of joy."

Bwahahaha!

CWCID: John Derbyshire.

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This was bound to happen... 

'Cat in Germany Has Bird Flu'

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More Muslim rage 

Apparently one is not allowed to depict Mecca on a playing card.
Police fired tear gas at hundreds of rampaging demonstrators on Tuesday in the main city of the Indian portion of Kashmir, protesting the publication by an Indian magazine of the picture of Islam's holiest Shrine on a playing card.


I guess that means that it would be a bad idea to build a huge "Mecca" resort in Vegas. Too bad.

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Iraq, civil war, and the strategic condition of the jihad 

Ralph Peters, author of New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremacy (which you have seen me highly recommend many times before), is in Baghdad for the New York Post. In today's column (free reg. req.) he argues quite forcefully that Iraq has not descended into the civil war only last week declared by the mainstream media. Fair use excerpts follow:
Last week, the terrorists scored a temporary win by bombing the Golden Mosque in Samarra. Retaliatory attacks pocked Iraq's urban landscapes, providing striking TV images. Starved for headlines, the global media declared a civil war.

But the Iraqis didn't sign up. Yes, there was "unrest." And a daytime curfew was imposed. But after an initial spate of bickering, Iraq's key leaders came together — as they could not have done under Saddam — to calm the situation.

More deaths and dangers lie ahead. Poor decisions made three years ago in Washington mean that we travel Baghdad's streets well-armed today. We never had enough troops at the bottom or sufficient integrity at the top. Now no honest voice would claim that America "owns" Iraq.

But that's less and less relevant. Ownership rightfully belongs to the Iraqis, and we've always believed that. Slowly but steadily, the better souls are taking responsibility for their own country. Setbacks frustrate us — but frustrate Iraqis even more.

Worried that we'll abandon them (a fear based on recent American history), many Iraqis sit on the fence in public. But they do not support the terrorists or insurgents. They want better lives, not more bombs.

What's most notable about the sectarian disturbances of the past week is what didn't happen: Extremists on both sides had a bash in the streets, but the general population didn't turn out. Iraqi security forces responded more effectively than they could have done even six months ago. Our own troops intervened, but at a lower pitch than in the past.

To the chagrin of the press, the country's leaders continue to muddle through. That may not sound inspiring, but it should. Well-intentioned men and women from each of the country's major constituencies are trying to find a formula for a new Iraq that works....

The situation in Iraq is far less rosy than our pigheaded ideologues promised. But, in this imperfect world, even the best results are flawed. Given the complexity of Iraq's human composition and its gore-soaked history, we should be astonished that the country's moving forward at all....

Yet, in their way, the Iraqis have more confidence than we do. Collectively and individually, they're struggling to find their place in a new order whose shape has yet to be settled. The country's future remains undecided — as it will for years to come.

Here in Baghdad, I stand by my position of three years past: We won't know the true results of our engagement in Iraq for at least a decade. And the Iraqis, not us, will decide the outcome.

Meanwhile, Iraq is moving forward. The process may be stronger than our disappointed initial expectations allow us to see. The real story of the tumult of the past week is that it didn't spread and didn't completely derail the painful process of forming a new government. Zarqawi didn't win.

If we're frustrated, the terrorists must be far more disappointed. What you really saw over the past several days was passive resistance to fanaticism. Despite old hatreds, the people spoke by refusing to succumb to calls for violence. Iraq could still break into bits, but we just witnessed an unsung moral victory.

Recognizing that there are bitter divisions over whether Iraq was a legitimate extension of the wider war, almost nobody disagrees that it is part of that war now. Commentators tend to obsess about the impact of present-day events on the future of Iraq and the politics of Coalition democracies, but the most important effects are on the wider war against al Qaeda and its ideological allies. When we look at Iraq through that lens, we see an entirely different debate. The clear majority in the West argue that the war in Iraq is enormously beneficial to the jihad. A small, besieged minority -- of which I am a member -- believe that Iraq is to al Qaeda as Kursk was to Germany, or Afghanistan was to the Soviet Union: a strategic ambush. Even as the war has clearly deepened anti-Americanism in the region, perhaps irredeemably so, as Peters argues it has also polarized millions of Arabs and other Muslims against the jihad. This polarization is the necessary first step to victory against the jihadi ideology.

Jihadism will not be defeated and the terrorist threat to the West ended until the ideology that underlies it is discredited among Arabs and Muslims. Why? Because only Arabs and Muslims can win this war, which is first and foremost a massive civil insurgency within Islam. If love of America were a prerequisite to that result, we would be in a lot of trouble in the wider war. However, as I have argued many times before, the crucial prerequisite is not that we win hearts, but that the jihad, by its actions and failures, makes enemies. As this happens, as the Arab and Muslim world realizes that the jihadis offer only death and despair notwithstanding their soaring rhetoric, more Arabs and Muslims will supply the intelligence and make the sacrifices necessary to defeat al Qaeda and its allies in the streets and finally in the caves.

The great opponents of the Iraq war, including many liberal hawks who have now "returned," argue that al Qaeda has leveraged the Iraq war into waves of new volunteers and huge new resources. However, this almost certainly true but exquisitely unidimensional fact is of little use in describing the wider jihad's strategic condition. The armed forces and military industrial capacity of Germany were almost certainly larger at the end of 1942 than at the end of 1941, but that did not mean that its position had improved. So it is with al Qaeda.

How do the jihadis earn these enemies that will one day, this generation or the next, defeat them? In two ways. First, the jihadis hurt their own credibility by adopting tactics that alienate Arabs and Muslims. The United States and its allies presented al Qaeda with an irresistable hard target when it occupied Iraq. Austin Bay made precisely this point two months before the invasion.1 When al Qaeda and its domestic Sunni allies failed to dent the hard target they had to choose between giving up on Iraq -- a decision that would have shattered their credibility -- or attacking softer targets. They started blowing up civilians, particularly Shiites, which decision polarized the insurgency and created millions of enemies of al Qaeda. They extended their war to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project survey taken before the attacks on Egypt and Jordan, support among Muslims for suicide bombing as a tactic and Osama bin Laden as a leader declined significantly between 2003 and July 2005, notwithstanding surging anti-Americanism during the same period. It is a safe bet that the jihad and its ideology is even less popular after the slaughter at Sharm al-Sheikh, Amman and the Golden Mosque.

Second, the jihadis create enemies by failing. Yes, al Qaeda was able to attract volunteers, money and arms to "defend" Iraq. Notwithstanding the ignominious failure of the optimistic scenarios peddled by the Bush administration before the war and in the early months of the occupation, the lingering imperfections of Iraqi democracy and the continuing low-grade war, it is far more likely than not that Iraq will sustain the most diverse and representative government in the Arab world (with the possible exception of Lebanon). More importantly, it does not matter if the Arab world believes that this result is in spite of America's efforts, rather than because of them. Indeed, al Qaeda will be all the more humiliated -- and its ideology that much more discredited among Muslims -- if Muslims believe that Iraqis alone defeated it in Iraq.

Chew on that, and report back in the comments.

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1. Some of his subsidiary predictions have not come true -- yet, at least -- but Col. Bay is close to the military and has confirmed to me that our wisest soldiers recognized that Iraq was an ambush for al Qaeda even if it was not characterized as such by the administration in advance of the war. And why should it have been? Who tells the enemy where you are setting an ambush?

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Karl Rove, Evil Genius, strikes again 

Hillary Clinton thinks that she has a stalker:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that President Bush's chief political strategist Karl Rove "spends a lot of time obsessing about me."

The former first lady and potential presidential contender was reacting during a radio interview to a new book quoting Karl Rove as saying she will be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president,

"He spends more time thinking about my political future than I do," Clinton said, noting that Rove and other White House aides have met regularly with her possible opponents in November's 2006 Senate race.

This last bit strikes me as the least credible statement to come from Hillary since she claimed that her success in trading cattle futures came from reading The Wall Street Journal. Or at least since she said she didn't know where the Rose Law firm billing records were. It is challenging to choose the very least credible thing Hillary Rodham Clinton has ever said.

Be that as it may, isn't it interesting that Hillary made this claim at all? She is very shrewd, so we should not assume that it is the gaff that at first blush it appears to be. She is offering the fact that Bush's Brain "obsesses" over her as evidence that her candidacy poses the greatest threat to Republicans. She is saying, in effect, that she should be the nominee of the Democratic party because the GOP's Evil Genius worries the most about her.

Of course, Karl Rove is once again a step ahead. He knew that Hillary would make this claim if he let it slip that she was on his mind, hoping that the Democrats would be silly enough to fall for it and nominate her.

Silly Democrats. Will they never learn?

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The Sunnis get a clue 

The Sunnis of Iraq have been living in denial. Many of them simply can't believe that they do not make up a majority of the country's population. Many others of them know that they don't, but believe that they can still dominate the country even after the Coalition has shattered the Ba'athist apparatus of oppression. The sectarian violence of the last few days, following the dispicable attack on the Shia's Golden Mosque, was ice water in their face. According to both the Associated Press and the New York Times, the Sunnis have woken up and are ready to come back to the table.
Leaders of the main Sunni Arab political bloc have decided to return to suspended talks over the formation of a new government, the top Sunni negotiator said Sunday. The step could help defuse the sectarian tensions that threatened to spiral into open civil war last week after the bombing of a Shiite shrine and the killings of Sunnis in reprisal.

That bloodletting has amounted to the worst sectarian violence since the American invasion nearly three years ago, and the possibility of Iraqis killing one another on an even greater scale appears to have helped drive Sunni Arab politicians back to moderation, after they angrily withdrew from negotiations last Thursday.

This afternoon, four rockets slammed into the Shouala neighborhood of Baghdad, killing at least four people and injuring at least 17.

The Bush administration has pegged its hopes for dampening the Sunni-led insurgency, and withdrawing some of the 130,000 American troops here, to Sunni Arab participation in the political process.

While the Sunni bloc, the Iraqi Consensus Front, has not publicly announced its decision and could still reverse course, Iraqi officials say the talks may resume as early as this week, depending on the level of tension in the streets.

Sectarian violence appeared to be ebbing across Iraq on Sunday, with more people venturing outside for the first time in days. Nonetheless, Shiite militiamen retained control of some Sunni mosques they had raided, and scattered mayhem left at least 14 people dead, including three American soldiers. At least 231 people have been killed since the shrine bombing.

The young spiritual leader of the Shiite militiamen, Moktada al-Sadr, made his first appearance in Iraq since the paroxysm of violence. He arrived in the southern port city of Basra from a trip to Iran, and, in a rare public speech, called for unity between Shiites and Sunnis while demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces.

Blaming the American military for the recent violence, he told Iraqis to "cut off the head of the snake." Thousands of followers, some waving Kalashnikov rifles, cheered in the streets.

The return to talks of the Sunni Arab bloc would be a crucial step in keeping on track the formation of a permanent government, which was mired in troubled negotiations even before the attack last Wednesday. The Sunni negotiator, Mahmoud al-Mashhadany, said Sunni politicians now recognize the need to form a widely inclusive government as quickly as possible to succeed the current interim government, dominated by religious Shiites and Kurds. (emphasis added)

Shorter New York Times: The Sunnis suddenly figured out (i.e., "now recognize") that if they push the Shiites too far a great many Sunnis will die, so they had better cut a deal. The Shia retaliatory violence has forced the Sunnis back to the negotiating table, and in a substantially weaker position. They are no longer imagining a return to preeminence or even arguing over control of the oil or amnesty for Ba'athist murderers. They are just hoping that the Shiites won't treat them the way they treated the Shiites during Saddam's era.

Either way, if al Qaeda was indeed behind the attack on the Golden Mosque, it did nothing but further weaken the leverage of its putative allies.

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The 'Toons intifada 

Unaccountably, I missed this brilliant cartoon from Cox & Forkum. Error corrected.

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Swift Saudi justice 

The Saudis are rolling them up after Friday's attack:
Saudi security forces on Monday shot dead five suspected terrorists believed to be involved in a foiled attack on the world's biggest oil processing complex, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. A sixth suspect was arrested.

The shootings came after security forces raided two houses in the Saudi capital of Riyadh that had been under surveillance, Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, chief spokesman for the ministry. The suspects were killed during a shootout, the ministry said in a statement.

"We think all the men involved had something to do with Abqaiq attempt," al-Turki said, referring to Friday's attempt by suicide bombers to detonate car bombs inside the world's biggest oil stabilization plant.

Fortunately, they had more justification for the killing than the "we think" standard -- a two-hour gun battle. Until Friday, al Qaeda had not been able to launch any meaningful attack in Saudi Arabia for more than a year, and it is debateable whether that attack was significant. Bluster notwithstanding, al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia is weakening and today's police action only deepens their problems.
Two guards and two would-be suicide bombers were killed. The Interior Ministry identified the attackers Sunday as Abdullah Abdul-Aziz al-Tweijri and Mohammed Saleh al-Gheith, and said both were on a list of the 15 most-wanted terrorists the kingdom issued in June.

The deaths of the two meant that only four remain at large of the list of 15. Ten have now died or been killed, and one has been arrested.

Saudi security forces have largely had al-Qaida militants on the run for the past year, arresting hundreds of suspects. They killed or captured all but one of the top 26 militants on a most-wanted list issued in December 2003, then issued the second list in June.


Whatever the role of Saudi Arabia in buying off al Qaeda before 2003, that ended with the open war between the two following the invasion of Iraq. As I have written many times before, victory in this war depends far more on creating enemies of the jihad than it does on winning friends for the United States. Minds matter far more than hearts. Saudi Arabia is a deplorable place and it depresses me whenever one of our presidents sees fit to declare it a "great friend" (however much realpolitik may require such politesse) but that does not mean that it isn't important that the Saudis are now fighting al Qaeda with hammer and tongs. That is a relatively new development that would not have come to pass -- not so soon, anyway -- had we not invaded Iraq.

UPDATE: Strategypage has a useful post on the attacks, including this bit:
Al Qaeda made a comeback in Saudi Arabia, with a February 24th suicide car bomb attack on the largest oil production facility in the country. The two cars were stopped by security guards (leaving three of the guards dead) and gunfire. The two bombs went off, killing the terrorists. Al Qaeda took responsibility for the attacks, and DNA tests of the bombers found that they were on the "36 Most Wanted Terrorists" list the Saudis issued last year.

When the putative top guys start blowing themselves up rather than recruiting others to themselves up, that might be evidence that the operation is in some strategic trouble and desperately in need of a tactical success.

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Calculation and miscalculation in the causing of wars 

I had occasion this evening to page through Philip Bobbitt's magisterial history of law, strategy, war and the state system, The Shield of Achilles. Early in the book he considers miscalculation and calculation as causes of war:
Many persons in the West believe that war occurs only because of miscalculation; sometimes this opinion is combined with the view that only aggressors make war. Persons holding these two views would have a hard time justifying the wisdom of the Alliance resistance to Communism the last fifty years because it was usually the U.S. and her allies and not the Soviets who resolutely and studiedly escalated matters to crises threatening war. Besides the obvious cases involving Berlin in 1952, or Cuba in 1962, we might add the decisions to make the move to war in South Korea and in South Viet Nam, the nature and motivations of which decisions are underscored by the persistent refusals of the Americans and their allies to bomb China or invade North Viet Nam. That is, in both cases the allied forces fought to stop aggression by going to war and declined to employ decisive counteraggression.

Those persons who concede these facts and conclude that these decisions were wrong, and yet who applaud the victory of the democracies in the Cold War, are perhaps obliged to reconsider their views. For it was this peculiar combination of a willingness to make the move to war coupled with a benign nonaggression, even protectiveness, toward the other great powers that ultimately gave the Alliance victory.

Discuss in the comments, with reference to today's geopolitics.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Social stress in Pakistan 

I've stumbled across an interesting English-language blog from Pakistan called The Glasshouse. Check out this post ("burning our house down") from last week, which explains the "cartoon riots" there in domestic political terms.
Using the pretext of anti-cartoon agitation the political parties from the religious right are attempting to harness public support and galvanize opinion against Musharraf and his military regime.

Their primary goal: 3 March 2006, the expected date of George W. Bush's planned visit to Pakistan....

And don't forget the value of rioting Islamists, every dictator's favorite reason to reject reform:
In recent years the military regime has often and quietly spurred on our ‘bearded’ elements to demonstrate and vent their rage in the streets. The idea behind this design is to demonstrate to the West that without the presence of Musharraf and his Khakis the country would rapidly descend to a state of mouth-frothing fundamentalism.

In all likelihood, Syria let the riots go on for exactly the same reason.

And, finally, class envy might also be a cause of the riots.
Our so-called post-9/11 economic turnaround has come at a tremendous cost to the lower income groups. While the GDP has improved, the Consumer price Index has soared, making many basic essentials frustratingly expensive for increasing millions. While the money-making Elites have made fortunes in the property and the share market, many more millions of Pakistanis have sunk below the absolute poverty line.

While the rich party (and immunize their guilty consciences by giving trifles to Eidi and other charities), the people are hurting. Forgetting the unfortunate unemployed for a moment, even many of the urban employed can no longer afford to feed their families adequately. Alarm bells should be ringing in Islamabad - but they aren't.

The Glasshouse is going up on my blogroll.

CWCID: Rezwan.

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Worse than losing Don Knotts 

There has been a disturbance in the Force even more titanic than the recent expiration of Don Knotts. Darren McGavin, known to millions of us who "came of age" in the 1970s as "Kolchak the Night Stalker," has died at age 83 (scroll down for all kinds of pictures).

Damn, that makes me feel old.

If McGavin's death makes you wistful, you can always immerse yourself in the original television series (which, unfortunately, you are unlikely to find in most video rental stores).

CWCID: Tim Blair.

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Casus riotus 

Apart from the fighting in Iraq, which has been an extended version of the same fighting that we have seen for months, what should we make of the difference in reactions to the Danish cartoons and the bombing of Al Askari Mosque? Haitham Sabbah, a Palestinian who blogs in English from Bahrain, erupts in a cri de coeur:
Protest… Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Pakistan, Iran, just name it…. everywhere Muslims filled the streets defying their government, and decrying the evil in the West. They call it Denmark, or the American Satan, or whatever. The reason? The infamous Danish cartoon.

Was that the greatest affront to Islam in recent decades? What about the more direct attack on Islam and Muslims? How about the bombing of a 1200 year old mosque? Yes, the bombing of the Shia Shrine in Samarra. How about the slaughter of hundreds of Muslims? How about burning and destroying dozens of Sunni mosques in Iraq as retaliation? Why is this not more offensive of these stupid cartoons? Isn’t Islam the Religion of Peace? Where are the street riots?

It was quiet in Muslim world… It is hot and bloody in Iraq!

Violence is the time-honored way of solving any dispute, political or not. Diplomacy is not respected. It’s a sign of weakness. This is how it looks now. Isn’t this a far greater sin for Muslims to kill each other and burn mosques and Koran than a disrespectful picture of the Prophet?

This isn’t going to get better. More and more it seems we’re dealing not with a small minority of kooks, but an epidemic of extremism that is bloodthirsty and violent at its core. Call it Sunni, call it Shi’a, call it Wahhabi’s, call it Batheist, call it whatever, I don’t care. It’s all revolving around the nation of Islam and Muslims.

Worse than the colorful infamous cartoons are the ‘human flesh cartoons’. The cartoons that are rioting our streets blindly. The human flesh cartoons that are killing Muslims, bombing and burning mosques. The cartoons which is blaming it on occupation and Israel. Did Israel send troops to burn our mosques? Did the American Satan send troops to kill our Imams and burn our Qur’an?

Shame on you Muslims. Shame that you protest over the Dane cartoons yet shut-up on the Human/Muslim flesh cartoons.

Not that I’m not asking Muslim to go out in protests around the Islamic world. But wondering why Muslims in Iraq are not Muslims enough? Why can they protest against a cartoon, yet do not respect their brother Iraqi Muslims? A tomb build of stones, covered with golden flakes is more important than hundred of slaughtered Muslim, by Muslims all in the name of ISLAM!

Read the comments -- apart from a few shallow American Bush-haters, there is some interesting debate among educated, cosmopolitan Muslims about the state of their own religion.

Haitham Sabbah's blog is a tough read if you are as strong a supporter of our national policy in the region as I am, but that is no excuse for staying away. He writes about all sorts of things from a perspective that would surely benefit American blog readers.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Hunt quail without hitting Harry! 

From (who but) the Grouchy Old Cripple, perhaps the most offensive flash game you will ever play.

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Eagle defiant 



Link.


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Iran holds Israel hostage, and that may be stabilizing 

Iran has threatened to attack Israel's nuclear facility and other "strategic assets" if the United States attacks Iran.
If the United States launches an attack on Iran, the Islamic republic will retaliate with a military strike on Israel's main nuclear facility.

Dr. Abasi, an advisor to Iran's Revolutionary Guard, said Tehran would respond to an American attack with strikes on the Dimona nuclear reactor and other strategic Israeli sites such as the port city of Haifa and the Zakhariya area.

Haifa is also home to a large concentration of chemical factories and oil refineries.

This is, of course, a completely illegal threat, unless of course the United States launches its attack with Israel's assistance, which is highly unlikely (but, scroll down this post for a reference to "listening centers" that Israel has established in Iraqi Kurdistan). If the world were at all principled, we would expect howls of outrage from the rule-of-law countries. It isn't, so we won't hear those howls, but there you have it. The moral equivalence fetishists will take refuge behind the excuse that Israel also has undeclared nuclear weapons, so it is hardly in a position to object.

Now for the counterintuitive part: perversely, this new threat from Iran is at one level comforting. Why? Because it amounts to recognition that Israel's existence -- however nettlesome and offensive it may be to the mullahs and their constituents -- is more valuable to Iran's national defense than Israel's lack of existence. That realization, which was by no means inevitable, is stabilizing because it means that Iran is unlikely to launch a first strike against Israel (other than through proxies like Hezbollah and Hamas).

One might also wonder why Iran is leveling this threat now. It has two other big cards -- the price of oil and its ability to disrupt in Iraq. It may have decided that yesterday's news -- that al Qaeda was gunning for Saudi oil targets and that Iraq was blowing up without orders from Tehran -- had weakened their leverage. After all, if oil is really expensive and Iraq is in chaos, why not hit Iran? Well, because they will retaliate against Israel.

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The death of collecting 

Longtime readers know that I collect coins, and close friends know that I still have thousands of bagged and filed comic books in the attic1. I also have a lame collection of presidential campaign buttons, and many years ago I collected interesting bottle caps, which I mounted on a board. My sister collected keychains, and my parents had an enormous decanter full of matchbooks and swizzle sticks from the many bars that they apparently frequented (one gets the feeling that college towns in the 1970s were fairly depraved).

Apparently, kids don't collect things any more. The WSJ has a hilarious front-page story titled "Whose going to want grandma's hoard of antique gnomes?". It makes the obvious yet somehow startling point that in most hobbies there are no young collectors to take the place of the old.
Collecting things, once a big part of childhood, is now pretty much passé with kids. Preoccupied with MP3 players and computer games, they are rarely found sitting at the kitchen table putting postage stamps into collectors' books or slipping old coins into plastic sleeves. These days, baseball cards and comic books are collected by adults. Of the estimated 37 million Americans who identified themselves as collectors in 2000, just 11% were under the age of 36, according to a study by marketing consultant Unity Marketing Inc. Most were over 50....

This bit is hilarious:
"Collecting is about memory, and young people today have a different memory base," explains Mr. Rinker, who is well known in antiquing circles for his books and personal appearances. He lives in a 14,000-square-foot former elementary school in Vera Cruz, Pa. He uses the classrooms as storage spaces for his 250 different collections. He says he doesn't care what becomes of it all once he's gone, and if his children opt to use his rolls of century-old toilet paper, "that might be the finest honor they can give me."

This is useful financial advice:
If new generations of collectors don't materialize, the value of items will plummet. That's why marble clubs, to generate enthusiasm, send free marbles to schools. The U.S. Mint has a Web site with cartoons and computer games to entertain kids about the thrills of coin-collecting. Indeed, children have shown considerable interest in the state quarters program.

My own view is that rare coins will hold their value better than other collectibles, because they have been turned into tradeable financial assets via slabbing (a system under which coins are graded against a uniform standard, encased in a plastic "slab", barcoded, and traded against a quoted price). But your collection of grungy old dolls may not hold its value.

This is the part that made me a bit sad, for some reason I can't explain:
Some collecting groups have created unstated policies. The 650-member National Milk Glass Collectors Society -- a group devoted to opaque glass -- holds an annual auction. When the rare young person shows up to bid on an item, older collectors lower their hands. "We back off and let the young person buy it. We want them to add to their collections," says Bart Gardner, the group's past president.

And, finally, this guy gets what he deserves:
Some collectors now accept that younger people don't want their stuff. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky, 64, has collected the last editions of 79 daily newspapers that closed down since 1963. His adult children don't want the old newspapers, which fill a closet. "The only kind of paper my family wants is greenbacks and stock certificates," he says.

He hasn't been able to find a university to take his collection, either. And now he's under the gun to get rid of it. He is about to marry his third wife, who is 27 years old, and in the prenuptial agreement, there's a clause that he must dispose of the collection by Dec. 31. She wants to store her shoes in that closet.

"At least I can wear my shoes," says his fiancée, Jennifer Graham. "He never reads those papers, and besides, he likes how I look in my shoes." (emphasis, er, added)

Candidly, it seems like a small price to pay. Compared to selling your soul.
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1. Comic books are just about the only paper that I actually file and classify. As my long-suffering tax advisor will testify, I store my financially significant shreds of paper under a system known around our house as "the undifferentiated piles" or "the huge wads," depending on our mood.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

CBS News does it again 

CBS News has altered another document in the production of a news magazine show. This time, "48 Hours Mystery" manipulated the front page of the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune in an episode about a murder trial. This offense is trivial in its consequences compared its previous attempt to throw a presidential election, but it does suggest that CBS News can still make big improvements in the control of its internal processes. It is particularly ironic -- almost hilarious -- that in this case CBS News manufactured an "exhibit" in a documentary that alleged that its subject, Ryan Ferguson, may have been wrongly convicted of murder.

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Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia: all turbin, no camels 

Al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the failed attack in Saudi Arabia earlier today. So, basically, the heart of the jihad is running a victory lap because it either induced or coerced a couple of guys to commit suicide by driving explosive-laden cars into a hail of small arms fire. Although two Saudi guards were severely wounded in the line of duty, nobody died who did not want to die, and no damage was done to the targeted oil facility. Seems like Allah works in mysterious ways. Or maybe He's on the side of the less bad guys.

Why would Al Qaeda's vaunted public relations arm seek credit for such unreconstructed lameness? Because it has not been able to mount any real attack in Saudi Arabia for more than a year, which fact is evidence of the weakening fortunes of the jihad.

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Supporting the Danes 

Three days ago, Christopher Hitchens, who has made something of a study of dissent, called on supporters of free speech to stand up for the Danes this afternoon in a demonstration at the Danish embassy in Washington. Pictures and video of the rally are up all over the blogosphere. There are a great many Danish flags and American flags, not a one of which is on fire. It is really quite inspiring, however much it plays in to the hands of the international Jewish conspiracy.

UPDATE: The Big Pharoah imagines doing the same thing in Cairo:
I'm thinking of organizing the same rally in Cairo. I just need 70 bodyguards, 3 armored humvees, plenty of tear gas, and 3 helicopters to immediately airlift the participants in case things got nasty. If you would like to participate please register your name by sending an e-mail to suicide.mission@yahoo.com.

Heh.

CWCID: The Egyptian Sandmonkey.

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Were you a "faculty brat"? 

I was. Ezra Klein has some spot-on observations about people skills behind the ivy:

I come from an academic community. I grew up in faculty housing. My father is a mathematician. And (warning: lighthearted generalities follow) many of his friends, as best I can tell, consciously operate from the Larry Summers Guide to Personal Interactions. Take the one who, back when my sister was going through a chunky phase, congratulated her on her rapidly expanding waistline and started guessing how much she weighed, much as you'd take a stab at height. He wasn't trying to offend, just stating a fact and offering various quantitative hypotheses about it. Replicate that a thousand times over and you have university parties.

The liberal arts faculty, however, are cut from a whole different cloth. Kisses on both cheeks, brie and wine on the table, ostentatious name dropping...to enter a lit professor's house is to see New York high society interpreted through the eyes of a star stuck honors student.

Indeed.

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Men are simple creatures 

That can be the only reason why this picture is one of the "most popular" photos in today's Yahoo! news feed.

And, yes, our standards and practices department does take off Friday afternoons.


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The "climate of fear" 

The American anti-Bush left almost religiously claims that the Bush administration has won such support for its foreign policy as there is by creating a "climate of fear" in the months and years following September 11. Paul Krugman makes the point with his usual clarity in his column in this morning's New York Times, which he titles "Osama, Saddam and The Ports":
So why did this latest case of sloppiness and indifference finally catch the public's attention? Because this time the administration has become a victim of its own campaign of fearmongering and insuation....

[Insert long passage about Donald Rumsfeld's famous handwritten notes on September 11, wondering whether there was a basis to hit Iraq.]

So it literally began on Day 1. When terrorists attacked the United States, the Bush administration immediately looked for ways it coulde exploit the atrocity to pursue unrelated goals -- especially, but not exclusively, a war with Iraq.

But to exploit the atrocity, President Bush had to do two things. First he had to create a climate of fear: Al Qaeda, a real but limited threat, metamorphosed into a vast, imaginary axis of evil threatening America. Second, he had to blur the distinctions between nasty people who actually attacked us and nasty people who didn't.

Without refighting the argument over the propriety of invading Iraq -- a topic I would be pleased to debate with Paul Krugman at any time and place of his choosing -- may I suggest that it is pure rubbish to accuse the Bush administration of creating a "climate of fear" in the wake of September 11. My recollection was that the President was a constant advocate for national calm, encouraging people to get out and keep doing what they were doing, only moreso. From his speech of September 20, 2001:
Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith. (Applause.)

I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information, libertyunites.org, to find the names of groups providing direct help in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The thousands of FBI agents who are now at work in this investigation may need your cooperation, and I ask you to give it.

I ask for your patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security; and for your patience in what will be a long struggle.

I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today. (Applause.)

As I recall, nobody at the time -- not even the editorial page editors of the New York Times, and not even Paul Krugman -- thought that was fear mongering.

In the weeks that followed, Americans went to thousands of emotionally devestating funerals. I myself cried at the heartbreaking service for my step-cousin, Welles Crowther, whose remarkable story of heroism on that day is here and here, among other places.

Then, beginning only one week after September 11, we discovered anthrax in our mail. My regional post office is in Hamilton, New Jersey, which was anthrax central. A friend of mine, who ran a medical device company at the time, had his sterilizer commandeered so that our mail could be baked, after which it would be placed in little baggies with a very ominous warning.

Then, less than a month after September 11, a sniper named Muhammad and a youthful accomplice began shooting people who made the mistake of pumping their own gas in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

Subsequently, we learned that on October 11, 2001, in the teeth of the anthrax crisis and the sniper attacks, the CIA told the administration that it had credible evidence that al Qaeda had smuggled a ten kiloton atomic bomb into New York City.
On October 11, 2001, a month to the day after the terrorist assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President George W. Bush faced an even more terrifying prospect. At that morning's Presidential Daily Intelligence Briefing, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, informed the president that a CIA agent code-named Dragonfire had reported that Al Qaeda terrorists possessed a ten-kiloton nuclear bomb, evidently stolen from the Russian arsenal. According to Dragonfire, this nuclear weapon was now on American soil, in New York City.

You can read in detail about the reaction of the administration to this report from the CIA George Friedman's excellent book America's Secret War : Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies, which I highly recommend.

Then, we spent the last part of October 2001 reading press reports about how the war in Afghanistan had become a "quagmire," and that we were doomed to refight the Vietnam war.

Under the circumstances, my recollection is that the Bush administration, and George W. Bush in particular, was a rock in a sea of national stress. So much so, in fact, that Democrats thought it propitious to mock him during the 2004 election cycle for not running from a room full of children on the first news of the first attacks of that fall.

Is al Qaeda "a real but limited threat," as Krugman claims? It is certainly limited in the sense that unlike the Soviet Union, it lacks the capacity to destroy virtually all life on Earth. But there was considerable evidence that before the United States began its counterattack 2001, eight years too late, it was rapidly becoming the only force on the planet with both the capacity and the inclination to destroy an American city. The left now wants us to think that the threat of al Qaeda was always a chimera. It is, after all, necessary that they distract us from the disturbing fact that al Qaeda had stitched its battle flag to one victory after another against the United States during the tenure of the previous administration, which still considered Iraq to be the greater threat.

Of course, unreconstructed lefties will argue in response that the Bush administration's real inflation of the threat did not begin until the administration ramped up its argument that we needed to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power in Iraq. There is no question, in retrospect, that the administration overstated the threat embedded in the primary legal rationale for the invasion, which was Saddam's violation of the prohibitions imposed upon his country in settlement of the Gulf War, particularly with regard to weapons of mass destruction.

The only real question is whether they overstated the threat in good faith, or in bad faith. Of course, there is no political advantage for Democrats if the overstatement was in good faith, based on estimates of the same CIA that had warned the President personally that al Qaeda may have smuggled an atomic weapon into Manhattan (however much the CIA's careerists have been leaking against this narrative since the invasion failed to validate the prewar estimates). The only partisan leverage comes from the claim that the overstatement of Saddam's WMD threat was in bad faith. Krugman and countless other Bush-haters point to Rumsfeld's notes and Paul Wolfowitz's longstanding support for regime change to argue that the Bushies wanted to take out Iraq from "Day 1." So? This doesn't prove bad faith -- the Clinton administration also thought that Iraq was a higher priority threat than al Qaeda. This amounts to the charge that the Bushies have been too consistent. That isn't a big winner, either, because it reinforces the idea that the case against Iraq was made in good faith. In order to sustain the claim that Bush overstated the threat of Iraq in bad faith, his opponents have cooked up various nefarious reasons, ranging from his personal desire to redeem his father to Dick Cheney's urge to line Halliburton's coffers to the "neocon" conspiracy to enslave America's foreign policy to Israel. None of these theories hold up under the slightest scrutiny (however much public relations value they may have among the conspiratorially inclined), so the left is forced into claiming, as Krugman just did, that al Qaeda just wasn't all that dangerous before the United States rocked them back with a massive military and covert offensive against them overseas.

Does anybody really believe that?

UPDATE: Doh! A commenter points out that the sniper attacks were in the fall of 2002, not 2001. Wrong but accurate once again!

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The Vatican: Goose, gander, etc. 

We have been worried about asymmetrical tolerance, and how the tolerant can contend with the intolerant. Most people in the world seem to believe that Muslims, just by being angry and violent enough, can nullify the right to free speech held so dearly by Westerners. Even the Vatican, which nobody should have expected to stand up for free speech, denounced the infamous Danish cartoons three weeks ago ("Western culture has to know its limits"). Now, however, the papacy seems to have rediscovered its inner absolutism (which is, after all, what one expects from the Catholic pope):
After backing calls by Muslims for respect for their religion in the Mohammad cartoons row, the Vatican is now urging Islamic countries to reciprocate by showing more tolerance towards their Christian minorities.

Roman Catholic leaders at first said Muslims were right to be outraged when Western newspapers reprinted Danish caricatures of the Prophet, including one with a bomb
in his turban. Most Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be blasphemous.
After criticising both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries that followed, the Vatican this week linked the issue to its long-standing concern that the rights of other faiths are limited, sometimes severely, in Muslim countries....

"Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves," Monsignor Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, thundered in the daily La Stampa.

Indeed.

While not endorsing free speech -- as I wrote above, that's not exactly a Catholic specialty -- the Vatican does demand equal treatment, and that is also important. Now, everybody with two brain cells to rub together knows that this is an entirely bootless demand, insofar as the House of Saud isn't going to authorize the erection of a cathedral in Mecca, or even a humble Quaker meeting house in Riyadh's dankest corner, just because the world's smallest country says it should. But, and this is the important part, the Vatican's demand casts the asymmetry of Islam's own requirements for "respect" in very sharp relief. This is a useful service befitting the leaders of the world's largest church.

CWCID: The always vigilent USS Neverdock.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Considering victory conditions in the wider war (a repost) 

[Several months ago, I wrote a long post on the significance of ideology to victory and defeat in the "wider war" against Islamic jihad. Since then, I have read two books -- Mary Habeck's Knowing the Enemy : Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror and The Next Attack : The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting it Right by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon -- that emphasize the central role of political ideology in al Qaeda's war. While the two books describe that ideology in substantially similar terms (although with different methods -- Professor Habeck emphasizes the intellectual history of the movement and Messers. Benjamin and Simon focus on the means for disseminating the ideology and its consequences in the present day), they propose significantly different strategies and tactics for defeating al Qaeda. The two books together, therefore, raise the interesting question, how do we defeat an enemy powered by ideology? I am working on an essay that addresses that very question. In anticipation of the exciting day (probably this weekend) when I finish that post, I humbly suggest that you read (or even re-read!) a post I wrote before I read either of these books, "considering victory conditions in the wider war and the importance of ideology." It is republished below for your convenience. - ed.]

With all the talk over measuring "victory" and the absence thereof in Iraq, one is almost forced to think about the definition of victory in the wider war against Islamic jihad. It is always important to define victory in war, but it is especially so in a shadow war. This is because our leaders demand exceptions from usual constraints during war (such as, for example, the requirement for wiretap warrants or the availability of the writ of habeas corpus). We need to grant them certain of these exceptions, but we also cannot allow the war to become an excuse for the unwarranted concentration of power. We have to have some sense of when the war will end.

In a hot war between nation-states, the victory condition is usually obvious: the surrender of the other side. In a shadow war, though, victory is hard to define and therefore there is the risk that wartime exceptionalism will outlive its true usefulness.

It is not necessarily obvious how a shadow war will end, even during the waging of it. In 1950, the West had no idea that the Cold War would end 25 years later with the Helsinki accords, 39 years later with the fall of the Berlin Wall, or 44 years later with the fall of the Soviet Union. Similarly, we cannot know today how the war against Islamic jihadism will end, or how clear it will be when the end comes that it has come. Nevertheless, the very ambiguity of this war makes it all the more important to debate the question of victory conditions. There will be no surrender ceremony on a battleship or signing of a cease fire agreement, so we need to know what to look for instead.

These questions have become especially acute in light of the present debate over balancing security and privacy interests. In that political argument, opposition to the Patriot Act and outrage over the NSA's dropping of eaves seems inversely correlated, however loosely, with whether one actually believes we are in a global war for our survival. Even those of us who accept the existence of the war, though, want to know what victory will look like, both so that we do not extend wartime exceptionalism beyond its useful life and so that we do not quit the fight too soon.

With that in mind, this post will discuss victory conditions in the wider war against Islamist jihad, and ways to measure our progress in the meantime.

Background

About a month ago I published an updated version of Steven Den Beste’s famous “strategic overview” of the war on Islamic jihad and the position of Operation Iraqi Freedom within that struggle. At the time I said that the purpose of the exercise was “to organize my thinking about the war,” and that I would in all likelihood use it as the basis for other work. Much of the analysis in this post assumes that you have read that annotated strategic overview, or at least some of the source materials linked therein. You do not need to read that document in order to understand this post, but I would appreciate it if you would before you flog me in the comments. Nothing against comment flogging, but it should be informed.

One cannot articulate victory conditions for a war without defining the war’s strategy. While I have done that at length in the annotated strategic overview and in numerous disparate posts, here I propose a series of minimalist statements that may be made about the war against al Qaeda and Operation Iraqi Freedom. At the end, the victory conditions almost write themselves.

A note on Iraq

The most complicated and contentious part of the discussion involves Iraq. Operation Iraqi Freedom had many objectives, some of which were largely unrelated to the war on Islamic jihad (the elimination of Saddam Hussein and his sons as a strategic threat to the region, the ending of the sanctions regime, the securing of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the redemption of the United Nations Security Council), and some of which were very relevant. We have manifestly achieved the former, and in that sense have already "won." But the Iraq war is also a battle in the wider war, which we have not yet won. Most public discussion of victory conditions in Iraq fails to distinguish between these two different purposes, partly because the Bush administration has not done a very good job of articulating these purposes, partly because it has to some degree dissembled on purpose, and partly because the mainstream media and domestic and foreign opponents of the Bush administration have willfully ignored what the President has said. This post encompasses the battle for Iraq, but does not try to define victory in that battle independently of the wider war.

What we may say about the war

Al Qaeda is an ideological movement with a deep philosophical history. It seeks to establish an oppressive regime run on roughly the same basis as the Taliban ruled Afghanistan -- anything less is "apostate." This “Caliphate” is to extend to the high water mark of Islamic conquest in ages past. In al Qaeda's vision, the Caliphate’s lands embrace essentially the entire world from al Andalus (you might call it “Spain”) in the west to East Timor in the east. In the extended version, the Caliphate eventually rules the entire world.

The Caliphate cannot emerge, al Qaeda says, as long as "apostate" regimes rule Muslim lands.

Accordingly, Al Qaeda’s primary enemies are the “apostate” regimes that rule the Muslim world under an authority or according to laws that are inconsistent with al Qaeda’s ideology.

The occupation of “Muslim lands” by Jews is particularly offensive to the jihad.

Al Qaeda believes that neither the apostate regimes nor Israel can defeat al Qaeda over the long-term without the support of the United States and its allies. Therefore, the United States must be induced to withdraw all support for Muslim apostate regimes and the “Zionist entity.”

Al Qaeda means "the base." According to its ideology, it does not intend to win the struggle itself, but to create the conditions under which the Caliphate can emerge.

Al Qaeda and its affiliated and allied organizations are networked. It disseminates its ideology over the web and its orders through routed messages and public pronouncements. If we destroy one part of that network, it will eventually route around the damage.

Al Qaeda’s resources are not, however, unlimited. It relies on supporters for money and people. Therefore, al Qaeda can raise money and recruit people only for so long as its ideology remains credible enough to attract money and people.

The credibility of al Qaeda and its ideology derives from victories against al Qaeda's declared enemies. Bin Laden and his old guard established their credibility against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and strengthened it since through victories in numerous attacks (e.g., Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, Yemen, New York, Washington, Bali and Madrid).

Al Qaeda’s ideology has roots that go back a long time. This ideology has significant support throughout the Muslim world and some support in the West. This should not surprise us. Communism also long enjoyed considerable support in the non-communist world, until it was discredited. We should assume that al Qaeda's support will persist until its ideology is discredited.

Jihadis in al Qaeda’s networked war are embedded throughout the world, including in the West. Some of these jihadis were trained in Afghanistan during al Qaeda’s golden years, and others are locally recruited amateurs. Some jihadis are unrecruited amateur rogues who believe the ideology they hear from radical imams or read on the web and decide to act outside the network.

Al Qaeda and its followers are of greatly varying training and competence. A veteran of Afghanistan who can travel in the West is extremely dangerous. An untrained Dutch Muslim on the streets of Amsterdam can kill a few people, but probably cannot kill a great many people and certainly will not be trusted by the people in al Qaeda with that organization’s most precious secrets or assets.

It is therefore important to kill or capture al Qaeda veterans. Yes, others will spring up as long as the ideology remains sufficiently credible to attract new blood. But -- and this is a huge "but" -- the new recruits will take time to train (especially now that Afghanistan is interdicted) and an even longer time to earn the leadership's trust. Every new recruit is a potential spy, and will not soon be trusted with WMD even if the network acquires them in deployable form.

The interests of the United States in the Middle East are so deep that it will not be driven away by garden-variety terrorism. Even multiple bombings such as in London or Madrid would not do it. Only massive casualties might provoke a revision of American policy in the region. Everything else would stiffen American resolve rather than erode it.

Mass casualty attacks are tough to conceive, plan and execute. After September 11, they are even tougher for people who do not blend in well in the West. This means that well-trained Westernized jihadis are even more valuable than they were.

Recognizing that the collapse of the Twin Towers was a “lucky break” from Bin Laden’s perspective, mass casualty attacks are hard to pull off without "weapons of mass destruction" ("WMD").

WMD are difficult to obtain, develop, transport and deploy without the resources of a state and a refuge in which to operate.

There are many states in the world that would love to hurt the United States. These states need not support al Qaeda’s ideology to be willing to strike the United States through al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, many, if not most, of those states can be deterred from doing so, however much they wish it were otherwise.

Our ability to deter these states depends not on our capacity to retaliate (which is indisputable), but on the credibility of the threat that we would retaliate.

A few states have demonstrated such total irrationality that they cannot be deterred, or we cannot rely on the mere hope that they will be deterred. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was one of these regimes, as were the Taliban. Iran may not be deterrable, but is skillful enough at brinksmanship that it probably is (Iran is a lot of things, but it does not appear to be reckless, and recklessness is the most reliable indicator that a country cannot be deterred). Undeterrable states must be interdicted.

“Soft” considerations such as the alleviation of Arab Muslim poverty or a two-state peace in Palestine will have little or no impact on the credibility of al Qaeda’s ideology. There is no evidence that leading jihadis are now or have ever been poor. The sort of people who would be attracted to al Qaeda's ideology are not interested in peace with Israel, only its annihilation. Therefore, these otherwise positive developments will not weaken al Qaeda, at least not in the short term.

Al Qaeda is so embedded in the Muslim world that the West alone can neither destroy its organization nor discredit its ideology. We need help from Muslims, particularly Arabs, to separate the bad guys from the neutrals and the allies. Muslims must bear the brunt of this war, which is for the political heart of Islam.

In the long run, al Qaeda poses an existential threat to Muslim regimes. In the short run, they will respond in the war according to short-term interests. For example, for more than a decade the Saudis bought peace from al Qaeda. Pakistan's cooperativeness ebbs and flows with the pressure brought to bear on its government by the United States and the Islamists, respectively. Both al Qaeda and the United States coerce front-line states into cooperating with varying degrees of success.

For the United States, cooperation means deploying the assets of the state, including the police, intelligence agencies, and military, to fight Islamists, prevent sympathetic citizens from supporting the jihad, deny the jihad safe haven and support American counterterror operations.

For al Qaeda, cooperation means "neutrality," plus a refusal to cooperate with the United States.

Until September 11, the government of Pakistan cooperated with al Qaeda. Since then, it has cooperated with the United States within its political constraints. Those constraints include strong support for Islamists among its population and within its army and secret police. The United States pressures Pakistan whenever it waivers by playing the India card, which the Bush administration has done deftly.

Until the invasion of Iraq, the government of Saudi Arabia cooperated with al Qaeda. Since then, Saudi Arabia has waged a ferocious war against al Qaeda. This switch occurred because the willingness of the United States to put soldiers into the heart of the Arab Middle East redefined the credibility of America's threats, and constituted a commitment from which the United States couldn't easily withdraw. This meant that the United States was deadly serious about the war, as it had not been during the Clinton years, and that gave the Saudis assurance that we would not retreat behind our oceans when the going got rough.

Today's Muslim regimes cannot win this war in the long term. Most of them are absurd governments of kings and princes or brutal generals whose idea of succession planning is primogeniture. (Kings?!? How often do we Americans, who institutionalized lèse-majesté, consider how idiotic a system monarchy really is?) These kings, princes, sheikhs and generals-for-life are clowns, and anybody who views any of them -- even the "moderate" ones -- as better than contemptible is seriously deranged. History is against them, and every thoughtful person in the world knows it. The question is, what will replace them? The jihadis are fighting to install a Caliphate and lower a dark curtain over a fifth of the world. The United States and its courageous allies are fighting to create room for modern democratic governments based on popular sovereignty.

Since the region's clown governments lack credibility and citizens who are willing to take great personal risks to defend them, al Qaeda is able to create spaces in those countries in which to operate (see, e.g., southern Saudi Arabia and Pakistan's "tribal regions"). Where al Qaeda flourishes, it is able to cajole and coerce the local population -- the Average Abdul -- into cooperating. This creates a local base from which it can "vex and exhaust" the apostate regime.

We need Average Abdul to stop cooperating with al Qaeda and to start turning in the jihadis in the back of the mosque. Unfortunately, he won't turn in the jihadis because he is more afraid of them than the local regime and he will not bear any risk to defend the clowns. The jihadis will kill him and his family for blowing the whistle, but the clown regime will neither punish him for keeping silent or induce him to fight the jihadis out of patriotism. Average Abdul, simply put, is unwilling to risk his life for the clown regime, which has not earned his devotion, even for money.

Average Abdul will, however, risk his life for an idea, just as al Qaeda's jihadis do. Once, that idea was pan-Arabism, or Communism. Today, both are discredited. "Moderate Islam," whatever that means in a dusty town in Syria, Jordan or Egypt, obviously does not have the fire to motivate Abdul to risk his life to fight the Islamists. The only idea with the juice to do the job is popular sovereignty. Democracy. This is the realist case for the Bush administration's "democratization strategy."

The jihadis understand this, and fight against democracy in the Arab world with everything they've got, even if it costs them their Ba'athist allies.

In fighting against democracy in the Arab world, the jihadis polarize Arabs. While many decry this polarization as "instability," by its nature polarization creates more enemies of the jihad. Some of these new enemies of jihad will be disgusted with al Qaeda's mass casualty attacks. Others will be inspired by their last, best chance at representative government. Either way, enemies of the jihad pick up a weapon, walk a post and -- most importantly -- drop a dime on their enemy, even if they don't like Americans. Wherever a reasonably representative government emerges, Average Abdul will start to turn in the jihadis in the back of the mosque, now for his own reasons.

Of course, the clown regimes will also try to subvert the democracy movement, which is ultimately as great a threat to their longevity as al Qaeda. That is why they are at least tacitly supporting the resistance in Iraq and fighting political reforms in their own countries tooth and nail, hammer and tongs.

In Iraq, al Qaeda is so concerned that democracy might take root that it has drawn a line in the sand. Having fled Afghanistan and taunted the West with bloody but fundamentally low-impact attacks from London to Bali, al Qaeda has finally put its credibility on the line in Iraq.

Unfortunately for al Qaeda, Iraq is a strategic trap, because the conditions of the battlefield are forcing al Qaeda to inflict massive collateral damage. Its only tools are targeted assassinations, publicized atrocities (such as webcast decapitations) and indiscriminate mass casualty attacks. None of these is endearing al Qaeda to Arabs. It is one thing, after all, to slaughter Westerners, Russians and Jews, but Arab children are another matter entirely. And al Qaeda has no opportunity to build support by doing good in Iraq, as it did in the Taliban's Afghanistan (and as insurgencies from Indochina to Palestine have done). In Iraq and elsewhere in the Muslim world, the jihad cannot build schools or help the poor -- it is the Americans who are doing that. Al Qaeda can only lash out.

In Iraq, al Qaeda's indiscriminate violence does not stand a snowball's chance in Ramadi against 9 million purple fingers. Even its Sunni rejectionist allies will desert the jihadis once they have coerced the best deal they can get from the majority. Al Qaeda has staked its prestige on Iraq. If it is discredited there -- whether by our guile or its own lack of it -- so will its ideology be.

As al Qaeda suffers defeats, its ideology will slowly lose credibility, just as communism did. As its ideological credibility degrades, it will be much harder to attract recruits and money. Also, al Qaeda's ability to coerce the front-line apostate regimes will diminish, and those governments will increasingly cooperate with the West, hoping to preserve some measure of privilege once the war peters out.

So, progress in the war against al Qaeda consists of these elements:

Over the short-term

a. Arrest or kill the jihadis whenever and wherever possible. Yes, their network will route around the damage, but new fighters need to be trained and trusted enough to deploy. When we destroy the old guard we buy critical time.

b. Coerce Muslim states, including especially the clown regimes, into cooperating with the United States. If successful coercion requires that the United States stake its own credibility -- as in Iraq -- so be it.

c. Interdict states, Muslim or otherwise, that we cannot reliably deter from assisting jihadis to acquire and deploy WMD.

d. Do not lose a chance to humiliate al Qaeda on the battlefield.

Each of these methods will inspire -- and have inspired -- resentment in the Muslim world and, indeed, among anti-Americans in the West. While that resentment costs us something and more skillful management of the war might mitigate it, we cannot allow the resentment of others to stay our prosecution of the war.

Over the long-term

x. Give the average Muslim an idea worth fighting for. Average Abdul need not "like" the United States or give us "credit" in any way, shape or form for this strategy to work. He only needs to want to choose his own government and have an idea how to do that.

y. As the winds of history sweep away clown regimes, see that credible, serious, non-jihadi governments take their place. These governments need not be secular, and their institutions do not have to be instantly mature. But they need to be credible and serious, and derive their legitimacy from a broad swath of the population willing to defend them against jihad.

z. We must do what we can to humiliate al Qaeda on the battlefield and foster the repudiation of jihadi ideology in the Muslim world. While public diplomacy may help, one lesson of Iraq is that al Qaeda will discredit itself if we goad it into fighting in the Muslim world rather than in the West. By some accounts, bin Laden wanted the United States to invade Iraq, thinking that it would be a strategic trap for the Americans. If al Qaeda fails to stop the new democracy there, however, Iraq will have been a strategic trap for bin Laden.

The victory condition

Once sufficiently discredited, the ideology of the jihad will no longer attract money and volunteers. We will have won when al Qaeda no longer has the human and financial resources to develop or acquire mass casualty weapons and deploy them in the West or against Western interests in the Middle East.

A final observation

There are more lessons in the Cold War than Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft ever will admit. Like jihadism, communism was conceived 70 years or so before it established its first regime. Thereafter, like jihadism, it enjoyed considerable support even within the countries of the West that opposed it. Nevertheless, after most of a century, communism as anything other than a name was discredited everywhere that mattered, and could no longer attract money or volunteers or even favorable coverage in university newspapers. It will take much less time to discredit the jihad because its first regime was Afghanistan, not the largest Great Power of its age. But we will not have won until we have done so.

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Traditional Press in Free Fall 

Tigerhawk's story below noting the bipartisan critique of the American mainstream media for its abandonment of free expression in the Cartoon Intifada by Bill Bennett and Alan Dershowitz calls to mind the series of crises that have afflicted the television and newspaper journalism craft of late. I had my own reaction a few days back.

Let's review the list of crises, though I am sure the list is terribly incomplete, and in no particular order:

1) Eason Jordan, CNN News Chief, admits in a New York Times op-ed piece that CNN repressed news reporting from Iraq in order to maintain good relations with the Saddam Hussein ruling regime.

2) Dan Rather conducts an appalling, and fawning, prewar interview with Saddam Hussein.

3) Jayson Blair is outed for plagiarism and other ethical transgressions at the New York Times, leading to the ouster and replacement of its editor-in-chief.

4) Dan Rather, Mary Mapes, et. al. author a fraudulent report on George W. Bush's National Guard service, replete with faked and forged documentation. Mapes is fired, Rather retires, and Andrew Heyward (former head of CBS News) is gone within months.

5) Eason Jordan is reported to have accused the United States military of deliberately targeting journalists in Iraq (targeting as in trying to kill). He does this in front of a generally liberal, European audience gnerally opposed to the Iraq War. He offers no evidence to support his accusation. Of course, he doesn't have any. Bloggers are there to report it, as is Senator Barney Frank (D-Mass) who corroborates the blog reporting. Eason Jordan is gone a few weeks later. Interestingly, the organizers of Davos refuse to release the video or transacript of the remarks, repressing the information rather than letting sunlight in.

6) Newsweek authors a factually incorrect cover story accusing the US military at GITMO of desecrating the Koran. The story helps to launch riots, fires lots of anti-American raging. It is all BS.

7) Danish press publishes cartoons offensive to Muslims. After months of PR planning, radical Muslims launch "outrage riots" to repress free speech rights in Europe and around the world. Generally, it works. Virtually the entire mainstream media caves. Pathetic.

8) The NYT, defending itself against being scooped by its own reporter James Risen, chooses to publish information about a clandestine signals intelligence program orinted toward monitoring al Qaeda communications originating abroad into the US. The Justice Department is investigating.

9) Nicholas Kristof of the NYT publishes the first piece launching Plamegate, which incorrectly and controversially claims that Vice President Cheney authorized a CIA mission to Niger to investigate Iraq's purported efforts to acquire uranium in violation of its agreements with the UN. It is this false claim which elicits a response from the administration which now has Scooter Libby defending himself in what has now become, plainly, the non-story that it deserves to be.

This list is much longer, but I have a day job. What the hell is going on?

The traditional media is in free fall because they no longer practice what they preach -- they repress rather than encourage free speech. The mission use to be to seek the truth wherever it may lead. Today's media generally believes it knows the truth and publishes stories to support its version of it; perhaps just as ominously, it represses stories that don't support their version of the truth.

And the media consuming public fully knows this. This is why blogs like this and thousands of others exist. It is why broadcast news ratings are collapsing, why Fox's ratings have shot past CNN, why talkradio has exploded and why traditional newspapers are seeing their circulation plummet.

More to come...

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Standing up 

Bill Bennett and, if you can believe it, Alan Dershowitz have teamed up to explain quite precisely why the mainstream media has failed to live up to its duty, its responsibility, and its ideals in its coverage of the cartoon intifada. Before we get to the really interesting questions -- how did these guys come up with the idea of writing together, and who called the other first? -- read this fair use excerpt, published here for the sole purpose of enticing you to read the whole thing:
We two come from different political and philosophical perspectives, but on this we agree: Over the past few weeks, the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities. To our knowledge, only three print newspapers have followed their true calling: the Austin American-Statesman, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Sun. What have they done? They simply printed cartoons that were at the center of widespread turmoil among Muslims over depictions of the prophet Muhammad. These papers did their duty.

Since the war on terrorism began, the mainstream press has had no problem printing stories and pictures that challenged the administration and, in the view of some, compromised our war and peace efforts. The manifold images of abuse at Abu Ghraib come to mind -- images that struck at our effort to win support from Arab governments and peoples, and that pierced the heart of the Muslim world as well as the U.S. military.

The press has had no problem with breaking a story using classified information on detention centers for captured terrorists and suspects -- stories that could harm our allies. And it disclosed a surveillance program so highly classified that most members of Congress were unaware of it.

In its zeal to publish stories critical of our nation's efforts -- and clearly upsetting to enemies and allies alike -- the press has printed some articles that turned out to be inaccurate. The Guantanamo Bay flushing of the Koran comes to mind.

But for the past month, the Islamist street has been on an intifada over cartoons depicting Muhammad that were first published months ago in a Danish newspaper. Protests in London -- never mind Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Iran and other countries not noted for their commitment to democratic principles -- included signs that read, "Behead those who insult Islam." The mainstream U.S. media have covered this worldwide uprising; it is, after all, a glimpse into the sentiments of our enemy and its allies. And yet it has refused, with but a few exceptions, to show the cartoons that purportedly caused all the outrage.

Indeed. And if you somehow failed to read Christopher Hitchens' bracing essay in Slate, do that as well. If you live in the Washington area, you still have a chance to join him tomorrow afternoon in a show of support at the Danish embassy. And, finally, if by some strange chance you missed my own post on assymetrical tolerance, here's a handy link.

So back to my really interesting question: how did these guys get together? It seems to me unlikely that the WaPo editorial page editors, having decided not to publish the cartoons, would have solicited this lambasting. It is, frankly, impressive enough that they published it. So who had the idea? Dershowitz, Bennett, or some hidden hand? Whoever had the idea deserves great praise, because these two authors will attract much more attention than either one of them alone would have. The fact of their co-authorship is itself so newsworthy that many people will read their essay out of morbid curiousity, if nothing else.

CWCID: Instapundit.

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Regulating heckling 

When a controversial speaker comes to a college campus, he or she can expect to be heckled (for some spectacular examples, see the hugely entertaining documentary about Ann Coulter, Is It True What They Say About Ann?). That's what college students do, and unless it gets out of hand and interferes with the actual speaking I have not heard of somebody actually being disciplined for it.

Until now.

Here's an example of a college regulating the content of a single heckle consisting of two words, neither of them obscene.

Friendly observation that the blogger in question knows how to heckle herself.

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Nigeria: The Christians counterattack 

In Nigeria, being one of the roughest places on the planet, even the Christians form into machete-wielding mobs:
Mobs of Christian Nigerian youths armed with machetes and clubs killed dozens of their Muslim neighbours, witnesses said, in reprisal for a massacre inspired by anger at a Danish newspaper.

Rioting broke out in trading town of Onitsha on Tuesday in retaliation for the deaths on Saturday of at least 15 Christians in the northern city of Maiduguri, where Muslims had protested over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in the European press.

The violence was unspeakable:
Scattered by the side of the road were the bloodied corpses of at least 19 people, beaten, slashed and in some cases burnt. Caps and Islamic prayer beads associated with the northern Hausa tribe lay scattered around the bodies.

Tony Iweka, a magazine editor who ran the gauntlet of the mob to escape Onitsha and made it to the bridge, told reporters that he had seen 15 more corpses lying in the streets of the city.

"Some of them had been beheaded, others had had their genitals removed. I saw one boy holding a severed head with blood dripping from it," he said.

The narrative so far, then, is that radical Danish Muslim clerics provoked a violent reaction to the now infamous Danish cartoons throughout the Arab Middle East. They did this by inserting three much more inflammatory images into the portfolio of original drawings, and agitating through the region over many months. Once the riots started, various of the regimes in the region, including particularly Syria and Iran, almost literally fanned the flames for their own purposes: Iran to brush back the European countries pressuring Iran over its nuclear program, and Syria to show the United States that the Assad regime is all the stands between order and chaos in that country. Eventually, Nigerian Muslims, who like most Nigerians are not the most plugged-in people in the world, got around to rioting on their own, killing at least 15 Christians on Saturday. Christians in a different part of the country struck back at different Muslims on Tuesday.

In the small chance you were looking for it, there is no evidence that symbols -- the crescent, the cross, the star, national flags or even a tattered copy of the Holy Koran -- are any less capable of motivating attack and counterattack than they ever were.

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The obvious response 


Caption:
Pakistani Shiite Muslims burn United States and Israeli flags to condemn the bombing on the Golden Mosque, one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites in the Iraqi city of Samarra, at a rally in Karachi, Pakistan on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006.

I can see burning the American flag -- there are so many of them everywhere that it is sort of the burning flag of convenience for Muslim mobs the world over. But who are these people that keep a stock of Israeli flags lying around, ready for burning whenever some jihadi blows something up? Is there really any question that there are more Israeli flags in Muslim countries waiting to be burned than flying in all of Israel? It's as though there are rooms of diligent be-chadored girls in sweatshops all over south Asia pumping out the Star of David, all to insure that no Muslim mob anywhere will be caught without an Israeli flag to burn at the precise moment that the Associated Press photographer shows up.

As some wag recently put it, if Muslims deployed their ingenuity in matters of flag conflaguration logistics to productive trade, nobody would worry about their lack of economic development.

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