Michael J. Totten

Friday, June 06, 2003

The Globalization of Chaos

Africa is Hell.

BUNIA, Democratic Republic of the Congo -- May was another brutal month for the residents of Bunia.

People were terrorized and slaughtered, first by fighters from the majority Lendu ethnic group and then by members of the Hema minority who drove the Lendu out.

"They beat the refugees, shot at them," said Florent, an eyewitness to some of the violence. "And then they picked out those who were Hema. They picked them all out. They took them with them, and they left."

The fighting, which has left 450 people dead and hundreds injured, followed the withdrawal of neighboring Ugandan troops on May 7. United Nations peacekeepers are in the region but do not have the political mandate or the weaponry to halt the fighting.

So the UN “peacekeepers” sit and watch genocide, live and in real time, and they don’t do a single thing to stop it. If they can’t stop mass slaughter, they have no business calling themselves peacekeepers.

United Nations officials say they have never seen such "horrific" conditions as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Those who returned last week from the northeast part of the country said they had never witnessed such an appalling humanitarian crisis on such a large scale.

"We've seen the most horrible things in Bunia. Women who've lost their arms and legs, child amputees, men chopped to bits, women raped," said U.N. official Carolyn McAskie, who visited the DRC.

200,000 people have been killed in the fighting, and nearly 3 million more are dead from catastrophic ripple effects.

Events over the past decade, beginning with the mayhem in Bosnia and culminating with the liberation of Iraq, have firmly established that Americans think the UN, with its impotence and moral vacuousness, is contemptible. That being the case, we are obligated by our own principles to do something about the nightmare in the Congo other than shake our heads and “tsk tsk” the “savages.”

The question is, what?

More to the point, what are we also going to do about similar catastrophes elsewhere?

Andrew Sullivan quotes Paul Johnson from Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s A Dangerous Place, a memoir about Moynihan’s experience with the United Nations.

Has not the time come to change our strategy? What I think the rest of the world is waiting for - indeed hoping for - is some positive sign that the civilised powers are going to uphold the standards of international behaviour set by their forbears; that they are going to do so in the most systematic, relentless and comprehensive manner, and if necessary - while they still possess it - with overwhelming force. All over our tormented planet, there are millions of decent, peaceable and intelligent men and women of all religions, complexions, and races, who are praying that the resources of civilisation are not, indeed, exhausted - and that the Brezhnevs and the Amins, the Ghadaffis and the Maos, the Arafats and the O-Sadists will not be allowed to take over the earth.

The US is one of the few serious countries left in the world. That might change, but right now that’s where we are.

We can’t save everyone. I know that. If we intervened in every troubled spot we would have to double the size of our military. We would be in a state of endless war. America truly would become GloboCop, and no one wants it. Even if we intervened here and there for the noblest humanitarian reasons, the world’s jackass contingent would still hallucinate plots about oil and Jews.

So what to do we do about the problem from hell, about chaos and genocide in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa?

In the present case of the Congo we could write them off as a bunch of savages and let half the population get hacked to pieces while the other half catches AIDS and starves. That’s the easy UN/Buchananite answer, but few of us want that. It is wrong for the richest, most powerful, and most liberal country to look at mass murder and shrug.

Ideally, we could reform the UN into a militarized global constabulatory force with real power and a real mandate. Star Trek’s “Prime Directive,” that of non-interference with foreign cultures, would be the operational model only insofar as an example of what not to do. But reforming the UN would take years, and most of the world would resist. Ultimately, reform would only succeed if non-democratic countries were stripped of their of voting rights. If your people don’t vote, you don't vote. Never again should Libya or any other despotism get to chair the UN Human Rights Commission. But this is fantasy, I know. It won’t happen, so we’ll need to look elsewhere.

Here’s a slightly more plausible option.

Convince Europeans they are duty-bound to clean up the messes left behind in their former colonies. Not by a long shot can every problem in the Congo be laid at Belgium’s feet, nor can Algeria’s problems all be blamed on the French. But Belgium and France were at one time responsible for those countries, and when they slunk back to Europe in their post-imperial shame, their former colonies plunged into nightmare worlds of chaos, terror, and despair.

America can’t fix all the world’s problems. If the Third World is to receive any real help, Europeans will have to pull their weight. They need to get over their post-imperial guilt, snap out of their isolationist wallowing, and be serious. I’m not holding my breath, but it might happen if the world gets lucky.

Moral concerns aside, there are more sober reasons to worry about Third World disasters.

Globalization is a fact. The world is stitching itself together whether we’re ready for it or not.

The “international community” is a fiction, mostly because large swaths of the planet are run by thugs. Liberal democracies make up a community of sorts; they share common values and increasingly a common market. Even so, the non-democratic places of the world are getting pulled into that same common market. And though “community” is too strong a word to describe this, we’re coming together nevertheless.

Chaos theorist Edward Lorenz asked “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

I’m not qualified to answer that question, but my point here is not about weather. What seemed a small flap in Afghanistan set off an epic planet-wide hurricane.

Two years ago a friend said we should topple the Taliban to stop them from blowing up Buddha statues. I said he was nuts, that it wasn’t a casus belli, that we can’t invade every place that has a lousy government. I couldn’t change his mind, and after September 11 one of the first things he said to me was “I told you so.” He didn’t predict what would happen, but he was right that there was a problem, and that it was more our business than most people could even imagine.

For the first time in history, the world is becoming one place. Violence in Algieria blows into France. Mexican poverty bleeds into Texas. Argentine financial woes envelop a continent. Nukes in Pyongyang make Japan want an army. Saudi religion topples Manhatten skyscrapers. I can’t imagine what hell we could catch from the Congo. But anarchy in Somalia and our half-assed response made for great propaganda fodder on Osama bin Laden’s recruiting tapes. None of us saw that one coming, but it came our way all the same.

The defining feature of the 21st Century is the globalization of chaos. We have no system to handle all this, and we cannot ignore it much longer.

UPDATE: Joe Katzman read my mind. He has similar thoughts on the same subject, and he sees a turning point coming.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Bigotry and Reality

Matt Welch links to an article by Willy Stern. Stern is grousing about anti-Republican bigotry.

The sad fact of the matter is that many progressive Democrats are intolerant and mean toward those with whom they disagree politically. Their behavior doesn't hurt so much as amuse. I've been sitting at their dinner parties for two decades now, sipping Chardonnay, munching on salmon steaks, and listening to self-professed progressive thinkers talk like bigots. It makes me chuckle to think that, on average, even here in the mid-South, I probably hear 10 bigoted comments about Republicans for each time I am exposed to the "n" word. To be sure, some perspective is needed. Clearly, the many minorities in Nashville and elsewhere whose lives are daily and cruelly affected by bigotry have it worse than your average golf-playing Republican.


The profile of people who use the term "Republican" in a bigoted fashion tends to be fairly straightforward: Educated, intellectually gifted and generally thoughtful in their speech. They are the very people I sat next to in newsrooms in New York, Chicago, Tokyo and Johannesburg. They are my friends and neighbors. They are academics, lawyers, bankers and stay-at-home moms—decent, kind and sensitive people, for the most part.

But they are, and remain bigots. They are just as bigoted as the redneck I filled up my car next to last week in Pegram, Tenn., who was carrying on about the "fuckin' niggers." But there is an important distinction between the bigotry of the lower-middle classes in rural areas like Pegram and that of limousine liberals in urban centers: The liberals you'll find at university soirees engage in a form of bigotry that has become socially acceptable.

Yeah, this is true. A while back I would have thought he was over-reacting, but with the profusion of Bush=Hitler signs, I'm a little more sympathetic. If thousands of right-wingers clogged the streets with Clinton=Stalin signs, I'd be a bit defensive and annoyed myself.

Willy, If it makes you feel any better, let me point you in the direction of something I found from Dr. Frank.

The FAQ for the GOPunk (as in GOP Punk) discussion board has this to say:

Let's make one thing clear: today's Democratic Party is a vile socialist organization, thriving on hate, fear, and class-warfare. The upper echelons of the DNC are the ultimate social parasites; they can only thrive at your expense. If you're not suffering, they can't benefit. Welfare, universal health care, unions, and many other Democrat favorites are all fine sounding ideas that actually do nothing except increase the government's control of you and your family.

Lots of nastiness going around. Dr. Frank wanted us all to discuss this GOP Punk thing. I thought about it several times, trying to come up with a response. But it's so foul and imbecilic I don't even know where to start. So I'll just let it sit there as a counter-example.

If Republicans really were Nazis and Democrats really were vile socialists who tried to control your family, America would look like El Salvador in the 1980s.

UPDATE: Barry at Inn of the Last Home has some comments about the same piece by Willy Stern.

Four Reasons for War

So many reasons to remove Saddam, so few excuses to leave him alone.

Thomas Friedman lists four of the reasons for war; the real reason, the right reason, the moral reason, and the stated reason.

We all know what the last three are, but his discussion of what he calls the "real reason" is interesting.

The "real reason" for this war, which was never stated, was that after 9/11 America needed to hit someone in the Arab-Muslim world. Afghanistan wasn't enough because a terrorism bubble had built up over there — a bubble that posed a real threat to the open societies of the West and needed to be punctured. This terrorism bubble said that plowing airplanes into the World Trade Center was O.K., having Muslim preachers say it was O.K. was O.K., having state-run newspapers call people who did such things "martyrs" was O.K. and allowing Muslim charities to raise money for such "martyrs" was O.K. Not only was all this seen as O.K., there was a feeling among radical Muslims that suicide bombing would level the balance of power between the Arab world and the West, because we had gone soft and their activists were ready to die.

The only way to puncture that bubble was for American soldiers, men and women, to go into the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, house to house, and make clear that we are ready to kill, and to die, to prevent our open society from being undermined by this terrorism bubble. Smashing Saudi Arabia or Syria would have been fine. But we hit Saddam for one simple reason: because we could, and because he deserved it and because he was right in the heart of that world. And don't believe the nonsense that this had no effect. Every neighboring government — and 98 percent of terrorism is about what governments let happen — got the message. If you talk to U.S. soldiers in Iraq they will tell you this is what the war was about.

I don't know if I agree with this or not. It's an interesting thesis. The 9/11 hijackers came from the Arab world, not from Afghanistan. And the Arab world needs to understand that their culture of hatred and death is the problem here, and that we not going to put up with it any longer. So perhaps Tom has a point.

But from what I have read, most of the US soldiers say what motivated them most was liberating an oppressed people from a tyrant. Also, Saddam was despised in the Arab world already, except among the Palestinians. So I think Tom is a little off here.

The best thing about his column is that he lists four reasons for war, and so far the anti-war crowd is only trying to debunk one of those reasons. If they are serious in their opposition, they are going to have to debunk all four.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

What's Left?

Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry does a great job dissecting the various strands of the American left. I'm particularly impressed because Matthew is a conservative, and he gets it just right.

His discussion of Democrats was particularly apt. Conservatives, take note.

The final and largest portion of the American left are registered Democratic voters, people who are not always liberal and are even less likely to self-identify as "left," but who generally vote Democrat out of family tradition, because they hold a disfavorable view of big business, because believe (wrongly, I would assert) that Republicans are the party of intolerance, or because they have fond memories of government activism in years past. One of the revelations of the post-911 world has been the fact that Democratic voters are very often as bellicose as their Republican counterparts. I recall a dinner conversation I had last year with a woman who works in the office of a Democratic state politician in Tallahassee. She was a party line-voting Democrat who loves former President Clinton and dislikes President Bush, but she had recently "discovered" the North Korea situation, and she asserted that the United States should invade the North to stop the atrocities there. She was taking a position that was more right wing than me on the subject, and she didn't believe her position contradicted her party identification at all.

He also coins a new term, "fringebaiting." Read the whole thing to see what he's talking about.

The American Street

A new poll says the part of the world that wants to destroy Israel is more upset with America than ever. Oh well. I don't know about you, but I'm not fishing for their approval any more than I hope for good marks from the neo-Nazi set.

Meanwhile, the same poll turns up a more interesting tidbit. We Americans may not be the current French favorite, but France is even less popular here in America.

Only 29 percent of Americans surveyed said they have very or somewhat favorable views of France, while twice as many feel negatively. French opinion on Americans ranged from 58 percent very or somewhat favorable to 42 percent somewhat unfavorable to very unfavorable.

In some ways I like France. Paris is beautiful, and the people there were nicer to Shelly and I on our trip last year than I expected them to be. And so I'm trying (hard) to like the French again.

If two-thirds of Americans think worse of France than I do, the French better watch out.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Stillborn Road Map

Here is Charles Krauthammer on the Palestinian media.

On May 23, just a week ago, the official newspaper of the supposedly reformed Palestinian Authority carried a front-page picture of the latest suicide bomber dressed in suicide-bomber regalia. It then referred to the place where she did her murdering as "occupied Afula.'' The town of Afula is in Israel's Galilee. It is not occupied. It is not in the West Bank or Gaza. It is within Israel. If Afula is occupied, then Tel Aviv is occupied, Haifa is occupied, and Israel's very existence is a crime.

This bit of incitement and delegitimation was, to my knowledge, reported in not a single American newspaper. It is simply too routine. It is the everyday stuff of Palestinian newspapers and television, schoolbooks, and sermons. Appearing, however, after the Palestinians had presumably adopted new leadership committed to (1) ending terrorism and (2) accepting Israel, this outrage caught the eye of Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff brought it to American attention, noting that "It is difficult to imagine a more chilling message to Israelis who doubt Palestinian commitment to a two-state solution."

Three things must happen before peace between Israelis and Palestinians is possible.

The vast majority of Palestinians must accept that Israel has a right to exist and Israelis have a right not to be terrorized.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad must be wiped from the face of the Earth.

The Palestinian Authority must be reformed (for real) or demolished and rebuilt from scratch.

A lasting peace agreement otherwise has no chance at all.

I can see only two ways these changes can come about. There will be a civil war of Palestinian against Palestinian and the liberals will win. Or Israel will declare total war on all terrorist organizations in the West Bank and Gaza, including Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, and rest of the Palestinian Authority. Either way, expect wrenching violence before lasting peace. There is no non-military solution.

Lott is No McCain

Jonathan Karl writes in The New Republic about Trent Lott's war against the GOP.

When Trent Lott returned to the Senate in January as a fallen leader betrayed by his colleagues, there was one Republican he was eager to see: John McCain. Before Lott's fall, McCain had been the Mississippi senator's nemesis, constantly bucking his leadership and publicly airing Republican dirty laundry. Now, Lott has a different message for McCain: "I'm going to be just like you."

The lifelong Republican apparatchik wants to become a maverick reformer? Puh-leeze.

But there's something else Lott now admires about McCain: his willingness to make life hell for his party leaders as he fights for what he believes in. Liberated from the dual constraints of party leadership and political loyalty, Lott is in a position to possibly have a more lasting impact on the Senate than he did as majority leader. "I do feel a certain degree of newfound freedom," Lott said recently outside his remote office on the fourth floor of the Russell Senate Office Building. "If I am going to be here, I am going to have an impact, to be a player, not just to get even but to make this place work better." And Lott intends to do that by embracing reform measures sure to unsettle his GOP colleagues—first among them the man who succeeded him as Republican leader, Bill Frist.

John McCain fights to make his party better. Trent Lott, in fits of revenge, merely throws rocks at his betters.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Our Friends in Pakistan

Pakistan continues its downward slide.

The Islamist ruling parties in Pakistan's sensitive North West Frontier Province have ordered compulsory prayers for the population and will create a Taliban-style Department of Vice and Virtue to enforce their ruling.

The move is part of a campaign by fundamentalists to turn the whole of Pakistan into a Taliban-style state and is only one of several crises that has paralysed the country and the nine-month-old civilian government.

The six-party Alliance of Islamic parties, the Mutahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which rules the province, said all offices, shops and schools would be closed at prayer time so that all males could go to the mosque.

The Department of Vice and Virtue is to recruit young Islamic zealots to enforce the ruling on the streets.

The MMA were ardent supporters of the Taliban and still assist and support its guerrilla war against United States forces in Afghanistan.

Just what that country needs. As if one weren't bad enough, Pakistan has six Islamist political parties. So whether we like it or not, we're stuck with General Musharraf as our "ally" because he supposedly, in theory and on paper and in speeches broadcast in English, is against the Islamists and says he'll keep them away from the nukes.

Stalled History

As soon as the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, I had a reasonable idea what to expect next. Both Afghanistan and Iraq would be invaded. Terrorists would be flushed out like rats. Tyrants would fall. History would swing on its hinges. The old order would break forever. Realignments would sweep across the planet.

I couldn’t predict all the details, of course. It took longer than I expected for Saddam to get his ticket punched, and his ouster was more controversial than I guessed it would be. I should have foreseen France’s bad behavior, but I didn’t until it happened, and I was surprised every time the French took it to a new level. I figured the Palestinians would mellow out rather than become more deranged. And I was shocked when President Bush invited the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to his ranch in Texas.

Aside from the details, the basic contours of Round One of the post-September 11 era were knowable. Only fools and knaves predicted quagmires, imperial expansion, and American dictatorship.

Well, that’s that. Mullah Omar, Saddam Hussein, and maybe Osama bin Laden are down. Season One is a wrap.

No one knows what Season Two will look like.

It’s a weird feeling. The Terror War isn’t over by a long shot. We all know that. But the tension is gone, for now. No expectation of epic drama to come. The future is a black box again, and it is so unknowable the suspense has been drained out of it. This doesn’t feel like a lull in history. It feels like the engine of history has stalled.

Maybe there will be a revolution in Iran. Maybe the White House will be destroyed and Bush will be assasinated. Palestinians might explode fifty American busses all at once, one in each state, on some random Monday morning. Maybe there will be a civil war in Iraq and the U.S. will have to take sides. The House of Saud might fall. Israel might have a hot war with Syria. India could invade Pakistan. North Korea might follow the lead of the Soviet Union and unceremoniously implode, or it might explode a nuke and trigger another crisis. Any of these things could happen in any particular order. Perhaps none of them will happen.

I don’t remember a time when the direction of history was so unknowable. We can’t guess the future by extrapolating progress along current trends because there aren’t any current trends to extend. The Israeli/Palestinian “road map” strikes me as an unimplementable farce, but what will happen instead is anyone’s guess. Nothing is moving on the North Korean front, and Al Qaeda’s next move is more mysterious than ever. Iraq isn’t moving in any direction in particular, and I’d be a fool to say what I think it will look like in a year or two.

We’ve blown into a domestic Sargasso Sea, too. Will the economy get better? How about a double-dip recession? Perhaps we’ll see a decade of Japan-style stagnation. Should I be optimistic, or should I keep saving money? I don’t know. You don’t know. Economists don’t know. No one knows.

Will Bush be president again after next year’s election? Who knows? We won’t likely coast along on cruise-control until that time, so whatever we end up arguing about will start up between now and the time the campaigns start.

There will be a Next Big Thing. Whatever it is we’ll be surprised, you and me both.

When I was a kid I loved the Twilight Zone story where a woman finds a stopwatch she can use to make the world freeze. She clicks it and everything stops. People stop moving, and cars stop driving. The Earth stops turning, the wind stops blowing, and for all we know fires stopped burning. But she can still walk around and look at everything. I thought it would be so cool to have the power to make everything freeze like that.

It’s how the world feels to me now. Only everybody else gets to move and take a look around, too.

Not From The Onion

France Requests U.S. Statehood


PARIS, June 2 - The French government abruptly pulled out of the European Union and appealed to the United States for admission as the 51st American state.

"We have given up on Old Europe," said French President Jacques Chirac at a press conference outside the Elysees Palace. "Poland won’t shut up, Spain smells, and the Belgians are obnoxious."

The Bush Administration was reportedly stunned.

“The president is as surprised as anyone else,” said Ari Fleischer at the Monday morning White House briefing. “But he will be looking at the French proposal and will start a dialogue with the American people to help determine the best way of going forward.”

Le Monde published an editorial praising the French president’s initiative. “We French have long misunderstood the Americans. We mistakenly thought the dictator of Iraq stood for liberty, equality, and fraternity, but we realize now we got it ass-backwards. The Americans are our friends. We don’t want to play with the Germans anymore. They are no longer useful.”

Pat Buchanan opposes the admission of France as a state. In the lead article for The American Conservative, Buchanan says that “chain-smoking French intellectuals are not welcome in America, even if they are white and nominally Christian.”

In an interview with Z Magazine, Noam Chomsky decried the French proposal as naked American imperialism. “Turning now to the facts, the New York Times reports that both Dick Cheney and Dominique de Villepin were on the payroll of multinational oil conglomerates. It is just straight logic that the union of France and America is little more than political cover for the corporate merger of the Stalinist commissars at Halliburton and TotalFinaElf.”

French filmmakers were a bit glum, but tried to put a happy face on it. “If Hollywood becomes a part of Greater France,” said François Ozon, “French films will finally dominate the Paris scene.”

Former President Bill Clinton shocked no one by opposing the admission of France. “I was gonna run for president of France,” he said last night in a news-making interview with Larry King. “I was born in Arkansas, which used to be French territory, so I qualify for an expedited immigrant visa. I could be president over there and resume my friendship with Monica and avoid all the hassle.”

None are more opposed to the move than the French far-left and the French far-right.

Lutte Ouvrière of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire said “With all that American military hardware, France will never be able to surrender again.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far-right National Front said he would refuse American citizenship if it were offered to him because America has “too many Jews in it” and he doesn’t want to be “a subject of Ariel Sharon.”

The French are expected to vote on the matter in a national referendum July 4, 2003.

Polls show Americans are skeptical of French motives and would rather annex Argentina.

Fit to Print?

With the New York Times scandals erupting now on a weekly schedule, a little excerpt from Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens is in order.

How to ward off atrophy and routine, you ask? Well, I can give you a small and perhaps ridiculous example. Every day, the New York Times carries a motto in a box on its front page. "All the New That's Fit to Print," it says. It's been saying it for decades, day in and day out. I imagine most readers of the canonical sheet have long ceased to notice this bannered and flaunted symbol of its mental furniture. I myself check every day to make sure that the bright, smug, pompous, idiotic claim is still there. Then I check to make sure that it still irritates me. If I can still exclaim, under my breath, why do they insult me and what do they take me for and what the hell is it supposed to mean unless it's as obviously complacent and conceited and censorious as it seems to be, then at least I know I still have a pulse.

You may wish to choose a more rigorous mental workout but I credit this daily infusion of annoyance with extending my lifespan.

Christopher Hitchens has long been a contrarian, but more and more people keep coming around to his way of looking at things.

Honor, Tradition, and Oppression

The Washington Post does not understand Iraqi honor. Andrew Apostolou explains.

Copyright 2003 Michael J. Totten