Michael J. Totten

Friday, May 02, 2003

European Ground

My friend Jeremy just returned from Germany. He sends this dispatch:

I went to a concentration camp outside Berlin where:

1) Socialists murdered thousands of political prisoners as the Nazis were rising to power.


2) The Nazis took over and murdered tens of thousands of Communists, homosexuals and Jews.


3) The Red Army took over and murdered tens of thousands of German POWs and anti-Communists.


4) The GDR housed Communist prisoners there.

The site literally had three mass graves at different ends, one from each of the occupiers.

The camp is right in the middle of a suburb (and was then also).

This is not ancient history. My grandfather was there when it happened.

Why I No Longer Read The Nation

I read the left-wing Nation for about seven years. The magazine and I had a rough patch in the 90s when it went through a spasm of political correctness. But it mellowed out and I gladly renewed my subscription.

Two years ago I considered ordering a gift subscription for my father-in-law. He's an ultra-conservative, and like all of us could use a little balance. But I'm glad I never bought the Nation for him. It would have been tremendously embarassing.

After September 11 I just couldn't read it any more. It made one excuse after another for terrorism and became a stew of anti-American jackassery. When I opened new issues I had to fight the urge to bite through my coffee mug. I let my subscription lapse at the same time and for the same reasons Christopher Hitchens resigned as a columnist.

This time my break with the magazine is probably permanent.

I still check in now and then, hoping to find some gems in the trash, hoping to find what I once liked about it in the first place. It's sad, but I hardly ever find anything worth reading any more. The New Republic and Slate are vastly superior left-of-center magazines.

This week’s issue is typical.

One of the top stories, by Sheldon Wolin, is titled Inverted Totalitarianism. You can practically hear the heavy breathing of the author while he banged out this screed on his typewriter.

The increasing power of the state and the declining power of institutions intended to control it has been in the making for some time. The party system is a notorious example. The Republicans have emerged as a unique phenomenon in American history of a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority. As Republicans have become more ideologically intolerant, the Democrats have shrugged off the liberal label and their critical reform-minded constituencies to embrace centrism and footnote the end of ideology. In ceasing to be a genuine opposition party the Democrats have smoothed the road to power of a party more than eager to use it to promote empire abroad and corporate power at home. Bear in mind that a ruthless, ideologically driven party with a mass base was a crucial element in all of the twentieth-century regimes seeking total power.

This is simply hysterical.

I’m no Republican. I only voted for one Republican in my life (Jim Leach of Iowa, when I lived in Iowa City), and I did it for two reasons. He was as mild as Republicans get, and I admired his John McCain-like independent stance. His Democratic opponent was an assclown. It seemed as good a time as any to support an intelligent principled moderate from the other side. And it felt good to break out of my partisan box for just once.

Mr. Wolin, above, shrieks that Republicans boast a near-majority. Doesn’t it logically follow that Democrats also have a near-majority? We only have two major parties. They are more or less evenly matched. That’s democracy for you. Totalitarianism looks nothing like this. It looks, on the contrary, like Iraq.

The GOP does snuggle up to corporations too much for me. (Enron, anyone?) But the Democrats are too close to labor unions according to some other people. That’s the way it should be. That’s what democracy is. Balance and competing interests and argument. The current balance of power does tilt to the right. But, again, that’s what happens half the time in democracies. The other half the time it tilts to the left. It’s perfectly predictable, and there’s no reason to go and freak the hell out about it.

Mr. Wolin continues:

No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist, but I want to go further and name the emergent political system "inverted totalitarianism." By inverted I mean that while the current system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany, before the Nazis took power, the "streets" were dominated by totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of democracy was confined to the government. In the United States, however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive--while the real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government.

This is pure nonsense. Democracy was confined to the Nazi regime how? And how can a “system” aspire toward unlimited power? We have the same system we’ve always had, with its checks and balances in place. People may aspire toward absolute power, but no one in the history of this country has managed to get it. Nor could they. Bill Clinton was impeached for a bagatelle. Our system would smash any person who tried to be Hitler.

I read Mr. Wolin's paragraph four times in a row, and I just can’t see what his comparison with Nazism is supposed to mean. He’s throwing in “Nazi” just for the heck of it, like conservatives who shriek about liberals being Commies. He doesn’t make a case, because there is no case to be made.

You have to be careful with “Nazi.” Mr. Wolin has spent his ammunition. He’ll have nothing new to say if Nazism actually comes along. If Republicans are Nazis, what then is the Ba’ath Party? Mr. Wolin has run out of terms.

If a person doesn’t wish for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, there are no grounds whatever to call that person a Communist. If a “regime” doesn’t massacre dissidents, execute minorities, and conquer its neighbors to kill their minorities, too, calling them Nazis is every last bit as idiotic. This should be crashingly obvious to any serious person.

And that is why I’m glad I didn’t buy my father-in-law a subscription to the Nation. He, too, would love to convert me to his side. But if he sends me any magazine that says Al Gore is a Stalinist, he’ll have no better luck with me than the Nation could have with him.

If the Nation’s former writers and fans can’t take it any more, it no longer matters what they think.

UPDATE: Roger L. Simon agrees and comments.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

My Claim to Fame

Totten may be a relatively obscure English name, but it makes me smile to see I'm the most Internet-famous Totten there is.

Enter "Totten" into Google or Yahoo and my site comes up first.

Tim Blair, eat your heart out. The Blair Witch Project beat you by one. You're in second-place, amigo.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Passing the Baton

I may be SARS-free, but I feel like microwaved hell tonight. I can read okay, but writing just ain't gonna happen.

Good stuff I found today while surfing and not writing:

Celebrity in a Barrell: Jeff Jarvis finishes off whatever was left of Janeane Garofalo's reputation.

Do the Math: Matthew Yglesias says demographics and just plain math may be enough to prevent Iraqis from electing a fundamentalist Shi'ite government.

To Heck With It?: I think of myself as a Wilsonian interventionist, but Nick Denton makes an awfully good case for Wilsonian isolationism.

British Humor: The Guardian pulled a stunt on British Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith. Kevin Drum has the hilarious photos.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Belgian Perfidy and Genocide

Belgium wants to try American officials (but not Iraqi or North Korean officials) for war crimes and genocide.

What war crimes did Americans supposedly commit?

Among them are an incident where an ambulance came under fire from U.S. troops, the bombing of a market, an attack on a civilian bus, random executions and inaction in the face of hospital pillaging.

The market bombing may or may not have been committed by Americans. If America did do it, rest assured it was an accident or because a military target was stationed there. (Situating military hardware in civilian areas is itself a war crime, but never mind.)

I don't know the details of the attacks on the ambulance or the bus. But we sure didn't target them for the heck of it. That's not the way we operate, and Belgium knows it.

Only Belgium puts Jews and Americans on trial for the crimes of Arabs. Ariel Sharon is called to stand trial for the Sabra and Chatilla massacre, a crime committed by Lebanese Arabs. And it was Iraqis, after all, who looted the hospital.

Belgium finds it morally compelling to harrass Jews and Americans with reckless disregard for the facts. This behavior exposes their supposed concern for genocide as nothing but preening and posturing.

If Belgium really cared it would take an active interest in knowing what genocide actually is.

The U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines “genocide” as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such:

A. Killing members of the group;
B. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
C. Deliberately inflicting on the group the conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
D. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
E. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Samantha Power elaborates in The Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide:

For a party to be found guilty of perpetrating this new crime of genocide, it had to (1) carry out one of the aforementioned acts, (2) with the intent to destroy all or part of (3) one of the groups protected. The law did not require the extermination of an entire group, only acts committed with the intent to destroy a substantial part. If the perpetrator did not target a national, ethnic, or religious group as such, then killings would constitute mass homicide, not genocide.

I can think of many governments whose officials are guilty of this right now, starting with Iraq and the Palestinian Authority. I'd like to see the Belgian court get cracking.

Leaving Saudi

The US military is reducing its forces in Saudi Arabia and moving into more-friendly Qatar.

This is the perfect time.

One of Osama bin Laden’s primary gripes is that “infidel” troops are stationed on Saudi “holy” soil. If we had evacuated our forces after September 11, bin Laden could have only been emboldened. “Terrorism works” would be the message. “The Americans are cowards and will surrender.”

We made military history in Iraq. We cut out a fascist regime with a scalpel of fire. Leaving Saudi Arabia now will not look like a retreat. We move because we can, and because we feel like it.

It is in our interest to go. Qatar is much more liberal and cooperative, and moving there will help us begin divorce proceedings against the House of Saud.

But we need to start moving now. If we wait around and then are terrorized again, we'll have to call the move off, at least for a while. The appearance of capitulation will only embolden Islamists.

Keep in mind something, though. Our troops on Saudi soil are not the cause of Al Qaeda’s jihad. It is a mere talking point, mere froth. The root of this conflict dates to the first half of the 20th Century, to the pro-Nazi Muslim Brotherhood movement and the Islamic fascist writings of Sayyid Qutb -- bin Laden’s guide and mentor. This is about Islamic totalitarianism, about slashing the faces of unveiled women.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Iraq's First Poll

Andrew Sullivan links to the first post-war poll inside Iraq, conducted by NDTV from India.

A sizeable 54 per cent of the respondents believed that America did the right thing by invading Iraq while 32 per cent felt it was wrong. A more detailed analysis showed that the older Iraqis (over 40 years) Iraqis tend to be more pro-American and anti-Saddam.

To the question ‘‘Should America stay on and help re-build Iraq, or should they go back now?’’, 52 per cent wanted the US troops to return immediately while 43 per cent felt the they should stay on. And clearly while a large per cent of Muslims want the Americans to stay on, many Christians in Baghdad wanted an American presence in Baghdad to help rebuild the devastated country.

Terming the poll exercise as ‘‘not an easy task’’ NDTV said its six-member team led by Special Correspondents Ajai Shukla and Sanjay Ahirwal fanned out through the city of Baghdad, covering over 25 localities, meeting men and women on the streets of Baghdad.

It's encouraging that a majority of those polled support the invasion. There are a few more things to keep in mind.

First, the poll was not conducted anywhere outside Baghdad. It's safe to assume that, after Saddam's home town of Tikrit, Baghdad had the highest level of support for the regime. Baghdad is the capital and the center of power. By necessity, far more Ba'ath Party members lived and worked there than anywhere else.

Also, Baghdad is located in the Sunni part of the country, and the top levels of the Ba'ath Party were staffed almost entirely by Sunnis. Shi'ite Muslims were excluded and were brutally oppressed. Support for Saddam among Shi'ites was a great deal lower than among Sunnis. It was vanishingly close to zero.

The poll also excludes the northern region of Kurdistan, which was even more brutalized than the Shi'ite region in the south. The Kurds are the victims of genocide, and they fought bravely against the regime from the very beginning.

A nation-wide poll would return a far more supportive result. But this one is first, and is encouraging enough for right now.

Slouching Toward Theocracy?

After two weeks of worries about the rise of Shia fundamentalism, Daniel Drezner finds the beginnings of two important and positive trends.


Today is Saddam Hussein's birthday.

Happy Birthday, Saddam! Take it easy on the hookers and peasants this time. You're no spring chicken.

UPDATE: US troops busted up his birthday party in Tikrit. Ahww. No fun.

The Link

Saddam was Al Qaeda's pal. The Telegraph has the goods.

Iraqi intelligence documents discovered in Baghdad by The Telegraph have provided the first evidence of a direct link between Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'eda terrorist network and Saddam Hussein's regime.

Papers found yesterday in the bombed headquarters of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, reveal that an al-Qa'eda envoy was invited clandestinely to Baghdad in March 1998.

The documents show that the purpose of the meeting was to establish a relationship between Baghdad and al-Qa'eda based on their mutual hatred of America and Saudi Arabia. The meeting apparently went so well that it was extended by a week and ended with arrangements being discussed for bin Laden to visit Baghdad.

The papers will be seized on by Washington as the first proof of what the United States has long alleged - that, despite denials by both sides, Saddam's regime had a close relationship with al-Qa'eda.

The only reason ever cited as cause for suspicion is that Al Qaeda is Islamist and Saddam Hussein was secular. That's it. That was the entire case against the possibility of collusion. The two just couldn't work together for this reason. It just wasn't possible.

What a failure of imagination.

Syria is ruled by the secular Ba'ath Party, but it is still a patron and armorer of Hezballah, which is Islamist and whose name means "Party of God." Saddam Hussein worked closely with Hamas, which is also Islamist. Bin Laden himself once piggybacked on US support for the mujahadeen in Afghanistan.

The enemy of my enemy is sometimes my friend, after all. There is no reason to be shocked at these revelations. But some will still say the Telegraph made it all up.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The Short Case for Unilateralism

Ask yourself this: What is the lowest common denominator between the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia? Think about that for a minute. Can you think of anything at all?

I can't.

That's why the rebuilding of Iraq should not be internationalized. The "international community," a fiction if ever there was one, could never agree what a future Iraq should look like.

America wants democracy. France wants cronyism. The UN wants bureaucracy. And the Saudis want religion. Their religion. Wahhabism. Fanaticism.

If Iraq becomes the lowest common denominator it will surely live up to the name.

Blog Theft

This person stole my links and part of my template for her 'Sites I Like' page and only slightly modified it.

That is not cool. My page is copyrighted.

I don't mind my link template being stolen as much as I would mind the theft of my writing. But let me explain what ultimately bugs me about this. Someone who finds her site and then mine might think I stole the material. That is not what happened here, and I want this corrected.

Truth in Fiction

Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn smite the Middle Earth of The Lord of the Rings with the same dogma they apply to the real Earth. (Via Alan K. Henderson.)

Zinn: I also think it is a spectacular display of bad manners to disappear at your own birthday party. And here, for the first time, Gandalf speaks to Bilbo about magic rings. Still, it is never clearly established why this one ring is so powerful. Everything used to justify that belief is legendary.

Chomsky: Gandalf is clearly wondering if it's time to invoke his plan for the supposed revelation concerning the secret magic ring. Why now? Well, I think it's because the people in Mordor — the Orcs, I'm speaking of — are starting to obtain some power, are starting to ask a little bit more from Middle Earth than Middle Earth has ever seen fit to give to them. And I don't think it's unreasonable for them to expect something back from Middle Earth. Of course, if that happened, the entire economy would be disrupted.

Zinn: The pipe-weed-based economy.

Chomsky: And, as you pointed out earlier, the military-industrial-complex that exists in Gondor. This constant state of alertness. This constant state of fear. And here Gandalf reveals his true nature.

If you know The Lord of the Rings, read the whole thing, as the man says.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten