One posting May 24 eve: intelligence and 9/11, reviewing a superb book by ace federal judge Richard Posner, who relies on my aunt! HIATUS: May 25 - June 9.
Begin with a touch of familial pride: The acknowledged classic work on why intelligence rarely prevents strategic surprise attack was authored by my aunt, Roberta Wohlstetter. Titled Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, the book won the Bancroft Prize for history and was second in the Pulitzer balloting, about 45 years ago. Roberta's book, delayed several years due to Navy concerns about declassifying documents, revealed to the public that US intelligence had cracked the Japanese top-level Purple Code, and that the "East wind, rain" message intercepted before the Pearl Harbor strike meant that the attack was given the go-ahead. Despite this "MAGIC" intercept, and other signs as well, the US failed to connect the dots, and save for aircraft carriers nearly all the US Pacific fleet was sitting sedately on December 7, 1941.
Roberta's book concluded that the intelligence failure was not due to lack of sufficient information to realize that an attack was imminent. Rather, it was, in communications parlance, a failure to separate signals (wheat) from background noise (chaff). Most disturbingly for the future, Roberta concluded that intelligence would never reliably detect strategic surprise, due to fundamental limits of humans and the organizations they create.
In a nutshell: (1) wheat will always be mixed with chaff, with what is wheat obvious only in hindsight; (2) the natural--and powerful--human tendency in the face of ambiguous evidence is to draw reassuring conclusions, not to deduce imminent disaster; (3) information is either excessively dispersed in large organizations, or too compartmentalized (or both), so that key decision-makers rarely have all the dots in front of them to connect; (4) there are powerful political incentives not to go out on a limb, separated from the conventional wisdom, lest one look foolish and damage one's career, i.e., it is safer to be wrong in groups than wrong alone.
Twentieth century history amply buttresses Roberta's thesis: France had a copy of the von Schlieffen plan for Germany to invade France, well in advance of World War I, but the plan caught France by surprise; France refused to believe that the Germans could penetrate the Maginot Line in 1940; Stalin ignored warnings and signals that Germany was about to invade Russia in 1941; the US was surprised by the Viet Cong's January 1968 "Tet" offensive; Israel, despite a legendary intelligence service, ignored signals of an Arab attack on Yom Kippur in 1973; and in 1990 despite satellite photos showing Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border the US believed until the last hours that Saddam would sit still.
Why this dismal record? France believed the first war was impossible in civilized Europe; France believed that a second war could not happen if Hitler was placated; Stalin trusted Hitler and ignored warnings from others; the Israelis could not imagine Arabs attacking after Israel's smashing 1967 victory; the US did not believe that the Viet Cong would dare strike in the open and risk a major engagement, and thought Saddam was bluffing. In each case the victim of surprise rested on comfortable assumptions and selected evidence that confirmed their hypothesis. And in each case....KA-BOOM.
Which is why the aftermath of 9/11 suggests how little many have learned, or perhaps the power of wishful thinking in the face of massive evidence to the contrary--much the same as the wishful selectivity among ambiguous signals of an attack. The debate about certain memos that supposedly should have galvanized the Bush team ignores the background noise that masked them. Assumptions about terrorist capabilities and intentions, numerous other crises besetting an incoming administration still staffing top posts and facing a hostile opposition after a hotly-disputed election, and so on. The FBI lacked a sitting Director from late June to a week before September 11. And on September 10 a directive was placed on Bush 43's table, for a long-term strategy of moving pro-actively against al-Qai'da. Even Richard Clarke conceded that had he gotten into the Oval Office in January his advice would not have prevented 9/11. Clinton officials who alleged 43's laxity conveniently forgot (or never knew) that Clinton's first counter-terror directive was issued in June 1995, 27 months after the February 1993 first World Trade Center Islamic terrorist bombing, which nearly toppled one tower into the other.
Comes now Judge Richard Posner, a widely-respected federal appeals judge (7th Circuit), author of dozens of books and hundreds of articles, who turns his keen intelligence and acerbic wit on the 9/11 Commission's report and its conduct, in conjunction with Congress, John Kerry and the media, in stampeding through Congress an intelligence reform of dubious value, one unlikely to make us safer--probably one that will make us less safe. Posner's book, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform In The Wake Of 9/11, argues powerfully that (a) reform was botched and (b) worse, no reform can make detection of an imminent attack likely.
Posner assails the 9/11 panel's post-report conduct:
"In a misguided quest for unanimity and a determination to use the political calendar and a public relations campaign to force precipitate action on weakly supported proposals for far-reaching organizational change, the 9/11 commission and a politically cornered President and a press that failed to subject the commission's recommendations to the searching scrutiny that the modern press reserves for scandals, disserved the cause of national security in a dangerous era." (p. 207)
Having skewered the 9/11 panel for blowing a grand chance to enact solid reform, Posner drives in the second stake with this final sentence: "If one conclusion emerges most strongly from this study, it is that warning intelligence has inherent limits that make it unrealistic to suppose that any intelligence system, no matter how configured, can guarantee the nation against being surprised by another, and perhaps far more devastating, attack." (p. 208)
Partly, says Posner, reforms were inevitable because to recognize their probable frailty "would bespeak a fatalism that goes against the American grain." We presume every failure is avoidable and thus a culpable one; and we pay sums to victims because we balk at saying that "it was just one of those things." (p. 49). He raps the reform bill's layering on of a new intelligence bureaucracy of undefined powers: "What happened to the adage that too many cooks spoil the broth? Or to Napoleon's dictum that the only thing worse than a bad general is two good generals?" (p. 65) Posner dismisses the organizational changes as "empty rhetoric"--mostly "either bureaucratic flyspecking...or fatuous exhortations." (p. 67) He cites Roberta's finding that well-informed outsiders often do better at strategic assessment than insiders armed with secret information. One reason for this, as Roberta noted, is that professionals engage in "mirror imaging"--projecting onto adversaries their own mindset.
Americans, in Posner's view, face further handicaps in detecting surprise attacks. We are a huge country with countless soft spots, have many enemies, and have "an individualistic and consumer mentality that places a high value on privacy, autonomy, freedom of movement, comfort and convenience." (p. 89) Nor does it help that Americans dislike intelligence work as underhanded, if at times grudgingly conceding it is necessary. No organizational structure ensures against surprise--the Israelis were surprised in 1973 partly due to hyper-centralization.
In sum, Posner sees a 9/11 panel that presented a compelling narrative of events past, but in order to reach a watered-down consensus the panel compromised on proposals, then stampeded public opinion, egged on by cheerleading mass media and with the President politically trapped by his challenger into early blanket endorsement, and a Congress bowing to pressures and enacting hasty, ill-considered reform. As Posner acerbically--and aptly--puts it: "It was the political equivalent of a plane crash....[A] plane is very unlikely to crash unless there is a sequence of component failures. And similarly a piece of legislation as dangerously bad as the structural provisions of the Intelligence Reform Act is unlikely to be enacted unless all the usual barriers to the over-hasty enactment of complex, ill-considered legislation collapse at once. As appears to have happened." (pp. 199-200)
Posner favors creation of a domestic intelligence agency, akin to Britain's MI5, calling it "the structural change most clearly implied" by the panel's own report and scholarly studies the panel and Congress simply ignored and thus rejected outright. Instead the new law entombed domestic intelligence in the FBI, an outfit whose crime-solving culture is inimical to sound domestic intelligence gathering. Criminal investigation is backward-looking, aims to convict suspects and thus follows rigorous procedural norms lest prosecution be jeopardized; intelligence is forward-looking, aims to ferret out information of strategic or tactical value and follows fewer, less constraining norms--sometime, to be effective, none at all.
Posner ultimately places hope on pre-emption, a high-risk strategy but one that is better able to prevent launching of a WMD attack that might easily dwarf 9/11's terrible toll. Instead, the 9/11 panel focused on preventing another multiple commandeering of commercial aircraft, probably one of the least likely attacks. Effective surprise entails finding a new way to attack. The judge takes some comfort in that interstices in the loosely drafted law create space in implementation to undo much of the damage done. Poor execution, needless to say, could compound the damage.
Bottom line: Thank 43, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, Condi Rice, John Bolton and others who realize that to stop a WMD N/11 we cannot count on interdicting the attack, but must carry the fight to enemy home bases--including terror-friendly governments. Keep them off balance, make them spend their time figuring how to survive, rather than plann new attacks. Bypass feckless allies, accepting such little help as they offer, while working with a core coalition of true allies. Do not count on the the coven of witches at Turtle Bay. Practical political considerations require giving them a chance most of the time, which nearly every time they will flub. With rare exceptions, the UN Security Council and General Assembly can neither stop a candy store robbery nor organize a two-car funeral. 43 and his best people know this, and our chances of avoiding catastrophe are much the better for it. Like Posner, they have absorbed the lessons of Roberta's masterpiece, which Posner restores to the position it should have occupied in the public debate post-9/11.
2 postings today, both in The Home Front: (1) Suddenly Smarter, the feds wake up about Viagra for weirdos; (2) Nuclear Brinkmanship, Republicans wisely pull back from the brink, but will the Democrats go over it when a Supreme seat opens up?
The feds woke up--for once--real quick, and within 24 hours of a public complaint from New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi that sex offenders were getting Viagra on taxpayer largesse. A directive was sent yesterday to the states informing them they need not make such payments; blame for the confusion was laid (awful pun, eh?) on a 1998 Clinton-era directive. The episode reminds one of Gary Larson's old The Far Side cartoon about two caveman hunters standing next to a dead dinosaur felled by a single arrow. One says to the other: "We better write that spot down." Ditto with the federal stegosaurus.
Washington Post: Feds Wake Up
Republicans wisely resisted the temptation to use a Senate rule change to eliminate filibuster obstructionism by Democrats against judicial nominees. Nor is it a defeat that Democrats reserve the right to filibuster 43's Supreme court selections. For the old Chinese admonition to beware what one wishes for lest one get it applies equally to Democrats. Just as "going nuclear" would have laid the foundation for a future Democratic President and Senate to roll over Republicans and plunk left-of-Teddy liberals on the federal bench, so will a Supreme stall backfire against Democrats.
Should the Chief Justice step down, let President Bush elevate Clarence Thomas and nominate Miguel Estrada, and let Democrats refuse to allow floor votes on the first black chief justice and first Hispanic associate justice nominees. See how that sits with the American public, whose patience for procedural shenanigans is extremely short. ("Nino" Scalia is the best choice for C.J., but his myriad verbal sallies are too susceptible of misrepresentation and in the event he is nearly 70; a younger C.J. nominee--one as reliably conservative as Thomas, who like "Nino" will never "grow" in office by moving left to win Beltway plaudits--will sucker Democrats to overstep in opposition.)
And the deal is a good one. Democrats might filibuster a couple of pending appellate court nominations, but they agree that future nominations should "only be filibustered in extraordinary circumstances." (And as TAS Prowler notes, with moderate Democrats backing, in reality at least 6 and perhaps 7 of 8 pending appellate nominees will get floor votes.) In other words, they concede that their unprecedented filibuster of ten appeals court nominations was off the charts. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) quotes Senator Robert Byrd, premier Senate historian, on NRO, giving the game away last week during floor debate: "“[T]he rules adopted by the United States Senate in April 1789 included a motion for the previous question.” This “allowed the Senate to terminate debate” (which would entail a majority vote). And then yesterday, Byrd again: “[T]he so-called nuclear option has been around for a long time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.” (Sen. Cornyn's NRO piece also details a few rulings of Texas Justice Priscilla Owen, with whom the Senator served; read about them and see what today's Democrats consider "radical.")
What "extraordinary circumstances" would justify stopping Thomas or Estrada? Thomas has 14 years on the bench, and says so little there is not much to pick on; his opinions are low-key and solid. Estrada has a glittering resume and a compelling life story (as did Thomas). Anita Hill? About as relevant this time around as the late Virginia Hill (Buggsy Siegel's last mistress).
One objection, raised by NRO's Andrew McCarthy, is the consultation provision, in that Democrats are free to argue that failure of 43 to vet his picks with them before sending names to the Senate creates "extraordinary circumstances" that justify a filibuster. Potentially worse for the longer term, while it is likely Republicans will consult in advance with Democrats, it is hard to imagine any future Democratic President consulting with a Republican minority in the Senate.
If one believes that Republicans had a slam-dunk win in sight it was indeed an unwise concession, but they did not. Partly because MSM would have manipulated public opinion against 43, and partly because the plain fact of the matter is that there are enough Republicans ready to break with the core party so as to make an ideal agreement but a dream. Simply put, whether a Republican likes the deal depends upon what one thinks not only of the merits of each party's position, which strongly favor the Republican side, but also the practical politics which, due to public cynicism and a vacuum of public understanding which MSM bias would play a large role in filling, likely favor the Democrats. (MSM bias counts for less on issues where the public's mental grasp is strong--Rathergate involved everyday stuff, not historical arcana.)
And if "Dirty Harry (Reid)," he of small mind and big mouth, who has called Thomas an "embarrassment," Alan Greenspan a "hack" and 43 (twice elected governor & twice elected president) "a loser" wants to open up rhetorically? ""Go ahead, make my day!"
NY Times: Text of Senate Compromise
TAS: Most Will Get Floor Votes
McCarthy: Bum Deal
Sen. Cornyn: Democrats Concede Wrongs
3 postings today: (1) Sheer Stupidity Squared, in the Home Front--Medicaid narrowly edges the White House in the stupidity stakes; (2) Juries: Hollywood Rules, in The Home Front--juries want trials to mirror entertainment; (3) Red Crossed, in Weenie Watch: Faux Amis--the International Red Cross double crosses the US.
The White House and the Medicaid bureaucracy are in a close heat for the title of dumbest deed of the young century. Medicaid wins, but by a narrow margin. Send Laura Bush to the Wailing Wall while Israel seethes over the tumultuous debate on Gaza withdrawal, then on to the Mosque of Omar on Temple Mount in the immediate aftermath of a worldwide uproar over the Koran desecration fabrications, to say nothing of doing this two-bagger not long since a live grenade landed near the Bush motorcade in Georgia (the country, not the state)? The (strategic) mind boggles. Sending Laura to cheer the troops in Iraq was also risky, but at least made sense; the troops love her (rightly). Her appearance in Jerusalem accomplishes little for 43, at no small risk to her safety. Did anyone at the White House consider what a massive morale boost terrorists would have reaped from nailing Laura? No conceivable gain from her visit is worth that risk.
But Medicaid still wins the prize. Supplying Viagra --and other products designed to improve one's ability and desire for making whoopee--to convicted sex offenders, including those convicted of raping victims from ages 2 to 90 years (not misprints)--for the past five years takes the cake for the most imbecilic federal action in memory. Makes one yearn for the golden days of welfare queens.
Medicaid Goes Wild!
Prosecutors are finding jurors increasingly attuned to tv show forensics--27 million viewers watch CSI: Crime Scene Investigation--and these jurors expect every piece of evidence to be tested and to yield definitive results. The result is that prosecutors must explain why such is often not feasible, but acquittals are becoming more likely nonetheless. That police frequently lack sufficient resources and criminals clean up the crime scene does not deter jurors. On the plus side, jurors are now better able to comprehend complex forensic evidence, unlike the dolts on the O.J. jury. And to be fair, flawed forensics send innocent folks to prison. Jurors are increasingly aware as well of the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, whose frailty trial lawyers have long known.
When prosecutors feel compelled to remind prospective jurors--and again during trial those jurors selected--that entertainment is not real life, the impact of Hollywood can no longer be seriously denied. One thing can be said for the tv crime shows: Unlike the cartoonish offerings at the movie houses, some of these shows are very well-written, crisply acted and adult-level literate. The Idiot Screen is supplanting the Idiot Box as entertainment's dumbest visuals.
Movies have long influenced audiences. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) educated audiences as to the social curse of racial prejudice; The China Syndrome (1979) gave us Jane Fonda's nuclear policy, leaving us in thrall to the Gulf sheikdoms with results we still are living with.
But this still leaves the question of what to do in the courtroom. Jurors are unlikely to accept limited resources as an excuse. The great peril is that they confuse scientific forensic certitude with the "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. If they do so, expect more perps to walk out the courthouse free to resume their life of crime.
Washington Post: Jurors CSI Savvy
WSJ op-ed writers present evidence that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is deeply biased against America. Leaks from interviews in Iraq and at Guantanamo designed to embarrass the US, inviolation of ICRC pledges of confidentiality in return for access; describing indefinite detention as "tantamount to torture" when POWs may, even under the Geneva Convention (which does not apply to terrorist group members), be confined for the duration of war; an ICRC official comparing US detention practices to--yes--Nazi Germany. Yet another international body in thrall to the international Left, and given sacred cow status by its mythic name. Hagiographic coverage of such groups is another old media mortal sin.
WSJ - ICRC Bias
3 postings today: (1) 1,347 Days, in Us v. Them: Whose World Is This, Anyway?, on how little of what we can in fact do has actually been done to prepare for a bio-attack; (2) Eons After Tomorrow, in Cyber-Serendip,on why not to lose sleep over ice cap melt; (3) "You're Fired!" Dump for Trump, in The Ap & The Cap, on letting DT take over Ground Zero.
The time span between Pearl Harbor and V-J Day, 1,347 days, is now equal to the span between September 11, 2001 and today, May 20, 2005 yet, according to a former top defense official, the nation is little better organized to stop a bio-terror attack than it was on 9/11. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius warns that the Cessna that invaded Capitol airspace last week could have been carrying anthrax. A bio-security expert he consulted says that the $27 billion the US has spent on bio-defense since 9/11 has yielded little. Current technology permits production of a rapid test for anthrax. Much of the money sent to the states for bio-defense was funneled into existing health programs.
Nice going. What are we waiting for? We still are in the dark as to who sent the anthrax. True, we have (as noted in my 5/4/05 posting, Can Tech Trump Terror?) some good programs going at Livermore Lab and other places. But the elephantine Homeland Security bureaucracy, the serpentine trails programs must wend through Congress and the dog-nipping-at-the-heels obsession of the media with interrogation abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo saps efforts to defend us. Imagine if the media gave one-tenth as much publicity to shortfalls in preparation for bio-attack as they do to complaints from terrorist prisoners? What would the public demand from their federal and state governments? Don't hold your breath. (How many press reports have we seen asking whether prisoner interrogations are yielding the maximum information about our adversaries? Don't hold your breath here, either.)
Apparently the shock of 9/11 was not enough. Taking the full
2,190-day span of World War II (6 years plus one day and two leap year
days) gives us until 9/13/07 to get ready. Someone be sure to tell
al-Qai'da they they cannot strike before then.
1,347 Days and Counting
Ignatius: Still Unprepared
Last year Hollywood issued an eco-catastrophe flick, The Day After Tomorrow, which had melting polar ice caps raising water levels high enough to inundate Manhattan. Alas, Hollywood's futurist scenarios seem no better than its histories. The Antarctic and Greenland ice caps are melting at the combined rate of 1.8 millimeters per year, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with 90 percent due to the Antarctic ice. Now do a little arithmetic: There are 25mm per inch, which means that each year Antarctic + Greenland glacier melt raises the sea level by 0.072 inches. Now extrapolate: 72 inches--6 feet--per millennium. But a satellite survey for 1992 - 2003 shows that increased Antarctic snowfall is reducing by 0.12m the rise in sea level, so the 0.72" per year number becomes 0.67", making the millennium rise in sea level at current rates only 5 feet 7 inches. Ready to spend a few trillion dollars per the Kyoto Protocol to further negligibly reduce this number?
Meanwhile, back at the eco-ranch, Science magazine has published an article on the global impact of the December 2004 tsunami. That temblor, the strongest in more than forty years (9.1 - 9.3 on the logarithmic Richter scale), created the largest recorded sea floor rupture--720 to 780 miles--and went on for 10 minutes, versus a typical quake duration of 30 seconds. The world sea level was raised 0.004 inches. Hence, given 16,750 tsunamis like the one last December, over the next millennium, all the ice cap melt's impact on sea level would be negated. OK, that cure than is surely worse than the disease; we do not want a tsunami every 3 weeks, do we? Now consider the volcanic activity in that area.
In 1883 the island of Krakatoa exploded. (Pace Hollywood, which released a 1969 movie entitled Krakatoa: East of Java, the island lay west of Java. Moral: Do not take your geography from Hollywood, either.) The explosion, among other things, triggered a tsunami estimated at 135 feet (far higher than the recent tsunami), which hit part of Java within minutes, was heard in Australia and India, caused a 15-degree (not a misprint) drop in local temperature and a worldwide drop of one degree (both figures Fahrenheit) and gave landscape painters around the world several years of Turner-like sunsets. Beginning in 1927 a new volcanic--and unstable--island began to grow on the spot of the 1883 detonation. Born by another explosion, Anak Krakatoa is now 1,500 feet high; in other words, Baby sprouts 22 feet per year. Krakatoa was about 2,600 feet in height, so another 50 years of Son of K's growth will make it equal in height to Daddy. Here's where Hollywood futurism may pay off: Son of Kong, the 1933 sequel to that year's original classic. Son of Kong ends with an earthquake that destroys the island. Sound familiar? Hollywood may finally get one right. Stay tuned.
Nature: Ice Cap Impact
Science: Tsunami Shook Globe
Winchester, Simon, The Day The World Exploded (Harper/Collins 2003)
Real estate mogul/tv star Donald Trump has cut loose with another salvo at the proposed Freedom Tower for Ground Zero, calling it "the worst pile of crap architecture I have ever seen in my life." This on top of his recent jibe that the FT is "an egghead design by an egghead." Trump, who famously restored Wollman's skating rink in Central Park after a comatose Big Apple bureaucracy gave up, is not building a 92-story tower in Chicago. Care to bet that were The Donald given a contract to rebuild GZ that after nearly four years NYC would have growing twins? Looks like it will take the voters deciding to fire Governor Pataki (or his leaving office knowing he is about to be fired) to have a chance to end the life of the FT egghead-designed crapola.
Rebuild the Towers
2 postings today: (1) What David Lean Missed, in Us. v. Them: Whose World Is It, Anyway?, notes an article on the mess T.E. Lawrence made in the Mideast, whose fallout we still deal with today; (2) Loose Senate Nukes - A Coda, in The Home Front, with refinements to the Senate filibuster & Constitution debate, noting comments by former Reagan-era Solicitor-General Charles Fried, former Senator Bob Dole and current Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT).
An unusually good article, previewing what promises to be a superb book coming out next year, explains in a few words how T.E. Lawrence made such a mess in the Mideast. It presents an accurate picture to replace that Hollywood romanticism of Lawrence of Arabia, an entertaining movie that reaffirms why Hollywood is not for historians. The piece shows how little the Arabs did for how much they got--it is, by the way, a measure of Arab attitudes that they feel cheated when they got 99 percent of the Ottoman lands and 100 percent of the Empire's Mideast oil. Take Winston Churchill's famed encomium to the RAF after the Battle of Britain ("Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.") and flip it to describe the 1916 Arab Revolt performance and its long-term results: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much given to so many for deeds so few."
Telegraph UK: Lawrence's Unhappy Legacy
Writing in today's Boston Globe, former Reagan-era Solicitor-General Charles Fried offers an elegantly framed demolition of claims that the Senate filibuster is rooted in constitutional tradition. Fried adds one argument I missed last week: that the provision of 2/3 super-majority rules in several provisions of the Constitution are exclusive, i.e., no others are contemplated. In the law Latin that enables lawyers to charge exorbitant fees: Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius (To include one is to exclude others). Republicans beware: Zero of Fried's argument will pass unfiltered through MSM's rose-tinted lenses. Which is why "going nuclear" remains so perilous: The more arcane an issue the less likely the public will see through MSM distortions.
Given that the public is traditionally--and rightly--strongly suspicious of any procedural maneuvering as being politics rather than principle, I reiterate the Chinese admonition about being careful what you wish for lest you get it. Next week's judges debate will be aired by MSM via soundbites--flattering for Democrats, unflattering for Republicans. Senator Robert Benett of Utah is quoted in David Broder's Washington Post column today:
"But Bennett said that,
whatever the outcome of this vote, he fears that a sword has been
unsheathed that will forever change the way the Senate operates. 'Once
we [Republicans] try to change the rules with 51 votes, the precedent
is on the table,' he said. 'If Hillary Clinton becomes president with a
Democratic Senate and wants to appoint Lani Guinier to the Supreme
Court, Harry Reid could make that happen with 51 votes.'
That is a thought for Republicans to ponder."
(Lani Guinier was the lefty "quota queen" Clinton first pick for top civil rights attorney in the Justice Department; she was stopped in the Senate; Clinton then picked a "quota-king" who was confirmed.)
Bob Dole's op-ed in The Washington Times today adds much detail about the 1968 Fortas nomination debate; noteworthy is that the cloture vote went 45-43--the minority (19 Democrats included, as I noted last week) was nearly equal to the majority.
2 postings today: (1) Blowing Themselves Up, in 3/11, 9/11 & N/11, noting that a rift between Arab and Central Asian terror factions may be crippling al-Qai'da; (2) Winning Ugly Beats Losing Pretty, in Weenie Watch, taking on an idiotic Euro-court ruling that aids only the terrorists.
A maxim of strategy holds that when your enemy is self-destructing, sit back and let him do so. The Washington Times reports today that US experts believe al-Qai'da to be increasingly crippled by an internal rift between its Arab and Central Aisan adherents. Uzbek, Chechen and Tadjik detainees are giving up al-Qai'da bigs to Pakistani interrogators. After gazillion CIA screw-ups, it's nice to know the other guys mess up, too.
Excessive fastidiousness about legal rights gives a new lease on life to yet another arch-terrorist, courtesy of a European tribunal whose rulings will likely influence the International Criminal Court that the US rightly resists joining, reports a WSJ op-ed. If so,the ICC would bid fair to do for international criminal justice what Earl Warren did for the US and the European Commission on Human Rights (ECHR) is apparently doing for Europe: transform the right to a fair trial into an entitlement to a perfect one. A Turkish court convicted the former leader of the Turkish PKK, a Marxist terror group, but now the ECHR throws the verdict out in what the WSJ terms (probably rightly) an "open-and-shut case." The defendant was, after all, the leader of the terror group. Why toss out the verdict? Because (a) a military judge presided for part of the trial, (b) alleged undue delay in bringing charges, and (c) supposedly not enough time given for the defendant to consult with his lawyer.
Just the kind of case for the ECHR to apply hyper-formalist jurisprudence. Much like the Zacharias Moussaoui case here, which tied the US prosecution up for close to four years. Such procedural perfectionism cost thousands of US lives in the past forty years. Applied to terrorists it could easily cost many more lives in in a far briefer time-span. Try hundreds of thousands in a single afternoon.
Procedural formalism is to liberals the ultimate test of seriousness; striking a balance between formalism and real-life imperfection is the lodestar for conservatives. And in wartime that should tilt much closer to erring on the side of getting maximum information from captives and keeping them isolated until they cooperate--and even after, in the most serious cases.
Donald Rumsfeld deserves credit for one thing his critics seem to
want to forget: The US is in a war for its national life. Once more
with feeling: We are at war. When fighting for your life in an
alley, the Marquis of Queensberry Rules are not the first thing you
think of. You may elect restraint, but never forget: IN WAR, WINNING
UGLY BEATS LOSING PRETTY.
WSJ: Terror Court
One post today, in The Home Front: an extended critique of MSM outrages that undermine America's war effort, and what the administration should do--and not do--about them. I discovered after writing it that several commentators I normally consult made similar appraisals, including similar turns of phrase here and there. I declined to rewrite. My piece goes further in scope, by addressing in detail what might be done. I show also the howler in Newsweek's own posted apologia. As for unintended similarities, I guess great minds think alike.
If 43 and Tony Blair get slammed for relying on "Curveball" for Iraqi WMD reports later proven false, what does one make of Newsweek
relying on a sole source for a flushing of the Qur'an that never took
place? Call the Guantanamo source "Screwball." As for the reporters
who aired this report, call them names you wouldn't say in front of mom
on Mothers' Day. Start with "Slimeball." After that, you are on your own.
Newsweek's retraction, like Abu Ghraib prosecutions--and a definitive report showing those abuses were committed by a bunch of jerks on the night shift, cannot repair the lasting damage that is done once misleading images and reports are floated worldwide. Newsweek's grotesquerie, like Seymour Hersh's disgraceful Spring 2004 revelations about Abu Ghraib, published in wartime despite ongoing military investigations, illustrates dramatically the dangers posed to our war aims by MSM (Mainstream Media--old line and predominantly liberal).
MSM committed these despite inescapable knowledge that massive harm to an America at war would result. Incredibly, the magazine in a website posting today states: "After so many gruesome reports of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, the vehemence of feeling around this case came as a surprise." Set aside as beyond reportorial institutional memory Iran's threats to the life of novelist Salman Rushdie when he satirized Islam in The Satanic Verses, or the Saudi furor over the TV docudrama Death of a Princess, or how Hollywood was pressured to withdraw a movie biography, Muhammad: Messenger of God.
Ask yourself this one: Do you really believe one can flush a full-size book down a toilet? A check at Amazon's website yields a 464-page edition of the Qur'an published by Penguin Classics, dimensions 7.8" x 5.5" x 0.7". The magazine's apologia even alleges that prison toilets were stuffed with pages of the Qur'an--to clog them up. Pages to clog, books to flush. Right.
It does not take an Orientalist scholar to know that any report of desecration of the Qur'an would enrage mobs of young Muslims. Partly there is, of course, a disposition to believe the worst about 43 and his minions, even in the midst of a war. Vaunted reportorial skepticism was not-so-strangely absent at Newsweek.
One reason MSM is in declining repute is its evident
eagerness to pile on an administration at war, consequences be damned.
Portraying Abu Ghraib as a microcosm of US military detention,
accepting at face value charges of abuse at Guantanamo, have created
pressure on the administration to moderate legitimate interrogation
efforts. In a war where intelligence is (a) critical and (b) relies
enormously on disclosures by captured terrorists the price of MSM
treachery is high indeed. And 24/7 media coverage plus an Internet
that never forgets makes the price of media abuse a price paid forever.
Publication of Abu Ghraib stories would have been justified, had no investigations been underway. In fact, several investigations were underway. Thus the prime value of media disclosure was to intensify anger against the US military worldwide. It may not be possible to prove that specific innocent persons were killed due to the Abu Ghraib 24/7 MSM sideshow, but it is reasonable to conclude that some acts of terror were inspired by white-hot Muslim anger at the revelations.
MSM in the past has from time to time withheld certain information. Several Americans were sheltered at the Canadian legation in Tehran during the 1979-81 Iranian hostage crisis. This was, rightly, not reported. No one would defend reporting troop movements in advance, or would they? Suppose that MSM had learned of Norman Schwarzkopf's famed "left hook" end run around Saddam's Maginot sandbox in Kuwait, and reported it on the eve of battle? Would anything have happened to the reporter? Could Eisenhower have survived today's media environment, had all the snafus on D-Day (such as a few dozen tanks rolling off landing craft and immediately sinking in deep water) been plastered on the world's TV screens and PC video monitors?
Terrorists and potential suicide bombers around the world were energized by prison abuse tales. Interrogations of terror suspects were curbed. Anti-Americanism in Europe, too, intensified. All eminently foreseeable consequences of MSM's reportage.
MSM types doing this may feel deeply patriotic, and patriotism being a state of mind, they may sincerely believe it does their country good that all its sins be exposed and their impact maximized, even during wartime. Whether a reporter harming America's ability to fight a war does it believing it helps the country only matters in a criminal prosecution where state of mind is an element of a charged crime. Meanwhile, those dead because Newsweek published fantasy, or because Abu Ghraib photos circulate on the Internet, are equally dead regardless of MSM's collective or any reporter's individual state of mind. Newsweek's retraction notwithstanding, they will stay dead. Very dead.
In a First Amendment environment meeting a "clear and present danger of a substantive evil" (Oliver Wendell Holmes' famed standard for what lawyers call "prior restraint" of speech) is a high hurdle. It can be surmounted (troop movements in advance, surely). But as a practical matter, any administration effort to suppress speech would, of course, backfire massively in the ensuing media firestorm. What then to do?
First, vigorously employ alternative media channels to bypass MSM and present the positive side of America and its war effort (something Condi Rice is now doing, in notable contrast to her oft-silent predecessor).
Second, make highly public, as 43 is doing now, MSM abuses, that MSM pays for its own sins in the coinage of diminished reputation.
Third, offer favored access to reporters and pundits--including critics--who are fair, and who respect reasonable rules of the road for wartime reportage. Tom Friedman of the New York Times often smacks 43, but he will listen to reason and offers praise when he thinks it due; Friedman has also lambasted the European press, calling it (rightly) on a recent TV show as biased as al-Jazeera. (Friedman surely disagrees with much of what is written in this piece, but he is fair; ditto Anne Applebaum of The Washington Post, Mara Liasson of NPR/Fox, and others.) It is essential that critics be included among those with favored access, both to prevent supporters from being tainted as lackeys, and because all administrations need the benefits of constructive criticism.
And finally, one thing not to do: Avoid the sin of overkill, lest one magnify the damage done. Classic case: the Pentagon Papers. Largely historical in nature, the original articles covering several pages of several editions of the New York Times would have put most Americans to sleep after the first five paragraphs. Nixon hauled the Times into court, the Supremes made the right call, and the published transcript became a best-seller. Abu Ghraib stories inflicted vast harm, far more than the Pentagon Papers could ever have done, and thus a better case for suppression might well have been made. But with the current lineup on the Supreme Court neither prosecution nor censorship would survive.
The bottom line? OK, MSM did not kill, nor did MSM order the killing of inncoent people, but it spread kerosene on the floor and handed out matches to Islamic arsonists--verbal and literal. America's war will, from time to
time, need to be conducted, consistent with its legal and moral
traditions, against those among the media who inflict serious harm on
the war effort. Innocent victims of bombings inspired by media abuses
should not be the only folks paying a price when MSM fires at us.
Newsweek: "How a Fire Broke Out"
3 brief Posts today, all in Us. v. Them: Whose World Is It, Anyway? First, why we cannot manage China's evolution to superpower status. Second, why Iraq may be replaying Europe's 1848. Third, a less sanguine take, on why Iraq's insurgents may follow the IRA model.
Writing in Sunday's Washington Post, Robert Kaplan warns us that we are kidding ourselves if we think we can manage the way China evolves. History offers cold comfort to those hoping that a rising power will integrate peacefully into the world order; the norm is disruption and war. Still seething with resentment over humiliations inflicted on China by the Western powers in the 19th and 20th century (and by Japan as well), an orderly Sino-sunrise is a poor bet.
One would think, were rationality the norm, that the Chinese would recall that far more disruption was caused in the 19th century by the mid-century T'ai Ping Rebellion, which killed 15 to 20 million people in a far smaller China. In the 20th century Mao Zedong's reign saw some 30 million killed by his calamitous Great Leap Forward, and millions more in the Cultural Revolution that followed soon after, far more disruption than anything done by the West. And before that it was China's deliberate retreat from world trade leadership in the mid-15th century that paved the way for the rise of the West. But rationality has little to do with politics. Look for China to make lots of trouble in the decades ahead.
Hop on for a bumpy ride.
Kagan: "The Illusion of 'Managing' China"
Fouad Ajami writes in WSJ today on his latest visit to the Mideast.
His is a positive view. Ajami sees progress as possible in Egypt and
even Syria, and thinks Iraq in far better shape than nightly news
reports suggest. He thinks that the Mideast, thanks to the
applications of American power, may be in the early stages of what
Europe saw in the domestic upheavals of 1848. One can only hope the
result is better this time than the revolutions from which romantic
nationalism sprung like Pallas Athene from the head of Zeus, to be
unleashed in August 1914.
Ajami: Iraq 2005 = Europe 1848?
James Bennet writes in NY Times of a chilling prospect: What if the insurgency in Iraq, which violates all the famed precepts of 20th century insurgent campaigns, is simply something new? Not trying to win hearts and minds. Not trying to force the authorities to overreact and thus shift public sympathy towards the insurgents. Contemptuous of Che Guevara's injunction that insurgents cannot beat a democracy. Ignoring the 20 percent participation of Sunnis in the new government, despite Sunni boycott of the January 2005 vote. Rand terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman notes that a hard core of 200 to 400 IRA terrorists have kept tens of thousands of British troops tied down for 35 years.
So where does that leave the US and its Iraqi government allies? Decades of violence like in Northern Ireland, perhaps. The Iraqi people surely are better off without hundreds of thousands of people being murdered by Saddam's Stalinist state. But there are more TV pictures of today's carnage, albeit vastly less in scale. If the images of voting Iraqis transfixed the world and spurred democracy in the Mideast, will images of anarchy turn the world away and dishearten Mideast democrats?
Optimistically, probably not. If democracy succeeds in Lebanon, and spreads to Egypt, Iraq could become a sui generis
case of unending violence. But a seething Iraq could well doom any
hope of the US moving militarily against Iran's mullahs, save solely by
air attack. Above all, Iraq may become a poster child for what happens
when violent groups with unlimited access to modern arms can cause
country-wide the crime-driven anarchy seen in US urban ghettos in the
1970s and 1980s, but using explosions rather than armed robbery, rape,
burglary, drug dealing, etc.
Bennet: Iraqi IRA?
One posting today, on Senate filibusters and judicial nominees. It argues that Democrats have "nuked history" but that despite ample provocation Republicans should refrain from the "nuclear option"of amending Senate rules unilaterally to break the filibuster. Rather they should bide their time, and join the issue when a Supreme Court vacancy appears.
As the debate over revision of Senate rules to permit a simple majority to end a filibuster on judicial nominations comes to a head, it is useful to deflate some historical hot-air balloons. Framers' intent to protect minority rights? Hallowed tradition of "The World's Greatest Deliberative Body?" Two centuries of unbroken tradition?
About as accurate as history from Hollywood--indeed, one pro-filibuster ad has the Jimmy Stewart clip from the 1939 Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which Stewart holds the floor for nearly 24 hours (a feat infamously carried out in 1957 by Strom Thurmond in filibustering a civil rights bill). As usual, history by Hollywood comes up short. Upon viewing the film at its 1939 Washington premiere, Majority Leader Alben Barkley called the film "silly and stupid," and said that it made the Senate "look like a bunch of crooks."
In 1997, two Brookings Institution scholars, Sarah Binder & Steven Smith, published a landmark study, Politics and Principle: Filibusters in the United States Senate. (Brookings, though at the time led by Reaganite Michael Armacost, is a moderate left-of-center think tank of solid repute.) Their work shows: (1) the Constitution is silent on procedural preferences, leaving rules to be set by each chamber, but key Framers and Founders were not sympathetic to delaying tactics; (2) the early Senate did not practice filibusters; (3) filibusters came to the fore when secessionist stalwart John C. Calhoun led the states' rights revolt beginning in the 1830s; (4) the filibuster was limited per cloture in 1917, reflecting the democratization of the Senate; (5) several further changes were made, including lowering the vote margin for cloture to 60 in 1975, as use of the filibuster clogged up progressively more Senate business.
First, the Framers: Both Madison (# 58) and Hamilton (#22) warned in The Federalist Papers about the danger of obstructionist minorities in the legislative branch. Making the Senate more deliberative, to correct the popular passions of the moment, was done by insulating Senators from direct election, giving them staggered 6-year terms, proceeding behind closed doors, and making the Senate legislative role one of acting on legislation after bills had passed the House--in effect, more like a private council of revision than an active public chamber. Founding Father (not a Framer; he was in France when the Framers met in 1787 in Philadelphia) Thomas Jefferson codified rules during his Vice-Presidential term (1797-1801), when he presided over the Senate; no provision was made for filibuster. To the contrary, Jefferson's rules provided for a "motion on the previous question," designed to end dilatory debate.
In 1806 the Senate amended its rules upon prompting from then-VP Aaron Burr, to eliminate the "previous question" motion, which in fact had been used to kill bills--senators would move the previous question on a bill they knew did not have enough votes to pass. Thus the 1806 rule change, later cited as creating a filibuster, was in fact intended to remove a rule that had worked to block legislative action, hardly evidence of endorsement for the filibuster, a tactic designed to aid minorities in blocking bills.
It was the formidable John C. Calhoun who in the 1830s brought the filibuster into use, under his doctrine of "concurrent majority," whereby minority interests were entitled to equal status with majority interests. Calhoun interpreted the 1787 Constitutional Convention as not changing the Articles of Confederation's diffuse structure of "a firm league of friendship between sovereign states." It would take the Civil War to settle the sovereignty issue.
By the end of the 19th century the filibuster had become a formidable weapon, and more frequently used. One reason was that Senators after the Civil War became closer to their electorates, via canvassing state legislators to seek their vote. Eventually canvassing would make state legislator picks a public issue, which in turn led to adoption in 1913 of the 17th Amendment, calling for direct popular election of senators. Beginning in the late 19th century Senate legislative activity markedly increased; no longer did it customarily await House action. The Senate's original revisionary council role faded. And its having more public business to do gave minorities more leverage to use "unanimous consent" leverage to block bills or force changes. Unanimous consent agreements came into wide use after the Civil War.
Came 1917 and under wartime pressure from President Woodrow Wilson and an aroused public the Senate amended Senate Rule 22, to provide for "cloture" votes by a two-thirds super-majority of senators present and voting to cut off debate. In 1949 Rule 22 was amended to require 2/3 of all senators, whether or not present and voting, to cut off debate; cloture was expanded to cover procedural votes as well, except for motions to amend Senate rules. In 1959 the cloture threshold was returned to 1917's "present and voting" rules, and cloture was extended to cover motions to change Senate rules. In 1975 cloture was lowered to 60 Senators, but not for rule changes.
Endlessly inventive Senate obstructionists filibustered post-cloture debate by introducing serial amendments and quorum calls, so in 1979 post-cloture consideration (not just debate, it includes quorum calls, roll calls and parliamentary inquiries) was limited to 100 hours and then in 1985 a 30-hour limit was adopted, which pertains today. Once cloture is invoked, individual senators are limited to one-hour, and the only amendments which may be considered are those submitted in writing before cloture is voted, and which meet the test of "germaneness." Senate procedure became more efficient, if less entertaining: Huey Long, during his Senate term (1929-1935), would filibuster by talking about his favorite cooking recipes, such as frying oysters.
Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein points out that to make a tripartite constitutional system work certain tacit protocols of restraint must be observed. Thus, the Appointments Clause of the Constitution does not expressly command the President to appoint judges yet, as Fein explains, "a judiciary without judges would be a farce." Also, custom constrains Congress from declining to vote monies to pay salaries of the President and judges.
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol draws a notable distinction between a filibuster aimed at legislation and one thwarting a presidential nominee. Kristol cites Trinity University of San Antonio professor David A. Crockett (a descendant?), who notes that under Article I of the Constitution each legislative chamber is the sole judge of its procedural rules, and thus can choose to require a super-majority vote to end a filibuster; no such control over Article II nominations has a comparable rationale. Nominations are easily delayed, usually without impeding legislative business, so the temptation is great at times of high partisanship. (Nominations can be speeded along if voted on in a bloc, but only if no senator objects.)
Two other distinctions worthy of note, from online TAS's Brandon Crocker: (1) Republican senators who blocked Clinton judicial nominees were majorities--they had the votes in committee, not a filibustering minority party. And while Democrats have let about 95 percent of 43's judges pass (seems most 43 nominees are not so "radical" after all), the concentration upon stopping federal appellate court nominees en masse is without prior precedent.
There is good reason to separate legislative matters from nominations. Congress has always been central to lawmaking--hence the maxim "the President proposes, but Congress disposes." Nominations are less central. Supreme Court appointments are perhaps the most vital confirmation responsibility of the Senate. The Senate has declined to confirm (some were not rejected by actual vote) 30 of 144 Supreme Court nominees whose names were formally submitted (21 percent), but most rejections came in the 19th century.
Yet not until 1925 did a Supreme Court nominee (Harlan Stone, confirmed and elevated to Chief Justice in 1941) appear before the Senate to testify on his nomination; as recently as 1949 a successful Supreme Court nominee (Sherman Minton) declined to appear before the Senate, choosing to stand on his record. The first associate justice seeking promotion to the Chief Justice position to testify on behalf of his nomination was Abe Fortas in 1968. His nomination was filibustered until a cloture vote failed. The Fortas nomination was withdrawn, partly a matter of philosophy, but also partly due to the nominee's financial dealings and his past participation in White House matters.
Cloture votes on nominations were not permitted until 1949. From 1949 through 2002 cloture was sought on 35 nominations (only two before 1980) and invoked on 21; only 3 nominees were not confirmed. Only 3 nominees were for the Supreme Court and one for the President's Cabinet; most were junior-level nominees. In only 2 Congresses has cloture been sought on more than 3 nominees: on 12 the 103rd (1993-1994) and on 5 in the 107th (2001-2002). For the 90th through 107th Congresses (1967-2002) cloture was invoked on 11 of 17 judicial nominations and on 10 of 18 executive branch nominees.
After Fortas, no judicial nominee subjected to filibuster was stopped; cloture was either invoked or withdrawn. Of 17 judicial nominees filibustered, 3 were Supreme Court nominees (Fortas, Rehnquist twice, 1972 and 1986 when up for Chief Justice), 12 were Circuit Court candidates (the intermediate tier and first appellate level in the federal system) and 2 were District judges (trial level). Republicans filibustered one Carter judge (Stephen Breyer, then up for a Circuit Court judge slot, he now sits on the Supreme Court). Democrats filibustered 4 Reagan appointees (Rhenquist's for Chief Justice, 2 Circuit and one District judge), and one Bush 41 Circuit Court judge. Republicans filibustered 4 Circuit Court judges and one District Court judge during the Clinton years. In 43's first term Democrats filibustered 10 appeals court nominees; 3 have withdrawn their names, 3 are tangled in a dispute with Michigan's two senators and 4 are opposed on ideological grounds.
Another way to see the data: From Truman through 43, there have been a total of 606 judicial nominations, of whom 472, or 78 percent, were confirmed. Confirmation percentages for the Circuit Courts of Appeal nominees were 82 percent for Truman (27 of 33), 90 percent for Eisenhower (46 of 51), 90 percent for Kennedy/LBJ (61 of 68), 88 percent for Nixon (57 of 61), 92 percent for Carter (56 of 61). With Reagan, confirmation percentage began to fall, to 82 percent (83 of 102), then 78 percent for bush 41 (42 of 54), 61 percent for Clinton (65 of 106) and then rose slightly to 65 percent for Bush 43 (66 of 101).
Thus, in the 9 Presidential first terms preceding 43's first term, 85.5 percent of judicial nominees were confirmed, with 46 appellate nominees returned at session end; for 43's first term 53 percent were confirmed and 30 returned at session end. Thus the ongoing four-year appellate judge stall is without precedent. Senate Democrats are indeed, as Bush 43 supporters aver, in uncharted waters.
History suggests, however, that instead of invoking the "nuclear option" the best way for 43 to address obstructionism is to nominate a Supreme Court candidate Democrats hate, but who is gilt-edged. Then dare Democrats to filibuster in full view of the public. A marathon test requires a determined majority present at all times, to avoid quorum calls, which is why the weapon is rarely used. But the stakes are high enough to risk it.
After a lengthy public filibuster, public anger could lay the predicate for amending the Senate rules by the existing super-majority rule. The beats "going nuclear" by having Vice-President Cheney declare from the Chair, as presiding officer, that the Senate is no longer a "continuing body" for purposes of votes on judicial nominations, and then passing a rule that a simple majority suffices for a rule change.
Ample though the provocation has been from Democrats, and egregious their "nuking" of Senate history, a "nuclear option" will play unpredictably with a semi-aware public not known for its grasp of procedural arcana. In that sense both parties will be playing with matches in the winds of fickle political sentiment. And unilaterally amending Senate rules will invite retaliation when, as eventually will happen, Democrats regain Senate control.
Rather than wish running afoul of the old Chinese admonition to beware of what one wishes for lest one get it, Republicans should resist the temptation to "go nuclear." Instead, they should bide their time and wait for a Supreme Court vacancy. Make the Democrats stand up in full public view. Heed the Sicilian proverb: Revenge is a dish best served cold.
CRS Report: Filibuster Study (2003)
CRS Report: Cloture and Nominations (2002)
CRS Report: How Measures Are Brought to the Senate Floor (2003)
Fein: Unwritten Rules Matter
Kristol: Nominations are Not Legislation
Abraham, Henry J., Justices and Presidents (Oxford Univ. Press, 2d Ed. 1985)
Abraham, Henry J., Justices, Presidents, and Senators (Rowman & Littlefield 1999)
Crocker: Theater of the Absurd
Binder, Sarah A. & Smith, Steven S., Politics and Principles: Filibustering in the United States Senate (Brookings Institution Press 1997).
Washington Times: Unprecedented Obstructionism
DalyThoughts: Judicial Confirmations
4 Postings Today:
1. "Arafat With Brains?" - in Us v. Them. Abu Mazen may be steering Palestinians down the Arafat road to war. Bad news for 43 & Condi & Israel.
2. " Did 43 Mal-Sequence?" - in Us v. Them. Should 43 have taken out Iran before Iraq? Maybe, but in the end the US & Israel must go it alone if they desire to stop Iran's nuke program.
3. "Not-So-Beautiful Minds" - in Weenie Watch. Europe is out of touch with reality, perhaps beyond saving.
4. "The Italian Job -A Reply" - in Weenie Watch. An editorial reply to my May 3 posting.
Mortimer Zuckerman's column in US News & World Report is hardly reassuring. Seems that Palestinian head honcho Abu Mazen has been playing a double game: publicly making nice to the West, while ignoring Hamas and Islamic Jihad's efforts to rebuild terrorist infrastructure, taking advantage of Israel's pullback by tracking down and killing Palestinian informants, keeping news of Israeli concessions from the Palestinian public, and STILL using anti-Semitic sewage like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion in Palestinian schools. Fatah is now, Zuckerman writes, so "fractured and weak" that it is losing support for the July 2005 legislative elections; Islamic Jihad + Hamas now enjoy public poll support above 50 percent. Most disturbing of all is that this is happening while Israel has roiled is domestic polity by unilaterally disengaging from Gaza. Natan Sharansky's recent resignation from the Israeli Cabinet was because he sees the Palestinians pulling back from democracy in Gaza.
If an Israeli pullback stimulates another round of terror it brings to mind the consequence of Israel's unilateral pullback from southern Lebanon in May 2002, which led directly to the so-called al-Aqsa Intifada. (Intifada means "shaking off" in Arabic; thus save for the original Intifada, ca. 1987 - 1991 on the West Bank it is a misnomer re Palestinian terror post-Oslo.) Syria's wily longtime dictator, Hafez al-Asad, was dubbed "Saddam with brains," because he consolidated Syrian gains in Lebanon, and conducted terror against the US, without bring upon his head the wrath of America. Abu Mazen, it seems, has learned from the senior Asad's playbook, and now may fairly be termed "Arafat with brains."
Zuckerman believes that the next 100 days will tell if peace gets a chance between Israel and the Palestinians. 43 & Condi: time to dial 911.
Zuckerman: History Holds Its Breath
Arnaud de Borchgrave, a serious critic of 43's foreign policy, offers one reason in his Washington Times article today why 43 may not ever strike at Iran. The strongest argument against US action is that Iran can raise Hell in Iraq along the 800-mile, mountainous, little-guarded border between the two countries, and at a time when the insurgency is far from tamed. That said, de B. reports that the US has made plans for a massive strike of 240 cruise missiles, designed to set Iran's nuke quest back 10 years; 43 has also sent 100 bunker-buster bombs to the Israelis who, nevertheless, strongly prefer that the US do the strike, if necessary. As de B. correctly observes, the US may as well do it if it is to be done, as it will be blamed for an Israeli strike anyway.
The problem with a "leave Iran alone lest it mess up Iraq" strategy is that Iran will mess up Iraq anyway. Worse, if Iran goes nuclear it will be able to mess up Iraq with impunity. It would be truly ironic indeed if it turns out that 43 picked the wrong country to attack in 2003. Perhaps AEI's Mike Ledeen, who wanted Iran taken on before Iraq, will be proven right by history, if a nuclear Iran emerges because 43 fears overthrow of the government of free Iraq. If so, then the damage done by the WMD intelligence catastrophe will have been even more immense than it is already. Absent a belief in Saddam's WMD program, there would have been no coalition war against Iraq, and Iran would be teed up.
Expect nothing in 2005--first, after diplomacy fails we will go to the Security Council, where we will be blocked by France & Russia (perhaps China, too). The extent of US plans suggest that 43 is indeed serious about stopping Iran. A weakened Blair government, let alone one led by anti-US Gordon Brown, will offer no help. Worse, no claim of US intel about Iran's progress will be believed by anyone (nor, to be fair, should it, after Iraq). A strike will have to be based on preclusion of future Iranian success, not ascertainment of its imminence.
Meanwhile, at the Turtle Bay Fun-House, Kofi Annan piped up this week. As a WSJ editorial today notes, Dopey Kofi is worried about nuke proliferation--US, not Iran. Our ANZUS ally New Zealand joined in, as did ex-Worst-President-Ever Jimmy Carter, who called the US "the major culprit in the erosion of the NPT." Diplomatically, a nuclear-facility takeout will be a US & Israel against the world production. In which case 43 will really need John Bolton at the UN. And Republicans will need their nerve, too, at the polls in 2006 & 2008.
de Borchgrave: Iran Agonistes
WSJ: Nuclear Nonsense
Newsweek columnist George Will sees three "interesting--and dismaying--facets of the contemporary European mind" (1) Putin's Stalinist pretensions, which are wrecking Russia and endangering Euro-peace; (2) Chirac's anti-US venom--he styles US-UK policy as neo-communism; and (3) the aggressively secularist orientation of the European public that Pope Benedict hopes to "re-evangelize." Putin's superpower aspiration Will puts in perspective, noting that Russia's GDP is roughly the same as that for Los Angeles County (not a misprint). Will wonders if even 5 percent of today European public really think about history; he notes that while there was a mega-outpouring of Euro- grief over John Paul II's passing, so was there for the passing of Princess Diana. Will is right. A public that mourns equally the passing on of a titan and and a glitzy, ditzy celebrity is not one with a true collective sense of history.
Will: Aspects of Europe's Mind
Corriere Della Sera, an Italian paper generally reasonably fair to the US, believes that the US has been insensitive in its handling of the Iraq checkpoint shooting of two Italians, discussed in my May 3 posting (The Italian Job). Here is their (translated) editorial.
The US Attitude Toward the Calipari Case
May 4: four postings.
(1) If the IRS Can, Why Not the FBI? - 3/11, 9/11 & N/11. Much nonsense--potentially harmful--is being spread about the USA Patriot Act.
(2) Return to Sender: Address Unknown - The Ap & The Cap. More Ground Zero woes.
(3) On the Eve - Tony's Tenure - Weenie Watch. The May 5 UK election picture.
(4) Yippie for "Yip" - Class & Crass. Lyricist-legend E.Y. Harburg is justly honored.
The Washington Times reports that only 61 of 32,000 search warrants (i.e., two-tenths of one percent) issued under the USA Patriot Act (USAPA) have been "sneak and peek"--i.e., warrants issued without notice to the suspect, and only 6 suspects have not been notified after the search. Seems like a record of restraint, yet former Congressman Bob Barr, who heads a group seeking amendment of section 213 of the USA Patriot Act, says: "I have a problem with the government having that kind of authority, because it can be abused very easily." The WT also reports that federal and state law enforcement authorities have broken up more than 150 terror cells, detained more than 3,000 suspects, charged 375 of whom 195 have pled guilty, and deported 500 aliens connected with September 11.
Columnist Deroy Murdock reports on NRO that library use aided at least 7 of the 19 9/11 hijackers; they used Internet access there to plan their travels. Library records are among the records that section 215 of USAPA makes subject to subpoena in connection with terror investigations. This is not new: the Unabomber's library use record was subpoenaed, and helped lead to his capture. Critics demonize section 215 as the "library provision" of USAPA, when in fact (a) it covers many kinds of records traditionally available in criminal cases, and (b) to date not one single subpoena has been issued for library records as part of a terror investigation.
Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald calls the attacks of the
USAPA "the most successful campaign of misinformation in history." She is, sadly, right. The IRS already knows where to find you and me. Don't we want the FBI to find the next aspiring Muhammad Atta?
Washington Times: Sneak and Peek
Washington Times: Terror Tally
Murdock: Stack Stalkers
A WSJ piece today by Alex Frangos presents more fascinating--and depressing--details on why the Freedom Tower (FT) for Ground Zero may never be built. Worse, the one building now under construction, a replacement for the 54-story 7 World Trade Center, is being given a new street address-250 Greenwich Street--because a WTC address seems to be a marketing no-no in getting tenants. Even with clever marketing, there is not even one tenant to date for the 56-story structure. Also, the NY Sun today has an editorial that recounts, among other things, that the police in November 2004 advised the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation of their security concerns re the FT. Moreover, it now appears that when completed the FT may not be in fact the tallest building in the world, because a tower is going up in Dubai, to be completed December 2008, one built by...the bin Ladin Construction Group. The WSJ article and the Sun editorial both underscore my own May 2 analysis ("Grounded Ground Zero").
Frangos: Showdown at Ground Zero
NY Sun: They Knew
John O'Sullivan offers his take on how to interpret the May 5 UK election results. It is full of intriguing, to borrow a Kerry-ism but use it in an approving sense, "nuance." I shall not attempt to sum it up. His piece makes for entertaining reading, too.
O'Sullivan: Election Tea-Leaves
Lyricist E. Y. ("Yip") Harburg's visage will grace a US Postal Service commemorative stamp. Harburg is best known for writing the lyrics to Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow." That, and his fabulous "Last Night When We Were Young" (another Arlen tune) were immortalized by Judy Garland, who should get a stamp of her own, too. Harburg's politics, according to radio host Jonathan Schwartz (best known for his marathon Sinatra song salutes), "made Ramsey Clark look like a fascist." Harburg thus follows the tradition of artists adopting politics removed from empirical reality. But at least, unlike today's collection of semi-talents, he was an artist of the first order in the American Songbook pantheon. While you are at it, check out Arlen's official website, and a site dedicated to Harburg (no claim it is official).
NY times: A Stamp, That's Where You'll Find Him
Arlen Official Website
A "Yip" Website
May 04, 2005 in Class & Crass: Culture Vultures; Vultures' Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)
The Italians released the full Pentagon report--including classified sections naming soldiers and describing checkpoint procedures--on the accidental fatal shooting of an agent and wounding of a journalist as their car approached an American checkpoint near the Baghdad airport. The report blames stress, fatigue and inexperience of the American soldiers. Imagine, stress and fatigue in a war zone. Imagine, stress and fatigue on the most dangerous road on the planet.
It gets better. The Italians blame the US for failing to figure out that the car was carrying Italians--even though the Italians now concede that they failed to notify the US about the car. Yet in the fog of war the US was supposed to divine innocent cargo. A CBS report based on satellite photos said the car was traveling 60 mph--that's 88 feet per second, at which speed a car covers a football field in 3.4 seconds. So with seconds to decide and no prior warning from the Italians, in a war zone, stressed, fatigued soldiers were supposed to figure everything out.
A New York Times story carries more intriguing details: (1) the Italians decided that secrecy was best for the operation; (2) there had been 135 attacks on the airport road in the previous four months--i.e., more than one attack per day; (3) American soldiers at the checkpoint had been warned that night that two suicide-bomber cars were in the area, one black and one white; (4) the Italians' Toyota was white. (The Times story gives a 50 mph speed for the car. The Italian passenger-journalist, Ms. Guliana Sgrena, says her car was going only 30 mph, but she is a liar--see below. The driver also claims it, but how likely is it that a car on a secret mission would travel at such a leisurely pace? OK, split the difference on the assumption that the driver, unlike Ms. Sgrena, is truthful, and use 45 mph--a football field would then be traversed in 4.5 seconds.)
Normally sensible, moderate-left blogger Mickey Kaus suggests that because the Pentagon has an interest in discrediting Ms. Sgrena, its assertion is dubious. But what about the claims of Ms. Sgrena, a communist America-hater who accused the soldiers of deliberately targeting her? (Originally, her claim was 300 to 400 shots fired--see Roger Simon blog link below.) She would have us believe American soldiers can't hit a car and kill all the occupants, were that their intention. Ask fighters in Fallujah how well Americans shoot.
For the Italian view to be taken seriously, a standard of near perfection must be applied to the conduct of soldiers at the checkpoint. In wartime. In the dark. Without prior notice. Warned that a suicide-bomber car of similar color was in the area. Regardless of physical or mental condition of the soldiers. A life or death call--in less than five seconds. Score one more for mendacious, anti-US Euro-media and whiny European publics. BTW, when is the last time anyone saw an Italian driver going only 30 mph? They park at 40.
WSJ: Italians Release Report on Iraq Shooting
NY Times: Italian Report
Kaus on the Satellite "Claim"
Roger Simon 3/5/05 Blog: Comments
JCS Chairman Richard Myers conceded in a classified document (leaked to the NY Times) sent to Congress what everyone but Donald Rumsfeld seems to have figured out: The US needs more troops. Myers admitted that the US troop presence in Iraq would hamper our ability to fight elsewhere. The US would prevail, but with less speed and precision than would otherwise be the case. Better hope that Dear Leader in Pyongyang is too busy watching porno videos and playing around with his cherished blondes (while swigging his fave $600 per-bottle brandy) to check out the NY Times this week.
Myers: Troops Tied Down
Bad news from Iraq, reported in the UK Independent: The sudden upsurge in insurgent attacks is due to a newly re-built Baath (Arab for re-birth) Party that seeks a recognition from the US, followed by a US exit and transfer of political power in Baath enclaves. Already, the party is organized in Sunni towns outside the Sunni Triangle. In a country that was one giant ammunition dump, still awash with AK-47s and RPGs, arms are no problem. Minimal Sunni participation to date in the elected government helps fuel the new Baath movement. Democracy in not just Iraq, but elsewhere in the Mideast is in the balance. Stay tuned.
Independent: Baath Reborn
Fareed Zakharia writes in his NY Times Sunday book review of Tom Friedman's latest book, "The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century," that the author correctly sees the immense impact of the second wave of globalization: the flattening of hierarchies worldwide, driven by vast telecommunications networks that drive the cost of linking globally dispersed workers to asymptotic zero. The result: The US will see more and more outsourcing, as massive, educated, highly-motivated workers in China and India take jobs higher and higher on the "value chain," at the expense of first-world workers. Friedman quotes Bill Gates as saying that thirty years ago it was better to be an average person in Poughkeepsie [NY] than a genius in China, because of Asia's then-stagnation, but with Asia now awake it is vice-versa.
What are the implications of the seemingly inevitable rise of China and India, let alone other Asian countries? (OK, China can still be derailed by inner turmoil and India by a nuclear war with Pakistan, but assume these do not happen.) First, high-cost sclerotic welfare states (Yo, Western Europe, that's you!) are toast. Second, the US is not necessarily toast, but unless it gets its K-12 educational system out of parking gear it will lose its position as pre-eminent economic power within a generation or two.
Perhaps more challenging for advanced high-cost industrial states is the social import of tectonic shifts in global economic power via Adam Smith's ruthlessly efficient economics of comparative cost advantage. A visitor to Asia anytime in the past decade is struck by the sheer energy and evident intelligence of workers--no bored, vacant-staring dullards of the kind found in no small number of places in the States. Highly-motivated Asians will work longer hours than even Americans. Meeting this kind of competition will not be fun for first-world worker bees, yet meet it they must or else their countries will economically stagnate.
Two policy imperatives follow. First, if more folks get a share of the pie, the pie had better expand. Social dislocation can be mitigated if prosperity continues. Thus, pro-growth policies--tax cuts, minimal regulation and privatized, benefit-capped entitlement programs--will be essential if living standards are to be maintained in the West.
Second, education needs radical reform. As jobs head out the overseas employment window, voters will lose their sense of humor about educrats and teachers' unions blocking real education reform, and throw out of office those beholden to them. Perform or die will be the new mantra.
Zakharia: Can the US Cut It?
Mark Steyn tells us that this Thursday Tony Blair will win, but that Gordon Brown will succeed him in mid-term. Brown shares his party's anti-American views. It will, Steyn notes, take French rejection of the EU Constitution on May 29 to contain the damage. But Blair was, Steyn continues, only a friend of ours on the war--and at that, foolishly hyper-legalist in his approach. Tough Tony stood strong with us on the war, but he is no John Howard, who stands strong with us on everything.
NRO's John O'Sullivan sees Tony falling short as well, and neatly states what the Tories saw that law-minded Tough Tony did not see: "The Tories saw where this naïve internationalism led — dressing up a Russian or French veto, actually cast from squalid self-interest, as the collective moral judgment of mankind." O'Sullivan (who was an adviser to Lady Thatcher), further notes that Blair's pro-EU stance is at odds with his Mideast position on Iraq. Tory leader Michael Howard, by contrast, said that even absent WMD he would have supported toppling Saddam. But Howard is given no chance to win.
Like the Maggie for Major (John) trade in 1990, this will be a bad trade for the US. Major spared Saddam in 1991, something Maggie surely would not have done ("There you go again, George, being wobbly; you can't let that man stay after all this!"). Of the three Western European leaders who most publicly supported 43's Iraq venture, one is long gone, one is soon going and the third, Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, is under siege.
At bottom, blame the European press and the public. Most of the Euro-media is, as NY times columnist Thomas Friedman recently observed, no better than al-Jazeera in its war and Mideast coverage. As for the public, the news is even more depressing: The Spanish allow al-Qai'da to pick their leader, the British public worries about international law while multiculturalism rots their social fabric and the Italians listen to an America-hating communist journalist's lies about US troops trying to kill her at an Iraqi checkpoint. And our Europhile State Department wants a united Europe, as if a stronger Europe united in opposition to America is a good thing.
Steyn: Buddy System Wins, Loses
O'Sullivan: The Iraq Effect
TAS Online's Jed Babbin warns us that Vladimir Putin has allied Russia with Syria and Iran, and plans to sell armored personnel carriers to the Palestinians. He has already sold missiles to the Syrians, which could endanger US warplanes should 43 decide to strike. A half-century ago Moscow sought Mideast influence by backing pan-Arabist Gamal Abdel Nasser, who promptly nationalized the Suez Canal and ignited revolution elsewhere in the Mideast. In July 1958 radical regimes seized power in Syria and Iraq. From there until 2003 it was mainly downhill.
Comes now Vladimir Putin, seeking influence in the Mideast. Having backed Saddam he now aids Bashir Assad in Syria. Putin, who openly laments the collapse of the Soviet Union and admires arch-mass-murderer Stalin, has outlived his usefulness to the US (helping in Afghanistan, allowing the ABM Treaty to lapse). We cannot openly break with him, due to the need for Russian cooperation in dismantling its nuclear arsenal. But we should, as the saying goes, keep our powder dry. Putin is not quite Stalin, but he is not Boris Yeltsin either.
Babbin: Russia's Mideast Move
It may be possible to, putting it politely, mess up the rebuilding at Ground Zero worse than has been done, but it would not be easy. First, allow grieving families to impose a tyranny of sentiment, making Ground Zero their sacred private memorial. Then, allow an alliance of politicians, architects and builders to steamroller serious public consideration. Then, allow a jury verdict absurd on its face to prop up a developer whose ability to complete the proposed project is highly questionable. Finally (this past week), choose a design whose security vulnerabilities were not fully vetted. The upshot, closing in on four years since 9/11 New York City has zilch, zip, nada to show for its efforts. A 2006 start fades from view.
First, the families. That they suffered grievous personal loss on 9/11--and that their loss was far greater than those of us who did not lose family or friends that day--no one doubts. But equally beyond doubt is that 9/11 was a world event, one in which citizens of some 75 countries perished, and whose impact led to a war that could go on for decades. The families sought a veto power over design, getting enough of one to exclude a special memorial to those first responders who went into the building trying to get others out. They would honor equally those who had the bad luck to be trapped on upper floors alongside those who accepted last rites before entering an inferno. A society that does not honor its heroes will eventually get fewer of them. (To be fair, as Nicole Gelinas notes in today's NY Post, some family survivors have made a point of not exploiting their status; they want the Twin Towers rebuilt and the space reclaimed for use by all the residents of the city.)
Ground Zero is not the first time families have skewed public policy towards their private ends. The PanAm 103 families got a memorial in Arlington for 270 people who had the misfortune to board the wrong plane, alongside those who landed at Omaha Beach, Iwo Jima and countless other places. We still do not know for sure what caused TWA 800 to go down in 1996; while rescuers were bullied into fishing bodies out of the water so families could achieve "closure," metal parts of the aircraft corroded in seawater, very likely destroying trace evidence. The 9/11 Commission members declared themselves allied with the 9/11 families; family pressure clearly helped drive Congress into passing a dubious, massive intelligence overhaul in a fraction of the time needed for careful consideration. Families clapped when Condi Rice was grilled aggressively by 9/11 Democratic counsel Richard Ben-Veniste.
Add in the Liebeskind menage of buildings. Never mind that it is hard to imagine filling the space. But for a jury verdict finding that the developer was entitled to double indemnity, based upon the coordinated terror strikes being treated as separate, independent events the developer would likely already be sunk. And now, security concerns surface again. Add to all this that a major arts building (New York City Opera) was canned.
It is time to start again, with an open process not dominated by political hacks and grieving families. A process too closely held deprived the larger public of a proper role in rebuilding public space. One option is to simply rebuild the Twin Towers with better building design. This would perpetuate certain neighborhood encroachments of the original, but at least the plan can be put in place fairly quickly if after public consideration. Another is streamlined construction of a single skyscraper, part business and part residential, plus an arts building and a suitable memorial--one that confers special honor on those who willingly offered what Lincoln at Gettysburg called "the last full measure of devotion." The iconic image of the three firemen raising the flag at Ground Zero is one way to do this. At least, begin by starting over.
NY Times Art Critic: Start Over
Gelinas: Save Us From 'Freedom'
First Lady Laura Bush raised the roof with her stand-up routine at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner Saturday night. It was, alas, scripted. This all started with gag writer Bob Orben in the Ford Administration. In that the nation needed a few laughs after not-so-amusing Watergate, it provided a welcome diversion. Not everyone has the Gipper's wit, so writers answered the call, and transformed public figures into stand-up comics doing others' material.
This is not all bad: Surely Bob Hope would have made a better president than Jimmy Carter. He had more business sense (a real estate tycoon, he) and more common sense as well. With the post-Watergate media environment, with caricature trumping truth, propitiating press lords with laughs may even be a practical necessity. Thus Nancy Reagan's inside-baseball classic in the Gipper's first term, when at this same dinner she launched into her "Second Hand Clothes" skit. Nancy, the cold-hearted fashion plate became Nancy, the good-humored first Lady in a few minutes. (She has more sense than Barbra Streisand, too, and would have made a better president than Babs.)
Call it a political riff on "reality shows." Those are anything but reality, and political figures doing stand-up comedy are not real wits. When, as the Bush twins did last year, they get a bad script (courtesy of Karen Hughes) they get slammed by the punditocracy (remember the "Bush twits" sneer?). That said, some politicos (think: Bob Dole) are funnier than many comics today, who are better at cheap vulgarisms than genuine wit.
Laura, we love you, and we will still love you even if you stick to your own material.
Washington Times: Laura Leaves 'Em Laughing, Gasping
May 02, 2005 in Class & Crass: Culture Vultures; Vultures' Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)
Kofi Annan, whose recent statement that Paul Volcker had "exonerated" him was shot down by Volcker, now says that he is considering resigning because he is being targeted by a "lynch mob." Is a mob trying to "destroy" Kofi? Not on present evidence, which points to a UN on Kofi's watch mired in corruption that propped up Saddam, forcible sexual favors extracted from underage locals by UN blue helmet "peacekeepers," nepotism involving the Secretary-General's son and an implausibly ignorant dad, yadda, yadda.
Let Dopey finish his term. So long as he is there the UN's credibility will be sufficiently damaged to limit the damage it can do to American interests. If he steps down, it will be much harder for the US to press for reform, as a new chief gets a honeymoon period in which to destroy potentially incriminating documents. Oh, when it is time for Kofi to leave, if he wants a lynching let's give him one. How about if we ask the Iraqi families whose children starved to death while Saddam raked off funds intended to feed their children, so he could erect palaces and buy weapons? The now-free (no thanks to Kofi) Iraqis might be sorely tempted, eh?
Washington Times: Kofi Decries "Lynch Mob"
The Sunday New York Times informs us that Benedict XVI is a classical pianist. He plays Mozart, but passes on Brahms as too hard to play without more time to practice. Benedict calls Bach "perhaps the greatest musical genius of all time." She who also has little time to practice plays quite a bit of Brahms--might 2009 see a pianist-President to complement a pianist-Pope?
Habemus Pianist: The Pope on Music
May 01, 2005 in Class & Crass: Culture Vultures; Vultures' Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)
Did you know that, at $1,525 per car, there is more health care cost per GM car than the per car cost of steel? George Will's column today informs us that such is but one of GM's many woes. The embedded health care cost GM bears is a cost Toyota does not bear, because the Japanese government covers everything. Will offers one final warning: Corporate pressures to cut costs may drive them to support shifting health care costs to the government. Sound familiar? Wonder WHICH 2008 candidate might seize THIS issue? Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.
Will: GM's Woes
"I'm John F. Kerry, reporting for duty." Swifties? Medals? Form 180 medical records? Texas Air National Guard? IBM Selectric typewriters? Fake but accurate? Iraq is "another Vietnam?" Ring a bell? Nothing found at the White House website; no pronouncement from 43. Not much news coverage, either.
Given the massive impact Vietnam had in shaping what America is today, the relative silence which greeted the 30th anniversary of Saigon's fall is odd. Given that the losing Presidential candidate in last year's election made his Vietnam service the centerpiece of his character, that a group of veterans who served with him there launched an ad campaign that helped define public perception of the candidate and that even now leading Democrats compare Iraq to Vietnam, what is going on?
A guess: Neither party, nor the partisans of MSM think something good will come of revisiting Vietnam again. Supporters of 43's war strategy do not care to remind Americans of a defeat--especially when Iraq war opponents cite Vietnam as a predictor of what will happen in Iraq. Vietnam opponents--including most of MSM--found out last year that Vietnam was, as Rick Blaine might have put it, "poor salesmanship." Partly that was true during the campaign because Americans under 55 did not live through it at an age at which they could meaningfully follow the campaign debate. But more important is that Vietnam doves and MSM have been proven to be, to borrow Senator Chris Dodd's phrase when in the Reagan years he warned the Gipper and his supporters not to back the Nicaraguan contras against the communist Sandinistas, "on the wrong side of history."
The collapse of communism and the ensuing efflorescence of democracy--one of the earliest episodes was Nicaragua's 1990 election, in which the Sandinistas were repudiated--show who was then on history's right side. And who STILL is. Not Chris Dodd and his liberal amigos. The Vietnamese student I spoke to in Hanoi in 1999 knew that his life would be much better had Hanoi's hardliners lost. Remember the old joke about US and Israel, in which Golda Meir's advisers suggest that Israel start a war with the US and lose, and then it would get rich on Uncle Sam's postwar aid? Imagine the US having rebuilt Vietnam as it is now doing in Iraq. Anyone think a free Vietnam would have a GDP of $550 per capita had Uncle Sam done a fix-up?
Bernard Weintraub of the New York Times did post a story online. He notes that yesterday's celebrations in Vietnam stressed putting the past behind--the US is Vietnam's largest trading partner. And he notes that some 3 million Vietnamese lost their lives in the war. Weintraub says nothing about who was right or wrong. But at least he said SOMETHING.
Weintraub: Vietnam 30 Years Later