It occurred to me later that my cynicism about the Sudan peace treaty has a far better precedent - the 1991 cease fire with the Ba’ath regime in Iraq. Why should we trust the Khartoum regime any more than that Ba’ath one? Does anyone doubt that the Ba’ath would have gone after the Kurds as soon as they finished off the southern revolt if there hadn’t been a no-fly zone? I don’t expect different here.
I’m not the least bit sorry to say that I missed the whole “Wonkette-Washingtoniene” incident. I didn’t even know Washingtonienne existed until I saw the wrap up post. I read Wonkette for about a week, after Instapundit first linked to her. I’d like to say that I stopped reading her because of my righteous indignation about her underserved noteriety and traffic but the truth is her weblog had made so little impression on me that it didn’t get put in permanent storage. Once distracted, she was forgotten.
What this and some other weblogger’s pathetic attempt to duplicate the buzz (Note to Ace: until you can post pictures of yourself like this one, there’s no way I’m linking to you) make me think of is soft core porn scripts.
Why? Washingtonienne posts appear to be basically Penthouse letters (“you’ll never believe that this happened to me…”) written from the other side, with the spice of prostitution thrown in. She’s now claiming that she may have, erm, exaggerated a bit. Yet couldn’t most of these have been chapters / scenes in the average soft core porn flick?
It’s a wonderful advance in the start of the art - now one just has to write the script, post it in a weblog and make money, thereby skipping the expense of filming, paying actors, arranging distribution. It’s the pure writer’s ploy. Make it look like your actual life to give it that cinema verité frisson (the Penthouse technique) and you’re all set. Of course, it’s critical to be a babe who takes good pictures, but that’s what Photoshop is for. Maybe we’ll see a series of these webloggers, created and promoted like boy bands.
Or maybe not. As noted, this seems to be an “only in Washington, D.C.” phenomenon. Even California’s not that easily titillated.
Here in the USA, it seems that whenever a student makes any statement that can be interpreted as violent, the authorities respond with amazing vigor. Yet the same political factions who support this kind of thing react very differently to calls from the Caliphascists to attack the United States or the impose a brutal theocracy. If only we could get the progressives to “intervene” with the Caliphascists the way they intervene when a child takes a miniature bat to school.
While the truce in Sudan between Khartoum and the south sounds good, I think it’s just a sham, not really more valuable than the Paris Accords for South Vietnam. It should be obvious that the Khartoum government didn’t agree to it because of any reform or change of heart - the situation in Darfur indicates that murder, pillage and ethnic cleansing are still the official policies of that government.
How can one put trust in a piece of paper with such a government? I can’t see this as other than a hudna which gives the Khartoum regime the ability to concentrate on the western front. Once that’s finished then I expect a renewed war in the south. Why not? It’s not like that regime has paid any price for the war other than the ability of the south to resist.
I’d like to give President Bush credit for this (as some others have), but I don’t see it as worthy of any more credit than the Carter/Clinton treaty with North Korea in 1995. Or the restoration of Aristide in Haiti. Or, as noted, the Paris accords that “ended” the war in Vietnam.
Preachy mini-sermons abounded, though; the Super Friends couldn’t lay a gloved fist on Lex Luthor, but they could sure manhandle those sugary in-between-meals snacks. (“Super Friends,” they called them, instead of the Justice League. The difference tells you everything you need to know about the seventies.)
Even the music so is much better today. I love the theme to Justice League. It’s not a happy little ditty nor some overwrought blare. Instead it’s a gradual crescendo and increasing polyphony - quite uplifting. The imagery in the intro sequence is stark and heroic as well - quite mythic. I can’t imagine how it got past the PC police.
Some might claim that the show itself is somewhat politically correct, and that may be true. But many politically correct concerns are corruptions of conservative concerns. Hate speech laws are a corrupted form of politeness (in many senses, political correctness is just another example of the left substituting state control for social / community control). I like the show. The heroes have their little flaws, making the lesson not about being perfect but overcoming one’s own flaws. The difference between the politically correct world and the conservative world is that the former has only angels and devils, not the flawed timber of humanity.
Overall, I think we’re in a era of wonderful cartoons. Even as an Old Guy, I’ll reverse the usual statement and say cartoons have never been better.
So David Edelstein is worried about the movie The Day After Tomorrow. Edelstein proclaims himself a believer in the threat of global warming, but he is concerned that this over the top, scientifically nonsensical screed of a movie because
global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock
and he wonders
it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are?
Perhaps. I can only hope that the VRWC is that clever.
The simpler explanation, however, is that most environmental activists are, in fact, that wacko. Rather than running away from this tripe, it’s being embraced by Greens around the world, including the Raging Green himself, Al Gore. I would submit that this is strong evidence of the simpler explanation, even if the movie is a VRWC plot.
With regard to the conclusion of my previous post, I think that the Cold War will be a far better model than WWI or WWII for our current war because of the slippery political nature of the conflict.
It’s commonly claimed that we won the Cold War without firing a shot, but that’s not even remotely true. We and others fought small wars all over the planet in that contest. Tens of millions perished in the conflict. I’m hoping that this war won’t be that bloody, but it’s certainly not a given that it won’t be. But the fact remains that the Cold War bloody, if perhaps not quite as bloody as WWII. It seems to be a common concept (that I’ve remarked on before) that if there is no actual “war” then there isn’t any important suffering, death or destruction. This leads directly to viewing the Cold War as not having a lot of human cost, a view I strongly dispute.
In contrast, this war is seen as “bloody” even though far fewer people are dieing. In fact, not only are fewer people dieing during this war compared to the Cold War, but fewer are dieing now than during the preceeding “peace”. Somehow this is seen as a bloody failure through the sort of moral inversion described above.
Yet something to keep in mind is that beyond all of that, we didn’t win “clean” in the Cold War. The USA supported some very nasty and evil regimes in order to forestall an even greater evil. Even during the Cold War, one of the arguments for supporting right wing dictators was that they generally not as nasty as leftist ones and were far more likely to evolve in to relatively free societies (Spain, Chile - in contrast, name one Communist regime that reformed before the collapse of the USSR). I firmly believe that this was for the best in the end, but others may disagree. What I think is undeniable is that our victories in WWIV will be far more like the mixed results (overall good, plenty of bad mixed in) than the now perceived as “clean” victory of WWII.
While there some who think we surrended in Najaf with the latest agreement, I can’t quite agree. I initially had the same impression, especially that “there is no price for rebellion”. But is really so?
There’s certainly been a price for large numbers of the Mahdi Army. We may not have gotten all of them, but our forces certainly inflicted heavy losses. I doubt that will be a big help in future recuitment. I beliave that Sadr’s agreement was forced as much by his unstainable losses as the damage in Najaf and that others will come to the same conclusion. For that and other reasons, I think this ending will be seen more as Sadr escaping than the USA losing.
There is also the issue that with the transfer coming up soon, it might well be better to wait and let the forthcoming Iraqi government come down on him. If it is percieved as the USA bowing out to let the IGC deal with it, that’s good as well.
Most of all, though, the real penalty inflicted on Sadr is that he may well be the first to get the Shia clericy to blame him instead of the USA for the damage to the shrine in Najaf. That’s big - that alone might well be worth the price we paid. Sadr has had his blame teflon stripped away. Even the Iraqis on the street in Najaf and other cities seemed to be blaming Sadr far more than the USA for the damage, danger and economic loss.
I suppose people here will say “of course! Sadr was obviously the problem!”. But how many obvious problems in the Middle East are still blamed on Israel, the Jews or the USA? Given Sadr’s association with Iran, the scenario problably wasn’t to the benefit of the Iranian mullahocracy either.
It certainly wasn’t a clean win, but we’re not going to get those in this war. Because the effort is as much (if not more) political than military, it will inevitably be the case that victories will be mixed.
Alledgedly the “yellow journalism” of turn of the century press is a sin from which journalism has long since recovered. But what is “yellow” journalism?
What of this doesn’t go on daily in putative leading news organizations? The primary difference is that the old yellow journalism was unabashedly pro-American. The new version is anti-American. It doesn’t seem like progress to me.
At Iraq Now [via Instapundit] is yet another case of overt anti-American bias by Big Media. Various news organizations (which Iraq Now calls out by name, with links and cites) Dowdified a quote from a US general in Iraq to make him appear callous and indifferent.
It’s frequently a question about how our opponents in this war, the Caliphascists, can be so inept in the propaganda department yet still appear to be winning that struggle. For instance, cutting off Nick Berg’s head on videotape immediately after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal broke. Or the open calls for destroying Western civilization or killing Americans in job lot quantities.
I think that the example cited in the first paragraph helps explain both the ineptness and success of the Caliphascists. In terms of success, we see that even if the Caliphascists do something crude or make openly bogus claims, Big Media will adjust, trim, edit and if necessary frabricate quotes in order to support the Caliphascists propaganda line. However, this protection and aid means that the Caliphascists never had to develop sophisticated propaganda or really understand the West. Recycled Nazi ideology works well locally and even the clumsiest claims get echoed in improved form in the West.
This may well be the Achille’s heel of the Caliphascists, because Americans are used to a cacophony of competing voices and claims and seem to be doing a reasonable job of sorting out the information from the noise. We didn’t see this kind of thing when western intellectuals and Big Media were siding with the Communists because the Communists were high masters of the art of propaganda. We’ll know in November how much of their credibility Big Media has burned in their support of our enemies.
While it’s amusing to mock the panty-protestors (via Tim Blair), women who protest against President Bush by flashing their underwear emblazoned with anti-Bush slogans, they’re really just four moonbats. However, there a couple of very insightful quotes from the article.
The first was from Elizabeth, a history professor:
“I was teaching a class on imperialism, ” she continued, “and I was delivering all this material that was kind of new and upsetting, and everyone was getting all worked up and upset, and I was getting all worked up and upset, and all of a sudden, all I wanted to do was flash my underwear!
Note the personal excitement in this. Elizabeth is apparently losing the distinction between political exhibitionism and personal exhibitionism. Both, of course, are forms of acting out, but it’s interesting that Elizabeth feels the connection at a visceral level but not an intellectual one.
The second concerns two of the protestors, Tasha and Zazel:
The [anti-Bush] panties were very efficacious in shifting Zazel’s mood,” added Tasha. “They’re spirit-lifting.”
Ah yes, what’s really key to all of this is the effect it has on the mood of the protestors. It’s pschoactive politics. Perhaps this is what was really meant by “the personal is the political”?
Some wonder how political factions can support political actions that are not only harmful for everyone but likely to be directly harmful to the proponents. It’s becoming clearer to me that such considerations don’t even occur to many of the protestors the same way the long term health effects of heavy use of psychoactive drugs doesn’t stop addicts from shooting up. It feels good now.
Spoons has been pondering why we haven’t seen any suicide bombers in the USA itself. The theory of his readers (with which I basically agree) is that the Caliphascists are scared of what the USA might do in response. Clearly they’re not scared of the reaction from Turkey or Spain. But if nothing else, our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have indicated that it is in fact possible to piss off America enough for them to put the hammer down. It might be that we haven’t had another attack here not because of increased security but because our enemies no longer believe that America is a paper tiger. One wonders sometimes if some of the activity in Iraq isn’t a probing of just how much it takes to get the Americans to rouse themselves to take action. At least our boys are making it an expensive experiment.
I was reading yet another post at Tacitus’ about prisoner abuse in Iraq when I saw a comment that perfectly exemplifies the ahistorical yet parochial viewpoint of so many critics of the invasion:
Some day a captured American serviceman (or woman) will be declared an “unlawful enemy combatant” and his or her captors will decide that the Geneva Conventions are outdated.
The mistreatment that results will undoubtedly cause howls of rage amongst folks like Timmy and Bird Dog, who will wonder where such evil ideas could possibly have come from.
There are so many stupidities here I’m not sure I can get them all.
First up is whether any American soldier who has been captured since WWII has been treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Go tell that to Kelly Lynch. Our opponents haven’t and don’t follow the Geneva Conventions. They don’t even pay them lip service, except when it suits their propaganda. Of all the reasons to follow the G.C., this isn’t even close to being one.
Next is that it’s not clear that we aren’t following the G.C. If people who invoke them would actually read them, they’d see clearly spelled out that if one side puts itself outside the G.C., then it’s outside the G.C. and the other side isn’t bound by the G.C. If these prisoners are (as seems very likely) illegal enemy combatants (as defined by the G.C.) then nothing we do to them is a violation of the G.C. There are of course other reasons not to abuse such prisoners, but the G.C. isn’t one of them.
Finally we have the crowing glory, the concept that no prisoner were abused until we, the pioneering Americans, created the concept and techniques. I mean, who would have thought to abuse prisoners before Abu Ghraib, say by incinerating them and hanging the bodies off a bridge? Clearly if something like that happened we’d know that it was only because the perpetrators had seen the Americans do it first in Iraq. Otherwise the pure and innocent foreigners of the world would never think to abuse prisoners or be able to figure out how to do so without our example. It’s a truly stunning display of reality dysfunction combined with American exceptionalism.
So Instantman is telling tales of journalists who are dismayed at the massive drain of credibility of their profession. This is portrayed as common, but it can hardly be so as the causes of the drain continue without let up. Unless the implication is that journalists are suffering from so much reality dysfunction that they can no longer even figure out why their credibility is leaking away like consciousness at a Kerry speech?
Although it shouldn’t be necessary, I will explicitly disclaim the view that everything is going wonderfully in Iraq. There are certainly many problems and potential disasters. All I can say to that is, “welcome to complex systems management”. I suppose I have a more sanguine view because as a systems architect, I live my professional life in that state.
I bring this up because of a link from Kausfiles over to Juan Cole who claims that Muqtada Sadr has won against the Coalition, “politically and morally”. Cole’s view is that Sadr set up a win/win scenario by bunkering down in Shiite holy cities, where he could either successfully resist or the Coalition would “cross red lines” going after him.
The flaw in this (which Kaus missed as well) is the presumption that Iraqis overall would blame the Coalition for any violence. Note that carefully - the disaster scenario depends on the Iraqis holding the Coalition responsible regardless of the facts. That’s a very prevalent viewpoint elsewhere but from my reading of first hand reports from Iraq it’s not very common over there. The insurgents blame America (correctly) for taking the Ba’ath boot off Iraq. The ordinary citizens seem to have a far more realistic view, in which they tend to blame the Coalition for not being forceful enough or acting fast enough.
Because of this oversight, Cole and Kaus missed what now looks like the most likely outcome, that the residents of the cities blame Sadr for ending their brief moment of hope and economic recovery and delaying the pullout of Coalition troops. If this pans out, then the slow encirclement and reticence of our response to the insurgency was a good plan. As I’ve mentioned before, we shouldn’t be depending on gratitude from the Iraqis but on them acting in their own best interests. Sadr’s a thug and he’ll do for people in his area of control what thugs always do, brutalize and impoverish and his success depends on Iraqis choosing that over liberty and prosperity. I doubt that it’s foreordained that the Iraqis will choose the former.
1 Via Random Jottings]
How can the restrictions of a community help some one be more of an individual? There are two main points.
The first is specialization of effort. If you have to be all things then you’re not really anything. In a community it’s easier to focus on a more individualized task or simply to have the free time to do something individual but non-productive.
But the more subtle one is the reason (IMHO) that most modern poetry is lousy. Modernists claim that restrictive forms (such as rhyming, meter, sonnets) impede creativity. Yet the evidence of poetry is quite the opposite. On a mundane level, one need only look at limericks and haiku to see what some rather strong restrictions can do to bring out real creativity. In the same one, one can use the rhythms and structures of community life to actually help with shaping one’s own path.
Libertarians (of which I am one) tend to focus more on toxic levels of communitarianism. But the dose makes the poison and I don’t think enough is said in those circles about how communities can in fact contribute to realizing the libertarian ideals.
The primary problem with the original rule is that a thief could use it on a judge to ask “would you want me to put you in jail?”. I’m not sure this is a real problem - could not the judge answer “yes, if I had stolen something and you were the judge, I would want you to put me in jail”? The thief’s question slips by via excluding context, eliding the theft itself, the victims and the trial and focusing only on the final act.
In this regard I agree with the first comment that the new rule is really the old one phrased in way that tries to force the context by talking of “generic rights of others” which brings in the victims and their right to not be stolen from.
Still, this isn’t so far from my own view, where generic rights arise out of finding the set of them that maximizes the ability of individuals to act achieve their potential (or “pursue happiness” - as the Founding Fathers wisely observed, the key right is to act or pursue, not to achieve or catch).
The article also mentions the view “that self-interest and community good are not opposed but mutually supportive”. I completely agree. While I hate to succumb to nuance, I think the phrasing of “mutally supportive” is very signficant. Self-interest and community good are not the same and can in fact be opposed. They are, however correlated. It’s not that the two are either equivalent or opposites, but instead just mostly in agreement. Communitarianism taken too far is a cult where only one individual really exists, but a lone individual has a very hard time pursuing any sort of happiness.
I think that the hardest lesson that the Iraqis will have to learn about democracy and a self-ordered society is that it inevitably means compromising, accepting defeat and recovering from error. The last one is the hardest one, in my opinon. The issue is that abuses like Abu Ghraib are prevented by a self-ordered society but are simply made less likely because the self-ordering provides a mechanism for recovery and improvement (but not perfection).
This is another aspect of defending the possible against the utopians. It’s easy to envision a world of no crime, no hunger, no poverty, no conflict. It’s a bit harder to come up with a set of governmental / societal structures that achieve it.
As for accepting loss, democratic politics is filled with loss, which may be particularly hard for an honor based culture to accept. The concept of honor must be raised a level to be about playing by the rules rather than winning some specific contest of wills. It may be the the situation in Fallujah and the American reaction to Abu Ghraib will demonstrate that one can comprise and admit error while still being the biggest kicker of butt on the planet.
I hate to have a “pick on Canada” day but I also wanted to mention the collision between multiculturalism and socialism in Canada. In this case, we have cultural sensitivity toward providing autonomy to surviving native tribes in Canada vs. nationalized health care. One of the tribes has decided to install medical equipment and sell medical services. This is of course the kind of thing the Evil Southernors do and is to be condemned. But how can this be done while being culturally sensitive?
I find it interesting that various forms of terror, torture and ethnic cleansing don’t bring forth much in the way of condemnation by the chatterati of Canada, but a threat to universal health care is serious. What we see, of course, is that multiculturalism (at least for the elite) is not about respect or consideration for other cultures, but about achieving specific policy goals and is discarded when it threatens them. Episodes like this will now demonstrate this fact for the masses.
This kind of thing reminds that while things to be not going well on the propaganda front it seems like reality is working hard in the background. The harder you bend back the 2×4 of reality, the worse it hurts when it snaps back.
Slate writes about the controversy concerning Lakhdar Brahimi.
Most notably, Brahimi told a French radio station last month, “There is no doubt that the great poison in the region is this Israeli policy of domination […] Fortunately for President Bush, he appointed Brahimi to negotiate a solution in Iraq, not in Israel and Palestine.
But that doesn’t follow at all. If Brahimi really thinks that the domination of Israel is the cause of problems in the Middle East instead of the domination of dictators and a dysfunctional ruling class, he’s very unlikely to suggest solutions that will address the latter. Would a strong man who uses judenhass to unite Iraq be a good idea? If Israel is the poison in the Middle East, why wouldn’t that be a good idea? Of course, one could be less subtle and just wonder how realistic the plans of someone with such a severe case of reality dysfunction could be. Sadly, I expect that the Iraqis will find out.
Apparently the WTO has ruled against the USA with respect to cotton subisidies, largely on the basis of the work of an economist (Daniel Sumner) at the University of California. The article is filled with calls of “treason” and threats of funding cutoffs for the university and vague insinuations that the work is bogus (although those are very weak).
What one doesn’t see is the attitude “so what if it screws over farmers in the third world?”. Presumably the cotton growers and their fellow diners at the federal teat don’t think that argument would work. But how does that fit in to the view that Americans are rapacious scum who happily loot the wealth of the rest of the world to sustain their extravagant lifestyle? That’s how a true imperialist people would act.
Following the in footsteps of Ms. Harris and Mr Penny, I went through the list of books and found just three that I’ve actually read - Brave New World, MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet. The latter two were required reading in high school (technically, so was Brave New World but I’d already read). Despite this, no one has ever explained to me why MacBeth didn’t burn the darn forest.
Peter Burnett writes about
The [UK] government’s genetics advisers, the Human Genetics Commission, is considering proposals for a law to prevent people being discriminated against on the basis of their genetic make-up.
The essence is that it’s rather hypocritical for the same scientists who did the work to now stand aghast at their own creation. It’s even more pathetic for them to think that regulations are going to do much to stem the tide.
If there is one slippery slope that really exists, it’s that of scientific knowledge. Once anything useful is done with the human genome, the full flowering of use of that genome is almost inevitable. This is a function of the essence of science, its repeatability. If person X can do something, it’s simply assumed at a below conscious level that others can do it as well. And if that thing is profitable or desirable1 it will be done.
People such as these advisers would better serve humanity by considering what widespread knowledge of the genome and its implications for how people behave than vainly trying to stem the tide of scientific advancement. But I doubt that altruistic good is really their motivation - I suspect it’s much more the standard moral posturing that affects so many of the intellectuals. Not the need to do good, but the need to avoid having a hand in something bad. It’s a lot easier and (in the modern view) morally pure to call for regulation instead of pondering the effects of one’s own actions.
This is the same reason I have a strong dislike for most pacifist opposition to the invasion of Iraq. It doesn’t seem to be about preventing death or suffering but about insuring the personal moral purity of the pacifist, i.e. that he, both personally and indirectly through his nation, isn’t responsible for death and suffering. The actual occurrence of such things is not of itself very important. That’s hard for me to respect. These scientists are doing exactly the same thing - “hey, it’s not my fault, I helped pass laws against it!”.
1 Of course, “profitable” and “desirable” are nearly synonymns in a free market.
Via Brothers Judd we have the tale of Iranians flocking to see a movie which is the story of a thief who pretends to be a cleric and is better than the previous one. This is a real problem for the Iranian regime because open mockery makes ruling very difficult. If a regime can keep the mockery underground then at least it’s feared, but mockery in nationally distributed well attended movies is quite another thing.
This causes me to wonder if part of the decline of the Left is because of its loss of humour. If you’re old like me, you can remember a time when the conservatives were dour and humourless and the Left was witty and fun. Yet today the image of the overbearing (conservative) nun has moved to the earnest leftist activist. I’m sure Judd would argue that this was inevitable, since (in his view) all humour is ultimately conservative. One wonders if people like P.J. O’Rourke didn’t migrate Right because they were following their humour more than their politics.
I can’t view it as other than a big loss for the Left to have captured the “Ben Stein” image.
It’s certainly depressing to ponder the fact that Big Media is paying little attention to UNSCAM, the biggest financial scandal in history and one that literally stole food from the mouths of starving children. In comparison the Enron scandal was minor league. Moreover, not even Ken Lay’s defenders held him up as a moral paragon the way Big Media and the chatterati continue to hold Kofi Annan and the UN up as forces for good in the world.
One aspect that doesn’t seem to get played up even in the blogosphere is that UNSCAM has in effect stolen USA taxpayer dollars. The amount of money the USA is spending in Iraq to fix up the infrastructure is very significant. It would be a lot less if the UN hadn’t let corruption run rampant. This segues directly into the impact of UNSCAM on USA foreign policy and the negative impact of the destitution of Iraq.
Think about this for a bit. The UN facilitates the looting of Iraq by the Ba’ath regime and it’s cronies, leading to the decay of physical infrastructure in Iraq. This provides the opponents of the invasion with the ability to make the invasion and occupation look worse than they really are by comparing the current state of Iraq with the state it would have been in without UNSCAM. In a non-trivial way the USA and the Coalition is being castigated for the results of UN corruption. This means that the UN isn’t just getting away with the looting but is actually benefitting from it in the court of world opinion. If there are any non-USA citizens reading this who have been wondering why fewer and fewer Americans seem to care what the rest of the world thinks, there it is in a nutshell.
I was going to make a point about undersupplied troops but Winds of Change beat me to it. While it’s a problem that we don’t have enough body armor or armored Humvees in Iraq, it’s never been the case that armies in the field have everything that’s desirable. Certainly WWII was filled with examples of bad or inadequate equipment. Modern shortages tend to obscure the fantastic gains for the troops. One need only compare even unarmored Humvees to the Jeeps they replaced.
This issue is another example of the quandry faced by open societies in the face of imperfection. When things go wrong, as they always do, it’s easy for the wreckers to sieze on that. How can the defenders respond? A fine line must be taken that accepts the problem, points out that the overall picture is positive without slipping into rose colored glasses. The greatest problem isn’t the cynics but the utopians who compare things not to possible alternatives but to an imagined realm of perfection.
This is why it’s important to call the utopians on their schemes and ask what the alternative is. Frequently this will stump them and when it doesn’t you generally get some kind of plan that’s so obviously delusional like turning over Iraq to the UN despite its record of horrific failure. That’s how you expose con-men.
Lots of people have been wondering what the picture taking idiots at Abu Ghraib were thinking when they recorded their transgressions. Lots of interesting theories, some of them deeply psychological, have been floated. I hew to a much simpler theory - they were being stupid.
Perhaps I am unique in this experience, but I’ve spent years observing people do stupid and self-destructive things that are of no benefit and trying to find out “what they were thinking”. I’m not talking about risky behaviour, like smoking, because while I don’t agree with the choice I can understand the motivation. I refer to just flat out dumb things, like storing important files on a single floppy disk and leaving it in the car. What I’ve found is that in these kinds of things, no thought at all is going on. There’s no deep psychology, no high abstract view of how history will view the action. In fact it’s the exact opposite - it is precisely the brain functions that abstract that are not operating. Instead it’s habit and laziness. One need not read News of the Weird for long to see this kind of thing in operation.
For the Abu Ghraib abusers, my view is that they simply have the habit of recording their group activities with digital cameras and did it in this case as well because they did not think about it. There was no motive, no plan, no consideration. Just habit.
For another parallel, look at all the dumb things people post on weblogs (I don’t mean stupid argued posts, like this one, but self-destructive ones). Did any of those people wonder about the effects of their posts on their lives? Or did they just write it up like they did other, trivial things, out of habit and a lack of higher level thining? It’s not any different in this case.
Roger Simon’s post has some very good comments as well. While I was pondering my previous post one of the commentors said something that really crystallized what’s going wrong in the Democratic Party, particularly with regard to the Baby Boomers:
If the convention turns out to be a circus, which it undoubtedly will, and if some kids get roughed up by the cops, what will the effect be for Bush?
Depending on the extent of the protest and appearance of the protestors the effect will range from none to a favorable impact. The NYPD has some of the best training in crowd control in the world and plenty of experience. Don’t forget, the ‘68 violence by the police was directed by Daley from the mayor’s office. It had a marginal impact on the election. Johnson cooked Humphrey’s goose - not Jerry Rubin. [emphasis added]
There it is. The Boomers simply cannot accept that they are not the center of the world, the axis around which life, the Universe and everything revolves. It is probably inconceivable to the tired old radicals out on the street that they may well have just been along for the ride, rather than the driving force. I think that during the heyday of the counter-culture movement they were in tune with the shifting social mores, but the tide has turned the other way and those who rode it out can’t accept that it was the tide and not them who moved the water. I think this is a root cause of the increasing disconnect between the Left, Democratic Party and Big Media elite and society.
I was reading this post at Roger Simon’s which talks about how Big Media is actually boosting President Bush by going so overboard with such obvious bias and it got me to thinking that there’s a lesson here from the Clinton campaigns that the Democratic Party and Big Media have failed to learn, which is that even the President of the United States can seem like an underdog when the whole world’s against him. Is there any more mythic character in the American psyche than someone who stands tall against all the naysayers? I think Clinton benefited quite a bit from this effect and he played it artfully.
But there’s an ancillary effect which is probably just as important, which is that a wide spread continuous criticism provides a fertile environment for the moon bats. Not only do the moon bats serve to increase the perceived unfairness of the attacks but they also tend to drown out the legitimate criticism. This is the fulcrum where policing one’s own side creates a short term weakness and long term strength. It divides the effort for now but by helping to weed out the moon bats it keeps moon bats from taking over and discrediting the effort entirely.
This is a key weakness of the Left. The Right at least has traditions which are the result of centuries of compromise and weeding but the Left has only its consciously and temporally locally created concepts (dang, I sound just like Orrin Judd these days). This leaves the Left too weak for dissent so once the rot starts there’s no stopping it. We’re seeing some of the end game of that in this election.
Spoons has a long quote about the panic in conservative circles about Iraq (the reaction of the Left/Democratic is cynical opportunism, not panic). I agree to a large extent with the cited article that our restraint in places like Fallujah is hurting us more than the Abu Ghraib problems (I have more to say on that in a future post). I also agree with Junkyard Blog’s view that the real problems are in the USA, not so much in Iraq.
What I wanted to post on here, though, is the concept of lowered expectations in Iraq as suggested by National Review. I think that the best we can hope for as this point is a Mexico style democracy, a semi-corrupt democracy dominated by a single party. I suspect there will be a Shiite party that will be the equivalent of the PRI with minor oppositions parties based on the Kurds, Sunnis and splinter factions of the former three groups. This would clearly not be a USA style system, but on the other hand it would be far better than the Ba’ath regime or in fact any existing government in Arabia and most of the Islamic world. Such a state may not be a reliable ally of the USA but it’s not very likely to be much of an enemy either. As we see in Mexico now, such a state can in fact evolve toward a more open and less corrupt form. The key point is that opposition parties were never outlawed and there was a mostly free press. For instance, PAN regularly won governships in northern Mexico before defeating the PRI in recent presidential elections. PRI dominated politics but didn’t control it.
I think that such a government is both much better for both Iraq and the USA than the Ba’ath regime and quite achievable. If the Iraqis can do better, that would be great, but I don’t really expect it. Even what I’ve described here would be a big step forward and set the stage (as we see in Mexico) for additional progress in the future.
P.S. Another analogy might be India and the Congress Party, although hopefully Pakistan and Bangladesh aren’t precursors to what will happen to the Kurdish and Sunni regions of Iraq.
One of course wonders what might be in the treaty and how its would be enforced. Personally, I think it should require population exchanges between regions containing the obese and regions of famine. Instead of cultural exchanges these would be gastronomical exchanges.
Alternatively, we know that Communism and its related forms of government have done amazing things in terms of preventing overeating (or eating at all). I’m just waiting for the treaty proponents to campaign on the slogan that the problem with capitalism is that it makes people rich enough to overeat but that problem never arises under Socialism.
The pictures [from Abu Ghraib] … [have] shaken the Bush administration to its core.
At some point the Democrats, anti-war Left and various other Copperheads are going to have to realize that after almost four years, there’s not going to be some sort of magic event that causes the Bush Administration to collapse like the Soviet Union. They are unwilling to put in the hard effort to come up with, and present in a coherent manner, and fight for, a positive program for which they will be rewarded with power, instead opting for the attitude of the lottery ticket buyer who believes that they really, really are going to get rich that way.
It’s not that they won’t, it’s that they can’t. The basic worldview that informs the Left these days is based on logo-realism, the idea that words are more important than deeds, that action is simply fluff over the central reality of social concensus (the EUlite are the epicenter of this mode of thought). It is inherent to this view to search for the magic words that will change the political situation because clearly Bush’s popularity is built on top of similar verbal tricks. One need only find the linch-thought of the edifice and destroy it to bring the entire thing crashing down and allow a new reality to be written.
In contrast, to believe in the efficacy of patient action for incremental improvement is to become a conservative. That would mean that things are as they are, regardless of people’s opinions. Clearly that’s just silly.
On NPR this morning there was a segment in which NPR found a way to blame the USA for the death of Nicholas Berg. It turns out that Berg was interned for a while by the Coalition and because the Coalition did not process his case fast enough, he didn’t manage to escape Iraq before he was captured. Therefore, the Pentagon (and presumably Donald Rumself personally) are the real cause of Berg’s death, not the guys who cut his head off. The latter is just too simplismé for NPR.
While “tu quoque” is not a defense for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, it is a reasonable point to bring up with regard to the claims of “loss of credibility” by the USA. It is a reasonable question to ask why, for instance, Kofi Annan still has “credibility” despite UNSCAM or the various sex slave rings run by UN personel or employing accused torturers. Somehow this never costs the UN credibility - it continues to be considered by world opinion to be at a higher moral level than the USA, which at least considers the actions of the guards at Abu Ghraib worth investigating and punishing as opposed to doing everything possible to prevent justice from being done. I’d be interested in hearing any of the chatterati who lament the “loss of credibility” to explain why this only happens for the USA.
Once again the President put his own political capital and credibility on the line for the sake of the Party and once again he won. You’d have to assume that the next time he really needs the vote of Senator Specter or another congressman in a similar situation he’ll have it.
handing an embarrassing rebuff to the Bush administration on a politically sensitive jobs issue.
Specter’s not even re-elected yet and he’s already biting the hand that helped him.
As a side note, the article itself is quite biased. It starts out with
new Labor Department rules that critics said would deny overtime pay to millions of white-collar workers
which is reasonable, but by the end of the article there is the flat statement
on the final vote, Republicans Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.), Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) joined all Democrats present except Zell Miller (Ga.) in voting to protect overtime pay [emphasis added]
I suppose that this is really right wing bias because it didn’t say “prevent the enslavement of working Americans”.
I’m heading out of town for a few days, I should be back by next Wednesday. Try to not wreck the place while I’m gone.
According to [‘Mickey “It’s hard to write, it should be hard to link to” Kaus’:http://kausfiles.com], Senator Kerry has been using Benedict Arnold as a synonym for unpatriotic behaviour with regard to companies that move jobs overseas. Among the other interesting tidbits there, apparently Kerry is flapping in the breeze over it, claiming that he meant only those who renounce US citizenship but his speech writers forced him to use against any company that moves jobs overseas (one might be driven to wonder what kind of executive in cheif he’ll be if he can’t even discipline his speech writers). What I want to know is, why is Kerry questioning the patriotism of a veteran who fought honorably for this country? Isn’t it, according to Kerry, to question his patriotism because he’s a decorated war veteran? So why is Kerry doing that to Arnold?
In writing the previous post, it occurred to me to wonder how the Left would react to the personel who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib if they came out against the war while claiming these abuses are wide spread, say at some Congressional hearings. They’re all being roundly condemned now, but how would their case be different from Senator John Kerry’s? He has admitted that he himself committed worse war crimes than any of the Abu Ghraib crowd and it’s done wonders for his support on the Left. Maybe the search for a Democratic Party vice presidential candidate is over - Kerry/Karpinski 2004!
UPDATE: I’m too slow - Junkyard Blog had a post on a similar subject yesterday.
UPDATE 2: BBB came over to pester me and I realized talking to him that there are two more big advantages to the political career choice above
Since Oliver Willis is going pro, I thought I’d take a few last cheap shots at him while he’s still an amateur.
I’ve been meaning to comment on the way that the Senator Kerry campaign is using his military service as a technique for avoiding any questioning of his legislative record. Willis says
The man got injured saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, fighting for his country — and for that they have the nerve to question his patriotism?
I would like to introduce Willis to another decorated war hero, Benedict Arnold. Are we not allowed to question his patriotism either, since he also risked his life for our country? Certainly Arnold’s record of military service is far more substantive than Kerry’s. Besides, at least Arnold wasn’t a self admitted war criminal. We also have testimony from the other side about how helpful the anti-war forces, lead in part by Kerry, were to the cause of the enemy. This might be exusable (might) if the result had been good for our ally South Vietnam. But in fact it ended up being a blood bath of oppression. Kerry seems proud of that result. How can we be expected to vote for someone with so little compassion?
Anyway, although I think that Willis has become far more bitterly partisan than when I first started reading him, hopefully he’ll enjoy his new job and move on to more substantive criticisms of US politics.
Of all of the political analogies brought up for the current presidential campaign, I think that Dole analogy is by far the best. A popular incumbent who is a former governor challenged by a long serving Senator who survived a bruising nomination battle. The challenger’s military service is a big theme. Much of the challenger’s support is “not the incumbent”. The challenger seems selected more by “dues” than by electability and simply can’t connect to voters on the national stage. Because of this, the incumbent is able to pile on the challenger between the primaries and convention, setting up the themes that will be used to rip the challenger apart after the conventions. Only the parties have been switched.
What’s really funny, though, is that while it’s clear why President Bush is taking some pages from the 1996 Clinton campaign, why in the world have the Democrats gone with the Dole model? I thought that the Republicans were the Stupid Party.
Given the buyer’s remorse over Senator John Kerry that emerging on the Democratic side, one wonders if it was such a good strategy to pick the nominee so early. Given that only the political junkies really pay attention before September, the early choice doesn’t seem to be such a good idea unless one has a very strong candidate. And in that case, the early choice isn’t going to make much of a difference.
However, there’s a big problem which is the primary schedule. Given how it’s set up, it’s hard to push the presidential candidate selection later. What I would do is move the schedule pack while bulking it up. Have a “Super Tuesday” every two weeks, but don’t start it until April or May. The whole Iowa / New Hampshire thing is loony (given that those states are inhabited by Moira Breen and Orrin Judd respectively) and clearly a fading influence. Why wait until candidates start deliberately skipping the contests?
One of the reasons that the schedule has shifted early is the Clinton “permanent campaign”, which worked out well for Clinton but doesn’t seem to have done much for the rest of the Democratic Party. It didn’t help Dole much either. But I suspect that because the parties would have to agree on the schedule, we will continue to see the gradually shifting of primaries earlier and earlier, like new model years for cars. Eventually even smoke filled rooms will seem like a better idea.
It might even be better to hold elections right now, while we have a lot of the bad guys bottled up in Fallujah. (Fallujah, like other places with special security problems, could always be allowed to hold its elections later.)
Good to know that Kaus eventually catches up with me.
I suppose I’m just insufficiently sensitive, but what I wonder is what it would mean if there was greater outrage among Iraqis about the abuse of prisoners than the random, terrorist murder of Iraqis such as police recruits or entire families with a young daugher. Someone asked, “what would you think if it were your daughter in the pictures as a prisoner?”. That would be bad, but better than being in one of those buses. I hope the Iraqis are more level headed than our own media.
Tacitus is very distraught over what’s going on in Fallujah. It’s a good post, if pessimistic, about how the facts on the ground seem to be that the Coalition surrendered and the jihadis won.
I must say, I’m more than a little bummed out over this as well. The only theory I’ve seen that makes this not a disaster is that the Marine Corps is conducting psy-ops as much as fighting the jihadis. The real fact is that militarily, the Marines layed down the smackie on the jihadis. It’s also the case that if the Marines are retreating, it’s because they were ordered to do so, not because they were going to lose the fight. That the jihadis believe differently doesn’t change these facts.
The psy-op scenario is that the Marine Corp is deliberately looking weak in certain ways and creating cease fires as a technique to
I’m not sure I buy this myself. I have noted that these alledged cease fires don’t seem to involve much actual ceasing of fire, not to mention that jihadi casualties seem to be actually more than during normal combat.
It could be that the Marine Corps is doing this because it’s the only politically feasible mechanism. And as someone noted in the comments at Tacitus, ultimately war is politics by other means and victory is always, ultimately, a political one.
Of course, this is another reason to get on with the transfer. That would create a larger range of politically feasible military responses. I agree with Tacitus that this shows that for political reasons (whether this are well judged or not is a different question) we cannot follow through with a thoroughly military action, even though there’s little doubt Coalition forces could crush the jihadis. It’s time to deal with that fact and hand this problem over to the Iraqis. Even if Tacitus’ worst speculations come true, it would still be best to get on with it. Bad news doesn’t get better for being put off.
P.S. I noticed that Belmont Club has a write up on this scenario which goes in to more depth than I do.
The electrician was working in my office this morning. Unfortunately, that’s where we keep the cable modem and house firewall. I was offline almost all day! I ended up watching TV - it was kind of weird after a couple of years of just being peripherally aware of whatever kid show or DVD was on for the poopers. But I am once again able to descend in to my blogospheric cocoon. While I was gone, apparently we surrendered in Fallujah. I’m working on a post about that.
OK, I’ll give in to the point of view that we should do everything possible to accelerate a transition to an Iraqi government. We should install an interim government with limited soveriegnity on the 30 June deadline. The primary task of this interim government should be to organize elections as soon as possible. Everything else should be secondary and/or handled by the Coalition. Voting should be held only in relatively secure areas - those areas controlled by insurgents would be excluded. This should be a big help in turning the locals against the insurgents, because then it would be the insurgents who were preventing the locals from participating in the government.
What’s changed my mind? The problems at the Abu Ghraib prison.
The abuse of prisoners by Coalition forces is terrible, both for itself and for the impact on public opinion in Iraq. I wonder, though, how much it will really affect the latter. I suspect that most who will be thoroughly enraged are probably already part of the active opposition. I think the biggest shift will be even more pressure for a transition to local control of the government, which is why I’m switching over to the “transfer faster” side. Others may wonder what will happen when similar abuses occur in Iraqi controlled prisons, but I already know the answer to that.
However, the opinion of the anti-Western factions aren’t particularly relevant. I suspect that this kind of abuse, however vile it may be, will create far less ill feeling if it’s a “local” problem. One could cynically consider how little far worse abuses in other Arab countries seem to register on the “Arab Street”, but even without that the psychology is simply different. One need only look at how much more outrage this will generate in the USA than similar or worse abuses in the USA itself (when a state Attorney General can openly joke about widespread anal rape in that state’s prison system, there’s something of a lack of outrage about prisoner abuse).
One refrain I’m already seeing is a demand to make sure prisoner abuse never happens. I find that delusionally utopian. As noted just above, we can’t even guarantee that in our own prison system. How it is supposed to be done in the after math of a war in a foreign country where lives depend on extracting information from some of those prisoners?
It occurs to me that this highlights what most distinguishes conservatism from liberalism - the tragic vision. Liberalism is essentially a search for utopia. Conservatism is trying to build a nice house of out crooked timber. The fact that failure is guaranteed doesn’t excuse not trying. We can’t achieve the utopia of perfect behaviour in general, much less in a war zone. But that doesn’t justify not doing all we can to behave with decency and honor. On that point, I note that another comment about this incident is that nothing would have been done if the picture hadn’t been published. But the fact remains that arrests and investigations had started long before there was any publicity. That gives me confidence that our military is making a true effort in this regard.