Thursday, April 17, 2003

Pontification And Rhetoric On The War

Walt presents an argument regarding "pontification and rhetoric on the war," and I respond:

Marc (speaking to Walt):

I like much of what you have to say, with a few comments and caveats. I think I'll put the whole discussion on my blog, because it is so interesting. Here are my comments:

Many more civilian lives will be saved by deposing Hussein now, rather than letting his regime continue in power. After all, we accepted with equanimity the degradation of Iraq's health services that sanctions brought in the 90's, and the many (but barely noticed) civilian deaths that that degradation assuredly caused, because we thought it would be more humane than war. Not the least bit true, as it is turning out. All we did was perpetuate the agony.

Many people have not fully accepted that 9/11 was a deliberate murderous act, and that something like it can assuredly happen again - and again - and again. It's an inexcusable failure of imagination. I wrote elsewhere of the contempt I felt for the writers at The Nation, for their failure to grasp what happened even within their own city of New York. Much of that failure is rooted in simple, smug callousness, of the sort liberals used to flay conservatives about, before many liberals stopped paying close attention to what was happening in the world, and tried to force the world into their little Vietnam preconception box.

I've felt that there were good reasons to oppose war with Iraq, but purely of the tactical sort that people rarely mentioned in the months leading up to the war. I was always more worried about nuclear weapons in Iraq than many of the neocons were, and so I was hesitant to go charging in unless we had better information regarding disposition of the weaponry. I also thought the Bush Administration did a terrible job at educating the public and explaining its position. But the general advisability of getting Saddam out of power as soon as possible? How could a sensitive person not support that? And what can one only think of a person who would oppose that?

As you say, UN approval has never been required to go to war. Indeed, the UN has been directly involved in allowing war crimes to proceed (e.g. Srbenica, the Hutu refugee camps of Rwanda, etc.).

I did disagree with your full list of the "what ifs" that never transpired. NATO was vital to resisting the Soviet empire, but SEATO never played that important a role, since it did not oppose the totalitarian might of the Soviet Union directly, but rather the ambitions of restless satellite states, and indirectly at best. And I do not believe that Reagan and Thatcher's rearmament ventures had much importance in bringing down the Soviet Empire. Far more important to that collapse was Gorbachev's efforts to reform and deterrorize the Soviet Union. Gorbachev upended the careful balancing of subnational and ethnic interests in the Communist government by relying almost exclusively on Russians to run the show, which provoked ethnic anger among many in power in the provinces. In addition, power in the Soviet Union was BASED on terror - deterrorize in any meaningful way, and you lose all control of events. Once reform started, all the West had to do was persist long enough with its 45-year-old containment policy, and the Soviet Union would come unglued all on its own. Rearmament efforts, while helpful to modernize the U.S. military, were, in a major way, redundant and pointless.

Groups like Al Qaeda take a while to put together, and cost a lot to maintain - that's why we won't see 100 bin Ladens. Once formed, however, these organizations are hard to destroy. That's one reason why we must become more proactive.
We had good reason to believe Hussein wished us harm, but as long as he struggled under effective sanctions, he had trouble executing his plans. The decay of sanctions and the option he now had of using third parties like Al Qaeda ended our idyll. Best to take action sooner than later.

Most protestors are not "anti-American", but they do seriously misunderstand the situation. I'm more worried about new efforts in conservative circles to limit the range of free thought, however. My brother-in-law, for example, believes Jimmy Carter committed treason by publicly announcing his opposition to the war, and should be punished accordingly. I say Carter should be able to say what he pleases. I guess that means I'm a traitor too, since I support Carter's right to air his opinion in public.

Attacking Iraq is not the best way to attack Arab terrorism, because we are targeting less-dangerous terror players, but the Baathists are evil in their own unique and special way, and we are doing the world a considerable service nonetheless by forcing them from power.

The news media has shown a profound ignorance of the international situation, as they almost always do regarding any big story, but especially so now, since the situation is so complex and full of nuance. It's hard not to get mad at the media's easy compliance with defeatism. I particularly remember Judy Woodruff on CNN, on the first Monday of the war, the day when the news was sinking in about the capture of the 12 American soldiers from Ft. Bliss, TX. Woodruff announced that it was a very bad day for Coalition forces, when, in fact, the forces were in great shape, racing almost unopposed for Baghdad. What planet was she on? Planet CNN, I guess. In a separate orbit from jingo-mad Planet Fox.

The U.S. should abandon the UN: having such a large irresponsible body beholden to no particular authority is causing many difficulties in the world.


Marc: I wrote this in response to a liberal friend of mine who opposes the war. It may be somewhat strong on rhetoric, but I guess thats my style. I'm forwarding it to you for your entertainment.

Pete, Pete, Pete.

On April 7, in response to some humorous commentary which I sent, you responded:

Do you really think that because our news media never presents any details about civilian casualities that there haven't been any? Or that the number is small? Smaller than the number of people killed in the World Trade Center? Are you that naive? Out of curiosity, what do raging conservatives consider an acceptable number of civilian deaths in a war that is not prompted by overt hostility from the host country?

I gather that my razor sharp humor has cut a little too close! I'll lay off the humor for awhile, and speak seriously about my views on the war. My essay below has turned out to be longer than originally intended. Events are moving so fast that my views might look silly, stupid, or wrong next year. But I will risk being proved wrong by history, and record for posterity the Iraqi War, as I see it on April 13, 2003.

First, the civilian casualties. Of course there are many; hundreds dead and several thousand wounded by coalition forces. Add to that an unknown number of civilians killed or wounded since March 19 by the Baath regime. If food or water shortages worsen, it could get worse. I don't believe Americans are under any illusions about the civilian costs of this battle. Anyone who remembers that photo of the firefighter carrying the dead baby in Oklahoma City knows what happens in war.

Now about your question "what do raging conservatives consider an acceptable number of civilian deaths?" My first answer is that I don't know, because I'm not currently acquainted with any raging conservatives. But at a deeper level, this is an unfair question --trying to force someone to define or endorse an acceptable adverse outcome rate--questions like this are commonly used as insincere objections to all sorts of things. Its not just you; thousands of people use this rhetorical device every day to impeach problem-solving advances. I have heard it employed several times in my own company.

Manager: "We had 10 hand or finger losses in the factory last year. By installing guard covers on fan belts, we can reduce the injury rate by 70%".
Smartass 1: "Do you mean to say that 3 amputated hands or fingers per year is acceptable to this company?"

Car Manufacturer: "Next year, we will introduce a reinforced frame which will increase survivability of high speed rollovers by 50%."
Smartass 2: "Does that mean you don't care about the other 50% who will die in your vehicles?"

Military Spokesman: "The bomb explodes at depth, sending blast energy upward and not outward, thereby reducing civilian casualties."
Smartass 3: "Since it only reduces civilian casualties but does not eliminate them, you really don't care about civilians."

So anyway, Pete, I won't say that fan belt covers are a good idea if they reduce injuries 90%, but a bad idea if they reduce injuries by only 70%. I won't say that 1,000 casualties are acceptable, but 10,000 aren't. I will say that I am impressed with the efforts the US is making to reduce or avoid civilian deaths, and proud of the US for doing it. I have never heard of anything similar in any other war, anywhere in the world, in the last 100 years. It is also obvious that we care more about the safety of Iraqis than the Iraqi government does. Finally, I am ready to accept civilian deaths which do occur, because I (and everyone I know who supports the war) believe that, over the next 10 or 20 years, fewer innocent people will die if we remove Saddam, but more innocent people will die if we don't. If I did not think so, I would not support the war. I respect the opinions of reasonable people who believe the opposite, but I do not agree with them. About 70% or 75% of the US agrees with me on this.

Please don't think that I am willing to accept civilian deaths only because they are not Americans. We all know that because of this war, American civilians at home may be killed, perhaps even in comparable numbers to Iraqi civilians. I work at a nuclear defense facility which stores and processes plutonium. Some of my coworkers are Muslims. I know that my workplace may be attacked, and it is not impossible that a truck bomb might blow up next to the building where I work. Furthermore, there is an operating nuclear reactor about 20 miles from my home, and 6 miles from my workplace. It is upwind.

Now I will explain why I (and the other 200,000,000 Americans) support the war.

The first task of any thinking person is to understand his own culture and time; anyone who cannot do that is truly lost. For our culture at the present time, the defining moment is September 11, 2001. Previous defining moments, like December 7, 1941, the 60's protest era, our Vietnam defeat, Watergate, fall of the Berlin wall, etc., are now history; but 9/11 rules the present. On September 11, we realized, finally, that some people want to kill us by the thousands, and by the millions, and they are learning how to do it. When the scales fell from our eyes, we saw, finally, the pattern of the last 35 years. This pattern consists of Islamic militants, wishing to do us harm, becoming increasingly bold, inceasingly murderous, and increasingly successful. We didn't notice before, not really, because previous successful attacks have mostly been in Europe or the middle east. But now the war has come home. We are 35 years into a religious crusade against our civilization (jihad is the Islamic term). The medieval crusades lasted 200 years. The religious wars of the Reformation lasted 140 years. I don't think there is any hope of this one ending within 20 years, no matter what we do. We can turn the other cheek, or we can fight. I vote to fight.

By attacking the Taliban and Al Qaeda, we are responding directly to the attackers of 9/11. However, Saddam has not publicly threatened harm to the US directly. So why attack him? We are fighting a pre-emptive war of self defense. Its been done before; the Third Punic War was fought for the same reason. The UK's declaration of war against Germany in 1939 could also be construed that way. A pre-emptive strike makes a lot of people uncomfortable; I too was uneasy about this initially. We have been subtly conditioned over the years to think that we are supposed to let the bad guy have first shot. Think of every John Wayne movie, Clint Eastwood movie, Steven Seagal, Schwarzenegger, Stallone movie; think of High Noon and every movie or TV show you've ever seen which shows a gun duel between a good guy and a bad guy. The good guy ALWAYS lets the bad guy draw first, and beats him because the good guy is faster. Its a comforting way to think; one never has to make a hard decision. The only problem is that its a fantasy. In real life, the guy who shoots first kills the other guy.

So why is Saddam is a danger to us? Just because he has not publicly announced an intent to attack our interests, does not mean that he is not our enemy. Not all bad guys give their victims fair warning. We think he is a danger because he is a sadistic, cruel, megalomaniac head of state with a personality akin to Stalin or Hitler. He has dreams of conquest. He is developing the same weapons that Al Qaeda wants to have in order to use against us. Recently, he has been using the same militant Islamic rhetoric that Al Qaeda uses. He has already used WMD on his own people, and on his neighbors. He was not deterred by repeated military defeat. He was not deterred by UN sanctions. He was not deterred by threats of military force from a superior power. I believe that he, like Hitler, would bring war to the world if he could. He has been working on the means to do that. Finally, if we did nothing, and he died of natural causes before doing anything, the WMD would still be there for use by other jihadist Muslims who have access to it, or who can buy it. That is why I and two hundred million others agree with President Bush; in this case we're willing to draw and fire before the bad guy does, despite the moral teaching of Clint Eastwood movies.

Having said that, I can respect someone who refuses to draw first, someone whose sense of morality and goodness won't allow him to shoot back until he's already been shot himself. It truly is a morally justifiable position. My only problem with that is, it is also a suicidal position. What about my own position: can I accept the (small) possibility that I'm wrong about Saddam? That he is not really a cruel megalomaniac trying to obtain the power to kill millions? Sure.


By supporting the war, I am willing to see US forces kill thousands of innocent people, unintentionally. It is a sobering thought; but I am not alone in being willing to let innocent strangers die in order to preserve something important to me. You are the same way, Pete. Lets do some thought experiments:

1. HIV STATUS. Suppose that back around 1985, when reliable blood tests for AIDS were introduced, that someone proposed to require everyone in the US to be tested regularly, and wear their HIV status on a non-removable hospital-style bracelet. Nobody goes to jail, but everybody knows who's infected. The results of such a proposal are obvious. HIV positive people would be fired from their jobs, they'd lose their friends, they'd become wards of the state, and nobody would have sex with them. The AIDS epidemic would have come to a virtual standstill, in 1985. This would have saved 50,000 to 100,000 lives in the US alone. Where would you have stood on this one Pete? Which do you value more: 100,000 innocent lives, or the right to privacy?

2. L.A. GANG SHOOTINGS. Last week the news said that 30 or 40% of homicides in Los Angeles are gang-related; its been that way for 10 or 20 years. Current due-process rules cannot stop the killing; I guess about 200 per year. How about letting cops detain suspected gang members without due process, and imprison them indefinitely, or relocate them to small towns in Kansas. Which is more important to Pete: 200 innocent lives per year, or the right to due process?

3. HIGHWAY SPEED LIMITS. I remember when you opposed raising the highway speed limit above 55 mph, partly because more people would die in accidents. However, if we wanted to save lives, we could have lowered the speed limit to, say, 25 mph. Almost nobody gets killed at that speed. I'll bet if we all drove 25 mph, the number of traffic fatalities would drop by 75%, or 30,000 lives saved per year! What do you think, Pete? Which is more important to you -- 30,000 innocent lives per year, or short commuting times?

Shall I turn your question around and ask how many AIDS deaths are acceptable to a "raging liberal" before allowing prospective sexual partners of carriers know who they are sleeping with? I will not--my point is not to imply that you have callous disregard for innocent life, but rather to show that everyone is willing, to some extent, to balance human lives against some concept or practice, with acceptance of a nonzero fatality rate -- which may actually be very high, as shown in the AIDS example and the speed limit example. You and I both are willing to see innocents die, and so is everyone else.

Now that I've explained why I support the war, let me talk of goals and conduct of the war.


It is not necessary. There have been wars and revolutions in the world constantly since the UN was created. If anything definite can be said about the UN, it is that its track record in preventing war is little or no better than the League of Nations. It is not usual for belligerents to seek UN approval to make war. Furthermore, there is no US tradition, law or constitutional rule requiring international consent for US involvement in military conflict.

But should we, in the interests of peace and humanity, use the UN as a binding arbiter in matters of war, even if we don't have to? Should the US lead by example? I might consent, if I thought that the UN had the security and safety of the US as an objective. But I am convinced that the nations which opposed the US attack on Iraq did not do so because they felt it was in our best interest to sit still. Rather, I think that France's, Germany's, and Russia's positions were based on their own interests, not on ours. I see no reason to allow them to make our foreign policy if they do not have our best interests at heart.


We get mixed signals on this--government officials claim that 40+ nations are part of the coalition, while opponents of the war make it out to be the US, UK, and nobody else. Whats the truth? First of all, I know from the news that at least 7 nations have sent troops: US, UK, Australia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Kuwait. The last four are not widely known, but I have heard references to their troops on CNN, Fox, and USA Today. I speculate that there may be a few more countries which I missed because I can't watch the news all the time.

Furthermore, it is obvious that about 6 to 8 Muslim States are helping us quietly by allowing us use of their land, air space, or the Suez Canal. Of course, some claim political cover by saying that the US can use their territory only for transportation of food and humanitarian supplies. But considering that armies can't function without food, and prompt humanitarian relief is our objective, it is clear that these countries are making our work easier.

Although much is made of protests in various parts of the world, we can learn something by where the protests are not occurring. I have not heard of any protests in a former Soviet Republic (except Muslim Uzbekistan, and Russia itself), nor in any "Iron Curtain" nations. You may remember the famous Chirac remark that eastern European nations "missed a good opportunity to be quiet" when they expressed support for the US. We're probably talking about nearly 20 European nations who know what totalitarianism is, and who support us. Spain, Portugal, and to some extent Italy, gave us valuable UN support during the diplomatic phase. Israel of course would gladly throw some nukes if we'd only let them.

Some other things that are conspicuously missing are: (1) an OPEC oil embargo against us, (2) a General Assembly resolution against us, (3) bombings or takeovers of US embassies, (4) violent denunciations from the Arab League . Why is none of this stuff happening?


I support the war because I feel that Saddam is an evil man with dreams of conquest, and that he has at least some WMD, and is trying to obtain more. I don't think anyone believes that Saddam does not possess poison gas. I don't think anyone believes that Saddam does not plan or dream about conquering other nations. Given this belief, my desire is to destroy his regime, and find and destroy as much WMD as possible. However, we do not need to find WMD to justify the war. If we know that Jesse James robbed a bank, we do not have to find the hidden loot in order to justify punishing him. Of course, finding WMD would give Bush and Blair valuable political cover; but we are not fighting the war for Bush and Blair.

It is possible that we may not find WMD soon or at all: it may be well hidden, underground, perhaps beneath a paved highway or parking lot, and those who know its location are either dead or otherwise beyond our reach. One image I have is of Hans Blix showing up at a factory, and peering underneath toilet lids, while his Iraqi escorts are laughing because his SUV is parked on top of the VX canisters. Another image is Saddam having a work gang pave over the WMD, and then killing the workers. Of course, some officials would need to know the location -- people who might have been killed in combat, or are out of the country, or disguised as ordinary civilians. Another scenario might have Saddam transporting WMD to a neighboring country, either before or during the war. Still another would have him subcontracting out the development or storage of WMD to another nation, perhaps even France, Germany, or Russia.


Although we are attacking Iraq as a pre-emptive self-defensive measure, for our own protection, we also happen to be liberating 24,000,000 people from a totalitarian regime which has kept itself in power for 30 years through internal terrorism and murder. Anyone who has watched TV footage of Iraqi crowds welcoming American troops to Iraqi cities knows this in their hearts. The war is justified on this ground alone.


I owe this concept to a co-worker, a Brit who was born in England after the end of WW2. In February 2003, he was opposed to the upcoming war with Saddam, but not for the same reasons as Martin Sheen. He felt that we should have deposed him in 1991 (Saddam, not Sheen), and that he needed deposing, but it was too late now, because the 2003 war would be too big. In his view, the 1991 and 2003 wars against Iraq are analogous to WW1 and WW2 against Germany -- in both cases, the first war was not prosecuted sufficiently enough to convince the aggressors that they couldn't win, and the second war, though morally justified, was too costly (British interpret the cost of WW2 differently than we). This co-worker changed his mind about the 2003 war in early April. He now supports the war.

Historically, the 2003 war can be viewed not merely as a continuation of Bush senior's foreign policy, but also as a continuation of Wilson's, Roosvelt's, Truman's, Kennedy's, and Reagan's foreign policy. This is not the first time that the US and Britain have worked together to destroy a regime that oppressed its own people at home, and built a military machine for conquest abroad -- it is the fourth time we have done so! We destroyed Nazi Germany, Japan's dictatorship, the Soviet Union, and now Baathist Iraq.

Imagine what the world would be like if we did not supply Britain and the USSR in WW2. What if we never sent troops to Europe? What if we signed a treaty with Japan after Pearl Harbor, promising neutrality with any Japanese actions against China and Australia? What if we did not form NATO and SEATO to oppose Soviet expansionism? What if Reagan and Thatcher did not re-arm in the 1980s? What if we did not defend Kuwait in 1991, but rather declared neutrality with respect to possible Iraqi attacks against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, or Oman? What would the world be like if our Presidents over the past 90 years adopted a Swiss style neutrality in all conflicts, or adopted one former President's policy of deterring totalitarianism by boycotting sporting events?

In this model, which I subscribe to, the international role of the US in the past 90 years has been to prevent Hitler, Stalin, and other dictators from over-running the planet and making George Orwell's "1984" come true. The war against Iraq is justifiable in the short term as self-defense against militant Islam, but also fits into this larger historical picture.


This remark by Mubarak is no bombast; it is a legitimate argument for not attacking Iraq. A reasonable person, having US interests at heart, could oppose the war on this basis, and many do. I respect that opinion; I do not consider such people traitors or "raging liberals". It is hard to make big decisions, because outcomes are difficult to predict. All I can do is tell you the way I read the situation.

The real danger to this country is not individual terrorists willing to die to blow up a plane or a McDonalds. The death rate due to such attacks is not great, considering that 280,000,000 people live here, and its been happening for 35 years. The danger lies in organizations or governments which have the technical resources and funds to develop or buy WMD. Bush knows this, so he has shifted the emphasis from forensic investigations and legal prosecution of individuals, to locating and attacking large organizations who wish to hurt us.

I don't think that 100 Bin Ladens will rise up. A thousand or ten thousand guys may pick up a grenade, but an organization like Al Qaeda or the Baath Party does not grow up overnight, and is not invisible when it does. We'll deal with the organizations as they come up. This is not to say that America will not be attacked on our own soil by individuals or small cells; of course we will. But each attack that kills 10 or 100 or 1000 people will merely hasten the day when the US will be ready to implement the one truly effective homeland defense: exclusion of all foreign Muslims from the US. This will probably occur after the next WTC-scale attack, or at the latest, the one after that.


What should we think about all these protesters? They certainly do not represent mainstream American public opinion. The polls have been quite clear -- approval for the war since March 19 has held steady between 70 & 78%. There have been no protests in South Carolina, so I haven't met any protesters personally. I imagine they are the usual suspects -- college kids, leftists, ex-hippies. I did listen to one interview of a protester on NPR. This guy organized "A Day of Poetry Against the War". He was encouraging people to write poems protesting the Iraqi war, and he would post them on his Internet site. He read on the air his own personal contribution to this project-- a poem he wrote in 1975, protesting the Vietnam War. One thing is clear -- the most visible protest leaders are Hollywood bigwigs, folks who agitate for more fuel-efficient cars while they fly private jets for weekends in Aspen.

Are their reasons sound? As I said, there are legitimate reasons to oppose the war:

1. "Shooting first is morally wrong, even in self defense": I can respect this position, even though it is a death-wish when WMD is involved.

2. "We'll make more enemies than we remove": This position may have real merit, although to me, its an acceptable risk.

A third morally justifiable argument is "We have no proof Saddam means us harm". This is an extension of American criminal justice theory, which uses a "beyond reasonable doubt" test to justify use of force. I understand why reasonable people might apply that paradigm. I don't think you have to be crazy or anti-American to hold this position. Like "let the other guy shoot first", this idea has been subtly inculcated into all of us by countless courtroom dramas on TV and in the movies. However, the "beyond reasonable doubt" test is not the only possible legal rule, even within the American system. Civil courts use a "preponderance of evidence" test, as do other nations in their criminal justice systems. Furthermore, even in the US, a police officer is not bound by the "beyond reasonable doubt" test when deciding to use deadly force. Cops are authorized to use deadly force simply if they believe that their life, or the life of another, is in danger. This is the rule we are applying to Saddam.

Although there are good reasons for opposing the war, there are also bad ones. The one seen most often on TV is "NO BLOOD FOR OIL!" These people are the ones who do not understand their own culture, or their own time. Anybody old enough to remember 9/11/2001 knows why we are attacking Iraq. Trying to interpret the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the actions of John Ashcroft, and the overwhelming public support for it all, without acknowledging the role of 9/11, is like trying to understand FDR's New Deal without knowing acknowledging the Great Depression. Another bad reason was given recently by Michael Moore: Bush brought this on to distract us from the real problem, the poor economy! I'd agree if I thought Bush engineered the WTC attack, but I don't think he did. The American people are not children, and Bush is not a hypnotist. We are facing an economic problem, and also a security problem. Everybody knows about both, and we showed clearly which was first priority last November, when one party emphasized one problem, and the other party emphasized the other. The "no blood for oil" people and the "Svengali" theorists do not understand their own people or their own time.

Another bad reason is endorsed by one of my co-workers. He thinks that George Bush has a personal ambition to fight a war, so he can be a "macho man", like Theodore Roosevelt. I don't think my co-worker's point of view is widely held.

Are the protesters "anti-American" or "traitors"? I would not want to publicly call them so at the present time. So far, their actions that I've seen on TV are within the bounds of what I consider acceptable public dissent. However, on a personal level, I have no doubt that many are in fact anti-American. I say this because I am half sure that several mutual acquaintances of ours are protesting the war. I would guess that George, Suzanne, the other Suzanne, Gretchen, and John F. (not the professor) might be in this group, if they hold the same views they did in the 80s. These people, when I knew them, felt that mainstream values of American society are on the wrong side of history. Two of them, both American citizens, visited communist countries during crisis periods, when war was not impossible, explicitly in order to show support for those communist governments, both of which were military dictatorships. If these people were not anti-American at that time, then nobody is anti-American, and the word has no meaning.

Significantly, none of the prominent war protesters have yet done anything close to what Jane Fonda did. Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Michael Moore, Natalie Mainz, Peter Arnett, etc., while clearly against the war, have not approached the behavior of "Hanoi Jane". To my knowledge, none have burned the flag, none have renounced their citizenship, none have symbolically killed US soldiers, none have offered material aid to Saddam's government. It could be that these folks, deep down, suspect that they themselves might possibly be on the wrong side of history. Or maybe they just don't want to risk losing a movie deal and be forced to sell their private jet.


I honestly don't know. If Congress, or ex-presidents, or Nobel Peace Prize winners, or professors, or Michael Moore, or Natalie Mainz, had any concrete suggestions, I'd certainly listen. However, I don't think the "Law and Order" approach will work: sentencing people to jail who are already willing to die will not deter anyone. I'm not optimistic about the "fix the economy and hope terrorists go away" approach, either. Until somebody comes up with a better idea, I'll support any president who fights back.


Although I can't predict the ultimate political fate of Iraq, the military phase of this war has been perhaps the most successful in history. We conquered an aggressive military power of 24 million people, with a strong government, after warning them and giving them several months to prepare. When Bush gave Saddam 48 hours to leave, we implicitly told him the day and time that we intended to strike. We conquered them in 3 weeks, with about 130 Coalition deaths. The only comparable invasion I know of (in terms of military success, not justification) would be the German & Russian attacks on Poland in 1939 -- the Polish Government lasted 5 weeks. The analogy is not complete, however, because the attack was a surprise, it was not announced beforehand, Poland was not a military dictatorship, and the attackers did not try to save civilian lives.

What impresses me more than the military success, is the unprecedented manner in which we are respecting human life. Rather than employing "carpet bombing" in order to induce panic and chaos in the enemy's capital, a practice for which there is much precedent, we attack with expensive cruise missiles and smart bombs, in order to destroy government facilities without hitting residential neighborhoods. Missile attacks on government buildings take place at night, when buildings are empty. Rather than attack power plants -- legitimate military targets -- we leave them so civilians may enjoy electricity. We design bombs with upward blast patterns, to save lives. When the Iraqi army mixes with civilians, we don't shoot. When they store weapons in schools, we don't bomb. When 150 armed Fedayeen make a stand in a Mosque, we don't attack! But for two occasions which lasted minutes, we have not even raised the American Flag over there. Of all wars of the last century, I am not aware of a conflict in which civilians have been treated with such care.

The US did not invent war -- wars have been fought for thousands of years, and it is likely that wars will continue for thousands of years to come. But the humane way in which the US chooses to fight its wars makes me proud.


This war is a historical turning point; it has captured my full attention. I've been watching the news 2 hours a day since March 19. I've seen many press conferences, and much expert analysis. I have been amazed by the defeatist, know-it-all, and profoundly hostile attitudes shown by some of the press in the first two weeks of the war.

In the days before March 19, the US made numerous statements -- "shock and awe", "unlike anything seen before", "negotiating secretly with the Republican Guard". When Rumsfeld talked like this, I interpreted it at the time as "talking trash" or "psy-ops" stuff, aimed at putting fear and doubt into the hearts of our enemies. I didn't take it all as Biblical truth, and I thought that this kind of propaganda should certainly be used -- reducing enemy morale is a good thing at the start of a war. However, at news conferences around Days 5, 6, and 7, it seemed that half of the press corps wanted to dissect every Pentagon pronouncement ever made about the war, with the goal of trying to force either Rumsfeld or Franks into admitting that we were losing. We all know Peter Arnett's take on the campaign: "It is clear that the American war plan has failed". Is it really true that intelligent and experienced journalists at CBS, ABC, and NBC believed we were losing the war? Or did they want the American public to think so? When they pulled the statue down in Baghdad, I tuned into CBS evening news. Dan Rather described it, in a funeral director's voice, saying "Today in Baghdad, there was shock and awe, and fear, despair, and death". Those were the exact words he used to describe the liberation of a city from totalitarian rule, while people were dancing in the streets, welcoming the Americans! What is going through the minds of these network journalists?

I remember a vivid episode of the old Outer Limits show. A young couple took a wrong turn and ended up at a house where a 60-ish woman lived alone. On her wedding night back in the 1920's, her bridegroom suddenly disappeared from the party, never to be seen again. Ever since that night, she kept everything unchanged in that house, playing 1920's music, wearing 1920's clothes, still dressed up in makeup and lipstick, an elderly flapper, grotesque in the 1960s, waiting for her bridegroom to return. I think something like that might be happening with network news. Dan, Tom, and Peter are all about 60 years old, as are their network presidents and vice presidents. Perhaps they remember those heady years of the late 60s and early 70s, when they protested the government and brought down a president. But since then, time has not stood still. America has moved on. But these guys don't get it -- they think every war is Vietnam, every government screw-up is Watergate. They are losing their audience to a new crowd at CNN and Fox. During this war, the largest news event in a quarter century, everybody is watchng TV, but CBS News' ratings actually went down 15%! Nobody wants to see a 60-year-old flapper.


Many conservatives want out of the UN. Although I understand that feeling, I do not share it. The UN, despite its inability to stop war, poverty, or injustice, is still a useful organization, and has its place. It has been successful as a public health organization, and patrolling war zones after belligerents stop shooting. This is how they should be used in Iraq. In this matter, I may be disagreeing with Bush.

Although the military war against Iraq has been quite successful, Iraq's political future may not be so rosy. There may be a civil war, it may fall to pieces like Yugoslavia did, it may become a fundamentalist Islamic state, it may even wind up being run by another warlord not much different from Saddam. I don't think the US necessarily has the will, patience, or even the wisdom to bring about a happy ending. Therefore, I recommend a strong UN involvement in Iraq's rebuilding. This way, costs and risks will be shared, the French and Russians can still have some feeling of power, and might even provide a needed perspective on things. Besides, we can always veto any proposal we don't like.


The key to minimize political risk is to allow the UN a substantive reconstructive role; that will co-opt international critics, making it difficult for them to undercut us. Osama Bin Laden once said that "When people see a strong horse, and a weak horse, they naturally prefer the strong horse". By showing in Afghanistan and Iraq that we are willing and able to destroy organizations which mean us harm, even in the face of French and Russian disapproval, any nation or organization which plans to harm us will know that nobody will protect them. This has to translate into a stronger negotiating position with Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

I understand that in the near term, existing terrorist infrastructures will redouble their efforts to do us harm. But in the long run, I think the way to prevail against terrorism is to show strength, rather than weakness.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

"Grease" Review

Well it looks like the "Grease" review is out. Bev Sykes of the Davis Enterprise saw some of our flaws, as well as the fundamental emptiness of the show, but she also had some idiosyncratic takes on the costuming that seems a bit baffling. Oh well! I'm relatively pleased.

KM 24/7

I'm impressed - an Internet radio station that plays Kylie Minogue 24 hours a day!

Tales from Sacramento's Streets At Night

Here are various tales that come from walking my dog, late at night on the streets of Sacramento, California. I rarely walk my dog before midnight, so it's almost always very peaceful, but sometimes there are exceptions.....


Last June, on a particularly dark street, at 2 a.m. in a residential neighborhood, I encountered an 50-ish long-haired guy who wanted to know if he was getting any closer to Sutter Hospital. "I've been walking for miles: man, I feel really sick," he said. I told him he was going the right way, but he still had at least two miles to go before he got to the hospital. So he went off into the night, probably needing a ride to the emergency room, but on foot instead. I hope he's all right.

Last July, I had a strange encounter while walking Sparky (without a leash as always) at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. We were walking past the south side of Sierra 2, a former elementary school converted into a neighborhood arts center, when we passed a car that had several people inside. When I looked back after Sparky, who was trailing behind at that point, I was surprised to see a gangly guy who had apparently been in the car we just past, creeping after Sparky. I called Sparky closer, but the guy kept coming. Finally I decided to confront the guy. The fellow was young (white, about 20), wearing sportswear, and a big ridiculous-looking necklace (apparently he had come from some nightclub or other). He asked me if Sparky would bite, and he pretended to be afraid of the dog. He tentatively petted Sparky, carefully eyeing me as I gripped the pooper scooper: Sparky, of course, was pleased to be getting well-deserved attention. The guy quickly trotted away to rejoin his friends, who by that time had pulled closer in their car. I suspect he and his friends wanted to do a thrill dognapping, but abandoned the idea because I would have had made him pay a painful price. Alternatively, he might have just wanted to pet Sparky - drunk people sometimes do strange things - but it was sort of strange nevertheless.

Also last summer, I was walking Sparky past the local adult bookstore on Broadway (I think it's called something like L'Shoppe Amour), about midnight, wondering whether I should tether Sparky to a post and go inside, when two beautiful and well-dressed women patrons climbed out of their late-model parked car. The driver looked at Sparky and said "Oh, he is so cute!" and started doting on him. Sparky of course sat at attention, winning even more admiration from the beauties. After a surprisingly long time, and after much amiable conversation, the women finally entered the store through the open door, and Sparky (of course) followed after them. Embarrassed, I had to retrieve the ever-sociable dog from the aisles of the store, and continue our walk down the dark streets.

Once, several years ago, while walking Sparky at night, I heard several gun shots being fired at a nearby traffic light. To get a clear look at who was firing the shots, all I had to do was walk around from behind a rose bush hedge. I decided, instead, that I really appreciated the scent of the roses, and I never got to see who was firing the gun, and at what.

There have been some close calls. Three years ago, Sparky and I missed the Kimi Anderson shooting by about and hour and a half, but did get to see all the police cars. Kimi Anderson, a 13-year-old girl who lives two blocks east of me, was shot by another neighbor who lives three blocks south of me, as her parents called police from the parking lot of Cafe Melange, a local coffee shop near Sierra 2. Kimi's parents had flashed their headlights at a driver who had menaced them on the road: the driver went beserk, chased them around in his car, then went home, got his arsenal, came back, located the vehicle and shot into it, striking Kimi in the spine, and paralyzed her for life. According to her aunt (whom I recently met), Kimi now lives at a specialty hospital in Indianapolis, IN, and has endured several surgeries in the last few months. The so-called "Road Rage Shooter", probably the least-popular man in Sacramento, now spends time in prison.

And then, of course, there was the infamous episode in 1995 when I got held up while walking Sparky. But that's for another time.....