Michael J. Totten

Saturday, April 26, 2003

Duped at State

Steven Den Beste wants the State Department investigated. Too often the State Department is shocked, or pretends to be shocked, by rogue state behavior.

State's incompetence can be traced to a root cause.

The problem with State is that sometimes it seems as if they've forgotten just who they work for and whose interests they're supposed to be representing. It's almost the diplomatic equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, where the people in the various bureaus in State identify more with the nations they're assigned to than they do with the US. And there seems to be a strong and very unhealthy strain of post-nationalism there, to the point where in some cases they seem to agree with the French that America is actually the problem.

This can be partly blamed on the personalites of people who seek careers in diplomacy. Perhaps more relevent is the profile of people who actually get selected from the pool of willing applicants.

Mark Steyn explains how our ambassadors to Saudi Arabia are chosen.

American ambassadors in Riyadh are passing fancies. At the specific request of the Saudi government, no Arabic speakers are appointed to the post, a unique self-handicap by the US. Their chaps in the Kingdom spend a couple of years out there getting everything explained to them by the royal inner circle, and then they come home and serve out their day’s shilling for the House of Saud on Middle Eastern think-tanks lavishly subsidised by Riyadh.

It is easy for the House of Saud to lie to people who are effectively deaf. Why else would Arabic speakers be banned?

I doubt Saudi Arabia is the only country that does this, but I just don't know. We deserve an answer.

Equal Opportunity Hate

Matthew Yglesias writes about homosexual rights, and now people ask if he is gay. (Are white civil rights activists secretly black?)

No one has asked me if I'm gay. I'm married (to a woman) so that apparently settles it.

I have been "accused" of being Jewish for various reasons, however. I say "accused" because every person who emails and assumes I am Jewish wants to kill Jews.

I'm a straight, white, formerly Christian male. Of course, that gets me in trouble with a different crowd of people. Three different crowds, actually. The identity-politics left, the Christian Right, and the Jihadists.

You can say this about bigotry. It doesn't matter who you are. It will find you.

The Devil Made Him Do It

Fidel Castro blames his crackdown on dissidents on the United States.

Fidel Castro singled out America's top diplomat in Cuba as he blamed a supposed conspiracy between the U.S. government and exiles in Miami for his recent dissident crackdown and the firing-squad executions of three hijackers.

Everything is our fault. Communist crackdowns, Iraqi looting, Kim Jong Il's nuke manufacturing, floods in Germany, Noam Chomsky's Tourette's Syndrome...all these things are because America is bad.

We must kill ourselves and spare the world this hell.

Florida Makes the News Again

What is wrong with Florida? (Via Atrios.)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A Florida court struck down a law Wednesday that required mothers who want to give a child up for adoption to publicize their sexual histories in newspaper ads.

The 4th District Court of Appeals said the law, passed two years ago, violates privacy rights and substantially interferes with a woman's independence in choosing adoption.

It's great that the law was struck down. But what was that law doing on the books in the first place?

We all know who passed that law. I don't even need to say it.

Regrets in the Morning

France is hung over. Sarah Wildman reports from The New Republic.

A business dinner organized during the war by my husband's colleagues in Boulougne, St. Cloud, a banlieue chic of Paris, shed light on the new position. It's not, these people were quick to explain, that they were in favor of "Bush's war." Nor did they care much for the American president. But, just like Raffarin, who qualified his position as antiwar but pro-American, they worry that Chirac has forever marginalized the country. As one put it, "Who are our allies today? Iraq? China and Russia? China and Russia are not our natural allies, the United States is."

Like a nasty one-night stand. France got drunk and went to bed with the Butcher of Grozy and the Butchers of Tiananmen Square.

Now comes the hard dawn, the spider nests in the brain, and the not-so-hot date snoring open-mouthed on the next pillow over. Whoops.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Persian Hipsters?

Chris Evans emails:

I think Iran is going to go democratic pretty soon. To put it flippantly, they've got a society made up of twenty-somethings and their younger siblings. They don't want to be all Islamic and stuff, they want to party. We slip a little dance music into the VOA, start covertly shipping them confiscated ecstasy tabs, glowsticks, and tongue studs, and in a month Persia will be one big rave party, with the Mullahs sitting on the sidelines bitching about those crazy kids or trying to make Islam "hip" again.

Theocracy, Meet Irony

The Middle East can be such a drag sometimes. But this from Victor Davis Hanson made me smile.

Iran may think it smart to use its fundamentalist agents to undermine the American achievement in Iraq. But look at the newly constituted map, where it suddenly finds itself surrounded by reformist movements. The omnipresence of the United States, twenty years of failure inside Iran, and the attractions of American popular culture will insidiously undermine the medieval reign of the mullahs faster than it can do harm to the foundations of democracy in Baghdad.

What will the theocracy do when Internet cafes, uncensored television and radio, and free papers spring up across the border in Iraq? How, after all, do you fight such a strangely off-the-wall culture as our own, which turns the villainous Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf into "Baghdad Bob," with his own website and a cult following, replete with T-shirts and coffee mugs — or prints out thousands of decks of playing cards decorated with the names and pictures of Iraqi fascists?


Liberalism versus the Old Right

Some Republicans are shocked at Sen. Rick Santorum's anti-liberal, anti-gay, anti-sex, and anti-privacy tirade a few days ago in SFGate. Some of my more conservative readers were annoyed that I thought this was typical of the GOP and that I accused Republicans of being anti-freedom.

You shouldn't be surprised, not at Rick Santorum's comments or at my reaction to them. Republicans are not a happy family, and there is no "American conservative" view of the world. Virginia Postrel explains why.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Little Tyrants

Ken Layne writes a barn-burner against media tyrants who fear blogs.

Tariq Aziz Captured


Lording it Over the PRC

Russell Wardlow posts an excellent piece on Marxism, Maoism, and Fascism in China. This is the best synopsis of Chinese ideology I've read in a long time.

Revolution in Iran

Cross your fingers. If the world gets lucky, the Iranian regime is coming down. (Via The Corner.)

Mark the date: July 9. That’s when opponents of the Iranian regime have called a general strike that they hope will expand to topple the government there and bring freedom and democracy to the Iranian people.

The strike is being organized by profreedom student groups to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the last student uprising in Iran that saw thousands of students take to the streets against the Islamic Republic’s ruling mullahs.

The planned event — indeed, the Iranian freedom movement as a whole — could take on a new dimension now that Iran’s western neighbor, Iraq, is free from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

I wish the Iranian people would speed it up. Iran has its greasy paws in Iraq. What a sad state of affairs if the theocracy virus jumps hosts at the last possible minute.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Fisking Santorum

I scoff when I hear Republicans say they are conservative because they believe in individual freedom.

I'm the first to criticize the Democrats when they fail in this department. But political correctness does not define liberalism; I don't know a single liberal person who doesn't despise it. (PC is a Baby Boomer thing. We Xers have no patience for it.) And giant corporations that want to evade government (citizen) oversight can't cry about "individual freedom" and get much sympathy from me. Corporations aren't individuals. They aren't even people.

Rick Santorum (R-Saudi Arabia) is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. People like him keep me out of the GOP more than anything else.

Here he is in an interview in SFGate, blaming the child-rape scandal in the Catholic Church on liberalism. I'll address him directly from here on out.

You have the problem within the church. Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles.


In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds, or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship. Which, again, according to the world view sense is a a perfectly fine relationship as long as it's consensual between people.

We're talking about child-rape here, buddy. It isn't consensual. And when was the last time you saw a "rape awareness" program run by conservatives? Liberals tolerate rape? Please.

And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get.

I'm not surprised. And I don't care. Love the sneer quotes around "right to privacy."

I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.

That's like saying I have no problem with Christianity, I only have a problem with church attendance.

As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual.

Only the missionary position, eh? And only every fourth Sunday. Surely your wife is unsatisfied.

We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose.

An idiot purpose.

It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution...

Wow, you got elected? The Republican Party put you third in command?

Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children.

American society is based on nothing else. We're just a giant baby factory. Nothing else to see here, folks.

The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.

The state doesn't have rights, pal. The state especially doesn't have rights to limit my wants and passions. The pursuit of happiness, maybe you've heard of it?

Citizens have rights. You, since you define yourself as the state, do not. You are there because I put you there and because I pay you. No other reason. Better get used to that idea fast, because it will soon be a very relevant factor in your life.

Burger, Fries, and a Peace Poster

Sean LaFreniere laments the commodification of "peace."

The Truth about SARS

Trent Telenko has posted a long and hair-raising article about SARS in China.

My own view of SARS has been a little too sunny. I should have known not to trust the "information" coming out of China. Don't read his article unless you want to be spooked.

Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Iran) said this a few days ago.

If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything.

If you give the people the right to do anything, they'll soon have the right to do anything.

Lord save us. End freedom.

The Theocratic Temptation

It looks like Shiite fundamentalism is rapidly on the rise in Iraq. It's hard to know how seriously to take this. There are no opinion polls in Iraq. It may be less popular than it appears from some news reports. But it is definitely a problem.

Iran is whipping this up just at the moment the mullahcracy is ready to fall. The regime next door has nothing to lose, and thinks an Iraqi Islamic Republic might strengthen its grip.

Iraq has been secular for a long time under the rule of Saddam Hussein. This might make the country fertile for liberalization. But if Shiite Iraqis tie secularism to oppression, all bets are off. They may want Iraq to be like Iran. They don’t know how much Iranians hate their Islamic regime.

Theocracy is Marxism for religious right-wingers. No matter how many times it is discredited, no matter how many states try it and plunge into tyranny, there are always people who think it's a smashing idea. Even many Americans think this way.

Here is Pat Robertson, Republican Party kingmaker and founder of the Christian Coalition.

They [the radical left] have kept us in submission because they have talked about separation of church and state. There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore.

Here he is again.

If Christian people work together, they can succeed during this decade in winning back control of the institutions that have been taken from them over the past 70 years. Expect confrontations that will be not only unpleasant but at times physically bloody.

He ran for president in 1988, and this is the sort of thing he hoped to accomplish.

The silly so-called intellectuals of academia will find themselves considered first irrelevant and then expendable when the real power begins to operate.

Pat Robertson is a would-be tyrant. But many of his followers aren’t. They nevertheless think a theocracy would work out fine, that it wouldn’t be an awful bloody dictatorship. Only personal experience can cure some people of this.

I worry sometimes that every Muslim country will have to pass through this phase. It might be the only way to discredit it once and for all.

If a sizeable chunk of America finds it appealing, its attractiveness in Iraq could easily be overwhelming. The bitter experience of others doesn’t register for people seduced by its spell.

Let us hope not too many Iraqis find it intoxicating.

Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress

The CIA and the State Department have long been hostile to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Anti-war activists have seized on this as a reason to also be against Chalabi since he has been working with the Bush Administration in its post-war Iraq plans.

Big mistake, folks.

Ahmed Chalabi is a secular Western liberal. We had better hope he gets some serious clout in that country.

The CIA and the State Department don't like him because they don't want democracy in Iraq. They want a pliable strongman instead.

Those who oppose Chalabi just to be on the opposite side of the Bush Administration betray their own principles. It just doesn't occur to them that Bush is not as far to the right as they think he is.

And since when does the opinion of the CIA count for anything? It has a long history of criminality and incompetence. It is the least principled institution in the United States government. If you're going to reflexively oppose, it makes more sense to reflexively oppose the CIA. Give Bush a break once in a while.

The alternative to Chalabi and friends may be an Islamic Republic of Iraq. That is the worst possible outcome. I don't want to send the Marines in again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Christopher Hitchens: Busted!

Christopher Hitchens has truly made the big time now that he is savagely mocked in The Onion.

Iraq Is Still in the Oven

Ted Barlow rightly worries about conservative triumphalism. (Scroll down, permalinks are bloggered.)

I've got a bad feeling that the conventional wisdom on the right has already gelled that the real story of the Iraqi war ended on April 9. We came in, deposed a terrible dictator, and the Iraqi people were glad to see us. Roll credits.

Combine this with an unflappable faith that the media is biased against them, against the Bush administration, and against the war on Iraq. What you get is a large number of influential commentators who will be worse than useless when it comes to promoting a stable and just reconstruction of Iraq. I'm afraid that war supporters might come to see any bad news from Iraq as nothing more than a continuation of a campaign of the liberal media to make Bush and the war look bad. As such, bad news can be safely ignored, or dismissed by cherry-picking good news.

He's right, of course. The military phase was the easy part. (Yes, peaceniks, it was a cakewalk.)

Rebuilding Iraq will not be a cakewalk. Sure, NPR is still dwelling on the negative, although not nearly to the same extent as the BBC. Yes, some people on the left will seize on the bad news as a way to say gotcha. But there will be bad news, and liberalizing that country will be a monumental task.

I don't think conservatives are naturally up to this. When Bush ran for president and sniffed at American nation-building, how many conservatives booed? I was appalled. Were you?

This is the sort of thing liberals like to do. It's time to hold George Bush's feet to the fire. If the left follows Pat Buchanan into isolationism and withdrawal it could be a disaster.

Pissing in the Ocean

So I drove to my favorite coffee shop to plug away at an epic sprawling essay I've been working on (for weeks now), and when I pull the car over I see a strange little man sticking notes under people's windshields. He looked perfectly normal, except for this note thing. I get out of the car, sling my laptop over my shoulder, and he walks up to me.

"You're wasting fuel carrying that advertising on your car," he says.


"That advertising," he says. "On your license plate frame."

He hands me a note and points to the back of my car.

"You see that?" he says. "Your car dealer put its ad right on your license plate cover. They just love it when people spend their own gas money lugging their advertising all over town. It costs you money, and it pollutes the air I breathe. You don't need it. Just take it off and recycle the screws."

"I'll be sure to do that," I lied. "I hadn't thought of it that way before. Thanks for the tip!"

I smiled, stuffed the note in my pocket, and forgot all about it. Until I got home and found it again.

This guy did math. He really spent some time on this.

What work to propel 0.454 kg cover on 1361 kg car cruising 8.5 km/l? 0.454 kg cover / 1361 kg car x 8.5 km/l = YOU PAY a Motion TAX, 2.8 meters/liter. Intertia. Work. = Force X Distance.

(It's been a while since I've sat through a math class, but this nevertheless strikes me as awfully dubious.)

He concludes that if everyone on the planet dismantled their license plate covers, we could collectively save 83.3 liters of gasoline a day. Gosh.

It's like campaigning for women's rights in Afghanistan by trying to decrease the number of criss-cross threads in the eyeslits of the burkha. Or like pissing in the ocean if you're trying to sink Manhatten.

As expected, he wrote "No War for Oil" at the bottom.

Saddam's British Lackey

So it looks like British Labor Party MP George Galloway may have been on Saddam Hussein's payroll.

Those of us who know and love (not) George Galloway shouldn't be surprised.

Last year he was asked if he was a Stalinist, and this is what he said.

If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes. The disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life.

This is what he said to Saddam Hussein in 1994.

Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.

I don't understand British politics. How can a guy like this become a Labor Party MP? There is no way he could win election to any office in the United States above the level of dogcatcher. Even David Duke had to describe himself as a former Klansman in order to be elected to statewide office in a small rural district in Louisiana.

But hey, if George Galloway is so impressed with Saddam Hussein, why shouldn't he take some money from him? Saddam is a good guy in Galloway's little mental universe.

George doesn't choose his heroes wisely. That's the only surprising detail here. Everything else follows logically.

UPDATE: Andrew Apostolou has more, including copies of Iraqi documents.

Monday, April 21, 2003

French Behavior Explained

France is like someone who’s been given a glimpse of the future, sees himself committing suicide, and resolves to spend his remaining days making it look like murder. - James Lileks.

Looters at Home and Abroad

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Cautious Optimism

Iraqi historian Hussain Hindawi and journalist John Thomson are optimistic that Iraqis are more than ready for democracy. (Via Arts and Letters Daily.)

THERE can be little doubt: Given a fair chance at it, if the Iraqis win democracy this time, they will hold it with all their force and defend it with their lives.

Even diehard royalists, romantically loyal to the British-imposed Hashemite rule that held sway for three decades until deposed in 1958, agree that sentiment is overwhelmingly strong for a Western-style democracy.

The democratic dream is far stronger than the purported divisions among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. At the London conference of Iraqi opposition groups, in fact, there was more tension among factions within each of these communities than between them. One mid-40s leader put it almost poetically: "We are an entire nation that has been kept in the darkest corner of a dungeon. There has been no light, no chance to lead a free life, not a spark of liberty. When we get it this time, we will hold the torch high and never let the flame go out."

Severe trauma will do this to people. It is unlikely that a significant percentage of Iraqis will pine for another dictatorship now that this one is finished.

I see three ways it might fail. Neighboring states will try to destabilize the country, extremist clerics may push for Talibanization, and civil war may brew along ethnic lines.

The US military should be able to keep monkey business from Syria and Iran to a minimum. Iraq's long history of secular rule should keep religious extremism on the back burner. And so far inter-ethnic strife doesn't seem to be a problem.

It could still blow up in our faces, and I won't be shocked if it does. But I don't expect that it will. Iraq appears to be the most democracy-ready Arab state in the world. Now that we're there to help, we can afford a little guarded optimism.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten