WMD Backlash (posted 5/1/03 1:50 a.m.)
The other day Richard Cohen wrote one of his better columns that managed to be both witty and smart. A friend who liked it summed up its key point this way: "The Mideast already has a democracy the Arabs can emulate, but won't -- Israel."
Alas, because Cohen as is his wont was too clever by half, everyone else has fixated on an earlier point. Even Howard Kurtz made a rare mention of his colleague to highlight it: namely, that it looks like Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction for us to go to war over. It seems we've been "snookered."
And that's to put it kindly. As Kurtz noted, there's an "WMD backlash" at work, with lots of liberal pundits lacing into President Bush for misleading the nation about the threat Saddam posed. Two arch-libs cited by Kurtz, namely the knee-jerk anti-Bushies Paul Krugman and Joe Conason, say the alleged absence of WMD raises cast doubt on the administration's "credibility." (But since those two haven't exactly accepted the Bush presidency's legitimacy, why should they find anything about it to be credible?)
Lack of "credibility" is also cited in a recent column by Molly Ivins, a more jovial version of Krugman and Conason. She thinks Bush is in real trouble now for overselling the WMD argument. Unfortunately, her own bias does her in. She alleges Saddam has no WMD even as she insists we have the receipts for the WMD we supposedly sold to Saddam in the early 1980s.
What's interesting about the WMD backlash is that it's really a backlash against an important column by the New York Times's Thomas Friedman last Sunday, and as such speaks volumes about the left's absolute indifference to human suffering and yearning for freedom. Writing about the discovery of skull "exhumed ... from a graveyard filled with other victims of Saddam's torture," Friedman observes in two truly remarkable passages:
"Mr. Bush doesn't owe the world any explanation for missing chemical weapons (even if it turns out that the White House hyped this issue). It is clear that in ending Saddam's tyranny, a huge human engine for mass destruction has been broken....
"Whether you were for or against this war, whether you preferred that the war be done with the U.N.'s approval or without it, you have to feel good that right has triumphed over wrong. America did the right thing here. It toppled one of the most evil regimes on the face of the earth, and I don't think we know even a fraction of how deep that evil went. Fair-minded people have to acknowledge that. Who cares if we now find some buried barrels of poison? Do they carry more moral weight than those buried skulls? No way."
That's not the way the liberal mind likes to think. Times reader response to Friedman's column, if the letters the paper prominently ran on Tuesday ("Did the Case for War Hold Up?") are any indication, were uniformly hostile to Friedman's sentiments. The first reader said he's not celebrating the end of Saddam's regime because that would justify the administration's "pre-emptive" policies in disregard "for the decent respect for the opinions of mankind." A second reader rejected Friedman's argument because it would make the administration's failure to find WMD "moot" and suggests "the ends have justified the means." A third found nothing to celebrate because we'd (supposedly) supported Saddam two decades ago. Two additional letters, in response to a Times editorial, say the administration has "a lot of explaining to do" regarding its failure to locate WMD and that "history will question President Bush's motives in perpetuity" if WMD aren't found.
Perhaps most revealing is what letter writer number four notes with a deep frown on his face, I'm sure: that "the world should brace for the possibility that disarming Saddam Hussein was never the primary reason for invading Iraq, but rather a pretext for deposing an anti-Western regime and remaking the politics of the Arab region." Think the world is strong enough to face such a shocking possibility? Now it's one thing to think such a project is more than the U.S. can handle in a hopelessly unstable region. But the good liberal apparently thinks it's simply criminal to think of getting rid of any regime hostile to the West.
Long lost in all of this is any sense that Bush's Iraq war is part of the War on Terrorism. In fact, the War on Terrorism may no longer exist in the liberal consciousness. It's becoming a Republican talking point, something akin to the GOP's anti-Communism during the Cold War while the Democrats went McGovernite. Soon enough, at least on the liberal left, the idea of 9/11 as anything momentous will disappear entirely. That war on Saddam was a logical result of 9/11 is the last thing it is prepared to comprehend.
Seizing on phantom WMD must give the left a nice sense of gotcha! But it will leave it clueless to the real reasons for the Iraq war, which most Americans understand intuitively. In simple terms, the U.S. is no longer willing to put up with those who caused it grief beforehand and then regarded the attacks of September 11 as their special victory. The only drawback is that once certain unfinished business is taken care of, a whole new set of problems crop up. The only certainty is that liberal carpers will be of no use in dealing with them.
Saudi, Partner (posted 4/28/03 1:20 a.m.)
The more things change post-9/11, the more they don't. Fittingly enough, it was a story hidden in the inner recesses of Sunday's news, about what quietly and secretly took place during the Iraq war in an endangered place called Saudi Arabia.
This will not be good news to those who expect Saudi Arabia to go the way of Iraq, Syria, Iran, North Korea, and other despotic players to be named later. As home and practical sponsor of almost every 9/11 hijacker, the Saudis weren't long for this world. Americans had it up here with the treachery of these wayward, creepy allies. Never again would we be fooled. But then as the showdown with Iraq grew hotter, they kind of disappeared from the radar screen.
But now thanks to Michael Dobbs, the Washington Post's excellent diplomatic correspondent, we know more about what's really what -- and how some relationships have a solider core than most wanted to appreciate. The headline is almost deceptively plain: "U.S.-Saudi Alliance Appears Strong." Then this clincher to the introduction, describing five months of "intensive military cooperation between Washington and Riyadh" since last October: "Saudi Arabia ended up agreeing to virtually every request made by the Bush administration for military and logistical assistance."
This included use of a Saudi air base, use of Saudi staging grounds for special forces operations in western Iraq, and overflight privileges. Perhaps even more importantly, the Saudis increased their oil production to such an extent that by the time the Iraq war started, "world oil prices tumbled from $37 to $27 per barrel." They even built up reserves of crude that guaranteed we'd be supplied.
So this is a regime we're going to do away with? On whose watch?
The Post ran an unusual feature on Sunday as well: last letters home by some 21 American soldiers killed in the Iraq War. They're exceptionally moving and disturbing at once, since one can't help but feel that he's intruding on truly personal matters (does it honor a dead Marine to learn that he ended his final letter to his wife that he loved her and "Zoe" more than anything, and that "It does not matter if Zoe is not mine..."?). A few of the dead appear frightened, or have premonitions; several others are already making plans for after they've returned. Each had deep love of family and country, a pride in his mission, a long life to look forward to. It's all too sad for words. As one signed off, after describing why "today would be a beautiful fishing day" -- "Well, Pop, not much else to say on paper."
After describing a three-day sandstorm, a 22 year old Marine added this: "Oh yeah, I've seen a camel. Just one it was in the back of someone's pickup truck. Just chilling cruising down the road. Like a dog in the back of someone's truck back home. Well gotta go...."
The Shiites' Winning Picture (posted 4/24/03 1:20 a.m.)
We are no longer between Iraq and a hard place. We are in a hard place. The pictures told the story early on. Recall the famous toppling of the Saddam statue on Firdos Square. For such a grand moment, it sure was sparsely attended. At best there were a few hundred participants, a crowd that on TV seemed as small as the groups that several days earlier had supposedly greeted Saddam on along a Baghdad street.
But the real contrast was with other gatherings that began to appear on the screen and in newspaper photos -- of Shiites in huge thick crowds that made an entirely different impression. And from all indications, they have about as much use for America as they did for Saddam. Gratitude doesn't seem to be on the table. As Shiite pilgrims go on their unmerry way to Karbala and Najaf, common ground with Western man is the last thing one can imagine on the Iraqi horizon.
News coverage is catching up with the story. Wednesday provided a slew of fresh reports and op-eds, all of them suggesting in one way or another that U.S. plans for Iraq may amount to nothing because Shiite power is quickly proving both greater and better organized than anyone had supposed. "U.S. Planners Surprised by Strength of Iraqi Shiites," a Washington Post headline announced. Then there's the Iran factor, as captured by the New York Times story headlined, "Iran Said to Send Agents Into Iraq: Groups, Including Some Exiles, Is Filling a Power Vacuum." The only bright spot for the U.S. may be that Iraqi Shiites have their own divisions and leadership rivalries, and not all these Iraqis are that eager to tie their future to non-Arab Iran's.
But then consider two recent pieces from leading Iran expert and democracy exporter Michael Ledeen. In the first, a cover story written a few weeks ago for the London Spectator, was almost optimistic about what can and must be done to the "very worried" terror-sponsoring dictators of Syria and Iran. Yet in a column for National Review Online two days ago, Ledeen expressed great concern that "the political battle for the freedom of the Iraqi people...may be over very quickly, to our surprise and shame" -- above all because of what Iran has already managed to do.
A day before the N.Y. Times story on these activities, Ledeen noted that "the true audacity of Tehran lies in their political motives." He reports that "Iranians have infiltrated more than a hundred highly trained Arab mullahs from Qom and other Iranian religious centers into Iraq, especially to Najaf and Karbala, the holy cities of the Shiite faith. They are poisoning the minds of the (largely uneducated) Iraqi mobs with a simple slogan, repeated five times a day in the mosques: 'America did it for the Jews and for the oil.' They are also distributing cash to the Iraqis." These are details the Times neglects to mention.
Ledeen goes on:
"Just as they did against the shah, the Iranian Shiite leaders intend to build a mass following, leading to an insurrection against us. Look carefully at the banners carried by the Shiite demonstrators. They are very clean and well produced, with slogans in both Arabic (for the Iraqis) and English (for Western media). That is the Iranian regime at work, one of the most brilliant and patient intelligence organizations in the region. The slogans chanted by the mobs in Baghdad are Iranian slogans, calls for an Islamic state."
Or this: "The Iranians will combine this political strategy with terrorist acts and assassinations, as in the case of the very charismatic Ayatollah Khoi in Najaf. He was a real threat to them, because of his personality and his solid pro-Western views. So they killed him, and they are planning to kill others of his ilk, along with as many Coalition soldiers as they can murder."
Is the situation hopeless? Ledeen offers some suggestions, one of which would involve working through pro-Western mullahs in Najaf and Karbala to win over the minds of Iraqi Shiites, the other to proceed with ousting the ayatollahs of Iran. The latter currently seems less likely than even any move against Bashar Assad's Syria. The former meanwhile appears a complete pipe dream, considering Ledeen's above-cited description of the already poisoned minds of largely uneducated Iraqi mobs. Ledeen has stressed that the victory in Iraq is just the opening battle in a long, long war on terror. Yet he also says the U.S. has a window of no more than a month or two to prevent the Iran's Islamic Republic from succeeding in its so far "brilliantly managed campaign" to emerge as the real winner in Iraq.
His conclusion is maybe the most depressing reading of the current situation yet written: "...we are up against a desperate enemy with great skill and cunning, and the cynical ruthlessness that comes from an ancient civilization that has survived countless invaders and occupiers over many millennia." From anyone else it would sound like an argument against having become involved in Iraq in the first place.
A Knight's Tale (posted 4/22/03 12:32 a.m.)
As an Indiana University alum I often received unsolicited calls from IU fundraisers hoping for a donation of some kind. I always tell them one thing: no money until they rename Assembly Hall after Bobby Knight. Oh, and they can apologize to him too. For almost 30 years he put Bloomington on the map and kept it there. He was Mr. Indiana. Then the university's p.c. police trumped up charges to oust him. He now coaches at Texas Tech, where this year he declined to collect his six-figure salary on the grounds that he hadn't done a good enough job. Meanwhile, Myles Brand, the IU president who orchestrated the anti-Knight coup, has gone on to run the NCAA. But word from Bloomington is that Brand hasn't cut his ties to IU. He's merely on some form of administrative leave, so as not to jeopardize the six-figure annual pension he expects to collect in due course. Next time the fundraisers call I'll add that maybe they should hit him up instead.
Indiana's official animus against Knight verges on the Orwellian. The other day I received the spring issue of the "Indiana Alumni Mini Magazine." It includes an interesting feature on thirty ways Indiana University has "changed the world in which we live." There are items on such famous IU connected figures as DNA researcher James Watson, on Ernie Pyle, Hoagie Carmichael, Kevin Kline, Mark Spitz, Alfred Kinsey, and even Mark Cuban, the "flamboyant, outspoken owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks," who earned his BS from Indiana in 1981 and who, together with a fellow IU alum, went on to pioneer "the development of live video and audio streams over the Internet." What motivated them? "They wanted to watch IU basketball games live."
And who would have been the coach back then who inspired such loyalty? You'd have to dig deep into item 16, which names various Indiana coaches from way back, and in near-communist blacklist style, adds this one sentence two-third of the way down, after a longer write up of the school's soccer coach: "In 29 seasons Bob Knight guided men's basketball to three national titles and a winning percentage of .734." That's it. Not one other word or sign of recognition. Otherwise Knight never happened. The ingrates. The cowards.
One expects Saddam Hussein will get better coverage under a Shiite regime than Bob Knight is receiving in liberated Indiana.
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