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Ephemerides (April 2004)
April 30, 2004 If Tim Blair is playing, who am I not to join in? The rules are -
1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
I had some difficulty deciding what book was nearest and assumed that magazines are excluded. With those caveats, my answer is –
Lost or hidden texts are the most obvious and potent means of justifying a revolutionary change or revival, in which the purity of ancient religious truth is restored. [Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way]
Update, 4/4/04: A friend informs me that this game, apparently new to political bloggers, has been making the Live Journal rounds for months. It’s good to be behind the times!
[To comment, click here.]
April 29, 2004 If Iraq “distracted” the United States from the War on Terror, as faux-tough-on-terrorism liberals like to assert, then we should have seen the consequences last year in the form of a rising number of terrorist incidents outside the Iraqi theater. Data to test that hypothesis are now available in the annual report Patterns of Global Terrorism, released today by the U.S. State Department (run by the saintly Colin Powell (a secret liberal, all liberals are sure), not by the neocon demons Cheney, Rumsfeld and “Vulfovitz”). Here is what it has to say:
There were 190 acts of international terrorism in 2003, a slight decrease from the 198 attacks that occurred in 2002, and a drop of 45 percent from the level in 2001 of 346 attacks. The figure in 2003 represents the lowest annual total of international terrorist attacks since 1969 [emphasis added].
A total of 307 persons were killed in the attacks of 2003, far fewer than the 725 killed during 2002. A total of 1,593 persons were wounded in the attacks that occurred in 2003, down from 2,013 persons wounded the year before.
Not included in these numbers are attacks on soldiers in Iraq. Attacks on unarmed Iraqi civilians are included.
Statistics aren’t the whole story, and the Madrid bombings may portend an upswing in 2004 (especially if their success in attaining terrorist objectives inspires others), but it’s reasonable to ask, who’s distracted?
Update, 6/22/04: The State Department has revised the report and now says that the number of terrorist attacks increased from 2002 to 2003, frm 198 to all of 208. That number is merely the second lowest since 1969 and remains starkly inconsistent with the Left’s picture of al-Qa’eda on the rampage.
[To comment, click here.]
April 29, 2004 Yes, I realize that there is no greater faux pas than “questioning the patriotism” of Democratic politicians. (Outrightly denying the patriotism of Republicans is just politics as usual.) Nonetheless, if Agence France Press is accurately reporting the interview that Hillary Clinton gave last Monday to Asharq al-Awsat, an Arabic newspaper based in London, “unpatriotic” is a highly plausible characterization.
According to AFP, Senator Clinton told the paper that “the Bush administration did not have a plan for Iraq and did not have a full understanding of the situation there. She said the United States was in trouble because it could not abandon Iraq, nor provide enough manpower to run the country, nor gather world allies willing to provide the necessary assistance for the gigantic task.”
If those are the Senator’s opinions, she has the right to hold them, but expressing them to an Arab outlet is, at best, thoughtless folly. Asharq al-Awsat’s readers are not American voters; they are Arabs, mostly living in Britain and Europe, whom no patriot wants to encourage to oppose our national interests. When a prominent American says that we are “in trouble” in Iraq and lack the resources to attain our goals there, she gives hope to those in the Arab world who want us to fail and disheartens our friends – and accomplishes nothing else. If her criticisms are valid, they should be uttered where they will influence public opinion in this country, not retailed to foreigners.
Is it surprising that the Tehran Times, voice of the Iranian mullarchs, thought Senator Clinton’s words newsworthy? Imagine how they will be received by Ba’athist diehards in Fallujah and Madhi Army fanatics in Najaf.
If our former First Lady was misquoted – definitely a possibility – she ought to repudiate the AFP story immediately (and stop giving interviews to anti-American media). If, on the other hand, she really thinks that it is a good idea to spread defeatism abroad. . . . Well, I realize that there is no greater faux pas than “questioning the patriotism” of Democratic politicians. [To comment, click here.]
Addendum: I am pleased to see that Eugene Volokh agrees with me, as usual expressing my thoughts more crisply than I can.
April 26, 2004 A bit behind schedule as a result of traveling, I offer a new edition of Hunt Watch, this time looking at Al Hunt’s pessimism about the situation in Iraq, which in his case is a mode of wishful thinking. [To comment, click here.]
April 23, 2004 Today may or may not be William Shakespeare’s 440th birthday. His baptism in Stratford-upon-Avon is recorded on April 26, 1564, but the oft-cited  “custom” of baptizing on the third day after birth is apparently a much later attempt to introduce orderliness that didn’t exist at the time, perhaps augmented by the human fondness for coincidence (as the day of his death was April 23, 1616). Be that as it may, Michael J. Ortiz has penned a good little piece on the Bard, reminding us that there is no necessary relationship between greatness and flashy celebrity.
. . . our age of celebrity is often in full flight away from the ordinary, the everyday, and, certainly, the traditional. The adoring details we seek about the famous reveal our faith that success, wealth, and unique genius are what make life worth living. A vicarious experience of them is better than nothing, our culture seems to suggest.
It wasn’t always like this. In his recent biography of Shakespeare, Park Honan shows how the literary culture of Shakespeare's time valued not the new, but the old, and above all, the traditional. In its veneration of the classics, in the close-knit group of reparatory acting companies that survived only by cooperative effort, and in Stratford where local traditions were at the center of civic life, the ordinary was esteemed far beyond anything we see today.
Of course it takes an extraordinary man to make immortal literature out of the ordinary, but it takes an extraordinary man to make immortal literature out of anything. [To comment, click here.]
April 20, 2004 A friend chides me for excessive zeal in behalf of George W. Bush, whom he remembers as a frat boy at Yale (but let’s not forget that back then it took a lot of individualistic courage to spend your time drinking rather than protest-marching). Just to show that I’m capable of being even-handed, let me pass along this tale about a Presidential fund raising luncheon that, according to The Wall Street Journal’s subscription-only Political Diary, “ended on a strange note”:
It wasn’t the president’s speech, which was uplifting and humorous. It wasn’t the luncheon, which featured a lavish spread of seared beef tenderloin, golden tomatoes and fruit. It was the fact that there was nothing to eat it with. No silverware was provided “at the request of the White House,” according to the fine print on the luncheon program. A presidential aide later explained that knives and forks had been held back os guests wouldn’t be eating during the president’s speech.
PD has advice for “guests at future White House-sponsored events: If you expect to eat, better bring your own knife and fork”. Maybe the President is devoting too much attention to the war, to the neglect of the home front. Or could this be part of a strategy to combat the rising tide of obesity? Other explanations are solicited. [To comment, click here.]
April 16, 2004 The peculiar story that John Kerry belonged to the Yale College Republicans has touched my life. Someone from BBC discovered, presumably through sedulous googling, that I was a contemporary of the Senator at Yale, and I just did a brief interview on an early morning news program, in which I affirmed that obvious: that the Class Book editors were just joshing when they listed young John’s supposed GOP affiliation. The reasons for the joke are pretty obvious: “JFK”, as he incessantly styled himself, was so overweeningly ambitious (not that he was the only such in the Class of 1966) that everyone assumed that he would gladly have turned Republican had he seen that as the road to the White House.
BBC asked a few more questions about the candidate’s undergraduate days (about which I’ve written elsewhere, so I won’t repeat my answers) and, to my surprise, my opinion about what sort of President he would make, to which I was happy to be able to respond (truthfully) with what probably sounded like talking points prepared by Karl Rove:  This “JFK” spent two decades in the Senate doing nothing. There’s no reason to think that he’ll change now. Bill Clinton, I noted, was likewise a do-nothing President, but back then nothing was what needed to be done (or so we thought in innocent, pre-9/11 days). Circumstances may have changed since then.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 16, 2004 Rarely do my profession (law) and one of my hobbies (Shakespeare authorship) overlap. Here is an exception, from the home ground of Instapundit, oddly enough. [To comment, click here.]
April 16, 2004 This week’s Hunt Watch looks at Al Hunt’s overview of the Republican Senate primary in Pennsylvania, which is, to my surprise, well worth reading. [To comment, click here.]
April 15, 2004 Suppose that, on September 11, 2001, an alert airline employee had been suspicious of Mohammed Atta and his four companions, and had recommended that they be taken aside for questioning. What would have been his supervisor’s FAA-prescribed response?
(A) Do it now. Passenger safety is paramount.
(B) Nope. It’s illegal to subject more than two passengers of the same ethnic group to secondary screening. The government will fine us for violations. Political correctness is paramount.
The correct answer, as was disclosed during last week’s 9/11 Commission hearings but ignored by media more interested in the Veniste-Gorelick-Kerrey circus, is (B). As reported by Michael Smerconish of The Philadelphia Daily News,
Among [commissioner John] Lehman’s questions [to Condoleeza Rice] was this: “Were you aware that it was the policy [begun under the Clinton Administration and in force on 9/11] . . . to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary screening because that’s discriminatory?” . . .
Watching the hearings on television . . . , I wondered what in the world Secretary Lehman was talking about. This, I’d never heard before. Was he saying that the security of our airlines had been sacrificed to political correctness? A few days later . . . , I had the chance to ask him.
“We had testimony a couple of months ago from the past president of United, and current president of American Airlines that kind of shocked us all,” Lehman told me. “They said under oath that indeed the Transportation Department continued to fine any airline that was caught having more than two people of the same ethnic persuasion in a secondary line for questioning, including and especially two Arabs.”
Wait a minute. So if airline security had three suspicious Arab guys, they had to let one go because they’d reached a quota?
That was it, Lehman said. . . .
Mr. Smerconish was unable to find out whether this policy is still in place. If it is, the Bush Administration finally has something for which the President can reasonably apologize. [To comment, click here.]
April 14, 2004 For those who care what Al Hunt thinks about Democratic Veep possibilities, I’ve posted (a bit belatedly) a new Hunt Watch. [To comment, click here.]
April 13, 2004 John Kerry has now offered us “A Strategy for Iraq”. He prefaces it with a declaration that “Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission.” So far, so good, but there is nothing in rest of the essay to lead any terrorist operating in Iraq to conclude that President Kerry’s perseverance would be effectual.
The Democratic nominee-presumptive diagnoses the current turmoil as basically the fault of the Bush Administration: “. . . we are seeing increasing numbers of Iraqis lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what the Bush administration has and hasn't done.” Really? What should the President have done to appease the Ba’athist last-ditchers in Fallujah or aspiring dictator Muqtada al-Sadr? Are they merely “expressing frustration” over the difficulties in reaching agreement on the mechanics of restoring full Iraqi sovereignty? It’s quite obvious that a sovereign, democratic Iraq is what they most fear and that their uprisings are intended to halt the transition, not hurry it along. A man who doesn’t grasp that point is letting his dislike of his political opponents fog his sense of reality.
Seeing the root problem as fashioning “agreement with the Iraqis on how [the new government] will be constituted to make it representative enough to have popular legitimacy”, Senator Kerry’s central proposal is to call on the negotiating skills of the United Nations. Indeed, the U.S. should abdicate to the local U.N. representative and promise in advance to support whatever interim government he blesses. He concedes that the U.N. is unlikely to succeed but has no other plan. We are also counseled to “make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. . . . The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders to hold elections, restore government services, rebuild the economy, and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people.” If only the U.N. were willing – the Secretary-General has rejected the idea of sending any large number of personnel to Iraq – or able – it hasn’t set up a free, democratic government in Kosovo after five years (for an account of U.N. malfeasance in that unhappy land, vide Stephen Schwartz, “U.N., Go Home”) to carry a partner’s burden, it would be worthwhile to talk about giving it that role. Meanwhile, the Senator is merely arguing for calling on fictitious wise men to resolve our difficulties.
He is realistic enough to say that “The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military” but immediately adds, “preferably helped by NATO”. How NATO cooperation would be secured over the objections of France, Germany and (now) Spain appears not to be a matter worth discussing. Likewise unrealistic is the unstated assumption that NATO troops would be useful. More “boots on the ground” are always desirable, but the current situation does not suggest that the Coalition is in the slightest danger of being chased out of Iraq by superior force. In numbers, firepower and military skill, we have overwhelming advantages. Were it not for our policy of minimizing civilian casualties, the Fallujah holdouts and the “Mahdi Army” would all be corpses.
If we did need additional manpower, NATO is not, alas, a promising source. The best troops of a handful of its armies measure up to the American and British average. The great bulk operate with obsolete equipment, inadequate training and inferior leadership, all the products of decades of constricted defense budgets. Let’s remember that all of Western Europe could not put together a force that could oppose isolated Serbia with any confidence. We already have, as Senator Kerry stubbornly refuses to acknowledge (he says again in this piece that “we are going it almost alone”), the assistance of over 25,000 allied soldiers from a wide range of nations: Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, South Korea and over 20 others. Adding an official NATO commitment would augment the Coalition forces only marginally in quantity and not at all in quality.
To summarize, the man who would be our next President has a tenuous grasp of the nature of the challenge in Iraq and only magical-thinking solutions to the problems that he does see. He concludes with this advice:
The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people.
President Bush has been striving to do just that by repeatedly placing the democratization of Iraq in the context of the War on Terror. I won’t rehash those arguments right now. Rather, I observe, first, that Senator Kerry is unwilling to confront them, pretending instead that they don’t exist, and, second, that he is himself silent about what “a clear and credible goal” would be. Is his policy in Iraq nothing more than, beg the rest of the world to take our place, then bug out?
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 13, 2004 Today is the anniversary (ignoring the nuisance of calendar changes) of one of the key events in the long conflict between Islam and the West. On April 13, 1204, the army of the Fourth Crusade captured Constantinople and embarked on three days of pillage. This self-inflicted wound on Christendom made it impossible to take advantage of a century of internecine strife within the House of Islam and ended the Byzantine Empire as a Mediterranean power. It may well be that Americans are fighting in Iraq today because a Flemish knight seized the throne of Constantine 800 years ago. [To comment, click here.]
April 12, 2004 Instapundit very kindly linked to “The Victims of George W. Bush”, bringing this site far more visitors than have ever touched down here before. The publicity is much appreciated, and I promise to give all of the resulting obscene profits to charity.
If I were writing the piece today, I would add the now-famous August 6, 2001, briefing, which fits the plot line perfectly. If nothing had happened on 9/11 and we were now looking back on the Bush Administration’s actions with maximum prejudice, it would be obvious that the purpose of the briefing was to build a case for the following month’s national security directive against al-Qa’eda, notwithstanding the absence of any clear, contemporary intelligence backing the claim that the organization posed an “imminent threat” to the United States. Decisive proof that no action was warranted would be the fact that seventy concurrent FBI investigations had not uncovered any conspiracy. As our fictitious book reviewer might put it, “John Ashcroft had thrown the full resources of the federal government into turning over rocks looking for ‘terrorist cells’. The best that his minions could come up with the weasel-worded allegation of ‘patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks’. A rational President would have tossed that mumbo-jumbo into the wastebasket. Unfortunately, George W. Bush took it seriously.” [To comment, click here.]
April 10, 2004 One of the themes of last week’s questioning of Condoleeza Rice by leftist members of the 9/11 Commission was a toned-down return to “Bush Knew” paranoia. Richard Ben-Veniste, the panel’s most consistently shrill anti-Administration voice, made much of the title of a document that crossed the President’s desk on August 6th: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” When Dr. Rice tried to explain what the report actually contained, he cut her off, shouting that he only wanted to know the title. (Professor Bainbridge has an amusing report about the exchange and subsequent media spin.)
Mr. Ben-Veniste focused on the title, because he wanted TV viewers to draw the inference that the White House was bombarded with terrorist alerts in the months leading up to 9/11 and did nothing about them, presumably because it was preoccupied with missile defense and Iraq.
The text of the report has now been declassified and can be read on Fox News and elsewhere. It helps explain why the Administration’s first important national security directive, issued less than a month later, laid plans to destroy al-Qaeda, but the most jaundiced anti-Bush eye will have trouble finding any suggestions that bin-Laden’s organization was on the verge of carrying out a major operation, much less alarms that would have called for dramatic new action by the government. As Dr. Rice said (or tried to say over Mr. Ben-Veniste’s screeching), most of the intelligence reports were either old, from the immediate aftermath of the 1998 cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan, or uselessly vague. The least fuzzy was, “FBI information since that time [1998] indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.”
The most interesting paragraph is the last, which indicates that the FBI was not quite so sleepy as critics have complained (emphasis added):
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers Bin Ladin-related. CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our Embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.
Seventy full field investigations related to al-Qaeda doesn’t sound negligent to me. That they didn’t foil the 9/11 plot shows not that John Ashcroft ought to be pilloried but that protecting the country through defensive police work – the practical alternative to an aggressive war against the terrorists – is not a high-yield strategy. [To comment, click here.]
April 9, 2004 Gregg Easterbrook has posted “An Alternative History” starting from the premise that George W. Bush acted decisively to prevent the 9/11 attacks – and was rewarded for his good deeds as one might expect. It is a better piece than my own “The Victims of George W. Bush”, but I do want to point out that mine appeared two months ago.
Update, 4/12/04: Kathleen Parker beat us both by almost a year. [To comment, click here.]
April 9, 2004 By chance or (if his strategists are extraordinarily subtle) design, John Kerry now has a splendid opening for a “Sister Souljah moment”. Last week four Americans, working as guards for a humanitarian organization, were lured into an ambush by Ba’athist barbarians, lynched and mutilated. One was too horribly mangled to be identified.
Yesterday, 13 Democratic Senators wrote to the Pentagon to demand tighter controls over private security contractors and suggest that they may “contribute to Iraqi resentment”. The firms that furnish them were likened to “private armies operating outside the control of governmental authority and beholden only to those who pay them”.
There is only a sliver of daylight between that characterization of what the murder victims were doing and Daily Kos’s taunt (now infamous throughout the blogosphere): “They were mercenaries; screw them.” The Kerry campaign had the good sense to respond by deleting the link to Daily Kos from its Web site and issuing a rebuke to its sentiments.
The 13 signers of yesterday’s missive are far more prominent than Manuel Zúniga, the proprietor of Daily Kos. They include the Senate Democratic leader and assistant leader, the party’s ranking members on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. In an age so sensitive to “blaming the victim”, it is startling that this conspicuous example was buried deep in a New York Times article (unearthed by OpinionJournal’s Best of the Web).
Senator Kerry now has the opportunity to demonstrate that he has not allowed disagreements with President Bush’s policies to fester into suspicion and resentment of Americans who are helping to rebuild Iraq. He should say plainly that the men who died in Falluja were not “mercenaries”, not members of a “private army”, but heroes and should ask his fellow Democrats who have implied otherwise to apologize first to the families of the slain and then to the country. He might want to round off his statement by quoting A. E. Housman, who knew that “mercenary” is not necessarily an ignoble epithet:
These, in the days when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages, and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 8, 2004 Okay, everybody ad libs stupidly at times, but Tim Russert displayed an effective IQ of about zero with this comment on Dr. Rice: “But the real issue will be, how did the families of the victims of 9-1-1 respond to this testimony?” So it doesn’t matter whether the National Security Advisor was intelligent, informative, responsive to the Commission’s mandate – only that she please “the families of the victims of 9-1-1”? Does Mr. Russert think that the Islamofascists are at war only with them, that the rest of us are mere disinterested spectators? Does al-Qaeda have to kill our loved ones too in order for our opinions to count? [To comment, click here.]
April 8, 2004 No doubt the Bush Haters will find something in Condoleeza Rice’s public testimony before the 9/11 Commission to feed their mania, but for rational observers the entire kerfuffle about whether the Bush Administration had an ideological predisposition to ignore al-Qaeda will be set to rest by these paragraphs from Dr. Rice’s opening statement (emphasis added):
We also moved to develop a new and comprehensive strategy to eliminate the al-Qaida terrorist network. President Bush understood the threat, and he understood its importance. He made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was “tired of swatting flies.”
This new strategy was developed over the Spring and Summer of 2001, and was approved by the President’s senior national security officials on September 4. It was the very first major national security policy directive of the Bush Administration — not Russia, not missile defense, not Iraq, but the elimination of al-Qaida.
Although this National Security Presidential Directive was originally a highly classified document, we arranged for portions to be declassified to help the Commission in its work, and I will describe some of those today. The strategy set as its goal the elimination of the al-Qaida network. It ordered the leadership of relevant U.S. departments and agencies to make the elimination of al-Qaida a high priority and to use all aspects of our national power – intelligence, financial, diplomatic, and military – to meet this goal. And it gave Cabinet Secretaries and department heads specific responsibilities. For instance:
It directed the Secretary of State to work with other countries to end all sanctuaries given to al-Qaida.
It directed the Secretaries of the Treasury and State to work with foreign governments to seize or freeze assets and holdings of al-Qaida and its benefactors.
It directed the Director of Central Intelligence to prepare an aggressive program of covert activities to disrupt al-Qaida and provide assistance to anti-Taliban groups operating against al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
It tasked the Director of OMB with ensuring that sufficient funds were available in the budgets over the next five years to meet the goals laid out in the strategy.
And it directed the Secretary of Defense to – and I quote – “ensure that the contingency planning process include plans: against al-Qaida and associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control-communications, training, and logistics facilities; against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics; to eliminate weapons of mass destruction which al-Qaida and associated terrorist groups may acquire or manufacture, including those stored in underground bunkers.” This was a change from the prior strategy – Presidential Decision Directive 62, signed in 1998 – which ordered the Secretary of Defense to provide transportation to bring individual terrorists to the U.S. for trial, to protect DOD forces overseas, and to be prepared to respond to terrorist and weapons of mass destruction incidents.
The final paragraph says a lot about the relative seriousness and urgency with which the Bush Administration and its predecessor approached the terrorist threat.
Dr. Rice is here summarizing documents available to members of the Commission, not simply making uncheckable assertions about uncheckable subjective attitudes B la Richard Clarke. Sadly, these decisions came too late. Preventing the 9/11 atrocities would have required their implementation years – not weeks or months – earlier. But the notion that President Bush and his advisors, even before September 11, 2001, regarded Osama bin Laden as no more than a trivial nuisance ought now to be laid to rest.
Further reading: Clifford D. May, “Side Show”
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 7, 2004 John Kerry has another week or so, until the current insurrections in Iraq are quelled, to begin campaigning for the Presidency of a superpower. Should he continue his present trajectory, he may win in November, but victory will bring him the right to preside over a crippled, fear-enshrouded, declining nation. In less than four years, he will wish that he had stayed in Massachusetts.
Senator Kerry’s challenge is to avoid becoming the man whose victory the Islamofascists regard as their own. If the enemy thinks that, in the words of one Hezbollah leader, “We may be unable to drive the Americans out of Iraq, but we can drive George W. Bush out of the White House” (quoted by Amir Taheri), a Kerry win will inevitably be followed by an intensified terror campaign to chase America off the world stage completely. We are already seeing the process at work in Spain, where the perceived terrorist triumph in last month’s elections has led to further demands and barely thwarted atrocities. Moreover, it takes no great stretch of imagination to connect the Spanish vote to the new boldness of the Ba’athist remnants and pro-Iranian mullahs in Iraq.
Right now Senator Kerry is, fairly or not, the candidate of Western weakness, equivocation and voluntary dhimmitude. His own emphasis on the supposed “deception” underlying President Bush’s case against Saddam Hussein, combined with the “Iraq is Vietnam” rants of prominent supporters like Senator Kennedy, makes it impossible for any foe of America to believe otherwise. Feeble gestures like delinking his Web site from Daily Kos won’t counteract that impression, nor will promises to concentrate on purely defensive measures at home, such as tighter security for buses and trains, and to act abroad only with the assent of those nations (France, Russia, Germany) that are least likely to approve of action. What terrorists want most is freedom from fear of American attacks on their bases and persons. Left to operate without constant apprehension, they know that they can find vulnerable seams in our internal security. The country is too big to be safeguarded through any feasible set of passive defenses.
So, the Democratic candidate-presumptive’s only hope – not of winning but of winning an office worth having – is to leap far to the right on foreign policy, to become an advocate of steps from which the President shies away: active support of regime change in Iran and Syria, full backing for Israel’s campaign to dismantle Hamas, Hezbollah, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and their ilk, demands for liberalization in Egypt and Saudi-controlled Arabia, preparation for possible war against North Korea, a firm threat (no, promise) to suspend contributions to the U.N. until it submits to a full, unimpeded investigation of the Oil-for-Palaces scandal and cleans up all corruption that is discovered (which may mean jail time for U.N. bigwigs).  I could continue, but that is a start. I’m not sure that I would favor every one of those measures myself and know that a couple of them may not be prudent, but Senator Kerry’s position is such that ordinary prudence is dangerously rash. He needs to demonstrate that Islamofascism cannot win the U.S. election, that, from its point of view, each alternative is worse than the other. To accomplish that feat, starting where he is today, will require a degree of hawkishness to make Paul Wolfowitz look like a fluffy dove.
Furthermore, the Senator’s time to change is growing short. Once the fighting in Iraq dies down, all that the enemy will remember is that he met their offensive with silence. No matter what he says after that, his character will be judged on the basis of how he responded when his countrymen were under attack. Bold statements during interludes of calm mean nothing to men who think that they can intimidate you.
Now is John F. Kerry’s moment. We’ll see within days or hours whether he can rise to it. Not heartening, if accurately characterized, is his apparent opposition to shutting down Muqtada al-Sadr’s propaganda apparatus (as reported by
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 7, 2004: Mike Lion, McLean, Virginia, offers another pertinent point about responsibility for limited government attention to terrorism before 9/11:
One factor in the run-up to 9/11 that I have not heard mentioned in this recent attempt to blame Bush is the way Senate Democrats “slow-walked” Bush appointees through the confirmation process, especially those for national security posts. Mueller, head of the FBI, didn’t take office until the week before 9/11. Senator Levin, now quick to blame others, personally held up at least two through July. I would like to see a complete accounting of this.
It’s hard to do your job when you don’t hold it yet! Also worth remembering is that the Bush team had an unusually short transition period, since its predecessor refused to release transition funding until after the Florida election dispute was resolved. In a situation like that, wouldn’t the national interest have been best served by facilitating preparation by both possible Presidents rather than neither? [To comment, click here.]
April 7, 2004 The co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission have all but promised that their report will blame the government for its failure to foresee the imminence of the al-Qaeda threat. Those inclined to give a lot of credence to such hindsight should ponder William Tucker's account of what the media thought of a man who did call for vigorous pre-9/11 action. "He Saw It Coming"  – and was treated like a nutcase.
Steve Emerson is to the media what Richard Clarke was to the government. A former CNN correspondent and senior editor at U.S. News & World Report, he became fanatically concerned about terrorist infiltration after stumbling into a 1992 convention of radical Muslim jihadists in Oklahoma City, of all places.
Emerson spent the next decade collecting information on American fundamentalist organizations, making inside contacts, collecting literature and videotapes, sneaking into meetings  – at great danger to himself  – in disguise. In 1994 he produced a PBS special, Jihad in America, which brought hysterical criticism from American Muslim groups. A fatwa was issued against him and his picture appeared on the front pages of Arab newspapers. By 1998 he went living in hiding. In a 2002 feature article on him in the Brown Alumni News, Richard Clarke was quoted as saying: “I think of Steve as the Paul Revere of Terrorism.” Clarke credited Emerson with “repeatedly warning of Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States.”
So what was Emerson’s standing with his fellow journalists? Well, he had been permanently banned from National Public Radio. He had been permanently banned from CBS news by Dan Rather for initially attributing the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to Muslim terrorists (not a bad guess since that was where he originally encountered jihad groups). The New York Times dismissed his book, Terrorist, calling it “marred by factual errors . . . and by a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias.” The Nation accused his PBS special of “creating mass hysteria against American Arabs.” In a 1999 profile in Extra, the magazine of the liberal group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, an unnamed AP Washington editor says, “We would be very, very, very, very leery of using Steve Emerson.”
What would have happened if Condoleeza Rice had picked up Emerson’s themes and the government had acted with corresponding vigilance against Islamofascist conspiracies. We would doubtless be hearing laments for “The Victims of George W. Bush”. [To comment, click here.]
April 6, 2004 “BUSH LIED!!!” is busily being repackaged as a less irrational sounding “credibility gap”. This week’s Hunt Watch looks at Al Hunt’s effort to give traction to that meme. [To comment, click here.]
April 5, 2004 More on that hardy perennial of liberal campaigning: “tax cuts for the wealthy”. The Treasury Department’s Office of Tax Analysis has just released projections of income groups’ shares of income tax liability in 2004. (“Who Pays the Most Individual Income Taxes?”; the date of the release is unfortunate, but the data aren’t.) The top one percent of taxpayers will earn 15.3 percent of total adjusted gross income and pay 32.3 percent of income taxes. Without the Bush tax cuts, they would have paid 30.5 percent. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent, with 13.6 percent of AGI, will pay only 3.6 percent of income taxes. Without the Bush Administration’s favoritism toward “the rich”, they would have paid 4.1 percent.
Here is what the relative tax burden (share of taxes divided by share of AGI) looks like for different tiers, with and without the cuts:
With Bush Cuts
Without Cuts
Top 1%
Top 5%
Top 10%
Top 25%
Top 50%
Bottom 75%
Bottom 50%
Attractive as those numbers will sound in TV spots, they highlight the continuation of a trend that in the long run is incompatible with a healthy democracy: A small minority of the public bears a wildly disproportionate share of the cost of government. There is no constitutional principle to prevent the majority from skewing the tax burden yet more heavily, as Democratic candidates routinely urge, and electoral politics are a weak protection for the tiny group of serious taxpayers. The people who pay the majority of all income taxes are outnumbered by 20 to 1 at the polls.
So far, happily, the majority has shown little enthusiasm for “soak the minority” rhetoric. The Clinton tax hikes in 1993 were widely unpopular despite Democratic insistence that the victims were few in number. We cannot be confident, however, that public opinion will remain benign in the face of continual incitements to income-based exploitation. It will be a bad thing if politicians start slaughtering the golden geese – especially if the geese fight back.
Further reading: U.S. Treasury, “How Have the President’s Tax Cuts Encouraged Investment?”
Mandatory disclaimer: Senator John Kerry served in Vietnam, and the preceding remarks are not intended to question his patriotism. [To comment, click here.]
April 4, 2004 This morning a couple of hundred million good citizens got up an hour earlier than their internal chronometers desired. Thinking about this example of mass obedience, I wondered why the United States government wants them to do that.
Whatever economic argument there might once have been for artificially moving an hour of daylight from the beginning to the end of the working day has been obsolete for years, if not decades. The influence of the Sun on the tempo of human activity is steadily waning. I’d be astonished if the trivial gains that shopping malls receive from Daylight Saving Time come near to making up for the negative effects of inflicting a mild case of jet lag on the whole populace twice a year, to which must be added the missed appointments and other disruptions caused by clock changes. Globalization makes the latter effect worse, since the world doesn’t change times synchronously and isn’t likely to until latitude is repealed.
From the beginning the economic case for DST was prima facie nonsense. If there were profit to be made from having workers arrive and depart an hour earlier during the summer, businessmen would devise such schedules without government prompting. The exercise looks very much like overbearing Taylorism, founded on abstract time-and-motion reductionism of human behavior.
There are more important battles than this, but Daylight Saving Time is change for change’s sake, devised and perpetuated primarily to satisfy progressives’ deeply felt need to tell others what to do. Abolishing it would be a victory for economic sense and, better yet, a defeat for the nanny-state impulse.
For my part, I am going to take advantage of the flexibility of my work hours to resist. I will not spring forward. They’ll take my time away from me when they pry it from my clock’s cold, dead hands! [To comment, click here.]
April 4, 2004 Last Friday was National Employee Benefits Day, complete with its own Presidential proclamation. Despite (or maybe because of) my professional connection with the object of the celebration, I didn’t find the time for ablutions, but I did want to take note of a related fact that is both obvious and almost universally ignored.
The most widespread and costly employee benefit is medical insurance, while medical care in general is the area of the economy that is most closely watched by the government and left least to the vagaries of individual choice. Food, clothing and shelter, which are of more than passing importance, are entrusted to not-very-trammeled market forces. Nobody has faith in those same forces when it comes to health.
It would be hard to come closer to a genuine socioeconomic experiment. What are its results? The United States has an abundance – some would say a glut – of inexpensive food, clothing is virtually free, and adequate housing is nearly universal. Meanwhile, medicine is in a perennial state of real or imagined crisis.
Happily, the “crisis” in America is mostly about money: Medical treatment and pharmaceuticals cost a lot, and their prices seem to rise inexorably. Abroad, where the state generally excludes private enterprise entirely from the field, complaints center on badly trained and worse-motivated physicians, shortages of equipment, and dangerously long waits for surgical procedures.
Let me ask a utopian-sounding question: If meat and bread and shirts and shoes and houses flood the country with a minimum of government involvement, is it not possible that well-meaning measures to solve the problem of sickness through regulations and government subsidies is the cause, rather than the cure, of high prices and unsatisfactory service?
Imagine for a moment that a benevolent government operated Foodicare along the same lines as Medicare. It would tax hundreds of billions of dollars to underwrite the nutritional needs of a large portion of the population, would directly and indirectly control food prices, would regulate instruction in agriculture and entry into farming, and would grant tax breaks for employer-provided “victuals insurance”. It takes only the most elementary acquaintance with basic economics to figure out the consequences.
Therefore, in honor of Employee Benefits Day, I offer this idea: Give freedom a chance. When people are ill, let them buy a doctor’s care with the same lack of constraint as when they buy new suits – and with the same lack of tax-funded subventions. The concept sounds radical, I realize, just as supermarkets and haberdasheries would sound radical if we were used to Foodicare and Garmentaid. There could even be some reason why free markets in medicine won’t work. On the other hand, we already know that the government-managed regime is a failure. [To comment, click here.]
April 1, 2004 Just in time for All Fools’ Day comes “The Young Tuders”, a delightful spoof  of Shakespearean authorship conspiracy theories. The putative author is a nine-year-old Victorian girl whose hand printed MS. was supposedly rediscovered recently. One should avoid drawing inferences from the appearance of the piece on the Web site of computer scientist I. M. Ketman, a professor at the University of North London. Here is an excerpt, explaining the “stigma of print” that kept the True Author from revealing his identity:
[Queen Elizabeth:] “And there’s something else. Whose idea was the Stigma of Print?”
“Well, ours,” said Lord Oxford nervously. He couldn’t help noticing that the Queen had that look in her eye that usually meant things would end badly for him. “People out of the top drawer’s idea.”
“You mean we are the people who think it’s not quite the thing for nobles to write plays?”
“Absolutely. Ask anyone.”
“Then why are we trying to trick the other sort of people who aren’t out of the top drawer and don’t know it’s not quite the thing?”
Lord Oxford stared at the Queen for quite a long time. “In case they find out?” he suggested.
As Glen Reynolds would say: Read the whole thing. [To comment, click here.]
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