Ephemerides (February 2002)
February 28, 2002
Whether talking about taxes or war, Tom Dascle, the Democratic leader in the Senate, seems strangely incoherent and directionless - particularly when he is accusing others of lack of direction. Today, as hearings opened on President Bush's defense budget request, Senator Daschle told reporters, "Before we make commitments in resources I think we need to have a clear understanding of what the direction would be." Is this the same solon who has in recent weeks been complaining about the President's overly specific identification of our enemies (the "Axis of evil") and calling for multilateralism, i. e., giving half-hearted and truly directionless European allies greater influence over strategy and tactics? Senator Daschle may will the end of strategic clarity, but he advocates placing obstacles in the path of attaining it.
He did endorse one specific goal: "We've got to find Osama bin Laden, and we've got to find other key leaders of the al Qaeda network, or we will have failed." So, if terrorists are deprived of their sanctuaries, financing and government support, if democratic regimes oust the tyrannies in Iran and Iraq, if other countries willingly or unwillingly abandon pro-terrorist policies, and if at the same time Osama bin Laden cowers in some desert hideout - that is failure? Like so many of his liberal cohorts, the senator remains unable to conceive of a war against terrorism, as opposed to a small scale law enforcement action against a lone malefactor.
The war is, as everyone can see, in one of its lulls. As during the lull before the Afghan campaign, we will hear the same old shibboleths about quagmires and will face the same temptation to succumb to boredom. No conflict consists of non-stop action, and this one is likely to have a particularly stop-and-go rhythm, simply because the U.S. arsenal, badly depleted by the former President's neglect and wastefulness, is not adequate for sustained, uninterrupted combat. The minor effort in Afghanistan cannot be followed up until stocks are rebuilt, a process that will take at least a few months - or longer, if Senator Daschle's carping foot dragging becomes the norm for his party's legislators.
February 26, 2002
Though the Islamofascists are the gravest contemporary terrorist threat, they are not the only one. Terrorists acting in the name of "the environment" have kept up a steady wave of arson, bombings and intimidation - not, thankfully, anywhere near as destructive as the September 11th attacks but equally imbued with hatred of Western civilization.
The media used to downplay eco-terrorism, but 9/11 was bad publicity for all terrorists and the tone of press coverage has begun to change. On the ABC News Web site (Dean Schabner, "New Front on Ecoterror?"), one now may read a long account of the role of "respectable" environmentalist and animal rights groups in bankrolling and supporting the openly terrorist Earth and Animal Liberation Fronts ("ELF" and "ALF"), supplemented by links to stories about those groups' activities. (Best title: "Saving the Earth, One Arson at a Time").
The FBI estimates that ELF and ALF have carried out over 600 attacks since 1996, causing over $40 million in property damage. One need not rely on the FBI for numbers. The groups themselves issued a statement in January boasting of 67 illegal actions in 2001. An ELF spokesman took the Fifth Amendment over 50 times in a recent appearance before a Congressional subcommittee. ELF and ALF organization resembles that of classic underground terrorist cells, with invisible leaders and a decentralized structure designed to minimize the risks of penetration by law enforcement authorities. The one new touch is Web sites. Otherwise, these groups take their tactics and strategies straight out of the Leninist (or al-Qaeda) playbook. An ELF communique sounds eerily like Saddam Hussein's bravado:
We have to show the enemy that we are serious about defending what is sacred. Together we have teeth and claws to match our dreams.
These tinhorns are just as much enemies of mankind as Osama bin Laden.
February 22, 2002
"Yes, I am a Jew and my father is a Jew." As Danny Pearl finished speaking those words, one of the infidels who held him captive slit his throat from behind and cut off his head.
"What are you all waiting for? I will not comply with the king's ordinance; I obey the ordinance of the Law given to our ancestors through Moses. As for you, sir, who have contrived every kind of evil against the Hebrews, you will certainly not escape the hands of God. We are suffering for our own sins; and if, to punish and discipline us, our living Lord vents His wrath upon us, He will yet be reconciled with His own servants. But you, unholy wretch, bloodiest villain of all mankind, do not be carried away with senseless elation, crowing with false confidence as you raise your hand against His servants, for you have not yet escaped the judgment of God, the almighty, the all-seeing. My brothers already, after enduring their brief pain, now drink of ever-flowing life, by virtue of God's covenant, while you, by God's judgment, will have to pay the just penalty for your arrogance. I, too, like my brothers, surrender my body and life for the laws of my ancestors, calling on God to show His kindness to our nation and that soon, and by trials and afflictions to bring you to confess that He alone is God, so that with my brothers and myself there may be an end to the wrath of the Almighty. . . ."
Speech of the Seventh of the Brother Martyrs, 2 Maccabees 7:30-38
Lightly answered the colonel's son, "Do good to bird and beast,
But count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.
If there should follow a thousand swords to carry my bones away,
Belike the price of a jackal's meal were more than a thief can pay.
They will feed their horse on the standing crop, their men on the garnered grain.
The thatch of the byres will serve their fires when all the cattle are slain.
But if thou thinkest the price be fair, thy brethren wait to sup.
The hound is kin the jackal spawn; howl, dog, and call them up!"
-- Rudyard Kipling, "The Ballad of East and West"
The Wall Street Journal's on-line feature "Best of the Web Today" has collected tributes to Mr. Pearl and reminiscences of his life.
February 19, 2002
The Daily Telegraph says almost everything that there is to say about the preposterous prosecution of a grocer for selling a pound of bananas to a customer, instead of .4536 kilograms ("Metric Madness"). The grocer Steve Thoburn has just lost his appeal to the House of Lords, which held that a British statute specifically permitting the use of imperial weights and measures was superseded by a European Union directive forbidding anything but metric units. My first reaction to the decision was to send £100 to the Metric Martyr Defence Fund, established to help defray the ruinous expense of the case. (Having lost, Mr. Thoburn will now be burdened with an estimated £100,000 in legal fees, fines and court costs.)
My irrepressibly optimistic side (usually kept well in check) is confident that their Lordships were playing a subtle game in handing down this most un-Solonian judgement, that their intention was to awaken Englishmen to the inroads that the Brussels regime is already making on their liberties and to spark a patriotic revolt against foreign tyranny. Law Lords are, after all, supposed to be clever and myriad-minded chaps.
My other thought is more of a puzzlement. The EU requires imported goods to adhere to the metric system, which must be a costly nuisance to American exporters. Doesn't that restriction violate the rules of the World Trade Organization? If it doesn't, how about a U.S. law making it compulsory for EU exports to this country to be labeled in imperial units? That would only be fair and symmetical, wouldn't it?
February 16, 2002
Many years ago, shortly after the Nixon Administration's imposition of wage and price controls, a news magazine ran an article with the headline, "Running Out of Everything!" As anyone who lived at that time will remember, many common staples were suddenly in short supply. Long lines waited at supermarkets to buy toilet paper and hot dogs.
Commentators offered various explanations for the phenomenon, but very few outside the ranks of "ultraconservatives" pointed to the obvious one: Changes in producer or consumer preferences meant that some frozen prices would over time fall below the market-clearing price. Consumers would then be demanding more than producers were willing to supply. Since the market could not be brought into equilibrium through changes in price, the inadequate supply had to be rationed through queues, theft, bribery and other non-market mechanisms.
With the abolition of controls, the shortages disappeared. Similarly, the Carter Administration's gasoline price controls led to the infamous mile-long lines at gas pumps. The lines went away when President Reagan defied the dire predictions of liberal pundits and stopped trying to dictate to the market.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal reports an alarming rise in shortages of common prescription medications.
"Five or six years ago, there were eight or 10 shortages a year," says Linda Tyler, director of the University of Utah drug-information center in Salt Lake City. "Last year, there were about 30. This year, we've had 40 new shortages and it's only April. Something is absolutely spiraling out of control."
The hard-to-obtain drugs are not exotic treatments for rare tropical diseases. "Among them are the common antibiotic penicillin g; a blood thinner used in hip-replacement surgery; a steroid used for a variety of ailments, including joint pain, allergies and chemotherapy treatment; and a key treatment to reduce the effects of drug overdose."
The story focuses on the problems that these gaps create for physicians. It doesn't analyze why pharmaceutical companies are suddenly unwilling to produce all that the market demands. It thus does not mention "something that is absolutely spiraling out of control", namely, drug price restrictions, imposed directly by states or indirectly through Medicare's labyrinthine reimbursement procedures. This usurpation of the market by command-and-control mechanisms is in its infancy. As it expands - as it certainly will when and if Congress adds prescription drug benefits to Medicare and turns the federal government into a bureaucratic monopoly buyer - more shortages will follow. Politicians and the media will blame them on "greedy drug companies", just as producers were blamed for the inevitable results of the Nixon and Carter price controls.
As a song from those bygone days asked plaintively, "When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?"
February 11, 2002
Since much of the intelligentsia really wants to be unhappy about the swift American military victory in Afghanistan, it was inevitable that attention would turn to civilian casualties; in particular to the pseudo-question of whether Afghan civilian deaths during the war exceeded the number murdered by al-Qaeda in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Over the weekend the Washington Post ran a long, fact-fuzzy article that cited uncritically, without precisely endorsing, various left-wing analysts' speculative figures, all of them running into the thousands. An Associated Press article (Laura King, "Review: Afghan Civilian Deaths Lower") debunks such numbers, but they will undoubtedly pass into the general intellectual mythology.
Even sober, honest body counts, however, distract from the most important point about civilian casualties: Unless the U.S. wantonly targeted civilians (for which there is not a scintilla of credible evidence), legal and moral responsibility for every casualty of the war, civilian or military, falls on al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. If al-Qaeda had not attacked the United States, and if the Taliban had not granted them shelter and protection, the U.S. military would not have retaliated, would not have lent support to opposition forces in Afghanistan, and would have done nothing that would have resulted in a single death in that country.
Implicit in the conclusion that the U.S. is at fault for Afghan casualties is the premise that we had no right to respond to al-Qaeda's attack. The people who seriously believe that, in so many words, are beyond the reach of rational discourse, but there are quite a few commentators who will proclaim the conclusion while shying away from the premise.
The line of reasoning is simple and clear: If America had the right to defend itself against its overt enemies, it had the right to do so effectively. If it had the right to take effective action, it had the right to inflict whatever damage was unavoidable in the course of carrying out that action. Either al-Qaeda or the Taliban could have forestalled every bit of that damage, the former by refraining from opening hostilities, the latter by refusing to harbor al-Qaeda operatives and cooperating with the American anti-terrorism effort. Since neither was willing to take the steps that would have made American action unnecessary, all of the consequences rest on their heads, whether those consequences included 30 civilian deaths or 30,000.
February 9, 2002
Not since the 1930's has there been such a happy time to be an antisemite in Western Europe or America. What was once regarded as a vile intellectual malady has abruptly become, if not fully respectable, fairly close to being able to speak its name.
A dark cloud still hangs over the name, of course. "Antisemitism" bears the onus of Hitler's genocide, which ironically means that people whose dislike of Jews is deep but nongenocidal can react to with indignation to any suggestion that they are antisemites. They insist that they are merely "critical of Israel" or perhaps "anti-Zionist" and that all talk of antisemitism is a crude attempt to stifle legitimate debate.
Let us concede that a less tainted term than "antisemite" would be a useful addition to political vocabulary. Nonetheless, leaving aside what to call it, there is a vicious, irrational undertone to much current discussion of issues that just happen to involve Jews and Judaism.
Israel's government and society, like all others, are full of flaws. (Just to demonstrate that I really believe that, let me deplore the rigidity of its semi-socialist economy, the mutual intolerance of many secular and religious Israelis, and the disastrously high abortion rate.) It is curious, however, that Israeli flaws draw so much more attention than is normally accorded to the faults of foreign lands. Israel's immediate neighbors receive far less scrutiny, and their atrocities are quickly forgotten. In 1982 Syrian dictator Hafez Assad massacred tens of thousands of civilians in the city of Hama. In the same year, Lebanese forces allied to Israel killed 1,500 civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Outside of a few conservative publications, the Syrian massacre is a forgotten historical incident, while Israeli culpability for the Lebanese one remains a burning issue.
Also curious is the frequently immense disproportion between Israel's "sins" and the odium assigned to them. To take an extreme but not untypical case, political weathervane A. N. Wilson, writing in the mainstream London Evening Standard, recently declared that Israel has "no right to exist". He professed to feel this as a "bitterly sad conclusion" but reached it on strangely trivial grounds. The few thousand Jewish settlers on the West Bank supposedly are aggressors who make peace impossible. "This policy, if pursued by any other nation on earth, would be universally condemned, and they would be forced to withdraw." Yet the settlers are vastly outnumbered by the Palestinians among whom they live. If a Palestinian state took control of the West Bank (as the Barak government offered, only to be turned down by Yasser Arafat), they would pose no threat to it. The only factor that makes this tiny minority an obstacle to peace is the desire of the Palestinians for a judenrein territory. Thus does Mr. Wilson elevate a minor side issue into a reason to eliminate Israel from the map of the Middle East. His concluding paragraph goes further, to suggest that Israel has not merely forfeited, but never had, legitimacy: "But the 1948 experiment - claiming the 'Israelis' had the 'right' to exist as a state just because a few brave terrorists such as Menachem Begin killed some British army officers - this was lazy thinking, and it was doomed to failure." If Mr. Wilson really believes that Israel was a casual British creation, as his words imply, "lazy" is too kind a word for - and "thinking" an absurd compliment to - whatever it is that he is doing.
Finally, it is curious that leftists find so little to sympathize with in a country that basically shares their principles. Israel is an occasionally messy but functioning democracy. Its economy runs on social democratic lines. Its social policies, except for such cosmetics as shutting down bus service on the Sabbath, are liberal and secular. Its enemies are thuggish tyrannies, many of them theocratic. And yet persons who call themselves democrats, socialists and secularists find Israel intolerable. Now, if a Jewish state were a laissez-faire republic with conservative social policies, and if rightists everywhere hated it, to what, one muses, would that hatred be ascribed? There would be no hesitation about employing the A-S word then.
Further reading: Hillel Halkin, "The Return of Anti-Semitism"; Tom Gross, "New Prejudices for Old"; Andrew Sullivan, "Spreading the Greater Lie About Israel"; Mark Steyn, "War Between America and Europe"; Victor Davis Hanson, "It Really Is Your Father's Europe"; Mikhail Krutikov, "British Magazine Raising Specter of 'Zionist Lobby'" ; David Landau, "Jewish Angst in Albion"; Michel Gurfinkiel, "Black October"; The Wall Street Journal, "Burning Synagogues" ; Francis X. Rocca, "Between Rome and Jerusalem"; P. J. Bonthrone, "Church Paints Over 'Anti-Semitic' Mural"; George F. Will, "'Final Solution,' Phase 2"; David Pryce-Jones, "That '30s Feeling"; Gabriel Schoenfeld, "Israel and the Anti-Semites"
February 3, 2002
Secular Islam, which hardly anyone in the West had heard of before September 11th, has been receiving very good press notices lately. Many Westerners seem to entertain the idea that all of our problems with Moslem governments and terror networks arise from "fundamentalist" movements and would go away if modern-minded mullahs replaced the medievalists.
The face of secularism looks less benign, however, when one considers that Iraq and Syria, two principal protectors of terrorism, one a member of President Bush's "axis of evil" and the other surely a strong candidate for inclusion, are ruled by the secular, pro-modernist Ba'ath Party. The Palestinian Authority, whose participation in anti-Israeli and collaboration in anti-American terrorism is becoming steadily more evident, is officially secular. The tyrant of Libya, quiet recently but by no means our friend, espouses a Marxist-Moslem hodgepodge that bears no resemblance to any fundamentalist version of Islam. These states may tell us more about secular Islam than the special case of Turkey.
Secularism in the Islamic world descends from the same Enlightenment roots as Western secularism, with perhaps a more extreme hostility toward religion. ( A significant contrast is non-Moslem Asia, where the first generation of modernists was educated in Christian mission schools and shaped by 19th century political and economic theory.) Neither intellectual sympathy nor any tie of affection binds secular Moslems to the Judaeo-Christian West. It should be no surprise that many of them, like a number of Western descendants of the Enlightenment, regard Western culture in general, and capitalist, Christian America in particular, with loathing. We should not reject their friendship out of hand, but we should not count on its being offered or on every offer being sincere.