Friday, April 30, 2004

Lt. Kerry, anti-war activist

Just One Minute has been doing a terrific job investigating an error perpetuated by Sen. John Kerry's campaign-- namely, that Kerry was no longer a naval officer in 1970-72 when he was most active in protesting the Vietnam War, and when he met with representatives of North Vietnam in Paris.

Just as I think that Americans should watch what they say when their words will get back to the enemy, I think that servicemen and women must be held to a higher standard. The law recognizes distinctions between military personnel and private citizens by establishing two separate systems of justice for them. It's a different thing for Lt. Kerry to be an anti-war activist than it is for John Kerry, private citizen. I think that Kerry's dissembling on this issue shows not only that he, too, is aware of this distinction, but that he also believes that American voters would make the same distinction. I think he's right.

Ways for us to help

The Spirit of America donation drive is now officially over, but there are still plenty of ways for you to do your part for America's efforts to rebuild Iraq. For one, thing, you can still give to Spirit of America. It's a great cause, run by great people. There's also Operation Give, run by Chief Wiggles. And then there's a long list posted by Blackfive. Any of these charities could really use ten bucks from you, or whatever you could spare. And we all know that you're just going to blow it on worthless luxuries like food and rent, anyway. So, give.

PS - None of my imaginary readers have taken me up on my generous offer yet, so I'm going to let it stand. First one to show me proof that they donated $30 or more to one of these fine charities wins the coolest book ever written.


Thursday, April 29, 2004


Sen. Clinton has declared that the interview discussed in my previous post is totally bogus. It never happened. (Thanks to Allah for pointing this out.) If this is so, she has my apologies.

That said, the post used Sen. Clinton's alleged remarks merely as an example typical of a kind of political discourse. And the alleged remarks are typical of the kind of thing others have said. So I stand by what I wrote, except that I am glad the junior senator from New York denies uttering these reprehensible words. Good for her.


Senator Hillary Clinton gave a recent interview to an Arab newspaper printed in London:

The democrat Senator stressed that the U.S. is trapped in the quagmire of Iraq. It can not free itself from the country.
Referring to the Bush Administration policies as arrogant and insolent, the wife of the former U.S. president further added that Bush is not willing to admit his mistakes in Iraq, the grave mistakes that have endangered the lives of both the Iraqi people and the U.S. servicemen alike.

The mistakes have also threatened peace and stability in the region, she further explained.

Clinton said the Bush Administration did not have a plan for Iraq and did not have a full understanding of the situation there.

She said the United States was in trouble because it could not abandon Iraq, nor provide enough manpower to run the country, nor gather world allies willing to provide the necessary assistance for the gigantic task.

Grimbeorn comments:

One of the challenges in a counterinsurgency is convincing people that yours is the winning side... Thanks, doll. It'll be a lot easier now.

Well said. It's bad enough to express defeatism here in the US, but to confess to unfriendlies that you think we can not win...? Sometimes I wonder whether the people who say these types of things appreciate what harm they do to the rest of us Americans. Surely they must. But surely Hillary Clinton does not wish to see Americans die and America humiliated.

How can they continue to speak this way? I can think of three interrelated reasons. First, I think American politicians cannot help but think of this in terms of US domestic politics. This is an election year, and George W. Bush is the real enemy to most politicos on the American left. (The American right has its own problems, but that's something to discuss in another post.) The standard by which all words and actions are judged in this crowd is whether or not it makes it more likely that Bush will be defeated at the polls. The intense focus on this one goal has distorted their perceptions.

Second, many of them do not believe that the War on Terrorism is a real war any more than the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs. To them, this "war" is a rhetorical device. They plan to fight this war as they do all other metaphorical wars, with speeches, legislation, government programs, meetings in foreign capitals, etc. If there is no real war, there is no real enemy, and thus no reason to be careful about what you say to an Arab media outlet, other than the normal multiculturalist concerns.

Third, inasmuch as there exists any hostility towards the US in the world today, many people like to believe that this will be resolved not by force but by good will and compromise. By disparaging the Bush administration's war-fighting approach, Clinton and others like her believe they are communicating an important message about their willingness to seek a more peaceful resolution to the problem.

It's like that Far Side cartoon.

What Clinton & Co. say to terrorists: "We're not enemies. And we Americans are not all bloodthirsty bigots like this crazy cowboy from Texas. He doesn't speak for us, and in a few months he'll be gone. We're reasonable. We want to engage you in dialogue, to understand you better--your needs, your fears, your hopes and dreams. Together, we'll find a solution that will be mutually beneficial."

What they hear: "We are weak and afraid. Continue attacking us and we will soon give you what you want."

This is not to say that everyone who reads that newspaper is a terrorist. There are good people in the Arab and Muslim world who decry terror, and we should do all we can to support them. But I think it's safe to say that there are plenty of terrorists and terror-supporters who will read reports of that interview with Sen. Clinton, and who will be emboldened by it, rather than moved to negotiate. What will it take for someone like Sen. Clinton to realize this?


Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Real American Heroes

Once again, I am going to talk about Spirit of America. As you, my imaginary readers may know, there has been a contest among bloggers to see which group can bring in the most donations for this very worthy cause. Well, the different groups have decided that they are no longer competing against each other (just as well--my group was getting whipped) and are now working together, trying to raise $50,000. And actually, we're pretty close.

Everyone else seems to be offering special incentives to convince people to donate. Me, too. Anyone who reads this post and donates $30 or more because of it will win a very special prize. I will ship to them one of five bound volumes of the old Marvel G.I. Joe comic book from the eighties. (I have some left over from a class me and a friend taught here in January.)

Let me just tell you, these books are super-awesome, even more awesome than when I first read them when I was nine years old. Great art, great stories-- and each volume reprints ten of the original comic issues. First ones to notify me will win Volume 3, with the famed-through-time-and-space SILENT ISSUE!

So, go make a donation to Spirit of America. Then email your donation receipt to me (jpayne1138 at aol dot com), and I'll email you back to get your address.

Yo, Joe!

Dogs of Peace

I said I'd write more about mercenaries later. Now it's later.

I should say up front that unlike a lot of other bloggers, I don't have any actual experience as a soldier, mercenary, police officer, etc. I am one of those punk academics who sits in an ivory tower and spouts off untested theories. (If it helps any, I feel a little guilty when I do it.) So, caveat lector imaginarius.

In the nineties, mercenary companies (like Executive Outcomes and Sandline) achieved success in a number of difficult military operations in Africa, including peacekeeping and intervening in civil wars.

Sub-Saharan Africa is perhaps the perfect place for mercenaries to be used, for three reasons. First, African states rarely meet the Weberian standard of having a monopoly on the use of force within their borders. Often, there are non-state armed forces operating with impunity in the hinterlands. Often these forces are ethnic militias led by local strongmen.

Second, even within the state, military capability is rarely concentrated into one body. Because of the ever-present risk of a military coup, 84% of Sub-Saharan African countries have some formal counterweight to military power, such as a presidential guard, gendarmerie or national police force, or some other governmental paramilitary organization. (I gleaned this information from the CIA World Factbook 2002. The 7 states without a counterweight are: Benin, Cape Verde, Comoros, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda.)

Third, it is common in Africa to have foreign military forces operating in one's territory. President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Congo Republic currently relies on Angolan military forces to control his country. Idi Amin depended heavily on Libyan troops in the final days of his reign. Leon M'Ba and Omar Bongo, both of Gabon, have relied on France to defend them from overthrow. As Machiavelli wrote five centuries ago, using foreign auxiliaries is a dangerous strategy, since foreign forces are ultimately not responsible to the host government. Unfortunately, in Africa external forces are often more trustworthy than domestic forces.

Mercenary companies, in particular, have proven themselves surprisingly trustworthy. Consider the civil war in Sierra Leone (1991-2002). In 1994, mercenary firm Executive Outcomes was hired by Sierra Leone's government, and they soon brought peace and stability where before had been violence and chaos (although they controlled only parts of the country). After elections in 1996, new president Ahmed Tejan Kabbah was pressured by the international community to evict the mercenaries, one of the conditions asked for by rebel forces. Kabbah did so, and formed a unity government with the rebels, who returned the favor by throwing him out in a coup in 1997. Kabbah then hired another mercenary company, Sandline, who with aid from Nigeria restored him to power in 1998. But they did not stay, and Sierra Leone once more became hell-on-earth. UN peacekeeping troops were sent in, but rebel forces routinely humiliated them. Frequent interventions by Britain eventually succeeded in chasing rebel forces out into neighboring countries and ending the civil war. The situation remains tenuous, however, and the UN Security Council voted a few weeks ago to keep UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, fearing that their departure would result in open war breaking out again. Conclusion: the people of Sierra Leone would be much better off today if Executive Outcomes had been allowed to stay.

The funny thing is that UN peacekeeping troops are mercenaries, too. Member states volunteer their armed forces for peacekeeping duty, for which they are compensated. Renting out soldiers to the UN is a big money-maker for third-world countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Jordan. So the blue helmets are mercenaries, too. It's just that they're not as cheap, and arguably not as effective or as trustworthy.

Mercenary soldiers have brought peace to some of the most troubled spots in the world. Especially when considering the alternative, I am happy to know that the Coalition is employing mercenaries in Iraq. Cry reconstruction and let slip the dogs of peace!


Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Quick note to all jackbooted government stormtroopers, Ashcroftian spies, and other intelligence analysts who might be tracking this blog for important bits of information: I totally, totally do not want to kill the president. Just so you know.


Saturday, April 24, 2004

We are all in it now, all the way

"Every single man, woman and child is a partner in the most tremendous undertaking of our American history."

The fight to bring peace and safety, freedom and democracy to Iraq is not just a fight for the military or the government. It is our fight. Yours and mine. Are we doing our part?

Book of the Month

Rapture: The Second Coming, by William Spencer-Hale.

As I said before, I am a huge nerd. Part of being a huge nerd is being interested in role-playing games. These days I don't have the time, but once I was a great big role-playing dork. Enough said.

So, the fascinating thing about this book is that it is a guide for Apocalyptic roleplaying. That's right. It's a game about the last days before the second coming of Christ, compatible with Dungeons and Dragons, favorite bogeyman of various Christian groups. I love it. For the record, the game allows you to play on either side.

Anyway, I must confess that I haven't bought this, or even read it. It could be brilliant. It could be crap. But the idea so appeals to my sense of irony that I had to post about it. I'd love to hear more about it, though. So if any of you buy it, please drop me a line.

Meanwhile, enjoy another attempt to imagine what it's really like to deal with scary Christian monsters (although this author displays a much lower capacity for imagination).


Friday, April 23, 2004

The one thing peaceniks and warmongers can agree on

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is a good cause. A group of American servicemen and women serving in Iraq have formed a service organization to help the people of Iraq.


Hippies! Innocent Iraqi children ravaged by war need your help! Please donate!

Hawks! The US Marines need your help to win hearts and minds! Please donate!


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Attaboy, Arafat!

PA chairman Yasser Arafat has physically expelled a number of terrorists from his headquarters in Ramallah, where he has been penned in by the IDF for the last two years or so. Also for the last two years or so, Israel and the US have been saying that Arafat is not a suitable partner for peace negotiations due to his continuing embrace of violence and terrorism. But yesterday he kicked out a bunch of murderous goons! Hooray!

I don't expect more moves like this are forthcoming. Given the preferences of his constituents, it's hard for Arafat to do anything but embrace violence and terrorism. Of course, we shouldn't work too hard to excuse them because of this constraint-- Arafat and the PA have helped to shape those very same counter-productive, self-destructive preferences. It's a neat little trap that political leaders often set for themselves; in political science we call it blowback.

But I'd like to think that Arafat did this to signal his willingness to negotiate. And more or less regardless of his intentions, he should be rewarded for distancing himself from (other) terrorists. The question is, how can we reward him? Anything nice said about him by Bush or Sharon would be political poison for Arafat. It is a thorny problem, to say the least. Anybody got any ideas?

Iraqi kids need ten bucks more than you do

If you're reading this, then you probably have plenty of food, nice clothes, a place to sleep, a few toys, and a little money in your pocket. That puts you one up on three quarters of the people on this planet. You've been blessed. Want to give back?

The US Marines in Iraq are running a little program called Spirit of America. They give to the people of Iraq, both in order to win hearts and minds and just to help people who have suffered a lot and could use a break. You've got ten bucks. Kids in Iraq need ten bucks. Cough it up.


Lots of new links up. Blogs, funny stuff, etc. Enjoy.


Wednesday, April 21, 2004


It's hard to believe now, but there were people who worried that Jack Kennedy would be a tool of the Vatican. And there are certainly plenty of folks who think that a group of Jewish men in the Bush administration have put Israeli interests above American interests. Similar things have been said about Massachusetts governor and fellow Mormon, Mitt Romney.

Catholics and Jews don't scare me. And Mormons sure don't scare me. But I have to admit I get a bit nervous about Muslims. This is why. I could easily link to a dozen other similar articles. Islam is not the only religion with in which many adherents think of themselves as belonging to their faith community first and of their nation second. Mormons like myself might think the same way. But one of the Mormon articles of faith is: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law". I think the same is true for Judaism, Catholicism, etc. There is a strong tradition of obedience to earthly laws and authorities.

In Islam, on the other hand, there is a strong tradition of conflating religion and politics, and respecting only the law of God. Islamic tradition also enjoins Muslims to help other Muslims and forbids them to act in ways injurious to other Muslims. So when Muslims living in non-Muslim countries are asked to choose between their governments and their religion, they have powerful incentives to choose the latter.

This is why I think it's a great idea to have American schoolchildren recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. And for immigrants and aspiring citizens to affirm loyalty to their new countries.

Promises matter, and we need to treat them seriously. Maybe it's time for us to be a little less blase about letting people stay in this country who would like to overthrow its laws.


Monday, April 19, 2004

Everyone else is linking to this article, too

Well, I'm back from New York with lots of pictures of my adorable nephew and niece. It also seems that my major research paper has a second reader, which hopefully means I can defend it soon and move on to the dissertation. Good. This dumb paper has been a thorn in my side for the last two years almost. I need to put in a few hours working on it tonight, so here's a quick link and then I need to go.

Soundfury points to a very scary look at the continually developing UN Oil-for-food program corruption scandal. Here's what it says:

Especially with the U.N.'s own investigation into Oil-for-Food now taking shape, and more congressional hearings in the works, it is high time to focus on the likelihood that Saddam may have fiddled Oil-for-Food contracts not only to pad his own pockets, buy pals, and acquire clandestine arms ? but also to fund terrorist groups, quite possibly including al Qaeda.

There are at least two links documented already. Both involve oil buyers picked by Saddam and approved by the U.N. One was a firm with close ties to a Liechtenstein trust that has since been designated by the U.N. itself as "belonging to or affiliated with Al Qaeda." The other was a Swiss-registered subsidiary of a Saudi oil firm that had close dealings with the Taliban during Osama bin Laden's 1990's heyday in Afghanistan.

Okay, so who got some of the money Saddam got thanks to crooks at the UN?

1. UN bureaucrats who kept the gravy train rolling.

2. Wealthy, well-connected scumbags in France, Russia, and elsewhere who made sure that Saddam got "No War" in exchange "For Oil."

3. Palace and monument-builders in Iraq, as well as miscellaneous cronies and relatives.

4. Reporters, especially in the Arab world, who acted as propagandists and apologists for the Baath dictatorship.

5. Peace creeps, including politicians like George Galloway.

And now we know one more bunch of bad guys who got bling-bling from Baghdad:

6. Terrorists, who did Saddam a favor by attacking his No. 1 enemy, the USA.

And it's all thanks to Kofi and our pals at the UN! Thanks for looking out for world peace and all that good stuff, guys! Way to go!

I wonder if folks in Iraq are as glad as I am that they have the United States and not the United Nations as their occupier. Holy freaking crap. Good thing John Kerry isn't president.


Saturday, April 17, 2004

New York City?!

Sorry to disappoint my imaginary readers by not posting for the last few days. I am down in New York visiting my sister and her family. My parents have also come up to visit, and so I have been able to spend some time with them as well, which is wonderful.

Being cut off from broadband, it's been hard to keep up with the news down here. But I saw a headline on one of the papers down here talking about terrible retention rates of US soldiers. It's in all the papers and all over the web. I just wrote about the terrific retention rates of US soldiers, though. And that story is also all over the place. Huh.

Let's get to the bottom of this. The numbers don't seem to directly contradict each other, so it must be that the two stories are choosing to emphasize different numbers from the same reports. The Big News about Terrible Retention seems to be that the US Army is on track to get 96% of their retention goal this fiscal year, in contrast to last year when they hit 106% of their goal. Wow. So, halfway through the year, one of the four service branches looks like it might be a thousand soldiers short. If you only look at retention.

Of course, retention is only half the picture. The other half is recruitment, which as it turns out, is ahead of goal.:

The Army is at 100.1 percent of its "active duty mission," said spokesman Douglas Smith, reviewing numbers current as of March 29. Smith said 34,593 soldiers had been enlisted for the active Army and 8,331 for the Reserves. The Army has been ahead of its goal every year since 2000 and every month this year, Smith said.

So, if the next six months play out like the last six months, then the US Army might retain 4% fewer soldiers than they would like. But they will more than make up for that loss with new recruits. Okay, how would you spin this story? "Despite war, US military has no trouble finding soldiers," or "Disastrous quagmire may cause tiny shortfall in US Army's retention goals."

The second headline is intellectually dishonest, and anyone who takes ten minutes to do some outside reading is going to find that out. But most people don't do that. They just trust that the reporters are honestly trying to report the news. It is a long-standing American tradition to be suspicious of government, wary of propaganda. That's good. That's healthy for democracy. Traditionally, though, Americans have been much less skeptical about the media. Maybe it's time to reevaluate. Certainly there are plenty of mainstream media sources that have lost my trust.

"Says here this news was made in... New York City!"

"New York City??"

"Get a rope..."


Wednesday, April 14, 2004


Today I start putting up links to other blogs, beginning with those which have linked to me. In addition to those already mentioned, this includes Just One Minute and Being Swift. Thanks, people!

More to come later.


Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Welcome, Ace of Spades readers!

My heartiest thanks to the wickedly funny and unapologetically conservative blog Ace of Spades for adding this site to their New Blogger Showcase. (This reminds me that I still have not put up links to other bloggers on my site. A terrible oversight that will soon be rectified.)

What can I say? It's an honor, and not just because Victor Davis Hanson is one of the other featurees. Thanks again, Ace and for the record, let me just say that your blog has the Best. Front page quote. Ever.

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
-- H.L. Mencken


Dogs of War

The recent fighting in Iraq has again brought the world's attention to the problems and opportunities which arise from the use of mercenaries. On March 31, four security contractors working for the Coalition were killed in an ambush in Fallujah, after which their bodies were mutilated and hung up from a nearby bridge. There was an immediate public outcry against the barbarous act, followed by a prominent left-leaning commentator making disparaging remarks about the "mercenary" contractors not deserving sympathy.

This, of course, provoked an overwhelming reaction from the blogosphere, especially from those either in the military or employed as private contractors by the military. Actions speak louder than words, though-- the mercenaries were vindicated a few days later when an attack on US government headquarters in the Iraqi city of Najaf was repulsed by one American soldier and eight security consultants from Blackwater, the same company which employed the four contractors killed in Fallujah.

So what's wrong with mercenaries? They kill for money, but so do all soldiers. The founders of this country were distrustful of professional armies and preferred citizen militias. After two world wars and the cold war, the American public seems to have got past this feeling. (Indeed, there are those who argue that Americans have too much faith in our soldiers.) We do not worry about paying soldiers, except to wonder if we are paying them enough.

Evidently, though, we are, since the military is hitting its recruitment and re-enlistment goals. (Retention in the National Guard seems to be a problem, though.) Another indicator that the US military is doing something right: the large numbers of foreigners who join up.

It is especially interesting to see this influx of foreigners considering that the American public's reputed sensitivity to the deaths of our GIs. Maybe the US should just start its own foreign legion.

Back to work. More later.


Monday, April 12, 2004

Welcome Just One Minute readers!

Thanks to Just One Minute for linking to my post on the Dodd-Byrd controversy. Good to have you stopping in. Ya'all come back now, y'hear?


Sunday, April 11, 2004

The last word on the 9/11 hearings

With the release of the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, which some had claimed was proof of Bush's forewarning of the September 11 attacks, I think we can say that there is no smoking gun. I struggle to understand how any reasonable person could read this document and believe that it implicates Bush as negligent (or worse). The brief is little more than a page long and says little more than any decent magazine article on Al Qaeda from that time would have said. There's nothing new, nothing we didn't already know.

I could say more, but it's already been said better by others. So, I direct you to read two brilliant posts. First, read Gregg Easterbrook's alternate history of the Bush presidency. After reading it, ask yourself if alternate-universe Bush could have saved his presidency by pointing to the August 6 PDB. Answer: No.

The second thing for you to read is Did Bush Do Enough? from Grim's Hall. The answer: Not enough to stop the attack, but as much as any president could have been expected to do. I agree. Think of any of the presidents in this country's 200+ year history. You can even think of Al Gore, if you like. Imagine what they would have done, or could have done, in Bush's position. Would it have stopped the September 11 attacks without getting us to the Easterbrook scenario? (If any of your imagined presidents lead you to a 'Yes,' I would be happy to hear about it.)

Okay, then. You're done. You don't have to pay any more attention to the hearings. There's nothing else for anyone to say, other than, "Clinton rulez, Bush droolz."


Saturday, April 10, 2004

Brunching Shuttlecocks should have done this

Okay, this is just too cool. It's a computer program that tries to guess whether you are a Dictator or Sitcom Character. Now that's cool. (Thanks to Ace of Spades and Florida Cracker.) The program nailed me when I was Zoidberg, but missed me as Bokassa.

Great little web toy. But what ever happened to the minds who brought us Perfume or Marvel Supervillain and Porn Star or My Little Pony? Alas.


Friday, April 09, 2004

Continued fighting in Iraq

Good summary of the continued fighting in Iraq from Grim's Hall:

This kind of fight is exactly what our forces are trained to do. This is the kind of fight we should be glad to have. There is nothing more we can ask of Iraq than that the enemies of stability should be out in the field, engaged in battle with us. They are now a clear military problem, one for which the officers in the field have studied and the men in the field have trained. They are engaged in a stand-up fight with us. They can't hope to prevail, and in fact are breaking: witness today's shift on the part of al-Sadr's forces to hostage taking. Having gotten them into the field, we shall clear the field. Iraq will enter its successor government with a whole lot fewer insurgents, and witnessed memories of the abject failure of insurgency against US forces.

To those who report without understanding, however, this looks like bad news. It's scary, like the Tet Offensive was scary; there are fires and angry men with guns who hate us. The news crawl startles them--US forces engaged in fourteen cities across Iraq! What they forget, or rather never knew, is that the US forces were designed for simultaneous engagement on up to three continents. The instability won't last. The wave will break, the Coalition will bind these insurgents in fourteen rings of steel, like the one cast already around Fallujah. In a few days those who have not been captured or killed will be hiding in fear. We will be flush with victory, and in possession of a great deal of new intelligence information on who is backing these groups--whether it is official government aid from regional powers, or factional aid from folks like al-Sadr's cousin, the leader of Hezbollah. Then we can tailor the next phase of action, to take the fight to those who hoped to bring the fight to us.

Our enemies have revealed themselves, and thus doomed themselves to destruction at the hands of the world's finest military. Americans do not desire bloodshed, as is attested by the time, effort, and money we have invested to rebuild the country that we conquered one year ago today.

American servicemen and women in Iraq, our hopes and our prayers are with you always. May God bless you and keep you safe in your selfless mission, and grant you victory over our enemies. And may His Holy Spirit touch the people of this country, and the people of Iraq, that they may feel not despair, but hope.


Thursday, April 08, 2004

Not-so-dumb Dodd

This blog is supposed to be about international politics; I hope my imaginary readers will forgive this brief detour into US politics. Dan Drezner is hosting an interesting discussion about Chris Dodd's recent praise of fellow senator Robert Byrd. Specifically, Dodd said:

It has often been said that the man and the moment come together. I do not think it is an exaggeration at all to say to my friend from West Virginia that he would have been a great Senator at any moment. Some were right for the time. ROBERT C. BYRD, in my view, would have been right at any time. He would have been right at the founding of this country. He would have been in the leadership crafting this Constitution. He would have been right during the great conflict of civil war in this Nation. He would have been right at the great moments of international threat we faced in the 20th century. I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation's 220-plus year history where he would not have been a valuable asset to this country."

Many bloggers have a problem with saying that Byrd would have been "right" during the Civil War, since he belonged to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s and later opposed civil rights legislation like the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Dodd's comment seems to them similar to Sen. Trent Lott's 2002 praise of Sen. Strom Thurmond:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Facing pressure from all sides, Lott resigned from his leadership post in the Senate. To many Republicans, it seems only fair that Dodd should likewise be censured for making similar remarks.

I disagree.

For the record:
* I am not a supporter of either Chris Dodd or Robert Byrd. For that matter, I am not a supporter of Trent Lott or Strom Thurmond.
* I am a conservative Republican who has donated to Bush's 2004 campaign. I am a critic of the media, which I believe in general has a liberal bias.
* I oppose racism and I think Republicans should do more to let minorities know that both we and our party are their friends and not their adversaries.
* I was in favor of Trent Lott stepping down because of his remarks and wrote the White House to encourage them to publicly repudiate him.

Obviously there are similarities between Dodd's remarks and Lott's. Both men were "just trying to say something nice to old men with despicable pasts." But as we can read in the quotes from the two senators, Dodd only said something nice about the old man, and Lott said something nice about the man's despicable past. That's a huge difference.

Lott said America would have been better off if Strom had won the presidency in 1948. I think that's wrong. Some would say, as was said about the Confederacy, that Strom's run was all about state's rights and other constitutional matters, but I think reading through the States Rights Democratic Party platform makes it pretty obvious that the point of the party was to preserve segregation in particular and Southern institutional racism in general. If the platform doesn't convince you, then listen to what Strom Thurmond said in his speech accepting the party's nomination.

Following what one of my professors called the philosopher's rule of charity, let us try to think of the best way to read Lott's statement. Perhaps he approved of Thurmond's stand for states rights and strict constitutionalism and etc., and was not talking about the racism inherent in Thurmond's segregationist ideas. That's the most charitable reading I can come up with and I still think it deserves condemnation. To say that America would have been better if the Dixiecrats won, except for the whole segregation thing is like saying that it would have been better if the Communists won except for the whole no-private-ownership-of-property thing. The racism was the point, not a footnote. Frankly I am puzzled by those who claim to be unable to see what is offensive about praising the Dixiecrats without even considering, you know, the whole "keep the black folks down" angle. Trent Lott was one of those, and it was right to show him the door.

Okay, so let's look at what Dodd said, again following the philosopher's rule of charity. Dodd said Byrd would have been a good man to have around during any period of American history. Why would Byrd be a good man to have around? The least charitable way to read Dodd's answer is: Because Byrd is a racist. The most charitable way to read Dodd's answer is: Because Byrd is an EX-racist. Perhaps Dodd approves NOT of Byrd's past racism, but of Byrd's abandonment of the KKK specifically and racism more generally. So maybe he means that Byrd would be a good man in any time period because it's always good to have someone around who's not afraid to question their own beliefs and repudiate those beliefs after concluding that they are morally wrong.

Dodd said, "I cannot think of a single moment in this Nation's 220-plus year history where he [Byrd] would not have been a valuable asset to this country." He did not say, "I cannot think of a single moment in this Senator's 87-year history where he was not a valuable asset to this country." Dodd's speech commends the man, not his deplorable past behavior.

Imagine the apostle Peter giving a similar speech about Paul, who persecuted Christians before he converted and became a Christian himself. Peter might say, "I cannot think of a single moment in Christianity's history where Paul would not have been a valuable asset to this religious community." Of course Peter wept for all the Christians who suffered and died because of Paul's persecution, but he also recognized what a great man Paul was after he saw the error of his ways.

Would Klansman Byrd from 1946 have been the right man during the Civil War? Absolutely not. Would Senator Byrd from 2004 have been the right man during the Civil War? Chris Dodd would say yes.

(As a brief historical aside, it is interesting to note that Robert Byrd's home state of West Virginia won statehood for renouncing the Confederacy during the Civil War. The time-traveling Senator Byrd of Dodd's speech could have been one of those who made the choice to turn their back on the South and embracing the Union. "Come with me if you want statehood.")

Me, I don't have such a high opinion of Byrd, but the comment is clearly typical of the kind of congratulatory flattery that senators say to each other all the time. This is not a scandal.

Drezner, Lott, Dodd

I've been commenting in response to a post over at Drezner earlier today. I'll edit my thoughts and put in some links and stuff later. Right now I have to get back to work.


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Aspiring martyrs

Sadr has left the Tomb of Ali in Kufa where he and his thug militia had been hiding out. Defiant rhetoric (see previous entry) supported the notion that Sadr was hoping to provoke a violent coalition response in order to rally other Shiites, who would be incensed at such an incursion of infidels into this holy site.

Apparently, though, Sadr decided that this was the wrong moment for him to become the latest Shiite to become a martyr in Kufa. (Thanks to the Belmont Club for calling attention to the article in Der Spiegel.) He still says he will "win martyrdom" if authorities try to arrest him. But I'm skeptical. Islamist leaders all preach the glories of martyrdom, but when the chance comes, they usually choose life for themselves and their loved ones.

The good news, though, is that Sadr's goon squad still seems happy to throw themselves onto American bayonets. Fine by me. They are glad to be out of this world, and the rest of the world is glad to be rid of them. Everyone's a winner.

Over our dead bodies

More on the fighting in Iraq from the NYT this morning:

"The only way the Americans will enter this city is entering over our bodies," said Sheik Abu Mahdi al-Rubayee, a commander in Mr. Sadr's private army, estimated to number in the tens of thousands.

All-righty, then!


Monday, April 05, 2004

Bad guys, good news?

Things are heating up in Iraq, but I think this is not such bad news. Polipundit points out that "the US military is far more capable than [journalists] realize. Just remember that the media has vastly exaggerated the difficulty of every US military operation since Vietnam. Think back to their egregious coverage about a year ago. And Afghanistan before that."

Self-described coalition "mercenary" Grimbeorn reads the uprising by the Shiites in Baghdad's slums as a desperate attempt by Muqtader al-Sadr to distract his constituency from his own crimes. (And by crimes, he means the kind of things that Iraqi Shiites would be upset about, like the assassination of other Shiite clerics carried out inside the Tomb of Ali, a sacred site.)

And Instapundit passes along a thoughtful reader email:

We invaded and occupied Iraq with a loss of American life roughly equivalent to the city of Chicago's annual murder count. That is far too low considering the accomplishment. It has been so low precisely because we deferred some of the major combat. We are now having to engage in that combat, and that is unfortunate, but it is far better that we do so now than allow it to happen later.

So it's good, because it allows the US military to kill bad guys, which is what the US military is best at and happiest doing. And the bad guys have to get killed in order for Iraq to prosper.

Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out many times the surprising downside of swift American victories in Afghanistan and Iraq: too few bad guys were killed:

MOST OF the Baathists among our current enemies in Iraq chose to flee rather than stand and fight. The homes of Saddam's henchmen were not all bombed. Their friends were not killed. Their pride was only temporarily lost?to be regained, evidently, upon their discovery that it is easier and safer to murder an American who is building a school and operating under strict rules of engagement than to take on Abrams tanks barreling into Baghdad under a sky of F-16's.

Such are a few of the ironies entailed in our stunning military success, even if overlooked in analyses of the recent turmoil. And there are still more. Hard as it may be to accept, a rocky peace may well be the result of a spectacularly rapid victory. Imagine our war instead as a year-and-a-half continuum of active combat, stretching from the late-March 2003 invasion until the scheduled assumption of power of the Iraqi provisional government this coming July. Now suppose that over the course of this time frame, about 5,000 of Saddam's hardcore killers had either to be killed, captured, or routed from the country if there were ever to be any chance for real peace to emerge. Somehow, under conditions of full-scale combat, one suspects the job would have been much easier.

Of course, we must not wish the war would have lasted that long in order to allow us freely to destroy Saddam's remnants, but we must at least appreciate that short wars by their very nature often require messy clean-ups. After the shooting stops, the aid workers arrive; the hard-core, hypercritical journalists remain; and soldiers must build rather than shoot.

. . .

Many Americans have come to believe that war is the worst thing that can happen to humans. It would probably not have been easy in 1991 to convince them of the need to prolong our "highway of death" in southern Iraq, even if doing so would have prevented Baathist troops from escaping to Basra and killing innocents; or of the need to bomb Serbians in Sbrenica in order to prevent them from killing women and children; or of the need to annihilate fleeing Taliban fighters to prevent them from drifting back into Kabul months later to shoot young Frenchwomen trying to feed the poor and hungry.

So bad guys are doing bad things right now, but in doing so they have become targets. And, hopefully, they will be destroyed, so that they cannot destroy the new Iraq.


Saturday, April 03, 2004

Alien Tort Claims Act

An interesting story a couple of days ago in the Washington Post about a Paraguayan woman who won $10 million in an American court suing the man who tortured her brother to death. The crime occurred in Paraguay, but she was able to sue here in the US under the Alien Tort Claims Act.

The act, enacted in 1789, allows noncitizens to bring civil lawsuits for human rights abuses committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.

The court opinion became the basis for nearly 20 other successful cases in behalf of people from El Salvador, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, Ethiopia and the Philippines and involving torture, summary executions, disappearances, rape and slavery.

She won her suit twenty years ago; the only reason she's in the news today is that the Supreme Court is reviewing the constitutionality of the law under which she won her suit. Again from the Post:

The human rights community is worried that if the Supreme Court rules against the act, victims of gross human rights abuses will no longer be able to bring claims in U.S. courts against perpetrators who come here or have substantial contacts or a base of operations here.

But the Bush administration is concerned that the law could compromise the fight against terrorism and the assistance some allies might offer.

I recently spoke with a friend in the D.C. area who told me about suits that he is bringing against various countries for infringing on human rights. (If memory serves, one of the suits involved child slavery in the chocolate industry.) The whole idea caught me off guard. Foreign parties, including governments, having standing to sue and/or be sued in US courts? I had never known that such a thing was possible.

After a little thought, though, a few examples of this kind of legal action came to min. For instance, various non-Libyan domestic courts played an important role in bringing Moammar Gaddafi to heel. And Spanish courts punished Pinochet for crimes committed when he was dictator. But in both of these examples, the courts were seeking redress for actions committed against fellow citizens. Under the Alien Tort Claims Act, neither the offender nor the offended need be American.

So I'm still not sure what I think about this. In the right hands, it seems a powerful tool to do good. But I wonder what such an instrument might do in the wrong hands.


Thursday, April 01, 2004

Kerry Kyoto update

Lileks noticed Kerry's duplicity on Kyoto, too.