Friday, August 1, 2003

Uday and Qasay's death may not make a difference

This piece in the New Republic Online (sign up for the trial online subscription) might give pause to the Paul Wolfowitzes of the world, who have proclaimed that the death of Saddam's two sons shows that there's no future in opposing the American occupiers.

In fact, Fattah's piece makes a case that there are more people than ever opposing the American occupiers.

The ambushes are not coordinated, nor are the groups that spring them, Fattah writes. But numerous small groups of Islamists have sprung up in recent weeks, some of them announcing their presence on Arabic television, some of them having connections to the Ba'ath party, few of them wanting Saddam back - but all of them wanting America out:

All of which suggests that the deaths of Uday and Qusay may have less impact than Wolfowitz predicted. Worse, since the anti-U.S. attacks are less coordinated than some American officials believe, they could prove even harder to stop.

Fattah also brings up something I hadn't realized: That there are some 15-20 ambushes of American forces per day in Iraq, though only the attacks that result in American casualties get reported.

But these former Baathists are not attacking U.S. forces to bring Saddam back: They are on the warpath largely for revenge or to boost their own power. "They are gangs, and they have money," Amiri says, suggesting that many of the Baathists are trying to stake out positions for themselves as local leaders in a new Iraq. Some want to scare off U.S. soldiers, while others are simply interested in killing Americans--who may have killed friends or members of their families in the war--or find the occupying forces insulting to them.

Other political analysts say tribal chiefs, independently of the former Baathists, are also organizing violence. Many of these tribesmen are based in the Anbar region of western Iraq, which included Falluja, though some are even in Baghdad. One American officer told me the tribesmen have become violent in response to what they see as assaults on their dignity by occupying troops who have invaded their homes. What's more, some chiefs are instigating violence because their tribal codes hold they must kill anyone who killed a member of their tribe.

What to do? The answer, Fattah suggest, is not to bring in greater firepower, but to try an end run:

Dulaimi and other Iraqi political analysts believe that, because there is no one leadership of the resistance to strike against, military operations by the U.S. forces may be of limited value. Instead, he says, the American soldiers need to not only identify and eliminate resistance fighters but also work to rebuild local institutions and develop a greater understanding of local culture.

Some American troops have already started down this path. As The Washington Post reported this week, in Falluja, some American officers have delivered formal apologies to local tribal leaders for offenses committed by American soldiers, have paid money to the families of noncombatants killed, have ordered soldiers to knock on doors before conducting most residential searches, and have begun building local institutions, starting with the local police force. "It comes down to how well the Americans respond," Dulaimi says. Hopefully, Wolfowitz and the other bosses will get the message.

What I stand for

So, you know, I check the Sitemeter to see where you folks are coming from. And lately I've seen a couple from this site, so I wandered over to see what it was all about. And lo and behold, I'm linked there. Because the owner of the site (Biff the Troll? Kevin the one-armed boy?) says that he (she? it?) disagrees with nearly everything I stand for."

Well, I'm honored, really. But it got me to thinking what it is that I stand for. I mean, I suppose you can sort of get an idea from reading this site, though not really.

For example, I bet a lot of people who have never met me in person have an idea of who I am. What I look like, even. Because after all, I'm a liberal, right? So I'm probably skinny. Maybe gaunt. Short. With some facial hair.

Overeducated. Listen to NPR and "world" music. Live in an apartment, loathe sports, drive a compact car. Oppose gun rights. Drink wine and eat foie gras.


Let me help you out, here:

I'm 6'3", 235 pounds. Swing at me, I'm swinging right back.

I'm married 10 years (to the same woman, by the way), with a 2-year-old son. A homeowner and taxpayer who mows his lawn twice a week.

I am a major Pittsburgh Steeler fan - much to my wife's chagrin.

I've got a concealed carry permit.

I drink Rolling Rock and IC Light. Labatt's, when I'm feeling rich, which isn't often since the kid came along. Basically majored in beer and minored in pharmacology at college. Drive a small SUV (Subaru Forester, if you must know). Have always been a bit of a video game fanatic - Madden NFL 2004 is coming out in a few weeks, meaning my wife gets to be a football widow before football season actually starts.

I actually used to be something of a Deadhead. Though unlike some Deadheads I've known, I actually bathed.

I believe in 12-string Rickenbacker guitars - and on my 50th birthday I've told myself I'm going to buy one as a present to myself. Though I haven't told my wife about this yet.

I believe in not sitting your kid in front of the TV all day long, though if the kid wants to watch Sesame Street so you can catch a break for an hour, there's nothing wrong with that.

I believe in conservative clothing. The only time my pants have hung down my ass is when the elastic has gone out of the waistband.

I believe in the same things, act, and in fact look like your neighbor. Which of course makes it all the more insidious, right? That someone so seemingly... normal... could harbor such subversive thoughts, right?

But the point I'm making is that those thoughts are not really that subversive at all.

It's not that I'm against retaliating after someone smacks you. It's that I'm against retaliating against all of those who look like the guy who smacked you, on the theory that some day, possibly, they just might want to smack you and you've got to head it off at the pass.

It's just that when I read Thomas Jefferson's line about all men being created equal, I took it literally. I don't recall ever looking and seeing some fine print that noted those words didn't apply to those who happened to be gay, or black, or whatever other minority people are reviling these days.

It's that I respect a deep, abiding faith, but that isn't to say that exactly what works for you works for me, and if you try to codify what works for you in the law, I'm going to oppose it.

It's that I think America is a wonderful place, but that this does not permit us carte blanche to do as we like. We are citizens of the world, and therefore must act as citizens of the world. Which, at times, means not getting our way. And getting over it.

It's that I think that deep down, most Americans are kind, good and generous - but on the surface, they can be vindictive, stubborn buttheads.

It's that I believe being informed is always, always, better than thinking you know the answer without having really researched the question. It's that for every black and white you've got gray, for every day and night you've got dusk.

It's that there are no easy answers. And to insist there are is to not use your brain.

And I do very much believe in standing up. Though I'm faceless here on the web, in real life, my picture runs right there alongside the column. I'm always amazed at nasty e-mail I get from people who "forget" to sign their names. Which is the sign of a true pussy.

So there you have it. Ideas, perhaps, that are different than yours. But overall, strange and un-American?

Not on your Rolling Rock, pal.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

The rationale continues to shift

I'm really beginning to consider "Chatterbox" by Timothy Noah over at Slate to be a must-read, and yesterday's bit is no exception: He talks of how "jangled" Bush seemed at his press conference, how the president inelegantly handled the issue of whether Saddam was a "threat" or not, and then touches on how the post-war rationale for the conflict continues to undergo a subtle shift away from the WMDs, which, to many involved, really don't matter anymore.

(Note: As the main reason given for our entry into this war, it continues to matter a great deal to many of us, Mr. President.)

Quoting a piece from Paul Gigot in the Wall Street Journal, Noah reflects:

But Gigot then goes on to suggest, as Bush did not, that finding these weapons is really beside the point. You can't say this directly, because then war critics will ridicule you. But you can say it indirectly, in Gigot's case by attributing it to GIs who are there, which gives them the moral high ground. What we should focus on, Gigot continues, is that the Iraqis are much better off without Saddam (indisputably true), and that we should now try to help them build a better government (also true). Although Bush talked vaguely today about how our victory over Saddam would help build peace in the Middle East (debatable), he mostly re-fought the WMD case for war—and that's a fight Bush can't win in the absence of more compelling evidence that Saddam had chemical and biological weapons. The human rights case for defeating Saddam, though, is compelling, especially when viewed from ground level. Never mind that, except for a very few liberal hawks (Slate's Christopher Hitchens and former Sen. Bob Kerrey come to mind), nobody ever argued before the war that Saddam's violation of human rights was the principal casus belli.

Isn't it clear that no one argued this because the American public wouldn't have bought it as a primary reason to go to war?

And the local Democrats had better take it seriously

Democrats here in Lancaster County are a fairly ineffectual bunch. It's not just that they are way outnumbered in terms of registration, it's that there often seems to be no real, concerted effort to increase their numbers, no plan. In a growing and increasingly "suburbanized" community, they could make inroads. They don't seem to know how they might do that.

If there's any real plan to start small and work your way up - a borough council seat here, a school board seat there, a gradual yet concerted plan to show the people in the suburbs that, look, we're not a bunch of extremists, we have jobs and families and take care of our homes like you do, you are one of us, I don't see it. My good friend Pastor Dan tells a sad tale of attending a Young Democrats meeting here. The main topic of discussion: Finding a better place to meet.

You gotta start small, I suppose. But still.

Anyway, as the minority party, the Democrats are, or at least have been, guaranteed one seat on our three-person county board of commissioners. Now, however, a guy named Jim Clymer, a local attorney who is so far out on the right wing that he's got the last feather, is running for a spot as county commissioner. Clymer just happens to be national chairman of the Constitution Party, headquartered here in Lancaster - which, the more I look at it, appears to be more and more the kind of "respectible" institution that was behind so many of those militia movements in the mid-1990s.

That's Lancaster County: Always a decade or so behind the curve.

Read the party platform on its site for a taste of what I'm talking about. Also follow the link to the Live Free or Die Campaign Supply page, where you can get all your party literature and bumper stickers. You can also buy all sorts of "politically incorrect" bumper stickers that demand God be put back into government, invite you to "visualize abortionists on trial," and, my favorite, the one that says, "Homophobia - No; Homonausea - Yes."

Constitution Party types might bristle at the connection I'm about to make. But realistically, how far is this line of thinking from that advocated by Eric Rudolph, or perhaps the Rev. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps?

Clymer might disavow this. But in our morning newspaper this morning (sorry, no link), he's quoted as saying:

"Generally, I think the Democrats are out of step with the prevailing ideology in Lancaster County. And given the overwhelming registration edge for the Republicans, I think it comes down to a race for that minority seat."

Well, much as I dislike Clymer's politics, I have to admit he's right on the latter count. There are a lot of people here in Lancaster County who hate fags and would like to see abortion providers put on trial - if not outright snuffed out.

But the Democratic candidates for commissioner have thus far sort of pooh-poohed the idea of a Clymer candidacy. They don't appear particularly worried.

They damned well ought to be.

If they know what's good for them, they will start, right now, trying to shine a light on what the Constitution Party really is all about. They will start, right now, doing everything they can to make sure Democrats - and Republicans uneasy about the shift of their county government to the far right, we're talking the far right - get out and vote when the time comes.

They'll concede that there are a lot of people here who do want to see God put back into government. But they'll realize there are more who will be uncomfortable with Clymer's far-right politics, the numbers of which would grow dramatically were the Democrats to make a real effort to educate people as to exactly what those politics are.

Not that, as a county commissioner, such a right-wing type would have any real power - and in fact, fiscal conservatives such as myself might be pleased with the power they do exercise over budgetary matters.

But it would be a psychological blow to Democrats, and rather indicative of the Democratic situation nationwide, where there appear to be no concerted plan, no organized approach, a scattershot approach where we don't really worry about what might happen.

Until it's too late.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

In it for the long haul

So now President Bush has indeed declared that the buck stops with him regarding the "16 words. At the same time, in the same breath, he has attributed credibility to the report that al-Qaida might be planning new attacks, possibly involving hijackings.

It's well and good that the federal government is taking this threat seriously, as it of course should. I'm certainly no conspiracy theorist, but it does strike me that another terror attack certainly would put an end to all this nonsense about yellowcake and Condi and who knew what and who let it slip through. Frightened Americans once again would rally around their president. In a timely fashion, if you're Karl Rove.

So maybe al-Qaida harbor Republican tendencies. Who knew?

Kidding aside, though, it strikes me that as we've been considering neoconservative duplicity today, it might be worth considering what Bush and all those behind our strike in Iraq really mean when they say, as Bush did today, that "The war on terror goes on, as I continually remind people."

In fact, it's becoming clearer that the war on terror may well go on, and on, and on.

For if, in fact, Den Beste's assertion is correct, that we went into Iraq not to root out WMDs, not to save the poor, oppressed Iraqis, not to enforce any United Nations resolution but in fact to establish a stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East that might serve as a beacon for the nations of Islam there, turn them away from the radicalism that lashed out on 9/11 and other times, we may be in for a longer haul than anyone has dared to mention.

For if this is our strategy, Iraq is necessarily only the beginning. Even if the neocon pipe dream of a liberal democracy modeled on our own, where Islamic radicalism is watered down by the lure of the secular good life, this and this alone will not cause the regimes in Tehran and Damascus and elsewhere to collapse. Rather, Iraq necessarily was the first of many armed interventions that we will have to undertake, if in fact we are going to root out terrorism where it grows and plant not just new regimes but an entirely different way of life in this troubled region.

That is what we mean by being in this for the long haul. We're not talking just one Iraq; we're talking two, three, maybe more Iraqs. And now, those in favor of such a thing will say, we must proceed on this course, for already we have begun the task in Iraq. We cannot abandon the effort now.

Which is why, perhaps, it would make more sense for those opposed to this adventurism, this grandiose scheme guaranteed to cost lives and untold billions of dollars, to stomp on the brakes.

Which is to say that Buchanan's suggestion that we get out of Iraq now and leave the rebuilding to the Iraqis - or whomever else might want to help them do the job - may be impractical. But let us not continue to follow the neoconservatives down this path of folly.

Let those who have opposed the war - let the Democratic presidential contenders - say that what we begun we must finish, but we shall not have a repeat of this fiasco, we shall not invent new reasons to invade new countries all in the name of some theory that Americans who must go and fight and die or at the very least pay for never got the chance to vote on.

For while those in favor of the war may insist that going on the Syria, Iran - Libya? Egypt? What if they stand in our way? - is necessary in order to eliminate the source of terrorism, the fact is that this is one gigantic crapshoot, a gamble that democracy as practiced by the United States will "take," that by doing away with the regimes that sponsor terrorism you will eradicate the hatred that causes young men to fly jetliners into buildings in the first place, that you can indeed cow or coerce or destroy all who oppose you.

Neoconservatives would say it's a goal we must embrace, a bet we must make, one we must win.

Sometimes the cards aren't worth a dime if you don't lay them down.

But sometimes they're worth even less if you do.