Saturday, September 30, 2006

Should Gays "Own" the HIV Virus?

Today's Los Angeles Times reports that a prominent local gay advocacy group has backed a controversial advertising campaign, suggesting that the most effective way to continue the battle against AIDS is for gays to embrace the disease as a gay thing:

For 20 years, gay men have vigorously fought the contention that HIV is a disease of homosexuals.

But now, one of Southern California's most influential gay institutions has embarked on a controversial ad campaign with this stark declaration: "HIV is a gay disease."

With that message and the tag line "Own It. End It" on billboards and in magazines, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center says it is trying to reach legions of gay men who have become complacent about HIV and AIDS.

The campaign is an abrupt departure from the years of hard politicking against the idea of AIDS as a gay plague, a characterization that many — including the Gay & Lesbian Center — had argued marginalized victims and made it hard to reach others who were at risk, including thousands of minority women who have become infected in recent years.

The ads have stunned some in the gay community and the AIDS services world, who recall the early years of the epidemic, when anti-gay clergy railed against the condition and little money was available for research or prevention.

Some AIDS counselors worry that the campaign could further stigmatize the disease, making women and heterosexual men less likely to come forward.

So much attention is being paid to minority women and others who are at risk that gay men — who still make up the majority of those infected in the United States and Western Europe — have developed a false sense of security, backers of the ads say.

The problem of AIDS apathy among gay and bisexual men is of particular concern on the West Coast, public health officials say, where the overwhelming majority of HIV transmission is among men engaging in sex with other men.
The Gay & Lesbian Center's campaign has polarized local activists and health officials. Apparently, the group's push for more gay ownership of AIDS comes at a time when "gay and bisexual men account for just 45% to 50% of recent HIV transmissions, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta."

The article reports that the trend among medical professionals has been to promote outreach among all groups, and the CDC came out last week with a proposal calling for HIV testing among all adolescents and adults.

This is an interesting discussion, addressing an area of health policy that might seem less urgent than was the case just a few years back.

The Washington Post ran
a 25-year anniversary special report on the AIDS crisis in June. For my earlier post on the gay marriage push, addressing how the effort to redefine marriage works to erode the historic legacy of the civil rights movement, click here.

Condoleezza Rice and the Long View on Terrorism

This morning's Wall Street Journal has an interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Interviewer Bret Stephens provides background analysis, and suggest that Secretary Rice is much too gradual in her approach to the terrorist challenge. The discussion of Iran demonstrates the point:

During another point in the conversation, she observes that the Soviet Union tested an atomic bomb five years before the West thought they would have one. This raises the question of whether the West can afford to take its time with Iran. "Well, the problem is of course that you never know what you don't know," she says.

But that sits somewhat incongruously with her broader approach to the Iranian challenge. "The international system will agree on a level of pressure. I think it will evolve over time." She opposes measures such as barring Iranians from international sports events or a gasoline embargo (to which Iran is particularly vulnerable, since it imports 40% of its refined gas), because of their "bad effect on the Iranian people." Instead, she stresses the benefits of a consensual, U.N.-centered approach, says the Europeans have been "very strong on this," and adds that she's had "very good discussions" with the Chinese and the Russians about what a sanctions resolution would look like if the Iranians don't suspend enrichment. She thinks even a comparatively weak resolution would have "collateral effects on the willingness of private companies, private banks, to do business with Iran." She hopes it will have an effect on Iranian officials who "do not want to endure the kind of isolation that they're headed toward." Do these people even exist? "I do not believe we're going to find Iranian moderates," she says. "The question is, are we going to find Iranian reasonables?"

That's an interesting way of framing the matter, although perhaps not quite in the way Ms. Rice intends. There are, in fact, Iranian moderates: They are the 80% of the people who oppose the regime. The House has just approved the Iran Freedom Act, which says the U.S. should "support peaceful pro-democracy forces in Iran," and mirrors the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act that became a precursor to regime change there. President Bush used the occasion of his speech to the U.N. General Assembly to speak directly to the Iranian people, telling them "the greatest obstacle to [your] future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons." The State Department itself has increased its budget for supporting Voice of America radio and TV broadcasts in Farsi. What's telling is that Ms. Rice mentions none of this: Her primary method for dealing with the Iranian regime, it seems, is to deal with the regime, not to seek to change it.
Stephens is correct to dismiss Rice's "State Department" approach to Iran (carrots, more, carrots), although considering the animosity engendered around the world by the administration's assertive foreign policy, a diplomatic approach on key issues may actually gain the U.S. favor in elite foreign policy circles (where many, I'm sure, are hoping for a Democrat in the White House in 2008).

Early in the interview, Stephens mentions that Secretary Rice has consistently denied rumors that she'll be a candidate for president in 2008. Rice indicates that she's excited to return to Stanford, where she was a professor of political science and academic provost before joining the Bush administration. I'm interested to see how her return to the academic world goes.

It might be rocky, if her reentry ends up being anything like Larry Summers' at Harvard, although Summers lacked the diplomatic approach for which Rice is known (maybe gradualism, in Rice's case, will work better in the halls of academe than in government -- or maybe Summers could have been more gradual at Harvard).

No Denying Party Differences on Security Issue

William Kristol's got a great piece in this week's Weekly Standard on party differences and the stakes in the terror war:

"Americans face the choice between two parties with two different attitudes on this war on terror." --George W. Bush, September 28, 2006

President Bush is right. It would be nice if he weren't. The country would be better off if there were bipartisan agreement on what is at stake in the struggle against jihadist Islam. But despite areas of consensus, there is still a fundamental difference between the parties. Bush and the Republicans know we are in a serious war. It's not the Bush administration that is in a "State of Denial" (as the new Bob Woodward book has it). It's the Democrats.

Consider developments over the last week. Democrats hyped last Sunday's news stories breathlessly reporting on one judgment from April's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)--that the war in Iraq has created more terrorists. More than would otherwise have been created if Saddam were still in power? Who knows? The NIE seems not even to have contemplated how many terrorists might have been created by our backing down, by Saddam's remaining in power to sponsor and inspire terror, and the like. (To read the sections of the NIE subsequently released is to despair about the quality of our intelligence agencies. But that's another story.) In any case, the NIE also made the obvious points that, going forward, "perceived jihadist success [in Iraq] would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere," while jihadist failure in Iraq would inspire "fewer fighters . . . to carry on the fight."

What is the Democratic response to these latter judgments? Silence. The left wing of the party continues to insist on withdrawal now. The center of the party wants withdrawal on a vaguer timetable.

Bush, on other hand, understands that the only acceptable exit strategy is victory. (If, as Woodward reports, he's been bolstered in that view by Henry Kissinger, then good for Henry. Invite him to the Oval Office more often!) To that end, Bush should do more. He should send substantially more troops and insist on a change of strategy to allow a real counterinsurgency and prevent civil war. But at least he's staying and fighting. And the great majority of Republicans are standing with him. The Democrats, as Bush has put it, "offer nothing but criticism and obstruction, and endless second-guessing. The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut-and-run."

So there really is a profound difference between the parties, as Democrats are happy to acknowledge, since they think Iraq is a winning issue for them. The Democratic talking point is this: We're against Bush on Iraq, but we are as resolute as Bush in the real war on terror (understood by them to exclude Iraq). Except that they're not.

That's why last week's votes in Congress on the detainees legislation were so significant. The legislation had nothing to do with Iraq. It was a "pure" war-on-terror vote. And the parties split. Three-quarters of the Democrats in the House and Senate stood with the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union for more rights for al Qaeda detainees, and against legislation supported by the Bush administration (as well as by John McCain and Joe Lieberman). Some Democrats in competitive races--such as Rep. Harold Ford, running for the Senate in Tennessee--supported the legislation. But it remains the case that a vote for Democrats is a vote for congressional leaders committed to kinder and gentler treatment of terrorists.
Read the whole thing. The Democrats know they're weaker on the terror issue -- that's why they've been humping on the NIE report and any other shred of negative spin they can find, hoping to salvage their chances of taking control of Congress in November.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Clear Thinking About Clinton and the Terror Threat

Former President Bill Clinton's outburst on Fox News last Sunday has pretty much been the political play of the week. Ann Althouse's comments on Clinton's eruption noted how frumpy the former president looked (this was before I saw excerpts from the Chris Wallace interview, and she made a good point, especially considering Clinton's hiked-up trousers).

Today, though,
E.J. Dionne's got an interesting defense of Clinton up at Real Clear Politics, suggesting that Clinton did what Democrats need to do: redirect the debate about history and progress on the terror war:

Bill Clinton's eruption on Fox News last weekend over questions about his administration's handling of terrorism was a long time coming and has political implications that go beyond this fall's elections.

By choosing to intervene in the terror debate in a way that no one could miss, Clinton forced an argument about the past that had, up to now, been largely a one-sided propaganda war waged by the right. The conservative movement understands the political value of controlling the interpretation of history. Now, their control is finally being contested.

How long have Clinton's resentments been simmering? We remember the period immediately after Sept. 11 as a time of national unity in which partisanship melted away. That is largely true, especially because Democrats rallied behind President Bush. For months following the attacks, Democrats did not raise questions about why they had happened on Bush's watch.

But not everyone was nonpartisan. On Oct. 4, 2001, a mere three weeks and a couple of days after the towers fell and the Pentagon was hit, there was Rush Limbaugh arguing on The Wall Street Journal's op-ed page: "If we're serious about avoiding past mistakes and improving national security, we can't duck some serious questions about Mr. Clinton's presidency''

To this day, I remain astonished at Limbaugh's gall -- and at his shrewdness. Republicans were arguing simultaneously that it was treasonous finger-pointing to question what Bush did or failed to do to prevent the attacks, but patriotic to go after Clinton. Thus did they build up a mythology that cast Bush as the tough hero in confronting the terrorist threat and Clinton as the shirker. Bad history. Smart politics....

And so Clinton exploded. My canvassing of Clinton insiders suggests two things about his Fox News outburst. First, he did not go into the studio knowing he would do it. There was, they say, a spontaneity to his anger. But, second, he had thought long and hard about comparisons between his record on terrorism and Bush's. He had his lines down pat from private musing about how he had been turned into a punching bag by the right. Something like this, one adviser said, was bound to happen eventually.

Sober moderate opinion will say what sober moderate opinion always says about an episode of this sort: Tut tut, Clinton looked un-presidential, we should worry about the future, not the past, blah, blah, blah.

But sober moderate opinion was largely silent as the right wing slashed and distorted Clinton's record on terrorism. It largely stood by as the Bush administration tried to intimidate its own critics into silence. As a result, the day-to-day political conversation was tilted toward a distorted view of the past. All the sins of omission and commission were piled onto Clinton while Bush was cast as the nation's angelic avenger. And as conservatives understand, our view of the past greatly influences what we do in the present.

A genuinely sober and moderate view would recognize that it's time the scales of history were righted. Propagandistic accounts need to be challenged, systematically and consistently. The debate needed a very hard shove. Clinton delivered it.

A genuinely sober view of the Clinton anti-terror record was provided earlier in the week by Ed Morrisey over at Captain's Quarters:

For five years, we have rehashed this long and embarrassing history of American cluelessness. It is a bipartisan history, with both Republicans and Democrats arguing at various times that administrations used terrorism as an excuse for their political benefit. All it does is poison the atmosphere and allow hyperpartisans to play gotcha games with political opponents.

The time has come -- it has long since come -- for that history to become just that: history. None of us can pretend that Bill Clinton could ever have declared war on al-Qaeda in the manner Bush did without having a 9/11-type event as a catalyst. Not only would the Left have screamed much as they do now, albeit without the Hugo Chavez-type conspiratorial thinking, Republicans would have never given Clinton the kind of support needed to send American troops into Afghanistan. The political climate had been thoroughly poisoned by the time of the African bombings and Congress would never have put aside its deathmatch with Clinton to unite in a war effort, especially against a band of terrorists most Americans didn't know existed.

All of this is prologue to 9/11, and none of the debate changes the fact that two decades of leadership dropped the ball on the rise of Islamist terrorism. Blaming one without blaming them all has solved nothing and teaches nothing. More to the point, it divides the nation for no purpose, and five years after 9/11, it's time we stopped allowing it.

We have all the investigations and tell-all books we will ever need. We have all formed our opinions. None of us will have them changed at this point. What we need to discuss now is what we do from here, a much more pressing debate that has actual real-world consequences, and we can't have that debate successfully until we stop the useless sniping about pre-9/11 failures.
While admirable, I don't know if I completely agree with Morissey, for the more I think of it -- considering all the media attention to the pre-Bush terror fight as of late -- it's a good thing the Clinton administration has come under fire. The United States missed the chance to decaptitate al Qaeda under Clinton's watch. President Bush has got the military, political, and legal momentum heading in the right direction. We have taken the fight to the terrorists, and we haven't had an attack on American soil since 2001. Bush has made lots of mistakes, but now at least some of the blame-gaming is apportioning attacks to both the left and right. There's a partisanship to this war that is not healthy, I agree, but until both sides commit to a bipartisan truce (in foreign policy politics stops at the water's edge?), the Republicans need to stay on the political offensive.

The Dangers of "Post Anti-Semitism"

Victor Hanson warned against the dangers of "post anti-Semitism" in an essay yesterday at Real Clear Politics. Hanson notes that anti-Semitism dates back to the Roman Empire, and that after World War II anti-Semitic rantings were directed at successful Jews in the West. But there's a new anti-Jewish trend today, which mixes violent, anti-Semitic Islamic radicalism and Western indifference to it:

Those who randomly shoot Jews for being Jews - whether at a Jewish center in Seattle or at synagogues in Istanbul - are for the large part Muslim zealots. Most in the West explain away the violence. They chalk it up to anger over the endless tit-for-tat in the Middle East. Yet privately they know that we do not see violent Jews shooting Muslims in the United States or Europe.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promises to wipe Israel "off the map." He seems eager for the requisite nuclear weapons to finish off what an Iranian mullah has called a "one-bomb state" - meaning Israel's destruction would only require one nuclear weapon. Iran's theocracy intends to turn the idea of a Jewish state on its head. Instead of Israel being a safe haven for Jews in their historical birthplace, the Iranians apparently find that concentration only too convenient for their own final nuclear solution.

In response, here at home the Council on Foreign Relations rewards the Iranian president with an invitation to speak to its membership. At the podium of that hallowed chamber, Ahmadinejad, who questions whether the Holocaust ever took place, basically dismissed a firsthand witness of Dachau by asking whether he really could be that old.

The state-run, and thus government-authorized, newspapers of the Middle East, slander Jews in barbaric fashion. "Mein Kampf" (translated, of course, as "Jihadi") sells briskly in the region. Hamas and Hezbollah militias on parade emulate the style of brownshirts. In response, much of the Western public snoozes. They are far more worried over whether a Danish cartoonist has caricatured Islam, or if the pope has been rude to Muslims when quoting an obscure 600-year-old Byzantine dialogue.

In the last two decades, radical Islamic terrorists have bombed and murdered thousands inside Europe and the United States. Their state supporters in the Middle East have raked in billions in petro-windfall profits from energy-hungry Western economies. For many in Europe and the United States, supporting Israel - the Middle East's only stable democracy - or even its allies in the West has become viewed as both dangerous and costly.

In addition, Israel is no longer weak but proud and ready to defend itself. So when its terrorist enemies like Hezbollah and Hamas brilliantly married their own fascist creed with popular leftwing multiculturalism in the West, there was an eerie union: yet another supposed third-world victim of a Western oppressor thinking it could earn a pass for its murderous agenda.

We're accustomed to associating hatred of Jews with the ridiculed Neanderthal Right of those in sheets and jackboots. But this new venom, at least in its Western form, is mostly a leftwing, and often an academic, enterprise. It's also far more insidious, given the left's moral pretensions and its influence in the prestigious media and universities. We see the unfortunate results in frequent anti-Israeli demonstrations on campuses that conflate Israel with Nazis, while the media have published fraudulent pictures and slanted events in southern Lebanon.

The renewed hatred of Jews in the Middle East - and the indifference to it in the West - is a sort of "post anti-Semitism." Islamic zealots supply the old venomous hatred, while affluent and timid Westerners provide the new necessary indifference - if punctuated by the occasional off-the-cuff Amen in the manner of a Louis Farrakhan or Mel Gibson outburst.

The dangers of this post anti-Semitism is not just that Jews are shot in Europe and the United States - or that a drunken celebrity or demagogue mouths off. Instead, ever so insidiously, radical Islam's hatred of Jews is becoming normalized.

The result is that the world's politicians and media are talking seriously with those who not merely want back the West Bank, but rather want an end to Israel altogether and everyone inside it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Will Japan Rise Again?

Monday's Los Angeles Times carried an essay by journalist Michael Zielenziger on the potential reemergence of militarism in Japan, especially amid the ascendance of Shinzo Abe, the ruling party's likely next prime minister. Zielenziger first discusses a bit of the current Japanese malaise, especially the grinding work environment, the rough times for Japan's youth, and the demographic time bomb:

Japan is rapidly aging because its young women refuse to marry and bear children. They say raising kids in modern Japan is far too expensive and offers too little reward. Besides, compared to their mothers, the aspirations of educated women extend beyond child-rearing, even though most Japanese men still insist their wives stay home.

The nation's middle-class army of sarariman (white-collar) workers, uniformed in their blue suits and white shirts, is committing suicide in record numbers — three times as many as die in car accidents — because the system of lifetime employment in which they started their careers is crumbling.

More troubling still are the more than 1 million Japanese twentysomethings who cannot find work and are not involved in any educational or training programs. A high number of these adults, primarily men, are social isolates, or hikikomori. They hide in their rooms for months or years at a time rather than try to fit into a society that demands mass conformity and uses quietly powerful repression to forge it. This Japan has yet to design the social architecture necessary to embrace the individualism and self-expression we in the West associate with the post-industrial era. Neither schizophrenic nor suffering from any other mental illness, the only refuge these hikikomori find from a society they cannot trust is the bedrooms in their parents' apartments. They are the nails that stick up and refuse to be hammered down.

Into this unhappy stew of unacknowledged social unrest enters Abe, 52, who replaces the maverick Koizumi after his more than 5 1/2 years at the helm of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has essentially run the nation since 1955. Recent headlines proclaiming Japan's robust return to economic vibrancy are premature; the economy grew only 0.2% in the last quarter (compared with nearly 3% in the U.S.); the national fiscal debt is 170% of gross domestic product, and the nation is rapidly depopulating. Last year, there were 15,000 more deaths than births in Japan, a nation that does not welcome immigrants. Demographers predict that by 2020, one in nine Japanese will be over the age of 80.
The author continues, however, with a discussion of U.S.-Japan relations and the prospective rise of a new militaristic streak:

THE BUSH administration naturally sees Japan and Abe as Washington's closest ally in the Pacific, even though Tokyo's relations with its most important neighbors, China and South Korea, have never been more on edge. A U.S. that once worried about containing Japanese militarism now insists that Japan's Self-Defense Forces participate in the rehabilitation of Iraq, "putting boots on the ground," as U.S. officials put it, even though these acts violate the constitution our occupation forces dictated to the Japanese. The White House and Pentagon would welcome a Japan that beefs up its defenses against a potential threat from North Korea and the surging power of China.

Yet this narrow focus on projecting military power obscures some potentially more disturbing truths. Only a few steps outside the spotlight being trained on Abe are powerful political leaders such as Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of metropolitan Tokyo. He wrote the book "The Japan That Can Say 'No'," which controversially advocated that Japan strongly reassert its own national and military independence. Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone has recently advocated that his nation needs to study the option of "going nuclear," and no one doubts that Tokyo has lots of plutonium from its nuclear power plants and the technology to build bombs.

At times of economic and social strain, when millions of young men wonder how they will find work and what their nation will become, virulent forms of nationalism have a way of binding up deeper wounds — witness the protests against Japan in China. Many Japanese recognize that their nation, so suffocatingly embraced by Washington since the end of World War II, has yet to determine its identity and national interests.

Is it so far-fetched to imagine a day when a re-armed, angry and nuclear-potent Japan cuts its ties with Washington in order to reassert a more independent foreign policy? Would that make Pacific Asia a more tranquil or a more dangerous place?
It's certainly not far-fetched to envision the reemergence of Japan as regional and global military power -- and that might not be a bad thing. The U.S.-Japan Security Treaty is over fifty years old, and we're providing security to a country that's a peer competitor to the U.S. in the world economy (with Toyota Motors Corporation currently about to become the top automotive firm in the U.S. ). Some commentators, also, have referred to Japan as an economic giant but political pygmy, a nation technologically capable to provide for its own defense (in both conventional and nuclear armaments), so there is some expectation that Japan will reassert military leadership in time.

Of course, given Japan's history, and its limited denunciation of its WWII imperial past (compared to Germany), it's not unreasonable for commentators and regional neighbors to be concerned about the future of Japanese power.

Nevertheless, Zielenziger overlooks a strong cultural aversion to the reestablishment of Japanese military assertion. Japan scholars have noted a culture of Japanese anti-militarism -- emerging after World War II -- buttressed by the Japan's "peace constitution," with its limitations on the exercise of military power by the Japanese state.

For example, political scientist Thomas Berger's book, Cultures of Anti-Militarism: National Security in Germany and Japan, argued that deep-seated antiwar norms in Japan have developed over time to limit the development of aggressively militaristic impulses.

It's hard to say exactly what will happen in the near future, and there certainly are remnants of conservative martial supporters in Japan today (evident in the popular backing of
Prime Minister Koizumi's annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine), but Japan at some point needs to reestablish itself as a "normal" country in the international system, providing not only for its own defense, but sharing a larger burden of regional and global security responsibilities as well.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Iraq and Terrorism: Fighting a War We Must Win

Jeff Jacoby's got another great piece up at the Boston Globe, questioning the recent media spin on the National Intelligence Estimate's assertion that Iraq has worsened the terrorist threat:

Has the Iraq war undermined efforts to defeat the jihadis? Maybe, but the Times and Post stories don't come close to making that case. They claim that new terrorists are being enlisted at a growing rate and that America's presence in Iraq has become a major terrorist recruitment tool. That hardly adds up to a weakened war against Al Qaeda and its accomplices. D-Day and the battle of Midway triggered some of the most ferocious fighting of World War II and resulted in tens of thousands of additional Allied casualties. But would anyone say that they undermined the drive to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?

After 9/11, the United States went to war against Islamic totalitarianism; since 2003 that war has focused most dramatically on Iraq. It stands to reason that Iraq is therefore the focal point in the jihadis' war against the West. President Bush has made that point repeatedly, quoting Osama bin Laden's declaration that the war in Iraq is ``the most serious issue today for the whole world " and will end in ``victory and glory or misery and humiliation." Has US military action in Iraq inflamed the global jihad? Undoubtedly. But just imagine how galvanized it would be by a US retreat.

This much we do know: There has been no successful terrorist attack on the United States in the years since 9/11, whereas the years leading up to 9/11 saw one act of terrorism after another, including the bombing of the World Trade Center, the destruction of the US embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. The Bush administration must be doing something right -- something the Clinton administration, on whose watch bin Laden and Al Qaeda launched and escalated their terror war, failed to do.

Could 9/11 have been prevented? That in essence was what Chris Wallace asked former President Bill Clinton during his Fox News interview on Sunday: ``Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president? . . . Why didn't you . . . connect the dots and put them out of business?"

From the ferocity of Clinton's response, you would have thought he'd been accused of using a 22-year-old White House intern for sex. Purple-faced with rage, he blasted Wallace for doing a ``nice little conservative hit job on me." He fumed that he had ``worked hard to try and kill" bin Laden and that ``all the right-wingers" who criticize him for doing too little ``spent the whole time I was president saying, `Why is he so obsessed with bin Laden?' "

But Wallace's question was no ``hit job." No one ever accused Clinton of being too obsessed with bin Laden. On the contrary: The eight years of his presidency, like the first eight months of Bush's, were marked at the top by a tragic inattention to Al Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission Report records the exasperated reaction of a State Department counterterrorism officer to Clinton's refusal to retaliate for the bombing of the Cole: ``Does Al Qaeda have to attack the Pentagon to get their attention?"

Unfortunately, the answer was yes. Only after 9/11 did the United States muster the will to begin fighting the jihadis in earnest.

Was Iraq the best place to fight them? There are passionate views on both sides of that question, and history will have the final say. What we know for sure today is that we are at war against a deadly enemy, one we must defeat or be defeated by. The war on terrorism is going far better now than it did when our eyes were closed.
Robert Kagan also raised
questions about the NIE in yesterday' s Washington Post:

For instance, what specifically does it mean to say that the Iraq war has worsened the "terrorism threat"? Presumably, the NIE's authors would admit that this is speculation rather than a statement of fact, since the facts suggest otherwise. Before the Iraq war, the United States suffered a series of terrorist attacks: the bombing and destruction of two American embassies in East Africa in 1998, the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since the Iraq war started, there have not been any successful terrorist attacks against the United States. That doesn't mean the threat has diminished because of the Iraq war, but it does place the burden of proof on those who argue that it has increased.
Kagan also notes that the report provides little hard data to support its claims, for example, of Iraq increasing the number of terrorists arrayed against the U.S. Kagan suggests that "a serious evaluation of the effect of the Iraq war would have to address the Bush administration's argument that it is better to fight terrorist recruits in Iraq than in the United States."

Like Jacoby, Kagan says there's legitimate debate on this question, although context is important. Should we not engage an enemy who threatens us? "I would worry about an American foreign policy driven only by fear of how our actions might inspire anger, radicalism and violence in others. As in the past, that should be only one calculation in our judgment of what does and does not make us, and the world, safer."

In an earlier post I discussed how the U.S. can defeat al Qaeda, citing Audrey Kurth Cronin's recent International Security piece.

In that article, Cronin notes that in fact analysts for some time have argued that al Qaeda has been transformed into an insurgency and recruitment movement in Iraq, marked by an alliance between the forces of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama Bin Laden. Cronin suggests that exploiting the unwelcomed foreign terrorist element in Iraq -- especially the resentments generated by terrorist atrocities against Iraqi civilians -- is one element in a broader strategy of defeating al Qaeda.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"A Nation in Full": U.S. Population Nears 300 Million

This week's cover story at U.S. News and World Report looks at the implications of America's extraordinary population surge, noting that sometime this month the country will count 300 million people across the land:

It took the United States 139 years to get to 100 million people, and just 52 years to add another 100 million, back in 1967. Now, one day in October-after an interval of just 39 years-America will claim more than 300 million souls. The moment will be hailed as another symbol of America's boundless energy and unique vitality. It is that, of course. But it is also true America has grown every time the Census Bureau has taken a measurement, starting in 1790, when the Founders counted fewer than 4 million of their countrymen-about half the population of New York City today.

The recent growth surge has been extraordinary. Since 2000 alone, the nation has added some 20 million people. Compared with western Europe, with birth rates plunging, or Japan, its population shrinking, America knows only growth, growth, and more growth. It now has the third-largest population in the world, after China and India. "Growth is a concern that we have to manage," says Kenneth Prewitt, former head of the Census Bureau, "but it's much easier to manage than losing your population."

Examine the numbers closely, and three broad trends emerge. The first is migration. As the industrial base of the Northeast and Midwest has declined, millions of Americans have moved to the South and the West, now home to more than half the population-and growing strong. Immigration is next. Over the past four decades, immigrants, primarily from Mexico and Latin America, have reshaped the country's ethnic makeup; of the newest 100 million Americans, according to Jeffrey Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, 53 percent are either immigrants or their descendants. Last are the much-ballyhooed boomers, many now on the cusp of retirement. America, says the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau, "is getting bigger, older, and more diverse."

The implications are both vast and varied, affecting America's culture, politics, and economy. One obvious example is the stormy debate on immigration now roiling Congress. Another: As population shifts continue, congressional redistricting will follow, tipping the geographical balance of power. A markedly older America will also have a profound effect on government spending-all three issues giving a new Congress and, before too much longer, a new president, plenty to ponder.
The article analyzes changing demographics in three case studies from growing urban areas: Boise, Idaho; Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Wilmington, North Carolina. Boise and Fort Wayne are dealing with robust growth and increasingly dynamic diversity, and Wilmington is known as a retirement headquarters for a host of leading-edge baby boomers.

It's an interesing piece, though I think the author's conclusions are superficial. The story notes that the country will be hitting near 400 million by mid-century, and that by then we may see a "minority-majority" emerge as the non-Hispanic white population declines below the 50 percent level. It is also noted that childbirths to Latino immigrant families will actually outstrip the number of new immigrants arrivals.

However, the story concludes with a discussion of the growth of the over-65 population cohort, and how this group -- with its increasing longevity -- will strain the nation's public benefits system.

While the piece suggests that the elderly population will total about 71.5 million by about 2035 (around 20 percent of the population), potentially straining Social Security and Medicare, there's little analysis of the whether the ratio of the country's old to young will make sustaining the social welfare state problematic.

there's some research suggesting that America's combination of high immigration and robust birthrates -- especially compared to Japan and the nations of the European Union -- will leave Social Security and Medicare with a relatively secure future, although some reforms in the benefit and revenue structure will likely be needed as well.

See also this article from The Christian Science Monitor, which looks at the increasing mix of immigrants as the country pushes the 300 million mark, and suggests that growth in the Latino population may indeed work to sustain the public retirement system over time:

On average, Hispanics in the US are considerably younger than the population as a whole: Their median age is about 27 compared with about 36 for the country generally. That means that as older non-Hispanics retire, there will be relatively more workers to pay into Social Security. It also means more Hispanics in the future. About one-third of them are under 18 - just entering the years when they'll have children of their own.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A Life of Battling Illiteracy on the Mississippi Delta

Saturday's "Column One" article at the Los Angeles Times covered Ronnie Wise and his career as a librarian in Bolivar County, Mississipi, the nation's poorest state, with the lowest levels of literacy in the U.S.

Bolivar County' s illiteracy rate is 41 percent (40,000 residents can't read), and Wise, as the Director of Libraries, helped turn around the county's literacy programs, raising money and convincing local authorities to fund library improvements. Wise was able to expand one library location by converting an unused train depot into the library system's flagship branch (for the article's photo gallery slide show,
click here).

This is a lengthy article, but worth a good read. Wise opted for early retirement, and much of the piece is an effort to explain how Wise -- whose whole identity for three decades was wrapped up in improving the lives of the county's illiterate residents -- could walk away from his job, with apparently little emotion:

Maybe it's all too much for one librarian. Maybe Wise is retiring simply because he's overwhelmed, because even the mythic library of ancient Alexandria, said to hold a copy of every book in the world, might not be adequate to solve the problems of Bolivar County.

One-third white, two-thirds black, Bolivar County has a long history of ignorance and hate, made doubly tragic by its parallel history of genius and hope. This is where freed slaves — including Isaiah Montgomery, son of a favored slave of Jefferson Davis' family, who was granted access to the Davis plantation library — founded a landmark community just for blacks. This is where Freedom Riders came in droves during the civil rights era, registering voters and laying the groundwork for all kinds of change, including Freedom Schools, makeshift classrooms where African Americans could finally learn.

This is where the blues was born, and raised. Bolivar County is to blues what Philadelphia is to democracy. The founding fathers — W.C. Handy, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton — drank and caroused all over this county, and not 10 minutes from the Depot sits a hallowed farm, Dockery Plantation, where musicians from throughout the South came to blend moans and chants and spirituals, all the disparate sounds of an enslaved culture, into one hauntingly American plaint.

Then they all hopped a fast train out.

Launching a literacy crusade from a train depot was an act rich in meaning and irony, one that spoke to the historical contradictions of the Delta. A train whistle is evocative everywhere, but in the Delta that high lonesome note goes straight to the heart, because the Delta wasn't livable, or leave-able, until the first tracks were laid down.

Much of the American frontier was at least passable by foot or wagon — but the Delta remained remote as the moon until the late 1800s. Then, like sunflowers along the epic river that forms Bolivar County's western border, towns sprang to life along the route of the Yazoo-Mississippi Valley. They configured their streets, even their identities, around their depots. Just as suddenly, however, those same towns lost their vitality, as the very trains that tamed the Delta began taking people away — to Chicago, to New Orleans, to war. Thus, the train was a bringer of both excitement and exodus, of progress and pain. And right there, on the old weed-choked tracks, Wise built a library that brought the same things, to himself as much as anyone.

He doesn't remember when it became more pain than progress, when he realized that for every person who walks into a library, who signs up with a tutor or earns a graduate equivalency diploma, hundreds more don't come, or don't stay. Like so many Delta librarians and educators, he felt overmatched one day, powerless against the freight train of history.

The source of illiteracy is slavery, he says, plain and simple: Before the Civil War, Bolivar County had more slaveholding plantations than any county in the South. Slavery begat illiteracy, he argues, illiteracy perpetuates economic slavery, and the cycle simply remains unbroken.

Should anyone disagree with his view of history, he gets very cranky.
Read the whole thing. It's hard to imagine a life without reading (at least for my existence), but it is easy to see the consequences of being unable to read.

Many of my students -- and a large number of those at my college and in the community college system -- are illiterate. Some African-American students I've taught have come to Southern California from the American South, and have told me that blacks often faced incredible obstacles to getting an education at the system level. It's a difficult issue to address in a university-level political science course -- for there's no relaxation of standards in my courses -- but fortunately the college has tremendous resouces for remediation.

At the family level, some scholars have argued -- as Wise implies in the article -- that the inability to read is just passed down through generations of the black family. We talk so much about equal opportunity in the U.S. that we forget how recent some of the civil rights advancements are. I am not discounting the existence of an anti-intellectual black culture (with its cult of victimology), though an appreciation of from where the black family has come is helpful in addressing the contemporary nature of black educational underachievement.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

How the United States Can Defeat Al Qaeda

The current issue of International Security includes an absolutely indispensible piece by Audrey Kurth Cronin on how to defeat al Qaeda.

Entitled "
How al-Qaida Ends: The Decline and Demise of Terrorist Groups," Cronin notes that terrorist organizations historically have declined or collapsed when (1) the group's leader has been captured or killed, (2) a new generation of leaders has failed emerge after the first generation's fall, (3) the group's cause has been achieved, (4) the group turns into a legitimate political actor, (5) popular support evaporates, (6) military repression is successful, or (7) the group transitions out of terrorism to either criminality or insurgency.

Cronin argues that in the case of al Qaeda, decapitation of the leadership -- for example, with the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden -- will not defeat the organization. She also raises an interesting point regarding al Qaeda's transition away from a first-generation, hierarchical organization to a new complex transnational set of networks and cells:

Al-Qaida has transitioned to a second, third, and arguably fourth generation. The reason relates especially to the second distinctive element of al-Qaida: its method of recruitment or, more accurately, its attraction of radicalized followers (both individuals and groups), many of whom in turn are connected to existing local networks. Al-Qaida’s spread has been compared to a virus or a bacterium, dispersing its contagion to disparate sites. Although this is a seductive analogy, it is also misleading: the perpetuation of al-Qaida is a sentient process involving well-considered marketing strategies and deliberate tactical decisions, not a mindless “disease” process; thinking of it as a “disease” shores up the unfortunate American tendency to avoid analyzing the mentality of the enemy. Al-Qaida is operating with a long-term strategy and is certainly not following the left-wing groups of the 1970s in their failure to articulate a coherent ideological vision or the peripatetic right-wing groups of the twentieth century. It has transitioned beyond its original structure and now represents a multigenerational threat with staying power comparable to the ethnonationalist groups of the twentieth century. Likewise, arguments about whether al-Qaida is best described primarily as an ideology or by its opposition to foreign occupation of Muslim lands are specious: al-Qaida’s adherents use both rationales to spread their links. The movement is opportunistic. The challenge for the United States and its allies is to move beyond rigid mind-sets and paradigms, do more in-depth analysis, and be more nimble and strategic in response to al-Qaida’s agenda.
Cronin notes that while terrorism may often be little more than a nuisance to states, the al Qaeda threat is real and potentially catastrophic, should some in the movement obtain weapons of mass destruction.

The group can be defeated, but for this to happen the U.S. needs to weaken al Qaeda's funding and communications, and exploit the group's internal inconsistencies and divisions (thus making al Qaeda's broad objectives inapplicable to local populations around the world).

American policymakers need also to reduce popular support for al Qaeda -- especially where the group's attacks alienate potential constituents -- and develop counter-marketing strategies that focus not on abstract "public diplomacy" focusing on American values and culture, but a counter-terrorist media response, outside of government outlets, that illustrates the heinous effects of al Qaeda atrocities on domestic populations:
The Bali attacks, the May 2003 attacks in Saudi Arabia, the Madrid attacks, the July 2005 London attacks—all were immediately and deliberately trumpeted by al-Qaida associates. Where was the coordinated counterterrorist multimedia response? There is nothing so effective at engendering public revulsion as images of murdered and maimed victims, many of whom resemble family members of would-be recruits, lying on the ground as the result of a terrorist act. Outrage is appropriate. Currently, however, those images are dominated by would-be family members in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay. The West is completely outf anked on the airwaves, and its countermeasures are virtually nonexistent on the internet. But as the RIRA [Real Irish Republican Army], PFLP-GC [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], and ETA [Basque Homeland and Freedom] cases demonstrate, the al-Qaida movement can undermine itself, if it is given help.
Military repression, Cronin argues, will only go so far toward defeating al Qaeda, but in places like Iraq, where al Qaeda has transitioned into an insurgency, the U.S. should seek to exploit the inevitable animosities engendered by outside actors commiting atrocities against local citizens tied to the land.

History shows , according to Cronin, that terrorist group decline or collapse -- the ETA, the IRA, or Shining Path in Peru, for example -- and there's no reason not to think that the same fate awaits al Qaeda.

Cash Click Scams: Online Advertising's Dark Side

The rash of cash clicking deceptions in the web marketing sector is threatening to derail the ever-increasing world of corporate advertising on the internet. According this week's cover story at Business Week, "Click Fraud: The Dark Side of Online Advertising," as much as $300 to $500 million a year could be flowing to click fraud rings, who cheat the revenue-generating systems of the big web firms Google and Yahoo:

Martin Fleischmann put his faith in online advertising. He used it to build his Atlanta company,, which offers consumers rate quotes and other information on insurance and mortgages. Last year he paid Yahoo! Inc. and Google Inc. a total of $2 million in advertising fees. The 40-year-old entrepreneur believed the celebrated promise of Internet marketing: You pay only when prospective customers click on your ads.

Now, Fleischmann's faith has been shaken. Over the past three years, he has noticed a growing number of puzzling clicks coming from such places as Botswana, Mongolia, and Syria. This seemed strange, since MostChoice steers customers to insurance and mortgage brokers only in the U.S. Fleischmann, who has an economics degree from Yale University and an MBA from Wharton, has used specially designed software to discover that the MostChoice ads being clicked from distant shores had appeared not on pages of Google or Yahoo but on curious Web sites with names like and He smelled a swindle, and he calculates it has cost his business more than $100,000 since 2003.

Fleischmann is a victim of click fraud: a dizzying collection of scams and deceptions that inflate advertising bills for thousands of companies of all sizes. The spreading scourge poses the single biggest threat to the Internet's advertising gold mine and is the most nettlesome question facing Google and Yahoo, whose digital empires depend on all that gold.

The growing ranks of businesspeople worried about click fraud typically have no complaint about versions of their ads that appear on actual Google or Yahoo Web pages, often next to search results. The trouble arises when the Internet giants boost their profits by recycling ads to millions of other sites, ranging from the familiar, such as, to dummy Web addresses like, which display lists of ads and little if anything else. When somebody clicks on these recycled ads, marketers such as MostChoice get billed, sometimes even if the clicks appear to come from Mongolia. Google or Yahoo then share the revenue with a daisy chain of Web site hosts and operators. A penny or so even trickles down to the lowly clickers. That means Google and Yahoo at times passively profit from click fraud and, in theory, have an incentive to tolerate it. So do smaller search engines and marketing networks that similarly recycle ads.

For the glossary of internet scam terminology, click here. For the "follow the money" slideshow on click fraud schemes, click here.

I'd never heard of click fraud before I started blogging. The use of Google Adsense is a major aspect of the the blogging experience, yet as I've read a number of blog posts on the heartbreak of losing the Adsense revenue stream, including some stories of malicious click sabotage, I've decided to hold off on running Adsense on my page.

I surf a lot of internet marketing exchanges, and many of those working in that realm make their entire fortune in the online advertising sector.

I imagine I could bring in a good little chunk of cash every month through advertising, but that's not why I blog. I laugh most of the time when I see all the otherwise interesting blogs loaded with all types Google ads across the top of the page -- it's more about the money than readership for bloggers like that. I'd obviously be running ads on my page if I was a high-powered elite blogger, some of whom make big bucks, though,
as I've written on before, that revenue stream then becomes an obsession in itself, making it almost impossible for the blog publisher to take a vacation.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

F-14 Tomcat is Retired: Resting a Cold War Fighter

Yesterday's USA Today reported that the U.S. Navy has retired the F-14 Tomcat, the venerable Cold-War era fighther jet popularized in the 1986 film Top Gun:

In a ceremony today that reminded guests of why it was retired, the Navy holstered the F-14 Tomcat, the top gun in its Cold War arsenal and one of the most recognizable warplanes in history.

Maintenance costs for the F-14 have soared, and its replacement, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, is more versatile and cheaper to maintain. The maintenance issue appeared again at the plane's retirement ceremony.

Pilot Lt. Cmdr. David Faehnle and radar intercept officer Lt. Cmdr. Robert Gentry gave a final salute from inside their cockpit before aircraft 102 taxied down the runway and out of sight at Oceana Naval Air Station. The plane that actually took off as thousands applauded and whistled, however, was aircraft 107, with Lt. Cmdr. Chris Richard at the controls and intercept officer Lt. Mike Petronis in the back seat.

The first jet had mechanical problems — "a common occurrence with the F-14," said Mike Maus, a Navy spokesman. The second jet had been on standby just in case.

The Super Hornet is unlikely to surpass the F-14's following. Furiously fast, deafeningly loud and lethal to enemy aircraft, the Tomcat had attained legendary status by the 1980s. The 1986 film Top Gun, in which Tom Cruise portrayed an F-14 pilot in training, cemented the supersonic warplane's reputation in the popular culture.

"There's something about the way an F-14 looks, something about the way it carries itself," says Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations, the Navy's top officer. "It screams toughness. Look down on a carrier flight deck and see one of them sitting there, and you just know, there's a fighter plane. I really believe the Tomcat will be remembered in much the same way as other legendary aircraft, like the Corsair, the Mustang and the Spitfire."

About 3,000 guests — mainly former aviators, mechanics, suppliers and builders — were on hand for the jet's official retirement. The last F-14s will be mothballed in the Arizona desert or go to aviation museums.

The Tomcat was designed in the late 1960s with one enemy in mind: the Soviet Union. The jet was typically launched from an aircraft carrier, and its twin engines could propel it at twice the speed of sound. Its armaments deterred Soviet bombers designed to fire missiles at U.S. Navy ships.

"It was intended to do one thing really well," says John Pike, a military analyst at GlobalSecurity, a think tank based in Alexandria, Va. "The Soviets evidently respected it. Their answer was to build bigger and faster bombers."
The article notes that after the Cold War, the F-14 lost its chief mission, and became something of a "stray cat."

In time, though, the use of the Tomcat evolved, and as the article's sidebar notes, the fighter saw action in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, and the Iraq War in 2003:

Five squadrons of F-14s from the USS Abraham Lincoln took part in the early action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Interestingly, I toured the USS Abraham Lincoln in 1999, which was opened to the public when, on its way back from the Persian Gulf, it stopped in Santa Barbara for a shore leave.

It's an incomparable feeling being atop an aircraft carrier. When I stood on the bow of that ship -- feeling the Lincoln's stout sturdiness -- I felt a sense of pride and security. Just over two years later, the U.S. would be attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. I appreciate the crew of the Abraham Lincoln, including the pilots of the F-14, -- and the rest of the U.S. military personnel -- who have put their lives on the line so that other Americans may continue to feel that same pride and security.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Need to Disconnect Islam from Fanaticism

In response to my earlier post on the military coup in Thailand and the rekindling of the Islamist insurgency in that country, Oskar Syahbana, who blogs at, attacked me in the comments as an "Islamophobe." I had commented earlier on his blog, in his post on the Thai coup, leaving a plain, innocuous remark about Thai Premiere Thakin Shinawatra, saying:

Thaksin sounds like a hack who clearly needed to be replaced, through parliamentary forms rather than military. Another implication here not mentioned is that Thailand’s facing an Islamist insurgency which will likely kick-up due to regime instability. The Thai police regularly open fire on protesters during demonstrations, so let’s hope that the coup is indeed “temporary,” that legitimate authority is restored quickly to keep economic and political development on track, and that the Islamist threat is tamped-down before a crackdown darkens the streets there any further.
In response to being called an Islamophobe, I asked Oskar, "does not the Koran advocate the killing of Islam's ememies...?" I never did get a response to this query, though I did get a bunch of blather on how Islamic violence was perpetuated in "self-defense...after being invaded first."

To my knowledge, I've never had a Muslim commentator here, but if this exchange is any indication, with Pope Benedict's hope for interfaith dialogue in mind, and especially his call for Muslim introspection as to the nature of Islamic violence, I won't be holding my breath, waiting for some enlightenment.

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Reuel Marc Gerecht noted that Benedict was right about Islam's struggle with modernity, and the pathologies this struggle creates in contemporary Muslims:

The prophet Muhammad, the model for all Muslims, established the faith through war and conquest. His immediate successors, the Rightly Guided Caliphs, whom traditional and radical Muslims cherish, reinforced Islam's identity as a victorious faith through the rapid creation of a world empire. Christianity was also at times spread by "the sword," and its use of that sword against nonbelievers and heretics was more savage than any Muslim imperialist's. But Christianity was not born to power. Jesus is not a conqueror. The doctrine of the "two swords" always existed in Christian lands--the division of the world between church and state--and created enormous tension. It helped produce Western civic society. And the image of God in Islam, which the pope underscores by talking about the Muslim philosopher Ibn Hazm, is a cleaner expression of unlimited, almighty Will than it is in Christianity. Islam is akin to biblical Judaism in accentuating the unnuanced, transcendent awe of God. When radical Muslims take a hold of this divine fearsomeness, it can untether itself quickly from "conventional" morality, thereby allowing young men to believe that the slaughter of women and children isn't an abomination. In that sense, Muslim jihadism, like fascism, rewrites our ethical DNA, turning sin into virtue.
Note also what the Jerusalem Post had to say about Islamic violence in its Monday editorial:

The best way to disconnect Islam from its fanatic, intolerant, expansionist and exclusionist image is of course to sever the connection with violence. Christians and Jews don't dispatch suicide bombers to martyr themselves in God's name; they don't issue death sentences against nonconformist authors or threaten proponents of alternative views. Only Muslims nowadays practice the ideology of hate and seek to impose a worldwide theocracy.

Muslims who think otherwise need to be heard. They need to be heard, right now, unequivocally rejecting Mahdi Akaf, chief of the World Muslim Brotherhood, who has accused the pope of no less than "deliberately pouring oil on the flames of honorable Muslim fury which he ignited. The pope endangers the peace of the world."
I invite Oskar or any others of the Muslim religion to join in some interfaith dialogue right here. Let's hear you denounce Islamic violence and recognize that no matter how wrong any particular American policy toward Mideast nations may have been, nothing justifies the heinous, indiscriminate, and routine murders of civilians in New York and Washington in 2001, Madrid in 2004, and London in 2005 -- to take just a few cases from fundamentalist Islam's many recent examples of the barbarism.

There it is -- let's let the dialogue begin.

Anti-Americanism at the United Nations

Paul Richter at today's Los Angeles Times has a concise analysis of the unity in Third World anti-Americanism at the United Nations this week:

The outpouring of anti-American rhetoric at the United Nations this week is demonstrating how anger at the United States is uniting the developing world in a way not seen since the 1980s, U.S. officials and analysts say.

Leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Sudan's Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are divided by background and political philosophies, but they spoke as one at the General Assembly regarding perceived U.S. bullying and misdeeds.

Chavez denounced the "imperialist empire," Ahmadinejad railed against U.S. officials' pretensions to be the "rulers of the world," and Bashir complained about powerful intruders trampling his country's sovereignty."

There's a new sense of the oppressed versus the oppressor," said a senior U.S. official, who asked to remain unnamed. "What they have in common is their hatred of the U.S., and it's created this solidarity across Third World lines." That solidarity hasn't been seen in the developing world since leftist liberation movements faded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said.
The current round of U.S.-bashing is just a new episode in an old theme. Richter notes in the article that this week's U.N. speeches were reminiscent of the Non-Aligned Movement's attacks on American policy during the 1980s.

There's a deeper cause of what's happening, though. As noted by Fareed Zakaria in a 2004 Foreign Policy essay,

In this post-ideological age, anti-Americanism fills the void left by defunct belief systems. It has become a powerful trend in international politics today—and perhaps the most dangerous. U.S. hegemony has its problems, but a world that reacts instinctively against the United States will be less peaceful, less cooperative, less prosperous, less open, and less stable....

Anti-Americanism’s ascendance also owes something to the geometry of power. The United States is more powerful than any country in history, and concentrated power usually means trouble. Other countries have a habit of ganging up to balance the reigning superpower. Throughout history, countries have united to defeat hegemonic powers—from the Hapsburgs to Napoleon to Kaiser Wilhelm and Hitler.
today's lead editorial at the Wall Street Journal suggests the today's anti-American campaign also reflects a show of unity among the world's rogue states in backing the Iranian push toward nuclear capability, an effort that the U.N. has had little success in thwarting.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Security Issue Helping GOP in November Elections

Donald Lambro's got a piece up today at the Washington Times arguing that terror-related security issues are helping the GOP heading into the November elections:

President Bush and his party seem to be succeeding in their efforts to define the strategic security issues that will likely decide the outcome of the 2006 midterm elections.

Nowhere is this more apparent than Mr. Bush's campaign offensive to warn Americans of the still-potent dangers of yet another terrorist attack on the United States and his implicit claim Republicans are far better able to deal with that threat than the left-wing, antiwar leaders in the Democratic Party.

That offensive has moved the numbers in the GOP's direction, with the help of Democratic leaders whose national security agenda, such as it is, seems to oppose every antiterrorism program of Mr. Bush's in the ensuing war on terrorism:

Reauthorization of the Patriot Act, the electronic surveillance efforts to intercept terrorist calls into the U.S., and now the tough, but also humane, interrogation practices that have foiled numerous terrorist plots against us. Like the Democrats, Mr. Bush and the Republicans are trying to nationalize this election, too, but the contrast between how the two major parties look at the terrorism issue could not be sharper or more alarming.

Moreover, the available evidence suggests the GOP is doing a more effective job, according to a recent survey of voters by independent pollster John Zogby.

Significantly, Mr. Zogby found "voters planning on casting ballots for Republicans are more likely than those voting for Democrats to say they are casting their ballot based on national issues by a 79 percent to 69 percent margin...."

As we headed into Labor Day, top election forecasters were predicting that an anti-Bush, anti-Republican wave would sweep the Democrats back into majority control of the House. But, after studying his numbers coming in from the states, Mr. Zogby told me: "I don't see the landslide that others are seeing. That doesn't mean it can't materialize, but as of today it's not happening and this is September."

Meantime, the president intends to campaign hard for his party over the next month and a half, perhaps two-dozen House seats once targeted by the Democrats are now out of play, and there are growing doubts the Democrats have what it takes to regain power.

"I'm reluctant to predict a Democratic takeover because I appreciate the Republicans' success," elections analyst Rhodes Cook told me this week. "They know how to win of late and the Democrats don't."

today's Los Angeles Times includes the paper's most recent polling results, which confirm an upward survey trend for the GOP heading into November, although Ronald Brownstein argues that historical election patterns may well be on the Democratic Party's side.

See also
my earlier post on Bush's improving numbers from the recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

Cuba's Physical Infrastrucure is Crumbling

Tuesday's Los Angeles Times ran a great piece on the physical deterioration of Cuba. The scope of decay is breathtaking, and the story reminds me about all those leftist activists on campus during my undergraduate days telling me how Cuba was the ideal socialist state and the epitome of the good society:

Cuba is falling apart — literally.

Even as its economy booms thanks to a thriving tourism industry, brisk nickel exports and cheap oil from ideologically aligned Venezuela, the social benefits are difficult to see at street level. Except for a few high-profile historical restoration projects such as the Art Deco buildings of Old Havana, the country's structural decay seems to worsen with each month."It's not a question of repairing anymore. Everything needs to be rebuilt," says Julio, a construction worker who spends more time as an unlicensed cabdriver than on state building sites. "There is no material and no money to buy it, so nothing has been maintained."

Some blame the decrepitude on the U.S. economic embargo that has blocked travel and the flow of goods to the island for nearly 45 years in an effort — through nine U.S. administrations — to starve Cuba into abandoning what Washington sees as a ruinous adherence to communism.

Few Cubans will talk openly about what might be wrong with a political and economic system that even in boom times can't keep the wheels of public transportation turning or the lights on — especially since President Fidel Castro turned over power to his brother six weeks ago for surgery deemed a state secret. But they complain quietly that there is more to their urban squalor than the embargo or the loss of Soviet aid 15 years ago can explain."

The problem is that the government owns everything, and people only take care of what is their own," says another moonlighting cabdriver, Arturo, who buzzes his plastic-encased motorbike around basketball-sized craters in the asphalt where the Malecon seaside promenade meets 23rd Street. "Cubans are very clever and improvisational. We can fix anything. But there isn't the will to do it unless it is to improve your own conditions."
The decay is not just in buildings and homes, but also in the nation's tourism and transportation systems:

Even the tourism industry cash cow is vulnerable to widespread theft and minimal investment. Ancient air conditioners blow the smell of mold into "five-star" hotel rooms where renovations have been limited to the lobbies.

Rail tracks link most major cities, offering an affordable means of transportation, but the lines are rusted, engine breakdowns frequent and passenger service so primitive most travelers prefer to hitchhike.
Residents have been socialized to a state of cultural acquiesence to the dilapidation:

Decades of stoically making do with shortages and dysfunction have engendered a paralyzing passivity among Cubans, at least about the quality of their administrators and the political system that guides them."

It's very tranquil here, very safe. We like it that way and don't want things to change, at least not suddenly," says Monica, a 30-something engineer asked if the conditions of urban life are frustrating. Like many asked about their expectations for the future, she claims not to have given it much thought, even with the only leader she has ever known now uncharacteristically in the background.
Well, let's just say Cuba's physical plant makes the situation inauspicious for the emergence of a socialist utopia -- despite what your pro-Cuban leftist proselytizers have told you.

The article notes as well that Hugo Chavez's Venezuela is sending billions of dollars in support of the regime, which is now replacing the tens of billions annually Cuba received from Moscow during the Cold War.

I blogged last month about
repression in Cuba in the context of Raul Castro's accession to power.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Implications of the Military Takeover in Thailand

Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's prime minister, was ousted in a bloodless military coup d'etat yesterday.

According to this editorial in the Investor's Business Daily, the outcome of the takeover holds serious implications for the fight against terror, most immediately in Thailand, but further abroad as well:

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted in Thailand's 20th coup since 1932, has been a staunch supporter of the U.S. in the war on terror. His country also is an important trading partner, with $24 billion in two-way commerce with the U.S. in 2004. He's business-friendly and right now is negotiating a free trade pact with the U.S., something that's likely to beef up Thailand's 4% annual economic growth.

Losing him to unknown military leaders in a nondemocratic coup is not good news. But neither is the parlous state of Thailand's democracy....

What's most disturbing now is that Thailand has real troublemakers, whose perspective is not just local, and who are closely watching this.

This past weekend, Islamofascist terrorists, possibly emboldened by the shaky political situation in Bangkok, unleashed a new offensive in the town of Hat Yai in Thailand's south, setting off a string of bombings that killed four people and injured 80.

The offensive signaled a heightened level in the war on terror not only because it was bigger than previous attacks but because it was outside Thailand's three-province region where most earlier terror attacks have occurred. And for the first time, it killed a Westerner — a Canadian teacher in a tourist area.

Thai observers said that terrorists seemed to be targeting Thailand's economy, taking advantage of Bangkok's political power void in their bid to expand their operating area and influence.

Thailand's potential military rulers, like Gen. Sondhi, (who unexpectedly is a Muslim), vow to make pacification of the south their principle priority.

If they can fill Thailand's political power void with enough military force to bring peace to the south, well and good. But history suggests that force over democracy is an unstable reed, and there is the danger that the Islamofascists may grow bolder still.

Thailand needs normalcy quickly because it must marginalize these Islamofascist terrorists. If they gain, Thailand will lose more than its democracy.
The Thai democratization process has been particularly bloody. Police opened fire on pro-democracy protesters in 1976 and 1992, and the weak consolidation of the country's democratic regime portends additional instability as the nation attempts to find a way back to parliamentary rule.

The Promise and Perils of Mideast Democracy

Bernard Lewis has a fascinating and profound essay up today at Real Clear Politics. The piece is actually the text of a speech Lewis delivered in July, entitled "Bring Them Freedom, or They Destroy Us."

Lewis argues that there is a democratic tradition available to the developing Muslim states of the Middle East. There are, however, powerful forces of opposition arrayed against the expansion of free institutions, and these forces are firm and resolute, when much of the West is divided and weak.

A few key passages here are especially worth quoting, but I'm intrigued with Lewis' remarks about the impact of modernization and the influence of Nazi and Soviet ideologies on Mideast development:

In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which meant that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: To stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon--a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East--was now wide open to the Nazis. The governor and his high officials in the administration in Syria-Lebanon took their orders from Vichy, which in turn took orders from Berlin. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party. The Western Allies eventually drove the Nazis out of the Middle East and suppressed these organizations. But the war ended in 1945, and the Allies left. A few years later the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments, and it proceeded pretty well. That is the origin of the Baath Party and of the kind of governments that we have been confronting in the Middle East in recent years. That, as I would again repeat and emphasize, has nothing whatever to do with the traditional Arab or Islamic past.
Read the entire piece. Lewis' writings had a substantial impact on the Bush Administration's thinking during the run-up to Iraq, although now, with the difficulties in Iraq, Lewis enjoys much less esteem in policy circles.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Those Who Don't Practice Islam Will Be Killed!

Cal Thomas has an astoundingly apt commentary up today at Real Clear Politics on proposed Democratic plans for Iraq, which amount to a call of surrender in the face of barbarism. Apparently, Ed Rendell, a former top DNC official, at a national editorial writers conference this week, remarked how he'd get the international community to take over Iraq, pull out U.S. forces, and rebuild the nation with new houses, aid, and economic opportunity:

That isn't a peace plan; it's a plan for surrender. Like liberal Democrats in the 1980s, who believed the best way to handle the Soviet Union was to demonstrate we meant them no harm by unilaterally disarming, Rendell and many of his fellow Democrats believe there would be no consequences for America and the world should we fail to support democracy in Iraq for which millions of Iraqis have voted. Does he seriously believe such a retreat would not be seen as surrender and weakness, playing into the hands of jihadists, who would be emboldened to keep on fighting until they dominated all of Europe and then come after America? This is why liberal Democrats cannot be trusted to run the foreign policy of the United States.

Democrats are not alone in suffering from the naivete virus. Several Republicans last week exhibited a similar deficiency in wisdom. John McCain, Arizona Republican senator, may have severely hurt his chances for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination by suggesting the United States should be bound by the Geneva Conventions in dealing with stateless terrorists determined to murder civilians. Murdering civilians is condemned by those same Conventions, but the jihadists are not persuaded to conform to these treaties. McCain (who was joined by fellow Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and former Secretary of State Colin Powell) suggested that "torturing" terrorists to extract information that might save American lives could put U.S. soldiers at risk and that other nations would be more likely to abuse U.S. captives if Americans appeared to sanction such conduct.

The North Vietnamese imprisoned and tortured McCain for five and a half years in the infamous Hanoi Hilton. The communists were not influenced by America's adherence to the Geneva Conventions. Neither are the terrorists, who kidnap - and force their captives to convert to Islam or, in many cases, behead them - influenced by America's behavior toward enemy combatants.

The jihadists know nothing but intimidation and domination. They believe us to be weak. They believe religions practiced freely within our borders are inferior to theirs. If they have their way, all of those who practice any religion but theirs will be killed or severely discriminated against. They also believe their god has told them to take over the world. That's what they say in their sermons and media. That is what they demonstrate by their actions. Why do so many believe otherwise?

It's easy for the elites to talk warm and fuzzy, as if being nice to killers can persuade them to be nice to us. That's because most of the elites have escape routes or bunkers in which they can hide during a future attack. The rest of us are on our own. We should not have to pay for their naivete.
Thomas' commentary essentially builds on
Sam Harris' piece from yesterday's post, attacking the essential irrationalism of liberalism's denial of the Islamist terror threat.

"Faith and Reason" Unleashes Fury

The past week has seen a tremendous outpouring of condemnation and opinion over Pope Benedict XVI's comments suggesting that Islam is "spread by the sword." The Pope apologized for his comments on Sunday.

In today's Washington Post, however,
Anne Applebaum argues against even the thought of apologizing for what was said:

Already, angry Palestinian militants have assaulted seven West Bank and Gaza churches, destroying two of them. In Somalia, gunmen shot dead an elderly Italian nun. Radical clerics from Qatar to Qom have called, variously, for a "day of anger" or for worshipers to "hunt down" the pope and his followers. From Turkey to Malaysia, Muslim politicians have condemned the pope and called his apology "insufficient." And all of this because Benedict XVI, speaking at the University of Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine emperor who, more than 600 years ago, called Islam a faith "spread by the sword." We've been here before, of course. Similar protests were sparked last winter by cartoon portrayals of Muhammad in the Danish press. Similar apologies resulted, though Benedict's is more surprising than those of the Danish government. No one, apparently, can remember any pope, not even the media-friendly John Paul II, apologizing for anything in such specific terms: not for the Inquisition, not for the persecution of Galileo and certainly not for a single comment made to an academic audience in an unimportant German city.
Applebaum goes on to note that many in the West have reacted sheepishly to the Muslim rage, and besides, there's no monolithic anti-Muslim opinion in Western nations:

Unfortunately, these subtle distinctions are lost on the fanatics who torch embassies and churches. And they may also be preventing all of us from finding a useful response to the waves of anti-Western anger and violence that periodically engulf parts of the Muslim world. Clearly, a handful of apologies and some random public debate -- should the pope have said X, should the Danish prime minister have done Y -- are ineffective and irrelevant: None of the radical clerics accepts Western apologies, and none of their radical followers reads the Western press. Instead, Western politicians, writers, thinkers and speakers should stop apologizing -- and start uniting.

By this, I don't mean that we all need to rush to defend or to analyze this particular sermon; I leave that to experts on Byzantine theology. But we can all unite in our support for freedom of speech -- surely the pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts -- and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns. By "we" I mean here the White House, the Vatican, the German Greens, the French Foreign Ministry, NATO, Greenpeace, Le Monde and Fox News -- Western institutions of the left, the right and everything in between. True, these principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus. A lot more time has been spent analyzing what the pontiff meant to say, or should have said, or might have said if he had been given better advice.

All of which is simply beside the point, since nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it's time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to "hate" Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn't the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain's chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them -- simultaneously?

Maybe it's a pipe dream: The day when the White House and Greenpeace can issue a joint statement is surely distant indeed. But if stray comments by Western leaders -- not to mention Western films, books, cartoons, traditions and values -- are going to inspire regular violence, I don't feel that it's asking too much for the West to quit saying sorry and unite, occasionally, in its own defense. The fanatics attacking the pope already limit the right to free speech among their own followers. I don't see why we should allow them to limit our right to free speech, too.
The Wall Street Journal also had a penetrating editorial on the Pope's controversy today, arguing that in fact Muslims need to hear what Benedict had to say:

In a lecture on "Faith and Reason" at the University of Regensburg in Germany, Benedict XVI cited one of the last emperors of Byzantium, Manuel II Paleologus. Stressing the 14th-century emperor's "startling brusqueness," the pope quoted him as saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Taken alone, these are strong words. However, the pope didn't endorse the comment that he twice emphasized was not his own. No matter. As with Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses," which millions of outraged Muslims didn't bother to read (including Ayatollah Khomeini, who put the bounty on the novelist's life), what Benedict XVI meant or even said isn't the issue. Once again, many Muslim leaders are inciting their faithful against perceived slights and trying to proscribe how free societies discuss one of the world's major religions.
The WSJ editors go on to note that the Pope's apology was gracious but unnecessary, as his comments were taken so much out of context:

In Christianity, God is inseparable from reason. "In the beginning was the Word," the pope quotes from the Gospel according to John. "God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word," he explained. "The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of history of religions, but also from that of world history. . . . This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe."

The question raised by the pope is whether this convergence has taken place in Islam as well. He quotes the Lebanese Catholic theologist Theodore Khoury, who said that "for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent, his will is not bound up with any of our categories." If this is true, can there be dialogue at all between Islam and the West? For the pope, the precondition for any meaningful interfaith discussions is a religion tempered by reason: "It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures," he concluded.

This is not an invitation to the usual feel-good interfaith round-tables. It is a request for dialogue with one condition--that everyone at the table reject the irrationality of religiously motivated violence. The pope isn't condemning Islam; he is inviting it to join rather than reject the modern world.

By their reaction to the pope's speech, some Muslim leaders showed again that Islam has a problem with modernity that is going to have to be solved by a debate within Islam. The day Muslims condemn Islamic terror with the same vehemence they condemn those who criticize Islam, an attempt at dialogue--and at improving relations between the Western and Islamic worlds--can begin.
As these commentaries note, the Muslim response of fury is an overreaction. Jenn of the Jungle made that exact point in her post last week on the outrage.