Friday, December 4, 2009
Few kids win this game often, because, as the number of players increases, the odds that one will prevail against many, decreases. The hunter has two handicaps other than numbers; he doesn’t know the location of the other kids and they get to choose when to race for home. The farther a hunter strays from home base, the more vulnerable he becomes. With “Kick the Can,” all initiative is ceded to the quarry - a kind of fool’s game for solitary hunters.
At the risk of abusing a metaphor, we have now embarked on a national strategy that looks for all the world like such a fool’s game; and, in the process, ignores rules even a child might understand.
The first rule is that one side doesn’t get to make the rules of the game. In Afghanistan, declaring an arbitrary time limit, not only telegraphs your moves, but does nothing save ratchet up the pressure on the home team. If we can set aside for a moment all the campaign nonsense about wars of “choice” and wars of “necessity,” we might consider the blowback from Iraq. Having reversed the sectarian poles in Baghdad, might not the “progress” we see there be a kind of prudent economy of force? The Shiite majority may simply wait for the clock to run out now that we have set a date certain for withdrawal. The King of Jordan warns of a Shiite Crescent to the north of Israel. Is he wrong?
One side doesn’t get to control is the number of players by fiat either. The arbitrary designation of just one leader (Osama bin Laden) and a single terrorist organization (al Qaeda) as the “core” of the problem ignores a much larger threat with a global reach. Islamic fundamentalism is not limited to Afghanistan or Pakistan. Indeed, the ideology and financing on the Sunni side originates in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, our erstwhile “allies.” The militant threat on the Shiite side of the threat equation originates with Iran – now a nuclear aspirant. If Iraq was a distraction from the real threat in Afghanistan, how is Afghanistan not a distraction from the real threat in Iran?
The truth about Iraq is that it was a corrupt totalitarian Arab state that was a menace to its corrupt theocratic Arab neighbors. Now Iraq is a corrupt Shiite state that in all likelihood will pursue a sectarian alliance with Iran. The truth about Afghanistan is that it is a tribal, if not feudal, mélange besieged by naïve Western apologists. The truth about Pakistan is that it is a corrupt janissary that might be one bullet away from theocracy. The truth about Iran is that it is already the world’s first and largest Shiite theocracy; a so-called Islamic “republic.” We might add that Tehran makes no secret of its quest for the bomb and makes no secret of how they might use it. The truth of all of this is that the threat is not a specific terrorist or a specific terror group; and surely the threat is not a specific Muslim country or a specific state sponsor.
The malignant bloom of jihad and theocracy within Islam world wide is the true threat. This menace is not simply demographic; it is also political. Theocracy is the goal of Islamists of every stripe; to replace secular law with a religious monoculture. And the final and most worrisome truth is the inability or unwillingness of national security specialists, in general, and President Obama, in particular, to recognize any of this.
Tehran is yet another example in the Muslim constellation where we presume to make the rules of the game; we assume that the Persians can be jawboned or threatened with “sanctions” to relinquish their nuclear ambitions. True pluralism and diversity in the world today might be measured by the numbers of illusions we harbor about those who would make our worst nightmares come true.
Our new strategy announced on 1 December by the President at West Point has two components; moderation and denial. With the moderate approach we are neither “all in” nor “all out” in Afghanistan. We have limited our targets to one leader and one terror organization – and a kind of half-baked “nation building”. In Afghanistan, we aspire to do what the British and Soviets could not. The English used to strap insurgents to the busy ends of cannons and the Soviets used to level villages from the air. Our tactics are different; we plan to conquer Islamist fanatics with kindness - moderate on moderate.
As we try to walk the middle way, play the “moderate” game, we should be mindful of what everyone’s favorite moderate over in Istanbul said recently on the subject. Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the adjective “moderate” was an insult to the faith. “Islam is Islam and that’s it;” according to our NATO ally, the Turkish Prime Minister. We must commend Erdogan for his candor and doctrinal consistency. Apparently, being moderately Islamic is a little like being moderately pregnant.
The second component of the West Point proclamation is denial. “Islam is one of the world’s great religions” we are told. We are led to believe that Jihad, Sharia, cultural irredentism, misogyny, and fifty years of terrorism have nothing to do with Muslims in general or Islam in particular. Never mind that prominent Muslims tell us otherwise so frequently that we can not or will not hear what they say. We insist that those who say it do not mean it or those who mean it can’t be taken seriously. Yes, they speak about Islam, but the do not speak for Islam; so goes the mantra. The quest for Sharia and Kalifa is dismissed as the fantasies of a Muslim fringe.
Criticizing the general outlines of the West Point strategy is necessary but not sufficient. The specifics of a modest reinforcement, constrained by an 18 month timeline, also deserve some scrutiny. No markers were set in the West Point plan; but military operations analysts have been looking at such campaigns, including Afghanistan, for decades. Military Operations Research (MOR) is an aggregate of disciplines that attempts to size forces and examine the variables that might lead to victory or stability. These disciplines include; statistics; probability theory, game theory, modeling, and simulation among others.
Three variants of OR have been applied to Afghanistan or similar contingencies; force to force comparisons, force to population models, and most recently, strategy to strategy comparisons. All three reach similar conclusions; force allocations are too small and the strategy will not work in any case. The conclusion of just one of these analyses from the RAND Review speaks for all three.
This analysis concluded that some combination of 500,000 troops or police might be required in Afghanistan alone, not for victory, just for stability. Or in the words of the report: “The extremely low force ratio for Afghanistan, a country with a larger population than that of Iraq, shows the implausibility of current stabilization efforts by external forces”.
This is the polite way of saying there are not enough US or allied troops in the field to do the job – nor is an adequate force likely to be deployed. For a government contractor, this kind of candor is rare, indeed. The idea that the allies will fight al Qaeda and the Taliban while training and equipping 400,000 competent Afghan cops and soldiers in 18 months is also delusional. The majority of recruits would have to come from the Pashtun tribes and these folks haven’t given up much since Roxanne married Alexander.
In short, General McChrystal probably underestimated the theater problem to begin with - and President Obama certainly didn’t give him what he asked for anyway. We have to assume that the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and the White House are aware of the available studies and have chosen to ignore their conclusions and press their luck in the tribal mountains of Afghanistan anyway. Ironically, a previous attempt to control this area was called “the great game”.
As in “Kick the Can,” numbers matter and we appear to be playing a fool’s game; the allied expeditionary force has little or no edge in South Asia. Short of a catastrophe, in 18 months, we will still be asking “what is to be done?” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And we may still be playing “Kick the Can” with the larger problem in the Muslim world.
This essay apeared on American Thinker 8 Dec 09. Author also blogs on Jenkins Hill.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Put another way, every day ignorance is simply the absence of knowledge, and therefore ethically neutral. Agnotology, on the other hand, would be a willful misconstruction, perpetuation, or avoidance. The difference between agnotology and an information vacuum is like the difference between ignorance and stupidity. With stupidity, you know the truth, but refuse to accept it – or you perpetuate falsehoods.
Giving this phenomenon a name is a new development; but clearly several related practices have been around for centuries. Politicians use “opposition research” to discredit opponents, intelligence agents use disinformation, and soldiers use psychological operations (aka PSYOPS) to confuse the enemy. Nonetheless, to date, the few experts in the agnotology field seem to agree that Media, print and broadcast, is the prime suspect for the modern practice, the antithesis of “enlightenment” - culturally produced ignorance. False narratives might be a good way to think of the agnotology that we encounter on a daily basis.
None of this is news or a surprise to anyone who can read a newspaper or use a TV remote. The editorial pages of most papers and magazines are awash with untutored opinion masquerading as fact or truth. Publications like Newsweek feature pages of opinion now before they get to the actual news. The message of such a format is clear; spin is more important than facts.
Interviews with so called “newsmakers” are a favorite venue for creating false narratives. Two recent examples from the headlines illustrate the political agnotology problem: The Fox News interview with Bill Clinton (26 Sep 06) and PBS’s more recent interview with Hilary Clinton (10 Nov 09) in Berlin.
First, a few words about the respective journalists. Chris Wallace of Fox News comes from the pit bull school of journalism. He does not suffer fools gladly, nor does he allow politicians to make excuses or cook the books. He also asks tough questions and tough follow-ups. Charlie Rose of PBS is the polar opposite of Wallace. Rose is more like an obsequious poodle who could serve as a role model for any state funded news anchor. He asks banal, if not leading questions, many of which he answers himself. Rose allows his political guests to make speeches and rattle on with talking points; he seldom challenges self-serving assertions with follow-up questions.
Comparing the two Clinton interviews, a reader is struck by two things. First is the difference between a journalist who is a truth seeker - and a journalist who facilitates false narratives. The second is the consistent self-serving, albeit mendacious, stories that the Clinton’s continue to tell over the years.
The major themes of the Clinton national security saga are: Bill is a victim; specifically, a victim of a right-wing conspiracy. He did all that could be done about terrorism; no one knew anything about al Qaeda until he and Richard Clark came along. Today’s problems in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are due to the “mismanagement” of the Bush administration. And the specific threat from bin Laden and al Qaeda today is a legacy of the Bush, not the Clinton years. The central false narrative is the assertion that bin Laden and al Qaeda represent the “core” of the Islamist threat. In short, once bin Laden is dead and his organization neutralized, American will be avenged and all will be well with Islamists everywhere. Let’s look at the relevant portions of the interview transcripts.
Wallace fox hunting circa 2006
Mike Wallace: …when you pulled troops out of Somalia in 1993, bin Laden said, "I have seen the frailty and the weakness and the cowardice of U.S. troops." …Then there was the bombing of the embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole… after the attacks, … bin Laden separated his leaders, spread them around, because he expected an attack, and there was no response…Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?...The 9/11 Commission said: "The U.S. government took the threat seriously, but not in the sense of mustering anything like the kind of effort that would be gathered to confront an enemy of the first, second or even third rank."
Bill Clinton: …All right. Let's look at what Richard Clarke said. Do you think Richard Clarke has a vigorous attitude (sic) about bin Laden?...The country never had a comprehensive anti-terror operation until I came there… After the Cole (attack), I had battle plans drawn to go into Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban, and launch a full-scale attack search for bin Laden… But at least I tried. That's the difference in me and some, including all the right-wingers who are attacking me now. They ridiculed me for trying…So you did Fox's bidding on this show. You did your nice little conservative hit job on me… you falsely accused me of giving aid and comfort to bin Laden because of what happened in Somalia. No one knew Al Qaeda existed then… I've never criticized President Bush, and I don't think this is useful. But you know we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq…And you've got that little smirk on your face and you think you're so clever… I did everything I thought I responsibly could.
A few weeks ago Hilary Clinton took the opportunity to perpetuate her husband’s narrative on PBS.
ROSE COLORED JOURNALISM CIRCA 2009
Charlie Rose:…is a Taliban in control in Afghanistan a threat to the United States?
Hilary Clinton: Yes. And to many of us, the principal objective is still to defeat, capture, kill the Al Qaeda leadership. We do think that is important…It’s a core issue for us… and much of what President Obama and the rest of us in this administration have been working on for the last eight months is that given the failures of the last eight years to capture and kill the Al Qaeda leadership…So he will be clearly defining the purpose of our mission, how it’s going to be reconstituted.
Charlie Rose: What’s taking so long, and what’s the debate inside?
Hilary Clinton: Well, I have to say that I think we went through eight years where it at least appeared on the outside that there wasn’t enough time taken, there wasn’t enough thought given as to what we were trying to achieve and how we would achieve it. There were a lot of midcourse corrections. Witness the surge in Iraq…The mission was, frankly, confused. There was a lot of talk during the prior administration that came pretty close to nation building, transforming Afghanistan…And we do bear some of the responsibility, frankly, for helping to create the very terrorists that we’re now all threatened by.
We find it hard to believe that nobody knows where the Al Qaeda leadership is. And I think that there is no evidence that anybody in the government at the top levels knows.
Charlie Rose: All right. So what’s the message of the Obama administration and from the secretary of state about the United States and its foreign policy intentions today?
Hilary Clinton: That we are back. Back as fully engaged. We’re not leaving any part of the world unattended to, because that was one of the most common complaints I heard…
Charlie Rose:.. what’s the impact of the global economic crisis?
Hilary Clinton: What we have done is by moving from the creditor nation that my husband’s policies helped to create to the debtor nation that we inherited from the Bush administration, made even worse by the lapses in regulation and the failure of oversight… I am a true believer in the… all these wonderful old-fashioned but very important values that (I) hold….
Setting the Record Straight
Bill Clinton’s recall or recitation of facts is flawed on many levels, but two stand out. He refuses to take little or any responsibility for the run up to the 9/11 attacks in New York, although the first attack against the Twin Towers took place on his watch. He also claims that no one knew anything about the al Qaeda threat until his administration. When Wallace refuses to accept these false narratives, the interview becomes a one-sided food fight. The ex-president descends to invective, paranoia, and name calling.
Hilary’s narrative with Charlie Rose is more civil, and even less candid; if that’s possible. While trying to explain Obama’s national security and economic policy; she refers to the mismanagement of the Bush years on no fewer than five occasions. Indeed, Mrs. Clinton spends so much time looking backwards; she could be channeling Mullah Omar. Rose doesn’t question any of this. She goes on to insist that somehow America is responsible for creating terrorists. Rose doesn’t dispute this chestnut. She concludes with a hymn to old fashioned values. Rose smiles in agreement. Hearing either Clinton talk about values is a little like hearing Woody Allen talk about parenting.
The truth in what’s not said
Yet the most damning evidence about the Clinton chronicles is what wasn’t said in either interview. Put aside all those Islamist provocations in the Clinton years, the attacks on: US embassies in Africa, US ground forces in Somalia, US airmen in Saudi Arabia, US naval forces in Yemen, and against civilians in the Twin Towers in New York. Put all that and Clinton’s dithering aside and recall that Kabul fell (26 September 1996) to the Taliban on the Clinton watch.
Recall also the intern under the desk in the Oval Office; recall the perjury, and impeachment trial that followed. Recall all the ballyhoo about Madeline Albright as the first female secretary of state and then remember that every girl’s school in Afghanistan was shuttered on her watch. Recall also Christina Lamb’s description (2002) of the Islamist “street” in Kandahar in the Clinton years. Talking to a teen in a soccer stadium, she recorded this narrative:
I‘ve seen more than a hundred (executions). I used to come because it was entertainment….The best time was during Ramadan because then there would be at least a hanging or amputation a day, sometimes three or four….we would buy pistachios or oranges. The person could be shot, hanged or sacrificed….you know, like sheep.
Their hands would be tied and they would be laid on a block then their chest split open with a long knife and their guts spilled out. Women were tied to goalposts and shot down, or if they had committed adultery, they would be stoned….I saw some homosexuals have their hands and feet tied and a wall collapsed on top of them. That was interesting….
They (the Taliban) made the family come and watch and collect the dead bodies. They used to keep an ambulance at the gate so when people had their hands or feet amputated they would be taken straight to the hospital. (pp. 246-249)
The stadium where this “entertainment” took place was completed in 1996 with the help of American taxpayers – at the midpoint of the Clinton administration.
This is the narrative of the Clinton years we don’t hear on PBS, most of the commercial networks, or in many print sources. We also don’t hear that the state sponsored theocratic barbarity in Afghanistan didn’t stop until George Bush sent in the Marines. We don’t hear that George Bush reopened those girl’s schools.
And now we hear Barack Obama claim that he will “finish the job.” Would that be finishing the job that Clinton didn’t begin nearly twenty years ago; or finishing the job that Bush began so well? If the strategy enunciated by Mrs. Clinton on 10 November, i.e. moving forward by looking back, plays out; we are in for a dark future. Enduring questions about President Obama’s judgment fester on many issues: yet, none is more worrisome than this; why did he bring the Clinton circus back to town? Agnotology indeed!
The author also blogs at; http://jenkinshill.blogtownhall.com/
Thursday, October 29, 2009
A good idea is often the author of an institution; unfortunately, the institution often then becomes the enemy of the idea. Large and complex organizations are especially vulnerable to bureaucratic schizophrenia. Susceptibility seems to be aggravated by automated support systems. Digital deficit disorders are often magnified by the rigor and inflexibility of the binary logic that underlies all software. The “human resources” that design, manipulate, and monitor the digital and dot.com worlds are collectively, and often derisively, labeled “nerds” or “geeks”. Indeed, on a personal level, the symptoms of electronic autism are fairly obvious.
Does your daughter prefer to text message or post the most intimate details of her life, including racy pictures, online instead of risking a real date with an actual boy? Does your son retreat to the basement or his room with a cell phone, an I Pod, a laptop, and video games instead of playing a sport or joining a club? Does your husband prefer holding hands with an electronic mouse after dinner instead of holding your whatever? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you get the picture.
By all accounts, digital deficit disorders have now migrated to government and commerce. Electronic autism has gone viral; it has become a cultural phenomenon. The communications revolution that was supposed to create a warm and congenial global village has instead created a billion cold, unresponsive, and often hostile pockets of isolated indifference.
Try asking a local, state, or federal agency a question online. Chances are your problem is not one of their automated options. Indeed, once you have exhausted the programmed prompts, you must begin anew in what often seems to be an endless loop. Good luck with a phone call! The response standards for government apparatchiks seem to be designed at the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Post Office. Economy is the touted rationale behind automated systems; yet local and federal bureaucracies and budgets still grow like that chubby, surly kid in your basement. You know, that child who doesn’t have time to chat with you because he or she has a thousand fantasy friends on Face Book, U Tube, or Twitter.
The picture is even grimmer in the world of commerce where the gap between seller and buyer is growing as we speak. Debits to your account are posted instantly while credits might take days or months – especially if there is a dispute. The “float” is never to your advantage. All online problem resolution requires a run through the maze of online prompts; and then you get to attempt to talk to someone if you’re lucky enough to find a help number. Yet here again, you are run through another gauntlet of automated cues where the penultimate prompt tells you that “you are a valued client, all of our drones are busy, please hold for the next customer service representative.” These patronizing recordings are dishonest on three counts; if you were “valued,” someone would pick up the damn phone; the only “customer representative” in the equation is you; and “service” is never the primary design consideration behind any kind of “automated” customer relations.
A single maple tree in Washington, DC provides all the evidence we might need to appreciate the consequences of electronic autism in government and business circles.
Several years ago, it might be as long as ten; a medium size sugar maple blew over on Carolina Place, NW. The tree was caught, and still lies, on above ground utility wires that are maintained by three different “service” companies; power, cable, and phone. These utilities are complimented by a tree service company (Aspulundi) and the various bureaucracies in the DC City Government which oversee both trees and utilities. After years (yes, years) of complaints about this hazard to utilities, parked automobiles, and pedestrians; a pair of power company (PEPCO) trucks, with crews, appeared in September to reroute their wires off the tree. The tree was left to hang on the cable and phone lines, making the tree even more unstable with three power wires rerouted.
When the absurdity of this “solution” was brought to the attention of the PEPCO crew, the chief indignantly called his superior who confirmed that the tree was the city’s problem and the other utility cables weren’t their concern either. The implied logic here is that each utility should reroute their wires in turn instead of removing the derelict tree which is bound to fall anyway - and that day is hastened each time a supporting wire is removed.
Let’s see if we can follow the economic logic here. Instead of all five interested parties cooperating and agreeing to a common sense solution (i.e. removing the tree), at a cost of approximately one thousand dollars (confirmed by estimates); each party is pursuing separate solutions to the same hazard, where the collective cost will be many thousands of dollars. Keep in mind that the offending tree becomes more of a threat with each rerouting. Each of the five separate agencies, including the city government, is supported by automated response systems, information technology acquired in the name of efficiency and economy. Unfortunately, these systems, apparently, do not converse with citizens, customers, or each other.
All of this might be just another humorous symptom of life in a one party town. Or maybe some folks would simply dismiss such Orwellian nonsense as another kind of inside the beltway “stimulus” package. Yet the cost is born by stakeholders; citizens and voters who in these difficult times might expect some prudence on the part of the nation’s capitol or their “service” utilities. The price of electronic autism grows daily; let’s hope they never run out of your money.
(A truncated version of this essay appeared in the Washington edition of The Current, 11 Novwmber 2009.)
Saturday, September 12, 2009
“The quickest way to end a war is to lose it”. – George Orwell
Monoculture is a term that has been freighted with a lot of baggage, mostly negative. The origin of this compound word is usually traced to agriculture where it is used to describe a farm or a farming community that relies on a single crop. Tobacco, cotton, sugar, and now corn, are examples. The advantages of monoculture farming are obvious; seed, soil, water and equipment requirements are uniform. Yet standardization has a down side. Uniformity makes crops vulnerable to a single pathogen or pest; and the soil, once exhausted, needs to be replenished. Newer varieties of seed or more pesticides or more fertilizer are required. In short, the single crop specialist, over time, must work harder and faster to stay in the same place - until he or the land is exhausted. The tipping point of monoculture is often defined by a single vulnerability.
More recently the notion of monoculture has migrated to cyberspace. Here again it is used as a pejorative to describe alleged abuses by software or telecommunications monopolies; Microsoft operating systems, Google search engines or cable companies are frequently described as monocultures. The advantages of singularity here, like agriculture, are uniformity, consistency, and homogeneity. The disadvantages are also obvious. Like all monopolies, the lack of serious competition breeds complacency, arrogance, and indifference; inferior products and shoddy services. While good ideas often create good institutions, just as often, over time, that same institution becomes the enemy of the idea – especially new ideas. Here monoculture becomes a kind of totalitarianism; a cult of “my way or the highway”.
Single party towns, cities, states and even countries often become political monocultures. National Socialists, Fascists, and Marxists are examples in the extreme. Once a single party achieves success, controls the levers of power; the dominant ethic often becomes the retention of power. An ideology that may come to power with appeals to diversity and pluralism often morphs into a culture of exclusion – a place where the external infidel (non-believer) and the internal apostate (independent thinker) become public enemies. Such developments are not limited to primitive political forms like monarchies and military dictatorships. Indeed, often the worst totalitarians begin as Utopian prophets. Even with democracies, the first free election is often last real election.
America, often held up as the exemplar of democratic probity, is no exception. Some of the most dysfunctional states and municipalities are the victims of single party arrogance and mismanagement. The District of Columbia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, San Francisco and possibly all of the state of California are examples.
Utopian schemes from which monocultures rise always have two faces. Almost all international or regional organizations begin with high hopes for the comforts of conformity; and then reality sets in. Somehow we never get to know how regional parochialism is an improvement over national chauvinism. World organizations such as the League of Nations and now the United Nations are not much better. The most frequent consensus in these forums is the agreement to agree to do nothing about real problems or bad behavior. Maybe the world would be less safe without these organizations, without these “talking cures,” and maybe most of these forums are just job programs for otherwise unemployable international bureaucrats. There are few measures of effectiveness for what didn’t happen or “what might have been”.
The problem with the layering of international, national and local governments is that eventually, like the monoculture farmer, you have to work harder and run faster just to stay in the same place. And as the shrewd Baroness from Finchley observed; “Eventually, you run out of other people’s money”. No government at any level creates wealth or prosperity; they consume it. Chaos is not an accident; it’s merely the logical consequence of unmanageable complexity or catastrophe. Sometimes the two are synonymous with homogeneity.
None of this has ever deterred Utopian intellectuals who pedal uniformity, conformity and the quest for some enchanted ideology or technology which eliminates conflict and brings unity, peace, and justice to all. Serious people often take these things seriously.
Karl Marx thought a world commune was possible if only the proletariat would rise and seize the moment. Little did he imagine that the proletariat would be hijacked by a vanguard of venal intellectuals. Marx seems to have slept through French history. Woodrow Wilson thought the League of Nations was a good idea and then Hitler thought he could bludgeon the world into Aryan consciousness. Albert Einstein thought world government was possible if only America would take the lead - proving only how little of the reason required for great science is fungible. Even Canadians got into the act; Marshal McLuhan forecast a global village united by communications technology. McLuhan hardly noticed that the number of nation states had doubled since WW II while the world was supposed to be bonding with Media cement. The post-colonial political centrifuge was at odds with the global village; the medium didn’t send that message.
Today, another variant of Utopian unity and conformity darkens the horizon. Five hundred some odd years after the fall of Constantinople, religion is on the march again; this time the objective is Tel Aviv, Rome and all points west. Once again the barbarians are at the gate. The 21st Century version of monoculture is a triple threat; military, ideological, and totalitarian. Theocracy is the latest militant monoculture; and if Islamists have their way, it will be the last.
All forms of monoculture are authoritarian in some respect; however, theocracy seeks to be totalitarian in all respects. For contemporary Islamists, there are no divided loyalties. National boundaries are irrelevant; only the boundaries of the Ummah (Muslim world) count. Civil or penal law is another abomination; there is only one law, religious law (Sharia). The separation of church and state is heretical; the religious community is the state, the community.
For the fundamentalist, the division of the world into material and spiritual realms is the nexus of Western culture; the source of wars and all other woes. The divided authorities of democracies are at the root of a “hideous schizophrenia;” indeed, infidels and apostates are sick, slaves to a self-imposed angst. The jihadist is a humanitarian, a liberator. He represents one God (Allah), one law (Sharia), one messenger (Mohammed), and one message (jihad). With jihad, the medium is also the message.
In its most benign incarnation the jihad is simply a “struggle”. In practice there are several means, at least four ways to fight for universal unity: the struggle to improve self, study and accept the word of God; the struggle to spread the word of God, once properly understood; the struggle to do God’s work, improve the community; and finally, jihad is also the right and requirement to defend Islam with every violent means available – jihad of the sword. Yes, defend! By definition, the nature of jihad, the nature of the war (harb), is defensive.
For the devout, the world is divided into two spheres: the house of Islam (dar al-Islam), they who have submitted to Sharia; and the house of war (dar al-harb), they who have yet to submit. Those outside of the Muslim community, or those within, who doubt, are living in a state of dangerous ignorance (jahiliyya). The danger is literal, by ancient and modern legal definition; apostasy is a capital offense, punishable by death. Ignorance itself is an aggressive threat, one that threatens to infect the purity and divide the unity of true believers. Eliminating ignorance is God’s purpose, Mohammed’s purpose, and the Koran’s purpose. It is also the right and duty of all Islamists to fight any ignorance of God’s will. The ultimate goal of militant Islam is one God, one law, one path, and one community of believers – in short, monoculture.
The Islamist take on the role of ignorance in society however, is more political than theological; indeed, it is a convenient rationalization for aggression. The proper role of civil society, or civilization writ large, is not to clear every thicket of contradiction or ignorance; the proper role of authority in any society is to eliminate the deserts of intolerance. And there is little debate within the Muslim community on the meaning of jihad. Dr. Tawfik Hamid, a former mujahadeen, cautions; “The doctrines of jihad are not taken out of context, as many apologists for Islamism argue. They are central to the faith and ethics of millions of Muslims”.
For jihadists, means are variable; the type of jihad is tailored to circumstances – time, conditions, and place. What works here might not work there. The tactics may change but the strategy is constant; “two steps forward, one step back”. Mainstream or so-called “moderate” organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Akwan) make peaceful protestations on cue, yet their menace is underlined by spin-offs, cut-outs, and splinter groups which are more than happy to do the “wet” work as necessary. In one case a brotherhood operative, Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, taught at a Florida university for three years before assuming command of Islamic Jihad in Syria. His first act as chief was to call for the elimination of Israel.
In a more recent case, the grandson of the founder of al Akwan, Tariq Ramadan, was about to accept a teaching post at Notre Dame when his visa was denied. Supporters of Ramadan represent him as a scholar and “reformer”. Yet the facts tell another story. Tariq was probably happy to seek refuge at South Bend because British and French critics had exposed his irredentism and his defenses of bloody jihad in Europe. In short, Mr. Ramadan had been caught practicing taqiyya; a kind of Islamic dissimilation where you are not required to speak the truth to infidels. Indeed, Bernard Kouchner, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, has labeled Tariq Ramadan a “most dangerous man”.
The Ramadan appointment has been defended in the name of free speech, academic freedom, and ecumenicism. Yet, there are no axioms of freedom that require the academy to provide a soapbox for hate speech; and more important, ecumenicism is not a suicide pact. Or as George Orwell might put it; “There are some ideas that are so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.”
The liberation theologists of Notre Dame are not alone; there is an emerging if not bizarre convergence between Western intellectuals and Jihad dissimulators; an odd couple coalition of the American Left and the Islamic Right. John Walsh, writing for the Harvard International Review, winter 2003, claims that “there is no evidence to undermine the Brotherhood’s peaceful rhetoric”. He also repeats, without question, the party line; “The Brotherhood has never ordered an act of terrorism”.
In the March/April, 2007 edition of Foreign Affairs, Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke took a similar tack in “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood” where the title itself is an asserted conclusion. The problem with these arguments, and many like it, is the willingness to accept spoken or written assurances about non-violence while ignoring or rationalizing the violence
itself. As a practical matter, the historical record, of deeds not words, is what should inform judgments. Surely there are peace loving Brothers; but, their existence in no way offsets the dark history and continuing excuse making for terror. Academic and official analyses of modern theocrats have two troubling deficits; little common sense and no sense of responsibility.
National security naiveté is not limited to journalists and academics. The July 2009 conference of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) provided a forum for Imam Warith Deen Umar, among others. He is the former director of NY State prison chaplains. Umar used the occasion to argue that a small number of Jews “control the world”. He offered White House aides Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod as evidence. Iman Umar was preceded by Valerie Jarrett as keynote speaker. Ms. Jarret is a senior White House advisor for public engagement; her appearance was a first for any White House official. ISNA is a Brotherhood affiliate.
Brotherhood proselytizers are now seconded in America by Hizb ut Tahir (HT), an organization now represented in at least 40 other countries. HT is a Sunni political party based in Palestine which openly advocates Kilafah, a unitary Muslim state controlled by clerics and Sharia. This theocratic movement has been outlawed in many Muslim countries; yet, they held their first open national conference in America in Illinois this July.
Al Akwan and Hizb ut Tahir are thought to be the largest and best organized radical Islamic political movements in the world. Although they make frequent peaceful protestations; they both rationalize violent jihad, non-violent sedition, and anti-Semitism. The Brotherhood is infamous for its cut-outs or affiliates who represent a “whose who” of terror organizations including Hammas and al Qaeda. HT is thought to be a recruiting venue for mujahadeen who, once indoctrinated, are then passed on to line terror groups as required. Their alumni include known “jihad of the sword” soldiers including Abu Musad al-Zarqawi and Kalid Sheik Mohammed. Neither al Akwan nor Hizb ut Tahir appear on the State Department’s official list of terror groups.
The incongruity of American kafirs (infidels) trying to rebrand al Ikwan as “moderate” is beyond ironic. From the Islamist point of view, a secular Muslim is two things; an apostate and a target. In Egypt alone, the most populous Arab nation, the Brotherhood or cutouts, have been responsible for hundreds of terrorist incidents and scores of assassination attempts, several of which have been successful.
The Brothers assassinated Anwar Sadat and have been responsible for more than half dozen attempts against Hosni Mubarak. Al-Ikwan is illegal in Egypt where there are few illusions about “moderation”. The latest menace on the Israeli front, Hammas, is a Brotherhood export.
The list of so-called moderates like Sadat who have been executed for apostasy is international. Benasir Bhutto was a special threat, a presumptuous woman and a secular Islamist. The most notable martyr to “moderation” was Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah. In August of 1996, he called for the US and “the civilized world to launch a joint struggle against fundamentalism”. A month later, he was assassinated and hoisted on a lamppost by the Taliban as a public example. Najibullah had more than a dog in the fight; he gave his life trying to define the enemy. More than a decade later, Najibullah’s clarity is lost under a fog of politically correct euphemisms.
This and other evidence that jihad apologists are willing to ignore is overwhelming. According to State Department figures, the number of terrorist incidents and casualties has increased tenfold since Najabullah’s death. More recently, a professional intelligence officer, Stephen Collins Coughlin, at the Pentagon, connected the dots linking historical Sharia precedents to contemporary jihadist military doctrine in a 300 page legal brief. Coughlin was labeled a “Christian zealot with a poison pen” and fired for his candor.
His nemesis turned out to be a former Deputy Secretary of Defense, Gordon England. Apparently Major Coughlin was asked to moderate his scholarship and legal expertise at the behest of a special assistant to England, Hesham Islam. Egyptian born Islam was a “community outreach” expert for the Pentagon with ties to al Ikwan affiliates in America. Mr. Islam left his Pentagon post after several “anomalies” in his resume were exposed.
If nothing else, Jihads of the tongue and of the hand, these “peaceful” struggles, provide a kind of plausible deniability, a convenient separation from those with blood on their hands, the jihahists of the sword.
This jihad al-sayf is frequently literal. Never mind individual amputations or beheadings; recall the massacre at Luxor, the work of a Brotherhood splinter, where 84 were killed, 58 of them tourists, one of which was a child of five. Several were hacked to death with knives and swords. The literal symbol of the sword is lost on Westerners; the coercive power of the knife is not lost on Muslims.
Children aren’t incidental casualties or collateral damage of jihad; they are often targets - especially females. At Beslan an entire grade school of over seven hundred was held hostage: 334 hostages were killed; 186 of these were children. Although the leader of the massacre was a Chechen national, Shamil Basayev; his crew, like most jihadist operations, was international. Several held British passports and some were associated with the Finsbury Park Mosque, London.
In January of 2004, Basayev issued an annual report of sorts entitled “Nothing Can Stop this Jihad”. In it he highlights Russian losses and all the usual justifications common to such manifestos; appeals to Allah, blessings to the Prophet, cant about the righteousness of bloody jihad, castigations of kefirs , and one eerily prophetic note; he compares Russians to “children who close there eyes in order to hide”. Ten months later nearly 200 hundred Russian children were dead at Beslan.
Religion is the heart of the Western predicament. On the one hand, smug intellectuals dismiss religion as some primitive superstition. In the process they underestimate the power of ideas, the significance of Jihad and Sharia; and their relation to military doctrine in the Muslim world. On the other hand, these same self-anointed progressives defend the separation of church and state and freedom of religion. Here they are skewered on the horns of the political correctness dilemma; tolerating intolerance in the name of tolerance. Separation of church and state is not the only core value in peril; the rights of women and children and freedom of thought and speech are also at risk under any theocratic ideology.
One constant of despotism over the centuries has been anti-Semitism. The modern jihadist is no exception. Not only are 20th Century atrocities like the European Jewish and Armenian Christian genocides denied by Islamic politicians, but ayatollahs and imams regularly use the Prophet and the Koran as touchstones for characterizing Jews as “apes and pigs”. This bigotry is not a “fringe” phenomena; it is a thread of Muslim history. Indeed, with Saudi Arabia and Iran, intolerance is a state sponsored activity. Despotism has only three requirements; false prophets, slaves to immutable doctrine, and naïve apologists.
The oft repeated mantra that Israel, not Jews, is at the heart of Muslim angst is another deceit. Anti-Israel rhetoric is mostly anti-Semitism shaded with a political veil. The structural bigotry of Sunni Deobandis and Wahbis all predate the state of Israel, in one case by millennia. Wahabism is the state religion of the wealthiest Arab state, Saudi Arabia; the irredentism of al Ikwan is the most infamous modern export of Egypt, the most populous Arab state. The Brotherhood was created in Egypt two decades before the state of Israel reappeared in the Levant. The official hate speech of Shiite Iran is a modern phenomenon, but its literary antecedents are as old as the Sunni variety.
Surely the mere presence of modern Israel in the midst of the Arab world is itself an irritant; and many Israeli policies have aggravated the problem. However, any honest review of historical Muslim literature and commentaries reveal anti-Semitism to be part of the warp and weft of ancient and contemporary ideology. Just as surely apologists can find appropriate citations to the contrary; nonetheless, these exceptions are not the rule.
Official irredentism has been underlined by Arab and Muslim states at numerous human rights forums. The 60th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, 7 April 2004, was no exception. Whenever issues such as the stoning of women, honor killings, mutilations, and the apostasy death penalty are raised, Muslim officials reject any criticism as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. (Dar al-Islam scholars recognize secular or national boundaries when convenient to their arguments.) Only two Muslim states address the apostasy issue in their penal codes (Sudan and Mauritania); both mandate the death penalty. In all other Muslim states the issue is covered by religious law where the penalty is the same. Wherever elected politicians are superseded by clerics, the first casualty is reason.
Religious dogma is not negotiable; the idea that “moderate” Islam can or will compromise core tenants is absurd. Why change a winning strategy? In contrast, secular democratic values in Europe and America appear to be malleable at their best and marketable at their worst. Indeed, serving and retired presidents, premiers, cabinet officers and military personnel all avail themselves of Petro-retainers with unseemly regularity. This is not to suggest that such officials are for sale; but their values may have lease options.
Some ask the question; why now? Why has radical jihad now come to dominate the threat spectrum? The answer is simple; because it can! The theosophy, dogma, and militant doctrine (as Major Coughlin reminds us), have been elaborated for centuries had anyone cared to look. The Arab world, especially, now has the resources to resume the “struggle”. The largest transfer of wealth in human history is underwriting the attempt to undo the last five hundred years of human history.
Nonetheless, the Islamic chimera of religious homogeneity is still a pipe dream. Cultural, political and theological unity can not be validated by virtue, history, or reason. Put aside for a moment the record of utopias or even the practical difficulties of establishing or maintaining a universal theocracy. The real evil is coercion. No political monoculture can succeed or be sustained without force and oppression. This is the great moral contradiction of all utopian visions and with militant Islam today; a warped amalgam of military terror, bigotry, politics, cultural arrogance, and misappropriated wealth.
Surely persuasion is one of many tactics used on believers, doubters, and infidels. Yet, in the end, like all totalitarian schemes; theocracy is underwritten by fear and the threat or reality of force. Anwar Sadat put it best before his assassination; “Fear is the most effective tool in destroying the soul of an individual - and the soul of a people”.
Najabullah and Sadat had the integrity and courage to identify the theocratic threat and its consequences – and they paid with their lives. Sadly, there are few signs at the moment that any Western politicians, save a few Israelis, are worthy of their mantle or their sacrifice. Appeasement is not so much a hopeful strategy as it is a symptom of fear, a signal of weakness, and a harbinger of defeat.
All monocultures are destined to fail eventually; they all suffer from insurmountable internal contradictions. Healthy biological and political cultures require diversity, competition and pluralism to thrive. Unfortunately, the lessons of the last century seem to be forfeit by first decade of this century. In an age where any principle or weapon might be sold if the price is right, the cost of relearning the futility of utopian visions will be high. Islamic monoculture is sure to fail, but before it does, the jihad could wipe more than Israel “off the face of the earth”. Words like holocaust may be inadequate to describe the impending clash.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
There was a time when most National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) were classified, cloistered and rarely read. Recurring estimates were dusted off periodically and circulated in the Intelligence Community for coordination. “Happy” might be changed to “glad” and the cycle would begin anew. Indeed, the NIE was formatted not to be read, they all began with the punch lines, “Key Judgments”. Most readers stopped there.
All of this changed in the wake of the ‘weapons of mass destruction fiasco’. The subsequent NIE on Iraq was sifted above the fold like the ashes of Herculaneum. We have come full circle on analysis, from cooking the books to opening the books. CIA, especially, is clearly trying to address a credibility problem.
Unfortunately, this effort does not speak to the two faults at the heart of the analysis problem; competence and integrity.
As far as anyone knows, any given estimate might be written by one or sixteen nameless intelligence agency bureaucrats. Dissenting agencies appear in footnotes. In most cases, the point men represent agency politics not expertise. Few experts of national repute work in the bowels of Intelligence agencies. Most national estimates are not just group-think, worse still; they are bureaucratic group-think. They don’t represent good analysis so much as they represent consensus, however brief.
The sixteen agency circus is defended in the name of analytical diversity. These same agencies are then condemned as “stovepipes” when the diverse fail to converse; a classic ‘cake and eat it’ argument.
Integrity is the predictable victim when the key dynamic of the process is bureaucratic log-rolling. The closet battle between Air Force Intelligence and all others during the Cold War is a classic example. In that period, Air Force footnotes to strategic force NIEs would exceed the word count in the body of estimates. Those infamous bomber and missile “gaps” were products of this struggle. Maxwell Taylor’s, Uncertain Trumpet, documents some of the blow back from this era. Strategic force assessments are unique insomuch as the threat is tied directly to budgets. The math is simple, bigger threats equal bigger budgets.
Beyond weapons systems, cooking the books is an old and honored tradition in Intelligence Community analysis. The spectrum of fakery includes false ignorance, data manipulation and outright invention. Cases of premeditated ignorance would include the Israeli nuclear weapons program, the Tonkin Gulf incident and the KAL 007 shoot down, just to name a few. Blatant statistical manipulation was part of the heady brew during the McNamara years of the Vietnam War. Bomb damage, strategic hamlet, pacification and Vietnamization statistics, masquerading as measures of effectiveness, were all used to obscure an unpalatable ground truth. More recently, since 9/11 and in the run-up to the Iraq War, evidence seems to have been manufactured wholesale to support foregone conclusions.
After any real or imagined intelligence failure, the inevitable ad hoc commission comes to tell us how to fix the beast. Invariably, the answer is more money and more bureaucracy. Bigger is always better.
The 9/11 Commission and the more recent Iraq Study Group are illustrations. None of their bromides address the obvious solution to better national security analysis; ending the Executive Branch monopoly. There is no good reason for national security analysis to be the exclusive purview of any branch of government or worse still, a cabal of agencies with vested interests in outcomes. Privatization is the answer for analytical competence. Transparency is the answer for product integrity.
A small group of independent experts could convene as required to prepare assessments. The membership might vary as the subject requires. Experts might be compensated on a per diem basis. Politicians, lobbyists and obvious partisans need not apply. Intelligence agency functions could then be restricted to what they do best; collecting, processing, archiving and Tactical Intelligence.
Transparency might also eliminate special interest ad hoc analysis within the Intelligence Community. The Douglas Feith group which used to operate out of the Pentagon comes to mind.
Assessments from an independent group of experts might also benefit from single hand and named authorship, much like Supreme Court decisions. Dissenters would write minority opinions. Court analysis is attributable and transparent. National security analysis should not have lesser standards. Indeed, the current practice of giving the Executive Branch an exclusive on national security analysis is a little like giving the power of judicial review to Congress.
Calling our national assessments “intelligence” estimates is also misleading. The issue is national security not Intelligence. Intelligence is merely one of the ingredients of analysis. Most data, method and even thinking that go into analysis are unclassified. Surely sources and methods of intelligence collection need to be protected by classification. So be it. Nonetheless, classification should not be used as an excuse to obscure the whole process or product of national security deliberations.
If you were to visit the CIA web site, you might be led to believe that the NIE, and the process that supports it, is the gold standard in the Intelligence Community. Conversely, uninformed critics often sneer at Military Intelligence (aka Tactical Intelligence) as an oxymoron. In fact, our seamless net of tactical collection, identification, targeting and weapons applications is the Intelligence Community gold standard. This is not to say that the tactical folks don’t ever get it wrong. But when they do, their systems are self medicating. National estimates, on the other hand, have been a basket case for decades.
National security analysis needs to be separated from the Executive Branch and the Intelligence Community. Privatize immediately!
Sunday, June 14, 2009
On Memorial Day I unfurled a flag on my porch to honor the service of those who died, were wounded, or otherwise sacrificed for something greater than themselves. I do the same on the 4th of July as a token of my appreciation for the advantages of democracy. We don't have a perfect country, but its better than most of the alternatives that I can think of. Having hung the flag the other day, I surveyed the streets in four directions and saw one other flag. One flag - as far as the eye could see on the
Several days later, I picked up a copy of the neighborhood paper, The Northwest Current, and was greeted with an editorial headline; "Rolling Blunder," a snarky put down of the annual Memorial Weekend tribute to veterans known as Rolling Thunder. Originally a remembrance of
The author of this polemic is a reporter for the local ABC affiliate. He gets two columns of opinion space in most editions of The Current where he holds forth on every subject imaginable. Yet, I don't recall any complaints about street closures for rallies, marches, and marathons for every cause under the sun; including, most notably, a "million" man march organized by one of the nation's most noxious bigots. Hardly a month goes by in the
Journalists and TV networks often lament the recent decline in news readers and viewers. Yet, they seldom look to themselves or their product for an explanation. Consumers have not stopped reading or listening; they may have just stopped buying or reading slanted products that sneer at values or insult common sense. On the latter we could ask; what parade or demonstration doesn’t inconvenience someone?
Like most urban journalists, the author of “Rolling Blunder,” was probably opposed to the Vietnam War in particular; and my guess is today he would be opposed to war in general. For many like him, anti-war sentiment often morphs into a low key and patronizing contempt for servicemen and veterans. This seems to be the subtext of that recent editorial. This phenomenon, blaming the military for unpopular wars, is kin to blaming crime on cops or arson on firefighters.
Having done its best to sugar coat an insult, the “Rolling Blunder” harangue also presumes to instruct us on the difference between Memorial and Veteran's Day, as if self-evident were not a synonym for obvious. Indeed, Memorial Day commemorates those who died in battle or as Pericles, and later
If we only preserved one holiday where we close streets, wave flags and make noise; I would choose Memorial Day. I would choose to honor the memories of those who paid so dearly to preserve the right of journalists and their editors to be small minded, self-absorbed, and insensitive to real inconvenience and true sacrifice. I would choose to preserve the minor inconveniences of Memorial Day because we need a visible reminder of the best among us so that we do not succumb to the worst.
Friday, March 27, 2009
So let us review their arguments for rational atheism, their theology if you will. In the first instance, they reject the historical consensus on God. Never mind that every culture, large or small, has believed in some sort of deity. Secondly, they reject the common consensus (and common sense); that is, the faith of their peers. As a practical matter, see Pascal’s Gambit, the vast majority of people believe in some kind of superior being. They do so, not out of fear or ignorance, but also out of the certainty that humans can not be ‘as good as it gets’. Experience and common sense tells them that Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens can not be the apex of evolution.
Another axiom for militant atheists is invective; laying the history of bad behavior at the feet of traditional religion. This is more than a little like blaming war on soldiers and crime on cops. The corollary of invective is ad hominem attacks; cherry picking religious figures to vilify. The Pope and Mother Teresa come to mind; every contemporary liberal’s favorite whipping posts – as if name calling were an argument.
Yet, Hitchens saves the best of his worst for Blaise Pascal, the brilliant 17th Century mathematician and physicist who questioned the uses of reason, especially in matters of faith. Pascal celebrated and defended “the expected value of faith” and the “infinite” value of belief against any utility of relying on reason alone. Pascal argued that reason provides neither certainty nor truth. Hitchens calls this “sordid” and likens Pascal to “hypocrites and frauds” who abound in the “Talmudic Jewish” tradition.
Polemicists like Maher and Hitchens confuse God with religion. Our entire ethical, legal and democratic tradition is a direct descendant of Judaism and Christianity. A Church is only one of many public institutions; each is populated with saints and sinners. Yet, without these influences, democratic capitalism is impossible. Indeed, it was an Augustinian monk who raised the most profound and lasting defense of free will and choice.
Rational atheism is a kind of moral anarchy. Ethical autism has a long history with science; now compounded by the electronic autism of Eric Schmidt (Google as God). George Orwell could take another bow!
Many missionary atheists, unlike Pascal, are not tempered by the humility of doubt. They can not say; I do not know. The can not say; I may never know. What they do say is that all that will be known shall be known by people like me; an enlightened, progressive, liberal, rational, scientific, intellectual elite. This group will take all of the credit and none of the blame for the mixed record of humanity and science since the Enlightenment. The ABC’s of modern warfare (atomic, biological and chemical weapons) were not created by nuns and rabbis.
The heart of evangelical atheism is cowardice. What many can not say is what they truly believe: they believe that they and only they know the way forward – all else is backward; they believe that they should not be constrained by “arbitrary” ethics, morality or law; sounds too much like religion. Hitchens uses the phrase “unfettered scientific inquiry” to describe his vision of the future. Josef Mengele would be comfortable this euphemism.
A profound, some would say fatal, conceit infects secular rationalists; the belief that there could not be any intelligence that is superior to their intelligence. They also believe what tyrants and oligarchs have always believed since the birth of philosophy; they are the philosopher kings (Plato); they are the vanguard (Lenin); and they are the master race (Hitler). They believe that they should do the thinking for the rest of us. They believe that men like Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky are as godlike as it gets. Hobbes called them necessary and Nietzsche called them supermen.
Hitchens disinters Marx, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg in his rant against religion. This is typical Left logic; one which confuses secular saints with significance. The only possible service Trotsky and Red Rosie provide is to illustrate how the Left usually deals with apostates. Someone might also point out to Hitchens that Marx was not so much a descendant of the "rabbinical line" as he was a product of Teutonic philosophy and a virulent anti-Semite to boot.
Things get very unscientific very quickly when you ask many atheists to define objectivity and reason. How do we separate our minds from the things we try to understand? Are rationalists capable of some out of body experience where they are devoid of inherited knowledge, historic influences, emotions, bias, prejudice and all the other sensibilities and tangential influences that plague ordinary mortals?
If you listen carefully, you would never know that reason is just one tool, like arithmetic, that we use to understand. And you will seldom hear that most scientific method is a smoke screen for junk science – derivative research. Original research and controlled experiments are rare, very expensive and time consuming. Yet as long as academics get something into print, nobody seems to give a damn.
In their hearts, these intellectuals do not believe in consensus; they do not believe in the wisdom of crowds; they do not believe in history or tradition; and if you have visited any modern American university campus recently, you will understand that they sure as hell do not believe in tolerance or democracy – at least not in any form you would recognize.
Truth is what we choose to believe. The most difficult challenge for all study is to bridge that gap between analysis and acceptance. Any belief is more potent than any idea. And what we believe always has more to do with faith than reason; we can not test every premise for every action. We believe in something or trip over everything. The alternatives are chaos and autism.
Here’s a common sense test for all those who think that reason trumps faith. If you have a choice between a committed rationalist with a PHD and a nun with a high school diploma; who would you trust to instruct your child? Sister Mary Wisteria wins this contest every time. Even community organizers send their kids to ‘religulous’ schools. Faith is just another word for trust; civilization is impossible without it.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Children are born believers. They have to be. No creature is more dependent on others to survive the rigors of infancy. Trust is the primal virtue that makes any society possible; family, enterprise or nation. Religions take advantage of these early inclinations with rituals of initiation: circumcision and baptism are examples. In time, an adult may choose from various degrees of observance, but they are not choosing among religion, faith or reason. Religion is cannon or cant, organized or not: faith or trust is a component of adult character; and reason is merely a tool – like arithmetic. The so called clash between “faith and reason” is a false dilemma. The first is a belief, the other is an instrument. There is no conflict.
Atheism is a simple religion; a disbelief in God. Many who think of themselves as atheists also subscribe to subordinate doctrines such as secular rationalism or secular humanism; that is, all that we can or should know can be induced or deduced with the aid of scientific method or reason. As logic or even arithmetic, this is very thin ice.
There are many roads to knowledge; reason is just one. We are born with a degree of inherited information, conscious or unconscious. Indeed, we stand on the shoulders of thousands of generations of ancestors. Call this information instinct, DNA or the collective unconscious (thanks to Carl Jung); it’s all the same. My neighbor has a terrier. The first time it got out of the yard, it caught and killed a squirrel; a blessing on my block. This dog did not have to learn to kill rodents. That skill is hard wired by generations of experience and breeding.
Could we say less about humans? The English language is rich with patronymics that
suggest skill sets passed from generation to generation; Carpenter, Harper, Driver, Smith, Farmer, Butcher, Cantor, Levy, Knight, Mason, and Fisher - just to name a few. Call it heritage or genetics, these veins of inherited knowledge play a powerful role. And ground truth exists long before “science” examines it. If you’re broke, balancing your check book doesn’t change truth or reality. A little arithmetic merely confirms your poverty.
Our senses are another way of knowing; what we see, hear, touch, taste, smell - and feel emotionally. Common sense, although not as common as we would like, is a way of knowing to often ignored or devalued by science. Senses and emotions are critical to human intelligence. Indeed, we all would like to be associated with “sensible” people. If we do not learn from what our senses tell us, no tool like reason will compensate. Indeed, academic rationalists and computer “geeks’ are notorious for their common sense deficits. This is no accident.
Our true sixth sense is our feelings or emotions. Emotional responses, intuition, hunches, and gut feelings often guide what we accept or believe. If you can’t see a role for emotional knowledge, just talk to your daughter, sister, mother or wife. Indeed, the most difficult problem of human intellectual history is the chasm that separates analysis and acceptance. How we feel about thing is often more important than what we think. No amount of fact finding and logic will overcome a strong belief. Truth is simply what we choose to believe: reason is simply one of the tools that get us there.
Any belief is more potent than any idea. An idea can turn on a dime: a belief is truth derived from ideas. If you don’t believe in something, you will probably fall for anything. This American mantra can be traced to ancient Greece, the trail of Socrates. He was tried for lack of piety and corrupting his students. He questioned the Athenian belief in democracy; he challenged the very freedom that made his questions possible. Unfortunately, Socrates didn’t have the benefit of Aristotle’s logic. Socrates wasn’t executed; he swallowed his foot and died from internal contradictions.
Democracy assumes a culture of belief, faith and morals; atheism is a kind of moral anarchy. All of what we think of as the best of Western culture, including our legal system, has proceeded apace with the evolution of the ethics associated with Judaism and Christianity. Indeed, democratic capitalism (are you listening Noam?) is impossible without these influences. The moral code that these great forums continue to debate, imperfect as it may be at times, is our cultural cement. The most advanced and just societies on earth are the product of these ideas. None of this proves a thing about God.
Yet, it illustrates the value of faith. Cotton Mather is as American as popcorn.
Mather likened mankind to a spider suspended by a thread over the fires of hell. Science tells us that we literally float on a sea of molten lava below and we are dependent on the fires of the sun above. We are also told that a meteor could end life as we know it in an instant. A few nuclear weapons might do the same. As Jared Diamond points out; our world will end with a bang or whimper (some unknown pathogen). How do scientific assessments differ from Mather’s spider or the horsemen of the apocalypse?
In several respects, reason is, and maybe should be, a last resort. The most important questions facing humanity will not be answered by mathematicians or engineers. Further, reason it is a relative newcomer – Aristotle forward. Our moral and genetic heritage, our common sense and our emotions have been with us from the beginning. We were a race of thinkers long before Plato’s pupil formalized logic. In recent memory the luminaries of rational atheism include Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Adolph Hitler, Josef Mengle, and Joseph Stalin - and now we have Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and Eric Schmidt, just to name the celebutantes.
If you read Hitchens’ latest polemic (God is Not Great), you might suppose that priests and rabbis were pursuing him through the salons of Georgetown – somehow infringing on his right not to believe. You might also think invective was a logical argument. The name calling is directed at all manner of secular apostates like Mother Teresa. Ironically,
Christopher Hitchens’ atheism mirrors the certainty of orthodox clerics.
The Maher film (Religulous) fails as logic or humor. A Borat derivative, his film allows an edited selection of unwary and inarticulate ‘marks,’ including his aging mother, to be ridiculed on subjects religious. ‘Foot in mouth’ as science and art seems to be Maher’s strong suites.
Hitchens and Maher might be dismissed as media clowns, but Schmidt’s influence has Orwellian import. His faith in Goggle, engineering and digital technology has messianic dimensions. Yet, when Schmidt is confronted by ethical questions about data collection, storage and potential political abuses he takes a pass. “Trust me,” he says “we have the appropriate internal controls”. This is where binary logic leaves the track. If we couldn’t trust the government (i.e. NSA, the FBI and the IRS) not to use personal data for political purposes; why should we trust ‘.Com’ billionaires or Google? Unlike Hitchens and Maher, Schmidt has the cash to buy the political support he needs.
Digital evangelists are notably tone deaf to internet ethical sensitivities like exploitation, predation (economic and sexual) and electronic autism. The autism is not limited to the ethical blind spots of science and engineering, but the more widespread symptoms of obsessive and compulsive electronic addictions among users. Follow the logic! Government should not regulate, police or tax the internet; but, at the same time, .Com moguls shouldn’t play cop either! Even if you ignore the circular logic, this is just another version of the Hitchens “unfettered scientific inquiry” dogma. If you combine the ethics of evasion and known political cant, in Schmidt and others, you have a critical mass.
Indeed, if we examine most of the ‘Google as God’ arguments, they are similar to historical variants of political rationalism; National Socialism and Communism just name two. It might also be prudent to recall that there isn’t a dimes worth of difference
between National Socialism and Communism; except that one is a virulent nationalism and the other is ecumenical totalitarianism. The legacy from this toxic mix includes infanticide, racial genocide, euthanasia and the ABC’s of “unfettered” science – atomic, biological and chemical weapons. In fairness, we should point out that science also gave us Diet Coke, panty hose, U Tube, digital porn, Bart Simpson and Noam Chomsky’s web site.
Indeed, the danger of rational atheism (aka religious rationalism) in the 21st Century is that it is capable of producing a digital or binary science that is both indifferent and imprudent. Scientists are uncomfortable with the unquantifiable; morality sounds a little too much like religion. In another era, a complete education would have included ethics, rhetoric and the sciences. Ethics was not only the first condition of enlightenment, it was first among equals. The sciences were listed last for a reason. Historically, should do has been more important than can do.
Modern atheism and “unfettered scientific inquiry” is the flotsam left in the wake of Karl Marx and the fall of Communism. Along with “democratic” social engineering, it was the great secular religion of the 20th Century. Rationalists see traditional religions as kinds of pious bigotry. Worse still, they conflate God, religion and faith - things that can be as different as day and night. Faith is a complex phenomena; religion is not.
Indeed, the crisis of faith, or ‘revolution,’ that began with Luther and Calvin fell off the cliff and brained Nietzsche, Marx, Lenin, Hitler and Stalin. The German monks dismissed free will and good works; and introduced the notion of predestination – an elect. Calvin’s elect morphed into Nietzsche’s “superman”. Marx dismissed the values of Judaism and Christianity whole scale. Indeed, he was a virulent, self-hating, anti-Semite. Marx’s “internationale”, Lenin’s “vanguard of the proletariat” and Hitler’s “master race” are the logical outcomes of “objective considerations” unfettered by moral traditions.
It also takes a special arrogance to claim to know what you can’t possibly know; to assume that reason trumps faith. The notion that truth (or progress) will emerge from the mouth of a test tube or a computer program is an assumption, nothing more. You may recall that Einstein was for nuclear weapons before he was against them. Einstein’s dilemma is an eloquent testimony to the binary simplicity and subsequent danger of many science projects. Unfortunately, courage is not a required course for science or engineering.
Rationalism often flies in the face of history and consensus; and atheists often confuse apex predator with apex of evolution, a dangerous proposition indeed. Humility has never been a strong suite for science. In contrast, people of faith have the modesty to admit that humans may not be the top of the food chain and there are things we do not and may never know. The recent play and film adaptation of Doubt is an excellent treatment of ethics leavened with uncertainty - an intramural moral struggle between two Catholic clerics. Say what you will about the progressive religious views of the priest and the conservative religious views of the nun; in the end, you would still trust your kids to their school. Faith and trust are synonymous.
Finding Hollywood and virtue in the same argument may give you a bit of jolt. Nonetheless, theater and film frequently treat ethical questions with candor not arrogance. Art is always more candid than science. If ignorance is simply the absence of knowledge; stupidity is the absence of faith in spite of knowledge. The question has never been faith or reason; but the answer has always been - faith and reason - in that order. Thank God!
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Since then, the President has frequently said; "it's not enough to change the players, we have to change the game." Game is the key word in the argument. Hearing about ethics from a chap who represented a state where his vacant Senate was put up for auction is a little like hearing from Harry Reid about the evils of gambling and prostitution.
Whenever politicians start to preach about ethics and accountability, we need to recall Mark Twain's observation that politicians are the only permanent class of organized criminals. We are told daily that draconian measures are necessary to “recover from the mismanagement of the last eight years”. Polosi, Reid, Frank, and Dodd were the financial management of the last decade. Where’s the accountability in this group? Congress proposes; a president merely disposes.
The recovery plan (aka bailouts) has drop-kicked all moral hazards out of the financial arena. To be replaced with what? The fatal flaw of all government roles in commerce is the assumption that politicians or federal bureaucrats are moral and competent; at least more so than entrepreneurs and the titans of industry. All those who believe politicians and integrity belong in the same sentence, raise your hand!
In short, on the oversight front, President Obama wouldn't do more with less; he would do less with more. The “unprecedented effort” to be led by the Vice President is a cipher. Biden’s first effort was to strong arm governors into accepting funds they do not want. Surely the President knows that a deeper oversight matrix makes any corrective action less likely. Joe Biden has spent his entire career inside the Beltway. Should we believe he’s about to have an epiphany?
Here's a thought. Instead of new bureaucracies, boards and commissions; let's disband all the inert oversight and ethics monitors that aren't doing the job and let the Justice Department do its job. Revive the ABSCAM stings if you will, with apologies to Representative Murtha and Senator McCain of course. If we must have another "people's public watchdog," let's keep the varmints out of the hen house - no politicians on the oversight dais. The solution isn’t bipartisanship; the answer to oversight is no partisans - citizens who have never held office.
It's hard to believe that smart people like Obama and Pelosi do not understand all of the above. We are left to conclude that, like the McCain/Feingold campaign finance reform, we can look forward to a lot of moral sizzle, but no steak. Creepier still is the similarity of Obama's proposals to Marion Barry's recent stunt. Councilman Barry introduced legislation, since withdrawn, to the DC Council that would prohibit employment discrimination against ex- convicts. Presumably that would mean the guy who gave your neighbor a lead pipe lobotomy might someday return to your street as the beat cop. When the President and the Speaker have their way, the folks who stole your chickens will get to watch the hen house.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
There are three things we know for certain about Barrack H. Obama – maybe four. The first is that he is our President; he just won the most expensive bull shit contest in the free world. The second is that he has a good rap; that’s how he won the contest. Indeed, even when he shades or ignores the truth, he is so sincere and so articulate that we give him a pass on candor. A Press corps whelped by Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky is unlikely to hold his feet to the fire. NBC’s Chris Matthews admits to being “tingled” by Obama. Stimulus indeed! The third thing we know for certain is that Obama has written two books – mostly about himself. The fourth is a little sensitive; he doesn’t like to use his middle name, a least not in public. Obama seems to be more than a little cagey about his Muslim heritage. If character is destiny, we may be headed for the ego abyss. Picture Carter(D) policies fronted by Kennedy(D) rhetoric.
All of the air in the room is being sucked out by the economy at the moment. For the near term, our dismal science is the sum of bail-outs, stimuli, political pork, affirmative action mortgages and earmarks – although the later, henceforth, will be known as investments. No one seems to know whether a trillion large will work, but let’s not sweat details like effectiveness. Using more deficits and more debt to “stimulate” may be a little like hiring Maynard Keynes to diddle your furnace and expecting it to heat the house.
On a daily basis we are told that draconian measures are necessary to recover from the “mismanagement of the last eight years”. Never mind that Nancy, Harry, Barney, Chris and Maxine were our management in that decade. Does Congress still propose and the President still dispose? If Maxine prevails and we nationalize everything; we will still be the most prosperous nation on earth – until Halloween.
All this economic heat is more notable for smoke than fire. And national security seems to be receding into the miasma. Wars with real bullets have fallen off the radar. Some might argue that the first priority of national security is the domestic piñata. Fair enough, but those gifts are already on their way. Our domestic vector is set. We are going to pig out as far as the eye can see and then make a date with Jenny Craig – a date uncertain. We have launched the war on prosperity and that’s that!
But what about those other wars that were so worrisome during the late great campaign? Is it two or three wars? Harry said we lost one. We need to do the math.
There is the bad war in
Making war on terror is out; nobody makes war on a tactic. And then there’s the Carlin (bless his soul) corollary: “Beware of those who speak euphemism”; they say not what they mean nor mean what they say. We can’t call it the war on Islamofascists. That’s an affront to National Socialists and Communists every where. After all, Fascism has been in decline while Islam has been growing like, well, the Later Day Saints. National security mavens such as Sally Quinn assure us that terrorists are just a small minority, not representative of Islam – never mind that Islam is exactly what they have in common. Nobody ever asks Ms. Quinn how many followers the Bolsheviks had in 1916 or the Nazis had in 1932.
Now that the Congress and the White House have Democracy and Capitalism on the run, what are we going to do about the enemy whose name we dare not speak?
Enough is enough!
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
You jumped ship at the eleventh hour before the election. And now you give Republicans advice on how to get well? This is a little like Colonel Arnold giving war counsel to General Washington. You recommend that they dump Palin and stop listening to Limbaugh! You may lose your RINO card.
You also seem to laboring under the illusion that the ‘community organizer’ won because he was a better choice, more accomplished than, or had a better program than McCain/Palin. Bravo Sierra, sir!
Any honest observer would have to admit that Barrack’s only concrete accomplishments to date are two books – about Obama. Now granted he has a good rap. But it’s not like someone hasn’t said it all before. The only difference between B.H.O. and Jesse Jackson is that Obama doesn’t patronize us with rhymes. And by-the-by, should you ever decide to counsel the president, you might want to point out that hope is not a strategy and change is not an objective.
The Republicans could have run Pericles and still lost. The Republicans lost because Hilary blew the primaries. The Republicans lost because the economy fell into the crapper just before show time. The Republicans lost because a left-leaning congressional circle-jerk successfully, if not fairly, hung the affirmative action mortgage debacle on Bush and by implication, McCain.
‘Twas unfair to link Obama with Wright and Farrakhan, but somehow not unfair to claim a McCain victory (guilt by association) would be a third term for Bush. The Republicans lost because a vote for Obama was a vote against Bush. The Republicans lost because McCain looked and sounded like yesterday.
But why do you have Sarah Palin in your cross hairs? By any metric, she is an accomplished lady; athlete, wife, mother, business woman, volunteer, municipal and state-wide office holder. Unlike the usual political groupies and bimbos inside the beltway, she’s also a babe. Ms Palin favors and actually does justice to a skirt.
She is ridiculed for her performance on the gas bag circuit. Compared to whom? Surely you can’t be thinking about Joe (“I’ve forgotten more about foreign policy than most people know”) Biden.
Biden’s singular accomplishments are tenure and an overwrought ego. He is an inside baseball, inside the beltway diva. His only qualification to be chair of anything is 35 years at the Senate trough. Change my ass! Let’s put aside for the moment his hair plugs, teeth by Steinway, plagiarism and chronic foot-in-mouth problem and look at his grip on history and current issues. He doesn’t know when Roosevelt (D) served or when television began! Entertainment is the only value added that Senator Malaprop brings to this administration.
His one recent foreign policy initiative was to suggest we divide Iraq into ethnic and religious cantons! Such a policy would reinforce not eliminate the divisions that fuel conflict in the Levant. Such nonsense would also torch relations with at least four other nations in the region. As we used to say in boot camp; “this guy doesn’t know shit from Shinola (an excellent shoe polish I might add)”.
The real difference between Palin and Biden deserves a hockey analogy; good prospect versus no prospects. Before I leave Sarah, one more thought. If we compare you, Obama, Biden and Palin, we can say with certainty that Governor Palin has reached her high station without benefit of political tenure or an affirmative action tailwind. You will note that my remark about you and the President is conditional, yet if the shoe fits, I’m sure it’s a size ten.
Let’s move on to Limbaugh. You suggest that Republicans need to stop listening to El Rushbeau? Whatever for? He is their most caustic critic;
flailing the flaccid on an equal opportunity basis. Take the McCain case. Limbaugh may have lost several million votes for Republicans before the recent election by suggesting that McCain was a political hermaphrodite.
You must appreciate that the Left makes Limbaugh and talk radio possible! Newspapers and networks are loosing clients while conservative talk radio is growing. There is only one possible message here. Talk radio is providing facts and a point of view that “mainstream” outlets, including CPB, are unable or unwilling to provide. The issue here, sir, is bias and in too many cases “cooking (Janet you know who you are) the books”. The mainstream keeps telling itself that it is loosing ground because of technology. Their real problem is integrity. Readers, viewers and listeners are literally not buying crap anymore - or corvettes, it seems.
Just a few examples would include Mike Wallace, Janet Cooke, Stone Phillips, Dan Rather and Jason Blair. We might even throw in Woodward and Bernstein now that we know that their source for Watergate was a highly placed FBI fruitcake with an ax to grind. Cooke and Blair, you may recall, were two investigative “journalists” caught lying for the Washington Post and NY Times about conditions in black communities – as if the truth were not bad enough. Old school editors like Ben Bradley (WP) Hal Raines (NYT) underwrite questionable journalism with bad conduct medals. Cooke received a Pulitzer Prize.
But your personal favorite should be Mike Wallace. Do you remember how CBS tried to smear Danny Graham and William Westmoreland on their Vietnam era order-of-battle assessments? CBS and Wallace had to be taken to court before the truth was told. Blaming soldiers for an unpopular war is a little like blaming crime on cops.
Conservative media is a growth business because they put their politics and their agenda up front. The so-called mainstream is committing suicide (no offense, Mr. Wallace) in slow motion because they continue to lie about their agenda and cook the books in an era when such duplicity is quickly exposed. Leftist, liberal and socialist journalists never admit to an agenda or admit who they are. Say what you will about Limbaugh’s politics; you don’t have to take him to court to know from whence he comes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that like you, I‘m a product of the Bronx, a proud graduate of Cardinal Hayes High. Indeed, I was also born into the Democrat Party. As a youth, I was a big fan of Tip O’Neil and Pat Moynihan. I lost my progressive cherry when Moynihan was thrown under the bus for telling the truth about welfare and affirmative action hustles. Since then, my misgivings about liberals have been validated.
Today, the Democrat Party is led by a botox bimbo, a sin city shill, a hysterical sodomite (who ran a boy’s bordello out of his basement) and two philandering boozers, one of whom may be a homicidal drunk. Please fill in any names that fit. The governor of California recently characterized legislators as girlie men. Here in Washington we actually have three types; there are women who want to be men, men who want to be women and the rest don’t seem to have the giblets to make either team. Calling this crowd a “parliament of whores” (thanks PJ) is an insult to honest hookers everywhere.
Not that any of this drove me into the arms of Republicans. In my Bronx neighborhood we thought Republicans had died off with Teddy Roosevelt, if not Lincoln. I had a short hot-flash of deja-vu during the Reagan years, but I recovered. Yet the real problem isn’t Party; its propriety.
So I was more than a little concerned the other day when you trashed the good lady from Alaska because you thought she had slighted your “Bronx values”. I applaud your concern with values but let me say a few words about the use of “Bronx” as an adjectival salutation.
The Bronx is a place people come from, not a place people go to. Even when New Yorkers talk about “the city”, they mean Manhattan not the Bronx. If you were to go to the Bronx today there a five things you would not bring; your wife, your kids, your wallet, your watch and certainly not your automobile. If you were to ask citizens of the Bronx where they would like to live, 75 percent would say “anywhere else” and the remainder would be unresponsive due to mind numbing chemicals. Let’s be serious, neither of us would go back there to vacation, buy property or to retire. Just as surely, the best day of our lives was the one when we saw the Cross Bronx Expressway in the rear view mirror.
They say you can take the boy out of the Bronx but you can’t take the Bronx out of the boy. As a soldier and citizen, I tried to refute this canard daily. You shouldn’t be defensive about the Bronx and I don’t think Governor Palin ever mentioned your values or lack of them. Yet I think she has a point about small state, small town values. And she always makes her point with gentle, humorous Thornton Wilder aplomb.
Considering recent political values on display in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and now Illinois, we should all worry. Yet, you say that big cities are where the votes are. So what! Does this mean its OK to sell a Senate seat if enough like-minded idiots agree?
Seeing that you have brought up this values thing, let’s talk about them in important venues like a president’s character - the economy and in national security matters.
People like us who grew up in the Bronx can’t afford to believe in guilt by association. Good folks should be willing to overlook those unsavory characters that dog Obama’s character. At the same time, you know that were he a GS-6 looking a security clearance, he wouldn’t get past hello. Nonetheless, he should be judged on his contemporary associates.
The first that come to mind are the Clintons - the last pair of breeding lawyers in the White House. You may recall how that played out. Now Obama brings this circus act back to the national stage under the flag of “change you can believe in”. Hello, general, are you still there? Good, let’s continue the values chat.
We now live in a single-trade oligarchy, a culture where almost all elected and too many appointed officials are lawyers. The law trade is like the psycho babble business. Their ethic is the game – keeping the ball in play, not unlike scoreless soccer. Lawyers and psychiatrists don’t care who wins or looses as long as they get paid or laid (sorry Bill). In Barack’s old neighborhood it’s called pay to play. Do you think it’s an accident that even judicial pay raises get pasted into unrelated bail-out bills?
So when I think about the economy I’m having another hot flash of deja-vu. Plan Obama calls for massive spending to be followed by a fiscal diet at a date uncertain. Seems to me that massive spending is what got us here in the first place. Using deficit and debt and to stimulate the economy may be a little like having Maynard Keynes diddle your furnace to heat the house.
Politicians never see any problem that can’t use more money. That’s where the votes really hang out. Conversely, they never have the stones to end programs that don’t work. I live in a town where health care, education, housing and policing receive massive taxpayer support. If any of these programs were dependent on values or effectiveness, they wouldn’t merit another nickel. A century and a half after Lincoln’s death, too large a part of the nation’s capital is still a dangerous slum. Values for lawyer/politicians, sir, are about arithmetic not ethics.
Barney Frank and Chris Dodd couldn’t manage a trip to the toilet without staff assistance. Yet we have to watch Obama’s Hill colleagues lecture Wall Street and Industry on accountability. This may be change you can believe in. I’m still stuck on the hope thing.
And finally, there is national security. I’m concerned that a guy who thinks his grandfather liberated Poland doesn’t have a firm grip on reality or world history. You know, those Nazis, fascists, communists and like-minded totalitarians in the Muslim world. When he meets Putin, Obama may have to apologize to Marshal Zuchov’s memory. Nonetheless, today’s war is more to the point. Not once in the recent campaign did I hear Obama say the word Islamist. Is courage one of those values that concern you? Does he plan to beat the bad guys by never speaking their name?
When you chat with the commander-in-chief you might also point out that we are not fighting “a war on terror”. Nobody makes war on a tactic. We are fighting Muslim fanatics. You might also disabuse him of the notion that we have two wars; a bad war in Iraq and a good war in Afghanistan. There may be two major theaters and numerous minor fronts but the war is singular and it’s world-wide. Does Mumbai ring a bell? If he thinks he can jawbone this growing movement of religious crazies, I suggest he hang onto those smokes and one of your flak jackets. He’s going to need them.
You know, general, the beauty of democracy is that sometimes we get the kind of government we want and sometimes we just get what we deserve. Back in our active duty days an SOS (save our ship) was a distress signal. But for troops in the mess hall it also meant chipped beef on toast (shit on a shingle). For bored grunts in the barracks, it simply meant “same old shit”. So I’m thinking that Jeremiah Wright might be right no matter how you read the SOS. The chickens have come home to roost.
Before I wrap this up, let me apologize to you on behalf of George Tenent and the Intelligence Community. Yes, I’m a twenty five year Intelligence veteran. Old George hung you out to dry. Guys that work both sides of the aisle don’t have values. But they get medals too. That Iraq speech CIA wrote for you to deliver at the UN could not pass muster at a cadet beer bust. But you gave it anyway. So we all understand how you might be in the mood for a little pay back.
But lay off Sarah Palin! She has already been slapped silly by the deficit side of the values spectrum - for trivial reasons in most cases. She is a role model for any American girl. And compared to Caroline Kennedy, Sarah Palin looks like Elizabeth the First.
And it’s not like you didn’t shoot yourself in the foot at the UN. At the time, you had 50 thousand gofers that could have done some Iraq fact checking or a little in-house analysis at the State Department. But that’s another story. Until next time, let me leave you with a few lines of poetic consolation: “Of all the words to come from mouth or pen, the saddest are these, what might have been”.