Michael J. Totten

Friday, April 18, 2003

First Anniversary

Shelly and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary this weekend, which is also the third anniversary from the day we met.

We booked a one-bedroom place on the Oregon coast where we plan to stay indefinitely or until Monday, whichever comes first.

Have a great weekend. I’m sure we will.

Coast photo by Brian Miles.
Photo of Shelly by Michael J. Totten

An Inglorious Page

France blew it. Big time. Some French writers know it, too. Here's an excerpt from a piece called The Mistake by Pascal Bruckner, André Glucksmann and Romain Goupil. (Scroll down.) (Via Wog Blog.)

In the future, we will talk about the hysteria, the collective intoxication that shook France for months on end, the anguish of the Apocalypse that seized our better halves, the almost Soviet ambiance that welded together 90% of the population in a triumph of monolithic thought, allergic to the slightest dissent. In the future, we will have to study the media’s partisan coverage of the war—with few exceptions, this coverage was more activist than objective, minimizing the horrors of the Baathist tyranny in order to better reproach the Anglo-American expedition, guilty of all crimes, all problems, all misfortunes in the region.

For weeks, Television Baghdad invaded our brains and our television screens to the point where the very few Iraqi dissident guests had to apologize for existing…to the point where a French singer, in an act of remarkable obscenity, left the stage of a variety show on France 3 upon the arrival of Saad Salam, a film-maker and Iraqi opponent. We will have to explain why the Kurdish minority was, during this period, forbidden from protesting when Saddam’s hatchet men paraded on our boulevards, brandishing Saddam’s portraits, screaming slogans to his glory, going so far as to lynch the poet-in-exile, Salah Al-Hamdani. We will have to analyze the alarming proportion of French (33%) who, not wanting a coalition victory, pronounced themselves, de facto, in favor of Hussein’s victory.

Let’s face it: Anti-Americanism is not an accident that happened over-night or a simple reticence in response to the Bush Administration. Anti-Americanism is a political creed that unites one person to another, in spite of their differences—the Front national and the Greens, socialists and conservatives, communists and separatists…On the left as well as on the right, it is rare to find someone who did not give in to this “nationalism of imbeciles” which is unfailingly symptomatic of resentment and decline.


The second Gulf War has been a wonderfully revealing incident. An outbreak of anti-Semitism and ethnic hatred, an economic and social crisis, the desecration of a British military cemetery, the beating up of Jews and Iraqi opposition during the great “peace” marches, an alliance…with the unsavory Vladimir Putin, butcher of Chechnyans, the reception of the African despot Robert Mugabe in Paris, public insults directed to Eastern European countries who committed the sin of not slavishly obeying us—our great nation is not in the process of writing its most glorious page in the Book of History.

Indeed, not. Thanks for noticing.

You may also notice that after Liberation Day it is France that is backtracking and apologizing. It is France that must do damage control. France that must repent. France that has to do what it can to save its honor.

We Americans do not have to do this. History has already delivered its judgement.

Blix Needs a Paycheck

What do you do with a guy like this? Give him a pension? Find him some make-work?

UNITED NATIONS - U.N. arms inspectors are ready to get back into Iraq to finish the job of looking for any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons but don't want to work under a new U.S.-led disarmament effort.

"We're not dogs on a leash," said chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who said it was key his teams remain independent.

Earth to Blix: Your mission was not to inspect anything. Your job was to show up, stand still, and wait for Saddam to hand over his weapons.

As far as I'm concerned, you are welcome to return to that task. Get thee to Baghdad and wait for your buddy to show up and start cooperating. The odds of it happening now are as good as they've ever been.

France and Russia Still At It

Not content to work overtime to keep Iraqis enslaved by Saddam, France and Russia continue to turn the screws on them.

Russia, France and other key Security Council members set the stage today for a new battle over Iraq, signaling that the United States must give the United Nations a broader role in reconstruction efforts before sanctions can be lifted.

U.N. diplomats said that differences in the council are likely to delay agreement on a resolution lifting sanctions at least until June 3, when the latest temporary U.N. mandate permitting Iraqi oil exports expires.

There is no reason to maintain sanctions against Iraq. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. France, Russia, and the "key Security Council members" will simply entrench themselves as enemies of Iraqis and further discredit the UN if they keep this up.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Liberalism and the Fall of Tyrants

New Left historian Paul Berman is a genius. He wrote a slender little masterpiece called Terror and Liberalism, which I just finished reading a few days ago. It is the best post-911 book I have read, and I have read a lot of them. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

His newest piece, The Twilight of Tyrants, cannot be properly excerpted. It is hard to choose what to display and what to leave behind. Nevertheless, here is a sample. (Via Arts and Letters Daily.)

Saddam's Ba'ath Party has always claimed to be restoring the ancient national glory of the Arab people, from the glory days of the Caliphate of the seventh century, when the Arab Empire was on the march. But the Ba'ath is not, in fact, an ancient Arab institution. The party was founded in Damascus in 1943 on the basis of doctrines from the 1920s and `30s, which were subsequently updated to include a number of doctrines from later times, as well. These ideas were pretty much Mussolini's and those of the extreme right in Europe, mixed with a few ideas from the Stalin era of Soviet communism and given a distinctly Arab varnish. The iconography of Saddam's Ba'ath looks like the iconography of modern Western totalitarianism because that is, in fact, exactly what it is.


Yugoslavia's experience of communism was the best in all of Europe-arguably the freest, most rational, most productive communism anywhere on Earth. And yet the best communism led to the worst post-communism. Poland, by way of contrast, has enjoyed over the centuries only the most fragile and fitful experiences of national independence, let alone democracy. Even so, Poland has ended up one of the more attractive Eastern European countries.

Nothing in Poland's relative success or Yugoslavia's absolute failure was preordained or unavoidable. What mattered instead was the quality of the national leaders at the moment of crisis, and the policies of the great powers. Poland managed to produce capable national leaders at the crucial moment, and the Poles received proper support from the United States, West Germany, and other countries. Yugoslavia's leaders at the time of communism's demise turned out to be the worst of the worst. The United States, Germany, and other countries made the fatal error of acquiescing to Yugoslavia's dissolution, then did nothing for several years to stop the carnage.


Iraq will have to produce its own liberal leaders from out of thin air. This might seem impossible-except that Afghanistan, in the face of similar disadvantages, did manage to find a capable, liberal leader in Hamid Karzai, an exile who successfully became the new president. At moments of revolution, impossibilities are perfectly possible.

Do read it all.

The Decline of Europe

While the immature left licks Jacques Chirac's boots, the grown-up left worries that Europe is finished.

Here is French intellectual Pascal Bruckner in Dissent magazine.

For the last half century, Europe has been haunted by the demons of repentance. Ruminating over its past crimes-slavery, imperialism, fascism, communism-it has seen its history as nothing but a long litany of murder and rapine culminating in two world wars. The typical European man or woman is a sensitive creature always prepared to feel pity for the sufferings of the world and to assume responsibility for them, always asking what the North can do for the South rather than what the South can do for itself. By the evening of September 11, a majority of our citizens, despite their obvious sympathy for the victims, were telling themselves that the Americans had it coming. Make no mistake: the same argument would have been made if the terrorists had destroyed the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame. Sensitive souls on both right and left would have urged us to flagellate ourselves: we've been attacked, so we're guilty. Our attackers are really poor people protesting against our insolent wealth and our western lifestyle. We Europeans spontaneously agree with our enemies in the way we judge ourselves, and we take shelter from the furies of the age by focusing on everyday economic and social problems.


Europe gave birth to monsters. No doubt. But by the same token, it created the ideas that enable us to analyze and to destroy those monsters. Europe has an extraordinary and paradoxical nature. Consider the history. Feudal tyranny led to democracy, oppression by the church led to freedom of conscience, rivalry among nations led to the dream of an international community, overseas conquests led to anticolonialism, and revolutionary ideologies led to antitotalitarian movements. Like a jailer who throws you into a prison cell while slipping you the key, Europe simultaneously gave the world despotism and freedom. It sent soldiers, missionaries, and merchants to subdue distant lands. But it also invented anthropology, a way of seeing ourselves as others see us and of seeing others as they truly are. It moves us away from ourselves in order to come closer to the Other. The colonial adventure perished from its own basic contradiction. Colonialism subjected some continents to the laws of another continent and at the same time fostered the idea of nationhood and the right of self-determination. When the colonized demanded freedom, they simply turned against their masters the rules those masters taught them. Ever since the conquistadors, Europe has combined the greatest progress with the greatest cruelty. Still, a civilization guilty of the worst atrocities and capable of the most sublime achievements should not feel only remorse. The West did not invent genocide, but it invented the concept of "crimes against humanity." After 1945, Europe distanced itself from its own barbarism by giving these words a more precise definition-at the risk of turning the accusation of barbarism against itself.


Europe's true crime is not only what it did in the past, but what it fails to do today: its inaction in Yugoslavia, its scandalous delay in Rwanda, its frightening silence in the face of the massacres in Chechnya. Obsessive attention to past abominations has blinded us to the horrors of the present. Repentance is not a policy, and the continent of Europe cannot model its relationship to the past on that of Germany. Neither the status of victim nor that of executioner is hereditary. The duty to remember implies nothing about the purity or guilt of descendants.


We no longer love history; it is a minefield from which we struggled to escape after 1945 and again in 1989. But history continues to be made without us. Today, we are desperately lucid; that is, we have learned our lesson. The commitments of the past are over and done. When a crisis erupts, we do our utmost to delay. We temper our indignation with cynicism and treat the aggressor and his victim as equals, as though, in light of our own disenchantments, nothing made any difference. In every situation, we demonstrate the clairvoyance of the dupe who swears that he will not be taken in again. America mobilizes and acts. Europe snickers and stands by-a fearful colossus suffering from its great size, losing strength as it expands territory, Europe has become the Pontius Pilate of nations.

It is remarkable, for example, how we evade contemporary tensions, even on our own territory, and delegate responsibility to the Americans, only to criticize them mercilessly thereafter. Whatever it does, whether it abstains or intervenes, America is always wrong. In the Middle East and elsewhere, Europe no longer wants to get its hands dirty, only to hold them out in a passionate appeal to all men and women of goodwill. When those men and women reject our friendship, well, we leave it up to others to do what is necessary. We saw this in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and comic-opera style, when the European Union asked Washington to mediate the microscopic Spanish-Moroccan conflict over Parsley Island off the coast of Tangiers in the summer of 2002.


We must really construct better models of social justice, economic efficiency, and ethnic coexistence. We are far from doing so. We lag far behind the Americans, out of breath. We still imitate their mistakes after they have devised remedies. Some Europeans place their hope in a theory of reverse genesis. America, the offspring of the Old World that has surpassed its progenitor, would witness the birth of a new Europe that would then put the United States in its place. For now, since geopolitics is the contemporary form of fortune telling, this is nothing but wishful thinking. The bitter truth is that Europe lags behind our transatlantic cousin in almost every area. But our possibilities are enormous if we enact a genuine intellectual revolution. Europe is today's largest contemporary political and cultural laboratory; something unprecedented is happening there without its inhabitants' even being aware of it. Europe has to recover its civilizing capacities and its pride, not in blood and battle, but primarily in spiritual conquests.

Europe holds its own cards. Either it will build a counterforce endowed with credible political and military tools or it will be vassalized, willingly. In the latter case, an aging and declining Old World will reduce itself to being a luxurious vacation resort, coveted by predators, and always prepared to abdicate its freedom for a little more calm and a little more comfort.

I wish I could excerpt it all. But you can read the rest here.

Gratuitous Cruelty

We all know Iraqi sanctions failed because they punished (and weakened) civilians while Saddam lived in opulence and grandeur. Now that Saddam is gone the sanctions serve no purpose.

But France and Russia want to continue the sanctions regardless.

Jacques Chirac is the moralizing pinup boy for the American radical left It's funny when you think about it. Chirac is a corrupt right-winger who belongs in jail, and who would be in jail if it weren't for his office-holding immunity. He never met a dictator he didn't like. Now he wants to punish Iraqis just for spite.

There is nothing liberal or left about Chirac. He is well to the right of Henry Kissinger.


It's the in-thing now to gloat about Kim Jong Il, Boy Assad, and the Iranian mullahcracy hiding under their desks from the American military. I'm sure they are truly shocked and awed. But precision-guided munitions and a lighting ground strike are only one side of the equation.

The euphoria of liberated Iraqis surely made an impression. The toppling of Saddam's icons was a crack in their mirror.

Kim Jong Il fashions himself a Dear Leader, worshipped like God by his supplicants. When he dreams at night, millions of Korean feet smash his face.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Where is Salam Pax?

Steven Den Beste is the most recent writer to wonder about the identity of Salam Pax, the supposed blogger from Baghdad. Is Salam really in Baghdad? Or was it an elaborate hoax from abroad?

The shattered remnants of the Ba'ath Party won't try to trace him now. So I can tell you what I know about him without putting him in danger.

I linked to his page just before the war started. When he checked his Web stats, he saw the url for my page in his Referral chart, and he clicked it.

In my own Site Meter I saw that he did this. So I drilled down into the data and retrieved his IP Address and his Time Zone.

IP Address: Not gonna tell ya.
Time Zone: Baghdad.

Since Salam's Web stats are public, anyone could have accessed his data and found my page in his referral logs. But if it wasn't Salam who poked around his Web stats and clicked to my site, what are the odds that the person lives in Baghdad?

It isn't proof, but I challenge anyone to find better evidence one way or the other.

UPDATE (5:22 pm): Steven Den Beste replies: "I didn't think that the time zone was one of the things a web server could query from a browser."

I don't know where Site Meter gets the time zone information. But my Site Meter does somehow record time zones, and since my stats are public (click the icon in the right column), anyone is welcome to see which time zones my readers live in. And from the Referrals page you can drill down and see the time zone of individual visitors.

Saddam's Pals

If anyone is still unsure about Saddam Hussein's links to terrorism, Sean LaFreniere has a damning pile of evidence.

Spin Zone

Chilean General Rene Schneider was killed by CIA goons in 1970.

Mark Falcoff has an interesting way of describing it in the current issue of Commentary.

General Schneider’s murder was an accident. He pulled his pistol to defend himself from his kidnappers; they, mostly young amateurs, panicked, shot him, and fled. He died in a military hospital several days later. As it happens, the kidnappers were one of two groups the CIA was working with, although not the one selected for the kidnapping. They had gone ahead and acted on their own, as often happens in such cases.

The man deserves credit. It takes effort and discipline to write sentences like these.

Schneider was shot by thugs during a botched kidnapping and Falcoff calls it an accident? Whoops! Sorry about that. Tsk tsk. Shouldn't try to defend yourself, Mr. Schneider. Better to just go quietly.

A Liberal's Lament

Jeff Jarvis is a liberal, but he (welcome to the club) likes some of his fellow travellers less than he used to.

Liberals in general -- not all of them, of course -- still oppose this war. And I still don't understand it. Liberals are, by definition, the humanitarians among us. Liberals should care about the rights of the Iraqi people. Liberals are not the isolationists (and not always doves). Liberals should be the champions of the rights of the poor, the oppressed, the ignored. Liberals should have shouted in favor of saving Iraq's people, not its leader.

But something has happened to the left, or rather, its vocal leadership. It got hijacked by an orthodoxy of offensiveness -- that is, by political correctness, which cares more about words than actions or people, which stifles freedom of expression rather than protecting it. It got shanghaied by a not-in-my-name selfishness. It got coopted by a haughty condescension. This is not the left-liberal-Democratic movement of the masses; this is the movement of the elite; this is the PBS left. This is not the movement of action but of inaction. This became the movement of no-no-ishness, wagging fingers and tsking tsks at the other side; it became about being against something rather than being for something. I don't know how this happened but I lament that it did.


I want to take the left back for liberals.

As the man says, go read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Photo Roundup

Meat is War

In the mood for some tone-deafness? PETA is always there when you need some.

A vegetarian activist group says the Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera is willing to run graphic footage of human war victims but won't accept their commercial showing bloody animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Monday it offered to pay the network $10,000 to run its 30-second Arabic-dubbed spot, but was refused. Al-Jazeera said it's still possible the ad may run.

PETA specifically targeted Al-Jazeera because the news network was in the news early in the war for airing pictures of bloody American bodies.

The ad shows cows hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse after their throats had been slit, goats being killed and a chicken thrown violently at a box. It hasn't aired on any television network.

"It's certainly curious that they would be willing to show people the outcome of war but not be willing to show people the outcome of choosing to eat meat," said Bruce Friedrich, PETA's director of vegan outreach.

I think someone needs to get out of the house more often.

Let Iraq Be Iraq

Some Christian fundamentalists really do view the liberation of Iraq as a Crusade, and they want to convert Iraqis to Christianity.

Now that the Big Brother busts of Saddam Hussein are crashing to the ground from Basra to Kirkuk and widespread looting and violence have filled the power vacuum, Iraq remains tense and its future is murky. There, people are more concerned with things like water and medical care than the abstract world of politics. But in the West, a growing corps is squabbling over the spoils of war. While winners and losers in bids for reconstruction contracts and humanitarian opportunities are still being sorted out, one group seems certain to gain an avenue into the country: Southern Baptist Convention ministers prominent in the galaxy of the religious right. Among them is Charles Stanley, the former two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention, a close ally of former President George Bush and a fervent supporter of the current president's war on Iraq.

Stanley serves as pastor at Atlanta's First Baptist Church, a 15,000-member congregation, and is the founder of In Touch Ministries, which claims to broadcast his sermons in 14 languages to every country in the world, and which, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has $40 million in assets. Since Stanley founded In Touch in 1974, he has not shied from using his ministry's resources to bring his voice to bear in the political arena. His most recent example of activism came in February when he delivered a sermon titled "A Nation At War," placing him among a minority of mostly Evangelical Christian leaders to endorse Bush's plans for an attack on Iraq.

"The government is ordained by God with the right to promote good and restrain evil," Stanley said in his sermon. "This includes wickedness that exists within the nation, as well as any wicked persons or countries that threaten foreign nations ... Therefore, a government has biblical grounds to go to war in the nation's defense or to liberate others in the world who are enslaved." And sampling from a scattershot of biblical passages to inform his argument, Stanley warned that those who oppose or disobey the U.S. government in its drive to war "will receive condemnation upon themselves."


Even before victory has been formally declared, In Touch is just one phalanx in an army of Christian soldiers who see Muslim Iraq as an extraordinary new marketplace for their theology. Already, churches and ministries on the religious right are poised to send in missionaries and to amp up broadcasts to the region. Like advance troops before the invasion, some U.S. military officials in Iraq have already staked out the country as a natural place to spread the Christian Gospel.

This is a crock. I did not sign onto this war so we can proselytize in Iraq. And God does not take sides in humanity's idiotic "holy" wars.

Argue all you want that liberation means a free marketplace of ideas inside the country. I can agree with that. But to move right in after soldiers clear the way is unseemly and obnoxious, and it's certain to provide a propaganda platform for Islamic fanatics.

It's also a great way to alienate Iraqis, if that's what you're trying to accomplish.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Photo Roundup

Don't Blame Us

It's amusing how some people blame the United States for Iraqi looting. We're supposed to be the bad guys, so everything is our fault.

Victor Davis Hanson provides the historical perspective.

What was striking about the Iraqi capitulations was the absence of general looting on the part of the victorious army. From the fall of Constantinople to the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait City, winners usually plunder and pillage. American and British soldiers instead did the opposite, trying to protect others’ property as they turned on water and power. That much of the looting was no more indiscriminate than what we saw in Los Angeles after the Rodney King Verdict, in the New York during blackouts, or in some major cities after Super Bowl victories, made no impression on the reporting. Remember this was a long-suffering impoverished people lashing out at Baathists — not affluent, smug American kids looting and breaking windows at the World Trade Organization in Seattle.

Whenever you feel like things are going badly, just find his latest column and he'll take care of it.


The looting in Iraq is dismaying.

I can't blame them for looting the palaces. Heck, I'd loot them too. The problem is that once this sort of thing starts there's no way to stop until it's over. Even the Baghdad museum was looted of its treasures. No one can say Saddam stole museum artifacts from the people.

What has happened in Iraq is unprecedented in history. A mature totalitarian regime evaporated instantly. This was different from the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was a long drawn-out process that had built up for years. The regime just got weaker and weaker. Civilians in Eastern Europe grew so emboldened over time that they laughed at the tanks in the streets.

All the repression and order in Iraq was simply blown out of the air all at once. When the lid came off it really came off. It wasn't gradual, and there was nothing waiting to replace it. Rigidly put-down people were instantly freed. The resulting anarchy should not have been surprising. Their impulse-control was simply shot.

A similar mental process must be happening. For so many years Iraqis had to repress their opinions. A careless word could get their whole family shot. The only way to survive was to keep their honest thoughts as deeply buried as possible.

And now they can think what they want. They are like whales bred in cages, suddenly released to the limitless sea. Only Iraqis can know what this experience actually feels like.

Sunday, April 13, 2003

The Capital of European Hate

A fascist took second place in the last French election. First place went to the right-wing blowhard Jacques Chirac who immedietly resurrected the spirit of Vichy.

His sidekick Dominique de Villepin is no better. Here's the goods.

Mr. de Villepin, the pinup boy of diplomacy in "progressive" circles, was not just content to travel the world in an attempt to derail U.S. policy. Reportedly, he also has made instructive comments that make clear "how we got here." Mr. de Villepin, sources say, last week told members of the National Assembly that "hawks" in the U.S. administration are "in the hands of [Ariel] Sharon." According to the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine, he went so far as to attack a "pro-Zionist" lobby made up of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, White House staffer Elliot Abrams and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, all Jews.

But it's not just a juif thing. Mr. de Villepin--who claims in his book "The Cry of the Gargoyle" to be a fan of both Machiavelli and Napoleon--never shies from messianic statements. He told legislators that the fight over Iraq was actually one against "Anglo-Saxon liberalism," an Assembly member told me.

But indignant reactions are now being heard. An editorial on Radio France Internationale noticed that the phrase "the Anglo-American forces," constantly used instead of "coalition forces," is borrowed straight from Vichy propaganda. In her own j'accuse for Le Figaro, Ms. Lepage said that to the errors of the media and the leaders, "one can add the pacifist demonstrations, which have nothing peaceful about them." She could "bear witness to the fact that these demonstrations are far from gatherings of real defenders of the rights of man or of peace. These are hordes orchestrated by the security services of Islamicist groups which . . . shout extremely violent slogans in which racial and anti-Semitic hatred is expressed without the least taboo."

Small wonder that the Interior Ministry itself says a mere spark could "turn anti-Americanism in the suburbs into uncontrolled violence." That observation comes too late for Noam Levy, a Jew beaten with an iron bar while at an antiwar demonstration. He said he was shocked by "the anti-Zionist slogans." (He should check with the Quai d'Orsay about the provenance of these feelings.) And it's too late for the families of Britons who died defending France in World War I, and whose tombs near Calais were vandalized. Among the graffiti on a cenotaph: "Dig up your rubbish, it's contaminating our soil."

"France," wrote Mr. Chirac to Queen Elizabeth with all the pomp--not to mention pomposity--at his command, "knows what it owes to the sacrifice and courage of British soldiers who came to help her recover her liberty in the fight against barbarity. . . . From the French people and from me personally, I offer you my deepest regrets." Too late. Mr. Chirac has himself refused to say which side he backs in the war. No wonder a third of the French tell pollsters that they want Saddam to win. Mr. Chirac is basking in 60% approval ratings, but he's paid for them dearly. Demonstrators in the street shout "Long live Chirac, stop the Jews!"

Ah, France. Not pacifist and sophisticated, but reactionary, bigoted, and violent. It's the smoking-section of Europe, ruled by illiberal anti-American Jew-haters. That may be harsh, but it's true.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten