Michael J. Totten

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Weekend Words and Photos

My wife Shelly is out of town this weekend, teaching a seminar in Ken Layne's crazy state. I miss her already. I'll have lots of time to write this weekend, though. I have three irons in the fire right now; long essays that hopefully will appear in magazines. One of them is already sold and will certainly appear. Naturally I will link them when they are published.

Take a news break this weekend. We will be at war soon and it will be ugly. You won't sleep as well at night and should take it easy now while you can.

I'll leave you with some pictures. The first two are Shelly in Spain on our honeymoon last April. The last one is me along the Continental Divide in Montana three months ago.


Thursday, March 06, 2003

What Moves Ahead

The future is a black box. You can grasp the shape and feel the heft of it. But that is all. You cannot open it up and look inside. It could contain a time-bomb, a turkey, or a half-rack of Diet Mr. Pibb for all you know.

Since September 11, the future has been somewhat knowable. We knew the Taliban were history before the shooting began in the mountains. Most of us figured Saddam Hussein was next. Let's be honest, regardless of any phantom connections with 9/11, the take-down of Saddam Hussein is an obvious step. No more half-assed pin-prick strikes. It's root and branch time.

But what now? What's next?

This is the best I have found that predicts with authority. Stephen Pollard has cracked the lid and caught a glimpse of what's inside the box.

The US may leave the UN, and the UN may leave the US. The Iranian regime may be taken apart from within. And Japan may get nuclear weapons.

Liberals Against the UN

Liberal blogger Sean LaFreniere wants the UN out of New York City.

The UN is truly doomed when former Green/Nader Democrats start talking like this.

Stalinism and Gulag Denial

10,000 September 11ths. Johann Hari: Brilliant and ferocious. A lion of the left.

Never Do This

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

The Democratic Crucible

On a recent edition of NBC's Hardball Chris Matthews asked Christopher Hitchens "Why are so many people leaving the left?" It doesn't bode well for the left that the question is even asked. Especially since both Matthews and Hitchens are lefties of sorts themselves.

It is true. A large chunk of people on the left, including myself, are disgruntled with our comrades and are breaking off and drifting away. But there is a far more interesting story here than a rise in the number of political independents and neocons.

The really interesting story (for me anyway) is the number of liberals and leftists -- like me -- who are furious at the rest, but who are willing to stick around anyway. For us, the political right does not look like a new home. “Independent” is a hollow description. It belies a lingering default leftism, though it differs sharply from the left-wing activist herd. This can only mean one thing.

Civil war.

Make no mistake. The anti-American, anti-"imperialist" left is an aftershock of the Cold War. It is inherently reactionary. And it is 100 percent opposed to "September 11" left-liberals like me.

The reactionary left applies 1968 ideas to 2003 problems. It treats Afghanistan as though it were Vietnam, and it treats Iraq as though it were Chile. It is a throwback, an anachronism, like the crusty old conservatives who pine for the 1950s. It has not adjusted to the new reality, and will wither on the vine.

The reactionary left can only get smaller. Reactionaries, like the poor, will always be with us. But all reactionary opinions eventually die. The aftershock and death-spasm of the 1960s will not become a gathering force in the future. There are no conservatives, no independents, and no mainstream liberals who will suddenly “wake up” to the supposed wisdom of George McGovern and the yippies. The old left (which used to be the New Left) is simply losing people, one fed-up member at a time.

What Dissent editor Michael Walzer calls the “decent left,” and David Horowitz calls the “patriotic left,” is growing. How could it not, under the circumstances? America is at war for its survival. We were attacked without provocation, and remain under constant threat from genocidal Islamofascists. The enemy is not revolutionary leftism, as it was during the Cold War; it is far-right theocratic Fascist. It cannot appeal for long to even the most idiotic American leftist. Even if it could, this strand of leftism can never become mainstream and win over the hearts and minds of the nation. It is simply not possible.

What is needed is a patriotic and progressive left. Not an anti-American reactionary left. We need a left that addresses current problems that average people care about. Dissidence for its own sake is acting-out and posturing. Mainstream patriotic liberals who are on the fence about an Iraq war are often repulsed by the hate-America antics of the protesters. Even writers at the left-wing Nation magazine are disgusted by the anti-war rally organizers.

If the left does not change, it will slither under a rock where it will die. But that’s not going to happen. Democracy has built-in corrective anti-toxins. America will not become a one-party state. The Republicans will only get so much traction out of this for so long. The left will adapt and reform itself, because democracy requires a left as well as a right. History buries the dead and the stupid. Political philosophies are swamped by events. Some people are more adaptive than others, and an entire political ideology cannot be expected to adjust overnight without a fight.

We should take it as a given that America will not move forward in time while the left moves in a straight line backward. The more outdated the left remains, the fewer adherents it will have. Some of those who leave will become Republicans and neoconservatives. Most of us will stick around and make the left anew. Decent, progresssive, patriotic, and formidable.

Thuggish Patriotism

I have always despised the phrase "America, love it or leave it." People who say that sort of thing tend to be the same people who think this is the way to argue with peaceniks.

ALBANY, N.Y. - A man was charged with trespassing in a mall after he refused to take off a T-shirt that said "Peace on Earth" and "Give peace a chance."

Mall security approached Stephen Downs, 61, and his 31-year-old son, Roger, on Monday night after they were spotted wearing the T-shirts at Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Albany, the men said.

The two said they were asked to remove the shirts made at a store there, or leave the mall. They refused.

The guards returned with a police officer who repeated the ultimatum. The son took his T-shirt off, but the father refused.

"'I said, `All right then, arrest me if you have to,"' Downs said. "So that's what they did. They put the handcuffs on and took me away."

UPDATE: I occasionally use the phrase "right-wing political correctness." This is what I'm talking about.

Bad News

The Corner has linked a story in the (South) Korean Times that says a warhead from North Korea was found in Alaska.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Let Them Pursue Happiness

Stanley Kurtz is worried gay marriage will be "imposed" by courts on everybody.

Well, Mr Kurtz, whether it is imposed or not depends on where you stand. My gay friend Ezra is engaged to be "married" this year. He would be thrilled if the quotation marks could be lifted from his "marriage."

I got married last year. Believe me, anything that threatens my marriage is a serious problem. Therefore, Mr Kurtz...when the state forces me to divorce my wife and marry a man instead, you and other conservatives will be the first people I turn to when I need a "defense" of heterosexual marriage.

Something tells me I won't be needing your services.

Turkish Designs

Christopher Hitchens says it's a good thing that Turkey isn't "helping" us get rid of Saddam Hussein.

It may now be argued that, in order to shorten the period of hostilities with Saddam Hussein and minimize casualties, the Iraqi border should be secured from all directions. But the Turks do not propose to help guarantee this border or to protect those who live within it. Rather, they propose to cross the frontier for no better reason than to aggrandize themselves and to prolong the subjection of their own Kurdish population. This doesn't just disgrace the regime-change strategy. It actually destabilizes it. And it's humiliating to see the president begging and bribing the Turks to do the wrong thing and to see them in return reject his offer. He should take their ugly egotism and selfishness as a compliment to his policy, cut off their aid, leave them to put their own case to the European Union, and tell them to get out of Cyprus into the bargain. Then we could be surer that we were really "remaking" the region.

I like Turkey, and I wish that country the best. It is a relatively prosperous, relatively liberal, more or less secular democracy. If every Islamic country were like Turkey, the very idea of a clash of civilizations would be preposterous.

But Turkey does have a nasty agenda for the Kurds, as it always has. Cutting them out of our coalition will help the Kurds a great deal. They are far more deserving, and may ultimately help us more than the Turks can or will.

Bypassing Turkey will also save us billions of dollars in aid money. We could use it instead to help build post-war Iraq.

Monday, March 03, 2003

A Touching Letter

I got this letter in my inbox today.

Mr. Totten,

I have been meaning to do this for a few weeks. You are entirely responsible for my shift to a pro-war position. It occurred back when you first began posting the humanitarian and democratic reasons to enter this foray.

I argue with others with the ideal of changing their minds. Although that doesn't usually happen, the ideal remains. A month ago, you captured my ideal.

Thank you.

Brandon Garcia

P.S. I truly mean entirely. Before your posting, I wouldn't consider the position. The humanitarian and democratic side of me was suppressed beneath my mistrust of the Bush Administration and the fact that, in absolute truth, pre-emptive war is not a very good rule to live by.

Well, thank you Mr. Garcia. Letters like this remind me of one of reasons I do this in the first place. I enjoy writing for its own sake, but it's also about making connections with other human beings. If I really helped rekindle the humanitarian side of yourself, I just couldn't be happier.

Several years ago I read a disturbing book by Philip Gourevitch called We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families. It is about the Rwandan genocide in the mid-1990s.

Somewhere (maybe in the Introduction) he said he suspects people read books like this to teach themselves to be decent human beings. I think he's right. It one of the reasons I read, and also write.

Hyperbole Alert

Today Rep. Portor Goss (R-Florida) had this to say about the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

This is the equivalent of the liberation of Paris in the Second World War.

Puh-leeze. The liberation of Iraq may be the equivalent of the liberation of Paris. Next to that, busting one guy's chops and dumping him in the slammer is a bagatelle.

Bad Old Days

Gerald Posner wonders how dumb he used to be.

Many of my fellow Democrats have been gushing about the hordes that have taken to the streets, basking in nostalgia about the street demonstrations over Vietnam that were a factor in changing government policy in Southeast Asia. But the enthusiasm that the protests kindled in some seemed strange, as all they did for me was bring back shameful memories of my own political naiveté thirty years ago.

In 1972 I was a freshman at UC Berkeley, then proud to boast it had the only city council in America that refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. Carrying around baby-doctor Benjamin Spock’s leftist manifesto on Vietnam, I quickly became an activist during the next two years in immense antiwar protests that seemed almost daily occurrences at Berkeley. As a political science major I thought I had all the answers. The North Vietnamese were merely freedom fighters trying to liberate their country from the shackles of western imperialism. The US war was unjust and being waged against innocents. And Governor Ronald Reagan, who kept badmouthing us and sending in the tough Alameda sheriff’s department to disburse the crowds, was somewhere right of Attila the Hun.

Three decades later I have no pride in the memory of those protests. Rather, I wonder how it was possible to be so mistaken about real politics and world events. My political gullibility is an embarrassment. The so-called peace movement had completely deluded itself, conveniently ignoring any evidence that countered its agenda. How was it not possible to have seen that the North was a convenient tool for the Soviets to bleed the US and that it represented one of the most repressive old-line communist dictatorships since Stalin?


The loose collaboration of leftists, anti-war activists, and anti-globalization proponents, must wake up. There are fundamentalists who would kill them without a second thought merely because they are Westerners. Appeasement gets you nowhere, as Europe learned from Hitler.

I looked at the recent television images of thousands, almost in a party atmosphere, as they chanted their rhyming protests against a possible war. Was I that stupid? I hope not.

Relax. It's okay. You know what time it is now, and that's what counts.

Look: I protested the 1991 Persian Gulf War in the streets of Eugene, Oregon. I was kind of stupid, but -- in my opinion anyway -- less so than today's anti-war activists.

In 1991 we fought for the Kuwaiti dictatorship. Yes, I know (now) we also freed Kuwait's people from despotism far worse than what they had known before. Any human being would choose the Kuwaiti sheikhs over Saddam Hussein as their ruler. Kuwait's dictators are not exactly enlightened. But they are Amsterdam liberals next to Saddam Hussein and his gang. Freeing Kuwait from Iraqi imperialism was worth it.

I didn't think so then because I didn't know how nasty Saddam really was. I didn't want a war for swapping dictators. Not if neither threatened our country. When I was a young protester I would have thanked any soldier who fought and died for this country. But did I want to see them fight and die for sheikhs? No.

But I learned. I learned that America can fight and win much easier than in the bad old days in Vietnam. As time passed I also learned what a psychotic fascist Saddam Hussein is. On top of that, I learned that sanctions (what I thought was a better alternative then) will only punish innocent civilians without hurting the rulers at all. Those three facts changed my mind. In a way I wish I hadn't protested then. But I learned, so what the heck, I guess it was worth it.

There are four main points that separate Gulf War I from Gulf War II.

1) Saddam Hussein is now a threat to the United States and our allies.
2) We are going to build democracy, not replace one foul dictatorship with another.
3) Sanctions and containment are proven, inhumane failures.
4) The brutality of Saddam's regime is more widely known now than it was then.

Today's anti-war crowd has none of my old excuses. This war is far more just than the last one. And it is far more just than the war in Vietnam. These folks will have a lot to answer for, and they'll have to answer soon.


The Sun reports

In a blistering phone call last week, President George Bush told the posturing Frenchman: "President Chirac, we will not forgive and we will not forget."

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Not What it Used to Be

I used to love the BBC. Those were the days.

Here's what Barbara Amiel has to say about it now.

The BBC's News and Current Affairs doesn't bother honouring values of even-handedness. It has become an undisguised opponent of American policies and of Britain's insofar as they coincide with America's. This is especially true of Middle East policy...


BBC News resorts to a number of familiar tricks to pay lip-service to objectivity, beginning with its po-faced determination to present all sides of an issue even when one side may lack all merit. The merit of suicide bombers, for example, simply cannot be equated to those trying to stop them. Debating this is like pairing off an astronomer discussing rocks on the moon and a person who believes the moon is made of green cheese.


The BBC Arabic Service appears to rule out any criticism of Arab leaders or their regimes. Apart from some cryptic and occasional references in news reports, there is no critical discussion and analysis of public policy issues such as human rights, health, housing and illiteracy. There is no discussion of government priorities, government corruption or the activities of the security forces and police. When Saddam Hussein was "re-elected" with a 100 per cent vote, the election was reported as if it were a perfectly normal exercise in democracy.


Unsurprisingly, the BBC Arabic Service is consistently hostile to peace between Israel and Palestine, which puts it at odds with the Foreign Office and the Government. Anti-Israel remarks are thrown into topics gratuitously. Almost two years after the UN certified that Israel had withdrawn from Lebanon, BBC Arabic Services still told listeners that Israel was in occupation. Officials of the Palestine Authority and various Palestinian organisations are frequently heard, but rejectionist voices (those against any peace settlement) are favoured. Prominent moderates such as Sari Nusseibeh are rarely heard.

Legitimate journalism may have a Left-wing prism or a Right-wing one. The Guardian or the New Statesman are not any the less legitimate a journalistic enterprise than The Daily Telegraph or The Spectator. One may disagree with a point of view, but that is not the complaint here.

The complaint against the BBC's Arabic Service is that, in its news analysis, it has abandoned the normal traditions of Western journalism and is embarking on exactly the same exercise as the controlled press in Arabic dictatorships, except it does so under the imprimatur of the BBC and at the expense of the British taxpayer.

Two months ago my wife and I took a trip to Chile and we stayed a few nights at a hacienda in the Andes. We met a British travel writer (nice guy, so I'll keep his name out of it) and we stayed up late on the patio shooting the breeze.

"CNN is a sorry excuse for journalism," he said. I agreed, but I didn't know what he meant. My major complaint is simply that it's boring. (No, not that it's "liberal.") "The BBC, now that's good journalism," he added.



You are in deep shit.

Looks like you're having a rough go of it already.

Speak for Yourselves

The media have ignored Iraqi exiles ever since Bush declared war on Saddam Hussein. This is surprising, since their view on the subject is rather interesting.

But today the Christian Science Monitor decided to publish an op-ed piece by an Iraqi in the US, whose view is representative of the overwhelming majority of his expatriated countrymen.

Since Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, started warning that a US invasion of Iraq would "open the gates of hell," the retort that has been flying around Iraqi exiles' websites is, "Good! We'd like to get out!"

It got me wondering: What if you antiwar protesters and politicians succeed in stopping a US-led war to change the regime in Baghdad? What then will you do?


Will you hear the cries of Iraqis executed in acid tanks in Baghdad? the Iraqi women raped in front of their husbands and fathers to extract confessions? Or of children tortured in front of their parents? Or of families billed for the bullets used to execute military "deserters" in front of their own homes?

No. I suspect that most of you will simply retire to your cappucino cafes to brainstorm the next hot topic to protest, and that you will simply forget about us Iraqis, once you succeed in discrediting President Bush.

I'd like to hear the anti-war protestors respond. I suspect they won't, because they can't. Not in a way that doesn't force them to violate their own principles. If Al Gore were leading the charge against Saddam, the world would be a very different place. Protests would be small, Europe would be more cooperative, and Saddam would be dead or in hiding already.

Mao wasn't much of a thinker, but he did have an interesting line. (Okay, two.) "The finger points at the moon, and the fool looks at the finger."


Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten