Saturday, September 29, 2007

When Your Only Tool Is A Hammer

Mr. Giuliani, why is it that after years of support for gun control as mayor of NYC (where gun control is popular), now that you're speaking in front of the NRA as part of your campaign for the Republican nomination, you suddenly oppose it?
“I also think that there are some major intervening events — September 11, which cast somewhat of a different light on the Second Amendment, doesn’t change it fundamentally but perhaps highlights the necessity of it.”
Oh, okay. One more question. Why did you take a cell phone call from your (third) wife in the middle of your speech?
"And quite honestly, since Sept. 11, most of the time when we get on a plane, we talk to each other and just reaffirm the fact that we love each other," he said.
Source the first, source the second.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Happy Meal For Algernon

Pat Buchanan and Rick Perlstein have great posts/columns (sometimes, it's difficult to tell the difference) following a similar thing - the absurdity of our national overreaction to a visit from The New Hitler himself, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

We'll start with Rick, since he takes more time to summarize our collective abject terror at the prospect of Ahmadinejad setting foot on our precious Temple Of Never Forgetting:

Iran's president speaks at a great American university. That university's president, in the act of introducing his lecture, whines like a baby bereft of his pacifier that his guest is a big meany poopy-head. City Council members, too, and a rabbi, make like ten-year-olds, giving their press conference in front of a sign with his face struck through and the legend "Go To Hell." Up in Albany, Democratic leader Sheldon Silver treat the students of this great university like ten years olds, threatening to defund Columbia University lest censors like himself prove unable to shut the poor children's ears to difficult speech. (What, was he worried they'd be convinced, join the jihad?) Then a Republican presidential candidate chimes in—bye, bye, federalism!—saying Washington should starve the school of funds, too. American diplomats used to have the gumption to spar face to face with dreaded foreign leaders. Now they go on cable TV and whine about what a "travesty" it would have been to visit a site which properly should belong to the world. Hundreds of foreign nationals died in the World Trade Center on 9/11 (maybe even some of the Iranian!). Yet we have to systematically repress that—as if our national ego would crack like fine crystal if we were forced to acknowledge the mingling of American blood with that of mere foreigners.
I'd encourage you to ignore the immigration tangent, and click through to Rick's article to follow his links. Take it away, Pat:
What is it about this tiny man that induces such irrationality?

Answer: He is president of a nation that is a "state sponsor of terror," is seeking nuclear weapons, and is moving munitions to the Taliban and insurgents in Iraq.

But Libya was a "state sponsor of terror," and Col. Ghadafi was responsible for Pan Am 103, the Lockerbie massacre of school kids coming home for Christmas. And President Bush secretly negotiated a renewal of relations in return for Ghadafi giving up his nuclear program and compensating the families of the victims of that atrocity. Has Ahmadinejad ever committed an act of terror like this?

Richard Nixon went to Moscow and concluded strategic arms agreements while Moscow was the arms supplier of the enemy we were fighting in Vietnam that used, at Hue, mass murder as a war tactic.

Nixon went to Beijing to toast Mao Zedong, the greatest mass murderer in history, responsible for the deaths of 37,000 Americans in Korea, who was, in 1972, persecuting and murdering dissidents in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution run by his crazed wife, and transshipping Russian weapons into Vietnam.

And Nixon is today hailed as a statesman for having gone there.

In 1959, President Eisenhower rode up Pennsylvania Avenue in an open convertible with Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin's gauleiter in Ukraine, who, three years before his tour of the United States, had sent tanks into Budapest to butcher the patriots of the Hungarian Revolution.

What has Ahmadinejad done to rival these monsters?

Nothing of course, but actions don't matter like they used to. Back to Rick for some elaboration on the Khrushchev visit:
Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people—then was ushered upstairs to the East Wing for a leisurely gander at the Eisenhowers' family quarters. Visited the Agriculture Department's 12,000 acre research station ("If you didn't give a turkey a passport you couldn't tell the difference between a Communist and capitalist turkey"), spoke to the National Press Club, toured Manhattan, San Francisco (where he debated Walter Reuther on Stalin's crimes before a retinue of AFL-CIO leaders, or in K's words, "capitalist lackeys"), and Los Angeles (there he supped at the 20th Century Fox commissary, visited the set of the Frank Sinatra picture Can Can but to his great disappointment did not get to visit Disneyland), and sat down one more with the president, at Camp David. Mrs. K did the ladies-who-lunch circuit, with Pat Nixon as guide. Eleanor Roosevelt toured them through Hyde Park. It's not like it was all hearts and flowers. He bellowed that America, as Time magazine reported, "must close down its worldwide deterrent bases and disarm." Reporters asked him what he'd been doing during Stalin's blood purges, and the 1956 invasion of Hungary. A banquet of 27 industrialists tried to impress upon him the merits of capitalism. Nelson Rockefeller rapped with him about the Bible.

Had America suddenly succumbed to a fever of weak-kneed appeasement? Had the general running the country—the man who had faced down Hitler!—proven himself what the John Birch Society claimed he was: a conscious agent of the Communist conspiracy?

No. Nikita Khrushchev simply visited a nation that had character. That was mature, well-adjusted. A nation confident we were great. We had our neuroses, to be sure—plenty of them.

But look now what we have lost. Now when a bad guy crosses our threshhold, America becomes a pants-piddling mess.
Huge, massive block quotes I know, but they're so good I can't resist.

Pat's article is titled "Infantile Nation". Rick's goes by "Bed-Wetter Nation." Both imply the same, optimistic sentiment: that in time, we as a nation will mature and learn not to shit our pants at the slightest threat from abroad. If only it were true! We've been around for well over 200 years; we've been through a civil war, a couple of world wars, and a couple of stupid foreign entanglements. We are not toddlers; our stupidity is not a result of youth and inexperience. We have all the experience we need, and then some. We simply choose to ignore it.

No, the trend in this nation is not away from irrational fear, but towards it. Our notions of courage have been reshaped; it is no longer courageous to accept that death is a risk and proceed with principled actions anyway. It is now courageous to lash out, to commit whatever crimes we must in a fevered crusade to reduce to zero the probability that nasty brown people from the desert will blow us up. Never mind that doing so is roughly as feasible as traveling at the speed of light.

Furthermore, the self-serving notion among right wing pundits that the war is one of propaganda and will creates the idea that one can be courageous simply by saying the right things. It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you make sure you don't embolden the enemy by criticizing our troops!

I've owned two dogs in my life, and they reacted in different ways when I ran the vacuum cleaner. The first dog stood 6 feet away and barked incessantly at the vacuum until it was back in the closet; the second keeps its distance and meekly moves to a different room at her first opportunity. Which one was afraid of the vacuum? Both of them.

The most telling aspect of our reaction to Ahmadinejad's visit is that, for now, it's all talk; all politicians and pundits racing to the bottom to see who can be the bravest, the most post-9/11, the most "serious", by exhibiting the most hysterical reaction to a diplomatic visit. They claim that the visit is harmful because Ahmadinejad is only here for propaganda purposes. This is doubly ironic: first because their reaction is itself propaganda, and second because their reaction gives Ahmadinejad all the propaganda he could ever need. He is the bogeyman, the monster under the bed. He gives us nightmares. We bark at him from a safe distance until he goes away.

If any American leader could provoke a reaction like that in the Middle East, we'd elect him President in a second.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drunk With Power? More Like Dusted

Remember 1994? The Party Of Limited Government? The death of the "liberal" idea that government can and should solve all of our problems?

Things have changed since then, haven't they? Let's take a trip into the mind of Newt Gingrich, with Reason's Dave Weigel serving as travel agent:

I believe the United States should have been prepared to use whatever resources were necessary to fundamentally change the region. You ask Reagan in 1979, "Do we have to use troops to make Poland a free country and collapse the Berlin Wall? I think he would have said "Probably not." And we didn't.

So you can't go back. I mean, we never fully mobilized. We never brought to bear all of our assets. We were never serious about this. What we've done is a series of reasonable management steps. We can manage the 23-day campaign to Baghdad. And then Bremer can manage the American administration of Iraq. But we never took seriously, backing up as the big step and saying "Wait a second, this is about a whole region." So pressuring the Syrians from day one, which was frankly easier than pressuring the Iraqis, if we were willing to do it.
Now, we have known for the last 20 years that the Abadan refinery is the only refinery in Iran. That Iran only produces 60 percent of its gas. That we have an entire Navy not occupied in Iraq. People say to me: "We're overstretched." Not in the Navy. So I start by saying countries that are serious, that have the most powerful economy on the planet, that have the most powerful military on the planet, that have the most cutting edge technology on the planet, could do lots of things. Tell me about the cell phones in Iran. Tell me about the computers in Iran. How much effort have we made to make sure the right software is there? How much effort have we made to give every student in Iran a free cell phone? To help organize the resistance? To do the things we did in Poland?

So I don't want to start and say "Yes, would invade" or "No, we wouldn't invade." I want to suggest to you that a grand strategy would have said "We're going to change the region." Now everybody who wants to change the region, I say, fine: You're on our team. Remember at one point Bush said "You're either with us or against us?" Well, what did that mean? With us for what?

I would suggest a grand strategy, if you work out this alternative history, of thinking creatively. Bring back the Reagan team, among other things. Bring back the pre-Stansfield Turner retirees from the CIA. People who had actually done this stuff. People the entire team that had done Afghanistan. There were lots of assets available in 2001 if we wanted to use them.

Nowhere in this "Grant Strategy" that Newt pines for is there so much as a peep about the limits of the power of the military to "change a region". Nowhere does he pause to consider what happens if we shoot for the moon and miss. Nowhere is there any talk about the inefficiency of government.

His entire dream is based on the idea that as long as we "sit back" and formulate a "grand strategy" to "change the region", we can do whatever we want. That we can change an entire society from the ground up, as long as we are "serious", "think creatively" and/or "bring to bear all of our assets".

It's pure delusion. The first Iraq war, with its easy, cartoonish victory over Saddam's army and laser-guided missiles flying down chimneys and whatnot, sprinkled PCP into our nation's collective sack of pot (television, I guess). It made us think our army was invincible and omnipotent. It's powerful and awesome, but just because you've got a powerful jackhammer doesn't mean you can perform oral surgery with it. Armies don't change things - they blow them up.

Government can't end poverty, can't keep everyone from using drugs, can't make every 18-year old a virgin, can't keep everyone from driving drunk, and can't stop millions of central Americans from sneaking across the border. Nor can it change an entire society from religious, oil-fueled dictatorship to western-style democracy. The former ideas are at least (usually) expressed in statistics; you can argue that this or that policy will reduce drug use or illegal immigration or drunk driving fatalities. Yet Newt isn't talking about making the Middle East more democratic, and George Bush isn't talking about reducing terrorism. The goal of modern neoconservatism is a complete revolution, taking place in several nations, engineered by an external entity that most of the people of those nations hate. It's not something you can do halfway. It's all or nothing. The highest law in the land has to be eviscerated to accomplish it. And I'm not talking about the Constitution - I'm talking about Murphy's Law.


Monday, September 10, 2007


Since I typed up a bunch of stuff for the petition Mona linked to, might as well paste it here.

Dear Democrats,

You were elected as an opposition party, but you have failed to oppose an arrogant, incompetent president whose disastrous policies continue unabated. You swore an oath to defend the Constitution, but you have yielded despotic powers of warrantless wiretapping to to President Bush, out of an irrational fear of the political influence of the least popular executive in a half century. Your supporters demand an end to an unjust and pointless war, yet you continue to believe the propaganda of the executive branch, which continues to insist with manufactured evidence that another 6 months will bring significant progress. It will not. It will only bring more death and destruction, both to our troops and to the Iraqi people - remember them? - who overwhelmingly oppose our continued presence.

Furthermore, it is clear that all the allegations made five years ago regarding Saddam Hussein's imminent acquisition of weapons of mass destruction were mistakes at best, deliberate deceptions at worst - and yet the same arguments are being made by the same people with respect to Iran. These are also lies, and a war with Iran would be 10 times the disaster that the war with Iraq has been. And yet you do nothing to oppose it, and accept every administration assertion about Iran at face value.

This must change. The President is not a statesman; he is a tyrant who has rejected every founding principle of this nation. The statements of his administration need to be considered lies until independently proven true. He does not deserve your respect; you certainly will get no respect from him. I realize that without true control of the Senate, your political power is limited; however the extent to which you have submitted to his desires is despicable and disgusting. I don't demand impeachment. I demand forceful, substantive opposition.

Do your duty, uphold your oath, and oppose the President stridently and defiantly. This means voting against any bill he supports. This means rejecting the absurd proposition that anything stated by General Petraeus is any more objective than a Rush Limbaugh broadcast. If you do not, if you continue down your current path, history will remember you as cowards of the highest order. And I certainly won't vote for you again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 07, 2007

Least Surprising Headline Ever

Petraeus wants another Friedman Unit.