Paranoid Blowhard

So Rush Limbaugh thinks Hillary Clinton might murder John Kerry and dump his body in a park. That’s what happens when you spend your entire life in a dittohead partisan echo chamber.

Gary Farber explains.

I’m sure plenty of people will defend him by saying he’s joking. Well, that’s what Michael Moore says about his crackpot theories, too. I’m a comedian, he says. Yeah, whatever. Then again, maybe Al Franken can joke around about assassinating George W. Bush and conservatives will finally think he’s funny.

Duelling Opinions

Oxblog found what looks to be an interesting Web site called Opinion Duel.

It’s a collaboration project between The New Republic and National Review. If you’re interested in serious debate between smart and reasonable people, check it out. A flame war forum it definitely is not. At the time of this posting, Jonathan Chait and Ramesh Ponnuru are going at it. If they can be faulted for anything, they’re too polite.

None of the Above

I watched John Kerry for a few minutes on Tim Russert’s Meet the Press and all I could do was sigh. Why did the Democrats have to pick this guy? No one really likes him much whatever they think of George W. Bush.

I don’t like John Kerry, but I don’t hate the man either. I’m one of the very few people who feels exactly the same way about President Bush.

I agree with Roger L. Simon about almost everything, and I agree with Andrew Sullivan slightly more often than not. Today is no exception.

Roger said “I am not in a panic over the election the way some are.” The same goes for me for mostly the same reason. He quotes from a piece in the LA Times by Moisés Na“m, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, about how history makes a president more than the other way around.

All recent U.S. presidents have learned that despite their immense power, they remain at the mercy of uncontrollable global forces, which can render their personal views and campaign promises largely irrelevant. The Clinton campaign’s famous dictum, “It’s the economy, stupid,” proved a better election-year slogan than a predictor of how often international turmoil would distract his administration from domestic issues. Bush reneged nearly as quickly on his campaign promise to adopt a “humble” foreign policy, wary of active foreign engagements and nation-building efforts.

That’s basically right. George Bush has certainly done a 180 on foreign policy since the election. He started out as a paleoconservative Buchananite and morphed into an aggressive Wilsonian hawk. He began as a shrugging isolationiast and ended up in the same place I was led to by Bosnia.

Andrew Sullivan is likewise soft in his opposition to Kerry.

Here he is in an interview with Timothy Perry.

I’m encouraged by some of the things Kerry has been saying recently…In general I trust Bush more than Kerry in this war – far more. But I’m open to persuasion and don’t think of myself as blindly in support of a person. If another person can better achieve our goals, the beauty of a democracy, unlike a dictatorship, is that we can change leaders quite easily.

I’d like to warm up to Kerry if for no other reason than that he might be our next president. If I don’t vote for him and he wins anyway, I’m not going to be one of those people who are sure to freak out and say it’s the end of us. In fact, I’ll swing around to being one of his defenders by default. I learned something by starting out as a Bush-hater and later deciding I was wasting both my energy and my time. Kerry may govern well, or at least passably. Clinton wasn’t half as bad as his worst detractors said he was, and neither is Bush. Kerry probably wouldn’t be either.

Still, I find myself more or less back to where I was during the last election when I voted for Ralph Nader. I was a paleoliberal then who was mad at the neolibs in the Democratic Party. Now I’m a neoliberal centrist annoyed with the paleos. I guess I’m just hard to please.

I don’t care for Ralph Nader as much as I used to (to say the least), but there’s one thing I really do (still) like about him. He wants an option on the ballot for “None of the Above.” I know it’s not likely to ever happen, at least not at the presidential level. But I like the fact that he brings it up anyway. I want to call do-overs. I’d like to see a Republican like John McCain run against a Democrat like Harold Ford. I would remain a centrist if we could have such a contest, but a happy one.

The First Egyptian Blog?

Glenn Reynolds found this blog from a Egyptian who calls himself GM. As far as I know, it’s the first and only Egyptian blog in English. (There may be some in Arabic, I don’t know.) He is just getting started, but it looks to be pretty interesting. Good stuff.

Directing Traffic

I understand why so many people still don’t know what a blog is, and I understand why they wouldn’t care if they did. Most of my friends are only vaguely aware I even have a Web site in the first place, and they certainly don’t read it. (A few read it, but only a few.) And that’s fine with me. While it’s fun to talk shop, so to speak, it’s also nice to be able to chill out with my friends and not yammer on about politics and the media all the time. Not to mention the fact that if I write something dumb or off the wall they won’t even know about it, let alone care about it. Nor will they hold it against me personally if I don’t vote for the same presidential candidate they do.

It does surprise me, though, how many people in “old media” are still out to lunch on this subject. They’re opinionated news junkies just like the rest of us. Maybe they just feel threatened and would rather not think about it.

Here is Jeff Jarvis on his blog today:

Many of us have seen it: A mention of a blog in a paper or a magazine or even on TV doesn’t bring in nearly the traffic of a big blog link. I get much more traffic from a mention by Glenn Reynolds than from a mention in Time magazine or the New York Times.

I remember the business head of MSNBC.com telling me sometime ago that Glenn Reynolds’ column there gets more traffic from external blogs than from the internal promotional power of the meganewssite.

See Media Drop’s comments (and links to Terry Heaton and Bill Hobbs) on a panel discussion that brought gasps to the lungs of flacks when they heard this phenom: Blogs cause more links than big, old media.

Gasps to the lungs of flacks! I’ll bet.

The truth is that big old media hardly directs any Internet traffic at all.

Howard Kurtz linked to me in the Washington Post. There was a time when I would have thought such a link would be huge. But no. Not at all. I got a grand total of 25 hits from him.

Whenever I publish a piece in Tech Central Station, a link to my blog is posted at the end. I usually get about 100 hits from that.

A few days ago Roger L. Simon linked me and gave me 500 hits.

When Glenn Reynolds links me, I get 10,000.

It’s tempting for people in the blogosphere to pat themselves on the back and say ha! to old media. Sometimes it’s a bit much, but only sometimes. I wonder if the folks at the Washington Post know just how much more traffic a blog can direct than the online version of their newspaper can.

Will the Opposition Lead?

Tonight is one of those nights I don’t have time to write. But I don’t want to leave you with nothing.

This piece in the New York Times by Paul Berman, one of the best writers and smartest thinkers around, is your required reading for Friday. Will the Opposition Lead?

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: The New Neutrality.

Tripoli and Fallujah

In three months my wife and I are going to Italy to visit some friends in Milan. While we’re in the neighborhood we figure we’ll hop on over the Mediterranean and bum around Tunisia for a week. (Why Tunisia? Read this.)

It will be my first trip to an Arab country. But it won’t be my wife’s. She went to Morocco with her parents when she was a teenager. My brother got mugged there a few years ago, but she loved the place. A man offered her father a dozen camels for permission to marry her. He was probably joking, but who knows?

Look at an atlas. Tunisia is right next to Libya. Tripoli isn’t all that far from Tunisia’s capital Tunis. A person could probably get from one city to the other in a long cab ride. Since Gaddafi recently decided to be a nice little dictator, the US lifted the travel ban.

So we’ve decided to go to Libya, too. I’ve never been to a country run by a lunatic. Neither has Shelly. Posters of the leader are all over town. Supposedly the hotel rooms are bugged. Plainclothes police follow tourists around. Should be an interesting experience. (If, that is, we can get visas. I haven’t yet figured out how we’re supposed to do that. The State Department’s consular sheet is not helpful. If anyone has any advice, please advise.)

My mother thinks we’re crazy. Some of our friends think we’re brave. But you know what? It isn’t brave to visit Libya. It won’t be comfortable, but it isn’t dangerous. Libya has friendly people, low crime, no terrorism, and a nutjob boss.

You want brave? Mark Steyn is brave. He went to Fallujah. By himself.

Eleven months ago I was in Fallujah. What a dump — no disrespect to any Fallujans reading this. I had a late lunch in a seedy cafe full of Sunni men. Not a gal in the joint. And no Westerners except me. As in the movies, everyone stopped talking when I walked through the door, and every pair of eyes followed me as I made my way to a table.

I strongly dislike that veteran-foreign-correspondent look where you wander around like you’ve been sleeping round the back of the souk for a week. So I was wearing the same suit I’d wear in Washington or New York, from the Western Imperialist Aggressor line at Brooks Brothers. I had a sharp necktie I’d bought in London the week before. My cuff links were the most stylish in the room, and also the only ones in the room. I’m not a Sunni Triangulator, so there’s no point pretending to be one. If you’re an infidel and agent of colonialist decadence, you might as well dress the part.

I ordered the mixed grill, which turned out to be not that mixed. Just a tough old, stringy chicken. My tie would have been easier to chew. The locals watched me — a few obviously surly and resentful, the rest wary and suspicious. But I’ve had worse welcomes in Berkeley, so I chewed on, and, washed down with a pitcher of coliform bacteria, it wasn’t bad.

Why didn’t they kill me? Because, as Osama gloated after 9/11, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they go with the strong horse. And in May 2003, four weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the coalition forces were indisputably the strong horse. And so, even when a dainty little trotting gelding of a newspaper columnist comes in through the door, they figure he’s with the strong horse crowd and act accordingly.

Would they have liked to kill me? Well, I’ll bet one or two would have enjoyed giving it a go. And, if they had, I’ll bet three or four more would have beaten my corpse with their shoes. And five or six would have had no particular feelings about me one way or the other but would have been generally supportive of the decision to kill me after the fact. And the rest might have had a few qualms but they would have kept quiet.

The man is no chicken. There’s a part of me, maybe 30 percent or so, that would love to visit Fallujah. But the other 70 percent says no effing way.

There’s actually a point to Steyn’s article. It isn’t just a travel essay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Read the rest and find out what he’s getting at.

And wish me luck with my visa. I think I’m going to need it.

More Trouble for Kos? (Updated)

I decided to take a pass on the Daily Kos “scandal” where Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who is perhaps the most famous liberal blogger in the world, wrote a particularly nasty hate screed against the Americans massacred in Fallujah. Markos was de-linked by the official John Kerry blog, and he lost a lot of advertisers on his site. I figured he was punished enough and there was little point in piling on. Besides, I didn’t have anything original to say.

It seems our formerly esteemed blogger hasn’t yet learned that toning down the rhetoric and asininity might be wise.

There’s a new post up that deserves a little scrutiny.

Before I wade into it, I should point out that Markos himself didn’t write it. One of his contributers named Soj wrote it, but Markos seems to think it’s a worthy post. He did let it stand.

There are two serious problems.

First this choice little bit:

The only “crime” Sadr has committed is protesting the closing of his newspaper by Bremer, an American, despite the fact Powell says we’re there to bring the Iraqi people “a better life”.

Puh-leeze. As if Moqtada al-Sadr is Howard Stern’s counterpart in Iraq. Al-Sadr is a theocratic totalitarian, a terrorist, a killer of both Iraqis and Americans, an ally of Hezbollah and Hamas, and an Iranian tool. I really don’t know what else to say except that I’m amazed some people have the damnest time recognizing an enemy, even when he announces his intentions in blood and fire.

Anyway, there’s another problem with the post in question, a problem that goes well beyond an asinine throw-away line. Repeated throughout the entire piece (which is really quite long) is the assertion that Colin Powell is an “Uncle Tom” who stumps for “Massah Bush.”

This racist claptrap has got to stop. Yeah, it’s racist. It isn’t just rude and obnoxious.

It’s not racist because it implicitly says a black man can’t be successful. If Colin Powell were a Democrat working for a John Kerry administration, there is no chance an accusation of Uncle Tommery (for lack of a better phrase) would appear anywhere near a liberal blog.

Colin Powell is an “Uncle Tom” because he’s a Republican. And here’s what’s racist about it.

I don’t know of anyone who thinks a white person can’t choose his or her political party. It’s fine if you’re a white Republican. And it’s fine if you’re a white Democrat. But a certain kind of person thinks a black man can only belong to one political party. White people can choose. Black people cannot. White people can have a range of opinions. Black people need to have their opinions and associations dictated to them by someone else.

Markos Zúniga is himself an ethnic minority. He, of all people, ought to know better than to peddle this condescending, anti-democratic, illiberal crap.

I’ve lost the desire to read his blog. Ryan Boots deserves credit for bringing this post to my attention.

UPDATE: In my comments section Mithras posted the following:

The idiot who posted that did not do so as “[o]ne of [Kos's] contributers”; it was a diary entry. Anyone can create a diary at Kos. Kos exercises no editorial control over diary posts, as is his right. So how is this indicative of anything related to Kos?

If that is the case, I made a mistake bringing Markos Zúniga into this. I’m not as familiar with the mechanics of the blog as Mithras is. Markos does have contributers other than himself who post on the main page. I thought this was one of those posts. My commentary stands, but Markos is exempted. Sorry for goofing it.

Comic Relief

Not everything in Iraq is stressful and scary. Head on over to Marc Cooper’s place for some laughs at Ayatollah Sistani’s expense.


I should confess that what’s happening in Iraq is a bit scarier to me than I’ve let on the past few days. I have a good reason, though, for resisting the temptation to wring my hands in public. We need to keep in mind, always, the objective of terrorism. It is to terrorize. It’s an overblown cliche to say giving in to fear means the terrorists win. Sometimes, however, it’s true.

It’s helps to keep some perspective. Let’s say we are totally routed in Iraq. That would be a disaster. But we also need to remember that it wouldn’t be a disaster for all of us personally. I’ll still have my wife, my house, and my job. My neighborhood, my city, and my country will endure. I won’t be frog-marched into an Iraqi dungeon. And, unless you’re an Iraqi, neither will you.

The steel nerves of some people impress me. It’s relatively easy for me not to give in to fear. I live in Portland, not Baghdad. So who am I, really, to lecture anyone about keeping their cool about this?

Let me quote at length instead from Alaa, who does live in Iraq and whose life and limb depend on the endgame of the current violence sweeping across his country.

I hope you all realize that a major objective of the enemy is to produce defeatism in the U.S. and allied nations home front, counting on the democratic process to force the hand of policy makers. The War in fact never stopped from the first day of the fall of the Icon. All the events you have witnessed are part of a sustained and escalating campaign by all the forces opposed to the “Project”. I don’t presume to be able to give a knowledgeable critique about U.S. and Allied strategy, like everybody seems to be fond of doing nowadays (and there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of Gurus of the subject). Firmness would have been much easier to apply at a much earlier stage. When I say “Firmness”, it must not be construed to mean brutality. Nevertheless, and undeniably, the use of force is part of the thing, but it must be precise, measured and proportionate. This, of course, is almost stating the obvious.

One thing is fundamental though: Once you start exercising firmness it will be disastrous if you falter and show weakness again. Diplomacy and politics are essential of course, but the arguments of the strong are always much more convincing.

In any case I ask all our friends not to be too emotional and weak stomached, and above all not to help the enemy in what he is desperate to achieve, i.e. defeatism and despair.

For those of you following what’s happening in Iraq, Alaa should be on your daily reading list. He lives there, he knows what’s happening, he knows why it’s happening, and he has a far better idea how any given action or lack thereof will effect the so-called Iraqi “street.”

UPDATE: See also David Brooks in the New York Times.

Iranian Proxy War

It looks like Iran might be in a hot proxy war with the United States.

Via Roger L. Simon comes this report at Project Free Iran by Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of Strategic Policy Consulting and Fox News analyst.

For months, Iran has been building a secret underground network of military and intelligence cells that has put it in a position not only to challenge the U.S. and others, but also to gradually gain control the reigns of power after the June 30th handover.

By allocating vast resources, including tens of millions of dollars, to the task of building and spreading an overt network of mosques, local organizations, charity groups, medical and cultural centers, Tehran has also covertly created a number of new Iraqi surrogate groups, including the Hezbollah especially in the south. (This entity is separate from Iraqi Hezbollah, which operates openly). The group has been casing U.S. forces, gathering intelligence and building its military structure. It is headquartered in Al-Amarah, but is also active in a number of other cities including Al-Kut. Several Iranian Intelligence Ministry agents held extensive talks with Hezbollah officials in Al-Kut on February 15th to coordinate their actions.

In addition, Iran has formed the Nasiriyah-based 15th Shaban and the Basrah-based Seyyed ol-Shohada groups. At least a half a dozen other Iranian sponsored groups are now operating in Baghdad and other places.

Iranian agents have been commuting back and forth to and from Iraq regularly, using different border crossings along the 900-mile frontier with that country. Tehran has, for instance, used the Mandali-Monthariya border in February to send into Iraq a significant number of intelligence agents, who specialize in operations and roadside bombings against the coalition forces.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute) has more:

A source in the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard revealed to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat(4) information relating to the construction of three camps and training centers on the Iranian-Iraqi borders to train elements of the “Mehdi Army” founded by Muqtada Al-Sadr. The source estimated that about 800-1,200 young supporters of Al-Sadr have received military training including guerilla warfare, the production of bombs and explosives, the use of small arms, reconnoitering and espionage. The three camps were located in Qasr Shireen, ‘Ilam, and Hamid, bordering southern Iraq which is inhabited largely by Shi’a Muslims.

Also, Winds of Change reports that Radio Farda says Iran is giving 70 million dollars per month to organizations in Iraq, including al-Sadr’s militias, with the objective of violently expelling the coalition forces.

I really don’t know how credible this stuff is. But I will say this.

If true, this is a declaration of war by Iran. If Iran is going to send men into Iraq to kill our soldiers and subvert the nascent democracy we are within our rights to respond with force inside their territory.

That is not to say it would be wise for us to do so at this time. Maybe we should and maybe we shouldn’t. At this moment, today, I would suggest we wait and see if we can get Iran to back down through diplomacy. But if this fighting in Iraq escalates and Iran refuses to let up, we may not have another viable option. We’ll be at war with Iran either way. And if they are willing to cross the border and we are not, they will have the upper hand. That cannot stand. We didn’t go all the way to Iraq to let Iran turn it into their fundamentalist sock puppet.

“Quagmire” Watch (Updated)

With the fighting heating up in Iraq again, this is a good time to take a fresh look at how often in the past two-and-a-half years the media have shown up as hysterical Chicken Littles.

Unless you enjoy listening to NPR and thinking we’re doomed, we’re doomed, you really do need to read Mark Steyn’s Quagmire Watch.

UPDATE: While we’re at it, let’s get a little perspective about how nasty a place Iraq could have been had we not showed up in the first place. Here is Christopher Hitchens in the Wall Street Journal.

There must be a temptation, when confronted with the Dantesque scenes from Fallujah, to surrender to something like existential despair. The mob could have cooked and eaten its victims without making things very much worse. One especially appreciated the detail of the heroes who menaced the nurses, when they came to try and remove the charred trophies.

But this “Heart of Darkness” element is part of the case for regime-change to begin with. A few more years of Saddam Hussein, or perhaps the succession of his charming sons Uday and Qusay, and whole swathes of Iraq would have looked like Fallujah. The Baathists, by playing off tribe against tribe, Arab against Kurd and Sunni against Shiite, were preparing the conditions for a Hobbesian state of affairs. Their looting and beggaring of the state and the society–something about which we now possess even more painfully exact information–was having the same effect. A broken and maimed and traumatized Iraq was in our future no matter what.

Obviously, this prospect could never have been faced with equanimity. Iraq is a regional keystone state with vast resources and many common borders. Its implosion would have created a black hole, sucking in rival and neighboring powers, tempting them with opportunist interventions and encouraging them to find ethnic and confessional proxies. And who knows what the death-throes of the regime would have been like? We are entitled, on past experience, to guess. There could have been deliberate conflagrations started in the oilfields. There might have been suicidal lunges into adjacent countries. The place would certainly have become a playground for every kind of nihilist and fundamentalist. The intellectual and professional classes, already gravely attenuated, would have been liquidated entirely.

All of this was, only just, averted. And it would be a Pangloss who said that the dangers have receded even now. But at least the international intervention came before the whole evil script of Saddam’s crime family had been allowed to play out. A subsequent international intervention would have been too little and too late, and we would now being holding an inquest into who let this happen–who in other words permitted in Iraq what Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright and Kofi Annan permitted in Rwanda, encouraged by the Elysée.

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.


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