Michael Ubaldi, September 14, 2005.
Not one month ago I warily regarded Israel's surrender of the Gaza Strip to Arab refugees as a farsighted sacrifice, every bit as painful as it was shrewd. Necessary? Perhaps, and I refrained from calling marks without Ariel Sharon's vantage. But the inconsonance of rewarding a slum-ridden gangland with territory to govern was plain. "Watch, over the months, the fate of Gaza farms being confiscated from their Jewish owners," I wrote. "That will be a measure of the stewardship of men who say to us that the people they rule should have a state."
Richard Fernandez cites grim but expected news: mobs of refugees, alongside constables in the employ of the Palestine Liberation Organization, descended on greenhouses in Gaza. Israelis brought flower to the arid landscape, and in spite of a desperate appeal for preservation — New York Jews led an effort to buy the greenhouses for a total of $14 million — the pride of Yasser Arafat has decided Arrakis will return to sand. The estates have been compromised and stripped.
There is a terrifying comedy in the thought that, add a day or two, $14 million might have purchased deeds for the memory of greenhouses. That kind of farce makes a devil laugh, for it is a skit within the travesty of the "Palestinian state": transnationalist diplomats persuade Israel to purchase bonds for the humanity of Arab fascism, a debt on which the transnationalists know the fascists will default. But of course, everyone — creditor, broker, confidence artist — can claim, like the Gaza annex in better times, the remembrance of good intentions.
Last January President Bush erred when he in political magnanimity asked us to conflate balloting in a violent and superstitious authoritarian hovel (the election of Arafat scion Mahmoud Abbas) with a vote that was administered after three years of guarded reform (Afghanistan's election and retention of Hamed Karzai). PLO-land is a dictatorship, and a dictatorship is not a national reflection of the character of the populace. It is a false projection established by a ruling elite that wields power, indefinitely, through the very real projections of force, intimidation and political unipolarity.
In that immutable law is hope for the long term and a warning for the short term. The hope is that Arabs and Muslims will readily act as men when they are allowed by the state. Think Baghdad, Kabul, Beirut. But not Gaza; we are presently in the short term. Keep watch in the press for news of the farms, for the soil itself is next.
A natural disaster to remember — clearly.
Michael Ubaldi, September 6, 2005.
An act of God still trumps the acts of men. Hurricane Katrina reminded us of that.
Tradition teaches us to pray. The schools of journalism and title, however, encourage filing grievance and demanding redress. A lot of commentary in the first week after Katrina's landfall was ahistorical and aspersive, and it was repugnant. There were those on the left who believe state and local governments to be vestiges obstructing Washington's divine intervention which President Bush, agnostic of this omnipotence, failed to invoke; but then from the right, an embarrassing stream of contempt from those who dislike the central bureaucracy but, for all the money they claimed it takes from them, expected the same miracles as leftists and shamed the president when miracles did not come.
Remember the early August Air France crash on the Toronto Pearson International Airport runway — in which no one was killed? That was a miracle, small in the scale of suffering but in sharp relief to other accidents because it was so rare. Natural disasters can be understood only in very painful terms; a perspective too narrow, and we will lose our minds. Total destruction of New Orleans, according to analysts, would have literally flattened most of the city — skyscrapers, high-rises, and the Superdome all gone, the dead perhaps approaching one million. Did that happen? As former President Clinton said on television, beside his predecessor, "New Orleans escaped Katrina."
What did happen, almost treacherously, after the hurricane weakened and veered, was on one hand deadly and heavily damaging but on the other precisely what had been predicted if the city's man-made defenses ever buckled. Following that were about three days of what we must accept is yet beyond our jurisdiction. No one wants to contemplate disasters or faithfully accompanying horrors — death, dislocation, epidemics, murder and theft — let alone confront them and suffer loss, or the guilt of the Samaritan who, by his own finiteness, must let some die. Still, destruction comes, and to be flatly incognizant of what these events have always brought and will always bring, as if to shriek "Make it all go away!", is to impeach one's own privilege to speak for others in print and telecast; for it is clear that such a personality deals only in fantasy.
The harrowing first days of rescue and recovery operations in New Orleans provided a helpful, if stomach-turning, reidentification of exactly who divides Americans along lines of heredity, class and appearance. The American Thinker's Richard Baehr pointed out that the neighborhoods of New Orleanian and Mississippian whites, not blacks, were caught by the flood on a rough order of four-to-one — a cross-examination only if you codify human suffering by census category, teasing the idea that honest men weep, succumb or drown differently from one another. But Baehr provided this information because, in fact, some do. A recording artist, a film propagandist, a pair of frocked charlatans, dozens of media agents and intellectuals: prominent fixtures on the left, they accused the president — regardless of federal executive limits in obligation and logistics — of racism or classism, or something.
While that calumny went on a handful of radicals, beneath headlines, modified the broader left's practice of assigning colors to tens of millions of American citizens at a time, based on state electoral endorsement, by refusing to contribute to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts as punishment for the alleged impudence of some of Louisiana's voters in giving the state to President Bush on November 2, 2004. The disavowals were scattered and unofficial, but public nonetheless, echoing sentiments of would-be leftist philanthropists who now have a policy of speeding past when a broken-down car bears a "Bush '04" sticker. Muddled thinking, yes, but the stuff at its foundation is unmistakable. Louisiana's electorate has a Democratic, not a Republican, plurality. New Orleans is two-thirds black. Who else but madmen inaugurate a political renaissance by stranding and starving thousands, and what kind of madmen arrange that for their party's base? One begins to think of a petard and a hoisting.
The criminal element in American society was another reidentification, especially for those who had forgotten or denied it existed. When civil order briefly collapsed in New Orleans the bestial acts of a very few — that in turn disrupted thousands and shocked millions — exposed the mark of Cain lain on every culture and every nation, those gangs in pickups and on foot committing wanton violence a luculent parallel to our enemy in war, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very alarming; very enlightening.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin interpreted the rock overturned as the leftward do, offering some practical reason, some rational motivation for armed bands looting and attacking flood victims and rescuers. Roving killers were "Looking for something to take the edge off of their jones," said Nagin, as if the system had let them down. But no moral instruction leads to violating the helpless or their deliverers. Nagin — and by analogy, apologists for civilization's enemies — do not accept that there are men who simply delight in the torment of others. The difference between the Third World, the Second World and the First World is a society's ability to mitigate its criminal minority, increasingly so as it moves towards the latter condition. One appropriately short story was a model of reestablishing the rule of law: on Sunday, a gaggle of thugs shot at Army Engineers repairing a bridge. Police returned fire, and with good aim ended that sliver of a glimpse of authoritarianism.
When its fear and grief subside, America will soon face the question of reclamation of habitats that, go some apothegms, should not be. Now, civilizations are indeed built where they are vulnerable: from Pompeii to Herculaneum, Helike to Mesopotamia, India to Japan; cataclysms have swept away thousands, ending epochs.
New Orleans has always been a convenient example of the city that should not be. Too convenient. How far does this appeal for meekness go? Must we be circumspect about erecting houses in the mountains? What about the Mississippi River? And every coastline? Should the millions along the San Andreas Fault, or any segment of the western United States' dizzying earthen mosaic, flee east — skipping past, of course, the tornado-plagued Plains States? I will note that my hometown of North Olmsted sits at a geographic and geothermal intersection, protected from the worst of thunderstorms and flooding — but just how good is that gamble? And those who throw up their hands and head underground should be mindful of cave-ins. "Arrogance" has been ascribed to those who reside at the frontier, wrongly. It is only arrogance when we suffer the earth's wrath with indignation instead of a humble determination to keep sight for blessings and begin again. Galveston, Chicago and San Francisco were a few of many American productions that have risen from devastation. Vows for a Mardi Gras like before the flood have already been heard from Bourbon Street.
Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans flood of Oh-Five will be arranged and compressed with its class in American history, one more chapter recording man's struggles with and mastery of his present situation. It will be abridged when another unforeseen and unprecedented earthly swell rises, today's lessons to be referenced and applied only by those to have learned them. To those wise few, we should listen.
Michael Ubaldi, August 23, 2005.
We would all have been jubilant today, reading about and reading through the culmination of Iraq's constituent assembly, if sundry opinion-makers had not convinced some of us to feel otherwise. The reasons, the good reasons? Hard to say. In Baghdad, drafters asked the elected National Assemblymen to exercise their power to postpone the deadline; the National Assembly agreed. Last evening, hours before the second deadline, committee spokesmen announced their completion of a draft proposal. Iraqi bloggist Omar Fadhil reported the events in greater written and pictoral detail than any mainstream publication, offering readers snapshots of Near Eastern men in suit-and-tie, conversing and arguing on news programs. The National Assembly received the draft and, by majority vote, scheduled three additional days for the committee to debate outstanding issues.
The Iraqi democratic system worked according to design, accommodating the unpredictability — indeed, the frustration — of the freeman political process. Exactly what about all of this is unacceptable?
The left, in politics and media, have carefully hedged headlines. Skittish rightists have found themselves trapped and we have found them panicky. Over the last month, press narratives went like this: either the constitution would be Islamist, or it would be unacceptable to the electoral and political Shiite majority; it would be tardy and destabilizing or it would be rushed and flawed, its remediation tardy and therefore destabilizing; the Bush White House was too involved, or the Iraqis were out of control. Sunnis were anti-federalist, went reports, but then one look at who else opposed federalism — Muqtada al-Sadr's radicals — prompted some to examine Sunni motivations. Sure enough, some of this Sunni reasoning is rooted in tribalism, and not particularly persuasive.
People have been led to worry by forgetting about contentious drafters from the past. Implicit to respective surrenders, a basic law and a constitution were militarily promulgated to occupied Germans and Japanese. In this case, the two finest examples of American creative destruction are not similar. Iraqis, under but moral obligations to America and its democratic allies, have proceeded quite independently. The creation of the United States Constitution, then, is an event critical to sorting out what appears to be ideological and political fisticuffs. Some analogies are valid, others strained but none of them is useless. Either we use whatever perspective can be found in history or we spin around, point and compare the Iraqi constitution to a comic book.
The 1787 Philadelphia convention lasted from May to September, its delegates drawing on experience with self-government; the Iraqis began in May and are hurrying to finish by the end of August, and the postcolonial Hashemite monarchy was brief and only shallowly democratic. A number of Sunni politicians are not pleased with the draft — a plebiscite is set for October, and yet if a coterie of Sunni intellectuals started publicizing opposition to ratification today they could continue for half a year and still fall short of American political disputation. The Connecticut Compromise and the monstrous dichotomy it represented deserves more than to be a tricky question on a grade school civics test. Iraqis, uniquely pressured and inexperienced but two hundred years richer than Philadelphia, should do fine with matters of natural resources and local rule.
The weakest derogation of extended committee debate is the suggested correlation between a constitution and the terrorists who continue to employ clumsy, wanton violence — as if to style Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as an eccentric promoter of the right to bear arms. Or is he aggressively pro-thug-immigration? Intimations rest on the idea that bombers and drive-by gangs act according to political vicissitudes. Is there any reason to believe that the finer points of national and provincial Iraqi polity are being debated amongst terrorists who in their matchless piety, we are certain thanks to the elucidating journalism of Michael Yon, never depart for a killing spree without a sendoff round of narcotics and whoring?
Supporters of Iraqi rebirth have been justifiably worried by the influence of groups like the aptly named Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which — in the largest coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance — began to, through a steady trickle of reports and statements, undermine the reputation of religious Iraqi Shiites as supporters of secular government. Nervous chatter on the right started over the weekend when exasperated Kurds accused their Shiite compatriots of succeeding in turning Iraq into an "Islamic Republic."
Could the statement have been meant to move Washington to action and conservatives to concession? We may never know, and it may no longer matter. An abridged draft constitution has been made public. Iraq is a Republic, "republican, parliamentary, democratic and federal." Islam is the official religion — not a problem, since the origin of civil society established a state religion in 1534. Islam is "a main source for legislation." OK, as is Judeo-Christian, English common law for our own. Iraqi founding fathers have chosen explication where Americans settled for implication.
Article II, Section 1a states that "no law may contradict Islamic standards." Article II, Section 1b states that "no law may contradict democratic standards." The former could, logically, permit an end-run around the rest of the constitution but the latter could, logically, permit an end-run around the former. If there truly are theocrats tucked away in the legislative majority, it is a matter of who can flank who.
Here, the Iraqi character stands up. With momentum on the side of progressives and history on the side of secularism, textual invitations to Islamic theocracy will, in public debate, die a quick death. Good ideas do not require physical compulsion in the town square, and there are more ties between Islamist flirtation and sedition than not. Iraqi polls and surveys alike show the country to be both progressive and tolerant. That is before one considers the growing influence, through electronic import, of the liberal democratic world. If the United States Army were to airlift a paratrooper commando unit comprised entirely of card-carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union and disperse it across the Iraqi countryside, reactionism's death would come within months.
The Iraqi people have proven their worth to American interests; the closing of this first constitutional stage is evidence again. Secularism is strong, pluralism and libertarianism not too far behind. There should be no need for the 82nd Flying Birkenstocks.
Michael Ubaldi, August 18, 2005.
Two years ago, when Ariel Sharon's government erected a security barrier along Israel's beset frontier I was skeptical of the construction's physical utility and political precedent. Withdrawing behind fortifications, I reasoned, only prompts one's enemy to engineer the means to achieve what he could before the interruption; build a wall and the sappers will come. Peace, rather, follows an enemy's end.
Tactically I was very wrong. Israel has thwarted a multitude of terrorists, whittling the number of successful mass-murderers down to about a quarter of the number at the 2002 height of Yasser Arafat's final lunge for conquest. Was I wrong politically? On that, I am not so sure. These past several days have left us with a difficult collection of pictures, sounds and words. Israel Defense Forces soldiers are reluctantly dislocating their Jewish countrymen who settled in land won nearly forty years ago, when Israel struck at Near East fascist states before they could destroy her. Evictor and evictee shed tears together, while the international body responsible for the 1947 partition in the interest of Zionism now finances the manufacture of paraphernalia celebrating a genocidal fantasy wherein the failures of those fascist states are bloodily rectified.
For every excision of Israeli territory there is a chance to consolidate the defense of what remains — likely Ariel Sharon's calculation, this time gaining strategic advantage for a second political loss. What do you think of the Gaza pullout, I was asked yesterday. I do not blame the Arabs trapped in slums governed by the Palestine Liberation Organization's splinters, I answered; there is no sin in one's own miseducation and mistreatment. But the late Yasser Arafat's little fiefdom is a Historic Williamsburg of Nazi Germany, every last bit of racist incoherence preserved in ghoulish reenactment. The Gaza forfeiture is Near East fascist lebensraum, I said, and was soon affirmed by the reenactors themselves: "Gaza today," they said, "the West Bank and Jerusalem tomorrow." Oh, what a thing to mimic.
On national security I defer to Jerusalem. I will, however, call this a retreat. When does "the conflict" end? When the authoritarian states bordering Israel fall to liberals; the inflammation designated in the Western diplomatic imagination to become a "Palestinian state" lanced and the refugees allowed to drain away to proper homes. Watch, over the months, the fate of Gaza farms being confiscated from their Jewish owners. That will be a measure of the stewardship of men who say to us that the people they rule should have a state.
Michael Ubaldi, August 15, 2005.
Three recent events make plain the state of affairs with dictatorial Iran. The first event was Iranian disclosure that negotiations with Britain, France and Germany over the last year — which effectively ended nine days ago when Tehran rejected the European trio's commodity-studded appeal to halt nuclear development — were a pleasant way to pass the time as enrichment centrifuges spun. The second was a public divergence between the United States and Europe on remedies; the trio referred Iran not to the United Nations Security Council but to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA scolded Iran and Iran laughed it off; President Bush, on the assumption that Tehran is racing to build an atomic bomb, reserved Washington's right to military action and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder abnegated Berlin's, alleging that "It doesn't work." The third event provided evidence for charges of sedition that had been leveled, first by Washington and then Baghdad, at Tehran for many months: weapons tailored for use by terrorists were seized on their way from Iran to Iraq.
Europe's failure marks two-and-a-half years lost in diplomatic engagements since Iran's nuclear activities were exposed by dissidents. Round and round has the elder West gone, accepting whatever dialogue or inspections Tehran would permit, and taking denials and rebuffs straight-faced before returning for another conference — a process first sharing the plodding iteration and now the nonsensicality of children's rhyme "Hickory, Dickory, Dock."
In April, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the White House would wait until summer to render verdict — probably assuming that the Bush administration would know by then if negotiations had foundered, which they have.
Where to, now? There is a thrust-and-parry over what is and what can be done.
How do we know Iran is going to weaponize? Even failing common sense — tyranny seeks power, always — indications of uranium suitable only for bombs were discovered by the IAEA in August of 2003 and June of 2004.
How can military action be contemplated? Iran's mullahs obviously want nothing the Europeans will give them in exchange for cessation of research, the United Nations Oil-for-Food program demonstrates the futility of sanctions as more than means, and despite strategic doubts the only two choices left are the force of arms and shrugging one's shoulders.
What of reports placing Iranian nukes a decade away? First, Iran has never ended its war against we, the "Great Satan," and with its claws in southern Iraq is responsible for the death of American and Allied soldiers, here and now. Second, never in modern times has a fully emerged threat been dealt with as it might have been preemptively. And nukes, each advancement more irreversible than the last, are forever — see Russia and North Korea.
What about Iranian dissidents? There is the claim that military action will harm the sizable and aggressive democracy movement within Iran. But military action need not be incompatible with equipping an armed revolution. And, unfortunately, in the four years since Iranian democrats held candlelight vigils for victims of the September 11th attacks, insisting that Iranian independence come only from within not only smacks of pride but, for the security of the free world, offers diminishing returns.
A dictatorship with armies of terrorists and streets full of discontents wants to arm itself with nuclear weapons. So why wait?
Opponents of diplomatic and military assertion — the relativist left and some pragmatists and parochialists at center and center-right — have long been of the opinion that despot corners of the world were and are better left alone, that imposition amounts to meddling and meddling leads to unforeseen consequences that soon outnumber benefits. What have three years of American-led assertion wrought? The Near East's democratic watershed undermines the argument for disengagement but the broader left defends by pointing to emergent phenomena that, naturally, increase with time and depth of foreign involvement. If Saddam Hussein or the Taliban had not been deposed, go a great many claims, status quo x would not have been desirable but certainly more desirable than our substitution of y, since z appeared because of it. Whether certain instances of z are truly deleterious or more than temporary setbacks is debatable. In that debate, however, is the risk of mistaking ambivalence for prudence.
According to the press overseas, Europe believes it is mediating a petty dispute between Tehran and Washington. Gerhard Schroeder, discarding a military prerogative, bespoke a Europe prepared to appease and an Iran that will harness the atom. British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac have not gone quite as far in acquiescence, but are not nearly close enough to President Bush for an impression that Iran cannot simply fool around until its research is complete.
One must be discerning with references to the Third Reich. But those who would charge excessive citation would deprive us of the finest in appeasement's case history, both disastrous and wholly avoidable.
William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich narrates Adolf Hitler's first three territorial acquisitions: the Rhineland, Austria and Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. Though a military incursion won the Rhineland, and the specter of mobilized Wehrmacht divisions were central to taking Austria by browbeaten plebiscite and Czechoslovakia by the Munich Agreement, the German dictator — confident during his first conquest but hysterical at moments of uncertainty during his second and third — was able to draw his demands, one by one, from Britain and France, whose governments were to abrogate treaties and deliver up millions, all to make unnecessary an armed confrontation.
Hitler's military could only bluff on the borders of Austria and Czechoslovakia; the combined powers opposite the Nazi regime were superior in every calculation. Had free Europe risen to meet Germany in the Rhineland, the assemblage would have crushed the Third Reich like an eggshell. Relativist quarters, the dysfunctional anti-nationalists and the solipsists, would have been smaller in number and lesser in influence; and the market for Nazi sympathy tiny compared to the solidarity racket enjoyed by today's terrorists and dictators. But it is difficult to see how a majority of English and French could not have puzzled over the brief armed conflict, wondering why men lost their lives to punish an Austrian whose German transmutation — vilely fascist as it was — expressed, following a strictly empirical military accounting prior to 1939, no threat to the Continent.
Such is the alloyed value of averting catastrophe: the insouciant scoff at what might have come. Unfortunately, Europe appears ready to perform an encore. So do those who trust dictators over elected statesmen. In judging Iran bilaterally or through the Security Council, the president can expect no help from the American left. The Democratic Party has invested much in the idea that danger seems to exist only in Afghanistan, except where terrorists sprout from the seeds of Western transgression — be it Baghdad or London. Tehran, or for that matter Damascus, are off-limits to consideration.
Now whether it is a desire, in the left's stifling contempt for Mr. Bush, to say Blue when he says Red; or sincere befuddlement with geography and polity, and those relationships to Islamist terrorism; the White House has an opposition party in a discomfiting truest sense of the phrase. Already one can read adjectives "bogus" and "false" attached to what leftists expect will be President Bush's justification for any action taken against Iran. That Saddam Hussein, according to the final report of Iraqi Survey Group head Charles Duelfer, was waiting for the death of sanctions he had spent half a decade arsenicating, that "Dispensing with WMD was a tactical retreat in [Hussein's] ongoing struggle," is not enough for the left. No, no help from the opposition.
Particular methods for punishing Iran — Deposition? Strategic elimination? Destablization? — are for the White House to decide. The public will be told and public debate will begin. President Bush should simply prepare to defeat the left in that debate as he did before authorizing the liberation of Iraq.
When he does, he may be alone. But he'll find himself, historically, in better company.
Michael Ubaldi, August 9, 2005.
My great-grandfather Anton Navarra was murdered by gangsters. Anton ran a grocery store in Madison, Wisconsin's ten-block Greenbush district, an Italian "enclave of cobblers, carpenters and barbers; of bricklayers, painters and common laborers; of grocers, butchers and restaurant owners; and of clubhouses, pool halls and neighborhood taverns," as narrated in the historical and anecdotal cookbook A Taste of Memories from the Old "Bush." With humble immigrants, according to the story my mother was told, came Old Country toughs who brought to the New World their own profession. Anton, who spoke good English, kept his neighbors from being swindled — going so far as to translate for them in court. The Sicilian was singled out for his helpful deeds. One evening in 1924, at closing time, a man entered the grocery store and shot Anton dead.
The loss of good men is not, unfortunately, remarkable. But the story's end is instructive. What happened to the small-time mafiosos? Dead, gone. "They eventually turned on each other," my mother was told.
Before the Allies returned to Fallujah nine months ago, gangs inside the city were found to have fractured and weakened. Though contention appeared to be over little more than methods of subjugation, we glimpsed the volatile company that thugs keep: driven by a desire not shared but incidental, they are ordered by strength and arranged by mutual fear. Strained, those bonds produce a contest of cannibals. A catastrophic dissolution — as opposed to a mutinous reshuffling — will only occur as a response to poor fortunes. But reviewing the abrupt ends of strongmen, from Greenbush gangs to puppet dictators of the former Eastern Bloc, shows that it is quite natural. Like all men whose currency is the lie, terrorists reveal far more through what is not intended for broadcast, and three intercepted messages over eighteen months telegraph the end of the enemy in Iraq.
The first message, believed to have been written or dictated by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi himself, was seized in January 2004. Its author was contemplating defeat by stubborn armies and flight from an unsympathetic, if diffident, country. In spite of attempted Ba'athist and Khomeinist insurrections two months later, a second battle with Muqtada al-Sadr's street brawlers that August and the reclamation of Fallujah in November, and the specter of continued gangland killings and bombings well into this year, the author's conditions for losing against Iraqis and their foreign allies remain.
Terrorists are permanently incapable of constructing a popular front in Iraq, having forgone the subtleties of politics or rhetoric and instead resolved to simply frighten, murder and coerce locals as necessary. Iraqis are promised no better life or material transcendence, are offered no appeal to tranquility — pluralities have been cleverly seduced into accepting tyranny as liberation before, but here the would-be usurpers have made no effort. This enemy's propaganda is the mimeography of predation: You are slaves and we are your masters.
Suffering under Saddam Hussein's refinement of the modern totalitarian state produced more actuating shame in Iraqis than wounded resignation, and the very people targeted by shootings and bombings are less disheartened than those watching anachronous and distorted footage of the crimes from the other side of the world. Faced with living another nightmare or risking death for self-determination Iraqis have chosen accordingly — leaving the enemy a single element, doubt, with which to force a collapse of American electoral will and Allied retreat.
President Bush's reelection confirmed Allied presence for the next four years, underscored by two Congressional votes of confidence this past June — each carried by a two-thirds vote. In May, the second message in question fell into Allied hands, with repeat laments: far fewer terrorists on hand than expected, those present listless and uncooperative. Before a third message was captured in Mosul, Marines in al Anbar Province witnessed the first of several skirmishes between terrorists. The captured letter from Mosul is as bleak as the first two and considered by Task Force Olympia Captain Duane Limpert, Jr., completing his tenth month in theater, as "a measure of effectiveness for our efforts here." Two hundred miles south, Allied forces trace the downward arc of a slow coup de grace.
What an elucidative privilege to conduct an autopsy of the Ba'athist-Islamist combine: How many times was the enemy forced not only to reorganize but to reinvent himself? With gangs, safehouses and stashes disrupted every week for two years, were persistence and tactical adaptation his finest attributes? How quickly did the Ba'athists devolve completely into free-wheeling street thugs? Combatants identified as "fedayeen" deployed car bombs, a terrorist hallmark, in the last weeks of major combat operations. Hussein acolyte Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was reportedly untroubled by leaving behind his erstwhile party's "unity, freedom, socialism" for the muddled grandiloquence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. How quickly did the murderous flux tear apart — when did a terrorist hate his partners as much as Allied soldiers and Iraqi democrats? How many fled the country and how many quietly settled as underworld riffraff? For the countless bearings, the many months, the misery sown, terminus will have a single cause: the enemy eventually turned on himself.
Michael Ubaldi, August 4, 2005.
Via the Carnival of Gamers, blogger Finster at Top of Cool offers a response to some defenders of vendor Rockstar Games, whose surreptitious inclusion of a graphic and interactive copulation sequence in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas brought rightful industry censure of Rockstar and parent company Take-Two Interactive — and potentially discouraging federal interjection.
Critics of the Entertainment Software Review Board decision claim that American content standards betray a double-standard: violence is embraced, a hint of sex is verboten. Finster argues that media catering, as legally defined, to the prurient interest is destructive because it needlessly innervates the human sex impulse. This reasoning is vulnerable to the counter that the depiction of violence, especially the malevolent use of force, can and does affect or encourage those who tend towards sociopathy; but Finster contributes by invoking American football. Football and other contact sports demonstrate why a reasonable degree of violence is far more integral to daily life than amorous license.
Is it normal and socially acceptable for a lineman to push his opponent backward every play, then pile onto the ball carrier? Of course. A boxer to win on a knockout, first round? Certainly. Do football players and pugilists regularly engage in sexual activities with one another? Good heavens, no. An animal is acceptably handled, leashed, trained, physically punished, euthanized and slaughtered. Bestiality is a practice best left to deviants and humorous stories from, say, the early pagan Isle of Man.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' problem, like all retail products containing pornography, was with children. The game was initially rated by the Entertainment Software Review Board as "Mature": Content therein considered most appropriate for those seventeen years of age and older, parental judgment technically preserved by an industry-wide Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association policy to refuse sale to customers sixteen and younger. Following the accusation and private indictment, the ESRB changed the rating of San Andreas to "Adults Only": Content therein expressly not recommended for those under the age of eighteen and excluded from sale by retailers under IEMA. Why? Children tussle, children fight. It is a healthy exposition of competition and respect. Children naturally do not, and morally should not, make sexual correspondence.
Equating sex and violence is inapt. The latter is instinctively and institutionally a public act; the former a private one. Violence, too, is the desideratum of democratic law enforcement — restraining the unlawful and the murderous requires the adversarial implication or application of it. When United States District Judge Robert Lasnik ordered a 2003 injunction on a recently legislated Washington State ban on the sale of violent video games to minors, he resorted to the moral neutrality of force, warning that the ban "would restrict access to games which mirror mainstream movies or reflect heroic struggles against corrupt regimes." Literature entwines love and war but has rarely transposed the two. Passion has a place in culture, if one necessarily small.
Michael Ubaldi, August 3, 2005.
An entire column of buttons will be stripped from every elevator in Secretariat: John Bolton is going to the United Nations. His confirmation twice prevented by filibuster and his fitness for office challenged, the former Under Secretary for Arms Control was the recipient of a presidential recess appointment. George W. Bush announced at a press conference that Bolton will be sent to Turtle Bay with his "complete confidence," and, unnecessary to add, with no further advice or consent from the United States Senate.
Senate Democrats must have known that politics would arbitrate the sixteen-week dispute. In each failed cloture vote was a majority of senators who would likely have voted "Aye" for confirmation if debate ended, meaning Bolton would fall only if a humiliated White House withdrew him. President Bush's perseverance still surprised the many Democratic Montressors who, bereft of the Fortunato they had thought walled in, took second best and burned Bolton in effigy.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called Bolton "weakened" like a burglar might call a house he just left "robbed." Former presidential challenger John Kerry accepted Bush's recess prerogative but decried "the wrong decision," presumably made at the wrong place and time. As for Republicans opposed to an Ambassador Bolton, it is assumed that from the hallway outside Republican George Voinovich's Hart Building office one could hear muffled sobs.
Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, after dispensing invective, waxed erudite and questioned the constitutionality of recess appointments for candidates beyond the judiciary. Two-century precedent aside, honest inquiries have been submitted from the right as well — if only conducted as an anniversary ritual, since the point is partly academic and in these circumstances extraordinarily weak. How exactly is it proper to supplant the Constitution (very clear on advice and consent) with arbitrary Senate rules (altogether silent on the filibuster)? Floating about is the phrase "unconfirmed," which leftists hope might settle on John Bolton's brow. Railroaded by the executive, selected-not-elected. But what of two majorities from the Senate, representing the American people? Democrats are angry but they seem plaintive, too: whatever embarrassment John Bolton and President Bush suffered will have long faded by the beginning of the 110th Congress.
The ambassador, remember, will be dispatched not to the Democratic National Headquarters but to the United Nations. Nearly every attributable quote from Secretariat on the recess appointment is complimentary and anticipatory — some of it feigned, much of it valuable to those quoted, all of it John Bolton's political fortune. The United Nations is in a lot of trouble. Sit dictators with statesmen and you will soon have all statesmen — that was the promise in evoking the sacred from the profane, alchemy as inconceivable as turning lead to gold but with the entire world as an unfortunate smelter. What sixty years has revealed is what we already knew: even the Lord of Hosts redeems only those willing. Charity? The monies and prestige of a dozen upright democracies has passed through the hands of bureaucrat oligarchs and into the possession of the world's last tyrants. Peace and goodwill? Heinous dictators elect each other to head up commissions intended to mitigate their iniquity — draw squares on Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Declaration of Human Rights and you would have a marathon dance floor. The left and the media establishment, who have long regarded the liberation of Iraq as President Bush's folly, stand in front of an outrage that could only have been exposed as a consequence of invasion and looms ever larger.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is one of those bureaucrats whose innocence in Oil-for-Food and Security Council corruption is suspect, to where one may speculate on the possibility of both his resignation and criminal prosecution. "Very able and very bright" was Annan's take on Bolton. "Hell no" was Annan's take on stepping down for overseeing the greatest swindle on Earth. Now, if Annan has done wrong, he cannot know the extent to which the Bush administration understands. That would explain both the White House's magnanimity and the Secretary General's complaisance over the last twelve months. Washington has demands of Turtle Bay that deserve to be met, so if it is Kofi Annan's vanity with which President Bush wields leverage, so be it.
General Assembly members have been equally approving. John Bolton received kudos from Russia, Germany, Chile, Denmark and Algeria; the thread running through one of competence and professionalism. Bolton will also be heading to Secretariat as scores of nations jockey for a say or a seat on the United Nations Security Council, looking to the sitting major powers for a good word. Representatives from the Group of Four nations or the African Union or any Assembly clique would treat President Bush's ambassador with respect if he were a dressed-up, barking sea lion.
There is reform and renovation to be done by John Bolton. If he intends to remain at his post for the next Congressional session Bolton can expect little trouble. Instead of the left's cartoon character the Senate will face a man with recent, probably very impressive, experience. Democrats left over from the 2006 midterm elections may still find cause to grumble and vote against but for the public record John Bolton will most assuredly prove his critics wrong.
Michael Ubaldi, July 30, 2005.
Kang Chol Hwan is exactly the sort of man North Korea dreads to see escape, for he left in order to return. After spending ten years incarcerated with his family at the Yodok concentration camp, Kang fled to China in the late 1980s and settled in South Korea. In 2000 he wrote an autobiographical indictment of Kim Jong Il's foul regime and as an advocate for human dignity above the 38th Parallel traveled to Washington in June to meet with President Bush. It was reported that both Kang and his vision for the Korean Peninsula were welcome in the Oval Office; the president had read Kang's The Aquariums of Pyongyang and, enjoying it as much as another universalist favorite, The Case for Democracy by Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, hoped to add it to the library of American understanding.
Kang and Bush talked North Korea, rights, diplomacy, security, six parties, nuclear weapons. Interviewed by Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun one month later, the Korean described his conversation with the president framed in terms of the "Six-Party Talks" taking place in Beijing. Placating Kim Jong Il, Kang advised, echoing sentiments expressed at a recent convention held by Freedom House, could not be more counterproductive. "You will lose both popular support in North Korea and you won't be able to solve the nuclear problem." How to go at it, then? Kang was asked the same question by the most powerful man in the world. "He asked me what I would do if I was the President of the United States. I told him that I would take care of North Korean refugees, then gulags, then the nuclear problem, in that order. I said if you solve the first two problems the third will solve itself."
A lingering question of President Bush's proposed supplement to American policy, articulated in this year's inaugural address, has been how far the president's exhortation might reach. Would it be heard by the administration, the State Department's reactionary tenure? The Congress, whose representatives could easily judge career a higher priority than altruistic ideal?
The White House has allies. For a first, "Universal Democracy" fit into a mainstream headline — a Wednesday New York Sun article by Eli Lake on the "ADVANCE Democracy Act." Democrat Tom Lantos, and Republican John McCain and Democrat Joseph Lieberman are responsible for adding language to respective House and Senate foreign aid bills to "Use all instruments of United States influence to support, promote, and strengthen democratic principles, practices, and values in foreign countries." To what end? "The promotion of such universal democracy constitutes a long-term challenge that does not always lead to an immediate transition to full democracy," reads ADVANCE, "but universal democracy is achievable."
ADVANCE, Lake writes, is a professional culmination of Mark Palmer, whose democratist work has been essential and poignant: helping to rescue Natan Sharansky from the Soviet gulag and as ambassador, a witness to Hungary's independence three-and-a-half decades after Washington turned its back on Budapest. Palmer is the author of Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025 and with ADVANCE has answered Bush's address with Lantos, McCain and Lieberman. According to Lake the White House has niggled, but only a little, and if an ADVANCE-laden foreign affairs bill crosses the president's desk it will likely be signed.
Following ADVANCE, tyrant bank accounts would fall under CIA scrutiny; Foggy Bottom would follow the lead of Freedom House and classify nations by civil and political liberties; ambassadors would be rewarded for facilitating democratic progress, not detente; umbrella groups would have the door held open for them. The bill enumerates "findings." Men are equal, they deserve by natural law consensual government; democratic countries are categorically prosperous and peaceful; authoritarian states are unstable and checkered with famine, subjugation and dehumanization, and societies in which "radicalism, extremism, and terrorism can flourish."
Identifying this fundament is critical. More drawn to trusting what is extant than what is moral or reasonable, traditionalists and parochialists on the right have begun to push hard the notion that our enemy begins and ends with, quote, "militant Islam." Or worse, Islam itself. While posing thoughtful questions about a bastardization of faith, these retirees of Cold War realpolitik draw a line between anarchic tyranny of terrorists and ordered tyranny of dictatorships so thick that attacks by the former against the latter — like bombings in Egypt and Saudi Arabia — could reimburse to Near East despot regimes governing legitimacy rightfully lost after having been exposed as terror's cradle. The Egyptian people share our enemy, goes the fractured logic, so we should hang onto Hosni Mubarak.
If Islam were the catalyst for intramural repression and foreign rapacity, it would mobilize an army in far greater proportion to the one billion professed Muslims living on Earth, trampling the free world as a contiguous mass of swaddled, oath-belching fanatics. Now, to be a Communist one must seek the abolition of free enterprise and private property, and expect ineluctable human tragedy. Worshipping Allah precludes neither democratic participation nor administration. Look to Turkey and hopefuls Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon; or liberalizing monarchies Bahrain and Kuwait; or your Muslim neighbor a few doors down whose house, family and daily routine closely resemble yours. Are Islamofascists Muslims? Recitations and pantomimes and metaphysical acrobatics aside, they are not. In the Times of London Amir Taheri recently wrote, as he has for some time, that cultural tradition, not Islamic doctrine, regulates the hijab and the beard — to say nothing of murder and enslavement.
The Muslim Near East is still a wide swath of dictatorship, true. But the secular Ba'athists and Arab nationalists required no help from Islam to enthrone Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad or Abdel Nasser last century. Warlords who preceded the prophet conquered lands well enough without him. Islamists regularly join those with whom they are antithetical in letter but bound in spirit, no less driven to power and the rule of force than ancient idolator nomads, sword-and-shield-and-mare. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote Friday, dominion holds many forms. What was so inherently German about militarism? Nothing, it turned out, when neither Hohenzollern nor Hitler emerged from the rubble of the Berlin Wall. Islam is a tortured reactant of volatile, authoritarian culture.
Michael Ubaldi, July 27, 2005.
Iraq is telling one story and leftist elites are determined to tell you and I another. If that is difficult to believe, consider St. Paul Pioneer Press editor Mark Yost, who accused his industry of negligence and invited — at the hands of his peers — cross-examination, humiliation and excommunication. A fortnight ago Yost wrote a column whose thesis rested on the phrase "I'm reminded of why I became a journalist by the horribly slanted reporting coming out of Iraq." Where are the articles, he asked, about reconstruction and reconciliation; communities and repatriation; enterprise and heroism? Yost drew a sharp line between reports from troops in theater and reports with bylines; soldiers in action were challenged yet confident, journalists chronicling those actions were cynical and moribund.
Mark Yost's colleagues organized quickly to correct a reporter insolent enough to trust the word of military men over theirs. Days after the publication of Yost's article one of them — Clark Hoyt, the Washington, D.C. editor for Pioneer Press distributer Knight-Ridder Newspapers — put in print his own commentary. Yost was wrong to question the veracity of media work, wrote Hoyt, who explained the dearth of stories on, say, Iraq's electricity by resolving that "Maybe it's because there is no progress." To this Hoyt hitched a statistic identifying a one-hour drop per day in household power between this year and last, then leapt to his next repudiation.
Hoyt's conviction was misplaced. The day before his article ran, the Army Corps of Engineers announced repairs of a generating station north of Baghdad nearing seven-eighths completion; full operation would add 10 percent to the entire country's output total. Two months before that, Iraq blogger Omar Fadhil offered similar news on a plant south of Baghdad.
So there is progress. OK, what about performance? Reserving column space for a letter from Knight-Ridder's Baghdad Bureau Chief that read half-obloquy, half-dirge in its vituperation of Yost, Hoyt did not inform his readers that liberated Iraq's electrical plants met and surpassed Ba'athist production levels within six months — and that Iraqi ownership of consumer electronics has aggrandized demand beyond what the improved and expanded grid can currently supply. Hoyt left all this out, rightists suppose, for one of two reasons: he was ignorant of public data; or was aware but decided clarification would mar his neat, three-sentence rebuttal. Either way, reread Yost's charges and ask — Why does a journalist passing up information relevant to a material dispute serve as one of the agency's bureau chiefs?
Why? Because he lives in and works for, respectively, a class and industry that for half a century has maintained perception, knowledge, circulation, reflection and review as indiscrete enterprises under one cartel. The class is leftist, intrinsically relativist and contemporarily opposed to both Western and American assertions. The industry is mainstream journalism, populated by leftists and bound to the ideological Making of a Difference. Democratic success in Iraq, Afghanistan and other nations will be this generation's evidence of universal values that rest high on an absolute scale — and success will deliver a staggering blow to relativism. An increasingly egalitarian exchange of news and opinion delineates two narratives, one from military and Iraqi observers that fairly well describes the shared struggle against authoritarianism and one from establishment journalists that does not. The left, deluded or deceptive, refuses to see anything but a Potemkin village erected in conspiracy. Through denial mainstream journalism has contrived a false place of its own.
In May I debated writing an essay on leftist media distortion of the Iraq campaign but elected not to. Two years of blogging Iraq's emancipation is as accurate and comprehensive an accounting I could ever have managed. The abridged leftist media narrative follows. American-led armies were never to breach Baghdad and topple Saddam Hussein. Immediately after the Ba'athists fell, Iraqis were alternately described as wistful for the Stalinist routine or eager to found a theocracy. Troops were dispirited, or marauders, or ill-equipped, or costing the taxpayer too much. What became known as the "insurgency" was, through the 2004 presidential election, portrayed as a popular, political and legitimate native uprising. Liberty and civility were insoluble to such a foreign culture. This meme was tested twice and failed each time: once during Bloody April of 2004 and again on the January 30, 2005 elections. Rather than concede, the left repositioned and adopted its current explanation for regime agents and foreign terrorists, insofar as the West created them — on the order of blaming Eisenhower for drawing the Third Reich's brunt into France in 1944.
Interpose the creation of the Iraqi National Assembly, a first draft constitution, a spasm of indiscriminate terrorist brutality and Allied penetration of gangs and al Qaeda cells: we are now at present. The two narratives are irreconcilable. The left's enemy is flourishing — but persistent slaughter of the defenseless and unprepared is a exhibition of malice, not strength. The mainstream drones about a palpable civil war — but civil war was the impending disaster last month, and three months before that, and six months before that and eighteen months before that.
One justification for dreary reporting is that while crime and murder may not represent events they sell newspapers. Is that entirely true? For about every day that a terrorist bomb goes off, Iraqi and Allied soldiers and police chase, apprehend, thwart and best the enemy. Freelance journalist Michael Yon transformed a Mosul weapons cache demolition into a vignette of depth and grit. Iraqi bloggers and commercial newspapers depict a rich daily life. Yet those stories hardly rate ledes. If mainstream media war coverage were a radio broadcast of the first million-dollar gate, only Carpentier's strikes would be announced, leaving any listeners enduring four rounds dumbfounded by Dempsey's knockout win.
Induction is helpful here. Iraq's economy is growing independently of its strong reliance on oil exports and the dinar is both stable and appreciating. Commercial flights have resumed, dozens of roads and train lines have been laid, hundreds of modest schoolhouses have been built. Systems for advanced irrigation, sanitation and agriculture are underway. A draft constitution was written by elected representatives, debated on Iraqi television, and will soon be judged by popular ballot. Men who deprived Iraqis of even nominal parliamentary representation for three of its five modern totalitarian decades will be judged in court — hanged or jailed after the due process they once saw fit to dispossess. How can all this be possible in the terminally unstable country Hoyt and so many others project, impress and telecast?
The answer to that question is obvious. What the leftward newsman's Quixotic betrayal of truth will bring, as he peddles an impatience and faithlessness critical to the enemy, we cannot yet say.