Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Twelve Working Men

On August 28, 2004 Xinhua carried the story of a dozen Nepalese workers who had been taken hostage in Iraq by a group called the Heroic Mujahedeen. The pattern was familiar: the abduction, the pleading video.

According to a Xinhua report from Baghdad last Friday, about a dozen Nepalese workers were taken hostage in Iraq by a group of Heroic Mujahedeen (Islamic Fighters) on the night of Aug. 19-20, accusing them of assisting the US troops in Iraq. ... The 12 Nepalese kept hostages by the Iraqi insurgents in a video tape telecast by the well-known Arabian Al Jazeera Television appealed to the Nepali government to initiate all possible steps to rescue them. They also appealed to the government to take stern action against the Moonlight Manpower Company, a foreign employment agent who forced them to go to Iraq despite their unwillingness to go there.

Some of the Nepalis were grey-haired laborers upon whom the sustenance of their families in the hills depended. ABC News reports:

A militant Iraqi group said it had killed 12 Nepali hostages and showed pictures of one being beheaded and others being shot dead, the worst mass killing of captives since a wave of kidnappings erupted in April. The Nepalis were kidnapped earlier this month when they entered Iraq to work as cooks and cleaners for a Jordanian firm. ...

"We have carried out the sentence of God against 12 Nepalis who came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians...believing in Buddha as their God," said the statement by the military committee of the Army of Ansar al-Sunna. ... The recording showed two masked men, one in camouflage, holding down a hostage. One of the men then used a knife to behead the hostage and then hold his head aloft. The video then showed a group of hostages lying face down and being shot by a man using an automatic rifle. It then showed bodies splattered with blood and bullet wounds.

This may be good news for the two French hostages. It has always been part of the terrorist modus operandi to increase the contrast between the treatment of their enemies and their friends. We have seen their wrath and soon we may see their smile.


Personally, I think the bombings in Russia and Israel, plus the kidnappings of aid workers in Darfur are timed to coincide with the RNC convention. It could be coincidental, but that that is less likely than to assume the enemy, who is commanded, is working to a plan. That means the enemy will attempt an attack in the USA. We already know that, but it bears remembering that if they can kill 12 in two Israeli buses, they can do it in America.

The Shadow of France

If the French are not seeking to pay monetary or some other type of ransom to obtain the release of the two Frenchmen kidnapped by Iraqi terrorists nothing in their actions of the past few days makes sense. The French Foreign Minister, Michel Barner, is on tour of Middle Eastern capitals to seek support for the release of the hostages. The Taipei Times says:

In Paris the foreign ministry said its outgoing secretary-general, Hubert Colin de Verdihre, just named ambassador to Algeria, had arrived in the Iraqi capital to boost the French embassy in the Iraqi capital. Barnier said he would be accompanied by a number of other senior officials. Barnier hinted that he would also visit other regional capitals but gave no details. He was due to have talks in Cairo with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Mussa.

So far, his line to the kidnappers has been, "but we're friends". The Moscow Times reports:

"France, due to its position on the war in Iraq, could have hoped it was safe," Le Figaro said in an editorial on Monday. "This was not the case." ... Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's largest Islamist organization but officially banned in Egypt, said in a statement that it condemned the kidnappings. "The Muslim Brotherhood demands that the two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq be freed, especially as there is no proof of their involvement in any activity against law and order, but rather they were participating in exposing the occupation and its practices," the group said.

The idea that this was a red-on-red, some ghastly mistake, was conveyed by the BBC:

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh in Paris reports that a large crowd of people gathered in the city's Trocadero Square on Monday evening, to show their support for Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper. Thousands in France demonstrated solidarity with the journalists He says French people have been appalled by their plight, and are baffled that the country's citizens should have been targeted by Iraqi militants, given France's vocal opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But the descent of so many French diplomats on Middle Eastern capitals suggests it is trying to cut a political deal with the terrorists and their backers. Since France has ruled out rescinding the headscarf ban to preserve the appearance of amour propre, the obvious alterntive is to make someone else make concessions. That someone will probably be Iraq. This may have sparked off the exchange between Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the Quai de Orsay. According to Xinhua:

... Allawi declared earlier Monday that the kidnapping of two French journalists showed that there was "no possible neutrality" in Iraq and that those who do not fight at the government level can not escape terrorism. "None of the civilized countries can escape," he said, noting "there is no possible neutrality, as shows the kidnapping of the French journalists." "The French deluded themselves if they would hope to stay outside," he added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's declaration, which came after the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and accused France's position towards terrorism, was "unacceptable," the French Foreign Ministry said Monday. "This declaration seems in fact to have cast doubt on France's determination in the fight against terrorism ... France is leading untiringly a resolute action against this scourge and it is always bringing its support and contribution to all the initiatives of the international community in this field," said Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, spokeswoman of the French Foreign Ministry. The spokeswoman reiterated her country's call for efforts to seek a "political solution" to the Iraqi crisis, adding that "the organization of free and democratic elections would permit to get together conditions of a real political and economic reconstruction of Iraq". France has opposed the US-led Iraq war and has no troops in Iraq.

This suggests that the French diplomats are attempting to link the release of the French hostages to changes in the method and manner in which the Iraqi elections will be held. The mere fact that France is negotiating implictly means there will be a quid for the quo. After all, in 2003, European hostages held by Al Qaeda affiliate Algerian Islamic militant Group for Preaching and Combat were released in exchange for $6M dollars, according to Deutsche Welle. There were even demands from German politicians to force the ex-hostages to reimburse the state for the payout.

Deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, Wolfgang Bosbach, pointed to the hefty bill. Tourists who "frivolously get into danger just for the thrill of it, should be prepared to pay a part of the costs involved in their release," Bosbach said. He added there were some citizens who traveled to risky areas in the expectation, that if something went wrong, the government would take care of it and German taxpayers would pay for the entire operation to secure their release. Bosbach’s statement sparked a heated round of debate as politicians of all stripes jumped into the discussion on whether or not tourists should be held accountable in the event of a hostage situation.

Paying tribute is all part of the nuanced foreign policy of former great states. But whether the French ante up with secret political concessions or payouts, the result will be the same. More Americans and Iraqis will die as the price of French appeasement.

Yet the French will not escape the carnivorous attentions of the terrorists in the end. Promises by blackguards are made to be broken. The trick is to know that and the French have forgotten. Americans at least, have old Arnold Schwarzennegger movies to remind them.His character in the 1985 movie Commando holds a villain by the ankle over a cliff and this bit of dialogue ensues:

Arnold to thug: "Hey Sully, remember when I promised to kill you last?"

Thug: "Yeah, man! You said that!"

Arnold drops the man.

Arnold: "I lied."

Monday, August 30, 2004


Todd Purdum's account of the New York city atmosphere on the eve of the Republican convention includes this fascinating quote from David Gergen.

"I've been going to Republican conventions since 1972, and I've never seen a convention with as many protesters in the streets," said David Gergen, who has worked for several Republican presidents, and Bill Clinton. "The irony is that was a convention held here because of echoes of 9/11, but it opens with echoes of Chicago and the Vietnam war.

"The protests are anti-Bush, with heavy antiwar overtones, but this is Chicago without the fisticuffs, without the fight, without the bloodshed - so far," Mr. Gergen added. "To interpret this politically is hard, but my gut is that large, peaceful protests are not what the Republicans want. The protesters are stealing the story for the first day and drowning out the Republican message. If there's violence, that could all change."

His metaphor is nearly exact, but the difference is fundamental. Chicago 1968 was a radicalizing experience for young people caught up in the Leftist recruitment net. New York 2004 is more likely to be a radicalizing experience for "conservatives", I'm tempted to say, but "non-Leftists" is probably a more accurate term.

The New York Times describes a heckling incident by anti-war protestors that goes perfectly with this BBC photoessay depicting the character of the Leftist protesters.

Police arrested up to 60 protesters who assembled in Times Square at dusk chanting anti-Bush slogans after hundreds of thousands had marched in Manhattan to decry the president's policies before the Republican convention begins on Monday. But individual protesters kept tensions high, some of them hissing or cursing at well-heeled couples heading to popular Broadway musicals like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and "Fiddler on the Roof."

"Republican murderers go home and kill your babies!'' one young man yelled at theatergoers, a far cry from local public service messages urging New Yorkers to ``make nice'' to party delegates in the city for the four-day convention, where Bush will be nominated for another four-year term.

A second protester shoved a middle-aged woman in a black cocktail dress, shouting: "Bitch, go home! We don't want you here!'' At one point, police cordoned off a city block after several dozen demonstrators jeered and razzed the incoming audience.

 The most telling caption in the whole series was "observers said the gathering in places resembled the demonstrations against the Vietnam war that rocked the US in the last century." If the violence David Gergen fears comes to New York, either courtesy of the Left or an Islamist attack, it will be a watershed moment for the conservative activists who are sheepishly, and still politely, waving their flags with a kind of residual provincial courtesy. Then the torch, and lyrics of this song, will have passed completely -- to the other side.

Though your brother's bound and gagged
And they've chained him to a chair
Won't you please come to Chicago
Just to sing
In a land that's known as freedom
How can such a thing be fair
Won't you please come to Chicago
For the help we can bring
We can change the world -
Re-arrange the world
It's dying - to get better
Graham Nash, Chicago


Glenn Reynolds links to this article about how conservatives -- well, nonleftists -- are making Summer 2004 their own.

Aug. 13 - Among the 250,000 expected to head to New York City to demonstrate at the Republican National Convention, a small army of about 200 people plans to march alongside them—but on the other side of political spectrum. Calling themselves Protest Warriors, they are an ardently conservative group made up of recent college graduates, high-school students and right-wing ideologues who hope to “counterprogram” the message of the largely left-wing crowd. According to its Web site, the organization’s goal is to “help arm the liberty-loving Silent Majority with ammo--ammo that strikes at the intellectual solar plexus of the Left.” The protests scheduled for the weekend before the RNC begins on Aug. 30 provides one opportunity--a "mission" the group is calling Operation Liberty Rising. “We’re going to be out there in the trenches,” says Kfir Alfia, 30, cofounder of the organization ProtestWarrior.com.

... Alfia, who designed network chips for a Silicon Valley start-up before devoting himself full time to the group at its Austin, Texas, headquarters, founded it in March 2003 with his childhood friend Alan Lipton. According to Alfia, the organization is funded by merchandise sales from the Web site, the occasional $50 donation and out of “our own pocket.” So far, there are about 7,200 Protest Warriors across the United States.

What? No patchouli oil?

Update 2

You've lost it when you don't even know you're being spoofed. Patrick Belton is in New York covering the RNC convention. He quotes the New Republic Online to describe the most "noteworthy" street theater, and it's not from the Left.

The day's most noteworthy street theater wasn't even the creation of leftists; it was the brainchild of a conservative group calling themselves Communists for Kerry. Dressed as Lenin, Castro, and Che Guevara, and speaking in appropriate Russian and Spanish accents, they marched up Seventh Avenue waving red flags and calling for revolution. (The fact that their display was satire wasn't immediately obvious to some of their fellow marchers.)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Posting Will Be Light

Posting will be light over the coming days due to the pressure of work. Three stories -- all related to the war in some fashion -- are at the heart of the news. Topping the bill is the dispute between John Kerry and the Swiftvets over the legacy of Vietnam. In second place are the continued developments in Iraq, particularly in Najaf and in Anbar province. Third position is held by the attacks on two Russian airliners which were most probably perpetrated by Chechen terrorists.

The original accusations by the Swiftvets group against John Kerry's Vietnam service claims have set off a chain reaction, which is at one level about the past, by restarting an unfinished civil war in which neither side won a decisive victory, but settled for an indefinite armistice. That truce may now be broken. Tensions began to rise in the political demilitarized zone between the two halves of America with the War on Terror, but when first Kerry and then the Swiftvets crossed the lines the battle may once again be in full swing. The story the Mainstream Media refused to acknowledge is threatening to push every other headline below the fold, a blasting cap dismissed as insignificant before everyone realized it was connected to the main charge.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The Man Who Went to Sea

The Time Magazine article Into the Heart of Najaf is entirely atmospheric. Let the prose speak for itself.

"We are going to the shrine,” one said. “You can follow us." The boy who wanted to show us the way was not older than fourteen. ... We turned the corner, following the kids and found ourselves completely behind al Mahdi lines. The fighters hidden in the windows of a bombed out building recognized our guides and waved to us. Then the shooting started and we ran for cover. We heard the bullets coming in close. Around the corner we hit an open space where the old city joins the new city. I crossed first, with Thorne close behind me, and just as I made it to the opposite curb, the sniper fired again. I found a pillar to hide behind but Thorne was caught in the middle of the street and he curled up in the shadow of a piece of concrete. The bullets made cracking sounds when they hit the wall. ... Long rows of armed young men we passed held their weapons in the air and sang victory songs. They stayed out of the street to avoid U.S. snipers, but they were relaxed and never trained their rifles on us. A few minutes before we reached our destination, the boys disappeared back into the alleys of the city.

After the cheerful irregulars lead their charges past the indiscriminate shooting of US snipers and reach the shrine, they are met by a Yoda-like figure who is "our host and protector". He takes them to a ward where they are shown men with horrifying injuries. 

A friend of the dead man screamed at the doctor to take the pulse, and Dr. Jasim did it to calm him down. He had turned away from the corpse moments before, and simply said, "Shaheed," which means martyr and had gone back to tending a living patient. The fighter then lost his control and started screaming and we had to turn away. ... Blood covered the marble floor and streaked the walls of the makeshift hospital. We saw fighters run down Rasul street to attack U.S. positions. Minutes later, injured men were wheeled through the gates of the shrine on blood-soaked carts. Casualties were brought in every few minutes.

They spend grim, yet exhilarating days with the Fighters and yet "the militiamen never threatened us, and while the population in the mosque went as high as several thousand in the evenings, none of the men carried weapons inside its walls." So it was with heavy heart that the reporters eventually began their return journey.

On Thursday morning we started to think about ways we could get out of the medina and through the American lines without retracing our steps through the sniper field. It was a tough problem. Dr. Walid Jasim, the infirmary doctor said we could leave with the wounded in the ambulance. I liked this approach, but it turned out to be unnecessary ... Thorne and I agreed to leave the shrine an hour later with the convoy, saying hurried goodbyes to men we had met over the past three days. Hundreds of fighters were at the gate as we left. They all knew us.

The author had returned to enemy lines. I had started to parse the account in terms of the five journalistic "W"s before I realized I was looking at a pure specimen of the kind of writing that was once popular in the 1920s and 30s. Something that might have been written by Lincoln Steffens or Mao Tse Tung when he penned "In Memory of Norman Bethune". Philip Robertson's account in Time Magazine may or may not tell the truth, but it is a perfect example of the yawning gap that has opened up between sections of the Mainstream Media and its Internet critics. Although sports and city news seem as much as before, the coverage of the war on terrorism and the Presidential election has become, as much as the space between forces in Najaf, an informational no-man's-land. The conflict has become so polarizing that people are reverting to type, even archetype, so that Lincoln Steffens rides again. The accounts of the siege of the Imam Ali shrine begin to read like a play within a play and the coverage a story in itself. However things turn out, the relationship between the media and its readers will never return to its former nature. When Robertson reentered American lines after a few days of absence, he returned, perhaps unknowingly, to a different world.

I knew a lad who went to sea,
and left the shore behind him.
I knew him well, the lad was me,
and now I cannot find him.
-- Unknown

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Battle in the Clouds

The undercard in the Kerry vs Swiftvets bout is Mainstream Media vs Kid Internet, two distinctly different fights, but both over information. The first is really the struggle over the way Vietnam will be remembered by posterity; whether its amanuensis will be John Kerry for the antiwar movement or those who felt betrayed by them. The victor in that struggle will get to inscribe the authoritative account of that mythical conflict in Southeast Asia: not in its events, but in its meaning. The fight will be as bitter as men for whom only memory remains can be bitter. But the undercard holds a fascination of its own. The reigning champion, the Mainstream Media, has been forced against all odds to accept the challenge of an upstart over the coverage of the Swiftvets controversy.  Joe Strupp at Editor and Publisher writes:

As the John Kerry swift boat controversy navigates itself from the shoreline of the 2004 presidential campaign into the mainstream, newspapers face a dilemma of how to report on the veterans group attacking the Democratic nominee's record without giving them undue credibility or blowing the issue out of proportion.

Alison Mitchell, deputy national editor for The New York Times, points to the changing media landscape and its impact on what newspapers choose to cover. "I'm not sure that in an era of no-cable television we would even have looked into it," she said. ... James O'Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, agreed. But he said the critical approach may have been a bit late, considering that the Swift Boat Veterans ads came out two weeks ago. "I don't think there has been enough scrutiny until now," he said. "Prior to this, we weren't giving it enough attention." ...

"There are too many places for people to get information," O'Shea said. "I don't think newspapers can be the gatekeepers anymore -- to say this is wrong and we will ignore it. Now we have to say this is wrong, and here is why."

The article is a candid and unconscious description of the actual nature of news. It is not just raw information or pixels pushed onto a screen, but a system of semantic entities: an series of information objects, containing properties and methods containing embedded logic, set loose on society. The power of the Mainstream Media lay in the fact that they controlled the generation of news objects; how they arose, what they did, how they ran their course. They were the news object foundry; able to make them "type safe"; define what they could do, and what they could not. And that power was enormous. Glenn Reynolds intuitively understood this when he wrote:

Elections come and go, politicians come and go, and pretty much all of them turn out to be disappointments one way or another. But the "Fourth Estate" is a big part of the unelected Permanent Government that in many ways does more to run the country than the politicians.

So when the Swiftvets story shouldered its way into the public consciousness despite the best efforts of the "gatekeepers" to consign it to oblivion, it posed an existential challenge to the news foundries. For where one could come, more would follow. The Mainstream Media responded to accusations by Swiftvets that Kerry had misrepresented his combat record in Vietnam by creating their own alternative news object, whose methods were restricted to OutrageAgainstBush( )  and SympathyForKerry( ), with read only properties Responsible and Respectable. They could no longer block the data, but they could still transform it.

Yet for good or ill, the genie is out of the bottle. Before the Gutenberg printing press men knew the contents of the Bible solely through the prism of the professional clergy, who could alone afford the expensively hand copied books and who exclusively interpreted it. But when technology made books widely available, men could read the sacred texts for themselves and form their own opinions. And the world was never the same again.

Both Sides Now

John Kerry's troubles have largely been forced on him by the Democratic Party platform. He has been given the unenviable task of presenting it as the War Party when in fact it is not, nor does it want to be. The Democrats could have chosen to become a real anti-war party, in which case it would have nominated Howard Dean or it could have elected to become a genuine war party and chosen Joseph Lieberman. Instead it chose to become the worst of all combinations, an anti-war party masquerading as the war party.

To carry out this program, it required a Janus-like figure and found it in Senator Kerry; the only man of sufficient stature who could look two ways at once. It would have been a desirable trait, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, in a peacetime President.

He still gives, to me at any rate, the impression of someone who sincerely wishes that this were not a time of war. When critical votes on the question come up, Kerry always looks like a dog being washed. John McCain was not like this, when a president he despised felt it necessary to go into Kosovo. We are looking at a man who would make, or would have made, a perfectly decent peacetime president. ...

Why, then, the penumbra of doubt that surrounds him? (Doubt on his own part, I mean, not just doubt by others.) The answer is not complex. One of these books, ''John F. Kerry,'' by a Boston Globe team, makes reference to the song ''Give Peace a Chance,'' as sung by John Lennon in Kerry's presence in far-off days. The second, ''The Candidate,'' by the journalist Paul Alexander, has a verse from Bruce Springsteen's ''No Surrender'' as its epigraph, speaking of ''blood brothers in a stormy night'' and refusing the idea of any retreat. (This stirring song, indeed, was played at top volume by the party managers in Boston to herald Kerry's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention.) The third, ''A Call to Service,'' by Kerry himself, merits Mark Twain's comment on the Book of Mormon -- ''chloroform in print.'' It has no music at all. But if it were to draw its title from any popular song, it would have to bow toward Joni Mitchell and announce itself as ''Both Sides Now.''

But the Democratic Party decided to package this man, who was decent on his own terms, in the most dishonest possible way: to use his Vietnam service to deodorize the monstrous fraud at the heart of their own platform. Kerry's problems with Swiftvets are not because his credentials as a warrior are insufficient. Rather they are because no credentials are sufficient to foist this bait-and-switch on the American electorate without exciting adverse comment.

If any proof were needed that the Sixties were dead, the subterfuge of the Democratic Party would be Exhibit A. Instead of running under their own colors, or barring that, changing them, they have decided to sail beneath a false flag, as if under a cloud of shame. That in itself is tacit admission that they can no longer walk in their own guise; and what is worse that they cannot look themselves in the face, nor go into battle daring to win nor willing to lose in their own name, as is the mark of men.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Strange Days

A Newsweek article describes the festival-like atmosphere within the area surrounded by US troops in Najaf.

Townspeople make their way to the mosque at all hours, night and day, for prayers and companionship. They generally seem calm and comfortable, even when —the shelling outside is heavy. At night, festoons of colored lights cast a carnival glow on the men who stand and chat in the mosque's vast courtyard. During the day—between gun battles, anyway—the place almost resembles a big cookout, when huge stew pots are set up in the rubble outside the south gate beneath a canopy of fallen electrical lines, and plates of rice with tomato sauce are served to all comers. ...

At times the insurgents act as if the siege is practically a street party. One afternoon I met a dozen or so guerrillas a few blocks from the shrine, racing east through the deserted neighborhood toward the U.S. line. The group's leader, just out of his teens and built like a wrestler, was running barefoot, apparently not bothered by the shrapnel that covered the pavement. He said his name was Ali; he and his men had traveled from the far northern city of Mosul to join al-Sadr's revolt. They were going to attack an American armored vehicle. Almost within sight of their target, they were greeted by other pro-Sadr fighters from Nasiriya and Karbala. The youngest of the group, spotting a poster of al-Sadr on a nearby wall, asked me to photograph him with it. At that, the whole bunch broke into a wild dance, bouncing and chanting: "Moqtada! Moqtada!" Then mortars began hammering the area, and I left for safer ground. I haven't seen Ali since.

A strange sort of festival where the lights and faucets work and men fire from positions lit by colored lights. The fighting at Najaf isn't just a military operation, it's an event: a scene. Scott Baldauf of the Christian Science Monitor, who organized a convoy into the Ali shrine on August 20, when it seemed likely that it would be assaulted was surprised to find acquaintances from Baghdad when he got there:

Inside the shrine itself, there were no weapons to be seen, but there were hundreds of Mahdi Army supporters, some of them familiar faces from a demonstration one week ago in Baghdad. They were voluntary human shields, the youngest perhaps 8 years old, the oldest 70. Together, they marched around and chanted, turning an impromptu press photo op into a punk rock mosh pit.

We were led around to the north side of the shrine and into an air-conditioned office, where al-Sadr's spokesmen, Sheikh Ali Smeisim, gave a news conference. Smeisim's statement was a complete reversal of what we had been told. He said that al-Sadr had accepted all of the conditions of the National Conference delegation, although he was unable to meet the delegation in person because of concerns for his safety.

The political conditions under which the campaign against Sadr is being conducted has created scenarios that have no parallel in military history bar none, and quite possibly, since the world began. Rice and sauce served to all comers beside field hospitals; chanting punctuated by heavy machine firing; extreme vitality juxtaposed with death. Here is camaraderie souped up with adrenaline and fame, where the difference between momentary celebrity as the object of interest of a Newsweek reporter and the cold silence of the tomb are the seconds it takes for an 81 mm mortar round to arc over a thousand yards. The gulf between Moqtada Al Sadr's boys and the followers of Grand Ayatollah Sistani may in the end be wider than Koranic learning. It is generational. Sadr, a young man still in his thirties, has provided that magnetic, almost irresistible draw: a place for young people where something is happening. He sets up the situation, America provides the music and the rave begins. 'I tell ya, I wuz there man', in Arabic, casts the same spell it does for youth the world over. The strange thing is that the Marine teenagers on the other side will be writing the same lines, in English, to their parents and friends back home, where in exact symmetry their elders are debating Najaf not in terms of the Koran, as Sistani's adherents are wont,  but through the prism of riverine actions in Vietnam thirty five years ago, and congratulate themselves for being more scientific.

Yet the present has a way of destroying the past. Critics who accuse President Bush of widening the war by pursuing Sadr often forget that wars widen both ways. It would be equally valid to say that Iran has widened the war against Iraq by keeping the pot simmering in Najaf. Sadr, as the bellweather of Teheran, has as much as declared a steel cage death match with Prime Minister Allawie. Those who accuse President Bush of living in the past often do so as ghostly voices from the mists of the Mekong Delta. The party which started on September 11 can return to America or it can finish up in Teheran. The one that happened in Vietnam ended a long time ago.

But it's too late to say you're sorry
How would I know, why should I care
Please don't bother tryin' to find her
She's not there

Well let me tell you 'bout the way she looked
The way she'd act and the color of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there
The Zombies


Friday, August 20, 2004

Nihilism revisited

Reader BH writes to say that the technical term for the repudiation of law referred to in World War 4 is not nihilism but antinomianism and quotes at length from Norman Podhoretz's 2002 book, The Prophets.

"Yet even by itself the idea that the moral realm is governed by law becomes something more than an empty abstraction when placed against the background of a culture that has for all practical purposes denied or repudiated that idea. The technical term for the denial or repudiation of law is 'antinomianism,' and it is antinomianism by which, more than any other single force, our culture has been shaped for some time, and is still being shaped today. But there are other names for antinomianism. The one under which the classical prophets so relentlessly fought it was idolatry. The one historians give it is paganism or polytheism. Today we know it as relativism." p. 344-45

Without wanting to get too much into this subject antinomianism is often used to describe a narrower phenomenon which has roots in the Christian theological debate, though not to the exclusion of Podhoretz's use of the word. The American Heritage dictionary defines it as:

1. The doctrine or belief that the Gospel frees Christians from required obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral, and that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace. 2. The belief that moral laws are relative in meaning and application as opposed to fixed or universal.

The underlying idea of antinomianism is that, having been saved by Grace, everything is permissible to the elect. Here's an entry from an extended discussion of the subject in Advent.

The term first came into use at the Protestant Reformation, when it was employed by Martin Luther to designate the teachings of Johannes Agricola and his secretaries, who, pushing a mistaken and perverted interpretation of the Reformer's doctrine of justification by faith alone to a far-reaching but logical conclusion, asserted that, as good works do not promote salvation, so neither do evil works hinder it; and, as all Christians are necessarily sanctified by their very vocation and profession, so as justified Christians, they are incapable of losing their spiritual holiness, justification, and final salvation by any act of disobedience to, or even by any direct violation of the law of God.

But antinomians recognize law -- except this law allows the adherent to put aside all lower laws. Nihilists, on the other hand, deny the possibility of law itself. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines it as:

Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.

In the current context, radical Islamists are better characterized as antinomians than nihilists. Having been anointed by Allah, they may perform any act, tell any lie, do anything and still regard themselves as being in the right. The Western Left on the other hand is philosophically much closer to nihilism. Nothing is inherently true and that makes it possible for a Leftist to believe two contradictory things simultaneously. Orwell gave this process a name: doublethink. In this mental universe one can burn the Flag and insist on its protection; work to destroy the Constitution and claim Constitutional liberty to do it; march in a Gay Pride parade in the morning and in a fundamentalist Islamic rally in the afternoon. Both are mentally wonderful places to be for those who wish to always be right; the first by definition and the second by virtue of the fact that wrong cannot exist. Personally, I wouldn't want to live there.

Holy Cities

Najaf has been described in various press accounts as a "holy city". Some cynics have asked why Islam should have so many holy cities in which to seek sanctuary. In fact, other faiths have holy cities. Although I can't vouch for its theological accuracy, this web site gives a partial list of some of them. Surprisingly, the country with the second most "holy cities" is the United States (after India), with three for the Latter-Day Saints and one for Unitarianism. Some cities are widely recognized as being religious centers. For example, Jerusalem is regarded as a "holy city" by Christians, Jews and Muslims, though I have yet to see a newspaper refer to a suicide bombing in the Holy City of Jerusalem.


Bodh Gaya



Eastern Orthodox

Constantinople (Istanbul)

Russian Orthodox


Latter-day Saints

Salt Lake City





Shi'a Islam








Roman Catholicism

Santiago de Compostela

Mahayana Buddhism


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

World War 4

First readers, then Instapundit, link to Norman Podhoretz's World War IV. This extensive article is nothing less than an attempt to understand the Global War on Terror in the context of the last 60 years. Podhoretz compares the manner in which GW Bush met the threat posed by radical Islam to Harry Truman's response to the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent, the way Roosevelt faced global fascism. The article argues that in terms of scope, potential deadliness and the fundamental nature of issues, the current struggle against radical Islamism ranks as a World War. Podhoretz lays out the themes of Bush's policy speeches side by side with their implementation and concludes the President has founded his strategy on four pillars.

  1. The idea that Western civilization is worth fighting for in a contest with an ideology which aims to destroy it;
  2. That regimes which abet this hostile ideology will be destroyed or reformed;
  3. That America has the right not merely to respond, but to pre-empt enemy action; and
  4. That the Arab-Israeli issues will be judged by their contribution to the goal of creating democratic institutions in the Middle East, and not upon any grounds of historical entitlement.

Taken together, these pillars implied a revolution in international affairs, not simply because they overturned the institutional framework of the last half century, but because they introduced a normative standard into what was previously the absolute prerogative of nation-states. Woven through his account in ways that almost become a personal history are Podhoretz's recollections of how the Left, of which he was once an adherent, suborned, subverted and distorted -- at times almost fatally -- the American response to each of the challenges it faced.

While schematically relegated to the background, the machinations of the Left in the World War IV article repeatedly threaten to upstage the notional villain, radical Islamism. By placing the War on Terror in serial with World War 2 and the Cold War (World War 3), the article makes it hard to wholly escape the notion that the West has been gripped by one auto-immune crisis after another, first against monsters of its own conjury (the Nazis and the Communists) and this time, against a parasitic infection spreading over its weakened corpus. Watered by the defeatism of Jimmy Carter and egged on by the Western "intelligensia", radical Islam appears less a malevolent force in its own right then the longed-for "exterminator" which will carry out the sentence of guilt which the Left has passed. Podhoretz himself briefly skirts this possibility, then flinches:

In World War III, we as a nation persisted in spite of the inevitable setbacks and mistakes and the defeatism they generated, until, in the end, we won. ... To the people living both within the Soviet Union itself and in its East European empire, it brought liberation from a totalitarian tyranny. ... Suppose that we hang in long enough to carry World War IV to a comparably successful conclusion. What will victory mean this time around? Well, to us it will mean the elimination of another, and in some respects greater, threat to our safety and security.

It will eliminate the threat until the nihilism of the West creates yet another. Surely it is fair to ask, whether the Left, having taken down the poster of Che Guevara and replaced it with Osama will not find yet another false idol to worship the moment he is dead. The greatest tragedy would be to find that after the last Islamist has been destroyed, and one hundred thousand illiterate men annihilated by the greatest fighting force on earth, that yet another new "destroyer" anointed by the Left is in its stead. Podhoretz knows that:

... because that threat cannot be eliminated without "draining the swamps" in which it breeds, victory will also entail the liberation of another group of countries from another species of totalitarian tyranny.

Therefore it is necessary, but not enough, to win another victory against oppressors in other countries; it also past the time for the West to triumph against the dark recesses of its own soul.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
T.S. Eliot Journey of the Magi


Monday, August 16, 2004

The Last Taboo

News that the Iraqi police have ordered all journalists out of Najaf and are enforcing it, strongly suggests that an operation against the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf is imminent.

The bullet that whistled through the lobby of the Sea Hotel in Najaf yesterday, embedding shards of glass into a foreign reporter's cheek before lodging itself in an air-conditioning unit, carried an unmistakeable message: "Get out." ...

In Najaf journalists were summoned yesterday morning by the city's police chief, Ghalab al-Jazeera. It was said that he wanted to parade some captured members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi army, who have launched their second uprising in four months. Instead the police chief delivered a blunt warning: journalists had two hours to leave Najaf or face arrest. ...

For good measure, Mr Jazeera also threatened to arrest Iraqi drivers and translators working for the press corps if we did not comply. The 30-odd journalists staying at the Sea Hotel decided to stay in Najaf. Shortly after the deadline expired, the first bullets struck the building. But the sniper was almost certainly an Iraqi policeman, given that the Mahdi army fighters were more than two miles away. Then armed police raided the hotel and tried to arrest the journalists, before imposing a new two-hour deadline to leave the city.

A deputation of journalists was denied an audience with Najaf's governor, Adnan al-Zurufi. The policeman outside his office was brusque. "If you do not leave by the deadline we will shoot you," he said. That was enough for all but a handful of British and American journalists who hunkered down in the hotel as the deadline expired.

The principal damage inflicted by the War on Terror has not been to material objects or to human lives, although there have been enough of those. Compared to the tens of millions killed during World War 2 or the millions killed during the Cold War (more than 100,000 Americans in Korea and Vietnam; over a million NVA alone), the current losses have barely nudged the Satanic scale. But the damage inflicted against the fabric of civilization has been immense.

Civilization does not principally consist of bricks and mortar, but in a set of commonly accepted values and restraints. If the inhabitants of the sub-Saharan Africa and the United States could be exchanged instanteously; the one materializing in suburban homes and the other in wattle huts, the material imbalance would be reversed again within ten years, because the technology and civilization of Americans is carried in their heads and not in their possessions. There would be nothing Americans could not rebuild in Africa; and there would be nothing Africans could repair or replace in America.

So the most terrifying effect of the War so far has been in the slow destruction of taboos and imperatives which collectively allowed civilization to function. One writer observed that although Britain has possessed nuclear weapons for nearly 60 years no one worried about a UK attack on New York city. He might have added that no one in London lost any sleep over the prospect of an American nuclear strike on Picadilly Circus. The electronics, physics and rocketry check out fine; it was civilization that held them back. The concept of assymetric warfare was supposed to exploit the "fact" that transnational terrorist organizations operating in areas of chaos could strike at a civilization hamstrung by constraints. They could attack orphanages and then seek shelter in the Church of the Nativity; they could fly wide bodied aircraft into Manhattan, then seek shelter in "sovereign" Afghanistan; they could call for the death of millions from the pulpits of Qom; they could fire mortars from the Imam Ali Shrine and never expect the favor to be returned. But the logical flaw in this conception was that civilization could put aside these constraints in a moment. Hiroshima and Dresden are reminders that it could.

There was a time before terrorism when passengers could walk right up to airplanes on the apron; children would be given the tour of cockpits; passengers could eat their food with real knives and body-cavity searches were something that happened to drug smugglers. That was before civilization addressed the assymetry and became, like Islam facing the Mongols, adept in the face of the enemy; able if you forgive the mixed metaphor, to out-Herod Herod. Two taboos are about to fall in the coming days. The first is the protective mantle conferred by one of the holiest Shrines in Islam upon those within. The second is the guaranteed access of the Western press to the battlefield.

A wag once suggested that the War on Terror could end in either of two ways. The Islamic fundamentalist could become like the infidel and within a generation acquire the material wealth and technology whose lack has been their weakness. Or the infidel could become like the Islamic fundamentalist for a day and the end the fight as the fundamentalist would. I thought it was funny once. Let's win this war soon or be prepared to pay the price.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

James Brandon

The first person account of the Daily Telegraph reporter who was abducted, then released by unidentified armed men, probably Madhi Army, will bring back memories to anyone who has been in a tough spot. In the space of a few days he was taken hostage and took a hostage; he prepared to die and was ready to kill; lost his luck and then found it all. In a word, Brandon went through a miniature of the moral crisis of war.

I assumed I was going to be killed, and decided to try to make a break for it. I worked off my blindfold, which was quite loose, and managed to untie the rope that ran behind me, linking my feet to my hands. Through the darkness, I made out the shape of a large stove, and realized that I was in a kitchen.

With difficulty, I got to my feet, hobbled over to the sink and found a knife on the draining board. Holding the blade behind my back, I started to saw through the ropes joining my wrists. Soon the knife was slippery with blood as I nicked my flesh in my frantic haste to sever the ropes. Eventually, the fibers parted and I quickly freed my feet, too. The windows were barred, so my only exit was through the door, which I worked out must be tied shut by a rope. Putting my fingers through a crack in the wooden door, I loosened the rope and tugged at the door -- only to realize that someone outside the room was holding it shut. ...

Read the rest. There's a particular kind of exhilaration that people who have come out whole, not just physically but morally whole, from a deep crisis, justifiably feel. Yet 'to have no secret place wherein one stooped unseen to shame or sin', as Guest once wrote, is also to be aware of how near one came to failing the test. Really brave men understand cowardice better than most. Brandon's account unconsciously mirrors the bravery, ruthlessness, modesty and humanity of a man who has seen the Elephant, and rode away on it.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Hostilities resume in Najaf: what happens next?

Reuters reports that talks between Sadr and the Iraqi government have collapsed. The communique is self-explanatory.

Iraq's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told a news conference in Najaf that the embattled U.S.-backed interim government had given up trying to reach a deal with radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army in the southern city. "It is with deep sorrow and regret that I announce the failure of efforts to end the crisis in Iraq peacefully. Our goal was to spare more blood, preserve security and for the militias to lay down their arms," Rubaie said. "The Iraqi interim government is resuming military clearing operations to ... establish law and order in this holy city."

What happens next is that Sadr dies or is captured, together with such of his men as follow his lead. The Belmont Club had earlier offered an analysis of Sadr's negotiating position and concluded it was the bargaining strategy from hell. Sadr wanted to paint Allawie into a corner never reckoning that the Iraqi government could walk through the flimsy wall he sought to imprison them in.

It is what must not happen next that matters. The tactical problem facing coalition commanders is how to kill or capture Sadr's forces with Iraqi personnel while avoiding unnecessary deaths and damage to the Shrine. That rules out the textbook solution of leveling it with fires. Because of the subdivided interior of buildings and the fact that Sadr may have wired the Shrine with demolitions a direct assault will probably be excluded for the present. The problem with an assault is that once friendly forces are in contact, one is bound to support them and that imperative will compel the scene commander to order the fires he sought to avoid in the first place. Besieging forces have traditionally used time to weaken resistance without applying direct force. In this case time can also work against the investing forces because Sadr will attempt to run countersiege operations by organizing marches and cavalcades by his supporters to Najaf. Given enough time, he probably reckons that the international media and possibly the United Nations will ride to his rescue. (Heritage site, blah-blah).

Without knowing what the operational commanders will do next, one can still surmise that they will attempt to compress the effects of time by applying unrelenting pressure on the garrison using disturbances, sniping and probes. They would be justified in using nonlethal agents such as CS (tear gas) to stir the pot. Things may still go wrong. Janet Reno's assault on Waco resulted in starting an accidental conflagration that turned the Koresh compound into a charnel house. What is important is to avoid building up the pressure to a climax, to avoid precipitating a self-inflicted Gotterdammerung by Sadr. I suppose one could set up loudspeakers and blast out Koranic verses at levels the EPA would rule illegal, etc. The whole idea is to make a day into an eternity until the days all run together in a jumble.

I once wrote to a reader that I hated the Pied Pipers that led simple and ignorant people down the road to destruction. These photos showing Sadr's "fighters" brought it home. Twisted ammo belts, mismatched calibers, museum piece M1919 machineguns, rifles with a but a single magazine, no tactical comms. How could he? How could he? Damn you Sadr.


This piece from the Newsweek is precisely the sort of reportage that will cost Iraqi lives -- mostly insurgent lives -- down the track. I wrote above that I hated the Svengalis who lured the credulous into military death traps.

Inside the sprawling slum of Sadr City, members of the Mahdi Army were itching for a battle, and already feeling like victors. Never mind that raw sewage ran down the gutters, giving an overpowering stench in the 115-degree heat. Well-organized groups of militiamen stood guard, guns at the ready in case Coalition forces appeared. Around the corner from the One-Eyed Woman's Market, an outdoor emporium largely abandoned because of recent fighting, fighters cruised around, waving AK-47s and shouting taunts urging Americans to come and get them.

Traps had been laid. A NEWSWEEK correspondent watched as other fighters brazenly planted more than a dozen hidden bombs, or improvised explosive devices (IEDs). First they set fires inside tires lying in the street, which melted the macadam underneath. Then they sank the IEDs into the molten asphalt and let them cool. Within hours, there was no sign of the devices, which could be detonated with the remote control of a car alarm whenever Coalition vehicles passed by. "The U.S. can't go any further," said one Mahdi Army commander, Sheik Amar, 28. "Even the helicopters aren't flying overhead." Allawi flexed his muscles, but in Sadr City and many cities and neighborhoods like it, insurgents and thugs still ruled the streets.

"Well-organized groups of militiamen", we are told, who are employing the professional tactics of cruising around, "waving AK-47s and shouting taunts urging Americans to come and get them". It's a trap. Get it? A trap. The fact that no American vehicles drive over this clever minefield is ascribed, not to the basic common sense one would find in a goat, but to fear. "'The U.S. can't go any further,' said one Mahdi Army commander. 'Even the helicopters aren't flying overhead.'" Lest they fly over IEDs buried in asphalt.

Newspaper articles have long described how US troops are routinely taught to watch for IEDs molded into concrete curbs, flowerpots or other objects, so of course they will miss IEDs melted into asphalt. EW aircraft routinely sweep ahead of US convoys jamming IED frequencies of precisely the sort used by garage openers, cell phones and other commercial remote controllers. Why would they be effective against car remotes? It is a basic adage never to underestimate the enemy. US soldiers are repeatedly told their enemy is cunning and ruthless. But the press has the habit of informing the world that American soldiers are as dumb as a box of rocks. And the enemy dies by the hundreds and thousands when he believes this. Pitifully, needlessly and tragically. Those IEDs that have been melted into the asphalt will kill and maim Iraqi civilians by the gross. Because commercially available remote control devices are, well, used commercially. And those Madhi Army fighters who "ruled the streets" will be deader than doornails when they run into trained troops. Dead.

Zero Sum

Moqtada Al Sadr has issued a modest list of demands in his negotiations with the Iraqi government, simply requiring the expulsion of the Allawi government from Najaf and his recognition as de facto potentate of the region. CNN reports:

An official from al-Sadr's office in Baghdad listed the following conditions to bring about peace:

  • If the multinational forces, Iraqi forces, and Iraqi police leave the city of Najaf and if the Marjayia, the Shiite religious authority, gets full responsibility over the city, al-Sadr's Mehdi militia will pull out from Najaf.
  • The city of Najaf must be protected by fighters from the city itself, under the authority of the Marjayia.
  • The Mehdi Army must be an organization that operates under the Marjayia.
  • All detained supporters of the resistance, imprisoned religious clerics, either Shiite or Sunni, and women must be released.
  • All those who fight the resistance whether they are Sunni or Shiite should not be persecuted and the al-Sadr movement should be able to decide its self whether or it becomes a political movement.
  • The al-Sadr movement should have full rights to be involved in the political structuring of Iraq.

Not only do these demands represent a categorical rejection of allegiance to the central government, it also represents a claim to Shi'ite paramountcy in Iraq. If granted, and Grand Ayatollah Sistani returns from medical treatment in London, it would only be to a city patrolled by Madhi Army thugs, with Sadr on a throne, and the whole odious arrangement not only sanctified by Baghdad but also indirectly confirmed by Washington.

And what does Sadr offer in exchange? A promise to halt his ineffectual resistance, which has thus far resulted in the annihilation of his men, the defilement of the Imam Ali shrine and injuries to himself. This is less a negotiation between two armies in the field than a conversation between a suicide and the police, with the suicide demanding a phone call to the Governor in exchange for not jumping to his death. For that reason Sadr is likely to win at least some of his demands. In the perversely distorted political world of the war on terror, hostage-taking is a trump card; and it includes holding yourself for ransom.

But unlike the classic hostage crisis scenario, where the perpetrator's power position erodes over time, Sadr's strength may actually wax unless there is a rapid resolution. Agence Presse France reports that thousands of Sadr supporters are trying to make their way to Najaf. Should that transpire, Sadr could hold out indefinitely because Allawi could never play the ace of unleashing forces on the Shrine; not with so many human shields in the way. Then Sadr would have won out; not through any skill of his own but by the self-imposed paralysis of his enemies.

Fred Kaplan writing in Slate, with more than a touch of anticipation of Sadr's success asks: "Is there any hope of avoiding catastrophe in Iraq?" No -- not until we want to avoid it; and certainly not until we are determined to win.


I personally think Sadr has adopted the wrong negotiating strategy in this face-off. A Kim Il Sung type strategy of making outrageous demands may work on the Korean Peninsula, where Seoul is held hostage, but it may fail miserably in Iraq. By presenting Allawi with a list of extreme demands in public, Sadr is throwing down the gauntlet before a man, who must at all costs, be seen as the strongest in Iraq. It is hard to see how Allawi could keep his standing among Arab heads of state, in his own country and among the Shi'ites themselves if he groveled before Sadr. By posting his position in the press, Sadr has "anchored" his position; in other words, drawn a line in the sand and dared Allawi to cross it. Moreover, the demands constitute a virtual usurpation of Ayatollah Sistani's position in the Shi'ite clerical hierarchy. As constituted, they make enmity with Sistani the price of amity with Sadr.

Whoever had the bright idea of organizing a descent of Shi'ite sympathizers on Najaf may have failed to reckon with the fact that it lights a fuse and introduces a time element that may work against Sadr. Allawi knows that he must settle accounts before the cleric can turn Najaf into an international media carnival. With the fuse hissing in the background, Allawi is constrained to courses of action that will complete before it reaches the powderkeg. Sadr may not like what those are.


Friday, August 13, 2004


At this writing the US Marines are in the process of surrounding the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Moqtada al Sadr has been reported thrice-wounded and a British journalist from the Sunday Telegraph has been taken hostage in Basra to back up Sadr's demand to lift the siege against his forces. Operations are also under way against groups affiliated with Sadr in certain Baghdad neighborhoods. Operational developments are moving so quickly in Najaf that the reporters can hardly keep up with it. But in general, US forces appear to have cleared the giant Najaf necropolis to the very walls of the Imam Ali Shrine. Then Marines and Iraqi government forces took sections of Najaf, if not the whole of it on the other three sides of the Shrine leaving the complex pretty much surrounded. There are reports of thousands of prisoners, although it is hard to disentangle this number from the large numbers of surenderees taken days before. The Marines are apparently swarming through the town, hopping from housetop to housetop while mechanized forces wind their way through the streets below.

However the details may be, there is broad agreement, even among the most Leftist of commentators, that Sadr's forces are militarily doomed should the Marines press home their attacks. One should remark in passing that the fighting in Najaf differs from April in that Iraqi forces have shown no reluctance about reporting for duty; nor do Sadr's efforts seem to be coordinated with Sunni insurgent forces at Fallujah or Ramadi. It may be significant that Grand Ayatollah Sistani, said to be under treatment in London, has remained largely silent on the fighting which has engulfed his religious capital, almost as if the Pope had no comment on fighting raging through St. Peter's square. Although every death is tragedy, US Marine casualties have been astonishingly low so far; almost as if they had invented an entirely new way of fighting.

The Marines may now pause, having come so far, leaving the reduction of the Imam Ali Shrine to entirely to Iraqi forces. From the operational perspective, the results are foregone. It is at the strategic level where all the difficulties lie. Many newspapers have darkly suggested that operations against Sadr's Madhi Army will "inflame" the Shi'ite street and cause a world-wide Islamic uprising against the United States. At the other extreme other publications warn that the United States must never repeat the pattern at Fallujah, where Marines were called off just as they were poised for the kill, lest this weakness embolden the enemy further. Just how this game will play out will be clear in the coming weeks as the last cards are turned over.

As more information becomes available it will be interesting to see whether the operation on Sadr was defensive -- a response to an intolerable recalcitrance on Sadr's part, perhaps a spoiling attack to forestall a new uprising by the Madhi Army -- or offensive in character, part of a wider operation against holdouts to the new Iraqi government. Some have even suggested that the ultimate objective of the entire operation is Teheran. According to this view, the Iranians are on the verge of declaring their nuclear capability. In necessary consequence, CENTCOM must "clear the decks" and secure its rear to create offensive options against Iran. But that path is deep into the mists of speculation. Nothing to do now but wait and see.


The US has suspended offensive operations in Najaf. The Associated Press reports:

NAJAF, Iraq - Iraqi officials and aides to a radical Shiite cleric negotiated Friday to end fighting that has raged in the holy city of Najaf for nine days, after American forces suspended an offensive against Muqtada al-Sadr's militia, officials said. Aides said al-Sadr had been wounded by shrapnel during U.S. shelling.

With the talks ongoing, the U.S. military said Friday that it had suspended offensive operations against al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, who are holed up the city's vast cemetery and the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest sites to Shiite Muslims. "We are allowed to engage the enemy only in self defense and long enough to break contact," said Maj. Bob Pizzateli, executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. "That was a blanket order for everybody."

There are already fears that Najaf is becoming a replay of Fallujah campaign, now widely regarded as a missed opportunity to defeat insurgents sheltering within the inner city. (Click on this picture from Cox and Forkum : it's a gas). Whether that scenario plays out will soon be revealed. The one incontestable factor is that the end-game is now out of the hands of US forces, and indeed has been since the day that formal sovereignty was transferred to the Iraq government.

Najaf Gov. Adnan al-Zurufi said the talks were between Iraqi government officials and al-Sadr's representatives. National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie traveled to Najaf on Thursday. U.S. officials were not involved in the talks, al-Zurufi said.

Readers may recall that Mouwaffaq al-Rubaie was involved in an "ceasefire" with Sadr in May 2004. The Christian Science Monitor reported then from what seems like a long time ago; though the terms, but for the date, could describe the present situation.

A Shiite uprising which swept southern Iraq for the past seven weeks, and boosted rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's popularity nationwide, now appears over. Thursday a Fallujah-like deal was struck in the holy cities of Najaf and Kufa, where Mr. Sadr's militiamen had fought for days against US-led coalition forces. As part of the four-point agreement, US forces halted military operations against Sadr's Mahdi Army late Wednesday night. But sporadic fighting continued in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad.

Thursday, Sadr's men were seen packing cars and pickup trucks and leaving Najaf. The US military has agreed to hand over responsibility for security in the city to the local Iraqi police. "As soon as the Iraqi security forces have assumed responsibility for public security and reestablished law and order, coalition forces will reposition to their bases outside Najaf, while maintaining protective units at the CPA offices and the governorate building and Iraqi police stations," coalition spokesman Dan Senor said in Baghdad. Although the coalition has not formally agreed not to arrest or kill Sadr, Iraq's National Security Adviser says he is confident the coalition will abide by the accord. "[The coalition authorities] gave the talks their blessing and have promised to respect the agreement," Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told a Baghdad news conference.

An end-game now in the hands of the Iraqi government can end differently only if the dynamics between it and Sadr have changed in the interim. Otherwise events are bound to follow the same trajectory, as if chained to some perverse Karmic wheel recirculating endlessly. Yet something has changed for the Iraqi government to authorize a near-fatal assault on Sadr and countenance the Marines approach to within rock-throwing distance of the Imam Ali Shrine. Whether it has changed enough is the question.

It now seems clear that Sadr overestimated the degree of protection which the necropolis and its proximity to the shrine afforded him. Yet the shrine itself cannot be so lightly trespassed. It is protected by a boundary civilized men hesitate to cross. In an irony that Sam Harris would appreciate, sanctity, though it be of the Christian Church of the Nativity, has become an object that can always be pressed into service to shield Islamic fundamentalists though it provides none for those they would slay. That becomes the danger itself; for the shameless abuses of Sadr and similar thugs inevitably cheapen and corrode the very restraints upon which civilization depends; that distinguish the civilian from the combatant; the church from the battlefield. When like the Najaf necropolis, sacred objects finally lose their power to restrain, it more than brick that is destroyed. The real metaphor for the terrorist war on civilization is not wide-bodied aircraft crashing into the twin towers. It is mortars firing from the courtyard of the Imam Ali Shrine by men who don't even sandbag their positions, secure in the knowledge that they can slay men too decent to fire back.

In the end, Sadr's walk-away position is to dare Rubaie to assault the Shrine: dare him to be a barbarian. In the face of that challenge, Rubaie must convince Sadr that he is prepared to cross that line, to pull down his temple if it means saving his soul. Either way, it will be a wild ride.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

The Last Night Alive

In the 50s sci-fi horror movie Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, a Professor Thurgood Elson is sent down in a diving bell to investigate the approach of a prehistoric rhedosaurus on the East Coast of the United States so that the Armed Forces can prepare for its defense. Momentarily forgetting his military mission, Professor Elson succumbs to his academic curiousity and delays having himself hoisted to safety while he continues to describe the morphological wonders of the monster until a break in the transmission informs the audience that he has left it too long. The absurd fixation on the irrelevant in the face of the impending was used by Dickens when he described Fagin's last night alive. The villain had almost tuned out the capital proceedings against him by occupying his mind with pathetic trifles.

A slight bustle in the court, recalled him to himself. Looking round, he saw that the juryman had turned together, to consider their verdict. ... He looked, wistfully, into their faces, one by one when they passed out, as though to see which way the greater number leant; but that was fruitless. The jailed touched him on the shoulder. He followed mechanically to the end of the dock, and sat down on a chair. The man pointed it out, or he would not have seen it.

He looked up into the gallery again. Some of the people were eating, and some fanning themselves with handkerchiefs; for the crowded place was very hot. There was one young man sketching his face in a little note-book. He wondered whether it was like, and looked on when the artist broke his pencil-point, and made another with his knife, as any idle spectator might have done.

In the same way, when he turned his eyes towards the judge, his mind began to busy itself with the fashion of his dress, and what it cost, and how he put it on. There was an old fat gentleman on the bench, too, who had gone out, some half an hour before, and now come back. He wondered within himself whether this man had been to get his dinner, what he had had, and where he had had it; and pursued this train of careless thought until some new object caught his eye and roused another.

Not that, all this time, his mind was, for an instant, free from one oppressive overwhelming sense of the grave that opened at his feet; it was ever present to him, but in a vague and general way, and he could not fix his thoughts upon it. Thus, even while he trembled, and turned burning hot at the idea of speedy death, he fell to counting the iron spikes before him, and wondering how the head of one had been broken off, and whether they would mend it, or leave it as it was. Then, he thought of all the horrors of the gallows and the scaffold--and stopped to watch a man sprinkling the floor to cool it--and then went on to think again.

Little wonder then, that when confronted with news that Oriana Fallaci's new book -- which sold half a million copies in hours -- warns that Europe is being turned into "Eurabia", the Left could find nothing better to say than cite it as proof that racism was on the rise in Italy.

"... the massive success of a new anti-Islamic tract by Ms. Fallaci, entitled 'Oriana Fallaci interviews Oriana Fallaci,' says Europe is being turned into 'Eurabia' by immigrants, added fuel to fears that unabashed racism is becoming increasingly acceptable in Italy.

Reuters continues the thought-crime theme. "Best-selling newspaper Corriere della Sera has come under fire for publishing a book by leading journalist Oriana Fallaci warning of an Arab invasion of Europe and criticising authorities for allowing it to become 'a colony of Islam'. In a full-page advertisement on Sunday, the newspaper said it had sold 500,000 copies of the book in a single day and had begun reprinting a second edition."  The Guardian spells it out:

Human rights groups warned yesterday that racism was becoming increasingly tolerated in Italy after the country's biggest-selling newspaper published a book by a veteran journalist which warns of an Arab invasion of Europe. The 126-page tract by Oriana Fallaci appeared on newsstands with the Corriere della Sera newspaper. In the book Fallaci makes sweeping criticisms of authorities for failing to stop Europe becoming "Eurabia" and "a colony of Islam", in a stealthy process she describes as the "burning of Troy".

Oddly, Fallaci interviews herself in the book, the third volume the New York-based journalist has written against Islam since the September 11 attacks in New York. The first two have been bestsellers in Italy and elsewhere. "This kind of argument does a lot of damage," said Luciano Scagliotti, head of the Italian branch of the European Network Against Racism. "We are very worried. Fallaci and others like her are using their popularity to create hatred. She is effectively telling thousands of people they must chase the Arabs out of Europe."

Instead of meeting these serious accusations head on, the Left declares the entire argument malformed, haram, taboo, inappropriate and therefore inadmissible. Fallaci's propositions are never allowed to evaluate to a definite value; they must remain, on pain of breaking the world, forever null. Like the old jailhouse story of prisoners being forced to drink out an unflushed toilet unless they confessed, where one prisoner complains that his rights are being violated because there's a fly in it, these newspaper responses miss the point by such a margin that one suspects they are on another planet; in a universe where Islam can never, like Christianity before it, consist of humans struggling to reform their faith. That would grant unacceptable equality to those who are fated to play the role of victims. In that twilight, blinkered world, Darfur, Kashmir, Ambon, Mindanao, Nigeria, Madrid and 9/11 disappear entirely while mock horror at racism fills every available space. And the toilet is fine but for the fly.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

World War 3

The US is rolling on three fronts. The first is against Sadr in Najaf. The BBC quotes President Bush as saying US forces are "making pretty good progress" in Najaf. The New York Times has a John Burns piece entitled U.S. Is Tightening Grasp on Rebels Encircled in Iraq. It begins with the dry assessment that "American forces besieging militiamen of a rebel cleric in a shrine and cemetery sacred to Shiite Muslims tightened their cordon on Monday, warning that the rebels had been left no way in or out." The Guardian thinks America is also looking across the border to Iran. In a story entitled Diplomacy sidelined as US targets Iran, the British newspaper editorializes that "The US charge sheet against Iran is lengthening almost by the day, presaging destabilising confrontations this autumn and maybe a pre-election October surprise." Although the Guardian's assertion rests soley on US efforts to line up sanctions against Teheran's failure to stop nuclear proliferation, it sounds, in the context of recent American successes, like something that could happen. On the third front, recent arrests of Al Qaeda leadership may have hurt it so badly as to disrupt its planned pre-election attack on America. The intelligence leads are burgeoning so quickly that it has become hard to pursue them all.

All three developments convey the huge sweep of the War on Terror and reveal both how far American efforts have come and how long the road that remains. The key theaters of conflict, evident only in outline in early 2002, are coming into clearer focus. They are:

  • stopping WMD proliferation;
  • destroying transnational terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda;
  • strongarming or toppling selected regimes like Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Two regimes, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been toppled. Intelligence and police operations are ongoing on every continent. And the Guardian fears it has only just begun. The geographical scope of the struggle is staggering: pursuit across the Arabian peninsula, North Africa, Southwest Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and North America. The instruments of struggle are equally various. Defensive security, diplomatic pressure, covert operations, bilateral training, special operations and conventional combat. An old world is being torn down and a new one -- for better or worse -- is being created "in a fit of absentmindedness". The falure by the Left to articulate an alternative vision of a post-September 11 world except in the negative has banished what should have been the most momentous public policy debate of the last 50 years into the outer dark. By declaring discussion of the transformation of the world illegitimate and then only belatedly presenting a Presidential candidate whose countervision consists of a "secret" but unstated plan, liberals have effectively left matters in the hands of President Bush. It is a staggeringly reactionary performance and a fundamentally unhealthy one. Because the one certain thing is that the antebellum world, the universe of September 10, can never be restored. The Clinton era, like the green light at the end of Daisy's dock, has been borne into the past.

It is unlikely that a meaningful national dialogue on the future of world can occur until the Left frees itself from the taboos which have stultified its intellect. The dead hand of Vietnam and its attachment to the cultic nonsense of the 1960s lies heavy on Democratic Party. That spectral limb will grip them by the throat until they shake free. Until then, forward to wherever. We'll know where we're going when we get there.



Although it may be premature to say that the War on Terror is rising to a crescendo, recent events have imparted a distinct sense of movement, as in 'hey, this thing might actually be going somewhere'. If so, it will force those who opposed the notion of fighting fundamentalist terrorism, as distinct from negotiating with or appeasing it, to admit at least to themselves (if they have any intellectual honesty) that they were not only wrong, but deeply and fundamentally mistaken. Some ground for salvage may be found in Todd S. Purdum's New York Times article of February 2003, in which he argues that the strategy for bringing democracy to autocratic regimes in the Middle East sprang in part from impeccable liberal antecedents.

Any history of the Bush administration's march toward war with Iraq will have to take account of long years of determined advocacy by a circle of defense policy intellectuals whose view that Saddam Hussein can no longer be tolerated or contained is now ascendant. ... At the center of this group are longtime Iraq hawks, Republicans like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz; Richard Perle, a former Reagan administration defense official who now heads the Defense Policy Board, the Pentagon's advisory panel; and William Kristol, who was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle and now edits the conservative Weekly Standard.

But the war camp also includes more recent and reluctant converts like Kenneth M. Pollack, an Iraq expert in the Clinton White House, who has become a prominent advocate for an attack on Saddam Hussein as the best way to avoid, as he calls his recent book, "The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq" (Random House 2002); and Ronald D. Asmus, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration.

The truism that victory has many fathers while defeat is an orphan may partially explain why the Democratic Party sought to rebrand itself as the War Party during its recently concluded convention in Boston. It may also lie behind the transformation of John Kerry from anti-war activist to the warrior who is "reporting for duty" about three years after September 11. If George Bush ever defeats international terrorism, many historians will endeavor to describe it as "Clinton's war" in much the same way that Vietnam is now described as "Nixon's war" though he had the least to do with starting it and the most responsibility for ending it. Winston Churchill facetiously said that "history will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Those without his literary skill need never fear. Academia will take up the slack.

But all this is mortuary makeup on an intellectual corpse. The death of public discourse over the War on Terror was at least partly the result of the self-lobotomization of the Leftist mind. That operation was necessary to prevent an admission of the obvious: the basic Leftist tenets were bankrupt and sustained only by ever more tedious extensions to the original discredited theory; a latter day replay of the downfall of geocentrism which held back the Copernican revolution only by introducing artificial and complicated epicycles. Thus was the Marx's theory of the impoverishment of the proletariat transformed into Lenin's theory of imperialism. It had the virtue of postponing the false prophecy, but even that was not enough. From there it lost all cohesion and branched into "North-South" theory, a generalized schema of victimology and finally into Said's Orientalism in which it is not only impossible for the West to understand the world; it was even impossible for it to be innocent. Every Western -- and especially American -- act became ipso facto, a crime.

I wish I could say that general understanding of the Middle East, the Arabs and Islam in the United States has improved somewhat, but alas, it really hasn't. For all kinds of reasons, the situation in Europe seems to be considerably better. In the US, the hardening of attitudes, the tightening of the grip of demeaning generalization and triumphalist cliché, the dominance of crude power allied with simplistic contempt for dissenters and "others" has found a fitting correlative in the looting and destruction of Iraq's libraries and museums. What our leaders and their intellectual lackeys seem incapable of understanding is that history cannot be swept clean like a blackboard, clean so that "we" might inscribe our own future there and impose our own forms of life for these lesser people to follow. It is quite common to hear high officials in Washington and elsewhere speak of changing the map of the Middle East, as if ancient societies and myriad peoples can be shaken up like so many peanuts in a jar. But this has often happened with the "Orient," that semi-mythical construct which since Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the late eighteenth century has been made and re-made countless times. In the process the uncountable sediments of history, that include innumerable histories and a dizzying variety of peoples, languages, experiences, and cultures, all these are swept aside or ignored, relegated to the sand heap along with the treasures ground into meaningless fragments that were taken out of Baghdad.

This magnificent paragraph, aside from being factually wrong (Said's reference to the looting of Baghdad's museums after Operation Iraqi Freedom) served the purpose of making it unnecessary to think. Indeed necessary not to think, lest one commit an unconscious Western crime. The Left, shackled by its epicycles, became speechless in the face of the rapid changes transforming the world, as conservatives, armed with nothing but common sense, simply acted; unless one excepts the commentary provided by Michael Moore. Yet in the end the Leftist illusions must be overthrown, just as the earth was proven round, despite all authority to the contrary. The sooner the better; a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Self-Restraint on Comments

I'd like to ask readers who leave comments to keep them to a reasonable length, say three or four paragraphs, or else they threaten to overwhelm and kill the thread.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

What If We Win?

The Al Qaeda has been hit hard by a number of arrests radiating from the capture of their communications post in Pakistan. The capture of 25-year old Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, who used the Internet to speed messages between terrorist cells led to the rollup of major cells in Europe and possibly Saudi Arabia. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes what is publicly known.

The capture of Ahmed Khalfan Ghaliani, a Tanzanian indicted by the US for his role in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, and a Pakistani computer expert identified as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, provided US intelligence agents with their greatest leads, reports the AP. Maps, photographs and other details of possible targets in the US and Britain were found on computers belonging to Mr. Ghailani.

As a result of his arrest in Pakistan, Mr. Khan was "forced to take part in an undercover 'sting' operation to help the authorities in Britain and the US track down key Al Qaeda agents," reports the Times of London.

The terrorist cell architecture revealed by the arrests has proved surprisingly shallow. The European head of Al Qaeda was said to have received his orders directly from Osama Bin Laden through Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. "The key Pakistani operative has been identified as Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan. He is believed to have been in direct contact with Abu Eisa (the AQ European head) about plans for an attack at Heathrow, the busiest airport in the world. Khan is believed to have traveled to Britain at least six times in recent years and is a said to be a link between European cells and Osama bin Laden."

Collateral confirmation of the extent of the penetration came indirectly with the arrest of Faris al-Zahrani, described as a top Al Qaeda leader in Saudi Arabia, who had until Khan's arrest eluded security officials. "Both suspects were detained 'swiftly and efficiently' and were not able to use the weapons they were carrying, the Saudi press agency added. Al-Zahrani was No. 12 on the kingdom's list of 26 most-wanted terror suspects and has been described as an al Qaeda recruiter." The stated circumstances of his arrest suggest he was taken while asleep or in a place he believed secure.

Far from being the shadow behind every disturbance in the "Arab street", the short operational chain suggests that the Al Qaeda is a relatively small and narrowly based organization. Its key ideological leaders appear to be holding out deep underground in their traditional strongholds in Afghanistan and Pakistan, communicating with a limited network through an intelligent but by no means world-class computer technician and developer. Dangerous men, but much diminished.

The spotlight on Al Qaeda's true stature is complemented, atmospherically at least, by the fearful drubbing that Moqtada Al Sadr's "militia" received at the hands of the US Marines. Up to 400 militiamen were killed and 1,200 were captured after the uneasy truce between Sadr and the US military fell apart. Hit hard in Baghdad, Najaf and Basra, the normally combative Sadr has been reduced to pleading for a ceasefire. With Iran yet untamed, and strong pockets of resistance in Lebanon, North Africa and Southeast Asia, no one should think that the War on Terror is going to be over soon. But the enemy is clearly and palpably losing ground. Although still in possession of large residual forces, they seem unable to reverse or even slow the juggernaut that is hitting them from all sides. They are facing a problem to which they can find no solution. Even those who were licking their lips at the prospect of driving the Jews into the sea two years ago are gripped by despair as they stare defeat in the face.

It's not so much what Zakariya Zubeidi, the fugitive leader of the West Bank Aksa Martyrs Brigades, says, but how he says it. Zubeidi speaks in the vacant tones of a ghost. ... If anyone embodies the intifada on the eve of its fourth anniversary, it is Zubeidi. The 28-year-old Aksa chief boasts a pedigree of martyrdom: Zubeidi's mother was shot dead in the battle of Jenin, as was one of his brothers. Two other brothers are in Israeli prisons. His father died of a skin cancer that the family says went untreated while he served a prison term for political activism against Israel during the first intifada. "The intifada is in its death throes. These are the final stages – this I can confirm," he said on Wednesday.

Not imminent defeat, but slow lingering defeat, bereft even of heroic defiance. Yet before anyone reserves a bottle of champagne against the day, British historian Karen Armstrong warns that we may have been fighting for the wrong side or at least for a cause we never fully understood. In their own perverted way, Armstrong argues, the Al Qaeda have been fighting to assert the existence of God in world that has forgotten Him.

So what is fundamentalism? Fundamentalism represents a kind of revolt or rebellion against the secular hegemony of the modern world. Fundamentalists typically want to see God, or religion, reflected more centrally in public life. They want to drag religion from the sidelines, to which it's been relegated in a secular culture, and back to center stage.

If so, the victory discernable as a thin line on the horizon really represents the final triumph of secularism over the last religion. And while Armstrong has publicly said many foolish things this particular accusation at least deserves serious examination, not in the least because other writers, like Sam Harris affirm it from an opposite point of view. The Amazon review of Harris' book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason summarizes his thesis as follows:

Harris offers a vivid historical tour of mankind's willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs, even when those beliefs are used to justify harmful behavior and sometimes heinous crimes. He asserts that in the shadow of weapons of mass destruction, we can no longer tolerate views that pit one true god against another. Most controversially, he argues that we cannot afford moderate lip service to religion—an accommodation that only blinds us to the real perils of fundamentalism.

Harris claims that if we seriously subscribe to God in any form we will eventually wind up settling accounts with WMDs; hence we must abolish God. Armstrong asserts that unless we accept all gods, any religion left out will eventually resort to weapons of mass destruction. "Now more and more small groups will have the capability of destruction that were formerly the prerogative of the nation-state ... The way we're going -- and Britain is just as culpable as the United States -- we're alienating Muslims who were initially horrified by Sept. 11 and we're strengthening al-Qaeda, which has definitely been strengthened by the Iraq war and its awful aftermath." She argues that we should simply recognize that many people "just want to be more religious in some way or another."

The cure to religious extremism, according to these arguments, is a choice of two elixirs: believing in nothing particular or classifying all religious belief as madness. Yet on closer examination both these arguments are so close to each other that despite apparent differences they are virtually identical. Both require the abolition of belief as the price of survival, the latter by maintaining there is nothing worth arguing over and the former asserting there is nothing to argue about.

That will be good news to those who feel that the Global War on Terror is really about making the world safe for homosexuals, metrosexuals, MTV and the United Nations: that it is really about using the US Armed Forces to impose the "End of History" on 8th century holdouts; that its function is to restart the music that inconveniently stopped on September 11. But there is another possibility: that fundamentalism is created by the very vacuity Karen Armstrong recommends. Camus in The Rebel believed that man could find the courage to live under a dark heaven swept clean of stars. But then he was Camus: he uncharacteristically forgot that in that vasty night false beacons would almost instantly spring up, the sort that Vladimir Ilich Lenin, anticipating Sam Harris, lit to the destruction of millions. In one thing Armstrong is almost certainly correct: Islamic fundamentalism is twinned to relativism of the West. In one thing she is almost certainly wrong: that its antidote is even more relativism.

It would be absurd to conclude that the war on terror is waged to make the world safe for nihilism. That would almost equal Robert Fisk's declaration, upon being beaten by a Muslim mob that "if I had been them, I would have attacked me." For where the mind can find no purchase it must ground its postulates in the simplest of things.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We fight in the end not to disbelieve but for the right to believe again -- and trust that we may find our way.