Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
What's going on in Israel?
I have to admit, I've been a bit miffed at the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Daniel Pipes thinks it is a bad idea, and he points to some sound reasons why:
Top Hamas figure Ahmed al-Bahar:
Israel has never been in such a state of retreat and weakness as it is today following more than four years of the intifada. Hamas's heroic attacks exposed the weakness and volatility of the impotent Zionist security establishment. The withdrawal marks the end of the Zionist dream and is a sign of the moral and psychological decline of the Jewish state. We believe that the resistance is the only way to pressure the Jews.
Another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri says likewise that the withdrawal is "due to the Palestinian resistance operations. ...and we will continue our resistance."
Of course this all leads to the general consensus among Palestinian's of Today Gaza, Tomorrow Jerusalem! With assorted candies and martyr shirts passed out at the rally of course.
Rewarding a certain behavior, encourages that behavior. Terrorism is no exception.
Benjamin Netenyahu agrees:
Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the highest-ranking figures in Israel's government, quit yesterday to protest next week's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and, sometime afterward, from parts of the West Bank, saying it would create an ''Islamic base" on Israel's doorstep. ... ''I'm not willing to be a party to a step that endangers our security, divides the nation, and reinforces the principle of withdrawing to the 1967 lines," Netanyahu, who is Sharon's main rival in the ruling Likud party, said during a news conference in Jerusalem hours after quitting. He said he had been ''torn inside" for months but decided he did not want to go down in history as an accomplice to the unilateral withdrawal. ''A leader must ask himself . . . 'What do you represent?' " he said.
Given the history of this confilict and the above quotes from prominent Palestinians, it is hard to disagree with Netenyahu's assertion. But Sharon is not a stupid man, so there must be something to this right? My first thought, was that this is an attempt to remove some of the sting from the Palestinian's (as well as the European Left's) ability to blame all of their own (Palestinian) misery and failure on the 'Zionist Occupation.' Additionally with the removal of some 7,000 Israeli settlers living amongst over 1 million Arabs who would prefer to see them all dead, Israeli Defense Forces are spared the unfavorable burden of spending a lot of resources to defend a few thousand settlers. Finally, perhaps Sharon is doing this to prove to all of the critics that placating the Palestinian's desires will only increase the violence, not move them closer to peace.
These were some of the random thoughts I was having over the last couple of weeks, leave it to Victor Davis Hanson to provide some order to the situation, while reminding us that Ariel Sharon has always been a brilliant strategist:
The Israeli military is crafting defensible borders, not unlike the old Roman decision to stay on its own side of the Rhine and Danube rivers. In Sharon's thinking, it no longer made any sense to periodically send in thousands of soldiers in Gaza to protect less than 10,000 Israeli civilians abroad, when a demographic time bomb of too few Jews was ticking inside Israel proper.
But Gaza itself is only a tessera in a far larger strategic mosaic. The Israelis also press on with the border fence that will in large part end suicide bombings. The barrier will grant the Palestinians what they clamor for, but perhaps also fear - their own isolated state that they must now govern or let the world watch devolve into something like the Afghanistan of the Taliban.
...Palestine as a sovereign state rather than a perpetually "occupied " territory also inherits the responsibility of all mature nations to police its own. So when Hamas and co. press on with their killing - most likely through rocket attacks over the fence - they do so as representatives of a new Palestinian nation.
In response, Israel can strike back at an aggressor without worry about the blowback on isolated vulnerable Israeli settlements.
Sharon's withdrawal policy from Gaza is thus a critical first step of turning the struggle from an asymmetrical war of terror back into a conventional standoff between delineated sovereign states. And that can only help a militarily superior Israel.
So, the policy goes that Israel is going to trade Gaza for victory, and while it is hard to imagine a responsible Palestinian government emerging anytime soon, they will have lost one of their most powerful political tools, that of the romanticizing of the oppressedd. Palestine will now be responsible for building and maintaining their own infrastructure and growing their (currently almost non-existent) economy. Can they do it? Eventually, yes, but not until they break the culture of death that so perverts their society. The disengagement from Gaza will likely help trudge the process forward, but tragically, a turnaround still appears a long way off.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Words of Wisdom
From Bruce Thornton:
No one should trivialize Ms. Sheehan's grief, nor fail to understand why she is angry and wants to hold someone accountable. The worst thing a parent can experience is to lose a child, and those of us blessed enough not to have had that experience cannot judge the reaction of those who have. Yet the media's eagerness to publicize and exploit a grieving mother's anger and sorrow can be criticized, for it points to a larger pathology in our culture - the privileging of the suffering victim as someone who possesses superior insight and so must be heeded and catered to.
This elevation of the victim into a combination sage and secular martyr reflects conditions peculiar to the modern world. Most important is the simple fact that compared to the vast majority of humans who've ever lived, we in the West today have been freed from the everyday suffering and misery that earlier generations accepted as part of human existence. For them, as the Greek playwright Euripides put it, "Suffering is necessity for mortals." Daily physical pain, early death, famine, malnutrition, chronic disease, violence from fellow humans and nature - all were simply non-negotiable realities of life that had to be endured. Suffering didn't make you special; it just made you human, like everybody else.
We moderns, of course, have eliminated many of those evils, while magnifying and dramatizing what suffering remains. And this success has created a monumental change in how we view life and its possibilities: rather than accepting that suffering is a necessity, we view it as an anomaly, a glitch in the system that should be corrected and that, given how litigious we are, someone is responsible for. The result is our outrageous expectations about human life and its risks and costs. We still want to achieve our various noble aims and good intentions - peace, freedom, security, and prosperity for all - but only if we can do so without making anybody suffer or even feel bad, including our enemies. We want utopia, a world in which everyone is well fed, secure, and happy, but we want it on the cheap.
This is exactly the dangerous forgetfulness that is the thesis of Lee Harris's brilliant book, Civilization and Its Enemies. In the Western world our standard of living is well out of the norm for human history. We, our lifestyle, is literally an aberration, a sentence or two in the long book of human history. The vast majority of human beings lived under uncivilized, harsh conditions, where your life depended on whether or not it would rain enough to grow your crops and you worried that your children may be slaughtered or sold into slavery by a victorious foe.
We, in the West are so far beyond those worries that it is hard to believe they were at one time real. Our free market capitalism, freely expressive societies, and tolerance for those not like ourselves are what has afforded us this unique civilization in which we all live and contribute. But, BUT, it can still be lost, because even with all of our wealth and sophistication, there are billions of people that still live under those brutal conditions that really are the hallmark of human existence. It's one thing to say that people shouldn't have to live with such injustices, that is hardly a bold statement. It's like being against racism, or landmines.
So yes, a brutal dictator who has murdered hundreds of thousands and is eager to achieve weapons to kill millions more should be eliminated, the suffering that he inflicts and that ruins our dinner stopped - but once the butcher's bill arrives, we change our minds. The same people who castigate us for allowing the slaughter in Rwanda and Sudan and a dozen other venues now chide us for insuring that such brutality stops in Iraq. They chafe at the unforeseen consequences, mistakes, and inadvertent death that always and everywhere has accompanied the use of force. How many tens of thousands died unnecessarily in World War II, the "good war," because of such contingencies? The tragic truth of action is that we have to accept those risks and accept that to achieve a future good we often have to risk a present evil. The only alternative is never to use force, and pacifism is a juvenile ideal refuted on every page of history.
So yes, the bill comes due and no one wants to pay, they just want injustices to disappear at the stroke of a pen, or magic. The UN can pass resolutions all they want, op-ed writers can demand an end to injustice from here to eternity. You can present a Saddam Hussein type with a piece of paper condemning his mass murder, and he will likely respond by putting a bullet in your head... if you are lucky.
When faced with a demon like Hussein you have two choices, remove him or do nothing. This is where the devil defeats the prospect of a free moral lunch -taking down Saddam Hussein kills, but leaving him in place kills too. Doing nothing, perhaps, helps remove the stain of guilt from the outsider. After all it is Saddam killing and not you, right? Fine, but please don't repeat the lie of 'never again' after the next tragically inevitable genocide comes to pass.
Beautiful Baghdad Writing
I have ceased being pleasantly surprised at the quality of writing I continually come across in the blogosphere. Given the constraints of the 24 hour day, the material out there is literally endless. Here's proof, (via Wretchard) from a blogger, Hurl, whom I have never had the pleasure of reading before.
The last three nights here in central Iraq have been beautiful. The sky has been much less dusty than it usually is. The stars are brilliant. Orion pops up around 4am - Taurus a couple of hours before that. Mars is very clear after midnight. Normally the visibility is pretty poor - usually less than 3 miles. Sometimes less than 1 mile. Flying in these conditions can be quite challenging - especially at night.
By FAA standards, anything under 3 miles is technically considered IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) as opposed to VFR (Visual Flight Rules) and require Instrument flight plans to be filed. But this is Iraq, not Kansas. Flight plans would be useless anyway since there is no Air Traffic Control system. Depending on the mission, we routinely find ourselves flying in low visibility - i.e. IFR conditions.
2 nights ago I flew into Baghdad at about 3:30am. It was a very clear night and I could see for dozens of miles in all directions. It looked like it could be anywhere in America - lights were on EVERYWHERE. Whatever electricity problems there were in the past, they certainly seem to be fixed now.
There are also numerous gas flares from various refineries in operation. One huge refinery right in Baghdad would put any Gulf coast refinery to shame. I know Iraqi oil production is almost where it was prior to the war - currently 2.5 million barrels a day. It appears that their refinery capability is rapidly improving as well. In spite of countless terror attacks on the Iraqi infrastructure, the builders seem to be prevailing.
Situated on the Tigris River, Baghdad is a beautiful city at night. The slums don't look as slummy. Palm trees grow like weeds. There are no skyscrapers, but there are numerous high-rise buildings in the downtown area, many with very interesting architecture. There are several very nice multi-story hotels where the incestuous media hang out by the pools, sipping cocktails and plagiarizing one another. They wait like vultures for news of the next suicide attack so they can smear the blood and shove the latest body count in our face. I wouldn't be surprised if they have betting pools on when, where, and how many will die....
This past night at 3:30 am all was quiet. There wasn't a single car on any road. Nobody shooting or blowing anybody up. The city was completely lit up and so.... peaceful. I know it will be short-lived, but I can't help but hope that it will someday be as peaceful as this one night most of the time.
He's a helicopter pilot describing a night mission in Iraq. What is striking to me about this and the many other quality military bloggers (especially this one), is the side by side comparison of their writing to that of professional journalists. The insight and descriptions offered in passages like the above are downright profound when contrasted with the sterile AP accounts of the latest statistics on random RPG attacks and body count.
You can bet that many of the journalists, sipping drinks in the Palestine hotel, waiting for an AP release to copy, paste, and file tend to think of our soldiers as uneducated apes, heaping destruction on anything and everything in their path. Nothing could be further from the truth. These men and women are out there creating history on the fly, desperately trying to improve the lot of whole people, and allowing us all to sleep peacefully at night. Then they tell us all about it with an eloquence, knowing, and passion that 'real' journalists may only dream of.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I'm busy. And by busy I mean moderately busy at work, but more busy enjoying a summer that's not getting any younger. Busy sharing drinks and BBQs with friends, busy spending time along our beautiful waterfront, and in the water. Busy spending some late nights with friends and busy watching other friends get married. Among other things.
So, what I am saying is, don't expect much posting here over the next few weeks, it's the dog days and news is notoriously slow. If you really miss me that much feel free to browse through some older posts. I'll post some summer pictures of my own eventually.
In the meantime, I may link to some interesting pieces here and there, but check out Michael Yon's reporting. He's filed some amazing dispatches, with pictures from the front lines. I mean pictures of hidden weapons caches(!) how cool is that! This guy really is doing Pulitzer level reporting.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
Chris Hitchens and Psychotherapy
Another request in my in-box, asking if I'll be interviewed about Iraq for a piece "dealing with how writers and intellectuals are dealing with the state of the war, whether it's causing depression of any sort, if people are rethinking their positions or if they simply aren't talking about it." I suppose that I'll keep on being asked this until I give the right answer, which I suspect is "Uncle."
There is a sort of unspoken feeling, underlying the entire debate on the war, that if you favored it or favor it, you stress the good news, and if you opposed or oppose it you stress the bad. I do not find myself on either side of this false dichotomy. I think that those who supported regime change should confront the idea of defeat, and what it would mean for Iraq and America and the world, every day. It is a combat defined very much by the nature of the enemy, which one might think was so obviously and palpably evil that the very thought of its victory would make any decent person shudder. It is, moreover, a critical front in a much wider struggle against a vicious and totalitarian ideology.
It never seemed to me that there was any alternative to confronting the reality of Iraq, which was already on the verge of implosion and might, if left to rot and crash, have become to the region what the Congo is to Central Africa: a vortex of chaos and misery that would draw in opportunistic interventions from Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Bad as Iraq may look now, it is nothing to what it would have become without the steadying influence of coalition forces. None of the many blunders in postwar planning make any essential difference to that conclusion. Indeed, by drawing attention to the ruined condition of the Iraqi society and its infrastructure, they serve to reinforce the point.
How can so many people watch this as if they were spectators, handicapping and rating the successes and failures from some imagined position of neutrality? Do they suppose that a defeat in Iraq would be a defeat only for the Bush administration? The United States is awash in human rights groups, feminist organizations, ecological foundations, and committees for the rights of minorities. How come there is not a huge voluntary effort to help and to publicize the efforts to find the hundreds of thousands of "missing" Iraqis, to support Iraqi women's battle against fundamentalists, to assist in the recuperation of the marsh Arab wetlands, and to underwrite the struggle of the Kurds, the largest stateless people in the Middle East? Is Abu Ghraib really the only subject that interests our humanitarians?
...Question: Why have several large American cities not already announced that they are going to become sister cities with Baghdad and help raise money and awareness to aid Dr. Tamimi? When I put this question to a number of serious anti-war friends, their answer was to the effect that it's the job of the administration to allocate the money, so that there's little room or need for civic action. I find this difficult to credit: For day after day last month I could not escape the news of the gigantic "Live 8" enterprise, which urged governments to do more along existing lines by way of debt relief and aid for Africa. Isn't there a single drop of solidarity and compassion left over for the people of Iraq, after three decades of tyranny, war, and sanctions and now an assault from the vilest movement on the face of the planet? Unless someone gives me a persuasive reason to think otherwise, my provisional conclusion is that the human rights and charitable "communities" have taken a pass on Iraq for political reasons that are not very creditable. And so we watch with detached curiosity, from dry land, to see whether the Iraqis will sink or swim. For shame.
I've been trying to understand how the push for equal rights (especially for minorities and women) and a consensual government is not considered a progressive cause, and I confess, I still don't get it. The uncomfortable conclusion I keep coming to is 'they hate Bush more than they love liberalism.' That doesn't strike me as particularly principled.... or flattering.
Here's a related, and quite unique sort of psycho-analysis from a family therapist (seriously!) on the above subject. It's too insightful and involved to come up with a telling excerpt, just go read the whole thing already.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Fluff Alert - Just End Injustice!
Here is a pretty shallow piece from the sometimes insightful 'Perspective' section in the Sunday Tribune. My first reaction was, the piece is so fluffy, it's really not worth blogging about. My next thought was, wait, this guy is getting published in the Sunday Chi Trib and I'm writing on a lightly read blog for free. This deserves at least a partial fisking! The screaming title, at least in the print edition was, The War on Terror Belongs to the Police, Not the Military.
The author states:
First, it has become clear that regime change through military means is not a particularly effective means to combat terrorism. Most experts agree that the war in Iraq has not made America safer, and intelligence reports suggest that Iraq has become a breeding and training ground for an even deadlier generation of terrorists.
Note that the author doesn't name any experts or offer their qualifications. Nothing is easier than finding a group of academics - "experts" if you agree with them - to advocate just about any policy on any subject. Clearly there are lots of experts that disagree with this vague assertion. Not the least of those 'experts' is the reality that since 9/11, attacks on US soil have been non-existent, and the only three successful attacks in the West (Spain, London, London again) have been increasingly impotent. I am not sure what metric he is using for 'safer' but it seems to me that weaker attacks and Islam becoming increasingly drawn to democracy and away from terrorism are pretty good proxies.
His next paragraph:
Still, this does not mean we should stop taking the fight to the terrorist enemy. That fight, however, must be based on accurate and precise intelligence and really should be primarily a law-enforcement, rather than military, operation. If authorities learn of a "sleeper" cell anywhere in the world, they have to disrupt it, all the while taking special care not to harass and intimidate the very community whose help and cooperation is needed the most.
Here's another vague assertion, "the fight must be based on accurate and precise intelligence." Of course this is what we would all want, but there is no such thing as perfect intelligence, it is impossible, and waiting for it is what leads to 9/11 style attacks, and potentially much much worse.
And which authorities would disrupt a sleeper cell? Say that cell is in Syria, are we to wait for the Syrian authorities to inform us of it, and then drop in a unit of the Chicago Police to make an arrest? Or perhaps we should trust the Syrian police to make the arrest and hold a fair trial?
Law enforcement and War do not really have much in common anyway. Law enforcement is mostly reactive, police rarely get to crimes in time to prevent them, they typically arrive after one has been committed and are in charge with tracking down and arresting the perpetrators. Law enforcement, through their street presence and arrests, do act as a deterrent, but their primary purpose is to make citizens within a state feel safe from threats of other citizens. Law enforcement officials balance the civil rights of citizens against capturing criminals - if innocent lives are at risk, they will let a suspect go, rather than shoot (or even drive fast) in a populated area.
Unlike Islamic terrorists, criminals do not actually threaten the state itself, that is the relevant difference. When the state is threatened, and war breaks out, civil rights are routinely violated in ways that law enforcement would never think of doing, but these violations must happen at times to save the state. It's an ugly thing for sure, but if civil rights must be respected in the manner that the ACLU prefers, we will lose that war, and consequently, all of those civil rights that the ACLU holds dear. Law enforcement is for protecting civilians, war is for protecting entire nations. Islamic fundamentalism does not aim to snatch some purses and commit some armed robberies, their stated goal is to impose Islamic law on the whole world and kill all of those who resist.
Second, we see that the biggest threats come from Muslim extremists wishing to kill Americans. Thus, we have to analyze the root causes of terrorism at the hands of these extremists. It is not because "they hate us for our freedom."
Oh right, it's not because of our freedom. As Christopher Hitchens noted:
"We know very well what the 'grievances' of the jihadists are:
The grievance of seeing unveiled women.
The grievance of the existence, not of the State of Israel, but of the Jewish people.
The grievance of the heresy of democracy, which impedes the imposition of sharia law.
The grievance of a work of fiction written by an Indian living in London.
The grievance of the existence of black African Christian farmers, who won't abandon lands in Darfur.
The grievance of the existence of homosexuals.
The grievance of music, and of most representational art.
The grievance of the existence of Hinduism.
The grievance of East Timor's liberation from Indonesian rule.
All of these have been proclaimed as a licence to kill infidels or apostates, or anyone who just gets in the way."
The article continues:
Though it may be cloaked in the robes of Islam, Islamic devotion is not what motivates these terrorists. Much of the motivation is political, stemming from the political repression, corruption, economic stagnation, lack of freedom of expression and religious intolerance that infest the Muslim world today. This injustice breeds tremendous anger on the part of Muslims across the world--driving some to contemplate violence--and is a potent recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. This injustice must end.
Now, does this mean that terrorism against America is America's own fault? Absolutely not. The Muslim world must take the lead in the effort to clean its own house.
Nevertheless, America has the resources and influence to help. Once we end injustice, the swamps in which terrorism incubates and grows will be dried up for good, and when America is at the forefront of the fight against injustice, the likelihood of another attack against America diminishes significantly.
Ok, I mostly agree with this, and this is what Iraq is all about, this is exactly what war supporters have been advocating. We are at the forefront of fighting injustice. We are taking American casualties to put together a democracy that respects individual rights and self-determination, if all we wanted was Saddam captured, we would have left in December of 2003. Furthermore, it's impossible to see how leaving Saddam Hussein in power would help achieve any of the above ends, yet this author argues against regime change? It's even harder to believe that the author has not realized the long-term strategy of fostering open and tolerant societies in the Middle East is exactly the Swamp Draining he is requesting. I don't think anyone argued that invading Iraq would make us immediately safer, but a free society as a model in the Arab world is a necessity if there is ever to be a solution.
Yes, we are sacrificing momentary peace, and an illusion of safety in this cause, so perhaps our children won't have to deal with this horror, just as my generation has been spared dealing with the horror of the Nazis. The problem is that Arabs are denied the means to a successful, hopeful lives. This is exactly what we are trying to deliver. We know Osama can function well in the old world, where we supported dictators for stability, where he had the West to blame for all of their own misery, but lets see what he can do now that we are changing the equation and finally moving to the right side of history. So far Osama and his ilk have responded by killing lots of Muslims and it's not helping his cause. It's rather like a chess match, one has to plan several moves ahead, but I suppose if one is intellectually playing checkers, this strategy won't make much sense.
You can read the last few paragraphs of the article if you want, but it mostly reads like a George Bush speech on why we must push democratic reforms in the Middle East. This leaves me wondering, do those that are anti-war ever bother to try and understand why they disagree with us? Or are they just so tightly wrapped in their cocoon that they assume we deposed Hussein to steal the oil and to ensure George Bush's re-election? I would be curious as to how this author proposes that we 'end injustice.'
"Just end it!" is not an answer, it's a fantasy.