December 24, 2003


It's interesting to watch how the Dems running for president react when the Bush administration raises the Homeland Security threat indicator. It's an indicator of how serious each candidate is about the threat of terrorist strike, how much credibility each candidate gives to the administration, and how straight each candidate may be with the American people if they had to make the call to raise the alert at some point.

Take this week's raised threat level. Most Americans probably reacted with a mixture of yawns and "Now what?"s. That's how I reacted--ok, another notch up, but what can I do about it? Not much, so I'm going to live the way I already did--another round of Cheetos and Cohibas.

Most of the presidential wannabees said raising the threatcon was the right thing to do, though most of them also found some way to work in a criticism. Sen. John Edwards, for instance:

"I have to say, in fairness to the administration, I understand what they're doing," Mr. Edwards said. "I mean, if they get some information, that may indicate that there may be some kind of an attack. But the reality is, if you're not telling people specifically what they should do, it's hard for the information to be useful."

Fair enough critique, though an easy response would be to ask "So, should the administration wait until it has more specific information before raising the threatcon?" If it does, it may never raise the threatcon, since such information may never come--the nature of intelligence is that it's usually fairly vague. Or if the administration actually tells people what to do, they might actually do it--remember all the duct-taping a while back? Where did that get us? Would the Edwards administration raise the threat level based on vague but increased chatter, or wait? What would it do? Reporters either never ask this question, or the contenders find ways to wiggle out of it, but I'd like something more useful from Edwards that a little warm air blown up my backside.

Sen. Kerry:

"When the threat of terrorism is increasing, I'll do more than simply issue an orange alert," Mr. Kerry said in a statement. "As president, I'll make sure that towns and cities don't have to bear all the burden of increasing security, a price tag that can weigh in at several million dollars a day."

Again, fair enough, but there's a hole: Cities and states have wide discretion over how they spend their dollars. During the 90s, most cities and states went on wild spending sprees, increasing entitlements to levels unsustainable when lean economic times come, and in 2000 they came. Isn't that why cities and states may be strapped for cash now, Mr. Kerry? What would your administration do to get them to reprioritize their spending so that it lines up with today's dangerous environment? Precious little, if his Bush critique is any guide. Rep. Dick Gephardt's criticism followed Kerry's line of thinking, tacking toward the training that he believes first responders miss when they go on alert. But, can't the raised alert function as training? It depends on how the local jurisdictions handle it, a fact lost on presidential aspirants.

Sen. Joe Lieberman was the sole Dem running to replace Bush who offered uncritical praise for raising the threatcon. Honorable, but it probably won't generate much traction with the party's rabid anti-Bush wing that seems to find fault with Bush for breathing. But with his eye on the center, that's probably fine with Lieberman.

Then there's Howard Dean:

Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont who was criticized for saying Saddam Hussein's capture had not made America safer, declined to comment Monday morning when asked by a reporter about the change in alert. But a few hours later, a voter asked: "If we're all safer" because of the capture, why the orange alert? Dr. Dean grinned.

"I don't know," he told several hundred people in Exeter, N.H. "I'm not the guy who's in charge of orange alert."

First declining to opine, then dodging the question while insinuating that he liked the illogical link his supporter made between the increased alert and the capture of Saddam Hussein, front-runner Howard Dean offered the least serious response to the increased threatcon. He grinned, then brushed the question aside. I think it's fair based on his response to wonder whether Dean takes the terrorist threat seriously at all, or has done any deep thinking about it. He lends the Bush administration the least benefit of the doubt, raising some questions about Dean. Would President Dean (shudder) tell the American people that there's a possible threat out there, or assume the capture of one man should diminish that threat for all time? One could be forgiven for distrusting Dean's seriousness about terrorism based on his response to issues like this. He just doesn't seem to spend any time thinking about any picture bigger than winning the presidency, and therefore has not come up with any plans or ideas for combatting terrorism. In fact, it's fair to wonder whether Dean really believes we're at war, or should be. He is, after all, the same Howard Dean who thinks theories that Bush knew about 9-11 beforehand are "interesting." He may believe in his heart of hearts that the entire war is a phony enterprise.

And then there's Gen. Wesley Clark, who incidentally has a brewing conflict of interest scandal for those of you playing along at home. To his credit, Clark didn't criticize the Bush administration for raising the alert since he hasn't had access to the intelligence that led to the decision. But he did go on to criticize the entire war from a strategic point of view.

"But that doesn't change the reality," General Clark said. "We knew who attacked this country on 9/11 and it was not Saddam Hussein. It was Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network."

"We should have gone after that network and we should have gone after it directly instead of taking half the United States Army and putting it in Iraq and using $150 billion and distracting us from our world leadership in the war on terror," he said. "It was a strategic mistake. I just hope that we'll be able to protect this country and we don't have more Americans who will suffer as a result of the president's bad leadership."

We did go after the network directly--did Clark miss the Afghanistan war? We're still going after the network directly, financially, diplomatically and militarily. Is Gen. Clark unaware of just how complex the war really is, or is he just talking out of his hat?

Today we have roughly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan, a force dedicated to hunting down Osama bin Laden and his minions, who could be there or in Pakistan or, according to Mansour Ijaz, in Iran...or dead. We have 130,000 troops in Iraq, and tens of thousands of other troops scattered around in peacekeeping missions, hold-the-line missions in South Korea, Germany and so forth, not to mention the bulk of our military, which is cooling its heels right here in the USA. Surely Gen. Clark knows all this. Does Clark think the US military is insufficient for the job of hunting down one guy and his coterie of fanatics while taking on a parallel threat nearby? Or does he no longer think Saddam was ever a parallel threat? Recall that pre-war (and pre-presidential candidacy as a Democrat), a very Republican-sounding Clark was gung-ho for the war and praised the Bush administration's leadership and skill in prosecuting it. If Clark no longer thinks Saddam was any threat to the US, he has changed his stance on the war 180 degrees and should acknowledge this change and explain it. In any case, if the US military is not big enough for the job, that's a separate issue from whether the Bush administration should have taken out Saddam in the first place. It's a related question, but it's not the same question. Supposing he believes Saddam was a threat (a very mainstream position even among Democrats until we actually removed Saddam from power), if the military isn't big enough, would Clark increase its size before taking on Saddam, or would he have just left Saddam alone? And given the fact that the military is, today, stabilizing a Saddam-free Iraq and hunting Osama bin Laden at the same time, why does Clark think it isn't up to doing both jobs? His criticism seems hollow and at odds with the facts--we are walking and chewing gum simultaneously, even as he says we can't and shouldn't. And for a bonus, we're blockading North Korea as well, an anti-terrorism trifecta that netted Libya and has Iran at least moving within striking distance of reasonable discourse. Surely Gen. Clark has noticed all this. Col. Gaddafi sure has. Could it be that a tinhorn Libyan dictator has a better picture of US military capabilities than the former Supreme Commander of NATO? A scary possibility, if we take Clark at face value.

Of course, the alternative view is that Clark is just offering standard boilerplate political criticism meant to distinguish him from president he wants to replace. Fine. He has distinguished himself from an administration that seems to be rolling up the terrorist threat fairly well, and has the domestic economy screaming toward record growth at the same time. Clark can distinguish himself from that record all he wants, but it's not likely to do him much good.

Posted by B. Preston at 02:45 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


The US teamed up with Russia to perform a little pre-emptive nuclear housecleaning in Bulgaria.

Posted by B. Preston at 01:37 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack


Interesting story about a "journalist" the Times profiled after his recent arrest in Bangladesh.

The NYT editorial was titled "The Risks of Journalism in Bangladesh" and said that [journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib] Choudhury "Had a rare virtue—he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption." It also observed that Mr. Choudhury's mistreatment was not occurring in a vacuum and that Muslim extremism was growing in Bangladesh with violence against journalists who stand up to the ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, increasing. Noting that Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, the newspaper said, "That makes Mr. Choudhury's courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable — and vital to defend."

There's just one teeny little problem with the Times' analysis--he's a Muslim fundamentalist himself. His idea of "dialogue" apparently includes the usual Islamicist diatribes, blood libels, etc.

Posted by B. Preston at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


Gen. Wes Clark believes Bill Clinton, not George W. Bush, deserves credit for Libya's decision to disarm.

We're three years into the Bush presidency, and nine months into the Iraq war/aftermath, and Libya just happens to have disarmed after nine months of negotiations with the US and Britain, but the Bush administration doesn't deserve any credit in Clark's eyes? the same breath, Clark blames Bush for 9-11, which occurred less than a year into his presidency. And no mention of the "Bush recession," which began before Bush even took office.

The pattern seems to go like this: Anything good that happens, at any time, is the result of Democrat virtue, even if no Democrat is anywhere near power at the time (and Democrats are nowhere near power right now). But anything bad that happens, well, that has to be the result of Republican incompetence or wickedness, just because.

Whatever. But if Dems will be dishonest about something as bloody obvious as the reason Libya disarmed (Gaddafi said he saw what was going on in Iraq, and it scared him), what else will they lie to you about?

Posted by B. Preston at 09:11 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 23, 2003


When their brother is waffle-powered Howard Dean. Go read the post I just linked, and follow on to the NY Times story that it links about Dean's absurd and slippery claim that his anti-war activist brother was killed or went missing while in uniform for the US military in Vietnam, and then wonder about the character of a man who will make such claims.

Posted by B. Preston at 12:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack


Cal Thomas, on Libya's unilateral disarmament:

This policy success should be a lesson to the United Nations, "peace activists" and others who have criticized the Bush strategy of preemption and the "failure" (so far) to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - even though Saddam Hussein used them in the past. Dictators lie and deceive. This lesson should have been learned in the last century. Applying moral equivalency in negotiations with dictators is like taking a used car salesman at his word without inspecting the vehicle.

The fruits of the war to topple Saddam Hussein are becoming apparent. Even Democrats are starting to acknowledge the significance of Libya's announcement. Ashton B. Carter, who served as assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, said that the Iraq war was a turning point in convincing Kadafi to relinquish his weapons. One senior Bush administration official told reporters last Friday night (Dec. 19) that Libya had progressed "much further" in its nuclear program than the United States had suspected, including acquisition of centrifuges that could be used to produce highly enriched uranium.

So let's tally up the score. The terrorists/Islamicists scored a few successes in the 90s, right up to 9-11. But now that we've decided to fight back, we've toppled two terrorist-sponsoring dictatorships and sent al Qaeda on the run and without the camps it needs to train more terrorists. The more of its terrorists we kill or capture, the thinner its ranks get, and without the capability to train more recruits we're fighting a war of attrition that we're all but guaranteed to win. Al Qaeda now spends its time between running from cave to cave and sending its own troops to Iraq, where they will fall down the terrorist drain we have set up there for them--in a fight between a ragtag army of ill-trained zealots and the 4th ID, I'll put my money on the 4th ID. We have set up a blockade around another rogue terrorist-sponsoring state (North Korea, which continues to support the Japanese Red Army, among others) developing weapons of mass destruction, and that blockade combined with warfare against the first two terrorist states has combined to force yet another terrorist state, Libya, to halt its WMD development and renounce terrorism. Meanwhile, Iran, a terrorist-sponsoring state developing WMDs, is pretty much encircled with states that now either lean our way or are our allies. And the fence-sitting states of the Gulf region, Qatar, Yemen, etc, now openly back us to the hilt. That's all in the span of two years.

We haven't won yet, but we are winning, and mostly because the Bush administration didn't listen to the naysayers, root causers and fifth columnists. Gaddafi's turn to the West is proof.

Posted by B. Preston at 12:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 22, 2003


Finally, the I've got the internet at DSL speed. Merry Christmas to me!

Posted by B. Preston at 09:02 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack


It's clear some bloggers desperately need editors. Case in point--Gregg Easterbrook:

AND ABOUT THAT FAKE TURKEY: The "decorative turkey" in George W. Bush's hands in the Thanksgiving pictures from Baghdad should in fact make people angry. Hundreds of American dead, thousands of Iraqi dead, and the White House is staging phony photos on Iraqi soil? The occupation of Iraq may be justified, but White House use of the war as a political prop is becoming unseemly. And think: somebody had to fly a fake turkey to Iraq. Voters are not stupid; this sort of thing may backfire on Bush.

Voters aren't stupid; about that, Mr. Easterbrook is correct. But I'm afraid it's Mr. Easterbrook who is exhibiting more than his share of stupidity. Nobody had to fly that turkey over to Iraq just so President Bush could hold it. It was already there, a standard prop the military puts out for Thanksgiving holiday parties. How do I know that? I was in the military, and saw these prop turkeys more than once at big to-dos.

The "plastic" turkey incident won't backfire on President Bush, and it shouldn't. In fact, as AOG notes, the very impulse the president showed provided a rich contrast between himself and the dictator he was at that moment still hunting: W's instinct was to serve, rather than be served by, the troops in his command. That's a distinctively Christian, and American, view of leadership. Check out Jesus' washing his disciples' feet if you don't believe me.

I'm starting to think the chatterati needs to go through some sort of compulsory military education. Most of 'em haven't seen the outside of a think tank in a decade, and haven't been anywhere the actual military they talk so much about.

And at least one chatteratus needs an editor. His posts veer from the insightful to the moronic, and occassionally to the career-killing offensive.

(via Andrea Harris)

UPDATE: Batten down the hatches, it's an Instalanche!

I'd say "disappointed" is the right word for my reaction. I went to the mat defending Easterbrook against bloggers I respect on charges that he's an anti-Semite, only to have him fall for the lamest anti-Bush conspiracy yet. Thing is, he's no anti-Semite and his TMQ is the best football column out there. Does he get stuff wrong sometimes? Absolutely. He predicted the Ravens would be horrible this year, and they're a win away from clinching their division. But we all get football predictions wrong--as the saying goes, that's why they play the games. For instance I, a diehard Cowboys fan who stuck with them through Barry "The Bootlicker Boy" Switzer, would never have guessed that even the Tuna could turn that hapless bunch of amateurs from 5-11 to a possible 11-5 in a single season without a major change in personnel, and without Emmitt Smith, but that's just what the Tuna has done. With Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick in the backfield. As TMQ would say, Ye Gods! So we all get football predictions wrong. But there's no excuse for a real reporter to get the turkey story wrong, and Easterbrook did. So yeah, I'm disappointed. Very.

UPDATE: Easterbrook is wrong about space policy, too. He argues against building a lunar base on the grounds that it would be too expensive and useless for astronomy, but putting telescopes on the Moon makes a great deal of sense. Like current space telescopes--Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer and Compton (the latter of which is dead, btw)--Moon scopes would be beyond the earth's atmosphere and therefore get a clear view of the universe. But unlike space telescopes, scopes on the Moon would not suffer the effects of actually flying in low earth orbit at the speed of 17,000 miles per hour.

What are those effects? Well, for starters, orbiting scopes get a sunrise every 90 minutes. In Hubble's early days, its solar panels would greet that sunrise with a loud RING like a bell (if a telescope rings in space, where there's no air to transmit the vibration and no one's there to hear it, does it still make a sound?), which was caused by the sudden rise in temperature that came with the sun. Hubble's new wings (installed on orbit in 2002) compensate for this disturbance now, but with the old wings you had to wait for the vibes to settle down before you could get the finest imagery from it. Put Hubble on the Moon's dark side and see how often it rings. Hubble is also an expensive beast because we keep having to push it back to its proper orbit. In orbit, it's basically falling toward the earth all the time, but flying so high and fast that it keeps missing. Left alone, it eventually wouldn't miss. We send shuttles up to it both to fix the things that break (gyros, usually) and upgrade its technology, and to give it a kick upstairs. Put it on the Moon--no more need to push it back to its rightful place, which means one reason for expensive shuttle missions to Hubble goes away. And once we've established routine lunar flights to a base, servicing becomes much easier and cheaper.

Now, with current technology you can't do the deepest infrared astronomy from the Moon because it's too close to the warm earth, so we'll probably still need to put telescopes like Spitzer out at 5 million miles from earth. But Spitzer isn't upgradable and shuttles can't fly to it. If it breaks, it's dead. But on the other hand, it doesn't have the sunrise problem since it's so far out, and with advanced cryocooler technology we're already doing bang-up infrared astronomy with Hubble in low earth orbit, so who knows--we might be able to make a lunar telescope cold enough to out do Spitzer eventually.

Oh, and as long as we're no longer defending Gregg Easterbrook around here, we'll note that he's wrong about Saddam's teeth, too. That video sent exactly the right message, particularly to the Arab world.

Posted by B. Preston at 04:38 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack


More ridiculous censorship of Christmas, this time in Scotland:

THE Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh yesterday confirmed it has banned the distribution of a charity Christmas CD because it mentions the baby Jesus.

More than 150 copies of the disc, featuring traditional and new festive songs, were donated to the hospital to help raise the spirits of children receiving care over the festive period.

But hospital managers refused to pass it on, saying it could offend those who were not of a Christian faith.

"We could not just hand out the CD," a hospital spokeswoman said. "If it went to every child it could cause offence to those who are not Christian."

For shame--who thought they could get away with mentioning the baby Jesus at Christmastime?

We are pre-emptively censoring ourselves, removing all possibility of offense before anyone even utters a negative peep. We're basically Iraqifying our culture--letting a tiny minority rule through intimidation--and it's happening across the spectrum. The West is majority Christian, yet we're letting the very possibility of offending some tiny minority turn one of our most sacred holidays into a faith-free winter event. Gays make up around 2 percent of the population, yet we're going to let them intimidate the rest of us and game the system into redefining marriage. Where will it end--with gay Santas and Mr. Clauses handing out Festivus gifts on the no longer officially recognized "winter down day?" Give it a year or two.

MORE: Want more outrage? Try this, also from Scotland--a restaurant treated its own customers like lepers because they wanted to host a little Christmas party there. The reason--the restaurant owners just don't like Christmas parties:

Ann Liddle, 33, booked the restaurant for herself and seven nursing colleagues and she also arranged a bag of goodies including crackers and party hats.

She dropped the bag off and requested that a cracker and hat be placed at each setting but when the party arrived, the bag remained unopened and dumped at the side of their table.

Undeterred, the nurses, who were all completely sober, put their hats on and began to enjoy their festive night out.

But she said: "No sooner had we put them on, the manager walked over to out table and said: ‘You can’t wear those’.

Apartment manager Rouri Stewart said that Christmas parties were not welcome there.

He said: "We won’t take bookings for Christmas party nights. We don’t do all that crackers and tinsel stuff. It’s just tacky beyond belief."

Then why did they take the booking and agree to make the settings?

Posted by B. Preston at 11:24 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack


What's behind Libya's choice to disarm and allow UN inspectors in to verify? I see three things leading up to it: A desire on Libya's part, going back at least a few years, to lose its pariah status and get itself off our list of terror-sponsoring states list, both to get itself out of our crosshairs and to remove US sanctions; a close-up view of events in Iraq, especially over the last nine months to a year, convinced Gaddafi that the US was finally serious about crushing terror-sponsoring states; and seizure of hard evidence that Libya has for the past few years been part of a rogue WMD alliance with Iran, North Korea and possibly Iraq. Once the US had that proof in hand, coupled with the recent capture of Saddam Hussein, Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi knew that he must comply with US disarmament demands to disarm or face moving up the A team in the Axis of Evil.

So how did the US get that hard proof? The alliance formed to stop Kim Jong-Il from shipping weapons to his allies and to anyone with the cash to pay for them, called the Proliferation Security Initiative, played a major role:

US officials told the paper that Washington's hand was strengthened in negotiations with Gaddafi after a successful operation, previously undisclosed, to intercept transport suspected of carrying banned weapons.

The Telegraph said a top US State Department official confirmed last week that the Proliferation Security Initiative, an international, US-led scheme to halt the spread of banned weapons by seizing them in transit, had "netted several seizures."

Nice how they call a major new alliance a "scheme," but I'll pass over that bit of editorial comment buried in a news report to talk about why this is so important. As I've noted before, the PSI is one of the most underreported stories of the year. Most journalists don't know anything about it, and liberal commentators like Josh Marshall have simply elected not to mention it since it gets in the way of their "Bush is an unrepentant unilateralist" critiques of administration policy. The PSI is extremely important to the future of weapons proliferation and to the world community generally. It not only acts as a de facto blockade against Kim Jong-Il, but the PSI unites 11 of the world's most powerful states, all democracies, in an anti-proliferation alliance that operates outside the aegis of the UN to perform a function that the UN has clearly failed to do--stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And it's the brainchild of Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton, one of the more maligned figures in the Bush administration.

The PSI is just getting started, and already it has focused attention on stopping North Korea's weapons programs and has helped net a medium-sized fish in Libya. If the US ever decides to junk the UN and start over with something that promotes democracy while effectively making the world safe for it, it could do much worse than use the PSI as a starting point.

MORE: Momentum is building, I tell ya, to ditch the UN or get some kind of pro-democracy group off the ground. Check out Italian PM Berlusconi:

The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, believes the United Nations should intervene militarily wherever dictatorships abuse human rights.

He delivers a passionate defence of America's intervention in Iraq in an interview in today's Spectator magazine in which he suggests it should mark the start of an era in which a "community of democracies" intervenes in the internal affairs of countries ruled by despots.

Now, I think he's gone over the top a bit. Thanks to the yawning tech and training gap between US and all other militaries, all of these "international" interventions will in fact have more than a trace of American might in them, and we just aren't in the business of putting troops in every single nook and cranny of the globe, unless we give away much of our tech know-how, which would be an insane thing to do. Further, it basically means a neo-colonial end of national sovereignty for a majority of the states around the world, and there's the whole question of who gets invaded first? Do you start big, like, say, China, hoping to cow the little tinhorns, or do you start small, like, say, Cuba, hoping to persuade the bigger ones? Then you have to have some pretty robust way to manage all this activity, something far stronger than the UN, or it all devolves to the enforcing democracies which would end up getting stuck with the bill. It's totally unworkable, and undesirable, for us to basically put the sword to the entire world to democratize it. Still, Berlusconi gets a gold star for his enthusiasm.

And hhmmm..."community of democracies." Where have I heard that before?

And check out this money quote--it should please all you conspiracy types out there:

A spokesman for Mr Berlusconi said the prime minister had been telephoned recently by Col Gaddafi of Libya, who said: "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."

Go ahead conspiracy theorists, connect the dots. You'll get it right, for once.

MORE: Libya was about two years away from developing operational nuclear weapons, according to US and British investigators given full access to Libya's program. We dodged a nuclear bullet this weekend.

(thanks to Hanks)

Posted by B. Preston at 09:21 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack