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Ephemerides (May 2004)
May 26, 2004 Having spent several days in the mountains – great terrain for taking long views – I returned late yesterday and began catching up on the state of the world. My conclusion, as I filter the stream of current data through a cleansed and relaxed mental apparatus, is that future historians (assuming that we are lucky enough to have any) will regard the past month as one of the most absurd periods ever in the history of extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds.
This is the month in which Left, Right and Center have formed a consensus that the American effort to rebuild Iraq is already, or almost certainly will be, a failure. “Everybody” knows, with everybody’s unshakeable certainty, that only a drastic change of course can right the situation. Yet, so far as I can tell from reading about what is actually occurring on the ground, the only thing that has gone wrong is that nobody believes that anything is going right.
Iraqis are not rising up in mass protest against the occupying powers. The “insurgents” are winning no battles, occupying no territory and inflicting far less than a bearable level of casualties. The Ba’athist stronghold of Fallujah has fallen silent, while the “Mahdi Army” is being strangled in its few remaining lairs. The local economy is steadily recovering from decades of misrule. Civil society is recovering even faster, as shown by the proliferation of print and electronic news media. The transition to self-rule is moving forward, with an interim government scheduled to take office at the end of June, preparatory to elections early next year.
The negatives are minor: American guards mistreating captive terrorists (to scarcely a squeak of protest from the “Iraqi street”); continued small-scale attacks by old regime diehards and imported Islamofascists. It would be wonderful if all of our soldiers were angels and our enemies would give up without a fight, but we can cope with the realities. Prison supervision can be improved, and the enemy, vastly outnumbered and bereft of popular support, has no route to military victory.
If all this is “failure”, what would be necessary for “success”? That all enemy activity magically cease? By that standard, the Normandy landings were a failure, since Nazi Germany kept on fighting, and the Allies suffered immense casualties and numerous local defeats, for almost a year. Likewise, the North had obviously lost the Civil War at every moment up to April 1865; after all, the Confederate Army was still in the field.
If a large portion of the American press in 1944 had believed that preventing Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection was a higher priority than dealing with Adolf Hitler, the papers probably would have been full of gloom. The D-Day invasion rapidly fell far behind schedule. When the Allies finally broke out of Normandy, their logistical preparations proved inadequate. Their military commanders quarreled and blundered. Liberated Frenchmen committed atrocities against alleged collaborators. Then came the German counterattack in the Ardennes, for which General Eisenhower and his subordinates were entirely unprepared. It would have been easy to declare, as two U.S. regiments surrendered to the Panzers on the Schnee Eifel, that the war in Europe had been thoroughly mismanaged and the Allied coalition urgently needed an “exit strategy”. Perhaps the League of Nations could offer a face-saving avenue of retreat.
The difference between then and now is that there were real defeats and disasters in 1944, and there is none worthy of attention in 2004. The Coalition and its Iraqi friends are not merely winning; they are winning without breaking into a sweat.
At least some of the Angry Left seem to recognize this fact, if only at a subconscious level. Their rhetorical absurdities, such as Al Gore’s rant today at NYU, are not signs of confidence but upswellings of a subliminal fear that Demon Bush will be vindicated in the end.
Were I a Presidential advisor, my counsel would be to ignore the hysteria in the media. It has not infected the two groups that matter most: our soldiers in the theater and the Iraqi people themselves. The ears of the American public are being assailed by idiotarians, and people are bound to be impressed for a while, but, as the months go by and Iraq continues to progress, today’s wild fears will fade and be forgotten.
Further reading: Jeff Jarvis, "Iraq: Everybody's Pawn"; Arthur Chrenkoff, "Good News from Iraq"; Arthur Chrenkoff, "Good News from Iraq: Part II"; Mark Steyn, "Don't Give Iraqis Self-Rule All at Once" [excellent essay, misleading title]
[To comment, click here.]
May 20, 2004 Regardless of what happens in Iraq or elsewhere, today I start my annual vacation on the slopes of Mount Rainier, which is still beyond the range of the Internet. My dream is that, by the time I return, sanity will have infiltrated the Beltway, that the media will have discovered perspective, and that the notion that a free, tolerant, democratic United States is a graver threat to the world than Islamofascism will have expired of its own absurdity. But those may be less probable dreams than the imaginary headlines in my last post. [To comment, click here.]
May 18, 2004 In a fantasizing mood, I wonder what the world might be like if the media listed as far to the Right as they do to the Left. Imagine that 90 percent of reporters were conservative Republicans, with a fringe of Buchananites and a handful of forlorn, mostly closeted liberals, and that they went by preference to Daniel Pipes, Victor Davis Hanson, Stanley Kurtz and the like for expert commentary. From that alternative universe, here are a few recent newspaper headlines:
Assassination, Nerve Gas Attack Show Pro-Saddam Desperation
Unable to gain popular support, anti-democratic forces try to thwart transition to self-rule by attacking their countrymen
Kerry’s UN Stance Stirs Doubts
Candidate’s call for increased international role in Iraq undercut by bribery scandal, peacekeeping failures
Supporters worry: Is he out of touch?
“Fraudulent coalition” remark a sore point with foreign leaders
Editorials Call for Annan Resignation
Leading newspapers demand that UN chief accept responsibility for UNSCAM
Prosecution in U.S. courts seen as possible
Inflation-Adjusted Gasoline Prices Remain Low Despite Turmoil
Confidence in Bush policies limits rise at pump
Oil stocks remain weak on expectations of long-term price declines
Massachusetts Residents Glum Over Court-Ordered “Marriages”
Influx of out-of-state “gays” sparks resentment, fear for future of families
Marriage Amendment prospects expected to soar as same-sex unions and bizarre “gay” antics draw national attention
Excesses Were Retaliation for Murder of Americans, Guards Declare
Interviews with accused soldiers at Abu Ghraib expose anger at killings in Fallujah, other atrocities
“At least we didn’t tear their bodies to pieces,” sergeant says
9/11 Commission Struggles to Regain Credibility
Persistent questions about Gorelick role, publicity seeking by members undermine body’s effectiveness
“Historians should write history, not politicians”
Brown vs. Grutter: Has the Supreme Court Abandoned Color-Blind Ideal?
Legal experts see “affirmative action” decisions as retreat from landmark 1954 ruling
Many blacks fear stigma of government favoritism; “just like welfare”
Well, I can dream, can’t I?
Further reading: John O'Sullivan, "Left Eye's View"; Arthur Chrenkoff, "Good News from Iraq"
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
May 17, 2004 The major media are not showing strong interest in the discovery that Ba’athist terrorists are now deploying chemical munitions. Fox is an exception, though, contrary to its right-wing reputation, it wraps the news in qualifiers. We can be sure that this story, to the extent that it is reported at all, will be handled far more cautiously than, say, Seymour Hersh’s wild tales of secret CIA torture cells. And if it is confirmed so tightly that the media can’t dismiss it as unproven, we will hear – the excuses are already starting – that these WMD aren’t the kind of WMD that would justify a war. They are old, or there aren’t a lot of them, or they aren’t state-of-the-art, or Saddam wouldn’t have been able to use them effectively, or they differ in some respect from what the Bush Administration said Saddam had.
Several months ago, I offered my own theory about what had happened to the deposed regime’s unconventional weaponry:
It should have been obvious to Saddam as war with America drew near that chemical weapons were not going to be effective against a modern army. (I assume that the biological and nuclear programs hadn't yet produced anything of immediate military utility; the former would in any case be far more useful for terrorism than war-fighting.) Furthermore, America had been trumpeting for months that any enemy commander who issued orders to use weapons of mass destruction would be speedily executed for war crimes, so there was a large possibility that the weapons wouldn't be used even if useful.
Now, what would you do in that situation? Destroying the weapons still accomplishes nothing unless carried out openly. Leaving them in storage is also useless. There are just two ways (at least I can think of no others) to gain some benefit from this arsenal. One is to ship it to friendly foreign countries, and many commentators (including Dr. Kay himself in a new Daily Telegraph interview) have noted that possibility. The other is to concentrate as many weapons as possible into ultra-secret hiding places, away from conventional weapons stockpiles, with the intention of retrieving them after military defeat and employing them as instruments of terror.
Documents captured with Saddam Hussein reportedly show that plans for anti-American terrorism were laid in advance. There was certainly ample time for preparations during the long, slow “rush to war”.
If hiding chemical weaponry for the aftermath of the war was the Ba’athist plan, it held out the prospect of vastly more impressive attacks than the pinpricks that Coalition forces have suffered for the past several months. Mustard gas shells lobbed into downtown Baghdad would disrupt the interim government and keep alive the fear that was the Ba'athists' most potent source of power.
What probably went wrong was that there were no massive popular uprisings in behalf of the old regime to distract the occupiers, Coalition troops were able to maintain effective patrols throughout the Sunni Triangle, and retrieval thus proved unfeasible. With Saddam’s sons dead and he and most of his principal lieutenants in custody, there may now be no Ba’athists at large who know where to find the caches. If they are well-concealed, the chance that our forces will run across them by chance in the near future is slender.
The latest developments suggest that I may have underestimated the enemy’s patience. Or perhaps they themselves have been hunting for the lost stockpile and only recently located it. Or perhaps they were reserving chemical weapons as a last, desperate resort, in which case their use is a symptom of pessimism. From inside Iraq, the Coalition’s position probably looks much stronger than from inside the panic-prone Beltway.
Further reading: Kenneth R. Timmerman, “Found: Saddam’s WMDs” (a couple of weeks old and a bit speculative, but now looking very plausible)
[To comment, click here.]
May 16, 2004 Have you noticed how stories about prison guards’ misconduct at Abu Graib have warped into stories about disputes between the United States and the International Red Cross over the precise terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention? One has nothing to do with the other, but large portions of the media commingle them, as if conditions at Abu Graib were the outcome of our alleged misclassification of Iraqi detainees.
The I.R.C.’s good faith in this matter is very much open to question, as The Wall Street Journal has pointed out, but it has not, in any case, accused the United States of ordering or approving the atrocious conduct of the Abu Ghraib guards. Rather, it argues that men captured under arms in Iraq are legally exempt from any form of “coercive questioning”. The practices complained of are orders of magnitude milder than the torture and sexual humiliation shown in the infamous Abu Ghraib videos. They consist of such measures as sensory deprivation and being compelled to assume uncomfortable positions during questioning (though for no longer than 45 minutes at a time under the rules in effect in Iraq and then only with the specific approval of the commanding general). Not gentle treatment, it is true, but not shocking to the conscience when used to pry vital information out of hardened terrorists. Conceivably, our side is in the wrong here and should do nothing more than ask politely, “Begging your pardon, sir, but, if it isn’t too much trouble, could you tell us when and where your next bomb is set to go off?”, but being wrong in that way is hardly the same as sanctioning atrocities.
The distinction is lost, however, on a figure like Senator Biden, who objects to transplanting methods used at Guantanamo Bay (where he does not disapprove of them) to Iraq (where they are suddenly intolerable). The media can be expected to be even blurrier in their analysis. In the mist, the real criminals – both the renegade guards and the thugs in their custody – are in danger of fading from view.
There is, at least, one positive side to the reportorial brigade’s relentless negativity: We can be sure that we aren’t being shown a rose-colored picture from the front. With that in mind, it is interesting to observe that a very big dog has not been barking. If Iraqi citizens were a tenth as exercised about Abu Ghraib, the Geneva Conventions and Seymour Hersh’s anonymous sources as are citizens of the Beltway, the country would be aflame at this moment. Instead, judging by the news accounts, it has grown quieter over the past couple of weeks. The principal violence is that being inflicted by U.S. forces on the “Mahdi Army”. Meanwhile, shellings, roadside bombs and attacks on civilians, though they still occur, appear to be waning. Perhaps they will pick up again, perhaps not. What is strikingly evident is that very few Iraqis have any desire to drive the United States and its allies from their land, and that those with the desire lack the means, so long as we don’t rush to inflict defeat on ourselves.
Further reading: The Wall Street Journal, “Geneva for Demagogues”
[To comment, click here.]
May 15, 2004 In the ever-expanding roll call of “Oh, that liberal media”, the Wall Street Journal’s Web site at this moment (11:09 p.m. CDT) leads with –
THE PENTAGON SAID the top U.S. commander in Iraq is barring most coercive interrogation techniques. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized a secret program that encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners to obtain intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. 11:13 p.m. [EDT]
The casual reader would take it for granted, in the absence of any indication to the contrary, that the information in the second sentence came from the Pentagon, too. In fact, if one clicks to the story, one finds that it is what Seymour Hersh alleges in his latest New Yorker screed. Hersh’s anti-Americanism and penchant for, ummm, exaggeration are well-known, and his article cites only anonymous, uncheckable sources. The Pentagon has denied his claims, which it characterizes as “outlandish, conspiratorial, and filled with error and anonymous conjecture”, just like most of the Hersh oeuvre.
It is hard to see how anyone who did not wish ill to the United States and its friends in Iraq could have written the WSJ summary, which goes beyond mere carelessness to overt misrepresentation. As regular readers of the Journal know, its news pages are as crusadingly leftist as those of The New York Times. That is their right and privilege, of course, but even crusading leftists ought to do better than this sort of crude propaganda. [To comment, click here.]
Update, 5/16/04: At 3:06 a.m. EDT, according to the time stamp on the story, the word “reportedly” was inserted into the second sentence. At 7:33 a.m. EDT, the sentence disappeared altogether.
May 13, 2004 Far be it from me to imitate James Taranto’s proclamation “We Get Results”, but once in a while even a site as obscure as this one has a minuscule impact. Earlier this month I called attention to the National Endowment for the Arts’ use of tax money to promote an incompetent and error-ridden “Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?” Web page. A reader noticed the item and complained to Dana Gioia, the chairman of the NEA. Mr. Gioia speedily replied that he hadn’t been aware of what was being said in the Endowment’s name, didn’t agree with it, and is going to see that the page is revised. Now I await outraged messages from anti-Stratfordians accusing me of complicity in censorship. [To comment, click here.]
May 10, 2004 I have little to add to what others have said about the Iraqi prison scandal, so I’ll say it in a few sentences: Punishing those responsible for the malfeasance at Abu Ghraib and guarding against repetition are important goals, but I, for one, am not going to heed another word of denunciation from those whose bad faith is patent. Over the past decade, Moslems claiming to act in the name of their religion have deliberately murdered thousands of civilians. Their actions have been applauded by tens of millions of Moslems and excoriated by no more than a brave handful. Anyone who tells us that those atrocities do not reflect on the character of the Islamic world and then insists that America is indelibly tainted by the crimes of a small number of prison guards, crimes that have been promptly prosecuted and that Americans have universally condemned – it is self-evident that what he most abhors is not torture but the United States of America.
When Senator Ted Kennedy claims that “Saddam’s torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management”, he is not expressing rational anger at a disgraceful situation; he is venting hatred. It is shameful that rogue soldiers photographed prisoners naked and coerced them into what squeamish folk like me quaintly call “self-abuse”, but it is no more comparable to the officially directed murder, torture and rape than marked Ba’athist prisons than robbery is to genocide. There are degrees of evil and of culpability for evil. Men who refuse to draw distinctions among misdeeds and who cast blame on the innocent promote wickedness by trivializing it. Senator Kennedy’s hatred has burned out his moral compass. We can only hope that, as time passes, he and others like him will master their emotions and realize the absurdity of their invective. If they do, the storm will leave little damage in the long run. It may even be providential, if it leads to greater awareness of, and revulsion against, the predatory sexual culture in many of our nation’s prisons. If, on the other hand, the present madness persists, if “Abu Ghraib” becomes the Left’s synonym for America, our Rubicon lies not far off. [To comment, click here.]
May 8, 2004 If, as Senator Kerry and much of the liberal commentariate asserts, our optimal course of action in Iraq is to hand over authority to the United Nations and inveigle countries like Germany into signing up for peacekeeping duties, should we not take note of how well that solution is working where it’s been tried?
The U.N.’s biggest current operation is in Kosovo, which it has ruled for five years (no rush to hand over sovereignty there!) with the support of troops from, among other nations, Helmut Schröder’s Germany. Last March, as The Daily Telegraph recounts “an Albanian mob burnt and looted 29 Serb churches and monasteries in the southern city of Prizren, and caused several thousand Serbs to flee their homes”. The U.N.’s civilian police force (“UNMIK”), unable to cope with the rioters, called on nearby German soldiers for help. How did they respond?
A hard-hitting German police report sent to the Berlin government last week criticises the troops for cowardice and for their failure to quell the rioting in which 19 people died and about 900 others were injured. . . .
Leaked excerpts from the report on the conduct of the 3,600-strong German contingent based in Prizren disclose that Unmik police were left to fend for themselves at the height of the rioting.
“Despite continuous appeals for help from Kfor, nobody from the military appeared to back up the police,” the report said. “Kfor proved to be incapable of carrying out the duties to which it has been assigned.”
Further damning evidence, based on interviews with Unmik officers, Serb church leaders and unnamed UN officials in Prizren, was published in Der Spiegel magazine.
The magazine concluded: “The German soldiers ran away and hid like frightened rabbits in their barracks. They only reappeared in armoured vehicles after the Albanian mob had wreaked its havoc and left a trail of destruction.”
There is, of course, another side of the story.
Col Dieter Hintelmann, who heads the German Kfor contingent in Prizren, insisted that his men had simply obeyed Kfor rules of engagement. They prohibit troops from protecting buildings and allow the use of firearms only in self-defence. “We were acting exactly according to the rules,” he said.
Just the sort of leadership and military strength needed to pacify Fallujah and Najaf, nein?
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
May 6, 2004 The Edge of England’s Sword, which is steadily expanding from just (just!) Iain Murray to a bloggish neighborhood, today offers the best succinct summary that I’ve seen of the state of the War on Terror.
It is true that there will be no major expansions of the war this year because of the US election, but the reason for that is not some dastardly example of a victory for partisan politics over the national interest, rather it is the complete opposite. For the US Election is this year’s battlefield in the War on Terror. Just as in 2001 the focus was on Afghanistan, in 2002 it was the UN and last year it was Iraq.
The truth is that the Bush Administration is tired, and has achieved about all that it can in this term. That is no criticism – it is remarkable, given the circumstances of Bush’s victory that so much progress has been made, but winning those battles has taken its toll. Endless bouts of diplomatic wrangling, the complete overhaul of the basis of America’s foreign policy, the invasion of two countries, two massive tax-cuts and the maintenance of a national war footing, all achieved in the face of a hostile press, intransigent Generals and a diplomatic corps in open revolt have drawn on President Bush’s supply of political capital to the extent that it is now depleted.
The only thing that will refill that store is victory in November. Just as the Republican victories in the 2002 mid-terms led directly to breaking the deadlock in the United Nations, so the re-election of Bush will devastate the hopes of so many of America’s foes. The thought of how the Europeans would react to his re-election is almost reason enough to cheer for it.
Whatever issues come into play in this election, whatever the pundits may say are driving the polls the fact remains that the War is the central issue. Worldwide a Kerry victory will be interpreted as an American capitulation, irrespective of what policies Senator Flippy would actually introduce. . . .
Had the Democrats endorsed the war sincerely, this election would be less important than it is; however to do that would require the Democrats first, to drive out the angry left – something they are as yet unwilling to do. . . .
It is unfortunate that such is the case. Were both parties seriously committed to victory, our enemies would have no hope, and their demoralized state would make it possible to have an election centered on the issues with which John Kerry is most comfortable. We would be mopping up, rather than still in the middle of the long, hard slog. As matters stand, Islamofascists can reassure themselves that America’s massive power can be chased out of the Eastern Hemisphere by six more months of pinprick attacks. If Senator Kerry becomes President, he will face a confident, rejuvenated enemy, against which we will have to begin fighting virtually from scratch. George W. Bush did not start this war, and his departure from the scene will not end it. The end will come only when either the enemy loses heart or the Western world accepts dhimmitude. I have no doubt that the former will be the ultimate outcome, whatever happens this November, but a Bush defeat will make this a struggle of decades rather than years. [To comment, click here.]
May 4, 2004 A few days ago, a friend complained to me about how gasoline prices were the highest that she had ever paid. John Kerry has been heard saying the same thing and blaming the Bush Administration (except when he is accusing it of conspiring with the Saudis to bring prices down). Serendipitously, then, a site called “Random Useless Info” offers a history of how much gasoline has cost, virtually day by day, over the past 25 years. The basis for the numbers is the author’s own purchases, every one of which he has recorded since April 26, 1979, when he spent $6.00 for 7½ gallons ($0.80 a gallon). The last entry in the series is for April 14, 2004: $25.14 for 13.241 gallons. Since that is over twice as much ($1.899 per gallon), it’s not surprising that people have the impression that car chow is a lot more pricey than it used to be.
The author goes a step further, though. He adjusts the prices for inflation. Looking at constant “April 1979 dollars”, the picture is much different. The peak price over the 25-year period was $1.2237 per gallon on March 18, 1981. Then the Reagan Administration eliminated energy price controls, and, as economists had predicted, the price began to slide, touching a low of $0.5086 per gallon on August 30, 1986. (Liberal pundits of course had forecast the opposite.) The price bounced around in the 50 to 70 cent range for years, spiked briefly just before the Gulf War ($0.8087 on December 5, 1990), then fell again. The 25-year low was $0.4663 on December 31, 2001. Since then, there have been a number of developments that one would expect to raise prices: economic recovery has boosted energy demand; Saudi-controlled Arabia has gotten a grip on its budget deficit, reducing its need to sell oil; Venezuela’s production capability has been thrown into doubt by political turmoil and the strong prospect of a communist dictatorship [1]; and there’s been some fighting in the Middle East, I hear. The upshot: In April 1979 dollars, the author paid $0.6018 per gallon on November 11, 2003, the last entry for which he performed the nominal-to-constant dollars conversion. The trend has been upward in recent months, but, according to my back-of-the-PDA calculation, his last recorded purchase, three weeks ago, cost roughly 70 cents in April 1979 money – a dime less than he paid back then.
No wonder the Kerry family can afford to drive all those SUV’s behind John’s back!
[1] If the Sahara Desert went communist, what would happen? For fifty years, nothing. Then there would be a shortage of sand.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
May 2, 2004 Has the National Endowment for the Arts reformed under the Bush Administration? So far as I can tell, it no longer regards subventions for pornography as one of its key missions, but that does not mean that it is now a sane disseminator of high culture. Last week Steve Paulson called my attention to an NEA-underwritten discussion of one of my pet topics, “Was Shakespeare Shakespeare?”. As he puts it, “It is a near thing as to whether whoever put this together knows less about history or Shakespeare.” For those who wonder, so soon after April 15th, what their tax dollars are doing, I have prepared an analysis of this strange, not so good as sophomoric document. [To comment, click here.]
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