Sunday, September 30, 2007

Going into Monkey business…

I posted last night on how MoveOn.org is trying to silence free speech by preventing store owners at Cafe Press from parodying the MoveOn logo. Michelle Malkin is on the case. She is looking for logo spoofs, so I've come up with the above, and opened a store at Cafe Press to see what happens. If you like it go see if you can buy one without George Soros coming after you. I'm mostly doing this to make a point – but hey, if I make a few dollars I can spend less time working and more time blogging!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

What is it about the Left and free speech?

Those great speakers of truth to power at MoveOn.org are the first to complain when they imagine that critics of the war are being 'silenced'. Well now MoveOn is trying to do some silencing of its own, by attempting to stop online store Cafe Press from selling T-shirts and other products parodying the organisation's logo.

If there's one thing the Left hates more than President Bush it's free speech; they know that given the facts, no one except for the insane and the hate-filled will take their side. That's why they have to control the debate via the MSM, academia and the entertainment industry – it's all part of what Gramsci called the “long march through the institutions”.

Michelle Malkin is following developments, and marshalling the resistance. This will hopefully backfire on MoveOn just like the 'Betray Us' ad did, and the more people they alienate the nastier they'll get as they slide into a downward spiral of self-destruction.

A new special relationship?

Charles Krauthammer at Real Clear Politics, on how shifts in French foreign policy and in Congress have strengthened the position of President Bush:

Bush's presidency – and foreign policy – were pronounced dead on the morning after the 2006 election. Not so. France is going to join us in a last-ditch effort to find a nonmilitary solution to the Iranian issue. And on Iraq, the relative success of the surge has won President Bush the leeway to continue the Petraeus counterinsurgency strategy to the end of his term. Congress, and realistic Democrats, are finally beginning to think seriously about making that strategy succeed and planning for what comes after.

Has Jason Bourne joined the War on Terror?

A very welcome, but also very intriguing story out of Syria today. The BBC reports that a Syrian cleric suspected of recruiting foreign militants to fight in Iraq has been shot dead.

Sheikh Mahmoud Abu al-Qaqaa was shot several times as he left a mosque in the northern city of Aleppo after Friday prayers. The gunman tried to flee the scene, but was chased by a crowd and arrested.

The report describes al-Qaqaa as a “charismatic Sunni cleric with thousands of radical Islamist followers in Syria”. It says there are several conflicting theories as to why he was killed, but adds that he does appear to have been instrumental in sending jihadis to Iraq:

In June 2006, a group of militants killed while attempting to carry out an attack in the capital, Damascus, were found to be carrying CDs of sermons by Abu al-Qaqaa in which he called for US forces in the Middle East to be slaughtered "like cattle".

An aide to al-Qaqaa, Sheikh Samir Abu Khashbeh, said the gunman had told him that he had killed the cleric "because he was an agent of the Americans", but the aide also made this interesting claim:

"The one who carried out the assassination was a prisoner of the American forces in Iraq and had been released some time ago," Abu Khashbeh said. "He is known to us."

It’s impossible to know who to believe here – as in other Middle Eastern countries, the relationship between Syria's government and its Islamic extremists is convoluted, with Assad and his cronies by turns cracking down on the clerics and engaging with them. And the government isn't saying anything yet about al-Qaqaa's death.

However, if the gunman had indeed been a detainee in Iraq, and assuming that al-Qaqaa was smuggling terrorists, and the whole ‘slaughtered like cattle’ routine wasn’t just an elaborate front, it raises some intriguing possibilities. Could it be that US forces found some way of ‘turning’ their captive, whether through the use of ‘psy-ops’, or simply by offering him a big bundle of dollars?

And if that theory's not wild enough for you, what if the US has finally developed the sort of technology which hitherto has existed only in the imaginations of Hollywood film-makers, and has unleashed a squad of remote-controlled assassins to roam the Middle East taking out hard-to-get-at enemies?

My money's on either a government hit or some esoteric inter-jihadi dispute – Joshua Landis at Syria Comment links to a report that claims al-Qaqaa was killed by al-Qaeda for not being extreme enough – and if that is the case then the outcome suits us just fine.

But if this was some kind of ‘black op’ by the US then even better. We are up against an enemy that doesn't play by the rules, and which is very hard to defeat by conventional means, especially when they’re hiding in countries hostile to the US.

One way or another, we need many more terror leaders to meet with violent and mysterious ends in the back alleys of Damascus, Amman, Tunis and elsewhere.

Holed up and waiting for death: al-Qaeda in Iraq

Anyone who's come here via Ace of Spades, Jawa Report or Gateway Pundit will probably have seen this video of the airstrike that killed senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Osama al-Tunisi, but for my money you can't watch it too many times, and I want to keep it handy so I can re-run it every 15 minutes.


Rusty at The Jawa Report has a very personal, and very powerful post on the demise of the man responsible for killing three American soldiers in the summer of 2006, including two who were kidnapped and almost certainly tortured before being executed. (Ace writes about how the hunt for the kidnapped soldiers was hampered by the FISA laws that many Democrats have fought against reforming.)

While al-Tunisi's death in itself is worth breaking out the champagne for, it's also great news on a strategic level, and suggests that time is running out for a lot of high-level AQI types. This man was a big, big player, as an MNF-Iraq press release explains:

Al-Tunisi facilitated foreign terrorists and helped equip them for improvised explosive device attacks, car-bombing campaigns and suicide attacks throughout Baghdad. Foreign terrorists conduct most of the high profile attacks in Iraq. Over 80 percent of the suicide attacks are conducted by foreign terrorists.

Brigadier General Joseph Anderson told a news conference that al-Tunisi "was one of the most senior leaders ... the emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq and part of the inner leadership circle". The general said al-Tunisi had been in line to succeed al-Qaeda in Iraq's current leader, believed to be Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

General Anderson outlined a series of operations over the last two weeks that produced the intelligence that led up to Tuesday's air strike. US forces will doubtless have gained more intelligence from the scene which will help lead them to other senior AQI figures, and perhaps even to al-Masri.

For me the most interesting and encouraging detail in this story is the note written by al-Tunisi that was found at the scene, which gives an insight into the rapidly diminishing effectiveness of AQI. As General Anderson explained:

"The key points in this hand-written note include, he's surrounded, communications have been cut and he's desperate for help. What I make of that is that we're having great success in isolating these pockets. They are very broken up, very unable to mass, and conducting very isolated operations."

I'll go to sleep tonight with a smile on my face, thinking about all those other AQI scumbags holed up like animals in the middle of nowhere, defeated, isolated, squabbling among themselves, scribbling notes that will never be delivered, freezing in terror at the sound of every distant aircraft, and waiting for the siren song of the precision-guided munition that will send them to hell.

Related: US casualties in Iraq are down again in September, and dramatically. Former Spook has the numbers. Hat tip: Pajamas Media.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Another 'grin' milestone…

Ace of Spades on a report that US forces have killed 19,000 insurgents in Iraq since 2003.

I make that 1,368,000 virgins required. Assuming that the virgins are supposed to be dead as well, where are you going to find that many? The way things are going in Afghanistan they're going to have to start rationing them.

A soldier's take on Blackwater

I was going to try and lay off the Blackwater story for a bit, for reasons explained in the post below, but I just got the following comment on yesterday's post – it's so good I'm putting it up where more people will get to see it. 'Buck' debunks a lot of the BS surrounding the Blackwater story, and provides some great insight into what's really going on in Iraq. This guy needs to get a blog!

"For the record, I'm an infantry NCO about to go back for his third tour. (I reenlisted, so save your boo-hoos for someone who cares).

I'll say this: contractors earn the fair market value for what we all do over there. Soldiers don't because we're govt. employees just like the President. He doesn't earn what Michael Eisner does either. However, soldiers also get paid roughly the same salary whether we're at war or not, so it equals out eventually over a career.

Blackwater employees (who are all ex-Spec Ops guys; good luck being accepted if you're not) only get paid while they're at war. Thus, the higher pay ratio. Plus, they don't have the trillion dollar baggage that comes with govt. employees, such as health insurance, retirement pensions, initial training costs, etc. You'd be surprised just how expensive maintaining just one G.I. from basic training onward can be. It's a lot more than the cost of one Blackwater guy who's on average performing far more dangerous work on a daily basis.

Like I said, I'm in the infantry, and frankly, I'd rather the govt. farm out that type of protective detail work than make us do it. It's often dull and monotonous and it detracts from the real offensive operations that we're trained for. Plus, it would just be our heads that everyone would be calling for after we were forced to take the EXACT SAME ACTIONS that the press rails against Blackwater et al. for taking.

Newsflash: diplomatic convoys in Iraq are huge targets for the enemy, and Iraqi civilians are notoriously bad eyewitnesses of anything. During my last tour, local shopkeepers were being openly gunned down on the street by the Mahdi Army, aka JAM (guys dressed just like ordinary Iraqi "civilians") while we were literally a block away drinking chai with the local police captains trying to establish good rapport.

Within minutes we would haul to the scene on foot and ask who shot the man and people would point at us and say "you did." (Meaning U.S. soldiers.) We were the only ones in the area, so we knew this to be untrue, but the rumors (actually well-timed enemy propaganda) had already spread so fast that even this man's relatives were already convinced that we had shot him down. He had only been killed for this very reason: to blame on us and thus discredit all the hard work we had already put in around that section of Baghdad.

This type of scenario is what occurs on a daily basis all around Iraq. This is why the war has made such hard and slow progress. All-out combat is relatively rare in Iraq and has been for years. 90% of patrols go by without incident. But we are fighting an information war constantly, and it certainly does not help that our own media is so often complicit."

'Buck Sargent'
OEF 2003-04
OIF 2005-06
OIF 2007-?

Update: David at The Thunder Run informs me that the 'original' Buck Sargent, if this is he, does indeed have a blog: http://www.bucksargent.net/

Today's NYT Blackwater non-stories

Two more stories on Blackwater in the New York Times today – they might as well start a separate daily 'Blackwater' section. Neither contains much in the way of new or useful information, and appear to be in the paper simply because several reporters have been tasked with producing Blackwater stories every day for the next year:

(a) because it's the kind of sinister, 'military-industrial complex' stuff the Times feels compelled to report and thinks is 'sexy', whether or not it's correct or even interesting;

(b) because it's one of the few 'negative' stories coming out of Iraq right now, and an important counterweight in the eyes of the Times to the increasingly positive stories coming out of the country; and

(c) because the Times hopes that if it keeps digging it'll come up with some damning evidence against the Bush administration.

I've done two lengthy posts on Blackwater in the past few days, here and here; The White Rabbit is doing a lot of interesting stuff, and this article is also good. I'm not going to pick through the latest stories – as I said there's not much to pick through – although each contains an important omission that's worth noting.

This story is a mainly political report, which suggests that Blackwater has been involved in a higher number of shooting incidents than figures given yesterday by the Times suggested; however the Times has left out pertinent information included in yesterday's story: namely that Blackwater is working in more dangerous areas of Iraq, and protecting higher-value targets, than other contractors.

The other story contains the latest, still confusing and still conflicting accounts of the shoot-out on September 16 that sparked the whole Blackwater furor. This story mentions that Blackwater contractors fired on a car, without providing any context, which suggests the shooting was unprovoked and indiscriminate. However, an earlier Times story reported that the car was approaching a junction that the Blackwater convoy was about to cross, that it was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that it ignored a policeman's order to stop.

So all told, the Times brings us nothing new, but quietly drops inconvenient facts that don't fit its 'murdering mercenaries on the rampage' narrative.

Appropriately enough, the second story concludes with a line that the Times itself, not to mention the other media outlets, and the Democrats and anti-war types who've jumped on the anti-Blackwater bandwagon, would do well to heed:

The official added that in the urgent moment of a shooting events could often become confused, and cautioned against leaping to hasty conclusions about who was to blame.

Somehow I don't think the Times is finished jumping just yet.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The cost of Gaza's hostility

I read through this BBC report on an Israeli air strike taking out a terrorist rocket crew in Gaza expecting to find that the Israelis were aiming for some Palestinian children, but missed. In the absence of civilian casualties the Beeb has to look elsewhere to get a dig in:

Correspondents say last week's declaration by Israel of Gaza as ‘hostile territory’ sets the stage for cutting electricity to the impoverished coastal territory which has 1.4 million inhabitants.

If you read the story you'll see that the paragraph doesn't naturally fit into it, but has been shoehorned in purely to inject an anti-Israel note.

I meant to post on the ‘hostile territory’ development last week, but got sidetracked, so thanks to the Beeb for bringing it up again, which gives me the opportunity to quote from two NRO posts that put the lie to the media's ‘Gazans under siege’ theme.

Here’s Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:

Why would [Hamas] not welcome such a state of clear-cut armed conflict against the hated Zionist entity, given that they are already constantly rocketing Jews? And second, why not simply make arrangements with Egypt to connect infrastructure, power, and trade, and seal on its own the border with Israel, while developing much closer ties with a brother Arab state? Or alternatively, with Gulf oil money Hamas might develop port facilities to ensure supplies of fuel and export/import trade, or even a power and water plant of their own on the coast.

And here's J. Peter Pham at The Tank:

While some like the United Nations official quoted in the [Jerusalem Post] article will argue that Israel is engaging in "collective punishment", the Jewish state is doing nothing more than what any other nation at war does with a declared enemy. Did the Allies in World War II feel themselves bound to make sure that Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had an adequate supplies of petroleum? The object of a blockade, after all, is to degrade the enemy's ability to continue fighting effectively. As long as shipments of basic foodstuffs and medicine for use by non-combatants are allowed past a blockade—after due inspection, if necessary, to prevent the smuggling of contraband—a country at war, unlike a former spouse paying alimony, is hardly obliged to keep a declared enemy in the style to which he or she has become accustomed.

Pham also has a superb article, written with Michael I. Krauss, at The American Thinker, in which they explain that Israel’s actions are entirely in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and which includes this observation, which I’m going to start posting as a comment on every BBC story on the subject:

Egypt, during its entire occupation of the territory from 1948-67, never developed Gaza's energy infrastructure, leaving the strip destitute and primitive. Israel's integration of Gaza into its supply grid has allowed Gazans to develop their industry and agriculture.

The Western Media has developed a bizarre tendency to completely disassociate the actions of the armed thugs that run Gaza with the fate of its citizens. But until Gazans decide to elect leaders who are committed to peace, and not war, they’re going to have to lie in the bed they’ve made for themselves.

Support the Burmese: call their country Burma

Great post by Jonathan Foreman at The Corner on the Burma/Myanmar debate, and how the New York Times has chosen the wrong option:

Apparently the Grey Lady's style-meisters still believe it is politically correct to follow the whim of the country's vicious military kleptocracy and refer to Burma as Myanmar, and its capital as Yangon instead of Rangoon. Never mind that most English speaking Burmese use the traditional names. Or that much of the international media, and certainly the British media (including the generally PC BBC) are quietly going back to the country's real name.

It has long been the settled habit of the nastiest and most incompetent governments of South Asia to rename streets, districts and cities in lieu of doing the real work of governing, or in the hope of whipping up nationalist support.

So Burma it is.

The best 'dumb criminal' video ever

This is apparently old (so apologies if you've seen it before) but it's very good. It's security camera footage of a guy attempting to break into a liquor store in Australia. I guarantee it's one of the funniest videos you'll ever see.

NYT takes aim at Blackwater; hits self

The New York Times is still obsessing over Blackwater – well at least it gives Halliburton a break. Today the Times reports:

The American security contractor Blackwater USA has been involved in a far higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other security firms providing similar services to the State Department, according to Bush administration officials and industry officials.

The Times doesn't have any precise figures for Blackwater, but explains:

In 2005, DynCorp reported 32 shootings during about 3,200 convoy missions, and in 2006 that company reported 10 episodes during about 1,500 convoy missions. While comparable Blackwater statistics were not available, government officials said the firm’s rate per convoy mission was about twice DynCorp’s.

So DynCorp's 'shoot rate' was around one mission in a hundred in 2005, and around one mission in 150 in 2006. Blackwater's shoot rate was about twice as high, so if we average the shoot rate for DynCorp over the two years (one incident per 125 missions) then double it and round down for good measure, that gives Blackwater a shoot rate of one incident per 60 missions.

I don't know about you, but I find those figures – both for Blackwater and DynCorp – staggering, even allowing for the fact that there must be other incidents where convoys come under attack, but keep going without returning fire.

I was under the impression that every time a convoy left the Green Zone it was like the scene in Mad Max II where the fuel tanker (no spoilers in case you haven't seen it) driven by Max leaves the good guys' compound. I pictured insurgents leaping off buildings on to the roofs of SUVs, IEDs going off left, right and centre, and suicide car bombs and RPGs coming from every direction.

Where did I get this impression? From watching the TV news and reading the mainstream news websites. It's almost as if… as if… the media is exaggerating how bad things are in Iraq!

Having helped the reader to establish that Baghdad is actually safer than anyone but the most optimistic Petraeus enthusiast had previously thought, the Times continues its half-hearted assault on Blackwater, claiming the company 'flaunts an aggressive, quick-draw image that leads its security personnel to take excessively violent actions', and so on and so forth. (See this post of mine and The White Rabbit for more on why these and other accusations leveled at Blackwater don't stick.)

Then, not content with shooting itself in one foot, the Times puts a well-aimed round through the other one (and they say Blackwater's guys are careless!) by giving a perfectly reasonable explanation for the disparity in the frequency of shooting incidents:

Today, Blackwater operates in the most violent parts of Iraq and guards the most prominent American diplomats, which some American government officials say explains why it is involved in more shootings than its competitors. The shootings included in the reports include all cases in which weapons are fired, including those meant as warning shots.

Sounds fair to me.

Yet the story limps on for another whole page: 'corporate culture…' 'stoking resentment…' 'close relationship with the Bush administration…' (That's right – Blackwater has close ties to an administration it does business with, and whose employees it's protecting.) Over 1,500 words of accusation, speculation and gossip, but nothing that comes close to a point.

Blackwater should of course operate according to rules of engagement as strict as those imposed on the military, and its contractors should be subject to the full rigours of either military or civilian law. It's crazy that those rules were apparently never agreed upon, and the company's activities should be curtailed until the legal stuff is sorted out.

But Blackwater, and companies like them, are here to stay, both in Iraq and elsewhere. There's talk of such outfits becoming involved in places like Darfur, where others either fear to tread or lack the necessary competence. And if I were a diplomat or aid worker I know who I'd rather trust with my life, given a choice between Blackwater and a bunch of stoned, rape-happy African 'peacekeepers' supplied by the UN.

So the Times might as well get over itself. This latest attack on Blackwater is overly aggressive, undisciplined and way off target – in short the Times is doing with words everything it accuses Blackwater's contractors of doing with bullets.

Update: Thanks to Instapundit and Hot Air for linking. If you came via Hot Air you may not have seen this excellent piece on Blackwater, with some great comments, which Glenn linked to earlier.

There's bound to be a few Monkey Tennis newbies among you, so here's the welcome spiel: I've been at this for just two months, so do check out some of my earlier stuff while you're here, and let me know what you think. A couple of recent favourites are my earlier Blackwater post, and this one on the MoveOn 'Betray Us' ad. I try to mix it up a little, but as I explain in my mission statement, most days I run into some egregious MSM mistake/distortion/outright lie regarding the War on Terror, and that kind of fills up my blogging day, meaning I don't get to add many smaller posts linking to cool stuff I've found – I'll try and do better!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Rewriting the history of Britain and Islam

The head of the UK’s Commission for Equalities and Human Rights – a new, vast and largely unaccountable bureaucracy concerned with tackling the oppression of minorities, real or imagined – has called for British history to be rewritten to reflect the roles played by other races and religions – singling out, not surprisingly, Muslims for a bit of positive PR.

Trevor Phillips told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth that the revisionism should start with the story of how Muslims helped the English fleet, led by Sir Francis Drake, to fight off the Spanish Armada in 1588. Phillips said forces of the Ottoman Empire delayed the sailing of the Spanish fleet so the English navy was better prepared, but claimed the story had been ‘airbrushed’ out of historical accounts.

Phillips' point is, of course, that we all got along then, so we should all get along now. He said the story could provide "an ideal that brings us together, so that it can bind us together in stormy times ahead in the next century." Unfortunately for Phillips’ theory, the suggestion that the British and the Ottoman empire were allies in the conventional sense, and that as a result Britons and Muslims have some kind of shared heritage, is absurd.

Around the time of the Armada the Ottomans were battling Spanish and other Catholic forces in the Mediterranean; in 1571 the Ottoman navy suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Lepanto. Historians are divided over what, if any, bearing Ottoman activity had on the plans of the Armada, but any alliance between the Ottomans and Protestant England would have been one purely of convenience against the common Catholic enemy.

However, although he may not realise it, Phillips is at least in the ballpark, both historically and geographically, if he’s looking for an account of interaction between Muslims and Britons that doesn't tend to be taught in British schools – albeit one that might not serve his purposes particularly well.

As Ottoman influence in the Eastern Mediterranean declined in the late 1500s, successive emperors sponsored the Barbary pirates of North Africa, who had already been plundering the coasts of Europe for 100 years. Between the beginning of the 16th Century and the early 1800s between one and two million Europeans were captured and sold into slavery by these Muslim raiders, including several thousand Britons; clearly the Ottomans forgot to tell their proxies that we were their allies.

The pirates, or corsairs, were eventually defeated largely due to the efforts of the fledgling US Navy and Marine Corps, as recounted in Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805 by Joseph Whelan. Two other books that deal with this little-known episode are Giles Milton's White Gold and Robert C. Davis's Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. Here's John Derbyshire at NRO writing about Davis’s book:

The slave trade really got going after 1492, the year the last Muslims were expelled from Spain — what Osama bin Laden calls “the tragedy of Andalusia.” Says the author: “In Barbary, those who hunted and traded slaves certainly hoped to make a profit, but in their traffic in Christians there was also always an element of revenge, almost of jihad — for the wrongs of 1492, for the centuries of crusading violence that had preceded them, and for the ongoing religious struggle between Christian and Muslim that has continued to roil the Mediterranean world well into modern times.”

It's perhaps not the best story to "bind us together in stormy times ahead in the next century", but if Phillips wants Britons to have a better understanding of our historical relationships with the Muslim world, then they should be given the full story, warts and all.

Phillips, who as head of the now-defunct Commission for Racial Equality did much to reverse that organisation's self-defeating policy of promoting multiculturalism, has understandable reasons for wanting to talk up the positive influence of Muslims on British history. But selectively re-writing the past is not the best way to confront the problems of the present.

Normal service will be resumed…

For any 'regulars' dropping in (I believe I have a couple), sorry the posting has been sporadic the last couple of days. The Monkey Tennis Institute is getting a bit of a makeover, which has involved a lot of junk going out and a lot of furniture coming in, all of it up or down three flights of stairs – 100-year-old flats in England do not have elevators. Something like normal service should be resumed tomorrow, if I don't get a back spasm.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A bad night for freedom

While a few commentators are suggesting that Ahmadinejad was put in his place by Columbia President Lee Bollinger tonight, I just can't see it. Those who think he's mad and dangerous will have heard nothing to change their minds, while those on the extreme left who see him as an ally in their war against President Bush will if anything be emboldened. As John Bolton pointed out, it’s not like we don’t know what Ahmadinejad’s positions are; the issue is whether you legitimise those positions by giving him a platform.

For Ahmadinejad to have been in any way phased by Bollinger's attack would have required that he have a conception of right and wrong that relates in some way to ours. This, after all, is a man who fantasises about one day initiating a nuclear exchange that might take hundreds of thousands of lives. It’s fair to say that even the most forgiving members of the international community are going to be pretty upset if and when he does it, and if Ahmadinejad has made his peace with suffering the consequences, assuming that he emerges from his bunker unscathed, then he’s unlikely to be troubled by an attack that was reminiscent of Frasier Crane at his eloquent, pompous best.

The fact that as many students applauded Ahmadinejad as applauded Bollinger helped to create the impression of a moral victory for the Iranian leader; how disheartening those pictures will be for the millions of Iranians who look to America to help bring about change in their county. It's a sad fact that there are a lot of disturbed young people who, to paraphrase the suicide bombers they so admire, hate Bush more than they love life – and I'm not talking about their own lives of course, but the lives of Iranian dissidents, American troops and ordinary people from Baghdad to Tel Aviv.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks are unlikely to change many minds in the US and Europe as to how we should deal with Iran. As Hugh Hewitt points out, in the best piece I've read on tonight's events, what should really be concerning those who fear Ahmadinejad is the way that his visit will be reported in Iran and the Middle East:

Meanwhile the networks catering to the jihadists will be slicing and dicing the fanatic's remarks; he will earn the admiration of radicals across the Arab world for standing up to the Americans; and the repressed people of Iran, especially the students who cannot speak out, the press that is muzzled, and the gays who don't exist will get all of Ahmadinejad and little if any of Bollinger. What will they conclude? Even a cursory examination of The Looming Tower or Inside The Jihad or any of many other serious books on the Islamist war against the West dwells on the crucial role of propaganda in pushing the extremist message, both Salafist and Shia versions. Today's fiasco has nothing to do with what Bollinger said, a name little known or long remembered anywhere outside of the upper West Side. It is about the platform Columbia provided this thug who is actively engaged in the killing of American soldiers and Marines while plotting the extermination of Israel.

The cause of freedom in the Arab World has been damaged tonight, and that may in turn have implications for the security of the West. It’s not a disaster, but it’s a setback. We can only be grateful that Ahmadinejad didn’t get to deliver his sly sermon at Ground Zero.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NYT's exercise in damage exacerbation

After prevaricating for almost two weeks, the New York Times has admitted it made a ‘mistake’ in giving MoveOn.org a discounted rate for its now infamous ad attacking General Petraeus, and various executives have gone on the record to try and explain away the scandal. The trouble is, their explanations just don’t ring true.

A notable exception is the paper’s Public Editor, or ‘ombudsman’, Clark Hoyt, who in a strikingly honest editorial about the affair, confirms that MoveOn.org should indeed have paid $142,083, rather than $64,575, and questions whether the Times should have carried the ad in the first place. MoveOn has reluctantly agreed to pay the balance.

The row over the discount centres on the fact that the Times gave MoveOn a ‘standby’ rate for the ad. As Hoyt explains, customers who pay this rate ‘aren’t guaranteed what day their ad will appear, only that it will be in the paper within seven days’.

Such an arrangement would clearly have been of no use to MoveOn, whose ad could only have run on Monday September 10, the day Petraeus made his report to Congress. And while the Times would have us believe that the foul-up was due to some misunderstanding between MoveOn and a lowly and anonymous sales rep, it’s also inconceivable that senior ad people weren’t aware of the time-sensitive nature of the ad, and how much it was sold for.

Hoyt quotes Steph Jespersen, the executive who approved the ad, as saying that, while he regarded its contents as ‘rough’, he regarded it as a comment on a public official’s management of his office, and therefore acceptable for the Times to carry.

If Jespersen approved the ad then he must surely have been aware that it needed to run on the Monday, and it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t also aware of how much MoveOn was paying. I don’t know what kind of seniority Jespersen holds in the Times’ advertising hierarchy, but the buck clearly didn’t stop with that anonymous sales rep.

There’s also the issue of how much Rudi Giuliani paid, or should have paid, for his ad rebutting the attack on Petraeus, which ran in the Times the following Friday. Hoyt writes that Rudolph Giuliani ‘demanded space in the following Friday’s Times to answer MoveOn.org. He got it — and at the same $64,575 rate that MoveOn.org paid’.

So if Giuliani got the same deal as MoveOn, then he should now have to pay the higher rate as well, right? MoveOn’s Eli Pariser certainly thinks so. In a statement that stands as a masterpiece of self-indulgence and equivocation, Pariser blames the whole debacle on the Times, grudgingly agrees to stump up the extra $77,083 (which is hardly going to leave much of a hole in the organisation’s Soros-lined pockets) and calls on Giuliani to pay the higher fee, because he 'received exactly the same ad deal for the same price'.

However this doesn’t in fact appear to be the case. According to Giuliani, his people were given the ‘standby’ rate because the Times was unable to guarantee that the ad would run on Friday 14th. Speaking on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show on the Thursday, Giuliani said: “We submitted the ad, and they wouldn’t tell us whether they were going to put it in tomorrow.”

In the event Giuliani’s ad did appear on the Friday. However, while we're not privy to the exact nature of the agreement between Giuliani’s people and the Times, if placement on that day wasn’t guaranteed – as it obviously was with MoveOn – then there’s no reason why Giuliani should have to pay any more than the standby rate.

Of course, both MoveOn and the Times would have you believe that piffling disputes over who paid how much for what are diverting attention away from the loftier issues that lie at the heart of this affair. In his statement, Pariser says the ‘dishonesty’ of the Bush Administration ‘is more worthy of the attention of the electorate and the media than the mistake of an advertising representative or the wording of an advertisement'.

And here’s Arthur ‘Pinch’ Sulzberger Jr, publisher of the Times, who claims he wasn’t aware of MoveOn’s ad until it appeared in the paper: “If we’re going to err, it’s better to err on the side of more political dialogue. ... Perhaps we did err in this case. If we did, we erred with the intent of giving greater voice to people.”

Fine words indeed – they could well be the Times' epitaph some day. Meanwhile the paper faces serious questions about the integrity and incompetence of senior executives and about its relationship with far-left organisations such as MoveOn, and could yet attract the interest of the Federal Election Commission. Likewise, for MoveOn, which disastrously miscalculated the outrage its ad would cause, and for those Democrats who failed to distance themselves from the ad, the matter isn’t likely to go away any time soon.

You’d think that, given almost two weeks, such an august body of wordsmiths could have come up with a rather more convincing account of what went on. As Thomas Lifson wrote at The American Thinker yesterday: ‘Once again, the Watergate maxim that "the cover-up is worse than the crime" is proving valid.’

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Dogs, pigs and now cats…

Muslims have been rioting in Bangladesh over the publication of a cartoon featuring a boy and his cat, which they claim is offensive to Mohammad. Gateway Pundit has the reports, and Little Green Footballs has the cartoon.

BBC puts a bad spin on good news

The BBC grudgingly reports General Odierno's 'claims' (because, of course, he might be lying) that violence in Baghdad has fallen by 50% since the beginning of the year. But lest anyone get too optimistic, the announcement is outweighed by enough bad news to suggest that, in the grand scheme of things, it's nothing to get excited about even if it's true.

First, the findings of the determinedly negative poll which the BBC and ABC released to coincide with the Petraeus/Crocker reports to Congress are rehashed:

According to the poll, more than two-thirds said that in terms of security and the conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development the surge had made things worse.

The poll is about as reliable as a Norman Hsu tax return, as I posted here. And, despite having at least three other stories about Blackwater on its site, the BBC feels compelled to bring that subject up too:

The latest assessment comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iraq's government, after 11 Iraqi civilians were killed when guards from the US private security firm, Blackwater, opened fire in a busy Baghdad square on Sunday.

Leaving aside the fact that we don't know the full story of that incident – I posted on it here, and The White Rabbit has more here – tensions are only 'heightened' according to the BBC's distorted metrics.

Would it kill the BBC to occasionally report some good news from Iraq without trying to render it meaningless in the same breath? Of course it would, because then people might actually start to believe we're winning.

Going Lomo in London

If you're always cutting people's heads off in photos (I call it 'doing a Zarqawi'), or getting the exposure all wrong, then Lomography is for you, and the World Lomography Congress is being held in London. As the BBC reports, when the cult photography movement was starting out it had help from an unlikely source.

It's all about Left and Right for Clooney

It was scary there for a while, but it's going to be okay. 'Courageous' George Clooney, the man who speaks truth to power with films such as Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck, will be around to produce his leftist propaganda for a while longer.

Clooney and girlfriend Sarah Larson were injured yesterday when the star's motorcycle was hit by a car in New Jersey. A Weehawken police officer said Clooney tried to pass on the right a car that was preparing to make a right turn, suggesting the accident was Clooney's fault.

The story is filed under the 'Entertainment' section of the BBC News website, and I certainly found it entertaining. But perish the thought that holier-than-thou George might have transgressed. According to his spokesman, who wasn't there:

"The car signalled left. George was riding to the right. The driver decided to make an abrupt right turn and clipped George."

Doubtless Clooney will interpret the incident as a metaphor for the political battle raging over America's soul. If the nation as a whole turns right, whether abruptly or less so, when it really ought to be turning left, then bad things will happen, especially to politically active Hollywood types.

And the police will cover everything up.

Related: The wisdom of James Caan (HT: Instapundit).

What if they held a No Car Day…

…and everyone turned up

China is desperate to reduce pollution ahead of next year's Olympics, but it's hard to see how they'll do that when they're building a new coal-fired power station every seven days (or is it seven new power stations every day?).

They obviously need to do more, as the report explains…

Environmental campaigners say China must overhaul its transport system, not just with a few ad hoc No Car Days but by putting in cycle lanes, reducing the price of public transport and making it much more difficult for people to buy private cars.

Considering that environmental campaigners have about as much influence with the Chinese authorities as Richard Gere, Beijing could well be the first Olympics where we see athletes running in breathing apparatus.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Making the case for Bush

I'd like to think that criticism from the Left is like water off a duck's back for President Bush, but he's also endured a fair amount of criticism from the right in the last few years, either for not making the case for the invasion of Iraq forcefully enough, or for failing to respond when opponents of the war have impugned his motives, failed to acknowledge those motives altogether, or deliberately distorted his words.

According to Mona Charen at NRO, Norman Podhoretz has done a good job of answering critics from both left and right with his new book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism. Podhoretz recalls numerous instances in which Bush made the case for toppling Saddam, citing the impracticality of containment, the risk of terrorists gaining access to WMD (which, as Podhoretz reminds readers, just about everyone thought the Iraqi leader had at the time) and the long-term benefits of bringing democracy to the Arab world. Charen calls the book 'a jolt of intellectual electricity for the Bush doctrine'.

Rick Richman, in his review of World War IV for The American Thinker, quotes Podhoretz comparing Bush's approach to Islamic extremism with Truman's recognition of the threat posed by the Soviet Union after World War II:

Podhoretz believes the hindsight of history will recognize that George W. Bush similarly developed a strategic doctrine to meet a worldwide challenge, articulated it in a serious of speeches that "are some of the greatest ever made by an American president" (particularly the September 20, 2001 Address to Congress and the Second Inaugural Address), and remained remarkably steadfast in the face not only of relentless domestic criticism, but extraordinary personal ridicule and demonization.

Few would argue that Bush has become the central figure in this war, or that the struggle to stabilise Iraq has become the central campaign, and Charen and Richman agree that Podhoretz has done a good job of defending both. Richman concludes that: 'A more important book will not be published this year.'

Transnational governance made simple

The European Union has a foolproof way of expanding its power over its subjects. If the citizens of a particular country reject some EU initiative, whether by popular opinion or by a vote, the EU either makes the people vote again, and keep voting until they come up with the correct answer, or simply bypasses the people altogether by obtaining approval directly from the government concerned. And it looks like the EU is about to get its way again in The Netherlands.

The Dutch plunged the EU into a political crisis in 2005 by rejecting the proposed European constitution, along with French voters. The EU's solution was simple: they stopped calling the constitution a constitution, and started calling it a Reform Treaty instead. And because it's not a constitution (although it is a constitution), the EU says the electorates of member countries don't need to be given a say on the matter.

Now the Reform Treaty (constitution) is before the Dutch parliament. Once again a majority of Dutch people are opposed to the measure, but this time it appears that the constitution (Reform Treaty) will be forced through, without reference to quaint abstractions like 'the will of the people'.

The EU's cause is being helped by the positions of the three main Dutch political parties. The Christian Democrats support the Reform Treaty (constitution), and don't want a referendum. Simple enough. The Labour Party, however, is in favour of the Reform Treaty (constitution), but is also in favour of holding a referendum, which could see it defeated. And, just to make things interesting, the Christian Union opposes the Reform Treaty (constitution), but also opposes referendums on principle.

So the majority of the people are against the Reform Treaty (constitution), but the majority of politicians are either in favour of it, or against allowing a referendum, or both. And the issue is further complicated by the fact that the lower house of the Dutch parliament is threatening to organise a referendum regardless of the government's decision, while the upper house is threatening to block such a move.

Between the principled Dutch and the utterly unprincipled EU, there's a real chance that this time there will be no referendum, and the constitution (Reform Treaty) will be approved. This in theory will make it easier for the pro-EU governments of Britain and other countries to persuade their electorates that the whole business is just so much Eurocratic red tape, and nothing they need to concern themselves with.

If you don't have a migraine yet, there's more information and analysis here and here, and plenty more at EU Referendum.

The prime mover behind MoveOn

If MoveOn.org owns the Democratic Party, then George Soros is one of the owners of MoveOn.org. Investor's Business Daily has a timely profile of one of the most powerful, yet utterly unaccountable, men in America, whose ultimate aim is nothing less than to bring down the country from within:

Through networks of nongovernmental organizations, Soros intends to ruin the presidency of George W. Bush "by any legal means necessary" and knock America off its global pedestal. "His view of America is so negative," says Sen. Joe Lieberman, who, like Gen. David Petraeus, has been a target of Soros' electoral "philanthropy." "The places he's put his money are . . . so destructive that it unsettles me." Soros' aim seems to be to make the U.S. just another client state easily controlled by the United Nations and other one-world groups where he has lots of friends.

Soros has had a poisonous influence on US democracy, from funding groups engaged in electoral fraud to bankrolling campaigns against John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz. Bringing about America's defeat in Iraq through his support for groups such as MoveOn would bring him one step closer to fulfilling his grand ambition.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Today's Senate Vote

Just in case anyone is unclear about what this vote means, it means that Hillary Clinton, along with Harry Reid and John Kerry among others, does not believe that General Petraeus deserves the full support of the Senate; does not condemn personal attacks on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus and all members of the United States Armed Forces; and does not repudiate the unwarranted personal attack on General Petraeus by Moveon.org.

Obama, as we say in Britain, 'bottled it'.

More at Riehl World View, Hot Air and Hugh Hewitt.

How much to get those sanctions lifted?

Gateway Pundit has been pulling together the details on the mullah-lovin' American-Iranians who have been stumping up for Hillary. No chance, of course, that they might want a few small favours in return that would be detrimental to the interests of America and Europe…

Blackwater: The Left's PowerPoint Rangers

A US convoy moving through Baghdad thinks it’s being attacked. The convoy’s guards respond, and a firefight ensues. Innocent bystanders are among the dead. There are conflicting accounts of what happened, and an investigation is underway. Sadly, this kind of thing happens all too often in Iraq, and it happened again last Sunday.

Not surprisingly there’s an outcry over this latest incident. And the outcry would have been loud enough if the Americans doing the shooting had been soldiers or marines, but the incident has taken on an added dimension of controversy because the escorts were contractors working for private security firm Blackwater.

The use of private security contractors perfectly fits the Left’s narrative of a war fought for profits, and enables them to deploy one of their favourite terms of abuse: mercenary (it doesn’t help that the first syllable of the name of the company involved also happens to be the colour of oil). And it's not just Iraqis who should be afraid – here's Joseph A. Palermo fretting at the Huffington Post:

What are the trained squads of right-wing mercenaries from Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Dyncorp going to do when they come home from Iraq? They will probably fulfill a role similar to the one played by the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The Pinkertons specialized in breaking strikes and repressing labor union organizing, as well as intimidating progressives in general with violence.

Palermo may be paranoid, but of course that doesn't mean they're not out to get him. And the hatred which the Left harbours for Blackwater, and companies like it, is further illustrated by the fact that the New York Times (albeit in coverage slightly more grounded in reality) has taken to calling Blackwater’s employees ‘gunmen’, lumping them together with the Mahdi Army and al-Qaeda insurgents. Clearly the Times is taking the line that one man’s terrorist is another man’s security contractor.

Despite trumpeting the headline ‘Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First’, the Times is as unclear as everyone else about what happened on Sunday. (Note how the only reports coming out of Iraq that the Times doesn’t view with suspicion are those that portray Americans in a bad light; clearly one benchmark it thinks the Iraqi government has met is the ability to divine precisely what happened in a firefight from confused and conflicting accounts).

If you read the story you’ll discover that the convoy’s escorts had every reason to believe they were being ambushed. An Iraqi soldier who witnessed the incident said a car approaching an intersection that the convoy was about to cross ignored a policeman’s order to stop, and was on the wrong side of the road. Suicide car bombs are a fact of life in Iraq; the Blackwater men had to make a split-second decision, and they fired on the car. Witnesses said the escorts then threw non-lethal ‘sound bombs’ to keep people away from the scene. This apparently drew fire from Iraqi Army soldiers and police officers, and we know the rest.

In other words, according to the Times’ own account, after – rightly or wrongly – stopping the car, the Blackwater team had apparently contained the incident until they were fired on by Iraqi forces. It could be that the Iraqis thought the Blackwater guards were insurgents. However, you would think security forces in Baghdad would recognise an American convoy by now, and it’s no secret that some elements of the Iraqi army and police have been infiltrated by militias; but in this instance we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

So the incident appears to have escalated through a series of tragic mistakes. A number of different investigations are taking place, and that might have been the end of the matter for the time being. But Prime Minister Malaki chose to loudly condemn the actions of the contractors, and threatened to throw Blackwater out of the country (this now looks unlikely to happen), possibly by way of trying to shore-up his own fragile support. And of course the media piled in.

The Washington Post reported that an employee (un-named, so quite possibly an Iraqi ‘stringer’, and therefore not necessarily impartial) “witnessed security company helicopters firing into the streets”, the implication clearly being that the firing was indiscrimate. Blackwater denies its men fired from helicopters, but if they did then it could reasonably be argued that if someone’s firing at you, or your colleagues, from the street below, then the street would seem to be a sensible place to direct your return fire if you’d identified a target.

The Times, meanwhile, has been working the Green Zone trying to get someone to say something bad about Blackwater. The best it can come up with is this:

But among the rank and file of security contractors, Blackwater guards are regularly ridiculed as cowboys who are relentlessly and pointlessly aggressive, carry excessive weaponry and do not appear to have top-of-the-line training.

Blackwater’s contractors are drawn from the ranks of ex-military and law-enforcement professionals; many of them are ex-special forces. They may very well be overly aggressive, but they’re hardly cowboys. As the ‘myths v reality’ section on the company’s website notes, while 30 of its contractors have been killed, no one who Blackwater has protected has ever been killed or seriously injured. You’ll find a first-hand account of the lengths Blackwater goes to in ensuring the safety of its charges here. As Hillary Clinton would say, it requires a willing suspension of disbelief to imagine that the US State Department would entrust the lives of its personnel to ‘cowboys’.

As for the line about contractors not having ‘top-of-the-line training', it's somewhat undermined by this extract from the Times’ own background piece on Blackwater:

At its complex in North Carolina, it has shooting ranges for high-powered weapons, buildings for simulating hostage rescue missions and a bunkhouse for trainees.

The Blackwater installation is so modern and well-equipped that Navy Seals stationed at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va., routinely use it, military officials said. So do police units from around the country, who come to Blackwater for specialized training.

Perhaps Blackwater doesn't train its own people at its own training facility; perhaps they outsource the training to Disney.

Assuming that they were, in fact, properly trained, there's no reason to believe that the Blackwater guards acted any differently than regular troops would have in a similar situation. It may also be the case that some of those killed were not innocent bystanders (as The White Rabbit notes: 'You know how long it takes a dead insurgent to become a dead civilian? About as long as it takes a bystander to pick-up an unattended AK-47 for a quick $200.' It’s also unclear whether any of those killed were hit by fire from the Iraqi soldiers and police.

But the anti-war crowd would have you believe that the response of the Blackwater guards was in some way dictated by the fact that they worked for a private outfit. As if, even while the bullets were flying, the contractors had one eye on the company share price, or were pondering the implications of their next move on some proposed leveraged buy-out. And doubtless the operation would have been overseen by sinister executives in a flying command post with real-time links to Wall Street, London and Frankfurt, who were then whisked back to base to render the whole bloody, chaotic mess as a slick PowerPoint presentation.

What happened in Baghdad on Sunday was tragic. If the Blackwater contractors committed a crime then they must be held accountable, and it’s certainly unsatisfactory that contractors appear to fall into some grey area between criminal and military law. But private security firms in Iraq perform a vital role in Iraq by freeing-up hard-pressed US forces to concentrate on offensive operations, and by and large they do their job well.

The very mention of private security companies elicits a violent emotional response on the Left, causing any remaining pretence of objectivity to be abandoned. However the storm will abate, and cooler heads will make the important decisions about the continuing role of contractors in Iraq.

Update: Had a day off yesterday, and things were pretty quiet when I last checked, so had a shock this afteroon to find that Instapundit and Small Dead Animals had linked, followed by Pajamas just now. Thanks guys.

BBC playing down Israel's strike on Syria

Why is the BBC playing with such a straight bat (note to US readers: the expression is cricket parlance, and is used to suggest that someone doesn’t want to take sides on an issue, or give away more information than is necessary), over Israel’s air strike on Syria?

Almost every other major news outlet has reported, some in considerable detail, that the Israeli raid targeted nuclear material that had been shipped from North Korea. While the BBC has quoted some of these accounts, its first-hand reporting continues to talk of the incident being ‘shrouded in mystery’.

Its story today, on Binyamin Netanyahu confirming that some kind of raid did in fact take place, is typical. After reporting Netanyahu’s remarks, (incidentally I think Netanyahu, who I generally have a lot of time for, is an idiot for publicly talking about the raid, and thereby dispelling the air of mystery that was working to Israel’s advantage), the story lapses into the vagueness of previous BBC accounts of the raid itself.

For example, no serious observer doubts that the Israelis got into and out of Syria with ease, or that the first the Syrians knew of the raid was when things started blowing up around them; yet the BBC persists in parroting the official Syrian response: ‘The Syrian authorities say that the aircraft were forced away, and that they fired their weaponry into a deserted area.’ As for the target of the raid, the report only notes that: ‘US officials have indicated that at least one target in northern Syria was hit.’

You would think the BBC could do a little better, given its considerable, taxpayer-funded resources, and its global network of correspondents (although it would hardly be surprising if senior military and intelligence figures in Israel were unwilling to talk to the BBC, given its barely concealed hostility to the state).

The BBC might argue nobly that it only reports the facts, and doesn’t engage in speculation. But of course it engages in speculation every day, when speculation suits it.

More likely the BBC is playing down the incident because it’s averse to reporting on completely justified and successful Israeli strikes against its enemies, and equally averse to talking about developments that might portray Syria in a negative light. As if it were needed, clear evidence of the BBC’s position with regard to Israel and Syria is provided by this paragraph towards the end of the report:

The Syrian government has insisted that peace talks can be resumed only on the basis of Israel returning the Golan Heights, which it seized in 1967.

As usual, there's no context, and no balance. The BBC might have mentioned that from 1948 to 1967 Syrian forces used the Golan Heights to shoot at and later shell Israeli kibbutzim, and that Syria allowed Yasir Arafat's Fatah terrorists to launch raids into Israel from the territory; and all this before Israel occupied an inch of Arab territory. If you didn’t know any better – and many people don’t – you might be forgiven for thinking that Israel seized the Golan Heights in an unprovoked act of aggression against a harmless, peace-loving neighbour.

Thus does the BBC rewrite the history of the Middle East, day in and day out. And if it won’t tell the truth about Israel’s past conflicts with the Arab world, it can hardly be relied upon to tell the truth about what’s going on in the region today.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Life imitating art

Life: Armless man headbutts man to death

Art:

Pol Pot's right-hand man to face trial

The story is here.

For the Khmer Rouge then, read al-Qaeda in Iraq now. When the trial of Nuon Chea begins, it might help to refresh some memories as to what happens when the United States abandons its allies to murderous fanatics. That said, he's a trained lawyer, so watch out for him presenting a tightly-argued explanation of why those million deaths weren't such a bad thing, just as his fellow intellectuals around the world have made excuses for communist mass-murderers from Stalin to Castro, and are now doing for their Islamist successors.

Smiles the Democrats don't want you to see

Michael Totten's latest from Ramadi. It's long, so if you don't have time to read it all now, at least check out the pictures: there are an awful lot of smiles, considering the Democrats and others on the Left would have us believe these people are suffering under the yoke of American oppression. A couple of paragraphs:

The Iraqis of Anbar Province turned against Al Qaeda and sided with the Americans in large part because Al Qaeda proved to be far more vicious than advertised. But it’s also because sustained contact with the American military – even in an explosively violent combat zone – convinced these Iraqis that Americans are very different people from what they had been led to believe. They finally figured out that the Americans truly want to help and are not there to oppress them or steal from them. And the Americans slowly learned how Iraqi culture works and how to blend in rather than barge in.

“We hand out care packages from the U.S. to Iraqis now that the area has been cleared of terrorists,” one Marine told me. “When we tell them that some of these packages aren’t from the military or the government, that they were donated by average American citizens in places like Kansas, people choke up and sometimes even cry. They just can’t comprehend it. It is so different from the lies they were told about us and how we’re supposed to be evil.”

How ironic that the likes of MoveOn, together with many Democrats and elements of the MSM, are continuing to spin the line that US troops are evil, even as ordinary Iraqis are finding out the reality for themselves.

If the New York Times or Newsweek were to run a story like Totten's, complete with the pictures, it would be the equivalent of Cronkite declaring that the Vietnam war was lost, except in reverse of course. That's why they won't do it.

Related: Oxford Medievalist has more on the Democrats' summer offensive that failed to materialise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hats off to Castro

The BBC is running a jolly little film report on a boom in sales of ‘Castro’ hats in Cuba. It’s all colourful locals, quaintly ramshackle market stalls and smiling tourists. Not a concentration camp, torture chamber or execution yard to be seen.

Reporter Michael Moss cheerfully reports on how ‘enterprising’ Cubans are selling the hats for $3, without meditating on the legitimacy of a regime that condemns its people to such a meagre standard of living, or the fact that hundreds of prisoners still languish in Castro’s prisons for being a little too ‘enterprising’ in their demands for political and religious freedom.

Moss adds that 'Che Guevara items have long been hot sellers,' and even manages to find a holidaying Scottish socialist MP and former union enforcer, who supplies his own tribute: ‘People should be allowed to wear these hats as tribute to Fidel Castro, who is a national hero for Cuba.’

By contast, here’s the BBC reporting just a few weeks ago on suits belonging to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, being sold by his son – and quietly, though a tailor’s shop, not as trinkets for foreign tourists.

It takes all of four paragraphs before the BBC informs us that:

‘More than 3,000 people were killed or "disappeared" during Gen Pinochet's rule from 1973 to 1990.’

And soon after:

'Gen Pinochet took power in a 1973 military coup which overthrew the elected Marxist President Salvador Allende.'

The left’s infatuation with left-wing dictators, as opposed to right-wing tyrants, is their equivalent of the right’s ‘he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’ doctrine. And with Cuba fast becoming one of the last bastions of socialism, Castro is a more important figure than ever for those still believe that, if they can just get around the niggling problem of the tens of millions of deaths involved, communism can still work.

Castro’s own death can’t come soon enough (assuming, that is, he hasn’t already died and been replaced with some poor drugged inmate from one of the great leader's psychiatric prisons). If it sparks political upheaval, or at the very least a loosening of the regime’s stranglehold on its people, it’ll almost be worth a week of watching him being eulogised by black-suited BBC newsreaders.

Times Select is dead

Dean Barnett pays tribute.

If there was an online magazine or newspaper that had James Lileks, Mark Steyn, Bill Kristol, Andrew Ferguson, John Podhoretz, Bill Simmons, Terry Teachout and Michael Yon contributing daily, I’d pay for it. A lot of other people would, too. The Times’ big failure wasn’t in thinking they could sell on-line opinion. Their failure was in thinking they could sell crappy and unoriginal on-line opinion.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Greenspan: The smoking gun that didn’t

Opponents of the war in Iraq thought their moment had finally come yesterday. This was it: the culmination of all their hopes and dreams of the last five years. This was their Adlai Stevenson moment.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had apparently confirmed what they’d known all along: that the Iraq war was all about oil. And this wasn’t some disgruntled junior flunky blowing the whistle on the administration – this was a man who’d been at the heart of government for the past 18 years.

The game was finally up for Bush, Cheney and co, thought the lefties. The media – their media – would have this story all over the airwaves and the internet for the next week. The more the Whitehouse tried to play it down, the more guilty they’d look. There would be apologies, resignations and, ultimately, impeachment.

They were burning the midnight oil at the HuffPo and Kos comments boards. ‘Greenspan’s admission confirms that the U.S. is merely slitting the throats of the Iraqis to get their wealth, like any common thug,’ said one commenter. ‘Moment of truth!’ exclaimed another.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was all over. This morning, Greenspan confirmed that securing global oil supplies was "not the administration's motive," although he said he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy.

This wasn’t in the script. Surely, Greenspan had been bundled into a stealth helicopter by elite Blackwater paramilitaries, and whisked off to a Haliburton bunker deep in the Appalachians, where he was waterboarded into withdrawing his ‘all about oil’ claim? Surely it couldn’t simply be that a retired public figure with a book to sell made a remark that was taken out of context?

Of course, it would be wrong to say that concerns over oil supplies don't play a part in framing American policy in the Middle East. As Jules Crittenden and Say Anything, among others, have eloquently pointed out, oil has always been a factor, and it always will be until those windmills, solar panels and biofuels can meet the energy needs of the West, or US oil companies are allowed to exploit more domestic sources.

But the Iraq war is about a lot more than oil. It’s about turning the Middle East from a haven for dictators and terrorists into a fully functioning part of the civilised world. And it’s worth pointing out that there’s no oil in Afghanistan (I was going to joke that maybe the US is there so that they can seize control of the world’s heroin trade, but no doubt many on the Left already think the CIA is running that show).

After its brief moment in the sun, the 'blood for oil' conspiracy theory has been restored to its proper place on the far-left of the blogosphere. The nutroots are still raging, but once again no one’s listening.

Update: Lordy! Pajamas and Ace of Spades, and now Instapundit! The kids are gettin' shoes! Welcome, and please have a good root around while you're here. This is the post Pajamas and Ace linked to, here's one on MoveOn and the Dems shooting themselves in the feet, and I've adopted this 9/11 post as my mission statement.

Do call again!

Update 2: Thanks to Will for the correction on Greenspan's position. It's been a long day (I'm in the UK so past my bedtime!)

Update 3: Do we have anyone in from Canada this evening? Yes? Then Go Support Your Troops!

Iraqi casualties continue to fall

Dean Barnett has taken on the onerous task of monitoring the casualty figures from Iraq at Icasualties.org. Not a fun job, but it has enabled Dean to identify trends that aren’t being widely reported, and which back up the claims of progress made last week by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. A couple of paragraphs:

At the height of pre-surge anarchy, Iraq suffered roughly 3,000 civilian deaths a month because of what we’ll call the civil war. Over the previous few months, the surge reduced the monthly butcher’s bill to around 1500 civilians a month, a statistical reality that complemented the anecdotal data brought back by the Michael Yons, Bill Roggios, Jeff Emmanuels, and Bill Ardolinos of the world.

The numbers are still improving. The last half of August was by Iraqi standards markedly superior to any time span since the civil war began. In September, that trend has continued. So far this month, 406 Iraqi civilians and security force members have died as a result of the civil war. This puts September roughly on a pace to see 700 Iraqi casualties. That’s fewer than 25% the pre-surge level of violence and will be the least since Icaualties.org started tracking this statistic in January ’06.

In a wide-ranging post, Dean goes on to talk about the prospects for longer-term success, and offers a reminder of what’s at stake here:

Iraq, if we win, will be different. It will be the first time an Islamic country has coalesced around ideas rather than ethnicity. What are the ideals that the new Iraq will have? Well, they won’t look precisely American. But by regional standards, they will set new marks for progress.

Read the whole thing – Dean’s watching those casualty lists so you don’t have to. But do me a favour: in the course of his post Dean plugs two books by Walid Phares, which you’ll also find advertised on this blog. If you’re thinking of buying them, please bear mind that I need the kickback more than Townhall.com does…

Iran and Syria will have to put up or shut up

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's remarks about preparing for war with Iran, combined with Israel's air strike against Syria, have really put the cat among the pigeons in Tehran and Damascus.

Via The Jerusalem Post:

Six hundred Iranian Shihab-3 missiles are pointed at targets throughout Israel, and will be launched if either Iran or Syria are attacked, an Iranian website affiliated with the regime reported on Monday.

"Iran will shoot at Israel 600 missiles if it is attacked," the Iranian news website, Assar Iran, reported. "600 missiles will only be the first reaction."

According to the report, dozens of locations throughout Iraq which are being used by the United States army have also been targeted.


The Shihab missile has a range of 1,300 km, and can reach anywhere in Israel.

Hang on a tick... Syria was attacked, last week, by Israel. Where's the firestorm of Iranian retribution? Or is Tehran saying "Okay, we're going to let you have that one, but if you try it again we're really going to get mad?"

Meanwhile, Iran's state-owned IRNA news agency has responded to Kouchner's remarks by accusing Paris of pandering to the United States.

"The new occupants of the Elysee want to copy the White House," the IRNA news agency said. It also accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of taking on "an American skin", adding: "the French people will never forget the era when a non-European moved into the Elysee".

In a not-unconnected development, JPost reports that a top Israeli intelligence commander has told Israeli MPs that Israel's deterrence against Syria and Iran has been reestablished since last year's Lebanon War.

"[Israeli deterrence] is having an impact on the whole region, including on Iran and Syria," Major General Amos Yadlin said during his intelligence briefing to the legislature's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Sunday.

Not surprisingly, the General didn't refer to the recent strike on Syria, which Israel will neither confirm nor deny (the Israeli media, incidentally, is still barred from revealing details of the operation by the military censor, which is why they're in the odd position of quoting US and European media reports that quote Israeli sources), but the implication was clear.

You don't need a master's degree in international relations to see what's going on here. Both Damascus and Tehran are very, very rattled by recent developments, and don't seem to know how to respond. The Syrians are maintaining an embarrassed silence, while Iran is making rhetorical threats on the one hand, and mocking the French for getting too close to the US on the other.

There's a lesson here for those who think the two biggest troublemakers in the Middle East can be contained by diplomacy and sanctions. While Western countries have persisted with the softly-softly approach Iran and Syria have continued to meddle in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere, and have continued with their respective weapons programmes. Recent events demonstrate that only language they understand is force - and it doesn't necessarily have to lead to an uncontrollable escalation of hostilities.

Now that they've experienced real live military action, with the prospect of more to follow, they're caught between a rock and a hard place: do nothing, and lose influence and credibility; or respond, and face an overwhelming US, Israeli and perhaps even French, onslaught.

Tehran and Syria have been getting away with murder, quite literally, for too long. But in the latest round of hostilities they've yet to claim a single victim with their tanks, their aircraft or their long-rang missiles. They love all that asymmetric warfare stuff. The real thing? Not so much.

Related analysis here.

Update: Thanks to Ace of Spades and Pajamas for linking, and welcome all. While you're here do check out my latest post, on the Greenspan affair. You might like this post from yesterday, on how the inability of MoveOn and the Dems to resist a good insult caused them to shoot themselves in the foot.

Oops…

Don't know if this was human error at Yahoo, or the inevitable consequence of displaying automatically generated ads based on content…

Bush bashing for beginners

Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper has published a nasty attack on President Bush by self-styled ‘controversial’ military historian Correlli Barnett (HT: Riehl World View). It’s essentially a rehash of the argument that the War on Terror is a struggle between fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity as espoused by President Bush (which Correlli appears to think is interchangeable with neo-conservatism).

No-one has paid much attention to the 80-year-old Barnett for several years now – he’s trying to plug a new book at the moment, which is presumably why he’s flogging his outlandish opinions to anyone who’ll print them. He made his name with a series of vitriolic accounts of Britain’s military and industrial decline, and you’ll find a withering review of last installment here. This line sums up the man and his work nicely:

[Barnett’s] language is often coarse, more suited to a brawl in a raucous bar than to a serious history. His open contempt for manual workers as prone to sloth and ignorance is simply vulgar abuse. More worryingly, Barnett seems unaware of the recent wealth of important literature on British decline that has destroyed many of his simplistic, unchanging arguments.

Barnett's nasty streak manifests itself in an admiration for strong national leadership that borders on the fascistic. He's also an old-school ‘stability’ enthusiast who opposed the humanitarian interventions in the Balkans and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an advocate of closer relations between the UK and Europe.

The article itself is a mess of half-truths, sweeping generalisations and cherry-picked facts that suit Barnett's conclusions. Not that the Mail's standards are especially high. With the exception of the excellent Melanie Phillips, it's a dreadful newspaper, obsessed with murdered children, celebrities and health scares, and normally takes little interest in international affairs, apart from occasional forays in polemics and conspiracy theory such as this.

Suffice to say Barnett thinks Britain should detach itself from US foreign policy and negotiate with ‘moderate’ mullahs in Iran; how this leads to the overthrow of the current regime, and the abandonment of Iran's nuclear weapons program, he doesn't say. He also thinks replacing US troops in Iraq with UN peacekeepers from Muslims states would help stabalise the country (because the Shia militias and al-Qaeda would never harm a fellow Muslim, would they), and believes that the War on Terror, insofar as he acknowledges that it exists at all, is essentially a job for the police and intelligence services.

From his claim that President Bush is engaged in a struggle to convert the whole world to American-style capitalist democracy (he's got his work cut out to finish the job in a little over a year), to his description of US troops in Iraq as ‘Darth Vader-style stormtroopers’, Barnett's style brings to mind an angry 16-year-old high on Michael Moore videos. Perhaps it's occurred to this miserable old man that pseudo-intellectual teenagers are about the only people likely to be interested in buying his new book.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Church leader blasts Mugabe – is Brown listening?

Britain’s Archbishop of York has launched a scathing attack on Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, calling him "the worst kind of racist dictator".

Dr John Sentam – who it should be pointed out is black – says Britain needs to escape its "colonial guilt" to tackle the Mugabe regime. And he says Gordon Brown must abandon the foreign policy towards Zimbabwe pursued by Tony Blair, with its emphasis on the role of neighbouring governments such as South Africa, and lead an international response.

The archbishop writes: "Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities."

He also has strong words for South African president Thabo Mbeki, saying: "At worst, Mbeki is complicit in his failing to lead the charge against a neighbour who is systematically raping the country he leads."

The archbishop's outburst will be an embarrassment to the Brown government, which almost weekly makes some ambitious pledge or another about its plans for eradicating poverty in Africa, and ending conflicts there.

I made some similar points to the archbishop's a couple of weeks ago in this post.

BBC gets its cold, hard facts wrong

The BBC News website is still giving prominence to this story, reporting that the North-west passage is fully clear of ice for the first time 'since records began', and linking the development, not surprisingly, to global warming.

However, as Freeborn John and others have pointed out, the significance of this news rather depends on when records began to be kept; in this case it was 1972. Historical evidence reveals that the passage has been ice-free in the past (possibly due to factors such as the methane emissions of Scott's and Amundsen's husky teams). And it was also ice-free as recently as 2000, according to report by – the BBC!

Darfur: This time Brown means business. Again.

The platitudes are flying in a BBC interview with Gordon Brown over the situation in Darfur. Calling the conflict "one of the great tragedies of our time", Brown calls for the planned UN/African Union peacekeeping force to be in place by the end of the year, which it's supposed to be anyway, and warns of "further sanctions" against Sudan if attacks on refugees continue.

Considering that the 'international community' – led by those staunch internationalists China and Russia – has consistently refused to impose meaningful sanctions on Sudan, and that the peacekeepers' mandate basically limits them to running the UN flag up the pole every morning, President Omar al-Bashir and his coterie of thugs are unlikely to be quaking in their boots.

This is the most important intervention by Brown since his joint statement with Sarkozy last month calling for "intense action" to secure a ceasefire", which came hot on the heels of some tough talk at the UN in July

But help is on the horizon! The BBC reports that today has been declared a Global Day for Darfur (you didn't know?) with events planned in 30 nations around the world…

Campaigners from groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Save Darfur Coalition plan to wear blindfolds in an appeal to world leaders not to look away from the continuing violence in Darfur.

Maybe if Amnesty and HRW expended a bit less energy on attacking America for slapping around the occasional mass-murdering jihadi, and Israel for having the temerity to defend its very existence, they might be able to move Darfur a little further up the agenda.

In the meantime I don't understand why President Bush doesn't take advantage of a glaring PR opportunity, and send a single B1 to vaporise the entire Sudanese air force in two minutes. Bashir would be at the negotiating table before the fires were out, and Bush would be able to tell the world: this is how to get things done.

I know that there are various international legal niceties that are supposed to be observed, and that the above groups would probably cry merry hell because said bomber was American, and not, say, Belgian, but what's the worst that could happen? Sanctions?