Michael J. Totten

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Blogging From Hollywood

Mystery novelist and screenwriter Roger L. Simon has started a blog. And guess what? He's a lefty, he works in Hollywood, and he isn't a jackass. (Careful with your stereotypes...)

Wising Up

Geoff Pynn (whose blog Too Much Text is a must-read) sent me this encouraging email today.

Yesterday I went to a "teach-in" at Yale about the war. There were six panelists, culled from the superstardom of the academy--Bruce Ackerman, Paul Gilroy, Seyla Benhabib, and others. Each of them was anti-war, which I could have predicted. But except for Paul Gilroy, whose comments were standard hysterical leftist fare ("cluster bombs are the REAL weapons of mass destruction," "Tony Blair has become a transcontinental fig leaf," "there's a McCarthy-esque campaign to silence dissent," etc.), each of the participants was fairly thoughtful--which shouldn't have been surprising, but was.

The real surprise, though, was the response from the audience. Though there was scattered applause at the obvious cues ("we need regime change at home"), nearly all of the questions from students were skeptical. Though everyone was careful to make it sound like he or she was actually against the war (wouldn't want to offend the professoriat), the questions were almost exclusively challenges to the panel's claims. Long-haired, nose-pierced students questioned the idea that the war would increase terrorism, pressed the panelists on what THEY would do about liberating Iraqis, and demanded an argument for an irresponsible suggestion of Gilroy's that the war had to do with "Israel's geopolitical amtbitions" (he didn't give one, saying that he felt as if he'd "just been given a rope and asked if I'd like to hang myself.")

Certainly, the room's mood was anti-war and even more strongly anti-Bush. But it was a GOOD kind of anti-war sentiment--questioning, skeptical, fully cognizant of the difficulty of coming to an unambiguous position. It was not a position driven by blind adherence to an outmoded ideology. This stood in marked constrast to the speakers, who were angry and alienated. Their comments were full of resentment; they were clearly frustrated that any intelligent person might not see the obvious logic of their positions.

I expected to be irritated, and at times I was. But on the whole I came away hopeful that the kind of haughty, knee-jerk leftism that has dominated the academy since Vietnam may be giving way to a more thoughtful, nuanced liberalism.

Reason to be hopeful, indeed. The far left is sinking, and the moderate left is rising. Heck, I only recently escaped the far left myself. I know I'm not the only one.

The Strangeness of War

This picture amazes me. Here are our tanks barreling down a Baghdad highway with civilian vehicles right next to them. The tanks are just part of the traffic. Do the Iraqi drivers think this is weird? Are they freaking out behind the wheel? Holy shit, tanks! Or is this kind of thing just par for the course by now?

UPDATE: Okay, so what do I know? Patrick Healy writes to tell me these aren't tanks, and that they're probably Republican Guard. Just to be clear: I am not your military hardware guy. I can't be on top of everything...

What Quagmire?

On the Dr. Phil show (of all places) Medea Benjamin said the war in Iraq is a quagmire.

I don't know what kind of war is a "cakewalk." War is, you know, deadly and destructive no matter the circumstances.

Still, this isn't going too badly for us. We've ploughed our way through Baghdad with total impunity.

Saturday's quick, early morning foray through Baghdad's southwest quadrant — at one point passing about two miles from a presidential palace and the Baath Party headquarters — was resisted by individual fighters with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

The Americans took no territory; the aim, according to U.S. officials, was to send a message to regime loyalists that the city — nearly encircled by American forces — could be breached at any time of the coalition's choosing.

Heh. I'd like to see Saddam's forces try to do that to our guys.

Weekend Photo Roundup

Generation Gap

I've noticed something about anti-war protests in Portland. Hardly anyone involved is my age.

I am 32 years old. The Vietnam War was over when I was a child. Remnants of Boomer culture stayed at my college, but we Xers are different from those of '68. We're a lot more pragmatic, and a lot less ideological.

I did protest the Gulf War. But those weren't the glory days. I felt like an ass when it was over. Everything I thought then was wrong, and I'm not about to repeat it.

The Bosnia and Kosovo interventions were even less protest-worthy, after years of brutality there which pricked the liberal conscience. The past twelve years knocked the wind out of the Vietnam syndrome and the protest culture.

The protests are back, but my generation avoids them. Twenty year old punks are the shock troops. They are like I was during the Gulf War. Totally ignorant, with no sense or perspective of history. They haven't been around long enough to watch history themselves, and they haven't had the time to read as I have. It's safe to say that for a lot of these people it's a phase.

The Boomers are back, but radicalism is what they're about. They grew up on this stuff, and for them it's their mission in life.

What will happen when the Vietnam generation retires? When people my age take their place at the wheel of society?

Here's an article from the New York Times, sent to me by Lance Blyth, that offers a hint.

AMHERST, Mass., April 4 — It is not easy being an old lefty on campus in this war.

At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, awash in antiwar protests in the Vietnam era, a columnist for a student newspaper took a professor to task for canceling classes to protest the war in Iraq, saying the university should reprimand her and refund tuition for the missed periods.


Here at Amherst College, many students were vocally annoyed this semester when 40 professors paraded into the dining hall with antiwar signs. One student confronted a protesting professor and shoved him.

Some students here accuse professors of behaving inappropriately, of not knowing their place.

"It seems the professors are more vehement than the students," Jack Morgan, a sophomore, said. "There comes a point when you wonder are you fostering a discussion or are you promoting an opinion you want students to embrace or even parrot?"

Across the country, the war is disclosing role reversals, between professors shaped by Vietnam protests and a more conservative student body traumatized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Prowar groups have sprung up at Brandeis and Yale and on other campuses. One group at Columbia, where last week an antiwar professor rhetorically called for "a million Mogadishus," is campaigning for the return of R.O.T.C. to Morningside Heights.

Even in antiwar bastions like Cambridge, Berkeley and Madison, the protests have been more town than gown. At Berkeley, where Vietnam protesters shouted, "Shut it down!" under clouds of tear gas, Sproul Plaza these days features mostly solo operators who hand out black armbands. The shutdown was in San Francisco, and the crowd was grayer.

All this dismays many professors.

"We used to like to offend people," Martha Saxton, a professor of women's studies at Amherst, said as she discussed the faculty protest with students this week. "We loved being bad, in the sense that we were making a statement. Why is there no joy now?"

There is no joy because the culture at large isn't listening. My generation is finished with this. And younger kids now aren't buying it. The punks in the streets are totally isolated. They will learn their lesson as I did. Their mentors are soon to retire, and a corner in history will turn.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Scratch "Iraq"

I've always thought "Mesopotamia" is a better name for Saddamistan than "Iraq." "Iraq," if pronounced properly, sounds like "A Rock." Iraq isn't a rock. It's a plain of sand around a fertile crescent.

Anyway, Jonah Goldberg wants to rename the place.

My dad and I have been kicking around an idea for a long time. We should rename Iraq. The country desperately needs a fresh start. And changing its name would go a long way towards that end. If you think the idea is crazy, keep in mind that a name is just a name. Our plan is to change their whole way of life: Bring democracy, the rule of law, and prosperity to these desperate people. Which is more difficult? Changing a few letters on a page or rewriting the habits of 22 million hearts?

Pops wants to rename it Babylonia. I'm sympathetic — it would certainly be great for tourism. But I think we've got better options. Something peaceful and friendly is important, for obvious reasons. Renaming it "Cobra Fang," for example, would only encourage more fear and hostility in the region. So I'm thinking about something more euphonic.

My first choice is "Shady Acres." First of all, there's no way the United States would ever invade again. You will never see a New York Times banner headline: "U.S. Forces Launch Air War on Shady Acres." Indeed, all sorts of phrases become impractical. "Martyr yourselves sons and daughters of Shady Acres. Never let it be said that Shady Acreans fear death!" And so on.

But this may elicit a backlash from the Iraqis. After all, it would be more than a little emasculating. Another approach would be to borrow a page from the Saudis. After all, calling their patch of sand "Saudi Arabia" was merely an attempt by the House of Saud to lay claim to the whole place. Like Phil's Carwash, the "Saudi" gave it a personal touch. So we could call it Bush's Iraq, or even Blairabia. But again, the arrogant conqueror vibe is pretty strong here too.

Or we could borrow from Prince and just give the place an incomprehensible symbol as a name. Which, of course, would result in the press using phrases like "the nation formerly known as Iraq" — which would get clunky very quickly.

What name does Jonah settle on? Click the link to find out.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Darkness in Europe

In the year 2000 Austria voted the woefully misnamed Freedom Party, led by Hitler nostalgist Joerg Haider, into power. The European Union slapped Austria with diplomatic and political sanctions. American conservatives howled about Political Correctness.

It wasn't Political Correctness. It was a rare instance of EU resolve against extremism.

Iraq's Baath Party is the Arab echo of Nazism. So it isn't surprising that a yuppie fascist like Haider is chumming it up with Saddam.

Here is what the Anti-Defamation League has to say about the two of them.

In Baghdad, Haider met with Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz. Iraq's state-run news agency, INA, reported that Saddam Hussein wanted to "develop relations" between the Freedom Party and Iraq's Baath Party. In a joint appearance, Saddam Hussein delivered an attack on the U.S. that asked America to think about why the September 11 terrorist attacks had occurred in the U.S. and not Europe. Haider, in turn, expressed the "best wishes of the Austrian people and the Freedom Party as well as their solidarity with the people of Iraq and their wise leadership." According to Iraqi newspapers, Aziz and Haider called on European countries to oppose "international plots" led by the United States and "the Zionists" against Iraq.

Haider still gets starry-eyed over the Baathists. He's at it again right now.

Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider, a vocal backer of Iraq against the United States, offered asylum in his Alpine province to Iraq's foreign minister in an interview published on Thursday.

Haider, a long-time friend of Foreign Minister Naji Sabri and a harsh critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East, was asked if Sabri could count on refuge in Carinthia, where Haider is governor, if the Iraqi leadership is forced to flee.

"There is always room in my home for a friend," Haider told the Austrian magazine News. The two have been friends since Sabri was ambassador in Vienna in the 1990s.

Haider last month praised Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as an Arab visionary. He was forced to quit national politics last year amid uproar after he met Saddam in Baghdad and expressed support for the Iraqi leader.

Haider accused the United States of going to war for Iraq's oil. "I personally would be delighted if the Iraqis succeed in defending themselves from this aggression," Haider told News.

The Europeans were right when they smacked down this creep. It was the last principled stand they took.

Those who find themselves in agreement with Haider's views on Iraq should consider who else he admires.

Not Getting America

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said this today.

The Americans made a triple mistake: first of all a moral mistake, and I think we have to say this: there was an alternative to war. We could have disarmed Iraq differently.

Could we have liberated it differently?

I didn't think so.

Flowers Not Bullets

Villagers greet their liberators with flowers. Sorry if it upsets the peaceniks, but this really is happening. (Thanks to Andrew Apostolou for sending me the link.)

Young men and children waved at militiamen and American soldiers who were building up new positions to defend the recently taken ground.

A special forces captain from Washington, D.C., likened the warmth of the welcome to the Allied liberation of Paris during World War II.

"Children were handing out flowers to the peshmerga and to our soldiers," he said without giving his name.

The doom and gloom crowd must feel awfully gloomy right now. So far, they are wrong about everything. Just like last time.

Photo Roundup

European Nationalism

Will anti-Americanism come to define Europe? Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata thinks it might.

One of the basic problems that the European Project has had in recent decades has been to create a sense of European nationality, to replace all the existing national feelings of "old" Europe. How do you do this? Well, the usual method is to pick a fight with a nice big enemy, who then obliges with insults against the nation you are trying to put together, with the result that people who might join this new nation, but might not, depending, feel insulted by the big bad outsider, and throw their lot in with the new nation. Oh yes, and it's best to pick a time when they are preoccupied with their own situation, rather than with yours.

For an exposition of how this kind of thing is arranged, see Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, where separatist Moon colonists contrive a war of words (and by the end a great deal more than words of course) between the Moonies and the Earthies. This has the effect of uniting the Moonies behind the revolutionary separatists.

I don't know much about the history of the American Revolution, but I'm guessing that this kind of trick was also pulled in America, to unite the colonists there, and to persuade them to stop thinking of themselves merely as the citizens of their separate little sovereign states, but rather as Americans.

There's a lot more. Read it all.

Smashing Dissent

The radical left thinks the US is a fascist police state. This kind of crap doesn't help.

An Oregon anti-terrorism bill would jail street-blocking protesters for at least 25 years in a thinly veiled effort to discourage anti-war demonstrations, critics say.

The bill has met strong opposition but lawmakers still expect a debate on the definition of terrorism and the value of free speech before a vote by the state senate judiciary committee (news - web sites), whose Chairman, Republican Senator John Minnis, wrote the proposed legislation.

Dubbed Senate Bill 742, it identifies a terrorist as a person who "plans or participates in an act that is intended, by at least one of its participants, to disrupt" business, transportation, schools, government, or free assembly.

The bill's few public supporters say police need stronger laws to break up protests that have created havoc in cities like Portland, where thousands of people have marched and demonstrated against war in Iraq since last fall.

"We need some additional tools to control protests that shut down the city," said Lars Larson, a conservative radio talk show host who has aggressively stumped for the bill.

There is no way this bill will pass, or even come close. But I'd like to say thanks so much to the right-wing whack jobs in my home state who make John Ashcroft look like Nancy Pelosi.

Saddam Unplugged

Christopher Hitchens is brilliant again.

A popular movement of Iraqi rebels sends the forces of Saddam Hussein scuttling into retreat. It then cleans up a nest of bubonic rats, with open links to Osama bin Laden.

From the sky, precision-guided weapons assist the local insurgents with pinpoint strikes, while on the ground 1,000 elite coalition troops provide some muscle and back-up.

Chemical-biological kits are discovered in the abandoned camp of the foe. Soon, oilfields will be secured and much-needed medical and nutritional aid will start to kick in. Civilian casualties are virtually nil, while serious harm is inflicted on the functionaries of a tyrannical fascist party.

Of course, that's only in the north of Iraq. And the Kurdish forces are fighting to keep and extend what they already have. And there are no sandstorms. Nor is there enough confusion to create "friendly fire" disasters. Still, this part of the conflict is being fought under conditions that are otherwise disadvantageous.

There is no friendly or neutral country to serve as a rearguard, as there is in the case of Jordan and Kuwait, because the fools who run today's Turkey couldn't even be bribed to act in their own self-interest.

I hope I can pause to point out that the Kurds are as Muslim as any other participant in this struggle. Their leaders, however, announce that they fight for freedom and not for religion.

The Ba'ath Party announces that it favours holy war and the tactic of suicide-murder. It says it has been readying this response for some time.

But you can still meet people who say that there is no "proven" connection between Baghdad and the nexus of international terrorism. You can still meet people, too, who don't think that Iraq has any genocidal weapons. The discovery on the northern front of clear preparations for chemical and bacteriological warfare will not, I suppose, make any dent in this self-deception.


But all of this - all of it - argues for more intervention and more steadfastness and not less. In every detail of this campaign, Saddam's regime has shown that everything we even suspected about it was true.

And it's not even over. Just wait until the shooting stops and Saddam's Shop of Horrors gets a live tour by David Bloom and Bob Arnot. The world ain't seen nothing yet.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

Clueless Kofi

Kofi Annan is a grown man with a child's view of the world.

KUWAIT (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Thursday that that he saw no chance of an immediate cease-fire in the U.S.-led war in Iraq and warned all sides that they would end up as losers.
"If you are asking me whether I see any immediate possibility of a cease-fire, I do not see that," he told the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television in an interview.

"I wish we could say that there is such a possibility for an immediate halt and that a call by the Security Council could lead to that, but I don't see the matter that way," Annan said.

"I have always said that war is a human catastrophe and everyone will emerge a loser."

I dare him to go to the happily liberated quarter of Basra and say that in public.

Into the Frying Pan

Terrorists dreaming of "martyrdom" pour into Iraq on busses from the West Bank, Jordan, and Syria.

We are here to help.

We can't get them in Damascus. We can't root them out of Beirut. We can't even find them in Ramallah. But if they want to impale themselves in the wide open desert, that's their call.

There are only so many roads from the West that go into Baghdad. We control them all. The wannabe martyrs will have to go through us. We can easily shoot 'em or ship 'em to Gitmo.

The doom-mongers say we're creating more terrorists. Actually, we're flushing them out. Heh.

The Houses of Bush and Sa'ud

Steven Schwartz, author of The Two Faces of Islam, is inteviewed in The Atlantic Monthly.

Bush of course has said that he's hopeful that if we depose Saddam Hussein this could start a flowering of democracy in the Muslim world. So it seems like we'd be in a pretty awkward position if democratic movements started springing up in Saudi Arabia and we didn't support them.

You betcha. It would be horrible. I come from the radical left, and in many respects, I haven't changed. One way I haven't changed is that I hate dictatorships, and I hate the fact that the United States has this reputation for sticking by corrupt dictators. I give a lot of speeches to Muslim audiences—I spent the last two days with Shias from Iraq. I stand up and I say to them: "We are turning a page." The comparison I make is with slavery. America tolerated slavery for about seventy years after the foundation of the Republic, but America finally sacrificed a lot of blood to get rid of slavery.

My great friend Octavio Paz, the Mexican writer and Nobel-prize winner, said that the greatness of the United States is that it corrects its errors. We're no longer going to support these corrupt dictators. We're no longer going to go into the Muslim world with this patronizing attitude of let the Arabs be corrupt if they want. We are going to help the Arab and Muslim nations find their way to democracy, prosperity, and stability on their own terms—as we did in South Korea. South Korea is not a completely Americanized culture. It's still a traditional culture in many respects. It is democratic, pluralistic, stable, and prosperous.

If I'm proven wrong and in the end we do stick by the reactionary wing of the Saudi regime, then I guess I'll have to admit that I was wrong in trusting our leaders, and I'll have to go back to the left. That's okay. In some ways, that might be fun. However, let me say this: I truly and with absolute sincerity believe that Dr. Wolfowitz is on the same page with me on this. Very few people realize that the defining moment in his life was when he convinced President Reagan not to support the continuation of Marcos in power. He is a supporter of world-wide democracy. He is a sincere man. I believe that the Administration is going to do the right thing here.

Last night I said to an Iraqi Shia imam, a very beautiful man of god, a very sincere, very sweet man, "President Reagan said, 'Let Poland be Poland.' I want President Bush to stand up and say, 'Let Islam be Islam.' Liberate Islam from the grip of the corrupt rulers, from the tyrants, and the terrorists, and Islam will correct itself."

I am reading Schwartz's book now, and so far it is excellent. Here he is again talking about who might like his book.

The response to my book has been very positive from the three groups of people I most want it to reach. Now, one of the paradoxes is that I always wanted to reach Muslims with this book. When I first told my editor that, he scoffed and said, "Well, they're not going to read it." But as matter of fact, a lot of Muslims are reading my book. I wanted to reach thoughtful people, people who were looking for factual presentation and who were looking for a way out of prejudice, and I think I'm reaching people like that. And I wanted to reach people who wanted the low-down on the Saudis. And I'm reaching them. Now, there must be people who buy my book because they think it's anti-Islamic, because when I look at Amazon, very often I find that people who have bought my book have also bought anti-Islamic books. But anybody who reads my book expecting dirt about the Islamic faith will be sorely disappointed.

So if you're an open-minded Muslim, if you want to understand both faces of Islam (tolerant and fascist), or if you want the low-down on the Saudis, read it. You'll like it.

Another Warm Welcome

American forces are cheered in the streets of Najaf.

The Iraqis wanted "to see what the soldiers were trying to do," Danilenko said. "Most were polite, saying hello or yelling, 'Good, good' or 'Saddam bad. Saddam bad.' "

A crowd of Iraqis surrounded the troops when the convoy stalled.

The gathering swelled to about 100 civilians, many jumping up and down and cheering in a scene of friendly chaos, Danilenko said.

"The Iraqis seemed genuinely to be making contact," he said. "But in a very in-your-face way. It kind of spooked these guys who aren't used to this. The [Iraqis] weren't threatening. They were observing. But it was pretty unnerving, especially to the regular Army guys."

At one point, some civilians sounded upset about bombing heard in the distance. Special Operations soldiers tried to get the bombing to stop, Danilenko said.

After an hour, the troops began heading back to the coalition camp. On the return march, the Iraqis appeared to relax somewhat, Danilenko said.

"I guess the locals saw the Americans were not out to make trouble," he said.

The Iraqis started chanting back the slogans and messages broadcast through the psychological operations Humvee, Danilenko said.

"From then on, guys on street corners would cheer and yell out their support," he said. "From then on, the crowd became very friendly, open."

So far, both British and American troops have been warmly welcomed everywhere in Iraq that is not controlled by the Ba'ath Party. The only possible exceptions in the future may be Tikrit and sections of Baghdad. And maybe not even there.

Some people are complaining that we are not being greeted as liberators. Hello. Please pay attention. Thanks.

Photo Roundup

Outskirts of Baghdad

The US destroys two Republican Guard divisions.

U.S. forces advanced to within 19 miles of Baghdad Wednesday, wiping out one Republican Guard division and nearly destroying another as they geared up for an all-out assault on the Iraqi capital.

Senior Defense officials told Fox News that the Baghdad division of Saddam Hussein's vaunted Republican Guard had been wiped out, and the Medina Division was "almost completely destroyed as well."

Remind me why this war is supposed to be going badly. Because I don't get it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Fisking Saddam Hussein

Saddam rose briefly from the dead to deliver this speech on Saddam TV on Tuesday. It was read by a goon named Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf.

In the name of God the most compassionate.

Let's hear it...

They shall be vanquished and flee. God hath spoken.


God is great. God is great. God is great. There is no God but God.


Oh great mujahid people,

Mmm hmm.

Oh sons of our glorious nation,


Oh men, bearers of arms and the honor of resistance. God's peace be upon you as you confront the invaders, the enemies of God and humanity, the transient blasphemers with chests brimming with faith and the love of God.

If you say so.

Yes, these are the days of unparalleled honor for 700 years. God has granted us with this great opportunity and affliction that God wants to test our faith and our allegiance, which we testified to before the Almighty, so that God shall give us this opportunity to turn the words into deeds to bestow upon us his mercy and raise the influence of his banner through us as it flutters on the mast of Allahu Akbar.


Yes, oh brothers, for centuries and centuries there has been no unanimity among the religious scholars of the nation, despite differences in their diligence, factions and sects as there is today that the aggression, which the aggressors are carrying out against the stronghold of faith is an aggression on the religion, the wealth, the honor and the soul and an aggression on the land of Islam.


Therefore, jihad is a duty in confronting them. He who dies in this quest God bestows on him light in eternal paradise and in his blessing. Seize the opportunity, my brothers, it carries one of the two virtues for the sake of God and the great principles.

It is? They do? It does?

God has granted victory of those who invoked his faith, promise and covenant against the enemies and the aggressors fled before the right, cursed along with their devils while the faces of the mujahedeen illuminated with faith and honor of the moment.

I think not.

Seize the opportunity, the pride of Iraq and the nation. It is the opportunity to become eternal and a long life for the living and glory unparalleled.


Strike at them, fight them. They are aggressors, evil, accursed by God, the exalted. You shall be victorious and they shall be vanquished.

We'll see about that.

Fight them just the way your brothers and sons fought them in the vast Umm Qasr and Basra, the warm Ninawa, Nasiriyah and Shatra, on the outskirts of Hay and Anbar.

Umm Qasr is vast?

Fight them everywhere the way you are fighting them today and don't give them a chance to catch their breath until they declare it and withdraw from the lands of the Muslims, defeated and cursed in this life and the after life.

Come on.

Long live our glorious nation. Long live free and proud Palestine, from the river to the sea. Long Live Iraq. Long live Iraq. On to jihad and long live the mujahids of our nation. God is great and the criminals shall be defeated.

Whatever, dude.

The Street

We're all worried about Middle East public opinion. Will a war in Iraq make us popular? Or will it breed new resentment and terrorism? Perhaps it will do both. Whatever you expect, be sure to keep something in mind. The opinion of the "street" is no monolith.

For starters, not all Middle Easterners are Arabs. There are also Persians (in Iran), Kurds (in many countries), Jews (in Israel), and diverse groups of Arabs (both Christian and Muslim) in different countries.

Iran's theocratic rulers are torn both ways. Saddam is their enemy, but they don't want Americans on their border. The Persian Street is excited. They do want more American strength in the region, and they hope it will help them eject the mullahs from power.

The Kurdish Street is solidly on our side. Someone is finally helping them out. After the Israelis, they are our staunchest allies in the region right now. The US and the Peshmerga are working together against the Ansar al Islam, as well as against Saddam Hussein.

The Arab Street in Kuwait is relieved that their worst nightmare will be gone. Pro-American sentiment there is higher than in parts of Europe.

The Iraqi Street is also on our side where the Ba'ath Party is beaten or absent. There is nowhere in Iraq where we are not welcome unless Saddam's goons are still in control.

Much of the Arab world is enraged, but this has been somewhat exagerrated. Cairo is an enourmous metropolis the size of New York, but protests there are the size of those in Cleveland. Most of the Arab Street is staying home.

A lot of Arabs are strongly against us, but they don't know what's really going on. Their media distort the truth beyond recognition. Some of the truth will come out later, and some of it won't.

There will be Arab opposition to even a democratic Iraq in the future. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are full of fascist bin Laden sympathizers. But there are also many liberals and democrats and reformers. They will be thrilled to see a successful democratic Iraq. They are weak and demoralized now, but they won't be if there is a good example in the region. Even Al Qaeda's Islamofascists won't wish Saddam were in power after he's gone.

Arab opinion will change and diversify more and more over time. War-time views are always emotional and ephemeral. Some are on our side now, others will be convinced later. Some may never be convinced, including majorities in some of the Middle East countries.

The upshot is this: Right now the war's popularity is at its low point. Millions of Arabs who are against us today will change their minds in the future. If the transformation of Iraq is successful, no one who supports the war now will change their mind later. All the change is going to be in our favor. The only question is how much we'll get, and when we will get it.

Cartoon Blogging

Photo Roundup

Basra Versus Tikrit

Forget all the blather on TV about Iraqi nationalism being the cause of "fierce resistance." Listen to Iraqis explain themselves.

OUTSKIRTS OF BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - Iraqi citizens fleeing the besieged city of Basra said on Tuesday they faced terrifying pressure from President Saddam Hussein loyalists to join the fight against U.S. and British troops.

Hardcore supporters of the Iraqi president's Baath party are also telling people they will suffer fierce reprisals if they rise up against the Baghdad leadership, residents said.

"The party says fight, fight, fight or face the consequences once they all return after the war. It blares out on loudspeakers around Basra. They are trying to scare the whole city," said one Iraqi man, who declined to be named.

"It is not food we are worried about. It is the terror in Basra, state terror."

I expect the only place this won't be happening is in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown and power base. Tikrit will not be liberated. It will be conquered.

Ground Forces in Baghdad?

CNN says we're in Baghdad all of a sudden. Jeez, I thought the war was supposed to be going badly for us.

(CNN) - United States ground forces have engaged in combat with Saddam Hussein's "most prized forces" in southern Baghdad, a U.S. Marine official said late Monday.

"In our own terms and in our own time, we'll continue the attack to defeat those fielded forces," said Col. Tom Bright, Marine Corps chief at the U.S. Central Command's joint operations center in Qatar, in an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live."

"Now, the fight's on to reduce those prize forces that he has," Bright said. Previously, Baghdad has been attacked only by coalition aircraft.

So much for "restarting the war."

UPDATE 9:50 a.m - CNN has changed the text of this article. What I excerpted has been taken down. I have no idea why.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Basra Loves England

Good news from Operation James (Bond) in southern Basra, Iraq.

Triumphant Royal Marine commandos yesterday mopped up the final traces of resistance in the south of Basra after the success of the first urban infantry assault of the war by British troops.

Under cover from smoke shells fired by British gunners, troops from Delta Company of 40 Commando renewed the assault at first light, attacking two enemy positions, known by military planners using the operation's James Bond theme as Pussy and Galore.

Attempts by Iraqi troops to flee from the British advance over the Shatt Al-Arab waterway were confounded when two boats crammed with soldiers were attacked by mortars and helicopter-borne missiles.

By midday some sort of normality had returned to the riverside suburb of Abu Al Khasib and Royal Marine foot patrols were already deployed Northern Ireland-style, looking for Saddam loyalists.

They received a warm welcome from the members of the 30,000-strong population, with children and adults giving the thumbs-up, smiling and shouting "Mister, mister, England good".

One surprised Royal Marine said: "We were meant to be giving them food but they keep coming up to us and giving us stuff."

Those Iraqis in from Syria to defend Saddam Hussein have a rude reality check awaiting them.

Why School Choice is a Bad Idea

Here is one more reason to support secular education, and oppose public financing of parochial school "choice." (Via The Corner.)

Textbooks widely used in New York's Islamic schools contain passages that are blatantly anti-Semitic, condemning Jews as a people, repeating old canards about the Jews wanting to kill Christ and faking their Holy Scriptures to mock God.

The Islamic texts teach that "the Jews" killed their own prophets and betrayed the Prophet Muhammed through their inherent deceitfulness.

The books, obtained during a three-month Daily News investigation that included visits to private Muslim schools, are rife with inaccuracies, sweeping condemnations of Jews and Christians, and triumphalist declarations of Islam's supremacy. In Long Island City, Queens, for example, fifth- and sixth-graders at the Ideal Islamic School on 12th St. learn that Allah has revealed that "the Jews killed their own prophets and disobeyed Allah."

I'll be damned if I let my tax dollars go to anyone who indoctrinates children with religious propaganda.

I have tremendous respect for Catholic schools, and if I had children I would send them to one, despite the fact that I'm not Catholic or even Christian. But that's because Catholic schools are excellent, and they don't fill the kiddies' heads with garbage. (And in biology class they actually teach biology.) The problem with public financing for religious schools is that the distinction I am making here is not made by the government, and my tax dollars will fund a whole range of horrors, this being only the latest example.

The same goes for George Bush's "faith based" initiative. "God Hates Fags" is "faith based," "Liberalism is Evil" is "faith based," September 11 was "faith based," and I won't ever forget that.

This is What Defeat Looks Like

If you think the war is going badly for us, take a look at this.

KALAK, Iraq (AP) - The soldier covered his face and wept.

It was a deep, sudden sobbing he couldn't control. His shoulders heaved. Tears wet the frayed cuffs of his green Iraqi army sweater.

He cried because he was alive. He cried because his family may think he's dead. He cried for his country. He cried because -- for him -- the war was over.

"I'm so sorry. Excuse me. I just can't stop," wept the soldier who fled Saddam Hussein's army and was taken Monday into the hands of U.S.-allied Iraqi Kurdish fighters. "Could this terrible time be over soon? Please, tell me."

The soldier -- part of a front-line unit -- was among at least 18 Iraqi deserters who staggered into the Kurdish town of Kalak as U.S. warplanes stepped up airstrikes on Iraqi positions near the Kurds' autonomous region. He agreed to share his story, but with conditions: no details about him or his military service could be revealed. Call him Ali.

He feared Saddam loyalists could retaliate against his family. They may have already, he said.

"The army knows I ran away. They could come and take revenge," he said in the central police barracks in Kalak, about 20 miles northwest of the Kurdish administrative center Irbil. "My only hope is that I'm not alone. There are so many deserters and those who want to run. They cannot attack all these families with a war going on."

War for this foot soldier was one of desperation. "We only prayed we'd stay alive long enough to get a chance to escape," Ali said through an interpreter.

His unit -- about 30 men -- slept in muddy burrows on a hillside, he said. Breakfast was tea and crusty bread. At midday: rice and a single cucumber to share between two soldiers. There was no dinner.

His commanders described the war as an American grab for Iraqi oil. He couldn't contradict them -- there were no radios or chances to call home. Occasionally they would receive copies of the Iraqi military newspaper. One issue featured a poem with the lines: "The enemy will tire, and Saddam will remain."

"We knew nothing. We were told only that America was trying to take over Iraq," Ali said. "But we are not so stupid. We know how Saddam rules the country. We know in our hearts we'd be better off without him."

Ali was drafted just after the 1991 Gulf War. He remained in the military because his family depended on the small military pay. Anyway, there were few choices for ex-soldiers whose formal education ended in the fourth grade. There were no jobs at home. Ali claimed he would never seek the favors of Saddam's ruling Baath party.

"I don't see Saddam as a hero anymore," Ali said.

U.S. bombs killed at least five members of his unit. About the same number were wounded, he said. "There is no medical help," he added. "They are left to die."

"The spirit of the soldiers is very low," he said. "We were not really mad at the Americans. We just want to save our lives."

He and four other soldiers decided to run. But they had to pick their moment. Their unit and most others include Baathist agents given orders to execute any deserters, he said.

"But we decided it was either die from an American bomb or be killed by our own people," he said. "It was better to run and take our chances."

Anyone who thinks the Iraqi army is putting up a good fight is simply unhinged.

It's depressing as hell that we have to shoot at people like this. Please let it end soon.

Saddam's Fate?

Is Saddam Hussein dead or alive? Who knows? Lots of speculation going around. But Jason Holliston links to a source that claims Saddam Hussein's death as a fact.

The source is laughably dubious, but it's still fun to read. And it's the first time I've seen anyone claim we actually got him.

Photo Roundup

What the Left Must Stand For

Johann Hari is my kind of leftist.

Once Iraqis are certain the Americans will not back off and leave them to the mercy of Saddam, they will explain why they wanted this war. This is not idle speculation: it is already happening. In Safwan this weekend, Iraqis called out to US and British troops: "You're late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious." Another person said: "I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand." One woman stated: "For a long time we've been saying: 'Let them come.' Last night we were afraid, but we said: 'Never mind, as long as they get rid of him, as long as they overthrow him, no problem.' " This was reported in one of the most anti-war newspapers in Britain.

Confronted with the evidence of Iraqis' feelings, many of the anti-war critics will, I fear, change the subject. They will say that, whatever the Iraqi people desired, the damage to international law was too great. In offering this argument, they fail to acknowledge a key flaw with international law as it now stands. The foundations for the present system were built in 1945, when the greatest threat to human life and dignity was war between nations. Its structures are designed solely to prevent conflict between states and to secure peace in the international arena – and in this respect, they have been phenomenally successful.

What international law cannot do, however, is secure peace within nations. The governments of, say, Burma, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe may be judged "peaceful"under international law, while they are butchering and terrorising their populations. There is no peace for people living under tyranny. International law must be changed to allow democracies to act where there are reasonable grounds (as in Iraq) for believing that the people of a country wish it, and where the regime is systematically breaching human rights on a massive scale.

Some people, such as the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman Shirley Williams, have voiced the perfectly understandable fear that the alternative to international law is "the law of the jungle". Yet people living under a tyranny like Saddam's live under exactly that chaotic "law" – and international law forbids others to act to end it. To focus solely on the international order at the expense of the level at which people actually live – the national – is to write off the most desperate and needy people alive.

It might seem perverse to seek to spread peace at the barrel of a gun; but the peace we enjoy here in Europe exists only because we (along with the Americans) acted with weaponry to banish tyrants.

If Western leftists want to be decent and relevent, this will become the new center of gravity. Otherwise they will be indecent and irrelevent.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Friendship in the Desert

Reports like this one from the New York Times make me feel much better about what is going on now.

DIWANIYA, Iraq, March 30 - The first Iraqis walked in off the plains at sunrise, a group of nomads with their camels in tow. Then came a young farmer, bearing a white flag.

"I have come to get water," said the man, Khalid Juwad, staring into the rifles of several young marines. "I am willing to cooperate."

And so the Americans lowered their guns, and Mr. Juwad walked across the front lines, becoming one of the first Iraqis to meet American soldiers here in something other than combat.

With so much of the American effort spent racing across empty deserts, the war has so far only rarely brought American soldiers and Iraqi civilians together peacefully.

Today, that began to change, when Mr. Juwad and more than a dozen other Iraqis, cut off from their homes by several days of fighting, came out of their hiding places in the plains east of here. Thirsty and bedraggled, they said they had decided to test the American assurance that their invasion is a benevolent one.

Mr. Juwad had a very specific request. He wanted to turn on his irrigation pump, which was behind the American lines, to water his barley fields.

"Sure, I think we can turn your pump on," said Maj. Mark Stainbrook, a United States marine.

After so many days of fighting, the scene that played out here seemed, just possibly, to offer the promise of better things to come.

With Iraqi fighters increasingly employing guerrilla tactics, American soldiers face a growing burden of separating the Iraqi civilians they want to help from the Iraqi fighters they want to defeat.

The encounter today between the marines and the Iraqi farmers seemed to suggest that such a distinction, though fraught with difficulty, might might be successfully made.

Mr. Juwad and his family live in Hamza, a village on the other side of Highway 1, the road that bisects the area here on its way to Baghdad. On the same highway rest several thousand American soldiers, who have stopped here after driving 200 miles from Kuwait.

As Mr. Juwad waited for the soldiers to gather the tools needed to jump-start his pump, he expounded on his place in the Iraqi nation. As a follower of the Shia branch of Islam, Mr. Juwad said, he knew firsthand the evils of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim. He began a chorus of denunciations.

"Saddam has given us nothing, only suffering," said Mr. Juwad, with his cousin, Raad, nodding in assent. Mr. Juwad said he had four uncles who were in Mr. Hussein's jails, and he said he had deserted from the Iraqi Army three times in recent years.

"If the Americans want to get rid of Saddam, that's O.K. with me," he said. "The only thing that would bother me is if they don't finish the job. Then Saddam will come back, like he did in 1991."

Mr. Juwad, a 22-year-old father of one, thinks his views are shared by the majority of Iraqis living nearby, including the people in this nearest city. The resistance against the American forces here, he said, came from militias created in the days before the American invasion.

Mr. Juwad said the militia leaders had come from Baghdad and dragooned as many as 3,000 local people into military service. His account could not be independently confirmed.

Mr. Juwad's opinions appeared to be shared by the other Iraqis who live and work in the fields near Highway 1. A pair of Western reporters who walked two miles from the American base found themselves greeted warmly and invited into the homes of Iraqis they had passed along the way.

"The Arab people treat their guests well," said Abu Hamid, a farmer who invited a reporter and a photographer into his tent. "Americans are more than guests."

Since the end of the Cold War, every significant military intervention by the United States has been on behalf of Muslims. Sometimes against their Muslim oppressors, other times against Christians. Americans liberated Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.

In each of these places, pro-Americanism is higher than it is in Western Europe. When Arabs and other Muslims come into actual contact with Americans, we seem to get along just fine.

I joke to myself that we should just invade the whole Middle East. I'm kidding, of course. But the joke is I'm only half kidding.

A Whisper of Truth in Arabia

Listen to Al Jazeera long enough and you'll think the US is the Fourth Reich and is losing the war to Saddam. Read the Arab News, from Saudi Arabia of all places, and you'll get a better picture on occasion.

The Big Lies in the Arab world are beginning to crack, if slightly. (Via The Corner.)

The people I spoke with at Umm Qasr said they were happy about the removal of Saddam, as he had held them in terror for years. They took me to see the local Baath Party headquarters. They told me that many bad things happened there and that most of those picked up in the middle of the night and taken to that building were never seen again.

I entered the building and walked around. I couldn’t help noticing the excitement in the people’s voices as they pointed out the bullet holes and the charred remains of where the building burned.

That was when I first got the sense that these people were really eager to see Saddam and Baath gone.

I asked several what they thought of the US/UK plan to remove Saddam. They told me: “Now that they have started to remove him, they cannot stop. If they do, then we are all as good as dead. He still has informants in Umm Qasr and he knows who is against him and who isn’t.”

When asked about what they think of this war, most Iraqis said that they were against the loss of innocent life and the destruction of their cities, but they seemed adamant about the removal of Saddam.

During Israel's Six Day War in 1967, Arab media told viewers and listeners that Egypt was in the process of conquering Israel. In the real world the Egyptian Air Force was destoyed on the runways in a single morning, and the country was suffering one of the greatest military defeats in all of history. When the public learned the truth, Arab media were dismissed as propaganda for decades.

If the Arab media doesn't wise up fast and follow the lead of the occasional Arab News article, the same very well may happen again.

Weekend Photo Roundup

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten