Thursday, May 31, 2007

Priestly Rule (II)

Intellectual rule via elite control began with Mesopotamian priests 6000 years ago.

For the U.S., Kennedy’s “Camelot” was a high point of intellectual rule. David Halberstam brilliantly defined this rule in The Best and the Brightest, which documented the origins of the Vietnam disaster. The intellectuals made a Faustian bargain for the keys to the Pentagon, agreeing in exchange to wage an aggressive popular defense of freedom in the face of international Communism.

Kennedy’s “best and brightest” won the Cold War’s most important victory in 1962 by adeptly handling the Cuban missile crisis. Kennedy followed that up with the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963, and turned that year to completing our civil rights revolution at home, which the Kennedy team under Texan Lyndon Johnson carried to victory in 1964-65.

Of course, the commanding intellectual control over America all came apart over the next four years, as brains separated themselves from the Democrats responsible for Vietnam.

Intellectuals drove the U.S. from Vietnam. Intellectuals used Watergate to drive Nixon from the White House. Since that double triumph, the Democratic Party home of the intellectuals has held power in Washington (White House + Congress) for just 6 years out of 40—15% of the time. From the coming of the New Deal until 1968, Democrats controlled Washington for 26 of 36 years—72% of the time. Used to power as an entitlement, intellectuals have been frustrated by the Republican Party’s return to power since Vietnam, largely through use of the national security issue.

But while denied full political power, the modern-day priest class has come to dominate our national elite made up of bureaucrats plus institutions that need government’s help to further their agenda—entertainment and the arts, academe, the Third Sector, and the media. The only elite groups outside this Democratic core are the military, small business, the clergy (but only social conservatives), and big business (but only those who oppose high taxes). Entitlement, the belief that it is right for intellectuals to rule America, is alive and well in 2007.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Priestly Rule (I)

Democracy is very young. Real democracy—one person, one vote—did not exist in the U.S. Deep South until the late 1960s. People who have power don’t easily give it up. Because even absolute rulers cannot run countries on their own, elite rule is the historic norm. Rulers cut the elite in on power, and collectively, rulers and their elite function to convince the masses they benefit from elite rule.

Civilization is roughly 6,000 years old, having begun in Mesopotamia, current Iraq, with stable agricultural communities leading to the founding of villages and even cities such as Uraq (Iraq?), which eventually housed 80,000 within its walls. Civilization also brought the development a priesthood, their temples (ziggurat pictured), and their invention of writing.

In Maoist China, the elite was dominated by "reds," the beefy enforcers, and experts, the brains. Mao needed both. Mao’s pattern continued that of the emperors, who held power by playing off eunuchs against scholars. A similar division characterized almost any court. The Soviet Red Army which ruled after the Bolshevik revolution had its commanders (warriors) and commissars (thinkers), and a similar division defined the Kaiser’s German General Staff.

The “priests”—for that’s how intellectual rule began in Mesopotamia, with priests—don’t rule alone. They share power with the warriors. “Priests,” however, have always believed things go better when they are in charge.

In the U.S., the warriors who saved the Union gave way to captains of industry after the Civil War, and the business of America was business until the Crash of 1929. When the New Deal picked up the pieces the crash left behind, it put brains in charge of the country as never before. Roosevelt's brain-driven government harnessed the military and industry through World War II, and Truman’s and Kennedy’s muscular anti-Communism perpetuated intellectual control over the apparati of U.S. power until Vietnam.

America was a democracy in 1963 run by its best and brightest, in the dawn-of-civilization tradition of Urak’s ziggurat-dwelling priests.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why White House may Cave on Iraq

Newsday’s James Klurfeld provides reasons the Bush administration may give up on Iraq:

there is a battle royal going on inside the administration over what to do about the mess in Iraq. . . secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, an original member of the Iraq Study Group, understands that the "we must win" doctrine makes no sense either politically or, more important, substantively. . .the insurgency in Iraq, while aided and abetted by al-Qaida, is fueled by the country's indigenous Sunni-Shia split. Many experts have concluded that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is more of a problem than a solution.

Bruce Riedel, a longtime CIA official now at the Brookings Institution, put it this way in a recent article in Foreign Affairs: "It is time to recognize that engagement there is more of a trap than an opportunity for the United States. Al-Qaida and Iran both want Washington to remain bogged down in the quagmire."

Riedel and others say nothing has bolstered al-Qaida's standing in the Islamic world so much as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Riedel says Osama bin Laden's strategy has not changed: It is to "provoke and bait" the United States into "bleeding wars" throughout the Islamic world. He says the better course now would be a withdrawal of forces and renewed concentration on battling al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Damning Bob Kerrey with Faint Praise

Andrew C. McCarthy, who writes for the conservative National Review, describes as "stirring" Bob Kerrey’s article on democracy in Iraq. McCarthy praises Kerrey for “eloquently arguing that we must defeat al Qaeda in Iraq,” an article McCarthy notes “will win him no fans among the hard Left that today controls his party”.

But then McCarthy says:

Does Kerrey really think such a “democracy” is worth Americans fighting for? Well, maybe not. For after singing its praises, he abruptly shifts course[, writing that] "Jim Webb [(D.-VA)] said something during his [successful] campaign for the Senate that should be emblazoned on the desks of all 535 members of Congress: You do not have to occupy a country in order to fight the terrorists who are inside it. Upon that truth I believe it is possible to build what doesn’t exist today in Washington: a bipartisan strategy to deal with the long-term threat of terrorism."

Hard to quarrel with that. If Iraq proves anything, it is that we Americans lack the patience for long, difficult occupations — especially if our leaders fail to convince us that our own security, as opposed to a better life for the occupied, is at stake. . .

But here’s something else Kerrey doesn’t confront. Maybe he’s right that you don’t have to occupy a country to fight terrorism. But you do have to occupy a country to, as he puts it, impose democracy. . . the Iraqi chapter in the war on terror has been conducted, since Saddam’s expulsion, as a Wilsonian [Wilson pictured, above] experiment. It assumes . . . that everyone craves freedom. . . If the experiment were being conducted by liberals, rather than by George W. Bush, Democrats would be its staunchest defenders (and conservatives its wariest skeptics).

Clinton + Obama = Minority?

Tom Bevan, at RealClearPolitics, has this to say about Clinton’s and Obama’s votes against funding the troops in Iraq:

Take a look at yesterday's CBS News/New York Times poll. Yes, 63% of those surveyed (including 81% of Dems and 61% of Independents) said the United States should set a "timeline for withdrawal" in 2008.

But the following question asked whether Congress should block all funding of the troops, allow funding for the troops without conditions, or pursue a middle course that allows funding on the condition that the United States "sets benchmarks for progress and the Iraqi government are meeting those goals" - which is exactly what last night's bill did. Phrased that way, 69% of those surveyed were in favor of funding with benchmarks (including 73% of Democrats and 69% of Independents).

Friday, May 25, 2007

“The Good Shepherd” (2006)

This is the kind of movie I should love. A fiction- alized version of the birth of the CIA, it ranges over the world, with lots of period scenes handled well. OK, so it unsympathetically ends with the Bay of Pigs disaster, one of the CIA’s worst moments. The Bay of Pigs is, after all, part of the agency’s history.

Here’s what I really didn’t like. The movie included a long torture scene, complete with waterboarding and ending in an innocent’s death. So the movie’s really a slam at today’s CIA.

At the end of the scene, just before the wrongly-tortured KGB defector defenestrates himself and while he is still on “truth serum,” he shouts the U.S. is artificially keeping the Cold War going in order to support its military-industrial complex, even though the Soviet Union is a weak enemy hollowed out from within, as the CIA well knows. Not a correct description of a time when the U.S.S.R. led the U.S. in the space race, possessed long-range rockets able to wipe out entire U.S. cities, and was still allied with a China that had fought us to a draw in Korea. So why the distortion? Because producers want to whack anyone currently proclaiming al-Qaeda a major threat in order, in the eyes of the producers, to keep America’s military-industrial complex healthy.

The movie also gives great attention to Yale’s secret “Skull and Bones” society, letting us know it was anti-Negro, anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, and fairly perverted. The movie did not say George Bush was “Skull and Bones.” Flatter yourself for figuring that out on your own.

Ah, Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Thank Heaven for Bob Kerrey

Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska and member of the 9/11 Commission, has written the article on Iraq that sums up the danger of losing better than Pulitzer winner Lawrence Wright or the Washington Post’s Thomas Ricks. Kerrey’s is the best summary written for a Democrat I have seen on why we should stand and fight in Iraq. Please read it in full.

You should be reading the entire article. Here are key paragraphs:

The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq's middle class has fled the country in fear.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy.

The key question for Congress is whether or not Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11. The answer is emphatically "yes."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why Welfare States Don't Work

George Will’s French facts: 1) “France's 2006 growth rate was lower than that of 21 of the (then) 25 members of the European Union,” and; 2) “During the 25 years that the French left and some right-wing nationalists have spent reviling ‘cold, heartless impoverishing Anglo-American capitalism,’ France's per capita GDP has slumped from seventh in the world to 17th.”

But what Will has truly nailed is the contradictions of welfare states such as France, which Will treats as an updated version of the liberal Daniel Bell’s “cultural contradictions of capitalism:”

Capitalism flourishes because of virtues that its flourishing undermines. Its success requires thrift, industriousness and deferral of gratifications, but that success produces abundance, expanding leisure and the emancipation of appetites, all of which weaken capitalism's moral prerequisites.

The cultural contradictions of welfare states are comparable. Such states presuppose economic dynamism sufficient to generate investments, job-creation, corporate profits and individuals' incomes from which come tax revenues needed to fund entitlements. But welfare states produce in citizens an entitlement mentality and a low pain threshold. That mentality inflames appetites for more entitlements. . .

Voilà! Citizens mired in entitlement mentalities don’t generate wealth.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Giuliani’s Charleston Home Run

Here is one of several reports proclaiming Giuliani the winner of the latest presidential debate—the one on FOX out of South Carolina. I go with the consensus. Giuliani came into the debate in trouble because he is pro-choice, the others aren’t, and the GOP is pro-life. His strength is his ability to handle the war on terror. Lo and behold, GOP flake candidate Ron Paul, whose anti-war position had him looking as out of place on the GOP stage as RuPaul would have been, chose to argue that the U.S. is responsible for 9-11 because it was overflying Iraq. Giuliani jumped on Paul’s assertion and demanded a retraction.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Anger on the Left

Thomas Sowell has written a perceptive commentary on why the left seems so full of hatred of their enemies. After making his case, Sowell concludes:

The [left’s] greatest anger seems to be directed at people and things that thwart or undermine the[ir] social vision . . . the political melodrama starring the left as saviors of the poor, the environment, and other busybody tasks that they have taken on.
It seems to be the threat to their egos that they hate. And nothing is more of a threat to their desire to run other people's lives than the free market and its defenders.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Universal Health Care on the Way?

David Frum reports that “Nine out of 10 Americans believe the U.S. health care system needs radical reform. Two-thirds of Americans believe the government must guarantee health care for all. Most polls show health care to be one of Americans' two top domestic policy concerns, the other being the overall state of the economy.”

One sign that health is changing politics comes from an LA Times article documenting how big business is pushing universal health care:

36 major companies [are] launch[ing] a political campaign . . . calling for medical insurance to be expanded to everyone along lines Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing for California. . .[These] large firms already provide medical coverage to their employees and have become increasingly frustrated as premiums have increased over the years. That has made them more willing to look to the government for solutions.

[The companies have] embraced two of Schwarzenegger's central concepts: requiring everyone to be insured and providing financial assistance to the poor to help them purchase coverage. That framework also forms the basis of a proposal in Congress, sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), that has some bipartisan support [see blog entry here]. . .

"For Republican legislators, the business community has been an important constituency," said Adam Mendelsohn, Schwarzenegger's spokesman. "And when you have businesses standing up and saying, 'The healthcare system is problematic for us; fix it,' that presents a dynamic that has been missing in previous healthcare debates."

Douglas Schoen, who writes on health care issues, offers five changes short of universal care that would best answer public sentiment for reform:

1. [Extend] government health care benefits to all children without this protection as soon as possible.

2. [R]educe the price of prescription drugs--whether it be done legislatively or by nongovernmental action involving the drug companies, business, and labor.

3. [Reimburse] payments for mental health services at similar levels to those for physical health care services.

4. [E]mbrace prevention to avoid disease and support policies to accomplish this goal.

5. [Address] health care for an increasingly aging population.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

What to Do About the Islamic Threat

We began this series by asking if militant Islam’s threat is truly serious. Edward Luttwak’s piece for Prospect is the best argument for downplaying the threat. Note, however, that Luttwak simply waves away terrorism fueled by martyr-seeking youth, and with his dissmissive approach, fails to document any shortcomings al-Qaeda may have. Luttwak instead focuses on the conventional force weakness of Middle Eastern states and of Hizbullah.

Thus in the end, Luttwak’s analysis leaves unchallenged the grim projections Lawrence Wright and Thomas Ricks provide for al-Qaeda’s growth post-Iraq. Since Wright and Ricks, who are anti-Bush realists, are deeply concerned about what lies ahead, why are mainstream Democrats so relaxed? Why have Harry Reid and Democrats competing for president seemingly taken leave from the dire consequences that defeat would impose on us?

My thoughts:

Too many treat the Iraq war as a political issue. Bush made it so, pushing the war according to a political timetable, wanting the war over by the 2004 election, thus forcing us into war in spring 2003 so we could finish before that year’s hot summer. Jumping in too quickly meant not giving UN inspectors enough time to find (not find) WMD. Having watched Bush use the war for political gain, Democrats now relish the pain failure to prevail in Iraq has caused Bush.

The fact: Iraq should be above politics; it's too important.

The media’s main agenda is bringing Bush down, and Iraq is their best way for doing so. Democrats don’t see victory in Iraq as possible, partly because from the war’s beginning, the media have stressed difficulties and failures in Iraq. The media’s current power position in the U.S. stems from their success in mobilizing the American people to get the U.S. out of Vietnam, and their success in similarly ousting Nixon from the White House. 9-11 threw the media off-stride; the disaster did require the nation to rally behind Bush. The media before 9-11 viewed Bush as an illegitimate president—Gore really won the 2000 election. Furthermore, the media didn’t trust Bush’s evangelical Christian beliefs, his cowboy ways, and his ties to Big Oil. When Bush began an elective war in Iraq in 2003 that offered rich possibilities for American death and defeat à la Vietnam, the media saw their opening to use negative news coverage to cripple Bush.

The fact: 2005 was a good year in Iraq, with the population voting in three successful elections.

Failure to think through the consequences of one’s actions remains our biggest Iraq-related problem. For Bush, failure came from moving too soon, before he built the strong coalition that would help him ride through Iraq’s rough spots; moving before he had raised the right force to defeat an al-Qaeda-led insurgency. Why did our military brains fail to anticipate al-Qaeda’s entry into the Iraq fight? For Democrats, the failure is not realizing that if we lose in Iraq, we are going to have a much harder time defeating al-Qaeda elsewhere. Bush is right about the value of beating al-Qaeda in Iraq. Democrats and the media, blinded by their hatred of Bush and their dislike of war, lusting for a Vietnam-type popular response that will drive Republicans from office, cannot turn to the task that should top our national interest now—winning in Iraq.

The fact: If Iraq's leadership can distribute oil fairly, give Sunnis a political future, and provide for local autonomy, Iraq will have frustrated al-Qaeda's disruptive terrorist campaign enough to allow the U.S. to leave with honor.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Middle East Threat Overrated

Our look at the Islamic threat has twice told us we’d better be prepared for dire consequences following U.S. defeat in Iraq. Both al-Qaeda expert Lawrence Wright and the defense specialists interviewed by Thomas Ricks are people who don’t like our Iraq intervention, but who view the war as important because U.S. defeat there will make militant Islam far more of a threat than ever.

In Prospect’s most recent cover story, Edward Luttwak, a specialist on the Middle East and on military affairs, takes a contrarian view. Luttwak argues that what happens in that region doesn’t really matter to the West. His perspective best justifies getting out of Iraq. For you see, if Iraq is important, then we should stay to win there. But if it is unimportant, we should leave.

Here’s why Luttwak feels the Middle East isn’t so important:

Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war. And as for the impact of the conflict on oil prices, it was powerful in 1973 when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and last time that the "oil weapon" was wielded. For decades now, the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, and an embargo would be a disaster for their oil-revenue dependent economies. In any case, the relationship between turmoil in the middle east and oil prices is far from straightforward. As Philip Auerswald recently noted in the American Interest, between 1981 and 1999—a period when a fundamentalist regime consolidated power in Iran, Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war within view of oil and gas installations, the Gulf war came and went and the first Palestinian intifada raged—oil prices, adjusted for inflation, actually fell. And global dependence on middle eastern oil is declining: today the region produces under 30 per cent of the world's crude oil, compared to almost 40 per cent in 1974-75. In 2005 17 per cent of American oil imports came from the Gulf, compared to 28 per cent in 1975, and President Bush used his 2006 state of the union address to announce his intention of cutting US oil imports from the middle east by three quarters by 2025. . .

Arab-Israeli catastrophism is wrong twice over, first because the conflict is contained within rather narrow boundaries, and second because the Levant is just not that important any more. . .the fraternity of middle east experts. . . persistently attribute real military strength to backward societies whose populations can sustain excellent insurgencies but not modern military forces. . . Saddam's army was the usual middle eastern façade without fighting substance. . .

[Iran’s] Pasdaran revolutionary guards, inevitably described as "elite," who do indeed strut around as if they have won many a war. . . have actually fought only one—against Iraq, which they lost. As for Iran's claim to have defeated Israel by Hizbullah proxy in last year's affray, the publicity was excellent but the substance went the other way, with roughly 25 per cent of the best-trained men dead, which explains the tomb-like silence and immobility of the once rumbustious Hizbullah ever since the ceasefire. . . As for the claim that the "Iranians" are united in patriotic support for the nuclear programme, no such nationality even exists. Out of Iran's population of 70m or so, 51 per cent are ethnically Persian, 24 per cent are Turks ("Azeris" is the regime's term), with other minorities comprising the remaining quarter.

The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognise that backward societies must be left alone. . . With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them. . . We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts. . . The middle east was once the world's most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment. According to the UN's 2004 Arab human development report, the region boasts the second lowest adult literacy rate in the world . . . at just 63 per cent. . . manufactured goods account for just 17 per cent of exports, compared to a global average of 78 per cent.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Iraq Surge Costs American Lives

Here’s our latest monthly, highly abbreviated version of the Iraq Index, published and updated twice a week by Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution:

Americans Killed in Action, Iraq (monthly average)
2003: 32
2004: 59
2005: 56
2006: 58
2007: 78
April: 99

Americans Killed in Action, Vietnam (monthly average)
1965: 128*
1966: 420
1967: 767
1968: 1140
1969: 785
* = First U.S. combat troops arrived in Vietnam, 5.3.65
Vietnam table compiled by Galen Fox using Defense Department sources.

Crude Oil Production (m. bbls./day)

Prewar Peak: 2.50
Goal: 2.10 (Revised downward, 1/07)
actual: 2.14 (4/07)

Electricity (megawatts)

Prewar: 3,958
Goal: 6,000
actual: 4,000 (4/07)

Since our last monthly report, the American KIA total rose markedly from March's 75. The surge is costing American lives. Of the 99 KIA in April, 60 died as a result of improvised explosive devices or IED's, the second highest total for any month in Iraq (72 died that way in December 2006). [Please note: the number of KIA is almost always lower than the media-reported total of American deaths, which covers all causes, including non-hostile. Our Iraq and Vietnam figures are KIA only.]

Electricity output in April rose with the temperature, reaching to pre-war levels.

O’Hanlon has offered his evaluation of the surge’s success to date. Here, from that evaluation:

Iraqi political compromise remains very limited. All American officials including General David Petraeus underscore the degree to which the surge cannot succeed based on a narrow military logic. At best, it can create political space for compromise that has often proved elusive during Iraq's periods of most intensive violence. Unfortunately, there is little sign of progress along such lines to date. While the hydrocarbon law that would ensure fair sharing of oil revenues among all Iraqis has made some progress in its journey through parliament, little has happened over the last month, and the bill is still far from becoming law. Other areas where reconciliation and compromise are needed, such as reforming the de-Baathification process to allow lower-level Baathists to rejoin public life and compete again for jobs, are not showing much progress.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Does Rudy Know Islam?

Well Jim Geraghty, someone who blogs for the National Review under the heading “The Hillary Spot”, has a different take than I had on how well Giuliani handled Sunni-Shia differences during last Thursday’s Republican presidential debate:

watching him try to explain the difference between Shia and Sunni was as painful as watching Joe Theismann have his leg broken by Lawrence Taylor back in the 1980s. Rudy’s better than this performance; the question will be whether this really hurt him.

After taking some heat from readers for bad-mouthing Giuliani’s response, Geraghty adds this to his blog:

Rudy had two options - he could give a history/textbook answer, or he could try to put it in very plain terms that would make sense to the average American. He ended up with neither, kind of a jumble. It looked like a brain freeze. . .

I figure the ideal answer . . . would be something like, "Sunni Islam is about 80 percent of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Pakistan. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are Sunni. The Shia are a breakaway sect going back to a dispute over who was the leader after Muhammed, and they are primarily in Iran and southern Iraq."

By no means does this answer ruin Giuliani, and I'm told that MSNBC folks said after the debate that Rudy answered it correctly.

Note that MSNBC had to tell Geraghty that Giuliani answered correctly; Geraghty couldn't figure that out on his own.

Why don’t you decide for yourself whether Giuliani grasps Islamic history? Here’s Giuliani’s actual answer:

MR. VANDEHEI: Mayor Giuliani, this question comes from Eric Taylor (sp) from California. He wants to know, what is the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’a Muslim?

MR. GIULIANI: The difference is the descendant of Mohammed. The Sunnis believe that Mohammed’s — the caliphate should be selected, and the Shi’ites believe that it should be by descent. And then, of course, there was a slaughter of Shi’ites in the early part of the history of Islam, and it has infected a lot of the history of Islam, which is really very unfortunate.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

France Votes

Here’s a small sign that Sarkozy is favored to win tomorrow’s French presidential election. Chris Cillizza’s “The Fix,” the Washington Post political blog which ventured a Round One prediction that Ségolène Royal would surprise the world, has retreated to its normal fixation on U.S. politics, totally and completely ignoring France's Round Two. Cillizza’d be jumping up and down if he thought Royal would win.

Maybe the media will downplay the importance of a Sarkozy win. He has strong opposition within France. But he represents a revolution in French politics, which has been accommodating the Left since student-led riots overthrew Charles de Gaulle in 1968. It’s been ages, just ages, since a French leader was pro-American, and Royal’s main line of attack against Sarko included that he is too pro-American. The French know it. Will Sarkozy win anyway?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Losing Iraq = Bad News for U.S.

Thomas Ricks, the Washington Post’s military correspondent, has talked with a number of Washington insiders. These folks generally have little use for Bush or his war. Turns out, the way they believe Bush has blown it is by leaving us in an even worse position than we were after we lost Vietnam.

Here are some of the comments Ricks gathered:

"In terms of the consequences of failure, the stakes are much bigger than Vietnam. The geopolitical consequences are . . . potentially global in scope."

--Former defense secretary William S. Cohen

“Vietnam does not have oil and is not in the middle of a region crucial to the global economy and festering with terrorism, so the long-term effects of the Iraq war will be worse for the United States.”

--Unnamed “experts”

"It makes Vietnam look like a cakewalk." While the domino theory that nations across Southeast Asia would go communist was not fulfilled, with Iraq "worst-case scenarios are the most likely thing to happen."

--Retired Air Force Gen. Charles F. Wald

Iraq is worse than Vietnam "in so many ways. We knew what we were getting into in Vietnam. We didn't here." Nixon used diplomacy with China and the Soviet Union to exploit the split between them and so minimize the fallout of Vietnam. By contrast, the Bush administration has "magnified" the problems of Iraq by neglecting public diplomacy in the Muslim world and by not developing an energy policy to reduce the significance of oil.

--Retired Army officer Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., author of one of the most respected studies of the U.S. military's failure in Vietnam

Vietnam was part of containment, a policy that preceded the war and endured for 15 years after Saigon fell. "I'm not sure we can count on a similarly prompt strategic recovery this time around,"

--Retired Army Col. Richard H. Sinnreich

"Most of my military acquaintances agree that the issues in our departure from Vietnam will pale beside those that will be presented by an Iraq withdrawal."

--Vietnam Marine veteran Gary Solis, who taught the law of war at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point

"I think the hangover from this war will be at least as bad as Vietnam and wouldn't be surprised by a growing movement toward retrenchment and isolationism."

--Harvard University counterinsurgency expert Erin M. Simpson

These experts all see Iraq as a lost cause. If we can still prevail in Iraq, then each of their comments becomes an argument for the need to help Petraeus’ surge succeed. If losing is important, then so too is winning.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rudy Knows Islam

The Republicans just concluded their debate. I didn't watch it all. Chris Matthews was a fair moderator, contrary to what I expected. McCain began slowly, but emerged as the "straight talker," sometimes volunteering positions that were to the left of every other candidate's. I thought he did well. Romney benefited from being physically behind the farthest right podium, the one to the screen's far left. Matthews inevitably began at his own far left--with Mitt.

Giuliani absolutely knocked one question out of the park, though I bet commentators don't pick up on it. Asked about the difference between Sunni and Shia, he provided a textbook response, correctly noting the split began over how to handle Muhammad's succession, correctly saying Sunnis wanted a Caliphate, while Shiites wanted a bloodline succession, correctly saying Sunnis massacred Shiites early in their mutual history, and generalizing that the split between the two is almost as old is Islam. Far more of an answer than the questioner expected, I'm sure, and very impressive to this history wonk. W-O-W. Hard for me not to be a Rudy man after this one. Even if Giuliani prepped for the question, prepping for this particular question shows his head is in the right place.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why Al-Qaeda is For Real

There is nothing static about what’s happening in the Middle East, no matter how rigid the views of both sides in the current Iraq congressional debate. A big part of the dynamic is al-Qaeda’s rising influence.

Lawrence Wright is author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower. He recently told a radio audience that we must take very seriously the al-Qaeda threat:

Al Qaeda is more diversified now than it was in the past. It’s really four separate organizations. There’s al Qaeda in North Africa, which is very much more important an entity now than it had been, an organization called the Salafist group for preaching in combat, which is centered mainly in Algeria, has now switched its allegiance to al Qaeda. And they have a training camp in Mali. . . Secondly, there is al Qaeda in Iraq, which is really the heart and soul of al Qaeda right now, and that’s where the main effort is. It’s where the jihadis are going to be trained. And when that conflict is over, they will be returning to their own countries, and into the West to cause additional havoc. And then there is al Qaeda in Europe, which is a very widespread, loosely connected, centered largely in London in England, but also in the outskirts of Paris, and in Italy. It’s all over. . . Europe.

And then finally, there’s the mother ship, which is headquartered in Pakistan. So those four entities are loosely connected, but have a common cause, and are still directed overall by bin Laden. . .there’s no one else in al Qaeda with his authority. That’s why bin Laden remains relevant. He can tell them where to go, he can resolve disputes.

. . . al Qaeda [is] a death culture. . . Arabs. . .who had come to fight against the Soviets on behalf of the Afghans. . . camped outside in white tents on an open field. [Asked] “what are you thinking? You know, the Soviet Air Force can easily see you. They’ll wipe you out.“ one of the Arabs responded by saying “But we came to die.” . . wherever I’d run into [these Arab jihadis,] they would freely say that it was death that they sought, not victory. . . They wanted to become martyrs. That’s the soil in which al Qaeda was planted.

. . . the actual training is very important. So eliminating the sanctuary in Afghanistan was extremely important. But far from being homeless now, al Qaeda has new sanctuaries. . . Mali . . .the tribal areas of Pakistan. . . Somalia . . . the western provinces of Iraq, and . . . Afghanistan.

. . .al Qaeda’s making inroads into the Palestinian community. And of course, this is a terrible development. . . there’s a nihilistic element involved in these young men that turn to al Qaeda.

. . . What makes us safer is the fact that the average American Muslim makes a higher wage than the average American, is twice as likely to go to college, is much less likely to go to prison. Compare that with the situation in France, where you have about 10% of the population is Muslim, 50% of the prisoners are. The degree of alienation and marginalization that is felt in the Islamic communities in Europe is so stark by comparison with the integration of American Muslims into our society.

[Al Qaeda sees] terrorism as theater, but also, they have an appetite for blood. This really sets them apart from most terrorist groups in history. They want to kill as many people as they can. So they would like to have a big spectacular, and I think one of the reasons we haven’t had smaller attacks in the U.S.

. . . al Qaeda is distracted by Iraq, [it’s] occupying most of their energies. And what I worry about is when that conflict begins to wind down, and the people that have gotten all that training there begin to return to their own countries, or back into the West.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Do Islamists Threaten Us?

"Democratic civilization is the first in history to blame itself because another power is trying to destroy it."

--François Revel

How real is the Islamic threat to Western civilization? In the following posts, we look at Islamic extremism from different angles. We hear from Lawrence Wright, whose Pulitzer-winning book The Looming Tower documents why al-Qaeda is so dangerous. A Washington Post story quotes several experts who believe the negative consequences of U.S. defeat in Iraq will far outweigh those resulting from our Vietnam loss. By contrast, Edward Luttwak, an expert on military power in the Middle East, downplays the region’s influence and its capacity to harm. Along the way, we’ll take a look at current developments in Iraq.