The Iraqi Insurgency

Alaa, an Iraqi Shi’ite blogging from (where else?) Iraq, makes a lot more sense to me than most Western media analysts when trying to figure out what, exactly, is to be done about the insurgency in Iraq.

Here are some excerpts from two longs posts. Do visit his blog and read more.

If you check my fellow bloggers you will get more or less the feeling of the decent, helpless (or should I say hapless) majority. I can tell you without any hesitation that you get a much better insight by reading us than all the media reports. Please don’t believe what they are telling you about us. Some of the bloggers are Shiaa like myself, and some are Sunni like Ziad, and about this you will find our feelings are quite similar both regarding the zombies of Fallujah or the thieves of the Mehdi Army. My family is hiding in the house with doors locked and bracing for trouble.

I don’t know if it has been wise to open this front at this particular time. But sooner or later it just had to come. I hope that you all realize that this is the true battle for Iraq, and that the fight against Saddam was easy compared with this. Because now all the demons of peasant thievery and savagery have been let loose, and it will be a hell of a job trying to put them back in the bottle. But if you study history you will find that it is doable, with a bit of firmness.

And from another post, later in the day.

What has been demonstrated now is the almost certain scenario to be expected if the U.S. decided to suddenly withdraw and leave the matter to local hands. The Country will be divided to three regions in no time. Those who will be in control in two of these regions will be precisely those against whom the Coalition is battling at the moment, the third will be under the control of the Kurds of course. Civil war between these groups will inevitably ensue very quickly. It is now clearly demonstrated that there are no viable local forces to stand against these elements. In addition, terrible pogroms and atrocities will be perpetrated against all the democratic movements and individuals and ordinary people.

However, you will be astonished that the solution is not as hard as you might imagine. Aggressive commitment and firmness by the Coalition coupled with a political approach to be simultaneously launched to form a government that is more convincing than the present set up, and one that can be capable of exercising real authority. The impetus of military action should be immediately and urgently used to press for the political end.

This strikes me as exactly right. It also seems like it’s exactly what we are doing.

Fighting Dirty

US Marines were attacked by insurgents hiding in a mosque in Fallujah. So they called in an airstrike and took out the mosque’s outer wall. (I don’t know what “outer wall” means. Did the bombs penetrate the mosque? Or did they explode outside it?) The Washington Post reports up to 40 people were killed.

I’d really like to say we shouldn’t be blowing up mosques, “outer wall” or not. But using a mosque as a fox hole is a war crime. Taking the mosque out is not.

Most Christians, if not nearly all of them, would shudder at using a church in this way. I’m not a Christian anymore, but I know if I were I would think it a desecration.

The insurgents thought they could hide in a mosque and fire at us with impunity because we’re too “nice” to shoot back. They were wrong. It’s about time they learned that.

They may continue to use mosques as shields, even so. What a great propaganda coup for them. Look at the Americans. They are the enemies of Islam. They kill innocent people while they pray.

We may have to make a decision. Is it worth the loss of PR points to deny terrorists and insurgents their safe house?

Will mainstream Iraqis blame the thugs who desecrate the mosque in the first place? Or will they believe the worst about us and think we’re out to get innocent people? I don’t know enough about Iraqi culture to say. If this goes down badly for us, whether it’s right and fair or not (I’d say not), we may have to respect the mosques more than their congregates do.

The Id of the Right

The insurgency in Iraq is getting nasty.

Baathists killed 12 US Marines in Ramadi. And Shi’ite fanatics took over Najaf.

These people are idiots. They are minority factions disliked by the majority. Now they’re going to get themselves killed and conveniently remove themselves from the scene. To paraphrase Christopher Hitchens, if they want to be martyrs, we’re here to help.

That said, thank heaven John O’Sullivan at National Review is not in charge. According to him, one way of dealing with this problem is

…to establish order by bringing in massive numbers of U.S. and allied troops, imposing a regime of surveillance and supervision that is widespread and almost totalitarian but not brutal, using both human and technical intelligence to track down and remove the terrorists from society, and settling down to stay in Iraq for at least 30 years. In that way terrorist resistance might be administratively smothered over time. But since the U.S. has decided to reduce troop levels and hand over power to Iraqis in three months, this option has been foreclosed. [Emphasis added.]

Mr. O’Sullivan is the id of the right. I’m surprised to see that mainstream conservatives still think totalitarianism in other countries, so long as it serves our own ends, is something to be patted on the back. But apparently it is so.

Look. If the US is going to go around setting up totalitarian systems in other people’s countries, (“not brutal” or otherwise) you can count me out right now. I’ll have nothing whatever to do with it. I’ll go back to the left because the left would be right.

I don’t believe for a minute that O’Sullivan was being sloppy when he wrote “totalitarian.” When he saw the word on his screen he must have paused. I mean, come on, is there any more loaded word in our political lexicon? He meant it very deliberately. Someone once said a political gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. The same goes for pundits.

O’Sullivan just can’t seem to help himself. He looks at the same nasty insurgency in Iraq that I’m seeing. I think to myself: They’re a threat to democracy. O’Sullivan thinks: Impose totalitarianism. A hundred bucks says he thinks General Augusto Pinochet, who promised to strangle even the memory of democracy in Chile, is a hero.

It’s one thing to do business with a dictatorship that is already in place. We worked with Stalin against Hitler and with Uzbekistan’s Karimov against the Taliban. But you don’t have to be an Allendista or a cheerleader for Islamofascist nutjobs to see that imposing a totalitarian regime on foreigners at gunpoint is not only profoundly immoral but a stain on our flag.

If O’Sullivan is the id of the right, Wretchard at The Belmont Club is its ego. He gets it.

The Trouble with Fallujah

What happened in Fallujah was a barbaric horror show. Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down explains in the Wall Street Journal (free registration required) why it needs to be answered with force.

It is a mistake to conclude that those committing such acts represent a majority of the community. Just the opposite is true. Lynching is most often an effort to frighten and sway a more sensible, decent mainstream. In Marion it was the Ku Klux Klan, in Mogadishu it was Aidid loyalists, in Fallujah it is either diehard Saddamites or Islamo-fascists.

The worst answer the U.S. can make to such a message–which is precisely what we did in Mogadishu–is back down. By most indications, Aidid’s supporters were decimated and demoralized the day after the Battle of Mogadishu. Some, appalled by the indecency of their countrymen, were certain the U.S. would violently respond to such an insult and challenge. They contacted U.N. authorities offering to negotiate, or simply packed their things and fled. These are the ones who miscalculated. Instead the U.S. did nothing, effectively abandoning the field to Aidid and his henchmen. Somalia today remains a nation struggling in anarchy, and the America-haters around the world learned what they thought was a essential truth about the United States: Kill a few Americans and the most powerful nation on Earth will run away. This, in a nutshell, is the strategy of Osama bin Laden.

Bowden is right, but this is tricky.

The reason many Sunni Arabs in Iraq are lashing out at the coalition is because their Baath Party gravy train is over forever. The Baathists were nothing if not a minority Sunni tribal outfit that lorded it over the non-Sunni majority. Now they fear they’re at the mercy of those they oppressed for so long. They rightly blame us for their predicament.

They have only experienced politics as brute force. They don’t know any other kind. It’s as hard for them to imagine how a liberal democracy works as it is for us to imagine what it’s actually like to live in a totalitarian state.

These people need to be made to understand two things.

One, if they fight the US they are going to bring a hammer down on their heads.

Two, the US will protect them from the majority if and when they lose the first election. The Shi’ites and the Kurds will not be allowed to elect an anti-Sunni dictatorship. What makes a democracy a liberal democracy is that the rights of the minority are protected from the majority. It’s safe to lose an election. You might not like the results, but you won’t be jailed, beaten, or killed.

How so we strike back at the Sunni mobs while also sending the message that we are ultimately their protectors? I don’t know. This could be our greatest test yet. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was easy. This won’t be.

UPDATE: See Steven Den Beste if you want the optimist’s view.

Weekend Photo Gallery

I don’t know what’s going on in the news right now because I spent all weekend poking around with the cowboys in Oregon’s back country. So you get a photo gallery instead.

Here’s where I’ve been.


Mt. Hood, Oregon’s premier volcano


Mt. Joseph, Wallowa Mountain Range


The charming little town of Joseph, Oregon


Imnaha Canyon


Ghost House, Imnaha Canyon


The Wallowa Mountain Range


The trail to Mt. Joseph


Wallowa Lake


Reflection on the Water

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Who Are We At War With?

Keith Berry emailed me and 18 other bloggers and asked what should be a simple question. Who are we at war with?

He wanted a one-sentence answer. Before 9/11 such a question would more easily yield a one-sentence, even a one-word, answer.

During the Cold War: The Soviet Union. During World War II: The Axis. During the Civil War: The Confederacy (or the Union.) During the American Revolution: The Crown.

But today? Who are we at war with? That’s an essay question. And because it’s an essay question, it’s no wonder we’re having such a polarized debate about what to do with our foreign policy.

Go take a look at the answers Keith received.

I can group them into three categories. One group (only two leftist bloggers answered this way) have a smartass definition of the enemy that isn’t worth addressing seriously. A second group says we’re at war with Al Qaeda. And the third group, which my answer belongs to, expands the definition of the enemy to include terror-supporting states and terrorist groups that are not Al Qaeda.

My answer to Keith’s question. Who are we at war with? Islamic fascists, both religious and secular.

It makes little sense to me to declare war on Al Qaeda, but not declare war against Al Qaeda’s Islamist allies in terror like Hezbollah and Hamas. And it makes little sense to me to declare war against Hezbollah and Hamas, but not against the Baathist states (Syria and Iraq) and the Islamist states (Saudi Arabia and Iran) who provide them with financial aid, material aid, military aid, and real estate. They are all networked together, sometimes loosely, other time less so. Not every group is linked to every other group, so sometimes their connections to each other are slight and indirect (as seems to be the case with Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein). They all have a few things in common, even so. They’re all Islamic, they’re all fascist, and they’re all involved with anti-Western terorrism of one kind or another.

If Al Qaeda ceases utterly to exist tomorrow, and if everything else in the Middle East is preserved exactly as it is right now, would it really be time to declare victory? I do not think so.

The Rise of the Suicide Bomber

The suicide-bombing death cult is a disease. And it’s catching.

LA PAZ, Bolivia – A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest in a hallway of the Bolivian congress Tuesday, killing himself and wounding two police, authorities said. State-run television said the two officers had died.

The disgruntled miner demanding early retirement benefits made his way to a first-floor section of the building, away from the congressional chambers, Police Chief Guido Arandia said.

What does a disgruntled South American miner have in common with Islamic fanatics? Nothing, really, but a powerful need for attention.

We shouldn’t be too surprised to see the Palestinian hate machine being replicated and copied. Much of the world is fixated on the Middle Eastern drama of stateless Palestinians. The Chechens are mostly ignored. The dream of an independent Kurdistan is dismissed out of hand by nearly everyone but the Kurds themselves. Few outside hippie college towns give the proverbial rat’s ass about a free Tibet. But the grievances, both real and imagined, of mass-murdering Palestinian death squads are the world’s cause du jour. It’s no wonder their tactics are spreading. The squeaky wheel gets greased.

Until the rest of the world, starting with – at the very least — the EU and the UN, finally brings itself to properly damn suicide-bombing as the wicked barbaric death cult that it is, expect the ramp-up to increase. There is going to be a lot more of it.

In the Shadow of Noam Chomsky

Lee Harris, who I think is one of the best columnists at Tech Central Station, got some bad reviews because he doesn’t trash America in his new book Civilization and Its Enemies.

Today he takes that criticism to heart and, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, makes excuses for himself.

Thought for the Day

Richard Cohen in the Washington Post:

I offer my own U.N. resolution. I want the United Nations to condemn Palestinian terrorism, specifically suicide bombers and, most specifically, the use of confused and sad kids for that purpose. It’s pretty simple: If you cannot condemn the murder of innocents, especially by children, then you have no business condemning anything else.

(Hat tip: Vodkapundit.)

New Column

My latest Tech Central Station column is up: The Small Pleasures of Trade.

(The blogosphere’s “hat tip” convention doesn’t work with regular articles. But I can mention on the blog that I got this idea from Randy Paul.)

Frist Unfit

It looks like Bill Frist isn’t the best person the Senate Republicans could have found to be their majority leader after all. He’s an improvement over Trent Lott, thank heaven for that. But the best they have? The most fit for the job? No. He is not.

Frist accused Richard Clarke of committing perjury without evidence.

“Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Frist said in a speech from the Senate floor, alleging that Clarke said in 2002 that the Bush administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaida before the attacks.

Frist later retreated from directly accusing Clarke of perjury, telling reporters that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies between Clarke’s two appearances.

Maybe Clarke did perjure himself. I don’t know. His testimony is classified. More important, Frist doesn’t know either. He said himself that he doesn’t know. Yet he stood there in the Senate chamber and called a man a criminal. As if it were a fact.

Josh Marshall says this will permanently change the way he sees Frist. The same goes for me.

Richard Clarke annoys me as much as he annoys his next critic. But that doesn’t mean it’s open season on him and that anything goes.

I haven’t seen the GOP attack machine in such an overdrive since the Clinton days. I’m used to seeing this kind of behavior lately from the Democrats. Now they’re both at it. In full force. At the same time.

This “national security” debate is all about the election. It has nothing to do with national security at all.

Real Terrorism in Uzbekistan

Two female suicide bombers killed at least 19 people in Uzbekistan.

Here’s how Reuters reported it.

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan (Reuters) – At least 19 people were killed in a series of explosions and shoot-outs in Uzbekistan in “terrorist” actions aimed at splitting the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition, officials said Monday.

Muslims lash out at the world by blowing up other Muslims at random. And Reuters still can’t type the word terrorist without putting the damn thing in quotation marks.

I guess we should cut them some slack when they say Jews, Americans and Iraqis are killed by “terrorists.” They just don’t believe terrorism is real. Still to this day.

And look at the reason why these attacks supposedly happened. To split the US-led anti-terrorist coalition. That’s what the piece says.

Two paragraphs later, the same piece said this.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, which aims to set up a pan-Islamic state that would include post-Soviet Central Asia, and the austere Wahhabi school of Sunni Islam are both outlawed in Uzbekistan.

Any possibility that that was the reason for the attacks? I’m just asking.


The 911 Commission and the furor over Richard Clarke’s testimony gets worse every time I look at it.

Glenn Reynolds thinks Condoleeza Rice ought to testify before the commission. I agree. But he also says he hopes she says this from David Frum:

This administration came into office to discover that al Qaeda had been allowed to grow into a full-blown menace. It lost six precious weeks to the Florida recount — and then weeks after Inauguration Day to the go-slow confirmation procedures of a 50-50 Senate. As late as the summer of 2001, pitifully few of Bush’s own people had taken their jobs at State, Defense, and the NSC. Then it was hit by 9/11. And now, now the same people who allowed al Qaeda to grow up, who delayed the staffing of the administration, who did nothing when it was their turn to act, who said nothing when they could have spoken in advance of the attack — these same people accuse George Bush of doing too little? There’s a long answer to give folks like that — and also a short one. And the short one is: How dare you?

Ugh. No. Can we please not go there?

For God’s sake leave the Florida recount out of the national security debate. This is far more petty and partisan and obnoxious than anything Richard Clarke has said. I can hardly imagine anything less relevant. Imagine if he dragged the Florida recount into his testimony. The GOP would be agitating for thumb screws.

Glenn adds:

As I’ve said before, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones before September 11….

Yes. That’s the spirit. Really, it is.


The US government had a weak response to Al Qaeda before 911. The US government. Not Clinton. Not Bush. The entire government.

The media and the left just adore Richard Clarke because he beats up on Bush and praises Clinton. (Oh, and he grandstands about regime-change in Iraq, even though that has nothing whatever to do with pre-911 failures.) Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds is cheering David Frum and hoping Condoleeza Rice will channel him in her testimony because he’s beating up on Clinton and not Bush. And bringing Florida and Senate confirmations into it, which also have nothing whatever to do with terrorism and national security.

Is no one embarrassed by the transparent partisanship of this entire charade?

The farther we get from 911 the less people seem to care about terrorism and the more they like to use it as a stick to beat up the other guy. I can’t see how this can possibly be good for the country. The transatlantic alliance is coming apart, and so is any shred of a bipartisan alliance here at home. It has become a partisan point-scoring farce.

Why Clarke Annoys

Mark Steyn zeroes in on exactly what it is about Richard Clarke that bugs me.

No, it’s not because he’s criticizing pre-911 anti-terrorism failures. That’s what he’s supposed to do. Obviously there’s plenty of blame to go around. Neither the Bush nor the Clinton Administrations did a particularly bang-up job, although I’m willing to give both of them a pass for mistakes made before that dreadful date for the same reason I don’t blame FDR or Herbert Hoover for Pearl Harbor.

It’s this kind of nonsense that’s makes it hard for me to take the guy seriously.

The media were very taken by this passage from his book, in which he alerts Mr Bush’s incoming National Security Adviser to the terrorist threat: “As I briefed Rice on al-Qa’eda, her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard of the term before, so I added, ‘Most people think of it as Osama bin Laden’s group, but it’s much more than that. It’s a network of affiliated terrorist organisations with cells in over 50 countries, including the US.’ “

Now, when I heard that Clarke had said that, every BS-detector in my head went off. Turns out my instincts were sound.

Mr Clarke would seem to be channelling Leslie Nielsen’s deadpan doctor in Airplane!: “Stewardess, we need to get this passenger to a hospital.”

“A hospital? What is it?”

“It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.”

As it turns out, Clarke’s ability to read “facial expressions” is not as reliable as one might wish in a “counter-terrorism expert”. In October the previous year, Dr Rice gave an interview to WJR Radio in Detroit in which she discoursed authoritatively on al-Qa’eda and bin Laden – and without ever having met Richard Clarke!

Clarke similarly said Bush’s “facial expression” ordered him to connect Iraq with Al Qaeda even if there was no connection.

I’m sure Bush had a serious look on his face when he asked Clarke to figure out if Saddam had anything to do with 911. I suspected Saddam might have had a hand in it, and I know plenty of other people who did, too.

Looks like Saddam was out of the loop. And so what? Changing his regime wasn’t an act of revenge or retaliation any more than smacking down Adolf Hitler was to punish him for Pearl Harbor.

If Clarke has something substantive to say, we ought hear him out. If he would like to propose a different anti-terror strategy, that would be great – at a separate place and time. Not at the commission that wants to know what went wrong before 911. His “facial expression” testiomony isn’t going anywhere and looks a lot like baseless character assasination. (There’s a lot of that going around these days on more side than one.) And using his witness chair to gripe about overthrowing Saddam all but guarantees a polarized reaction to his testimony.

Frist Vs. Clarke

This Richard Clarke scandal is getting serious.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is suggesting that Clarke may have lied to Congress under oath this week. Clarke also testified before the House and Senate intelligence committees two years ago, and Frist says he told two contradictory stories. Both under oath.

If it turns out that Clarke did lie under oath, he’s in some really deep shit. The media and the anti-war brigades who lionized a perjurer as a hero are going to feel pretty darned stupid. And deservedly so.

If it turns out that he didn’t lie under oath, if the GOP gets the records declassified only to find there’s no there there, Bill Frist just shot Republican Party credibility to hell. This would be beyond politics as usual, which is bad enough. Bogus accusations of criminal behavior are not so easily forgiven or forgotten.

(The fact that Clarke made contradictory statements while not under oath is a totally separate question.)

Here’s what I want to know. Does Frist already know what Clarke said in his previous testimony? In other words, is his accusation of criminal behavior a reasonable one? A sitting president was impeached for lying under oath. About sex. This is no idle charge Frist is making.

Or is this just a slimy speculation? If so, Frist is unfit for his job.

Think that’s an overstatement?

Here’s what Scott Spradling said to Howard Dean a few months back.

Governor Dean, you had once stated that you thought it was possible that the president of the United States had been forewarned about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. You later said that you didn’t really know.

A statement like that, don’t you see the possibility of some Democrats being nervous about statements like that leading them to the conclusion that you are not right for being the next commander in chief?

Inded. And the same principle will apply to Frist if it turns out that he’s just mouthing off.

Politics may be ethically corrupting to many, if not most, people who practice it. I can accept that. But there ought to be a higher standard for the Senate Majority Leader and the top counter-terrorism adviser. Their job is to protect my office tower from being hit with a truck bomb, not to slime their opponents for cheap political career points.


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