Pour l’encourager les autres

It’s never good to be made an example of, except a) when you deserve it, and b) when you learn something from it.

I got a small dollop of email tonight pointing me to “Weblog Central” on MSNBC where I’m used as a cautionary example of those who sometimes live on the Isle of Conclusion (because they jumped there):

Take, for example, the March 23 report out of Iraq that U.S.-led coalition troops had seized a chemical plant. Early reports on FoxNews.com indicated that the plant was a “huge chemical weapons factory.” Other news organizations jumped on the story, citing Fox as the source. When it eventually became clear that there were no actual chemical weapons at the plant and the actual nature of the chemical factory could not be determined for some time, news outlets backpedaled, and reports of a “chemical weapons factory” were tempered with terms like “suspected.”

In most cases, this correction might have gone mostly unnoticed. But in a war that is being covered simultaneously by news organizations and independent Webloggers, information and disinformation is being recorded, analysed, spun, counterspun and set straight again in countless iterations, countless languages and countless countries.

So, when Armed Liberal saw the original chemical weapons plant report at 1:41 a.m., he promptly posted the story on the Winds of Change blog, with a link to the Fox News story and a quote:

“A senior Pentagon official has confirmed to Fox News on Sunday that coalition forces have discovered a ‘huge’ chemical weapons factory near the Iraqi city of An Najaf, which is situated some 225 miles south of Baghdad.”

And while the writer is too gracious to directly take me to task for not correcting my post when the underlying news story was updated, he should have because I should have.

I’m taking away the fact that “A man’s gotta know his limitations.” I’ll try much harder to step up when what I say is misleading or sometimes, heaven forbid, just plain wrong.

Dissent’s Root

Below is a snippet of an email conversation I had with a friend, a woman with whom I’ve had some disagreements about the war. Now while we disagree, I think that she’s genuine and thoughtful (although wrong) about her stance, and I appreciate that she struggles with it (as I do with mine).

I think her issues are shared by a lot of people, and so worthy of consideration. So here goes (the opening quote is from my email to her):

&gt And I’ll suggest a simple test. If you think George
&gt Bush and Saddam Hussein
&gt are morally equivalent, or that Bill Clinton and
&gt Milosevich are equivalent,
&gt then your argument holds water.

This is not to say that we are all morally equivalent. In my morality, Saddam and Hitler will be bunkmates in hell. I am, of course, being somewhat facetious here and in the next sentence as, truly, I do not know who will be or won’t be in hell, if hell exists, and I fully anticipate I will find out via my own experience of it, if it exits. However, in my morality, Clinton and Bush will bunkmates there as well–on a different level perhaps with day passes. But, on this level of reflection, I think–hell is hell and does it ultimately matter what level we end up on in there–will there be a popularity contest, benefits to be garnered, an advantage to be gained if one is on a higher or lower level? I don’t know. It is enough, simple as my theology has devolved to–that one has not lived in such a way to avoid hell and that’s all that matters. This goes to my belief that one is just as guilty if they steal a million dollars buck by buck as if they took it all at once…

Furthermore, I am all too aware of my own sins and foibles. … Sigh. Thus, I find myself singularly unable to pass judgment–intellectually–on others. There but for the grace of God? Pot calling the kettle? Regardless–there you have it. I am a sinner and am unable to tell whether I myself am a sheep or goat let alone anyone else.
So, no, they aren’t equivalent, but I cannot say, morality-wise, that they are significantly different as I do not know ultimately and in the light of eternity what good or ill each will have wrought…

And I, as student and as sufferer and as perpetrator, know painfully well the pavement on the road to hell. More evil, imho, has been done in the name of good than has ever been perpetuated by the truly evil. And, yet, I cannot find it in my heart to categorically blame them (intellectually) for the results of their good intentions. Blame in one way, but not in another–if that makes sense.

Thus, I do not know and thus, I hesitate to pass judgment as to what is truly evil.

Now, emotionally, oh, that’s another story. I rage, I cry, I stomp about and I send all kinds of people to hell for much less than even poor Dubba or Bill has done. Emotionally, I am quite willing to draw a distinction between a million at once and a million a buck at a time. Emotionally, though, I also see (and intellectually) that people are wounded and influenced by things that others may not even notice–that we are flawed but worthy of love–so I am in a real conundrum here.

And she’s not alone in that conundrum.

As I talk to people about the war…particularly people who oppose it…I am constantly struck by what they would call even-handedness.

It’s a weird thing.

I’m pretty unhappy with Ashcroft’s loose interpretation of the restraints on the U.S. government’s ability to infringe on my rights. But I sure as hell don’t stay up nights worrying about being summarily executed or tortured, or being restrained while my children are tortured in front of me. And I’m skipping the more lurid tales of brutality that can be told about monstrous dictators like Milosovich or Saddam Hussein.

Somehow the fact that I’m opposed to one (the bureaucratic infringement of my liberties) doesn’t come close to making me feel that it’s the equivalent of the other (the knock on the door, the executioner’s bullet), and I don’t understand how other people can.

In part, I think it’s the same kind of misperception I talk about when I discuss our misjudgments of risk. The kind of thing where we see one incident tragedy in the news…a man shot by the police when he reaches for his wallet…and map it to other stories which have the same emotional impact, even though they represent far greater tragedies. Rwandan genocide appears alongside a battered child in the newspaper; each is unspeakably tragic in and of itself, but…

…are they morally equivalent?

Is there some greater moral weight that we can give to evil (or good, for that matter) when doing it, rather than fighting it, is a matter of social policy?

People like my friend think not. They see themselves an entrapped in a world of evil, where every action carries with it, not the possibility of hope and the risk of tragedy, but the certainty of failure.

And if we are ever going to be conquered, this is what will do it.


Folks on this site (and others) are doing a great job of concentrating the war news and keeping information addicts such as myself out of withdrawal.

I’ve got a small queue of things stacked up, including a piece on “Political Risk” from the POV of Bush.

But ly, I just can’t bring myself to write about risk from the safety of my desk while men and women (some my son’s age) put themselves at true risk for me.

I’ve been having a number of interesting conversations about the war in my non-pseudo-nominal life, however, and I wanted to bring a few of the points up here.

What I really want to talk about is dissent.

About dissent in wartime, and what it means and what it might mean, and about what I see in dissent, both in the news we all read, and in some of my private conversations.

I don’t think that dissent should be stifled in wartime. But I think that it moves onto a very delicate surface, and one that places great responsibility both on the dissenters and on those who respond to them. This is for one simple reason; wars are ultimately not won with weapons, not with technology or expenditure; they are won with will. They are won with the ‘tested in the fiery heat of the moment’ will of those who soldier on the front lines, and with the ‘restless late at night sleepless’ will of those of us who are at home.

And in my mind, there are two types of dissent. Both aim to change the hearts and minds of the polity, and of their representatives. One speaks to our hopes and plans, and argues with a firm voice and head held high, over the nature of our goals and over the means to attain them. One aims instead to win by whispering in our ears and appealing to fear and doubt, and offers the dissenter the bonus of a self-sustaining feeling of superiority. Not only are they taking a better position, but they are standing up to The Man, and as an extra value, they can cleanse their conscience of all the messy ambiguity and responsibility that one takes on as a member of our society.
I believe in dissent, and think that it is not only something that should be permitted in wartime, but encouraged. We get to the truth through argument and experiment, and that’s the strength of our system.

Den Beste has a piece today on “why the protesters are so lame”. I think his idea is interesting (paranoid, but interesting), and I know for a fact (from discussions with friends who are figures in the Left) that groups like ANSWER and Commonground are looking to the swell of activism to swell their ranks (and, don’t forget, fill their coffers).

But I think the real reason goes to the underlying process, and the desire of the self-selecting protesters not to join in and possibly win a national dialog, but to meet some needs for moral cleanliness and managing one’s identity by confronting authority.

Like a lot of other things, I’ve talked about this at Armed Liberal:

But when I read much of what comes from the left, I’m left with the feeling that they want to consume the benefits that come from living in the U.S. and more generally the West without either doing the messy work involved or, more seriously, taking on the moral responsibility for the life they enjoy.

We enjoy this life because a number of things happened in the world’s (our) history. Many of them involved one group dominating (or brutalizing or exterminating) another, or specific actions (Dresden, Hiroshima) whose moral foundation is sketchy at best.

“Do you think one can govern innocently? Purity is a matter for monks, clerics, not for politicians. My hands are dirty to the elbows. I have shoved them in filth and blood,” Hoederer says in Sartre’s ‘Dirty Hands’.

Part of political adulthood is the maturity to realize that we are none of us innocents. The clothes we wear, money we have, jobs we go to are a result of a long, bloody and messy history.

I see my job as a liberal as making the future less bloody than the past.

Let me give an example from my own history.

Way back in time, when dinosaurs ruled the earth and American soldiers fought in Vietnam, I opposed the war (There’s another piece in the queue – why I opposed that war, and don’t think I was wrong, and why I support this one). I opposed it strongly enough to join teams that organized some fairly large demonstrations against the war. And there was always an interesting dynamic; we organized one demonstration to take place in the Bay Area, and one subgroup announced their intention to fill some cars with gasoline, set them on fire, and so try and close the tunnel into Alameda, a major Naval base.

The pathetic inadequacy of this as a tactic aside, I fought it (literally, we had quite the physical confrontation) because I felt that it was a fundamentally different thing – it was not a political protest, designed to make a political point and sway the opinion of the public and the leadership, it was in essence an attack on the military and the state.

I argued that we wanted to have clear proposals, and structure our demonstrations so that moms would bring their babies in strollers (I won the argument, by the way).

Adolescent fantasies of rebellion aside, these two strains…one arguing for the head and heart, and the other going for the gut…seem to define much of the dissent we see today. We haven’t seen dissenters going as far as my colleagues proposed to do, but the war is yet young (and the police and keepers-of-order are a little further ahead of the curve).

More to follow…

Oh, Hans…

A senior pentagon official has confirmed to Fox News on Sunday that coalition forces have discovered a “huge” chemical weapons factory near the Iraqi city of An Najaf, which is situated some 225 miles south of Baghdad.

Coalition troops are also said to be holding the general in charge of the facility.

From Fox News (and the BBC via NPR).

[Belated update: I eat crow for not updating this as no evidence of chemical weapons was found at the plant]

The War On Bad Philosophy 2

A great article in today’s New York Times Magazine, talking about the philosophical and historical roots of Islamist radicalism.

To anyone who has looked closely enough, Al Qaeda and its sister organizations plainly enjoy yet another strength, arguably the greatest strength of all, something truly imposing — though in the Western press this final strength has received very little attention. Bin Laden is a Saudi plutocrat with Yemeni ancestors, and most of the suicide warriors of Sept. 11 were likewise Saudis, and the provenance of those people has focused everyone’s attention on the Arabian peninsula. But Al Qaeda has broader roots. The organization was created in the late 1980’s by an affiliation of three armed factions — bin Laden’s circle of ”Afghan” Arabs, together with two factions from Egypt, the Islamic Group and Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the latter led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s top theoretician. The Egyptian factions emerged from an older current, a school of thought from within Egypt’s fundamentalist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the 1950’s and 60’s. And at the heart of that single school of thought stood, until his execution in 1966, a philosopher named Sayyid Qutb — the intellectual hero of every one of the groups that eventually went into Al Qaeda, their Karl Marx (to put it that way), their guide.

In 1952, in the days before staging his coup d’etat, Colonel Nasser is said to have paid a visit to Qutb at his home, presumably to get his backing. Some people expected that, after taking power, Nasser would appoint Qutb to be the new revolutionary minister of education. But once the Pan-Arabists had thrown out the old king, the differences between the two movements began to overwhelm the similarities, and Qutb was not appointed. Instead, Nasser cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood, and after someone tried to assassinate him, he blamed the Brotherhood and cracked down even harder. Some of the Muslim Brotherhood’s most distinguished intellectuals and theologians escaped into exile. Sayyid Qutb’s brother, Muhammad Qutb, was one of those people. He fled to Saudi Arabia and ended up as a distinguished Saudi professor of Islamic Studies. Many years later, Osama bin Laden would be one of Muhammad Qutb’s students.

These people believe that, in the entire world, they alone are preserving Islam from extinction. They feel they are benefiting the world, even if they are committing random massacres. They are certainly not worried about death. Qutb gave these people a reason to yearn for death. Wisdom, piety, death and immortality are, in his vision of the world, the same. For a pious life is a life of struggle or jihad for Islam, and struggle means martyrdom. We may think: those are creepy ideas. And yes, the ideas are creepy. But there is, in Qutb’s presentation, a weird allure in those ideas.

It would be nice to think that, in the war against terror, our side, too, speaks of deep philosophical ideas — it would be nice to think that someone is arguing with the terrorists and with the readers of Sayyid Qutb. But here I have my worries. The followers of Qutb speak, in their wild fashion, of enormous human problems, and they urge one another to death and to murder. But the enemies of these people speak of what? The political leaders speak of United Nations resolutions, of unilateralism, of multilateralism, of weapons inspectors, of coercion and noncoercion. This is no answer to the terrorists. The terrorists speak insanely of deep things. The antiterrorists had better speak sanely of equally deep things. Presidents will not do this. Presidents will dispatch armies, or decline to dispatch armies, for better and for worse.

Yes, indeed, because while we can readily defeat the armies that defend the territories that house, succor, and train Islamist warriors, our philosophical weakness exposes us to attack from within, as today’s horrible news shows:

CAMP NEW JERSEY, Kuwait, March 23 — One soldier from the 101st Airborne Division was killed and 13 were wounded this morning when two hand grenades were thrown into the 1st Brigade tactical operations center at Camp Pennsylvania in central Kuwait, U.S. Army officials said.

A U.S. soldier assigned to the brigade was in custody, the officials said.

We will win the campaign for the territories that were used by these movements, but the more serious issue is how to change the minds of the people who are attracted to them…how to stop the ideology – and the others that exploit the same vulnerability – from spreading.

I don’t think this is just a matter of Islamist sharia vs. Western liberalism; I think that the attack on Western culture resonates on faultlines within our culture and ourselves.

I’ve called this crisis “A War On Bad Philosophy,” and I intend to continue waving that flag.

Compane the commentary on Qutb:

Martyrdom was among his themes. He discusses passages in the Koran’s sura ”The Cow,” and he explains that death as a martyr is nothing to fear. Yes, some people will have to be sacrificed. ”Those who risk their lives and go out to fight, and who are prepared to lay down their lives for the cause of God are honorable people, pure of heart and blessed of soul. But the great surprise is that those among them who are killed in the struggle must not be considered or described as dead. They continue to live, as God Himself clearly states.”

Qutb wrote: ”To all intents and purposes, those people may very well appear lifeless, but life and death are not judged by superficial physical means alone. Life is chiefly characterized by activity, growth and persistence, while death is a state of total loss of function, of complete inertia and lifelessness. But the death of those who are killed for the cause of God gives more impetus to the cause, which continues to thrive on their blood. Their influence on those they leave behind also grows and spreads. Thus after their death they remain an active force in shaping the life of their community and giving it direction. It is in this sense that such people, having sacrificed their lives for the sake of God, retain their active existence in everyday life. . . .

”There is no real sense of loss in their death, since they continue to live.”

With my favorite quote from The Roots of Romanticism by Isiah Berlin:

Suppose you went and spoke with [long list of European Romatic intellectual figures, including Hugo, de Staël, Schlegel, Goethe, Coleridge, Byron]

Suppose you had spoken to these persons. You would have found that their ideal of life was approximately of the following kind. The values to which they attached the highest importance were such values as integrity, sincerity, readiness to sacrifice one’s life to some inner light, dedication to an ideal for which it is worth sacrificing all that one is, for which it is worth both living and dying. You would have found that they were not primarily interested in knowledge, or in the advancement of science, not interested in political power, not interested in happiness, not interested, above all, in adjustment to life, in finding your place in society, in living at peace with your government, even loyalty to your king, or your republic. You would have found common sense, moderation, was very far from their thoughts. You would have found that they believed in the necessity of fighting for your beliefs to the last breath in your body, and you would have found that they believed in the value of martyrdom as such, no matter what the martyrdom was for. You would have found that they believed that minorities were more holy than majorities, that failure was nobler than success, which had something shoddy and vulgar about it. The very notion of idealism, not in its philosophical sense, but in the ordinary sense in which we use it, that is to say the state of mind of a man who is willing to sacrifice a great deal for principles or some conviction, who is not prepared to sell out, who is prepared to go to the stake for something which he believes, because he believes in it … this attitude was relatively new. What people admired was wholeheartedness, sincerity, purity of soul, the ability and readiness to dedicate yourself to your ideal, no matter what it was.

No matter what it was: that is the important thing.

The void filled with Byronic passion is what Qutb means to fill; we in the West have a set of secular values to fill them, but they are out of favor now.

They may need to come back.

On a Day of Gigantic Events, a Small Tragedy

I talked here of a friend of mine who managed to get himself into trouble with the law.
Well, his sentencing was dragged out as the DA and police tried to use the evidence he gave against some larger fish, and then he had bariatric surgery (he was morbidly obese, and knew it), but then he missed our housewarming and stopped answering emails.
I got a call from a mutual friend on Monday, mentioning that he’d missed work for a few days, and wondered if he’d been sentenced and it hadn’t gone well and he hadn’t the heart to call us to see him off. But it was weird that he was so out of contact, so I offered to stop by his apartment on my way home from work the next day; he said no, he’d stop by on his way in to work in the morning instead.
No one answered, but he got the neighbors concerned enough to call the police, who broke in and found his body. I just got the calls from his friends and family.
I don’t know any details (we’re working to get the Coroner to expedite their processes to allow a funeral when his family gets here this weekend), but I’d assume it was natural causes.
He lived alone in a slightly shabby apartment building near the airport; his apartment was immaculate, nicely furnished, with a beautiful fish tank that he labored over.
Somehow, it’s heartbreaking to me to think of him dying alone in his apartment, not found for days. I think that’s a hard image because we expect to live and die surrounded by friends and family.
And it’s sad to think that he ended his adult life in trouble with the law – the way he began it.
But from talking to him, I got to know how far he came from the youthful rage with which he must have lived as a young gang member. The man I knew was thoughtful, considerate, and gentle.
And he stands as a lesson to me of the waste that the remaining racial divide in America represents; I used to call him “Senator”, simultaneously teasing him about the political dreams he had confided to me and acknowledging that he had the tools to make it happen. I always told him that Fitzgerald was wrong; that there could be second acts here in America. I wonder what his life would have been like if his childhood had been mine, and what he could have added to the world.

The Day of the War

Apologies for not following up on the two open series; Iraq and Risk. I’ve been under the weather (self-inflicted damage from not reading the instructions on a prescription bottle), and more, events have kind of moved past the issues I’ve been talking about.

I’m going back over the criticism of Bush’s handling of ‘selling’ the war, and turning it into my suggestions for the kind of long-term actions that will make this war have been worth winning.

And I was focusing the ‘Risk in Politics’ piece on Bush and his decision to go to war; it will certainly need to be updated.

But most of all, today, I want to send my own best wishes out to the men and women from our military and the U.K.’s and Australia’s, and whoever else is marching, riding, or flying alongside them. Be brave, be honorable, be careful, be successful; come home to us safe and proud.

Thank you all for defending us all.

On Being a Liberal Hawk

I came late to the party when it comes to those who support invading Iraq, and in so doing, staking out what is in essence the second act in the defanging of aggressive Islamism.

Because, in reality that’s what we’re doing.

And while I came late to the party, and remain consistently somewhere between annoyance and anxiety as I watch the current Administration’s actions, I’m a believer that the balloon should go up, and should do so soon.

I need to support two points here:

1) That invading Iraq is a good idea, and that the most likely consequences are good ones, and that the potential risks are themselves better than those which follow from taking no action;

2) That the current Administration hasn’t done a good job of ‘rallying the troops’ – even in light of the unassailable fact that many countries would be opposing action even if there were a ‘smoking gun’ in the form of airline tickets for the 9/11 hijackers bought with Saddam’s American Express card (does he have one, I wonder?).

First, let me offer my brief supporting argument for the case that invasion…and invasion now is a good idea.

My fundamental principle isn’t vengeance, it isn’t anger at Arabs in general or even Hussein in specific. It is that we need to unravel the knot presented by the interfaces between Islam and the West and do so quickly and aggressively.

I’m not going to recite Bernard Lewis or argue with Edward Said at length here (even if I were capable of it). It seems to me that there is an unassailable set of factual events that cluster around the following themes:

The Islamic world is growing in population and influence, financed in large part by the liquid wealth given the Arab Middle East by their national control of their oil resources (as opposed to private control by individuals within the countries). There are stated national objectives and ideologies that actively promote the aggressive expansion of Islam as a religion – which his a common trait to most religions – and as a national organizing principle. We have somehow seen a welding of Arab nationalism – Nasserite Nationalism – to the traditional Islamic imagery of spreading the word of the Q’uran.

This implies certain direct challenges to the stature and power of the West.

The trapped potential energy feeding this process is the huge pool of underemployed, alienated, disaffected people who are simultaneously physically supported and oppressed by their paternalistic governments, which governments encourage messianic expansionism as a way of deflecting the dissatisfaction and frustration of their own populations.

These governments are literally riding the tiger, with no way to dismount.
Both because powerful interests in the West are directly allied with those governments – to ensure the stability of energy supplies, and to participate in the recycling of the liquid wealth created by the exploitation of those energy supplies – we have turned a blind eye to the deep well of pan-nationalistic hatred that these governments have managed to keep just below a boil, by directing that hatred at Israel and the West.

I have a few friends who are Iraqi and Iranian immigrants; while they do not constitute a broad enough sample to talk with any statistical validity, and they are self-selected as people who chose to emigrate to the U.S., they consistently point out to me that I don’t understand the depth of anger – at the U.S. particularly – in the population. One friend described it as “the anger of a jilted boyfriend” because it is leavened with strong strains of attraction and desire, and cycles between a kind of hopeful desire and frustrated rage.

I know I sound kind of like Den Beste here.

I think that we, in the West…in London, and Paris, and Washington D.C. were active participants in creating this. Like Greek tragedies in which the cycles of error and consequence reappear generation after generation, the drama of Europe’s battles with the Arab world, invasion (by the Arabs), followed by counterinvasion, followed by counter invasion, followed by colonial rule, followed by thoughtless decolonialization, followed by neglect, followed by avaricious friendship as we sought to exploit the resources that were found there. This is just the latest act in an endless chain of wrongs and counter-wrongs that have come down through history.

So I think we have an obligation to sort it out.

But while many liberals, in the true spirit of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, feel that our job is to simply sit and absorb their rage and then open our checkbooks, I think we’ve let things get more than a bit past the point where that might work.

The pattern of Arab terrorism, unlike Irish terrorism, or Tamil terrorism, has been expansionist and ambitious. Unlike the IRA, who at the height of the recent insurrection, struck at British power either through attacks on British soldiers in Ulster or through largely symbolic attacks on the British mainland, the Islamist battle against the West has escalated from aircraft hijackings to Olympic terror, to hijacking ocean liners, to the original attack on the WTC, to the Cole to 9/11.

And while in fact, the Clinton Administration was somewhat effective in following a ‘legalistic’ arrest and try strategy, it obviously hasn’t worked. I’ve always been annoyed at the righties who claimed that Clinton was snoozing at the switch and that the only U.S. response to terrorism was to lob a cruise missile into an aspirin plant.

The reality is that Clinton’s team was highly focussed on terrorism…but on terrorism as crime, as opposed to as an instrument of war. We focussed on identifying the actual perpetrators, and attempting to arrest them or cause their arrest.

This is pretty much the typical liberal response to 9/11. Send in SWAT, pull ’em out in cuffs, and let’s sit back and watch the fun on Court TV.

I’ve been ambivalent about whether this is a good strategy conceptually, and looking at the history…in which we’re batting about .600 in arresting and trying Islamist terrorists…I have come to the realization that the fact is that it hasn’t worked. The level and intensity of terrorist actions increased, all the way through 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan.

And a part of what I have realized is that as long as states – particularly wealthy states – are willing to explicitly house terrorists and their infrastructure, or implicitly turn a blind eye to their recruitment and funding, we can’t use the kind of ‘police’ tactics that worked against Baader-Meinhof or the Red Army Faction. The Soviet Union and it’s proxies offered limited support to these terrorist gangs, but they didn’t have a national population to recruit from and bases and infrastructure that only a state can provide.

So unless we shock the states supporting terrorism into stopping, the problem will get worse. Note that it will probably get somewhat worse if we do…but that’s weather, and I’m worried about climate.

What’s wrong with that? The reality is that even in a worst-case scenario such as I painted in Armed Liberal, our losses would be limited and readily survivable.

But I don’t think our reaction would be. I believe that a sufficiently aggressive terrorist action against the United States could well result in the simple end of the Islamic world as we know it. I believe that if nukes were detonated in San Pedro and Alameda and Red Hook that there’s a non-trivial chance that we would simply start vaporizing Arab cities until our rage was sated.

I’d rather that didn’t happen. I’d rather that San Pedro, Alameda, and Red Hook stayed whole and safe as well, and I believe the answer is to end the state support of terrorism and the state campaigns of hatred aimed at the U.S. I think that Iraq simply has drawn the lucky straw. They are weak, not liked, bluntly in violation of international law, and as our friends the French say, about to get hung pour l’ecourager les autres…to encourage the others.

Now this may seem like a week reed on which to base a war.

But it is stronger than it appears.

First, there is a legitimate case for regime change in Iraq, regardless. I’ll refer the reader back to Salon in 1998:

Until the Gulf War, I had always been on the pacifist side of the argument in all the conflicts of my lifetime. Vietnam, Panama, the Falklands — I protested them all. And then in 1988, on a searing summer day, I stepped off a plane in Baghdad and began my acquaintance with a regime of such unfathomable cruelty that it changed my views on the use of force.

I learned from Iraqi dissidents about mothers, under interrogation, tortured by the cries of their own starving infants whom they weren’t allowed to breast-feed; about thalium, the slow-acting rat poison Saddam Hussein used on his enemies; about Iraqi government employees whose official job description was “violator of women’s honor” — i.e., prison rapist.

One bright spring day during the Kurdish uprising, I followed Kurds into the security prison they’d just liberated in northern Iraq. It was dim in the underground cells, so my face was only inches from the wall before I was sure what I was looking at. Long, rusty nails had been driven into the plaster. Around them curled small pieces of human flesh. One withered curve of cartilage looked like part of an ear.

I’m home now in my own liberal, pacifist country, Australia. Within a couple of hours of the news of the latest Baghdad bombings, people in Sydney were in the streets, demonstrating against them. Friends were on the phone, upset: “Terrible, isn’t it? And at this time of the year! Whatever happened to peace on earth, goodwill to men?” Local pundits argued on the television, decrying American bully-boy tactics against a small and defanged Arab country. I agreed with almost everything they said: Yes, the slaughter and injury of Iraqi civilians is tragic. And yes, the timing of the bombing is the worst kind of political cynicism. And yes, it is questionable what effect this new onslaught will have on Iraq’s weapons capability. And yet I disagreed with their conclusion: that this bombing is therefore wrong.

The West’s great crimes in Iraq are not the latest bombings, but the years of inaction: ignoring the use of poison gas in the theaters of the Iran-Iraq war; ignoring it again in Halabja and other rebellious Iraqi cities; ignoring the vast human and environmental devastation since the Gulf War in the mostly Shiite regions of southern Iraq, where the ancient wetlands of Mesopotamia and the unique culture of the marsh Arabs have been wiped out by a series of dams and diversions designed to starve a minority into submission.

Opponents of the bombing say that dealing with Iraq should be left with the United Nations and its gentle leader, Kofi Annan. But Annan is a peacemaker, and a peacemaker isn’t necessarily what’s required in Iraq, any more than it was in Bosnia. Sarajevans will tell you of the agonies caused by the U.N.’s “evenhanded diplomacy” — the pressures to accept any kind of unjust peace the Serbs happened to offer. The history of the United Nations has shown that the organization is most useful in keeping peace between belligerents who have decided they no longer wish to fight. But recent experience has shown that the organization is both inept at, and degraded by, its insertion into conflicts where one or both parties have no wish for peace.

After I left the Middle East, I spent some time covering the United Nations at its headquarters in New York and in the field in Bosnia and Somalia. During that time, I learned that people who go to work for the United Nations often do so because they believe that war is the greatest evil and that force is never justified. In Somalia, one U.N. staffer broke into sobs in front of me because instead of keeping peace, her job had become the administration of a war.

It is impossible to imagine the bureaucrats of the United Nations accepting the kind of harsh conclusion that may be necessary in the case of Saddam Hussein: that the bombs should continue to fall until he does. Iraqis will die. But they are dying now, by the scores and the hundreds, in horrible pain, in the dark security prisons with the blood on the walls and the excrement on the floor.

I wish I still believed, as I used to, that the United Nations was always the world’s best chance to avert bloodshed. I wish I could join, as I once would have, the placard-waving peace protesters outside the U.S. Consulate here in Sydney.

I wish I’d never seen the piece of ear nailed to the wall.

I certainly don’t have much to add to that, except to go back to the 1960’s and one of the great liberal speeches of my childhood.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

I haven’t forgotten Kennedy’s follies…the Bay of Pigs and the stealthy tread of our advisers into Vietnam. But we’ve lived in the shadow of our withdrawal from that pledge now for forty years, and the result is a smoking hole in downtown Manhattan.

The war is here. We must know that part of the cause is on our house, and accept the guilt and determination to do better which that should bring with it. But we can have war now, on our terms, with the narrow possibility of a juster future built on it – or we can have war later, with consequences both here and abroad that I don’t want to have to think about.

So I’ve chosen war now. Not out of vengeance for our three thousand dead, because in the overall scales of injustice and pain in the 20th century, they represent less than our share. If I know it would end there, I believe that I would rage and grieve and work to find it in myself to turn another cheek.

But it won’t. And we can’t. Not only our lives depend on it, but the lives of all those who will be killed – by us – if the war becomes as terrible as it might.

So that’s why I support the war.

And, so supporting the war as I do, I believe it should be soon…before spring drags on too far, before our troops’ readiness declines, and before Hussein has opportunities to improve his defenses and further torment his people.

Sadly, it has little to do with the leadership provided by President Bush. Admittedly, he is being dealt a tough hand to play. But he could play it better.

Sometimes you have to eat your words.

I had a heated correspondence with a friend of Tenacious G’s about the 2000 election, and my willingness to support Nader – as a protest vote – over Gore. look back at our emails, I find a quite that is both prescient and at the same time incredibly wrong.

Look, every job has one core “action” – one thing that represents the irreducible essence of the job. In the case of the Presidency, the core action is to go on national TV and explain that we’ve bombed the shit out of someone or that we’re sending several hundred thousand of our sons and daughters off to some remote place to kill or be killed.

Tell me you can ever imagine Gore doing this? I can’t. I can imagine Bush doing it…worried, smirking…but still ‘selling’ it…and to me that offsets the limited policy preference I have for Gore and makes this whole thing a push. I’m indifferent as to who wins, and that’s a big part of the reason why.

Most wars have to be sold. Seldom is the perceived need for war strong enough overcome people’s reluctance to fight until the enemy is at the gates…at which point it is often too late. Much of Thucydides is about the efforts of various Greek leaders to rally the reluctant city-states to support the Persian war.

This is damn hard to do in the modern era, because the ways wars are seen…unfiltered, raw, live on television, tends to focus our attention intently on the costs of war. Blood, carnage, pain, suffering, grief. That’s good television. Good visual journalism shows the policeman executing the bound civilian-clad captive with a bullet to the head; it can’t give the backstory where the captive was a captured enemy assassin who was executed in the middle of a running battle. I’m far from sure that the backstory justifies the brutal act…but it frames it into an understandable human context, without which it is simple brutality.

And it is especially hard to do in the context of the modern philosophical crisis, in which we in the West seem to almost yearn for our own destruction.

But Bush has failed to sell this war in three arenas.

He has failed to sell it (as well as it should have been) to the U.S. people. The reality of 9/11 has sold this war, and our atavistic desire for revenge is the engine that drives the support that Bush actually has.

He has failed to sell it diplomatically. Not that he could have ever gotten the support of France or Germany; as noted above, even with an AmEx receipt for the 9/11 plane tickets signed by Saddam himself, France would find a reason to defer this war. But he should never have let them get the moral high ground, which they have somehow managed to claim.

He has failed to sell it to our enemies, who do not believe today that we are serious about achieving our stated goals. This is, to me the most serious one, because the perception that we are not deadly serious is a perception that we are weak; and we will have to fight harder, not because we are too strong, but because we will be perceived as too weak.

I’ll expand on these tomorrow.

More Good News on a Friday – the Marines are Coming!

From today’s LA Times:

Neighboring Residents Say Let the Marines Storm Marineland
Rancho Palos Verdes’ city manager, worried about the noise, said no to military drills at the old park. Then he got an earful from citizens.

By Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writer

As the nation inches closer to a war with Iraq, the city manager of Rancho Palos Verdes learned a valuable lesson Thursday morning: Don’t say ‘No’ to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Last week, City Manager Les Evans turned down a request by the Marines to conduct night exercises in June at the site of the old Marineland theme park. In the past, helicopters and explosions that are part of the exercises had awakened residents in the affluent community and prompted angry phone calls to police.

So, when the Marine Corps asked for permission to conduct the exercises this year, Evans said no. “That was my opening negotiation,” he said. “Obviously, I didn’t expect it to turn out this way.”

Word of his decision spread through town, and by the time Evans arrived at work a little past 7 a.m. Thursday, the local citizenry was quick to express its concern about the perceived lack of patriotism.

“Right now, public opinion is running 6 to 1 against me that I should cut my throat,” Evans said.

Evans is a veteran of the Navy Seabees who served in Vietnam. It didn’t matter. In his first minutes at work, he received six phone calls from angry residents and two more calls from members of the City Council.

“I was upset,” said Councilman John McTaggart. “I know there are people who are annoyed by the noise and don’t like it, but if it is a matter of improving skills for our servicemen, I certainly support” the exercises.

McTaggart said many of the complaints about the Marines were from residents whose pets were bothered by the noise.

Evans said his point was to create a better public awareness campaign to inform jittery residents that the exercises were the U.S. Marines and not a terrorist attack.

“I imagine by now he’s probably heard from a few other council members who have yelled at him,” said Rancho Palos Verdes Mayor Douglas Stern. “But I think the way he was handling it was appropriate. We need to let the public know what’s going on. They’re on pins and needles with the terrorist alerts going up and down.”

I think the Marines will be getting the cooperation they need…

Good News on a Friday – Moran Steps Down As Asst. Whip

From CNN.com:

Moran steps down from leadership post
Lawmaker under fire for saying Jews push war with Iraq

Rep. Jim Moran: “I will strive to learn from my mistakes.”

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Harshly criticized for saying pressure from the Jewish community was driving the push toward a possible war against Iraq, Rep. James Moran stepped down Friday as a House Democratic regional whip.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California issued a statement indicating she left Moran, D-Virginia, with little choice but to give up his leadership post.

“I have taken this action because Congressman Moran’s irresponsible remarks were a serious mistake,” Pelosi said in a statement. “As I said earlier this week, his comments were not only inappropriate, they were offensive and have no place in the Democratic Party.”

Here’s one where the mainstream press was ahead of the liberal blogosphere; something I’ll dig into and comment upon at some point.

I’ll also comment that he surrendered his least-significant role, and that he’s retained his committee positions in the Appropriations and Budget committees.

I don’t think the bloggers covered themselves in glory on this one.