Friday, December 07, 2001

The Atomic Option

Gregg Easterbrook raises the question of the best way to eliminate the remaining al-Qaeda loyalists hunkered down at Tora Bora, and suggested the safest method for us would be the use of a nuclear bomb, detonated underground just like a test. This would collapse all the tunnels and wipe out the terrorists, while allowing little to no radiation to reach the surface. Better yet, no friendly forces would have to try and fight their way into the tunnel complexes, where they would undoubtedly take horrendous casualties.

Still, using a nuclear bomb is a huge move from a political standpoint, risking the ire of many of our erstwhile allies, and undoubtedly gaining us no end of condemnation from the anti-war activists. And using a nuclear device crosses a critical threshold by unleashing weapons of mass destruction, something I don't think we should risk unless the payoff is unquestionably worth it.

This seems like an option we should probably keep in reserve for the time being, unless and until such time as it's demonstrated there is absolutely no other method to wipe the enemy out.
The Glory of Competition

Stephen Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis, offers an excellent argument in favor of competition to improve government services. As Mayor, Goldsmith required unions to bid against private contractors to provide city services, and, unsurprisingly, the city got better services for less money. Goldsmith correctly points out that public monopolies are no different than private ones--the consumer inevitably suffers, because a monopoly can provide whatever level of service it wants without fear of losing the contract. Visit your local DMV or Post Office and you'll see some of the effects monopolies have on customer service and worker productivity; although there are certainly some workers in both these fields who do provide good service, they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. One wonders what this will mean for airline security.
Ashcroft and Dissent

The Washington Post points out Attorney General Ashcroft's opening remarks from his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.

"We need honest, reasoned debate, and not fear-mongering. To those . . . who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of goodwill to remain silent in the face of evil."

Although the Post's characterization of the remarks as a 'smear' is probably a little strong, they're right on the larger point: Ashcroft is not inspiring confidence in his ability to fight terrorism while respecting fundamental civil liberties. More importantly, Ashcroft is forgetting what makes America better than anywhere else; we not only permit dissent, we publicize it. The only way to properly determine the best course of action is to openly evaluate all the courses of action people proffer. If the anti-war Left is wrong, let's hear their arguments and debunk them. If Ashcroft is justified in his attempts to expand Federal power, then he should offer his arguments in favor of them. Then we can all kick the arguments around and determine if they're valid or not. Either way, we'll come out stronger if we do that, and far weaker if we listen to Ashcroft and call all dissent scaremongering. There are legitimate questions about the USA Patriot Act and many other actions of the Justice Department since September 11. We owe it to ourselves and to posterity to discuss them.
Sharon as Clinton?

Charles Krauthammer points out the sea change in American Middle East policy with President Bush's statement Israel has the right to defend herself. But, Sharon is not taking advantage of this to do what is necessary to destroy the terrorist network within the Palestinian Authority, instead 'sending a message' to Arafat. Part of this, of course, is because Shimon Peres is more interested in promoting himself than protecting his country, telling the world he will pull his party out of Sharon's National Unity government if Arafat is killed. But these helicopter strikes and destruction of offices near Arafat's seem to come from the Bill Clinton school of self-defense, which led to September 11. If Israel is to truly protect herself, as she should, she needs to act against all terrorists without restraint.
Unemployment and the Government

With new reports placing the unemployment rate at 5.7%, the highest level in six years, we will no doubt see new calls for the government to 'do something.' What the government can do is, of course, open to question, but many people are convinced something should be done, nonetheless. While soaring unemployment is certainly a bad thing, another significant negative indicator for the economy, I would argue that if government does 'something,' they're more likely to hurt than help the economy. The only thing I can think of that might actually help the economy would be accelerating President Bush's tax cuts, but as long as the government insists on a static revenue model, we'll never see that. Indeed, Congress appears more likely to keep dumping taxpayer money into the economy, bringing us back to the days of soaring deficits, and eliminating any hope of tax cuts in the future. Let's hope the government at least can try not to do any further harm to the economy.
Kandahar Falls

The last Taliban outpost has fallen to allied forces this morning. However, Mullah Omar appears to have slipped the net and vanished somewhere else in Afghanistan, and bin Laden and many of his al Qaeda comrades are still holed up in cave complexes. Further, reports claim many Taliban fighters left Kandahar without surrendering their weapons, so this battle is not over yet. It remains to be seen how well the Afghan interim government can pull the country together, and we have no idea what the former Taliban fighters will do--return home and thank their lucky stars they got out alive, or take to the hills and continue the fight. I don't believe many of the former Taliban will be interested in continuing the fight, but we need to make sure those that do are hunted down and killed as quickly as possible.
Lest we Forget

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, FoxNews has posted brief profiles of the seven Americans killed in our war on terrorism to date. Legacy.com has a listing of the heroes of United Flight 93. And at Politics and Protest there is a disturbing presentation of the events of September 11. All of these are valuable reminders of the costs of this war, and why we're fighting it.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Those Crazy French

FoxNews reports that the Paris city council has named Mumia abu-Jamal an honorary citizen of Paris, an honor last proferred to Pablo Picasso. For those unfamiliar with him, abu-Jamal is on death row for murdering a Philadelphia police officer in 1981. Abu-Jamal is a former Black Panther, and he has written quite a bit about his incarceration in the 20 years and counting it's taken to complete the process. His cause is something of a litmus test on the Left: if you aren't convinced abu-Jamal was railroaded, you're just wrong. Personally, of course, I oppose the death penalty, but it's hard to argue abu-Jamal hasn't gotten the benefit of the doubt here, after being convicted and working through 20 years of appeals. Can I say definitively he's guilty? Of course not, but then I can't really say that about anyone the criminal justice system convicts; we have to build the best system possible and trust it to do the best it can. Nobody has been able to come up with evidence exonerating him, despite 20 years of trying, which strikes me as a rather convincing piece of evidence in itself. But, the Left continues to demonstrate it's little more than an alternative religion, in which evidence is not required. Abu-Jamal is black, ergo, he's being railroaded. The lack of evidence to exonerate is just more evidence of how thoroughly racism is embedded in the US. Convenient, isn't it? I suppose it's not too surprising the French would get in on the game, since they know abu-Jamal can't kill any of them if he's released, so this is a free opportunity for them to look down their noses at America. And that's what this is really about.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Good news for AIDS sufferers?

Andrew Sullivan reports he has been off his AIDS drug regimen since June, and thus far his immune system appears to be holding the HIV in his system in check. Although he will, of course, have to continue to monitor the level of the virus in his blood, and may well have to return to his regimen at some point in the future, the respite offers excellent news for the battle against AIDS. Given the expense of the drugs, as well as the side effects and the difficulty of maintaining the regimen properly, the ability to allow patients to take occasional, or even regular breaks in the regimen offers both reduced cost and higher quality of life to AIDS-sufferers. Sullivan rightly points out, however, that these results are strictly the result of his personal experience, and clinical tests will be required to determine if his experience is typical. Also, because the level of HIV in his system is now relatively high, Sullivan is at much greater risk of transmitting the virus to others, pointing up the critical need to maintain safe sex habits. Nonetheless, one hopes the medical establishment will investigate the ramifications of Sullivan's experience, and perhaps modify future treatments to take advantage of this knowledge.
Happy Birthday, Walt

Today marks Walt Disney's 100th birthday, although, sadly, he's not around to celebrate it with us, having died in late December of 1966 from lung cancer. Nonetheless, his legacy has lived on, epitomized by his theme parks and the Walt Disney Studios. You can check out an interesting history of his life on the Disney web site museum, while Michael Ledeen posts a few notes from his personal acquaintance with the man. And at Walt Disney World, they're celebrating his 100th birthday all year, including an impressive exhibit taking you through his life and achievements, as well as how the company is continuing to try and carry on his vision.

Of course, the company has made its share of mistakes, as Walt did himself, and no doubt will continue to do so. But speaking as someone who finds renewal and happiness when I visit the parks or view one of Disney's best films, I think it's important to note what an impact Walt had on the world. He wasn't a politician, nor a general, nor did he follow any other profession we normally expect to lead to greatness. But his drive, determination and vision created things to make people happy--not a bad legacy at all, if you think about it.
Islamic Skull Session

Both InstaPundit and Virginia Postrel point to this hysterically funny 'transcript' of a recent meeting of Mullahs to discuss their progress in defeating the West and return Islam to its glory days. It's too funny to just selectively quote; Jonathan Rauch has outdone himself with this. Read it for yourself, but try not to hurt yourself laughing.
Why Editorial Restraint is Important

First, thanks to Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit for pointing out this story. In case the link dies, the gist of it is that Japan launched some 9,000 hydrogen balloons with bombs attached in late 1944, in hopes of causing panic in the United States. Perhaps 1000 of them actually touched down in the US, killing at least six Americans. But the media and the victims agreed not to publicize the attacks, and the Japanese concluded their plan had failed. If they had seen some success from the attacks, it's conceivable the Japanese would have released balloons carrying chemical or biological weapons, both of which they had in abundance.

Does this story mean the media shouldn't report on anything al Qaeda does in the United States? No, of course not. Such a blackout would be unlikely to last even if the media agreed to it, thanks to the far more distributed communications infrastructure we have today. But this is an excellent example of how the media can help or harm American war efforts by carrying information to the enemy. As Winston Churchill once famously observed, in war the truth is so precious as to require a bodyguard of lies; the media should keep this in mind and consider carefully the effects of major stories it plans to run about al Qaeda operations or American vulnerabilities.
Missing the Obvious

FoxNews just had a former US Army Ranger on to talk about possible causes of the friendly fire deaths of two American soldiers early this morning in Afghanistan. First, of course, it's far too early to really have any idea what might be the cause, but there's nothing inherently wrong with speculation. What I found both sad and amusing, however, was the assessment that the deaths were caused either by a hardware problem with the bomb, or a software problem during data transfer from the SF team on the ground to the bomber. Now both of these could have happened, but what is just as likely, if not more so, is simple human error. It's not easy to determine precise locations of even your own forces when you're on the ground, let alone the location of enemy forces. It's quite possible the observer calling the mission simply sent up incorrect coordinates to the enemy mortar, and the bomb hit right where he told it to. I suspect the reason the observer on Fox didn't mention this is he didn't want to be seen 'blaming the victim,' as it were. But even if this is the case, it doesn't make the death less tragic, or shift blame onto the person who ordered the airstrike. Combat, despite what the Pentagon tends to claim, is a messy business, and things often go wrong. This incident is just another instance of that phenomenon.
Fearmongering from the Left

I tried to post this two days ago, but Blogger ate it for some reason, so here it is again. Robert Kuttner, editor of The American Prospect, penned an op-ed for The Boston Globe Monday comparing our war on terrorism to the Cold War. Although his initial thesis seems a valid comparison, he quickly descends into alarmism and unjustified conclusions. Here is the end of his piece, with my comments interspersed.

"This new Cold War is barely three months old, and already the administration has done stunning violence to due process of law in the name of fighting terrorism."

Wow, stunning violence. That's a strong claim, but one assumes Mr. Kuttner will back it up in the following observations.

"Before Sept. 11, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox were on the verge of negotiating a significant liberalization of the immigration laws. Now we are facing the most severe immigrant crackdown since the quota laws of the 1920s."

If this is true, and no laws have been passed restricting immigration yet, Mr. Kuttner fails to explain why it is bad. He seems to be operating from a simple paradigm: immigration good, restrictions bad. That's his choice, of course, but wouldn't it be nice if he backed it up, even if only with a simple statement that he thinks restricted immigration is bad? After all, America has always moved from looser to tighter immigration laws, creating waves of immigrants then slowing the flow to allow the immigrants time to assimilate into American culture. Given the balkanization we've seen in America in recent years, couldn't a good argument be made that a temporary restriction on immigration would be better for the country in the long run?

"Attorney General Ashcroft, with scant regard for the Constitution, has lately backpedaled a bit on his Star Chamber courts."

Kuttner manages to make several errors in one short sentence. First, it has yet to be established that the military tribunals proposed by the Bush administration are, in fact, unConstitutional. And if the Attorney General is already backpedaling, as Kuttner claims, why should we be so concerned? Particularly since not a single tribunal has been convened yet.

"Some leaders of his own party, such as Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector, think he has gone too far. Even former senior FBI officials have gone on the record to declare that general dragnets are of little use in cracking terrorist cells, while they violate fundamental rights."

Of course, some Democrats think the President is fully justified in calling for military tribunals. Kuttner doesn't mention this, of course, because it doesn't support his argument, but the argument is no good to begin with. Some leaders of the Republican party disagreed with the President on his willingness to let vouchers be cut out of his education plan and his allowing the federalization of airport security workers. Kuttner didn't suggest the President was wrong to go against leaders of his party in those cases. As to 'senior FBI officials,' that's all well and good, but there have been no further terrorist strikes since September 11, despite the widespread belief al Qaeda had plans for follow-up attacks. There's no way to prove the FBI's detainment of so many suspected terrorists is the cause of this, but it seems premature to make blanket statements that dragnets are of little use.

"Plainly, there is no constitutional reason why the names of detainees cannot be made public and the charges against them specified."

Perhaps there is no constitutional reason, but there are certainly good reasons. The Attorney General has already explained he doesn't want the al Qaeda leadership to know which of their people have been picked up. This seems logical, although certainly there is an argument to be made in favor of releasing the names to protect the innocent. Kuttner once again doesn't bother to make that argument, however.

"Despite Ashcroft's tactical retreat, this kind of inconclusive war is likely to bring a narrowing of civil liberties and an increase in presidential police power."

Extraordinary claims normally require extraordinary evidence, and this should be one of those times. Kuttner, however, just says it's going to happen and assumes the reader will take him at his word. Based on the outcry already being raised about civil liberties and police power, however, it's clear the American people are unlikely to just sit back and allow such attacks without protest. Kuttner is stooping to hyperbole in a desperate attempt to bolster the case he hasn't bothered to make.

"One constructive piece of fallout from this cold war, like the last one, is that the American role in the world is now necessarily more multilateral."

Of course, Kuttner can't close without insisting on the wonders of multilateralism.

"Despite the skepticism of the right, this war cannot be won unless multilateral agencies and peacekeeping forces play a very major role. This was also true of the first Cold War, which compelled a somewhat isolationist United States to stake its security on such institutions as the United Nations, NATO, and international economic development agencies."

Once again, Kuttner puts out a theory without ever bothering to back it up with facts. The war in Afghanistan is nearing the endgame, and multilateralism has been a joke. This war has been won by American and British forces working with the anti-Taliban forces within Afghanistan. That's as multilateral as it has gotten. Yes, we'll look for a multilateral force to help clean up afterwards, but winning the war is going to be a generally unilateral task. Kuttner's interpretation of the Cold War is almost hysterically funny; we staked our security on the UN and NATO to win the Cold War? And all this time I thought our security was guaranteed by our nuclear forces, while our victory was predicated on our ability to outproduce the Communists. Sure, we used multilateral institutions where we could in the Cold War, as we will in this war. That kind of multilateralism, used to further our own goals, has always been a hallmark of US policy. What drives Kuttner crazy is that he can't force us to be more multilateral when it comes to undermining our interests with the Kyoto Protocol or the UN Racism Conference in Durban. And despite his 'arguments,' we'll continue to avoid that sort of foolishness.

The sad thing is, there are some good questions raised by Kuttner in his piece. But because he refuses to make a real argument anywhere in the piece, the questions fall by the wayside in favor of trying to score ideological points. All of us are poorer when people make such arguments, because the greater questions are left on the sidelines.
Recession Questions and Journalism

Robert Samuelson suggests the current recession could be the worst since the early 1980s, if not the worst since the Second World War. Why, he asks, is the media reporting on the recession intermittently at best, and with little indication it will be serious? Beyond the question of terrorism, Samuelson feels the media tends to simply follow Wall Street to understand the economy, and so as long as the market is trending up, the media will report a healthy economy. Given how poorly the media seems to be handling reporting on the war, it's not overly surprising to hear they may be just as inept in other areas, but Samuelson's assessment of the severity of this recession raises some important questions about what, if anything, we can do about it. And until the mainstream media notices the recession, those questions almost certainly will not be asked.
Keeping Options Open

Jim Hoagland claims the Bush administration is going to fight this war day-to-day, keeping it's options open to take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and moving to strike whichever enemy appears most dangerous at that time. Iraq, according to Hoagland, is not yet a priority, as the administration is more concerned with completing the destruction of the Taliban and the al Qaeda infrastructure in Afghanistan right now. Then they will likely move to prevent al Qaeda from reconstituting itself in some other shattered country like Somalia or the Sudan. Only when those objectives have been met will the administration turn to Iraq. Assuming, of course, Hussein doesn't invite al Qaeda into Iraq or pull something else to egregious to ignore. This strategy, if accurately reported, seems quite logical, but the administration will need to build its case for it in the press and especially with the public. As long as Americans know what the plan is, they can be patient, but the Bush administration cannot afford to assume the public will trust in it indefinitely.
Friendly Fire

It appears a B-52 strike has killed two Americans north of Kandahar. Although friendly fire incidents are to be expected in combat, they're still a tough thing for us to accept. Often people killed by friendly fire are seen as somehow less heroic than those who die from enemy action, an unjustified conclusion. The men killed and wounded by a misplaced bomb were still in Afghanistan fighting for their country; fighting for us. Their deaths are no less heroic for the circumstances surrounding them, and we should treat them no differently. This war will claim many lives before it is over; let us remember each of the heros who has given his life that the world might have a better future.
Optimism and Iraq

FoxNews calls for toppling Saddam Hussein before Christmas today. Although the idea certainly sounds good, I think the rapid progress in Afghanistan is letting some people get ahead of themselves. Now it is possible a coordinated bombing campaign could cause Hussein to fall in less time than the Taliban; but it's rather unlikely, and this isn't an operation we should be trying to rush in any case. While I advocate the destruction of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, I believe we're going to have to take our time and make sure we've set up the conditions in Iraq properly first. And we have to finish up completely in Afghanistan before we move on to the next target in any case. Hussein will still be there when we've killed bin Laden and his associates. Let's get that job done first, then take our time to do the next job properly as well.

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

The Marines are on the Job

Jay Nordlinger quotes a Marine from Afghanistan, “You can tell the Taliban any time they come up against the U.S. Marines, they’re going to die real soon. You can tell the American and Afghan people they don’t have to worry about the Taliban anymore. The U.S. Marines are on the job.” Those who know me well know I give the Marines a very hard time, but I defy anyone not to feel their blood stir at that Marine's pronouncement. The Marines, as well as the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, are in harm's way overseas right now for all of us, regardless of what we may think of them. I hope we all remember that the next time someone chooses to denigrate those who serve their country.
Some Believe the Media is in Trouble

Victor David Hanson posts a good analysis of American media failures during the war in Afghanistan in today's National Review Online. From the tacit acceptance of al Jazeera as an Arab CNN to the consistent failure of the media to ask hard questions, Hanson points out a number of reasons the media finds itself with such a poor approval rating. They would do well to read it, and to ask themselves if there's any truth in it. But the American media seems to have a remarkable ability to ignore criticism and avoid self-reflection, even as they urge such measures on the rest of us. If this continues, the media could well find themselves irrelevant, as people turn to sources like the Internet, which does far more to police itself, rather than listening to the preordained conclusions of the media, and reporters who inject their own opinions into stories through rhetorical flourishes like 'some believe.'
The Failure of Oslo

George Will correctly points out how thoroughly the Oslo peace plan has failed to even begin to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict in an op-ed in today's Washington Post. Neither Arafat nor any of his people have taken one step to fulfilling their part of the Oslo Accords, instead just taking advantage of Israel's concessions to put themselves in an even better position to kill more Israelis and continue their attempt to destroy the Jewish state. It is time for America to step out of the process and tell the Palestinians they're on their own. Let Israel destroy the Palestinian Authority, and tell the Palestinians they can have another chance when they show some concrete progress towards ending terrorism and a willingness to coexist with Israel. Until they do more than mouth a few words, the Palestinians deserve no assistance from us. A peace process can only exist when both sides want it, and clearly we have not yet reached that state.
Treason 101

The Washington Post notes the capture of at least one, and possibly three American citizens who have been fighting for the Taliban. They focus on the one confirmed American, discussing his conversion to Islam and his parents' anguish at his appearance in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, his mother believes he was 'brainwashed' to fight for the Taliban. Any way you look at it, however, he's arguably a traitor, as would be the other two alleged Americans, if he was involved in the prison riot at Mazar-e-Sharif. But something tells me he won't be treated that way.
Quagmire Alert?

Under the imprimateur of 'analysis,' the Washington Post today assesses the American campaign in southern Afghanistan. Although I can't find the word 'quagmire,' it does note a 'go-slow' approach, 'delays,' 'little sign of any territorial gain,' and that US commanders are determined 'not to rush the war to conclusion.'

Of course, all of this is true, and so it may be honest analysis on the part of the Post. Conversely, it may be a return to the October trend of stories equating Afghanistan with Vietnam. At this point, it's too early to tell, but the lack of apparent progress in Afghanistan seems likely to bring Vietnam and quagmire back to the press sooner rather than later.
Gender Feminism Fails Again

Wendy McElroy points up the dichotomy between what gender feminists say and what they do in a scathing column on FoxNews. At a time one might expect the gender feminists to be pleased that the plight of women in Afghanistan is finally being addressed, instead they are fixated on making sure nobody but them can 'own' the issue of gender equity, so that they can define it for their own purposes to further their anti-men agenda here in the US. It's a sad story, but a common one among gender feminists these days. Much like the media, the most vocal feminists of today no longer speak for the majority of those they claim to represent, instead representing a strange far-left coalition of interests. And, like the media, the gender feminists are virtually certain not to notice their flock is no longer interested in what they have to say.

Monday, December 03, 2001

Childishness Alert

Fox News posts a listing of stupid things people have done in response to the war over the past few weeks. It's pretty amusing, to put it mildly.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Power Grab Alert

Not content with the massive new powers granted by the deceptively-named USA Patriot Act, the CIA now wants the authority to come after people here in the United States whenever it feels the need. They are asking for the right to monitor telephones and computers being used in the US. For some reason, the CIA doesn't feel that it's enough for the FBI to be able to do this, which they can. No, the CIA has to be able to surveil people right here in the United States in the interest of 'national security.'

I believe them when they say that, actually. I don't think many people in the Justice Department or the CIA are looking to grab power simply for the sake of expanding their empire. They honestly think they need these abilities to get the job done, and they have no intention of abusing these powers. But power truly does corrupt, because once you have such nifty new abilities, it's easy to find new circumstances in which to use them. Further, it's hard to argue we really need to give out more powers than those that were in place on September 11.

The CIA already knew terrorists had planned to hijack and destroy planes. It knew terrorists had tried to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower. And it knew there were terrorist groups looking to strike at the United States. Yet nobody at the agency considered the possibility of September 11. I would be the last to suggest that I would have thought of it, but my point is that the CIA already had the information it needed, using the old rules. They just weren't capable of imagining such a disaster. So, before we throw more capabilities at them, perhaps they should explain how having more information on September 11 might have prevented those attacks.
The Future of War?

An article in this morning's Washington Post provides a fascinating assessment of the tactics used in Afghanistan and the questions they raise. As always in such a case, there are some who want to argue that we should rebuild out military to optimize it for this kind of conflict; allowing us to refight the Afghanistan war with much greater efficiency, but eliminating capabilities we didn't use with little thought as to whether or not we might need them in the future.

This is a tough topic, and the reporter does a pretty good job of finding both sides of the argument. (I guess he won't be getting a job for The New York Times any time soon.) On the one hand, we should try and learn from our experiences in the war, and determine if our results there indicate a need for a significant change to our force structure. However, we don't want to fall into the trap of believing the next war will be just like the last. With the possible exception of World War II and Korea, we have never fought two consecutive wars under similar circumstances. Optimizing our forces for this kind of war might well leave us vulnerable to nations with stronger air forces, or nations whose ground forces aren't opposed by any indigenous forces. One of the most interesting questions that will come out of this war, and one that will have a massive effect on our future national security, will be how we rebuild our military in light of this war.