Friday, September 12, 2003
However, of late the models appear to be nudging Isabel along the ridgeline and up the Eastern Seaboard. There is a growing consensus that Florida is very close to being out of the woods. However, I'm not quite ready to burn my plywood and empty my bottled water quite yet. Even so, this storm remains a major threat to the East Coast whether it hits Florida or not. There are some folk who are mighty concerned about the strip of land running from Savannah, Georgia to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Hopefully, some of the modellers who indicate that this thing will go out to sea are right.
Meanwhile, out in California, the Recall Election is either going swimmingly for Arnold or is going to pot for Arnold, depending on whom you believe. Gray Davis has called in the Clintons and other Democratic heavyweights to convince Californians that the Governor is really just a misunderstood gentleman, not a thug in a Botany 500 suit whose chief passion is for lucre and the scratching of backs. The poll on the recall stands at 50% in favor to 47% against, if one chooses to believe the Los Angeles Times, which I manifestly do not. The replacement election shows Lt. Governor Cruz ("the Croupier") Bustamante up on Schwarzenegger by 30% to 25%. Meantime, the McClintock Cult has improved to 18%, putting paid to any talk of State Senator McClintock pulling out of the election after this weekend's Republican State Convention in Los Angeles.
Some of the McClintock people are talking as if the Big Mo is with Tom, and that Arnold will be coming on bended knee to McClintock to support him in the end. I think these people drink the bong water, myself. Suppose Arnold stalled out and McClintock took the lead. Well, Arnold could endorse McClintock, but a lot of Arnold's voters would either stay home or vote against the recall. While I'm in favor of McClintock staying in until after the convention, I'm not sure he helps the Republicans win a recall election by staying in until the close of the election.
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
First up this evening is a reminder of the Dreamworks release of the Japanese animated film, Millenium Actress. Although I have yet to see this film, it comes recommended out of Japan and has good lineage. The director, Satoshi Kon, produced 1997's gripping psychological thriller, Perfect Blue. In addition, Kon's latest work won prestigious awards in Japan, Thailand and Canada in the wake of its initial release in 2001.
Millenium Actress tells the story of Chiyoko Fujiwara, one of Japan's most famous actresses, as recorded by two documentary filmmakers. Thirty years before, Fujiwara retired suddenly from her contract studio and chose to live the life of a hermit. The two filmmakers have searched high and low for Chiyoko, finally coming upon an aged Fujiwara in a remote mountain lodge. The film's story is the tale of their journey through her films and her career as they insert themselves into her movies and her life, as though walking through a door that led to a number of different realities. Fujiwara is in constant search of her one true love, symbolized by a key that one of the filmmakers recovered from her old studio.
By all accounts a superb film, Millenium Actress opens in limited release on September 12th. It should be out on DVD within six months.
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, Yasir Arafat has appointed one of his goons to be the next Palestinian Prime Minister. Abu Mazen decided that he didn't want to wait around for Arafat to have him assassinated, so he resigned the PM's post. There was no way that Arafat was going to call off the Hamas, the Tanzim, and Force 17, his personal gang of assassins and bombmakers. Abu Mazen's position became untenable, and he retired to private life. His replacement is Arafat toady Ahmed Qurie, speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Naturally, the entire Road Map for Peace is supposed to depend on this poor soul, who couldn't deliver the dead in a Chicago election, much less the Palestinians to the peace table.
Naturally, Qurie will say that he is trying, but most of the money and shahid are supplied by Arafat's people. Right now the Americans are putting up with the slight fiction that the new guy can crack down on the local hoodlums. Qurie can't of course, because the hoodlums have the support of Arafat, who has the support of the broad mass of Palestinians.
So the Israelis are thinking of other methods, and they are feeling little pressure from Bush to show restraint. There is a sense that the Israelis will either kill Arafat or deport him. The Israelis tried to eliminate Hamas' spiritual leader the other day. In response, Hamas attacked with two shahid bombings that killed 15 Israelis, including a doctor and his daughter. I have predicted a multi-brigade operation into Gaza for some time, now that Saddam's regime has fallen. It looks like the Israelis have already begun a series of air strikes.
It will be bloody, but I don't see any other way. As the Russians said to each other during World War II, "trod the viper".
Monday, September 08, 2003
One of the things that is most to be admired about George W. Bush is his sense of getting at the problem directly. The problem he confronted two nights ago was to focus the attention of the nation on the task at hand: rebuilding Iraq, defeating the terrorist insurgency, and most importantly, rallying the people to this cause. He did so by returning to his vision of the Iraq campaign as one battle in the larger war against the Jihadist International. In that, he presented Americans with a choice: total victory or catastrophic failure.
Now, how he arrived at this point has a lot to do with his absence from the stage in July and August. Late summer is always bad for the Bushes. His father was down by double digits to Dukakis in July and would win going away in November. Bush himself had a bad August and September in 2000, a catastrophic September in 2001, and was beset by a financial blizzard in the equities markets in July of last year. Then, as he went to Crawford for the month of July, the Usual Suspects began a leaking campaign to try and dissuade him from going to Iraq, using the New York Times as their megaphone. The President set the ship aright in September at the U.N., in the belief that a common front against a terrorist state would unite the West. Little would he know that the Europeans and the Russians had a financial stake in the perpetuation of Iraq's tyranny, and though that became apparent, Bush doggedly pursued his objective.
The victory was famous and for the most part, complete. However, a critical error was made in the Pentagon as the Iraqi Army was dismissed, leaving unemployed men in the street. While many conscripts did pine for home, I would have tried to find a way to keep a cadre of each unit active so that they could be reformed under the new government. While in the short run that might have led to greater stability; in the long run, it would have almost certainly have led to a coup by Ba'athist Officers. Just like 1958. I can see what motivated the Pentagon to dismiss the Iraqi army, shot through as it was with Ba'athist toadies, but that move contributed mightily to the difficulties we had over the summer.
Meantime, the Ba'athists and the Jihadi began their campaign of assassinations, bombing, and terror. Beginning in earnest in late May, the local Saddam people began an insurgency targeted at G.I.'s. They used four methods of attack: assassination, sniping, RPG attack (rocket propelled grenade), and the remote controlled carbomb or satchel charge. The deaths of the G.I.'s made headlines, but they were not the kind of losses that would provoke hundreds of thousands of American college students into the streets to scream for an end to the killing. These losses were acceptable. As of today, 67 Americans have been killed in action since May 1. That's a lot less than died during the first half-hour on Omaha Beach, and certainly is less than the 600 men we were losing every week in early 1968. Nevertheless, in an age where the news cycle begins anew every fifteen minutes the news of these casualties were maginifed far beyond their strategic significance. That may be coldly analytical, but it also has the virtue of being true.
George W. Bush left the stage to go to Crawford. His political opponents and the mainstream press, neither of whom are supportive of him, did not. Beginning in late July, the Bush Administration fell into a trap of apologizing for placing 16 words in the State of the Union address that also happened to be accurate. A flap between the C.I.A. and the National Security Council became a firestorm that political Washington could not ignore, so eager was it as an organic body to attack the President. Naturally, the Democrats smelled blood in the water. And they went over to the attack.
Led by Howard Dean, the Democrats attacked the whole basis of the war, acting as if Saddam Hussein never possessed weapons of mass destruction nor had high tea with those awful Al Qaeda. Hussein had done both, as had been documented by others. However, much of the Democratic campaign depends on the propagation of myth as fact, a weakness in their argument that will come back to haunt them. Bush's poll numbers went down to a range of between 45% positive and 60% positive due to the constant drumbeat of attacks against the President.
When you don't counterpunch, you stay bruised. Realizing that too many Americans were buying into the arguments of the Democrats, Bush went to the well of his support from the American people. It is at this point that he presented Americans with a choice:
1. We can engage Al Qaeda in this new battlefield and destroy many of their best people.
2. We can retreat from Iraq and cede the field to the jihadists, bringing untold consequences and heralding a new dark age where Westerners aren't willing to defend themselves against the fanatic and the zealous.
Naturally, Bush chose the former. In so doing he outlined three steps. First, he would direct the armed forces to seek out and destroy the local jihadi and Ba'athist goons. Next, he would help Iraq rebuild itself through joint action. Finally, he would turn over the government of Iraq to the Iraqis so that America's presence there might be dramatically reduced. To that end, he sought 87 billion dollars to that end, 66 billion going to the prosecution of the war in Iraq and to Afghanistan as well. The remaining 21 billion dollars would go towards reconstruction in both countries.
The reaction of the Democrats was not long in coming. It centered around the assertion that Bush's invasion of Iraq opened up a Pandora's box of Al Qaeda terrorism, a variation of the terror argument that was made prior to the invasion. Interestingly enough, it is an argument of men who take counsel of their fears. Bush's entire strategy has been to take the war to the enemy's homeland, on the assumption that if you kill them there, they are less likely to be able to field infiltrators who have the talent to kill us here. The Democrats fundamentally reject that strategy, something they don't say in public, but something that is betrayed by Dean's assertion that the money is needed here in the United States. Publicly, they will say that Bush has mishandled the war's aftermath. Privately, they rejected the whole enterprise from the beginning.
It is as if liberals have adopted the Johnson/MacNamara strategy of fighting not to lose, rather than having total victory as one's aim. It is a grand paradox that the generation that rejected the Vietnam war is so ready to adopt Westmoreland's strategy that led the nation to so much grief.
There are signs of good things happening. Iraq's economy is growing. The low-tax/no-tax strategy is allowing entrepreneurship to take hold. The press is the most vibrant in the entire Arab world. And the attacks on Americans are going down as the Army adopts the more flexible and proactive patrolling techniques of the Marine Corps. The thinking is that the Ba'athists and the Qaeda men have suffered severely during the Ameirican counteroffensives. If Americans attract jihadists who wish to kill them, take this advice: always bet on trained infantry against insurgents of any stripe.
So we arrive at the hinge of fate. The question is raised: shall we pursue the war to ultimate victory or hesitate now, only to drink the bitter cup later at the close of a phoney peace. I suspect that that question depends on who wins next year's Presidential elections. In the end, it depends on the American people. Woe betide them if bin Laden's prejudices about the Americans prove to be true.
Sunday, September 07, 2003
The weight of the entire war rests on our shoulders. This campaign in Iraq is decisive, and yet the entire Left and, unfortunately, many Libertarians and members of the Old Right, appear to wish for failure. Now this is understandable from them: the Left despises the President and the Old Right has hated his family since the early nineties. Yet while it is understandable, it is also unacceptable, as it cedes as legitimate the argument that the liberation of a people was a bad thing.
Saddam was a vicious and cruel bastard. If we never find any weapons of mass destruction, this war will have been worth the candle, if only because this generation of Iraqis have a chance at worthwhile self-rule. Before we invaded, they did not. All the Iraqis ever knew was the boot of Saddam and his willing toadies, grinding them down into the dust for a thousand lifetimes. Now those on the left proceed as if their liberation was a fool's errand. They cast the entire effort as illegitimate based on the argument that since no weapons of mass destruction have been found, Saddam never had them. This is a bit like saying that if the Allies never discovered Auschwitz, no extermination program ever took place (or, as one wag put it shortly after the war; we haven't found Saddam, therefore he never existed).
The Left always answered with the assertion that if we had to liberate the Iraqis, why shouldn't we liberate everyone? Well, that bit of sophistry is designed to win an argument by presenting politics as a set of absolutes, when in fact, it is the art of the possible. Western democracies do what they can, sometimes do what they must, and fail to do what they must when they take counsel of their fears. In this case, Iraq was eminently doable, and long overdue. Saddam had violated evey codicil of the 1991 ceasefire. Saddam had diverted U.N. foodstuffs and money to his personal use. He had robbed his country blind. And he was pursuing a weaponization program for chemical and bilogical weapons. He had long range nuclear ambitions, if only to keep up with his Iranian neighbors. The Allies had more than enough reasons to go in.
But I keep coming back to the future of the Iraqi citizenry, and why that didn't appear to matter to the opponents of this war. Many cited the proposition that if we had simply contained Iraq, we wouldn't be in this mess. That is a falsehood. Sanctions were falling apart prior to September 11th, 2001. Secretary of State Colin Powell was pushing for something called "smart sanctions", designed to keep only the most sensitive materials out of Saddam's hands. Other than that, all bets were off. In short, "smart sanctions" were an unofficial way for the UN to throw in the towel and for Saddam to enrich himself once more.
Saddam also understood that the local princely states were tiring of the American presence, and that all he had to do was to wait the U.S. out.
But it was not to be. Saddam's fate was sealed one September morning, when American policymakers understood that Saddam's wealth married to Usama bin Laden's fanaticism could bring about a terror far worse than what they had witnessed that terrible day. Of all the reasons we went to war, fear of the consequences of Arab fanaticism was paramount. However, that discussion is for another post.
In the end, the Iraqis will be freer than they could ever have dreamed of being before the war. They will have the United States and Great Britain to thank for that. And in the end, the historians will write that we did a great and noble thing. But what troubles me, and should trouble everyone, is the inability of both liberals and leftists to acknowledge, nay, to celebrate the fall of a fascist regime. It is troubling that they cannot perceive a connection between Middle Eastern state fascism and Wahabist obsessions of Usama bin Laden and his cohorts.
Of course, they have yet to experience the terror, or to take it to heart. If we took their prescriptive measures of withdrawl, I fear that it would not be long before they could have that experience firsthand. However, I suspect that we will not. The benefits of success are too profound to be measured, while the price of retreat and failure is too terrible to comprehend.