Saturday, December 15, 2001

Where's Osama

Although there are reports of US forces overhearing Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora region, Glenn Reynolds has an interesting, and disturbing, observation about what he'd do if he were Osama. It makes a great deal of sense, and I hope Glenn is wrong. But he points out John Walker's claim there would be a major attack on US interests on December 16 might have been a story circulated to al Qaeda fighters to give bin Laden time to escape. Let's hope Osama's not that clever.
Exercise, or Else

Shannon Brownlee and Patti Wolter have an appalling op-ed in today's Washington Post discussing the Surgeon General's recent report on obesity in America.

Back then, smoking was the number-one health hazard, and yet the majority of Americans didn't consider cigarettes dangerous. Today the fastest growing threat to health is obesity, yet most of us still consider fat a personal problem. And just as nobody in 1964 could conceive of restricting citizens' God-given right to smoke, few Americans today can imagine regulating something so personal as the way we exercise and eat.

We may not have a choice.

That's quite a statement. Their argument is that, because people can't maintain a healthy weight on their own, the government will have to step in, or else life expectancy will go down. Massive government intervention is clearly needed, because according to these two, the problem isn't willpower--it's the environment. With so many tasty snacks easily available, us poor dumb consumers can't help ourselves. Without the government fixing the problem by subsidizing fruit and vegetables and taxing fatty food, two of their suggestions, America is doomed to become fatter and fatter.

Or we could just step back, take a deep breath, and let people take responsibility for their own lives. According to the Body-Mass Index, I am obese; while I disagree with that contention, I'm certainly overweight. And I know what I need to do to lose the weight; exercise more and eat less. If I can discipline myself to do those two things, I'll be healthier. If I can't, I run an increased risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer. I know that. It is my decision to make. I'd like to keep the government out of it. I don't think I'm alone in that assessment.
Campaign Finance Stalling

I have never been a great fan of campaign finance reform laws. I don't think they're a good idea, and I think the best they'll do is just force people to find other ways to inject money into politics. But The Washington Post makes a good point today, one that is absolutely correct: the House ought to vote on the legislation. If there aren't enough votes to pass it, all the better. If the votes to pass it are there, then we'll have to see what the Senate and the President do with it. Blocking the vote is the wrong way to do business. It's wrong when Democrats in the Senate don't allow the President's nominees a vote, and it's just as wrong when House Republicans block a vote on legislation they don't like. Take the vote, and abide by the consequences.

Friday, December 14, 2001

John Walker--Forgive, or Fry?

As discussions of what to do with John Walker, the American Taliban, continue, two Slate columnists take up opposing sides in the fray.

Will Saletan argues we have to treat Walker like we would any other foreign Taliban fighter, otherwise we make ourselves hypocrites. Our war, we say, is against terrorists, and you're either with us or against us. John Walker clearly decided he was against us. Therefore, if we show him mercy simply because he's an American, our war becomes a war of West v. East rather than civilization v. terrorists.

Michael Kinsley feels that a quintessential part of being American is having the right to forget about places like Afghanistan, and John Walker should be allowed to do so by virtue of his being an American. Kinsley, to his credit, doesn't avoid the question of a double standard. He just believes that double standard is justified.

I can't agree. If we let John Walker slide simply because he's an American, we are allowing a terrorist to escape simply because of his nationality. Walker made his decision; he may have joined the Taliban before September 11, but he fought on with them after September 11, even telling his father he supported the attacks. Walker should be treated like any other foreign Taliban supporter in Afghanistan--give him a military tribunal and either execute him or toss him in prison for a very long time.
Kicking Goldberg Around

Jonah Goldberg has come in for some harsh criticism after his Freedom Kills article from Wednesday. I think at least part of his point is well-taken: it is important that people determine a line between right and wrong, rather than accepting a moral equivalence that says all ideas are of equal merit. But his attacks on Virginia Postrel and libertarianism ring false, as is pointed out on the Samizdata site.

I think the observation that Sarah Walker makes on the site sells the difference best:

"A libertarian may say 'if you want to go join the Taliban/become a Christian/believe the moon is made of cheese, I am not going to stop you doing that', yet that is not the same as saying 'because all ideologies are the same'. I think the Taliban are evil tyrants, that Christianity is irrational superstition and that the moon is not made of cheese, and I will strongly argue my views, ridiculing the Taliban, Christianity and the idea of cheddar cheese moons."


Goldberg's article does not directly call for government intervention to ensure our children are taught the 'right' things. But his prose is unclear--he says we have to teach our children the right things without indicating whether we includes just parents, or the government as well. I agree that parents should teach their children right from wrong. I don't think government should be doing so.
Miller for Majority Leader

John J. Miller and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review call for Senator Zell Miller (D, GA) to switch parties to throw the balance of the Senate back to the Repulicans, therefore removing Pat Leahy from the head of the Judiciary Committee and allowing the Senate to actually vote on some of the nominees President Bush has sent them, rather than refusing to vote on them or even refusing to hold a hearing for them. As an inducement to make the switch, they recommend making Miller Majority Leader, allowing him to run the Senate.

I think this is an excellent idea. As a former Democrat, Miller would probably be interested in true bipartisanship, rather than the Tom Daschle version. And he couldn't be a worse Majority Leader than Trent Lott. Most of all, the Democrats would have to actually try and convince people to vote down legislation, rather than Daschle ensuring anything he doesn't like doesn't get a vote.

Unfortunately, I can't imagine Trent Lott or any of the senior Republican Senators would go for this. They'd rather have their small slice of power, regardless of the consequences it may have for their party or the country. But if they can step beyond self-interest, this move might well make this country a far better place.
Congratulations to Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit site logged its one millionth visitor sometime yesterday. Congratulations, Glenn; Instapundit is one of the best sites on the Internet for my money, and Glenn's work on it is a testament to his intelligence and determination. If you haven't checked out his site, you owe it to yourself to do so.
The Fallacy of Race

Peter Wood has an excellent piece in yesterday's National Review Online discussing the use and misuse of race in American politics today. But the meat of his piece is devoted to pointing out that race, as a scientific concept, is a fallacy. There is no African genome, he points out, nor white, nor asian, nor any other. Race is now used to describe cultures, but the flaw in that is clear; anyone can become part of another culture. Somewhere in the past, one of my ancestors was indian. If I looked hard enough, I could probably find a tribe willing to accept me as a member, at which time we could tell the federal government we're starting our own casino. I can't do that now, because I'm not an accepted member of an indian tribe, but the law will magically change for me if I am. Why should such a change be permissible? Law based on race/culture simply invites abuse, and pulls us apart rather than bringing us all together. We're all Americans; we should build on that, and throw race out the window.
Electoral Reform

E.J. Dionne once again takes up the cause of attacking states rights, starting with his specious argument the Supreme Court decided last year's election. Dionne claims the justices (only five, as Dionne is apparently not aware of the 7-2 decision), acted against their own beliefs in favor of states rights to usurp Florida's ability to determine the results of her own elections. I'm not a big fan of the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, but Dionne ought to at least be honest about it. Seven justices agreed the Florida Supreme Court had overstepped its authority by ordering extensive recounts for the Gore Campaign, while the 5-4 decision to halt any further recounts was based on the Florida Supreme Court's own decision that Florida's electoral votes had to be decided no later than December 12. For Dionne, the decision was just the Court stepping in to decide who would be President--no doubt because Dionne is a huge Gore supporter. But sour grapes are not the basis of a sound argument.

Now Dionne wants the federal government to step in and set standards for all elections. Can't trust those darn state governments to do it, after all. After all, look at what happened in Florida--it wasn't fair. Fair is a fascinating word; how many things in life are really fair? Not bloody many, I'd argue. The real question is, were there intentional biases? And there is no evidence of that. Despite the desperate searching of the Mary Francis Berry, crooked commissioner of the US Civil Rights Commission, nobody has been able to find a single piece of evidence that black voters were intentionally disenfranchised. What happened in Palm Beach county was certainly unfortunate, but it was an accident borne of an elections supervisor trying to do the right thing. If Dionne was really concerned about fair elections, he'd ask some questions about indigents being paid in cigarettes to vote by a Democratic Party operative in Milwaukee, or the illegal extension of voting hours in St. Louis. But those actions helped Dionne's candidates, so he apparently doesn't consider them unfair.

If Congress decides to establish uniform voting requirements for federal elections, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I don't endorse making voting idiot-proof, but eliminating errors caused by bad equipment is certainly a laudable goal. But voting isn't just a right; it's a responsibility, and people need to treat it as such. They should check their ballots carefully before submitting them to ensure they're filled out correctly. We all have a responsibility to vote correctly, and we should not blame others for our mistakes.
ABM Observations

The Washington Post endorses President Bush's decision to withdraw the United States from the ABM Treaty yesterday, although it also calls on the President not to rush to deploy an unproven system. Needless to say, I think they're on the right track.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Missile Defense Parameters

Reader Andy Freeman asks which allies I'm so concerned with protecting, and why we should spend our money on a system to protect them. In particular, he asks why we should protect Europe when they have money and are opposed to the whole idea. "[S]houldn't they get to live with the consequences," he asks?

It's a valid question. To settle the first one, I think we should eventually deploy a missile defense system that can protect any and all of our allies, from Europe to India. My rationale for that is simple. One, the United States needs trading partners for her economy to expand. The stronger other countries economies are, the better off we are. And wars are bad for the economy. Further, foreign wars tend to draw us in, sooner or later. We sat out the early rounds of both World Wars, but eventually we found ourselves deeply involved. So too in Vietnam. To think that it won't happen again is wishful thinking. It's in our best interest to do what we can to keep the peace around the world. And that means extending missile defense to protect our allies.

If we develop a missile defense system that only protects the United States, it will be easy to pretend that we no longer need allies; that we're now sufficiently protected to remove ourselves from world affairs. It may seem unlikely, but isolationism is a strong trend in American history, and there's every reason to believe it will remain so for the foreseeable future. As Trotsky is credited with saying, however, you may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you. If we withdraw from the world, sooner or later we'll be dragged back in, and because we will have isolated ourselves up until then, we'll wind up going back into a far worse situation than if we remained involved in world affairs. By extending missile defense to our allies, we keep ourselves involved in the world. And the history of the last fifty years of Europe demonstrates the world is far better off when the United States is strongly involved with world affairs.

Missile defense that didn't protect our allies would also create the possibility our enemies would begin to threaten our allies as our proxies. We could ignore such threats, and in the long run that would work, as our enemies would learn such blackmail wouldn't work. But that would mean thousands of innocent people would die as our enemies test our resolve. At that point we would be honor bound to go after those people, to stop them from any future such attacks. So we'd end up drawn back into external conflicts either way.

By protecting our allies, we protect ourselves. A world at peace is the best state for the United States, and the best way for us to accomplish that goal is to remain involved. Missile defense for us and our allies would make us all safer, and that is a goal too important to keep to ourselves.
Cohen Debunked

Glenn Reynolds tears up Richard Cohen's op-ed from this morning far more satisfyingly than my earlier effort. He points out that Cohen's argument that permissive culture played no part in John Walker's decision to join the Taliban might be more convincing if Cohen didn't also argue that a 'gun culture' creates people like Tim McVeigh and the Columbine killers. What's sauce for the goose...
Debunking the Right

Richard Cohen, knowing no war is horrible enough to allow the Right a chance to speak, jumps in to attack those on the Right who are pointing to John Walker as the natural outgrowth of Leftist moral relativism. Cohen does make some valid points; although it's certainly interesting to speculate that Walker's upbringing was a factor in his turning to Islam and joining the Taliban, one person does not make a trend. Conversely, the comments of Walker's parents and neighbors, suggesting he simply made a bad decision, are symptomatic of a larger problem; an inability to understand that some things are right, and some things are wrong. Cohen would have us believe the Right is vastly exaggerating the extent of antiwar sentiment in America, when, according to him, nothing is happening. While Cohen is undoubtedly correct about some members of the Right, that they are using Walker and antiwar activism as a personal bugbear, Cohen is either mistaken or intentionally misleading his readers with his article. I haven't read Cohen for that long, so I don't know where he stood on the issue of Clinton's infidelities, but I suspect Mr. Cohen subscribes to the notion of the vast right-wing conspiracy, based on his commentaries. The fact is there are people opposed to the war on terrorism, around 5% of the US population. Does this mean they're a great threat to the war effort? Of course not. But they certainly exist, and they are concentrated in enclaves like universities and the coasts, in places like Marin County, John Walker's home town. Cohen's attempt to display the 'conservative take on John Walker' seems more an attempt on Cohen's part to attack the credibility of all conservatives.
Tora Bora Surrender Talks

The Afghans are claiming American Special Forces have scuttled al Qaeda surrender talks and are insisting on continued attacks on Tora Bora. There's no way to be certain if this is true as yet, but it would not surprise me if it was. Every day the al Qaeda forces get to stay in their caves without being attacked is another day they can improve their defenses. The Chinese used this technique during the Korean War to stall the American advance. By the time the peace talks were recognized as a sham, the Chinese line had been reinforced and improved to such a degree, the war would drag on another two years with no significant movement of the lines. I can't say that this is what the al Qaeda forces are doing, but it's something we need to consider. My personal preference is to return to World War II terms: unconditional surrender. When they agree to that, we'll stop bombing, but not before.
Academic Unpopularity

Glenn Reynolds, author of the Instapundit site, has an excellent article on the FoxNews site addressing the question of why the academy is suddenly finding itself unpopular. Naturally, many academics are crying 'censorship,' unable to discern the difference between criticism and censorship. Reynolds notes four traits common to many academics that have led the academy to this point, probably the most infuriating of which is the aristocratic sensibilities of most professors. Regrettably, I have little contact with any university these days, but I'd be curious to see whether or not America's professors are willing to look at an article that dares to point out why we hate them so much.
Animation Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced it will give an Oscar for Best Animated Picture beginning this year. Although it's good to see animation getting a little more recognition, I think it's a shame the Academy has generally refused to recognize animated films as fully the equal of live action films. When "Beauty and the Beast" was nominated for Best Picture in 1991, a nomination in unquestionably deserved, many actors acted as if the Academy had nominated a snuff film. Granted, animated films don't employ as many live actors, (although they certainly employ actors), but they employ fully as many other people working behind the scenes to make a great picture. And, more to the point, some animated films are great pictures, well-deserving of consideration as the Best Picture, rather than simply being relegated to its own category.

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Stimulus News

Frequent readers know I'm not a big fan of any stimulus package, but it appears Congress may at least get one thing right with their stimulus bill. FoxNews is reporting the Senate is considering the option of accelerating some of President Bush's tax cuts in exchange for administration support for enhanced unemployment benefits. As I've noted before, tax cuts may well help us out of this recession, and they are almost certain to be a good thing for the economy in the long run. If this compromise does go through, perhaps the stimulus bill may actually do at least one thing to live up to its name.
Calling the Pessimists to Account

In addition to Glenn Reynolds Dropped Ball Awards, Jacob Weisberg has a good column in Slate today analyzing why so many pundits instinctively lean towards doubt and negativity in their work, despite past experience and regardless of how it all turns out. The same people who were talking about a quagmire and the need for ground troops in Afghanistan have already shifted their chorus to Iraq. Weisberg points out they've been wrong repeatedly over the last decade, from the Gulf War to Kosovo and Afghanistan, and says he's going to be optimistic from now on, until events demonstrate a reason to change. Something tells me his stand won't have much effect on the front pages of most major newspapers, however.
Anthrax Questions

Wendy Orent has an outstanding debunking of the current view in the press that the anthrax used in the letters to Senators and reporters came from an American laboratory. She goes step-by-step through the reasoning, and demonstrates where the media has dropped the ball and failed to properly check their sources prior to publishing. She demonstrates that it is actually highly unlikely the anthrax came from an American bioweapons project, although it is not yet possible to determine where the anthrax did, in fact originate. It's a fascinating article, well-worth taking the time to read in its entirety.
Dropped Ball Awards

Kudos once again to Glenn Reynolds, who's assembled his own list of Dropped Ball Award winners. Each was selected for his or her ability to be utterly and completely wrong about the war on terrorism, and each is richly deserving of the award. I think Jacob Heilbrunn is my personal favorite, but they're all winners (losers?) in my book. Go check them out yourself, and enjoy.
Bush as Thatcher?

Andrew Sullivan notes some interesting similarities between President Bush's having to deal with the events of September 11, and Margaret Thatcher's response to the Falklands Crisis early in her tour as Prime Minister. Of particular interest is his point that Thatcher's popularity gained during the Falklands War helped her with her domestic agenda. Granted, President George H. W. Bush was unable to translate his success in the Gulf War to success on the home front, but Sullivan has a good response for that. What he doesn't mention, however, is that by the time President George W. Bush is up for reelection, the economy will probably be far stronger than it was in 1992, as the current recession will have long since run its course by then, giving President Bush even more reason to take advantage of and build on the popularity he's gained since September 11 by acting on the domestic front.
Walker threats

FoxNews is reporting that John Walker, the American Taliban whose plight has aroused such sympathy in San Francisco, is telling his interrogators that the next stage of the war on America will begin within days, using biological weapons. My personal belief is that Walker is simply trying to inflate his own importance by suggesting he would know so much about what al Qaeda's plans are. However, it also appears quite clear to me that this is more evidence that Walker is clearly either a traitor, or has renounced his American citizenship and should now be treated as any other member of al Qaeda.
Saudi Intransigence

Thomas Friedman posts an interesting letter from President Bush to the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs this morning. In it he wisely calls for Saudi Arabia to tone down its brand of Islam and make it more tolerant of other religions and absolutely intolerant of the kind of suicide attacks exemplified by September 11. I don't know if such a letter would be likely to, in fact, induce the Saudis to reform their form of Islam, Wahabbism, but it would be a good first step. Glenn Reynolds has been calling for the installation of a Hashemite regime in Saudi Arabia for some time, and that may, in fact, be the best available solution. But before we impose such a government on the Saudis, we should give them every reason to undertake the internals reforms necessary to make us true allies, rather than our current relationship as vendor and customer.
Education Reform(?)

The Senate agreed on a version of President Bush's education reform bill yesterday. Naturally, vouchers to allow children to attend private schools are long gone, although the bill does allow children to get money for private tutors, as well as granting parents the right to transfer their children to other public schools. This alone may make the bill worthwhile, if enough parents take advantage of it. The primary reason vouchers are opposed right now by many parents is the advantage their children have in attending good public schools. If this bill allows children from bad schools to start transferring en masse to the better public schools, the outcry for improving the bad schools is going to skyrocket. At that point, allowing poor children to attend private schools with vouchers may look like a much better option to parents from the suburbs. At a minimum, those parents may well take a longer look at why it is public schools in many parts of the country never seem to improve, despite massive influxes of spending. If that happens, this bill may yet prove itself successful.
Missile Defense

The New York Times reports President Bush will announce the United States' withdrawal from the ABM treaty this week. This should come under the heading of it's about time, as adherence to the treaty has unnecessarily restricted our research into ABM technologies. However, I think the President will be making a big mistake, even though it will fulfill a campaign promise, if he goes ahead and begins deployment of an ABM site next summer.

Before we go to the time and expense of putting any ABM system in place, we need to conduct some tough research into the different ABM techniques, and determine which would work best for our needs. A ground-based site in Alaska might well provide some protection to the continental US against North Korean missiles, but it would be unable to protect our allies, and would not guard against launches from other sites. If we're truly interested in deterring rogue states and protecting our allies, a system based off Aegis cruisers might be a better solution, as an example. Or we may find that space-based defenses are the best bet for defeating enemy missile launches. We can't find out if we don't test them all, however, and deciding in advance which system we're going to deploy may well leave us with a system that's cost a great deal of money, but can't even do what we envisioned.

Withdrawing from the treaty is a good idea. Deploying a system without a rigorous, competitive testing process is a very bad idea.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

The War at Home

James Carroll goes after John Ashcroft (surprise) and the Bush Administration for their 'attacks' on civil liberties after September 11. The irony of this discourse is that columns like Carroll's simply illustrate that they're probably overreacting. If the government really was doing such a great job of taking away our civil liberties and throwing out the Bill of Rights, as some have claimed, you wouldn't be reading much about it in the newspapers. Mr. Carroll is, no doubt, familiar with the First Amendment, which is a key guarantor of our civil liberties, including our free press. Apparently the Bush Administration just hasn't gotten around to that yet.

On the other hand, it's not a bad thing to have people like Carroll asking these questions. While I think Carroll's piece goes overboard, with it's daunting final question, "Is our government exploiting this emergency for its own narrow purposes," better we ask the question once too many, than kick ourselves afterwards because we didn't ask it at all. As I've noted before, there are some significant issues with much of what the Administration has requested to fight the war on terrorism. Military tribunals, as currently proposed by the President, seem a little too broad in their scope, for example. The discussion of these issues would be greatly helped, however, if columnists like Carroll stopped hiding behind New York Times-style phrases like "some people," and just said they had some questions about what the Administration is doing.

Yes, by standing up and asking the questions directly, columnists are setting themselves up to be called 'traitor' and other such foolishness by a limited few. But the majority of the American people are smart enough, in my estimation, to realize that dissent is not treason, and you can be patriotic without agreeing with every move of the government. So let's respect that intelligence and bring the debate into the open, and relegate 'some people' to the circular file.
Schumer Redux

Jonah Goldberg does a great job of picking apart Senator Schumer's op-ed. Rather than addressing the stasist-dynamist aspect I looked at below, Goldberg goes after Schumer for his belief September 11 should lead to even greater government expansion. As Goldberg (and many others) have been pointing out for some time, the Constitution talks about defense as one of the key tenets of the federal government. What you won't find in the Constitution, however, is universal health care, social security, and all the other programs the federal government has instituted in the last 100 years. Goldberg makes a convincing case that it was these other tasks the federal government took on that may well have led to September 11, as the feds spent too much time worrying about things that aren't even supposed to be its province rather than concerning themselves with providing for the common defense. Whether or not that is true, there's no doubt that September 11 should draw government attention back to the issue of security. Now I only wish it would give up some of the other, less-important things it's doing to free some time and resources for defense.
Searching for Bigger Government

Senator Charles Schumer pens an op-ed in today's Washington Post calling on President Bush to stand up to the right wing Republicans and join the Democrats in protecting America by expanding the government. Schumer claims that only the federal government can protect America from terrorism, because it requires defending too many things to depend on individual Americans or private industry to do it. Schumer also notes, "the notion of letting a thousand different ideas compete and flourish -- which works so well to create goods and services -- does not work at all in the face of a national security emergency. Unity of action and purpose is required, and only the federal government can provide it." This sounds suspiciously like the "one best idea" concept propounded by Virginia Postrel in her excellent book, The Future and Its Enemies. Rather than allowing people to test a number of ideas to determine which is the best, Schumer wants to pick the best idea up front, (with no proof that it is, in fact, the best idea), and use the federal government to impose that idea. But we've already tried that--the federal government decided the one best way to deal with hijackers was to allow them to take control of the plane. I believe we're all now aware of the dangers of this technique. And it was not the government that saved unknown numbers of lives on September 11--it was the civilian passengers of United Flight 93, who realized what their hijackers intended to do with their plane and acted to stop them. If the government once again acts unilaterally to choose one best way to defend the United States, it is a virtual certainty something will be missed. Nobody alone has the experience to determine what the best methods for stopping terrorism are. Only by testing multiple methods and allowing our experiences to show us what works and what does not can we find the true 'best way.' Senator Schumer undoubtedly means well, but his desire to impose solutions from above is bound to fail. Unfortunately, he'll probably get his way in imposing the solution, nonetheless.
How Disappointing

Glenn Reynolds points out this link to an article in Roll Call discussing Tom Daschle's many disappointments. It's a hysterical article, but I think the key phrase comes midway through the article: "Although Daschle's use of "disappointed" might be considered mild compared with the way some of his colleagues choose to express their frustration, experts say the word certainly has an element of head-shaking condescension." I've always found Daschle excruciatingly condescending myself. No doubt he'd find that disappointing.
Remembrance Ceremony

At 8:46 AM Eastern Time this morning, the National Anthem was played at the White House and across America in remembrance of those we lost in the attacks of September 11. Around the world, some 70 countries joined us in this remembrance, each nation doing its part to note the event. After the Anthem was played, President Bush spoke for about five minutes. It was a very short speech, but it was a very good one, pointing out that each person who died that day was the most important person in the world to at least one person, and that a world ended for each of the dead. The President also acknowledged the heroism of the passengers of United Flight 93, who may well have saved the White House with their heroism. I hope that memory is cherished and kept alive as long as we remember September 11, and that spirit is pointed out to those in government who feel people should look to the government alone to protect them.
A Tale of US-Afghan Cooperation

Today's Washington Post has an excellent article recounting the experiences of an American Special Forces team that worked with Hamid Karzai and his anti-Taliban fighters. The report that the Taliban was planning to murder women and children in a town the Americans helped Karzai liberate is unpleasant to contemplate, but it also reminds us of the good our soldiers have done in Afghanistan. For those Americans who complain we haven't had a good war since World War II, a premise I dispute, this certainly should indicate to them we're on the right track now. Read the entire article if you have the time; it's well worth it.
Don't Walk Away

I'll first admit that I don't know how much truth there is to the stories the US walked away from Afghanistan as soon as the Soviets pulled out in 1989. It seems plausible to me the US left as much because the Afghans didn't want us there any longer, but I don't know enough about the history to make any definitive statements. However, I do believe it's imperative we don't walk away from Afghanistan now. The anti-Taliban fighters won this part of the war for us, and that means we owe them. That doesn't mean we should get in their business and tell them how to run their country, nor does it mean we should just shovel money at them and ignore how they use it. We instead need to take the time to help them develop and nurture democratic institutions, and build up their economy so democracy will have something to grow in. We need to think of this as a great opportunity: if we help them, the Afghans could become a muslim democracy, a beacon to other muslims throughout the world that their religion is not incompatible with choice. And by helping Afghanistan, we make it that much more likely other oppressed peoples will rise up against their tyrannies when we turn to them, including Iraq and possibly Iran. This chance is the difference between the Gulf War and World War II. After World War II, we won the peace. We forgot about winning the peace after the Gulf War, and it has come back to haunt us. We can't afford to make that mistake again.
Quotas and Politics

Wendy McElroy points out the disturbing implications of the quota systems already required in Kosovo, and those the UN wants to impose of Afghanistan and the rest of us, to guarantee women candidates are elected. Already in Kosovo, every third candidate has to be a woman, per the UN mandate. So, although the Kosovars have a nominally free society where they're supposed to be allowed to vote freely, the UN has told them they aren't allowed to be truly free in determining who will govern them. Instead they must adhere to the UN quotas, regardless of their own desires. This isn't how democracy is supposed to work, of course, but the UN has rarely shown itself to be interested in democracy. Just as here in the United States, the UN is more interested in equality of outcome than in true equality. If men and women are both given the right to vote, and that right is not infringed in any way, then they should be permitted to vote as they please. If more male candidates (or all male candidates) are elected, then that's a result of what the people want, and it should be respected. As we help Afghanistan rebuild its government, it's a good idea to make sure women are included in the process. But that means they should have the same chance as men to vote and to run for office, not that they should get some artificial boost.
President Bush and the Senate

From where I'm standing, it sure looks like Tom Daschle and his merry men have completely outmaneuvered President Bush over the last few months. The latest issue is the President's refusal to go to bat for his nominees, including Otto Reich and Eugene Scalia. Tom Daschle has decided neither of them is going to get a vote. No, he hasn't just decided to lobby against them, he's not going to bring their nominations to the floor of the Senate so they can be voted up or down. My personal opinion is that this is the lowest form of pettiness, totally out of keeping with the American tradition. But the President refuses to do anything about it, allowing Daschle to go on without one word of protest. Yes, the President needs to focus primarily on the war, but if he continues to allow Daschle to push him around, he'll be following the biggest mistake of his father's administration, believing he can work with the Democrats. When it comes to the war, the President may be able to work with the Democrats, but on all other issues they'll continue to obstruct him to push their agenda, at least until he takes hold of his bully pulpit and starts going after them for obstructionism.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Funding Terror

The New York Times has a good article today discussing the problems with trying to shut off the funding for terrorism. Unsurprisingly, the bankers hunting the money are convinced that you can't beat al-Qaeda without getting their money, a view I can't agree with. Yes, cutting off funding to terrorists is certainly important, but clearly we've been unable to do so as yet, but al-Qaeda has been utterly unsuccessful in following up the September 11 attacks despite this money. That may change tomorrow, of course, but I'd argue that the critical asset required for terrorism is skilled operatives, not money. And as long as we're hunting down terrorists and killing them, forcing them to remain on the run, it will be very difficult for them to launch new attacks. And the elimination of the Taliban has sent a strong message to states wishing to sponsor terrorism, which should curtail further state-sponsorship for al-Qaeda and its ilk. I don't believe money alone will make up for those losses.
BCS Follies

I personally doubt the decision by the BCS to send Nebraska to the Rose Bowl to play for the National Title will be sufficient to kill the BCS system and force the introduction of a playoff system into the college football picture. Although I feel very bad for Colorado and Oregon, both of whom have excellent arguments for a bid on the National Title, this is the risk you take when you hand everything over to formulas. Those of you who know me well may think this an odd opinion coming from me, but I can't advocate the strict use of formulas to determine things. Granted, sportswriters generally overestimate the effects of 'intangibles' by several orders of magnitude, but there is still a place for the human factor in this kind of assessment. There's just no way to construct a formula that is 'perfect' to determine a national champion, or most anything else, because there are too many variables involved. I suspect the BCS formula is a good as any that could be devised, but this year circumstances conspired to ensure it would fire up a brick. But is this really any worse than some past National Title questions? Several years ago Nebraska split the title because their coach was retiring--I'd argue that's a far greater travesty than Nebraska besting Colorado for a National Title shot despite Colorado beating Nebraska. In any case, these circumstances were somewhat unusual, so I suspect the BCS problem will continue at least until something like this happens again, which could be a long time from now.
Osama's Home Videos

Reports from Washington indicate a new bin Laden video may confirm his complicity in the September 11 attacks. There are apparently divisions among the Administration as to whether or not they should allow the video to be seen. I thought the White House was wrong to ask the press not to show bin Laden's videos back in October, and I think they'll be making another mistake if they don't allow this one to be seen. The best way to convict bin Laden in the court of public opinion is to allow his own words to do it, and we can only do that if we allow his words to be seen and heard. The concern about 'hidden messages' in the videos may well be real, but I think the value of seeing bin Laden speak is worth the risk.