Thanks, Carrot

I spent they afternoon at Top Gun yesterday. I mean literally – I was at MCAS Miramar for the retirement ceremony of Col. Robert “Carrot” Foltyn. We met through Spirit of America, and he seems to be entertained enough by me that we’re extending that professional relationship into a friendship.

The ceremony was interesting, as all ceremonies are when you look at them; the mechanics of setting up tents, flagpoles, a sound system are all a bit complex, and if you’re like me and try hard to notice things you wind up paying a lot of attention to all the people and components. Then suddenly you look at them again and they morph into a whole, a stage, and you’re standing behind the crowded seats, watching the event unfold.
The unfolding itself was short, a few speeches from the brass and then a longer, soft-spoken one from Carrot himself (he and all his colleagues refer to each other and themselves by their call signs; they greet each other in the hallways as ‘Carrot’ and ‘Smoke’ and ‘Bluebell’ – I’m not a member of the club, so it felt pretty odd when he asked that I do the same thing – but I’m certainly not going to cross him), and then it was over and he was retired. Not an ex-Marine, though. There are no ex-Marines, I was told. As the long-haired stranger there (actually, his brother – a physicist at Los Alamos – has longer hair), I took a seat at the side of the dining room, with a group of older couples that I took to be friends of the family and discovered that I had seated myself with a group of Marine aviators going back to the Korean war (one was an ace). That’s how the older gentleman with the rheumy eyes and walking stick identified himself – as a Marine aviator.

There’s not too much of a point here, except first and foremost to express my affection and admiration for Col. Foltyn both for his achievements (he was among other things the training department head at Top Gun, which implies both a certain technical competence and a small measure of leadership) and for the kind of neat, warm, interesting guy he is.

It also continues my education in being impressed by then men and women in uniform, and the institution they serve.

I was talking about Spirit of America with one officer just back from Iraq, and he walked me through some of the command-level debates that had taken place over ‘what to do about Fallouja’, and he brought up the Chechen war, and Grozny. Smart, well-informed people. One of the officers I talked to was a young black woman – I don’t think this is the Marine Corps of the 1950’s.

In talking to them, they are – oddly, I think – outspoken about their appreciation for Spirit of America and the related organizations working to help the people of Iraq. “You are literally saving Marines lives,” was something I heard four times. “And Iraqi ones as well,” one of the Marines added.

So this is my personal thanks to Carrot for his service and to his wife and family for what I know it has cost them as well. Gratitude doesn’t fill your bank account or read bedtime stories to the baby when Daddy is away for a year.

But right now, it’s the best I have to offer.

[Update: I’m a dork. I also forgot to mention that the unanimous take among Iraq veterans – in spite of my best efforts to trap them through clevel cross-examination – is that things over there are a whole lot better than what they read in the media. What can I say? More on this Sunday]

Dean Esmay’s Challenge

Dean Esmay posts a darn good question:

…debate all you want but, once a decision is made, partisanship should stop at the water’s edges. At least so far as I’m concerned.

Now here is my interesting question: I’ve made myself some friends among conservatives by speaking this way. But I do find myself wondering: how many of you on the right will embrace such a philosophy if John Kerry should carry the election in November?

Personally, I haven’t jumped either way on the election yet (and yes, you’d better believe there’s a long post coming on that). But I do think that Dean’s challenge – right now – is a good idea, and one that should be made right and left.

It will do one important thing; it will self-select those who I’d be happy to join in a Party of The Sensible. Go check out his comments and leave some yourself.

Atrios Uncloaked: Cui Bono?

I know I’m late to this, but…Atrios has come out, and he apparently works for a policy house, specifically the Soros-funded Media Matters.

Now I’ve been critical of Atrios (for tone and policy reasons), but he’s someone I respect as a leader and a powerful voice in the current dialogs.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bloggers getting picked up by think tanks and media organizations (yeah, but where are my offers, anyway??). I think that’s a good thing, and that if part of what blogging has done is to let some civilians move into the pro ranks, that’s neat.

I think there’s more to blogging than that – but that’s another conversation.

But there’s an issue here. (OB Lebowski: Hey! I’ve got an issue here!) As someone who stood behind a pseudonym for a long time (and sometimes kind of wishes he was still there…), I’ve got a huge issue with Atrios’ affiliation, however. And that’s because the nightmare of mine has always been that I would be accused of somehow trimming my blogging to my career, of – on one hand – claiming to write as a disinterested citizen, moved only by my passions and feelings, and – on the other – making a living doing advocacy and therefore by shaping public discourse.

It’s not that people with jobs in advocacy somehow lose their voice, or that they are somehow recused from participating as citizens.

But disclosure is important, because it allows people to weigh what you say and judge it based not only on its merit, but on the question of cui bono? (who gains).

I don’t know if Atrios was just picked up by Media Matters, or if he’s worked there for a year. I don’t know if he got the job because of his blog, or because of his academic credentials.

I wish, more than a little, that I did.

Because one thing about small-scale media is that – compared to the costs of doing business in Big Media – we could be bought cheap. Offer 30 of the highest-profile bloggers jobs for $120,000/year – $3.6 million, a small ad buy – and you could shape political discourse for a year. I believe that the blogosphere would eventually correct for this; it would route around the problem. But I don’t know how fast the credibility of the blog universe would heal.

Living In The Past

Was in the car, so I listened to the convention for a while, and heard Teddy Kennedy’s speech. The coals of his oratory are pretty well banked at this point, and the rambling, discursive speech lacked the punch I know it meant to have.

But one of his three big applause lines tonight was this:

When the voices of many citizens went unheard and their lives were blighted by bigotry, we fought for equality and justice ­for civil rights and voting rights and the rights of women, for the cause of Americans with disabilities.

A few months ago I wrote this:

Rhetorically, what I’d like to say is that “While the GOP sells a past that never was, the Democrats sell a future that will never be.” But that’s not the case.

The Democrats, like the Republicans, are living in the past. They have a slight edge, in that the past they are living in – Selma in 1965 – is real. But like the aging high school baseball star, they see everything through the lens of the One Big Game, of the time years ago when they stood at the plate swung away and hit one over the fence.

Heh, as they say.

With A Clearer Head

Well, the comments to my two posts below confirm that one shouldn’t blog under the influence of dextromethorphan – cold tablets and la grippe make for fuzzy thinking in my case, it appears.

So let me clarify a few things.

First, I do think we’re at war. But it’s not the traditional ‘mobilize the nation’ kind of war, it’s a war that will, sadly, be long-lasting, relatively low-intensity, and messy. Because it’s that kind of a war, many of the historic responses to a more intensely focused, limited in time war – like those to World War II – aren’t appropriate.

They aren’t appropriate for two reasons; because they won’t do much good, and because by themselves, they won’t help us win.We don’t need to sacrifice our economic well-being at the levels we did in WW II in order to produce at the level required, and because the boundary between war and peace is fluid we can’t treat everyone from, say, Saudi Arabia as an enemy combatant. In fact, a big part of this war will, like wars against street gangs, consist of trying to peel away the less-committed supporters from the core, and to do that will require some form of positive engagement, of ‘selling’.

As a consequence, this war will look much more like the ‘war’ between the Italian government and the Mafia in Sicily, and it’s conclusion will be equally undramatic.

Things will simply get better.

Now, having said that I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being in direct opposition to Michael Ledeen, whose column in today’s NRO (hat tip, Instapundit) says:

…many scholars at the time insisted that Nazism was first and foremost an ideology, not a state. Indeed, Hitler was at pains to proclaim that he was fighting for an Aryan Reich, not a German state. And if you read some of the literature on Nazism or for that matter the broader work on totalitarianism produced by the “greatest generation,” you’ll find a profound preoccupation with “winning the war of ideas” against fascism. Indeed, a good deal of money and energy was expended by our armed forces, during and after the war, to de-Nazify and de-fascify the Old World.

But the important thing is that when we smashed Hitler, Nazi ideology died along with him, and fell into the same bunker.

The same debate over “whom or what are we fighting” raged during the Cold War, when we endlessly pondered whether we were fighting Communist ideology or Russian imperialism. Some … mostly intellectuals, many of them in the CIA … saw the Cold War primarily in ideological terms, and thought we would win if and only if we wooed the world’s masses from the Communist dream. Others warned that this was an illusion, and that we’d better tend to “containment” else the Red Army would bring us and our allies to our knees.

In the end, when the Soviet Empire fell, the appeal of Communism was mortally wounded, at least for a generation.

You see where I’m going, surely. The debate is a trap, because it diverts our attention and our energies from the main thing, which is winning the war. It’s an intellectual amusement, and it gets in our way. As that great Machiavellian Vince Lombardi reminds us, winning is the only thing.

I think that Ledeen misreads history here, and in a way that is potentially very dangerous.

Nazism, by it’s nature, wasn’t a contagious meme. You were Aryan, or you weren’t. They made alliances with other ‘blut und volk’ nationalist movements in Japan and Italy, but the reality is that by it’s nature, it couldn’t spread except through conquest. Britain was in no danger of a Nazi takeover from within; Oswald Mosely was an isolated figure.

This limited the ‘infected’ areas to the core nations – Germany, Italy, Japan – and the areas they had conquered, which did not produce new energy to spread the infection, but instead demanded resources to control.

In the case of the Society Union and Cold War, the reality is that we did both. We contained the Soviet Union’s attempts to control territory through overt military means by using our own overt military actions; and we contained their efforts to grow in influence through covert and ideological means by countering their covert moves and working hard to spread our own ideological roots.

I can’t believe that Ledeen thinks that the collapse of Communist Poland – unanswered, as opposed to Hungary and Czechoslovakia – would have happened without the Pole’s ideological infection from the West? Without rock music and Catholicism?

We will win this war by changing people’s minds and making Islamist terror an unattractive option. We’ll make it unattractive by raising its cost and lowering its effectiveness (which are military and civil defense issues), as well as by giving people the option of taking on other, less destructive belief structures.

I believe that we’re seeing the beginnings of a set of waves of terrorism, caused in some part by philosophical and ideological fractures here in the West. The Islamist wave is the first, and potentially the most dangerous, because the scale of action of the terrorists is amplified because they have states that will sponsor and succor them. Conventional and unconventional military action that has the goal of changing the minds of those states is a good thing, in my view, and is the major reason why I continue to support the decision to invade Iraq.

But military victory alone is hollow and ineffective in the kind of environment we’re in now, and for that, I’ll point to another example from history – Vietnam.

UPDATE: Even by Winds’ high standards, the reader comments are excellent.

On Defense Against Terrorism

One point I should make as I talk about Flight 327 and screening Arabs is that while I think that the Islamist jihadis are walking point, there are other anti-moderns who we will be dealing with in the near future as well. And they won’t be holding convenient-to-label foreign passports.

Kevin Drum posted this the other day:

WHO’S THE ANIMAL?….A British animal rights activist has called for the assassination of scientists working in biomedical research:
I don’t think you’d have to kill too many [researchers]. I think for five lives, 10 lives, 15 human lives, we could save a million, 2 million, 10 million non-human lives.

Charming as always, those animal rights folks….

Take a look at the comment stream on this post; substitute a few words, and we’re talking about Islamist terror instead. Have the PETA folks been stocking up on ANFO? Not yet…but when you’re moved by irrational passion and absolute, clear-eyed moral conviction, it’s not too far a step, once someone’s shown you the way.

We need an anti-terror regime that is generalizable, flexible, and somehow not oppressive. Otherwise, ten years from now when some home-grown animal-rights jihadi has killed 10,000 by contaminating meat as it leaves a packing plant, the Congressional commission will be talking about the ‘failure of imagination’ that led to this tragedy.

Yet Another Jacobsen Post

There has been a lot of interesting reaction to my (and others’) criticism of Anne Jacobsen’s story of terror on flight 327. I want to take a moment to set out what the critics seem to be saying (or what issues they are focusing on) and make sure that my replies are clear. I think that this opens a window into the central issues that will be facing us in the next year or so, politically and in terms of securing ourselves against the real threats of terrorism, so it’s worth taking some time and having a serious talk.

So let’s go through the issues.

First, and foremost, the general tenor of “We’re at war, dammit! The old rules of civility and political correctness are out!”

Um, actually, no we’re not.
Other than in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re in an armed conflict which we’re trying hard to win without turning it into a war, for the simple reason that as soon as it becomes a real war all kinds of really bad things will happen – to us as well as to the objects of our hostility. I’ll suggest going back to the founding 4th generation war document:

In broad terms, fourth generation warfare seems likely to be widely dispersed and largely undefined; the distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between “civilian” and “military” may disappear. Actions will occur concurrently throughout all participants’ depth, including their society as a cultural, not just a physical, entity.

We need to figure out how to live in a society where this is the case. And there’s a subtle conflict here – because winning the cultural conflict in which our openness and freedom are the powerful tools conflicts with the secrecy and control that are needed to face some of the military (or terroristic) threats.

This is, as the 9/11 commission correctly pointed out, a war where our values are as important as our weapons; we have to win on both fronts.

Second, visas and border control. There are conflicting reports over whether the Syrians overstayed their visas or not. There’s a series of questions about whether they should have been granted visas in the first place. I don’t think we’re nearly at a point yet where we’ll lock our borders to Arabs, and where we’ll start ‘processing’ Arab immigrants. There are, obviously a number of levels of action between doing nothing and that, and while I think a certain amount of TLC should be given to visitors from obvious states (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt as well as the gimmes of Iraq and Afghanistan), the problem is that we have limited resources and attention, and we have to choose where to spend it. When we devote total attention to tracking the whereabouts of visitors from one of those countries, we have less attention to spend on visitors from Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, etc. etc. And further, that by building impenetrable walls – or walls so high that no one bothers to come through them – we risk losing the other half of the war, the war of ideas.

Third, the issues of airport security. There’s a great scene in ‘Parenthood’ where a mother is looking at photos her teenage daughter has taken of herself having sex with her boyfriend. “There are just so many things wrong with this…” she says. I say that pretty much every time I fly. Airport security is just bad, and it’s frustrating to me that this is the case. Clearly, if what Patterico and other claim – that there is a de fact or de jure regulation prohibiting searching more then X Arab-appearing passengers, it’s idiocy. But it’s a small idiocy that’s a part of a much larger one we’re all living with today; and the question I’ll ask is how we will decide our priorities as we set out fixing our idiocies.

I believe that the core defense against hijacking today is a) that it’s fairly hard to get weapons or bombs onto planes (as it was pre-9/11); and b) passengers aren’t going to let anyone hijack a plane.

Or at least I believed that until I read Anne Jacobsens’ story (more on that in a bit).

So in terms of the two of the broad issues raised by Anne Jacobsen’s story (visa control and passenger screening) we’ve got three points to make:

1) it’s not clear what the visa status of the musicians was, and it’s far from clear that it matters. Fixing our systems so that no one overstayed a visa – or that no Arab overstayed a visa would be difficult if not impossible, and I’m unclear on the value that we’d receive.

2) it’s also not clear whether they went through secondary screening, and what advantage going through secondary screening really brings. Again, I’m so mental about what I perceive as the weakness of airport security that I want to get started…but in this specific case, let’s ask the question – how does Jacobsen or anyone else know what screening they went through when they entered the sterile area? It appears that they weren’t re-screened when they boarded the plane, but that’s a procedure of such limited usefulness (they took a kitchen knife from the restaurant!) that I can’t get exercised about it.

3) their behavior on the plane – wandering around, congregating – is exactly the behavior I’ve engaged in when traveling in groups and I’ve seen dozens of times while traveling. I won’t even get to the ‘Muslim prayer’ issues. Now I wasn’t there, and I’m judging what happened based on what she wrote – but the breathless prose and self-acknowledged terror make her an unreliable narrator at best.

So do I think we ought to do a closer scan on visitors and immigrants from threatening places? Hmmm. Maybe. A lot depends on what it will cost – what other measures won’t be done, and how it will effect our ability to ‘sell’ our society effectively. The problem is that – like the attacks themselves on 9/11 – it isn’t failures in our procedures that worry me, but failures in our doctrines.

Do I think that we ought to automatically do secondary searches on Arab men? No. And I don’t say that because I have dark skin and could be mistaken for an Arab. I’m not worried about their feelings; I’m worried that the resources it will take to do this are resources that we ought to be using more intelligently, rather than blindly. I’d rather that airport personnel took an extra minute with each passenger to do an Israeli-style interview than that we picked 2% of the passenger stream out, stripped them naked and ran fiber-optic probes into every orifice. Mainly because it might be the wrong 2%, and secondarily because (as above) we need to win the battle of ideas and we won’t do that once we indiscriminately treat every Arab as a proto-hijacker.

One of the things about the article that most set me off was her tone. I have a long history of taking bloggers and other people to task for this, because I believe, above all, that attitude and mindset drive performance.

And what does her mindset show?

She was scared in the beginning, got more scared in the middle, and was scared at the end. In between, the only thing she did to ensure her and her family’s safety was to share her alarm with the cabin crew.

What I would have looked for was some determination, some planning, some measure of critical thinking. And I didn’t see any of that…

We’ll win this thing with determination, planning, and critical thinking. When someone finds those in Anne Jacobsen’s work, let me know.

Some Interesting News From the Left

OK, here’s an article that explains why I keep reading the New York Times (you’ve seen Okrent’s column this week, right? – and if you don’t want to register, just cut-and paste the URL into Google or use this link):

Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, by Matt Bai

I met Rappaport, who is 46, in early June in his firm’s offices on Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley’s answer to Wall Street. As we talked in a plush conference room flanked by a sunlit terrace on one side and a pool table on the other, events in the world outside seemed to be tilting strongly in the Democrats’ favor. Public support for President Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq was dropping precipitously. The price of oil had shot up to $42 a barrel. Only hours earlier, voters in South Dakota sent a Democratic woman, Stephanie Herseth, to the U.S. House in a special election — a race widely viewed as a potential harbinger for November.

But if all of this made John Kerry a good bet to become the next president, it did nothing, in Rappaport’s view, to solve the Democrats’ underlying problems. When I asked if he was skeptical about the direction of the party, he smiled, then said dryly, ”If you’ve been able to discern a direction on which to be skeptical or optimistic, then you’re doing pretty well.”

In fact, Rappaport was surprisingly downcast about the party’s prospects, which, he said, would not be improved simply by winning back the White House. Though he sat and thought about it, he said he was unable to name a single Democratic leader in the years since Bill Clinton left Washington who he thought was articulating a compelling new direction for the party. ”There is a growing realization among people who take very seriously the importance of progressive politics that the Democratic Party has kind of failed to create a vision for the country that is strongly resonant,” he said. ”And our numbers” — meaning Democrats as a whole — ”are decreasing. Our political power has been diminishing, and it’s become common knowledge that the conservative movement has established a very strong, long-term foundation, whereas we’ve basically allowed our foundation, if not to crumble, to at least fall into a state of disrepair. So there are a lot of people thinking, What can we do about this?”

Actually, Rappaport says he may be on to an answer.

That answer – an effort to build a network of Democratic think tanks, and to try and come up with some kind of a meaningful Democratic ideological core – something other than ‘pro-woman, pro-black, pro-union, pro-trial lawyer’ – may be the best news I’ve seen all month.

Read the whole thing, I’ll be writing up something extensive in response by tomorrow night.

“We Don’t Freak Out In Situations Like This.” Chill Pill, Anne?

OK, who was the threat?

LOS ANGELES | July 22, 2004 – Undercover federal air marshals on board a June 29 Northwest airlines flight from Detroit to LAX identified themselves after a passenger, “overreacted,” to a group of middle-eastern men on board, federal officials and sources have told KFI NEWS.

The passenger, later identified as Annie Jacobsen, was in danger of panicking other passengers and creating a larger problem on the plane, according to a source close to the secretive federal protective service.

(hat tip Patterico)

Read the whole thing.And I’ll go back to my earlier comment about

Similarly, there are two competing narratives we can construct out of Jacobsen’s story.

On one hand, a dry run or failed mission by a group of terrorists, as she suggests.

On the other, a group of foreign musicians, already somewhat out of place, being bad-vibed beyond belief by the rest of the passengers, and so acting with a less-then affable demeanor, and doing what I’ve done in the past when flying with large groups of people, which is to walk around and congregate so we can chat.

What makes me anxious is the level of blind fear and rage that this story provoked. Comments like “eject them midair” were made, which makes me worry both out of concern for the innocent (except of being Middle Eastern) who will be affected by this (and I’ll note, whose opinions of the West will be lowered) but because when we start acting out of unthinking rage, we risk losing the fight.

I’ll refer readers back to this post:

…in the actual conflict, in the actual decision to fight and fighting, I’ll take Cooper’s ‘concentration’ and Musashi’s ‘settled yet unbiased’ spirit. Showing anger – standing in front of the enemy or potential enemy, and frothing at the mouth in rage – does two bad things. First, it helps create a fight where it might have been possible to avoid one. And second, if your enemy is at all strong, it shows weakness.

Update: I forgot to include the best quote from the article at all…in fact, I think it’s so good it ought to be a national motto:

“We don’t freak out in situations like this,” the air marshal responded.

I’ll buy that guy a beer anytime.

“We Don’t Freak Out In Situations Like This.” You betcha.

We The People … Snap Pictures

Donovan Janus, the Dutch programming god behind Exposure Manager (disclosure: I have an interest in the business) has created two galleries to consolidate the “Citizen’s Media” view of the election and of the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One, going live today, is “www.electionphotos04.com” a photo gallery of images from the bloggers covering the conventions and campaigns. It’s a free service which we’re offering to try and encourage those taking photos of the campaigns to publish their images. A RSS feed will be available at (www.electionphotos04.com/rss.xml).

The other, going live late next week, will be “www.photosfromiraq.com“, which is actually for pictures from serving military in both Iraq and Afghanistan (“picturesfromiraqandafghanistan.com” gave me carpal tunnel just thinking about it). Again, the goal is to provide a broader view of what’s going on there than the “if it bleeds it leads” coverage we get from the mainstream media. Similarly, a RSS feed will be available.

More as things develop (as they say).