Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Biased Reporting

A study from the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies estimates that al Qaeda trained 20,000 terrorists in Afghanistan and that approximately 2,000 have been killed as a result of the actions in Afghanistan and Iraq - a 10% reduction in manpower. So, how does AP report this? "al-Qaida Ranks Swelling Worldwide". All I can say is let's hope that this kind of "swelling" continues.

AP apparently bases this headline on the statement that;
"The U.S. occupation of Iraq brought al-Qaida recruits from across Islamic nations, the study said. Up to 1,000 foreign Islamic fighters have infiltrated Iraqi territory, where they are cooperating with Iraqi insurgents, the survey said."
But isn't it likely that some, if not the majority of the "fighters" infiltrating Iraq are among the twenty thousand trained in Afghanistan? Given the importance of the struggle there, you would think that they would send some experienced members rather than new recruits. But, for argument's sake, even if everyone one of the thousand is a newly minted terrorist, doesn't that mean that they're still down a thousand net? What the story seems to bear out is the importance of the struggle in Iraq, and particularly the establishment of a democracy there. So much for Iraq being a distraction in the war on terror.

The War in Iraq - Bush's Big Gamble

Opinion pieces on the President's speech in both the New York Times and the New York Post Today see him staking his Presidency on the situation in Iraq.

David Brooks takes a pessimistic slant in Bush's Epic Gamble:
"It's a huge gamble to think that the solution to chaos is liberty. But it's fitting that during the gravest crisis of his presidency, President Bush reverted to his most fundamental political belief. He began this war in Iraq repeating the sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence, that our creator has endowed all human beings with the right to liberty, and the ability to function as democratic citizens. He said last night with absolute confidence that the Iraqis are democrats at heart.

Bush is betting his presidency, and the near-term future of this nation, on that central American creed."
wondering whether it will work;
"Because, let's face it, we don't know whether all people really do want to live in freedom. We don't know whether Iraqis have any notion of what democratic citizenship really means. We don't know whether they hear words like freedom, liberty and pluralism as deadly insults to the way of life they hold dear. We don't know who our enemies are. Are they the small minority of Baathists and jihadists, or is there a little bit of Moktada al-Sadr in every Iraqi's breast?".
Leaving aside the fact that I don't think the Declaration mentions anything about "the ability to function as democratic citizens", it seems like Mr. Brooks is a little down on the whole "democracy" thing in general, declaring that a failure in Iraq will call into question its universality and America's role as its biggest promoter.

I don't think that's the case. Democracy, once established, has proven pretty resilient in a lot of places. Not to say there haven't been setbacks. Just in the 20th century, both fascism and communism were deadly threats that hijacked democratic nations and enslaved billions. Today, Islamic fascism poses the same type of threat.

Mr. Brooks is wrong to say,as he does, that the success of Democracy depends solely on the truth of its universality and not on either our skill or incompetence in trying to implement it. Although he thinks nation-building is somewhat "anti-democratic" it worked well in Japan and Germany, and counting the Marshall Plan, a large part of Europe following WWII. America's commitment to building a democratic nation on the ruins of Saddam's Iraq is critical.

In the Post, John Podhoretz is more upbeat. In Bush Bets the House he lauds the President for staying the course:
"Bush is a high-stakes player, a political gambler. And last night he took a fantastically bold gamble: In the teeth of bad polls, an atmosphere of panic in his own party and the barely concealed glee of his rivals . . . he has decided to stand pat.

He didn't change course last night. He didn't use the occasion to announce elevated troop levels or faster elections or any of the panacea urged upon him over the past few weeks (including by me).

In other words, he is betting his presidency on the soundness of his approach and its prospects for success."
Mr. Podhoretz finds it heartening that the country, as demonstrated in the polls, is taking the war in Iraq seriously:
"The American people are identifying themselves and their country's fortunes with the progress or perceived lack of progress in Iraq. They're not just floating away on a tide of good news. The nation is at war, and the nation is taking that war seriously."
Mr. Podhoretz sees the good news from Iraq that has been drowned out by coverage of the Abu Ghraib scandal; success on the battlefield, denunciations of Muqtada al-Sadr by fellow Shiite clerics, as evidence that President Bush is not just being stubborn.

Whether you take the pessimistic or optimistic view, it's clear that, with the recent improvements in the economy taking it out of play as an issue, both the reality and perception of the situation in Iraq will be determinative in the upcoming election.

Monday, May 24, 2004

The War in Iraq - Prisoner Abuse

Thomas Sowell echoes Jonah Goldberg's comments (discussed below) on the media over-reaction to the abuse at Abu Ghraib and the need for perspective:
"The American Civil War was not about conditions at the notorious Andersonville prison in Georgia, and the war in Iraq is not about conditions at the Abu Ghraib prison. Terrible things happened in both military prisons, but that was a small part of both these wars.",
and questions the timing of the release of the photos:
"Could the photos not wait until the whole story was in, so that they could be seen as what they are - pictures of things that were not tolerated by America, even though worse things are tolerated and even celebrated in some Middle East countries that are having a field day condemning the United States and whipping up calls for revenge?"
It's worth reading the whole thing.

More UN Malfeasance

Apparently, to the UN, genocide is a "side issue". Racial cleansing continues in the Sudan, but the UN does nothing. Why? Maybe because Sudan is on the Human Rights Commission!

The fundamental flaw of the UN is that there are no restrictions on membership. Any bunch of thugs can hijack a country and be accepted without reservation. While I understand that this was the intention (after all, the Soviet Union under Stalin was a charter member) the values and goals of democracies differ from those of countries like the Sudan. Maybe its time for a more exclusive international organization.

Friday, May 21, 2004

The War in Iraq - Prisoner Abuse

After the recent apologies of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld for the abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Victor David Hanson takes a look at who else needs to apologize.

Regarding Senator Kennedy's comments that Saddam's toture chambers are now under "American management":
"The slur, pompously and publicly aired, is a morally reprehensible pronouncement in almost every way imaginable inasmuch as Saddam murdered tens of thousands with the full sanction of the Iraqi state apparatus. In contrast, a few rogue U.S. soldiers may have tortured and sexually humiliated some Iraqi prisoners — evoking audit and censure at the highest levels of "U.S. management" and inevitable court martial for those directly involved. There is no evidence that the "torture chambers" that disemboweled, shredded, and hung prisoners on meat hooks are now "reopened" for similar procedures on orders of the American government.

Mr. Kennedy should apologize. His reckless and feeble attempts at moral equivalence are wrong in matters of magnitude, government responsibility, and public disclosure, remorse, and accountability. Worse still, his silly comments — printed around the Arab world — suggest to the those on the battlefield that a high-ranking official of their own American government believes that his own soldiers are fighting for a cause no different from that which murdered hundreds of thousands of Iraqis."
In addition to the senior Senator from Massachussets, Mr. Hanson singles out Thomas Friedman of the NY Times for his charge that the Pentagon "hates" Secretary of State Powell and wants to see him humiliated and one our our favorite targets, UN secretary General Kofi Annan, for his role in the Oil for Food scandal:
"..his agency's wrongdoing did not result in humiliation for some, but probably cost the lives of thousands while under his watch."
As Mr. Hanson points out, time is a factor:
"If it were not an election year, Mr. Kennedy would dare not say such reprehensible things. In two or three months when there is a legitimate Iraqi government in power, Mr. Friedman may not wish to level such absurd charges. And when the truth comes out about the U.N.'s past role in Iraq, both Iraqis and Americans may not be so ready to entrust the new democracy's future to an agency that has not only done little to save Bosnians or Rwandans, but over the past decade may well have done much to harm Iraqis.
But in the meantime, let these who have transgressed all join the president and the secretary of defense and say they are sorry for what they have recklessly said and the untold harm that they have done."

Oil for Food

A Washington Times op ed piece on the continuing scandal: "Kofi's Cover Up".

Monday, May 17, 2004

Election 2004 - The Democratic Litmus Test

Despite the drooling in the media over the prospect of a Kerry-McCain Ticket, the two Senators are about as far apart on the issues as its possible to be. It seems like the Democrats are willing to overlook all these differences except one - care to take a guess? According to former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey:

"Senator McCain would not have to leave his party. He could remain a Republican, would be given some authority over selection of cabinet people. The only thing he would have to do is say, 'I'm not going to appoint any judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade,'"
At a time when the U.S. and, indeed, Western Civilization, is under attack by forces who dream of killing millions, its disheartening to see where one of our two parties is drawing its line in the sand.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

The War in Iraq - Prisoner Abuse

The incidents of prisoner abuse in Iraq are a crime and are being treated as such. Those involved are being identified and will be tried, and if found guilty, punished.

This should be the end of the story, but unfortunately, it isn't. The story has received enormous play in the media and is seen as an opportunity for those both inside the country and out who have opposed the war all along. The US holds itself to a higher standard than those we are currently fighting and we should not attempt to whitewash the abuse by comparing it to what they do. By the same token, we should not resort to hyperbole and exaggerated breast-beating. In order to understand the story, and what it means, some context is needed.

Jonah Goldberg provides some of that context here, arguing that it was a bad move for media outlets to publish the pictures of media abuse. Although he's taken some criticism for this view, Mickey Kaus convincingly supports him here.

These abuses were uncovered and were being investigated by the military long before they became headlines. CBS did not "break" the story of the scandal. The U.S. Central command announced that an investigation of prisoner abuses was underway on January 16th, just two days after the investigation was launched and more than three months before Sixty Minutes II carried the story on April 28th. The first serviceman charged just went on trial this week.

I think Goldberg is right. There are plenty of instances of the news media refusing to publish inflammatory photos and video. After 9/11, the networks quickly stopped showing footage of victims at the WTC leaping to their deaths and, quite correctly, we have never seen the footage of WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl's execution, just, as I expect, we will not see the footage of Nick Berg's murder.

One cannot help but suspect that those making the decisions to run the abuse photos were doing so to further their own political aims, namely; to hurt President Bush's re-election chances and to hasten the end of the U.S.'s involvement in Iraq.

While the motivation of the media is subject to speculation, the President's more open opponents clearly think that they can make political hay from this. John Kerry's camp was quick to capitalize on the photos, calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation in an e-mail that also asked for contributions.

In my opinion, Secretary Rumsfeld has been an innovative and effective Secretary of Defense. The wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq were, by all possible military standards, brilliantly fought, successful campaigns. Secretary Rumsfeld's resignation would only hurt the war effort, and those calling for it for their own political gain are doing the country a disservice.

Oil for Food

A third letter seeking to silence a contractor has come to light. This one is dated April 27th, after the appointment of Paul Volker to head the investigation of the scandal.

The U.N.'s excuse when the first two letters came to light was less than convincing:

"A U.N. spokesman denied that this was part of a cover-up, and said the response was 'standard procedure' that followed the normal U.N. legal practice on the work of contractors.

'This letter didn't say no, it just said consult us, consistent with our contractual requirements,' said spokesman Fred Eckhard.

He said U.N. policy is that documentation held by contractors relating to U.N. business can be released only to the United Nations 'unless otherwise authorized.'

The letter also cites the need to have requests for documentation and information "addressed in an orderly and consultative manner" so as to 'to avoid impeding' the U.N.'s independent investigation into the oil-for-food program, headed by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker."

If the U.N. is really serious about this investigation, which looks doubtful given the evidence of what looks like a cover-up, Secretary General Kofi Annan should issue a blanket authorization to all contractors to hand over any documents directly to Mr. Volcker. Anything less will only serve as further proof that there's something to hide.

Friday, May 07, 2004

The War in Iraq

More moral equivalence from the Left. Senator Robert Byrd just spent five minutes pontificating instead of addressing any real questions to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. During his venting, he called the incidents of prisoner abuse "atrocities" and "a catastrophe".

Lets get this straight; what occurred in Abu Ghraib is a crime and will be punished. What occurred on September 11th was an atrocity, the murders and torture of hundreds of thousands of people that occurred in Iraq under Saddam was an atrocity, the recent murder of a pregnant Israeli woman and her four young daughters by Palestinian terrorists was an atrocity, the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reported Daniel Pearl was an atrocity, the murder of four American contractors and the desecration of their bodies in Iraq was an atrocity, the genocide in the Balkans and in Rwanda and now in the Sudan, are atrocities. The degradation and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by their guards, while shameful and a crime, was not an atrocity.

Let's not throw this word around too often lest we forget its true meaning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Oil for Food

Claudia Rosett is still on the case, reporting on the continuing cover-up at the UN in the WSJ.

"In other words, in the interval between March 19, when Mr. Annan finally conceded in the face of overwhelming evidence that the program might after all need investigating by independent experts, and April 21, when former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker was appointed to head to the investigation, Mr. Annan's office explicitly reminded these two crucial contractors, which worked for the Secretariat's Oil for Food program checking the imports and exports involved in more than $100 billion worth of Saddam's oil sales and relief imports, to keep quiet."

The Journal editorial page follows up with its own take on the obstruction and the UN's excuses:

"It's hard to see how this legalistic approach serves the interests of the U.N., or why the U.S. Congress--which foots 22% of the U.N. budget--should put up with it. 'The U.N. increasingly has a credibility problem on this issue,' a Capitol Hill source told us yesterday. 'If it seeks to overcome this problem, the best thing it can do is to waive the confidentiality agreements and allow this information to become public.' "

The way the UN is handling this is equivalent to letting Ken Lay and Andy Fastow investigate Enron. Given the size of the scandal and the fact that it reaches into the office of the Secretary General himself, the UN can not be allowed to audit itself, especially now that there's proof that they are continuing to hide evidence of wrong doing. The US should consider withholding its substantial funding of the UN pending progress on this issue.