Carter and Frum

I consider Phil Carter one of the two or three smartest people blogging about foreign and military affairs. So I’m completely puzzled at this:

Update V: David Frum, a former Bush Administration speech writer who now pens a ‘blog for the National Review, has an interesting take on the Clarke allegations from the perspective of someone who served in the same GWB West Wing.
bq.. “I have yet to read his book, but I have studied his interview, and I think I understand his argument.

Clarke seems to have become so enwrapped in the technical problems of terrorism that he has lost sight of its inescapably political context. One reason that his line of argument did not get the hearing in the Bush administration that he would have wished was that he did tend to present counter-terrorism as a discrete series of investigations and apprehensions: an endless game of terrorist whack-a-mole.

The Bush administration thought in bigger and bolder terms than that. They favored grand strategies over file management. Clarke may have thought that he was dramatizing his case by severing the threat from al Qaeda from its context in the political and economic failures of the Arab and Islamic world.

Instead, his way of presenting his concerns seems to have had the perverse effect of making the terrorist issue look small and secondary – of deflating rather than underscoring its importance.

And this propensity continues.

The huge dividing line in the debate over terror remains just this: Is the United States engaged in a man-hunt – for bin Laden, for Zawahiri, for the surviving alumni of the al Qaeda training camps? – or is it engaged in a war with the ideas that animated those people and with the new generations of killers who will take up the terrorist mission even if the US were to succeed in extirpating every single terrorist now known to be alive and active? Clarke has aligned himself with one side of that debate – and it’s the wrong side.

p. What’s Mr. Frum saying? Is he saying that Mr. Clarke’s allegations were right, but that he just wasn’t articulate enough to sell his agenda to the President? Is Mr. Frum, who was part of the White House political apparatus, saying that Mr. Clarke’s real failures were political — not factual? Did the Bush Administration really ignore a national security threat because one of its advisors couldn’t find a way to sell the problem politically? If true, this statement by Mr. Frum is a damning indictment of the entire White House and National Security Council, and it indicates a near-total breakdown of the national security process. The idea behind the NSC staff, intelligence community, Joint Chiefs, and all the other systems in the national security process is to professionalize the decisions of the President in this area — not to politicize them. Now comes Mr. Frum, saying essentially that the White House ignored its in-house expert on terrorism because he couldn’t package it well enough.

No, Phil, that’s not it. What Frum is saying is pretty obvious, and echoes what a lot of folks (including me) have been saying; that the notion that 9/11 was caused by an isolated group of bad actors – and that the appropriate response is to capture (or kill) that select group of bad actors – is just wrong. It’s the doctrine that the Clinton team followed pre 9/11, and which they executed pretty darn well.

It was wrong.

Frum is arguing that the alternative to ‘whack a mole’ is to unplug the mechanism which keeps popping moles up, and that to do that, you have to change state behavior – a political act and a political decision. Clarke isn’t being criticized for not playing office politics enough in selling his message, he’s being criticized for selling a message which ignored the geopolitics of what is going on.

I can’t believe that Phil doesn’t see that (note that this doesn’t suggest that he necessarily has to agree with it, just that he’s busting Frum for making a different argument than he’s actually making).

It’s All About Guns This Morning

First, here in reality, a good friend is moving and asked me to store his firearms until he gets a safe set up in his new home. That seems to me to be a good hook to use to remind everyone who owns guns that you are responsible for your firearms. Leaving them lying around the house unsecured means that your child, a visitors child, or the local teenage burglar could wind up with it – with consequences you really don’t want to think about. Years ago, I had a handgun stolen from my car by parking valets, and while I called the police on the spot, it was never recovered. To this day, I worry about what happened to it, and what it was used for. And I no longer have weapons that are not under my direct personal control or behind a meaningful lock.

There are rapid-access safes for handguns and long guns that make your firearm as easy to get to as pulling it from a drawer. There’s really no excuse not to secure firearms

I take this tack because I believe that owning firearms here in the U.S. is a right – but like all rights, it comes inextricably bound with responsibilities. You can’t have one – a right – without the other – a responsibility, and yet for some reason I keep running into people who believe that you can.
One responsibility those who own weapons have is to use them responsibly. The recent case cited by Instapundit and Kim du Toit, among others, in which a British citizen was jailed for killing a home-invader with a sword is a good one to start with. It turns out that the stabber was a drug dealer and stabbed the stabee in the back. Kim thinks this is righteous.

Let me make my position on this perfectly clear. I know what the law says about self-defense on one’s property, and as far as I’m concerned, the law is an ass.

If a goblin invades your property, he should be fair game, whether he’s coming or going. End of story. I don’t care if he “no longer poses a threat” or similar bleeding-heart bullshit.

Sorry, Kim, that’s equally bullshit. This is an endless topic of discussion within the gun community, with a substantial group taking Kim’s position – Shoot, Shovel, Shut Up – and a larger group, I believe taking mine.

I come to my position very simply; I’ve talked and trained with a number of people who have Seen The Elephant; who have shot others as a LEO or soldier. These range from situations in which they were SWAT snipers, who shot hostage-takers in a bank robbery to sudden, brutal street shootouts.

Not one of them – not a single one – would take Kim’s position. None of them are twitching psych basket cases, paralyzed by post-traumatic stress. None of them would hesitate to do it again, if called on. But every one of them wishes it had worked out another way. It’s simple, not one of them would shoot a burglar holding his VCR simply for being in his home.

So in a question of moral, rather than practical, judgment, I’ll go with the people who have experience.

Note that there’s an interesting distinction to draw between what I think is OK for states to do and what I don’t think it’s OK for individuals within a state to do. A later post…

Now, remember that I’m the guy who thinks that owning weapons isn’t only a right, but a bit of a moral imperative.

2) It is moral. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that people who eat meat and have never killed anything are morally suspect. Some creature gave its life for the chicken Andouille sausages in the pasta sauce I made tonight. Pork chops and salmon don’t start out wrapped in plastic on the grocery shelf. I have hunted deer, wild pigs, and birds, and I can say with certainty (and I imagine anyone else who hunts can say) that it fundamentally changed the way I look both at my food and at animals in the world. I respect the death that made my dinner possible in a way I never would have had an animal not died at my own hand.

When I have a gun in my possession, I am suddenly both more aware of my environment, and more careful and responsible for my actions in it. People who I know who carry guns daily talk about how well-behaved they are how polite they suddenly become. Heinlein wrote that “an armed society is a polite society”, and while in truth I cannot make a causal connection, when you look at societies where the codes of manners were complex and strong, from medieval Europe or Japan to Edwardian England, there was a wide distribution of weapons.

I know several people who are either highly skilled martial artists or highly skilled firearms trainers, and in both groups there is an interesting correlation between competence (hence dangerousness) and a kind of calm civility … the opposite of the “armed brute” image that some would attempt to use to portray a dangerous man or woman.

And in light of that, I’ll echo Kim’s endorsement of Aaron The Liberal Slayer‘s (not this liberal, buddy…) suggestion that April 15 be termed ‘Buy A Gun Day’. Note that unlike Kim, I’m not asking for donations to buy a different gun – I’m all handgunned up (I shoot Glocks these days), and am a firm believer in Jeff Cooper’s adage ‘Beware the man who owns only one gun…he can probably use it.

And if you can’t buy a gun, let me suggest ‘Take An Unarmed Liberal Shooting Day‘ as a fallback. Either one ought to sufficiently get Michael Moore’s baggy drawers in a knot.

Grand Strategy

Lots of discussion of Grand Strategy today, triggered in large part by the killing of Sheikh Yassin, the Clarke book, and the 9/11 Commission testimony.

I think that this discussion is a good thing; I don’t think we discussed these things enough, or were explicit enough, and that it cost us.

And I’ll note that Robert Tagorda, and the Oxblog-derived Nathan Hale society are having a meeting Sunday night here in Los Angeles that I’m going to try and attend.

Two posts, one from Matt Yglesias, and one from Kevin Drum (at his new big-journalism home) touch on related issues.Matthew writes:

I wouldn’t want to deny “that remaking Iraq is a vital part of the war on terror because it will help to remake the Middle East, terrorism’s primary source” and that, in this sense, the second Gulf War is a part of the war on terror. Rather, I would want to deny some of the following:

* It was important to invade in 2003, rather than devoting additional resources to nation-building in Afghanistan and direct anti-Qaeda efforts, leaving the Iraq issue for a later day.

* It is likely today (or was likely based on the evidence available in 2003) that a Bush-led invasion of Iraq will lead to the emergence of a stable, democratic Iraq.

One could go on. The general point I would like to make — Daniel Davies’ “anti this war now left” idea — is this. There are policies that fit under the general heading “invade Iraq” and, especially, “promote Middle East transformation” that I would be happy to support. It does not follow, however, that I should support any policy that parades under the banner “invade Iraq to promote Middle East transformation.” In particular, I don’t believe that the actual policies Bush has been implementing are likely to achieve this goal. My dispute with the administration, therefore, is a somewhat narrow one, not a grand clash of ideas.

It’s interesting to me, because while I’ve read him as antiwar, I’ve felt that – like me – he started out wobbling on the fence on it through 2002. But he fell off on the other side and, I think, has consistently taken a fairly dark view of the decision to invade and the management of the aftermath.

What’s interesting to me is that he’s skating close to what I have wondered about for a while – the position that the war would have been OK if only it hadn’t been prosecuted by Bush.

I’m not sure if this is foreign policy insight, legitimate criticism of real missteps, or a simple unflinching partisanship which can’t acknowledge that the other side could do anything right. And that distinction matters, because if I could unpack it, I think I’d have a greater level of comfort in much of the debate I’m hearing around our current state of affairs.

Then Kevin Drum takes off from a discussion on Israel’s decision to kill the Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin and raises a question:

For anyone who’s serious about this stuff, these questions deserve an answer:

* Is it enough to simply build up homeland defenses and hunt down terrorist leaders? This is essentially what Sharon is doing.

* Or is it necessary to also have a grander strategy of engaging the hearts and minds of the Arab world and spreading democracy? This is (allegedly) the strategy of the Bush administration.

I’m not sure you can have it both ways. If hunting down terrorists is enough, then Sharon is doing the right thing and Bush deserves criticism for wasting time in an unnecessary Iraqi adventure. But if long term success requires a serious effort to spread democracy and change local attitudes, then Bush’s approach is defensible while Sharon is doomed to failure.

The United States is bigger than Israel, so the scope of our operations will naturally be bigger. But within our respective spheres, I have to believe that we’re dealing with roughly the same problem and roughly the same kind of people. So what’s the right strategy? Who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong?

I think Kevin is asking the wrong question. There’s not a chance in hell that Israel could ‘remake’ the Middle East, except by leaving, or by nuking the Arab states – neither of which, fortunately, seems like a plausible option right now. The U.S., on the other hand, has a plausible chance to (note the element of risk and probability).

Israel and the U.S. face substantially different manifestations of the same problem. Solving our problem can also solve Israel’s. Solving Israel’s problem could go some ways toward solving ours, but wouldn’t, because the anti-Western ‘rage of the oppressed’ would still be there. The key is to start them down a road that makes them less oppressed.

My support for Bush’s policies to date comes from my belief (not rising to certainty, by any means) that this was and is the only path that gets us from here to there. I’m open to hearing other suggestions, but, to be honest, haven’t yet.

Drezner on Clarke

Go read Daniel Drezner on Richard Clarke, one of the most sensible commentaries on the subject that I’ve seen. Two key quotes:

So, does Clarke have a personal incentive to stick it to this administration? Absolutely. Does he know what he’s talking about? Absolutely. Can what he says can be ignored? Absolutely not.


55 years ago, George Kennan and Paul Nitze had different positions on how to wage a containment policy, with Nitze taking a much more aggressive posture in NSC-68 than Kennan did in “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” I’m not sure that it’s ever been decided which position was right. The same will likely be true of current debates.

Update: The Washington Post has a good editorial on this as well. Here’s a key quote…

Mr. Clarke describes Mr. Bush’s questions about a possible Iraqi role on the day after the Sept. 11 attacks as irrational; in fact, they were entirely reasonable. Iraq was an indisputable threat when Mr. Bush took office — one, like al Qaeda, that the Clinton administration had aptly described but failed to counter. Moreover, within days of asking those questions, Mr. Bush put Saddam Hussein on a back burner and ordered a U.S. military operation against al Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan — a tough decision that Mr. Clarke wrongly takes for granted.

What the former czar really objects to is the president’s move, some six months later, to expand the war on terrorism to Iraq and other rogue states capable of supplying terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Clarke, like Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and some others in the Democratic Party, argue for a narrower war, focused on al Qaeda. We disagree with that view, but it represents a legitimate alternative to Bush administration policy. Does Mr. Kerry support it? There — more than in the what-ifs about decisions made before Sept. 11 — lie the makings of an important debate.

What they said.


Out the door to a dinner, but here’s something to pass up the food chain.

Roadracing World, a motorcycle roadracing magazine and website I read regularly, intermittently publishes letters from riders and racers stationed over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here’s an excerpt from one published today:

My former NCOIC was severely injured in a terrible roadside bomb yesterday. He was in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle commander’s hatch when it exploded and some shrapnel hit him in the back of the neck. Luckily the convoy he was in was right next to a U.S. base so they managed to air-evacuate him almost immediately. He spent about 6 hours in surgery and they almost declared him dead twice. They finally managed to stabilize him but they weren’t showing any brain activity. So basically they thought he had brain stem damage. But this morning he was doing better and they are putting him under observation for 2 days to see if the swelling in his brain goes down before they try to evacuate him to Germany. My soldiers are pretty upset. He is now the 3rd soldier that I personally know who has been killed or severely injured here. He had a month left to go–he has a wife and 3 kids back in Germany. We are all just praying for his recovery.

The other bad news is that for some reason the stupid idiots at the Corps level JAG are deciding to clean out the jails here in Iraq. Well, instead of letting out the low-level weapons violators they are letting out the terrorists that are involved in putting out these roadside bombs–because they claim that we don’t have enough evidence against them. In the last two weeks three major figures in the main bad guy group here have gotten out–and we have already seen the results as one of our unit’s informants has already been assassinated. So it seems like everything we have worked for for the last year and the 13 deaths our unit has sustained has been for nothing. We are all pretty discouraged.

If the latter is true, than someone needs to get hammered. We’re still at war, and to the extent that the JAG staff is applying peacetime public-defender standards (and remember, I’m the pro-defense attorney liberal) there’s something seriously wrong.

If anyone knows more about this, I’d love to hear about it.

Pity and Parody

A bunch of people have commented on a terminally silly and self-indulgent article in Salon (which used to be good, by the way, and iconoclastic and surprising), so I sat through the lame Flash ad and read it.

It’s about an author who is unhappy that her books aren’t stacked fifteen deep at airport bookstores (and, by entension, the covers hung on the walls of her place in the Hamptons). Here’s the miserable pittance she earned from writing:

* 1994 – $150,000
* 1997 – She doesn’t say what she got for the celebrity bio she ghostwrote, but friends put these kinds of assignments at about $50,000 – $100,000, so call it $50,000
* 1998 – $10,000
* 2002 – $80,000That’s $290,000 over 10 years – $29K/year, plus a book she thinks she could sell for $50,000, bringing her to $340,000 over 10 years or $34K/year.

In 2002, the median household income in the United States was $42,400. So by writing (assuming the lowest likely sale for the biography and that she sells the current book), she made 80% of the median household income.

Don’t know about you, but that’s pretty good. She’s doing somethng that she loves, actualizes herself, and making a decent living doing it.

But from reading the pity party she wrote for herself, you wouldn’t know it.

Why do I care, you may ask.

For two reasons, one slight and personal and one large and public.

Personally, I know and am friends with about ten people who are or aspire to be writers. I’d bitch-slap any one of them that wrote something this sullen and self-pitying, and consider myself a good friend for doing so.

Publicly, I’ve said all along that we are in a contest that will determine the future of our society. And for me, the kind of corrosive self-pity and anomie that comes with it are a far bigger risk than a bunch of frustrated mullahs with Semtex vests. Because if that attitude wins – anticipating the ‘beautiful destruction’ that is the anodyne to wallowing in negative, hopeless regard of one’s life – the mullahs just have to walk in and they’ll win.

Pruning the ‘Antiwar’ Movement

UPDATE: Citizen Smash went to the antiwar demonstrations in San Diego, and filed quite a report. He even interviewed one of the speakers. Go check him out, view this picture, and then read the site linked below…

Here’s some interesting reading from an antiwar Brit who’s disgusted with the antiwar movement and wants it fixed. (Hat Tip to the always excellent Harry’s Place). Essays include, in order:

# A Personal Journey Through the Stop the War Coalition
# Unholy Alliances: The Stop the War Coalition, the Extreme Left and Islamic Fundamentalism
# Sinning by Omission: The Stop the War Coalition and Palestine
# Playing Pontius Pilate: Why Shouting “End the Occupation” Isn’t Helpful
# Stop the War Coalition Rehab: A 7-Step Programme
# Further Online Reading

I’ve read lots of very similar things about our domestic antiwar movement – and seen them myself in some of the older “New Left” era.

In case people wonder why I – a pro-war liberal – would want to see a healthier antiwar movement, the answer’s simple. I don’t think I have a monopoly on truth, and constructive, intelligent dialog is needed to help us all constantly review and check our perceptions of events and the world. I think we need a real debate – because when we have one, we’ll begin to be able to build a common framework from which we can act as a nation and a culture.

We’re a long way from there today.

See You In The Funny Papers

Look. I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’m desperately trying to get a handle on this election, as I weigh Bush’s foreign policy – which is a lot closer to my beliefs than what I’ve heard from Kerry to date – against his damaging domestic policies.

I’m actually working on the question of what Kerry could say that would convince me – I’m drafting the speech and will put it up here sometime this week.

Now go over and click on today’s Doonesbury, if you haven’t seen it in the paper yet.Look, Trudeau stopped being funny or truly sharp about five or ten years ago. He now takes a cleaver to large and obvious targets, but instead of speaking ‘truth to power’ and looking at the deep problems with the powerful classes that lead our society, he’s joined them in the Hamptons, and is standing there, aperitif in hand, chatting with Babs and skewering Bush – which doubtless makes him feel in touch with his rebellious youth.

In this specific case, it would have been nice to note that Kerry also asked for and received an early discharge from the Navy so he could run for Congress.

Garry, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. It’d be nice to see that self-awareness reflected in your work somewhere.

And to the editors of the Los Angeles Times (click here to email Jamie Gold, the reader’s representative): Could we think about moving it to the editorial pages until the election is over? I’m having a hard time explaining to my seven-year old that things aren’t quite so black-and-white as far as the election is concerned. Actually, could we just retire it honorably and find some new talent?

There’s No Place Like Home

So we’re back from our trip, a few pounds heavier, a lot poorer (time to go get some consulting work!!), and very pleased with the world around us.

We rode motorcycles up to Paso Robles, CA, which has become a center for food and wine since I last looked; we stayed in a superb, romantic B & B with three guest rooms, and while we were there had a rather shocking experience….at breakfast in the B & B yesterday, one of the other two couples staying there was chatting w/us; they are from Sunnyvale; we told them we got married Sat, bla, bla bla, at [secret location redacted], bla bla bla…the woman looks sharply at TG and asks “Were you wearing a gray-blue dress?” TG goes “Um, yes, why?”

She & I are both thinking the woman wondered if TG had chosen it to match the hall. Woman goes on. “And it was all beaded, right?” At this point, I’m looking back and forth between TG and the woman wondering if there is some joke being played that I don’t get yet. “Yes,” TG replies, and I realize she’s as puzzled as I am.

“We saw you right after you got married!! You were standing around with a bunch of people!!” The woman exclaims. Her son was taking her touring in LA, so they wandered up into the garden where we had just been married… So where do you buy LOTTO tickets, again??

Here are some good things that we found while we were there:



Pinot Noir – that’s all they make…We had the 2001, which is just incredible. We joined their wine club, and are looking forward to getting their stuff over the year.

Castoro Cellars

Vente Anni blend…a BIG wine.

Barbara 2001. Just good red wine.

Bonny Doon

Fellow Slug Randall Grahm works had to be irreverent and amusing, and also works hard to make interesting wine. Hie ‘Big House Red’ is one of our major dinner wines at our house.

We stopped by their Paso Robles tasting room (a 2.6 mile walk from our B & B – we don’t drink and ride, and we like to walk), and had some cool stuff. The California Viognier, the Cigare A – all good stuff. But the dessert infusions are just amazing. Vanilla ice cream, some chocolate, this stuff, and life is just plain good.

We ate well, too.

Dinner at McPhee’s Grill, Buono Tavola, and Kelly’s …

OK, back to it…