Friedman Discovers Poland

Andrew Apostolou makes fun of Thomas Friedman for being six months behind the news. Poland is pro-American. Who knew?

Friedman is sometimes silly, but I confess to being a fan. His book From Beirut to Jerusalem is sadly out of date (he’s a little too optimistic about the Oslo peace process), but it’s nevertheless a fantastic piece of Middle East reporting that reads like a suspenseful historical novel.

And maybe Friedman is a bit slow on Poland, but I enjoyed the piece anyway.

After two years of traveling almost exclusively to Western Europe and the Middle East, Poland feels like a geopolitical spa. I visited here for just three days and got two years of anti-American bruises massaged out of me. Get this: people here actually tell you they like America — without whispering. What has gotten into these people? Have all their subscriptions to Le Monde Diplomatique expired? Haven’t they gotten the word from Berlin and Paris? No, they haven’t. In fact, Poland is the antidote to European anti-Americanism. Poland is to France what Advil is to a pain in the neck. Or as Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins foreign affairs specialist, remarked after visiting Poland: “Poland is the most pro-American country in the world — including the United States.”

I detected no anti-Americanism when I visited France. But I can’t read French newspapers, and I hung around waiters and cab drivers, not Chirac and de Villepin. I’d still like to visit Poland, though. It’s a beautiful country, and it’s always nice to be welcomed.

Tragedy in Iran

The AP says the death toll in the Iran earthquake could be as high as 40,000. That’s two thirds the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.

The Bam fortress, the world’s largest mud-brick structure, is gone.

A Drive Through Western Oregon

Some days I just have to get out of the city.

My Italian friend Giorgio inspired me. He visited us for Christmas (in Boise) and desperately wanted to drive in the countryside. “I need to see the American West,” he said. “This is all so exotic to me.”

Venice, Rome, and little Italian hill towns are old hat to him. 300-foot tall Evergreen spires are like trees on another world.

So we drove through the high desert and up into the mountains. “It looks like Lord of the Rings here” he said. I could see what he meant. The region around Boise looks a lot like Rohan.

Today I took a drive from my own city of Portland to the Pacific. I left the lush Willamette Valley behind, climbed into snow in the Coast Range mountains, and hit the beach as the sun came out. I tried to see my countryside through the eyes of a foreigner. I’ve lived in Western Oregon for almost 30 years, so it’s hard. But the beauty of this place still astonishes all the same.






Haystack Rock.jpg

All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Back from the Big B

Just got back from a festive get-together of far-flung friends in Boise, Idaho (the Big B! as our friend Ezra from Manhatten calls it.) Our pal Giorgio flew in from Milan, Italy and wanted to drive to the mountains to see cowboys and Indians. The Indians pulled a no-show, but he did get to see some big hats.

We did the Christmas thing early with the parents this year, so Shelly and I have all day at home to ourselves in peace and quiet. So it’s time for me to get off the blog. (And what are you doing surfing the blogosphere today?)

Here’s hoping your Christmas is a Merry one. Cheers.

Talk is Cheap

The editors at the Guardian think Libya’s decision to relinquish its weapons of mass destruction is a victory of talk over force.

Patient diplomacy, dialogue, negotiation, clearly enunciated principles and red lines, respect, mutual trust, and attractive incentives – these are the civil tools that helped bring, at the weekend, perhaps the most significant, tangible breakthrough in arms control since the strategic weapons pacts of the later cold war era. Libya has gone from 1986 target of Ronald Reagan’s bombs, from “rogue” sponsor of non-state, anti-western terrorism and, as it now admits, from active pursuer of nuclear and chemical arms to, if all sides honour the bargain, a prospectively valuable friend and partner.

I wouldn’t say Libya will be a valuable friend and partner any time soon. Not with Gaddafi in charge. The Guardian once again is too quick to make friends with dictators.

Even more dubious is the assertion that patient diplomacy explains Libya’s capitulation. Because capitulation is exactly what it was.

Andrew Apostolou says the French and Germans, if they happened to be involved, would only have mucked it all up.

The fact that France, Germany, and Russia were not directly involved in the contacts with Libya was also a key element in their success. We can only imagine the diplomatic fiasco that would have resulted from the French, German, or Russian foreign ministers landing in Tripoli to invite themselves into the negotiations as intermediaries. These supposed friends of the U.S. would have sent muddled signals to Khaddafi. Instead of facing a firm, but fair, Anglo-American position, the Libyan dictator would have ended up deluding himself — something that he does not find difficult — into believing that was an alternative to full compliance with his international obligations. Perhaps now is the time for that other victim of an overly active imagination, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, to confine himself to literature.

If anyone doubts this is a victory for the hawks, they need only listen to Gaddafi himself:

I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.

And that, I think, settles that.

Carrying Water for Saddam

According to the Telegraph, the BBC has banned the use of the word “dictator” to describe Saddam Hussein. He was “endorsed” in a “referendum” where he received 100 percent of the “vote.” Therefore, the BBC says Saddam Hussein was “elected” and was not a dictator.

A BCC spokesman explains:

We wanted to remind journalists whose work is seen and heard internationally of the need to use neutral language.

Saying Saddam was elected is not neutral. It is naked Baath Party propaganda.

No one receives 100 percent of the vote in a democratic election. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was modelled after Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. The people at the BBC know this and don’t care. They are liars. They lie when they say Saddam was elected, and they lie when they say they are neutral.

All media institutions are biased. Fox News is conservative and everyone knows it, despite Fox’s denial. NPR is liberal and everyone knows it, despite NPR’s denial. The BBC is staunchly anti-British, staunchly anti-American, moderately pro-terrorist, and moderately pro-Baathist. Neutral? Please. Only Indymedia is less neutral in the West.

There is nothing wrong with liberal or conservative bias. It’s to be expected in a free country with a free press. There is no excuse for pro-Baathist bias outside a one-party police state.

If editors and journalists admitted their biases and filters, their credibility would be bolstered not undermined. You can compensate for conscious bias. Bias denied only festers and drifts into extremes.


In a few short paragraphs, Patrick Lasswell writes a creepy and highly original defense of the use of the word evil.

Do Intentions Matter?

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that no one in the Bush Administration cares a fig about the Iraqi people or the democratization of Iraq, and that the war was conducted for nefarious reasons. Yet good has come from the war nevertheless.

Does it matter? It’s a tough question if it’s taken seriously, and Norman Geras has a pretty good answer.

UPDATE: Tom Perry (aka Dipnut at Isntapundit) has a thoughtful answer, too. Go read.

The Decline of France

I enjoy taking a poke at France as much as the next person, but I should say that Shelly and I went to Paris and Cassis on our honeymoon two years ago and we had a wonderful time. I liked France a great deal, and I do feel some affection for it. The French people were much nicer to us than I expected, given their reputation, and I haven’t seen a city anywhere that can rival Paris in either beauty or culture.

Roger L. Simon just got back from a trip to France where he did some research for a novel. He filed this report, and I’m sorry to say that it isn’t looking good for them.

Clear-Eyed Marxists

There are some leftists (Paul Berman and Christopher Hitchens among them) that I still like more than I like some liberals. And this post (you might have to scroll down) about the UN on the British Marxist group blog Socialism in an Age of Waiting makes me smile.

The General Assembly is, of course, an assemblage of bourgeois governments, many of them dictatorships, all of them cynical to greater or lesser degrees. Its composition compels its members to horse-trade, obscenely, this people’s rights and freedoms against that people’s if it is to get through its business at all. The notorious elections of states such as Cuba and Libya to the Human Rights Commission have been among the wholly predictable results. The recent failure even to take seriously a proposal that referred to the right of Israeli children not to get blown up by fundamentalist fanatics, let alone pass it (as recounted, and rightly criticised, by Norm Geras, linked to in sidebar –>), was just one more case. The horse-trading is less robotically routine than it was during the Cold War, but it still goes on, making a mockery of the ideals that gullible bourgeois liberals still insist on praising the UN for upholding.

Anyone out there want to lump this Marxist blog into the vast right-wing conspiracy? Come on. I know there’s someone out there who wants to.

Seeing an Empty Glass

Roger Normand in The Nation magazine laments the global assault on human rights.

Who is leading the assault? Not the scattered bands of terrorists, who rely on fear and chaos to magnify their threat and disguise their essential weakness.

Who might it be then? Kim Jong Il who runs a repulsive gulag state in North Korea? Perhaps it’s the Baath Party dictatorship in Syria. Or maybe the Iranian mullahcracy that sends its goons into the streets to attack protesters with sticks, chains, knives, and guns.

It is the world’s sole superpower

Oh. I forgot. I was reading The Nation

–the primary architect of the United Nations and its Universal Declaration–that is now shaking off all legal constraints to unleash the most destructive military machine in history.

The most destructive military machine in history! Worse than Nazi Germany! Worse than Stalinist Russia! Worse than the Khmer Rouge! Worse than Sauron’s Dark Army of Mordor!

(Gasp.) Let’s catch our breath.

The Bush Administration seeks nothing less than the open establishment of empire–termed “full-spectrum dominance” in the new Pentagon papers.

I think not.



1. a. A political unit having an extensive territory or comprising a number of territories or nations and ruled by a single supreme authority.

b. The territory included in such a unit.

2. An extensive enterprise under a unified authority: a publishing empire.

3. Imperial or imperialistic sovereignty, domination, or control: “There is a growing sense that the course of empire is shifting toward the… Asians” (James Traub).

Disagree with the expansion of liberal democracy if you hate it so much. But don’t go calling it “empire.”

Since open empire is incompatible with a post-imperialist world order based on human rights and the rule of law, the law must go. This means bypassing the “useless debating society” formerly known as the Security Council, when it refuses to rubber-stamp the unlawful invasion of Iraq.

The organization that puts the Libyan police state in charge of human rights is not part of a “world order based on human rights.” Sorry, it just isn’t.

With dangerous extremists on all sides planning for global war, we should remember that the modern idea of human rights law emerged from the slaughterhouse of World War II.

We are the only “dangerous extremists” he mentions by name in the entire article.

Faced with the public outcry “never again!”, the victorious powers had no choice but to recognize the full range of human rights–not only civil, political and religious freedoms, but also rights to health, education, housing, work, social security and adequate livelihood. If taken seriously, this revolutionary idea had the potential to overturn, through peaceful legal means, the established distribution of political and economic power.

“Never again” meant that no genocidal dictatorship would ever again be allowed to stand, which in practical terms means overthrowing it by force. Social security, while important, had nothing to do with it.

The Bush Administration now seeks to kill the human rights idea in its infancy and return the world to the law of naked power.

How is it that literate people can write sentences like this at a time when naked power has been overthrown and human rights are being codified into law in Iraq partly at the behest of the Bush Administration?

But the funeral may be premature.


Freed from the worst double standards of state power and invigorated by new forms of activism and solidarity, a broader and more inclusive human rights movement can join forces with the world’s second superpower: mass opposition to war and occupation, corporate-controlled global trade and the ongoing destruction of our environment.

I know it’s popular among a certain set of people to say that war is always bad and nothing good ever comes of it. But we need to get one thing straight right now. Mass opposition to democratic nation-building in tyrannical dictatorships will not yield a single accomplishment for human rights. Ever.

The title of Mr. Normand’s article is Facing the Human Rights Abyss. Not once does he mention the good news of late, that 20 million people were liberated from a regime modeled after Stalin and the Nazis. He’s the type of guy who sees a glass half full of water and hallucinates a hole in the bottom that drained the thing dry.

Not Just the Fringe

According to this Anti-Defamation League poll, 43 percent of Americans believe Israel is a threat to world peace. And 37 percent of Americans believe America is the greatest threat to world peace.

UPDATE: Moe Lane (who blogs at Obsidian Wings) in the comments points out that there must be a mistake. 37 percent can’t think America is the greatest threat because 77 percent think North Korea is the greatest threat. It must be that 37 percent think America is a threat to world peace.

Meanwhile, a Gallup poll shows 37 percent (the exact same number as above) say they would vote for Howard Dean if the election were held today, while 60 percent would vote for Bush.

Democrats have a very serious problem, but they still refuse to accept it.

Iraq: UN Failed Us

The US isn’t the only country in the world unhappy with the UN.

Iraq’s foreign minister [Hoshyar Zebari] accused the United Nations on Tuesday of failing his country by leaving Saddam Hussein in power for decades and appealed to the world body to assume a leading role in Baghdad immediately.

Zebari said the United Nations had failed to help rescue Iraq from “a murderous tyranny” that lasted more than 35 years and “today we are unearthing thousands of victims in horrifying testament to that failure.”

“The United Nations must not fail the Iraqi people again,” Zebari said.

Operation Photo Shop

Saddam had himself sculpted and painted all over Iraq in various guises. We saw Saddam the Bedouin, Saddam the General, Saddam the Gangster, Saddam the Camel Shit Shoveler.

Here’s an homage to all that from flip GenX artists all over the Internet. (Click photos for sources.)









Boo Hoo

The prisoner Saddam Hussein is being treated more humanely than he treated a single one of his countrymen. But that’s not good enough for some people.

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – A top Vatican official said Tuesday he felt pity and compassion for Saddam Hussein and criticized the U.S. military for showing video footage of him being treated “like a cow.”

Mean Americans. Treating a prisoner like a prisoner.

What did he expect? That we’d put Saddam up in one of his palaces and respect his privacy?

We are Americans. We will treat Saddam humanely even though he doesn’t deserve it at all.

Iraqis needed to see his ugly mug on the tv. You’re not the target audience, Cardinal. And history is not a sunday school lesson.


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